Friday, May 27, 2011

Train Food - Cherry Lime Granola

I will shortly be on a train bound for Ocean City!  Well, the train actually goes to Atlantic City, but that's just a pit stop on the way to my favorite place on earth :)  Sun, sand, surf, family, good food, and a few good books?  Sounds like the perfect holiday weekend to me (except for the fact that Nick isn't coming, so I guess I should say the almost  perfect holiday weekend).  Anyway, what does this have to do with cooking and recipes?  My impending train trip got me thinking about the trip I took last month to Maryland to visit some dear friends from high school.  For that trip, I was travelling on two trains and then renting a car.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I can get pretty cranky when I'm hungry, so I wanted to pack some sort of yummy snack to have while in transit.  I needed something to tide me over in between being able to find some real food.  The day before I started packing, I had made a recipe for Cherry Lime Granola from Everyday Food Magazine to have for breakfast.  So on a whim, I decided the leftovers would be packed into a few small containers and tucked into my bag wherever they fit.  The granola is delicious, filling, and portable so it really did make the perfect train food.  Filled with nuts, fruit, and oats it was even decently healthy (better than the chips and candy bars you could buy at the train station anyway).  I even had a container left-over to eat for breakfast on the last day of my trip.  My friend Sam thought it sounded yummy too and she just recently asked for the recipe.  So I was thinking it would be a good one to share with everybody.  When I made it, I used walnuts instead of almonds because I didn't have any almonds.  I think it would be good either way, so use whatever kind of nut you like best.

One tip to keep in mind - DO NOT OVERCOOK IT.  If you've ever eaten store-bought granola, you know that it is typically dry and crunchy, as it should be.  I've made various recipes over the years and expecting my own granola to be dry and crunchy, I've made the mistake of overcooking it more than once. What can be confusing is that when you check the pan after the time the recipe calls for, it will likely be sticky and still seem kind of "wet."  This always made me think it wasn't ready yet and I would keep adding minutes to my timer, waiting for the granola to achieve the right texture.  The additional time in the oven, did not make my granola any crunchier, it just made the nuts burn which trust me, is not so tasty.  Just make sure that the granola has reached that lightly golden color the recipe calls for and it should be ready to take out of the oven.  Let it cool completely, and when it does, that stickiness should go away.  Wait until it is completely cooled to pack it into a container or else the trapped heat could make it soggy.  Following these tips I learned the hard way, this most recent granola recipe was finally a success.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Just something chocolatey..." (Black Bottom Cupcakes)

That was my brother's response when I asked him what he wanted me to make for his birthday dessert. Given that I absolutely love chocolate and own no less than 11 chocolate cookbooks, I figured I should have no problem honoring his request. I flipped through a bunch of my cookbooks and I wasn't finding anything I thought he would like AND was made with only ingredients I already had in the apartment. (I had procrastinated this particular baking project and I really did not want to go back out to the store at 10 o'clock at night.) So I moved onto my recipe binders and found a recipe for Black Bottoms that fit both of my criteria. This recipe was featured in a really cute article in Woman's Day magazine about the signature dishes of various staff members' Moms. Woman's Day is a magazine that I happen to receive for free and I rarely find recipes in it that appeal to me. However, this particular article really caught my eye. I had already made the Apricot Jam Tart from the same article for my Mom for Mother's Day, so I took a chance on this one hoping the results would be just as delicious. And boy were they good.  Moist chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate chip cheesecake topping, what's not to love?

If you want to try them yourself, just a few tips:
1. in my mini muffin pans they made 4 dozen, not 5 dozen
2. don't forget the 1 cup of water - it's written in the text of the recipe, but not in the ingredient list

As for the Apricot Jam Tart recipe, that was also fabulous and I definitely would make it again. I actually used peach jam in place of the apricot because I had a jar of my grandfather-in-law's homemade peach jam (delicious in and of itself). And I also went with pecans in the crust because I was out of almonds and thought pecans would go well with the peach filling. One word: Yum. It was universally like by all who tried it. The only thing I would do differently next time would be to use cookie cutters to make shapes (hearts maybe?) for the top layer of crust instead of the criss-crossing lattice. Though it was quite pretty, it was kind of a pain to make since the thin strips of dough kept tearing apart when I lifted them up off the table. This recipe seems to lend itself to different flavor substitutions, so if you are lucky enough to have a jar of homemade jam (or even a good quality store-bought jar), I'd give this one a try too.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Pot of Beans

I found the recipe for Yankee Bean Pot from the bookThe Essential EatingWell Cookbookby doing a search of my Eat Your Books Bookshelf for "slow cooker + beans" on Thursday night.  I had a bag of dried mixed beans I wanted to use up and I figured I could use those in place of the Navy or Great Northrern beans called for in the recipe. I had all of the other ingredients except for the Canadian bacon.  Friday morning I was going to the grocery store anyway, so I could pick that up.  With my plan in place, I set my beans soaking overnight.  I went to the store and decided on pancetta instead of the Canadian bacon.  I ditched the idea of the ham hock and decided to use up the end of a container of beef broth in place of the water.  Even though ham and beef are completely different, I figured the beef broth would lend a bit of a meaty flavor to the dish. Without the ham hock, I thought just adding plain water would not give me enough flavor. Except for those few changes, I pretty much followed the recipe as written.  I used a little white wine to deglaze the pan when it started to get lots of brown bits (I don't use non-stick skillets).  I got everything into the slow-cooker, set it to HIGH, set the timer and went out for an afternoon of errands and shopping.

When I got home, my apartment smelled amazing.  I cooked up a pot of brown rice to serve with the beans. It turned out to be a simple, delicious, and economical meal especially since I also have enough leftovers for several lunches.  I'm not sure if this dish was intended to be served in "beans & rice" style, but it definitely worked that way.  The broth the beans cooked in was fragrant, meaty, and slightly sweet.  It made a nice little sauce to top off the beans and rice.  My beans didn't get quite as tender as I expected, but they were definitely cooked and tasted wonderful. I'm wondering if this happened because the beans were so old - they were hanging out in my pantry for quite some time.  Regardless, this was a successful and yummy dish.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Apple Cranberry Harvest Muffins

The most recent new recipe I have tried is "Apple Cranberry Harvest Muffins" from 750 Best Muffin Recipes: Everything from breakfast classics to gluten-free, vegan and coffeehouse favoriteswritten by Camilla V. Saulsbury.

I had some wrinkly Granny Smith apples that were begging to be baked into something.  They were definitely past their prime, but not a lost cause all together. I also have half a freezer full of frozen cranberries and am always up for baking something new that uses some of them up. In addition, the recipe called for shredded carrots plus some other pantry staples that I had on hand.  So this recipe was looking like a good one to try.  

As with most muffin recipes, this one came together fairly quickly.  The only substitution I made was to use white-whole-wheat flour instead of the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe.  I have found this substitution to be very successful in a variety of muffin and quick bread recipes. White-whole-wheat flour is a milder variety of whole wheat, so I find the taste is closer to all-purpose flour while keeping the nutrition of whole-wheat.  I personally wouldn't make this substitution in other more delicate baking recipes such as cookies or cakes where the difference in flavor would be more noticeable.  

I also only put pecans in half of the recipe since my husband doesn't like nuts.  When I went to try them, I accidentally ate one of the muffins without the nuts (oops!), but I'm kind of glad I did because I got to try both versions.  They were both delicious and I would definitely make this recipe again. The touch of cinnamon in the recipe really makes the flavors all come together.

Overall, I would highly recommend this cookbook. While 750 probably sounds like more muffin recipes than you would ever dream of needing, I have to applaud Camilla for her creativity. The variety in this cookbook is fantastic and almost every single recipe looks like something I would like to try. So far all the recipes I have made from it have been home runs including:

Multigrain Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Berry Corn Muffins
Cranberry Multigrain Muffins
Honey, Whole Wheat and Wheat Germ Muffins

I own several of Camilla's cookbooks and first discovered her through her blog Enlightened Cooking.  While I can't post the full recipe I'm writing about today, she has lots of delicious recipes on her blog including a few from this particular cookbook. I highly recommend checking it out :) 

Books and Binders and Recipes, oh my!

I have cookbooks coming out of my ears.  I honestly have more than any other person I know.  Ever since I discovered the fabulous website Eat Your Books actually using them has gotten a lot easier.  This is a website where you can create a virtual "bookshelf" of all the cookbooks you own and then you can perform searches to find recipes within your own books. So for example, if I have some corn, roasted red peppers, and cheese on hand I can type these ingredients into the search box and find all the recipes in my own books that use these ingredients. I LOVE it.  

I also have a large collection of clipped recipes from magazines and printed recipes from websites that I have organized into binders (finally).  And also a magazine holder that is collapsing under the weight of all the "special issue" magazines I've picked up that I want to keep intact and not rip apart. 

All this said, I clearly have a lot to work with.  The idea of this blog is to chronicle my cooking adventures as I work my way through my vast collection of recipes.  I won't be posting the actual recipes since that would violate copyright.  However, if a recipe can also be found online, I will share the link. (For example, a recipe from The Bon Appetit Cookbook might also be found on bonappetit.com.  If that is the case, I will post the link to that recipe). If not, I will simply give my review of the recipe, any thoughts I have on that particular cookbook, and whether or not I recommend it. 

I'm ready to dust off my bookshelves, crack open those gorgeous volumes of culinary temptations and get in the kitchen.  Here's to home cooking!