Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Great Macaron Experiment

Making macarons was on Michelle's summer bucket list, and since it had been on my list of new things to do for even longer (since Brad announced he'd be living in France), we made it happen. I don't know that we'd consider our attempt super successful, but we did learn quite a bit and the end results for the most part were quite delicious. 

These recipes came from my friend, Nancy. We liked both of them as far as the cookie part went. I liked the fillings separately, but we couldn't quite get the combinations right. The lemon curd was too tart and overpowering. The buttercream was way too sweet. I guess that means we'll just need to experiment more in the future!

Plain Macarons

7/8 cup powdered sugar
4/5 cup almond flour
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar

Sift the powdered sugar and almond flour into a large bowl. You don't want any lumps at all.

Beat the egg whites until they hold their shape, then beat in the sugar until very stiff and firm, about two minutes.

Fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the egg whites with a rubber spatula, just until smooth. Don't overmix!

Scrape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" plain tip. Pipe 1-1/4" rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bang on counter to create the "foot" of the macaron and let dry for 30 minutes to set the top.

Bake in the center of an oven preheated to 300 degrees for 11-12 minutes. Cool completely before filling with Lemon Curd, buttercream, or chocolate ganache.

Lemon Curd

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
dash salt
dash vanilla

Heat lemon juice and butter to just under a boil. In a heatproof bowl, which egg yolks then stir in sugar until combined. Gradually which the hot lemon juice mixture into the eggs. Cook, stirring constantly, until the curd thickens. Strain it through a sieve into a bowl. Stir in the salt and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing into surface, and chill 1-2 hours before using.

Buttercream Filling

1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon strawberry puree
1-2 tablespoons cream

Cream butter and sugar together. Stir in remaining ingredients until desired consistency.

Note: We couldn't taste the strawberry flavor with the puree, so tried adding jam. That made it way too sweet. I need to look into flavored extracts.

Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Filling

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup powdered almonds
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter

Using a food processor, grind the powdered sugar, almonds and cocoa powder together. Sift the mixture into a large bowl. You don't want any lumps at all.

Beat the egg whites until they hold their shape, then beat in the sugar until very stiff and firm, about two minutes.

Fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the egg whites with a rubber spatula, just until smooth. Don't overmix!

Scrape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" plain tip. Pipe 1-1/4" rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 25 per sheet. Bang on counter to create the "foot" of the macaron and let dry for 30 minutes to set the top.

Bake one at a time in the center of an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Rotate and bake 7 more minutes. Cool completely.

Warm the cream in a pan just to boiling, then pour over the chocolate. Stir gently, without creating bubbles, until melted together. Add butter. Chill 30 minutes, until thick but spreadable.

To assemble, place one teaspoon of filling between two macarons and press together gently, but don't let the filling ooze out. Chill, covered, for 24 hours before serving. Makes 25.

The chocolate dough was too stiff and didn't spread properly.
We had better success with our next batch.
Here are a few websites we looked at before attempting to make our own macarons:

Sally's Site       Top Ten Tips         King Arthur Flour

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

These weren't terribly sweet, but I liked them. And although they tasted "healthy" that's not necessarily a bad thing. The original recipe called for spelt flour, but gave the option of using whole wheat flour. Since I don't have spelt flour, I used wheat. Maybe some day I'll get some spelt. Have any of you ever used it?

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

1½ cups whole spelt flour (can substitute whole-wheat flour)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each allspice, cloves, ginger and nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup honey
⅓ cup melted butter
1 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with liners and set aside.
Using a whisk or fork mix together the flour, pumpkin spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Make a well (hole) in the center of the flour mixture and drop in the eggs, honey, and melted butter. Mix together until well combined. Fold in the pumpkin puree. Do not over mix.
Pour the batter into the muffin pan so it’s evenly distributed. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick comes clean, about 18 – 20 minutes. Store at room temperature or freeze for a rainy day. Makes 12 muffins at about 150 calories each.

Note: Instead of using the individual spices, you can use a couple teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice. Or, you can make your own; there's a recipe for that here.

Hannah's Sweet Corn Muffins

Sweet Corn Muffins
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk (almond or rice milk works)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin cups (15-18). Combine first five dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine liquids in a small bowl and mix well. Add liquids to flour mixture; stir just until blended. Pour into muffin cups until 2/3 full. Bake for 18 - 20 minutes or until wooden toothpick comes out clean. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Asian Chicken and Pineapple Noodle Bowl

We tried a new recipe tonight and it was quite good. Anything that gets the "we can have this again" comment is a success! I was looking for something to use the leftover chicken and pineapple from our barbecue picnic on Saturday and this was perfect.

Asian Chicken and Pineapple Noodle Bowl

1/4 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon garlic powder
red pepper flakes to taste
3 stalks broccoli
2 carrots
1 red pepper
1 cup pineapple chunks, drained
12 ounce chicken breast chunks
6-8 ounces Thai rice noodles, dry
2 green onions, sliced

Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, garlic powder and red pepper flakes and set aside. Grate the broccoli, carrots, red pepper and pineapple and combine. (The suggestion to use a food processor was a great one.) My noodle package said to soak them for 6-8 minutes, so I did that, then drained them.

Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan and add the vegetable/pineapple mix. Stir fry for a few minutes, then add the chicken. (I used already cooked chicken this time and it turned out just fine.) Add the noodles and sauce and heat through.

Serve garnished with the green onions if desired. Makes 4 servings.
The pork version was delicious as well!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

These are some recipes I discovered today that my great-aunt Olive used for Thanksgiving. I think my dad might enjoy trying them this year. I wonder if my sister will be willing to swap out her traditional Green Bean Casserole for peas!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

I felt like taking cupcakes to a pot luck dinner the other day, so checked my recipe binder and decided it was finally time to try these Black-Bottom Cupcakes. I figured they had to be delicious because the cake batter was the same as our favorite Wacky Cake. They did turn out beautifully, maybe not in looks, but definitely in taste!
Powdered sugar covers a multitude of defects!
Black-Bottom Cupcakes
from The Great Book of Chocolate, by David Lebovitz

8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 ounces (or 1/3 cup) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/4-1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat together the filling ingredients and set aside. For the cupcakes, combine the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, the mix together. Place batter in cupcake lines, then dollop with filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Yield: 12 regular or 30 mini cupcakes.
I only used 2/3 of the filling, so made another 1/2 batch of batter. The original 12 were too full, so the real yield is closer to 14 cupcakes for batter and 18 (or even more) for filling. If I ever make these again, I also need to remember to cover the filling after dolloping because it doesn't really sink.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Veggie Burgers

The other day I suggested veggie burgers as a dinner option and Wayne mentioned he had just read an article on the subject in Consumer Reports. So, we decided to see if we agreed with their findings. Our local grocery store had the first "very good" one on their list - MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patties, so we gave them a try. While they'll never take the place of a regular beef burger, they were pretty good. 
Image result for morningstar farms veggie burger
Maybe someday we'll try the next one on the list - Boca All American Flame Grilled. It's more likely, though, that we'll try the recipe they printed. Here it is so you can try it too.

A Healthy Homemade Option

It's easy to make veggie burgers yourself. This recipe has two variations, black bean and corn and quinoa and carrot. You can make a big batch to freeze so you have them at hand for a quick meal. Wrap the uncooked burgers individually and once they're frozen, put them in a plastic zip bag. Don't thaw before cooking.
1. Make the BaseHeat 1 teaspoon olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sauté ¼ cup each finely chopped onion and red pepper and 1 clove minced garlic until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Place in large bowl and add 1¼ cup cooked quinoa, ½ cup panko bread crumbs, 1 egg, ½ cup grated sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, and ⅛ teaspoon each salt and black pepper.
2. Choose Your Style
For black bean and corn: Add ½ cup black beans, ½ cup corn, ¼ cup chopped cilantro, and ½ teaspoon chili powder.
For carrot and parsley: Add 1 cup grated carrot, 1 tablespoon tahini, 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, ½ teaspoon cumin, ¼ cup chopped parsley.
3. Chill and CookWith wet hands gently form six patties. Refrigerate uncovered until firm, at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook about 5 minutes more.
4. Top and ServeTop black bean burgers with salsa and avocado. Top carrot burgers with tzatziki.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Another Bean Soup

Unlike the other Spanish Bean Soup, which we didn't particularly like, this one was pretty good. It included garbanzo beans, a ham bone, a beef bone, some salt park sauteed with onion, chorizo and potatoes, with a saffron and paprika for seasoning. Comparing the recipes, really the only difference was the first one used white kidney beans while the second used garbanzo beans, and the first one had morcilla and no saffron. I wouldn't think that would make a great difference, so maybe we've just learned the proper way to use salt pork. Or maybe we just used meat bones with a lot of meat still on them!

Pickled Kingfish

Have you ever heard of kingfish? I hadn't, particularly not as a fish you can buy at the grocery store. I learned that it's a type of mackerel, with a strong "fishy" taste, too strong for most consumers in South Florida. After checking our local stores and then making several phone calls, I finally found a market that could order it for me, and they did. Thank you, Joseph's Classic Market. While there, I also discovered that they carry green olives without pimiento, but that gave me the idea to check Whole Foods when we try this recipe again with shrimp.
Fortunately the rest of the ingredients were normal - onions, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar, bay leaves, peppercords and salt, plus flour for dredging the kingfish steaks.
Wayne got to work!
Kingfish is similar to mackerel, another fish I doubt I've tried. After browning the fish, we would have been satisfied to eat it right then, but that was just the first step.
Slicing onions and green peppers was the next step, along with removing the bones in the fish.
The vegetables were cooked for a bit, combined with the olive and vinegar, and then layered with the fish and put in the refrigerator for a while (up to a week or ten days).
With just the two of us, the large pot lasted us over a week, and it was actually quite good, something I wouldn't have expected. It was also kind of neat being able to use a wedding gift (the clay pot) that usually sits in the cupboard!
Note: After eating all the fish, there were still some vegetables in the pot, so I looked for ways to use them up and find quite a few options. They were a great addition to both quesadillas and scrambled eggs!

You can also add picked onions/peppers to grilled cheese sandwiches, tacos, Cuban sandwiches, tuna or chicken salad, Asian noodle bowls or baked potatoes with sour cream. So many options!

One more option - use shrimp instead of kingfish!
You can also easily halve or third the recipe if you're not cooking for a crowd.

Spanish Bean Soup Dip

We're slowly making our way through the appetizer recipes in the Columbia Restaurant Cookbook and they're definitely interesting, and pretty good as well. To make this one, first we had to make some Potaje de Barganzos, or Bean Soup, again. We didn't use all of it in the dip recipe, so we were able to have it for lunch a few times.

To turn it into dip, we pureed the soup, added some olive oil, cooked it until thick, and then garnished with hard-boiled egg and parsley and served with Melba toast.


This has been sitting in the drafts folder for a while! However, since I actually used it again today, I was motivated to finish the blog post as well.

Apparently one of the new ways to prepare vegetables is to spiralize them, and while exploring Sur La Table looking for a new gadget (or souvenir) to buy on our anniversary trip one year, this caught my attention. You can get fancy, expensive, electric ones, but until it becomes something I use often, the small, hand powered version works just fine.

Spiralized yellow squash made a great base for spaghetti and meatball sauce, and today spiralized zucchini garnished our Thai Chicken and Rice. I've used it a few times in the past year and a half, but I doubt it will ever earn an "A" spot in the frequently used utensil drawer.

Very Cherry Pie

Wayne loves cherry pie, so he was excited when this recipe showed up on the list to try. This variation includes both frozen cherries and dried cherries. Unfortunately, it isn't easy to find frozen tart cherries! We ended up making it with canned tart cherries. Afterwards I bought a couple bags of frozen mixed fruit (cherry/berry), picked out the tart cherries, and refroze them. We'll be ready when "pies" come up in the rotation again!
Very Cherry Pie

4 cups frozen unsweetened tart cherries
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter
pastry for double-crust 9-inch pie

Combine both cherries, sugar, tapioca and extract and mix well. Let mixture stand for 15 minutes.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry; fill with cherry mixture, sprinkle with nutmeg and dot with butter. Cover with top crust, cutting slits for steam to escape.

Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hour.

Makes 8 servings.

We decided to try this without picking out the tart cherries, and substituting 4 cups of the Berry/Cherry Mix. It turned out wonderfully as well.

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan; set pan aside.

In a small saucepan stir together the 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and the cornstarch. Stir in blueberries and orange juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and set aside.

For crust, in a large mixing bowl stir together the 2 cups flour and the powdered sugar. Cut in butter until fine crumbs form and mixture starts to cling together (mixture will still be crumbly). Pat mixture firmly into prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat cream cheese, the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and the 1 tablespoon flour until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Pour over hot baked crust, spreading evenly. Spoon blueberry mixture in small mounds over the cheese layer. Use a thin metal spatula or table knife to marble the mixtures together.

Bake for 20 minutes more or until center is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Remove uncut bars from pan by lifting foil. Cut into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days. if desired, sift powdered sugar over bars just before serving.

Nutrition Facts (Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars)
Per serving: 120 kcal cal., 8 g fat (5 g sat. fat, 2 g monounsatured fat), 32 mg chol., 61 mg sodium, 12 g carb., 6 g sugar, 2 g pro.