August 27, 2009

Ina's Greek Panzanella

The first time I made Panzanella, I thought, "Where has this been all my life?" My mom tried it and said, "This is like all the best parts of the salad without any of the boring lettuce!" While lettuce has it's place, I'll admit I'm still extra fond of panzanella. So when I watched Ina make a Greek version, it took all self control to refrain from running to the store and making it right then, in the middle of nap time. I held off until Monday so we could put in our Greek dinner for my brother's birthday. It was simple and delicious and even all those boys gobbled it down. I made a huge recipe and there wasn't a piece left over. With peppers and tomatoes on sale all over right now, I'm sure I'll be making it again soon.

A few tips that will make this salad extra special:
*Use English cucumbers so you don't have to peel them- the color will look better too (wish I had had these, but they were three times the cost so I just had to deal with the regulars!)
*Use two plastic lids (from deli or tupperware containers) to cut the cherry tomatoes- just fill one to the rim with tomatoes, invert the second lid and set on top of the other, and use a serrated knife to saw through them while applying a little pressure on top. Takes all of 30 seconds to cut a whole pint.
*Good feta is vital! Yes feta has a unique taste, but it shouldn't taste rotten (like the cheap kind usually does to me). Try Trader Joe's for a Greek made feta stored in brine. It tastes like the real deal.
*Watch the bread closely. Don't go check your email while it's toasting. It's a good thing I'd bought two loaves since I had to completely start over and didn't quite get the burnt smell out before the party... oops!

Greek Panzanella
from Ina Garten

Good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
Kosher salt
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, sliced in half rounds
1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted

For the vinaigrette:

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil


Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.

Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

August 25, 2009

TWD- Creamy Lime Pie

I LOVE lime. I love it so much that the lime tree was the first we planted at our new house. I'll take my lime squeezed over buttered and powdered sugar french toast, on top of a shrimp taco, in my water, and my goodness, in dessert? Even better! So I was pumped to see the Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie chosen for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.
I spent all day in the kitchen Monday making Greek food (I'll post the Greek Panzanella soon) for my brother's birthday, though, and by the time I went to make the pie I realized I didn't have the four hours necessary for fridge time. I hated to make gloppy, not-quite-set pie (though let's be honest, I would have been more than happy just to drink the lime cream- it looks so good), so I just opted for my version of the Florida Pie. It's quick, it's easy (so easy I feel almost like Sandra Lee, /gag), and it's a crowd-pleaser.

Of course it helps when the crowd is all starving 21 and 22 year old boys (and my little man- he insisted on sitting with "da boys"). While they'll eat anything and everything (they did, too, there's not one scrap of leftovers for tomorrow) this really is a delicious pie. Topped with whipped cream and with all the refreshing lime flavor, this pie's a winner.

Summer Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

Note- I used a regular pie crust this time, but a graham comes together in much less time and tastes great too- either way you can't go wrong!

For the crust:
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about one sleeve)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
4 large egg yolks
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C. Fresh Key (or regular) lime juice (from about 5 regular limes)
1 teaspoon Lime Zest

To make the crust:

Butter a 9-inch springform pan (or pie plate or tart pan). Stir the crumbs and sugar together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don't worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn't have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the filling.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet lined with parchment of a silicone mat.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl beat the egg yolks and lime zest at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the condensed milk. Still on low, add half of the lime juice. When it is incorporated, add the remaining juice, again mixing until it is blended. Bake the pie for 12 minutes. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes, then freeze the pie for at least 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream and garnish with lime zest or lime wedges.

August 17, 2009

Peach Blueberry Pie with Cream Cheese Filling

I'm vastly relieved to report that peach season has started at last. While peaches are one of my favorite fruits, the real reason I'm rejoicing their coming is their meaning to my palate- the heralding of fall. While it's still over a hundred here and too hot to bake much (my apologies for skipping Tuesdays with Dorie's apple bars), peaches mean that fall is coming. Soon it will cool down, I'll have my baby (35 days to go!), and I won't be so hot all day long!

A slice of this pie will also go a long way toward cooling you down. The crust only takes a few minutes to bake (and you could even buy one if you're inclined, though making and baking this takes less time than it does for me to go to the store and back with my toddler in tow). With the cool, creamy filling it's worth every minute it takes to make (a whole 20 from start to finish, yay!)

Peach Blueberry Pie with Cream Cheese Filling

For the crust:
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about one sleeve)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, meltedTo make the crust:

Butter a 9-inch springform pan (or pie plate or tart pan). Stir the crumbs and sugar together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don't worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn't have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the filling.

For the Filling:
1 block Reduced Fat (Neufchatel) Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cold cream

Whip Cream and set aside. In the same bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Remove bowl from stand mixer and gently fold in the whipped cream.

For the Fruit Topping:
4 ripe peaches
2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1 pint blueberries
2-4 tablespoons sugar (to taste)

Peel and slice peaches. Place in large bowl with citrus juice and gently toss peaches to cover (this will prevent browning). Add blueberries in carefully then add sugar to taste (depending on ripeness of fruit). Set aside.

To assemble pie:

Spread cream cheese mixture in cooled crust. Spoon fruit on top carefully and refrigerate until ready to serve.

August 11, 2009

TWD- Brownie Buttons

I made these cute brownie buttons last summer and was so infatuated a left an embarrassingly adoring comment on Dorie's blog. This time I made them early- I couldn't wait since they were so great last time! The chocolate is complimented but an almost undetectable flavor from the orange zest. The white chocolate is perfect on top and looks great, too. I added some sprinkles this time around because I was making these as a birthday treat and thought that would be festive.
When you make these (a great use of your mini muffin pan, by the way) I'd recommend a few things:

~Use a chocolate you love since the flavor really comes through
~Thoroughly grease the muffin tins so you can remove the brownies (a thin knife is also helpful in this task)
~Fill the muffin tins 2/3 or 3/4 of the way full- they won't really rise, but you'll need the extra height for dipping the brownies
~Freeze any leftovers to enjoy later- they thaw out great and even taste awesome frozen!

Grab the recipe here, from the last time I made them, or on Jayma's blog. You won't be disappointed (and the mini factor- people will be so impressed by this simple and easy dessert!)

August 6, 2009

Palmiers, TriColore French Tart (and the giveaway winner!)

I'm slowly getting around to posting my Bastille Day recipes and hope some of you will give them a shot. French food is delicious and doesn't have to be tricky. In fact, these palmiers are the easiest dessert I've made in a long time. And probably one of the most popular, too (I love when that works out!). Palmiers are a crunchy cookie that you can buy from any little bakery in Paris. They come in all sizes and are so simple to make. All you do is roll a sheet of thawed puff pastry in sugar (I added cinnamon for the health benefits, haha) and then roll it up into a log, slice, and bake. It's simple and delicious. I followed Ina's recipe and it worked out great.

If you are only baking for a few, you could just make one sheet's worth and make cheese straws with the rest (or apple turnovers, or tomato and goat cheese tarts, there's a lot of options with this stuff!) I also served them with a fruit tart that is easy to modify and so delicious. The rich pastry cream and fresh fruit really complimented the crunchy cookies. If you happen to have any leftover (not really going to happen in my house, but maybe your family has more self control) don't store them in an airtight container as they will soften. I'd recommend just baking off the amount you need and freezing the rest like I've seen Ina do. Then just keep them in the freezer for a last minute treat.

Yesterday I forgot to announce the winner of last weeks giveaway- Leslie M! Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions for summer dinners and ice cream flavors. I have work to do now!

Cinnamon Sugar Palmiers
adapted from Ina Garten

2 cups granulated sugar (I used less so there was less waste, but you could certainly use the remainder for cinnamon sugar on toast)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted (just thaw it overnight in the fridge)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and kosher salt. Pour 1 cup of the sugar/salt mixture on a flat surface such as wooden board or marble. Unfold each sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry. This is not about sprinkling, it's about an even covering of sugar.

With a rolling pin, roll the dough until it's 13 by 13-inches square and the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry on top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold 1 half over the other half as though closing a book. You will have 6 layers. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place the second sheet of pastry on the sugared board, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar mixture, and continue as above. (There will be quite a bit of sugar left over on the board.) Slice and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment.

Bake the cookies for 6 minutes until caramelized and brown on the bottom, then turn with a spatula and bake another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Serve with ice cream for a delicious and simple dessert!

TriColore French Tart recipe here.

August 4, 2009

TWD- Mini Banana Bundt Cakes

This weeks Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, chosen by the wonderful Food Librarian, was a must bake at our house. Everyone loves bananas (especially my little guy) and I justified eating a piece saying I needed the potassium to help with the pregnancy muscle cramps, haha. I used my cute mini bundt pan, an impulse buy from Williams Sonoma back when I was pregnant with my son (thank goodness it was heavily marked down the clearance table). That makes twice I've used it. Even if it was only 12 bucks, at two uses so far, that's yet to be a wise purchase. Compare that to the KitchenAid that has been used hundreds or thousands of times, amounting to pennies per use. I just need to keep telling myself that when I want to buy every fun pan (am I the only person that does that?)

So with my good excuse to use the cute pan and the nutritional need for the bananas, I made this recipe the day it was announced. I forgot to sub whole wheat flour but think that would turn out great in this recipe. I also used about 2 tablespoons less of the sour cream in exchange for some extra banana. I followed the recipe available on Serious Eats and it came together in a flash. I love that about banana bread. I added chopped pecans for the nut lovers in my family (which, if I keep baking with Dorie, I just might end up in that category- much to my mom's shock). This half recipe made the perfect amount for my six (one cup) mini bundt cakes.

The results? My husband wolfed these down. I sent them to his work to share, but everyone happened to be out of the office, so he ate them on his own. When I'm feeling a bit more ambitious, I'll make this again to serve with vanilla ice cream and a caramel sauce. He'd love that. The poor guy doesn't eat chocolate but I try to help him forget by dressing up other desserts. He always appreciates a TWD monthly line up with a few recipes he can enjoy. My favorite banana bread recipe is still the one my mom uses, from the Lion House Recipes (used for 3 bucks on Amazon, go go!). I have a few more bananas on my counter, a few more weeks being pregnant, and an eternity to cook for my non chocolate eater. I think I'll make that version soon and post it here. It's wonderful (and has less fat than Dorie's recipe!) Honestly, though, with bananas, butter, sugar, and pecans- I don't think you can go wrong!

August 1, 2009

Cheese Straws

Today I rolled out of bed, late (7:10, haha!) since my son is "speddin da nite" at his Grandma and Grandpa's. My tall man and I had a hot date last night watching the new Harry Potter and capped it off with a good slow morning (for me anyways, he's out mowing the lawn- maybe I should make him some waffles?). I checked my email, without insistent tugs on my leg for a glass of milk, some cereal, or to come play outside in the heat, and found a new header in my inbox from my wonderful and talented cousin (who I pretend is actually my sister in law). Well needless to say I was excited, because let's be honest, I haven't worked on my blog layout in a while and even when I do work on it, I don't have any idea what I'm doing. I should ask my legit brother in laws for help, because they're actually programmers, but it just hasn't panned out. Hopefully the layout will get more attention soon, but until then, at least there's good food around here. And good food for trade for some programmers help.

I can, however, upload a new header, so I did that and sang Kristi's praises in my quiet little house. And since I can't post again without a recipe, I thought now was the time to post Ina's cheese straws I made for Bastille day a few weeks ago (because it was Kristi, brilliant Kristi, who requested them). This simple appetizer requires only a sheet of puff pastry, an egg, some cheese, and some herbs. It only takes a few minutes in the oven and leaves a big impression- I'll just say that even the toddlers wolfed these down. These make a fun appetizer and everyone was more than willing to munch away, but I think you could even turn these into dinner with a nice salad or soup. I know I'll make them again.

PS Don't forget to check out Kristi's photography and design site here... She also does amazing invitations and announcements.

Cheese Straws

from Ina Garten
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm), defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
Flour, for dusting
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup finely grated Gruyère cheese (or Swiss)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves (Italian seasoning would work here too)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured board until it is 10- by 12-inches. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the pastry. Sprinkle each sheet evenly with 1⁄4 cup of the Parmesan, 1⁄2 cup of the Gruyère, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the thyme, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt, and some pepper. With the rolling pin, lightly press the flavorings into the puff pastry. Cut each sheet crosswise with a floured knife or pizza wheel into 11 or 12 strips. Twist each strip and lay on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed. Turn each straw and bake for another 2 minutes. Don't over bake or the cheese will burn. Cool and serve at room temperature.