Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cinnamon Glazed Pecans

There just had to have been a reason why I had so many bags of pecans in the cupboard.  I must have had overly ambitious, unrealized goals of making Cinnamon Glazed Pecans to add to gifts over the holidays.  And then there is the pecan pie recipe I have been wanting to try for awhile now.  Or maybe I could just never remember if I had pecans each time I went to Costco or Sam's Club and so I just threw another bag in the cart. Whatever the reason or reasons, I thought it was time to put some of those bags of pecans to good use (god-forbid I let them expire) and make a batch of the Cinnamon Glazed Pecans.  The pecan pie recipe will just have to wait.
Yes, this is the second nut recipe I am posting on the blog in less than a month.  You must be thinking 'what's up with the nuts?'  Not sure I have a good answer for that question, however, with a relative high degree of certainty please know there will be some savory and spicy recipes with nuts as the main ingredient posted on saltedsugaredspiced in the months ahead.
The first time I tasted a cinnamon glazed pecan was when a very talented baker brought them to work.  They were devoured within a couple of hours of being put out on the table, one strong indicator that they were well received. Recipes for baked nuts had previously not been on my radar but after I tasted those nuts, I realized I had never seen a recipe for them.  This would have been in the days before online versions of food magazines, FoodNetwork recipes, foodblogs, and the proliferation of recipe postings on the internet were readily available. I received her recipe the old-fashioned way, written on a piece of paper.  
With a new found interest in cinnamon glazed pecans, I have since discovered a few more recipes along the way.  My favorite recipe version at the moment is one found in a Nordstrom cookbook. This recipe could not be easier or more simple.  Pecans, egg whites, sugar, and cinnamon.  More on the cinnamon in a bit.  Baked in the oven on a relatively low temperature, these nuts are transformed into an addictive little treat.

The egg white and water are whisked until foamy and no liquid remains.
You will find that a room temperature egg combined with water can attain a pretty good volume of foam. There is no need to pull out a mixer, you can do this with a whisk.  Even my whimpy mixing arm can get the egg whites to the perfect foamy texture.  But feel free to pull out the mixer if you are not up for the whisking challenge. The pecans are then added to the whisked egg mixture.

All cinnamons are not created equal.  My hands down favorite is often marketed as Saigon cinnamon (also known as Vietnamese cinnamon). Vietnamese cinnamon is generally sweeter so it can be eaten like candy and its spiciness is often judged to be full-bodied without a hint of bitterness. If you have yet to use this cinnamon in your baking and/or cooking, you just might want to try it, so you too can experience the difference.  The sugar, salt and cinnamon are mixed together and added to the pecan mixture.

For the best results when baking, I always bake nuts in the top third of the oven in order to get that beautiful dark brown coloring.  There have been times when I haven't paid attention, threw the pan in the oven and was disappointed with the outcome.  There is nothing worse that having to throw out a pound of baked nuts. Okay, yes there are worse things.

Cinnamon Glazed Pecans (slight adaptation of the pecan recipe appearing in the Nordstrom Entertaining at Home Cookbook)
1 pound of pecans 
1 large egg white (room temperature if possible, but not a deal breaker)
1 Tablespoon water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of ground Saigon cinnamon
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt


1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
2. Whisk together egg white and water until the mixture is foamy and no liquid remains.  Add pecans and toss to ensure all pecans are coated.
3. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and salt.  
4. Add the sugar mixture to the egg white covered pecans stirring to ensure all pecans are covered.
5. Scatter pecans on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and put in top third of the oven.
6. Bake pecans for approximately one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Pecans will be a dark brown and nicely glazed when finished.
7. Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Or spread on a platter and serve warm.
8. If allowed to cool, store in a covered container or put in cellphone bags tied with ribbon.

I would characterize these cinnamon glazed pecans as having a you need to eat more than one quality to them. Not only are they great as snacking food, they are equally wonderful served with cocktails, added to salads or sprinkled on top of vanilla ice cream. I love putting them in cellophane bags tied with a beautiful ribbon as they make a great hostess, housewarming, or a 'just for the fun of it' gift.

This blog is now officially one month old, not yet anniversary or birthday celebration worthy, but a milestone worth noting.  Since its launching saltedsugaredspiced has had more than 500 viewings. I am thrilled, I think. Because I really don't know whether this is a thrill worthy number or not as I have no basis of comparison. It could be there are just ten of you out there who have looked at this blog fifty times or maybe there were a hundred of you who each looked at it five times.  Whatever the real number of viewers or return visitors actually is may not really matter. The number itself is inspiring enough for me to keep going on this journey of sharing my passion for baking and cooking.

Have you ever been simultaneously energized and overwhelmed when you are learning something new?  I am at that place and feeling a little off-balance at the moment or I should say a little more off-balance than normal.  But not to worry as I have decided to look at this blogging world adventure as a marathon and not a sprint.  Being someone who really has never really adapted to the concept of 'pacing oneself', much to the chagrin of a few, I am focusing on the many unintended benefits of this new experience.  Where this blog goes, I really don't know, although there is one thing for certain. I genuinely believe the possibilities are endless.
Lastly, I have a confession to make.  For those of you who have looked at the blog more than once, you may sometimes notice I do some post publishing editing. Sometimes I get a post publishing epiphany and sometimes I see some glaring errors.  As much as I try to proof the writing, I am a little too close to it at times to catch all of the missing words and/or grammatical errors.  So to those of you who wanted me to know there were some tweaks to be made, particularly the ones I had missed, I thank you for your supportive eye, for your encouragement.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Bolognese to Warm Your Soul

The winter weather here has been relatively mild, however, this week it turned wicked cold.  Almost too cold for anyone to want to be outside for any reason. Using the weather as an excuse, I thought I would make a bolognese sauce.  Without a doubt the making of bolognese is a labor of love and an investment of time.  This is one sauce that cannot be rushed or ignored. The flavors develop and deepen as the sauce simmers.  There is nothing more satisfying as being rewardedor your efforts than with a richly flavored bolognese to serve over pasta or eat all on its own with some great bread.

I did not grow up in household where either bolognese or meat sauce or Sunday gravy was made. Another one of those childhood deprivations. Okay, this is only partially true. The 'spaghetti sauce' served during my childhood years was one where you could see a reflection of yourself if you looked in the pan. Not having any exposure to 'red sauce' would have been better than having the sauce I experienced.

My appreciation for all food Italian has increased over the years with my love for a great bolognese sauce satisfied by the recipes of Mario Batali and Anne Burrell.  Both recipes are incredible, yet so very different in their ingredients and tastes. I go back and forth between making both of them, preferring to use Mario's bolognese sauce for lasagna and Anne's sauce to serve over pasta. Having made Mario's Lasagna Bolognese for Christmas dinner (a huge departure from the traditional holiday meal, but one that was well received by everyone), I have been craving the taste of Anne's bolognese sauce.

It all begins with carrots, celery, onions and garlic.  The first three ingredients are first cut into one inch and/or half-inch pieces and then thrown into the food processor.  For some reason it took me years to figure out the best way to cut an onion if a recipe wanted it chopped or minced.  So here's the trick, you cut an onion from end to end and not through the middle.  If you cut it this way, you will make the cutting of an onion a more pleasurable experience.

Once the vegetables are cut you add the four cloves of garlic and process until they are somewhere between finely minced and a paste.  I prefer for my vegetables to be closer to the finely minced end of the continuum as I like seeing small bits of carrots in the finished sauce. This mixture then goes into a large pan heated with some olive oil.  When the vegetable mixture hits the oil you immediately take in the scent of garlic.  If you like garlic, this will be your first thrill in the making of the sauce.  The mixture then cooks for about 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables take on a golden, almost brown color.

You can use ground chuck or ground brisket or a combination of the two for this sauce. The ground meat is added to the vegetables and cooked for 15 to 20 minutes until well browned.  Longer is better here.

At my favorite market in Westport, Massachusetts the butcher was kind enough to give me a lesson in the difference between ground chuck and ground brisket.  Essentially its all about its source and where the fat is located in the meat. Ground chuck comes from the shoulder and neck area while brisket is the breast of the steer. Between the two, the fat in the ground chuck adds an immense amount of flavoring.  So for my bolognese, chuck wins.

Keep your tomato puree, crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes in the cabinet for this sauce.  Tomato paste is what this bolognese calls for, yes only tomato paste, rich thick, intensely flavored tomato paste.

A hearty red wine (I use Chianti), the thyme bundle and the bay leaves are then added.  As the wine begins to cook, this is the second thrilling aromatic experience.  Always, always, always bundle the thyme or you will be picking out the stems when the sauce is finished.

Speaking of herbs,  I have taken for granted that everyone can identify fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  This long held assumption was shattered recently when I asked a friend to cut a few sprigs of thyme out of the garden.  When she said didn't know what it looked like, I think my not so sensitive response was 'seriously?'.  So for those of you who cook only with dried herbs and frequently substituting dried for fresh ones, please know there really is a difference in the finished taste of a recipe between the two.  I don't think I am going out on too much of a limb when I say that when something calls for the use of a fresh herb, the dried equivalent never really lives up.  Its sort of like using Miracle Whip when a recipe calls for mayonnaise.

The sauce simmers for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, again longer is better. Water is added to the sauce and allowed to cook out.  Depending on how high you are simmering it, you may be adding water more than twice. The color of this sauce is so beautiful that I wish there was Crayola crayon to capture it.  It is not just the color of the sauce, it is the taste that will make you swoon.  Let me just simply say the taste of this sauce is scream worthy and a lose your manners desire to lick the plate when you are finished eating.  It is that good.

Its a very hearty sauce, one that calls for a pasta that can stand up to it.  I absolutely love pappardelli pasta noodles with this sauce.  In Italian, pappare means 'to gobble', which describes perfectly what you will be doing when serving this Bolognese. If you can't' find pappardelli pasta, the sauce is also great served over pennoni, penne rigate or ziti pasta.  Just remember, you need a pasta that can hold the robust flavor of this hearty bolognese sauce.

The dish is finished with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and some extra virgin olive oil.  For those of you who like goat cheese, the tartness of goat cheese also works well with this dish.
Bolognese (a barely adapted version of Anne Burrell's Bolognese published by the FoodNetwork)

1 large onion cut into 1 inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1 inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil for cooking vegetables
Kosher salt
3 pounds of ground chuck or ground brisket or combination of the two (See Note below)
2 cups tomato paste (a little more than four 6 ounce cans)
3 cups of Chianti or other hearty red wine
3 bay leaves
1 bunch of fresh thyme tied in a bundle
Pasta of choice
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 

1. Place onions, carrots, celery and garlic in food processor until very finely minced or a coarse ground paste.
2. Add olive oil to a large pan placed over medium heat.  Add vegetables and season with salt.  Cook at medium-high until all liquid has evaporated and they are golden, lightly browned.  This takes about 15-20 minutes.
3. Add beef, season again and brown beef.  Cook at least 15 to 20 minutes, make sure it is really browned.
4. Add tomato paste, mix in thorough and cook about 4 to 5 minutes or until paste changes to a brown color.
5. Add wine and cook another 4 to 5 minutes or until wine has reduced by half.
6.  Add enough water to pan to cover sauce by approximately 1inch.  Toss in bay leaves and thyme bundle stirring everything together.  Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  As water evaporates you will gradually add more, up to 2 or 3 cups at a time.  You will do this approximately 2 times during the course of the 3 1/2 to 4 hour simmering.  When finished remove the bay leaves and bundle of thyme stems.
7.  If serving immediately, make pasta of choice reserving one cup of pasta water. Divide bolognese sauce and place up to half in a separate pan.  Add cooked pasta stirring to coat pasta with the sauce.  8. Serve on a platter and/or in individual bowls, topping with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and splash of olive oil.

Note: Instead of 3 pounds of ground chuck and/or brisket, I used 2 pounds of ground round and 1 pound of ground veal. The result was a deeply flavored, richer bolognese. From now on this will be my go to combination of meats. (Updated October 2016)

We have all heard the old adage 'all good things come to those who wait'.  As long as it isn't a lifetime one has to wait. For me the wait for eating and making a great bolognese sauce was not a lifetime, but too long for my own liking.  So if you are still waiting, wait no more.  Your time and attention in making this sauce will take your tastebuds to places they may have never been.

The only reflection you will see is the look of pure joy on your face as you take in the flavor of this amazing sauce.  This is a dinner party worthy, Sunday supper worthy, mid-week dinner worthy soul satisfying Bolognese.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

White Chocolate Dipped Pistachio and Dried Cherry Cookies

When I went to bed last night I was planning to make dried cranberry pistachio biscotti (the version created by Giada De Laurentiis) as soon as I woke up in the morning.  Not sure if the full moon had anything to do with it, but my plan changed once I saw daylight.  Suddenly I remembered it had been awhile since I had made the White Chocolate Dipped Pistachio and Dried Cherry cookies.  Given the choice between making biscotti and these cookies, well, in the end there really wasn't much of a choice.
These cookies are very much similar to a Mexican Wedding Cake cookie only they are neither round nor crescent shaped, but have more of a, for lack of a better word, football oval shape to them. They can be dredged in confectionary sugar, however, they become transformed into a beyond bundle of goodness cookie when dipped in white chocolate.

Sometimes you come across a recipe and you want to make it immediately. This was one such recipe, found in Bon Appétit about six years ago. Initially upon reading the recipe I saw it called for both cake flour and all-purpose unbleached flour.  I thought 'oh great, I don't have any cake flour in the cupboard'.  So much for the impulsive thought of rushing to make these cookies as the reality of this baking endeavor was going to be one of those delayed gratification experiences.  Once I finally had all of the ingredients and made the cookies, cake flour became a must-have staple.  And oh yes, these cookies were definitely worth the wait.

Leaving butter out the night before makes it room temperature perfect.  The butter and confectionary sugar are whipped together until light and fluffy.  It helps to begin creaming the butter before adding the confectionary sugar so as to minimize the sugar dust storm.

The recipe works well with either dried cherries or dried cranberries although I prefer the taste of the dried cherries. The pistachios are measured first, then chopped.  You can rough chop them with a knife or in a food processor.  Just make certain you do not pulverize the pistachios.

Make certain you start with a large mixing bowl as the flours are to be stirred into the dough all at once.  This a really dense dough making the stirring a little bit of an arm workout.  Tending to not having a strong stirring arm (Jennifer Aniston's arms I unfortunately do not have), I usually begin the process using the mixer, but am careful not to take it too far as the dough will become tough if over-mixed.

Once you get the hang of making the football shaped ovals of the dough, it will not take you long to get them into the oven.  Remember to bake them in the top third of the oven and bake only one cookie sheet at a time.  You want the bottoms to be lightly browned.  There is nothing worse than the taste of a burnt cookie, even those where you try to hide the imperfections with sugar or chocolate.  Because we all know, burnt imperfections cannot be hidden.

The original recipe only called for these cookies to be dredged in confectionary sugar.  If you dredge them right out of the oven you risk having the confectionary sugar melt completely as well as risk the cookies breaking.  Let them sit at least 10 minutes before you dredge them.

The cookies in this recipe adaptation are dipped in melted white chocolate.  Once dipped, take a fork to drizzle the remaining white chocolate over the cookies or leave them with a smooth dipped finished.  As I have shared before, the Ghiradelli white chocolate melts perfectly and gives your cookies that bakery finished look.  The cookies have an incredible taste either dredged in sugar or dipped in melted chocolate, the choice you make will be based on your personal preference and time.

White Chocolate Dipped Pistachio and Dried Cherry cookies (Adaption of the Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cookies appearing in Bon Appétit)

2 cups or 4 sticks of unsalted, room temperature butter 
1 cup confectionary sugar, plus more for dredging if you choose that finishing option
2 Tablespoons of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup pistachios chopped (measure first, then chop)
1 cup dried tart cherries or dried cranberries
3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour
Optional:  6-8 ounces White Chocolate melted (Ghiradelli, Lindt)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2.  Sift and measure out flours.  Combine together and set aside.
3.  In a mixer, combine the butter and 1 cup of confectionary sugar until light and fluffy.  
4.  Mix in vanilla and salt, followed by the chopped pistachios and cherries.
5.  Using a wooden spoon or spatula, still in all of the flour.  This will take some work but be careful not to overmix the dough.
6.  Shape generous tablespoonfuls of dough into football shaped ovals.  Place on prepared pans, spacing at least 1 inch apart.  
7.  Place tray in top third of the oven and bake for 16 minutes or until the bottom of the cookies just begins to turn light brown in color.  
8.  Finishing options:
     If coating in confectionary sugar, cool cookies for approximately 10 minutes before dredging the 
     cookies in the sugar.
     If dipping the cookies in white chocolate, let cool completely (at least 20 minutes).  After dipping in 
     chocolate, let chocolate harden before serving or packaging.

Most of my friends know I have a tendency to lean toward creating a monochromatic look in my surroundings with shades of white the color of choice. For me color should only come into a room from art, the carpets, and collections of all things both old and new.  And when flowers are brought in to a room, those too need to be monochromatic.  As much as a I absolutely love a white arrangement or bouquet, I am already anxiously awaiting the return of the hydrangea season.  It takes your breath away to see a large bouquet of deep blue hydrangeas sitting on a table or dresser.
The White Chocolate Dipped Pistachio and Dried Cherry cookies have an almost perfect winter white look to them.  But then they surprise you.  Because once into the first bite you get to see and experience color provided by the dried cherries and pistachios.  So no matter what your color preferences are, this cookie satisfies (al)most everyone.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Decadent Magic 8 Ingredient Bars Served Chilled

Magic bars, Seven Layer bars, and Hello Dolly bars are just a few of the names of this rich, decadent confection. They have been around along time and once you taste them you understand why somewhere along the way they were named Magic Bars. Where the name Seven Layer bars came from I have no idea as there are technically six layers and eight ingredients.  Maybe someone just took the average of six and eight and decided seven sounded, well magical. And the Hello Dolly Bar name is attributed to a recipe published a year after the opening of the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!  If there could only be one name for these bars, my vote has the word magic in there somewhere.

The first time I ate one of these bars was way back in college.  I think they were sent by a mother who liked sending baked goods to her daughter.  The combination of chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, graham crackers and walnuts all combined with sweetened condensed milk tasted in a word, magical. Ah-ha, maybe hence the name!

The recipe for this confection could be found on the back of almost any can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk.  Over time it seems that bakers across the country came up with some variations to the basic original recipe.  Changes ranged from replacing semi-sweet chocolate chips with bittersweet chocolate chips, from topping the bars with chopped walnuts to chopped pecans back again to chopped walnuts, from using boxed graham cracker crumbs for the crust to making a crust with 'real' graham crackers, and moving from a thinner bar to a thicker, chunkier one. Each of the changes to the bar has resulted in something slightly more decadent, slightly more unique, but always a little better.

The first secret to this recipe is the making of a graham cracker crust using freshly crushed graham crackers versus using the prepackaged already crushed crumbs. Yes, I know this approach to making the crust comes from the person who uses a refrigerated pie crust in her pies and quiches.  Certainly there is a place in this world for someone who can be consistently inconsistent.  No? Yes? The crust for these bars is baked before all of the other ingredients are layered on.  The pre-baking of the crust ensures the crust remains intact when cutting them, but also adds to the finished flavor.  I have had good results without pre-baking the crust, but even better results when I pre-baked it.

The switch from using semi-sweet chocolate chips to bittersweet chocolate chips (between 60-66% cocoa) makes all the difference in the world in these bars.  It elevates them to a different place on the Magic bar continuum of deliciousness.  I lean toward using Ghiradelli chocolate chips as they retain their creaminess when baked.

The second secret to this recipe is the order in which the other ingredients are layered.  Beginning with the butterscotch chips, followed by the chocolate chips, and then topped with coconut before the sweetened condensed milk is poured evenly over the top. The coconut is always, always covered by the sweetened condensed milk. And the nuts always, always go last. Before baking you need to gently press the nuts into the sweetened condensed milk so when you cut them into bars they remain on the bar and are not falling off everywhere.

Whoever invented parchment paper was a genius.  The use of parchment paper should be required for every bar, cookie, and cake recipe ever printed.  It is a recipe game changer, particularly when removing the bars from the pan.  Being able to cut them into perfect, or imperfect, little squares or rectangles is a such a satisfying end to the baking process. How many times have you baked a bar recipe without using parchment paper and they were difficult to remove from the pan?  And then when you finally got them out, your knife scratched the heck out of your pan.

The last secret to this version of the recipe is that the increases to the quantity of ingredients makes for a much thicker, chunkier, more substantial bar for eating, for serving. There is something indescribably wonderful about biting into this thick confection.  This recipe transforms these bars into something, okay here it comes, magical!

After the bars are baked and cooled I chill them for several hours. The chilling makes it so much easier to cut them.  However, the chilling of these bars also ramps up the taste and flavor significantly.  While they are good at room temperature, they are really great chilled.

These are not the bars I first tasted in college.  So if it has been years since you have eaten anything named Magic bars, Seven Layer Bars or Hello Dolly bars and you think, 'been there, done that', you would be cheating yourself if you don't make this version of the recipe.

Decadent Magic 8 Ingredient Bars 

3 cups crushed graham crackers (or boxed graham cracker crumbs)
1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, bittersweet (60% cocoa) highly recommended, but semi-sweet will work
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips
2 cups shredded coconut
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1.  Mix crust ingredients together.  Press into a parchment paper lined 9x12 pan.
2.  Bake crust at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.  Remove and let cool.
3.  Layer the butterscotch chips, then chocolate chips, then coconut.
4.  Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the coconut.
5.  Top with chopped walnuts, pressing them into the sweetened condensed milk.
6.  Increase oven to 325 degrees and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the edges of the bar are lightly browned.
7.  Remove from oven, cool and then refrigerate.
8.  Cut into squares or rectangles and serve chilled.  

If you love chocolate and coconut together, you will love this recipe.  Most of you have probably made one version or another of this bar.  The homemade graham cracker crust and use of bittersweet chocolate gives it that fresh from the bakery taste versus the 'I picked these up at a bake-sale' taste.  Not that there aren't some really good things for sale at a bake-sale, but they are usually the first things to go.
Delivered a tray of these bars to my neighbors this week.  This is a tray that goes back and forth between my house and theirs.  It came back empty this week which was reason enough for me to fill it up again.  I picked up this tray at Target soon after I moved into this house for the singular purpose of delivering baked goods to the family with two girls, one boy, a dog, a cat, ducks, goats, chickens, at least one rooster, cows and horses.  Little do they know they are just helping me satisfy my need to bake, my need to try new recipes.  Yes, it is all about me.

There is something magical about living next door to this small working farm.  Maybe because it is so different from living a life in suburbia.  Although I still need to satisfy my cravings for all things found in the 'city', there is something very enchanting about living in a town near the ocean where farms and homes perfectly co-exist, where there is just one general store, one gas station, only a handful of restaurants (no fast food ones, and ones where they mostly take cash and checks, no credit cards) and have some of the most beautiful beaches.  Since the advent of internet, the accessibility to almost anything I need or want to buy is just a few clicks away.  But the views of hundred year old farms and homes, the miles and miles of stone fences, the feel of the breeze coming off the ocean, and the sense of calm from all of this 'simplicity' is best experienced firsthand.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gameday, Everyday Hummus

Shamefully I must confess that up until about seven years ago the words hummus and chickpeas were not even in my vocabulary let alone in the foods I was eating, making or serving.  Not much of a foodie some of you are most likely thinking.  Even after I first saw a recipe for hummus in the first Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, I really wasn't much interested in making it.  Maybe because I had never tasted a chickpea before or maybe because I preferred making foods with a higher fat content. But regardless of the reason, I was encouraged to taste Ina's hummus recipe at my best friend Donna's house one day. The rest, as they say, is history.

Suddenly I began seeing hummus everywhere I went.  I was beginning to wonder if I had selective vision when I went to the grocery story.  Then I wondered why I would pass on any recipe created by Ina Garten.  Thankfully I wised up and hummus now has become one of the always go-to foods to make as an appetizer or just to have on hand to snack on.

The recipe calls for 6 to 8 dashes of hot sauce.  There are hundreds of hot sauces made these days with the most common of all being Tabasco.  My zone of experience with hot sauces was pretty narrow. Then one day I discovered Cholula.  I was reading a recipe for crab cakes that called for a half teaspoon of Cholula.  Again in the spirit of full disclosure here, I hadn't a clue what it was.  My first thought was that it must be some sort of an exotic spice.  So I go into Peppercorn, one of my favorite stores in Boulder, and asked if they have something called Cholula.  When they directed me to the hot sauce section of the store, I was like 'do they know where they are taking me?, did I pronounce it correctly?'.  Well the answers were yes and yes.  Alas, I looked at the shelf and saw that Cholula was a brand of hot sauce.  I was more elated than embarrassed to go from being clueless to being clued in.

The garlic in this recipe is first minced in the food processor.  I happen to love garlic, particularly in this hummus recipe.  Garlic will permeate the flavor of hummus the longer it sits, of course only if it doesn't disappear when you serve it.  If you like a milder flavor of garlic, use four cloves instead of six. Once the garlic is minced you add the rest of the ingredients all at once.

Again, depending on the texture of hummus you prefer, you may choose to add a little more of the reserved chickpea liquid than the recipe calls for, being careful not to add too much. There is such a place as going to far when adding liquid to a recipe.  If you have ever been there, you know what that feels like.

When squeezing lemons I really like to use a citrus press as it captures all of the juice while keeping the seeds from invading the liquid.  The citrus press from Williams-Sonoma works well and can be used for both lemons and limes.  Coming from someone who has too many cooking tools for the drawer space in my kitchen, a two-in-one kind of tool is a treasure.

I once tried to make this recipe in a smaller food processor and made a mess of the hummus.  A large bowl food processor gives you a much better finished look and allows you to control the texture. Control here is a good thing.

I have been known to spend up to $40.00 on a bottle of olive oil.  For some of you that sounds absolutely absurd, for others who have spent more you might be thinking that's within the zone of reasonableness.  In following the old adage 'you get what you pay for', I always had a tendency to steer away from $10.00 a bottle olive oils.  Until I tasted the one from Sur La Table.  I am sure they are not making any money on this olive oil but rather it is one of their marketing schemes to get you into the store to spend more than $10.00.  Whether it is or is not a gimmick, I really don't care.  Because this $10.00 bottle of olive oil breaks all of the rules about the relationship between price and quality.  You must try this olive oil.
Next to garlic, olive oil makes almost anything taste better.  So right before serving, I like to drizzle olive oil over the top as it adds an incredible richness, wonderful depth of the flavor of the hummus.  Serving any food in a Simon Pearce bowl makes it look even more appetizing. Serving the hummus in one of my favorite Pearce pieces makes eating it irresistible, even for those who have never heard of a chickpea before.

Gameday, Everyday Hummus (slightly adapted from the Hummus recipe appearing in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)

4 to 6 garlic cloves (use 4 if you like only a hint of garlic taste in your hummus)
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained, reserving the liquid
1 1/2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
1/3 cup tahini (aka sesame paste)
6 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 large lemons should give you this amount)
2 to 3 Tablespoons of the reserved chickpea liquid 
6 - 8 dashes of Cholula or any hot sauce you like

1. Remove skins from garlic.  Drop in food processor and process until minced.
2. Drain chickpeas in a strainer set over a bowl to contain liquid.  Measure out 2 cups of chickpeas and place in food processor.
3. Squeeze lemons.  Measure out 6 tablespoons of lemon juice and add to food processor.
4. Add tahini, salt, and 2 tablespoons of reserved chickpea liquid to food processor.  Process until you get the texture consistency you like.  If you like it course, the 2 tablespoons of chickpea liquid is perfect. If you like it a little smoother add another teaspoon of liquid.
5. Place hummus in a bowl or dish.  You can serve chilled or at room temperature. 
6. Options:  Drizzle olive oil over the top before serving.  Sprinkle lightly toasted pine nuts over the top.

Note: For an even creamier version of this hummus, remove the skins from the chick peas. Tedious work but worth the effort.

Serving suggestions:  sesame crackers (the ones from Trader Joe's are incredible); sliced carrots; pita bread cut in wedges, or pita chips.

It is the middle of January and it also happens to be football playoff season.  As someone in my office reminded me in an email 'this is Patriot country, we only cheer for them'.  Not sure if they thought that being from the midwest my team loyalties could not extend to any other part of the country or if they just wanted to make sure I did not make a social faux pas when talking about football around here.  More than likely the reminder had the more positive intent and was intended to save me from saying something regrettable and foolish.

Instead of eating more high calorie snacks during today's game, I will be happily enjoying a more healthy one.  Actually, a more healthy, delicious and wickedly good one. Not sure if hummus and football are words typically used in the same sentence, but hey, maybe there is a place for hummus in the football world of food and snacks.  And maybe, just maybe, a midwestern girl can switch her football team loyalties as well. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Maple Sausage, Apple and Brie Quiche

For one of my significant milestone birthdays I gave myself the present of going out to Boulder, Colorado for a few days of hiking and nurturing my interest in photography. Having not spent any time in the Rocky Mountains, let alone a mountainous region, there is something about Boulder that made it a place I immediately fell in love with.  From the views of the mountains, to the incredible blue of the skies, to the weather, to the food, to the availability of a wide range of microbrewed beverages, it is no wonder this city ranks high on the list of outdoor enthusiasts and foodies.
It was at one of my stays at the Bradley Boulder Inn, more of a boutique little hotel than an inn, where I first tasted the Maple Sausage, Apple and Brie Quiche.

Initially I wasn't certain if my post-hiking state of starvation meant that anything I consumed would have tasted good.  But upon returning back to the midwest and on a less physically exerting, less starving kind of day, I made this quiche.  What I learned was my physical state did not matter at all, as this quiche was as scrumptious the first time as the second, third and fourth times it was eaten. All of the ingredients are each delicious on their own, but the combination of these ingredients results in a quiche tasting so wonderful and so unlike anything you may have ever eaten.

There is one shortcut I take when making quiche, any quiche.  The shortcut of using refrigerated pie crusts.  Okay, I hear the gasps and groans of those of you who would not even consider using a prepared pie crust.  Some of you may now find yourself opting out of reading any more about this recipe.  But try to hang in there for a little longer.  If you have never used the Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust in a recipe, try it just once and tell me if you don't find yourself pleasantly surprised at its taste.

I am not alway able to find freshly made maple flavored sausage in the grocery store but the refrigerated section always seems to be fully stocked with sausages in various flavors.  The subtleness of the maple flavor balances out the other ingredients in the quiche.  When buying links remember to remove them from the casings and cut them into smaller pieces before frying.  You can let them drain on a paper towel while you mix up the rest of the ingredients.

The creaminess of the Brie cheese and tartness of the very thinly sliced granny smith apple is what I think makes this quiche a perfect recipe. The casing of the brie should be removed before slicing.  While leaving the skin on the apples adds color, texture and flavor.

It took me awhile to figure out that if I mixed wet ingredients in a large measuring cup it would be easier to pour into the quiche shell.  Once you begin using a large measuring cup, you will be surprised at how often you use it as it also makes for a great mixing bowl for all sorts of recipes.

I go between using Kosher salt and sea salt in recipes.  In this quiche I like to use sea salt and white pepper. There is something about dark pepper flakes that interfere with the finished look of the quiche.  White pepper is also a little milder than black pepper and it works perfect with the flavor of the brie and the apples.

After you place the dough in the pie plate or quiche pan, you layer the sausage, apples and brie. Placing the apples in a circular pattern ensures you get the taste of apple in every bite.  But then during the baking, the apples rise up making for a great finished look.

Maple Sausage, Apple and Brie Quiche (slightly adapted recipe from the Bradley Inn in Boulder, Colorado)

6 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup thinly sliced apples or 1/2 large apple (preferably granny smiths or any other green skinned apple)
1/4 to 1/3 pound of brie cheese cut into slices
1 piecrust (Pillsbury refrigerated crust recommended if you don't want to make your own)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (if you love nutmeg, you will use the 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
6 to 8 ounces of browned maple sausage (if buying links, remove casings before browning)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lightly spray a ceramic pie or quiche pan and unroll pie crust into, fluting edges with fingers. Place in refrigerator while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
3. Cook sausage until browned.  Cool slightly.  Let drain on a paper towel.
4. Very thinly slice apples and cut Brie cheese (remember remove the casing from the Brie)
5. Whisk the eggs and milk.  Add salt and pepper.
6. Remove pie crust from refrigerator and layer ingredients in the following order: Cooked sausage; apples, and brie. 
7.  Pour egg/milk mixture into the dish.  
8. Sprinkle top with nutmeg.
9. Cook for approximately one hour.  Sides and center of quiche will rise up. Crust will be lightly browned and quiche will feel firm to the touch.
10. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before cutting.

With so many different and great recipes out there for quiches, this is one that remains one of my favorites for so many reasons.  If you are looking a recipe that is simple, this would be the one.  Your effortless work will result in an incredibly flavorful dish.  As an added benefit, your house will smell amazing.

Once you have the experience of having your mind and body positively affected by the energy from seeing and being in the mountains, you are immediately addicted to it.  The only cure for this addiction is going back to the mountains as often as your life allows.  Life and responsibilities do not enable me to get back in Boulder,as often as I would like, so I have to settle for making this quiche.
Recipes you make or foods you eat that can take you back to the places you have been or to the events in your life have sort of a magical quality to them.  The Maple Sausage, Apple and Brie Quiche just happens to be one of those elixirs I make when I long for the feeling of being in Boulder, of being in the mountains.  And let's just say that I have a very active imagination.