Tasty April

My Adventures with all things yummy

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Great granola to grab during the day

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I’m nursing Lillian and I ran into a challenge early on. As it was with my son, she suffered terrible gas. So I gave up dairy, as I had with my son.

That’s when I realized that I lived in a cheese-based society. Avoiding cheese as a snack and in my meals was a challenge. I got bitter. And hangry.

Then I started snacking on cookies, which was delicious, but I was loading up on margarine and sugar and was not getting the energy or satisfaction I needed.

Then I thought about granola. Oatmeal is good for lactating moms, the nuts help for texture, are good fats and are filling. The raisins are particularly chewy little bombs of sweetness. Crunchy and chewy and sweet and slightly salty. Yes, granola would do nicely.

Of course, with an America’s Test Kitchen recipe, you can never go wrong and this recipe is easy enough that I started making this a couple of times a week. Let’s put it this way, at the height of my dairy-free experience, a batch of granola (note 5 cups of oatmeal!) lasted just a couple of days.

My son and husband loved it, too, and making it myself is surely less expensive than buying it. I’ve experimented with using honey instead of maple syrup (yum), peanuts instead of almonds (the closest I’ve been able to get to making peanut butter flavored, yum), and baking the raisins with the granola (not yum. tough raisins. should’ve listened to the wise folks at ATK. however, I have a theory I’m going to test to get the raisins to be part of the bark. I’ll update this column once I’ve tried it)image

              Crunchy Granola Bark with Nuts and Dried Fruit

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (I used dark)
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) raw almonds, chopped coarse (I also used slivered almonds when I was lazy. And lightly salted peanuts that I didn’t chop at all, in which case I also omitted the salt from the recipe)
  • 2 cups raisins or other dried fruit, chopped

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl. Whisk in oil. Fold in oats and almonds until thoroughly coated.
  3. Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (about 3/8 inch thick). Using stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.)

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Would you forgive my absence if I bake you one of these?

Sorry, dear readers. I thought I was going to be able to keep up with this while I was pregnant, had the baby and tried to keep up with my freelance work. Well, that didn’t happen.

But I did keep cooking and photographing while I cooked. I’m just realizing now that a great deal of what I was impressed with were the sweet treats. I do have some savory meals to share, but…

We’re going to start with this cake I made for hubby’s birthday in February. Our baby was three months old, our son was preparing to turn 4 and I knew my guy was being pulled in a ton of different directions between a long commute to work and an exhausted wife and needy baby (the actual baby, I’m not describing myself there).

So we worked on making his birthday special. We ran around all day, getting a growler from a local brewpub, some small gifts and, finally, making him a beautiful cake.

My hubby and I are mostly bonded by our love of chocolate (there must be some other things we agree on, but chocolate is a big one). Peanut butter is a big hit, too, so I set to Pinterest looking for recipes. I cobbled together this one and it tasted like a Peanut Butter Kandy Kake. If you’re in the Philly area, you know the deliciousness of which I speak.

April’s Peanut Butter Layer Kake

Ingredients

Cake

  • Yellow Cake Mix
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs

Filling

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 peanut butter

Icing/Ganache

  • 12 oz semisweet chocolate (finely chopped pieces or chips)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream plus 2 Tbsp

Directions

Cake

  1. Mix ingredients. Pour mix into two 9-inch pans prepared with non-stick spray and flour. Bake 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  2. Once cakes are cool, split cakes horizontally if you want to have four fancy layers.

Filling

  1. Heat butter and brown sugar in saucepan. Boil for 1 minute. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  2. Whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Add peanut butter to sugar mixture and fold in whipped cream.
  3. Assemble layers with filling divided between them.

Icing/Ganache

  1. Combine chocolate and salt in heatproof bowl.
  2. Bring cream to simmer. Add to chocolate, wait five minutes and whisk smooth. Set 3/4 cup of chocolate aside at room temperature. Refrigerate the rest.
  3. Once chilled, add 2 Tbsp of cream to cold chocolate and beat until just fluffy. 
  4. Spread icing on cake, drizzle room temperature chocolate over top.

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Better with bacon

Bacon and chocolate... not as crazy as it sounds

Is everything better with bacon? I don’t know for sure, but I do have another thing to add to the list that does — cookies.

A friend from college who I reconnected with on Facebook posted this recipe a couple of Christmases ago and I’ve dreamed of making them. Turns out being pregnant is the best excuse for trying outrageous recipes.

My husband said the bacon was gratuitous, before he tasted them. Then he admitted it was a great balance of sweet and salty. And we both decided that a meaty bite of bacon in a chocolate chip cookie can keep you from eating more than three in a sitting. The recipe here calls for a full pound of thin bacon. I used half a pound of thick cut bacon and that was plenty for me. The thin cut may do more to melt in the mouth whereas the thick cut definitely made its bacon-y presence known. The best part for me was that the bacon stayed crisp. Yum!

This...

Plus this... yum!

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (kosher is OK)
  • 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 lb thin bacon, cooked crisp and finally chopped (I used 1/2 lb thick cut)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. cream together butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs. In another bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture.
  3. Add chocolate chips and bacon. Stir until well mixed. Refrigerate dough for at least an hour.
  4. Place rounded teaspoons of dough 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown.

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Scones (and a bun) in the oven

They may be a little lighter than other scones I've had, but they're tasty!

I have to throw myself on the mercy of the blogosphere. I have been woefully absent for too long. I’m back though and while I take full responsibility, I do have an explanation.

I’m pregnant! We’ll be welcoming our second child to the world at Thanksgivingtime. As a result, I was not interested in doing a lot of cooking and certainly not inspired to write about it. And I was exhausted.

Now, however, I’m over the first trimester hump and I’m back! I’m also happy to report that I still can taste food. This is great, as my palate went completely dead when I was pregnant with my son and all I could really taste was hot dogs. No kidding.

So I’m glad to say I will continue to cook and enjoy my food through this pregnancy (now). And just in time for cherry season in the neighborhood. Our neighbor has a cherry tree in her front yard and she came over last week to say we could clean out the rest of the fruit if we wanted. She even left some on low branches so our toddler could pick some, too.

To date we’ve picked more than 24 cups of cherries. I’ve made a few cookie-based desserts, two pies and decided scones were next. 

I used the America’s Test Kitchen Best Drop Biscuits recipe as a starting point and made up my own scone variation. Very easy. Feel free to sub in any fresh (provided it’s not an incredibly juicy fruit — I think a very ripe peach, for instance, would add too much moisture to the batter) or dried fruit. Also, I’ve been doubling this recipe because I have so many cherries and it’s turned out fine.

Fresh cherry scones (Makes about 10)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup (8 Tbsp) butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup cherries, pitted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Mix dry ingredients. In a separate container, mix melted butter and cold buttermilk. Butter will start to “bead up.” Mix liquids into the dry ingredients. Once combined, add cherries.
  3. Turn batter out on floured surface, shape into a flat log and cut into 10 even pieces (I use classic triangles, but any shape will do). Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving.

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Tired of kale chips? Try a salad

This will probably be the last of the recipes from this year’s soup party. This month is flying by and I haven’t even talked about the cake for my son’s birthday party yet. I gotta keep this train moving.

In addition to the soups, I mentioned we had side dishes. There were my rolls, desserts and also a kale salad. My good friends at Pizza Your Face were kind enough to pass on this recipe after I first had the dish at their annual soup party some time back.

It’s a cross between having your kale and embracing the garlicky zip of a Caesar salad. While I imagined the hearty leaves of kale would be tough, the lemon in the dressing did nicely to soften them up a bit. And while taking on an entire bunch of kale from the supermarket seems like overkill, this salad can hold up in the refrigerator for up to a week without getting slimy. 

And my toddler loves it. So, you know, there’s that. Seriously, next time you see him say, “kale.” I would bet you dollars to donuts that he’ll smile.

So healthy, so good!

Raw, but Tender, Kale Salad adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Kale
  • 1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs (homemade is best, but not mandatory)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese (pecorino, parmesan)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp plus a pinch of salt (coarse if you have it)
  • black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Remove center stem from kale by folding leaves in half and ripping leaves away from stem, slice leaves into ribbons. Wash and dry thoroughly and place in large bowl.
  2. Smash and mince garlic using a pinch of salt as an abrasive to help break it down. Move to jar or plastic food container that has a lid. Add oil, cheese, lemon juice and black pepper. Shake vigorously to emulsify dressing.
  3. Toss dressing with kale. Top with breadcrumbs and additional cheese, if desired.

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No need to knead

Crusty and tender... More from the soup party.

I promised more and I fell down on the job. I had a handful of writing deadlines and a little boy’s third birthday, all of which is awesome, but time-consuming. Now I’m back on track and although I didn’t have the chance to post this bread recipe, I did have the chance to make it. That should tell you how easy it is.

There’s something that makes you feel very accomplished when you make your own bread. And others are always so impressed by it. But I found this recipe (I love you, Pinterest), halved it and learned a few things along the way. Shaping loaves or rolls is something that comes with practice, I suppose. The second batch were certainly better shaped than the first. So far I’ve done Portugese-styled rolls for the soup party and a loaf of bread to accompany a spaghetti dinner. Make this recipe.

pre-oven rise.

No-fuss no-muss bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees)
  • 1 packet granulated yeast (I use rapid rise) 
  • 2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 1/4 cups unsifted, unbleached all purpose white flour

Directions

  1. Throw ingredients in a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, throw everything in a large vessel — plastic container, glass bowl, whichever — stir until combined)
  2. If using a mixer, pour dough into a larger container to rise. Cover container, but not airtight — poke holes in plastic wrap or leave lid unsealed. Rise at room temperature for about two hours. Dough will begin to collapse or flatten on top. You can use some or all of the dough at this point, or store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
  3. Sprinkle the surface of the dough and your hands with flour to prevent sticking. Cut pieces into the desired size (I made 12 rolls, or you can do two one-pound loaves). Watch the linked video above for a tutorial on shaping loaves, but in a nutshell, shape it in a ball and pull the top tight. Place on a piece of parchment or pizza peel and let rise 30-40 minutes (while the oven heats up).
  4. Heat your pizza stone (or cookie sheet) in a 450-degree oven for at least 20 minutes. On the shelf underneath, place an empty baking dish. 
  5. With a sharp knife or razor, slash the top of the roll or loaf with a cross, hash or parallel lines. Slide the bread onto the hot stone or sheet. Pour water into the empty baking pan. (The steam is going to give you a crusty shell on the bread.) Bake, with the oven closed (no peaking, keep that steam trapped!) for 30-35 minutes until the crust is a golden brown.
  6. Allow the bread to cool before serving.

 

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Curried cauliflower soup - eat your veggies!

Something a little different to warm up the cold nights.

We recently had a soup party. We invited some of our closest friends, everyone contributed to the feast and there was a conga line of 13 soups on the counters of our kitchen. Homemade bread, desserts and a bonus smoked pork shoulder added to the embarrassment of riches.

I was inspired by this party, so a number of my upcoming posts will be soup party related and I hope you’ll enjoy them.

The first will be my vegetarian offering — curried cauliflower soup. I love the recipe I have for aloo gobi, so I thought it would be a delicious way to get some different flavors into soup form and a meatless option at that. It was simple and easy and held up nicely in the slow cooker for hours.

When I added some spicy chili powder, I thought a garnish of cilantro and plain yogurt would be fitting. Yum!

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp hot curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup half and half

Directions

  1. Heat oil in soup pot. Add spices to hot oil and fry until fragrance is released, about a minute. Add chopped cauliflower and mix with spiced oil. Add water, cover and steam until very tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add vegetable stock and puree with immersion blender (You can also use a blender. Be careful with the hot ingredients and return soup to pot when finished.) Add salt.
  3. Add butter, half and half to soup and stir until combined. Add additional liquids, if necessary, to reach desired consistency (water or half and half).

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A strata for the season

I’m not a practicing Catholic, we go to an Episcopal church where we had our son christened. And even there, unfortunately, I’m not very devout. However, I try to continue with one of the Catholic traditions, not eating meat on Ash Wednesday or Fridays during Lent.

It’s not a cleanse or a religious observance, just a thoughtful moment to reflect as winter ends. I remember a lot of fish sticks and pizza on Lenten Fridays as kid. Although my boy would love fish sticks more than once a week, I’m trying to change things up.

Strata’s not just for brunch anymore! Any combination of your favorite vegetables or cheese gets this done and bread cubes bump up the volume, like a savory bread pudding. I like to saute the vegetables first; in this case browning the mushrooms and wilted the spinach because it gets rid of the extra water those veggies hold. With asparagus or broccoli, you can throw them in raw to save time.

An earlier asparagus strata. Puffilicious.

Veggie Strata

Ingredients

  • 4 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 oz spinach
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 shredded cheese (I used a mix of cheddars)
  • 3 heaping cups of cubed bread (I used a small loaf of Italian bread from the grocery store bakery)
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Saute mushrooms with butter and olive oil until mushrooms have released their water and are slightly brown. Remove and wilt spinach in the same pan. Remove and toss with bread cubes and cheese. Put this combination in a lightly greased casserole dish (I used a 2 1/2 quart Corningware).
  2. Whisk eggs and milk with salt and pepper. Pour over bread mixture and allow bread to absorb the eggs for a couple of hours.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until center of the casserole is just set (it no long jiggles like crazy and looks wet). Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.

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A wine-y chicken by any other name would still taste as good

Rich and hearty!

Coq au Vin sounds fancy. It’s French and stuff. But, really, it’s a one pot wonder of a chicken casserole. Make it - now.

Don’t tell your diners how easy it is, just watch their eyebrows raise when you say, “Coco Van.”

I will also use this opportunity to say everyone should have a Dutch oven. It opens up a world of braising you can’t even imagine. Do it - now.

And with that I’ll stop being a Miss Bossypants and share with you my recipe.

Yummy, tender, moist.

Coq au Vin

Ingredients

  • 3 whole chicken legs (about 2 lbs)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz frozen pearl onions
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp flour (plus more to toss chicken with)
  • 1 ½ cup dry red wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1/2  tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper

I don't use expensive wine.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Separate thighs from drumsticks (or not, up to you. Or buy them separated.) and toss in flour; season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven or stove-top safe casserole and brown chicken, starting skin down. Remove chicken and set aside.
  2. In  remaining oil and chicken fat, sauté onions and mushrooms until golden brown. Add 2 Tbsp flour and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in wine and chicken stock and bring to simmer. Add chicken pieces, cover Dutch oven and braise in oven for about an hour. 
  3. Remove chicken pieces, skim fat from the top of the sauce and return chicken to the sauce to reheat. Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes, or with a side of crusty bread.

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Warm and cozy blueberry muffins

Tasty and warm with squishy tart blueberries.

I’m often intimidated by Alton Brown recipes. I love “Good Eats” — at least I did when we still had Food Network — but his science-backed cooking calls for everything from using a terracotta pot to drilling holes in a Tupperware container.

But this recipe for blueberry muffins seemed easy enough. Plus, I had blueberries and people happy to have a warm sweet treat for breakfast and brunch over a chilly weekend. I thought we’d have enough that I would be able to take a few down to my grandfather who was convalescing after some surgery, but that was not to be. They were gobbled up in a week’s time.

I will admit, I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter. I didn’t have cake flour, so I used all-purpose and corn starch. Here’s a site for substitutions and conversions. Also, I set the oven to 380 degrees which, admittedly, I thought was a strange temperature. I missed the part in the directions that said to kick the oven to 400 degrees when the muffins go in. I think I had to cook the muffins a little longer as a result, but they were still delicious.

A fluffy batter for light and airy muffins.

Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients

  • 12 1/2 oz cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Heavy pinch salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • Vegetable spray, for the muffin tins

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 380 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl sift together the flour (and corn starch, if you’re using it), baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg and yogurt. Add the dry ingredients reserving 1 tablespoon of the dry ingredients and toss with the blueberries. Stir mixture for a count of 10. Add 1 cup blueberries to mixture and stir 3 more times. Reserve the 1/2 cup of blueberries.
  4. Using a #20 ice cream scoop, add the mixture (about 1/3 cup) to greased muffin pans. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of berries on top of muffins and press down lightly. Place into the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Remove from oven and turn out, upside down on tea towel to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in airtight container for 2 to 3 days (or freeze).