Posts tagged ‘bake’

October 5, 2013

Grains of Paradise and Cayenne Oatmeal Cookies

Living in Houston I’ve learned that Texans LOVE spicy, hot food.  They serve everything with a side of Tabasco or hot salsa that makes your forehead sweat, and it’s already hot enough without the spicy food.  Eggs, steak, salads, burgers… everything is bursting with heat.  I spent my first few months in Houston downing gallons of milk every time I attempted to conquer the red salsa at our local Mexican restaurant.  Sadly, I never succeeded.  But in an effort to enbrace my new home I’ve tried to incorporate some spice into my classic recipes to satisfy my friends cravings.

Grains of Paradise and Cayenne Oatmeal Cookies

The thing I like about these cookies is that they don’t immediately smack you in the face with heat, it gradually hits at the end and lingers ever so slightly.  I didn’t want to mess with a classic too much, but I do think this takes a traditional oatmeal cookie to a more grown up level.  The cranberries add to the chewy texture of the oats and give it an added sweetness needed with the earthy spices. I purposely left out cinnamon, usually a staple in oatmeal cookies, as I didn’t want it to mask the other spices. 

The secret ingredient in these cookies is grains of paradise, a spice native to West Africa. I crushed the grains with my mortar and pestle which released the most heavenly aroma — a combination of black pepper, cardamom, coriander and citrus with a lingering scent of something floral and woodsy.  If you crack one between your teeth, the flavor follows in much the same order as the aroma.  If you only get one thing from this recipe I hope it’s an introduction to this wonderful spice.  The floral, peppery flavor is going to make a wonderful addition to just about all your favorite foods.  Your grilled steaks, fish, vegetables and potatoes will thank you.

If you’re looking for something a little more special, pop two cookies in the oven at 350 for a few minutes and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have a perfect ice cream sandwich. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you are adventurous)
  • 1 tsp. grains of paradise
  • 1 tsp.  baking soda
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped and toasted
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups traditional Quaker Oats (not quick cook)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F
  2. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. This helps the cookies crisp by being closer to the heat source or at the very top where the heat accumulates.
  3. Place nuts in a small pan and toast on medium heat for 5-7 minutes.  As soon as they become fragrant take them off the heat and space them on the side to cool.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cayenne, grains of paradise and salt thoroughly and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, beat butter, white and brown sugar, and vanilla until the mixture changes color and becomes a smooth, pale white… this is what you want so you have light, fluffy cookies.
  6. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.
  7. Add oats, pecans and cranberries and stir until mixed well.
  8. Scoop dough on to ungreased cookie sheets, I use a mini ice cream scoop to make it easier.  I also spray the spoon with pam so the dough doesn’t stick.
  9. Bake for 8-10 more minutes until the cookies are golden brown
  10. Let the cookies cool on pan for 1 minute before placing on wire rack.
  11. Enjoy!

 

October 10, 2012

Black Pepper Cranberry-Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

I have an influx of oatmeal in my pantry…  every time I go to the store I seem to think I’m out so I buy more.  And of course when I get home I realize I have pounds of it!  (I’ve had the same experience with foil and butter…. )  So I needed to find some ways to get through it apart from my morning breakfast.

Black pepper oatmeal cookies with cranberries and walnuts

Thankfully, oatmeal can be used for a variety of healthy and tasty treats… granola and cookies being two of my favorites.  The change of seasons also makes me warm up to those heartier breakfasts and the cold harsh winter in Houston.  OK, harsh is probably overdoing it but we did get snow my first winter in Houston!  After a few not-so-subtle hints from my husband I finally had a free evening to bake up some goodies.

Home-baked cookies seem to be the perfect vehicle for little warm nuggets of heavenly pecan, walnut and macadamia.  It’s the perfect amount of crunch to balance the chewy exterior, and helps level out the sugary sweetness of plain cookies.  These are buttery, chewy and indulgent, and the hints of black pepper and nutmeg give this traditional recipe an interesting twist.  The tart cranberries contrast well with the black pepper and allow both flavors to spark while not overpowering one another.  You’ll friends will know they’re different, but they won’t know why…

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, melted (1½ sticks)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups traditional Quaker Oats (not quick cook)
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts (or your favorite nut)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Method

  1. Remove butter from fridge and let warm to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  3. Place chopped pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 mins.  When you kitchen smells like heaven they’re ready.
  4. Remove from oven and let cool on the side.
  5. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Your cookies turn out so much better with parchment paper. I don’t know why but it works and then there is less to clean up!
  6. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and black pepper; set aside.
  7. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until it becomes a light cream color and fluffy in texture.  The color should significantly change from when you start, so just turn up that mixer and let it go!
  8. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk for 2-3 minutes until light and creamy.
  9. Mix in the flour mixture until just blended.
  10. Add the oats, walnuts and cranberries and mix with a wooden spoon. Mix until just blended.
  11. Use a tablespoon and scoop out small balls of dough onto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes. Do not over bake. The edges should turn very light brown, which is sometimes hard to see in the oven light, so I think I over baked these the first few times I made them.  The centers should still be slightly soft.
  12. Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack (I usually try to eat one right off the tray and always burn myself… but it’s so worth it!
  13. Repeat and enjoy!
November 14, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Ok, I waited long enough.  It’s now officially holiday season with Thanksgiving only 10 days away!  I’ll continue to post some healthy alternatives to get you through the cookie season, but this is not one of them.  This is melt-in-your-mouth, buttery, sugary heaven, and a perfect way to begin the festivities.

These quick, easy powdered sugar-covered shortbread cookies are known as Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cookies.  Either way they’re delicious, and dead easy to make.  They’re very similar to a shortbread cookie, but have the added flavor and texture of pecans and the silkiness of powdered sugar.

The secret to great tasting Mexican Wedding cookies is to use a high quality butter and pure vanilla extract.   Yep, it’s that simple.  The distinctive quality of these cookies that make it stand out from others is the smooth, velvety texture, light as air yet buttery flavor, and the surprising hint of crunchy nut which elevates this from simple cookie to a grown-up confection. I remember being horribly disappointed by these cookies as a kid because they aren’t overly sweet.  Now I appreciate that subtle sweetness and complex nutty flavor.

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or fresh vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.*
  • Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.
  • Take one tray and line with chopped pecans.  Toast nuts for about 10 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant.  Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the rest of the batter
  • Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer at low-speed until it’s smooth and light in color.
  • Beat in vanilla, almond extract and nutmeg at low-speed.
  • Keep mixer on low and gradually add the flour.
  • Once you add all the flour, remove mixer from stand and mix in the pecans with a spatula.
  • With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent.
  • Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies.
  • Place crescent shapes prepared cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Before the cookies are ready to come out, prepare a shallow bowl with confectioners sugar
  • Remove cookies from oven and when cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners sugar
  • Cool on wire racks

* QUICK TIP: If you’re short on time, you can raise the oven temperature to 350 and cook for 12-14 minutes per batch.  I prefer the slow cooking method, it keeps them evenly cooked and you have less chance of overcooking them, but the hotter oven also works.

Buying vanilla extract can be a challenge as there are so many choices. The first thing to do is to make sure that it’s labeled “pure” and not “imitation”. The best I have found, although it is quite expensive, is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract that can be found in specialty food stores and online.

 

 

October 11, 2011

Homemade Meatloaf with Peppers and Fresh Herbs

Please try to forget all the stereotypes of the classic meatloaf.  I know; it’s hard.  So to try and help I’ve come up with a recipe to help put all your fears of dense, hard, dry meat bricks to rest.  It’s a modern spin on a traditional comfort food, with a promise to deliver juicy, flavorful meatloaf, which will leave you sneaking back to the kitchen for seconds.

When I’m served a hot plate of meatloaf, I search for the steaming aroma of meat, onions and spice that reminds me Fall’s crisp air is just around the corner.  The sage gives off a woodsy, minty flavor that pairs well the fresh rosemary, which has a unique pine-like fragrant flavor balanced by a rich pungency, a combination that evokes both the forest and the sea.  The use of bell pepper and jalapeño gives the meatloaf a sweet and spicy contrast, and the hint of green specks is beautiful.  While some people might be looking for the ketchup crust or the homemade gravy, I turned to my magic ingredient.  Bacon.  Yes, I cover the loaf with bacon and let it crisp up in the oven, helping to keep the meat moist, tender and delicious.

Two tips I have before I get started.  First, don’t over mix the meat.  This is the biggest culprit for tough meatloaf.  You want to mix the ingredients into the meat, not knead it like bread or pasta.  If you’re gentle and quick with the meat, you’re meatloaf will be fluffy and juicy.  Second, I recommend cooking it on a baking sheet, not in a loaf pan.  The sides of the pan get hotter than the oven and tend to burn the edges.  Have fun with this and get your hands dirty,  it’ll be worth it.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed finely diced
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground mustard (hot Coleman’s English mustard is the best)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 10 oz. packet of center cut bacon

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Line a medium size baking sheet with foil and set aside for meatloaf
  • In a medium skillet, heat 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Add onion, garlic, bell pepper and jalapeño.  Sprinkle with salt and stir so the oil evenly coats all the vegetables.  Leave on medium heat, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent and slightly brown.  You’re caramelizing the onions; about 10 mins.
  • Remove from heat and let cool
  • While vegetables cool, add meat, salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, parsley, Worcestershire, panko, ketchup, and eggs in a large bowl
  • When vegetables are cool, add them to the large bowl and mix with hands (don’t try using a spoon, it’s time to use your hands!)
  • Mix quickly and gently, the more you mix the tougher your meatloaf will turn out (which is why you don’t want to use a spoon).  Just mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • Lay the meat on foil lined baking sheet and form into a large log
  • Take the bacon and lay slices across the meat.  This will add flavor and keep the meat moist while it bakes in the oven.
  • Bake for 110~130 mins until cooked through, check with an oven thermometer.  Internal temperature should reach 150°F.
  • When meatloaf is cooked through, turn broiler on low, and cook for 5 mins to crisp bacon.  Stay near the kitchen and keep your eye on this, it may only take 2 minutes depending on your oven, and it will happen quickly!
  • Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.  This allows the meat juices to redistribute.
  • Serve with ketchup!
October 8, 2011

British Bread and Butter Pudding

I’ve tried many bread and butter puddings in fancy restaurants, but I always go back to the simple homemade version I learned from my mom.  It doesn’t have fancy ingredients, or liquor, or vanilla spice, it’s just traditional pudding just like Nanny used to make.

I love the smell of the warm custard baking in the oven; it makes the whole house smell like home.  When it’s ready to take out, the crispy brown coating on the top makes me giddy, and as I spoon it out the warm steam escaping from the pudding is intoxicating.  The raisins plump up in the oven and get nice and juicy and sweet, while the bread is soft and creamy.  I like the slight crust on the top from the sugar; it’s a nice change of texture from the soft, velvety filling.

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf day old bread
  • 2 cups whole milk (don’t use 2%, 1% or skim)
  • 1 3/4 cup light or heavy whipping cream (I’ve used both and I can’t tell any difference)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/8 cup sugar plus 2 tbsp. for sprinkling
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 stick salted butter

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F, and place rack in center of oven
  • Combine milk and whipping cream in large saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and 1/8 cup sugar in large bowl.
  • Once the milk starts to foam, remove from heat.  Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into egg mixture, to create a custard.  Add the hot milk slowly while whisking so the eggs don’t scramble, it’s called “tempering” the eggs. Set custard aside.
  • Butter a 9x9x2-inch glass-baking dish
  • Spread a thin layer of butter on both sides of each bread slice
  • Line the bottom of the baking dish with a single layer of bread.  Feel free to break up the slices or cut them to make to make it fit.  You don’t want them overlapping.
  • Sprinkle with raisins and a dusting of sugar.
  • Continue to layer bread, raisins and sugar until you fill the dish.  I don’t put a layer of raisins on the top, as they tend to dry out in the oven.  I only put a sprinkling of sugar and use all the raisins in the pudding.  Don’t worry about filing the dish, the custard will fit!
  • Slowly spoon out the custard over the bread and let it set in as you go.  Make sure you do this gradually, so the custard has time to sink in.  You should be able to use most of the custard; you may be left with about 1/4 cup, nothing to worry about.  Just fill it to the very top.
  • Let stand until some custard is absorbed, about 2 minutes.
  • Place in over and bake pudding until custard thickens and begins to set, about 20 minutes.
  • Preheat broiler. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over pudding. Broil until sugar browns, rotating baking dish for even browning and watching closely, about 2 minutes.
  • Let pudding cool slightly. Serve warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

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