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I think pecans may be my favorite nut.  Sure, cashews may be my favorite just to munch on, and pistachios are the best to eat while sitting around a campfire, but pecans can be transformed into so many wonderful goodies – pies, turtles,  brittle.  Not only are they the perfect baking nut – they are so addictive to eat raw.  My mom used to hide the bags of bulk pecans she would  buy for Christmas baking, because otherwise me, my brother and my father would eat them all before she got around to making them into treats.  But now that I live down south where pecans are omnipresent, there’s no need for pecan hiding.  And this abundance has led to many more opportunities to try different pecan recipes.  The most recent is a recipe for spicy candied pecans, and it has been an unmitigated success.

pecans

Now a caveat – sometimes I have to hide the spicy candied pecans because C loves this recipe so much.  If not hidden, the spicy pecans rarely last a few hours, let alone a day,  so I’ve become adept at making these at the last minute.  Since the recipe only takes a half an hour from start to finish this is not a hardship. In fact this recipe is by far the easiest recipe for candied pecans I’ve seen anywhere and I think it’s the tastiest.

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While I used measuring implements for this recipe,  if you’re good at eyeballing measurements you might want to try that to save on the sticky clean up.  The recipe calls for corn syrup, which whenever I cook with it, manages to get all over my entire kitchen.  You combine the corn syrup with sugar, salt, ground pepper and Tabasco sauce.  I won’t tell you how much Tabasco sauce to put in because it all depends on how spicy you like your pecans – obviously the spicier you like your nuts the more shakes of Tabasco.  I would warn you to taste the sugary mixture as you go – a few too many shakes of the Tabasco bottle and the the mixture could be fiery hot.

unbaked-pecans

After the sugary mixture is the correct spicy temperature, you mix in the pecans.  Don’t worry that the mixture won’t cover the pecans evenly, as the melting process will take care of that in the oven.  I would urge you to cover a baking dish with foil and then spray it with Pam or some other baking spray  –  it will save your sanity by making clean-up easier.  Once the pecans are in the baking pan, they go in the oven.  You stir once or twice to make sure the pecans get all the sugary mixture, but you basically let them bake for 15 minutes.

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Once that 15 minutes is up you have to work fast – use a fork to separate the pecans on another piece of foil sprayed with Pam.  If you dilly-dally you’ll get a big hunk of candied pecans.  Not the worst thing.  I suppose you could treat it like peanut brittle and chop it up – but it’s better if you have individual candied nuts.  Once cool you can store in any covered container –  except the nuts probably won’t last that long if anyone hungry is around the house.   Which is fine – this recipe is so easy you can always make more!

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Spicy Candied Pecans

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 T.  corn syrup
1 1/2 T. sugar
3/4 t.  salt
1/4 t.  (generous) freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco Sauce (to taste)
1 1/2 C. pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line with foil and spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine corn syrup and next 4 ingredients in large bowl. Stir to blend. Add pecans; stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.

Place large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 5 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to coat with melted spice mixture. Continue baking until pecans are golden and coating bubbles, about 10 minutes. Transfer to foil. Working quickly, separate nuts with fork. Cool. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Makes 1 1/2 cups

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brownie-buttons1

So clearly it’s been awhile since our last post.  I have no excuses except  for work, school, life, and a DVR full of West Wings.  And here it is almost Christmas  – that wonderful food-filled holiday – and this blog has been silent.  As an early New Years resolution I resolve to do better – to post more, to take more pictures, to experiment more in the kitchen.  There is holiday baking to be tackled and Dorie Greenspan’s Brownie Bites are the perfect place to start.

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When I was growing up, one of my good friends got a chocolate orange every Christmas.  At the time I was more entranced by the fact that orange would magically split into perfect sections once opened rather than the combination of orange and chocolate.  Truthfully,  I’ve  never been one to like fruit flavors with my chocolate – usually I think it messes up the perfect balance of chocolate.  But chocolate and orange seem to go together around Christmas; when I saw that Dorie’s recipe for Brownie Bites  called for orange zest it seemed to be a sign that this could be a new option to add to the cookie tray.

brownie-batter

The batter was easy to put together.  You just melt the chocolate, brown sugar and butter; once this mixture is off the heat you add vanilla, an egg, some sugary orange zest and flour.  It’s a basic brownie recipe – the thing that makes this cute and Christmasy  is that fact that they are cooked in mini muffin pans.  Once popped out of the pans and cooled, the brownies really do look like buttons.

brownie-bites

But what really makes these special is the white chocolate glaze.  Simply melt white chocolate chips then dip the tops of the brownie buttons in the melted chocolate and twist your wrist as you pull them out.  If you do it right it looks like the brownies have a cute little white hat on – just right for a Christmas cookie tray.

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Brownie Buttons
from “Baking, from my Home to Yours” By Dorie Greenspan

Grated Zest of 1/2 Orange
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Flour
Pinch of Salt
1/2 Stick (4 Tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, Cut into 4 Pieces
2 1/2 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Coarsely Chopped
1/3 Cup (Packed) Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg

For the optional Glaze:
2 Ounces White Chocolate, Finely Chopped

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet.

If you’re using the orange zest, combine the zest and sugar in a small bowl, rubbing them between your fingertips to blend: set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so that nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two. Stir the vanilla, egg and the zest into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.

Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup 3/4 full. Put 1 teaspoon of water in each empty cup.
Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks.

To make the glaze: Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir constantly and don’t leave the chocolate for even one minute- white chocolate scorches easily. As soon as the chocolate is smooth, remove from the heat.

One by one, dip the tops of the buttons into the chocolate, twirling the buttons so that you get a little swirl at the center of each one and the excess chocolate drips back into the bowl. Refrigerate the buttons for 15 minutes to set the glaze.

Cheese Cake Ice Cream Pice with Strawberries

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie with Strawberries

I love cheesecake. I love it so much I even made it my wedding cake. Basically I’m addicted to the extreme creamy cheesiness combined with just a hint of lemon all served on the simple, yet wonderful graham cracker crust. I’m also addicted to my ice cream maker. Coming up with new ice cream dishes throughout the long steamy summer helps keep me sane when the temperatures down here in Nashville edge higher and higher. So deciding to come up with a version of cheesecake ice cream is not exactly out of character for me. And given my love of cheesecake, the fact that I decided to freeze the concoction into a graham cracker crust and serve it with strawberries – well, that’s just the logical next step.

The ice cream was fairly easy. Just start with a softened block of cream cheese and whip it with the whisk attachment of your mixer. Once it’s soft and creamy you can add the sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and then – slowly – the half and half. After a run through the ice cream maker, the base’s consistency will be almost soft serve-like. Perfect for putting into a pie plate. Or if you have low willpower, gobbling it up right from the ice cream maker.

Graham Cracker Crust

Graham Cracker Crust

The graham cracker crust is possibly the simplest crust you can make – crushed graham crackers, sugar and melted butter are all you need. I added a tiny bit of nutmeg – but that’s because I’m also addicted to nutmeg (there must be a 12 step program for spice addicts somewhere). After a quick trip to the oven and a thorough cooling, the crust will be ready (and willing) to be filled. After a few hours in the freezer, the whole pie was ready to be cut and served. The whole thing makes for an easy summer treat – especially nice when I don’t feel like cooking a cheesecake for an hour and heating up my home. A nice ice cream pie takes care of my craving and keeps me cool. Perfect.

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Ingredients

For the Ice Cream:

8 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)

juice of 1 lemon

1 t. vanilla

1/2 c white sugar

2 cups half and half

For the crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup melted butter

1/3 cup sugar

nutmeg (optional)

To make the crust – combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and nutmeg (if wanted) and press mixture into a pie plate. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

To make the ice cream – using the whisk attachment of an electric mixture whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the sugar, slowly, until incorporated. Add in the vanilla and lemon juice. Slowly add in the half and half until the mixture is smooth. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour. Freeze the base in an ice cream maker until the mixture reaches a soft serve consistency. Spoon ice cream into cooled graham cracker crust and smooth out the top. Cover in plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours.

To serve, remove from freezer – if pie is too hard let sit for 10 minutes. Top with the fruit of your choice.

Mini Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin

There is something so cute about a mini-muffin. They look like little baby offspring of a normal muffin, and are the perfect size to simply pop into one’s mouth. They are also perfect to share: a normal muffin recipe usually yields a dozen muffins, but when baked in a mini-muffin pan, the recipe triples. So when I decided to bring in a breakfast treat for my co-workers, a ‘mini’-aturized muffin recipe was just the way to go.

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Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin recipe was the perfect recipe to shrink and share. We’ve extolled the many virtues of our favorite baking goddess here before and this recipe did not disappoint. While I’m not normally a lemon person, I think the flavor brightens up breakfast food. The poppy seeds added crunch and a subtle flavor to the recipe and when the muffins are topped with a simple glaze they become a work of pure and utter genius. You may have thought that sweet and tart can only exist in candy form – Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin provides it in a perfect little baked good.

Lemon Poppy Seed Batter

Aside from changing the muffin size, I didn’t attempt to modify this recipe. The baking time was lessened to between 10-12 minutes – I just pulled them out when the tops of the muffins were slightly brown. After they were completely cooled, I drizzled one of the easiest glazes you can make (just lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar) and let it set. All that was left was to keep C from scarfing all of them down before I could take them away in the morning. And as for how the mini muffins were received by my co-workers – well ‘yummy’ was the word that I heard over and over again. And the only thing left after a few hours were crumbs.

Glazed Mini Muffins

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Taken from Dorie Greenspan’s, Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the Muffins:
2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 t pure vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 T poppy seeds

For the Icing:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 T fresh lemon juice

Directions:

To Make the Muffins:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and the lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and hte fragrance of the lemon strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whish the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and melted butter together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the wish or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough-a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter. Stir in the poppy seeds. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold. Cool the muffins completely on the rack before icing them.

To Make the Icing:
Put the confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl and add about 1 1/2 T of the lemon juice. Stir with a spoon to moisten the sugar, then add enough additional lemon juice, a dribble at a time, to get an icing that is thin enough to drizzle from the tip of the spoon. You can then drizzle lines of icing over the tops of the muffins or coat the tops entirely, the better to get an extra zap of lemon.

Cappuccino Gelato

I appear to be caught in a bit of a coffee paradox. I don’t drink coffee… ever. The few times in my life that I have mistakenly drunk a few drops have left me with an impression that most of America is addicted to a beverage that is impossibly bitter at best and patently undrinkable at worst. And yet… I love coffee ice cream. I find that the extreme bitterness of the drink is mellowed with the addition of lots of cream and sugar. Instead of putting a dash of cream in my big pot of coffee, I prefer to put a dash of coffee in my big pot of cream. In the humble opinion of this non-coffee drinker, coffee ice cream allows for the actual flavor of the coffee bean to show through – it is, in fact, how the coffee bean should be enjoyed.

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So when I was flipping through my brand new big yellow Gourmet cookbook, I noticed the recipe for Cappuccino Gelato. While my trusty ice cream maker has been put to use in the service of many of my favorite frozen flavors, it has yet to tackle coffee. The Gourmet recipe was simple – since I was making a gelato, a milk-based Italian version of ice cream, I wouldn’t have to worry about tempering (and perhaps scrambling) any eggs. The recipe used corn starch to thicken the base and provide it with an an almost custard texture.

Gelato Base

The only modifications I made to the recipe were the addition of a teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of almond extract. They helped round out the flavor of the coffee and paired very well with the milkiness of the final product. I only offer one warning – the cappuccino gelato is a tempting confection. It will call for you to scarf it down way past the hour when one should be eating caffeinated anything. So if you’re not used to caffeine, resist the urge in the evening hours or you’ll find yourself bouncing off the walls and unable to sleep well into the night. Not that this happened to anyone I know…

Cooled Gelato Base

Cappuccino Gelato

Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 T. instant espresso powder

2 T. cornstarch

1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 T. sugar

1/8 t. salt

1 t. vanilla (optional)

1 t. almond extract (optional)

Whisk 1/4 cup of milk into espresso powder in a small bowl, whisking until powder is dissolved. Stir 1/4 cup of milk into cornstarch in another small bowl, stirring until cornstarch is dissolved.

Combine sugar, salt and remaining 2 cups of milk in a 3 quart heavy saucepan and bring to just a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir cornstarch mixture again, then whisk into milk mixture and simmer, whisking, for 2 minutes. Whisk in espresso mixture. ( I added the vanilla and almond extract here.)

Transfer mixture to a metal bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally , then cover surface with a round of wax paper and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.

Freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

New Potatos and Pepper

Over a year ago C and I heard that one of our friends, Noushin, won the District of Columbia chicken cooking contest. This meant she had been chosen to represent the District of Columbia in the National Chicken Cooking Contest. As luck would have it, the Championship Cook Off was to be held in Birmingham, AL, just a few hours from our home in Nashville. While I was unable to attend due to a prior commitment, C and some of his college buddies made the trip down to Birmingham to cheer their friend on. He came back with stories about making small talk with the first lady of Alabama, roving mascot chickens, and the fact that the contestants had to wear sashes straight out of Miss America – even the male contestants. And he brought the sad news that even though it smelled delicious, Noushin’s Warm Roasted Potato and Chicken Salad did not bring home the top prize. Over a year has passed and C still raves about how good the dish smelled and (nudge, nudge) how much he would have liked to taste it. One Sunday evening I was staring at chicken breasts and some new potatoes and I mentally cataloged the contents of my refrigerator and realized that for once, I had all the ingredients actually in my kitchen and could make the dish without even planning.

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And as I began cooking, I realized I had to hand it to Noushin. She had put together a recipe that was unique, yet easy to make with readily available ingredients – roasted potatoes, poached chicken, frozen peas, some other veggies, and dressing. But the smell truly was incredible – the aroma of roasting potatoes was mixing with the lemony chicken broth and the kitchen smelled wonderful.

Chicken poaching in lemon

My luck was holding since for once everything ended up finishing around the same time – the peas were cooked, the chicken poached and chopped, and the potatoes were out of the oven. Once I combined the lemony/mustard dressing with the warm chicken, potatoes and veggies, the meal was ready to be served. The meal itself was delicious – substantial and comforting but also light. The lemon/mustard dressing provided a great contrast to the roasted potatoes and complimented the chicken. It went great with a crisp glass of white wine. Basically, it was just plain yummy. Noushin may have been robbed by not winning the Chicken Cook-off, but at least I can make her recipe whenever I need an easy, comforting meal.

Warm Potato and Chicken Salad

Warm Roasted Potato and Chicken Salad

Recipe by Noushin Jahanian
Washington, DC Representative to the 47th National Chicken Cooking Contest

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 lemon
1 cup frozen green peas
5 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, divided
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Dressing: recipe follows
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

In large bowl, toss together potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Place potatoes, skin side down, in single layer on baking sheet. Place in 400 F. oven and bake 30 minutes, or until potatoes are fully cooked. Place potatoes under broiler for additional 2 minutes to brown. In medium saucepan, place chicken. Cover with water, add lemon and cook over medium high heat about 12 minutes, or until done. Remove chicken from water, cool slightly and chop into bite-size pieces. Cook peas according to package directions and rinse with cold water to cool. In large bowl, toss together chopped chicken, roasted potatoes, peas, 4 tablespoons of the parsley, green onions and Dressing. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Dressing: In small bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard; juice of 1/2 lemon;
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest; 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar; 1/2 tablespoon olive oil; 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper; 1/4 teaspoon salt; and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Apple Crumb Coffee Cake

After the disappointing Pear and Ginger Muffins, I was left with a hankering for some good, sweet, crumbly breakfast foods. I was craving coffee cake. Months ago, I had seen this recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog and had been looking for a reason to try it out. But when I announced my intention to my husband C, he protested. Apparently, he thinks that all the baking I’ve been doing is causing him to gain weight. I assured him that this coffee cake would be taken in to my workplace to feed grateful co-workers and that it need not grace his lips, but he still seemed skeptical.

Apples

I didn’t have any rhubarb, but I did have two apples, so I chopped them up and set them aside. I then moved on to the crumb part, and that’s when I knew this would be a good recipe. One stick of melted butter combined with the sugars, spices and flour made a crumb topping unlike any I’d ever seen. The topping was thick, almost like play dough. And by having melted butter, it was more thoroughly incorporated into the topping than it would have been if it was cold butter. Once the cake batter was done, and the apples added, the topping was applied by tearing chunks off of the buttery mass. The topping was basically as high as the batter itself, and since the best part of the coffee cake is the crumb topping, this was a very good thing.

Crumb Topping

Once the cake was in the oven, the cinnamon and spice aromas permeated our apartment. C began wandering into the kitchen, and asking when the coffee cake would be out. When I reminded him that that the coffee cake was destined for my co-workers, the begging began. In the end after making him smell the cooling coffee cake for 30 minutes, I relented and cut him a piece. ‘Mmm… better than Starbucks’ coffee cake’ – which he assured me was high praise.

Baked Apple Crumb Coffee Cake

So if you like your coffee cake heavy on the crumbles, and better than that Seattle chain, this is the recipe for you!

Apple Crumb Coffee Cake

With apologies to Smitten Kitchen and Adapted from The New York Times 6/6/07

2 Apples – peeled and chopped into a ¼ dice.

For the crumbs:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups flour

For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. Peel and chop the apples and set aside.

2. To make crumbs, in a large bowl, whisk together sugars, spices, salt and butter until smooth. Stir in flour with a spatula. It will look like a solid dough.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon apples over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over apples; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.