December 31, 2008

granola and ultimate peace

Until recently, there have been a couple things that I just can't get right. Try as I may, no matter how many times I make these things- and attempting different recipes, too, they just don't come out well. At all. In fact, they leave my kitchen in a state of colossal disaster, both physically, and for me, mentally, because the end product of the mess turns out so inedible that I have nothing to look forward to eating after I clean. But today I got a tasty snack after dutifully washing each, and every dish, leaving me with a well earned sense of peace that I could cross two more things off of my inedible list.
My first success was carrot cake. Though some may dubb it as easy to make, I just could not do it well. I must have tried over 5 recipes before I made Magnolia Bakery's carrot cake, which filled me with joy when my family couldn't keep away. 
The second, as of today, is granola. Something about it was always just off.  I admit my second granola disaster was due to me halving a recipe, and then forgetting midway and doubling the spices. But all of the other times, the honey to oil ratio was wrong, and the amount of dried fruit was disproportionate.
 Even though this recipe doesn't hold a candle to my favorite granola- Le Pain Quotidien's (which they sell in hefty bags, by the way), it's simple, easy, and versatile (as most granola is). Besides, we don't always feel like spending $7.50 for a bag of this stuff, no matter how good it is. Am I right, or what?

Power Granola
Adapted from Cooking Light 

2 cups regular oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped slivered almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking Spray
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1 tablespoon chopped crystallized (also called candied) ginger

Preheat oven to 300 degrees 

Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl

Combine orange juice, honey, and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat just until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in oil and vanilla.

Pour honey mixture over oat mixture, stirring to coat. Spread mixture in a thin layer onto a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes; stir well. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Spoon granola into a bowl. Stir in dried cranberries, apricots, and ginger. Cool completely.

Note: Store completely cooled granola in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
*Keeping the granola in the freezer helps preserve it's crunchiness

December 27, 2008

sugar cookies

Nowadays, chefs love to make "jazzed up" versions of classic cookies. But honestly, what is wrong with a good old fashioned cookie (with an overdose of sprinkles on top)? Every Christmas, my family makes these sugar cookies. They're from my grandma, and they're one of those timeless you-need-to-dunk-this-into-your-coffee cookies. They are simple and delicate, and very easy. There needn't be any flavored alcohol or fancy chocolate additions to this one (or, just don't let me know the end results just yet).
As a family tradition, the recipe calls for snacking at the dough (while no one is looking, of course), and then sitting in the kitchen waiting for the cookies to brown, because you're out of other sweets to snack on. Hence the lack of cooked-cookie pictures.
And then, once you eat the cookies, you're back to doing homework. Ah, if only a cookie could change the world. 

I'm thoroughly enjoying my break this week, and I hope everyone else is doing the same. Happy Holidays :)

December 26, 2008

blue cheese soufflé

Ok. I have a soufflé thing. I want to like them, I really do. The idea of sitting in Paris (and the dream of actually going there, of course), relaxing at a small little cafe, and eating some exotic souffle that is considered typical there. Ah, one can only hope. 
Perhaps it was just this soufflé, the fact that I have never made one before, or the fact that my new souffle dish had  yet to be christened, or something. Wait, scratch the last excuse. Either way, this souffle brought me back to America. It was, in my opinion, just bland. It tasted like blue cheese in a jellied-up form. And I love blue cheese, too. I have to give myself part blame- the reviews it received were all similar, but I had such high hopes, and had to try it for myself. 

I have to give Ina Garten (who is, by the way, one of my favorite chefs) some credit, though. This recipe was tremendously easy for a souffle, and the flavor was good, it was just lingering a bit too far in the background. 
Am I to eliminate all souffles from my 'to eat' list? (uh, not that I have anything of the sort). Hopefully, someone else will try this recipe, and prove me wrong. For now, though, I will just have to wonder.
Blue Cheese Soufflé
From Ina Garten/ Barefoot In Paris
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup scalded milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch nutmeg
4 extra large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 ounces good Roquefort cheese, chopped
5 extra large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Butter the inside of an 8 cup souffle dish (7 1/2 inches in diameter and 3 1/4 inches deep) and sprinkle evenly with Parmesan. 

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
Off the heat, whisk in the hot milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, for 1 minutes, until smooth and thick.

Off the heat, while still hot, whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in the Roquefort and the 1/4 cup of Parmesan and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for 1 minute, on medium speed for 1 minute, then finally on high speed until they form firm, glossy peaks. 

Whisk 1/4 of the egg whites into the cheese sauce to lighten and then fold in the rest. Pour into the souffle dish, then smooth the top. Draw a large circle on top with the spatula to help the souffle rise evenly, and place in the middle of the oven. Turn the temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (don't peek!) until puffed and brown. Serve immediately.