bacon-wrapped goat-cheese-and-almond-stuffed dates

Stuffed dates are part of one my favorite days recently – one of those that, for whatever reason, just ended up being particularly awesome. Some great friends visited us in Philadelphia shortly before we moved. After walking around the famous historical sites and before seeing one of my favorite musicians play; before walking up the famous steps to the art museum and much before eating cheesesteaks at 2am, we ate dinner at Alma de Cuba.

While we all loved our entrees, our drinks, and the ceviche, the star of the show was the bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed dates. Is transcendent too over-the-top a description? It seems appropriate for something that caused each of us to close our eyes and exclaim with every bite.

I had kind of assumed that my bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed date days were behind me when we moved from Philadelphia. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that I could make them myself. I certainly never thought it would be so easy.

And just as good! I mean, it’s missing the friends-visiting, concert-going, downtown-exploring mystique, but it retains other important things – salty bacon, sweet dates, tangy goat cheese, crunchy almonds. And now it isn’t a once in a lifetime treat, like those standout days are.

One year ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Two years ago: Salmon Cakes with Hashed Brussels Sprouts and Flaky Biscuits

Printer Friendly Recipe
Bacon-Wrapped Goat-Cheese-and-Almond-Stuffed Dates (rewritten from Beantown Baker)

Makes 32 appetizers

32 dates, pitted
4 ounces goat cheese
32 almonds (about ⅓ cup)
16 slices (about 1 pound) bacon, halved lengthwise

1. With a paring knife, cut through one long edge of each date; unfold the dates to open them up. Use your fingers to stuff both sides of the date with goat cheese. Push an almond into the goat cheese; close up the dates. Wrap each stuffed date with a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick or skewer.

2. If you’re broiling the dates, put them on a rimmed baking sheet. Grill the dates over medium-hot coals or broil them 5 inches from the heating unit until the bacon is cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

roasted garlic balsamic white bean dip

No matter how hard I try, I can’t get excited about the Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries – I don’t know, they’re all just fine, but Thanksgiving isn’t the eat-until-you-pop day for me that it is for a lot of people. I do love the idea of a free for all food day though. I also love football, so the Super Bowl tends to be my big overeating event.

But even a day of unapologetic binging requires some vegetables. Besides the ubiquitous salsa and guacamole, that is. Since I was already treating myself, I suppose I could have made a delicious mayonnaise and sour cream based dip, but I wanted to leave plenty of belly space for the brownies, meatball sliders, and that guacamole, so I stuck to a light bean dip for the vegetables.

The problem with bean dip is that it’s always a battle between how healthy it is and how much flavor it has. If you don’t want to add cream cheese or butter or nut butters, it can be difficult to find ingredients to bump up the flavor.

Three strong flavors help make this white bean dip interesting – roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. The result? A bean dip worth filling up on.

One year ago: Vegetarian Chili
Two years ago: Salmon Pesto Pasta

Printer Friendly Recipe
Roasted Garlic White Bean Balsamic Dip (adapted substantially from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

1 head of garlic, outer papery skin removed
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can white beans (cannellini, navy, great northern), drained and rinsed
pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon oil from jar of sun-dried tomatoes

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400ºF. Cut ¼-inch off of the top of the bulb of garlic. Place the bulb in an 8-inch square of foil and drizzle with ½ teaspoon of the oil. Wrap the garlic in the foil and roast until soft, about 40 minutes.

2. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their peels and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the tomatoes and salt; process until smooth. Add the beans and pepper and continue processing. With the machine running, pour in the balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomato oil. Adjust the seasonings if necessary, and serve, drizzling with more balsamic vinegar.

honey-wheat cookies

The problem with wheat germ cookies is that my mind focuses on the wheat germ part instead of the cookie part. So then these are healthy and therefore perfectly acceptable to eat with my tea – before breakfast. Wheat germ, people! Whole grains! Cookie schmookie.

Plus – they’re so good! No joke. I had my doubts too, especially after several weeks of baking delicious chocolate treats for Tuesdays with Dorie. Wheat germ in cookies? But the texture is so perfectly soft and chewy. The lemon was evident but somewhat subtle. The wheat germ added just a taste of bitterness. I was surprised to find that the honey was the strongest flavor, which I love because often the flavor of natural sugars gets lost in the oven.

Michelle chose these great cookies for TWD. She has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Devil’s Food White Out Cake

pasta with baked ricotta and sweet tomato sauce

I’m all about taking water out of ingredients. Zucchini, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, tofu, even bread for French toast. Water doesn’t contribute flavor, so if it isn’t improving texture, I have no use for it.

In this recipe, ricotta is drained in cheesecloth for several hours, then baked. What I thought would happen is the cheese would lose a small but significant portion of water during the draining stage, and then it would brown a little in the oven.

I was wrong. My ricotta actually gave off no liquid during straining, and I’m thinking now that the baking isn’t so much to brown the ricotta as to concentrate flavor by evaporating even more liquid.

The sauce to accompany the baked ricotta is a simple tomato sauce that is sweetened with balsamic vinegar. I used fresh pasta, which when topped with the sauce, ricotta, a handful a parmesan and a sprinkling of basil, made for a great adaptation of a classic pasta and tomato sauce dish.

One year ago: Pot Roast
Two years ago: Comparison of 4 Vanilla Frosting

Printer Friendly Recipe
Pasta with Sweet Tomato Sauce and Baked Ricotta (adapted from Jamie Oliver via Cate’s World Kitchen)

I used one pound of (store-bought) fresh pasta instead of dried pasta, and it was so good that I think I’ll stick with fresh pasta for this recipe in the future as well.

Serves 4-6

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano, divided
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound wide pasta, such as pappardelle or fettucine
a handful of fresh basil, torn
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan

1. Line a fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. Spoon the ricotta into the strainer and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

2. Adjust a rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the ricotta onto the baking sheet in a 1-inch layer. Season the ricotta with ¼ teaspoon dried oregano and a generous pinch of both salt and pepper. Rub 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over the seasoned ricotta. Bake for 15 minutes, until dry and slightly browned at the edges.

3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in an 8 to 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the edges just start to brown, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ¼ teaspoon oregano, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Use a spoon to crush the tomatoes, of, if you’d like a smooth sauce, transfer the mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Stir the balsamic vinegar into the sauce.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

5. Combine the pasta and sauce, thinning the mixture with pasta cooking water if necessary. Fold in the basil and ricotta and top with the parmesan.

dorie’s best chocolate chip cookies

Before I joined Tuesdays with Dorie, I baked chocolate chip cookies a couple times a month. They were my standard weeknight dessert; I’d eat dinner early and then by the time I was ready to drink my evening tea, I was hungry for a dessert, and a cookie or two was just the right portion. When I saw Dave on the weekend (before we were married and living together), I’d give him whatever cookies I hadn’t eaten. He’d usually eat the rest of the batch in one evening.

That was before I was experimenting with chocolate chip cookie recipes, so I stuck with the Tollhouse recipe back then. I did find, however, that I liked the cookies better if I added an extra quarter cup of flour to the recipe, which made the cookies taller, drier (less greasy), and more cakey.

Dorie’s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe goes in the opposite direction, reducing the flour from the Tollhouse recipe. I knew that wasn’t my preference, but I stayed true to the recipe anyway – I’m familiar with the results of the recipe with more flour, but I didn’t know precisely what the cookies would be like with Dorie’s exact recipe.

They were what I expected, but even flatter. I had frozen the balls of dough early in the week and then baked them straight from the freezer, which I thought would reduce the spreading and result in taller cookies, but they were nearly paper thin. I did like their texture – crisp at the edges with soft, slightly chewy centers.

Everyone has their own opinion of what the perfect chocolate chip cookie is. This was good, but it wasn’t quite what I look for in a chocolate chip cookie. If your ideal is closer to Dorie’s than mine is, Kait has the recipe posted.

jalapeno-baked fish with roasted tomatoes and potatoes

I need every weekday meal to be exactly like this one.

First, it took only 20 minutes of actual effort. Sliced potatoes are softened in the microwave right in the baking dish. Meanwhile, I pureed a few other ingredients, mostly straight from cans, with my immersion blender. Then I laid some fish filets over the potatoes and poured the pureed sauce on top.

Second, it only bakes for 20 minutes. This was the perfect amount of time for me to empty the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen and unpack groceries.

Third, it’s nice and light, with lean white fish, vegetables, and just a small amount of oil to help the potatoes cook.

Fourth, and of course the only point that really matters, it was just so good. The fish, potatoes, and sauce were balanced nicely and the spice level was just right.

My favorite meals have all the ingredients jumbled together like this, protein and starch and vegetables. It’s especially nice on a weeknight so I don’t have to make side dishes as well. I haven’t found many fish recipes like that, so this is perfect – in every way, really.

One year ago: Red Velvet Cake comparison
Two years ago: Olive Oil Bread

Printer Friendly Recipe
Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
(from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Dinner and Dessert)

Serves 4

4 medium (1 pound total) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
⅓ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
About ¼ cup sliced canned pickled jalapenos
1 tablespoon jalapeno pickling juice
Four 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1¼ pounds total) skinless fish fillets, preferably ¾ to 1 inch thick

1. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop the sliced potatoes into a microwaveable 8×8-inch baking dish. Drizzle on the oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then spread the potatoes in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the tomatoes with their juice, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickling juice. Process to a puree, leaving just a little texture.

3. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer over the potatoes. Pour the tomato mixture evenly over the fish and potatoes.

4. Slide the baking dish into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the fish flakes when pressed firmly.

5. Scoop a portion of the fish-potato-sauce onto each dinner plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve right away.

rick katz’s brownies for julia child

You can laugh, based on years on my often-but-not-always-positive critiques of Dorie’s recipes, but I actually think I’m pretty open-minded about desserts. For example, I definitely already have a favorite brownie recipe. It’s evenly balanced between cakey and fudgy, which is exactly how I like my brownies. When one report after another started rolling in that these brownies were ultra gooey, I started to get the feeling that they wouldn’t be my style.

But you know what they would be? Brownies. And that is a very good thing.

I did reduce the butter a bit, not so much in an effort to change the texture of the brownies or to be healthier, but just because I happened to have 7 tablespoons (for a half recipe, which called for 8 tablespoons) handy when I was baking these.

I don’t know if it was the slightly reduced amount of butter or because I baked the half recipe for the same time Dorie recommends baking the full recipe, but these brownies ended up with my perfect brownie texture. They were nice and rich, but still firm enough to hold their shape like a brownie should. Once they were cut into near bite-sized squares, they were perfectly irresistible.

Tanya of Chocolatechic, appropriately enough, chose these brownies for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Floating Islands

toasted vegetable subs

I wouldn’t say that I get tired of pizza, but with nothing to break our Friday night pizza routine lately, I thought a break might be in order. I considered some of my other favorite take-out options that I could make at home and decided, mm, big cheesy toasted sandwiches.

As much as I love a bunch of different spicy meats (my god, I cannot avoid the innuendos around here lately) on a sandwich, Dave and I had a lot of meat plans (ack) for the weekend already. Plus, I was pretty sure I could make a vegetarian sandwich every bit as good as my favorite carnivorous version.

Maybe you don’t need a recipe for a veggie sandwich – just put your favorite vegetables on bread, right – but I looked around for one anyway and found several. Most were based on eggplant and zucchini, which…eh. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a little too earnest for a Friday night. I wanted a meatier vegetarian sandwich.

So mushrooms were in, of course, as well as caramelized shallots and roasted red peppers. I added the out-of-season mealy tomatoes simply because it seems traditional on a toasted sub, but I think chopped sun-dried tomatoes mixed with the other vegetables would be more flavorful.

Bread topped with melted cheese, tomatoes, and vegetables is the perfect way to take a break from pizza, isn’t it? But with a sandwich this good, I didn’t miss my normal Friday night pizza at all.

One year ago: Crispy Bagel Sushi Roll
Two years ago: Queso, Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

Printer Friendly Recipe
Toasted Vegetable Subs

Serves 4

2 red bell peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 large shallots, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
salt
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced 1/8-inch thick
ground black pepper
4 large sub/hoagie rolls, halved lengthwise
mayonnaise
mustard
1 roma tomato, sliced then or 8 sun-dried tomatoes, diced small
4 ounces sliced provolone

1. Adjust a rack to the upper-middle position and heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut a ½-inch slice from the top and bottom of the red peppers. Remove the seeds; cut the middle section of the pepper in half from top to bottom; cut out the veins. Place the pepper skin-side up on the prepared baking sheet and broil until the skin is blistered and black, about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a medium bowl. Cover the bowl and let the peppers steam for at least 10 minutes to loosen the skin. Leave the broiler on.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and ½ teaspoon salt; sauté, stirring constantly, until the shallots just start to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are golden to dark brown, about 15 minutes. Scrape them from the skillet to a medium bowl.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet (there’s no need to wash it) over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring constantly, until browned, about 3 minutes. Scrape them into the bowl with the shallots. Season the mixture with ground black pepper.

4. Peel the skin from the red pepper’s flesh and cut the flesh into 1/8-inch slices. Add it to the bowl with the mushrooms and shallots. If you’re using sun-dried tomatoes, add those to the bowl as well.

5. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise, then mustard, over both sides of the rolls. Divide the vegetable mixture evenly between the bottom pieces of the rolls; top with the cheese. Arrange the slices of fresh tomato, if using, on the top piece of the sandwich bread. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet, with the tomato and cheese facing up.

6. Broil until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly toasted, 3-5 minutes. Let the sandwiches cool for a few minutes before serving.

oatmeal pancakes

Dave gets a man magazine – not one with naked ladies, but one about fashion and supposedly culture and, I don’t know, other manly stuff. I know he’ll insist that I clarify that he doesn’t pay for it. Anyway, the last issue had an article about getting in shape in which the author claims that whole wheat gives guys man boobs. Instead, men should focus on grains like oats and quinoa.

Yes, it’s whole wheat that gives you man boobs, and not, you know, overeating. I suspect that eating too much quinoa without exercising would also result in man boobs.

But hey, if you’re concerned about your man boob potential, these pancakes are perfect for you, because they are almost completely oats, with just a small amount of flour. Of course, they have a stick of butter in them, but hey, the problem is whole wheat, right, not fat.

Plus I cut the amount of butter in half and the pancakes were still perfect. I also substituted whole grain pastry flour for half of the flour in the recipe, my new favorite trick with quick breads. I increased the milk a little to make up for the lost liquid from the butter.

I’m loving the result of soaking oats before mixing them into batter. Once the oats are softened, they blend better with the rest of the ingredients. I’m also really eager to try toasting the oats before mixing them with the liquid, because I love the flavor that toasting gives oats. I’ll have to try that next time, which might be soon, since I don’t want to give Dave man boobs by making him regular pancakes.

One year ago: Tofu Croutons
Two years ago: Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Oatmeal Pancakes (adapted from Orangette, who adapted it from the Inn at Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, PA)

4 servings

I replaced ¼ cup of the flour with the equal amount of whole wheat pastry flour, a trick I’ve found very successful with pancakes and muffins.

2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups + ½ cup buttermilk
½ cup (2.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted but not hot
vegetable oil for the pan

1. Combine the oats and 2 cups of the buttermilk in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk the remaining ½ cup buttermilk, the eggs, and then the butter into the oat mixture. Fold the flour mixture into the batter.

3. Brush a large nonstick skillet or griddle with vegetable oil; heat over medium heat. Spoon scant ¼ cups of the batter onto the pan. Cook until the sides of the pancakes start to look dry and the bottom is golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Flip, then continue to cook until the second side is also golden brown, about 2 minutes. Repeat with the remaining pancakes, adjusting the heat if necessary. If you’d like, you can keep the pancakes in a 200 degree oven on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet until the whole batch is cooked.

milk chocolate bundt cake

It’s a lobster!!! Get your mind out of the gutter.

I’ve come full circle on milk chocolate. As a kid, like most of us I think, I didn’t like dark chocolate at all. Ew, too bitter! Recently, I’ve felt the opposite. Milk chocolate was too sweet – where’s the chocolate flavor?

But now milk chocolate just reminds me of the time I left a chocolate bunny on my windowsill right after Easter, and it melted and was suddenly ten times better than any milk chocolate I’d had before. It may just be that I’m buying higher quality milk chocolate these days; regardless, I like having another type of chocolate to enjoy.

Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed this milk chocolate cake. After three weeks of banana cream pie, I was in the mood for something dark and rich.  I was still interested in the milk chocolate idea, so I just replaced the nuts in the swirl with more milk chocolate. Ooh yeah, there’s a nice chocolate kick.

Even more exciting than chocolate-glazed chocolate cake with a cocoa-chocolate swirl is that it’s lobster shaped! Yay, lobster shaped cake!

Kristin chose this for TWD and has the recipe posted. The glaze, a simple mixture of melted chocolate and corn syrup, didn’t work for anyone. I added milk until it smoothed out and was quite happy with the result.

One year ago: World Peace Cookies