Monthly Archives: August 2010

Carrot Muffins

This past weekend, I went to my favorite vendor at the Old Town farmer’s market and bought some huge carrots. With them, I decided to bake some carrots muffins from a recipe I found in Gourmet magazine. I made a few changes to the recipe; for starters, the recipe called for 1 cup of vegetable oil. This is a lot of oil, so I decided to substitute apple sauce for the oil. This is much healthier for you and acts the same way as the oil would have. Second, I used white, whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose. This too is much healthier and gives you an extra kick of fiber as well.  These muffins came out moist and yummy. The shredded coconut added a bit of sweetness as well as texture.

Have you ever tried substituting applesauce for oil when baking? If so, was your recipe a success?

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white, whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 pound carrots
  • 1/2 cup almonds (pecans or walnuts would work as well)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 Granny Smith apple

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. and grease muffin pan.
  2. Into a large bowl sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and whisk in sugar.
  3. Coarsely shred 2 cups carrots and roughly chop almonds. Add shredded carrots and almonds to flour mixture along with coconut and mix with wooden spoon.
  4. In another bowl whisk together eggs, applesauce, and vanilla. Peel and core apple and coarsely shred. Stir shredded apple into egg mixture and add to flour mixture, stirring until batter is just combined well.
  5. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling them three fourths full.
  6. Bake in middle of oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Cool muffins in cups on racks 5 minutes before turning out onto racks to cool completely. Muffins keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

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Filed under Baked Goods

Ciabatta Bread

Today’s blog post is dedicated to all you bread bakers out there. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about baking, but there used to be a time when I was pretty bad at it. It wasn’t until a certain baking fiasco made me want to become a better baker. Let me share one of my more embarrassing baking moments with you…

I was baking cookies and thought that wax paper and parchment paper were interchangeable (The fact that the two have different names should’ve been a clear sign that the two are not in fact the same). After putting my cookies in the oven on top of the wax paper, I realized the wax paper was starting to char and that my cookies were sticking to the paper. I called my mother, who happened to be driving in the car with my father, and asked her what I did wrong. She had me on speaker phone and her and my father proceeded to laugh at me and make fun of my baking blunder. It was then that I realized I didn’t know all these little baking idiosyncracies that my mother knew; even my own father who does not bake or cook very much knew that putting wax paper in the oven was a no-no and that this is what parchment paper was for. Ever since this little incident, I vowed to become a more knowledgeable baker. This brings me back to bread making…

Bread making is part of the baking realm, but it is really a whole other giant. Bread baking is so complex and sensitive; sprinkling yeast onto water that is too cold or too hot will result in a mess; sourdough starters can turn moldy if the temperature in the room dips or rises and; the type of flour you use can significantly change the outcome. Last week I felt like baking some bread, but not the typical 1-day bread—I wanted to bake some Ciabatta bread that would require a sourdough starter as well as a sponge (Ciabatta means slipper in Italian and refers to the bread’s flat, elongated shape). I got this recipe from my Essentials of Baking cookbook.  I started my sourdough starter on Sunday afternoon and by Wednesday evening, I had 4 loaves of Ciabatta bread fresh out of the oven. They were definitely not pretty and the dimples “disappeared”, but they were moist and tasted good. It was a total crap shoot though; I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and it was the first time I made a sourdough starter, so I wasn’t even sure how it was going to turn out.

I think it’s safe to say that with bread making, practice makes perfect. Every time you bake bread, there’s always something that could go wrong, even something like the weather could affect your bread. For these reasons, my hat goes off to all you bread makers out there.

Do you have any bread baking tips to share? What’s your favorite bread to bake and why?

Sourdough Starter/Biga:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups cool whole milk (78 degrees F)

*(This makes 2 batches of starter, but recipe only calls for 1. You can half the starter recipe or double the sponge and make 4 loaves of Ciabatta instead of 2.)

  1. In a glass bowl, combine the flour and water and stir with a wooden spoon until mixed.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 3 days, stirring the mixture once a day. If the starter turns moldy or pink, throw away and start over. If it bubbles and has a sour smell, it has attracted airborne yeasts and is a good starter.

Sponge:

  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 whole milk, heated to warm (105 degrees)
  • 1 1/4 cups cool water (78 degrees)
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 2 cups bread flour
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let stand until foamy, for 5 minutes.
  2. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the water, sourdough starter, and flour.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Dough:

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 TBSP sea salt
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • Extra all-purpose flour for work surface
  1. Transfer the sponge to the stand mixer and add the bread flour, salt, and oil.
  2. With the kneading hook, knead on low speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise overnight.
  4. Sprinkle two sheet pans with flour.
  5. Cut the dough in half.
  6. Generously flour a flat work surface and shape dough while it is cold into a flat rectangle. Add dough to keep from sticking.
  7. Place the loaves on the sheet pan and dimple all over with your fingertips.
  8. Cover the pans loosely with dry kitchen towels and allow to rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
  9. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  10. Mist the bread with water and bake for 20-25 minutes or until brown and hollow when tapped.
  11. Transfer to wire racks and allow to cool.

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Restaurant Review: Trummer’s on Main


It’s been a while since I’ve written a restaurant review, but Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, VA definitely deserves a special post. It was Restaurant Week here in the DC-Metro Area, and this time, my husband and I decided to go with Food and Wine’s pick for Top New Chef of 2010: Trummer’s on Main. Trummer’s on Main is located in Clifton, VA which is located right outside the Beltway, but boasts none of the noise, congestion, or traffic that the DC-Metro area does. It’s beautiful, rural setting is idyllic. Driving down a windy road with large houses on each side, you come to a clearing where there are just fields as far as your eyes can see. It reminded me of being home in Central NY. Clifton is a small, antiquated town; it was actually the first town in VA to have electricity. There’s even an old Texaco sign that is a remnant of the gas station that used to be located there, but is now home to a quaint coffee shop.

The restaurant sits on the side of the road, right near the railroad tracks, in a white house that has a porch on both levels. When you enter the restaurant, you’re immediately greeted by a huge, stone bar. Since Trummer’s is known for their unique cocktails, we decided to have a seat at the bar before dinner. I had a peach granita with Maker’s Mark bourbon. My husband had something similar to a rootbeer float except with Kettle One vodka and peanut foam. It took the bartender at least 10 minutes to create these drinks, but I’m not complaining; it was like watching an artist at work. I never knew there could be so many steps involved in making a single drink. The drinks were exceptional. The bourbon was not too overpowering, but there was enough there to give me that warm feeling in the back of my throat. My husband’s drink was bliss; it tasted exactly like a rootbeer float except with vodka (definitely dangerous!).

The upstairs dining room was beautifully decorated—elegant, but simple and intimate. Our table was a solid oak table with no table cloth, but a simple placemat and small vase of fresh flowers. It was the perfect table setting that blended well with the surrounding landscape. Our first course was a goat cheese agnolotti with pickled rhubarb, black pepper shortbread, and fried capers. Agnolotti are crescent-shaped stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli. The creaminess of the goat cheese as well as the saltiness of the capers was remarkable. The black pepper shortbread gave an extra crunchiness and texture while the rhubarb gave an added tartness to offset the richness of the goat cheese.

Our main course was a 12-hour, oven roasted and honey glazed pork shoulder with pineapple confit, bay leaf crumble, and sweet potato. The pork shoulder was extremely tender and juicy, and the pineapple and sweet potato were the perfect accompaniments. The bay leaf crumble added color to the plate as well as fresh flavor and texture. The dessert course was a berry and brown sugar crumble with vanilla and raspberry sherbet. I love dessert and baking, so I’m probably a bit more harsh on judging desserts; when I heard “crumble,” I instantly thought of an apple crisp-type dessert with warm fruit topped with brown sugar and oats. Instead, the berry part of the dessert was the raspberry sherbet and inside was the vanilla sherbet topped with the brown sugar crumble. It was not warm, and there was no real fruit. The flavors were all there, but I would’ve loved some fresh fruit topped with the crumble and sherbet.

Overall, Trummer’s on Main was an exceptional meal. The staff was extremely professional and friendly, while the food was fresh and exquisite—they constantly change their menu too. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to all my fellow Washingtonians and to anyone visiting the area.

I’ve been asked what my favorite restaurant is before, but it’s just too hard to answer this question—I have numerous restaurants inside and outside of DC and the US that are my favorites. I just can’t pick one. Sometimes, restaurants are so varying and unique that it’s hard to compare them against each other especially since each chef has his or her own style that makes their restaurant what it is.

Do you have an all-time favorite restaurant or are you like me and just can’t pick one?

PS. I never take pictures of the food at a restaurant I want to write a review on because the whole point of food writing is to be able to describe the meal in extreme detail using key words that invoke the 5 senses (6 including umami)!

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Onion, Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato, Rosemary & Pinenut Focaccia

Focaccia is a flat, Italian bread that is baked in the oven. It can be topped with fresh herbs, olives, a variety of vegetables, as well as meat (i.e. prosciutto). Focaccia is an extremely old bread; it’s over 2,000 years old, and historians believe it originated either with the Etruscans or the Greeks. The name Focaccia actually stems from the Latin name for panis focacius which means “hearth” or “fireside” since the Ancient Romans used to bake it in their stone ovens. Today, there are numerous types of Focaccia all over Italy. Focaccia in Florence is actually called Schiacciata. You can’t pass a bakery or a panini stand without seeing this bread in the window. It’s typically made with sea salt and rosemary, but sometimes it’s used for paninis as well. This dough is very similar to pizza dough and may even look like some of our Chicago-style, thicker pizzas. But in Italy, Focaccia is much thicker than the thin-crusted, Napolitano pizza. In the US, Focaccia is very popular for sandwiches. The fluffiness and thickness of this bread makes it much more substantial than sliced bread. It’s best eaten warm, right out of the oven.

My mother-in-Lawlor makes delicious Focaccia bread, and it’s something my husband has grown up on. I’ve made Focaccia before, but generally just use the fresh herbs. I decided to take it up a notch and make mine with onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh rosemary, and some toasted pinenuts. The recipe for the dough actually comes from one of my cookbooks entitled Florence. I’ve seen various different recipes for Focaccia and all seem slightly different.

What would your favorite Focaccia toppings be? Do you have a special recipe you use?

Buon appetito miei amici!

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp coarse sea salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 c sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbsp pinenuts, toasted

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water for about 5 minutes until foamy.
  2. Add the sugar, olive oil,  flour, and the sea salt to the yeast. If using a stand mixer, knead with the dough hook for 5-7 minutes. If kneading by hand, mix the dough with a wooden spoon and knead for 5-7 minutes adding flour to prevent sticking.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
  4. Lightly oil a sheet pan and turn dough out into the pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan and cover loosely with a dry kitchen towel. Let the dough rise for 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees .
  6. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in the pan on medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until caramelized, about 10 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, tomatoes, rosemary, and pinenuts and saute for another 2 minutes.
  8. With your thumb, lightly dimple the dough.
  9. Spread the onion mixture over the bread and sprinkle with the sea salt.
  10. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.
  11. Cut bread into squares and serve warm. (Can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

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Filed under Bread, Main Course

Cantaloupe Sorbet

I found this recipe for cantaloupe sorbet from Bon Appetit magazine’s May 1997 issue.  It’s an oldie, but definitely a goodie.  It’s also easy and literally requires 3 ingredients (2 of which almost everyone has in their kitchen:  sugar and water).  I was impressed with the intense cantaloupe flavor of the sorbet.  I tasted a piece of the cantaloupe after I cut it open and it was good, but definitely not as sweet as I would’ve liked.  The sugar adds an extra bit of sweetness and really brings out the refreshing taste of the cantaloupe.  This is great to make on a steamy summer evening for dessert or even to serve as a palate cleanser at a dinner party.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups 1″ pieces cantaloupe (about 1/2 cantaloupe)

Directions:

  1. Combine sugar and water in medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil and transfer to 11 x 7 x 2-inch glass dish and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  2. Puree cantaloupe in blender until smooth. Add to sugar syrup in dish and stir until well blended.
  3. Freeze until almost firm, stirring occasionally, at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. Transfer cantaloupe mixture to large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until fluffy.
  5. Return to freezer and freeze until firm (do not stir), at least 3 hours or overnight. (Sorbet can be prepared 3 days ahead.) Cover and keep frozen.
  6. Before serving, take out freezer and allow to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  7. Garnish with fresh mint

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Filed under Desserts

Homemade Zesty Salsa

My apologies for being MIA this past week. My family and I went to the Outer Banks, NC for a vacation. We spent a lot of time soaking in the sun at the beach and eating fresh seafood. It was a wonderful, and much needed, break away from reality. Before we left for the OBX, my parents drove down to VA and stayed with us for a night to break up their trip. We then all headed out the next day for NC.

As you may recall, I had purchased 30 pounds of tomatoes from my farmer’s market. Before I left, I wanted to use up the rest of my tomatoes, so my mom helped me can some salsa. This salsa is easy, but so tasty and has a nice little kick from the jalapenos as well – perfect for chips, grilled chicken, fish, pork, etc… Can’t believe the summer is almost over… hope everyone is enjoying it!

My canner

Ingredients:

  • 15 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 5 cups diced white onion
  • 6 jalapenos seeded and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/4 c cilantro minced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
  2. Ladle hot salsa into 4 quart-sized mason jars that have been sterilized. Leave 1/4 inch headspace.
  3. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
  4. Allow jars to cool.  Once cool, press down on lid to ensure properly sealed.
  5. Store in a cool place.

Yields: 4 Quarts

Here are some pics from my vacation!

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Filed under Misc.

Cavatelli w/ Sun-dried Tomatoes & Summer Squash

Late yesterday afternoon, the DC Metro Area had a thunderstorm that knocked down several trees and caused some flooding in various locations. That being said, traffic was atrocious; it took us 1.5 hours to drive about 10 miles. Once we finally got home, we were both hungry and not in the mood to cook something elaborate or that would take a long time. I had a large yellow squash that I diced into small cubes. I sauteed it in olive oil with some red pepper flakes. I then added some sliced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts. I decided to go with Cavatelli pasta because it cooks quickly; its frozen and literally cooks in a couple minutes. This recipe was quick and delicious; perfect for an evening when traffic was anything but easy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow squash, diced into small cubes
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 c sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • parmesan cheese to sprinkle
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large stock pot, fill with water and heat until water comes to a boil.
  2. While water is heating, heat olive oil over medium heat and add red pepper flakes and squash.  Saute the squash for about 5 minutes or until slightly softened.
  3. Add the sliced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts to the pan and saute for another 3 minutes.
  4. Season squash mix with salt and pepper.
  5. Meanwhile, once the water comes to a boil, add the cavatelli and cook until the cavatelli becomes al dente and starts floating on the surface.
  6. Drain the cavatelli and add to the sauteed squash mix. Add 1 more tbsp of olive oil and salt and pepper.
  7. Serve cavatelli immediately and top with basil and parmesan cheese.

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Filed under Main Course, Pasta

Homemade “Sun-dried” Tomatoes

My mother-in-Lawlor gave me the wonderful idea of “sun-drying” part of my 30 lb. patch of tomatoes in the oven.  I cut up my tomatoes and placed them on an ungreased baking sheet.  I put my oven on the lowest heat possible, which was 170 degrees, and I left the tomatoes in there for about 7.5 hours.  You’ll see the tomatoes start to shrivel up and resemble those expensive, sun-dried tomatoes that you can purchase in the grocery store.  After finishing baking them, I placed them in a quart-sized mason jars along with 4 cloves of garlic and about 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  The garlic and olive oil will give the tomatoes an added boost of flavor as well as keep them moist.

There’s endless possibilities of what you can use your sun-dried tomatoes for.  My husband was kind enough to bake us a pizza (homemade dough) with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil for dinner last night since I was not feeling well.  It came out beautifully and the sun-dried tomatoes gave the pizza an added boost of flavor as well as texture.  This is so easy… definitely try this out if you have an excess of tomatoes that you need to use up!

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Filed under Baked Goods, Misc., Side Dishes

Canning Tomatoes

This past weekend I went to my local farmer’s market.  On my way out, I saw a vendor that was selling some really nice looking Juliet tomatoes (Juliet tomatoes look like grape tomatoes except they are bigger).  I was going to buy one quart for $3, but the farmer asked me if I’d liked to can some of these tomatoes.  He explained that he has an exorbitant amount of these Juliet tomatoes, and he can’t sell them fast enough, so he’d sell me 30 pounds for $15.  What???  That’s 50 cents per pound….yes, I’ll take them!

I decided I would can most of my tomatoes whole  and add some rosemary, basil, or oregano for flavor.  This way, I’d be able to use the whole tomatoes to make sauce, to dice, to crush, etc… It took me 6 hours to can about 3/4 of my 30 pounds.  Much of that time was spent waiting for the water to boil and for the cans to process in their hot-water bath.  I used a hot-water bath since I do not own a pressure canner.  Tomatoes are low acidity, so you have to add a little lemon juice in order to preserve them safely.  Even though I only used 3/4 of my tomatoes, I was still able to get 8 quart-sized jars and 2 pint-sized jars.  This was a tedious process, but well worth it; I’ll have tomatoes for ages or at least for several months.  My mom’s best friend buys pumpkins a day or two after Halloween for very cheap and then cans the pumpkin to use for baking breads, cookies, pies, etc… So if you’re looking to can, check out your local farmer’s market and talk with the vendors.  Ask them if they are going to have a surplus of something and how you can help take it off their hands!

Water-Bath Canning Directions:

  1. Sterilize the mason jars and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes.
  2. Once jars are sterilized, place 2 tbsp of lemon juice to the bottom of each quart-sized jar and 1 tbsp for pint-sized jars.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot, place as many tomatoes as the pot will hold and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Drain the tomatoes and rinse with cold water.
  5. When tomatoes are cooled enough to handle, peel off the skins.
  6. Meanwhile, boil some fresh water in a tea kettle.
  7. Place tomatoes in the jars along with fresh herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary, garlic cloves, etc…
  8. Once the water in the kettle has boiled, fill the jars with boiling water leaving 2 inches of space at the top of the jars.
  9. Remove any air bubbles by taking a nonmetallic utensil and firmly pressing the food.
  10. Using a clean dish towel, wipe the rims of the jars to allow lids to seal.
  11. Apply the lids and screw rings tightly.
  12. Repeat this process until all the tomatoes have been used.
  13. Fill the canner with water halfway and heat the water on high.  Place the jars in the rack and lower into the hot water.  Make sure there is at least 2 inches of water above the lids of the jars.  If not, add more hot water.
  14. Bring the water to a full boil, cover, and cook jars for 45 minutes.
  15. After 45 minutes, turn the heat off and allow to cool before lifting the jars out.
  16. Lift jars out and allow to cool for at least 12 hours.
  17. Once jars have cooled, check the seal of the lid by pressing your thumb into the center.  It should not pop or give at all.  If it does, place jar in refrigerator and use within a few days.

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