Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Teddy Bear Ice Cream Puffs

I have always wanted to make pate a choux, but sometimes I lack the impetus on my own. It seemed so complicated and, well, French, which is an obvious indication of fussiness. And if there's one thing that cramps my style, it's fussy, fiddly food.

But, boy was I wrong! Pate a choux was actually super simple, and required nothing fancy that I didn't already have hanging around the house. My first try was, admittedly, a flop, but it didn't take long to get the hang of it.

And who better to guide me through the process than Madame Julia Child? (Call it my small tribute to her 100th birthday on August 15th!) My brother and his wife gave me a beautiful copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Christmas a couple years back, and I always enjoy cooking from it. Every step is detailed with great care, making it practically impossible to fail. Thank you, Julia!

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

My mind certainly did start racing with ideas, but I kept coming back to teddy bears.

Maybe it's because my baby boy has recently discovered a fondness for his teddy bear, which melts my heart every time, or maybe I just liked the idea of keeping it simple, but I had to make them teddy bears. All I would have to do is add two little ears to an ordinary cream puff.

I know for sure now that I should have used a larger tip, but they turned out pretty cute regardless.

Well, most of them turned out pretty cute regardless...

And, cute or not, they were delicious. And, really, so very easy to make.
If you're intimidated, take a cue from Julia Child and be fearless! Give these a try, and I promise you'll impress yourself.

Pate a Choux (Cream Puffs) a la Julia Child 

1 c. water
6 Tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
pinch salt
1 tsp. sugar
a grating of nutmeg (scant 1/8 tsp.), optional
1/8 tsp. pepper
3/4 c. flour
4 eggs, at room temperature

Combine water, butter, sugar, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a 1 1/2 qt. saucepan and bring to a boil, boiling until butter is melted. Remove from heat, and immediately pour in all of the flour. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula for several seconds to fully incorporate the flour, the return to stove over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, until mixture leaves the sides of the pot and forms a mass around your spoon.
Remove from heat again, and make a well in the center of the dough with your spoon. Break an egg into the center of the well. I found it best to blow on the dough to cool it off for a second, then break my egg into a small bowl before pouring quickly into the pot. (My first attempt was spoiled by cracking my first egg into the hot dough, resulting in scrambled eggs, even following Julia's directions.) Beat into the paste for several seconds to incorporate, continue in like fashion adding eggs one at a time and beating between each one. The third and fourth eggs will take more time to beat in, but never fear, they will get absorbed. Beat for another moment more to make sure everything is well blended.
Let the dough cool just a bit before scooping into a piping bag. Pipe mounds about 2 inches wide onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you want to get cute, dot the top with a couple of extra mounds for ears. Wet fingers with a little water, and dab down any points that are sticking up. Wash with an egg wash, if desired, being sure not to drip egg down onto the baking sheet, which will prevent the puffs from rising.
Bake in a 425º oven for about 20 minutes, or until doubled in size and golden. They should be firm and crusty to the touch. Remove them from the oven and pierce them in the side with a sharp paring knife. Set back in the turned-off oven for 10 minutes, leaving the door ajar. Cool the puffs on a wire rack.

Once cooled, split the puffs in half, scoop out the middle, if you like, and fill each with whipped cream, or, as I did, ice cream. (We like this recipe for chocolate ice cream.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vegetable Fajitas

In my husband's family, they kept a chart of each child's food likes and dislikes, which they still have around to this day. I have seen it with my own eyes. This gives one the erroneous impression that my in-laws catered to their individual whims, but they are wonderfully not the type.

I bring it up because one of the [ahem] many things my husband is marked down for disliking is mushrooms.

Since we've started eating less and less meat, I've been making more and more meals that include mushrooms. While he's coming around to them, he still doesn't love them. Usually hubby will notice the mushrooms and eat them without comment (I know this makes me very lucky, as some spouses are less wiling to eat things they don't care for. Love my awesome hubby!), or remark that he didn't mind the mushrooms one bit. But I always like it when he doesn't even notice them. Makes me feel so devilishly sneaky.

Not that mushrooms are a major component in this recipe, but they are present.

And the reason they are present is because you need a little something more than onions and peppers to make fajitas satisfying. And when you eliminate the meat, that's all there is left, really. I also added some summer squash because, well, 'tis the season and my larder o'er floweth with them. They bring nice bulk, fiber, and vitamins to the party, but if you don't have any handy, you can skip them.

What you shouldn't skip, though, is the lime juice. I think it really makes these fabulous. Combined with the chili powder, it makes the most delectable seasoning -- no need for a store-bought packet here!

Vegetable Fajitas
inspired by this post from Ezra Pound Cake

2 large bell peppers, any color you like, sliced
about 1 c. sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 oz. mushrooms (button or crimini -- the latter being my favorite)
2 small or yellow squash or 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for the pan
juice of half a lime, plus more lime wedges for serving
salt and pepper to taste
flour tortillas
sour cream

In a bowl, combine peppers, onion, mushrooms, squash, chili powder, olive oil, and lime juice, mixing with hands until the veggies are even coated with oil and chili powder. Set aside for a few minutes.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, coated with a drizzle of olive oil. Add veggies, salt, and pepper, and sautee until tender. This takes about 7 minutes or so. If you want to speed things along, feel free to put a lid on the skillet for a minute or so near the end. If your pan gets too dry and your veggies start to burn, add a splash of water.

When ready to serve, warm your tortillas, fill them up, and top with a squeeze of lime juice and some sour cream. If you don't like sour cream, you could substitute a little cheddar cheese or guacamole. (Did I mention that sour cream also made my hubby's "no thank you" list? Crazy boy.)


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creamed Veggies

While planning meals for the week, I always ask my husband for input on the menu, which usually elicits responses in the range of our standard favorites. (Occasionally, I will get answers like "rice", and that is all. Really shooting for the stars there, my friend...) This week he requested Creamed Veggies, and I got really excited because I love it, and then I realized that I still hadn't shared it with you guys! So here it is.

Like so much of what I share here, it's pretty simple fare: Potatoes, and carrots cooked until just tender, and tossed in a basic white sauce punctuated with pops of bright, green peas.

It's one of my favorite dishes from way, way back. My mom made it frequently for us, which has secured it in the realms of nostalgia. I remember it from Sunday suppers with grilled chicken and green salad on the side, or sometimes with pot roast.

But to relegate it to a "side dish" just seems wrong to me. On our birthdays, Mom would ask us what we wanted for our birthday dinner. The standard response was "Stuffed Shells!", but sometimes I would request this. Since it's so simple, I know my mom sighed with relief when I did. And to me, it's always been more than an accompaniment, it was almost always the main event, at least for me.

You can jazz it up, I suppose. I've seen similar recipes where they've added freshly chopped dill, which is pleasant, but it's perfect at its most basic with just the right amount of salt and pepper. (Emphasis on the pepper, if you please.)

Creamed Veggies

2 or 3 large potatoes, diced
2 carrots, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
3 c. milk
1/2 c. frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped, or 1 tsp. dried dill (optional)

Place potatoes and carrots in a large pot and fill with enough water to cover the vegetables by about 1/2 inch to an inch. Bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes and carrots are fork tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and let cook for a minute before whisking in milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until sauce has thickened. (It should be thick enough that it holds a line when you draw your finger through the sauce that coats the back of your wooden spoon.) Add seasonings to taste, then stir in cooked potatoes and carrots and frozen peas.

Serve as soon as peas have thawed completely (which will be pretty much immediately).

Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill if you're feeling fancy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

[sniff sniff]

Do you smell that?

Back to school is in the air.

[sniff sniff]

Yep. Definitely.

When I think about school starting, I think about chocolate chip cookies.

Is it just me?

I am super happy that no one in this house is going back to school any time soon. (Because hubby and I are DONE with school, and because my little guy is getting big, but thank heaven he's not growing up THAT quickly.) A lot of things have turned out differently than I always imagined they would since becoming a parent, so I can't guarantee that I will live up to the picture in my head. But I have always pictured having some homemade cookies waiting for my kids when they come home from school on the first day of the school year.

I hope I can make it happen. I'm all about little traditions.

These cookies are really fabulous. They have a fantastic chewiness courtesy of the whole wheat flour, and I love the crackly top they get in the oven!

I "age" my dough by letting it hang out in the fridge for 24 hours or more before baking, which I think would be fun to do with the kids -- make it a tradition to mix up the dough the day before school starts, then bake them up fresh the next day and have them waiting for eager little hands. But that is completely optional, so bake at your leisure.

And have a glass of milk handy.
Chocolate milk -- it's a big day, after all. ;D

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 sticks (1 c.) unsalted butter, cold, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 c. lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into chunks, or bittersweet chips

If baking the same day, preheat oven to 350° before mixing up the dough.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and with the mixer on low speed, mix together the butter and sugars just until blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl, and blend on low speed until the flour is just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Stir in the chocolate on low speed or by hand until evenly combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and then use your hands to turn and gently massage the dough, making sure all the flour is incorporated.

If you want to "age" your dough, or just don't want to bake that same day, cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

When you want to bake the cookies, scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size (I like my #40 scoop for this) onto parchment lined or greased baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each cookie.

Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly browned. Transfer the cookies, still on parchment, to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pesto Gnocchi with Green Beans & Ricotta

The house we rent is situated directly behind an elementary school, which I thought would be great when we were looking at it, but now having lived here almost a year, I can tell you that I rue the day school starts up again.

I have not missed the dulcet tones of screaming children morning, recess, and mid-afternoon (aka nap time). Why is there so much screaming? I do not understand.

But I digress...

We are on the hunt for the right house for us to buy, which is freaky to me. As crazy as it might sound, I have really enjoyed being a renter. (Probably largely because I'm not the responsible party if something breaks, etc.) I'm scared of the responsibility and, quite frankly, the gigantic burden of debt that is a mortgage. But I guess we can't put it off much longer -- a house-hunting we will go!

When I'm feeling overwhelmed, not even cooking brings me much solace, so we need things that don't require time or energy in order to get tummies filled. And everyone needs a few more of those kinds of recipes to tuck in their back pocket.

This is one of those quick meals that makes it onto the regular rotation around these parts, mostly because it's so satisfying and simple. Plus, I'm obsessed with pretty much every ingredient in it. Especially now, when fresh green beans are in season and can be found on the cheap! And, as I mentioned once before, it comes together in about 15 minutes.

Yes, that is correct. Move over, Rachael Ray.

Pesto Gnocchi with Green Beans & Ricotta

1, 16 oz. pkg. (1 lb.) dried gnocchi
1 lb. green beans, washed and cut into 2" pieces
1.4 c. prepared pesto
1/4 c. cream (or evaporated milk, if you prefer to lighten it up)
lowfat ricotta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add gnocchi and green beans. Cook 4-5 minutes, or according to directions on gnocchi package. Drain well. Meanwhile, combine pesto and cream in a small saucepan over low heat until just heated through.
Toss gnocchi and green beans in the pesto cream sauce. Divide among serving bowls, and top with a healthy scoop of ricotta and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Serves 4.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Zucchini Bread

My least favorite thing about blogging is almost always typing up the recipe. Writing the post and taking the picture are fun, and of course I love making the food! But typing up the recipe feels a lot like the keyboarding class I took in 8th grade. I'm pretty sure it was early morning (as in before school actually started), and we had to copy line after line after line of text from our book without looking at our fingers, so it was an hour of staring at another piece of paper whilst typing.

Generally, that's my biggest delay-maker when I have a post planned. That, and my all-around lack of motivation for all non-essential tasks (but that's a topic of conversation for another time). I'll wander around with the recipe card tucked into my laptop and end up playing the Wii with hubby instead, or getting lost in the vortex that is Pinterest for the next 2 hours.

So you were supposed to get this recipe last Monday. Well, okay, you were supposed to get the recipe for Melon Gelato last Monday, but that didn't so much work out. So... as you can see, this post has met with some hiccups already and it's not even off the ground.

Where was I?

Oh, yes, Chocolate Hazelnut Zucchini Bread.

"Bread" is a misnomer, really, so don't go thinking this is in any way healthy. It's not, but it is divine. So very divine. Cake would be a more fitting moniker. So call it whatever you want, just make it. Today.

Here, I even typed up the recipe for you, nice and pretty like:

Chocolate Hazelnut Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 c. sugar
1 c. lightly packed brown sugar
1 c. oil
(Note: If I have it on hand, I usually substitute half of the oil for nonfat yogurt, which works out perfectly. You can use whatever fat substitute you like to use or have on hand if you are so inclined; applesauce, nonfat yogurt, etc. I prefer to substitute only half of the oil called for because I love the slightly crispy crust on top of muffins and quick breads, which doesn't develop if you get rid of too much oil.)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. coarsely grated zucchini (squeeze some of the moisture out of the zucchini prior to measuring)
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
4-5 heaping Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I use 5, surprise, surprise...)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. crushed hazelnuts (I Hubby just took my meat mallet to them until they were about the size I wanted.)
1 c. mini chocolate chips

In a medium-sized bowl, combine eggs, sugars, oil (and/or oil substitute(s) of your choice), vanilla, and zucchini. In another large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cocoa baking soda, and baking powder. Add the zucchini mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. If desired, reserve some hazelnuts and chocolate chips (a couple Tbsp. of each) to sprinkle atop your loaves, and gently fold the rest into the batter.

Divide between two greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 350º for 40 - 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you are going to sprinkle nut and chocolate chips on top, add them after about 20 minutes of cook time, otherwise they will sink into your loaves.