Thursday, December 31, 2009

Freezing Left-Over Buttercream Frosting

Having left-over frosting is almost a given when I make a cake. Running out of frosting in the middle of decorating a cake is a very bad thing, so I'm always sure to make plenty. But what to do with the extra? Before I figured out this freezing technique, we would snack on it for a couple of days, smearing it on graham crackers or left-over cake-top. But you can only do that for so long, and then the frosting would end up getting old and thrown away.

I found if I freeze the frosting, it will stay good for up to 3 months (any longer and the flavor suffers). I simply use my biggest cookie scoop (muffin-size) to scoop the frosting onto waxed paper, and then put it in the freezer until the frosting is hard. Then I transfer the frozen frosting to a freezer zip-top bag, and put it back in the freezer. Having frosting in the freezer is awesome when you want to make some quick cupcakes, and my kids love to have it for dessert with graham crackers.

To use the frozen frosting, take the frosting balls out of the bag, put them in a bowl, cover them with plastic wrap, and let them thaw at room temperature. Give the frosting a gentle stir to restore the spreadable consistency, and you're in business.

Note: I've only done this with my buttercream frosting, which is made with butter and shortening. I don't think this will work with other buttercreams that are made with meringue, etc.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 New Year's Resolution

2010 is only a day and a half away (weren't we all supposed to be in flying cars by now?), and I've been thinking about what I'd like to do with my blog and my book over the next 12 months. Of course I want to keep bringing you great recipes, but I also want to take it to the next level, though I'm not sure what that means. I also want to get moving on my book, so look for more information on that.

As far as Bake-Off Flunkie New Year's Resolutions go, here it is: I going to stop neglecting my Facebook page. I just looked at it, and my last post was from May 26. Wha?! How did that happen? Yikes! So bring your friends, my Facebook page is going to be a happenin' place!

Click here to become a fan!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Russian Teacakes

One of my sisters is 6 years older than me. I can remember watching her make plates of cookies for her friends--the plates lined up on the table, and my sister adding one variety of cookie after another. I was probably 13 or 14 (?) at the time, and it was amazing to me. One of the cookies she made was shaped like a crescent and covered in powdered sugar. I didn't know what they tasted like, but I loved them.

On and off over the many years since I've wondered about the cookies, but never went the extra step to actually try to find out what they were (like ask my When I came across this recipe from Lori of All The Splatters (a great blog), I was intrigued; given a different shape, these looked like the cookies from my sister's cookie plates. The recipe seemed nice and easy, and I decided to take the plunge. I'm so glad I did! These little cookies are bites of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, and they slip right down before you realize you've eating 5. Now that's a good cookie.

I followed the recipe exactly except I decreased the butter a little to adjust for my higher altitude.

Note: A well-founded warning from Lori: don't inhale with this cookie in your mouth. The coughing and choking fit that will ensue takes time that could be spent eating more cookies.

Russian Teacakes (adapted from All The Splatters)
Printable Recipe

2/3 cup toasted nuts (I used walnuts)
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 cup butter, room temperature (original recipe: 1 cup)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup powdered sugar

1. To toast the nuts, heat a dry skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the nuts and toast them, stirring frequently, for 5-8 minutes. Cool the nuts (this actually takes a while, so plan accordingly).

2. Put the cooled, toasted nuts in the bowl of a food processor with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Run the machine until the nuts are finely ground and are the texture of dry bread crumbs. Set the mixture aside.

3. In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla, mixing well. Add the remaining flour and the salt, and mix well. Add the nut mixture and mix on low until they are well incorporated. Cover the dough and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour.

4. Heat your oven to 350, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a small cookie scoop (or a tablespoon) to form the dough into walnut-sized balls.

5. Place them about 2 inches apart, and bake them for 12-15 minutes, or until just starting to brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven and cool for only 3 minutes (they need to be warm for the powdered sugar to stick).

6. Sift the remaining powdered sugar into a medium bowl (don't skip the sifting), and gently roll the warm cookies in the sugar. Put the coated cookies on a piece of parchment paper to cool completely. I put my cookies on a wire rack, and they ended up sticking :(

7. The powdered sugar will melt and form a coating on the cookie, so if you want a more powdery look, sift some extra sugar over the top after the cookies have cooled completely. Also, don't move the cookies until the coating has had a chance to dry, or harden, or you'll end up with fingerprints on your cookie (not as cute).

Makes about 36 cookies.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pan-Roasted Green Beans

Fresh green beans are so wonderful, and pan-roasting them is a fast, easy way to bring out their flavor. I've added some onions for even more flavor. When I trim my green beans, I trim the stem-end only, and leave the cute curly end.

I've made these two different ways: slightly steaming them first, and not slightly steaming them first. The results are the same, just faster if you steam them first. I recently served these with my Braised Beef Chuck Roast.

Pan-Roasted Green Beans
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb fresh green beans
1 small onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot (about 2 minutes). Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the green beans and onion, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add 1/3 cup water, cover the pan, and steam for 5 minutes, or until the water evaporates (if there's still water after 5 minutes, uncover the pan and simmer the water off).

2. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring very often, for 10-15 minutes, or until the beans are al dente, and slightly charred, and the onions are caramelized and very brown. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately.

Makes 4 side servings.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Braised Beef Chuck Roast

This is one of the easiest, best tasting beef meals you will ever make (and your house will smell divine). By wrapping the roast in a foil packet you create a true braise: slowly (this cooks for 4 hours) cooking a piece of tougher meat, completely surrounded by a small amount of liquid, turning the meat into a delicious, tender dream.

This is best made with a bone-in roast, though I had to use boneless this time. Serve it with lots of mashed potatoes to soak up the yummy sauce.

Braised Beef Chuck Roast (adapted from Alton Brown ages ago)
Printable Recipe

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
6 cloves garlic, pressed
1 2-1/2 to 3 lb bone-in chuck roast

1. In a medium bowl (I used a 4-cup glass measuring cup), combine everything except the roast; mix well.

2. Make the foil packet: Tear a large sheet of heavy-duty foil (mine was about 18x18) and put the roast in the center.

Bring up the top and bottom edges....

...and fold them over 3 or 4 times.

Fold up both sides 3 or 4 times.

Very carefully unfold the top (you will have to unfold all of the folds a few times) and pour in the vinegar-tomato paste mixture. Refold everything and put the packet in a baking dish to catch any leaks (and there will be some leaks).

3. Heat your oven to 325. Bake the roast for 4 hours. Let it rest for 10 minutes before you open the packet.

4. Use tongs to take the meat out of the packet, transferring it to a cutting board or plate, and cover it with foil. The meat will come apart in large pieces when you try to pick it up....oh, yeah...

5. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve (you might have to press it through) to make a sauce. Slightly pull the meat apart with a fork and serve it with the sauce.

Serves 4-6 people.

That's what I'm talkin' about...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing

Gingerbread cookies are one of my top 3 favorite cookies. I just about died the whole time I was baking the pieces for my Gingerbread Castle because my house smelled so good. But since no one was going to eat the house, I wasn't exactly careful with the dough (some of it dropped on the floor, my dogs got some of it, I didn't make sure my hands were clean, that sort of thing). So I didn't dare make any of it into cookies (that and I didn't add baking powder to the dough I used for the house). So I promised myself, and my husband, that I'd make gingerbread cookies before Christmas. It ended up being Christmas Eve, but better late than never, right? Besides, Santa was very pleased with our offering ;)

This recipe is actually an adaptation of the dough I used for the house. You can use the house dough to make cookies (add some baking powder), but I remembered thinking the dough was pretty soft and greasy. For the house I baked the pieces until they were very brown and crisp, so the soft, greasy didn't matter. But for cookies I needed a dough I could cook until just barely done so the cookies would be soft. And I wanted to use butter instead of shortening in cookies I would eat (trans fats and all that).

Gingerbread Cookies
Printable Recipe

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, can be cold
1/2 cup mild molasses
1 egg
Royal Icing for decorating (see below)

1. Heat your oven to 375, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.

3. Combine the butter and molasses in a medium pot. Heat it over medium heat until the butter is half-way melted, stirring often. Remove from the heat and whisk until the butter is melted completely. While whisking, add the egg, and whisk the mixture until the egg is completely incorporated (this is important to keep the egg from cooking in pieces in the hot butter-molasses mixture).

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough to about 1/4-inch thick (mine was a little less than 1/4 inch). Use a cookie cutter to cut your shapes, remove the excess dough from around the shapes, and use a metal spatula to move the cut-outs to the prepared baking sheets.

5. Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until they are puffed and not shiny anymore, but not starting to brown around the edges. Let the cookies sit on the pan for about 3 minutes, and then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. If you're not going to decorated the cookies right away, store them, neatly stacked to prevent breakage, in a zip-top bag (make sure to squeeze out as much air as possible). You can freeze them for longer storage.

This recipe made 24 4-inch X 2 1/2-inch cookies. You can easily double the recipe for more cookies.

Note: I used 6 tablespoons of butter, instead of 1/2 cup, as an adjustment for my high altitude. If you live at lower altitudes, feel free to use the whole stick of butter.

Royal Icing

1 lb (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue
6-8 tablespoons cold water, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer running on low, and 6 tablespoons of the water, 1 tablespoon at a time; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the vanilla and mix on low for 30 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix until stiff peaks form, 7-10 minutes (stiff peaks are when you hold up your beater and the pointy "peak" of frosting doesn't droop). With the mixer running on low, add the remaining water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you get the consistency of marshmallow fluff (don't add more than 2 more tablespoons unless you're going for a thinner icing). Keep the icing covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap to keep it from developing a crust.

For these cookies I used a plastic disposable decorating bag and a #3 decorating tip. If you're decorating with small kids, I've found it works great to put the icing in a plastic squeeze bottle (usually sold for making chocolates). My 2 year-old can even decorate with us with almost no mess when I use a squeeze bottle for her icing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Taco Soup

It's Christmas Eve, and I have a terrible head cold. Someones horrid sense of humor? Who knows, but I'm feeling pretty awful. I really wanted some soup last night, but I needed a recipe I could make fast. I ended up making this Taco Soup. It's very fast, very easy, and very filling (and didn't require very much thought). I also loved it because everything came from my pantry (except the sour cream). If I'd had some cilantro in the fridge I would have added a few tablespoons of that at the end, too. I made some cornbread and called it dinner.

You can use store-bought taco seasoning, but I used the homemade taco seasoning I got from Closet Cooking. I was surprised how spicy the soup was, since when I use it for taco meat it doesn't seem especially spicy. The spicyness made my daughter's nose run, but it was great for me because it cleared up my stuffy nose for a few minutes. And that was very nice :)

Taco Soup

1 lb lean ground beef
1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 recipes homemade taco seasoning, see below (or 2 packets taco seasoning)
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn
2 32-oz cartons chicken broth
sour cream, if desired

1. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add ground beef, and cook and crumble it until it's no longer pink; drain any fat. Add the onion and cook until it's softened, about 5 minutes. Add the taco seasoning, mixing it in well, and cook for 2 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, corn, and chicken broth. Bring it all to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with the sour cream.

Note: this made a giant pot of soup, and was great for left-over lunch today. If you want less soup, you can easily halve the recipe.

Closet Cooking's Homemade Taco Seasoning
(use 2 recipes for this soup)

1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons flour (this is my addition)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins

I love having bananas that need to be converted. I'll often buy the "red tag" bananas (the ones that are very ripe and need to be sold fast) so I can convert them faster. What other fruit does what the banana does? When perfectly ripe it's a healthy, tasty snack wrapped in it's own biodegradable packaging, and when over-ripe we use it to make yummy baked goods like banana muffins, banana bread, banana pancakes...The perfect fruit? Quite possibly.

These muffins are very quick and easy to put together. If I have enough banana I like to make a double batch and freeze some to keep for later (they make a great quick breakfast or snack for my kids).

Note: I learned a great way to get a good, even mash on the bananas from my sister (she says she learned it from her mother-in-law): peel them, put them on a plate, and then use a fork to press and mash them against the plate. I used to put them in a zip-top bag and use my hands to mash the banana around in the bag, but my sister's plate method does a better job of getting the little lumps.

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Printable Recipe

1/3 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup mashed over-ripe banana (about 3 medium)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips (or more if you want)

1. Heat your oven to 350, and spray or line a 12-muffin pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and milk, and mix well. Add the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and mix well. Add the banana, flour, and chocolate chips, mixing well after each addition.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cavities (I use a muffin scoop), and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (a few moist crumbs clinging to the toothpick are good). Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 3 minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Note: To make a loaf, use an 8x4x2 1/2'ish loaf pan, and bake it for 55-60 minutes, or until done by the toothpick test above.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

OK. Sometimes you just need a chocolate chip cookie. Nothing fancy, just an ooey, gooey, chocolate-oozing cookie. It seems like most people have their favorite recipe, and this is mine. When I moved from California to Utah my recipe didn't work anymore, and I was shocked and horrified when my first cookies in my new house were as flat as frisbees. It took me a while to figure out the reason was the change in altitude. It took even longer for me to figure out how to fix it. I tell ya, it was a happy day :) Even though this recipe is adjusted for high altitude, it should be just fine at lower altitudes.

Make sure you have an ice-cold glass of milk ready. You're gonna need it.

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
Printable Recipe

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 12-oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

1. Heat your oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium bowl and with a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugars. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the salt, baking soda, and flour. Mix on low until just combined; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium-low until well combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix on low until the chips are incorporated.

3. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, drop level scoops of dough onto the parchment paper 2 inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes or until puffed and just barely set in the middle. They are going to look like they aren't done, but you don't want to cook them anymore or they'll be hard when they cool. Let the cookies sit on the hot pan for 1 minute before sliding the parchment paper (with cookies) off. Cool them as long as you can stand to wait.

Makes about 48 cookies (if you don't eat any dough--I never get 48 cookies).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sausage-Cranberry Stuffing

Growing up I envied the kids on the Stove Top Stuffing commercials whose mom's would call them for dinner and serve up some Chicken and Stove Top (instead of plain, boring Chicken and Rice...remember??) on a random week night. I loved my Stove Top, and looked forward to eating it during our holiday meals.

I still love stuffing, and have (half-heartedly) been looking for a good scratch recipe for several years (Stove Top has MSG and other mystery ingredients--gasp!) About a week ago I got an update from one of my favorite blogs, Noble Pig. Apparently Cathy, too, has been on the stuffing prowl, and had finally produced a winner. Sausage, cranberries, lots of aromatics, and lots of eggs, 11 to be exact. The number of eggs seemed high to me, but there is also 16 cups of bread cubes, and her picture looked wonderful. She is a great cook, so I took the 11 eggs on faith. It was a good move.

I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand (even the bread to make 16 cups of bread cubes), so I made it for dinner a couple nights ago. Yes, for dinner. With the sausage, bread, and eggs, I figured it was almost like a savory bread pudding, right? So we had the stuffing and a nice green salad for dinner. I sort of got away with be a main course I think it needs another pound of sausage. Guess I'll have to try it again ;)

The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons each of fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary. I used 1 tablespoon each dried since I didn't have fresh, and I wanted to make it now. The substitution worked pretty well; next time I might use a skosh more, maybe 4 teaspoons. I also want to try it with the fresh. The only other thing I might change next time is the amount of dried cranberries. They add a delightful tart-sweet counterpoint to the sausage and herbs, and we all agreed that I should put in more next time. Oh, and next time I'll let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or so before transferring it to the baking pan to really let the bread cubes soak up the liquid.

Thanks for a great recipe, Cathy! This one is a keeper :)

Sausage-Cranberry Stuffing (adapted from Noble Pig)
Printable Recipe

16 cups fresh bread cubes, 1- 1 1/2-inch pieces (I used half white French, half wheat French)
1 lb Jimmy Dean 50% less fat sausage (her recipe calls for regular)
1 1/2 cups onion, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon dried thyme (original recipe, 2 TBL fresh)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed (original recipe, 2 TBL fresh)
1 tablespoon dried sage (original recipe, 2 TBL fresh)
3 tablespoons butter (original recipe calls for 6, but I just couldn't)
1 1/4 cups dried cranberries
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
11 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Heat your oven to 350. Spray a 9X13-inch glass baking pan with non-stick spray. Put the bread cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven until they're crisp and dry, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, brown sausage in a large skillet, breaking it up into small pieces (If you use regular sausage, drain most of the fat). Add the onion, celery, and garlic, and cook until until the onion is softened, 5-8 minutes. Add the dry herbs and cook another 3 minutes. Add the butter and cranberries and cook until the butter is melted. Remove from heat.

3. In a (very) large bowl, combine the toasted bread cubes and sausage mixture. In a medium bowl whisk together the chicken broth and eggs until well combined. Add the egg mixture to the bread cubes and sausage mixture and gently toss well to coat the bread cubes evenly. Add the salt and pepper and mix gently. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, then stir it gently one more time and transfer it to the prepared pan.

4. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm.

Cathy adds that you can bake this the night before and then put it in the fridge once it's cooled. To reheat, bring it to room temperature and heat it in a 350 oven for 30 minutes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

These delicious morsels of decadence are one of my sister's specialities. They are so rich and chocolatey, but not too chocolatey. And I love that she cuts them into bite-size pieces. Somehow eating many small items doesn't seem as naughty as eating one large item (I'm allowed to self-delude during the holidays). She made this batch for our Thanksgiving dessert table. They are my 7 year-old nephew's favorite, and he just about melted when she told him she was making them for turkey day :)

Oreo Cheesecake Bites (adapted from the Philly cream cheese package)
Printable Recipe

1 package (33 cookies) chocolate-filled Oreo's, divided
3 tablespoons butter, melted
4 8-oz pkgs cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs

1. Heat your oven to 350. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, and spray the foil with non-stick spray. Coarsely chop 13 of the cookies and set them aside.

2. Put the remaining 20 cookies in a food processor bowl. Process 30-45 seconds or until finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl and mix in the melted butter. Transfer to the prepared baking pan and firmly press the mixture onto the bottom to form a crust.

3. Put cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in food processor bowl. Process until well blended. Add the eggs, and process until blended. Gently fold in 1 cup of the chopped cookies. Pour the mixture over the crust, spreading it evenly; sprinkle with the remaining chopped cookies.

4. Bake for 40 minutes or until the center is just barely set. Cool completely, and then refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight (overnight is best).

5. To cut into squares: use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan. Wipe your knife clean after each cut for nice-looking pieces. (I like using plastic knives because they slide right through.)

Makes about 40 pieces.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

It is cold, cold, cold here in my neck of Utah! The day I made this soup for lunch it was 3 degrees outside when I took my 13 year-old to school. OK, my car readout waffled between 3 and 7 degrees in the 15-minute round trip. It was still in the single digits ;) I don't think it's been that cold ever in the 8 1/2 years we've lived here. Anyway, I needed--NEEDED--soup that day, and this is an idea I've had hanging around in my head for a while. Lucky for me I had everything I needed; well, sort of. I used frozen pureed squash from the store. I really wanted pumpkin, but never got around to making and freezing any this fall. Next year for sure. So I guess the name of the recipe is cheating, but I'm going to do it anyway. Intentions count for something, right?

This was incredibly fast to put together. I think it took me all of 15 minutes. I loved the way the bell pepper was a sweet back-ground flavor and the black beans added a bit of earthyness (it's a word).

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup
Printable Recipe

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 cups pumpkin puree (I used 2 12-oz pkgs frozen pureed squash from the store)
1 12-oz jar roasted red bell pepper
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
sour cream for garnish, if desired

1. In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat for about 60 seconds. Add the onion and cook until it's starting to brown (turn down the heat if it's burning). The bottom of the pot will be covered in yummy browned stuff from the onion. It's a good thing.

2. Add the broth and use a wooden spoon to scrape all the brown stuff off the bottom of the pot. Add the puree, red bell peppers, black beans. Bring it to a simmer and cook it for about 5 minutes.

3. Use a stick (immersion) blender to puree the soup until smooth (or carefully transfer the hot soup to a blender and blend until smooth. To prevent hot splatter, remove the center stopper in the lid and hold a folded towel over the opening while you blend). Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the sour cream.

I'd guess this made about 4-6 servings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Greek Tomato-Feta Fritters

These were my first fritters and I worried the whole time I wasn't doing them right. Are fritters really just pancakes with stuff in them?

I got this recipe from Kevin of Closet Cooking. Kevin consistently posts recipes and pictures that look amazing and delicious. I love that he uses a lot of different whole gains and that he likes to use seasonal produce from his local farmer's market as much as he can. Kevin is awesome, and if you haven't been to his blog, you should go there right after you read this post :)

This is the first of Kevin's recipes I've tried. I love tomato and feta, and having never made fritters before, I was intrigued by the fritterness of them. Funny thing, you know how once you decide to buy a particular type of car you start to see them everywhere you go? After I made these fritters I started to notice fritter recipes all over the web; banana fritters, corn fritters, sweet potato fritters... It was like there was a Secret World of Fritter hidden in plain site, and I'd just never seen it before. Well, I'm in the know now ;)

Before we get to the recipe, I have to share an amusing screw-up on my end. The recipe calls for fine bulgur wheat. When I read it, I saw barley. I had some barley in my pantry, so I threw it into my wheat grinder, and, voila! I had ground barley. It wasn't until much later (days) I realized my rather large mistake. But...barley, bulgur, barley,'s all the same, right? And they were super tasty! :)

Greek Tomato-Feta Fritters (adapted from Closet Cooking)
printable recipe

1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped (he says to peel them, but I refuse to peel tomatoes)
4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
4 ounces crumbled feta
1/4 cup herbs (he suggests parsley, dill, and mint. I used a rounded tablespoon of each one)
2 green onions, sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2 eggs
1/4 cup fine bulgur wheat (or ground barley if you want to live dangerously)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus extra if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a medium bowl, mix together everything except the oil. I ended up using about 1 1/2 cups of wheat flour. Being my first fritter, I wasn't sure what the mixture should look like. I stopped at 1 1/2 cups because it didn't seem to be getting as thick as I thought it would, and I didn't want to keep adding more and have them just taste like flour.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet and heat it over medium heat until hot (to test it, drop a small blob of the mixture onto the pan; it should sizzle and pop as soon as it hits the oil). Spoon the mixture onto the pan and gently spread it to rough round shapes. Make them as big or small as you want; I made mine fairly large, but I think they would make great appetizers if you made them small...a little dollop of tzatziki on top of each one...

3. Cook the fritters until they are golden brown on the first side, 4-6 minutes. Then carefully flip them over and cook them another 4 minutes on the second side. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the pan and repeat with the rest of the mixture. I got 8, 4-inch'ish fritters from the recipe. I served them with my Tzatziki (yum!).

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