Archive for June, 2010


Welcome back after a week-long hiatus. I returned from my vacation to Canada with lots of food pictures and stories which I will have to post sometime soon. Until then, I here is a delicious recipe for granola.

Prompted by this article from Slate, I made granola for the first time last year. The recipe is from Alton Brown and is simple to make, yielding flavorful, crunchy results that taste far superior to the sometimes too sweet/ too artificial-tasting options you can buy at the store.

This keeps for a couple of weeks at least – and I generally sprinkle some on yogurt in the summer, with berries.

Granola, by Alton Brown

Not sure about the serving size – I would say maybe 10-13  1/4 c. servings

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. slivered almonds

1 c. cashews

3/4 c. shredded unsweetened coconut

1/4 c. plus 2 T. brown sugar

1/4 c. plus 2 T. maple syrup

1/4 c. vegetable oil

3/4 t. salt

1 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt.

Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

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chocolate lunar cake

If anyone feels the need to purchase a gift for this blogger, I’d happily accept the cookbook, “Retro Desserts,” by Wayne Brachman. I think I originally saw it mentioned on Smitten Kitchen – it looks like a fun baking-oriented book with quirky recipes. I looked it up on amazon and flipped through the few pages available online when I found this recipe.
Crazy Craters of the Moon Cake with Moonrock Topping
Serves 6-8
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
6 T. vegetable oil (or melted butter)
1 T. cider or white vinegar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. milk
1/2 c. miniature marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350
In 8-in. round cake pan, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt.
With a spoon, dig one 1 1/2 in. and two 1/4 in. holes or craters, in the flour mixture.
Put the oil in the big hole and the vanilla and vinegar in the small holes.
Pour milk over everything and mix to consistency of mud.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Sprinkle on marshmallows…
…and bake 10-15 more minutes until center springs back lightly when touched and marshmallows melt into tan moon rocks.
Cool and serve right out of pan.
This cake was not spectacular. It had little hardened “rocks” of the batter – which I guess was the point. It did catch everyone off guard at first. I think the vinegar must have created the effect. It had tasted good though, and was super easy. I love baking which involves only a round pan and some ingredients. No mixing with an electric mixer, not much measuring,  no sifting… it was no-fuss, from-scratch baking.
That’s it for the next week – I’m off on vacation.

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chipotle baked beans

These beans represent another attempt to update a family tradition. My mom makes wonderful baked beans for BBQs and picnics, even Christmas. I think she would dress up canned baked beans with bacon, onions, and other seasonings. She would then bake them for a long time on a low setting, so everything was caramelized and delicious.

I found this recipe, originally from Epicurious, on Smitten Kitchen. The one significant change I made was to use dried beans, rather than canned. I prepared the beans a day before preparing the baked beans.

Chipotle Baked Beans, serves 8-10

1 lb. dried Great Northern Beans, cooked

6 bacon slices

1 1/2 c. chopped onion

1 1/4 c. purchased barbecue sauce

3/4 c. dark beer

1/4 c. mild-flavored (light) molasses

3 T. Dijon mustard

3 T. (packed) dark brown sugar

2 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. soy sauce

4 to 6 t. minced canned chipotle chilies

First, cook the beans. Rinse them and pick over. Put in a pot and soak overnight. Drain. Add fresh water with the beans in the pot and boil for 2 hours or so, or until as tender as you like them. Drain any excess water. During the cooking process, watch them so they don’t dry out and burn.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels and drain. Transfer 2 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet to large bowl. Finely chop bacon; add to bowl. Add onion and next 7 ingredients to bowl and whisk to blend. Whisk in 4 to 6 teaspoons chipotle chilies, depending on spiciness desired. Stir in beans.

Transfer bean mixture to 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish.

Bake uncovered until liquid bubbles and thickens slightly, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes.

These were a fantastic accompaniment to the chicken and potato salad. They were sweet from the BBQ sauce and caramelization, and spicy. I think using the dried beans made a big difference in texture and flavor too. The beans held up well – and were not mushy.

The biggest problem I had was figuring out what to do with the rest of the can of chipotle peppers. I mixed one into this edamame dip, and also added one to a store-bought container of garlic hummus. I think by now I need to get rid of the few that are still sitting in my refrigerator.

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It seems like every family has a preferred recipe for potato salad. My grandmother went for the simplest form – mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper, and lots of dill seed (is that right family?). I have not tried to replicate it – I imagine, while easy to do, it would probably never taste like my grandmother’s.

For my “updated” Memorial Day picnic, I wanted a potato salad recipe that was not mayo-based. I also remembered a coworker raving about a blue cheese version that she had made earlier. She sent me this recipe for Red Bliss Potato Salad.

Here it is:

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 lbs. Red Bliss (or just small red) potatoes

3 T. coarse salt

1 1/2 oz. Danish blue cheese, plus more for garnish – I just used gorgonzola

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 t. red-wine vinegar

1 t. Dijon mustard

1 T. minced fresh chives, plus 1 teaspoon for garnish – I just used green onions

8 bacon strips, cooked until crisp and crumbled

Place potatoes and the salt in a medium saucepan. Cover with water, and bring to a simmer. Cook until a knife pierces through potatoes with little resistance, about 12 minutes. Drain, and let cool slightly. Cut the potatoes in halves or quarters depending on the size of them – you want bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, mix blue cheese, buttermilk, vinegar, and mustard in a bowl until well combined.

Combine potatoes, dressing, green onions, and almost all of the bacon in a large bowl.

Garnish with blue cheese, green onions, and remaining bacon.

I chilled this for a few hours before serving – and it was delicious. It tasted like a loaded baked potato, which I guess is the point. It also tasted great leftover the next day. So next time you want to try something slightly different from your old family recipe, or want a recipe without mayo – this is a great one to try. It also made a great flavor contrast to the chicken and baked beans (recipe coming tomorrow).

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A dear friend of mine/ cooking buddy visited me during Memorial Day with the one request of going on a picnic. For many – I suppose Memorial day weekend kicks off picnic season. In my family  it certainly did. Rain was often a factor, however, and we often ended up with an indoor picnic, eating on a blanket on the floor of our living room.

My mom always made fried chicken and potato salad. I wanted to do something similar – but with a slightly different spin. So this is the first of several posts this week – which I am dubbing “picnic week” on Thyme and Reason.

Riffing on fried chicken, I found this recipe for oven fried picnic chicken. Here is the slightly adapted recipe:

2 c.  buttermilk, shake well before using

4 large garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the side of a chef’s knife, then peeled

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Cooking oil spray

1 1/2 cups plain dried bread crumbs

2 t. dried oregano

1 t. dried basil

1 1/2 t. kosher salt

1/2 t. black pepper

In large bowl, combine buttermilk and garlic. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours. I let it marinate for five hours.

Arrange rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Line large shallow baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking oil. In large bowl, combine bread crumbs, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper; toss well to blend. My friend, who is an amazing cook, mixed up the bread crumbs and did not measure the spices at all. Use the ingredients listed above as a guide. The mixture benefits from generous amounts of salt and pepper. If you are newer to cooking, follow the list above. Otherwise, mix away using your own judgment.

Drain chicken and discard buttermilk. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken in bread crumbs until well coated, then place on baking sheet. Spray pieces lightly with cooking oil.

Bake chicken until golden and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool. I did not have a wire rack at the time, and let the chicken cool directly on the baking sheet. The bottom of the chicken became soggy. I am now pleased to report that I possess a wire cooling rack and am eager to make the chicken again with hopefully crisper results.

The chicken was delicious. My friend did an amazing job with the seasonings in the bread crumbs and it was cooked well, despite the soggy bottom. It was moist and flavorful, benefiting from the earlier buttermilk and garlic bath. I ate leftovers cold the next day that were equally delicious. I will definitely be making this healthful alternative to fried chicken again.

Check back later this week for the rest of the picnic menu, including the chipotle baked beans pictured above.

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chipotle edamame dip

I probably never would have found this guacamole-like recipe if I hadn’t done a general search for “chipotle peppers.” I made baked beans that required only one canned chipotle, so I had the rest of the can leftover. This looked like an interesting and easy way to use up at least one more pepper.

Here is the recipe for Edamame Dip

makes 4 servings

2 cloves garlic

1 chipotle pepper, chopped

2 T. olive oil

1 t. hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1/2 t. ground cumin

1 c. frozen, shelled edamame

Place the garlic cloves, chipotle pepper, olive oil, hot sauce, and cumin into a food processor. Puree until smooth, then add the edamame, and continue to puree until smooth. Add water as needed to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

The recipe did not call for lime juice – and it would have made a nice addition.

The flavors of all the ingredients worked together well, but the texture was a little grainy. Much like trying to make hummus, I’m not sure how to make the texture as smooth as dips sold in grocery stores. The author of the recipe compared this to guacamole – I think the texture is more akin to hummus. Anyway – it was a good way to use up an extra chipotle pepper.

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spicy macaroni and cheese

Unfortunately for my non-LOST-fan readers, I’m going to bring up the series finale again – kinda.

A small group of people got together to watch the the last episode of LOST, giving me yet another (unnecessary) excuse to try a new recipe. I really don’t like making a big dish of macaroni and cheese for a small group – so this was a good opportunity to make it, and enjoy it, without having to consume all of the leftovers myself.

While the technique of making this is almost exactly like that used for “Resurrection Mac and Cheese,” it has an entirely different flavor profile. It is more in-your-face with the extra spices, and lacks some of the nuance from the other’s combination of Gruyere and nutmeg. The spicy mac and cheese also contains about half as much cheese – but replaces much of that fat and richness with chorizo. Chorizo can be left out to create an equally flavorful dish. I would just up the amount of hot sauce used, or add according to your own taste.

Adapted from “Spicy Macaroni and Cheese,” from the Neelys

1 lb. penne pasta

3 c. cherry tomatoes

olive oil for drizzling

Salt and pepper

1 package chorizo, casings removed and finely chopped – I used 3 links of chicken chorizo to cut down on the fat a bit, can also be omitted entirely

6 T. butter

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

4 c. milk, warm

1 t. dry mustard

1 T. hot sauce

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

2 c. shredded Monterey pepper jack

1 c. sharp white Cheddar

1 (2.7-oz) can fried onions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

First, enlist some help and have him or her grate the cheese while you cook the pasta and get the sauce ready.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain in a colander.

Add the cherry tomatoes to a sheet tray, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, until visibly plump and softened.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the chorizo in a saute pan until crisp. Remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring for 1 minute. Whisk in the warmed milk and bring to a boil. Continue to whisk constantly. Stir while adding the mustard, hot sauce and Worcestershire. Stir in the cheese; reserving 1/2 cup for the topping. The mixture will thicken as the heat increases.

Pour the drained pasta into the cheese sauce and mix well. Add to a 3-quart casserole dish. Add the chorizo and roasted cherry tomatoes. Top with reserved cheese and the fried onions. Bake for 35 minutes. Can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking if refrigerated.

I didn’t buy the fried onions at first with the intention of swapping them out for bread crumbs. It made me think too much of green bean casserole my family always has at Thanksgiving. I then ran to the grocery nearby at the last minute and bought them – and they were delicious. Adding a nice fried-oniony flavor, as one would imagine.

This was a hit while watching the emotionally-charged last 2.5 hours of LOST. It may not be the healthiest or most gourmet of macaroni and cheese recipes out there – but it certainly was tasty and satisfying.

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I made breakfast recently for a group of people – one of whom doesn’t like eggs. I wanted to make something that could be assembled the night before, would be relatively healthy and somewhat filling – so not just french toast or pancakes. I made this breakfast bread pudding for a crowd before, and it turned out ok. I decided to try it again making a few changes along the way.

Here is the recipe adapted from Breakfast Bread Pudding, in Food Matters, yes, by Mark Bittman

makes 8 servings

Butter for greasing the pan

4 eggs

2 c. milk

1/2 c. honey

2 t. ground cinnamon

2 pinches of salt

2 c. blueberries

2 c. peeled and chopped peaches

1 c. pecans (could also use walnuts or hazelnuts)

16 slices wholegrain bread, preferably stale

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 X 13-in baking dish.

Cut the bread into 1-in. cubes.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl.

Whisk in the milk, honey, cinnamon, and salt.

Stir in the fruit and nuts.

Then fold in the bread cubes using a rubber spatula to make sure everything is coated. Let mixture sit for about 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Stir again. At this point, you can do what I did and cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

Transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish and smooth out. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden and only a little wobbly in the center. Let sit a bit before cutting.

This went over well, served with bacon and vanilla yogurt. It smelled great cooking and the blueberries and peaches made for a nice, summery combination. Half of the brad I used was stale and the other half was fresh. The final dish was a little more liquid-y than it should have been. I think using all stale bread would have solved this problem. This works so well because it can be made the night before – providing a ready-to-bake, satisfying breakfast the next morning.

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I made a whole dessert recently and did not share it with anyone. This wasn’t the original plan. The dish was so disappointing that I really didn’t want anyone else to even try it. I suppose this was one of those instances where following directions would have been helpful – not always crucial when cooking. Baking – yes. Cooking – no. And I guess I think of a crisp more as cooking.

Rhubarb is in season and purchased a pound of it without a particular use in mind. Then I noticed this recipe for rhubarb crisp and thought I would test it out.

Rhubarb Crisp by Mark Bittman

Makes 6 – 8 servings

6 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing pan

1 lb. rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 – in. pieces

1 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced

(you want about 5 or 6 cups of total fruit,in any combination)

1/4 c. white sugar

1 T. orange or lemon juice

1 T. orange or lemon zest

3/4 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 t. cinnamon, or to taste

Pinch salt

1/2 c. rolled oats

1/2 c. pecans, chopped

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb with white sugar, orange or lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish.

Put the 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt, and pulse for about 20 or 30 seconds, until it looks like small peas and just begins to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse just a few times to combine.

Crumble the topping over rhubarb and bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

Everything about this sounded delicious and should have worked out well. The problem came when I failed to follow one of the first steps – to trim and peel the tough strings from the rhubarb. I think I kept the rhubarb a little past its prime. I also probably did not trim enough from the ends, and did not peel off the tough strings. While the flavor was great – the consistency of some of the rhubarb pieces were a strange combination of woody/stringy. I ate around the bad pieces for a bit and picked off some of the “crisp” before throwing it all away. Next time, I will make sure to appropriately trim the rhubarb.

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vegetarian lasagna

I recently had a request to make a vegetable lasagna – which worked out well because I noticed this recipe for such a lasagna a few weeks earlier: “The Best” (Vegetarian) Lasagna. Prior to this, I had never made a lasagna, and this one sounded no less time/ labor-intensive than any other recipe. But this also sounded absolutely delicious. Between the caramelized onions, roasted zucchini, pesto, and mustard bread crumbs, I was eager for an excuse to make it.

Here’s a link to the recipe: The Best” (Vegetarian) Lasagna

Serves about 8 and tastes even better the next day.

2 large onions, thinly sliced

4 sprigs of thyme

6 medium zucchini, sliced evenly into 1/3-in. rounds

Lasagna noodles for 3 layers (no-bake or parboiled, up to you. I used no-bake, whole wheat noodles from the lovely Lotsa Pasta)

1/4 c. basil pesto (I also purchased this from Lotsa Pasta)

1 lb. ricotta cheese

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

zest of 1 lemon

1/8 c + 1 T chopped parsley

8 oz shredded mozzarella

1 c. fresh breadcrumbs

1 T Dijon mustard

8 T olive oil

3 T butter

Add 2 T olive oil and 1 T butter to a large skillet and heat on low until butter is melted. Add onions and leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme.

Sauté over low heat about 1 hour until onions are caramelized. If not sweet to taste after 1 hour, increase the heat to medium until onions are browned.

Preheat oven to 300 °F. On a cookie sheet lined with foil, line up the zucchini slices.

Toss with 4 T oil, and salt to taste. Bake 40 minutes until tender. Increase temperature to 400 and bake 10 minutes more until tops are browned.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with shredded parmesan, lemon zest, 1/8 c. parsley, and salt and black pepper to taste.

In a small pan, melt 2 T butter over medium heat until foamed. Add in leaves from remaining 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 T Dijon mustard, and 1 T finely chopped parsley. Remove from heat and whisk vigorously. Add in breadcrumbs, toss to combine, and set aside.

With all materials prepared, assemble the lasagna layers in a 9 x 13” baking dish, in the following order, remembering to lightly season with salt and pepper between layers:

1. 1/3 of onions
2. 1/3 of zucchini
3. 1/3 of tomato slices

4. 1 whole layer of prepared pasta
5. evenly brush pesto over pasta in a very thin layer (use 1/3rd or less)

6. 1/3rd of ricotta mixture, spread evenly to edges of pan
7. 1/3rd of shredded mozzarella

6. Repeat to create 3 full layers, using up most of your ingredients (you may have some leftover, just eat it all in a sandwich). Over the top, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture.

Cover lasagna in aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Take lasagna out of refrigerator and place directly in the oven. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 40 minutes till bubbly.

As I said above – this was delicious, if labor-intensive. It is good to make on a weekend for baking on a weeknight because of the overnight resting period required.

I tend to cut back on the amount of oil and butter used in recipes that are not conscientiously low-fat. I did not cut back this time, and I did find the lasagna to be a bit oily. If I ever make it again, I would use less oil while roasting the zucchini, and less oil and butter while caramelizing the onions. This was a wonderful vegetarian lasagna. I’ll have to try making a few different ones before declaring it the best.

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