corn tortillas

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I don’t want to get melodramatic here, but these are almost life-changing. Certainly dinner-changing, and especially taco-changing.

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I have told you before about my quest for the best way to soften store-bought corn tortillas. My favorite method had to be effective and easy without adding a ton of fat. Fried tortillas are so good, but a significant amount of work, and obviously not healthy.

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I tried heating them under a damp kitchen towel, which worked okay, but the tortillas could get soggy and limp. The best I’d found was to spray both sides of the tortillas with oil and bake them until pliable but not crisp. Besides the addition of some, although not a lot, of fat, my biggest problem with this was that the tortillas would occasionally get too crisp to fold, and sometimes would just get chewy.

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Okay, so making fresh tortillas isn’t all that easy. But they’re so good – even as good as real deep-fried tortillas – and so healthy (no fat, whole grains), that I’ll spend the extra 15 minutes making them, even on a weeknight. If I only make enough for one meal, for the two of us, it isn’t so bad – just mix up two ingredients, maybe three if you want to add a pinch of salt, let it rest for a few minutes while you chop some taco fillings, roll it into balls, smash it with a tortilla press, sear it on a hot comal (or skillet) for a minute.

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As soon as you mix the masa harina with water, the dough will smell like the best corn tortillas, before you even cook them. Once you add some smoky char from the hot pan, then wrap them around fillings while they bend without breaking, you’ll see what I mean about a dinner-changing experience. But considering how often we make tacos now and how much better they are, life-changing isn’t too far of a stretch for me.

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Corn Tortillas (adapted from Serious Eats)

Makes 8 tortillas

I confess I have some specialized tools for tortillas. The cleaning lady at my office gave me the comal; she had two and hates to cook. I’m sure a cast-iron skillet will work just fine. I haven’t tried making tortillas without a press, but supposedly you can smash them under a skillet. They won’t get as thin, but a thicker fresh tortilla is still better than anything you can buy. The last item isn’t so special – just a scale – but I’ve had much more consistent results with getting the dough to the right hydration with a scale than I did with measuring cups.

4 ounces (about ¾ cup) masa harina
5 ounces water
pinch salt

1. In a medium bowl, mix the three ingredients until large crumbles form, then bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for ten minutes. Meanwhile, cut both sides of a gallon zip-top bag. Transfer the bag to a tortilla press with the crease of the bag at the hinge of the press.

2. Heat a not-nonstick skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat for at least 5 minutes.

3. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.

4. Place a ball onto the plastic-lined tortilla press, slightly off-center toward the hinge of the press. Press the tortilla just until it shows around the edges of the tortilla press. Open the press, peel the plastic wrap off the top of the tortilla, and invert the tortilla, still on the plastic, onto a towel. Slowly peel the plastic off of the tortilla. Replace the plastic in the tortilla press and repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

5. Transfer one tortilla to the hot pan; cook, without moving, until the tortilla bubbles and smokes, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Using a thin spatula, flip the tortilla; cook for another 15 to 30 seconds. Transfer the tortilla to a kitchen towel, wrapping it loosely. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, stacking them in the towel.

6. Let the tortillas sit in the towel to steam for a few minutes after the last tortilla is cooked, then serve. Kept wrapped, the tortillas will stay warm for about half an hour.

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pizza with brussels sprouts, bacon, and goat cheese

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Does it seem like this holiday season has been a lot crazier than normal? It’s must be because Thanksgiving was late this year, which meant that all of the shopping, baking, and socializing had to be squished into about four weeks instead of five like last year. Even if you’re organized enough to start shopping and baking ahead of time, there’s still the parties – the office party, the other office party, the cookie decorating party, the cookie exchange, and on and on.

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In addition to all that, we ended up being part of yet another office party, this one at the Big Boss’s house, which is not an invitation you turn down. I wasn’t feeling like I had time for the party and definitely not for the baking I’d agreed to do for the party, so I had some relief when it got postponed and I got to stay home and make this pizza instead.

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It sounds weird, I know. But it’s my favorite vegetable and one of my favorite cheeses, plus bacon, plus bread, so I knew it couldn’t be bad. The bacon, it turns out, really makes it, adding an element of sweetness to go with the nutty vegetables and tangy cheese. This pizza and a quiet night at home was exactly what I needed this holiday season.

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Brussels Sprout, Bacon, and Goat Cheese Pizza (from Shutterbean via Pink Parsley)

1 pound pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe)
4 slices of bacon, diced
6 ounces (about 6) Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded mozzarella
¼ cup (2 ounces) goat cheese, crumbled
¼ cup (½ ounce) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 3 inches below the broiler and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Shape the dough into a ball; cover and set aside for 10 to 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

2. In a medium skillet, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until it’s just barely crisp, about 8 minutes; use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate. Remove all but about a thin coating of fat in the pan. Add the Brussels sprouts and shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinegar.  Set aside.

3. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

4. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the peel, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Top with the mozzarella, then the Brussels sprouts mixture, goat cheese, and parmesan. Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone.

5. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes, until the bottom is spotty browned and the cheese is bubbling. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack; cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

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cherry tomato cobbler with gruyere biscuits

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I couldn’t figure out what wine to serve with this. On the one hand, it’s just vegetables. On the other, the gruyere and biscuits would make it pretty rich. A medium-bodied red would have been perfect, but all I had was chianti, which seemed too Italian. A rich white would have worked too, but I didn’t have one. In the end, I went with zinfandel, slightly worried that the wine would be too rich for the food.

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It wasn’t. It wasn’t just the gruyere with enough flavor to stand up to the deep wine, it was the tomatoes themselves. They might just be vegetables (fruit, whatever), but after roasting in the oven for half an hour with shallots and thyme, they were sweet and tart and jammy all at once.

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The original recipe calls for leaving the grape or cherry tomatoes whole before baking, but I dislike the saggy pouches of scalding mush that whole tomatoes become once cooked. By cutting them in half, the juice can mix with the other flavors, as well as reduce into a rich, flavorful sauce. It had so much flavor, in fact, that sips of rich wine and bites of earthy spinach was absolutely required between bites. It was a perfect combination.

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Cherry Tomato Cobbler with Gruyere Biscuits (adapted from Martha Stewart via Pink Parsley)

6-8 servings

I used a mix of all-purpose white flour and of whole wheat pastry flour in the biscuits.  I only made a third of the recipe.

For the filling:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 shallots, diced
salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

For the biscuit topping:
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (2¼ ounces), plus 1 tablespoon, for sprinkling
1½ cups buttermilk, plus more for brushing

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray.

2. For the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook just until the shallots begin to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper, and flour. Remove from the heat; set aside.

3. For the topping: Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the food processor. Add the butter and pulse until it is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the cheese; pulse to combine. Pour in the buttermilk; pulse just until the dough is evenly moistened but still looks crumbly.

4. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and pat into a ball. Knead the dough a few times. Use a large spoon to arrange mounds of dough about ¼-cup in size over the tomatoes. Brush the biscuits with buttermilk and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon grated cheese.

5. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the biscuits are browned on top and the filling is bubbling, 35-45 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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panko-crusted salmon

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Dave cooks now, and it is awesome for a number of reasons. Supposedly, it gives me a break from cooking, except I tend to use the free time to make cookies, but, that is still awesome. He chooses different sorts of recipes than I do, so it’s fun to have more variety. Mostly, it’s just nice to be in the kitchen together, doing one of my favorite things. And it provides me with plenty of – much needed – practice in only offering advice when it’s requested.

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So far, Dave is only cooking fish. This is also awesome, because fish is complicated in the desert – finding out how to get it so it’s fresh, which types are sustainable, that sort of stuff. I’m glad he took this on because my method was mostly to stock up on frozen tilapia in Albuquerque or wait for the wild salmon in the summer. Dave, on the other hand, has made friends with the fish lady at the grocery store.

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The vast majority of the recipes he makes are from Mark Bittman’s Fish cookbook, but I keep an eye out for quick and easy fish recipes to send his way, and this was one of those. While he mixed bread crumbs with lemon zest and herbs, I roasted asparagus, chased Dave around with a camera, and baked a cake. It was, as I might have mentioned, awesome*.

*Even more awesome? Dave wants to write the occasional guest post with some of his favorite fish recipes. Fun! I can’t wait.

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Panko-Crusted Salmon
(adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy is That via Annie’s Eats)

4 servings

⅔ cup panko
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the panko, parsley, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss with a fork until the crumbs are evenly coated; set aside.

2. Place the salmon fillets skin side down on a work surface. Generously brush the top of each fillet with the mustard, then season with salt and pepper. Press the panko mixture thickly on top of the mustard on each fillet.

3. In a 12-inch oven-safe nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and sear for 3-4 minutes without turning to brown the skin. (If you don’t want to eat the skin, this step also helps the skin stick to the pan so the fillets can be easily removed without the skin later on.)

4. Transfer the pan to the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the salmon is almost cooked through and the panko is browned. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

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(The asparagus were served over pine nut crema. Very tasty.)

crescent rolls

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I want my crescent rolls to bridge the gap between a regular dinner roll and a croissant. I want them intensely buttery, soft in the middle, with a slight crackle to the crust. I want the rolled layers to come apart when you bite into a browned edge. I don’t want them to be flaky; that’s too far down the croissant path. Basically, I want what you get when you pop open one of those tubes from the grocery store, except those tend to be soft to the point of mushy and too pale on the outside. It’s been surprisingly hard to find this ideal.

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Most recipes turn out rolls that are too similar to dinner rolls, without enough butter and without distinct layers. The recipe I started from for these rolls looked like they’d go too far the other direction, with flaky layers of dough separated by butter, like a croissant. You get those layers through folding butter into the dough and rolling it flat, then folding the dough into thirds and rolling again. In a croissant, this process is repeated to make hundreds of alternating paper-thin dough and butter layers.

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By reducing the number of turns, I was able to create the layers I wanted without making them so thin they’d turn flaky, so the dough layers were distinctly bread-like. The bread needed to be tender, which I guaranteed by adding a couple tablespoons of oil. The butter layers would add plenty of butter flavor, but the oil would keep the bread soft and moist. At last – the perfect crescent roll, halfway between a dinner roll and a croissant.

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One year ago: Yogurt Hollandaise Sauce
Two years ago: Yellow Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Jalapeno Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
Four years ago: Pot Roast
Five years ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts

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Crescent Rolls (adapted from eat live run)

Makes 16 rolls

I made these slightly whole wheat by using this trick, but if you’d rather they were made completely with white flour, just skip step one, adding the pre-dough ingredients (white flour instead of whole wheat) with the rest of the dough ingredients.

Pre-dough:
4 ounces (about ¾ cup) whole wheat flour
⅓ cup (2.67 ounces) water
¼ teaspoon salt

Dough:
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk plus 1 tablespoon
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
6 tablespoons butter, softened
egg wash

1. For the pre-dough: Combine the flour, salt, and water, mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.

2. Combine the pre-dough, flour, yeast, sugar, salt, ¾ cup milk, egg, and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead about 4 minutes. (You can mix and knead the dough by hand in a large bowl.) Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thick. Starting at a short end, spread the softened butter over two-thirds of the dough. Fold the unbuttered third of dough over the buttered middle. Fold the other buttered side over the middle. You’ve just folded the dough in thirds, like a letter, with the butter trapped inside between layers of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to ¼-inch thick again; fold in thirds again; chill another 30 minutes.

4. Roll the dough to ¼-inch thick to a rectangle about 10 by 14-inches. Slice in half lengthwise, creating two 5 by 14-inch rectangles, then alternate diagonal cuts to make 8 triangles from each half of dough. Cut a 1-inch slit in the wide end of each triangle (the side opposite the point). Roll up the triangles, starting at the wide end and pulling the corners away from the slit in the middle. Arrange the rolls on parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Spray with nonstick spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. About 5 minutes before baking, remove the plastic wrap and brush the rolls with the egg wash; leave them uncovered. Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes.

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lemon ginger scones

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I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now, years actually, that scones would be a perfect treat to bring in to work. I could do most of the work the night or weekend beforehand and then just bake them in the morning before work. It would be easy for me, and my coworkers would have fresh scones to go with their morning coffee.

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It sounds good in theory. In reality, it was a harried morning of showering, emptying the dishwasher, making smoothies, chugging my morning tea, skipping a couple makeup steps, hoping the blue of my scarf didn’t clash too much with the blue of my shirt, oh and garnishing, baking, cooling, and snapping a few very quick pictures of lemon-ginger scones.

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So I was wrong about the convenience of baking scones in the morning before work. But I was right about my coworkers loving them. It was a nice morning of compliments – not on my outfit with its clashing blues, obviously, but the tender and slightly spicy scones made up for the unavoidable shortcomings that resulted from my rushed morning.

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One year ago: Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce
Two years ago: Stromboli
Three years ago: Baked Ziti
Four years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Five years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Lemon-Ginger Scones (inspired by Bon Appetit’s Lemon Cream Scones, but when I realized I didn’t have nearly enough cream, I adapted Tartine’s Buttermilk Scones instead)

Serves about 8

As always, you can freeze scones after shaping, before baking. Bake directly from the freezer, adding 2-3 minutes to the baking time.

2½ (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
3 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 teaspoon
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes, very cold
2 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2.Pulse the flour, ¼ cup sugar, 3 teaspoons lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor until evenly mixed.  Scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients and pulse until the largest bits of butter are no larger than peas.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the ginger, then the buttermilk.  Knead a few times to bring the dough together.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, pat the dough out to ½-inch round.  Cut the round into 8 wedges or use cutters to cut other shapes.

4. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet.  Rub the remaining 1 teaspoon of zest into the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Brush the scones with the melted butter and top with the sugar mixture.  Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 16-20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

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flatbreads with honey, sea salt, and thyme

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On our very last day in Italy, almost exactly one year ago, we took it easy. One last order of “due cappuccini”, one last walking tour, one last cathedral, one last gelato, one last lunch. That lunch was one of many memorable meals on that trip. We ate on the street on a warm day. We ordered pecorino and honey to go with the ubiquitous bread. It was the first time I’d paired honey with cheese, and I was impressed at how well they went together.

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It was all downhill from there. Two weeks of restaurant meals, dehydration, and poor sleep had caught up to Dave, and he wanted nothing more than a nap and proximity to a box of Kleenex. We ate dinner in the apartment – bread, cheese, sausage, a basket of cherry tomatoes I’d bought from a farmer’s market, a bottle of wine. Then we set our alarms for 4:30 the next morning and said our goodbyes to Italy.

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I’ve been hooked on bread with cheese and honey since that day, and this might be the perfect way to combine the ingredients – just a thin crisp of bread topped with shavings of nutty cheese and generous spoonfuls of honey. The sea salt is absolutely necessary to balance all the sweet honey, and the crunch of the snowflake-sized flakes is a nice touch. It’s not the same as the first time I paired cheese with honey, but it isn’t bad. It isn’t bad at all.

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One year ago: Chewy Brownies
Two years ago: Palmiers
Three years ago: Applesauce Snack Cake
Four years ago: Pain Ordinaire

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Flatbread with Honey, Thyme, and Sea Salt (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I used a firm Gruyere, which was really delicious.  Deb used a Mahon, which I’ve never even heard of and certainly can’t find where I live.  Parmigiano-Reggiano would be great as well.

⅓ to ½ cup honey
1¾ cups (7.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon table salt
½ cup water
⅓ cup olive oil
¾ cup (1.5 ounces) grated gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon

1. Place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat the honey over low heat.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; pour the water and oil into the well. Stir the liquids into the flour until a dough forms, then knead the dough about five times, until it forms a smooth ball.

3. Divide the dough into four equal portions. On a sheet of parchment paper, roll one portion into an oval approximately 12 inches long by 6 inches wide.

4. Transfer the parchment paper with the dough to the heated baking stone. Bake for 5 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove the dough from the oven and evenly distribute a quarter of the grated cheese over the surface. Return the dough to the oven until it’s browned at the edges, 3-4 additional minutes. Immediately drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of honey over the surface of the bread, then sprinkle with a quarter of the thyme and a generous pinch of sea salt. Cut the bread into pieces; serve warm. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough.

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rhubarb muffins

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Year after year, rhubarb shows up at the grocery store, and I take note to come up with a recipe so I have a reason to buy it next time I’m at the store. And then I forget, and I see it at the store, and I swear that next time I’ll remember – and so it goes on, until rhubarb season is over. Not this year. This year, I am buying rhubarb every time I see it at the store and figuring out what to do with it later. And since I go there at least twice a week, that’s a lot of rhubarb.

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Now that rhubarb is a basically a staple around here, I’m free to try all sorts of recipes with it, from coffee cake to jam to pie to muffins. The coffee cake and the muffins were too similar to share both, and while my coworkers certainly seemed to appreciate the cake, I think the muffins were even better. Best of all, at least when you really want to soak up your brief opportunity for rhubarb, it’s a simple muffin with no distractions. It’s moist but craggy, like a muffin – not a cake – should be. The Greek yogurt (or sour cream) adds a zip of tang, just the right complement to the tart pockets of rhubarb.

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As good as the muffins are though, I can guarantee I won’t be making them again this year, not when I’ve already found several other tempting rhubarb recipes. Plus I still need to make my favorite rhubarb scones. Fortunately, with as much rhubarb as I’m buying this year, I might actually get to all the recipes I want to make.

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One year ago: Caramel Pots de Crème
Two years ago: Eggs in Tomato Sauce
Three years ago: Anadama Bread
Four years ago: French Chocolate Brownies

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Rhubarb Muffins (slightly adapted from Fine Cooking)

Healthy tricks I almost always use with quick breads: Replace half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. Replace sour cream with Greek yogurt. Replace 4 tablespoons of the butter with 2 tablespoons of oil, which keeps the bread moist (but leaving 4 tablespoons of butter in the recipe keeps it tasting great).

Usually I assume 4.8 ounces (by weight) per cup of flour, but the original recipe included weight measurements with flour at 4.5 ounces per cup. As always, if you can measure by weight, do it.

9 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cups (7.25 ounces) ¼-inch-diced rhubarb

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil baking cups.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and whisk to blend. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter, and vanilla until smooth. Lightly stir the sour cream mixture into the dry ingredients with a spatula until the batter just comes together; do not overmix. Gently stir in the diced rhubarb. The batter will be thick.

3. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, using the back of a spoon or a small spatula to settle the batter into the cups. The batter should mound a bit higher than the tops of the cups.

4. Bake the muffins until they’re golden brown, spring back most of the way when gently pressed, and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully lift the muffins out of the pan—if necessary, loosen them with the tip of a paring knife—and let them cool somewhat. Serve warm.

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focaccia

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I’ve made focaccia before, years ago, but since Peter Reinhart claims so assertively that his recipe is superior to most focaccia found in America, I thought I’d better give it a try. It has a lot of good things going for it, like herb-scented oil poured on top and a cold overnight fermentation – always a sign of good flavor to come in yeast breads.

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It’s fun to make too. The mixer (if you have one) does most of the messy work, but you still get to play with the soft and stretchy dough to shape it. Then you stick your fingers in the oiled dough to create dimples and spread it into the pan. After that, you throw it in the fridge until you’re ready for it, which is always a good trick for convenience.

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It was definitely good bread, soft in the middle, just a little crisp and almost flaky on top, scented with herbs and olive oil. But – I’m not sure it was the height of focaccia perfection, despite Reinhart’s usually well-deserved swagger. For me, adding a touch more salt or a spoonful of sugar would have given the bread a welcome flavor boost. On the plus side, this gives me the perfect excuse to make more focaccia.

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One year ago: Tartine Country Bread
Two years ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Three years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Four years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Focaccia (slightly reworded from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

For the herb oil:
½ cup olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, rosemary, sage)
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

For the bread:
5 cups (22.5 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups water, at room temperature
6 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup herb oil
Extra olive oil for the pan

1. For the herb oil: Warm the olive oil to about 100 degrees. Add the remaining ingredients; let steep while you prepare the dough.

2. For the bread: In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and oil; mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until all the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.

3. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Using a scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust liberally with flour, patting the dough into a rectangle. Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

4. Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it, letter style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. Repeat the stretching, folding, and resting twice more. After the last (third) fold, cover the dough and let it ferment at room temperature for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.

5. Oil an 18-by-13-inch pan and line with parchment paper. Use a pastry scraper and lightly oiled hands to lift the dough off the counter and transfer it to the prepared pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible.

6. Spoon half of the herb oil over the dough. Use your fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan simultaneously. Try to keep the thickness as uniform as possible across the surface. If the dough becomes too springy, let it rest for about 15 minutes and then continue dimpling. Don’t worry if you are unable to fill the pan perfectly, especially the corners. As the dough relaxes and proofs, it will spread out naturally. Use more herb oil as needed to ensure that the entire surface is coated with oil.

7. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 3 days).

8. 3 hours before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and drizzle the remaining herb oil over the surface; dimple it in. This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough to a thickness of about ½-inch. Cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours, or until the dough doubles in size, rising to a thickness of nearly 1 inch.

9. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

10. Place the pan in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking the focaccia for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown. The internal temperature of the dough should register above 200 degrees (measured in the center).

11. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately transfer the focaccia out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow the focaccia to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.

focaccia 8

goat cheese scallion muffins

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Goat cheese scallion muffins don’t sound very similar to garlic cheddar biscuits, and yet when Dave said these reminded him of Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits, I agreed. They have some things in common – there’s cheese and aromatics in both, but goat cheese and cheddar are very different beasts. Besides, who would think that a muffin and a biscuit would have such similar textures?

goat cheese scallion muffins 1

It’s probably because I mixed the batter like I would a biscuit, by cutting the goat cheese into the dry ingredients before stirring in the liquids. The original recipe might have been more muffin-like, with a layer of goat cheese baked between dollops of dough, but I wanted bits of goat cheese spread evenly throughout the muffin. I also used buttermilk instead of milk, counting on the former’s sour tang to add the “zing” that many reviewers complained was missing from muffins made with the original recipe.

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I must have done something right, because these had plenty of flavor; the goat cheese stood out nicely. It’s hard to say if they live up to the legacy of Red Lobster’s deservedly popular biscuits, but as irresistible as those are, they have one thing those don’t – goat cheese. And plenty of zing.

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One year ago: Double/Triple Chocolate Cookies
Two years ago: Orange Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Three years ago: Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
Four years ago: Strawberry Cheesecake

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Goat Cheese Scallion Muffins (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Makes 12 muffins

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
4 scallions, minced
1 egg
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces goat cheese

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the bottoms of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, baking soda, and scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, butter, and buttermilk.

2. Using a pastry blender, cut the goat cheese into the flour mixture until the largest cheese pieces are about pea-sized. Add the liquid ingredients; use a rubber spatula to stir until just combined.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 18-22 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then use a thin-bladed knife to remove the muffins from the pan. Serve warm.

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