Saturday, December 6, 2014

Festive Cranberry Scones

These scones are sweet yet wholesome, as I have used whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular all purpose flour. They will make a great addition to a holiday breakfast table which is exactly what I'm planning to do when my family gets here this Christmas. But this batch will be a sweet surprise for hubby when he gets home from work this evening. 

Cranberry Scones
Makes 8 

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
zest of one orange
5 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cubed 
2/3 cup milk 
1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar
4 tsp orange juice

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside. 
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and orange zest. 
3. Work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture takes on a crumbly consistency. This can be done by hand or in a food processor. Combine the dried cranberries. 
4. Pour the milk into the flour mixture and mix well. The mixture will be sticky at this point. Pour it out unto a well-floured work surface and work into a round ball, adding a bit of extra flour if needed.  Flatten out into an 8" round disk, and cut into 8 wedges. 
5. Place the wedges unto the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before applying the glaze. To make the glaze combine the confectioner's sugar and the orange juice until smooth.    

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Arugula with Caramelized Pumpkin and Zucchini - a Thanksgiving Salad

I made caramelized pumpkin for the first time  a couple years ago when it was used as a topping for my pumpkin risotto. This year, I'm using it as a main ingredient in this thanksgiving salad. Also featured here is lightly grilled zucchini ribbons. Of course, grilling season is over (and I am not one of those brave souls who would still grill in sub-freezing temperatures) so I had to  resurrect my old grilling skillet for this purpose. Alternatively, lightly searing them on the bottom of a regular skillet works just fine. For the dressing, I used a store bought balsamic vinaigrette - the choice is yours. 

Arugula with Caramelized Pumpkin and Zucchini
Serves 4 

1 zucchini, cut into thin ribbons
1 tbsp vegetable oil 
8 cups arugula
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup caramelized pumpkin (find recipe here)
1/3 cup candied pecans
salt and pepper

1. Brush both sides of the zucchini ribbons with the vegetable oil. Cook on a grill surface or regular skillet set on medium heat, for one minute on the first side and about 30 seconds on the other side. Set  aside. 
2. To arrange the salad, place mounds of arugula on the bottom of a large serving platter. Layer with the zucchini ribbons, followed by the caramelized pumpkin. Finish with the dried cranberries, candied pecans, salt and pepper. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trinidad Coconut Bake

Coconut bake is  made in practically every household in Trinidad.  I was taught how to make it by my mother but my earliest memory of this uniquely Trinidadian bread was my paternal grandmother's. It was part of her weekend baking lineup. A savory bread that's made with freshly grated coconut, it is usually served for breakfast with something called salt fish buljol (salted fish with fresh tomatoes, onions, pimentos and sometimes scotch bonnet peppers).

In Trinidad, freshly grated coconut is always used for this bread. Dry coconuts are sold in every grocery store. These coconuts are then cracked and the hard jelly carefully extracted and grated by hand. Admittedly, this is a tricky process and I would not recommend it for someone who has never done this before. However, if you are so inclined, here are step by step instructions on how to do so. Alternatively, you can use store-bought, unsweetened, shredded coconut. And, while salt fish buljol is the traditional topping so to speak for this bread, it is just as delicious slathered with butter. This morning, mine will be served warm with butter and spicy scrambled eggs.

Trinidad Coconut Bake
Makes two 8" round bakes 

4 cups all purpose flour
1 packet yeast
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups grated fresh coconut
1 1/2 to 2 cups water

1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, sugar and salt - combine well.
2. Work the butter into the flour mixture until fully incorporated and the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly.
3. Mix in the grated coconut.
4. Add the water and stir the mixture until a soft dough forms. Placed on a floured work surface and knead until the dough pulls together into a uniform ball, adding extra dry flour to prevent any sticking. Return to the bowl, cover with a dry towel and allow to rise for about 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet or two 8" round cake pans.
6. Divide the dough into two equal parts, and shape into 8 " round disks. Place on the baking sheet or in the pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until risen slightly and the tops have turned golden brown. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Zucchini and Potato Pancakes with Roasted Red Pepper Cream

This morning, I got inspired to make a special breakfast. It is not very often that the hubby and I get to share breakfast together on a weekday. So for our special breakfast "date", I decided on these pancakes. Potato pancakes, in general, are delicious on their own but I added some shredded bits of zucchini for added fiber and flavor. And the cream sauce is absolutely necessary. Don't be surprised if you see this is another recipe in the future. I would suggest that you drizzle some on the top of the pancakes for serving, and place extra on the side for dipping.

A couple other notes: I used shredded hash browns because it certainly cuts down on the preparation time when you don't  have to peel and shred potatoes. And, as far as the roasted red pepper is concerned, any store-bought brand would do. Just be careful to drain most of the liquid from them before making the sauce. You don't want the sauce too thin otherwise it would just run off the pancakes. 


Zucchini and Potato Pancakes with Roasted Red Pepper Cream
Serves 2 to 3 

1 zucchini, grated 
4 cups shredded hash brown, thawed
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp chopped green onion
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg, whisked 
Approx. 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
2 large roasted red peppers
1 small garlic clove 
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain yogurt 

1. Place the grated zucchini and shredded hash browns on paper towels to soak up excess moisture. Gently squeeze out as much liquid as you can. 
2. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, hash browns, cilantro, green onion, flour, salt and pepper. Stir in the egg, combining well. 
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a couple tablespoons of the vegetable oil to the heated skillet. Add the mixture into the hot oil by the quarter cupful, flattening each mound of mixture a little. Cook until golden brown, about two to three minutes on either side. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up. You might have to add additional oil as you cook the subsequent batches. 
4. For the sauce, puree the roasted red pepper and the garlic. Add the mayonnaise and yogurt, and continuing pureeing for a few more seconds until a smooth cream is formed. Season with salt to taste. 
Serve the pancakes warm, with a generous amount of the cream sauce drizzled on the top. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Incredibly Rich Chocolate Brownies

Typically, I am not a brownie person. It is not something that is made often in our home nor is it something that I think about when I think of desserts. Cakes, pies, puddings (did someone say bread pudding?), tiramisu - yes. Not brownies. I am also not very good at making them which is probably why I'm not a  brownie person in the first place.  Most times, they turn out way too dry and almost brittle. Don't ask me how someone can mess up brownies. It just came naturally to me.

Not any more.

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten's Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies and comes at a rare time when I do crave a brownie. A rich, dark, moist, intense chocolate brownie. The instructions are quite simple to follow - even I had great luck on my first attempt. They turned out perfectly. Be advised, however, these are rich! Lots of butter, lots of sugar and lots of chocolate. Enjoy!

Incredibly Rich Chocolate Brownies
Makes about 12

8 oz semi sweet chocolate chips (plus 3 oz)
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
8 oz butter
3 eggs
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sat

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8" x 12" baking sheet.
2. In a double boiler, melt 8 oz of the semi-sweet chocolate, the unsweetnened chocolate and the butter. Once melted, allow to cool slightly.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar until combined. Do not whisk.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
5. Stir the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Next, stir in the flour mixture.
6. Toss the remaining 3 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips with a little flour and stir into the brownie mixture.
7. Pour into the prepared baking sheet and bake at 350 degree F for about 30 minutes until the tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
8. Cool to room temperate and them refrigerate for another hour before cutting into squares. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I would chose sweet potato fries over regular fries any day. Sweet potatoes are so much more delicious and definitely more wholesome than regular potatoes, with significant amounts of vitamins A and C, beta-carotene and fiber.

To makes these fries, all you need are a some sweet potatoes (of course), some vegetable oil and some seasonings. I like to use a combination of salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried thyme - the thyme and garlic powder are a good contrast to the sweetness of the potatoes. 

Enjoy! You might find that these are addictive. 

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

3 to 4 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Pat them dry. Cut into wedges or 1/4 inch strips for thinner fries.
3. Arrange in an even layer onto a baking sheet, and toss with the vegetable oil, salt, pepper, thyme and garlic.
4. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until the fries are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally the prevent the edges from burning on one side.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fresh Tomato Pizza

If you are what you eat, I might soon turn into a giant tomato. Exactly what kind of tomato is a good question. This summer, we experimented with growing tomatoes in pots, on the deck (up high and safe from our resident critters.) Four varieties: roma, beefsteak, cherry, and heirloom. Truth be told, we half-expected that they would not thrive very well given that, firstly, we were growing them in pots and, secondly, that tomato plants are, in general, susceptible to disease. We never expected that we would be reaping vine-ripened tomatoes all summer long.  And by extension, that we would be eating tomatoes all summer long. In cous cous, on bruschetta, in salads, in pasta - these past couple months have been a mini tomato festival at our house. 

As the nights here in Minnesota are getting cooler, the plants are beginning to show signs of the end. They are "thinning", and the leaves are drooping and turning a sort of blue-purple color. But, surprisingly, the cherry tomato plant is still bearing. I managed to pick quite a bit a few days ago, most of which ended up on this pizza. Instead of baking the tomatoes with the other toppings, I decided to put them on after the pizza had baked, in order to savor all of its freshness. For the crust, I used store-bought dough - this can be so convenient on weeknights. And I also added a bit of sun-dried tomato paste to the sauce, which, to me, makes a more flavorful sauce but is by no means necessary. 

Here's to the last few days of summer! 

Fresh Tomato Pizza
Makes one 10" pizza

pizza dough (enough to make one 10" pizza)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup pizza sauce 
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste (optional)
8-10 oz mozzarella, sliced
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, halved

1. Set the oven to 450 degrees F. 
2. On a clean, floured surface, roll out the dough to about 10" in diameter. Transfer to a greased baking sheet. 
3. Drizzle the olive oil over the pizza dough and, using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon, spread evenly. Next, spread on the pizza sauce. (If using sun-dried tomato paste, stir this into the pizza sauce before spreading it on the pizza dough.) Arrange the mozzarella slices evenly on top. 
4. Bake until the crust is crisp and brown and the mozzarella is bubbly, about 15 minutes. 
5. Right before serving, top the pizza with the fresh cherry tomatoes.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Watermelon Peppermint Iced Tea - Take Two

Watermelon peppermint iced tea anyone? I made this a few years ago and it was a hit; even ended up on Saveur magazine's website! This time instead of peppermint tea bags, I used fresh mint, which is growing like wild in our garden. About 40 fresh mint leaves should be ample. Find the original recipe here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sweet Corn Salsa

If you were to ask a cross-section of farmers market patrons, you would likely get two general responses on how they shop the market. Some go with lists which they seldom deviate from, while others peruse the stalls and buy whatever looks goods. I am a combination of both, usually going with  a list but not afraid to try something new.

Last Saturday, I was there with my friend who shops the market completely differently from the way I do. Her approach has nothing to do with shopping at all. Instead, the first thing she does is get in line at the burrito stand - for a breakfast burrito topped with her favorite fresh, corn salsa. Such has been her ritual for a number of years she also knew that you can purchase containers of this delicious salsa, and if it is not out on the counter, you just have to ask.

It is corn season in the midwest and you can get some of the sweetest corn at the moment at farmers markets throughout the twin cities And I am certain this is what makes the salsa so good at that burrito stand. Fresh, local, sweet corn. This, of course, inspired my recipe here. And don't forget to try it with some scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Sweet Corn Salsa

2 tbsp vegetable oil
juice of 1 small lime
1 tsp agave
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper
4 ears of cooked, sweet corn
1 cup of diced tomatoes
1 small onion, diced
2 jalepenos, seeded and diced
2 tbsp minced cilantro

1. Whisk together the first five ingredients.
2. Remove the kernels of corn from the cobs and add, along with the remaining ingredients to the dressing. Combine well. Top with extra cilantro, if desired, before serving.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Today we are hosting a backyard barbecue where we will be serving this watermelon agua fresca. Watermelon beverages epitomize summer so we tend to try a new watermelon-based recipe every year. This drink is light and refreshing and as simple as pureeing watermelon with some water and agave, and pouring over glasses filled with ice cubes (or, as we prefer, watermelon ice cubes.) Happy 4th of July!

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Serves about 6

10 cups fresh watermelon cubes
3 cups water
1/4 cup agave syrup
watermelon ice cubes (see how to make them here)
approx. 30 mint leaves

Puree the watermelon cubes with the water and agave syrup until very smooth. Coarsely crush the mint leaves at the bottom of a serving pitcher. Pour the agua fresca over the crushed mint leaves and stir well. To serve, fill a serving glass with watermelon ice cubes and top off the with agua fresca. Garnish with additional mint leaves. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Peas

I read an article recently about foods that we should "break up" with. Some are quite obvious, such as white flour and processed meats. White flour because it lacks any nutrients and causes a spike in blood sugar levels. Processed meats because they contain saturated fats and unsavory fillers. Others are not too obvious, for example, dried fruit. Fruit, both fresh and dried are good for us, no? It turns out that some dried fruit preparations can contain added sugar and corn syrup, extra sources of glucose that most of us do not need.

Today, I am "breaking up" with spaghetti squash but not for  any of the reasons you might think. This recipe has been overdone at our house. It is one that I have been making almost bi-weekly since last fall. So I think it is time to give it a rest, for fear that my hubby will never want to see another spaghetti squash again. If you do get to try this recipe, you will surely agree that its ease of preparation and simple healthfulness make for a wholesome weeknight meal, and I'm sure you will understand why it become a  go-to recipe at our house over the last few months. 

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Peas

Serves 3 to 4

1 spaghetti squash
1/2 lb spicy sausage
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
salt and pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan
chopped parsley

1.  Carefully cut the squash lengthwise in half. Brush the cut sides with a little oil and place cut side down of a baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes until the spaghetti threads can easily be removed with a fork.
2. Cook the sausage in a skillet over medium high heat, for about 10  minutes, trying your best to break up any large chunks into small bite-sized pieces.
3. Once the sausage has been properly cooked, add in the  spaghetti squash and the peas. Combine well. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer to a serving dish and top with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kale Flatbread

These days, it is a rare event when I get to cook for my siblings, since the moments when they visit are so few and so far between. But I got the opportunity last month to make this flatbread for my sister, who braved the tortuous winter weather to spend a few days with us. This recipe will make a kale fan out of you, as it did for her.

Kale Flatbread
Serves about 3 to 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
10 oz washed and chopped kale
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup shredded cheese
4 oz of cooked ham, cubed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
Flatbread dough (see recipe below)

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over low heat and cook the kale until it has wilted a little. This might take about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
2. Roll out the dough as thin as you can get without it tearing. Transfer to a well greased baking sheet and cover evenly with the shredded cheese, cooked kale,  and the ham.
3. Baked in a 350 degrees F oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
4. While the flatbread is baking, add the balsamic and honey to a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until slightly thickened, about 5 to 7  minutes. Drizzle the thickened balsamic sauce over the flatbread before serving.

Flatbread dough

1 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup luke warm water
1 tbps olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Add the yeast with the sugar to the lukewarm water, in large bowl and let the yeast form bubbles and proof, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, salt, all purpose flour, and whole wheat flour. Mix well to form a ball. Knead on a floured surface for about 2 minutes. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or kitchen towel and allow to almost double in size.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Orange and Cinnamon Chicken with Herbed Couscous

Here is an easy and delicious recipe that includes the warmth and sweetness of orange and cinnamon. This dish is a favorite of mine during the winter months because the aroma just wafts through the house, adding a sense of coziness on these cold evenings. Also, when I serve this on a bed of couscous scented with parsley and mint, it adds a little bit of Mediterranean flair to a weeknight dinner.

Orange and Cinnamon Chicken with Herbed Couscous
Serves 4 to 5

5-6 chicken thighs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 garlic cloves (grated)
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cup chicken stock


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Season the chicken with the cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, salt and orange zest.
3. In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Sear the seasoned chicken thighs on both sides, about 1 minute per side.
4. Place the seared chicken thighs in a large ovenproof dish. Pour in the chicken stock and orange juice. Cover tightly with lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
5. Once cooked, remove the chicken pieces from the sauce. Place the sauce on the stovetop over medium heat and allow to thicken; this might take about 6 to 8 minutes. Pour this thickened sauce over the chicken. Serve with herbed couscous (see recipe below).

Herbed Couscous

2 cups dry cous cous
2 ½ cups water
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp chopped mint (optional)

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the salt and oil. Add the couscous and stir well. Cover, remove from the heat, and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork, and add the herbs right before serving.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cuban-Style White Bean Soup

At the moment it is - 22 ºF in this part on Minnesota, with a wind chill of - 47 ºF. Schools are closed today, as are some businesses. It is easy for me to complain about living here but I feel I have been doing that since November. Instead, I am going to look at the positive: I get to spend an extra day at home with the hubby and our puppies. Plus, there is more time for cooking, something that is rare these days, particularly on weekdays.  

Yesterday, I made up a batch of this hearty Cuban style soup. The first time I had Cuban white bean soup was last October at Padrino's in Boca Raton, Florida. Usually, I'm not a soup person but this one takes me back to the Caribbean, with its distinct salted pork flavor.   Typically, these Caribbean soups and stews are made with dried beans that need to soak for a few hours prior to cooking. This version, however,  makes it easy by using canned white kidney beans, which by no means diminishes the heartiness and flavor of this soup. 

Stay warm!

Cuban-Style White Bean Soup
Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 medium sized carrot, diced
4 to 5 oz salted pork, diced
1 ham hock
3 cans white kidney beans
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp fresh, chopped cilantro

1. Add the oil to a large stock pot set over medium to high heat. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves thyme and carrot. Cook until the onions have softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the salted pork and ham hock, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. 
2. Pour in the kidney beans and chicken stock. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Let simmer on low for another 30 minutes. Carefully remove the ham hock from the soup to a cutting surface and remove a much of the meat as you can. Return the meat to the soup, discarding the bone. Take a masher and roughly pass it through the soup to create a chunky consistency. Stir in the fresh cilantro before serving.