Monday, January 19, 2009

Using my Christmas gifts

Because of the generosity of Santas in multiple locales, I received lots of cooking-related Christmas gifts that I'm just now getting around to trying out. I have my dad to thank for this and this, and my husband to thank for this.

My mother-in-law gave me a Silpat baking mat, which I used to make the pecan-raisin drop cookies shown in the photo. These mats have been around for a while -- they're more environmentally friendly than aerosol cooking sprays and less messy than butter. I love mine, and will surely use it for all of my future baking projects. After washing it, I store it rolled up in a cardboard paper tube from a roll of paper towels, a suggestion from Cook's Illustrated.

About the cookies: The recipe is from the January issue of Bon Appetit (available on Epicurious here) and we loved them. The ingredient list is blessedly short, which meant that I was able to put them together in about 10 minutes, not including baking time, of course. With a short ingredient list it's especially important to use good ingredients and to maximize the flavors of the ingredients you do use. I toasted the pecans for a few minutes in a pan on the stove, and I poured boiling water over the raisins to plump them up. (Especially important because I think they were in our cupboard for a long, long time.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

A fresh start for 2009

Many of you readers (if I have any readers left) have probably guessed the reason(s) for my lack of posts over the past couple of months. A new house, new city and (wonderful) new job have left precious little time for blogging. During this time of transition, I've managed to continue cooking and experimenting with new recipes, but haven't had the time to cook and photograph the results and blog about them.

As many of you also know, my best news of all is that there's a new little eater in our house! Baby Sophia arrived just over six weeks ago and has been great fun. She's proven to be a little one-dimensional in her food tastes right now, but I plan to start introducing her to new tastes as soon as I can.

About two weeks after Sophia was born I was desperate to get back in the kitchen but of course, didn't have the time for anything elaborate. This mango-pomegranate guacamole was perfect. Not only was it festive and healthy, it allowed me to take advantage of some seasonal (though admittedly not local) flavors. It's a quick dish and the colors are gorgeous! I can't wait to make it again.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A recipe from Gwyneth

I signed up for these fun e-mails from Gwyneth Paltrow after reading about them on photographer Melanie Mauer's blog. The first e-mail I received included three great (and healthy!) recipes: buckwheat and banana pancakes, Asian tuna sandwiches with soy and sesame mayonnaise, and caramelized black pepper chicken.

I tested the buckwheat pancake recipe today, though I swapped the bananas for apples in an effort to cook a little more seasonally. I peeled and sliced thin a Jonagold apple and sauteed it gently in butter, cinnamon and sugar. The best part was that I was able to find fresh, local black walnuts at the farmers' market, which really kicked up the flavor. (Who knew that walnuts grew on trees only 30 minutes from South Bend?) If you can find fresh walnuts at your local market, it makes a big difference in taste.

Is there anything better than homemade Sunday pancakes? These made me so happy today.

Buckwheat, Apple and Black Walnut Pancakes
adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow

1/14 cups skim milk (the original recipe recommends soy, but I didn't have any on hand)
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. real maple syrup, plus more for serving
1/2 c. buckwheat flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T. each cinnamon and sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Mix cinnamon and sugar in small bowl. Melt 1/2 T. butter in small frying pan. Add cinnamon and sugar. Saute apples gently on low heat until soft.
2. Mix wet ingredients in small bowl; mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Mix gently just until combined.
3. Heat nonstick skillet or griddle to medium high. Ladle pancake batter on griddle and sprinkle with apple slices and walnuts. Cook until the surface is covered with small bubbles. Flip and cook other side until golden.
4. Keep finished pancakes on platter in 200 degree oven.
5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with warm maple syrup.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Catering Confidential

Have your ambitious dinner party plans caught you in a time crunch? Is there a dish you love to eat but hate to make? Whether your guest list includes 30 or 300, here are six great go-to caterers in southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana: You can read all about them in my story in the November issue of Lake. (Though I'm sad, sad, sad that the editors snipped the two fabulous Kalamazoo caterers I had originally included in the story: Rose Street Market and Candace Strong.)

In other writing news, I neglected to mention many moons ago that I received a writing award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists early this fall. The award was for my story "The New Spiritual Scene," which appeared this past year in Columbus Monthly. I collaborated with photographer Tim Johnson on the photo essay, which examined new and emerging faith communities in central Ohio. The project led me to a "street church" for the homeless, a Somali mosque, an evangelical community housed in a movie theatre (popcorn included) and a Pentecostal revival. Our efforts for this story stretched over more than six months. It's one of the best stories I've ever worked on, so it's great to get some kudos for our hard work.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Honey-roasted root vegetables

I love stocking up on root vegetables at the farmers' market and roasting them until their natural sugars caramelize. They're so hearty and filling -- and healthy. I first made this recipe for honey-roasted root vegetables from Cooking Light two years ago, and it has since made it into my permanent fall repertoire.

Any honey will do, of course, but I like to experiment with different artisan honeys. This year I used rosemary-infused honey from Mockingbird Meadows just outside Columbus. I love, love, love Mockingbird's herb-infused honeys. I wrote about them in the September issue of Columbus Monthly, and their coffee-infused honey made its debut at this year's Slow Food USA conference in San Francisco.

I'm also partial to Mockingbird's lavender-infused honey, which I love to drizzle over Greek yogurt for breakfast. I stocked up on several jars before leaving Columbus, and I'm so grateful I did! If you come over to my house for breakfast I'd be happy to share! MM is hoping to expand their Web presence in the near future, but for now you can buy a few of their products from their online store.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Extreme granola

So I've been wanting to make homemade granola forever, and the title of this recipe from Epicurious caught my eye right away. It was easy-peasy, and it was a great way to use up some of the leftover nuts and dried fruits we had lying around. (I used golden raisins instead of the dried blueberries.) I also used real maple syrup that I had bought from some Amish farmers in South Haven, and the smell of the toasting oats plus the maple syrup filled the kitchen. Someone needs to capture that aroma in a scented candle. This granola keeps for a whole month.

For some reason I was into making breakfast foods this weekend -- I also made these morning glory muffins. The recipe came from Columbus Dispatch Food Editor Robin Davis, whose Wednesday food section I'm already missing now that I'm in South Bend. I'm always looking for healthy muffin recipes, and this one uses whole wheat flour, plus shredded zucchini and apple. The recipe makes about a dozen and a half, so I popped some in the freezer for quick breakasts later.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back in the kitchen

It's so good to be back in the kitchen! I have finally moved into our house and our kitchen is unpacked. More importantly, my dining companion is now in town so I have someone to experiment on again.

In an effort to avoid unpacking, I ventured out to the South Bend Farmers' Market on Saturday morning -- only a five minute drive from chez nous. Unlike the North Market in Columbus, you don't have to get there at the crack of dawn to get the best selection. I got there at 10am and there was still lots to choose from. All of the produce is so heavy this time of year. I had to make two trips to the car. Walking around with a yellow seedless watermelon, a basket of honeycrisp apples, a basket of Michigan Red Haven peaches, and a bag of redskin potatoes got to be a little bit much, even though I've been lifting weights and am pretty darn strong.

The South Bend Farmers' Market is much more downhome than my beloved North Market in Columbus. It's going to take some getting used to. Another local said it well when she said, "It's a little heavy on the tchotchkes and soft pretzels." And, I would add, crocheted items and antiques. Um, and Obama T-shirts and non-local produce. (Asparagus from South America? At a farmers' market? C'mon people!) I already miss my favorite cheesemaker in Columbus and the stone-ground cornmeal from a farmer whose name escapes me now. Fortunately I stocked up on some Columbus goods before I left.

There were some bright spots on Saturday. I saw one woman selling beautiful bittersweet for $6/bunch, and one produce stand sold me some lovely cremini mushrooms that I'm going to make into a mushroom ragout. South Bend food shopping is going to be a little bit of an adjustment -- I'm realizing now how spoiled I was in Ohio -- but I'm up for the challenge.