Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake

One of the best parts about the summers here is the annual harvest of all types of delicious fruits and vegetables.  There are so many family-owned farms in the area that open up their fields and fruit trees to the public and welcome the picking of the fresh produce.  One of my favorite fruits to pick are blueberries.  There are several wonderful blueberry farms in our area that grow the biggest, juiciest berries I have ever seen.  They are so much more flavorful than anything you can find in the grocery stores.  I usually pick about 5-8 gallons worth of berries and then immediately bake up a bunch of blueberry-studded treats to share with friends and family before freezing any excess berries for use throughout the winter months.

I spied this cake several years ago in an issue of Fine Cooking Magazine and was immediately struck by how perfectly moist and light appearance of the crumb.  I normally do not like most pound cakes because of their dense, heavy, and sometimes dry nature.  However, this looked like the sort of cake that could change my mind.

The original recipe calls for the use of lime zest and juice.  However, I could not resist switching it to the classic combination of blueberry and lemon simply because I was craving a lemon sweet.  I'm sure the lime would be divine and I do plan on making that variation next time I bake this cake.

And there WILL be a next time.  This cake was so incredibly moist and fresh-tasting.  It was a treat to have on hand for brunch and I was so pleased to be able to share it with my siblings when they came to visit!  My sister Jane especially loved the cake, so I promised I would post this recipe in its entirety just for her.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake
adapted from Fine Cooking

For the Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking power
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups room-temperature blueberries

For the Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray with flour.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until fragrant.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar/zest mixture and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the egg yolk. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then beat the batter on medium speed for about 20 seconds, or until smooth and light. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the blueberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Tap the pan against the counter to eliminate air pockets. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes then turn the cake out and set on the rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze: Place the confectioners' sugar in a small bowl and whisk in the lemon juice, a few teaspoons at a time, until you have a thick, but pourable consistency for the glaze. Drizzle over the cake; let the glaze set before serving.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Basic Granola Bars

While visiting our family in Montana a couple weeks ago, one of the activities I look forward to the most is hiking Mount Helena.  If you start early enough in the morning before it gets too hot, the hike to the top is relaxing, exhilarating, and an awesome workout.  Plus, when you reach the summit, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Helena valley.

I normally have to drag Paul along on the hike.  He seems to have a really hard time adjusting to the altitude and is normally huffing and puffing his way up the mountain top.  I was able to convince him by informing him that he would NOT be carrying a very heavy Mr. Matthew on his back the entire way up.  We were joined on our morning venture by my sister Sophie, who traveled out West with Paul and I, and Paul's brothers James and Peter.  We stopped for coffee on our way to the trail head where Paul gulped down plenty of espresso, with the hope that the extra caffeine kick would propel him up the mountain.

Me and Sophie!

Finally, we set out on our journey towards the summit.  Paul, as expected, took up the rear.  We had to stop and wait for him several times.  James was nice enough to hang back with him just in case he needed a piggy-back ride.

Less than an hour later, we were just about at the top.  Paul decided to cut up the rocky side of the peak in order to reach the summit first via this "shortcut."  Well, his attempts to scale the rocks proved inefficient as he was slower than a tortoise.  He was the very last to reach the summit and we all got some pretty cute pictures of his heroic efforts to make it to the top and not topple to his death.  I knew he could do it!

I tried to capture a picture of all the Nistler boys together.  I must have taken about 10 pictures and this was the best shot of all.  These boys were more difficult to photograph than a group of toddlers.

And then I tried to take a sweet picture with my husband.  He, as usual, was super cooperative...

Fourth times the charm...

I thought it would be appropriate to follow this tale of an epic hike with a granola bar recipe.  This is a basic, basic, basic recipe.  You can choose to add in whatever nuts, dried fruits, etc. that you wish.  If you want them a little chewier, you can add up to 3 tablespoons of melted butter to the mixture.  You can also add a little brown sugar if you prefer your granola bars on the sweeter side.  In the granola bars I photographed, I did not add in any dried fruit, but rather threw in a mashed, extremely ripe banana into the mix along with a handful of toasted walnuts.  They kind of tasted a bit like a banana bread bar.

Anyway, these are infinitely adaptable.  Make them your own!

Basic Granola Bars
adapted from Barefoot Contessa, as seen on Smitten Kitchen

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup sweetened coconut
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2/3 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup dried fruit

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9x13 baking dish.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

While the mixture is still warm, stir in the honey, vanilla and salt until the mixture is well coated, then the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and press, press, press it in until the mixture is packed as tightly as possible.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for 2 to 3 hours on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps

I have been craving Chicken Caesar Salad lately.  I especially love it when Paul grills the chicken breasts, imparting a wonderful smoky flavor that just adds a delicious extra dimension to the salad.  Even after eating Caesar salad for dinner two nights in a row, I was still not sick of it.  So, for lunch I have been enjoying these wonderful Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps!

This lunch was healthy, delicious, and...most importantly...extremely easy to throw together!  See, Matthew had a friend over yesterday and the two of them certainly kept me on my toes.  I made the mistake of letting them play upstairs unsupervised.  When I went to check on them, they had transported the majority of the toys from the playroom into my walk-in closet, where they were quietly playing with the door closed and the light turned off.  Some things are just more fun in the dark.  A little bit later, I found them sitting Indian-style on the living room floor, with what was a huge box of diaper wipes between them.  They were pulling out the wipes one-by-one, pretending to blow their noses, and then throwing them in the air where they would gently land at various spots behind them on the floor.  When I found those two rascals, it almost looked as if they were sitting among small piles of snow.  Oh wonderfulness.

Anyway, for this recipe you can make your own Caesar dressing, but there are actually quite a few good ones available for purchase.  Plus, buying a bottle of the dressing is actually cheaper than making it yourself (canned anchovies are pricey!) and it will last several months in your fridge versus about a week for homemade.  Paul and I really enjoy the Ken's Lite Caesar vinaigrette, although their creamy variety is delicious as well!  The Newman's Own Caesar dressing is also fabulous albeit a little more expensive.  However, stay away from Kraft Caesar dressing.  It's nasty.

Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps

For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and butterflied
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt

For the Wraps:
2 pesto-flavored tortilla wraps
1 head of romaine, separated from stalks and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Favorite homemade or store-bought Caesar dressing
Parmesan cheese, shredded or shaved from block (eyeball it)

Combine the water and salt in a large bowl and submerge the chicken pieces in the brine.  Allow the chicken to sit in the brine at room temperature while the oven preheats to 400 degrees.

When the oven has preheated, remove the chicken from the brine, pat dry with paper towels, and place on a foil-lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Sprinkle the chicken generously with pepper.  Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes (start checking after 8...these are thin pieces of chicken!) or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees or a small knife cut through the thickest part reveals no pink!

Transfer the chicken pieces to a cutting board and slice into thin chunks.  At this point, the chicken can be refrigerated for a day or two until you're ready to eat or used to assemble the wraps for immediately consumption!

Toss the chicken pieces with a generous amount of the Caesar dressing in a large bowl.  Add the lettuce, some more dressing, and toss to combine.  Taste to make sure the dressing is generously coating everything.  Place a portion of the salad in the center of each wrap.  Sprinkle with the Parmesan and then fold in the sides of the wrap and roll it up!  Slice in half and enjoy!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

General Tso's Chicken - Lightened Up!

I adore Chinese takeout.  I pretty much order the same two dishes every single time:  General Tso's Chicken and a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup.  We rarely eat out, so it seems that whenever we do I am unwilling to venture away from my typical favorites for fear that the experience will be disappointing.  Paul is normally a little more adventurous than I, but has usually ended up gazing longingly over at my plate of food while slowly gulping down whatever poor menu choice he made.  I think last time he chose Kung Pao Chicken and was highly disturbed that the dish contained peanuts (even though it clearly stated this in the menu description!).

I found this recipe online for a healthy, homemade version of General Tso's.  Since I have been absolutely craving Chinese and Indian cuisine lately, this seemed like the perfect thing to whip up for dinner.

If you are expecting the flavor to be exactly like your local Chinese takeout, let me tell you right now that it is not.  I mean, c'mon...the chicken is not deep fried.  However, it will satisfy those takeout cravings without the guilt.  This is still not exactly health food due to the high amount of sugar in the sauce, but a little goes a long way.

I pumped up the nutrition of the dish a little by adding a TON of lightly steamed broccoli.  I also added some red pepper flakes to the sauce, since we normally like ours a little on the spicy side.  You can certainly choose to omit this if the heat bothers you.

Lighter General Tso's Chicken
adapted from Coup De Pouce Magazine

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup water

1 pound broccoli florets, separated into small stalks
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
3-4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
6-8 green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons peeled, fresh ginger, grated
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

Place the cornstarch in a large, plastic ziploc bag and add the chicken pieces.  Shake until the chicken pieces are completely coated.  Shake off any excess.

Steam the broccoli in the microwave or on the stovetop just until tender.  Cover and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Swirl to completely coat the pan.  Add the chicken in a single layer and allow to brown (about 2-4 minutes).  Flip to the other side and allow that side to brown, watching carefully (about 2 minutes more).  Remove the chicken to a plate and a tent with foil to keep warm.

Carefully wipe out the pan with some wet paper towels and return to medium heat.  Add the sesame oil, green onions, ginger, and red pepper flakes and stir-fry for 1 minute or until very fragrant.  Add the sauce to the pan and bring to a boil.  Allow to cook about 2 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Add the chicken back to the pan and coat completely with the sauce.  Let simmer for a minute or two, until the chicken is cooked through.  Add the steamed broccoli and stir to coat with the sauce.

Serve hot over freshly cooked rice.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TWD: Popovers

This may have been the easiest TWD recipe EVER.  I missed the last two TWD challenges due to illness and traveling out West for my sister's wedding.  We actually just got back from our trip so it was really nice to have a super quick, simple recipe to prepare for this week's challenge.

I adore popovers.  I make them quite often for breakfast on Sunday mornings.  They are perfect as an accompaniment to eggs or smeared with some good-quality jam.  I have tried many popover recipes over the past couple years and have one in particular that I like best but am always willing to try new variations and techniques.

This recipe comes from the kitchen of the legendary baker Marion Cunningham.  Her popover recipe instructed to use custard cups for larger popovers and a muffin tin for smaller popovers.  The proportion of milk, flour, salt, and butter in her recipe is identical to the measurements in my go-to popover recipe with the exception that Marion adds three eggs to her batter whereas I usually utilize only two.

The batter is whizzed together in a food processor, measured out into the custard cups/muffin tins, and then plopped into a 450 degree oven.  I kept my oven light on for the duration of the cooking time because Matthew loved watching the popovers grow.  After allowing the popovers to "pop" for a good 25 minutes, the recipe instructs to reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and allow the popovers to bake an additional 15 minutes to "dry out" the inside.  I ended up cutting this short by quite a bit because the outsides were over-browning.

These popovers were delicious albeit a bit more eggy in the inside than the recipe we are used to.  That did not stop us from consuming the whole batch in a matter of minutes (they just are not as good once cooled!).  I was very disappointed that we did not have any jam to enjoy these with...although Paul had no issue with gobbling his down completely slathered in butter.  He is certainly a health nut.

Matthew was a little disturbed when he took a bite of his popover only to discover the center was hollow.

"Broke! Broke!" he whined, convinced that he had received a defective piece.  He got over his disdain in a few minutes and ended up eating three of them.

Although I do not think these will replace my go-to popover recipe, they were so much fun to bake!  If you would like to try out the recipe yourself, please head over to Amy and Paula's blogs!

Next up...Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Enchiladas (aka DA BOMB)

A few weeks ago, I promised you a delicious recipe to make with the homemade tortillas I posted about. I realized that I have been holding out on you and never posted about the delicious recipe I was hinting at!  Well, before I take off for a two week long hiatus to the mountains for the wedding of my dear sister-in-law, I decided that I had to leave you with the recipe for these Sweet Potato and Chorizo Enchiladas.

They are so darn good.  Wonderful, complex flavors that mingle together so well!

Paul declared this his absolute favorite enchilada recipe.

It does have quite a few little steps, but none of them are difficult and you could even make the filling and sauce ahead of time and then assemble and bake the enchiladas right before dinner.  If you like a lot of sauce with your enchiladas, you might want to double the recipe.  For us, it was just the right amount.

Unfortunately, I do not have a gorgeous picture to go along with these.  Enchiladas really do not photograph well.  They especially do not photograph well when you have to take a picture of the leftover enchiladas because you were too hungry on the first day to bother photographing them before digging in.  But do not let the sad photos fool you, they are really, really good.

Give them a try!  I promise you will love them!!

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Enchiladas
Inspired by Cook's Illustrated, Pink Parsley Catering, and Perry's Palate

For the sauce:
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 cans tomato sauce (8 ounces each)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 can (4 ounces) pickled jalapeƱos, drained and chopped (about 1/4 cup)
8 ounces Monterey Jack, grated (2 cups)

For the Filling:
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup frozen or fresh corn
3 Tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼- ½ teaspoon chipotle powder
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped white onion
10-12 ounces chorizo, casings removed
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
12 8-inch Flour Tortillas
Additional Cheese for garnish (feta, Monterey Jack, etc.)

For the Sweet Potatoes, Corn, and Chorizo:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place sweet potato cubes and corn on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 T of the oil and sprinkle with cumin, chipotle, sugar, and a good pinch of salt. Use your hands to toss the vegetables and coat them well with the oil and spices.  Spread them into a single layer and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring a couple of times during roasting, until the potatoes are tender browned in spots.  Let cool and then transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the chorizo, breaking up the clumps with the woolens spoon.   Stir and cook until the chorizo is browned and cooked through, about 5-8 minutes.  Taste and season with additional salt if necessary.  Transfer to the large bowl with the sweet potato mixture.

For the Sauce:
Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, salt, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce and 3/4 cup water. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Pour mixture through medium-mesh strainer into medium bowl, pressing on onions to extract as much sauce as possible; set sauce aside. Combine onion mixture with sweet potatoes, chorizo, cilantro, jalapenos, and ¾ of the grated cheese and set aside.

Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees.

To Assemble:
Spread about ¾ cup enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 13x9 pan.  Roll up each tortilla with about ¾ cup filling and place in the pan.  When all tortillas are filled, spread the remaining enchilada sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Serve immediately.

Serve with optional Cilantro-Lime Crema:  1 cup sour cream + 2 tablespoons lime juice + 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro + salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Frontier Pies Cornbread

Do you remember a cozy little restaurant called Frontier Pies?

If you are from out West, you are probably familiar with this little chain that went out of business a few years back.  When I was a kid growing up in Montana, this was one of our favorite places to go out to eat as a family.  My Dad loved any restaurant that served pie and this place certainly knew how to make some good ones.  I do not remember much about the food but I'm pretty sure they served typical comfort food:  fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, meatloaf, etc.  However, I do remember THE CORNBREAD.

Before bringing out your meal, the servers at Frontier Pies would place disposable pie plates filled with their warm homemade cornbread at each table.  Their cornbread was sweet, slightly gritty from the cornmeal and served with a side of whipped honey butter.  We would fill up on the cornbread and barely have room for our entrees. But we always had room for the pie.

Years later, after I had gotten married and began to show more of an interest in cooking, I stumbled upon a recipe for the original Frontier Pies Cornbread.  I got so ridiculously excited and immediately cleared my schedule to bake a huge pan for dinner that night.

Taking a bite of that cornbread brought back a flood of memories.  Suddenly I was nine-years-old again, enjoying a fun dinner out with my family after a baseball game.  Even after 16+ years, that cornbread remains some of the best I have ever tasted.  I made it for my family when they came to visit last summer, and everyone commented on how wonderful it tasted.  When I told them the recipe came from Frontier Pies, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) got really excited and demanded the recipe.  You see, that cornbread really is quite nostalgic for the whole family.

So, here it is!  I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

The Frontier Pies Cornbread
written down from a source I cannot recall

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the butter, sugar, and honey together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to be completely absorbed before adding the next. Whisk together dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then gently add dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Stir in the milk until just combined. Pour into a greased 13x9 pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.


And as a side note, here is snapshot of Mr. Matthew being oh-so-helpful with the sweeping.  Sometimes having him "help" is a whole lot more work than me just doing it myself...

Matthew spreading out the dust (I'll fix it later!)

All in a day's work!