Wednesday, February 27, 2008

All-in-the-Pan Chewy Chocolate cake with Chocolate Butter icing

Another day, another cake but from the same cookbook: In the Sweet Kitchen by Reagan Daley .

Last week, we were invited to a "Thanksgiving dinner in February" at Carolyn's house. She provided the turkey (21 lbs!), mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, stuffing and gravy and all I needed to bring was dessert.

Given that there was a mixed crowd of people -- all ages, all tastes -- I chose a traditional chocolate cake that could feed a crowd. As the name suggestes, the cake is mixed and baked in the same pan (though you do use an extra bowl...) making it quite simple to pull together. You don't have to frost it with the icing, but you'd be missing out.

The cake is very moist, though it could have a deeper flavor. Although Daley says not to "add anything silly to this cake, like liquers or other flavorings" adding some espresso powder would give it a nice punch.

The frosting is simply delicious. Imagine the flavor of fudge in a frosting. Yum!

All-in-the-Pan Chewy Chocolate cake with Chocolate Butter icing

3 cups AP flour
2 c. sugar
½ c. natural unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups cool water

½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 to 6 Tbsp milk or water
3 TBSP natural unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350- degrees F. Sift flour into an ungreased, unfloured 13x9 baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add this mixture to the flour in the pan and stir well with a fort of small whisk to blend the ingredients.

With the back of a teaspoon, make three indentations or wells in the dry mixture: one large, one medium-sized, and one small. In the large well, our the vegetable oil. In the medium well, add the vinegar. In the small well, add the vanilla extract, and then pour the water over everything. With a for, stir the mixture until well blended, making sure you reach into the corners and sides to catch any dry pockets. Do not beat this batter, but just mix enough until most of the lumps are smoothed out, and there are no little patches of overly thick or thin batter. A few lumps are fine.

Bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean & the top feels springy when lightly touched. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the cake completely before frosting.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar until butter is well distributed. The mixture will be very dry and powdery. Stir in 2 Tbsp. of milk or water, then sift the cocoa powder over the mixture and cream to blend. Mix in the vanilla then add the rest of the sugar. Add as much of the remaining liquid as needed to make a thick and creamy frosting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Carmelized Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

To be honest, I was initially disappointed with this cake. The day I made it -- Valentines' Day, a Thursday -- the topping struck me as too bitter, despite all the caramel encapsulating the pineapple. But by Saturday, the bitterness had given way to a gentle tartness, pairing well with the dense and lovely vanilla-flavored cake. I was snitched away pieces every time I had the chance.

Carmelized Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (from In the Sweet Kitchen)


1 large, sweet ripe pineapple
1/3 c. unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs
4 or 5 large egg yolks (use 5 if the yolks seem small)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 Tbsp Brandy
2 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup butter, melted & cooled

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Grease a 10-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom, and 2 inches up the sides, with a sheet of foil. Press the foil into the pan, smoothing out creases as best as possible. Grease the foil and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Grease the paper and sprinkle the bottom with a little sugar, carefully tapping out the excess while keeping a finger on the linings to hold them in place.

Cut the rind from the pineapple and cut away all the tough little eyes. Cut the fruit lengthwise into four pieces, setting aside one quarter for another use. Slice each of the remaining three quarters lengthwise into three pieces, then slice each of these into 1/3- to ½- inch slices. Place these into a bowl and set them within close reach of the stove.

Melt the 1/3 cup of butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. As soon as the butter is liquid, add the 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. of sugar and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves and begins to color. At first, the mixture will be grainy and foamy , then after a few minutes, the oil will separate from the caramel and rise to the top. Keep stirring slowly, the mixture should look thick and creamy. Watch carefully, continuing to stir, for the caramel to turn a dark amber color.

As soon as the caramel is this color, place all the pineapple slices in the pot, being careful not to get burned by the splatter. Allow the fruit and caramel to sputter for about 30 seconds, then use the wooden spoon to move the fruit around and become covered by the caramel. The syrup will likely have seized a bit but the lumps will eventually melt back down. . When the contents have settled into a steady boil, keep stirring slowly for about 6 yo 8 minutes until the pineapple is golden with glassy edges. Remove the pot from the stove and set beside the prepared pan.

Using tongs to grab hold of the pineapple, arrange slices decoratively in the pan. Use a slotted spoon to remove any little bits of pineapple still in the caramel, and return the pot to the head. Continue boiling, stirring slowly, until the mixture is very thick and syrupy, being careful not to burn the caramel. You may need to tilt the pan back and forth gently to gauge the consistency – it should be similar to that of thick honey. When ready, pour the caramel over the pineapple slices, and set the pan aside.

Into a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a larger bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolks to break them up. Whisk in the 1 ½ cups sugar, then blend in the brandy and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in two or three additions, stirring with a whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Gently stir in the cooled melted butter; the batter will be a bit runny. Pour the batter over the pineapple slices in the pan, being careful not to disturb the fruit.

Place the cake pan on a baking sheet and set in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes. A golden crust should have formed on the top of the cake and the edges should be beginning to pull from the sides of the pan. To test for doneness, poke a wooden skewer into the cake, making the hole a bit larger than the skewer – it should come out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 7 or 8 minutes, then run a thin-bladed knife around the cake and carefully release the sides of the pan.

Invert the cake onto a serving platter and remove the bottom of the pan; peel away the foil and parchment taking care not to disturb the hot cake. Cool completely before serving or covering and storing.

This can be stored for several days at room temperature if it’s well covered.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Baked Spaghetti Romanoff

I am so sick of winter.

I'm tired of the snow. I'm tired of being cold. I'm tired of it getting dark before dinner time.

And just when I thought that we were out of the woods ("Hey! There are buds on those trees!"), we get hit with a snow storm.

The only thing to do is have a casserole for dinner -- a hot, creamy, cheesy casserole -- and eat it curled up on the couch with a warm blanket and a glass of something that warms you from the inside out.

Note: with the exception of the cheddar cheese I topped things with, this is a lightened- up recipe from the Courier-Journal. For a richer flavor, use full fat products!

Baked Spaghetti Romanoff

3 cups cooked, protein-enriched spaghetti, hot
1 cup 99 percent-fat-free cottage cheese
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1/8 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons chopped onions (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash Tabasco sauce
3 tablespoons shredded, grated extra-sharp Romano cheese
2 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F and lightly oil a casserole dish.

Combine hot spaghetti in a casserole with remaining ingredients except bread crumbs and cheddar cheese. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Sprinkle casserole with cheddar and bake for another 5 minutes or until melted.
Serves 6.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Honey-Roasted Lamb with Fresh Arugula

Here I am, finally posting about our Valentines Day dinner. We (well, me) decided to stay in as we've had bad luck with restaurants lately, with our spending a lot of money on less-than-spectacular dishes. So, I figured that we could save some money by cooking at home, and still have a great meal.

I spotted this recipe on, and adapted it slightly based on user comments. The result was fantastic: the lamb was tender and flavorful, with a hint of sweetness from the honey glaze. And the arugula -- I'm still thinking about it. The peppery bite from the greens is off-set by the honey garlic vinaigrette and pairs with the lamb beautifully.

One change I might make in the future is lightly searing the lamb before roasting it in the oven. I think the chops could have used a bit more color, and searing should take care of that. Of course, this would likely change the roasting time, so if you do this, make sure to keep an eye on the meat.

(And how did we celebrate Valentines' Day? While the lamb roasted, we exchanged gifts. I gave Shane a French coffee press, and Shane gave me a bouquet of flowers and chocolates -- as requested. Then we had our lamb, complemented with roasted potatoes and capped off by pineapple-upside down cake.

After dinner, we retired to the living room to enjoy glasses of red wine. And promptly fell asleep. Shane & Laura: last of the red-hot lovers.)

Honey-Roasted Lamb with Fresh Arugula

2 tablespoons honey, divided
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 and 1/2-pound rack of lamb, trimmed

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

6 cups arugula (about 4 ounces)

Preheat oven to 425-degrees F. Combine honey, 1 tablespoon oil, thyme, and garlic in heavy small saucepan. Stir over low heat until just warm, then remove from heat. Pour 2/3 of honey mixture into small bowl. Place lamb on rack set in roasting pan; brush with half of honey mixture from bowl. Roast lamb 12 minutes; brush with remaining honey mixture from bowl.

Continue to roast lamb until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat registers 125-degrees F for medium-rare, about 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to cutting board.

Meanwhile, add vinegar, 1 tablespoon water, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil to honey mixture in saucepan. Stir over low heat until just warm. Discard thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper.

Cut lamb between ribs into chops. Divide arugula among plates. Top each serving with lamb chops. Drizzle warm dressing over and serve warm.

Something Exciting ...

If you're lucky enough, you have an Edible publication covering the area in which you live. And now I'M pretty lucky, because Edible Finger Lakes will launching in April, celebrat[ing] the abundance of local foods in the Finger Lakes region of New York State."

But then, I'm biased because I'm writing an article for their debut issue. I am actually putting all that writing and editorial experience to work for a topic I love. I'm writing about food, and getting paid for it!

I have to keep specifics on the "down low" (hee-hee) until the magazine premieres, but I'm covering a great story and interviewing very committed and enthusiastic people, so the article should be great. (I say "should" because I'm superstitious enough to think that something will horribly go wrong if I make a bolder statement. Lame, I know.)

Thanks to Garrett of Vanilla Garlic for his advice!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chicken Tikka Masala

Photo courtesy of

I really love chicken tikka masala, mainly because my favorite Indian restaurant, Thali of Inda, makes it so well. (But all of their food is amazing -- mmmm.)

Admittedly, this version from Cook's Illustrated is not as divine as Thali's. But it's still delicious, and I'm thrilled to have found a recipe that I can recreate at home.

I've noticed that some of CI's recipes are a bit bland for my tastes, and I can't help but wonder if it's due to their by committee adjusting of recipes. Too many cooks spoil the broth, I think, or in this case, render it boring.

As such, the amount of garam masala they recommended was not enough, so I nearly doubled the proportions. Of course, the garam masala itself was terrific; I'm fortunate to have a top notch spice company right here in town -- the Canandaigua Spice Co. -- where I could pick some up, hand-blended.

I tried to reduce the fat a bit by using less oil, substituting whole plain yogurt for fat free Greek yogurt, and swapping the cream for buttermilk. Yes, not using cream did change the consistency of the sauce; it was less, well, creamy -- but still very good. By all means, use the full fat versions of everything if you like.

The recipe calls for serving the tikka masala over basamati rice but we used brown rice to get some more whole grains into our diet.

Almost ready to serve...

Chicken Tikka Masala
(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Chicken Tikka
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts , trimmed of fat
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt or at fat free plain greek yogurt
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves , minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Masala Sauce
2 - 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion , diced fine
2 medium garlic cloves , minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh serrano or jalepeno chile , ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons garam masala
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup low-fat butter milk OR heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (Optional for cilantro haters like me)

For the chicken, combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

For the sauce, heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Cover chicken with yogurt mixture thickly and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking.

Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Stir in cilantro if using, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines Day

Moist, chewy brownies can be made – and eaten – without throwing one’s healthy diet under an oncoming bus.

I made the recipe two ways – first using dutch processed cocoa, and then with traditional baking cocoa. The traditional cocoa yielded a reddish brownie with a detectable coffee flavor, while the dutch-processed turned out a nearly black brownie with a more complex depth of flavor (the coffee was much harder to taste).

All-in-all, I prefer the version using the dutch-processed cocoa. Not only did it have a richer flavor, but the DP brownie is visually stunning, telegraphing, “I am the chocolate brownie of your dreams.” Unfortunately, the chocolate hit you expect to get with them isn’t there. The flavor simply isn’t as intense as the color of the brownie suggests. I’d like to increase the amount of bittersweet chocolate and fold miniature chocolate chips into the batter in the hopes of kicking up the chocolate decadence quotient.

Bittersweet Brownies
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon instant espresso granules or 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa or dutch processed cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, allowing it to overhang on two sides, and spray with cooking spray

Combine 1/4 cup boiling water and espresso in a medium bowl. Add chocolate chips, stirring until chocolate melts; cool slightly. Stir in butter, vanilla, egg, and egg white.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk. Add coffee mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into baking pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 brownie)

CALORIES 171 (31% from fat); FAT 5.8g (sat 3.4g,mono 1.4g,poly 0.3g); PROTEIN 2.5g; CHOLESTEROL 25mg; CALCIUM 26mg; SODIUM 107mg; FIBER 1.2g; IRON 1.1mg; CARBOHYDRATE 29.3g

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lamb Souvlaki with Tzatziki

Back in December, I visited a new doctor (or, as I like to call him, "hot doctor" because, well, look at him), an MD with an acupunturist's license and a holistic approach to medicine. His practice is radically different from traditional practices: he's the only person there, the number of patients admitted into the practice is limited, co-pays can be paid through PayPal, his waiting room is pleasant and relaxing (the kind of pleasant and relaxing you'd expect when waiting for a massage, not when waiting for someone to potentially draw blood).

At my appointment -- required to be an HOUR long as I was a new patient (see, I told you this is different)-- we did a lot of talking about health, in part about healthy eating. After congratulating me on my weight loss and exercise regimine, he asked me to think more about the gylcemic index when choosing what eat. It's not enough to eat low-fat, it isn't even necessarily "good" to do so, but my goal should be to reduce the amount of simple carbohydrates I consume and increase the amount of vegetables and fruits I consume, supplementing that with lean meats and complex carbs.

Now, this isn't news to me, but my tastebuds don't want to hear it. I really love sweets. (As you may have noticed.) And to me, the glycemic index has a loopy kind of logic: a glass of skim milk and a packet of peanut M&Ms have the virtually the same glycemic index. On a low-fat diet, there's an incentive to choose the milk, but here? Pass the M&Ms, please!

I tried the South Beach diet a few years ago, and didn't make it past the two-week/no-sugar phase. (Spreading natural peanut butter on a sugar free fudgsicle to sate a craving didn't seem like healthy eating behavior to me.)

Still, it's been something I've been thinking about. I've lost quite a bit of weight on WW. But if you stay within your given calorie point allotment, and you choose to eat all those points using simple carbohydrates (potato chips, cookies, cupcakes, etc., etc.), you can still lose weight. It's not a balanced diet and WW doesn't advocate doing this. But if the primary goal is to lose weight -- and they are called "Weight Watchers" -- you can lose weight and not learn healthy eating habits.

Then again, what's a healthy eating habit? Gary Taubes argued in his article, What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?, that low-fat diets aren't really healthy, and were thrown upon the American public based on wonky policy:

While the low-fat-is-good-health dogma represents reality as we have come toknow it, and the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research trying to prove its worth, the low-carbohydrate message has been relegated to the realm of unscientific fantasy.

Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, [...] is the de facto spokesman of the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed, which have already cost upward of $100 million and include data on nearly 300,000 individuals. Those data, says Willett, clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message ''and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.''

Taubes goes on to challenge what we commonly believe about fats and their relationship to "good" and "bad" cholesterol:

Few experts now deny that the low-fat message is radically oversimplified. If nothing else, it effectively ignores the fact that unsaturated fats, like olive oil, are relatively good for you: they tend to elevate your good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (H.D.L.), and lower your bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (L.D.L.), at least in comparison to the effect of carbohydrates. While higher L.D.L. raises your heart-disease risk, higher H.D.L. reduces it.

What this means is that even saturated fats -- a k a, the bad fats -- are not nearly as deleterious as you would think. True, they will elevate your bad cholesterol, but they will also elevate your good cholesterol. In other words, it's a virtual wash. As Willett explained to me, you will gain little to no health benefit by giving up milk, butter and cheese and eating bagels instead.

Add to the mix the body fat acceptance movement (you can get started reading about this and related topics on The F Word), which advocates health at all sizes, and constantly questions what medicine and science say are "healthy" body types and you've got a big fat (ha-ha) pile of confusion on your hands.

In the face of all this, I plan to stick WW and an increased an effort to eat less sugar and other simple carbohydrates. There will still be PLENTY of dessert recipes on the blog, it's just that I'll be giving away a lot more of these treats to friends and coworkers.

But it's also why I turned to Kalyn's Kitchen . I thought if anyone would have scrumptious recipes emphasizing lean meats, vegetables and complex carbs, it would be Kalyn.

Naturally, she did. I cooked up her recipes for lamb souvlaki and tzatziki; both were excellent. The souvlaki was and as flavorful, with a nice herbal kick, and wonderfully tender. And her tzatziki -- well, it really might be the world's best.

So thank you, Kalyn. Thank you for providing us with a dinner that was not only easy-to-prepare, not only health-conscious, but delicious as well. I'm looking forward to exploring more of your recipes.

Lamb Souvlaki (adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen)

1 lb. lamb shoulder meat

1/4 cup olive oil (preferably Greek olive oil)
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1 tsp. minced garlic or garlic puree

Cut lamb into pieces slightly over one inch square, trimming off some, but not all of the fat. Combine marinade ingredients. Place lamb cubes and marinade in small Ziploc bag and marinate in refrigerator for about 4 hours, no longer.

To cook, place lamb on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until done. Serve hot.

World's Best Tzatziki (adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen)

3 cups Greek Yogurt (or regular plain yogurt, strained )
juice of one lemon (about 3 T)
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 medium cucumbers, seeded and diced
about 1 T kosher salt for salting cucumbers
1 T finely chopped fresh parsley (substitute dill or mint leaves for a slightly different version)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Peel cucumbers, then cut in half lengthwise and take a small spoon and scrape out seeds. Discard seeds. (If you use the small seedless or European cucumbers with few seeds, you can skip this step.) Dice cucumbers, then put in a colander, sprinkle on 1 T salt, and let stand for 30 minutes to draw out water. Drain well and wipe dry with paper towel.

In food processor with steel blade, add cucumbers, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, and a few grinds of black pepper. Process until well blended, then stir this mixture into the yogurt. Taste before adding any extra salt, then salt if needed. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours before serving so flavors can blend. (This resting time is very important.)

This will keep for a few days or more in the refrigerator, but you will need to drain off any water and stir each time you use it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Donuts! I got donuts!

I’ve thinking a lot about donuts lately. My beloved Krispy Kreme – just a stone’s throw from work – closed down, leaving me bereft of my favorite flavor: glazed kreme filled. Now, my only local options are Dunkin’ Donuts (serviceable), the bakery department at Wegmans (pretty good) or Timmy Ho’s (where I seem to get stale donuts 50% of the time). I don’t think we have any “artisanal” donut places in the area (If I’m wrong, PLEASE correct me) so I’m filled with envy any time I see anything about Voodoo Donut or the Doughnut Plant.

So Peabody and Tartlette’s challenge – Time to Make the Donuts – seemed like the perfect idea. I could satisfy the donut craving right at home! But since I didn’t have any experience deep frying, I thought I’d make things a bit easier on myself by finding a recipe using pre-made dough.

Slightly adapting Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for Italian donuts, I cut pizza dough into donut and donut hole shapes, then fried and decorated them.

Things were nearly flawless, with the exception of my deep fat thermometer cracking while in the oil. (Thankfully, it was only an inconvenience and not the disaster it could have been.) The dough puffed up beautifully, turned a nice golden brown, and was tasty both warm and cool. I made two types: donut holes rolled in cinnamon-sugar, and donuts dipped in a butter vanilla icing. I thought the cinnamon guys were delicious, until I tasted the iced donuts – heaven on earth.

It's amazing how simple ingredients -- flour, oil, sugar, and butter -- can create an extraordinary treat. But I guess that's the beauty of donuts.

Italian donuts

Pizza dough (this worked surprisingly well)
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
(See icing recipe, below)

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/2-inch thickness.

For donuts:
Using a floured 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out donut rounds. Using a floured 1-inch cookie cutter, punch out a hole in the center of each donut. (I used a wide-mouth wine glass for the donut rounds, and a small circular cookie cutter for the hole.) Gather the dough scraps and reroll. Cut out more donuts.

For donut holes:
Use a small, round cookie cutter to punch out bits of dough. Gather the dough scraps, reroll, and cut out more donut holes.

Whisk the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl to blend. Place cinnamon-sugar inside a medium-sized paper bag and set aside.

Pour vegetable oil into a large frying pan to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees F. Working in batches, fry the donuts or donut holes until they puff but are still pale, about 45 seconds per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the donuts to paper towels to drain. Cool slightly. While the donuts are still warm, generously coat each 2 times with the cinnamon-sugar. Serve warm.

Alternately, cool the fried donuts to room temperature. Melt 4 Tbsp of butter and add enough powdered sugar to form an icing. (If needed, add more powdered sugar to thicken; thin the icing with small amounts of water.) Add a bit of vanilla extract, perhaps 1/4 tsp. to start. If desired, add food coloring and blend well. Dip 1 side of each donut into the mixture, dust the donut with sprinkles and set aside until the icing is set.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mmm ... Forbidden Donut

I would love to wear these, but I'm 30 and I just feel I'm past the age of doing so. Then again, I couldn't really see myself wearing these when I was 20, either. Besides, where would I wear them? When teaching a college course? Going food shopping? Out on a romantic dinner date? I guess I'm just not a whimsical fashion person.

I'd love to wear this, this, or this but won't for the same reasons. That, and I imagine Tim Gunn being horrified at the prospect of my wearing these. "Oh, Laura! No."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Chicken and Parsnip "Fries" with Spicy Vinegar

Ohhhh, Parsnip. I love you.

Sure, you’re supposed to be the side complementing a roast chicken breast but, let’s be honest: you’re the star.

You made me eat each and every piece of you, sliced in thin strips, tossed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. The high temperature of the oven softened you and then crisped up your edges. It gave you lovely bursts of dark color, carmelizing your sugars – sugars I wasn’t even aware you had.

You’re flavorful. You’re sweet. You’re earthy. You’re marvelous.

The chicken, perked up by the fiery and tangy notes of a homemade chile vinegar, was jealous. You, without adornment, were delicious.

I look forward to seeing you next time, Parsnip. You will be mine again very, very soon.

Chicken and Parsnip "Fries" with Spicy Vinegar (adapted)
1 1/2 lb parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 chicken breast halves with skin and bone (1.75 lb)
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 450-degrees F with rack in middle. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray generously with cooking spray.

Peel parsnips and quarter lengthwise. (If large, cut lengthwise into eighths and cut out cores.) Toss with 1 tablespoon oil, spread onto prepared sheet pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, stirring occasionally, while preparing chicken.

Rinse chicken, pat dry, then sprinkle salt and pepper. Spray a 12-inch heavy skillet with cooking spray and heat on high until the oil shimmers, then brown skin side of chicken, about 3 minutes.

Transfer chicken, skin side up, to pan with parsnips, reserving skillet, and roast until chicken is cooked through and parsnips are tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

While chicken roasts, reheat fat in skillet with remaining tablespoon oil, then add vinegar and red-pepper flakes and boil, stirring, for 30 seconds. Pour into a cup and keep warm, covered.

Serve chicken and fries drizzled with spicy vinegar. Serves 2.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lemon Chicken with Mushrooms

Photo courtesy of Light & Tasty.

As a flavor, lemon has been on my mind a lot lately. Naturally, it took center stage in January's Daring Baker challenge, but I think there's more to it than that.

When I was in London, though the calendar said "January," the air felt like early spring. The days were sunny and bright, the temperatures ranged between 45 and 50 degrees, and flowers (yes, FLOWERS) were blooming.

When I returned home, there was snow on the ground, it was well below freezing, and the light had that sad, greyish cast typical of winter.

Still, the knowledge that spring is coming (eventually) is there, and the flavor of lemon -- bright and sunny -- is akin to those longer, warmer days ahead.

This recipe is adapted from one in the current issue of Taste of Home's Light & Tasty magazine, which is fitting, as this is a light and tasty meal. I added more lemon juice (about 1/4 cup total) to brighten the flavor and additional chicken stock (2/3 cup total), as it took longer than expected for my thickly cut mushrooms to cook. If you like, you could leave the mushrooms out altogether, make extra sauce, and serve the chicken and lemony sauce over a bed of rice. If you'd like more mushrooms, double the amount making sure to increase the chicken broth and lemon juice as well.

Additionally, it's a healthy recipe, featuring healthy fats (only 9 grams per serving), lean meat, and veggies. Since I began watching what I eat and exercising about a year ago, I've lost over 25 pounds, knocked 4 points off my BMI, and built up my muscle mass and overall endurance -- it's something I'd like to continue in 2008!

Lemon Chicken with Mushrooms (adapted)

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup lemon juice

Flatten chicken to 1/4-in. thickness. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 1/4 cup flour, salt and pepper. Add chicken, one piece at a time, and shake to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook chicken in butter until golden brown and juices run clear, flipping once. Remove and keep warm.

Add 2/3 cup broth to the pan, stirring to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil. Add mushrooms; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Combine the remaining flour and broth until smooth; stir into the mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in lemon juice, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with chicken.