Friday, April 29, 2011

Scalloped Potatoes with Fontina, Gruyere, and Cheddar

I made these scalloped potatoes for Easter dinner this year, and they were a huge hit.  The 2030 group from my church (so-named because the members of the group are in their 20s and 30s) had a potluck for all the folks without family in the area.  It was a great gathering with some seriously delicious food - roasted asparagus, ham, Ceasar salad, falafels, fruit salad, biscuits, cheese and crackers, mimosas, green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, chocolate cake, mini cupcakes, and probably more things that I'm forgetting!  Definitely a feast fit for Easter! 

These potatoes were a great addition to the meal.  They're definitely on the rich side, and so they're perfect for a holiday meal.  I loved the combination of the three cheeses - the Gruyere especially added a really interesting dimension to the dish.  The layer of extra flavors - fennel, smoked paprika, and parsley - in the middle of the potatoes also really added something special,  They made this recipe different from your usual scalloped potatoes, without adding much extra work (the fennel can be prepared while the potatoes are simmering).  This is definitely a recipe to pull out your food processor for.  Grate the potatoes and fennel first, followed by all the cheeses - your fingers will thank you, especially if you're making a double recipe as I did (yep, that was 5 pounds of potatoes)!

Scalloped Potatoes with Fontina, Gruyere, and Cheddar (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 8

2-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1-1/4 cups lower-salt chicken broth
1-1/4 cups half-and-half
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 T butter
1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
3 ounces grated Fontina
2 ounces grated aged Gruyere (not smoked)
3 ounces grated sharp Cheddar, divided
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup panko

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter or oil a 3-quart gratin dish or 9x13 baking dish.
2. Combine the potatoes, broth, half-and-half, 1/2 tsp salt, and several grinds of pepper in a large skillet.  Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally and gently with a rubber spatula, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a skewer, 8-12 minutes. 
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet and saute the fennel until tender and browned.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer half the potatoes into the gratin dish with a slotted spoon.  Layer on the fennel, Fontina, Gruyere, and 1 ounce of the Cheddar.  Sprinkle on the smoked paprika and parsley.  Top with the remaining potato mixture, and pour over any remaining liquid from the skillet.
5. Sprinkle the potatoes with the remaining 2 ounces Cheddar cheese, followed by the panko.  Bake until bubbly and browned, and until the potatoes are completely tender, about 30 minutes.  Let the gratin sit for at least 10 minutes (and up to 30 minutes) before serving.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Puppy Crackers

A couple of weekends ago, my boyfriend's housemate had a birthday and decided to hold a Clue party!  It was really fun - we all dressed up as different characters and solved the murder of Mr. Body.  Tim and I were the Greens, who were being blackmailed by Mr. Body for making "organic" doggy biscuits that actually had puppies in them! (The puppies had been poisoned by our new "non-toxic" solar panels.)  Tim had the brilliant idea to make dog-shaped crackers to serve with Cowgirl Creamery's St. Pat cheese (to go along with our "green" theme).  They were a huge hit - really cute and yummy.  The crackers came together very easily in the food processor, and rolled out easily as well.  They were flaky and perfect with cheese.  And the murderer...?  It was Colonel Mustard!

Puppy Crackers (adapted from Cupcake Project, original recipe here)
We made two half-recipes in a mini-food processor, or you can make the full recipe as printed below in a full-sized food processor.  Yield depends on the size of cutter you use and how many times you re-roll the dough.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T canola or vegetable oil
2/3 cup cold water

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the food processor and pulse to combine.
2. Add the butter a few small pieces at a time, and pulse to combine.
3. Add the oil and pulse to combine.
4. Add the water just a bit at a time, pulsing to combine after each addition.  Once the dough starts to form a ball, stop adding water - you will probably not use all of it.  (If your food processor has a feeder tube that allows you to drip in water a bit at a time, this works well.)
5. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible - working in batches as necessary.  Use cookie cutters to cut into crackers.  Transfer to foil-lined baking sheets with a spatula, and prick with a fork or skewer.
6. Bake until the crackers just begin to brown - approximately ten minutes, but will vary depending on the size of the crackers you make and how thin you're able to get them.

Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Colonel and First Lieutenant Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Body, Yvette the Maid, the Greens, and the Peacocks

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Photos from France!

Sorry I've been MIA this past week - I'm finishing up a big draft with my co-author (another grad student in my department) and have been crazy busy, which means my cooking has been more on the order of pb&j and mac&cheese than anything more interesting!  In the meantime, I wanted to share some photos from my trip to Taize a few weeks ago, as promised.

Our trip started out with a long plane flight and then about 24 hours in Paris! I've been to Paris before, but only when I was in high school and so this was definitely really exciting for me!  We visited Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame, and also just did some sightseeing and window shopping...and I managed to eat two different kinds of crepes!

 Sacre Coeur

Beautiful Rose Window in Notre Dame

We then took a boat tour of the Seine to see all the sights from the water, and then ended the evening at a beautiful (but freezing cold) Vivaldi concert at San Chapelle.  The music was amazing!  I was definitely wiped out enough to sleep very well, and then next day we took the train up to Taize.
These are the bell towers that greet you when you arrive.  They ring before each of the services (morning, noon, and evening) to call everyone to prayer.  The prayer itself is in a gorgeous church...I didn't get great photos of it, but my friend Wendy got some great shots one day when it was empty, between services:

Our days started early (for me!) with common prayer (which mostly consisted of singing, with a short Bible reading and 10 minutes of silence) at 8:20 am.  Then we had breakfast, which was often bread, butter, and chocolate!  All of the drinks were "powdered" - powdered coffee, strange sweetened powdered tea, and dry milk.  By the end of the week, though, I'd figure out how to make a pretty awesome mocha with powdered coffee and powdered cocoa!

After breakfast, we met with our Bible discussion groups to discuss assigned passages, put together skits for the other groups, and just generally talk about our spiritual experiences and aspirations.  Here's my group on our last day:

After discussion groups, we had noon-time prayer and then ate lunch together.  There was some free time in the afternoon, followed by group work.  Everyone had different tasks to help the community, like taping ripped songbooks, cleaning the bathrooms, etc. I was really happy to be with a group that worked outside every day, doing physical tasks around Taize to get everything ready for the Easter season.  (While there were around 200-400 people while I was there, that number gets into the thousands during Easter.) 

This is "Cadole", where the outside workers met every day to get their assignments.

 I spent most of my time helping to wire tents like this one for electricity.  I also helped build floors, power washed a giant canvas tent cover, and moved fences.

After work, we had more free time before dinner and evening prayer. At that point, I was usually way too wiped out to do anything but read a little and go to sleep, but one night my friends and I went on a star hike to look up at the sky.  It was absolutely incredible how many stars you could see, being so far away from cities and light pollution.
At various points in the week, we also had the chance to visit some nearby towns.  One of my favorite side trips was to Cluny, where the largest church in Europe once stood.  It was mostly destroyed during the French Revolution, but it's amazing to see what still stands and the ruins and imagine how amazing it must once have been!

We also had some fantastic pastries in Cluny!  The food at Taize was a bit bland, so we were really excited to try some fancy French sweets.  There was one patisserie in particular that we all fell in love with, and we ended up going back three times!

We had to leave in the middle of the night to get a mini-bus back to Paris, where we flew to Philadelphia and then (finally) San Francisco - a really long trip back, but totally worth it!  It was an amazing experience and I'm so grateful for the other wonderful folks on the trip and supporters in the church who made this happen.  I'll leave you with the lyrics of one of my very favorite Taize hymns (which you can listen to here), the words of which have really been a touchstone for me since returning:

God is forgiveness
Dare to forgive and God is with you
God is forgiveness
Love and do not fear


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mexican Polenta Bowl

This is a great variation on my recipe for goat cheese polenta with roasted veggies and fried egg.  I was in the mood for Mexican food for dinner, but I didn't have any tortillas in the house.  So, I figured polenta might be a good substitute.  I was right - it made a perfect base for refried beans, roasted vegetables, salsa, and Cheddar cheese.  You can also use any other ingredients you'd normally put in your tacos - perhaps grilled chicken or seasoned ground beef if you want to take this in a non-vegetarian route.  This dish is comfort in a bowl, and really easy to pull together for any number of servings.

Mexican Polenta Bowl
Serves 1, but easily multiplied

1/2 small bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 small summer squash, chopped into bite-sized chunks
1 large slice from a sweet onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Canola oil
Aleppo pepper salt (or salt and pepper, or salt and red pepper flakes)
1/4 cup polenta
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper
1/2 T butter
1/4 cup refried beans, heated through
Cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the peppers, squash, and onion with the oil and Aleppo pepper salt.  Spread in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, and roast until softened and slightly charred, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, cook the polenta.  Place the polenta in a small, nonstick saucepan along with the milk and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to a low simmer, stirring often.  Add additional water as needed to keep the polenta relatively loose, and cook until softened.  Stir in 1/2 T butter until melted.
3. Scrape the polenta into a bowl.  Top with the refried beans, and then the roasted vegetables.  Top with grated cheese and/or thin slices of cheese, and a few spoonfuls of salsa.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Oatmeal Griddle Cakes with Greek Yogurt and Berries

These whole grain buttermilk pancakes make a fantastic easy breakfast, and probably with ingredients you have around the house (except the buttermilk - but you can always just sour some milk with a bit of lemon juice in a pinch).  They come together quickly, and make a small batch so that you won't be flipping pancakes all morning.  Although they contain mostly whole grains, they don't taste overly heavy at all.  I like to serve them in a slightly less sweet way than normal pancakes, with honey Greek yogurt and berries.  The Greek yogurt is still slightly tart despite the honey, and the rich texture really goes well with pancakes. You can add the berries while you're cooking the pancakes (sprinkle a few on the uncooked side before flipping), or sprinkle them on at the end.

I went with the latter route since I was planning to freeze my extra pancakes for even easier breakfasts during the week.  I definitely recommend this - just cool the first couple of batches on a wire rack (just like baking cookies) and then eat the last batch of pancakes while it's still hot.  By this time, your first pancakes should be ready to freeze.  Wrap them in parchment or wax paper, making sure each pancake is separated by a layer of paper.  Then tuck into a freezer-safe bag, squeeze out the air, and pull out pancakes as needed over the next week.  Just pop them in the toaster for instant breakfast over the next week!  You might want to cook pancakes for the freezer over lower heat so they don't get as brown, since the toaster will definitely make them, well, toastier.  :)

Oatmeal Griddle Cakes with Greek Yogurt and Berries (adapted from Gourmet Magazine)
Serves 2-3 (I got 12 small pancakes, so judge this based on your appetite)

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 large egg
3 T butter, melted and slightly cooled
Spray oil
Honey Greek yogurt and blueberries, to serve

1. Whisk together the oats, flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and butter in a small bowl or 2-cup liquid measuring cup.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and whisk just to combine.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.
4. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat.  When it's hot, spray with oil and then spoon small circle of batter into the skillet, working in batches.  When bubbles appear and break on the top of the pancakes, flip and continue to cook until the tops spring back when lightly pressed.
5. Hold cooked pancakes in a 200 degree oven until all are done, or cool on a wire rack if planning to refrigerate or chill extra pancakes (this will help keep them from getting soggy).
6. Serve with honey Greek yogurt and blueberries.

I'm sending this recipe off to BSI: Breakfast

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jam and Honey Muffins

I had a big muffin craving and this recipe really hit the spot.  I love how they're not overly sweet and that they have a slightly heartier texture from the white whole wheat flour.  These muffins are seriously addictive - definitely hard to stop eating!  I think they're best warm out of the oven, although they hold up well after they cool as well.

I made these muffins with some fantastic jam that my friend Sara and I canned last summer.  I find it a little sweet for sandwiches, but it's perfect for baking in a recipe like this one.  It combines strawberries, raspberries, and a little chocolate liqueur for a truly decadent treat. I think it would also be fantastic on some fancy scones, as a filling for cake, or in homemade danishes. 

Jam and Honey Muffins (adapted from Serious Eats)
Makes 10-12 muffins

4-1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) all purpose flour
4-1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 cup good-quality honey
1/2 cup sweet jam, such as Sundae in a Jar, recipe below

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with oil.
2. Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt.
3. In a separate container, whisk together the milk, oil, vanilla, egg, and honey, making sure that the honey is completely dissolved.
4. Using a rubber spatula, quickly fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined (don't overmix!)
5. Add the jam to the batter and barely fold in so that there are still streaks of jam through the batter.
6. Divide the batter among the muffin tins (you may get 10 or 12 muffins - play it by ear).  Bake until nicely browned and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Run a knife around each muffin while they are still warm to make sure they don't stick (the jam will get stickier as it cools). 

Sundae in a Jar (from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)
Makes 6-7 half pint jars

2-1/2 cups crushed strawberries
1-1/3 cups crushed raspberries
6 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin (such as Certo)
1/3 cup chocolate liqueur

1. Combine the berries and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often.  When the berries come to a full rolling boil, boil 1 minute, stirring constantly and vigorously.  Remove from heat.
2. Immediately mix in the pectin and liqueur.  Stir slowly for 3 minutes and skim off any foam that forms.
3. Ladle jam into jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace.  Screw on lids, and then store in the fridge or freezer, or process in a boiling water bath for five minutes for longer storage.

 I love this photo - the muffin looks like a rocket about to take off!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sesame Steak Salad with Asian Pears

This steak salad has a long list of ingredients, but it's fairly easy to pull together - mostly they just get whisked together or chopped and tossed into a salad.  I love all the different components of the salad - peppery radishes, sweet and crunchy Asian pears, soft lettuce, and a little bite from the scallions.  And the dressing is delicious - it has good sesame flavor and a nice balance of richness and acidity.  Plus, it's hard to go wrong with topping your salad with steak!  The marinade for this steak was absolutely delicious and added a lot of flavor to an already flavorful cut of meat (We used flat iron, but something like sirloin or strip steak would be fine too).  The marinade did burn in the pan a bit (especially the parts that ran off into the oil rather than sticking to the steak), as I note below, but the steak was none the worse for the wear.  This one is definitely a winner!

Sesame Steak Salad with Asian Pears (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 2-3

1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
3 T mirin
2 T fresh lemon juice, divided
1-1/2 T soy sauce, divided
1 T toasted sesame oil, divided
Salt and pepper
3/4 pound flat iron steak, cut into two pieces and tendon removed (the butcher should do this for you if you ask)
1 T rice vinegar
1 tsp fish sauce
1 T sesame seeds
Vegetable oil
1/4 small seedless cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium Asian pear, about 8 ounces, thinly sliced
1 scallion, green parts sliced on the diagonal
2 romaine hearts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 radishes, thinly sliced

1. Whisk together the garlic, ginger, mirin, 1 T lemon juice, 1 T soy sauce, 1-1/2 tsp sesame oil, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a container large enough to hold the steak comfortably.  Add the meat, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar and fish sauce, along with the remaining 1 T lemon juice, 1/2 T soy sauce, 1-1/2 tsp sesame oil, and 1 T sesame seeds.  Set aside.
3. Cool the steak.  Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.  When it shimmers, remove the steak from the marinade and add it to the pan.  Cook until rare or medium rare, flipping the steak once.  Keep a close eye as the marinade has a tendency to burn (but don't worry too much if it does - ours burned quite a bit when it hit the parts of the pan around the steak, but the steak itself remained un-burnt and super yummy).
4. Remove the steak to a plate and cover with foil.
5. While the steak rests, combine the cucumber, pear, scallions, romaine, and radishes in a salad bowl.
6. After the steak has rested for at least 5 minutes or so, slice it thinly against the grain.  Toss the vegetables with the salad dressing and top with the steak.