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Well, I disappeared there for a little bit, didn’t I? I haven’t posted for a week because my brother had a last minute business trip to the Boston area and was able to come visit for the weekend, so all last week I was getting ready for him and I neglected my little blog a bit. So I’m making it up with one of my favorite breakfast recipes – America’s Test Kitchen’s buttermilk Belgian waffles.

These are delicious, delicious waffles. I made these last weekend for me and my husband, and then I made them again this past Saturday for my brother, because they’re so good. They’re light and fluffy thanks to the whipped egg whites that you fold in, and they have a wonderful buttery flavor with the tang of buttermilk.

This recipe is another reason why I love to keep powdered buttermilk in my fridge all the time – I love being able to whip these up at a moment’s notice. The recipe is a bit involved and dirties three bowls, but they still come together fairly quickly and believe me, they are well worth it. These are a million times better than the Belgian waffles you’d get at IHOP.

Buttermilk waffles

From America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Makes: 6 to 8 waffles (depending on size of waffle iron)

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Try topping the waffles with fresh fruit or ice cream. As you make the waffles, place them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, cover them with a kitchen towel, and place the baking sheet in a 200-degree oven. When the final waffle is in the iron, remove the towel and allow the waffles to crisp for a few minutes.

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons fine-ground cornmeal (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, separated

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 ¾ cups buttermilk

Pinch cream of tartar

  1. Heat waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, cornmeal (if using), salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, butter, and then the buttermilk. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Make  well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the buttermilk mixture into the well, and whisk very gently until the buttermilk mixture is just incorporated (a few lumps should remain). Toward the end of the mixing, fold the whipped egg whites into the batter.
  3. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, spread the appropriate amount of batter onto the waffle iron and cook until golden brown, about 3 ½ minutes. Repeat with remaining batter, serving the waffles immediately or holding them in a 200-degree oven until all are cooked.

 

VARIATION

Honey-bran waffles

Replace ½ cup of the flour with ½ cu wheat bran and whisk ¼ cup honey (or maple syrup) into the buttermilk mixture in step 2.

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I don’t repeat recipes very often – there are too many new and interesting recipes out there to try! – so the fact that we have had this many times should tell you something. It’s a delicious soup for a cold winter night, hearty and healthy and very satisfying. It’s definitely one of our favorite soups. It’s extremely flavorful and interesting and different from any other chicken noodle soup I’ve ever tasted, unique and impressive enough for company but still simple to prepare.

Swiss chard is so, so good for you and it’s delicious too – it’s a mild leafy green similar in taste and texture to spinach. It’s packed full of iron, vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium and potassium, and fiber. Chickpeas are loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamin B6. This is one healthy soup!! And trust me, you’ll enjoy this soup so much you won’t even notice how good it is for you.

Another reason I love this soup: it’s cheap eats. I always keep canned beans, chicken broth, and egg noodles in our pantry (I’m a big fan of having a well-stocked pantry), and a bunch of Swiss chard will go for about $3, so it’s not an expensive dish to make. You don’t have to pay a lot to eat well. And you don’t have to eat a lot of processed foods to eat cheaply.

I accidentally used beet greens in this soup this last time, and I didn’t even realize it until I went into the fridge for my bunch of beet greens and found a bunch of Swiss chard instead. So feel free to substitute with beet greens or even spinach, if you like. Beet greens will turn your noodles pink after sitting in the fridge overnight, though! My other change to this recipe is that I add about a cup of cooked chicken at the end. I’ll use leftover chicken breast meat, or shredded rotisserie chicken meat, or this last time I roasted two chicken thighs on the bone in the oven with just salt and pepper and cut up the meat. It’s not necessary, but James enjoys the extra meatiness.

You could also easily make this vegetarian by omitting the chicken meat and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

Tunisian Soup with Swiss Chard and Egg Noodles

Adapted, just barely, from Batter Splattered

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (I use 1 teaspoon ground cumin)

1 bunch Swiss chard or beet greens, stems and center ribs chopped and leaves coarsely chopped (reserve separately)

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

5 cups chicken broth

1 to 2 tablespoons harissa or other hot sauce,to taste (I use 1 tablespoon of Tabasco sauce for a nice kick without being too spicy)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 (19-ounces) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well

4 ounce fine egg noodles (about 1 1/2 cups)

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

About 1 cup shredded chicken breast meat, optional

If using seeds rather than powder: toast cumin seeds in a dry small heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat, stirring, until deeply fragrant and dark brown (be careful not to burn). Cool, then grind to a powder in grinder.

Cook chard stems, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add stock, harissa (or Tabasco sauce), and lemon juice and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Add chard leaves, chickpeas, chicken (if using), and noodles with 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer, covered, until tender, about 7 minutes.

Serve soup sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and remaining cumin.

My husband loves these biscuits, and I love them because they’re easy to make. No needing to delicately work cold butter into the flour, no rolling and folding and rolling the dough, no fussing with cutting out perfectly round biscuits. While I’m sure biscuits made the good old fashioned way are amazing, these are extremely tasty, buttery and tender biscuits that are a cinch to put together. Go ahead and throw out your box of Bisquick – you won’t need it any more!

The recipe calls for buttermilk, which I rarely have on hand, but I substitute powdered buttermilk. I always have that in my fridge so I can whip up these biscuits or vanilla buttermilk cupcakes or whatever else needs buttermilk on a moment’s notice. The kind I use is in a canister and you can find it in the baking isle at the grocery store. America’s Test Kitchen did a taste test on buttermilk vs. powdered buttermilk vs. regular milk soured with vinegar, and while fresh buttermilk came out on top, the powdered version was a close second. Regular milk soured with vinegar, while it will work in a pinch, didn’t have the same flavor profile and the taste testers through it tasted flat.

Don’t forget to brush the biscuits with melted butter after they’re done baking – that’s the best part! 😀

Simple Drop Biscuits

From America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Makes 12

2 Cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk, chilled

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus extra for brushing

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 475 degrees. LIne a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, stir the chilled buttermilk ad melted butter together until the butter forms small clumps. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just incorporated and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Using a greased 1/4 cup measure scoop out and drop mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
  4. Brush the baked biscuits with extra melted butter, transfer to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Serve warm.

 

Chili is one of the best meals for the cold dark days in the middle of winter. They’re hearty, spicy, flavorful, and comforting.I used to make chili from those packets of chili mix that you can get at the grocery store, the ones that are full of MSG and preservatives and who knows what kinds of scary chemicals. I used them because I thought they made making chili easy. HINT: making chili is easy anyway. I mean, how much harder is it to measure out a teaspoon of this, a couple tablespoons of that, than ripping open an envelope of mystery powder? There are so many benefits to mixing the spices yourself rather than relying on the packet: you can adjust the flavors to your liking, you avoid consuming nasty chemicals like MSG, the spices in your cabinet are probably fresher and better tasting than a packet that’s been sitting in the grocery store for who knows how long.

Stepping down off my soap box…

This recipe caught my eye because it’s unlike any chili I’d ever had – it includes cocoa powder in the list of spices and it’s served over spaghetti. I guess this is pretty common in Ohio, but for this Jersey girl, it sounded very unusual and intriguing. The cocoa powder adds a subtle dark chocolatey note to the chili that’s really delicious.

This recipe has a long list of spices, so it could be expensive to make this if your spice cabinet is rather small, but I had everything except for the chipotle chili powder so it was a very reasonably-priced meal. Plus none of the spices in this recipe are uncommon, so if you do have to invest in some spice jars to make this, you’ll easily find other recipes to use them in. The long list of spices gives this chili a deliciously complex spicy flavor.

So here’s the cast of characters: a lot of spices, salt, cocoa powder, canned crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, an onion, some garlic, and of course BEEF. This is a very beefy chili, and the beans are served as a garnish.

You start by chopping up an onion.

Then throw your beef into a big pot.

Add your chopped up onion…

And the minced garlic…

And cook it all up until the beef is browned and the onion is soft.

Now, you’re supposed to add the chili powder with the onion and garlic and cook them all up together, but I forgot so I added it at this point and let it cook up a bit before going on to the next step. It was fine, but: don’t be like me! Follow the recipe!

After you drain the fat from the beef, add the tomatoes. I used crushed tomatoes, but you could also used diced.

Here are all the beautiful spices and the cocoa powder all in one little dish. I measured these all out in advance because mise en place makes my life so much easier. Plus I love having all my ingredients all set up, chopped and minced and ready to go in their own little dishes, because other than making the cooking flow much better, they all look so pretty in their raw stage. And I get to pretend I’m on a cooking show.

Stir in the spices,  cocoa powder, salt, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, and let it simmer for an hour covered, and another half hour with the lid off. And that’s all there is to it! Chop up an onion, mince a few garlic cloves, measure out some spices, mix everything together in a pot and then just sit back and let your house fill with yummy smells. Easy peasy.

Mm, that’s some beefy, spicy deliciousness right there.  Now, to be clear, when I say “spicy,” I don’t mean that this dish is anywhere near a 4-alarm type of chili. It has a nice kick to it but the flavor is a complex melding of spices. This isn’t a hot-hot kind of chili.

And here’s your secondary cast of characters; don’t forget about these guys! Cook up the spaghetti. Drain, rinse, and heat up the beans (I nuke mine in the microwave). Grate up the cheddar cheese. And, well, open up the sour cream.

Serve the chili on top of the spaghetti and then add the toppings of your choice – I like to add the beans, then the cheese, and then the sour cream. You can also serve it with chopped onions, but James and I aren’t big fans of raw onion.

This is a delicious dish! And it makes a lot – James and I probably ate it for dinner for four nights. But we never got tired of it because it’s so good.

The recipe comes from Rachel at Coconut & Lime, so please head over to her blog to get all the details and then MAKE THIS CHILI. It’s so good. You’ll be so glad you did.

When I grew up, whenever we had sugar cookies – which I think was only at Christmas – they were decorated exclusively with jimmies and sprinkles and colored sugars, so homemade sugar cookies decorated with frosting always seem extra special to me. Plus, the icing lets you be a lot more creative and artistic than you could ever be with a dusting of colored sugar. Not that there’s anything wrong with decorating cookies that way, but when I want to kick regular sugar cookies up a notch, for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day, I break out the meringue powder and the disposable pastry bags.

These cookies are perfect for making cutouts. The cookies are tender and delicious and have a nice chew to them. They can be a bit tricky to roll out, but I found that when I followed the recipe’s advice to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper, it got easier. Plus, having it on a piece of wax paper made it really easy to pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes when the cut outs were being disagreeable about separating from the paper; once chilled, the dough behaved better.

As for the royal icing recipe and a fantastic tutorial, I refer you to the Brown Eyed Baker – that’s where I learned everything I know about decorating with royal icing.

All Occasion Sugar Cookies

From Brown Eyed Baker, Source: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Yield: about 50 2-inch cookies

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp (10 Tablespoons total)

1 cup sugar

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder together. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Beat in sugar and continue to beat for 2 minutes, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and and steadily add the flour mixture, until just incorporated. Stop mixer before the flour is thoroughly blended and finish the job with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide in half. To make roll out cookies, shape dough into disks and wrap in plastic. To make cut-and-bake cookies, roll into a 2-inch diameter log and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

To bake cookies: Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out cookies: working with one disk at a time, roll out dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to 1/4 inch thick, turning dough over so that it rolls evenly. Cut out cookies, saving scraps to re-roll. Place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inch apart. This is a soft dough so if you have problems lifting the cookies, chill for 15 minutes and try again. Form the scraps into a disk and chill before rolling out again.

Slice-and-bake cookies: Use a sharp knife to slice to dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inch between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway though.The cookies should feel firm nut should not color much if at all. Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 1 minute before removing to a rack to cool completely. Let the cookie sheets cool between batches.

When I said to my husband the other day, “How about I bake a busy day cake?” he cheered. He actually lifted his arms over his head and let out a whoop. He loves this cake, and so do I. It’s a cinch to throw together and it’s delicious. It’s like a pound cake in terms of denseness, and it has a subtle vanilla flavor. It may not knock your socks off like a deep rich chocolate cake slathered with a chocolate buttercream would, but it’s a tasty treat and especially handy for when you’re busy but still want to have a yummy homemade dessert.

This recipe comes from my neighbor when I was growing up. I was friends with her son in elementary school and she was, for a time in my life, like a second mother to me. She and her family still live next door to my parents, and when there was a problem with the bouquets on my wedding day – deep purple peonies in what should have been all light pink arrangements – she volunteered every bloom on her pink hydrangea bush to replace the dark peonies. It was a small detail in the wedding, but having Mrs. C’s flowers in the bouquets meant a lot to me. I still get a little misty-eyed when I think about it. This recipe makes me think of her, and smile.

This recipe could stand up to some adjustments, and I want to tinker with it. It’s great as is, but: it calls for vegetable shortening, which is the bane of foodies everywhere. I want to try using all butter and seeing what happens (I suspect it’ll be just fine). I also think this could be livened up with some citrus zest. I made a quick cream cheese glaze, but a lemony glaze or  maybe even a chocolate ganache would also be good.

Busy Day Cake

From Mrs. C

3 1/3 cup flour

2 cups sugar

½ teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup shortening

1 1/3 cups milk

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

Sift first four ingredients. Add remaining, mixing until well blended. A hand mixer is best for getting all of the butter/shortening incorporated. Pour into greased and floured tube pan. Bake at 350° for 1 hour (check for doneness after 50 minutes or so).

Let cool and remove from pan.

Cream Cheese Glaze

My approach to making frosting is more along the lines of “throw the basics together and keep adjusting until I like it,” so this recipe isn’t exact. But making frosting or a glaze isn’t an exact science. A little fat + a good amount of sugar + some milk to loosen it up +  a splash of vanilla for flavor is all you need. You can replace the cream cheese with butter, if that’s more your style, and you could use a citrus juice, like lemon, instead of  the milk to make a glaze with a tasty zing.

about 2 Tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1-2 Tablespoons milk

about 2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all of the ingredients together until well blended. The glaze should be thin enough to drip from your spoon, but not so thin that it will soak into the cake (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing if it happened, actually). Just adjust the powdered sugar and milk to get the consistency you like – and remember, a little milk goes a long way.

There are many great things about living in New England, but the Mexican food is not one of them. My husband grew up in central California and we lived in Los Angeles for two years before moving to Massachusetts, so we (especially James) are used to good authentic Mexican food. We knew it would be hard, living in Massachusetts, to find good Mexican food, but we didn’t think it would be impossible. We asked around, got suggestions from people who live here, and hit up the local Mexican joints.

The salsa is the first indication of the quality of the food. The Mexican-ness of it, if you will. So when we get served up a dish of ketchup that the waitress proudly declares is their house-made salsa, we know. New Englanders, it seems, have no idea what real salsa is like: fiery and bright, zinging with cilantro and lime, pureed nearly smooth, spicy but not just spicy – complex and interesting.

There are very, very few restaurants that serve this sort of salsa in New England.

So when this recipe appeared in my google reader, I knew I had to try it. James is a salsa fiend. And it’s a winner. Ree Drummond,  AKA the Pioneer Woman, may live on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, but sister knows her salsa.

It’s everything that salsa should be, it’s as close to true Mexican salsa that we can get out here. And best of all, it’s easy to put together. It uses canned tomatoes, which are consistently tasty year round, so your salsa consumption doesn’t have to be relegated to the few weeks in summer when local tomatoes are ripe. And it makes probably four or five cups of salsa, which is a whole lot of salsa (unless you’re James).

If you’re looking for a dip to bring to a Superbowl game this weekend, trust me: bring this.

Pioneer Woman’s Salsa

From The Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes in juice

2 cans (10 oz) diced tomatoes and chiles (Rotel, if you can find it)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, chopped (with seeds)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 cup cilantro (I tend to lean more towards 1 cup)

Juice of half of a lime

Put all of the ingredients in your food processor or blender and pulse to achieve your desired consistency. PW recommends 10 to 15 pulses, so that’s pretty much what I do, too. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, and serve with tortilla chips.

My husband does not like vegetables. He eats them only because I make them and because he knows they’re good for him.  So when I suggested ratatouille for dinner, a dish made up entirely of vegetables, including suspicious ones like eggplant, he was less than enthusiastic about it. It was like I had thrown a wet, vegetable-y blanket over his hopes for dinner.

Well, he shouldn’t have worried, because this dish is awesome. It’s hearty and delicious and flavorful and a decidedly un-vegetable-y way to have vegetables. James loved it. Loved it! I’ve made it several times since it appeared in the October 2010 issue of Everyday Food, and each time James eats it enthusiastically.

Ratatouille is a quintessential French peasant dish, and like all good peasant dishes, it’s comforting, hearty, flavorful, and cheap to make. And it makes a ton. You can serve it several ways: by itself, as a side, over pasta or polenta. You can put it in a ramekin with a raw egg in the middle and bake it until the egg is set (a very yummy way to have it). You can put it on top of toasts like bruschetta.

Ratatouille

From Everyday Food, October 2010

Prep: 20 minutes

Total: 1 hour 15 minutes

Makes: 3 quarts

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large eggplant (1 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 large yellow onions (1 pound total), diced large

1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled

2 bell peppers (any color), seeded and diced large

2 large zucchini (1 pound total), diced large

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or oregano leaves (I use 1 tsp dried oregano)

2 to 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour tomatoes and juices on a rimmed baking sheet and use your hands to carefully crush tomatoes into 3/4-inch pieces. (The tomatoes may be bursting with liquid so be careful not to squirt tomato juice all over your kitchen.) Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bake until thickened, 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Let sit 20 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until onions and garlic are soft, 5 minutes. Add peppers and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, and oregano to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar – I always use 3 tablespoons, but adjust it to your taste. Season with salt and pepper and remove bay leaf before serving.

Suzi

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