Monday, March 29, 2010

The Best Peanut Butter

What's the best peanut butter? Not the one in your glass. That only works with red wine. White wine could be a cleaning product for all I care. But we were talking about peanut butter.

This morning we had waffles for breakfast. As they finished cooking we took our places at the counter and slathered them with Adams Creamy peanut butter. Maple syrup goes on the side in a little puddle. Slather and dip, that's how we roll. And only with Adams.

Oh, peanut butter, love you I do.

That's all.

Read Full Post

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Best in Scone: How to make beautiful breakfast pastries

If you want to make gorgeous scones that look better than the stuff in the case at Starbucks, you need to do three things. No, four.

#1 You must get a coarse sugar for the top. You just must. King Arthur Flour sells some.
#2 Don't add egg to the dough unless you're baking them far in advance of people eating them, or if they'll be sitting around all day. The egg will make them softer for a longer period but won't make them as crumbly at the start.
#3 Don't over mix. I say this all the time in the sweet kitchen. If you work the heck out of anything with flour it's gonna turn into a bagel.
#4 Shape matters. I am partial to the triangular scone which are easy to shape with a bench scraper. But, when making a traditional current scone, they just have to be round, and brushed with egg wash prior to baking.

White Chocolate and Sour Cherry Scones
Print recipe only here

Makes 8 scones

  • Cuisnart (if you don't have one, freeze your butter and grate it in a box grater. Return grated butter to the freezer for an hour after grating to refreeze, then add to the dry ingredients.
  • Parchment paper
  • Coarse sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 oz cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups berries

In Cuisinart, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda and pulse to combine.

Add butter to the Cuisinart and process just until the flour takes on a slight yellow color and there are no huge pieces of butter left.

At this point I usually empty the contents of the cuisinart bowl (herein referred to as THE MIX) into a large ziploc bag and freeze overnight. At the very least throw it in the freezer for an hour before proceeding.

When ready to bake:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Set out a sheet pan fitted with parchment.

Dump the mix into a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk with cutting-type motions. Be very delicate here. Do no over mix or over handle.

When mostly combined throw in your berries - about 1 1/2 cups. See below for varieties.

When the fruit is just combined into the dough, dump out onto a floured work surface, pat into a 10" circle and cut into 8 wedges.

Sprinkle with crystal sugar and bake at 350 (or 300 convection) until they are very nicely browned. They want to sound hollow when you tap on their undersides, too.

They bake for about 40 minutes, but every oven is different, so get used to using your eyes and ears to determine baking times. Set the timer for 30 minutes and then peek at them every 5 min or so until they're done.

Follow the same method for all varieties. Combine the dry ingredients in the Cuisinart, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Stir in berries or spices or whatever you're adding. Then add buttermilk.
Blueberry: When I use blueberries (frozen are fine) I also add a bit of freshly ground nutmeg. Lemon zest is nice with blueberries, too.
Strawberry: Only use fresh berries, and chop them up - the frozen ones have too much water.
Peach and nectarine are great summertime scones, chopped up into triangular dice.
Cranberry-Orange scones are great in the fall and winter. Add the zest of 1-2 oranges to the recipe.
I also like Currant scones with a bit of orange zest. I like to egg wash the top of the current ones, and cut them using a round biscuit cutter. Serve them with clotted cream if you can source it.
Cinnamon: Add about 2 T cinnamon to the plain mix and top the scones with cinnamon sugar before baking.
White Chocolate and Sour Cherry: I use equal measure of both, so 3/4 cup of each. And I don't bother to plump or chop the cherries. I like the ones from Trader Joes - delicious.

Read Full Post

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Who's Standing in the Field this Summer?

Tour dates have been announced for Outstanding in the Field, an event I keep missing owing to erratic summer travel plans. There are three dates for the Chicago area, and a host of dates in cities across the country. In Chicago, I'm most interested in the event at City Farm, a vacant lot-turned operational farm. I've passed by it several times (it's located across from the Dominick's at Clybourn and Division) and am completely intrigued.

Check out the schedule here. At the very least, check out the gallery of photos showing the farm tables set in various locals. My faves are the beach shot and the one in the barn.
That's all. Have a great weekend.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A St. Patrick's Day Feast

I am the only person in my house who likes corned beef. And soda bread. And cabbage, for that matter. If you even say "cabbage" in my house, fur starts flying. My daughters are still convinced I tried to trick them into eating cabbage a few years ago because I shredded it and served alongside fish tacos. Apparently, it bore too close a resemblance to shredded cheddar. I didn't even put it on their plates.

So, I've be enjoying my favorite Irish foods by my lonesome. I cooked up the world's smallest corned beef last night and had a scrumptious sandwich with the leftovers today. I made a small soda bread the two days ago and will probably make another tonight or tomorrow. One nice addition to a the feast is to get a good Irish butter. European butters tend to have a lower water content, and a higher butterfat content. A good basic is Kerrygold unsalted Irish butter, available locally at Trader Joe's. It's sold elsewhere, but for more dough.

Some other ways to celebrate:
Spring Lamb Stew
Wholemeal Irish Soda Bread

Or, just go green:
Pesto Pasta with Grilled Chicken and Haricots Verts
Caesar Salad
Thai Green Curry
Artichokes with Aioli
Szechuan Green Beans
Spicy Lemon Baby Broccoli

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cooking up a Caribbean Feast: Jerk Chicken and Conch Fritters

Ah, the Scotch Bonnet. What a name for a pepper. I bought 5 or 6 recently and pureed them in my blender with a host of other easily procured ingreidents and made a rather killer Jamaican jerk sauce. At least I'm pretty sure they were Scotch Bonnets. The SB bears a striking resemblance to the habanero, tho they are a different, hotter pepper. The peppers I bought were labeled habaneros but I really think they were Scotch Bonnets on account of them looking more like little squash. Habaneros are more teardrop shaped. They are, as the unsaid saying goes, hotter than snot.

I marinated skinless split chicken breasts overnite in the sauce and then grilled them. Pretty scrumptious stuff. It's hot, don't get me wrong, but tolerable. Here's what I did:

Jamaican Jerk Sauce
Print recipe only here

1/3 cup ground allspice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
8 garlic cloves
4 to 6 Scotch bonnet peppers (sub habaneros in a pinch)
1 tablespoon ground thyme or 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 bunches green onions, trimmed ad chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Puree everything in a blender. Marinate chicken overnite in the sauce. Grill and enjoy.

For a well-rounded Caribbean feast, I'd serve these with conch fritters. Just don't ask me where to source conch. I'm still on the hunt. Try substituting calamari, shrimp or crab if you cannot get conch.

Conch Fritters
Print recipe only here


canola oil, for frying

½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ t baking powder
1 egg
½ cup milk
ground cayenne pepper, to taste
1 cup chopped conch
½ onion, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper


Heat the oil in large pot to 365F. Traditional deep frying would dictate using 2-3 inches of oil. I just use 1/4 cup at a time and make more patty-shaped fritters.

In a small bowl combine the flour and baking powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Mix in the conch meat, onion, and red pepper. Fold in the flour/baking powder. Season with salt and pepper.

Drop the batter by rounded tablespoons into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. You could use a small ice cream scoop if you have one (much smaller than the average ice cream scoop size).

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Season with another sprinkle of salt.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the Chipotle dipping sauce.

Serve dipping sauce on the side with the fritters.

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 T mayonnaise
2 T sour cream
1 chipotle pepper, minced
1-2 T adobo sauce (from the chipotle pepper)
Salt and pepper to taste

Read Full Post

Friday, March 12, 2010

Where Do You Keep Your Brown Sugar?

The Container Store: enemy or savior to the cluttered house? Discuss.

I'm on the fence. I have found several very practical items there. I love the glass juice pitchers and my nice looking short term storage boxes for my kids' school work and the wheeled, wire sports bin that lives in our front closet. But it's all so excessive, the buying of boxes to put your stuff into.

Anyway, on my last trip to TCS I came home with something I'm totally enjoying: an airtight sugar bowl. I popped a ceramic sugar saver in the bottom and have about a cup of brown sugar stored within. It's been a few weeks and it's kept the sugar perfectly soft. I keep the container out with my regular sugar bowl, salt cellar and pepper grinder. I buy most baking ingredients, brown sugar included, in larger amounts to accommodate the semi-professional work I take from time to time. During the winter oatmeal season, when I use brown sugar more frequently I don't enjoy tucking into a big plastic bag.

It's just the sort of unnecessary/awesome thing I often find at TCS.

As for the brown sugar saver it's a barely 3-inch round lump of terra cotta that you soak in water then leave in your brown sugar to keep it from drying out as is its wont. You can pick one up at Sur la Table, the purveyor of every awesome thing you want in your kitchen. Apparently, it's good for open bags of marshmallows, too. The sugar saver, not the purveyor.

Read Full Post

Foolproof Spanish Tortilla

I owe Beth big for figuring out a way to cook a Spanish tortilla the easy way. Her discovery - simply baking it in a cake pan - not only takes the stress and guesswork out of cooking it in a skillet on the cook top, but the finished product also tastes a whole lot better. The evenness of the oven cooks it way more gently. I'll never use a skillet again.

You can add whatever you like. I like the look of the red pepper in there, but asparagus would look great too. Just start with the potato/onion and add from there. Here's how:

Oven baked Spanish Tortilla
Print recipe only here

5 T extra virgin olive oil
5-6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 small onion , halved and sliced thin
1 t salt
Fresh ground black pepper
10 large eggs
1 red pepper, roasted, rinsed and diced (or 1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers , rinsed, dried, and diced)

Line a 9-inch cake pan with a piece of parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350.

Toss potatoes, onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper with 3 T of the olive oil in large bowl until potato slices are thoroughly coated. Heat 2 T oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Reduce heat to medium-low, add potato mixture to skillet, and set bowl aside without washing. Cover and cook, stirring with rubber spatula every 5 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Now prep your add-ins. I like it just with roasted red pepper (fresh or, in a pinch, jarred ones). Other options: cooked greens like chard, diced chorizo, bacon or prosciutto, asparagus tips or fresh green peas. Before adding anything to the eggs, you must first sauté or thoroughly drain and dry it.

Whisk eggs and remaining ½ teaspoon salt in reserved bowl. Using rubber spatula, fold hot potato mixture, red peppers, and any other add-ins you like into eggs. Pour into the parchment-lined 9-inch cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes until puffed up and golden. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a large, flat plate. Remove the parchment paper, invert onto a second plate (or foil-wrapped cake circle) for service. Serve at room temperature.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Top Notch Ramen in Five Easy Steps

I based this recipe on one from my Wagamama Cookbook. Those Brits do good ramen. You simply must pick up these ingredients first thing tomorrow. Soup lovers will love you for it.

The five steps all take place in the grocery store. The title is a little disingenuous. The ingredients should not be too hard to procure. Most grocery stores have a decent array of Asian sauces. Here's what you need:

1. Produce: fresh ginger, garlic, green onions, a red onion, bean sprouts, one lime, cilantro. If you see them and you're brave, a fresh red chili. Otherwise dried chili flakes are just fine.

2. Chicken broth (I only use Imagine Organic - it's so perfectly flavored, just needs a bit of reduction time). Pick up two 32-ounce boxes.

3. Ramen noodles. You can, of course, use a thin spaghetti, but I really don't like to. My new favorite noodle is from KA-ME - the Chinese egg noodle. They cook up very nicely and are the right length and texture. KA-ME's curly Japanese noodles look great, too, tho I have not yet tried them.

4. Chicken, though you could substitute steak, shrimp, pork or tofu. One breast per person.

5. Bottled stuff: sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy is my first choice - I buy it in Chicago at Dominick's). Thai Kitchen also makes a nice one, tho it costs more for a much smaller bottle), malt vinegar (tho cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar make excellent substitutes), and fish sauce (Thai Kitchen is what I buy).

Back at home, all you need is about a half and hour to put it all together.

Chicken Chili Ramen
Print recipe only here

Serves 2, generously

4-6 ounces ramen noodles
2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

6 cups chicken broth
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Pinch chili flakes (or a seeded and sliced fresh red chili)
2 T sweet chili sauce (I like Mae Ploy)
2 T fish sauce
2 t malt vinegar (cider or rice wine vinegar are fine substitutes)
1 t sugar

3 green onions, sliced thinly on a diagonal
¼ red onion, sliced thinly
2-4 T cilantro, chopped
1 cup bean sprouts
½ lime, quartered

Preheat grill or oven. Rinse and dry chicken. Rub with a little oil, salt and pepper and cook. When done, bush with a bit of bottled chili sauce (or teriyaki) and set aside to cool before slicing.

Bring a pot of water to boil for the ramen.

To a separate pot, add chicken broth, garlic, ginger and chili flakes and bring to a boil. Simmer on lowest setting for about 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, malt vinegar and sweet chili sauce.

Cook ramen according to instructions.

Prep veggies and reserve.

Slice chicken and reserve.

Add chili sauce/vinegar mixture to the chicken broth and stir in. Allow to simmer 1-2 more minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired.

Divide noodles between two bowls. Top with broth, then chicken, then the cilantro, piece of lime, sprouts and onion. Serve and enjoy.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And the Winner is...

Tara Burns! The order of views from high to low was:

5. When You are Attacked by a Squirrel
3. Cookies that Could Cost You Your Job
4. Eight Reasons Coffee Might be the Boss of You
1. Cookie Monster, Yoda, and Afternoon Tea
2. Indoor S'mores: Seriously

Congratulations, Tara!

If Anonymous would like to come forward I offer a prize for making me laugh out loud.

Thanks, all, for playing. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Read Full Post

Monday, March 1, 2010

Celebrating Two Years with Fun, Games, and Pinch-worthy Cookies

Pinch is two years old today. I was surveying all the posts written since its debut (nearly 250!) and decided a fun way to celebrate would be to have you rank five posts in order of how many views they've tallied individually.

The contest will be open for 24 hours. To win, you must rank the posts (#1 will have been the most read post, #5 will have been the least) correctly. All entries must be submitted in the COMMENTS section in this post (below). The first person to submit the correct ranking will receive two dozen of my new favorite cookie, Hazelnut Biscotti.

So, here are the posts, in order of when they appeared on Pinch:

1. Cookie Monster, Yoda, and Afternoon Tea
2. Indoor S'mores: Seriously
3. Cookies that Could Cost You Your Job
4. Eight Reasons Coffee Might be the Boss of You
5. When You are Attacked by a Squirrel

Good luck! And thanks so much for reading.

Read Full Post