Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mashed Potatoes with Blue cheese and Thyme

Okay, so things around the Wilde household are a little crazy at the moment. Let’s see if you can keep up… 1. Boyfriend and I are heading to Europe on Thursday, where we will road trip across the continent. 2. Job hunting season is upon us and I have an interview today. 3. I am trying to finish three projects before I leave for my dream job. I’m tired already. So what to eat for dinner when you have no time to make anything? Mashed Potatoes!

Now listen, I’m well versed in nutrition facts (I also work in the fitness industry as well as the lab), I know that potatoes alone do not make a meal. But when you add cheese, then you have dinner.  No, really. Mashed potatoes are easy. If you want to be really lazy you don’t even have to peel the potatoes before cooking them! I found the extra five minutes to do that, because I am not a fan of potato skin, unless they are drowned in cheddar cheese and bacon.

These mashed potatoes are just yummy. And nothing is more satisfying after a long day of packing, chemistrying and stressing, than a yummy dinner. The hint of thyme and the kick of blue cheese make it hard to stop yourself from eating the entire pot.  Maybe just throw down a V8 also, pretend like you're a healthy eater.

On a side note, while boyfriend and I are in Europe I have to decide whether to post the recipes I have stored away on my computer or to share our European vacation.  If you have a preference let me know!  I would be happy to share our destinations, adventures and eats!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Get Creative!

Recently I decided to step outside of my baking comfort zone and joined the Daring Bakers. A group of passionate bakers testing their skills on a series of unusual and tempting desserts. Past challenges have included crafting baked Alaskas, making their own puff pastry and taking on the French macaron. Personally I am very comfortable making cookies, quick breads and muffins. Anything that requires little thought and is tough to screw up. What can I say? I’m busy and muffins are easy!

My first challenge really pushed my skills, not as a baker, but as a decorator. I’ve made sugar cookies for years and years. I remember Christmas break with my mom and brother rolling out dough, stamping out trees, camels and Santas. After a quick trip to the oven our cookies would be ready to decorate. This would usually consist of royal icing, in varying shades of red, blue, yellow and green. Pink candy canes, blue trees and yellow penguins, all very true to reality. What can you expect? I was twelve.

I was hoping that my icing skills had improved over the past fifteen years and that my cookies wouldn’t turn out looking like something a kid had done. With the directions provided by Mandy (from What the Fruitcake?!), I think I came out with a success! The key to these cookies is patience. Set aside the time to allow for good chilling. You don’t want to roll out room temperature dough, it just won’t work. If the cookies are too warm, then they will puff up in the oven and lose their shapes!

So dust off your cookie cutters, buy a few zip-top bags and get baking! Push your comfort level and you might just surprise yourself.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Best Banana Bread

I seem to have made a lot of fruit breads recently. Apple cake Wednesday, banana bread today! Some people like apples, and some like bananas, gotta try to make everyone happy! Personally, I am a big banana fan. I start my morning, everyday, with a banana. It could be with cereal, a muffin, pancakes or just milk. The main dish is ever changing, but the banana remains. Unlike some picky people, I will eat a banana at most stages of ripeness. From once it turns mostly yellow (green around the edges is okay) until it is almost overwhelmed with brown spots, I’m going to eat it. There is a line that I just won’t cross, that last banana inevitably turns completely brown. I won’t touch it and into the freezer it goes.

I have several single bananas in the freezer, waiting to be baked into tasty treats. I find that freezing the bananas leads to a creamy texture in the final bread. Freezing them slightly breaks down their cellular structure and makes them easy to mash (just be sure to let them thaw in a bowl). You could even buy some bananas just for the purpose of baking them! Toss them in the freezer once they turn yellow and a few days later they are ready for baking!

This particular recipe has its healthy quotient bulked up with its use of whole wheat flour and Greek yogurt. I also love to bake them in mini loaf pans, that way your serving looks so much bigger! And if you can’t stop yourself from eating the whole thing, you only had three servings… Excuse me now, I have to go eat a loaf of banana bread.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Apple cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

I love apples. I even have photographic proof of my deep and enduring love of apples.

Notice how the woman behind me looks on with disgust of my apple love. Too bad lady, I’m hugging my apples. They were so perfect. Right off the tree, hand-picked by me. Jonathan, McIntosh, Honeycrisp and red delicious, these were all keepers. My ten pound bag of apples would be turned into crisps, pies and sauces. They would be eaten fresh and with each bite, a loud crunch. Ten pounds of apples to enjoy into the cooler months of the year.

I also love picking apples. It is just a wonderful way to spend a crisp Saturday morning. Wandering the rows of the orchard you seek out the best, brightest, freshest fruit. You reach high to get that just out of reach red jewel. You climb up the tree (shhh, don’t tell) and finally have the one you were looking for. Oh, wait, there’s a hole in that one. Never mind. That one goes on the ground.

Once you’ve filled your bag full of delicious apples (and you’ve eaten a few along the way), it’s time to bring them home. But what do you start with when faced with ten plus pounds of apples? You must start with this cake. It perfectly shows off the bright apple flavor, while complimenting them with the right amount of spices. Once baked, the cake is drowned in brown sugar frosting. Warm with ice cream, or with a cup of coffee, this cake delivers.

Now I’m down to 8 pounds of apples. You can expect to see several more apple postings in the weeks to come! So head out to your local apple orchard and pick some apples. It’s easy, throw on a light sweater, lace up your hiking shoes and grab the sunglasses. Fall is settling in, and it brought apples.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tahini Chicken

Today we’re cooking with weird foods! So chicken isn’t so weird, but everything else is a little unusual. Growing up we didn’t eat strange foods. Common dinners included tuna noodle casserole, Stouffers lasagnas, spaghetti with red sauce. Very traditional American dinners. I can’t complain, it tasted good, I was well fed, happy childhood dinners.

Looks like a tree branch
It wasn’t until later moving to the Midwest, that I discovered the world of cooking. It sounds strange to say that it took moving to the middle of America to broaden my flavor horizons. Walking down State Street in Madison, you have so many choices for pleasing your palette. In the mood for spice? Try Indian or Mexican. How about a trip to the Mediterranean? Greek gyros or Italian pastas to satisfy. Why not try something totally different? Stop at the Ethiopian or Laotian restaurant.

Tahi-what now?
It took a few years, but my cooking eventually changed into a more international smorgasbord. Starting slowly by dabbling in Mexican dishes, making tacos and chilis. Eventually I bought curry powders and coconut milk. Then it came to the most unusual ingredients. You know what I’m talking about. Those items you see on the grocery store shelf and wonder what they are for. Strange and weird looking produce, canned goods with crazy names and spices with overpowering smells.

So today we tackle some of those weird items. Fresh Ginger and tahini. I was always apprehensive to buy fresh ginger, because I assumed it was expensive. In reality, for the amount that you need, it will probably cost you fifty cents. It is also a little crazy looking. Fear not! All you need to do to use ginger is peel it. Using a soup spoon, peel off the top layer of the ginger, exposing the white root. For the recipe today, simply grate the ginger with a box grater.

Ignore the fact that there are no vegetables, I forgot to buy them...

Tahini is also a little unusual. It is most often used in hummus. Quite simply, tahini is to sesame seeds as peanut butter is to peanuts. A nutty, rich paste that gives this dish excellent flavor. If you have leftover chicken, this dish will take you minutes to put together. Boil up some rice (in your new rice cooker, if you live at my house!) and feed those hungry people asking you “what’s for dinner?” Introduce your kids to these weird ingredients now, and they’ll be cooking you dinner in no time at all.

Meet the new member of the family.  I love it unconditionally.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Light and Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes

Okay, I know that I wrote about pancakes last week, but I have a pancake problem. Since it is Saturday morning I feel like it is an appropriate time to talk about pancakes once again. This way you will be prepared for Sunday morning. And with these pancakes, your Sunday will start off just right.

I was going back and forth about posting a breakfast, dinner or dessert this morning. Actually, I was planning on posting this yesterday, but then there was bowling, and I got distracted. Let it be said that I am a mediocre bowler. This is very sad, especially since boyfriend is such an excellent bowler.

I progress the same way every time I go bowling. I start off pretty bad, generally keeping the ball in the center of the lane, but only knocking down five or six pins. Toward the end of the first game I am in my bowling groove and nothing can take me down. This was especially true last night when I picked up twenty-nine pins in the last frame.

After bowling for an hour or so I tend to start to lose focus. When bowling with a large group of people I get distracted. I’m like a puppy, running around talking to different people. Since last night was supposed to be a meet and greet, I felt I was doing my job by chatting up everyone. But this butterflying was affecting my game. I peaked in the last frame of my first game and then steadily went downhill. First place in the first game, second last in the second game.

But if my boss asks, our group crushed the opposition. It was a bowling pin massacre. The other groups were amazed at our bowling talent and showered us with confetti and champagne at the end of the games. To celebrate, today I made pancakes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

White Chocolate Cheesecake

There are some days that just aren’t going to work out. When you walk out of your house in the morning to discover it’s colder than you planned for. Shiver, shiver all the way to work… Or when your work project decides that it is going to fail and disappoint you. Grumble, grumble at your desk… Or when you find yourself wishing doom and destruction on your coworkers, just to spread the misery around. This has turned out to be one of those days.

If you were to happen upon me today, depending on the time, you would have found a sad person, a crazy person or even a vengeful person. The crazy person period of time lasted longer than my coworkers appreciated, I’m sure of it. But sometimes you just go off the deep end and you need to take a lap or two before you climb back out.

Luckily things seemed to turn themselves around toward the end of the day. My boss was understanding and we devised a new plan of attack. My coworkers decided not to commit me and waited out my cuckoo crazy hours. And I got a package from UPS! (Doesn’t that always cheer you up?) And on top of all that, I got to come home to this cheesecake.

When I read this recipe I knew I was in trouble. Cheesecake is rich to begin with, so adding a half pound of white chocolate would only make it decadent. Delicious. Very, very heavy! This cheesecake has to weigh at least 5 pounds once completed! I don’t even want to do the calorie count, I just know that I have to run the stairs of my building before AND after I have a slice. I brought half of the cake to work to get it out of my house! Luckily it freezes well, so now I have half a cheesecake (in lovely personal-size slices) in my freezer. No, you can’t come over.

Monday, September 13, 2010

White Chicken Chili

It seems as though fall quickly took over, leaving summer just a memory. It has been so long since I lived in the Northeast that I forgot how quickly those last days of summer disappear. Being caught off guard by a warm day waning into a cool evening. Going to sleep with the windows open and waking up with a cool, crisp air in the house. The sun dipping low earlier and earlier in the day.

I never want to let go of these last few days of summer, but I love these early days of fall. It is this time of year that I want to be able to enjoy the day, outside, in the sun. Yet I also want to bundle up at night, huddled under the covers. I want to eat ripe peaches with warm apple cider. Can I still wear sandals with my long-sleeved shirts?

On a recent cool night I decided it was just fallish enough for chili. I love to make chili. It is the perfect combination of light and filling, ideal for this in between time. I like to make my chili with turkey and cannellini beans, rather than beef and kidney beans. A white chili has a milder flavor that I like to kick up with lots of spices.

This recipe can be doubled or halved, it is incredibly versatile. I’ve made it with chicken, with more beans, with seasoned tomatoes, even with hot peppers. It freezes well, so you can make a big batch and save half for later. So bubble up a pot of chili, pop some corn bread in the oven and get the sour cream ready. Fall is coming, but hopefully this will help make the transition a little smoother.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chocolate Buns

Ask and you shall receive, kinda. So last week I proposed a question, “What sweet should I make next?” With the choices of a. Layer cake, b. cinnamon rolls, c. cookies or d. scones, I knew which one would win. And I was correct. The winner was cinnamon rolls! Of all the choices, I knew cinnamon rolls would be the most work and time intensive. Cookies I could throw down in ten minutes, same with scones. A layer cake would take some time to frost, but maybe two hours tops.

Cinnamon rolls are a yeast bread. This meant that I would have several times to sit and wait, something that I am not good at. The yeast breads that I have made in the past haven’t turned out so well because I get antsy. That dough ball looks doubled in size, right? I need to let the dough rest for how long? Oh boy, now I need to let the dough rise again? I call shenanigans on this recipe!

So this weekend I took on the cinnamon rolls, but I wasn’t in the mood for cinnamon. I was in the mood for chocolate! Here I am, standing in front of my spice rack, trying to figure out what will go well with the chocolate pastry. Then it hits me, the blackberry jam! Mmm, chocolate pastry filled with sweet jam. Perfect.

A little internet search lead me to a chocolate cinnamon roll recipe from Cooking Light. So not only is this delicious, but it’s good for you! (That’s what I’m telling myself, don’t say anything) The recipe just needed a little tweaking, the dough was too wet, the spices wouldn’t work with the jam, but I think we came out with a winner.

The chocolate buns themselves aren’t terribly sweet, so I decided a cream cheese frosting was in order. When is cream cheese frosting not a good idea? Okay, maybe you shouldn’t slather it on your steak, but other than that, pile it on. I’m actually eating a spoonful of it right now, don’t judge.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Broccoli Slaw

Have you ever had something to eat that was so delicious, you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Five years ago I was at a picnic in Madison, enjoying some rare summertime sun. A pot luck event, everyone brought something to share. Being a baker, I brought cookies. Everyone loves cookies. There was something unexpected on the table, a broccoli slaw.

Now I am not usually one for raw broccoli. In fact I find it hard to get down if it’s not cooked. This slaw was surprising. I piled a little on my plate, along with my Boca burger and chips. Trying a little of everything (to be sure I didn’t insult anyone) I filled my plate. After my first taste I was hooked on this slaw. I went back to get more, and more, then I picked up the bowl and brought it to the table so I could continue to graze.

I must have eaten half of the bowl, and then I realized that the person who made it was gone! I didn’t know this person other than a name. I was too busy eating platefuls of broccoli and now the slaw was a mystery!

For years I kept thinking about this dish. I’m not a slaw expert, so I had no idea where to start to replicate the recipe. Finally this year, the craving was satisfied. And because of this, my undying love and devotion go out to Deb from Smitten Kitchen. I can take no credit for this recipe because it was perfect the way it was written. Now with this recipe, I find myself standing by the fridge nibbling from the bowl. At least it’s a vegetable, right?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Peanut Butter Pancakes

I am a pancake connoisseur. It’s true, I have a badge to prove it (just don’t ask to see it!) Like some people are expert wine sommeliers, or perhaps they are professional perfume makers, I am a specialist when it comes to pancakes. Let’s not get confused, I’m not saying that I make the world’s best pancakes. No. What I’m saying is, I’m really good at eating pancakes.

I can say that I’ve had a fair number of pancakes in my life. I’m a big fan of the harvest pancakes at IHOP, and that the pancakes from the Pancake CafĂ© in Madison are amazing. An oven-baked apple pancake is the perfect breakfast to share with someone else and oatmeal pancakes are super filling. The type of pancake that I’ve yet to have an amazing one is the peanut butter pancake.

I’ve gone on a search to find a good peanut butter pancake. It is very hard to get this flavor just right. I’ve had all kinds, from the taste-less to the over-powering. The sad flat peanut butter pancake, riddled with too much fat and the worst, a regular pancake with peanut butter chips, ugh. I thought it was hopeless, so I started experimenting on my own.

I discovered one very important thing, using real peanut butter makes the pancakes too heavy. This is perhaps why the Pancake House in Amherst went with peanut butter chips. But how do you get peanut butter without all the fat? The answer is PB2. Made by Bell Plantation, PB2 is made by pressing peanuts to remove all the oil, and grinding them into a powder. I love it in shakes and decided this was just what I needed to make my own delicious pancakes.

Sure enough, PB2 came through. I was rewarded with peanutty, fluffy, tasty pancakes. Adapting my tried and true pancake recipe to accommodate the additional dry ingredients was easy and resulted in something I am happy to share with you. If you don’t have PB2 (it’s sold in specialty stores and online) you can use regular peanut butter (I’m talking Jif, not fancy natural PB), just cut down on the butter/oil you use. Serve it up with some of that blackberry jam that you made last week (thin it out with a little water on the stovetop) and enjoy. Mmmm, PB&J for breakfast.

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