Chocolate-mint cookies ooze flavor familiarity

Playing nicely on the same plate comes easier to some foods than others. In the hands of the right chef (or home cook), however, a dish of disparate ingredients can be more than the sum of its parts, or so this week’s A la Carte story ventured.

But if the concept falls too far outside a cook’s comfort zone, the familiar is always within easy reach. For me, squares of dark chocolate with mint tea have become as indispensable as wine with cheese or bread with butter.

While both cocoa and mint can swing to the sweet or savory ends of the flavor spectrum, together they’re almost exclusively sweet, with most of the combination’s variation coming from texture: crunchy chocolate-peppermint bark, crispy-chewy Thin Mints or velvety yet tongue-tingly hot cocoa. These ooey-gooey cookies, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, are another for that list.

Tribune News Service photo

Midnight Mints

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut up

2 eggs at room temperature

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup flour

20 to 40 Andes mints, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Break up the unsweetened chocolate into a bowl. Toss with the butter. Microwave just to melt, for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir. Let cool to room temperature.

Crack the eggs into bowl of an electric mixer. Pour in the sugar and vanilla. Sprinkle in the baking powder and salt. Beat until thick and pale, for about 5 minutes. Pour in chocolate mixture; beat on low until combined. Sprinkle in the flour; beat on low until combined.

Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a 1 3/4-inch-diameter ice-cream scoop to portion out 20 domes of dough. Press 1 or 2 of the mints into each cookie.

Slide pan(s) into a preheated oven and bake until just set, for about 7 minutes. Enjoy warm.

Makes 20 cookies.

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It’s high time for high-quality Hass avocados

In this in-between season for so many fruits, one at least lends fresh-picked status to produce sections.

California’s Hass avocados, widely considered the tastiest, come on strong in March and persist through summer. Fall is time for Florida’s Fuerte before Mexico’s Hass take the helm in midwinter. In the season’s short gaps, Chilean and Peruvian specimens supply the U.S. market in hit-or-miss fashion.

My household has been making do for months, it seems, with subpar avocados. The fruits, for several reasons, are among my few concessions to year-round consumption. Thick skins make avocados good travelers — even across the globe — and good keepers when stored at cold temperatures. They can hang on the tree for months before being picked and, fortunately for farmers and retailers, ripen off the tree.

But undersized fruits with musty aroma and stringy flesh are all too common before the domestic harvest finally gets underway. Now that it’s ramping up, the large Hass can be had for about a dollar apiece and promise creamy texture and superior savory flavor.

When they’re plentiful, inexpensive (relatively speaking) and this good, avocados can take the lead in my meal planning. Stocking some pantry staples — canned beans, tortillas, cabbage and lime juice — allows for impromptu meals once an avocado attains the perfect degree of ripeness.

To go with them, uncooked tortillas are a favorite product that I’ve started purchasing within the past year. Available in grocers’ refrigerator sections, Tortilla Land tortillas produced by Tyson Foods cook in 60 seconds, either in a dry skillet or in hot oil.

Like a delicious avocado, a bit of extra expense for fresh tortillas (compared with already cooked) elevates otherwise simple dishes, such as these tostadas, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. It comes from The Spinster Sisters restaurant in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Tribune News Service photo

Spinster Sisters Tostadas

1 (28-ounce) can black beans

3 1/2 cups thinly shredded raw cabbage

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons lime juice

Canola oil, as needed

Salt, for sprinkling

6 small corn tortillas (about 5 or 6 inches in diameter)

1/4 crumbled Cotija cheese

Salsa verde (recipe follows)

1 ripe avocado, halved pitted and sliced

Pour the beans (and liquid) into a medium saucepan. Set over medium-low heat and let cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare remaining ingredients. Add a little water if beans look dry.

In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, radishes and cilantro. Dress with the lime juice, 2 tablespoons canola oil and a little salt.

Into a heavy skillet, pour canola oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. Set over medium-high heat. Fry the tortillas, 1 at a time, until crisp, for about 20 seconds per side. Drain on kitchen towels.

Set tortillas on a platter. Top each with some beans and sprinkle with some of the cheese. Pile on cabbage salad. Finish with a spoonful of the salsa and a few slices of the avocado. Serve with additional salsa.

Makes 6 tostadas, 3 servings.

SALSA VERDE: Place 6 husked tomatillos in a saucepan; fill with cold water to cover. Simmer until tomatillos turn from spring green to olive drab, for 5 to 8 minutes. Drain. Halve and seed 1 serrano chili. Slice one-quarter of a peeled yellow onion. In a dry, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, cook chili and onion until charred, for about 4 minutes. In a blender jar, swirl tomatillos, chilies, onions, one-quarter bunch of cilantro (leaves and tender stems) and 1 ½ teaspoons salt.

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Sweet-savory pear bread bridges fruit seasons

The appeal of strawberries arrayed in chocolate for Valentine’s Day is hard to resist. Even when the actual berries are literally pale shadows of their early-summer selves. And their flavor is more of a sour counterpoint to the chocolate rather than sweet complement.

Better to wait a few more months for fresh berries, or so I told my preschool-age son last week at the grocery store when he plucked a clamshell of blueberries from a cooler. That’s easier said than done, however, when fruits of numerous varieties aren’t at their best.

The domestic citrus harvest is still on in some spots and for some varieties. But we’ve been eating them since before Christmas.

Apples and pears still are emerging from cold storage with most of their attributes intact. But I’ve also brought home not a few of the latter that never attain luscious ripeness at room temperature. The starkrimson variety, in particular, has disappointed, despite its red hue that all but promises a stellar eating experience.

For bland, underripe pears, my solution is simply to stew them with some sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and a few spices. This quick compote is a welcome counterpoint to sausages, roasted root vegetables and cheeses.

If I wanted to infuse the fruit with even more flavor, this quick bread would be the ticket. Redolent of ginger, nutmeg and fresh sage, it straddles sweet and savory and nicely bridges the seasons.

Tribune News Service photo

Pear, Sage and Hazelnut Bread

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 sage stalks, leaves stripped

1 cup chopped and toasted hazelnuts

3/4 cup rolled oats

1 2/3 cups plain all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup light brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

3 medium ripe pears, peeled and cored, 2 grated and 1 sliced to decorate

1 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 340 F (see note). Butter and flour a 4-by-10-inch loaf pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat together with the sage leaves. You don’t want to burn butter; just heat it until it starts to brown and sage leaves turn a little crispy. Remove from heat but keep in a warm place so butter remains liquid.

In a large bowl, mix the hazelnuts with the remaining dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, break the eggs, add the grated pear, yogurt, vanilla extract and warm sage butter; whisk together well. Gradually add dry mixture to wet, stirring together well, to form a heavy, wet dough halfway between a thick cake batter and a bread dough. Add a little more flour if dough is looking a bit wet or a little extra yogurt (1 tablespoon at a time) if too dry.

Spoon dough into prepared loaf pan and smooth top of dough with back of a spoon. Arrange pear slices on top and sprinkle over a few teaspoons of brown sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, spread with butter and alongside coffee. This toasts beautifully the next day, like banana bread, and will keep for up to a week in a sealed bag in the fridge.

Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: If you can’t set oven to 340 F, bake bread at 350 F for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once bread has been in oven for 60 minutes, keep checking it every 5 minutes until it is done.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “Nordic Light: Lighter, Everyday Eating From a Scandinavian Kitchen” by Simon Bajada, (Hardie Grant Books; August 2016, $39.99).

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This bar cookie embraces chocolate with lemon

Rarely enthralled by chocolate, I tend to feel a tad excluded on Valentine’s Day.

While I appreciate good-quality dark chocolate one square at a time, or maybe a single, velvety truffle, my friends and family know only too well that I prefer my sweets in fruit flavors rather than cocoa nine times out of 10.

Desserts that incorporate fruit and chocolate — cherries, raspberries and banana in particular — do deserve my consideration. But chocolate with lemon? How does that work?

The answer comes by way of this bar cookie, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Arthi Subramaniam. Crushed chocolate wafer cookies compose the crust for a filling with plenty of pucker power, owing to finely grated lemon zest.

Could this unconventional combination actually tempt chocoholics? My best test subjects are two young boys who unfailingly can be coerced into compliance with chocolate. Yet they both famously love to suck lemon wedges. Given those tastes, these treats could become a new family favorite.

Tribune News Service photo

Lemon Bars

2 cups crushed chocolate cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted

1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened

3 egg yolks

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/4 cup powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lay 2 sheets of parchment paper in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Combine the crushed cookies and melted butter. Press crust mixture into bottom of prepared pan.

Bake crust in preheated oven for about 15 minutes.

While crust is baking, make filling by whisking together the cream cheese, egg yolks, condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Let mixture rest for a few minutes to allow some air bubbles rise to surface.

Pour filling into warm crust. Place pan back into oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until filling has set.

Remove from oven and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 16 bars.

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‘Loaded’ cauliflower cuts carbs from potato dish

Soup swaps, featured in this week’s A la Carte, are a savory take on the cookie-swap concept.

In my house, the idea of a “soup swap” has a slightly different definition and purpose. Swapping an ingredient that I know my young children will eat for one that incites their resistance, while mostly maintaining the original dish’s flavor and texture, is my new culinary mission.

This week, it was cauliflower-leek soup masquerading as a much-appreciated potato-leek soup. Both had a smooth, creamy texture, without the addition of any cream. Both were topped with cheese and crispy bacon. And both whet the appetite of my younger son, at least, who polished off multiple portions. My older son, suffice it to say, wasn’t so complimentary.

Indeed, cauliflower isn’t a dead ringer for potatoes and should be appreciated in its own right. But the lower carbohydrate content of the former has inspired plenty of substitutions for the latter over the past decade or so. Adding some cooked and mashed cauliflower to mashed potatoes is a favorite technique of at least one local chef I’ve interviewed over the years.

When cooked, cauliflower even becomes creamy enough to mimic dairy, in the right context. I had to admit in a 2015 post that adding cauliflower to fettuccine Alfredo is a delicious way to cut some calories from the traditional dish. I’ve also seen the vegetable touted as faux ricotta cheese to fill lasagna.

Although it’s far from dairy- or fat-free, this take on “loaded” baked potatoes adds a few more flourishes to classic cauliflower-cheese.

Loaded Cauliflower Bake

Tribune News Service photo

2 small heads cauliflower, cut into florets

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups reduced-fat milk

1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or favorite cheddar cheese blend

2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Morton’s Nature’s Season Seasoning blend, to taste (optional)

Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/4 to 1/2 cup sliced scallions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the cauliflower florets for 2 minutes.

Drain florets well and transfer to a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, for 1 minute. Add the flour and stir until golden, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a low simmer. Add the cream cheese and whisk until combined. Stir in 1 cup of the cheddar until melted; season with the salt and pepper.

Taste and, if you like, add the seasoning blend and pinch cayenne pepper. Pour cheese sauce over cauliflower and stir until combined. Stir in all but 1 tablespoon each of the cooked bacon and scallions until combined, then top with remaining cheddar, bacon and scallions.

Bake in preheated oven until cauliflower is tender and cheese is bubbly and thickened, for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from www.delish.com.

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Winter squash makes simple, savory galette

Considerable snowfall over the past month has caused me to comment that winter’s departure won’t be anytime soon.

But efforts to clean up our garden and start seeds indoors have given me hope — and motivation to chip away at last year’s produce and meat in the freezer. I’m anticipating the delivery of a locally raised lamb in mere days.

We’ve pretty much depleted tomato sauces and paste. I’ve dutifully made batch after batch of homemade stock with poultry carcasses, ham hocks, lamb neck bones and vegetable trimmings. Roasted and mashed winter squash filled homemade ravioli. And frozen cherries and plums were revitalized in simple turnovers and pies.

Indeed, the ease of assembling a galette or crostata (explained in a 2012 post) is just one reason to keep prepared pie or puff-pastry dough in the refrigerator. Last year’s garden rhubarb is slated with raspberries for the next filling, not least because the pie plant will start to unfurl its lush leaves in the next few weeks.

Hard-shell squash from the garden, admittedly, is much farther off. But who really wants to eat last year’s frozen squash when tender, new edibles are popping up by mid-spring?

So now seems the time to give squash its just deserts: in a savory galette with sautéed onions, blue cheese and sage. So simple that a recipe isn’t really necessary, the process is explained here by the Chicago Tribune.

Tribune News Service photo

Squash Galette

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil; add 1 onion, peeled and sliced into thick half-moons. Cook until softened, for 10 minutes. Mix in 1 (10-ounce) package cooked and frozen butternut squash puree, thawed. Season with salt.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place 1 crust for a 9-inch pie; spread with squash mixture, leaving a border about 1 1/2 inches wide. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese and 5 fresh sage leaves, chopped. Season with plenty of pepper. Fold border of crust over edge of filling, leaving middle exposed.

Bake in preheated oven until crust is golden-brown, for 30 to 35 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

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Even classic recipes can use a few improvements

Winter is indeed the ideal time for one-pot meals, as the current issue of A la Carte attests.

In my house, the one-dish dinner sees us through all four seasons, particularly in the past three years or so. Anyone who has children, a busy career, full slate of activities or just isn’t all that inclined to spend time in the kitchen sees the value in throwing an assortment of ingredients into a pot and allowing heat and time to do most of the work.

This week’s food-section story offered recipes for black-bean soup, choucroute garni and lamb shanks with vegetables (see the e-edition). To that, I’ll add the quintessential beef stew: boeuf bourguignon.

This French classic is, of course, the dish that famously secured Julia Child’s first cookbook contract, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” But even the most celebrated recipe can gain still more appeal in the hands of the right cook.

Among them is Leslie Brenner, writer for the Dallas Morning News. One of her recent stories dissected the process of beef bourguignon that incorporates beef shank with a fattier cut than the lean stewing beef that Child originally used. There’s also no need to fuss over dicing vegetables into bite-sized pieces, she says. Ditto for the beef prior to browning it.

You also could skip the fuss of preparing the traditional garnish of mushrooms sautéed with lardons of bacon. Eliminating that step makes this truly a one-dish dinner. But because the stew can be prepared a day ahead and reheated, saving the mushrooms’ manufacture until just before serving is entirely appropriate.

Tribune News Service

Beef Bourguignon

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into cubes of about 1 1/2 inches (more or less)

1 3/4 pound beef shank (including bone), meat cut off bone (reserve bone) and cut into (more or less) 1 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional if necessary to brown meat

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into big chunks

3 carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks

3 stalks celery, cut into big chunks

3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

1 bottle red wine

1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Bouquet garni: 4-5 branches fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns and a small handful of parsley tied into cheesecloth

6 ounces slab bacon, cut into lardons (rectangular bars about one inch long and 3/8-inch wide)

1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut in half or quarters, depending on their size (if they’re very small, you can leave them whole)

1 pound pearl onions or small boiling onions, peeled and any large ones cut in half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

Heat oven to 300 F. In a large bowl, combine the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the cubes of beef and toss well to coat them.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven until hot but not smoking. Add as many beef cubes as fit comfortably in a single layer. Brown them for about 3 minutes on first side, then start turning them and searing another side for about another 2 minutes. They won’t be browned on all sides, but that’s good (about 5 minutes total is what you want) — transfer them to a bowl and brown remaining meat, along with the shank bone, adding a little more olive oil if necessary.

Once all meat is browned, add the carrots, celery, onion chunks and garlic; saute them over medium heat for 6 or 7 minutes, until onions start to soften. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the red wine and deglaze by scraping bits of browned meat off bottom of Dutch oven. Add remaining wine, 1 cup of the chicken broth and beef chunks and bone; stir to combine. Meat should be nearly covered by liquid; if not, add a little more chicken broth. Add bouquet garni, bring liquid to a boil over high heat, turn heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Cover Dutch oven and place it in preheated oven and let it braise for 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring it now and then and adding more chicken broth if necessary, until meat is starting to be very tender. Remove from oven and let it cool a bit while you prepare garnishes.

Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan or skillet, add the lardons and cook them over medium heat until fat is rendered and they’re browned on edges. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a small bowl. Add the mushrooms to fat and cook them over medium heat, adding a little olive oil if they look too dry, until they start to release their water, for about 12 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer mushrooms into a bowl. Add the pearl onions, shake them around in pan (adding a little olive oil if necessary) and cook them for 15 minutes or so, shaking pan now and then, until they’re golden. Remove from heat and reserve.

Skim as much fat as you can from top of braised beef. Use tongs to remove beef chunks to a bowl and reserve; discard shank bone and bouquet garni. Strain braising liquid into a bowl, pressing on vegetables to release as much liquid as possible, and discard (or snack on!) vegetables.

Wash Dutch oven, then place beef cubes and braising liquid back in it. Add lardons, mushrooms, pearl onions remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, black pepper to taste; stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat on stove, then transfer, partially covered, to oven and let it braise for another half hour. Taste and adjust seasoning.

If you’re going to serve it right away and feel stew needs thickening (I usually don’t do this, and you certainly won’t need to do it if you’re going to chill it overnight), bring it back to a simmer over high heat and cook it rapidly for 5 or 10 minutes, uncovered, to thicken it.

Serve immediately, garnished with the chopped parsley, or refrigerate overnight, then reheat on stove. Serve with buttered noodles, potatoes or rice.

Makes 6 servings.

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Black lentils make fiber-, protein-packed brownies

Now that I’m plotting to sneak parsnips into cake, going entirely to the dark side of concealing veggies doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

This deviousness comes almost four years into having children, the oldest of whom is the ultimate vegetable skeptic, as I mentioned in this blog’s previous post. He has a budding interest in cooking, but I’m starting to gather that his helpful nature has just as much to do with ensuring that his macaroni and cheese goes unadulterated from box to plate.

Cream-cheese addict that he is, nothing vies for his affections quite like chocolate. So I’m holding out hope that these brownies may just pass muster, despite their inclusion of cooked black lentils.

A flourless brownie suitable for children (or anyone) with wheat sensitivity or gluten intolerance is the recipe’s original intent. But a reduction in fat with an extra dose of fiber and other nutrients make them an ideal treat for February, designated American Heart Month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Heart Association and other organizations.

Tribune News Service photo

Flourless Brownies

3 cups cooked black lentils

2 cups milk chocolate chips

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa power

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In bowl of a food processer, puree the lentils, chocolate chips, applesauce, eggs and vanilla extract. Add the cocoa powder and salt; puree until well-combined.

Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving enough paper to stick out from sides. Spoon batter into pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

From Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Miami, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

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Shredded parsnips easily swap for cake’s carrots

Vegetables, admittedly, are a tough sell in my house these days.

My preschooler and toddler can be relied upon to gobble up a baked sweet potato swimming in melted butter or maybe suffer some roasted butternut squash camouflaged (mostly) by the orange cheese sauce around their macaroni. And here I am, in the position of so many parents, resorting to tactics I never thought I’d try: sneaking vegetables that wouldn’t otherwise be present into foods.

So sweet that they almost don’t register on the vegetable-flavor spectrum, carrots and parsnips seemed the best bet to raise the nutritional profile of a side salad to pair recently with pigs in blankets. Casting about in the pantry for something that would tempt not just my kids, but the preschooler and toddler of friends, I emerged with canned pineapple tidbits and golden raisins.

The combination put me in mind of classic carrot-raisin salad, a recipe that comes together effortlessly. I reserved the cans’ juice to sweeten the dressing. Then to the drained pineapple, I added two peeled and grated carrots, one peeled and grated parsnip and about ½ cup of raisins. I was pleased with the parsnips’ resemblance to shredded coconut.

Apple-cider vinegar combined with as much pineapple juice, a bit of salt, cinnamon and a couple tablespoons of olive oil composed the dressing. If we had had yogurt on hand, I would have skipped the oil and enriched the salad with ¼ to ½ cup of dairy, depending on consistency.

And the little buggers were still skeptical! I counted it a win where my youngest is concerned. But my oldest’s penchant for excising the smallest shreds of vegetables from his plate is forcing me to up my game. Given his cream-cheese habit, I’m betting that this twist on carrot cake, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, finally will convey parsnips to his palate.

Tribune News Service photo

Parsnip Cake

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for preparing pan

1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar

1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, light-brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

3 large parsnips, peeled and grated on small shredding holes

1 apple, peeled, cored and grated on large shredding holes

3 large eggs

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

2 cups flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon each: ground nutmeg and salt

Cream-cheese frosting (recipe follows)

1/2 cup toasted and chopped pecans

In a large saucepan, melt the butter with both of the sugars and the maple syrup. Cool slightly. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the frosting and pecans.

Butter 2 (8-inch square) or 2 (9-inch round) pans. Pour in batter. Bake at 350 F until a toothpick stabbed in center comes out clean, for about 25 minutes. Cool in pans, for 10 minutes. Turn out and cool completely.

Spread top of 1 baked layer with half of frosting. Stack on second layer and spread top with remaining frosting (leave sides of cake bare). Sprinkle with the pecans.

Makes 1 cake (about 8 servings).

CREAM-CHEESE FROSTING: With an electric mixer, beat 4 ounces unsalted butter and 8 ounces cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons milk.

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Sauteed shrimp, veggies repurpose bacon fat

I’ll cook just about anything in bacon fat.

That’s why I often leave a pan of the solidified grease on my stove overnight until I know what the next day’s meals will bring. The drippings can add flavor to dishes that otherwise would be vegetarian: pasta, risotto, soup, stew and sundry other recipes. Or I’ll just use the pan to cook more bacon.

Although this dish doesn’t call for leftover bacon grease, it easily could be the base. A simplified take on that Cajun-Creole classic etouffee, it comes together in less time than brown or even white rice takes to steam.

Bacon-Fat-Fried Shrimp

Tribune News Service photo

Cook 3 strips bacon in a skillet until crisp, for 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel, leaving the fat in skillet. Add 2 fennel bulbs, chopped; cook until starting to soften; for 3 minutes. Stir in half a red bell pepper, cored and chopped; cook until tender-crisp, for 3 minutes. Add 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined; season with salt. Cook, turning once, until just cooked through, for 5 minutes.

Pour 1/2 cup dry white wine into skillet; lower heat to a simmer. Crumble bacon; stir into skillet. Cook just to heat through.

Serve shrimp and vegetables over steamed brown rice.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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