Sunday, September 30, 2012

Apple-Cinnamon Quick Bread

The other day at the grocery store, I passed a beautiful bag of local, fresh-picked apples.  They had a gorgeous red hue to their skin and very little of the visible bruising that often plagues bagged apples.  As an additional plus, the store was selling them for a mere $0.89/pound.  Perfect for lunches and snacks this week! I scooped a couple bags up, threw them in my cart, and continued on my merry way.

However, I failed to check what exact variety of apple I had so eagerly plopped into my grocery cart.  Normally, between the three of us in our tiny household, we easily consume about 6 pounds of apples a week.  However, all three of us are slightly picky about what types of apples we like.  Red delicious are definitely out (no flavor) as are Paula Red, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Cortland, and Mutsu.  All of these work great in various baked goods and pies, we just prefer other, sweeter, crisper varieties for eating out of hand.  And the huge bag of apples I grabbed just happened to be McIntosh.

I tried to feed them to Paul.  He quickly replied with "maybe I'll just take a banana instead."

I tried to feed them to Matthew.  He just pushed the slices around on his tray and then tried to feed them to the cat.

I tried to eat them myself, but I honestly cannot get past the texture.  Just a little too soft for my liking.

So, the only logical thing to do with an extra 8 pounds of unwanted, unloved apples is to bake with them!  So I made a delicious batch of applesauce, a couple jars of apple butter, and a scrumptious Apple-Cinnamon Quick Bread, which I will share with you today!

The bread was deliciously moist, wonderfully fragrant, and perfectly sweet.  Served warm with a drizzle of amaretto glaze, it made a simple, weeknight dessert.  Served sliced thick with cream cheese, it made a special breakfast (this was Matthew's favorite way to eat it!).  And, it used up about 6 of those extra apples!

Apple-Cinnamon Quick Bread
Nistler Family Original

1 cup canola oil
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cup apples, peeled and chopped fine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the oil and sugar until well blended.  Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until well blended.  Stir in the vanilla.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and then pour in the wet ingredients.  Using a rubber spatula, fold everything together gently until no flour remains.  Gently fold in the apples.

Pour the batter into a greased 9x5" loaf pan.  Bake in the preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few, moist crumbs attached.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Wrapped tightly in plastic, the bread should keep well for 3 days.  The flavor intensifies overnight!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Split Pea and Ham Soup

Matthew is normally excellent while running errands.  And I mean excellent.  I have a blast bringing him with me to different stores and shopping for various items, be they groceries, clothes, or housewares (his personal favorite).  However, this week an alligator on a leash would have been a better shopping companion then my maniacal child.  You know the behavior is bad when no less than four complete strangers feel the need to approach me with the following reassuring words of wisdom: "this phase will pass."

Well, it better pass or I might be pawning him off.

For example, I needed to make a quick run to a furniture store to pick up a stepping stool so Matthew can reach the sink to wash his hands.  It is getting more and more difficult for me to lift him and he is really anxious to reach the sink on his own.  Anyway, after he refused to eat his lunch, I packed him up and drove up to the store.  As we began making our way around, Matthew suddenly began complaining that he was hungry.  He was mysteriously too hungry to take a bite of his lunch just five minutes earlier (so full, in fact, that he felt the need to adequately express this point by trying to throw his entire plate of food off the table) but now, right in the middle of this quick little errand, he was suddenly STARVING.  I just shushed him and continued to the section where the cheap chairs and stools are.  Matthew continued to grumble along beside me, dragging his feet and making it very clear that he was not happy.

Anyway, I let go of his hand for about two minutes to inspect one of the stools.  When I look up, he has vanished and I immediately go into that typical Mom panic where you envision your child featured in the morning news headline for an abduction case.  I frantically began looking around and soon spotted my mischievous toddler sitting at one of the dining room table displays.  And what, pray tell, attracted him to that particular display?  The bowl of sparkling fake fruit adorning the center of the table.  Matthew had climbed up, pulled the bowl towards him, and proceeded to take a bite out of every single piece of fruit.  Each bite resulted in the disappointing taste of plastic, so he moved on to try the other fruit...I can just envision his little mind working: "perhaps this banana will taste better than those nasty grapes."

His rampage left each piece of fruit with a prominently displayed Matthew-sized bite mark.  And he had accomplished all this in under two minutes.

In the end, we did not leave the store with the step-stool I wanted.  However, we are the proud owners of an entire bag of bitten fruit.

On top of all this mania, the weather has been cold, rainy, overcast, and dreary.  The perfect weather for headaches.  We had a couple days in the 80s just two weeks ago and now we are barely edging our way into the 60s.  This type of weather calls for a warm bowl of soup.  And that is pretty much all we have been eating lately.

Split Pea and Ham Soup is one of Paul's favorites.  We typically make it using the leftovers from our holiday ham around Christmastime.  However, Paul has been craving it lately and so I whipped up a batch using a ham steak and it turned out divine.  Topped with buttered croutons (a must) and a good drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar (even more a must!), this is a comforting, hearty meal.

Split Pea and Ham Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
7 cups water
1 ham steak (about 1 pound), skin removed, cut into quarters
3 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces)
1 pound green split peas (about 2 cups), picked through and rinsed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 medium celery rib, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Buttery Croutons (recipe below)
Balsamic Vinegar (for serving)

Heat butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add onion and ½ teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add water, ham steak, bacon, peas, thyme, and bay leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer, stirring frequently to keep peas from sticking to bottom. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until peas are tender but not falling apart, about 45 minutes.

Remove ham steak, cover with foil or plastic wrap to prevent drying out, and set aside. Stir in carrots and celery.  Continue to simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender and peas have almost completely broken down, about 30 minutes longer.

When cool enough to handle, shred ham into small bite-size pieces with two forks. Remove and discard thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and bacon slices. Stir ham back into soup and return to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into individual bowls, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and top with buttery croutons.

Buttery Croutons
adapted lightly from Cook's Illustrated

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large slices high-quality sandwich bread (or whatever you have!), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
Table salt and Pepper

Heat butter and oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add bread cubes and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer croutons to paper towel-lined plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Oreo Cheesecake Bars

As I type this, Matthew is watching a "Thomas the Tank Engine" video and getting really into it.  To the point of a mild anxiety attack.

In this particular episode, Thomas has broken down on the railroad track and appears unable to get his package to its destined location on time.  As the episode progresses, the dramatic music picks up, illustrating the dire nature of the situation and causing little Matthew to become increasingly worried about the fate of his favorite "choo-choo train."  He stands there staring in horror, about two feet away from the television screen, with his hands clasped tightly over his little mouth: "Oh no, Thomas!  OOOHHH NOOOOO!"

Too funny.  And it's NOT like he hasn't seen this particular episode before.

But, as we have seen about 100 times in the past, Thomas is saved by his fellow tank engines and continues on his merry way through the Island of Sodor and even receives a little pat on the back from Sir Topham Hatt.  And all is right with the world.  (If you have no knowledge of the series, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about!).

Matthew is now breathing a little more easily.  "Yay Thomas! Yay, he did it!"

In addition to being extremely passionate about fictitious tank engines, Matthew has continued to demonstrate an unrelenting passion for all things kitchen related.  When he first started to show a penchant for appliances around the age of 9 months, both Paul and I thought it would be a fleeting fetish, one that would disappear once he began to notice all the wonderful toys and teddy bears that filled his play room.

How wrong we were.

He continues to love helping out in the kitchen just so he can get an up close look at my miracle kitchen tools in action.  When I received a food processor as a gift, I think he was more excited than I was (and I was VERY excited!).  Thus, I have to make sure Matthew feels involved in the process of creating any dish or treat that requires the use of the larger countertop appliances.  This recipe for Oreo Cheesecake Bars is one of those recipes.

Mathew was in charge of putting the oreo cookies into the bowl of the food processor.  After about 10 minutes, he accomplished that (there was a lot of munching going on in between) and then was instructed to pulse the cookies to oblivion.  He took that part of his job very seriously.  We were pretty much left with oreo cookie dust after he was finally finished pushing the pulse button on the food processor.  But he made a darn beautiful crust for these babies.

This is a simple, easy, delicious treat.  The only drawback is that you have to wait for them to chill (I would recommend a full 24 hours) so that they will cut with ease into perfect squares.  We shared these with friends who had just welcomed home a new baby and they were perfectly portable and enjoyed by both the adults and the kids.  They taste just like a mouthful of cookies and milk!

Oreo Cheesecake Bars
from Beth Lipton's book You Made That Dessert?

For the Crust:
1 (1 pound) package Oreo cookies
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.

Place 28 Oreos in a food processor and process until finely ground. Pour into a large bowl, add the melted butter, and stir with a spatula until all crumbs are moistened. Place the cookie-crumb mixture in the lined pan and, using your fingers, press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom. Bake 10 minutes, then remove to a wire cooling rack, leaving the oven on, while you make the filling.

Snap the remaining Oreos in half, put them in the food processor, and turn on and off quickly a few times, just until the cookies are roughly chopped.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until well blended at medium speed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula and beat again until uniform. Beat in sour cream, vanilla and salt. Scrape down the bowl and mix again. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. After beating in the last egg, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat one more time, to make sure the mixture is fully combined. Gently stir in chopped Oreos with the same spatula.

Pour the cream cheese mixture over the baked cookie crust, smooth the top with the spatula, and bake for 40 minutes, until the filling is set around the edges but still slightly wobbly in the center when you gently shake the pan. Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. When cool, cover it with foil and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours. (I definitely recommend chilling them overnight).

To cut and serve, use the foil overhang to lift the cheesecake out of the pan and place on a large cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut the cheesecake into bars, rinsing off the knife with hot water and wiping it dry between each cut. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TWD: Whole Wheat Loaves

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie featured a recipe for Whole Wheat Bread.  Since I make a couple loaves of sandwich bread every other week to fuel us through lunchtime anyway, I simply utilized this recipe instead of my usual Buttermilk Bread recipe.

This recipe produced two beautiful loaves that were not heavy and dense like most wheat-based bread can be.  I was surprised that the recipe did not call for the addition of vital wheat gluten to provide a little extra boost for the rising.  The dough rose beautifully and within had our home smelling like freshly baked bread within three hours of starting the recipe.

Matthew loved this bread.  He gladly devoured his peanut butter and jelly sandwich yesterday and then asked for seconds.  He almost never finishes an entire sandwich.  Paul, on the other hand, really loves his white bread and was slightly disappointed that he had to eat anything with whole wheat in it for lunch.  He did admit that it was a decent tasting loaf "as far as whole wheat bread goes."  Is that the greatest of compliments or what?!?

For me, this bread was simply perfect for one of my favorite sandwiches of all time.  Spread two slice of bread with hummus and then layer on sliced red onions, peppadew peppers, sliced cucumbers, sliced salted/peppered tomatoes, and arugula.  Cut in half and enjoy!

For the recipe, please visit the blogs of Michele and Teresa who were our hosts for this week.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Easy Cheese Souffle

Sorry for the hiatus.  We have been keeping busy making this little kitty feel welcome in our home.  Meet the most docile, patient, loving cat I have ever seen in my life.  As a surprise to me, Paul left work early last Tuesday and adopted this little guy for me.  I had fallen in love with this cat during a routine trip to the Humane Society with Matthew.  Apparently, nobody wanted this sweet kitty because he is polydactyl, possessing two extra toes on each of his two front paws.  I, however, find this minor genetic defect to be absolutely adorable.  Paul saw how much I loved him and decided it was high time we had a pet.  We have named him Reilly (short for O'Reilly...because he has green eyes and thus must be IRISH) and he has fit in splendidly thus far.  He likes to perch on the toy box upstairs in the play room while Matthew tinkers with various toys.  They are great pals.


As much as I love my new kitty, I really want to share this recipe for a simple, easy cheese souffle.  Cheese souffles make me swoon.  Chocolate souffle are delicious and certainly have their place as a fancy finish to an elaborate meal, but a perfectly executed cheese souffle will truly make me drool.  Paul has never liked the sound of souffles.  He has had a couple of dessert varieties and has determined that they simply bring back horrible, painful memories of eating mousse, his mortal dessert enemy.

The guy is crazy.  Mousse is delicious.  And he seems to love it when we use it as a filling in his favorite cake ever.

Nevertheless, he has always turned up his nose at a cheese souffle.  Even without ever having tried one.  In his mind, it would have the taste and texture of a savory mousse - and that would be a very awful thing to endure.

When Paul is out on a business trip and too far away to be offended by the presence of anything leavened with egg whites, I will make a cheese souffle for Matthew and myself.  Matthew loves them and greedily gobbles his portion (and sometimes mine!) as if he has not eaten in days.

Well, Paul has not been taking too many business trips lately and my desire for a warm, cheesy souffle began to really bug me.  I decided that Paul and his picky palate will just have to deal...we were going to have a souffle for dinner.

The method for making a cheese souffle is so simplistic that I have the recipe memorized.  However, I do love to play around with different cheeses and seasonings.  This time, I chose a delicious New York sharp cheddar and paired it with some ground mustard and paprika.  Another favorite variation is Gruyere and a teeny bit of nutmeg.  Divine!

The souffle rose beautifully (even though my new souffle dish was a bit large for the recipe) and the moment of truth arrived when Paul cut into it and gingerly removed a portion for himself.  He took a bite, hesitated, and then looked at me with a rapture and said:  "This is amazing!"  He ate about 3/4 of the souffle and then began eyeing Matthew's portion.

And thus, Paul was converted into a true lover of the simple cheese souffle.

Served with a simple green salad, this is an awesome, easy dinner.

Cheese Souffle
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into half-inch chunks, plus extra for coating dish
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated (divided use)
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sharp cheddar (but Gruyere, Swiss, and Gouda are amazing)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3 large eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Set oven rack to middle level. If desired, before preheating, add a pizza stone to help support the soufflé dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Thoroughly butter inside of 2-quart soufflé dish, then coat evenly with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan and set aside.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour; cook until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk. Bring to simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and smooth, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat, whisk in cheddar, salt, pepper, paprika, and dry mustard. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks until completely incorporated, and set aside.

Using electric mixer, whip egg whites in separate bowl on medium-low speed until opaque and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add cream of tartar, and increase speed to medium-high. Continue to whip, watching carefully, until thick and forming stiff peaks, about 2 1/2 minutes.

Working with 1/4 of whipped egg whites at a time, gently fold them into the yolk mixture until almost no white streaks remain (a few are ok). Gently pour mixture into prepared soufflé dish and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until top is nicely browned and center jiggles slightly (an instant-read thermometer inserted through the side of the soufflé top should register 170 degrees).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thai-Style Green Curry with Chicken

Let me introduce you to my new favorite dinner.

I only recently discovered the delicious, enchanting flavors of Thai food a little over a year ago.  From the moment I had my first dish, I was hooked.  I have since had the pleasure of sampling a myriad Thai dishes and can confidently state that I have loved every single one.  The complex, subtle flavors are more pleasant to eat than a really good dessert.  I love the warmness from the chilies, the sweetness from the sugar and coconut milk, the sour tones from the limes and lemongrass, and the salty punch of the fish sauce all coming together to form a symphony of flavors like I have every experienced.  Paul has also enjoyed sampling various Thai dishes with me, although he still claims that Indian food will always hold the #1 spot in his heart due to his continual hostility towards coconut milk.  Indian food delivers more of a direct, bold punch of spice and flavors whereas Thai is more delicate and intricate.  I assumed that because of this Thai would be difficult to cook.  However, I did want to learn how to cook it because I have been craving it often and getting takeout regularly just isn't an option.

I started my research at the library by checking out various books on Thai cooking.  The complexity of the ingredients really got to me.  Most Thai dishes start by making a paste with various spices, lemongrass, herbs, and chilies.  However, many of these ingredients can be expensive and difficult to find.  The books did state that buying a curry paste from the specialty section of your grocery store is an economical option.  However, there are many, many different brands of curry paste out there. And lots of them have received horrible reviews for their lackluster flavor.

After doing a bit of research, I found that the Mae Ploy brand of curry paste is actually utilized by a lot of Thai restaurants because it has an authentic, fresh flavor.  Plus, it's a product of Thailand and not an American or China-based company.  I ordered some green curry via Amazon and then anxiously awaited its arrival.

Once it came, I chose a simple recipe from which to start and adjusted it a bit due to what I have tasted and enjoyed after visiting a few different Thai restaurants.

The results were divine.  Such a beautiful dish to enjoy on a cold night.  In addition, it comes together quickly and is such a breeze to make.  Seriously, the most difficult part is slicing the chicken thinly enough.  Until my craving subsides, we will be making this a couple times each month.

Feel free to substitute shrimp for the chicken or to use different types of chopped vegetables.  You could make it vegetarian by adding some tofu and extra vegetables.  The coconut broth is so darn good that you could probably add a handful of Lucky Charms cereal to it and it would still be one knockout of a dinner.  Okay, don't quote me on that...but do give this dish a try.

One last note, making the recipe as stated will result in a mildly spiced broth (at least with the brand of curry paste I used).  If you want extra heat, feel free to add more.  Keep in mind, this stuff is potent so don't go overboard!

Thai Green Curry with Chicken
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 (14 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk, unshakened
2 tablespoons green curry paste (use extra if you like heat)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat and sliced thin against the grain
2 1/2 cups zucchini, halved and sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and sliced into thin strips
1 large chile (hot), stemmed, seeded, and quartered lengthwise
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)

Gather all your ingredients before making the sauce.  If the chicken is completely thawed, freeze for 15 minutes before slicing thin against the grain (it will make it a lot easier to slice thin!).  Cut any pieces that are super-long in half so that they are all about the same size.

Carefully spoon off about 1 cup of the top layer of cream from one can of coconut milk.  This layer should be thick and possibly solid.  Place the coconut cream and curry paste into a large Dutch oven and bring to a simmer over high heat, whisking to blend, about 2 minutes.  Maintain this brisk simmer and whisk frequently until almost all of the liquid evaporates.  This should take anywhere from 3-5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium-high and whisk constantly until the cream separates into a puddle of colored oil and coconut solids, about 3-8 minutes.  Continue cooking until the curry paste is very aromatic, 1-2 minutes.

Whisk in the remaining coconut milk, the fish sauce, and the brown sugar.  Bring back to a brisk simmer and cook until the flavors meld and the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.  Season the chicken with some table salt and add it to the pot, stirring until the pieces are separated and evenly coated with the sauce, about 1 minutes.  Stir in the zucchini and bring back to a brisk simmer over medium heat.  Cook until the vegetables are almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the bell pepper and fresh chile and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.  Remove the Dutch oven from the heat and stir in the lime juice and basil (if using).  Serve immediately over hot jasmine rice.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Southern-Style Cheddar Grits

The lazy Summer days are quickly fading.  I have a feeling that since the heat came early this Spring, we might see our first snowfall by mid-October.  In the meantime, we are trying to soak up the remainder of the Summer sun.  Matthew is doing his part by eating more than his fair share of popsicles.  He loves the things so much, that Paul and I have already stocked up on some extra boxes of Pop-ice before they become scarce during the Fall and Winter.

At least Matthew is more than willing to share his favorite treat...

Even though the temperatures are still in the mid-90s, I have begun to crave warm soups, curries, and other comfort foods.  Last Sunday, Paul and I decided that cheese grits sounded like the perfect thing to make for breakfast.  The warm, cheesy, slightly textured consistency of the grits pairs beautifully with a perfectly poached or fried egg and some crisp bacon.  Comfort food at its finest.

Grits are made pretty much the same way as polenta, only grits are usually white because they are made from ground hominy, not corn.  The texture ends up being a little more grainy than the smooth, almost porridge-like consistency of a good polenta.  If I had to choose between the two, it would be rough...they are both delicious and can easily be eaten straight from the saucepan (this almost happened with our pot of grits, but I quickly grabbed a nearby spatula and was able to beat away my hungry, thieving husband and save some breakfast for Matthew and myself!).  

This is a dish that we make often during the winter.  Sometimes, I will substitute coarse-ground cornmeal for the ground hominy and make a more textured polenta (using the same method outlined below but substituting Parmesan for the cheddar), and then serve it topped with Eggs Diavolo (eggs poached in spicy Italian-style tomatoes).  Divine.  However, Paul's favorite combination is the classic, cheddar grits topped with pieces of crisp-fried bacon, and fried eggs. 

As for Mr. Matthew?  He just picks out the bacon.

Cheese Grits with Eggs and Bacon
adapted from Alton Brown

2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup coarse grits (NOT instant) or coarse-ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded
6 slices thick-cut bacon
6+ eggs (matter of preference!)

Place the milk, water, and salt into a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the milk mixture comes to a boil, gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once all of the cornmeal has been incorporated, decrease the heat to low and cover. Remove lid and whisk frequently, every 3 to 4 minutes, to prevent grits from sticking or forming lumps; make sure to get into corners of pot when whisking. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture is creamy.

While the grits are cooking, fry bacon in a skillet until crispy.  Drain on paper towels until ready to serve.  During the last 5 minutes that the grits are cooking, poach or fry the eggs as desired so they will be finished at approximately the same time as the grits.

Remove from the heat, add the pepper and butter, and whisk to combine. Once the butter is melted, gradually whisk in the cheese a little at a time.

Spoon into 4-6 individual, shallow bowls.  Top with some crumbled bacon and one or two of the poached/fried eggs.  Sprinkle with coarse black pepper and serve immediately!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

TWD: Nectarine Upside-Down Cake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe featured a magnificent Nectarine Upside-Down Cake with a surprise oatmeal-almond streusel rippling throughout the center.  My husband could barely contain his excitement when I began baking this cake.  Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is one of his absolute favorite desserts, so he was more than happy to cater to Matthew's every whim and desire so I could work away in peace without having the toddler rummage through my cupboards.

I actually began working on this cake while simultaneously catching up on a couple episodes of Masterchef.  Such a silly show...but I do enjoy watching it.  The dramatic music was great motivation as I worked my way through this recipe.  Overall, the recipe was fun and simple to make.  As far as chiffon cakes go, this is one of the least fussy.  I toyed with the idea of substituting peaches for the nectarines, but the peaches were hard as rock when I decided to make the recipe, so I stuck with the nectarines.  

The only issue I had with this cake was that it definitely took about 15 minutes longer to bake than the recipe indicates.  Which was rather frustrating, because Paul wanted to sample a hot slice of cake and was already snoozing away in his armchair by the time the cake finally came out of the oven.  Once he passes out, he is gone for the night - mentally, emotionally, physically, and stomachly (yes, I am aware that's not a word).  However, as soon as the cake was cool enough, I shook him awake (a little violently, I'm afraid) and shoved a piece of this warm, ice cream covered dessert in his face.  He stared at it with a mild bit of confusion before realizing that this was the treat he had been looking forward to so much and then gingerly began to eat.  

As I mentioned, nothing fully wakes my husband up once he has fallen asleep in the evening.  However, his eyes immediately widened with pleasure as he ate his cake, all the while exclaiming:  "This is really good!"

It certainly is.  The chiffon cake is light and fluffy, yet sturdy enough to hold up the fruit and brown sugar sauce.  The streusel in the center is a delightful surprise that honestly was my favorite part of the whole dessert.  It is a must that this cake be served with ice cream!

If you would like to give the recipe a whirl (and you should!), head over to our host blogs for this week.  Do not let the diminishing supply of nectarines prevent you from utilizing pears or apples.  I am definitely going to try pears next time. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Oatmeal-Carrot Breakfast Muffins

I don't know why it is, but Montana-grown wheat just tastes better.  Any of the Western-based bread companies that utilize Montana wheat bake up the most delicious loaves of bread I have ever tasted.  If we have the time while visiting our family out west, I love to pick up a couple loaves from the local bakeries to take back home with me as a treat.  Plus, a loaf of bread makes the perfect airplane snack for my carb-loving child.  During our trip a little over 8 months ago, Matthew consumed an entire loaf of bread during our 4-hour flight from Denver to Ohio.  He didn't eat much over the next few days as that binge worked its way out of his system.

During our most recent trip, my Mother-in-Law gave me a cookbook I had been admiring that featured a wide variety of recipes utilizing the products of Wheat Montana, a local bakery/deli chain.  There are so many great-looking recipes in the cookbook, everything from breakfast treats and artisan breads to main-course wheat berry salads.  

The first recipe I chose to tackle was Oatmeal Carrot Breakfast Muffins.  This relatively healthy muffin recipe calls for the addition of shredded carrots, orange peel, and a healthy handful of dried fruit.  There is very little added sugar (for a muffin) and only a modest amount of oil.  The original recipe calls for the addition of raisins, which I switched out for dried cranberries (which pair most wonderfully with orange!).  I also used white flour instead of wheat (all I had!) and added a couple extra tablespoons of grated carrot (I grated waaay too many but threw them all in anyway...despite what my husband may think, a few extra veggies never hurt anyone!).  I also skipped soaking the oats for a few hours, opting instead to microwave the oat/milk mixture in the microwave at 50% power for 3-4 minutes, or until the oats had begun to soften.  Worked like a charm.

These baked up beautifully.  Matthew could hardly wait to try one.  He had his head pressed up against the oven door, cheering his future snack on as they rose and swelled in the heat.  Although I don't know if he could beat Paul's enthusiasm.  My hardworking husband had just come inside from mowing the lawn...and he was sweaty, stinky, and looking for food.  He must have devoured about three of these muffins before pitifully whining about the fact that he had burnt the roof of his mouth.  Biting into a muffin fresh out of a piping-hot, 400-degree oven will do that to you.  He'll never learn.

My Paul, in muffin heaven.

The whole pan was gone by the end of the day.  Paul and Matthew were fighting over the last muffin, so Paul decided to go all "King Solomon" on us and split the muffin in half so they both could enjoy it.  Matthew freaked as he watched the muffin being mutilated and refused to eat his half.  So, clever Paul got to enjoy the whole muffin.  I think he planned that one.  In order to avoid a family schism, I might have to make another batch of muffins.

Wheat Montana Oatmeal Carrot Muffins
adapted from The Wheat Montana Cookbook

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins or cranberries)
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup flour (wheat or white)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cranberries and milk.  Stir well, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Alternatively, if you don't have the time to wait, combine everything in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on 50% power for 3-4 minutes, or until the oats have softened a bit but all the milk has not been absorbed.  Let cool as you gather the remaining ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together the carrots, sugars, oil, eggs, and orange peel.  Stir into the oat mixture.  Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Stir into batter just until moistened.  Spoon batter into a greased, 12-cup muffin tin.  Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins bounce back when lightly pressed.