chicken mushroom spinach lasagna

I’m hardcore – I made an Emeril recipe more complicated. I did skip a few of his steps, so maybe I’m not completely ridiculous.

It’s just that if I’m going to go through all the trouble of making lasagna, with cooking chicken, stirring béchamel, layering and baking, I might as well go all the way – homemade pasta and damn good chicken.

So there was no cooking of boneless skinless chicken breasts in a dry pan – weird, isn’t it, that I’m not a fan of dry tasteless meat. Heck no, I roasted those suckers – bone-in, skin-on, thankyouverymuch. And before that, I brined them – hey, it’s a step that takes about 2 minutes of effort and you ensure fully seasoned, moist meat. Why not do it?

But if I’m going to add homemade pasta and brined, roasted, shredded chicken to an already ambitious recipe, I probably needed to cut some corners somewhere. Since I can’t seem to convince myself to enjoy cooked spinach, I decided to skip the cooking and blanching of the spinach and just add shredded baby spinach directly to the béchamel. I wasn’t able to use quite as much, but that’s okay – it was still a colorful, healthy, easy addition.

Okay, so I guess I only skipped one little step in Emeril’s recipe. Oh wait, I also mixed all the chicken and parmesan into the sauce, so I was really only layering two things – sauce and noodles. That probably saved 30 seconds or so of effort. That’s okay, I had fun making the lasagna, and I was completely confident that the extra bit of work I put into it would give me a perfect result, and, yes, it did.

One year ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Two years ago: (Almost) No-Knead Bread

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Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Alfredo Lasagna (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

This is how I made the lasagna, but there are some things you could do differently. The original recipe keeps the chicken and some of the parmesan separate from the béchamel, laying pasta-béchamel-cheese-chicken instead of just alternating pasta and chickeny parmesany béchamel, like I did.

Also, the type of pasta you use is entirely up to you. You could use the no-cook dry noodles or buy fresh noodles or make your own. And I don’t know for sure that fresh homemade noodles need to be blanched for lasagna, but the one time I skipped that step was a disaster.

One more thing – the original recipes calls for double these ingredients to be layered into a 9- by 13-inch pan, but I was concerned that I’d have overflow. While my lasagna is a little on the short side, I think twice this height would have been too much for my standard 9- by 13-inch pan. But maybe the quantity of ingredients that I used would make an ideal 8- by 8-inch lasagna?

6 to 8 servings

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on, trimmed of excess fat and skin
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 ounces button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3½ cups milk
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces spinach, stemmed, washed, sliced into ¼-inch ribbons
3 ounces (1½ cups) grated Parmesan, divided
fresh lasagna noodles (if homemade, use 1 egg + ⅔ cup (3.2 ounces) flour, kneaded and rolled to the
next-to-thinnest setting on a pasta roller, blanched as described here)

1. (Optional) Stir 2 tablespoons salt into 2 cups cold water until it dissolves. Add the chicken; refrigerate for 30 minutes, then remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle-low position and heat the oven to 450ºF. Heat a small oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan; place the chicken breast in the pan skin-side down. Cook without moving until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and move the pan to the oven. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken measures 160ºF or the juices run clear when small cut is made in the chicken. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside. When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove and discard the skin (or eat it, because it’s crisp and delicious!) and shred the meat with your fingers or two forks. Decrease the oven temperature to 375ºF.

3. Béchamel: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until their liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are slightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shallots to the pan and sauté until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, to make a light roux, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 minutes. Add ¾ teaspoon of the salt, the pepper, nutmeg, spinach and 2½ ounces (1¼ cups) of the Parmesan and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes, then add the shredded chicken. Taste the sauce to decide if it needs more salt. Remove the béchamel from the heat and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface until ready to assemble the lasagna.

4. Spray a 9 by 13-inch pan with nonstick spray, and spread about ¼ cup of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of the dish, avoiding any large chunks of chicken. Arrange a single layer of noodles evenly over the sauce. Then alternate layering béchamel and noodles until you run out of noodles – I was able to make 4 layers, I believe. End with the remaining béchamel and sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan.

5. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for about 20 minutes, until bubbly. Let the lasagna rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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

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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.

baked ziti

I am officially out of recipes to share. I am now raiding my “Probably Not” folder – the rejects that either didn’t taste good or didn’t photograph well. I’ll spare you that ones that didn’t taste good.

It seems like I could just make something new and blog about it, right? The thing is though, nothing is working quite right for me lately. My delicious banana cream pies keep coming out with a layer of candy armor over the crust; the southwestern pasta salad recipe I patched together was too similar to and probably not quite as good as this one; I never got the ratios right in my cocktail last weekend (despite many attempts), and I forgot to take final photos of my pesto.

I’m just lucky that the photos of the baked ziti aren’t as ugly as I’d remembered. For this is not in the “didn’t taste good” category. With a mixture of pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and herbs, how could it not be delicious?

And although it’s hard to believe, you can make it halfway healthy without sacrificing much in the way of flavor or creaminess. In my experience, good whole wheat pasta (I like Bionaturae) is hardly different from refined versions. I’m perfectly happy with 1% cottage cheese and skim mozzarella. That just leaves the heavy cream to worry about, and with a slight increase in the cornstarch, you can get away with using milk instead.

And you can make it ahead, and it freezes well, and it reheats well, and heck, it isn’t half bad cold if you’re too impatient to bother heating it up. This is certainly worth pulling out of the reject file.

One year ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Two years ago: Country Crust Bread

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Baked Ziti (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8-10

Healthy tricks: Use 1% cottage cheese, whole wheat pasta, part-skim mozzarella, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch plus 1 cup milk instead of ¾ teaspoon cornstarch with 1 cup heavy cream.

1 pound whole milk or 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 ounces parmesan cheese (about 1½ cups), grated
table salt
1 pound ziti pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 5 teaspoons)
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
black pepper
¾ teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch pieces (about 1½ cups)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar, then season with salt and pepper.

3. Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl, transfer mixture to Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.

4. Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle with remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons basil and serve.

maple oatmeal scones

I got scooped! I was just about to write an entry on these scones a few days ago and decided to go with the apple muffins instead. The next day Michelle posted about them. What are the chances?

Actually, considering that these first appeared on Barefoot Contessa Saturday morning, and by the time I baked them the next day there were already a handful of reviews on the Food Network’s site, the chances might not be so bad. Apparently I wasn’t the only one tempted by maple oatmeal scones.

Maple seems like an underused ingredient, considering how delicious it is. Perhaps the problem is that it’s an easily overpowered flavor once it’s mixed into dough and baked. These scones overcome this problem by adding additional maple in the form of a glaze.

I often think that glazes on scones make them too sweet, but since the scones themselves are only lightly sweetened, these have just the right level of sweetness. They’re also light and tender inside and crisp on top, and really just the perfect way to start out a weekend morning. I can see why Michelle was so eager to post about them!

One year ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Two years ago: Lasagne Bolognese

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Maple Oatmeal Scones (adapted just slightly from Barefoot Contessa)

I used traditional rolled oats, which worked just fine.

As always with scones, you can freeze the dough after shaping it, then bake the scones straight from the freezer.

Scones:
1¾ cups (8.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup quick-cooking oats, plus additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup cold buttermilk
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Glaze:
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Blend the cold butter in at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Combine the buttermilk, maple syrup and eggs and add quickly to the flour-and-butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough may be sticky.

2. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and be sure it is combined. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough ¾ to 1 inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly knead the scraps together and cut more scones.

3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are crisp.

4. To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. When the scones are done, cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle each scone with 1 tablespoon of the glaze. For garnish, sprinkle a few uncooked oats on the tops of the scones.

lamb stew

Whenever I eat lamb, my first whiff of it always seems a little…off. Is lamb like feety cheese – stinky, but in a good way? Or am I just attuned to beef, and I’m surprised when the lamb smells different? Whatever, I’ve decided that I officially like lamb. Stinky or not.

This stew is not any sort of authentic ethnic lamb stew – not Morrocon or Irish or whatever. It’s just lamb stew. It’s what I was in the mood for at the time – chunks of lamb, onions, root vegetables, thyme, and dark rich beer.

My only uncertainty was which type of lamb meat to use. I usually use beef chuck roast for stew, but what is that equivalent to for lamb? Certainly not sirloin, which was one of my few options. I also didn’t want to use expensive rib chops. Leg? Too big. Shanks? Dur…I don’t know. I went with a combination of sirloin meat and loin chops. I think blade chops would be a great option, but my store didn’t have them.

Whatever I did must have worked though, because the stew was just great. So rich and hearty and comforting. And distinctively…lamby. Which is a good thing.

One year ago: German Apple Pancake

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Lamb Stew

The type of lamb to use is ill-defined, because a variety of lamb cuts might not be available and a number of different cuts will work. If you can find them, go for blade chops. I used a combination of loin chops and a sirloin steak, and it worked out very well. If the cut you use contains bones, use the higher amount of meat (around 3 pounds); otherwise, use around 2 pounds of meat.

I served this over mashed potatoes, which I really enjoyed. You can also replace the parsnips with potatoes if you want something a little more like traditional stew.

Serves 6

3 tablespoon vegetable oil
2-3 pounds lamb meat, fat trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks, bones reserved (see note)
salt
3 onions, chopped course
1 (12-ounce) bottle of stout
2 cups water
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 sprigs fresh)
12 ounces carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced on a slight bias about ½ inch thick
12 ounces parsnips, halved lengthwise and sliced on a slight bias about ½ inch thick
¼ cup minced parsley

1. Adjust a rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add half of the meat, with pieces spaced about one inch apart. Cook without stirring for 2-3 minutes, until the first side is dark brown. Turn each piece to another flat side and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the second side is dark brown. Continue cooking and turning the pieces until all sides are dark brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the lamb from the pot and place it on a plate. Repeat with another tablespoon oil and the remaining lamb. (If you use a 7-quart Dutch oven instead of a 5-quart, you might be able to fit them all in one batch.)

2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the last tablespoon of oil to the empty, unrinsed pot, then add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté the onions, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are softened and browned around the edges.

3. Add the browned meat, lamb bones, beer, water, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper, and thyme to the pot with the onions. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for one hour, uncovered.

4. Add the carrots and parsnips to the stew and cook for another hour, or until the meat is tender and the vegetables are softened. Remove the lamb bones, stir in the parsley, adjust the salt and pepper if necessary, and serve.

twice-baked potatoes

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Trust me, you don’t need a recipe for twice-baked potatoes. You know what makes twice-baked potatoes so good? Fat. The more butter and sour cream you add, the better your potatoes will be. The less you add, the better you’ll feel about eating those potatoes.

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Decide what your goals are – if you want indulgence, you can add all sorts of sour cream, butter, cheese if you want it! If you want to keep it very light, replace the sour cream with buttermilk and reduce the butter to just enough to moisten the potato filling.

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Because I often serve twice-baked potatoes as part of nice meals, my goal tends to be flavor and not nutrition. In this case, I was making them just for myself and Dave, so I tried not to get carried away with the butter and sour cream. If I was serving them for a bigger occasion, I might add a bit more of each.

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Hey, don’t look at me like I’m some sort of fat-adding heathen. My mom pushes a small cube of butter into each potato before its second bake, which melts into an inviting pool of decadence; at least I resisted that!

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One year ago: Candied Orange Peels
Two years ago: Yule Log (Daring Bakers)

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Twice-Baked Potatoes

Serves 4

You can certainly add cheese to these if you like that sort of thing; a couple of ounces (½ cup) of something like cheddar would compliment the other flavors nicely. If you want to make the potatoes lighter, replace all or a portion of the sour cream with buttermilk. If you want to make them even more delicious, increase the sour cream by a couple of tablespoons. The flavor of the filling won’t change significantly after its second bake, so feel free to taste and adjust as you go.

24 ounces (approximately) russet potatoes (4 small or 2 large)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400ºF. Scrub the potatoes and stab each one several times with a fork. Place the potatoes right on the oven rack and bake them until a fork inserted into one meets no resistance, 60-75 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them cool slightly. Heat the broiler.

2. In a large bowl, mix the butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving behind a thin layer of potato on the skin. Add the potato flesh to the bowl with the sour cream mixture. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes into the sour cream mixture until it’s combined and there are no large chunks of potato. Fold in the scallions (reserving a few for a garnish, if you’d like).

3. Spoon the filling into the potato shells. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and broil until the tops are crisp and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

sablés

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I was all excited about these cookies after I mixed up the dough, which tasted amazing. I was looking forward to how pretty they’d look once they were baked, tall and flat with glittery sugar around their edges.

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Then I saw that there was some flavor variations that I could have played with. Because what’s better than regular sablés? Lemon sablés! Ooh, or orange. Or I could have used vanilla sugar instead of regular sugar! Now I was disappointed in my cookies. Stupid boring plain sablés.

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Except, not really. Because without any other flavors getting in the way, these cookies mostly taste like butter. And sugar. And salt. In other words, like everything good.

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Barbara chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. I didn’t follow the directions quite as precisely as I should have, which is why my cookies don’t have straight edges and and a perfectly even texture.

One year ago: Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

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brioche raisin snails

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I’m very comfortable cutting recipes in half. Some people say that they don’t like to deal with the math, but I come from a family of three engineers and a math teacher, so I can handle math. Plus, I’m cooking for just two people now, and I lived alone for six years before that, so my options are either to make half-recipes, throw a lot of food away, or eat the same thing for weeks. Given those choices, I take fractions all the way.

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Even if a recipe specifically recommends making the full recipe because smaller amounts are harder to work with – eh. Whatever. I usually cut it in half anyway. Cakes, caramel, bread dough, whatever. You’d be surprised what you can get away with, although you might, as in this case, have to split the occasional egg in half.

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Dorie’s brioche raisin snails are a rich yeast dough with pastry cream and flambéed raisins rolled into it. It probably sounds like quite a bit of work, and frankly, it is, but it’s a nice change from cinnamon rolls if you find yourself making those often.

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If you follow the recipe exactly, you’ll end up with twice as much brioche as you need for the snails, so you can always make some of Dorie’s fantastic sticky buns too. Or, just cut the brioche recipe in half like I did. Does anyone really need two different kinds of buttery tender breakfast breads tempting them at once?

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One year ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Brioche Raisin Snails
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Makes about 12 snails

You’ll only need half of the brioche dough, and while Dorie recommends making the full recipe and saving half for later (the dough takes well to freezing), I found that I could successfully make half the recipe if I used a faster mixing speed than the recipe recommends. If you find that there isn’t enough dough for the dough hook to work effectively, knead with the paddle attachment, switching to the dough hook for just the last few minutes of kneading. The full recipe is presented below.

You can shape the rolls into a log and then wrap the log well and freeze it. When you’re ready to bake, let the log defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then cut the rolls and let them rise at room temperature.

Brioche:
2 packets (4½ teaspoons) instant yeast
1/3 tablespoons warm water
1/3 tablespoons warm milk
3¾ cups (27.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

Pastry cream:
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2½ tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into bits

Assembly:
1 cup moist, plump raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1½ teaspoons sugar
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Glaze:
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
about 1 teaspoon water
drop of pure vanilla extract

For the brioche: Put the yeast, water, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can – this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off in a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you’re doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point you’ll have a fairly dry, shaggy mass.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like a batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough b lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the covered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Divide the dough in half, reserving half for another use.

For the pastry cream: Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get into the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool is quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

To assemble: Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan, cover them with hot water and let them steep for about 4 minutes, until they are plumped. Drain the raisins, return them to the saucepan and, stirring constantly, warm them over low heat. When the raisins are very hot, pull the pan from the heat and pour over the rum. Standing back, ignite the liquor. Stir until the flames go out, then cover and set aside. (The raisins and liquor can be kept in a covered jar for up to 1 day.)

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

On a flour dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the raisins over the pastry cream and sprinkle the raisins and cream with the cinnamon sugar. Starting wit the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months; see Storing for further instructions. Or, if you do not want to make the full recipe, use as much of the dough as you’d like and freeze the remainder.)

With a bread knife or unflavored floss, trim just a tiny bit from the ends if they’re ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into rounds a scant 1 inch thick. Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them.

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubles in volume – they’ll be puffy and soft – about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets, if you’re using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. Using a metal spatula, transfer the snails to a cooling rack.

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slice and bake brown sugar cookies

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It’s Thanksgiving! And that means it’s officially Christmastime!

Right?

Oh, it means something about giving thanks? Hmm. That’s cool too.

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Still, once the feast is over, it’s all about Christmas. I used to try to hold off thinking about, hearing, and seeing anything Christmas-related until Thanksgiving, but you can imagine how successful that strategy was. These days, I’m more in the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ mindset. I didn’t play carols or put up my tree, but I did smile over cute decorations.

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What better way to kick off the Christmas season than cookies? One of my favorite Christmas cookies, in fact, and I think I finally figured out exactly why I like them so much.

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The dough is pretty typical for cookies, with butter, sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla, flour, and leavening. But, it uses twice as much brown sugar as white sugar, which…you guys! It’s chocolate chip cookie dough, without the chocolate! Nothing against chocolate, but that’s pretty much my perfect cookie.

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Plus, they’re so pretty. It takes a bit of effort to get them into the different shapes, but once they’re formed, you just throw the logs of dough in the freezer, then bake however many you want whenever you want.

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These cookies are delicious, they’re not hard to make, they look impressive, and their timing is completely flexible. In other words, they’re perfect. There can be no better way to shift into the Christmas season.

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One year ago: Multigrain Pancakes

Printer Friendly Recipe
Slice and Bake Brown Sugar Cookies

Makes about 8 dozen

The only slightly difficult part of this recipe is rolling out the dough to an exact size. The best method I found was to initially roll it out to about twice the desired size, then trim the edges to a shape 1 inch smaller in each direction than you eventually want. Place the trimmings on the cut rectangle, cover with wax paper, and roll out to your final desired size (see photos above).

Update 12/22/2011: I like these cookies even better with a ½ cup less flour (3½ cups total).  The dough is stickier, and there’s no way you’d be able to roll it out to the right size, but I’ve decided that simply pressing it to the right size is easier anyway.

4 cups (19.2 ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, preferably room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (7 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
½ ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Break the eggs into a small measuring cup, whisk them lightly, and mix in the vanilla.

2. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, then add the salt and both sugars. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, gradually add the egg mixture. Once the eggs have been added, scrape the sides of the bowl once, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Divide the dough into three equal portions.

3. For the striped cookies: Divide the first portion of dough into three more equally sized parts. Color one third red, another green, and leave the last one white. Between sheets of wax paper, roll each portion out to a 3-by-9-inch rectangle. Freeze the rectangles for about 10 minutes, until they’re firm enough to cut and stack. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise to form two 1½-by-9-inch rectangles. Stack the rectangles of dough, alternating colors, to form a block of dough with stripes. Trim the edges if desired. Wrap in wax paper and freeze for at least four hours, or up to 4 weeks.

4. For the checkerboard cookies: Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on half power for about 30 seconds. Stir, then repeat the heating and stirring until fully melted, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Divide one portion of dough into two equally sized parts. Mix the chocolate into one half and leave the other plain. Roll each portion into a 9-by-3-inch rectangle. Freeze the rectangles for about 10 minutes, until they’re firm enough to cut and stack. Cut each rectangle into eight 9-by-3/8-inch strips. On a sheet of wax paper, lay four strips next to each other, alternating colors. Press the strips together gently to remove any gaps. Lay another four strips on top of the first layer, alternating colors between layers. Repeat twice more, until there are four layers of four strips each. Trim the edges if desired. Wrap in wax paper and freeze for at least four hours, or up to 4 weeks.

5. For the spiral cookies: Divide the last portion of dough into two equally sized parts. Color one half red and the other green. Between sheets of waxed paper, roll each portion of dough into an 8-by-8-inch square. Without chilling the dough, stack the squares, then tightly roll them together to form a spiral. Wrap the dough in wax paper and freeze for at least fours hours, or up to 4 weeks.

6. When ready to bake, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Slice the frozen logs into cookies about 1/8-inch thick. Lay the cookies on the prepared pan, about ½-inch apart. Bake for 7-10 minutes, just until the tops no longer look wet. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks. Serve at room temperature. Stored in an airtight container, the cookies will be good for at least a week.

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chicken empanadas

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Dave got yelled at over these empanadas. I’m not much of a yeller normally; I’m more of a silent treatment and glower type of person. But there was no time for that; action needed to be taken immediately.

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It’s all because I made the filling a couple of days before I planned to form and bake the empanadas. The filling isn’t the most simple thing to make. There’s all kinds of chopping, browning, simmering, and meat shredding. And I was a little short on chicken, so I didn’t end up with as much filling as I’d hoped.

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That night, Dave needed to heat something up for himself for dinner, so I told him there was some extra brown rice with black beans in the fridge. I walked away for a few minutes, and when I came back, he had dumped my precious empanada filling onto a plate, microwaved it, and was scooping it up with a fork.

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Hey, guess what there is none of in this filling? 1) Brown rice. 2) Black beans.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “This is good!”  That’s when I yelled, because I just needed him to stop eating it right away.

And then he was so apologetic and I felt like a jerk. He kept saying, “It really was tasty!” as if that was supposed to make me feel better about it.  Yes. I know it’s tasty.  I spent some good time making sure it was.

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And what can you do to make something so delicious even better? Wrap it in pastry and bake it until it’s browned and flaky and crisp. Oh wow, these are good. And apparently that’s true whether they’re wrapped in pastry and baked or just dumped onto a plate and microwaved.

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One year ago: Comparison of 2 chocolate cake recipes
Two years ago: Cream cheese chocolate chip cookies (and my very first blog entry)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Empanadas (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and epicurious)

Makes about 18 empanadas

I didn’t actually measure anything in the filling. I had to leave the olives out because Dave hates them.

As I formed each empanada, I put it in the freezer while I worked with the rest. That way the dough didn’t get too soft and it baked up flaky.

After forming the empanadas, I baked about half of them immediately. I froze the rest for a couple of months, then baked them straight from the freezer. They were perfect.

Dough:
4½ cups (21.6 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs
⅔ cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Filling:
3 whole chicken legs, including thighs (2 to 2¼ pounds total)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, halved lengthwise, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
⅓ cup (1½ ounces) finely diced Spanish chorizo
½ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (not hot)
¼ cup chopped pitted green olives
¼ cup golden raisins
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Egg wash:
1 egg
water
salt

1. For the dough: Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl; blend in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together the egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add it to the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. The mixture will look shaggy. Turn out the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather it together, kneading gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring the dough together. Form the dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. For the filling: Pat the chicken dry and season it with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then add the chicken, skin-side down. Cook it without moving for about 3 minutes, until dark golden brown, then turn it and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.

3. Add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves to the skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the olives, raisins, wine, and broth and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any juices accumulated on the plate, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, turning the chicken once, until the chicken is tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.

4. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate. The sauce remaining in the skillet should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it isn’t, briskly simmer until it’s slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and coarsely chop the meat. Stir the chicken back into the sauce. Discard the bay leaves and season the filling with salt and pepper. Let the filling cool for 30 minutes, uncovered.

5. To form and bake the empanadas: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking pan with a parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and from each into a disc. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).

6. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto the center of each round of dough and fold the dough in half, enclosing the filling. Press the edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or the tines of a fork. Transfer the empanada to the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining dough. You might have extra dough.

7. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash, then bake one sheet at a time until the empanadas are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let them cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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