Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lentils with Spinach, Potatoes, and Preserved Lemons

I'm not usually a huge fan of lentils, and I often find them rather bland.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, when you add bacon, preserved lemons, and feta cheese, they're no longer bland!  I'm now a huge fan of this lentil soup recipe.  I originally found it about a month ago after I started some preserved lemons.  If you've never made them before, they take about a month of sitting on the shelf (tempting you) before they're ready to use.  Torture!  Luckily, the month was finally up last week and I was ready to give the preserved lemons a try in a recipe.  They're wonderful here, and you could even add more than the amount called for.  They add a fantastic zing to the dish.  You can purchase preserved lemons ready to use, or make your own and wait a month - there are recipes all over the internet which all look pretty much the same.

The bacon added a lovely smoky flavor to the soup, but didn't make it feel "meaty".  If you'd like more of that type of soup, I think sausage or lamb would be terrific here (maybe lamb sausage!).  You could also switch up the cheese, although I found Bulgarian feta to be fantastic.  I discovered this cheese at a local store and absolutely fell in love with it - it's moister, tangier, and more flavorful than the usual feta cheese (especially the kind that's already broken up and sold in plastic tubs). If you can find it, it's a perfect pair for the soup.

Lentils with Spinach, Potatoes, and Preserved Lemons (adapted from The Perfect Pantry, original recipe here)
Serves 6-8

4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small squares
3/4 pound brown lentils
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Olive oil, as needed
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
16 frozen chopped spinach leaves
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely minced preserved lemons
Feta cheese, to serve (preferably Bulgarian feta)

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the bacon and stir occasionally until browned and crisp.  Reserving the bacon fat, scoop out the bacon bits and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
2. Meanwhile, place the lentils in a medium pot and cover with water.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, adding more water as needed so the lentils are submerged in water.
3. While the lentils are cooking, add the onion to the bacon fat in the Dutch oven.  Cook over medium heat until softened and starting to brown, adding more olive oil if needed.  Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.  Add the cilantro and spinach and cook for another 4-5 minutes until everything is nicely softened and combined.
4. Add the lentils along with their cooking liquid and the potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper, undersalting a bit as the preserved lemons will add salt at the end.  Add enough water to cover the ingredients, and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for one hour, until thick and soupy.
5. Stir in the reserved bacon and the preserved lemons. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Pacific Natural Foods.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lemon Sponge Tartlettes

My housemate's boyfriend brought us bunches of lemons from his parents' lemon trees, so I decided to go on the prowl for lemon recipes.  We have a Meyer lemon tree of our own in the backyard, so I wanted a recipe that would really highlight the tarter flavor of these Lisbon lemons.  These lemon tarts were the perfect solution.  Since I only have 4 tartlette pans, I baked half the filling in tart shells and half in greased ramekins (with no pastry crust).  Both versions were very good.  The tarts were obviously a bit more formal and pretty, but the ramekins were delicious as well and highlighted the lemon flavor even more.  They reminded me of lemon pudding cakes with a spongy top layer and a custard-y bottom layer.  Finally, although the original recipe started with an unbaked crust, I think pre-baking the crust is crucial for the smaller tartlettes, which spend less time in the oven than a full-sized pie.  I didn't pre-bake the crust, and while the final result was still tasty, the crust was definitely not as browned and crispy as I would have preferred.

Lemon Sponge Tartlettes (adapted from Bunny's Warm Oven, via The Food Librarian)

6-8 mini tart pans, lined with pie crust and baked until golden brown
3 large eggs, separated
2 T lemon zest
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup milk (low fat ok)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together the egg yolks to combine.  Whisk in the zest, lemon juice, and milk.  Whisk in the sugar, flour, and salt and beat until smooth.
3. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.
4. Pour the lemon mixture into the egg whites and fold together with a rubber spatula.  Carefully pour the batter into the cooled tart shells.  (This may be easier if you transfer the batter to something with a spout.)  The tarts can be filled fairly full without risk of running over the edge.
5. Place the tart pans on a cookie sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown on top and a tester comes out clean.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grapefruit-Yogurt Cake

This cake was inspired by a desperate need to use up some overly bitter grapefruit marmalade.  Some friends and I went on a marmalade-making spree a few weeks ago, which turned out excellently except for the grapefruit variety.  (To be fair, we started with "bitter grapefruits" which are even more bitter than the usual variety, so I guess that makes sense!)  Luckily this cake used up a least some of the marmalade, although the original recipe made way too much glaze (the amounts are reduced below).  The cake has a mild grapefruit flavor with a more intense glaze on the outside, and is very tasty.   It disappeared pretty quickly in our house!

Grapefruit-Yogurt Cake (adapted from Cooking Books, original recipe here)
Makes 1 Bundt cake

2 grapefruits, washed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla

1 Ts unsalted butter
1 T grapefruit juice (from the grapefruits above)
1/4 cup grapefruit marmalade

1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Zest one of the grapefruits and reserve the zest. Juice both grapefruits, and measure out 1/2 cup and set aside.  Reserve the remaining juice for the glaze and for drinks!

2. Grease and flour a Bundt pan and put it in the refrigerator.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. With a standing mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and grapefruit zest together until light and fluffy, about five minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each until they're fully incorporated.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the orange juice, the yogurt and the vanilla. Keep your mixer on low speed and add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry).
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake for about 40 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

6. Make the glaze just as the cake is finishing baking: Melt the butter, 1 T of the remaining grapefruit juice, and the marmalade together in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Remove the cake from the oven and immediately turn it from the pan onto a serving plate. Pour the glaze over the hot cake.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi Day: Thomas Keller's Turkey Pot Pie

I'm getting this in right under the wire for Pi Day!  We made this recipe over Christmas, and I finally managed to get the recipe up.  This is absolutely the most amazing pot pie I have ever eaten.  It seems fussy with cooking all the veggies separately (and I'm still not sure what it does), but I wouldn't want to change a thing given how tasty this was!  The bechamel is incredibly flavorful, and pairs well with all the fillings.  We made a buttery whole wheat crust (50% whole wheat flour, 50% white flour) to go with the pie, which was a nice choice as it stood up well to all the fillings.  We subbed leftover turkey from Christmas dinner for the chicken in the original recipe.  I think this recipe would also be tasty with all veggies if you want to go that direction.  Either way - you must try this!  Even my highly pot-pie-averse dad thought it was pretty good.  :)

Also be sure to check out Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home - this was one of my favorite Christmas presents and I've read it cover to cover at least a few times now!  So it's both a good read and has fantastic recipes (I made the chocolate chip cookies a couple of weeks ago too, although I failed to get a photo - but they were great!)

Turkey Pot Pie (adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller)

Whole wheat pie crust, for top and bottom crust, well chilled

1 cup 1/2-inch pieces red-skinned potatoes
1-1/4 cups 1/2-inch pieces carrots, cut on the diagonal
1 medium white onion, diced
3 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
24 black peppercorns
1-1/2 cups 1/2 inch pieces celery, cut on the diagonal
2 cups shredded cooked turkey

3 T unsalted butter
3 T all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 T finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme
Pinch of cayenne

1 egg, beaten

1. Roll out the dough into two circles.  Place one piece in a 9- or 10-inch pie plate and the second on a baking sheet, and chill until ready to use.
2. Put the potatoes, carrots, and onions in separate small saucepan with water to cover.  Add 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, and 8 peppercorns to each pan.  Bring to a simmer over medium high heat and simmer until just tender, 8-10 minutes.
3. Drain the veggies, discarding the bay, thyme, and peppercorns.  Spread on a baking sheet.
4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Fill a medium bowl with ice water.  Blanch the celery until just crisp-tender, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes.  Drain, transfer to ice bath, and chill until just cold.  Drain and add to the baking sheet with the other veggies.
5. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes, without allowing the mixture to brown.  Whisk in the milk, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until the sauce is thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, 30-40 minutes. Whisk well to assure that the bechamel does not brown.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Strain the bechamel through a fine-mesh strainer.  Season with salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, and cayenne.
7. Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator.  Scatter the veggies and turkey into the pie shell.  Pour the bechamel over the vegetables.  Moisten the rim of the pie shell with some of the beaten egg, and then cover the filling with the top crust.  Press the edges of the dough together to seal, and then crimp by pressing around the edges with the tines of of a fork.  Trim away any excess dough around the rim.
8. Brush the top edge with the egg.  Cut a small vent in the center of the dough.
9. Bake on the lower rack of the oven until the crust is a rich golden brown, 50 minutes to one hour.  If necessary, move the pie to the middle rack of the oven in the last ten minutes to brown the crust.
10. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes.  Cut into 6 wedges and serve warm. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Coconut-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are sort of like a cross between a macaroon and an oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie, and they have all the good qualities of both.  They have terrific flavor and a chewy texture from the coconut, but without that sticky, sometimes overpowering sweetness that macaroons sometimes suffer from.  Plus, of course, they're full of chocolate chips, pecans, and oats, and you can never go wrong with that!  They're seriously addictive, especially if you make itty-bitty cookies like I did.  (It's so easy to say "just one more" when you make two-bite cookies!)

Coconut-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from This Week for Dinner, original recipe here)

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
6 T sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 t baking soda
1 cup flour
2 1/4 old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked cocnut
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Beat the butter and sugars at high speed until fluffy. Add eggs and beat till blended. Beat in vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Add flour and mix at low speed until blended. Stir in oats, coconut, chocolate and nuts.

2. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes before baking.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange spoonfuls of dough on large buttered baking sheets. Bake in upper oven, rotation occasionally, about 12-15 minutes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Meyer Lemon Pound Cake

I made this pound cake in January while visiting my parents.  The flavor and texture were excellent.  Lemon and rosemary made a great combination here, although other herbs would also be tasty.  The crumb was light and delicate...the cake definitely didn't feel like it had two sticks of butter in it and wasn't heavy at all!  The only fault of this recipe was that it was way too much batter for a standard loaf pan.  I filled it almost full and still had lots of batter left over, which we made into cupcakes.  Even so, the cake still rose over the edges of the pan and exploded a bit!  So definitely leave lots of room for it to rise (or just cook these all as cupcakes!)

Here's a slice of the pound cake from a day we took some down to share with my grandmother.  We topped it with a super-simple sauce made of frozen berries and a bit of sugar, cooked on the stove until warm. 

Meyer Lemon Pound Cake (adapted from The Paley's Place Cookbook)
Makes 1 loaf plus 8 cupcakes

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons
2 sticks butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 cup milk

Lemon-Rosemary Syrup
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 large sprigs rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9x5 loaf pans and 8 muffin cups, or spray with non-stick spray.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugar.  Grate the lemon zest into the sugar, and rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers until moistened.  Add the butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  In three batches, add the flour alternating with the milk, and beginning and ending with the flour.
5. Pour the batter into the loaf pan, leaving room for the cake to rise.  Pour remaining batter in muffin tins.  Bake until deep brown and a skewer comes out clean, about 70 minutes.  Keep a close watch and cover with foil if the cake begins to brown too soon.  The muffins will be done sooner than the cake, so check them often.
6. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup.  Combine the lemon juice, water, sugar, and rosemary in a small saucepan.  Simmer over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves, 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.
7. Transfer the finished cake to a wire cooling rack.  Poke holes with a skewer all over the cake.  Brush the cake all over with the lemon syrup.  Let stand ten minutes, then remove cake from the pan and brush the bottom and sides with the syrup.