Blueberry Buckle

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Buckle, coffeecake, or cobbler. No matter what you call it, this is a great showcase for fresh blueberries and a wonderful, easy cake to make for friends.

I clipped this from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sometime in the 1990s. It was called “Blueberry Thing” which, if I remember, was because the person profiled in the accompanying article had always called it that and because it tasted good no matter the name. I wrote “coffeecake” next to the recipe.

I found a similar Blueberry Thing online recently, so the Thing must be a thing.

Officially, this is not a cobbler. I learned that from a helpful if not tiny bit snobbish article that explained the differences between cobblers, pandowdies, crisps, buckles, and slumps. (I know words mean things, Slate, but home bakers deserve a little more sweetness.)

So it’s officially a buckle, because the fruit is laid on top of the batter and allowed to sink during baking, making it appear that the batter has buckled.

You’ll need plump, fresh blueberries and a pan that’s either 9×9 or 11×7 inches.

And whatever you end up calling it, I hope you enjoy.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Dash of salt
1 heaping pint of blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

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Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. Grease a 9×9-inch or 11×7-inch baking pan and set aside.

In bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar; blend in eggs. Stir in 1 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. Put mixture into prepared pan.

In a separate bowl, mix together blueberries, remaining 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice, remaining 1 Tbsp. flour, and cinnamon. Spoon evenly over cake mixture. Bake 35 minutes, then let cool in pan and cut into squares.

Optional: Turn cooled cake upside down and dust with confectioner’s (icing) sugar.

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Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

20180415_155748It’s hard to go wrong with carrot cake. Cream cheese frosting on top of a moist, cinnamon spice cake can be hard to resist. This version adds maple syrup to the frosting and uses pecans instead of walnuts. It’s easy to make, though grating the carrots and chopping the nuts takes a little extra time. Try doing those a day or two beforehand so you can have all the ingredients in place when you’re ready to bake.

You can also make these into cupcakes. The recipe will yield a little more than two dozen in standard-size muffin tins.

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil (canola or sunflower oil if possible)
4 large eggs
3 cups peeled grated carrots (1 lb.)
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and minced

Frosting:
10 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Cut two circles of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pans. Butter and flour the paper, then place in the pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to blend. In a large bowl, whisk sugar and oil until well blended. Whisk in eggs one at a time. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, pecans, and ginger. Divide batter between prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Peel off paper and cool completely.

(For cupcakes, line muffin tins with paper cups. Fill each about 2/3 full with batter and bake about 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Leave in pan for about 5 minutes, then let cool completely on wire racks.)

For the frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended. Beat in maple syrup. Chill until just firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.

Place one cake layer on platter. Spread with about 3/4 cup frosting. Top with second layer, then spread remaining frosting on top and sides.

20180414_113042As you can see in the picture, I decorated the top with finely chopped pecans sprinkled carefully in a ring along the edge. Another idea is to leave the sides unfrosted and simply use more of the frosting on top. Placing pecan halves on top is another easy way to decorate.

I have a picture in my binder of a carrot cake with orange fondant carrots on top. I’ve always wanted to try that. Seems easy enough — just roll the fondant into little carrot shapes, place on the cake, and squirt some thin green frosting at the top of each one for the leaves. If I ever get around to making those, I’ll post the picture here!
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Fettuccine Alfredo

Simple, tasty, elegant, filling, and very much not healthy — but sometimes that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for an easy pasta dinner.

I had a recipe for this in my cookbook for years, but for some reason it stopped working for me. There was no creaminess and it didn’t mix well. This one I found recently on the Food Network site and it was perfect. My only addition is the garnish of fresh parsley.

I served this with small meatballs on the side.

Serves 6

1 lb. fettuccine noodles
1/2 cup (1 stick/110g) butter
1 cup heavy (double) cream
2 cups finely grated Parmesan
Handful fresh parsley, chopped

Start cooking pasta. In a small saucepan, warm butter and cream with a good amount of salt and pepper.

Put half of the cheese in a large bowl.

When pasta is about to finish, add the butter/cream mixture to the cheese in the bowl and mix well. Drain pasta and immediately pour into bowl. Toss well, then add the rest of the Parmesan. Toss to combine.

Garnish individual servings with parsley.

M&M Cookies

thumbnail_20180203_130745It’s hard not to love M&M cookies — easy, fun, and just plain yummy.

Years ago in a magazine was a recipe for “cookies by the stack” — a single cookie dough recipe that could be used with any number of mix-ins, from coconut flakes and chopped nuts to dried fruit or chocolate pieces. I glued the entire magazine page into my cookbook because it was so useful. I’ve made some of the variations on the page, but I use the recipe most often for chocolate chip cookies (see below).

These are going to taste good no matter what. It’s hard to mess them up! But if you want them to look good, too, there’s a trick: Mix only half of the M&Ms into the dough, and put the rest on by hand before they go in the oven. If you don’t, they won’t show up very well, as you can see here:

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The cookies on the right had all the M&Ms mixed into the dough. The cookies on the left had only half mixed in, with the rest put on by hand.

The food scientist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher, in her terrific book “Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed,” explains how shortening and butter can affect the spread of the dough and give you either a flat, crisp cookie or one that holds its shape. Butter melts over a narrow temperature range, so if you use all butter in the recipe, the cookies will spread soon after they go in the oven.

Shortening, on the other hand, stays the same texture over a wide temperature range, she says — so cookies made with part butter and part shortening will hold their shape better than if you use all butter. This recipe uses both in an equivalent ratio. Knowing the difference in fats, you can tweak the recipe how you like — if you want a crisper cookie, use more butter, for instance.

I mentioned chocolate chip cookies earlier. If you’d rather make those, just replace the 2 cups of M&Ms in this recipe with 2 cups of chocolate morsels (semi-sweet). Three other variations are below.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour

Set oven to 375F (190C) degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the shortening and butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the two sugars and baking soda and beat until fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour by hand, then add half the M&Ms.

Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, then place reserved M&Ms on top (crowd them together for best results). Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges are light brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

*The dough can be kept for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to 6 months (thaw overnight before baking).

Variations:

PEANUT BUTTER-CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Replace the M&Ms with 1 cup peanut butter morsels and 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Mix it all in the dough.

COCONUT-WALNUT COOKIES
Replace the M&Ms with 1 cup coconut flakes and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

FRUIT AND OATMEAL COOKIES
Substitute 1 cup rolled oats for 1 cup of the flour. Stir in 1 tsp. ground cinnamon into the flour mixture. Stir 6 oz. of dried fruit bits into the dough.

Stromboli

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A baked sandwich roll of pizza dough, marinara sauce, meat, and cheese, stromboli is an easy dinner idea that will make your kitchen smell delicious. Working with the pizza dough takes a bit of practice, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. You can vary the meats and cheeses however you like. And if you’re feeding a crowd, just make two of these at the same time.

I learned the hard way that being a baker doesn’t necessarily mean you know pizza dough. The gluten makes it stubborn and stretching the dough requires patience. (You can’t be stubborn if the dough is, too.) The first night I tried to make this, I failed — I was so determined to get the dough into the shape I wanted that I pushed and pulled and ended up ripping the dough, which never got much bigger than the size I started with anyway.

The key, as I then learned, is to take the dough out of the fridge two hours before you need it and to take your time stretching it. Be gentle. Lay it down between stretches and return to it five minutes later. In a while, it will get to the size and shape you want.

Inspiration for this recipe came from Guy Fieri and Bon Appetit magazine. Amounts for the meat and cheese are approximate.

Serves 4

1 lb. refrigerated prepared pizza dough
Olive oil
3/4 cup marinara sauce, plus extra for dipping
2 cloves garlic, minced
Grated Parmesan
2 large spoonfuls basil pesto
3 oz. thinly sliced salami
3 oz. other thinly sliced deli meat, like ham or turkey
8 thin slices mozzarella
8 thin slices provolone

Remove pizza dough from refrigerator 2 hours before using.

The goal is to get the dough into a large rectangle, roughly 9 x 12 inches, or even slightly larger. With floured hands, start by flattening the ball of dough, then picking it up and holding it from the edges, moving your fingers around the circle, pausing for a few seconds each time to let gravity gently pull down the dough.

Set it down and wait 5 minutes before starting the stretching process again. You will need to do the stop-and-wait about 3 or 4 times before you achieve the right size. Be patient! At some point during the stretching process, turn the oven to 375F degrees.

As your dough stretches, keep in mind that you want it to become a rectangle. Stretch the dough as best you can into the rectangle shape.

When the dough is the right size, lay it on top of a large piece of parchment. (Work swiftly so the dough doesn’t decide to shrink again.) With one of the long edges closest to you, brush the dough with a little olive oil, then spread with marinara, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with minced garlic, Parmesan, and a ribbon of pesto going from one side to the other.

Cover the sauce with slices of meat (I had room for four rows lengthwise, 2 rows for salami and 2 for ham). Cover the meat with the cheese slices in the same way.

Starting with the end closest to you, roll it into a log, using the parchment paper to help you roll if needed. Gently pinch the sides together as you go. When you reach the end, gently press down on the seam and turn the log seam-side down on the parchment. Lift the parchment with the log on top onto a baking pan, then bake 25-30 minutes.

Let cool about 5 minutes, then use a serrated knife to cut into slices. Serve with some marinara sauce on the side for dipping.

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Moroccan Orange Salad with Cinnamon

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This recipe is originally from Mourad Mazouz, the owner of the London restaurant Momo. It’s a wonderful, easy, and elegant way to serve oranges as part of a meal. Bonus: It can be plated up and made ahead.

We had a “breakfast for dinner” night and this was on the table with homemade pancakes and breakfast sausage. Everyone finished their plate, including my children, who devoured it. My son even enjoyed the garnish of fresh mint!

I have changed the recipe a little from the original, which I got at some point while we were in London. His calls for regular oranges that are seedless, which I couldn’t find at this time of year, so I used mandarins. His recipe said to slice the peeled oranges, which is difficult with mandarins, so I broke them up into sections and cut the sections into small pieces. That was more accessible for my children anyway.

Serves 4

5 mandarin oranges, peeled with pith removed
2 Tbsp. powdered (icing) sugar
2 Tbsp. orange juice (best if freshly squeezed)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 sprigs of mint leaves

Separate mandarins into sections, then cut each section into four pieces and divide them evenly onto plates. Sprinkle with sugar (depending on your preference, you may not want to use it all), then orange juice, then cinnamon. Put a sprig of mint on each plate. Serve chilled.

Thai Chicken Peanut Satay

This recipe came about because I found some Thai peanut satay sauce on sale at the store. I knew I wanted to serve it with chicken skewers, but I needed some ideas. Improvising with chicken is not something I’m good at.

There are many versions online. Lots of them were for grilled skewers, but I wanted to use the oven. Some used the peanut sauce for basting, but I wanted to use it for dipping. After a lot of searching, I found two chicken skewer recipes from the Food Network (their recipes always work for me!) that I combined to make a perfect easy dinner. One recipe gave me the idea to marinate and the other had the cooking instructions.

Here’s the result. I served this with sesame broccolini (trim stems on the diagonal, parboil, drain, drizzle with sesame oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds, serve hot.)

Serves 4

1 7-oz. jar Thai peanut satay sauce
2 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Large handful of cilantro (fresh coriander)
12-14 long bamboo skewers

For the marinade:
1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce (I know it’s not Thai, but it worked)
1/2 cup lime juice
4 Tbsp. agave
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced

Whisk the marinade ingredients together and set aside.

Trim the chicken, then cut into strips. Length doesn’t matter too much, as long as they’re not more than 5 inches or so. You can always put two small strips together on a skewer. Don’t make them too wide — maybe between 1 and 1 1/2 inches.

Whisk the marinade again briefly, then pour into a large bowl. Add the chicken and let marinate 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.

Soak the bamboo skewers in water for 1 hour so they don’t burn in the oven. A good idea is to lay them in a rimmed baking pan (which you’ll use for the skewers later) and pour enough water on top to cover them.

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C degrees. Remove the bamboo skewers from the pan, empty the water, and line the pan with a sheet of foil.

Thread the chicken strips onto the skewers, leaving space on one end for handling, as with a popsicle stick. Place them on the foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

While they’re cooking, pinch off four cilantro sprigs, chop the rest, and set aside. Pour the satay sauce into small individual serving bowls and stick a cilantro sprig in each. Make the broccolini, if using.

To serve, stack all the skewers on a large plate and sprinkle the cilantro on top. Put the broccolini in a serving bowl. Place both on the table for everyone to help themselves.