Friday, December 21, 2012

Cooking with Chef Tory Miller (video) - Fra Diavolo

I recently had a chance to spend a bit of time in the kitchen with Madison, WI-based, award-winning chef Tory Miller, from L’Etoile and Graze. He whipped up an amazing dish for the holidays--or the apocalypse. The original recipe was published in Madison Magazine’s December issue. For those of you who like a little video assistance, check out our kitchen session here and enjoy a cooking lesson with Chef Tory. Happy Holidays!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stuffed Bell Peppers

My little pumpkins!
 I spent part of last weekend gleaning. I like that word. Kind of like “cleaning” but more glamorous.  Tipi Produce, in Evansville, WI, has supplied my neighbor and me with vast amounts of produce for the past few months via our shared CSA. On a recent weekend, in the throes of harvest season,Tipi Produce founders Beth Kazmar and Steve Pincus invited all the CSA members to their farm to take the remnants of their organically grown produce.  While my kids were enticed by the promise of pumpkins, I was looking forward to picking some peppers. 

Whipping his sisters into shape
Forty-five acres is bigger than I thought! Rows of carrots, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, kale, broccoli, watermelon, raspberries and many other vegetables stretched out across the farm,  creating a rainbow of green ribbons. Immediately after we arrived, the kids ran to pick out their pumpkins. After loading them into our car, I took my son to the farthest part of the farm to pick peppers. As we jogged out there, he said, “we should make stuffed peppers!” Onions, beef, garlic, tomatoes, brown sugar...he rattled off the ingredient list. How could I refuse to take this opportunity to cook with him? I couldn’t. We picked 5 beautiful red bell peppers, added them to our bucket of carrots, watermelon, poblano peppers and raspberries and headed home, our mouths watering as we talked about our meal.

Chopping peppers
The next day when my son came home from school we got to work. He chopped garlic, peppers, and onion. We browned beef, added herbs, tomatoes, grated cheese and cooked rice. We boiled the peppers briefly and in no time, they were ready to stuff.  We popped them in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes, and presto--dinner. The greatest reward? Cooking with my son. 

Stuffed and ready to go

Warm Cheesy stuffed peppers

Stuffed Peppers

4 red bell peppers, top ½ inch and ribs and seeds removed

olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 ripe poblano, seeded and chopped
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp each dried oregano and thyme
½ cup grated cheese
salt to taste

Prep your pots and pans!
Heat oil in skillet.
Bring stock pot of water to boil.
Put a little oil in bottom of a baking pan.
Preheat oven to 350

Cook it up!
Brown beef in skillet. Add onions and cook until softened.
Add minced garlic, poblano and diced tomatoes, and cook a few minutes, stirring as needed.
Add remaining ingredients except cheese. (though I would actually add cheese to it next time to increase yummy factor.
Add salt to taste
When water is boiling, submerge cleaned, cut peppers for about 3-4 minutes.
When peppers are cool enough to handle stuff them with the meat mixture, then top with cheese.

Bake it!
Bake in a baking pan uncovered at 350 for 20-30 minutes til cheese is golden.

Eat it!
I think you got that part figured out. Though my son tried to eat his like a burrito.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Winnowing Seeds

cilantro seed

I’m turning into my mother. Not that that’s bad. (Mom, if you are reading this, I love you!) I’m getting thrifty. My mom excels at thrifty. Since I was a kid, embarrassingly taking my lunch to school in an old bread bag, she has pretty much rocked the thrift world. Now we think of thrift as being “green” or “economically conscious”, but it was just the way she was raised. And I was raised. And that sh*t hits you like a brick as you grow older.

The excitement I felt as I discovered that I could use an old plastic sled to winnow and save seeds for next year, or for my spice rack, was a little scary. Double duty thrift. At any rate, saving seeds does make sense. It is green, if you put the dried seeds in a re-used plastic baggie or envelope. And it is of course economical! There is a lot of information out there about winnowing, using more "conventional" tools. Check some of them out!

I wrote a bit more about my version of thrifty winnowing, and saving seeds in my online blog for Madison Magazine. There’s even a video (mom, it’s on a site called You Tube on that thing called the “internet”:). Check it out. And then you can tell me that Mom always knows best.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Epic Four-Layer Birthday Cake

Sometimes we just need to be told what to do
I like this message. I grew up in a family where many major decisions and choices were put off until the right time—and though my parents did their very best, so often the right time never came. Maybe that's why I can sometimes be impulsive and determined. That attitude has served me well, and also not so well. My first impulsive move to Arizona as a twenty-something landed me a job with Gary Nabhan, a renowned ethnobotanist, and all around incredible person. On the other hand, my determination to work in the food field has left me with a time deficit. Writing, blogging, cooking, testing, leading tours—well, sometimes it's hard to balance it all.

Layers of goodness
When it comes to making a cake however, I have been going large—with great results. Yes, I can be satisfied with a simple pound cake or a crumb cake if I just need something for a quick dessert, or a breakfast treat. But special occasions call for something bigger. Like a four layer cake. With triple chocolate-hazelnut frosting. And Banana Cream filling. And Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream filling. Both my daughter and husband celebrate their birthdays this month--what better occasion to go large? The cake was truly epic. The trick to going big, and feeling balanced? Starting well ahead. I froze the layers 2 days ahead, and made the frostings/fillings the day before, leaving them at room temperature.
Enjoying one of our favorite places on hubby's birthday
The cake layers featured both white angel food cake and chocolate cake. I love this angel food cake recipe, and had made the cupcakes for my daughter's birthday. For the epic cake, I simply poured the batter into two cake pans, and the layers were perfectly thin. Then I look for a great chocolate cake recipe. This one from Smitten Kitchen never disappoints. I halved the recipe so that I could bake 2 thinner layers. 

The filling was dreamed up by me and my husband after I hinted that I was going to make a nutella frosting. What goes with Nutella?, I asked. Bananas, we said simultaneoulsy. Weird. Anyway, banana cream filling it was.
And I has some amazing Strawberry Meringue Swiss buttercream left from my daughters cake (which was half as epic, but then again, she's only 5). And, last but not least, I was super proud of myself because I made up my own chocolate frosting recipe!! I wanted a Nutella frosting with the consistency of a great chocolate frosting. It worked.

The cake, topped with fresh pansies
Here are the parts and pieces.  Though I waited for a birthday to make this incredible cake, you don't have to. Why not go big today?

Epic Four-Layer Cake

Cake Layers

Angel Food Layers (makes 2 thin layers) from Amanda's Cookin'

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 24 muffin cups or line with paper liners.
Whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg whites and buttermilk.
Place the sugar in your mixer bowl and add the lemon zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers until moist and fragrant. Add the butter to the sugar mixture and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, until very light.
With mixer on low, add one third of the flour mixture, then add half of the buttermilk mixture. Add half of the remaining dry ingredients, then the rest of the buttermilk mixture, and finally the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape down the bowl then beat on medium-high for 2 minutes to ensure it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Spoon batter evenly into 2 cake pans
Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool cakes for 5 minutes; transfer to cooling rack to finish cooling. 

Chocolate cake layers from Smitten Kitchen

5ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
3/4 cups hot brewed coffee
1.5 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.
Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 30 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. 

Fillings and Frostings

 Banana Cream Filling

3/4 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp butter 
1 mashed banana (I use at least 2) 
3/4 cup chopped nuts (personally never used nuts, it doesn’t need them!)
1 tsp vanilla

Cook milk, sugar, egg yolks and butter over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick (12 – 17 mins). Add banana, nuts and vanilla. Cool stirring occasionally until of spreading consistency.

Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Yield: ~5 cups

5 large, fresh egg whites (150 g/5 oz) 
1 1/4 cups (250 g/9 oz) sugar 
3/4 lb (3 sticks/340 g/12 oz) butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold 
2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (or to taste) strawberry puree (I used strawberry rhubarb jam) OR a handful (about 1 cup, or more to taste) of fresh, washed, and dried strawberries, chopped 
pinch of salt 

If using strawberry puree, place a handful of frozen strawberries in a food processor, and process until a smooth puree. Measure approximately 1/4 cup and set aside (you may want to add more puree to taste).
Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease.
Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 150°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don’t begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm. 
Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together.
Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
Add strawberry puree to taste or the finely chopped strawberries, and blend until combined.
Add small amount of pink food colouring, if desired.

*Note: I used strawberry puree from frozen strawberries for my buttercream. 

Triple Chocolate Frosting

16 tbsp butter
1 cup confecioner'st sugar
4 oz chocolate melted
¾ cup cocoa
2 tbsp corn syrup
cup nutella

*enough to frost one 2 layer cake -- outside only
Heat chocolate over pan of water until melted, set aside to come to room temp.
Beat sugar, cocoa powder and butter until mixed and fluffy, add in vanilla, corn syrup, nutella and melted chocolate.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Zucchini Cake with Citrus Glaze

Delicious and beautiful!
 So what, it’s hot. Again. I have been diligently making, and eating, salads, sandwiches and all kinds of grilled items. I’m tired of it. I want some real food--and some cake.
Yesterday, in a fit of rebellion I turned on my oven. And my stove. And my air conditioner.

I made a curried coconut chicken stew. I made rice. I made a cake. It was good food. Please family, don’t eat it all in one day. The stew was a concoction of mine that turned out great, but that no human in their right mind would make in this heat. So I will spare you that temptation until the fall.

But the cake? It’s worth it. If you have zucchini, which you either have or will soon have in abundance, you want to make this cake. I found this recipe when looking for a variation on zucchini bread, and stumbled upon David Lebovitz’s blog, a Sweet Life in Paris. This recipe uses one very huge zucchini, and ground almonds to add flavor and texture to the bread. It is glazed with a simple citrus glaze (I used lime and orange). It is so good.

We have another heat wave coming, so I am heading back to the grill and chopping raw kale leaves for slaw. But I might have to turn the oven on again, just to make this cake.

1 cup (135g) almonds, pecans, or walnuts, toasted
2 cups (280g) flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 (350g) cups sugar
1 cup (250ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (300g) finely grated zucchini

Citrus glaze:
1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used mix of lime and orange juice)
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
1 cup (140g) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Grease a 10 cup (2.5l) bundt pan with non-stick spray or butter, dust with flour, then tap out any excess.
2. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.
4. Beat the eggs, 1 3/4 cup (350g) sugar, and olive oil for 3 minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the vanilla.
5. Mix in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl to make sure everything is mixed in well, then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
6. Stir in the chopped nuts and zucchini.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, then bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.
8. During the last few minutes of the cake baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice, 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar, and powdered sugar.
9. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the cake with a pastry brush and let the cake cool completely.

Storage: The cake can be wrapped (or put under a cake dome) and will keep for a few days. You can freeze the unglazed cake. However to apply the glaze, you’ll need to defrost the cake then warm it so the glaze will adhere properly.

This cake batter could also be baked in two loaf pans, which is easier for gift-giving, if you’re trying to share your zucchini bounty. You may need to reduce the baking time a little to compensate for the smaller pans.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gold N Plump Chicken Sausage and Pasta w/ Garden Herbs

I was an immediate fan of Gold’n Plump ground chicken after they generously sent me a sample last fall. So when they offered to send me a sample of their new line of chicken sausages, I was very excited. Though I like pork, I am not smitten with brats and pork sausages. They are too greasy for me. I have always like chicken sausages as an alternative, and Gold'n Plump chicken sausages are no exception.
I first sampled the Parmesan Italian sausage. I had already had a simple pasta dinner in mind, and the chicken sausage fit perfectly into the picture--and the bowl. I grilled the sausages whole, and tossed a few asparagus spears on the grill at the same time. Meanwhile I boiled some pasta, drained it and coated it with olive oil. I cut up the sausages and asparagus, tossed in fresh sage and parsley from the garden, and presto--a 20-minute dinner perfect for a hot summer night. Oh, wait don’t forget the parmesan; SarVecchio, how I love you!
My kids chose to add a bit, actually a lot, of tomato sauce, but I preferred the flavorful and simple taste of the sausage, cheese, asparagus and fresh herbs. Unfortunately, the breakfast sausages were devoured before I could photograph them, or even do anything more than heat and eat them; they are that good. Now, what delicious fate awaits the Hot Italian sausages and brats...?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spring Onion Potato Salad

Spring Onion Potato Salad

Spring Onion Potato Salad

What started out as an innocent mention by my friends, Jen, Scott and Evie Lynch, at La Fortuna Pizza, has become an obsession: spring onion puree.They were demonstrating a delicious and simple grilled flatbread (not a true pizza)--perfect for us mortals who lack 900-degree pizza ovens (recipe forthcoming in August Madison Magazine). They casually topped one flatbread with pesto, grilled tomatoes and cheese, and the other with a spring onion puree, grilled asparagus and shaved parmesan.

I was immediately drawn to the simplicity of the toppings, and the variety of flavors they combined.  I took a bite of the asparagus-onion flatbread and tasted the sweetness of the onions combined with the salty-sharp cheese and the crunchy, roasted asparagus stalks.

Wait. What is that? Total mouth bliss. Oh, just a puree of sauteed spring onions--really any tender Allium you have around. The flavor is sublime. It is sweet, pungent, and deep. The biting onion and garlic notes are buried during cooking, and a sweetness is unearthed. It needs a bright note, Scott casually mentioned. Really? It is perfection. I am amazed, inspired and excited that such benign ingredients simply sauteed can taste so full. Oh, wait is that umami? 

Spring Onion Puree
 Ahh, my English term--mouth bliss. I went home and immediately made some, picking wild ramp leaves, chives, green onion tops from my yard. I sauteed them in a bit of olive oil, blended them with a pinch of salt and more oil, and then  though: A bright note? If you say so, Scott. What about Oxalis, or wood sorel (remember that citric clover-like leaf you used to nibble as a kid?)? I grabbed a small handful (weeding the garden never felt so productive) and threw it in.

To. Die. For. I kid you not. I have it on eggs, on pasta, in soup, but my favorite way, aside from topping a flatbread, is in a potato salad. Fair warning friends, I will go on and on about this amazing spring onion puree. Or you could make some and then we can go on about it together. I urge you to try this puree before the impending summer gets the best of our spring. Enough said.
Spring Onion Potato Salad:
about 8 small new potatoes, washed, cubed with skin on
olive oil
2 heaping tbsp spring onion puree (see below)
½ cup sauteed fresh garden greens (1-1.5 cup fresh), drained
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Cube and roast potatoes with skin on in foil with oil and salt to taste about 40 minutes, 20 each side until skin is browned in some spots and potatoes are tender.
Dump them on a bowl.
Add the sauteed, drained greens.
Add puree, a touch more salt if needed and fresh chives.
Eat. Bliss.
Onion Puree:
large handful of green onion-ey type things. (I used wild ramp leaves, chives and green onions)
olive oil
2 small bunches ( a small loose handful) wood sorel
Chop and sautee onions in oil for about 4 min, stirring often. Do not let them burn!
Dump in food processor and add more oil and pulse to make a spread like pesto. Add a pinch of salt to taste and fresh sorel. Pulse again until coarsely pureed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Breakfast of (Local) Champions

Cereal has never been considered a "real" breakfast in my house. Growing up, cereal was an after-school snack. Breakfast wasn't fancy or anything, but often savory and filling--toaster "pizza" (tomato sauce and mozzarella on toast), chipped beef on toast, grilled cheese, or poached or scrambled eggs.

I still love eggs for breakfast, and thanks to my generous hens, have fresh eggs almost daily (though their production has slowed quite a bit since last fall.). I often try to add cooked veggies, either to a scramble or tucked into an omelet.
Salad for breakfast!

Recently my husband got on an egg-sandwich kick. He puts a fried egg on a bagel or English muffin, topped with cheese, pickles and wilted spinach--and of course a dash of hot sauce. In my feeble attempt to lighten up the breakfast sandwich, I left out the bagel, and added more greens (I also added in a vinaigrette dressing and some bacon, go figure:), making something of a fried egg salad.

My favorite rendition of the breakfast salad was one I created for a recent article in Madison Magazine featuring Madison's incredible Dane County Farmer's Market, the largest producer-only farmer's market in the country. This version of a breakfast salad features asparagus, mushrooms, bacon and tender greens. Almost every ingredient, aside from a few dressing ingredients, are locally produced. And it is great for breakfast or dinner. (Or breakfast in bed for Mom:)

Farmer's Market Breakfast Salad
Salad ingredients:
8 slices bacon
2 tbsp oil
10 stalks asparagus
8 mushrooms, sliced
8 cups fresh mixed greens
4 eggs
About 4 oz grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan (try Sartori’s Espresso BellaVitano for a real breakfast treat)

Dressing ingredients:
2 tbsp bacon drippings
1 large shallot, thinly chopped
2 tbsp oil (try Driftless Organics sunflower oil)
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp sugar
Pinch salt

Place bacon on cookie sheet and put in oven preheated to 400 degrees. Cook bacon until crispy, about 10–14 minutes. Remove and drain on towel. Reserve about 2 tbsp bacon drippings. Chop bacon into small pieces and set aside.
To make dressing, heat reserved bacon drippings in small skillet. Add shallot and cook briefly until soft about 1–2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and place in bowl, along with the oil from the skillet. Add sunflower oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar and salt and stir. Set aside.
Meanwhile sauté asparagus and mushroom slices with a pinch of salt over medium heat until just softened.
Evenly divide greens between plates and top with sauteed veggies and bacon bits.
Heat a skillet with oil/more drippings to fry the eggs,
ideally leaving yolks a bit runny. Top each salad with an egg, some grated parmesan and dressing.

Enjoy with fresh bread!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Violet spring

I admit somewhat guiltily that I am enjoying this early spring. I really think I shouldn't. Doesn't it demonstrate with certainty that our planet is heating up? Isn't it a sure sign of global climate change? The buds are emerging a full month ahead of normal, and Madison is officially Zone 5.

I feel overwhelmed by the implications and repercussions of this change. So to soothe myself, I go outside, play in the dirt and watch the garden grow. I planted greens which are ready to be thinned, and am putting my nose far into the flower blossoms, inhaling deeply. Or I bake.

Blondie bars with chocolate frosting for my son's class
 Violets hold a special place in my heart, as I mention in my most recent Madison Magazine blog post. My mom always decorated my sister's birthday cake, for her May birthday, with the dainty blossoms. This year, however, the violets bloomed in time to adorn my son's mid-April birthday treats. Much to my chagrin the neighbors are outside with sprayers dousing violets, dandelions and other "weeds" with poisons (while the wind is blowing and my kids are outside!). I think, how illogical are we?

Delicious chocolate cake with grasshopper-white chocolate mousse filling

Violet jelly-a great experiment in acid-base indicators!

So as fast as I can I am picking the blossoms, hopefully free of residue and dog pee. I am plopping them in my mouth, on my salads, making violet jelly and lovingly decorating my son's birthday cakes with them, just as my mom did for my sister. I doubt I'm making any difference to our planet, but I am appreciating it for all it's worth. Which is a lot.

What is your favorite spring wild edible?

The blondie bars and frosting are posted in the blog link above.

The cake and filling
I made the cake from Smitten Kitchen's website, but subbed sour cream for buttermilk, and used 2 tsp baking powder, omitting baking soda.
Filling is from this site. I just added a touch of real mint flavor and green food color.
Frosting same as frosting for blondies. It really is the best.

The jelly
So pretty. Recipe is from Urban Pioneer Story via Cakewalk.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chewy Toasty Granola Bars

I was never good at following directions. Just ask my parents!

I clearly remember the time I asked my folks if I could ride a friend's moped. Shortly after being told "no" I left my house to--you guessed it--ride the moped (I was young, people!). Lo and behold my parents came walking around the corner and busted me on the moped. (I ended up grounded for 2 weeks, but that's another story).

Luckily I have gained a bit more sense, and now harbor a less rebellious rejection of protocol.
When it comes to cooking, it is often pure laziness, and a bit of a can-do attitude, that prevents me from following, or often even reading, the directions.

Recently I tried to make granola bars, hoping to whip up a cheap, healthy snack for my family's lunches. Did you pick up the word "tried"? Yeah. Tried and failed. Why? Because I scanned a recipe originally from Kitchen Stewardship, and shared with me by my friend Rebecca at Cakewalk. The title "Soaked Granola Bars" led me to think that the oats should be soaked. And soak them I did.

But as I mentioned, I didn't read the recipe. Oh, did I not mention that? Yeah, I know, what can I expect? If you don't read the directions how can you even think about following them. But since I knew I wouldn't follow them, I didn't even bother to read them. Well, Otehlia, there's a technique to soaking and drying grains. It makes a difference if you do it right or not. This is why I don't make my own granola bars for crying out loud! (My mental feed after the granola bar fail.)

At any rate, I soaked the oats, then semi-dried them, hoping for a "chewy" granola bar. And unless chewy and mushy are the same, which they are not, these were not chewy. At before you say, well, maybe they weren't that bad, let me tell you that they were. My husband returned home from work with the granola bar uneaten. That's a complete and utter fail.

Back to the drawing, uh..cutting, board. Oh, I see, you soak them with a certain amount of water, for a certain length of time, and dry them completely. Well, that 's not going to happen because guess what--I want granola bars now! Finally after talking to Rebecca (during which time I certainly could have soaked and dried the oats), we decided that since rolled oats are already processed, there probably is no real benefit to soaking them. So I remade the granola bars, this time just using plain old rolled oats. Amazing! The bars turned out perfect. A bit chewy with a hint of crunch from the toasted oats. Some seeds, dried cherries and apples completed the snack--all in under an hour.
If you want perfectly chewy, toasty granola bars, for a fraction of the cost of boxed, just follow these directions--or don't.

Chewy, Toasty Granola Bars

4. 5 cups oats
1/2 cup each oil and butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp flax
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup almonds, sliced or chopped
1/4 cup wheat germ (optional)
1 cup ww flour (could use spelt, etc)
1/2 cup oat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup each dried cherries, apples, diced

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Spread oats on a large cookie sheet and toast in oven, stirring once, for about 10-15 minutes.
3. On separate sheet toast almonds, sesame seeds, wheat germ and flax, just until fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. Don't burn!
4. Reduce heat to 300.
5. Meanwhile heat oil, butter, honey, vanilla and sugar in sauce pan on stove until melted.
6. Pour toasted oats in a bowl, and add flours, seeds, salt, baking powder.
7. Pour sugar/oil mixture over flour mix and stir well to coat. taste to make sure it's good:)
8. Add dried fruit and stir again.
9. Press into jelly roll sheet or 9 x 13 pan and bake about 20-25 min, until golden.
10. Let cool, then cut in squares, and wrap tightly to store. Store in fridge.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Black-Bottom Lime Mousse Tart with Raspberries

I've been waiting to share some great news. It's like being pregnant--I just want to make sure the baby is healthy before telling everyone.

No, I'm not pregnant! I said it's like being pregnant.

I am the new monthly recipe columnist for Madison Magazine! My first article will appear in the April issue and you better believe I'll be shamelessly flaunting that baby like a proud mama.

The magazine's photographer came over the other day to take a head shot and wanted "something I'd cooked" in the background. Oh, boy. That was cause for major planning. Something beautiful. Something that can keep for a bit at room temperature. Something delicious that I could share.

I decided on a black-bottom lime mousse tart. With ganache. And raspberries. And raspberry sauce. I figured if the food looked great no one would notice my fine lines. Or the fact that the apron I tried to sew the night before the shoot wasn't hemmed. And had really messy stitching.

I worked hard on that mousse tart, carefully mixing, pouring and chilling the ingredients. I topped it with only the finest organic fruit. I painstakingly decorating the tart (it turned out much better than the apron!), and I proudly displayed it for all (well, me, the photographer and my son) to see. And I took my favorite picture ever. I hope you enjoy the creation of this column as much as I do!

Black Bottom Lime Mousse with Raspberries

Black Bottom:

2 cups Trader Joe's chocolate cat cookies
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp butter

Pulverize dry ingredients in food processor til very fine. Drizzle in butter. Press into springform pan and chill til set.


8 oz chocolate chips (semi-sweet chocolate or mix of semi-sweet and dark)

¾ cup cream

Bring cream to boil, remove from heat. Add in chips and stir until blended.

Pour over chilled crust and chill again until set.

Mousse Filling:

¾ cup key lime juice (can sub lemon, which I did here, but key lime is better)

one envelope powdered gelatin

4 eggs, separated

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Raspberry Sauce:

14 oz bag frozen berries

2 tsp lemon juice

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp Grand Marneir

Heat berries gently until they release juices. Strain.

Heat again to gentle simmer and add all ingredients except cornstarch. Take a small amount of suace and dissolve cornstarch. Add to reset of sauce and stir, simmering for about 5 min until thickened.

Bloom gelatin in ¼ cup of key lime juice.

Whip 1 cup of heavy cream to soft peak on medium speed and store in the refrigerator while you make the rest of the mousse. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, over medium heat, whisk yolks, ½ cup sugar and ½ cup key lime juice until thick and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in bloomed gelatin until dissolved.

Transfer lime juice mixture to a bowl and chill to room temperature. While the key lime mixture is chilling. Whip whites in a clean dry bowl with a clean dry whip. Whip on medium speed until whites achieve soft peaks, being careful not to over whip the whites.

Gently fold egg whites into whipped cream. Then fold whites/cream mixture into key lime mixture being careful to not deflate the whites and cream.

Pour onto crust (I used springform pan) and chill to set.

Garnish with softly whipped cream (optional) and grated lime zest, and raspberries.

Top with raspberry sauce.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Peanut Butter Cream Pie

It's not always easy for me to go with the flow.

Dancing is where I feel least confined to an expected outcome (read: my own highly self-critical expectations), though I was even challenged in that area recently. I totally did not go with the flow during a performance, felt horrible about the outcome and spent the next few days beating myself up.

As a parent I often feel confined to schedules and routines. And as a chef, I get frustrated when a dish doesn't come out right. Usually it's not the taste that fails me, but the presentation of the final product. It falls, it burns, it flops.

A cake fail? That challenges my critical self to a level that is not pretty.

I've experienced a few cake fails. I tried to make the Impossible Cake (the name alone should have given me a clue); it imploded in goo. I have covered cracked cheesecake in a beautiful layer of glaze, hoping that no-one noticed that my cutting lines followed the gaping fissures. And just last night, I made a cream pie that turned out more like a soup than pie.

My son had a craving for peanut butter, banana, chocolate and caramel. What could I do, let a perfectly good craving go to waste? A friend of mine shared a recipe for Mikey's creamy peanut butter pie. It was first published by food blogger Jennie in honor of her husband Mikey Perillo who passed away last August. Peanut butter cream pie? That could become my new favorite, too, and it sounded amazingly easy! Even my son can make it with minimal help, I thought.

We followed the directions, and the crust and filling looked perfect. Fluffy filling on a cookie crumb crust. A nice layer of chocolate separating the two.

But alas, after chilling it for a few hours, the filling was still pourable. We dived in anyway, and the crumb crust spilled like dust across the plates. A heaping mound of delicious goop, and finely ground crumbs. In that moment, I realized that I could get frustrated and wonder endlessly what I did wrong--was it that we used a food processor, rather than a blender? Was the cream cheese too soft? Should I have whipped the cream more? Or...

I could go with the flow. I remembered to feel grateful that I had time with my son to cook, and I stuck the cake in the freezer. Lo and behold, a (not really) beautiful, slice-able, delicious, creamy, frozen peanut butter pie.

Forget the dishes, it's time to go play in the snow.

LinkCreamy Peanut Butter Pie

Serves 10 to 12

8 ounces chocolate cookies

4 tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup chopped peanuts (I omitted)

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup creamy-style peanut butter

1 cup confectioner's sugar

1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula. Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar. Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream). Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan. Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Peace, Love and Cake

Berry - Cherry Chocolate Cake

I am beginning to love the unexpected. This Valentines Day I didn't really want to go out to dinner or have a special date. It was a busy week, and I wanted to spend the evening with my family. Ok, I'll be honest, part of me just decided it was easier to make a nice dinner at home than to have great expectations of a romantic, perfect date night. I'm learning that it's all about expectations (lowering them, perhaps?). It's about time, right?

But instead of dinner, I made cake. I don't think anyone was expecting that, including me. I started out by making a batch of Mexican chocolate mousse. I love mousse, but it is so rich and creamy, that I wanted a bit of texture to go with each cinnamon-cayenne-infused bite. Cake! I found a great yellow cake recipe on Smitten Kitchen, which I altered slightly, and then decided to mix a creamy, not-so-sweet mascarpone-ricotta cherry filling to top the second layer. I was hoping it would be a soft pink color, but, as was the theme of the night, it was an unexpected purple. And of course, it being VD (I remember the endless jokes about that in grade school!), there had to be chocolate. A simple ganache topped it all. It was delicious, which I expected.

Oh, and my husband brought me flowers: hoped for, but not entirely expected. Thanks, Drummer Man!

After licking the last bite of cake off his fork, my son summed up the evening with three words: “Peace, Love and Cake.” I can live with that.

Yellow Cake from Smitten Kitchen (changes in parenthesis)

Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder (I increased to 4 tsp)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (I omitted—I hate baking soda)
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature (I used 5 egg yolks, and three egg whites, whipped separately)
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. in a separate bowl beat egg whites til stiff. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs yolks 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated. Fold in egg whites.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Mexican Chocolate Mousse

1 pt whipping cream
2 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tbsp butter
6.5 oz chocolate (try Mexican chocolate bar with Guajillo, or a mix of Mexican chocolate and bittersweet)

1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 oz Grand Marnier (to taste)
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp granulated sugar

Whip the cream (soft) with powdered sugar and set aside.
In double boiler or pan set in water, melt the chocolate and butter and thin with
Grand Marnier. Add spices. Let it cool a bit and fold in the whipped cream.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and add sugar. Fold into chocolate
mixture. Place in bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Cherry Mascarpone Filling

1 cup frozen cherries

8 oz Crave Brother's Mascarpone Cheese (I love Wisconsin!)

8 oz Belgioioso ricotta cheese

¼ cup powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

(I think a couple tbsp of cherry liquor would have been great too)

Simmer cherries with vanilla and liquor (I used more orange liquor here in stead) until juice is released.

Strain cherries and set aside.

Whip all other ingredients in bowl, and add about ½ cup cherry juice. Adjust juice to sugar ratio keeping the consistency of the filling firm, but spreadable.


1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
rum (optional)

Bring cream to a boil

Stir in chocolate and rum until well-blended

Let cool until firm enough to spread (could be 2 hours in fridge).

Raspberry Coulis

8 oz frozen raspberries

2 tbsp lemon juice

½ cup sugar

liquor of your choice

Bring to a boil until juice is released. Mash and strain.

Assemble Cake

If I did this again, I would cut layers in half to make four layers, but alas, we had two.

Anyway, start by topping a layer with mousse and the reserved cherries, then more cake, then the filling, until you are out of cake, or filling, or perhaps even your mind.

Make sure the mousse is firm enough that it won't drip out of the cake, a mistake I have made more times than I care to remember. I actually let this mousse set in the fridge overnight before using.

Finally, spread ganache around and over the whole darn cake.

Spoon raspberry sauce on plate.

Cut generous slice of cake. Eat.

An unexpected dessert awaits!