Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Fresh Peach Muffins

I've been so torn this week between summer and fall. I know we're still in the last days of August. School hasn't even started here yet, and the days still get hot once the clouds burn off. But the mornings and evenings are chilly, and we had rain yesterday morning, and I was excited about it! So I feel like these peach muffins are my parting gift from a summer that has come and gone so quickly.

I've been excited to make these muffins for quite a while now, and they completely lived up to the expectations I set for them. I like jumbo, muffin-shaped cakes that masquerades as breakfast as much as the next person, but I loved that these muffins weren't overly sweet. And I like spongy, artificially flavor baked goods from a box-mix quite a bit, but I loved that these muffins had some heft while still being light. I would have liked more peach flavor, but that is my only complaint. My entire family loved them. We will definitely make them again, and when we eat them, we will be reminded of summer.

This week's recipe from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book was chosen by JoVonn of The Givens Chronicles. You can find the recipe on her blog, or by clicking here.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dinner Club: Summer Favorites

Our second dinner club get-together was hosted by our friends Dave and Marcelle, who chose the theme "Summer Favorites." It was another fantastic meal with lovely surroundings, lively conversation, and great food.

The Menu
If any of my friends ever get around to posting their recipes, I will link to them.
  • crackers, dates, apples, pears, grapes and various local cheeses
  • crostini with green chilies and monterey jack cheese melted on top
  • veggies and spinach dip
  • marcona almonds, fried and salted (very, very delicious)
  • marinated black bean, corn, and shrimp salad
  • fresh corn on the cob (picked that morning)
  • ratatouille so delicious I think we all got the recipe and made it again during the week
  • BLT's
  • homemade ginger beer (puts hair on your chest!)
  • peach cobbler (see recipe below)
  • brown sugar vanilla ice cream made with liquid nitrogen (really awesome!)

Price's Best Peach Cobbler You Ever Had
from Yankee Magazine, July/August 2005
The recipe for this cobbler seems really long and involved, and it is, but in my opinion, it is well worth the effort! The weekend of dinner club this month was really hectic, so I made the biscuit dough and crumble topping the night before. I can't recommend it enough; it made putting the cobbler together a snap!

for the buttermilk cobbler dough:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup unsalted cold butter
1 1/3 cups buttermilk

for the crumb topping:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher slat
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces

for the cobbler filling:
8 ripe peaches
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kirsch
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Begin by making the cobbler dough. In a medium bowl, toss together the dry ingredients. Add butter and cut in with a fork or pastry cutter until mixture has a sandy consistency. Add buttermilk and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Transfer the dough to the refrigerator and chill 30 minutes. The dough can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept, well-covered, in the fridge. Meanwhile, make the crumb topping. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1 cup flour with the other dry ingredients. Add butter and mix on low until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour a bit at a time and mix just until dough has a crumble consistency (you may need less flour). Transfer the topping to the refrigerator and chill until firm. The topping can be made several days ahead and kept, well-covered, in the fridge. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut unpeeled peaches in half, remove the pits, then cut into 1/2-inch slices. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with flour. Add sugar, Kirsch, and lemon juice. Mix well and taste. Depending on the flavor of the peaches, you may need to add more lemon juice or a little more sugar. To assemble, generously butter a round 14-inch ceramic baking dish or a 10-inch Dutch oven. Press the cobbler dough into the bottom of the dish, setting a small amount aside. Layer the peach filling over the dough. Dot with the remaining dough, then top with the crumb mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake until the cobbler is well-browned and the peach juices have cooked off, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool and serve.

Thanks Dave and Marcelle for a great evening!!
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Mom's Banana Apple Bread

Our summer has been filled with family and fun, but a large part of me is glad to be home again, where things are quiet and life has an easy pace. I've missed far too many weeks of Sweet Melissa Sundays recipes; maybe someday I'll find time to go back and make some of those recipes. But, onward and upward! This week's recipe from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book was for Mom's Banana Apple Bread. Now, I have a wicked confession to make: I don't love banana bread. Shocking! It's not that I dislike this beloved comfort food in any way. I just don't ever crave it. When I do make banana bread, it isn't because I think, "Wow. Banana bread sounds really good right now." It's because I think, "Wow. I have almost 100 blackened bananas staring at me from the depths of my freezer." So I make banana bread as a way to use up old bananas, not as a way to satisfy any kind of urge.

Apples are a different story. I love any kind of baked good that involves apples. I think I would eat old cereal boxes if they were covered in sauteed cinnamon apples! The addition of Granny Smith apples sauteed in brown sugar and butter to this recipe put it over the top for me. I ate half the loaf all by myself while it was still warm! I also made several mini loaves to give away, and have already had requests for the recipe! If you'd like to make this delicious bread, visit Joy's blog, Hot Oven, Warm Heart.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

As You Like It Minestrone

I think I've always been a soup person. In my opinion, it is the best of the comfort foods. Creamy soups, chowders, broth-based soups, chilies; I love them all (except clam chowder and chicken noodle--ironic, huh?!). One of the best things about soup is its high level of costumizability. You don't like an ingredient, you leave it out. You want to add something that needs to be used up from your pantry, go ahead and toss it in. This recipe for Minestrone is the perfect example of an "as you like it" recipe. There are parts that should probably stay the same, but the rest is really up to you. When this soup tasted the best it ever has, I added cabbage, snap peas, and summer squash from our garden and some leftover roasted potatoes from the fridge. The key is to make sure you have a nice balance of liquid and other stuff. So if you find that you have too little liquid, add more broth, or even some water. If you have too much liquid, see what veggies you have sitting in your freezer that you can throw in. You really can't go wrong!

As You Like It Minestrone
Make sure that your vegetables have the right amount of time to cook. Anything hard that needs lots of cooking time (potatoes, carrots, etc.) should probably go in right at the beginning. Softer, quick-cooking veggies like zucchini and corn--or anything that has already been cooked--can go in closer to the end.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cans low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can beans, drained (I usually use white beans or red kidney beans)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
a splash of white wine (I don't drink wine, so I have no clue what I'm talking about, but I use a chardonnay from the grocery store)
2 cups cooked pasta (I've done elbows, orzo, shells; just choose something small)
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
the juice from half a lemon
freshly ground black pepper
parmesan cheese to garnish

Heat your olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook over medium heat until the carrots and celery start to get tender, about 10 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and wine. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until all vegetables are tender. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and serve. Serves about 4, but don't hold me to that!
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays Rewind: Snickerdoodles

I feel bad to have missed out on so many weeks of recipes from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. We've had what seems like the craziest summer ever. I finally had the chance to do a little baking this week, and decided to make last Sunday's recipe, snickerdoodles. As with almost every other recipe I've tried from this treasure-trove of a cookbook, the snickerdoodles recipe was a big hit. The cookies were big and chewy, with the perfect amount of cinnamon-sugar coating. We ate them all very quickly, except the "models", which I stuck in a ziplock and forbade anyone from eating until I could find time for a little picture-taking.

My only criticism of the recipe is that I didn't think it had enough cream of tartar. The snickerdoodles I grew up eating had more cream of tartar, and I've gotten used to the little tang it gives the flavor of the cookie. But still, delicious! Thanks to Spike of Spike Bakes for choosing this recipe, which you can find on her blog here.
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Dinner Club: An Italian Feast

For a couple of years now, a few friends and I have been floating the idea that we wanted to started a dinner club. Something small, something intimate, that just a few friends who truly love to cook would be involved in. In July, we finally said, "Enough Waiting!" and got organized. Annie hosted our first "meeting" on Friday, July 31st, in her lovely backyard at the end of one of the worst heat waves our area has seen in many years. She has spent lots of time (lucky girl!) in various parts of Europe, and decided to try and recreate an insane, multi-course meal she had in Italy at some point.

The Menu

  • grilled bruschetta with green olive tapenade, olive oil, and some kind of delicious, homemade tomato stuff
  • oven-roasted eggplant and tomato stacks with fontina cheese
  • casatiellini with rosette de lyon fiore salami and natural, unsmoked provolone
  • caprese salad with red and yellow tomatoes, fresh mozarella and basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper
  • risotto con fagioli--a creamy risotto featuring fresh tomatoes and basil, lots of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and cannellini beans
  • pasta fresca with fresh tomato sauce, basil, and mozarella
  • gnocchi with browned butter and sage
  • basil-mint sorbet made with liquid nitrogen!
  • pork loin stuffed with savory ground pork and fennel
  • poached pears stuffed with sweetened mascarpone cheese and crushed coconut macaroons, served with homemade caramel sauce and cornmeal biscotti
  • Homemade grape juice (I'm not a grape juice fan, but this was so superior to bottled juice!)
If it sounds amazing, it was! We haven't decided what to do for August yet, but I can't wait to find out!

I was in charge of the casatiellini and the risotto. I used Peter Reinhart's recipe for casatiello from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. As many other people have mentioned, this soft, savory brioche is easy and so delicious. My risotto recipe is one I read in Cooking Light (maybe?) many, many years ago and have made lots of times. I was just going to link to the recipe on their website, but I can't find it, so I'm going to go ahead and post it! It is delicious and easy, and actually kind of light and summery. Unfortunately, the party wasn't at my house, and the risotto wasn't the first course, so I felt a little like Jeffrey Saad on The Next Food Network Star serving a gluey, subpar risotto. Oh well! If Jeffrey can do it, so can I!

Risotto Con Fagioli
from Cooking Light, some edition from the late 90's

1 1/2 cups arborio rice (or any medium-grain rice)
2 teaspoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 14-oz cans low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup cooked cannellini beans
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
dash freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Heat oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until just tender. Add rice and cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Bring the broth and water to boiling in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 cup broth mixture to the rice mixture, stirring constantly over low heat, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Continue adding the broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until rice is almost tender, but firm to the bite. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes. During the cooking, adjust the heat as necessary to keep broth at a gentle simmer. Stir in beans, tomatoes, cheese, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Serve immediately! The recipe says it serves 4 to 6. These are big servings!!

Thanks Annie!!
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