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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mandarin and Pistachio Magdalenas

Did you know that you don't really need a muffin top pan to make top-only muffins? Nope. All you need to do is lay out your muffin papers on a baking sheet and make sure you don't fill them more than half full. Voilà, muffin tops. Of course this trick also works for these little Spanish cakes called magdalenas. From what I have been able to gather, they are essentially madeleines made with olive oil and put in a muffin tin. More often than not they have citrus and nuts in them. Made with the muffin-top method they essentially become giant madeleines. 
I had never heard of magdalenes until very recently when I stumbled on a simple recipe online. Then with a little research I found a few more recipes. It wasn't until I came across this version with citrus and pistachio that I was completely sold. You can actually swap out the mandarins for regular old oranges, or any other flavor of citrus you prefer. The same thing with the nuts. I've been going a little crazy with the pistachios every since I was able to find some unsalted ones here in Fairbanks. I was thinking an orange, hazelnut combination might be nice. What about lime and macademia nut? Meyer lemon and pine nuts? The combinations are endless. What's your favorite nut and citrus pairing?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Kishu Mandarin Greek Yogurt Souffle

How is it that dogs know things? You know, they always know when it is dinner time, and walk time. More than that, our dog Brody always knows to ask to go outside just minutes before someone is about to come up our driveway. He especially knows when the Fed Ex lady is coming with her peanut butter and jelly dog treats. The last four times she has come to our house, he has been there at the top of the stairs waiting for her. I'm sure she thinks I let him out when she shows up, but that is the last thing I want to do. Last week I had to go chasing him outside in my slippers at 20 below. By the time I got outside they were both at the back of the truck, Brody with his front paws on the back of the truck looking in to see what she might be bringing him. In the time it took me to get to the truck I watched her feed him no less than 5 of those PB&J treats. I'm sure he gave her the "poor abused dog" face. He's good at that!
Anyway, to Brody's disappointment it was my Kishu Mandarins she was delivering, not a squishy new dog bed or a bulk shipment of PB&J dog treats.  I however, had been anxiously awaiting my "treats" for this year. I order a box of Kishu Mandarins every year. Most of them get eaten out of hand, but I always make one or two things with them as well.
When the Kishus arrived this year I was just about to make this yogurt souffle. The plan was to make a fruit on the bottom, breakfast berry version. I've always thought these little Weck jars looked like European yogurt jars. If you make these in ramekins or a souffle dish, they will rise up more like a traditional souffle and the texture will be a bit lighter. For this version I actually liked it a little more dense.  I have gone back and forth as to whether this recipe is a breakfast or a dessert. I seem to have this problem a lot. This version with mandarins and Grand Marnier is definitely more dessert. I have made a plain version with berry syrup for breakfast and it was good as well. Either way, it's a protein packed, low calorie, sweet treat.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leek and Mushroom Bread Pudding

This was the one dish I really regretted not sharing last winter, but once spring came around it just didn't seem like the right time to post it. This year I realized if I wanted to share it I would have to get it posted by the end of February or it would once again be too late. So, I am sneaking it in at the last minute. I know there will still be plenty of cold days for a hearty warm dish like this one here in Fairbanks. They rest of you preparing for spring (not fair), you'll have to save it for next fall.
I have been making leek bread pudding for a little over a year now. There have been many recipes and adaptations that I have almost posted, but then changed my mind at the last minute. To be honest, they were all really good and any of them would be worthy of posting here. Yet, somehow I knew that there must be something a little better out there. One of the biggest problems was that most of the recipes I made were so heavy. Really, they were a meal themselves, not a side item. This one probably won't be making the next issue of Cooking Light, but it is much lighter than some of the others I have tried.
Leek bread pudding makes a great side item for a roast chicken dinner, but it can also be served as a savory breakfast dish. In fact this pan ended up being breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the course of several days. If you are a fan of Thanksgiving stuffing, you will love this dish.
Also, if you feel like this dish is still a little too heavy handed with the calories, you can swap out some (or all) of the milk, or half and half for veggie broth. Although I have not done it with this recipe specifically, I have done it with other similar ones with great success. It transitions the dish from bread pudding to more of a baked stuffing, but the wonderful flavors still remain. Also, almost all of the leek bread pudding recipes I have found call for Gruyère, which is a wonderful cheese. I don't know about where you live, but here in Fairbanks it is really expensive, almost twice the price of swiss. It's a nice splurge, but with all the other flavors going on in this recipe I don't really find it necessary to use such an expensive cheese. I have tried all three cheeses mentioned in the recipe with great results and nearly undetectable difference.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cabbage, Fennel, and Citrus Salad

I always try to make a list before going to the grocery store to avoid impulse purchases. Yet, sometimes I see something like blood oranges, which I don't find often, and my willpower fades. Suddenly, there are six of them coming home with me, even though I have no idea what I am going to do with them. When I first picked them up I had thought that I might make something sweet like panna cotta. I never guessed that they would all end up in a salad of one form or another. The truth is, I went back and bought more. I've totally fallen in love with citrus salads this winter. This one is no exception, not to mention it also comes from an amazing cookbook. I'll be honest, I bought this one for the photos, but it has turned out to be so much more. I already have several more recipes tagged to try. If this salad is any indication of what is to come, I'm in for some good eating. What have you been doing with your citrus this winter? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

Monday, February 18, 2013

French Provincial Beef Stew

Why have we never had this before? Good question. David asked this after we had it for dinner last week. We have had other versions of beef stew, and I used to make a beef noodle soup all the time. Lately, beef hasn't been on the menu very often. Yet, beef stew served on a bed of mashed potatoes seems just about perfect for this time of year.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Birch Leaf Cocktail

Birch syrup is quickly becoming one of my favorite cocktail mixers. It is not a given that you can just swap out birch syrup in any recipe that calls for maple syrup. So far it seems that birch syrup pairs really well with citrus. This one is a take on the traditional Maple Leaf Cocktail that is made with bourbon, regular lemon juice, and maple syrup. I think the Meyer lemon in this recipe was just a bit too sweet with maple syrup, and even with the birch I still dialed things back a bit. This cocktail feels like February to me. The citrus fruit are plentiful and the flavor of birch syrup combined with bourbon to keep you warm. I also liked this with alder smoked sea salt, you use such a little bit that it is hardly detectable, but just enough to add to the depth of flavor.  I'm also thinking this one might make a nice hot toddy, let me know if you give it a try. Have a great weekend everyone!
Note: Many of your have been asking where to find birch syrup. You can order it online here: Kahiltna Birchworks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sicilian Citrus Salad

Our first winter here we asked our neighbors about the darkness and how bad it was. They told us we just needed to make it until Valentine's Day and then everything was fine. I have to say that is about accurate. It's not until it is all over that I realize how bad it has been. I wake up from my holiday carb-induced haze and realize that I want some fruit and vegetables. Although warm soups and stews are still on the menu, they get to alternate with fresh salads once again. Every year I get better about not forcing the salad issue. I've been working harder to find non-leafy salads for the winter as greens are always a bit glum. Although we do have a new place to buy micro-greens in the winter. I want to check it out one of these days. Have any of you  been to Johnson's Family Farm yet? I hear they have basil leaves as big as your head! I'll check it out later today and report back.
Although I did serve this salad on a bed of greens, it isn't necessary if you don't have access to any that are fresh. You can also make this salad fancy by stacking the ingredients like I did in the photos. A good choice for a special Valentine's dinner. If it is just you for lunch, then just toss it all in a bowl. It comes together quite quickly and makes a tasty lunch. It's even better if it has had some time to sit, so throw it together in the morning and make it a special work day lunch.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Blueberry and Meyer Lemon Glazed Donuts

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. Fat Tuesday, a day dedicated to eating donuts. What's not to like?
There was a time a few years ago when I had regular food truck fantasies. For a while I thought I wanted a gourmet donut truck. Did I write up a business plan, or research purchasing equipment? No, of course not. My research consisted of visiting gourmet donut shops when I traveled. One of my stops was Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco. My favorite donut was Meyer Lemon and Huckleberry. When I returned from San Francisco I wrote a post about my trip and someone suggested I needed to make those donuts and post the recipe. I have been thinking about it for the last couple of years and every time Fat Tuesday rolls around I think about posting them, but then something like French Crullers, or Buttermilk Beignets storms to the top of the list. This year I knew it was time. I replaced the Huckleberry with some Alaska wild blueberries that I had in my freezer. Keep in mind if you use store bought blueberries, you won't get this intense color. They will be more of a blue-grey color instead. The base of the donut is a traditional yeast, raised donut. I thought about adding either blueberry or lemon to the actual donut, but I thought I might like to have a few of the donuts with a more traditional vanilla glaze. One I dipped my finger into the blueberry glaze, I changed my mind pretty quick and made all of them blueberry. You can feel free to mix thing up if you like and experiment with your own flavors of glaze. This recipe is pretty adaptable, so feel free to go with chocolate, plain vanilla,  or how about maple? What's your favorite donut? How will you celebrate Fat Tuesday?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lentil Rice Soup with Caramelized Onions

This is the best thing I have made all year. Yes, I know we are only just barely into February and this is only the 18th recipe I have posted. I would trade in everything else if I could only keep this one soup. Seriously, even the peanut butter cookies.
Last weekend I couldn't decide what I wanted for dinner. I was craving comfort food, but all the old comforts weren't sounding very good. I was poking around the internet, looking at some things I had pinned to Pinterest. Nothing. I hesitated on shrimp and grits. I think it's because I have been watching too much of The Taste. They really seem to like their shrimp and grits. Still, it just wasn't grabbing me. So, I did what I always do when I am stumped. I pulled out a few of my seasonal cookbooks. Somehow winter recipes seemed too heavy, and I wasn't ready for spring. Finally, I got to Melissa Clark's book, "Cook this Now" which is broken down by month. There it was, in the February chapter. I wasn't entirely sold on the lentil soup, but the caramelized onions sounded pretty good. It really wasn't until I sat down for dinner that I realized this was exactly what I needed. The first time around I topped it with cilantro, but he next day for lunch I used mint. Both were equally good. I couldn't believe how well this hit the spot, just the right blend of healthy, yet indulgent for this time of year. I'm thinking of making another pot this weekend. David asked if I could make extra caramelized onions next time. He wants me to put them in a jar in the fridge to use as a condiment. Sounds like a pretty good idea.
What about you? Are you feeling more winter or spring for cooking this time of year? What's on your menu this weekend?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Roasted Pepita Hot Sauce

I am a fan of spicy food, but I'm usually not all that fond of the one-dimensional flavor of hot sauce. I live with someone who puts hot sauce on EVERYthing. I'm always on the lookout for new and unique types of hot sauce for gifts. This year around Christmas I was ordering some beans from Rancho Gordo and decided to add a bottle of Rio Fuego very hot sauce to my order. In all my years of buying hot sauce for David this is the second one that I actually liked. It is made with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) that add a great flavor. One night at dinner I was looking at the bottle and realized there wasn't anything in the ingredients that I didn't already have in my cupboard. So, I went to work on re-creating it in my own kitchen. I'm not going to tell you this sauce is a copy of the Rancho Gordo sauce, because it is not. That doesn't mean it isn't going to make a regular appearance on our table. It definitely has the spirit of the original, that great nutty flavor paired with a lot of heat. What the original doesn't have is the smoky flavor from the chipotle. If you prefer less heat leave out the cayenne and add less chipotle powder. If you aren't so concerned about a smooth liquid hot sauce, you could skip the step of straining out the liquid and use this as a spread. You could also use a canned chipotle pepper instead of the powder which can be hard to find. I probably would have if I had a can available in my kitchen. This sauce is pretty forgiving, so feel free to make it your own, just like I did. Also, you might want to halve the recipe if you don't consume 8 ounces of hot sauce a week like we do here.
Do you have a favorite brand of hot sauce? I'm always on the look out for new and fun ones, leave me link in the comments especially if it is one that is hard to find. Thanks and whatever you do, don't rub your eyes while making this!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Baked Alaska Grapefruit

A couple of weeks ago I was buying grapefruit at the grocery store. I only grabbed two because they were 2 for $6.00. I have lived in Fairbanks long enough that I'm not really sure how much produce costs in other parts of the country anymore. I know that when I first moved here I wouldn't have even considered spending that much money on grapefruit. Over time, in an effort to prevent scurvy and depression I have decided not to hold back on fruit, especially during the winter. The one thing I do make sure is that we eat it all. It makes me crazy to find a bad apple in the bottom of the fruit bowl. So, you can imagine my excitement as I rounded the corner to find an entire bag of grapefruit for $5.49. There were 7 grapefruit in that bag. Then, as soon as I got them home I started seeing grapefruit everywhere. They were on Instagram, Facebook, and all over Pinterest. Then Adam Roberts posted his ode to the pink grapefruit half on Amateur Gourmet and I became inspired to try grapefruit a different way each day that week. This was a weekday project for me, so I tried 5 different versions. I tried both the candied ginger with mint and the creme brulee version that Amateur Gourmet recommended. For the creme brulee version I tried the link to the NY Times. It kind of worked, and it tasted really good, but I had a lot of trouble getting the caramel to stick to the wet grapefruit. I read the recipe instructions that said to make sure the grapefruit was dry, but how dry can you get something that is filled with juice? I also tried your standard broiled grapefruit one day with white sugar, and the second day with brown sugar. Both were pretty good. Out of all these grapefruit, the one I ended up liking the most was this meringue topped version. I actually found a recipe that included ice cream as well, but I decided that might be a little over the top for breakfast. This recipe cooks the meringue quickly at a high temperature, causing the inside to still be a bit gooey and work its way in between the grapefruit sections. It's a bit like topping your grapefruit with toasted marshmallows (there's another idea). Note that it is really hard to make meringue with less than two egg whites, so if you are only making two of these like I did, you will have extra meringue. I also went a little over the top with the meringue because I got caught up in the excitement of it all and thought it looked so pretty. If you decide to make four grapefruit, there will still be plenty of meringue, so don't feel like you need to double the amount.
My favorite way to eat a grapefruit is still cut in half and served with a spoon. If I were going to make the effort to do anything else with my grapefruit, this would be it. In fact I'm sure I'll be making this again before the winter is done. You can also add some raspberries, or blueberries to fill out the grapefruit halves, I think I'll try that next time. What is your favorite way to eat grapefruit?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Salty Sled Dog Cocktail

Today is the start of the Yukon Quest sled dog race. It's a 1,000 mile race that goes from Whitehorse, Canada to Fairbanks every year. Each year it alternates starting in each city. This year the finish line will be in Fairbanks. We always enjoy going out to the field by our house and watching the mushers come through. 
The other day I noticed that the Fairbanks Downtown Association was having a Yukon Quest cocktail contest. Unfortunately, it isn't open to everyone. Well, it's open to everyone for drinking. A couple of bars downtown are competing for the best Yukon Quest cocktail. Since I don't spend too much time in the bar, I decided to create my own Yukon Quest cocktail. It is a take on the classic Salty Dog cocktail. To make it a little more Alaskan I used Alaska Pure blueberry sea salt on the rim. I also added a little bit of sweetness with birch syrup, since we all know sled dogs are pretty sweet.
Best of luck to all the dogs and mushers running the Yukon Quest. Stay safe and warm out there!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Nora Ephron Cookie
This last week of January just flew by. Every day I kept looking at the calendar. I can't believe two whole months have gone by since my job ended. I feel like I'm getting in the swing of things, developing a routine. This whole being unemployed thing isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. At the same time, I have been unemployed for two months! That's without a job, without regular income for two whole months. The interesting thing I have learned is that going to work is expensive. There are so many ways I was spending money every day that I didn't even think about. Just being in town every day, it was so easy to pick up a nice bottle of wine or some expensive chocolate at the end of the day (usually both).
So even though my finances are fine for now, it feels like my whole life is on hold because I don't know what I will be doing or where I will be three months from now.  For now, I have discovered that it is kind of nice staying home every day. I honestly thought I would be stir crazy by now. I'm the kind of person who always likes to be going somewhere or doing something. I know it is time to start thinking about moving forward, but how about one more batch of cookies first?
These cookies are everywhere, I think they started with Thomas Keller at Bouchon Bakery. He called them Better Butters, as in they are better than Nutter Butters. Then Tom Douglas from the Dahlia Bakery in Seattle started making them. Apparently the story is that Nora Ephron fell in love with them while shooting Sleepless in Seattle. She would have the Dahlia Bakery ship then to her and eventually requested the recipe. Tom Douglas asked if he could name the cookies after her in his cookbook and apparently she was thrilled. It is rumored that Nora Ephron was quite a good cook, so I had a feeling these were going to be some pretty good peanut butter cookies. I actually own both cookbooks, but every time I pull out one of the Thomas Keller cookbooks I feel like I am attempting the Everest of cooking, so I decided to go with the more user friendly Dahlia Bakery version. I found that I liked these cookies both filled and unfilled. I purposely left a few without filling to go with my morning coffee. So if you just wanted a good oatmeal peanut butter cookie, these would be great for that too.
Also, I put specific brand names for the peanut butter I used. There seems to be a huge variety in brands of commercial peanut butter as far as sweetness and amount of oil. If you decide to use another brand you may get different results. I have not been compensated to recommend the following brands of peanut butter (just so you know).
Nora Ephron Cookie

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