Posts tagged ‘sweet’

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!
January 27, 2012

Asian Barbecue Chicken Wings

This may sound crazy, but it wasn’t until about 3 months ago that I had my very first chicken wing.  How I went almost 30 years of my life never having enjoyed these marvelous, spicy, tender chicken tenders we call Buffalo wings is beyond me.  I blame it on my British heritage.  I guess you could say growing up eating Shepard’s Pie and beans on toast had its drawbacks, but English mince pies make up for all that.  But I’ll get into those at a later date.

I fashioned this recipe after I my boyfriend went grocery shopping… something he rarely does unattended – as he usually comes home with extra bags of Cheetos puffs, tortilla chips and ice cream.  This time he came home with a bag of frozen wings – I’m not sure how he wandered into this section, by guess was he was looking for corn dogs.   I never buy frozen meat, but decided I’d give this a try since he was so excited over his discovery.   I think he was more excited by how cheap they were than anything else… you can’t really beat $6 for a 4lb. bag of chicken.  We started by looking up recipes online, but inevitably all of them consisted of at lest 3 things we didn’t have.  So, we made it up.  I have to admit I was happily surprised and since then we’ve already made then 4 more times.

You’re probably thinking chicken wings aren’t in your diet, since they’re traditionally fried and then glazed in a thick sauce.  The great this about these is they’re baked!  They come out just as crispy and juicy with less than half the calories.  You also have complete control over the type of sauce and how much you add.  I like this BBQ based sauce, it keep them healthy and they have a great tangy, Asian flair.

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs. frozen chicken wings
  • 1 1/4 cup BBQ sauce (I use Stubbs spicy BBQ sauce but feel free to use your favorite.)
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. dried onion
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp. Habanero pepper sauce (I recommend using a hot sauce that’s not vinegar based, but one that lists chili as the first ingredient.  Depending on level of heat, add more or less)
  • Fresh carrots (side)
  • Fresh celery (side)
  • Ranch dressing (dip)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F
  2. Lay frozen chicken wings on a shallow baking pan in a single layer.  The pan I use has a rim around the edge to catch the juices.
  3. Place in oven to bake for 50-60 mins.  Check the wings every 20 mins and drain the extra fat from the pan.  Turn wings over 40 mins into cooking.  I’ll increase the heat 10° to 385°F for the last 5-10 minutes to get a little extra crisp.
  4. While the chicken bakes, it’s time to make the sauce
  5. In a small bowl mix all ingredients: BBQ sauce, soy sauce, honey, dried onion, garlic powder, sesame seeds and Habanero pepper sauce.
  6. Mix with a fork and taste.  You’ll likely want to adjust some of the levels of hot sauce and honey to suit your own taste.  The combination above is my favorite, but you can pay around and make your own combinations too.
  7. When the chicken in cooked through with a nice golden crust, remove from oven.
  8. Place in a large bowl and pour half the sauce on the wings.
  9. Shake bowl lightly until the sauce covers all the pieces, add more sauce as needed.
  10. When the wings ready, I like to sprinkle on some extra sesame seeds.  It looks fancy and I love the taste!!
  11. Serve with fresh carrots, celery and ranch dressing.  Any extra sauce can also be serves as a dipping sauce.

I hope you enjoy these healthy wings.  They’re a great alternative to spending lots of money at a local restaurant, and baking the wings helps keep you in shape for spring, or hopefully a fun vacation!  After making these at home I doubt I’ll ever have wings out again.  Half the price and all the flavor!

January 23, 2012

Home Style Cornbread

There’s one thing that goes perfectly with BBQ ribs, chili or stew… golden, buttery, right-out-of-the-oven cornbread.  And there’s one thing that will take your ordinary cornbread from delicious to spectacular.  A cast iron skillet.  The traditional southern technique ensures you’ll enjoy melt in your mouth, deliciously crisp edges and pillowy centers of sweet goodness.

I like a slightly sweet, buttery cornbread with a moist center.  I also like to add a can of corn which result in chewy kernels dotted throughout the bread.  The biggest secret to good cornbread is don’t over mix.  It’s our natural impulse to mix things til their silky smooth.  This is exactly what you want when you’re making Hollandaise sauce, whipped cream, or icing sugar; but bread batter is delicate.  Save those arm muscles for when you’ll really need it, and for this recipe mix just enough to moisten the batter.  I always serve this with my homemade chili as a perfect vehicle to mop up all the extra juices, and I usually don’t have much to save for the next day.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup medium ground cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (with a small tab on reserve)
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. In a large bowl mix together dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.
  3. In a separate bowl mix together wet ingredients: can of corn, eggs, milk, butter and olive oil.  Reserve a small tab of butter to heat in skillet and create a nice crust on the bottom.
  4. Slowly add in the wet ingredients to the larger bowl and mix gently.  Do not over mix the batter, just mix enough to combine ingredients.  Don’t worry about a few lumps, if you over mix your cornbread will come out dense.  You want fluffy cornbread!
  5. Heat a heavy bottom iron skillet on high and add a tsp of oil and a tab of butter.
  6. When the skillet is hot, pour in the batter.  It should sizzle in the pan, which will ensure crispy edges and utter happiness.
  7. Let it cook for a minute, then put it in the oven to bake
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Cut into wedges, squares or sticks and serve with chili or softened butter.

Adjust the amount of sugar depending on your taste.  I like it more on the sweeter side but most of my family likes it a little more savory.  I usually win, as I’m the one making it!  ENJOY and happy cooking!

December 2, 2011

Dijon Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Onion Relish

The secret ingredient in this recipe comes from my mom.  Growing up she would make this for “family dinner” night and inevitably it would result in no leftovers and everyone asking for more.  Pork tenderloin was always one of my favorite dishes until I left home and had it in several restaurants and prepared by others not known as my mom.  Dry, bland, tough and disappointing.  It was never the same.

So, there was only one thing to do… I replicated my mom’s method and added a few of my own touches, and it’s now become a staple in my home.  Every time I make it the smells and flavors bring me back home to Sunday night dinners with my family.  It was our one night a week we would have a “proper” dinner, which my mom defined as, one, being in the “nice room”, two, using cloth napkins, and three, using double the plates (half of which didn’t go in the dishwasher).  I know because I was the designated plate dryer as my dad dunked them in scalding hot water and pass them to me with bright red fingers.  I dedicate this post to my family, and hope that it becomes a tradition in your home too.

Ingredients

  • Pork tenderloin
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Topping

  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. hot ground mustard (Colman’s British hot mustard powder)
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • Sprinkle of salt (to taste)
  • Sprinkle of freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Splash of water or stock (if needed)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. fig jam

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Heat a large heavy bottom pan on stove on medium/high.  Add mustard seeds and fennel and tilt the pan so the oil lightly covers the bottom of the pan and all the spices
  3. While the oil heats up, sprinkle the pork tenderloin with salt, pepper and rosemary. Rub the spices into the meat so they don’t fall off when you drop it in the pan, it really helps flavor the tenderloin. This is your only time to season it, so if you don’t add it now it will be too late.
  4. Place tenderloin in hot pan and sear on all sides.  The mustard seeds and fennel will stick to the sides of the pork as it sears.
  5. Sear the pork, approximately 3 minutes per  side, and remove from pan.  Set in a roasting pan on a wire rack.
  6. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then spread a thick layer of Dijon mustard over the entire tenderloin.  You might need more than 3 tbsp. Just keep spreading it on so you cover the top.
  7. Place in oven and cook for 35-40 minutes
  8. While the meat cooks it’s time to make the topping!
  9. In the same skillet used to brown the meat, add sliced onions, garlic, salt and pepper and cook on medium/low until soft and translucent.  You may need to add a little more oil to avoid burning. 
  10. Add ground mustard, mustard seed, Worcestershire and a splash of water and continue to cook down for 10 minutes on low heat.
  11. You want to caramelize the onions, which is a slow and delicate process so be patient and let them cook down at a low heat.
  12. Add jam and butter and stir well.  Once it’s ready, cover leave on low heat.
  13. Check the pork with a meat thermometer.  Pork should reach 145°F
  14. If it’s under put it back in for 10-15 minutes and check again.  It depends on the thickness of the tenderloin, so it will vary every time.
  15. Once the meat has reached the right temperature remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing so the meat juices have time to redistribute.  If you cut it right away all the juice will run out of the meat and give you a very dry piece of tenderloin.
  16. Slice pork and top with sweet onion sauce

This pork is flavorful enough to eat on it’s own, or add a topping, or just a simple spoonful of applesauce.  The spicy mustard keeps the pork moist and adds the perfect amount of heat to the delicate tenderloin.

Below is an alternate topping my loving boyfriend made for the following evening.  The dates disintegrated in the warm sauce resulting in a sweet jam like marmalade.

Alternate Topping

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 jalapenos, diced
  • 6 dates, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • Sprinkle of salt (to taste)
  • Sprinkle of freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. butter

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 21, 2011

Jalapeño Corn Spoon Bread

I discovered corn spoon bread at a family Thanksgiving my junior year of high school.  How I could go 16 years of my life without knowing about this delicacy is beyond me.  My family was invited over to a friend’s house, and Meghan made her special recipe.  I didn’t even know what it was until it came out of the oven warm and steaming.  Similar to a thick pudding texture, this sweet, creamy dish is a welcomed partner to steak, chili, pork chops, ribs… ok, pretty much anything.

This corn bread meets corn chowder under the alias of spoon bread, is something that I happily mound on my plate knowing it’s both healthy and sweetly delicious.  This is a great substitute to your traditional mashed potatoes, yams, parsnips, root vegetables and other purees that serve as the piles to sop up everything delectable that runs off our main courses before our forks can catch it.  To offset the sweetness of the corn, I add onions and jalapenos to give a mild spice.  I’ve modified the original recipe, but the staples are still there.  Thanks Meghan, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can whole can corn undrained (no salt added)
  • 1 can creamed corn (no salt added)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 jalapeños, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. jalapeño powder
  • 1 package corn bread (jiffy)

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Combine sour cream, butter and egg in a medium size bowl and whisk until smooth
  • Add the remaining ingredients, corm, onion, jalapeno, jalapeño power and corn bread and mix with a wooden spoon
  • Spray a 9” pan with cooking spray
  • Place on center rack in oven and cook for 1 hour
  • Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving, it will be very very hot!

THANK YOU MEGHAN!  This one’s for you!

September 28, 2011

Simply Salsa

I have a few salsa recipes in my repertoire, and I promise I will share all of them with you over time.  This is one of the easiest, and it’s a perfect way for me to use up the peppers in my garden, as I can’t possible add jalapeños to every dish.  Peppers seem to grow like weeds in Houston, they love the heat and humidity, and they seem to survive no matter what I do to them.  If case you didn’t know I’m probably the only person you know who can kill a cactus (yes, I did).

When the peppers are cooked their sharp heat softens, and they take on an unexpected balance of sweetness and deep pepper flavor without the heat.  The cilantro adds a nice freshness and gives the salsa vibrant specks of deep green. This salsa can vary in heat depending on the peppers; so if you have a batch of really spicy ones, only use 4-5 jalapeños.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 jalapeño peppers
  • 2-4 serrano peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 8 roma tomatoes
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lime juice (half a lime)

Method

  • Fill large pot half way with water (one big enough to cook pasta)
  • Drop in peeled gloves of garlic, onion, and jalapeños.  There’s no need to chop or dice any of the ingredients, the food processor will take care of that later
  • Bring water to a light boil and let vegetables cook for 10 minutes
  • Drop in whole tomatoes and boil an addition 5-10 minutes until the skin of the tomatoes start to split
  • Remove from stove and pour all contents into strainer.  You aren’t going to save any of the water, so you can do this directly in the sink
  • Let cool for 5-10 minutes until cool enough to touch
  • Remove tomatoes skins and pepper stems and put all the contents into a food processor.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a blender, but BE CAREFUL!  Blenders don’t have vents so the hot contents will explode if you put it on high.  Take a cloth and hold firmly on the lid while pulsing slowly.  I would also recommend waiting another 5 minutes to cool, believe me, salsa burns are not fun.
  • Pulse on high for 15 seconds
  • Add lime juice, salt and cilantro and pulse until mixture is smooth
  • Taste test, it may need a little more salt and the only way you’ll know is by trying it!
  • Serve warm with tortilla chips

Feel free to mix up the pepper combination.  This is one of those salsas that can one day be blazing hot, and others as mild as bell peppers… it all depends on the time of year and the jalapeños.   Feel free to substitute more mellow peppers, which you can achieve with Ancho, Pasilla or Anaheim, all popular varieties you should be able to find in your local store.

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