Thursday, January 31, 2008

What's the Difference Between Bruschetta and Crostini?

Bruschetta and crostini? What's the difference?

They’re both wildly popular, easy-to-make Italian appetizers of toasted bread with toppings.

However, when the sweet Shn of Mishmash! asked me about this a while back, I really had to think about it.

In my family, bruschetta was toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, tomatoes, and basil, while smaller slices of toasted bread with various toppings were called crostini.

I wanted to provide you with a more thorough explanation of the difference between the two, so I explained to Jeff that we needed to take a trip to Italy to conduct research for my blog. We were all packed to go until Bernanke cut the fed two more bits yesterday thereby dropping the dollar further against the Euro, quashing our plans. So instead I just Googled it.

Brushcetta, from the Italian "bruscare," which means "to roast over coals," refers to the bread, not the toppings. Rather large slices of bread are grilled, rubbed with garlic, then drizzled with olive oil. They are usually topped with tomatoes and basil, though other toppings from meats to vegetables can be used.

Crostini, "little toasts," are thinner, smaller slices of bread (usually from a baguette) that are always toasted then piled with various toppings, such as vegetables, savory spreads, and cheeses.

Honestly, technicalities beyond that just aren't important. If it’s crispy bread toasted with olive oil and piled with savory toppings and cheese, just call it “irresistible.” Then make some for the next party you're going to where everyone will love you for it.

That’s why I'm bringing my Roasted Pepper, Olive, and Brie Bruschetta (not crostini -- did you see the size of those bread slices?) to lovely Mansi’s Game Night party. This is a fast, easy, and vegetarian recipe, which is just what Mansi wants. With garlicky roasted peppers, salty olives, and creamy Brie cheese, this is flavorful, classy bruschetta that takes 15 minutes to make.

What's your favorite way to make
bruschetta or crostini?

Roasted Pepper, Olive, and Brie Bruschetta

Print recipe only here.

2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup minced cured olives, such as Kalamata and Cerignola
1 cup bottled roasted red and yellow peppers (thinly sliced or diced)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

8-10 ounces of soft Brie cheese, sliced, or 1 ounce per slice of bread
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
extra chopped fresh parsley, optional garnish

1 loaf of crusty Italian bread, such as Ciabatta sliced into 8-10 thick slices
1 whole garlic clove, paper removed
4-5 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil (about 1/2 teaspoon per slice)

To toast the pinenuts, place in a dry skillet over medium heat. Gently shake the pan handle to ensure even toasting, for about 1 minute, or until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, olives, roasted peppers, parsley, and red pepper flakes. Stir until well combined. (This topping can be made up to a day or two in advance and placed in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before applying to bruschetta.)

Grill bread slices on an outdoor grill (or on a grill pan indoors, like I did) until lightly charred and crispy. You could also place them under the broiler. Rub each toasted slice with the raw garlic clove and drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil.

While the bread is still warm, top with brie then olive mixture. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and extra chopped parsley, if desired, and serve immediately.

Vegetarians, please avert your eyes.

When I made this bruschetta, I served it with shrimp for added protein (and because Jeff loves shrimp). It makes a fast and easy mid-week dinner.

Serves 2

2 teaspoons olive oil
12-14 jumbo shrimp, deveined and cleaned
the juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
season with salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley, optional
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a large skillet over medium heat, add oil. Once warm, add shrimp, and saute for 5-7 minutes, turning shrimp once or twice until opaque and crispy. When almost finished, season with lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place shrimp on a plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with finely chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

You might also like:
Spinach, Nutmeg, and Ricotta Calzones
Watercress, Seckel Pear, and Brie Salad
Mediterranean Jacket Potatoes
Homemade Pizza with Fennel Sausage and Rapini

Other bruschetta posts you might like:
All about bruschetta from Chickspeak.
Pear and Squash Bruschetta from Chef Mark Porcaro, featured on Pear Panache.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

What's More Fun Than Saying Lemonquat? Eating Coconut Lemonquat Tea Cake

Is there another name as fun to say as "kumquat"?

Yes. Lemonquat, limequat, and orangequat (also called mandarinquat).

I didn't make these up; they are citrus hybrids -- part kumquat and part lemon, lime, or orange, respectively.

fresh lemonquats and orangequats

Last year I shared a sensory experience of my first tart, lip-puckering kumquat. Ever since that day nearly two years, I anticipate kumquat season (which runs from January-May).

Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago, I discovered mandarinquats on Eggbeater's delightful blog. I was determined to find them. Last Sunday, I did.

A soft-spoken, affable farmer named George T. Schnurer, who owns and operates Betty B's Ranch in Ramona, California, sells a wide variety of cheerful citrus, including orangequats, lemonquats, and di rigeur Meyer lemons.

Though the juicy sweet-tart orangequats have a robust orange flavor that I love, I am positively smitten with the lemonquats. You might expect given their name that lemonquats are overly sour or acidic. They aren't. Like lemon drops, they're rather sweet with hints of tartness.

Lemonquats like kumquats are entirely edible. Though wonderful raw, they're simply amazing in baked goods. Despite their playful name and unique flavor, there aren't too many recipes for lemonquats, that is, except for hard drinks. Since this is G- rated blog, I figured I'd do something more wholesome, like cake.

So I consulted the ultimate baking cookbook: Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. I used Dorie's basic Coconut Tea Cake, then flavored it with lemonquats (rind and pulp included), and drizzled it with a simple lemon icing, toasted coconut, and sliced lemonquats.

It was truly one of the most scrumptious cakes I've ever eaten. Biting into the slightly crunchy, sweet icing gave way to a fabulously moist, dense cake speckled with tiny bits of explosively flavored lemonquats. It's ideal for brunch or an afternoon snack since it's not overly sweet. Rest assured, however, the flavor will leave you sighing with contentment.

If you can't find lemonquats (they're grown primarily in California and have a heartbreakingly short season), then try which sells all types of produce online. Otherwise, I would suggest substituting Meyer lemons or regular lemons with a bit more sugar since they're not as sweet.

Coconut Lemonquat Tea Cake
Print recipe only here.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup canned unsweetened lite coconut milk, stirred well (or regular coc. milk)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
4 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 de-seeded lemonquats, with the rind, minced until pulpy, (about 1/4 cup), plus 1 tablespoon of lemonquat juice**
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut, toasted

Icing and garnish:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
a few droplets of milk

1/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut, toasted
2-3 lemonquats, thinly sliced and de-seeded

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter or coat with cooking spray a 9-10-inch Kugelhopf or Bundt pan. Dorie advises to not place the pan on a baking sheet, since you want the oven's heat to circulate through the inner tube.

To toast the coconut, place in a dry skillet over medium heat, and gently stir until aromatic and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Keep your eye on it since it burns quite quickly!

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan, add the butter, and heat until the milk is hot and the butter is melted. Remove from the heat but keep warm.

Working with a hand mixer, or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, in a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar, and minced lemonquats with juice at medium-high speed until pale, thick and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour dissolves.

Keeping the mixer on low, add 1 cup of coconut, mixing only until blended, then slowly add the hot milk and butter. When the mixture is smooth, stop mixing, and stir it a couple of times with a rubber spatula to be sure it's throughly mixed. Pour the batter into the pan and gently shake it to even the batter.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool at room temperature.

Meanwhile, make the icing in a small bowl by whisking together 1 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. Add a few droplets of milk and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and thin yet clings to the back of a spoon. When it's ready, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any tiny clumps of confectioners' sugar (thanks, Mom!).

Unmold the cake, and place on a rack. Using a spoon, drizzle the icing in a back-and-forth pattern on the slightly warm cake. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of toasted coconut, and garnish with sliced lemonquats. Allow to set for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

**If you are unable to find lemonquats, then I suggest using sweet and tangy Meyer lemons or regular lemons sweetened with a little bit of sugar. I would mince 1/4 cup's worth of lemon pulp, the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon juice, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Of course, you can make it sweeter if you like.

Coming soon to a Food Blogga near you:
Orangequat Muffins!

You might also like:
Date, Fennel, and Pistachio Scones
Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon
Tuscan Torta di Mele (apple cake)

Other delicious lemon-y desserts I've seen:
Lemony Meyer Lemon Curd from Figs with Bri
Lemon Meringue Bars from Baking Bites
Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake from Dulcedo

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Homemade Pizza with Fennel Sausage and Rapini

There are some things in life that are so commonplace, you just assume that no matter where you live, they'll be there. Like supermarkets, gas stations, McDonald's, and pizza dough.

Every weekend of my life in Rhode Island, I went to Crugnale's Bakery to pick up 3 lbs. of pizza dough for $1. Like eggs and milk, it was a staple in our house.

Rhode Island -- the state with the highest percentage of Italian-Americans -- has an extraordinarily high number of bakeries, all of which sell pizza dough.

Imagine my shock when we moved to North Carolina and discovered that not only were there no Italian bakeries to be found, but people didn't even know what I meant when I asked for pizza dough.

I searched markets, delis, and bakeries:

Me: "Excuse me, do you sell pizza dough?"

Guy: "We don't sell pizza, Ma'm."

Me: "No, not pizza, just the dough."

Guy: "Just the dough? Why, don't you want the pizza?"

Me: "Well, I do want pizza, but I want to make it myself."

Guy: "Pizza Hut delivers you know."

After weeks of similar conversations, I decided to make my own. I asked my mom for a recipe, and three days days later, an envelope arrived in the mail. The recipe inside was so tattered and stained from years of use, I figured it had to be good. It's more than good. It's foolproof. Plus, it only takes about 10 minutes to make.

Pizza Hut, eat your heart out.

Homemade Pizza Dough
Makes approximately 2 pounds of dough.
Print recipe only here.

1 packet of active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups of warm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
In a large bowl, dissolve in 2 cups of warm water, yeast, sugar, and salt.

Using a spoon, gently blend.

Add 5 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to start. Blend with a spoon just until the dough starts to form, then using your hands, transfer to a floured surface.

Knead well—adding flour if it’s too sticky—until the dough becomes springy and smooth. It should take a good 5-10 minutes of vigorous kneading. It will be soft and silky when done.

Place the dough in a large, clean bowl coated with olive oil and rub some olive oil on top of the dough. Cover with a clean, dry dishtowel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size (at least 2 hours).

Punch the dough down to release air bubbles. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface to roll out. You can let the rolled out dough rest for about 30 minutes; it will rise slightly and create a puffier crust.

Leftover dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Coat the inside of a Ziploc bag with some cooking spray and drop the dough in; that way it doesn’t stick to the plastic. Allow to come to room temperature before rolling out.

Tips for Making Good Pizza Dough

*Make sure your yeast is fresh and not past its use-by date.
*When kneading the dough, push it away from you, then pull it towards you with the heel of your hand. Vigorous kneading (including breaking a sweat) will make for a lighter, crispier crust. The dough should feel silky soft when it's ready.
*Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free area. Cold temps prevent it from rising well.
*Always punch it down to release air bubbles.
*Freshly made dough is easy to roll out. Start in the center and roll outwards, ensuring it's an even thickness so it'll cook evenly.
*Always preheat your oven before cooking your pizza to get an extra crispy crust.

Now it's time to make pizza! I'm submitting this recipe for Fennel Sausage and Rapini Pizza to Joey, of the beautiful 80 Breakfasts, who has chosen pizza as this month's Hay, Hay, It's Donna Day theme.

Rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, broccoli raab, and rape, is a popular Italian vegetable. Though it resembles slender, leafy broccoli, it is actually a relative of the turnip. Rapini's bold, slightly bitter flavor pairs perfectly with spicy fennel sausage, sweet caramelized onions, and sharp provolone cheese. Blanching and shocking the rapini helps remove some of its bitterness and maintain its vibrant green color.

Fennel Sausage and Rapini Pizza
Print recipe only here.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 pound fennel sausage, sliced**

1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup shredded sharp provolone cheese
1/4 cup grated Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese

1/2 of the dough from recipe above (or 1 pound of store-bought dough)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F if using a pizza stone or 425-450 if using a baking sheet.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper (if using a stone) or to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with 1 tsp olive oil.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Boil rapini for 2 minutes; drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Shocking the rapini will maintain its vivid green color and stop it from cooking. After a couple of minutes, drain the rapini in a colander.
Slice sausage links. In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a skillet, and pan sear 4-5 minutes per side, until they are brown and crispy. Remove sausage to a plate.
In the same skillet over medium heat, warm 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add sliced onions and sugar; stir occasionally, until onions begin to caramelize, about 5-6 minutes. Add the rapini and crushed red pepper, and continue cooking, about 2-3 minutes, until rapini is slightly browned. Return sausage to skillet and stir. Remove from heat.

Place half of the provolone cheese on the oiled dough. Arrange the sausage mixture on top, then add the second half of the provolone cheese.

For a pizza stone, bake at 500 degree for about 10 minutes, or until both the top and bottom of the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.

For a baking sheet, bake at 450 for about 25 minutes, or until both the top and bottom of the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.
Sprinkle with grated Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese before serving.

**Fennel sausage is mildly hot and spicy and can be found at Italian markets and delis. Otherwise, substitute any type of sausage you like.

You might also like:
Fig and Fennel Pizza
Potato and Gorgonzola Pizza
Broccolini and Sun-Dried Tomato Pie
Spinach, Nutmeg, and Ricotta Calzone

Don't forget to check Joey's round-up of pizzas on Feb. 2nd!

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bam! Snickers Cookies

I was a weird kid. I never ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My mother never had to tell me to straighten my room. And I liked Halloween more for the decorations than the candy.

Except for Snickers. I loved Snickers.

Something about the mix of sweet chocolate, sticky caramel, dense peanut butter nougat, and crunchy peanuts made me swoon. I still remember the house at 101 Pinewood Drive in our neighborhood that gave out the king size Snickers bars to every kid who came by on Halloween.

Bam! That big bar would hit the bottom of your plastic pumpkin. Then you'd have to center it, otherwise your pumpkin would lilt for the rest of the night. After you hit that house, it didn't matter how many Dum Dums or Tootsie Rolls you got. You had scored.

I'm not alone in my Snickers love. According to Wikipedia, "Snickers is the best selling candy bar of all time and has annual global sales of US $2 billion."

Well, they haven't made any money off of me in the last 15 years or so, which is the last time I had a Snickers bar. That is, until this past Saturday when I made Michelle's Snickers Cookies.

I needed a kid-loving cookie and figured Michelle (a mom of four) would know best. She does. When I took the first bite of a warm Snickers cookie, I audibly sighed. They're sweet and rich and studded with chewy melted Snickers chunks.

It brought me right back to my Wonder Woman costume and to 101 Pinewood Dr.

These are too good not to share, so I'm submitting them to Candyrecapper, who has chosen candy as this month's theme for Sugar High Friday.

Snickers Cookies
Makes about 35 cookies.
Print recipe only here.

½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 1/2 king size Snickers bars or 9-10 fun size bars, chopped into small pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the first six ingredients, and mix well with a hand mixer. Add the dry ingredients through the salt, and mix until well blended. Stir in Snickers pieces.

Roll small balls of cookie dough in your hands. If the dough sticks to the palms of your hands, run them hands under a little warm water and continue. Place cookies about 2 inches apart since they spread while baking. Makes approximately 35 cookies.

Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly puffy. If baking two trays of cookies at the same time, rotate the pans midway through so they bake evenly.

You might also like:
Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Hello Dollies!
Dorothy's Almond Biscotti

Other chocolate-y cookies I covet:
Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Ribbons from Cookie Madness
Double Chocolate Cookies from Technicolor Kitchen
Sweet and Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Bake or Break

Speaking of Wonder Woman, if you're not familiar with Michelle's blog Scribbit, then do yourself a favor and start visiting her. She is one the first bloggers I ever made contact with, and I've become a loyal reader.

She calls Scribbit her blog about "motherhood in Alaska," and says everything she needs to know she learned from motherhood. Even though I'm not a mother or from Alaska, I enjoy Michelle's writing. From heartwarming posts about the funny things her kids say to activites that encourage reading Michelle shows that she can handle all types of situations with grace, intellect, and humor.

You'll learn a lot about life in Alaska (sledding, anyone?) and can brighten Michelle's winter by submitting something to her Winter Bazaar. If you like to read and write, then check out her monthly Write-Away Contests and book reviews.

Finally, she's a blogger who always gives without expecting to receive -- consider her generous Saturday Give-Aways and her sage advice such as this fantastic post on the Five Things Every Blogger Should Know.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Football, Fish Tacos, and Clam Chowder: It's New England versus San Diego

Whaddle' it be?
New England?

Or San Diego?

OK ladies, read closely. This post will not only provide you with some good football grub, but it could also improve your relationship with your football-lovin' guy.

This Sunday the New England Patriots play the San Diego Chargers. You know I love football. You also know that since I'm from New England, I'm genetically programmed to be a Patriots fan. Having grown up a Pats fan and now living in San Diego, I couldn't resist writing this post.

Here is what you need to do, girls. Even if you hate football, watch the game this weekend, and focus on #12, the Patriots' quarterback, Tom "Terrific" Brady. If you know who Tom Brady is, then you understand. If you don't, read on. (Ugh! Jeff hacked my post and changed my Tom Brady link to his website!)

Tom Brady is a three time Superbowl Champion quarterback who works hard, doesn't talk trash, dates Gisele (the Victoria's Secret Brazilian supermodel) and has an adorable dimple in his chin. Oh, and was named best dressed man in the world.

He's the George Clooney of athletes. In fact, after Matt Damon was named "Sexiest Man Alive" by People magazine, he joked that it should have been Tom Brady. Sorry Matt, I agree with you.

Now, if you don't normally watch football, you gotta play it cool with your guy. If you tell him you're watching the game because you want to see Tom Brady, he'll get all defensive and start asking ridiculous things like: "What's so great about Tom Brady?"

So instead, memorize something like:
"I wanted to watch the game to see if the Chargers' banged up secondary can keep New England from airing it out to their wideouts and tight end."


"I wanted to watch the game to see if the Chargers can get the ground game going with an injured LT against the Patriots' outside linebackers."

It doesn't matter if you don't understand it. Your guy won't either, but he'll have to agree with you so that he doesn't look stupid.

Now that he is duped, get ready to feast your eyes on #12.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot the food. Here's some representative regional cuisine. Is there anything more quintessentially New England than New England Clam Chowdah? (Yes, that's how you should pronounce it.)

It's been years since I made or tasted clam chowder, and one mouthful brought me right back to blustery, grey winter days. (Rocky Point anyone?)

It never gets "blustery" in San Diego, so we'll have fish tacos here instead. Fish tacos are like Happy Meals for adults -- hot, crispy, salty, and spicy. They're ideal football food because you eat 'em with your hands and they're perfect with cold beer.

Now, won't that make your guy happy?

I've actually written an article about fish tacos for NPR's Kitchen Window. There, you'll find three fish taco recipes to choose from: traditional Baja-Style Fish Tacos, baked fish tacos with fresh green tomato salsa, and shrimp tacos with chipotle cream and charred poblano peppers.

Rather than rely on my memory for Rocky Point clam chowder, here is a recipe from last November's Cooking Light. The only change I made was substituting pancetta for bacon and stirring in 1 Tbsp of butter at the end.

You might also like this football friendly fare:
Patriots' Potato Pizza (yes, those Patriots)
Spinach, Nutmeg, and Ricotta Calzones
Turkey, Proscuitto, and Gorgonzola Sandwich

Elise also has a great football food post. Check out her chili round-up.

Who do you want to win? Chargers or Patriots?

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Monday, January 14, 2008

How to Talk Turnips to Firemen: Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple Sage Glaze

I love to go grocery shopping early in the morning. It's usually just me, senior citizens, and the produce guys.

The other day, however, I noticed two firemen near the navel oranges. Then I saw two more near the squash. Why, I wondered, would four firemen be in the market at 7:30 am? (I wasn't too worried -- I figured if the market was on fire, they wouldn't be sorting through butternut squash).

Then when I went to get some turnips, I came upon two more firemen arguing over a parsnip.

"It's a turnip," the cute one said. "No. It's a parnsip," the not-as-cute one said. (Hmmm ... I thought all firemen were supposed to be cute.)

The cute one turns to me and says, "Excuse me, miss, but isn't this a turnip?" I looked at the long, white pointy vegetable in his hand, and said sympathetically, "Sorry, but it's a parsnip." He looked crestfallen. Which is when not-so-cute guy began gloating, "See, I told you it was a parsnip."

I excused myself and began selecting some rutabagas, when the cute one asked, "What's that you're buying?" Before I could utter a response, "not-so-cute" guy piped in: "It's celery root." "Actually, it's a rutabaga," I said. "No, that's celery root," he insisted.

At this point the entire fire crew had gathered around us. I could feel my ears getting hot, and I suddenly thought, "Oh, God, please let this be a rutabaga." Then the produce guy said, "It's a rutabaga." They all razzed not-so-cute guy, and I walked away quietly, vindicated.

When I got to the checkout, the cashier picked up my rutabagas (which didn't have a code on them) and said, "these are turnips, right?"

Rutabaga (front left) and turnip (front right).
Here's how to tell the difference between rutabagas and turnips: Rutabagas are slightly yellow and dark bluish-purple; they are usually larger and more rotund than turnips. Turnips, in contrast, are white with bright violet. Rutabagas will often have the tops and bottoms cut off, while the turnips usually don't.

I love roasting root vegetables. Doing so caramelizes them. With maple syrup and sage, this dish is pleasantly smoky and sweet and wonderfully aromatic. Plus you don't have to know the difference amongst any of the vegetables -- just toss them all together; they get along well.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple Sage Glaze
Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

1 rutagaba, peeled and diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and several cranks of black pepper

3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium bowl, toss diced vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread vegetables in a single layer on an aluminum lined baking sheet (for easy clean up). Roast for 20 minutes. Stir and continue roasting for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile in a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the maple syrup and sage to the melted butter and stir until combined. Pour over the vegetables, and stir until well coated. Roast for another 15-20 minutes or until maple syrup becomes bubbly and vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork.

Garnish with more chopped fresh sage before serving.

You might also like:
Baked Yams with Citrus Glaze and Toasted Pecans
Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Lemon
Roasted Acorn Squash with Medjool Dates and Toasted Almonds
Crispy Breaded Cauliflower with Olive-Herb Tapenade

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

When Life Hands You Dented Apples, Make Apple Sauce

My local market recently had a sale on apples. Since it's well past apple picking season, I decided to stock up. I spent 10 minutes carefully selecting the most perfectly shaped, shiny Macs, Rome Beauties, and Pink Ladies I could find.

I gently placed my bags of apples on the conveyor belt at the checkout. As I continued to unload my remaining groceries, from the corner of my eye I saw my apples disappear from the belt: blam! onto the scale, then blam! into the grocery bag. Before I could utter a word, it was too late. My previously pristine apples were irrevocably spotted with unsightly blemishes.

Rather than trying to eat around the bruises, I did what any resourceful food blogger would do: I made apple sauce. Homemade apple sauce is infinitely better than bottled. With no additives or preservatives, it's healthier too. Plus when you make it, your entire house smells like freshly baked apple pie; that's reason enough to not buy the bottled kind.

Though I love to eat apple sauce on its own, it's surprisingly delicious with other foods. I've become excited about getting up in the morning since I began swirling apple sauce, dates, and walnuts into my oatmeal.

I love butternut squash simply roasted, but I really love it filled with homemade apple sauce, toasted pecans, and ground cinnamon and nutmeg.

How I make homemade apple sauce:
  • I use sweet, juicy, meaty apples such as Rome Beauties or McIntosh. Though I love tart and tangy Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies for eating apples, I wouldn't recommend them for apple sauce.
  • Like Jeff's mom, Dorothy of Dorothy's Broccoli Pasta and Italian Almond Biscotti, I leave the skin on one or two apples to impart a warm reddish color to the sauce. If you don't like the texture of the skin, you can remove it before serving or puree the sauce until it dissolves.
  • For a basic apple sauce, I use apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. For variety, I sometimes add a splash of fresh lemon juice or some ground nutmeg, ginger, or cloves; golden raisins and dried or fresh cranberries are wonderful add-ins too. And who could argue with pouring some pure maple syrup or honey in for added sweetness?

Homemade Apple Sauce
Yields 5 cups, cooked
Print recipe only here.

8 McIntosh or Rome Beauty apples (about 8 cups), peeled and chopped
3 cups water
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Place chopped apples in a deep pot. Add water, sugar, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, or until the apples begin to break down. Lower to a simmer and cook 15-20 minutes, or until the apples are completely soft. Stir well with a spoon until a thick sauce forms.

Leave a few lumps and bumps in it or puree it in a blender for a smooth finish. Make sure to let it cool first before pouring it the blender! Otherwise it will blow the cover off. Not that it has happened to me.

Let the sauce cool before serving.

You might also like my:
Torta di Mele (Apple Cake)
Warm Citrus and Banana Cups
Baked Yams with a Citrus Glaze and Toasted Pecans

More about apple sauce from Marisa of Slashfood.
Try a delicious recipe for Latkes with Apple Sauce created by the Iron Chef, Mario Batale, and posted on Serious Eats.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

And the Winner is Mansi!

Congratulations Mansi!

Mansi of Fun Food from California, USA. Mansi shares a recipe for Peppermint and Vanilla Butter Cookies. Flavored with aromatic vanilla and a hint of peppermint extract, these merriest of cookies will please everyone at your Christmas table.

She is the winner of this year's Eat Christmas Cookies Event and will receive a copy of Sherry Yard's fabulous new cookbook.

Thanks to all of you who participated in this year's Christmas cookie event. You have inspired me (and thousands of others) with your splendid creations.

Many of you have written to me to ask if I plan to host this event next year, and all I have to say is, "absolutely!" Now, don't procrastinate -- there's only 308 days left until the next Christmas cookie event....

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Food Blogga Exposed! Savory Chestnut Pancakes with Pancetta and Creme Fraiche

I can't make pancakes. Nope. Just can't. Other than my fleeting victory with Nigella's ricotta hotcakes last August (which technically aren't pancakes), I haven't had much pancake success.

I've tried recipes from Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, and even Martha. They always come too heavy or too dry or too flat.

So when Jeff and I felt like having pancakes on Sunday, I went where no respectful food blogger goes -- to the Bisquick section of the supermarket baking aisle.

There I furtively placed a box of Heart Smart Bisquick in my cart, proceeded to the checkout, and almost made it to my car, when I was accosted by the Food Blogging paparazzi. Despite my protestations, their persistence was formidable.

I was caught red (box) handed. I confessed on the spot. I needed the Bisquick.

Let me tell you. It was worth it. I made savory, holiday inspired chestnut pancakes. They were the fluffiest, tastiest pancakes I had made in quite a while.

The interplay between the salty pancetta, the sugary maple syrup, and the sour creme fraiche is remarkably satisfying. Plus these savory pancakes balance the sweet gnocchi I made a few weeks ago.

Chestnut Pancakes with Pancetta, Creme Fraiche, and Cinnamon Maple Syrup
My inspiration for this recipe came from an original in Bon Appetit.
Makes 10 (3-4-inch) round pancakes.

Print recipe only here.

1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
1/3 pound pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch-dices
1 cup Heart Smart Bisquick
scant 3/4 cup milk (I used skim)
1 egg white
1/4 cup coarsely chopped bottled chestnuts
1/4 cup pure maple syrup, warmed
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Creme fraiche

To toast the pecans, place in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, or until golden brown. Shake the pan handle gently to ensure even toasting. Remove from heat.

Cook pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp; transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.

In a medium bowl, add Bisquick, milk, and egg white, and mix well until smooth. Gently stir in chestnuts. Let batter rest for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add maple syrup and cinnamon to a small pan and warm over a low simmer.

To make the pancakes, place a thin layer of canola oil on a pancake griddle over medium heat. Place a drop of batter on the skillet to make sure it's hot enough. Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls (about 1 heaping). Cook pancakes until golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Transfer to a warm plate until ready to serve. Top with créme fraîche, pancetta, and cinnamon maple syrup.

You might also like my:
Potato, Pepper, and Onion Frittata
Heuvos Rancheros with Salsa Verde
Persimmon and Date Bread
Date, Fennel, and Pistachio Scones

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