When my friend Jess and I get together, some sort of baking is almost inevitably going to occur.
We contemplated our choices and pondered the possibilities – coconut or chocolate? Maybe something fruity? Or how about something spicy? We settled on a gingerbread cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting because (a) ‘tis the season (b) Jess has never had gingerbread before, which is compounded by (c) nor has she cooked with molasses – one of my favorite ingredients!!!
We found our recipe on Gojee (oh the wide, wide world of food/recipe apps) and it turned out quite well. The original recipe was for cupcakes, but we made it in cake form and it worked perfectly. Unlike many gingerbreads, this isn’t dense at all – it truly is a gingerbread cake recipe. And the frosting, oh the frosting. Cinnamon cream cheese need I say more? Swoon.
I usually prefer to bake solo (as in, other people can watch, but only one cook at a time!), but Jess is one of the few (only?) people I can actually bake with. We work well together, trading off measuring and mixing and sticking our fingers in the batter and cleaning up as we go. She likes mixing the frosting, while I prefer full control over the frosting process.
After baking and cooling and frosting, we let our glorious cake solidify in the fridge for a grand total of 30 minutes before we couldn’t wait anymore … cake time! A serving suggestion: scoop some pumpkin ice cream on top (not pictured ... we ate it too fast). Trust me.
This cake would be great to bring to a holiday party, maybe decorated with some red and green sprinkles or a sprig of holly?
Gingerbread cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting
Printable recipe from Eat. Run. Read.
2-3/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1-1/4 cups molasses
1 cup hot water
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon maple syrup
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and flour (very thoroughly! Our cakes stuck) three 8-inch round cake pans.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients except for the brown sugar and set aside.
3. Cream the brown sugar and butter together in a mixer for 3-5 minutes or until light and fluffy.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the molasses, mixing until well-incorporated.
5. Alternately add one third of the dry ingredients, one third of the water, etc, mixing after each addition. The batter will be thin.
6. Evenly divide batter between pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge, tip the cakes out, and finish cooling on wire racks.
To make frosting
Place all ingredients in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until well-combined. Then, when your cake is completely cooled, frost it one layer at a time and enjoy!
Related post on Eat. Run. Read.: Fig cake with rosemary syrup
Last year, I posted a recipe for peppermint black bottom cupcakes, a nifty seasonal twist on a classic recipe and family favorite. Well, as I started to think about Christmas treats for this season, I decided to take that classic recipe and try another twist – fun, rich, colorful red velvet. Red velvet black bottom is not a great name, so I call these surprise cupcakes because of the creamy white chocolate bits hidden in the center. A delicious, prettily wrapped Christmas present.
Yes, you really do need the whole bottle of food coloring to get the vivid red, otherwise it will be a muddy, dull shade. Be careful of a fresh manicure with the food coloring though, it is hard to get off. And yes, these may turn your tongue a little crimson, but that’s half the fun.
Kids and adults alike love these festive treats, and they are a perfect make-ahead, portable party delight. Stored in an airtight container, they will last for days. I can see these as a lovely gift, wrapped in cellophane, tied with a green ribbon. The cupcakes are pretty enough to serve as decoration on their own.
Red velvet surprise cupcakes
Makes 16 cupcakes
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar, divided
1 large egg
1 cup white chocolate morsels
1-1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (1-ounce) bottle red food coloring
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners.
Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until creamy and smooth. Gradually beat in 1/3 cup sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Fold in the white chocolate morsels. Set aside
In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup of sugar, the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Stir together the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla and red food coloring in a measuring jug, then pour into the well. Stir just until the batter is mixed. Spoon the batter evenly between the 16 muffin cups, filling each half-full. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese filling over the batter in the cups.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of a cake comes out clean and the cream cheese filling is set. Cool for 5 minutes in the tins, then remove to cool completely on a wire rack.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Peppermint angels
Yikes! Where has the time gone? Once the dishes were cleaned from our Thanksgiving dessert, I felt myself melt into an unproductive pile of mush. I just needed a little time to recover from the rush of Thanksgiving and gear up for the holiday rush. I’m ready now. Mostly.
It wasn’t a completely unproductive week though. I decided to try my hand at making one of those adorable yarn wreaths I’ve seen pictured online. I made one, admired it for a bit, then got sucked into a major crafting time warp. I awoke covered in bits of yarn and a web of those stringy glue gun remnants. I made sixteen yarn wreaths, complete with handcrafted felt flowers and tiny green leaves, over the course of six days. I barely remember making them. They just sort of appeared in a pretty pile on my dining room table. It’s kinda weird. Almost everyone I know is getting a wreath for Christmas.
On top of manic crafting, I’ve been overfilling my calendar with holiday events, shopping lists, and cookie baking schedules. Suffice it to say, this is gonna be a busy month. And busy months require easy dinners – the sort of stuff you can easily prepare by throwing together a few basic ingredients, while still resulting in a tummy-warming winter meal. This eggplant parmesan pizza fits the bill perfectly.
You could even make it with frozen pre-fried eggplant, if you wanted to keep it super, super simple, though frying your own eggplant takes minimal effort. That crisp fried eggplant gets scattered on a pizza shell (make your own or buy pre-made, like I did) along with pizza sauce, ricotta cheese, parmesan, and melty mozzarella for a simple, satisfying meal.
Today’s focus on technique – salting eggplant
It is often recommended to salt eggplant prior to frying it. This technique is best applied to larger eggplants which have been sitting in the grocery case for a bit. Baby eggplants or those that have been freshly picked will most likely be wonderful without salting. The purpose of salting the eggplant is to draw out some of the bitter liquid which collects in larger, older eggplants. The end result is better tasting, firmer eggplant which will absorb less oil as it’s fried.
To salt your eggplant, start by cutting or slicing your eggplant, as desired. Arrange the pieces or slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with a good amount of salt. Allow it to rest for approximately 20-25 minutes. Beads of liquid will begin appearing on the surface. Thoroughly rinse the eggplant and pat dry.
Eggplant Parmesan pizza
1 eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
Vegetable or olive oil, for frying
1 pizza crust (store-bought or homemade)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup pizza sauce
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
*All measurements are approximate. Actual measurements will vary depending on the size of your pizza crust. I used a 12-inch store-bought crust.
Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer. Sprinkle with a good amount of salt. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly, then pat dry.
Dredge each slice in the flour, then dip in egg, then dredge in the bread crumbs. Press the bread crumbs into the eggplant so that it is thoroughly covered. Heat a thin layer (about 1/8-inch) of oil in a large fry pan over medium/medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices for a minute or two on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Adjust the heat, as necessary, to prevent burning. Drain the fried slices on paper towels. Chop into small pieces.
To assemble the pizza: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the ricotta cheese in an even layer over the pizza crust. Spread the pizza sauce on top of the ricotta (I like to use a smooth and thick tomato-paste based pizza sauce.) Sprinkle about 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese over the sauce. Arrange some of the eggplant pieces around the pizza. (You may have extra eggplant remaining.) Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, until hot and melty.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Pizza dough with kids
When does Lidia Matticchio Bastianich sleep? The star of PBS’s popular "Lidia’s Italy," she is also chef/owner of restaurants in New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. She’s a partner (with son Joe, Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti) in New York’s wildly successful Eataly. She and son Joe have a winery in Italy. Lidia and her daughter Tanya design a line of cookware (they’ve also launched a line of pastas and sauces). Oh. And in her spare time, she writes cookbooks.
Her most recent is "Lidia’s Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees," published in October 2012. She calls it her “most accessible cookbook to date, a gathering of recipes that have become her go-to meals for her very own family.” These are not the deconstructed or re-imagined recipes you’ll find in some chefs’ cookbooks (not that there’s anything wrong with that approach). The recipes here reflect yet another of Lidia’s roles, one she takes great pride in – that of Italian grandmother or nonna.
Much as grand-mères are responsible for the simple, perfect meals that I most cherish in French cuisine, nonnas have long been the source for the best of traditional Italian food. They get meals on the family table and pass their culinary skills and techniques on to daughters and granddaughters, keeping classic recipes alive. You’ll find many of them here, from veal osso buco to escarole and white bean soup, olive oil mashed potatoes, eggplant Parmigiana and savory seafood stew. "Lidia’s Favorite Recipes" is particularly rich in pasta dishes. That’s where I decided to start exploring.
I love when recipes teach me something. When I first started cooking, once something went into the pan, it was in there. Period. Then one day, I came across a recipe that had you brown an ingredient – probably meat of some sort – and remove it from the pan while you completed other steps, then return it to the pan for finishing. It was a revelation. Now it’s standard operating procedure to me, of course. Well, this recipe uses my earlier cooking style, layering flavor upon flavor as you keep adding ingredients to the pan. And it does it in a way that nonnas have always done, I think.
Besides being fairly quick and easy to prepare, this dish is just fun to cook. You put something in the pan and cook it for a bit, then make a hole in the center of the pan and add the next ingredient. After that cooks for a minute or two, you mix everything together and then make a hole for the next ingredient. The recipe was so simple and rustic, I was expecting good but basic. What I got was transcendent.
Ziti with sausage and fennel
Serves three as a main course, four or five as a primi course
1/2 pound ziti (see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
1 fennel bulb, 1 pound or slightly less
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into half moons
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and add ziti. Cook until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than recommended cooking time. Drain, reserving 2 cups of pasta water. Do not rinse (see Kitchen Notes). Set aside.
While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, assemble the other ingredients. If the sausage is not bulk, remove from casings and break the meat up with your fingers. Using a sharp knife, slice off the root end of the fennel bulb and the stalks with the fronds. Reserve the stalks and fronds. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut out the inner core and slice the bulb halves lengthwise into about 1/4-inch slices. You’ll probably end up with more than the 2 cups you need. You can save it for another use or go ahead and have a little more fennel in this dish.
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet with high sides – I used a sauté pan – over medium flame. Add the sausage and cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, breaking the meat up more with a wooden spoon. Push the sausage to the sides of the pan and add the onion in the center. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, then mix the onion and the sausage together. Create a hole in the middle again and add the fennel. Cook for a minute or so, stirring occasionally, then mix with the meat and onions. Season lightly with salt and then clear yet another hole. Add the crushed red pepper and toast for about 30 seconds. Toss to combine and make one final hole. Add the tomato paste and cook until just sizzling, 1 or 2 minutes, mashing it with the back of a wooden spoon.
Ladle in 1-1/2 cups of the reserved pasta water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer the sauce for 5 to 6 minutes. Flavors will develop, the sauce will thicken slightly and the fennel will soften a bit (you want it to remain slightly crunchy, so don’t overcook).
Add the pasta to the pan. It will be sticking together, but don’t be alarmed. As you gently toss it with the sauce, much of it will loosen up on its own. With the more stubborn pairs of tubes, insinuate the edge of a spatula between them, and they will separate. Cook for 2 minutes or so to let the pasta absorb some of the sauce and finish cooking. Add the fennel fronds and toss to combine. If the dish is seeming a bit too dry, drizzle on a little more pasta water and mix it in.
Remove the pan from the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and toss it in. Serve immediately in shallow pasta bowls.
I like ziti. For years, our go-to tubular pasta has been penne. But with its ridged sides, it can be thick and chewy. This recipe is the first time I’ve cooked with ziti, and I have to say, I love its thinner walls.
Starch is good. You often hear the reason to not rinse pasta is that the starch from the cooking water helps the sauce stick to it. That’s the case with this dish in letters five miles high. When you plate the pasta, there will be no sauce to speak of left in the skillet. It’s all clinging to the pasta, sausage and vegetables, not so much a sauce as a flavorful coating.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Beef and pork ragu: A hearty, meaty meal for yet another chilly weekend
The Edible Books selection for December is Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger by Nigel Slater.
Nigel Slater is well-known for several cookbooks filled with stories and sumptuous photos, his BBC series "Simple Cooking," and his food column in The Observer. And "Toast" is now a BBC movie starring Helena Bonham Carter.
Before Slater was a famous author and broadcaster he was a young boy who dealt with the loss of his mother, a new housekeeper, and his father’s uncertain temper.
"Toast" is a memoir of Slater’s childhood and growing culinary talents, told through food. Get ready to learn more about the boy who became the famous man.
Happy Reading! ~ Christina & Natalie
Below is the December discussion schedule:
This month’s reading schedule requires some explanation: We have divided the book into four roughly equal weekly sections as usual. Toast is written in 118 very short chapters – some less than a page long – that are titled but not numbered. The page numbers listed below are accurate for the Kindle Edition but vary slightly for the paper editions and are therefore intended only as a guide.
December 1-7: Discuss Chapters Toast 1-Jelly 1 (approx pp. 1-57)
December 8-14: Discuss Chapters Jelly 2-Fray Bentos Steak & Kidney Pie (approx pp. 58-109)
December 15-21: Discuss Chapters Smoked Haddock-Coffee and Walnut Cake (approx pp. 110-159)
December 22-31: Discuss Chapters Candyfloss-Toast 3 (approx pp. 160-247)
If you need more information about Edible Books, please read the participation guidelines here.
Though I do not have a sweet-tooth, every now and then I like to have some sweet baked item with my tea in the afternoon or evening. And based on last week’s column, you know that I like it to be something that can be dipped or dunked.
A biscotti proves to be the ideal thing to have on hand for such occasions; more importantly, I like that a biscotti can be around whenever youf eel like having one because they can be stored at room temperature for a couple of weeks.
Biscotti are Italian twice-baked cookies or some would say biscuits depending on their interpretation of the word biscuit. Biscotti di Prato originated int he Italian city of Prato. The dough, crumbly and sticky when mixed, is first formed into logs, baked and then cut into 1/2-inch slices while still hot and baked again until dry and crisp.
These cookie-biscuits were first sought after for long journeys and wars back in the day because they could be stored for long periods and were considered non-perishable food.
Today, biscotti still have a long shelf life; a homemade batch can last for two weeks at room temperature and longer yet at cooler temperatures. I like to keep it simple with some dried fruit and almonds.Sometimes I add freshly grated coconut, this results in a shorter shelf life due to the coconut being fresh with its oils, however, I never have to worry about that because the coconut biscotti are gone in no time.
One of the other things that I like about homemade biscotti is that it is not overly sweet as some desserts and baked items can be. With biscotti on hand, having people over for tea or coffee is never a bother. Ready to give it a try?
Fruit and nut biscotti
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
1/2 cup raw almonds coarsely chopped
3 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the middle.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon. Add in cranberries and nuts to flour mixture and toss to mix. Whisk together eggs, milk, oil, and essence. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until just combined; do not over mix, the dough will be crumbly and sticky, use your hands to bring the ingredients together so as not to over mix.
Divide the dough in half and transfer to a parchment-lined or greased bakingsheet (13 x 18”) 5 inches apart. Shape each half into an 8-inch log and flatten the top just a bit. Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce the oven to 325 degrees F.
Slice each log of biscotti diagonally (across) into 1/2-inch slices. Assemble onthe same parchment-lined/greased baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake for 15 minutes on one side, remove pan from oven, flip the biscotti and bake for another 15 minutes on the other side.
Remove biscotti from pan and cool completely on wire racks.Store in airtight containers at room temperature for one to two weeks. Serve with a hot beverage or a dessert wine.
You can vary the spice flavourings for you biscotti – anise, cardamom, teamasala, apple or pumpkin pie spice mix. Add your nuts or dried fruit preference. Orange or lemon zest can be used as flavours too.
Related post on Tastes Like Home: A cookie and a coffee cake
This may be one case where too many cooks in the kitchen is a good thing.
The award-winning community of online home cooks is back with another crowd-sourced tome, The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2. Created by food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Food52.com is a recipe and cooking website that invites online users to contribute and critique recipes, and share solutions for kitchen challenges. So immediate has been its success since its launch in late 2009, Food52 has attracted more than 85,000 members and was named the 2012 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation.
This second cookbook edited by Hesser and Stubbs includes 104 recipes culled from the themed recipe contests hosted each week over the course of a year on Food52 (as in 52 weeks). Full of interesting, unique dishes and candid comments from Food52.com groupies, "The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2" inspires as easily as it charms.
Volume 2 is organized by season in order to best showcase its emphasis on seasonal, fresh cooking. Its recipes demonstrate a certain artisanal flair, with such titles as "Almond Cake with Orange Flower Water Syrup," "Variegated Spiced Latkes," "Coconut Cajeta & Chocolate Fondue," and "Late Night Coffee Brined Chicken," to name a few.
Why buy a cookbook when you can find thousands of recipes online? Consider this volume a carefully edited selection of the crème de la crème efforts by home cooks. Hesser and Stubbs, with an assist from a team of recipe testers and photographers, chose the finalists of each contest but it was the online readers themselves who voted for the winning recipes. The cookbook also includes 23 "wildcard winners," hand selected by Hesser and Stubbs.
On the last pages are tiny mug shots of each winning contributor, which helps to give the cookbook its community feel and reveals the identity of some of the more prominent Food52 users (Mrs. Wheelbarrow has a real name!). Three of the winners are also contributing bloggers to CSMonitor.com's Stir It Up!: Hong and Kim Pham of TheRavenousCouple.com (Korean Fried Chicken Wings) and Perre Coleman Magness of TheRunawaySpoon.com (Fig and Blue Cheese Savories).
Enthusiastic comments from the online members also include their own confident adaptations. "This is soooo delicious and easy! Great for entertaining," writes user VBeale of a recipe for Sweet Potato and Pancetta Gratin. "I substituted shallots for the pancetta to make it vegetarian. Thanks for sharing!"
This is exactly the kind of spirit that makes Food52 endearing – it reassures home cooks that we're all in this together and that everyone has something to offer. What makes the Food52 experience so unlike anything you'll find on the chef-focused Food Network is that this is a community by home cooks for home cooks. Even the photos and videos are shot right in Hesser's Brooklyn Heights apartment kitchen.
But beyond the feel-good community ties, which have far surpassed expectations of its founders, followers of Hesser's work will find that the Food52 cookbooks are yet another chapter in her ever-interesting career. As a food editor of The New York Times and an award-winning author ("The Essential New York Times Cookbook," "Cooking for Mr. Latte," "The Cook and the Gardner") Hesser has something of a golden touch, right down to picking a partner in Stubbs.
Everyone needs a break from being logged on, and when you are ready to power down and head into the kitchen create something of your own, just tuck a copy of "The Food52 Cookbook" under your arm and bring a whole new army of foodie friends to cheer you on.
Southern California is a huge ethnic melting pot/salad bowl with large ethnic groups such as Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese, Thai, Philipinos, and Latinos – and each group has made it’s mark on the culinary landscape. One such culinary notch is Korean fried chicken wings.
While fried chicken may be something American’s consider their own, the Korean style is also extremely delicious. Their method of a very lightly battered and double fried chicken wing renders out the fat and results in an ultra crispy and delicious wing. Add to that a variety of glazes such as ginger soy and spicy glaze, it’s no wonder Korean fried chicken joints are popping up all over the West and East Coasts.
We don’t deep fry very often but we had access to a deep fryer and had to make our version of Korean fried chicken wings for a birthday party. We adapted Maangchi’s Sweet and Crispy Fried Chicken to make it similar to the ones we’ve had here in Los Angeles. The Korean chicken wings at Kyochan or Bon Chan have a very thin crust and so instead of using your typical flour and egg batter, we used Wondra flour which is a super fine flour – great for crispying things up – a tip we got from Chef Eric Ripert on his cooking show, Avec Eric.
Korean Fried Chicken Wings with Ginger Soy Glaze
(adapted from Cooking Korean Food with Maangchi)
2-3 lbs. chicken wings (tips discarded, and wings cut at the joints-washed and pat dry)
1 cup of Wondra flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Soy Ginger Glaze:
1 cup water
1 cup thinly sliced ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tablespoon honey or corn syrup
1-2 tablespoons Korean fermented chile or rooster brand garlic chile or red pepper flakes (adjust according to your tastes)
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (optional)
First prep the chicken wings, wash, and pat dry with paper towel. In a mixing bowl, combine about 1 cup of Wondra flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken wings in the flour mixture to get a fine light coat.
Heat some cooking oil in a deep fryer or a deep frying pan to about 350 degrees F. Fry chicken wings, in batches if necessary, about 5 minutes. Remove, and shake any excess flour/grit off and allow to cool.
Now in a small saucepan, add the water, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, chile, sugar and bring to boil. Then add the honey/corn syrup and reduce by half and it will be a thick maple syrup like consistency and set aside.
Re-fry the wings until crispy golden brown, about another 5-8 minutes. Drain on frying rack or paper towels. Dredge or brush on the soy ginger glaze. We also like to finish with some toasted sesame on top.
Related post on The Ravenous Couple: Mochi Dumpling in Ginger Sauce
If you are like me, you always offer to bring something when invited to someone’s house. I mean the offer, I always love an opportunity to cook for people, but sometimes it’s hard to come up with a quick idea on the fly. And when it’s one of those roaming parties – not a seated affair – choosing a dish that doesn’t have to be kept hot or cold or require and special equipment adds to the challenge.
I tend to fall back on the same recipes, but I wanted to add one to my repertoire – after all, it gets to be the same people at parties, right? These little Fig and Blue Cheese bites are easy but very elegant, and the surprising tart and tangy with sweet combination is a real treat.
Blue Cheese and Fig Savories
Makes about 3 dozen
You’ll find fig preserves at the grocery – it may be shelved with the “fancy” jams and jellies. You can make these a day ahead and keep them in two layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Ground black pepper
Fig preserves (about 3 Tablespoons)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the flour, butter, blue cheese and a few grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to pull the dough together. Roll out to 1/8 inch thick with a floured rolling pin. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter and transfer the rounds to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Using the back or a round half-teaspoon measure or your knuckle, make an indention in the top of each dough round. Spoon about 1/4 teaspoon of fig preserves into each indention, using your finger to push the preserves as best as possible into the indentions.
Bake the savories for 10 – 14 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom.
Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, the remove to a wire rack to cool.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Fresh Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze
New Orleans is one of our favorite cities for food. Everything tastes of history, blended cultures and spices. Lots of spices. Some of them hot, of course, but more often just big flavored. And from the diviest dives to the fanciest white tablecloth spots, you have to work hard to find a bad meal.
It’s been too long since we’ve been back to New Orleans. Fortunately, "Taste of Tremé: Creole, Cajun, and Soul Food from New Orleans’s Famous Neighborhood of Jazz" by Todd-Michael St. Pierre delivers. Published in October 2012, it is stuffed with doable recipes, from breakfast right on through to dinner, dessert, and cocktails.
"Taste of Tremé" is also packed with the flavor and soul of the city. Author Todd-Michael St. Pierre shares some history of Tremé, his favorite NOLA neighborhood and the oldest African-American community in the nation. St. Pierre says of the area “music is always in the air and something wonderful is always simmering on the stove.”
This recipe for shrimp with cheddar grits had me at "grits." I grew up in St. Louis, about as far north as grits reliably get on breakfast joint menus. And I have a lot of family in the South. So the creamy texture and buttery, salty taste of grits (to those of you who put sugar or syrup on grits, stop it) is a road trip welcome home sign for my mouth.
It helps to think of grits as kind of polenta (they’re both ground corn) or even risotto, filtered through Southern kitchens. All are slow cooked to a creamy finish that, unlike rice or pasta, doesn’t need a sauce or gravy. In fact, they often serve as the slightly saucy base for other foods.
St. Pierre warns that a “true grits connoisseur will scold you if you suggest that they use instant grits or what are commonly called ‘quick grits.’ ” On the day I had for shopping, quick grits were all I could find – Chicago may be too far north for the real thing. If you can find old-fashioned, slow-cooking grits, do so. Otherwise, the quick grits are pretty good. However, don’t use the instant grits – even I wouldn’t do that.
Spicy Shrimp with Tomatoes and Cheddar Grits
For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper (or other pepper—see Kitchen Notes), finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
3/4 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Creole/Cajun spice (see Kitchen Notes)
2 to 3 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
For the grits:
3 cups water
a generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grits
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used extra sharp)
A quick note: Time the cooking of the grits and the shrimp so they’re both done at the same time, based on the kind of grits you use.
Cook the shrimp. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add bell pepper, onion, jalapeño pepper and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes. Be careful not to brown or burn the garlic.
Add Creole/Cajun spice and shrimp, stirring to combine, and cook for two minutes, turning the shrimp halfway through. At this point, the skillet will seem alarmingly dry. Don’t worry. Add the tomatoes and cook for an additional three minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes will release their juices; use them to scrape up any browned bits and incorporate them into the dish.
Meanwhile, cook the grits. Bring the water to a rapid boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and then slowly stir in the grits. Return to a boil and then reduce heat to low so the grits just simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until grits are smooth and thickened—30 to 45 minutes for old-fashioned grits, five to seven minutes for quick grits.
Don’t go crazy on the thickening – like polenta, they will continue to thicken as they cool. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar until it completely melts into the grits.
Assemble the dish. Spoon grits into individual shallow bowls. Top with vegetables and shrimp and serve.
Pick a pepper. The original recipe calls for a tabasco pepper. I went with the more readily available jalapeño, which is also lower on the heat scale than the tabasco (but I didn’t seed my pepper, as the recipe called for with the tabasco). You could also use a Serrano pepper, if you want more heat.
Creole/Cajun spice. St. Pierre’s Suck da Heads and Pinch da Tails Creole Spice sounds like an excellent mix (and authentically, it uses onion powder and garlic powder, two regulars in New Orleans cookbooks, even when the recipe uses fresh onion and garlic, as does this one). I used this recipe for Emeril’s Creole Seasoning, a slightly stripped down version. (I switched teaspoons for tablespoons, reducing my total mixture to 1/3 the original recipe and still have plenty left for other uses.) In a pinch, you can use store-bought Creole/Cajun spice.
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