Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices


Temperatures here plummeted right after Christmas and have only crept above zero (Fahrenheit) a couple times briefly since. More of the same is forecast the next few days until a warm-up this weekend to the balmy teens and twenties. If ever there was a time for hearty soup, it’s now.

This soup, full of red lentils, carrots, and a little potato for heft, along with warming spices, is the epitome of hearty. And healthy too. Just what I needed after the last couple weeks of holiday foods—the too rich, too sweet, or just too much—foods I don’t normally eat. Setting the food reset button in the right direction is a pleasure when it tastes this good!

Don’t skip the lemon juice or the paprika oil, they really take this to the “Did I really just make something so out-of-this-world delicious?” level. Enjoy!


Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, along with a couple aspects of this New York Times recipe

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock or broth

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium Yukon gold potato, diced

1 ½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for extra seasoning

1 teaspoon dried mint, tarragon, or basil, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika (I used ½ teaspoon smoked hot and ½ teaspoon sweet)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until onion has softened. Stir in coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, water, carrots, potato, and lentils and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a lively simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and carrots and potato tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you’d like a few chunks of carrot and potato, stop before completely puréed. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice if needed. Cover stockpot to keep soup warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the paprika oil and chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.

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Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts


Need a new recipe to include in your rotation of holiday munchies? I’ve got just the one for you! Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts are warm, healthy, addictive, and best of all, quick & easy to make. You will definitely impress your guests.

The Union Square Café is a long-running New York City restaurant and the nuts they serve in their bar are famous. Google them and you’ll find the recipe on many different sites from Epicurious to Saveur, but only one, The Smitten Kitchen, has you return the nuts to the oven for a final bake after tossing with the butter-rosemary mixture. This makes all the difference!

Because I’m not a big rosemary fan, I was skeptical of this recipe at first, but Deb at the Smitten Kitchen assures that even the rosemary-averse will love it here and I wholeheartedly agree.

I’ve made these twice, the first time with all cashews and the second with cashews and almonds. I liked both equally well when they were warm, but when eating at room temperature, I prefer the cashew only version.

If you use mixed nuts, keep in mind some of the nut varieties will get over-toasted before other nuts are just right. That’s the reason I stuck to cashews and almonds, which take the same amount of time.

Stock up on nuts, you’ll be making these several times over the holidays for all your gatherings and you can also package them in small jars for gift-giving. Enjoy!



Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts

Slightly adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe

1 pound unsalted cashews or almonds or a combination (either raw or roasted)

1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending how much heat you’d like

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts on a sheet pan and toast for 7-15 minutes (raw nuts will require the longer cooking time, already roasted will take less). Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt.

Once the nuts are toasted, dump them in the bowl and stir to evenly coat. Return the nuts to the sheet pan and spread in an even layer. Bake another 5-10 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes and serve warm. The nuts are also good at room temperature or reheated for 5 minutes at 350 degrees F. Store leftovers in an airtight jar. Makes about 3 ½ cups.

No-Knead Cinnamon Chip Bread

Bread
We recently hosted our friends Lori & Scott at the cabin for a fall color weekend, which was a great time and the leaves were gorgeous! Preparation for cabin trips is especially fun for me because it involves cooking and baking in advance so we have more time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors once we’re there.

This trip, to go with our hearty cabin breakfasts, I made cinnamon chip bread with homemade cinnamon chips. Having made the cinnamon chips several times before (great in muffins and cookies!), I knew they would be good, but it was a first time for this bread recipe, which is adapted from one I got years ago from baker extraordinaire, Renee Saxman, a friend from my running days in Rochester.

A “Renee” recipe is always delicious when made by Renee. I just wasn’t sure if it would be as good when made by me. Hesitant to serve this untested to friends, I decided to cut off one slice of the finished bread to make sure it was “company-worthy.” Long story short, it was so good that Pete and I polished off the entire loaf. Fortunately, there was plenty of time to make another loaf and pop it in the freezer until the trip.

Why, you may ask, make homemade cinnamon chips when you can buy a good-tasting package at the grocery store? Most grocery store versions (Hershey’s, I’m talking to you) have some sketchy ingredients like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial colors, and natural & artificial flavors (but no mention of the word cinnamon—can you believe it?), so making my own was an easy choice. The King Arthur Flour brand, which has more natural ingredients, can be ordered online, but I’ve never seen it in stores.

The cinnamon chips are quick to make and once cooled and broken into pieces, will keep for several days in a covered container at room temperature. If you make them rather than using store-bought, you’ll be happy you did, plus, it will give you super-baker cred!
Home-made Cinnamon Chips

This is a perfect autumn and winter bread. Slightly sweet, with a crunch of cinnamon sugar on top, it’s delightful toasted or not. A little butter or jam, maybe peanut butter even, make for comfort-food bliss, and it’s a wonderful addition to breakfast—either at the cabin or at home. Enjoy!
Cinnamon Chip Bread

No-Knead Cinnamon Chip Bread

2 cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees F.)

¼ cup butter, melted

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup cinnamon chips (recipe follows)

Cinnamon sugar for topping (1/8 cup organic sugar mixed with ½ tablespoon cinnamon)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, yeast, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, egg, and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and mix until smooth (I used a stand mixer, which works better than a hand mixer).

Cover the bowl and let rise at room temperature for about an hour. Stir in the baking powder and cinnamon chips.

Scrape batter into a greased 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar (you probably won’t use it all). Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45-50 minutes (it should read 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer when done).

Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer from pan to a wire rack to cool completely. This freezes well, so is ideal to make ahead. Makes 1 loaf.

Cinnamon Chips
From this All Recipes post

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon non-hydrogenated shortening (I used Spectrum Organic Shortening)

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees F. Mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl to form a dough. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll dough to 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and remove top layer of parchment. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until bubbly.

Transfer, on parchment, to a wire rack and cool completely. Break into pieces. Makes about 1 cup.

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Zucchini noodles (zoodles) were one of the first things I planned to make when I got my spiralizer a couple years ago. And then I proceeded to spiralize potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets many times for a number of recipes, but not zucchini. As much as I wanted to replace my pasta with zucchini noodles, I just couldn’t—it was a cooked zucchini texture thing.

Even with the suggestion of doing half pasta and half zoodles, I still resisted. It wasn’t until I came across a few recipes where you—wait for it—leave the zucchini raw, that I saw the zoodle light. They wouldn’t be mushy, they wouldn’t be soggy. It would be an al dente experience and I was on board!

Making just a few tweaks to this Pinch of Yum recipe, we’ve got a new summer favorite that’s quick enough to pull together on a weeknight and there are always leftovers for brown-bagging the next day. When packing your leftovers, keep the sauce separate and mix it in just before eating, otherwise the zoodles will absorb the sauce and you’ll lose the creamy sauciness that makes for a truly special dish. Enjoy!

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

One 15 oz. block of extra-firm tofu (I like Trader Joe’s organic)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3-4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed (a combination of green and yellow zucchini looks especially nice)

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish (I like the look of black sesame seeds, but white are just fine)

Spicy peanut sauce:
½ cup smooth peanut butter, preferably natural (or make your own, recipe here)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (then add water to measure 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup tamari (wheat free) or soy sauce, reduced sodium if you have it

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spiralize your zucchini and set it aside.

To make the spicy peanut sauce, place all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined.

Cut pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add tofu to pan and cook one side of tofu pieces until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn pieces and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the spicy peanut sauce to the tofu and let simmer for a few minutes. Using a spatula, turn tofu pieces, scraping sauce and any brown saucy bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat the simmer, turning, and scraping a couple more times until tofu is crispy brown.

To serve, place zucchini noodles in individual bowls and top each with a ¼ cup of spicy peanut sauce, stirring to coat the zoodles. Top with some tofu pieces, sliced scallions, and sesame seeds. Makes 4-6 servings.

Red Wine Velvet Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream


With fresh berries being in season, the time is now for this pretty cake, which actually falls into the category of “naked” cake with its exposed layers and minimal amount of frosting (this was a new term for me and my first “naked” cake).

Given the July birthday boy and girl’s suggestion of a buttercream frosted cake for this month’s office birthday treats, I perused many recipes looking for something rather elevated from your typical cake and frosting. After changing my mind a few times, I settled on Red Wine Velvet Cake from the always solid Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. And she’s got a new cookbook coming out soon—I’m so excited!!

With three 9-inch layers, it’s a good sized cake, one that I knew would easily feed my sweets-loving office mates. After making a few cakes lately in the 9-inch pans, a two-layer 8-inch cake seems so tiny! And you can cut slimmer pieces when you have three layers and still feel like you get a big piece of cake. Yes, please!

I followed the cake recipe exactly, but switched up the topping/frosting a bit. Liking the fact that mascarpone cheese was called for in the original cake topping, but heeding the request of buttercream, I decided on a mascarpone buttercream—the best of both worlds. It’s easily one of the most delicious frostings I have ever tasted, and not over-the-top sweet.

The addition of the berries was mine after scrolling through an endless number of beautiful “naked” cakes on Pinterest. Wait until just before serving to add them though. Enjoy!

Red Wine Velvet Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream

From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

16 tablespoons (225 grams or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans

2 3/4 (345 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

2 cups (380 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar

2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups (475 ml) red wine (any variety—I used a blend)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups (115 grams) Dutch cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

Fresh berries for garnish

Mint leaves for garnish

Powdered sugar, for dusting the garnish

Mascarpone Buttercream Filling (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease three 9” round cake pans with butter or non-hydrogenated shortening. Line each pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper. Dust bottom and sides of pan lightly with flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add eggs and beat well, followed by the red wine and vanilla extract.

At this point the batter will look like a somewhat mottled mess, but don’t worry. Mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until mostly, but not quite combined. Remove the bowl from your electric mixer and continue to stir with a rubber spatula until fully combined.

Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans and smooth the batter with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cakes comes out clean.

Cool the cakes on a rack for 10 minutes and then turn each cake out onto the rack to cool completely and remove parchment. Once cakes are cool, if the tops are domed, you can use a long serrated knife and cut horizontally to remove the dome. The cake scraps make for a nice snack while you prepare the frosting. If making ahead, you can wrap the cooled cakes in plastic and foil and freeze.

Mascarpone Buttercream Filling (From this Southern Living recipe)

1 pound powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature

Beat sugar and butter on medium-high speed until thick and creamy, about 4-5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. Add mascarpone and mix on low speed just until combined. Do not overmix or the mascarpone will start to break down and the frosting will become too thin.

To assemble, place a cake layer on a cake stand or platter and frost the top with 1/3 of the buttercream. I found this easiest do by fitting a disposable piping bag with a ½ inch plain piping tip and making a generous piped edge around the perimeter and then fill in the center and spread with an offset spatula for an even frosting thickness. Repeat with the other two layers. Swirl the frosting on the top layer to make it pretty.

Store cake in the fridge, removing about 30 minutes before serving. Right before serving, top with a pile of berries and place some around the sides of the cake too. Stick a few mint leaves in as well. Sift powdered sugar over the berries right before cutting the cake (it tends to eventually dissolve on the berries, so don’t do it until the last minute).

Cut into somewhat thin wedges and serve (with three layers, your pieces don’t need to be large). Makes about 16 servings.

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Garlic Scape Soup


Garlic scapes are one of the most unusual, yet beautiful, items you’ll find at the farmers’ market. Fleeting, too, as they’re only around for a few short weeks in early summer. They can be used in a variety of ways—in stir-fries, pesto, scrambled eggs, and even replace a utensil in this Grilled Mushroom Satay with Garlic Scape Skewers I made a couple years ago.


With a lovely bunch of scapes on hand, today I decided on soup. A pretty puréed soup full of healthy ingredients and mild garlic flavor. Potatoes give it body and some fresh spinach helps keep the vibrant green color, although the addition of the milk dilutes it a bit. Garnished with fresh thyme from my herb garden and a sprinkling of pistachios to maintain the green color scheme, we had a light, but delicious lunch.

Originally thinking this would need to go through a fine mesh sieve after puréeing, it didn’t. I discarded the thicker last few inches of each scape and this resulted in no fibrous pieces remaining after pureeing. Was it smooth as silk? No, but darn close. Enjoy!

Garlic Scape Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Garlic scapes, cut into 2 inch pieces, to measure 2 cups (cut off the end from the flower bulb on up and if the other ends seem fibrous, cut off a few inches there as well)

½ a large yellow onion, chopped

1 medium to large russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

A couple handfuls of fresh spinach leaves

4 cups good quality vegetable broth/stock (homemade is ideal)

1 cup milk of choice (whole, low-fat, cream, almond, evaporated, etc.)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped pistachios for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot or Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add scapes and onion, sprinkling with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until scapes and onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, thyme leaves, and spinach; add another small sprinkle of salt. Cook for an additional minute or two. Add stock/broth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover pan, with lid slightly askew, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup until very smooth (alternately, purée in a blender in small batches, venting the lid to let steam escape, and return to pot). Place pot over medium heat and stir in milk, cooking until heated through, but not boiling. Add sherry vinegar or lemon juice and stir. Season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved thyme and pistachios. Makes 4-6 servings.

Tiramisu Cupcakes

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When I asked our three February birthday people at the office what they’d like for the monthly party, two deferred to the third, who responded “anything chocolate or coffee/chocolate.” That sent me in search of recipes and I settled on King Arthur Flour’s Tiramisu Cupcakes, plus a couple other coffee/chocolate treats, but the cupcakes were the stars.

Who doesn’t like a boozy dessert? Tiramisu, but in the form of a cupcake—a very vanilla cupcake, with a Kahlua espresso soak and a creamy amaretto mascarpone frosting dusted with cocoa. Yes, please! Homemade tiramisu without the need to hunt down a decent package of lady fingers (or figure out how to make your own!).

The recipe reviews are what sealed it for me—they were all great. And they were right. These are a special cupcake. Unique with the “soak” that provides that boozy bite in the middle of a really vanilla cake, and the frosting—oh, the frosting! A not-too-sweet, whipped cream-mascarpone cheese mixture spiked with amaretto (almond liqueur). Wow!

The original frosting recipe called for Instant Clear Jel, which, conveniently, you can order from King Arthur Flour. It’s actually modified food starch, which is chemically processed and not something I want in my food, so I used less processed corn starch. It still keeps the frosting, which contains a lot of whipped cream, from deflating. Arrowroot powder might work as well, but I didn’t want to chance it. Next time I make these at home, I’ll try it and will update the recipe if results are good.

Don’t skimp on the soak. After making a smaller test batch, I told myself to use more of the soak mixture. When I made the larger, “for real” batch, I thought I had used more of the soaking liquid (brushed each cupcake many, many times), and I was worried it was too much liquid (afraid they’d be soggy), but the cupcakes could have used even more of it, so be generous.

Keep in mind that because the alcohol in both the soak and the frosting isn’t cooked off, these should be adults only cupcakes. And all the adults at the office birthday party gave them rave reviews. Enjoy!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Tiramisu Cupcakes

Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

Cupcakes
1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

3 large eggs, room temperature

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

Soak
3 tablespoons coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua

2 tablespoons espresso powder

3 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup hot water

Frosting
2 cups heavy cream

4 teaspoons corn starch 2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup amaretto liqueur

1 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature

Garnish
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust tops of frosted cupcakes.

To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk into the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again, to be sure everything is incorporated.

Scoop the batter into paper-lined cupcake pans. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and place the pans on a rack for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn the cupcakes out and return them to rack to cool completely.

To make the soak: Mix the espresso powder, liqueur, and sugar into the hot water.

Using a fork, poke the tops of each cupcake two or three times. Sprinkle or brush a small amount of the soak over each cupcake, and allow it to soak in. Repeat until virtually all the liquid is used.

To make the frosting: Beat the whipping cream until medium peaks form.

Whisk together the powdered sugar and corn starch and slowly add to the whipped cream, along with the amaretto.

Gently and briefly whisk in the mascarpone cheese by hand until the frosting is thick and creamy (this shouldn’t take more than 4 or 5 passes with the whisk); more than that and the frosting will get grainy.

Pipe the frosting over the cupcakes, then dust with cocoa. Keep refrigerated. I think the cupcakes taste best if they are removed from the fridge about 1/2 hour before serving.

Yield: 18-24 cupcakes (I got 18, but the original recipe said 24).