Monthly Archives: May 2010

Espresso Banana Muffins…

If you have never seen or read Super Natural Cooking, by Heidi Swanon, give it a whirl, especially if you like to look for sugar and flour alternatives in your baking and cooking lifestyle.  This is hands down my favorite cookbook right now. Plus, I love that she did all her own photography and the book is gorgeous to look at.

I have to give one particular recipe a special nod: the espresso banana muffins, holy delicious. There was no adapting on my part, just pure following the recipe, which I am rarely able to do.  I made them for breakfast, and they have disappeared already…with a little help from our friends of course. The hint of espresso is just genius and they are the perfect breakfast…with the exception of chocolate cake of course.

Espresso Banana Muffins…

2 cups white whole-wheat flour

2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder

½ tsp fine-grain sea salt

1 ¼ cups chopped toasted walnuts

1 tbs fine espresso powder

6 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ cups natural cane sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup plain yogurt

1 ½ cups mashed overripe bananas (about 3 large bananas)

Heat oven to 375 degrees, line muffin cups with paper liners.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, ¾ cup walnuts, and the espresso powder in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a separate large bowl or a stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time.  Stir in the vanilla, yogurt, and mashed bananas, then briefly and gently mix in the dry ingredients; overmixing will result in tough muffins.

Spoon into the prepared muffin tin, top with the remaining ½ cup of walnuts, and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.  Fill the cups 2/3 full for regular muffins or to the brim for a big topped version.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins.

One adaptation I did try is making mini muffins with the same recipe, in a small muffin tin without papers.  I baked them at the same temperature, and just watched them until they turned golden brown.  They are delicious and cute.  We also added a little homemade cream cheese frosting which worked nicely.

Cook together, toast to each other, and enjoy!


Blue cheese mac and cheese with slow roasted tomatoes… For two…

Please, please do not crinkle your nose out there with blue ambivalence. People find all sorts of excuses to not fall in love with a good blue cheese. Even those with the most sophisticated of pallets often tend to shy away from a tangy Roquefort, a nutty Stilton, or a sharp, spicy Gorgonzola.  This dish boasts the velvety, creamy bite of Gorgonzola and is balanced out with the coaxed sweetness of slow roasted tomatoes. I used a croissant crouton topping for a little more texture, and believe me, I could have eaten the whole bowl…but reluctantly shared.

While driving home from shopping..err…running some errands, I saw that the Avon Cider Mill happened to have a modest sign of poster board and black sharpie stating: “CONN grown tomatoes here now”.  I nearly crashed into the building trying to get off the road in time, and there they were, the fist local tomatoes of the season that I have seen. Of course they are not as sweet as the late summer tomatoes, but with a little slow roasting, the sugars develop beautifully.

This dish is perfect for a date night.  I love to serve it in one large bowl with two forks and a nice earthy Pino Noir or Burgundy. It is lovely with a crisp, arugula salad and lemon vinaigrette. This dish is really simple at heart, it still maintains the comfort that mac and cheese has to offer, but adds a little elegance with the touch of Gorgonzola.

Blue cheese mac and cheese with slow roasted tomatoes…

For two…

1 ½  cup milk

¼ cup aged cheddar, shredded

½ cup Havarti, shredded

approx 1 tbs Gorgonzola, room temperature

1 tsp mesquite honey

2 tbs butter

1 tbs flour

5-6 small cherry tomatoes

1 croissant

1/4 pound pipe rigate

Start with roasting the tomatoes.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half, toss with olive oil and a dash of kosher salt. Place them on a baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour; time will vary depending on the size of the tomatoes.  They will look beautifully dried. Cut croissants into 1 inch cubes, toss in olive oil and lightly toast.

Make noodles per directions on the box, cook until al-dente.  Make sure to adequately salt the water. While noodles are cooking, you can make the sauce.  Begin by making a roux: melting the butter and then adding the flour little by little until combined and thick in the pot.  Then, whisk in milk slowly until combined.  Once the milk temperature rises, begin adding the shredded cheeses, mixing well. Do not boil. With a wooden spoon, use up and down motions instead of circular, and the cheese will be less likely to clump. Once all the shredded cheeses are mixed in, add the Gorgonzola in pieces.   Then add honey.

Mix noodles into the cheese sauce, coat evenly. Move mixture into a medium ovenproof bowl.  Crunch croissants over the top, and top with slow roasted tomatoes. Put back into the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to set. Serve warm.

Cook together, share with each other, and enjoy!

Apricot and cracked pepper spread…

I feel like I have been holding onto this recipe forever, and have been waiting patiently this  spring for  for the key ingredients to come into season.  I made my first batch last year with the most perfect apricots I had ever seen, and somehow created spreadable gold.  I sent that batch off in care packages to some lovely people in my life (and some powerhouses in the kitchen at that!), and have been longing for it ever since.  So, I am excited to say that after much stalking, I found the apricots and was able to recreate the recipe, and it is just as I remember, smooth in texture and complex in flavor.

Look at these beautiful apricots, burt orange, firm, and juicy…these were grown locally here in Connecticut.  The red-orange shows they have been exposed to that mid-late spring heat and are now sweet and delicious, and ready to eat.

Apricot and cracked pepper spread

1 ½ lb  (10-12) in season apricots

juice of ½  lemon

1 tsp kosher salt

1-2 tsp fresh cracked pepper

1/3 cup clover honey

½ tsp natural pectin, or the skin of 1 apple.

Pit and dice apricots.  In a large pan over medium-high heat, cook down apricots in lemon juice, stirring frequently.  Add salt pinch by pinch, using approx 1 tsp.  Allow to simmer and the apricots to break apart.  Stir in honey. Add pepper until there is an even distribution of cracked pepper flakes. Simmer for 2-5 more minutes, to cook off any extra liquid. Turn off heat and stir in pectin and let stand for about 10 minutes.  Mixture should be thick and spredable.

Serve with rustic crackers and cheeses, I love a good gorgonzola and whole wheat crackers with this spread.

**Note: Pectin is used to get the spread to set up just a bit.  However, I tend to shy away from packaged pectin.  Pectin is a natural substance found in woody fruit such as apples, so why not use what we have!  I peel an apple, and throw in the skin with the apricots at the beginning, and pick them out in the end.  The spread sets up beautifully, plus I have a little snack while the spread is simmering.

I have heard that this recipe has been used anywhere from a formal Easter dinner table, to picnics on the beach, so versatile and delicious.  I use it as a lovely starter to dinner with a nice glass of crisp, dry, white wine.

Cook together, toast to each other, and share!

bocce and shortbread…

Today is bocce day! We are beginning to feel the summer heat creeping in with longer days and a pinch of humidity. These days just beg for bocce ball in the sun and beer…and iced tea and shortbread cookies? But of course. I am a firm believer that any type of lawn sport require tea and shortbread cookies in some variety, it is only good form. Plus, it is a nice nod to the Scot in me that wants to throw on her lawn whites and get to some lawn bowling.

Shortbread is like a blank canvas with infinite possibilities to be inventive, and an opportunity to use what you have in your kitchen.  Hundreds of different cookies starting with one simple dough. Having a good shortbread recipe in your repertoire is like having a good Sauce Tomat or Bechamel recipe; a delicious base from which to exercise your creativity. Here is one that I use, but feel free to use your favorite, this is adapted from a number of recipes over time:


2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

1 tbs vanilla extract

scrapings of 1 vanilla bean

4 cups flour

Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean.  Mix together flour and salt, then add flour mixture slowly until combined.  Scrape out onto a floured surface, shape into a flat disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

**Note, you can change out vanilla for any other extract/flavorings you desire…lemon extract and lemon zest for example? Also, I usually cut my dough into thirds and refrigerate so I can make at least 3 varieties of shortbread cookies.

Here is what he we had for our day of bocce ball:

Dusted shortbread domes with pecans and apricots

1/3 shortbread dough recipe

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup diced dried apricots

1 tbs orange zest

¼ cup powdered sugar

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Mix pecans, apricots, and zest into the shortbread recipe before chilling. Once properly chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Then scoop dough into bite size pieces. Place evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. Should make approximately 20-25 cookies.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.  While cookies are cooling, mix together powdered sugar and ground cinnamon with a sifter or fork. Roll the cookies in the mixture and evenly coat. Repeat proportions for the sugar mixture as necessary until all cookies are dusted.

Spiced chocolate dipped shortbread squares

1/3 shortbread dough recipe

6-8 oz dark chocolate, the darker the better

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ancho chili powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

dash of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out shortbread dough until ½ inch thick. Cut into squares, or use your favorite cookie cutter.  Place evenly on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until edges are lightly browned.  Cool on a wire rack.  While the cookies are cooling, melt/temper the chocolate. Mix in spices as desired. The spice is meant to be subtle. Dip cookies into chocolate and place on parchment paper and then into the refrigerator.  Serve when chocolate has set.

Shortbread thumbprints with chocolate covered blackberries

1/3 shortbread dough recipe

4 oz dark chocolate

½ cup chopped nuts (pecans/almonds)

basket of blackberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop out cookies into small rounds. Roll in chopped nuts.  Press your thumb in the middle, making an indentation and slightly flattening the cookie. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until edges are light brown, careful not to burn the nuts. Coat the blackberries with chocolate, and place in the middle of the cookie and let dry. Or, add a dollop of your favorite preserves.

and of course the tea:

Pomegranate and herb iced tea

6-8 cups boiling water

3 pomegranate tea bags

small bunch fresh mint

2-3 small sprigs fresh rosemary

½ cup mesquite honey

Boil water, turn off heat, set aside.  In a large pitcher secure 3 pomegranate tea bags and add honey to the bottom.  Then slightly bruise the herbs, releasing their natural oils, flavor, and fragrance.  Add water and let steep for approximately 20-30 minutes.  You can pull the tea out if you would like, at desired flavor.  I serve with the herbs still in the pitcher. Chill in refrigerator.  Serve over ice and garnish w/ mint. Perfect way to use some leftover herb clippings from your garden.

Cook together, toast to each other, and enjoy!