February 26, 2010

Eggplant & Fennel Calzones

prepared pizza dough
2 Italian eggplants, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
3 tablespoons Parmesan
1 tablespoon minced basil
1 tablespoon minced oregano
freshly ground black pepper

warm tomato dipping sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the eggplant slices in single layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until they are soft and cooked through but not browned. Allow to cool slightly. Turn the oven up to 400. In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, Parmesan, and mozzarella. Divide the dough into 8 equal chunks for individual (about hand sized) calzones or 4 equal chunks for larger calzones. Roll each one into a 5-6 inch round. Add a single layer of fennel and then 2 (or 4) tablespoons of the cheese mixture and top with slices of eggplant in one half of each round, leaving a 1/4 inch border. Fold the dough over to form a half moon shape and pinch shut. Repeat until all are filled and pinched shut. Bake on a pizza stone or on baking sheets for about 20 minutes or until golden and hot all the way through. Serve immediately.

Refrigerate leftover calzones in an air tight container or resealable bag overnight. To reheat: allow them to sit on the counter while the oven preheats to 350. Bake until cooked through.

My thoughts:
I found some lovely Italian eggplants and a pristine bulb of fennel at, of all places, H Mart, and immediately began trying think of interesting and new ways to use the two together. I can't say that calzones leapt immediately to mind but I had ricotta and mozzarella and of course, flour and yeast so I thought I'd give it a shot. I am glad I did, it was so good! Slightly more upscale and subtle and the usual calzone.

I discovered the baking the eggplant trick when I was developing recipes for my upcoming cookbook and it really does result in a velvety texture in the final dish. The fennel stays somewhat crisp but not so crisp that when you bite into it the fennel falls out of the calzone and burns your chin.

February 24, 2010

Cubanelle & Black Bean Pork Chili

2 1/2-3 lb pork tenderloin, cubed
30 oz diced tomatoes, drained
15 oz canned black beans, drained
5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 (large) cubanelle peppers, diced
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon hot Mexican style chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle
1/2 teaspoon ground jalapeno
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Heat oil in a nonstick pan. Saute the pork until just browned. Add to a 4 quart slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients. Stir. Cook on low 8 hours. Stir prior to serving. I like to sprinkle it with a bit of sharp cheddar and diced onions when I serve it.

My thoughts:
I don't know about you but I am so tired of winter. A lot of it comes from having two blizzards in less than a week and living in a city that just doesn't plow the side streets making it impossible to leave. I have to admit, even in a "good year" I don't enjoy snow or winter very much. Pretty much the only "cold weather" food I can stand to see right now is chili. No matter how many times I make it, I can always enjoy chili. This variation uses my favorite mild but peppery chile, the cubanelle and a mixture of spices for a chili that is not terribly hot but not so mild that spice lovers would turn up their noses at it. Since it is made in the slow cooker, it can not be easier to make. I measure out the spices and stick them in the (unplugged) slow cooker overnight and chop all of the vegetables and refrigerate them overnight as well so all I have to do it saute the meat and add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker in the morning. Easy peasy.

February 22, 2010

Broccoli-Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided use
1 1/4 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar
1/2 cup milk
1 medium onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 head broccoli, cut into florets (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and celery and cook until the onions and shallot are soft and translucent. Do not let them brown. Add the cauliflower, spices and 2 cups stock. Bring broth to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and easily cut, stirring occasionally. The broth will not totally cover the cauliflower but don't worry- stirring will be enough to ensure the cauliflower cooks through.

Using a regular blender or immersion blender, blend the cauliflower mixture until very, very smooth and creamy. If you are using a regular blender, you will probably have to do this in steps so pour the blended soup into another large pot as you go. If using an immersion blender, you can blend the soup right in the same pot. Once blended, add the milk, remaining stock, vinegar and broccoli. Return to heat and allow to simmer until the broccoli is fork tender. Pulse the blender until the soup is mostly smooth. Stir in the cheese and serve.

My thoughts:
I love the idea of broccoli-cheddar soup more than I actually like the soup itself. It is just a little too rich for me. I've seen "light" versions of the soup but they all seem to call for reduced fat cheese (blah) or using milk which I think makes the soup too thin. I remembered how creamy this cauliflower soup was that I made (could it really be four years ago?) and posted. That soup was rich and creamy but the body of the soup came from the cauliflower, not heavy cream. Why couldn't I use pureed cauliflower as a base for a broccoli soup? I experimented and I have to say, the results were great. The cauliflower blends into a smooth, creamy soup that has a rich, thick mouthfeel without the need for heavy cream and unless you were told, I don't think most people would guess that the "secret ingredient" was cauliflower. The broccoli and cheddar flavor is much stronger and of course complements each other just as it does in the full fat versions.

February 19, 2010

Rachel's Ultimate Crab Dip

16 oz blue crab claw meat
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sharp cheddar
2 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1 shallot, minced

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients EXCEPT the cheddar cheese until they are evenly distributed. Or, if you are like me and you hate mincing yet don't want any chunky shallot bits in the final dip or want make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated, place all of the ingredients EXCEPT the cheddar and crab in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Then stir in the crab.

Spread into a 8x8 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cheese in an even layer. For bonus points, shake a bit of Old Bay on top of the cheese.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Serve warm with crackers, pretzels, bread wedges, or plain Utz chips. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers. Bake @ 350 for 10 minutes or so to reheat. I don't recommend microwaving.

Note: For this recipe, quality reduced fat sour cream and cream cheese will work just fine.

My thoughts:
Crab dip is serious business here in Baltimore. We are a people who like our (blue) crabs and our cheesy dips. Growing up, my family didn't do much in the way of entertaining and well, crab is pricey so we didn't make it but I loved having friends whose families would make it for holiday parties and such. Of course, it has been on the menu of nearly every locally owned restaurant and pub at some point or another. I think if it doesn't make an appearance on the menu at least once, your food permit gets yanked.

Anyway, for the perfect crab dip you need, crab, some sort of combination of cream cheese, mayonnaise (or occasionally straight mayonnaise, no cream cheese), shredded cheese and lots of Old Bay. Beyond that I've had versions with garlic or garlic powder, onions or shallots, mustard, Parmesan cheese, and crab meat of every variety of from lump to backfin. I like to use claw because it has a flavor that is stronger than lump meat (but still sweet and not "fishy") and has a good mix of big chunks and smaller bits of crab. I like how the crab is distributed in the dip if you use claw or even backfin, with jumbo or regular lump you end up occasionally getting a bite that is entirely crab free. Not a problem with the claw.

When I set out to make the ultimate crab dip I had some parameters in mind. It had to be thick, creamy but not too mayonnaise-y, and spiced but not overpoweringly spicy. I am a sour cream addict so I always have to add that to my dips. I think the slight tang keeps the dip from tasting too rich or cloying. The trick is not to use too much or the crab will be spread too thin. You want a dip that is thick with crab meat. I like the crab flavor to be the star so I only put a thin layer of cheddar on the top (not mixed in as I've seen in some recipes) and just enough spices to accent the crab flavor, not overwhelm it. I always use extra sharp cheddar but a mix of cheddar and Monterey Jack (in a 2:1 ratio) is a good variation.

Crab dip is so popular here in Baltimore that it actually has spawned a spin off appetizer, the crab pretzel, which isn't quite as common but perhaps it should be, it is sort of a twist on the dip in the bread bowl fad of 30 years ago and is oddly satisfying.

February 17, 2010

Basil & Olive Oil Cornbread

2 cups flour
2 cups cornmeal
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or spray one standard loaf pan or mini loaf pan that makes 4 one cup loaves. In a medium bowl, whisk together the basil, cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, sugar and salt. Beat in the egg, buttermilk and oil until well combined. Pour into pan and bake 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
My thoughts:
I've gone mini loaf crazy after buying my pan this winter. I love being able to make a set of loaves and having one to eat (you can get quite a few servings out of one loaf) and three more to freeze or to give to friends. It really solves the food blogger problem of making food one day then trying another recipe the next day, you end up overwhelmed with leftovers. You could freeze half a loaf but the mini loaves are just perfectly sized and defrost well. Anyway, generally I a bit of a cornbread purist but I can't help but experiment. I love using olive oil in baked good when it makes sense and adds something to the final dish. In this bread, as in with lots of Italian food, olive oil pairs well with basil, and adds a fruity note. I liked the contrast of the earthy basil and the sweet corn a lot, it is a combination I will have to explore some more.

February 15, 2010

Blueberry-Balsamic Slow Cooker Pork Ribs

2 pounds boneless pork ribs
3/4 cup chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/3 cup blueberry jam*
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon mesquite liquid smoke
1 teaspoon thick Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ginger juice
2 teaspoons ground chipotle
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground jalapeno
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced

Rub both sides of the pork with the chipotle, salt and pepper. Quickly brown on each side in a nonstick skillet. Place in a (preferably oval) 4 quart slow cooker. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour over the ribs. Cook for 8 hours.

*I used yummy Spoon NYC jam which is just sugar + blueberries and has really true blueberry flavor.

My thoughts:
This is a great weeknight meal, you are basically making a simple barbecue sauce (which can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight) and pouring it over the meat and then walking away. The pork stays juicy and the sauce hits that perfect not too sweet with a bit of a kick balance. I love using jams as a short cut to flavor in quick barbecue sauces, it adds a not too sweet, fruity flavor without a lot of effort or adding sugar. Not to mention that adding jam helps me use up all of the jams I seem to accumulate/compulsively buy but since I don't actually eat jam or jelly or preserves on toast or bread or whatever people eat jam on I end up with piles and piles of them, unopened and wasting their potential. I tasked myself with finding alternative uses for them and found that barbecue sauces were a surprisingly good fit. Jam is especially great in the slow cooker because one of the potentially tricky bits associated with slow cooker is that nothing evaporates while cooking, so you need ingredients that will add some moisture/flavor but that won't give off so much liquid things become soup or need to be reduced. You can drain off sauces and reduce them in a pan but that sort of defeats the one pot, ready-to-eat charm of the slow cooker. Jam is thick enough that it doesn't really water anything down but provides much needed moisture. And you should believe me because I, um, wrote the book on slow cooking. (How long have I been waiting to make that joke?)

February 12, 2010

Banana Cocoa Nib Oatmeal Muffins

2 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups flour
1 cup mashed overripe banana
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, at room temperature (I used 0%)
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons cocoa nibs
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

optional: one sliced banana

Preheat oven to 350. Grease, spray with baking spray or line 18 wells in a muffin tin. In a large bowl, whisk together the spices, baking powder, cocoa nibs, baking soda, flour and oatmeal. Set aside. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the yogurt then add the dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Fold in the mashed banana. Divide evenly into wells. Top each with a slice of banana, if desired. Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the center muffin (but not through a banana slice, go in through an angle) comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

My thoughts:
I am not much for banana flavored things (or overripe bananas for that matter) but my husband likes them so every once in a while I whip up a batch of something banana-y for him (and for which I hope I get some major good wife points because the smell of overripe bananas makes me kind of queasy) to take for breakfasts. Matt said they were the best banana muffins he's ever had! These muffins ended up being little bit "lighter" than most banana muffins, only 4 tablespoons of butter is divided among 18 muffins! Mashed banana and Greek yogurt add a lot of flavor and moisture and the butter just isn't missed at all. Matt said using the cocoa nibs was genius, it added chocolate flavor without resorting to chocolate chips so the muffins didn't taste like dessert.

Note: If you are planning to freeze the muffins, omit the banana slice topping, it can get gummy during the defrosting.

February 10, 2010

Bittersweet Chocolate Cheesecake with a Speculoos Crust

for the crust:
1 1/2 cups of speculoos crumbs (I used my Vita-Mix but a food processor would work)
6 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled slightly

for the cheesecake:
4 eggs
32 oz (regular or reduced fat) cream cheese
16 oz plain Greek yogurt (full fat, 2% or 0% are all fine)
4 1/2 oz 70% dark chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 250.
For the crust- Mix the crumbs and the butter until damp. Press firmly into the bottom of 6 4 inch springform pans or 1 9 inch pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake-
In a large bowl, slowly cream together the chocolate, cocoa, sugar, cream cheese and vanilla. Add the eggs and yogurt, mix thoroughly. Pour into pan(s). Allow to sit 2 minutes, then tap the pan(s) on the counter to encourage any air bubbles to come to the surface and burst. Bake 2 hours or until the surface is mostly set- the middle inch or so might still look even less set, almost jiggly-keeping in mind that smaller pans might require less time in the oven, perhaps. Remove to the counter and run a knife or thin spatula around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm. Refrigerate leftovers.

My thoughts:
When I was obsessively reading everything I could about Belgium in preparation for our trip (thankfully the Flemish sites always had a English section and I got a lot of use out of my HS french) I came across a mention that cheesecake in Belgium is often made with a speculoos crust. We didn't end up eating any cheesecake while in Belgium (too busy eating moules et frites, croquettes aux crevettes grises and our wonderful 10(+!) course meal at Patrick Devos) but I loved the idea and made a mental note to make it myself when we got back. It took a little while but I am glad I finally made it. The cookies make the perfect crust, crisp and flavorful. The cheesecake is really creamy and chocolate-y, not too sweet. I bet this crust would also be great with a vanilla bean or even spiced cheesecake. I may have to experiment again.

Since Valentine's Day is right around the corner, I used a set of Wilton heart shaped springform pans I found at Target. I couldn't find the set online, but I found what seems to be identical pans sold individually.

February 08, 2010


1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup dark brown or dark Candi sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together the dry (except sugar) ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside. Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until well combined. It will be rather thick. Roll out on a clean surface to a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Use speculoos molds to press into shapes, a speculoos pan, use cookie cutters or just cut into squares. Alternatively, press into a cookie sheet with shaped cavities. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are browned but still slightly soft in the center. Cool on wire racks.

My thoughts:
When we were in Belgium, we knew we had to check out what is possibly Belgium's favorite cookie, speculoos. Speculoos is a crisp, spice cookie somewhat similar to gingerbread. When I mention speculoos to anyone locally I am normally met with a blank stare but they actually are available here under a different name; if you have ever had a packaged Biscoff cookie, they are actually speculoos packaged for the non Belgian population by a Belgian company.

Especially when we were in Bruges, speculoos cookies were at every bakery and some specialty baking shops that traditional speculoos molds to make the cookies at home. There was even speculoos spread (think Nutella but made with cookies!) in both chunky and smooth textures at every grocery store. We brought back a couple of cookie molds, a jar of the spread, some of the special sugar they use in the cookies and some speculoos from a bakery in Bruges so I could orally deduce the ingredients. A note about the sugar:  you can use regular dark brown sugar but as we learned upon arriving home, Candi sugar is used in home beer making so it is actually fairly easy to locate online or in brew shops. It it is a little moister and darker than the brown sugars sold here in the US.

Traditionally, speculoos is more of a Christmas or St. Nicholas Day treat but well, we are trapped here in a blizzard in Baltimore and I think that is as good excuse as any. For these cookies, I used our speculoos molds and this Wilton 12 cavity cookie pan (which is the closest thing to a speculoos molded cookie sheet that I've seen here in the US) but you could simply cut them into squares, rounds or use a cookie cutter in any shape you'd like.

February 05, 2010

Nutella Black Bottoms

for the filling:
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 oz miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup Nutella
1 egg, at room temperature

for the batter:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (sounds icky, but makes them nice and fluffy)

Preheat oven to 350.
for the filling:
Cream together the Nutella, cream cheese and sugar. Beat in egg until well mixed. Fold in chocolate chips. Set aside.

for the batter:
Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl. Add water, oil, vanilla and vinegar. Beat VERY thoroughly. Line mini muffin pans. Fill pans less then 2/3 full with chocolate batter. Do not overfill. Drop approximately 1/2 teaspoon of the filling on top. Bake on the center rack for 20 minutes or until toothpick stuck in the center of a center cupcake comes out clean. Cool briefly in the pans on a wire rack. Remove from pan and cool completely.

Yield: 6 dozen.

Note: Resist the urge to use a standard sized cupcake pan, the ratio of chocolate to cream cheese filling gets thrown off and they just are not nearly as good.

My thoughts:
I love Nutella. When we were in Belgium this fall we brought back a huge "family sized" jar of Nutella. The customs people looked at me like I was crazy but it was worth it, Nutella is tastier (no HFCS) and cheaper in Europe. Last year for Nutella Day I made Nutella Cheesecake Squares which ended up becoming one of my most read/made recipes in the nearly six years I've been posting recipes here. I loved the Nutella/cream cheese combination so I decided to revisit it in a twist on the black bottom recipe my family has been making and perfecting since I was born. Or at least the early '80s. I can't remember a year when we didn't make a batch (and often, a double batch) of black bottoms at least once. These black bottoms lose a bit of their color contrast drama thanks to the Nutella, but they are so delicious, I don't think anyone will mind. I think of black bottoms as being a marriage between cupcake and cheesecake and these are no different, they just have shot of chocolate-y hazelnut-y lusciousness. I sent some home with my mother and she called three times to say how good they were and how everyone who tried them to loved them.

Six dozen sounds like an insane number but they are very small and take a fair amount of effort so I don't mind making a lot. I only have one mini cupcake pan but it makes two dozen cupcakes at once so it goes pretty quickly. If you make them in batches refrigerate the batter and filling between batches. While the recipe can be doubled, I do not recommend halving it. Luckily, black bottoms freeze really, really well. Since we are only a two person household, I like to make a batch and freeze some in individual portions to send home with friends when they visit and for dessert emergencies. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter. They taste best at room temperature.

February 03, 2010

Asiago & Crab Macaroni & Cheese

16 oz lump crab meat
12 oz evaporated milk PLUS enough milk to equal 2 cups
2 cups shredded asiago
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
freshly ground black pepper
minced Italian parsley
1 lb small or medium sized pasta, cooked (I used cavatappi aka cellentani)

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium pan, melt the butter. Add the flour and spices and stir until smooth. Add the milk, mustard and evaporated milk and whisk together until slightly thickened. Whisk in the asagio until smooth. Stir in the crab meat. Pour over the drained pasta. Pour into a lightly oiled baking dish with a lid. Top with a sprinkle of panko and parsley. Bake covered about 15 minutes, then uncover and cook until hot and bubbly, about 10-15 additional minutes.

Yield: 4-6 meal sized servings or about 8 side dish sized servings.

My thoughts:
When the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board approached me about developing a recipe using a Wisconsin cheese to share on their new Macaroni & Cheese Blog, I couldn't say no. It had been entirely too long since I made mac & cheese. I decided to use fresh asagio because it has long been a favorite. While I've had lobster macaroni and cheese before, I've never had crab. Being a Baltimore girl, this just seemed wrong. I had to make a crab macaroni and cheese and asagio seemed like the perfect cheese to pair it with, mild enough that it wouldn't overpower the crab but distinctly flavored and most importantly, it melts well. Adding smoked paprika and mustard gave it some bite and blended seamlessly into the simple cheese sauce. It ended up being a very easy but elegant macaroni and cheese. Fancy enough for company but quick enough for a weeknight.

February 01, 2010

Cheddar Horseradish Spread

2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 shallot, minced

Place the cheese, cream cheese, shallot, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Scrape into a bowl. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: This would make a great cheese ball. Simply chill it for 30 minutes and then roll it into a ball. Roll in herbs or crushed nuts, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

My thoughts:
I first made this recipe as part of our 1950s night. When flipping though vintage cookbooks and my reproduction of that masterpiece, 1950's Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook. I didn't come across a recipe I particularly liked but I was pleasantly surprised by how robustly flavored cheese spreads, cheese balls and dips were. Strong mustard, cheese and horseradish were all used with great abandon. So I created a recipe that used a bunch of horseradish and my favorite extra sharp cheddar cheese. The spread is wonderful on celery sticks (as suggested by Betty Crocker), apples and of course, a variety of crackers.