Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Galette


Every year I take time before the holidays to plan our White Elephant Christmas party menu as meticulously as time and an Excel spreadsheet will allow. It's typically a buffet of 7-9 appetizers and sides (plus dessert), and I attempt to include something for everyone: meat-lovers, vegetarians, gluten-free, whatever. As I brainstorm about what constellation of items to serve, I try to think of foods that strike me as interesting and classy. Somehow I always manage to end up with at least one recipe that calls for goat cheese. Maybe I need to get with the times, but any appetizer made with goat cheese just seems fancy to me. (I know, 1999 called. It wants its party food back.) Maybe this is how my grandmothers felt about Jell-O in 1955. Or anything with the word "mousse" in it, like shrimp mousse or the ever-popular "ham mousse ring." Does that just scream ELEGANCE, or what? I do wonder if in fifty years I'll look back at my Christmas party menus and cringe. Goat cheese? WHAT was I thinking??

But for now, I do love me some delicious, creamy chèvre, and any appetizer that relies heavily upon it. Like this sweet potato goat cheese galette. (P.S. Can I also earn some fanciness points for making something called a "galette"?) Actually, a galette is just "a food prepared and served in the shape of a flat round cake." In this case, sweet potatoes are thinly sliced and stacked in layers, alternating with goat cheese, parmesan, and a sautéed shallot-olive-oil-thyme mixture to give the effect of a flat round cake. A delicious, savory cake that pairs well with roasted meats or as a stunner on the Christmas/New Year's party circuit. I know I'll be serving it again. 

Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Galette
(Adapted from Fine Cooking)  

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. finely chopped shallots
1 1/4 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled (about 3-4 sweet potatoes)
2 tsp. coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1 c. crumbled goat cheese

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, combine olive oil and shallots. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cook 2 minutes or until shallots are softened but not browned. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9-inch tart pan (a pie plate will work in a pinch) with cooking spray. If using a tart pan, place it on a baking sheet lined with foil.

3. Slice the sweet potatoes as thinly as possible, about 1/16th inch. In a large bowl, toss the potato slices with the cooled olive oil mixture and fresh thyme until potatoes are well coated. 

4. Beginning at the outside edge of the tart pan, cover the bottom of the pan with one layer of sweet potatoes, making slightly overlapping rings. Sprinkle some kosher salt over the whole layer, then a quarter of the Parmesan and a quarter of the goat cheese. Repeat two more times until you have three layers of sweet potatoes, salt, Parmesan, and goat cheese. Top the last layer with any remaining cheese.

5. Bake on the foil-lined baking sheet in the preheated oven 40-45 minutes or until a fork easily pierces potatoes all the way through. (The top layer of goat cheese will brown a bit--this is okay.) Cool 10-15 minutes and slice into wedges.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies



Isn't it interesting how every language has at least a few words that defy translation? (Like "fun" or "bromance" in English.) Recently I read this article about the Danish concept of "hygge"  ("HYU-gah"), a tough-to-pin-down notion of coziness, well-being, or togetherness. It seems that any experience that evokes these feelings of comfort--coming home to a warm house on a cold night, savoring a candlelit dinner, snuggling in a cozy sweater--qualifies as hygge. In other words, hygge is the feeling of Christmas. The article theorizes that Danes' cultural emphasis on this concept is a key factor in its consistently ranking as the happiest country on earth.

One of my favorite hygge-inducing activities at Christmastime is baking. I have happy memories of making spritz cookies with my mom every year using this contraption that looks more like an instrument of torture than a baking tool. 


Baking for my loved ones, knowing I'm providing them with a special treat at Christmastime, continues to be a joy for me during the holiday season. So when I manage to pull off a really delicious, visually appealing confection like these mint chocolate candy cane cookies, I'm a happy Christmas camper. These require a little extra effort than the standard mix-and-bake drop cookies, but the presentation (and the taste) are worth it! I made a batch and froze it a few weeks ago and our family is still enjoying them one by one out of the freezer--I think we may even like them better cold. Something about the mint flavor's inherent chilliness just makes it work.


Wishing you a very merry Christmas filled with whatever brings you hygge! 

Fresh out of the oven!

Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
(Base recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com/inspired by Bon Appetit)

Ingredients:

1 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. peppermint extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1 c. crushed candy cane

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract until light and fluffy. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; stir into the butter mixture until blended. Mix in 1 c. mini chocolate chips. Drop by rounded Tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet.

3. Bake 10-11 minutes or until just set. Cool 10 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, microwave remaining 1 c. mini chocolate chips at 20 second intervals until melted. Pour melted chocolate into a squeeze bottle and drizzle in a zig-zag pattern over cookie tops. (Alternatively, if you don't have a squeeze bottle, dredge a fork through the melted chocolate and drizzle over cookies that way.) Sprinkle with crushed candy cane. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes.

Makes 3-4 dozen. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Whole-Grain Blueberry Orange Muffins


I've been making muffins for a looong time now, and through my many experiments with flavors from plum poppyseed to pumpkin banana, blueberry muffins remain the gold standard in my mind's eye of All That Is Muffin. This may be because they were the only kind of muffin I recall my mom making when I was growing up, and I have memories of unabashedly devouring the batter from the mixing bowl like a piranha stripping a cow carcass. Since then, I've run the gamut of blueberry muffin recipes (and their batter, if we're being honest). You've got your cake-like blueberry muffins, with white flour, a mountain of sugar, and streusel for days. Then there are the blueberry health bombs that that are so dense you could knock someone senseless with one. And somewhere in between are the blueberry muffins I usually make, which are healthy and adequately tasty, but nothing I've put on the blog because they're a wee bit boring. 

So my blueberry muffin world was rather rocked when I tried this recipe from Real Simple. These have got to be the most unique blueberry muffin recipe I've ever tried. I'll tell you why. No, it's not the fact that blueberry combined with orange is slightly unusual. There's......shhhh.....a secret ingredient. Well, at least I thought it was unexpected enough and blends seamlessly enough into the texture of the muffin that heck, sure, let's call it a secret ingredient. Pecans! Not pecans loaded with sugar as a crumb topping, but pecans ground in the food processor along with whole wheat flour and oats for a robust (but not crunchy) texture that makes you go, "What's so deliciously different about these?" Add to that the bright sweetness of orange flavor combined with the more mellow sweetness of blueberries and you have a very intriguing mix. My kids devoured them for breakfast, then asked if they could have them packed in their lunches, then asked if they could have them for snack when they got home. And if I weren't saving them for my kids, I probably would have eaten them three times in one day, too. 

So if you find yourself jaded in a world of dime-a-dozen blueberry muffin recipes, perhaps these can broaden your breakfast horizons like they did mine.


Whole Wheat Blueberry Orange Muffins
(Slightly adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c. white whole wheat flour
1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 c. pecans
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1/4 c. orange juice
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. blueberries, frozen or fresh

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a food processor, process the flour, oats, pecans, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until finely ground.

3. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, brown sugar, butter, orange zest, orange juice, egg, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries. The batter will appear dry, but don't worry, the finished product won't be!

4. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Bake 23-25 minutes. 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lasagna "Cupcakes"


Before I begin this post, let me just say, YES, I do realize the seeming wrongness of the word "lasagna" followed by the word "cupcakes." The idea of noodles and tomato sauce combined with cake and frosting is too weird even for me. BUT stick with me--it's not what it sounds like! Fortunately, the cupcake part of the term "lasagna cupcake" is merely descriptive of the fact that these shrink-rayed lasagnas are baked in a cupcake tin...or a muffin tin. So you could also call them "lasagna muffins." Equally strange. 

I decided to give these miniature entrees a whirl in anticipation of our annual Christmas party. The menu is still in the finalization stage, but these have definitely made the cut. Their small size and overall uniqueness make them an ideal choice for a party buffet, and they're hearty enough to be a dinner mainstay, not just an appetizer. Piping hot out of the oven, these are gooey, meaty, cheesy bites of Italianate deliciousness. Can you tell I'm smitten? 


Lasagna Cupcakes
(Adapted from Tablespoon.com)

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. ground beef or turkey (I used turkey)
salt and pepper
36 wonton wrappers
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. ricotta cheese
2 c. shredded mozzarella
1 26-oz. jar tomato-basil spaghetti sauce
Basil leaves, for garnish

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 1 1/2 12-cup muffin tins (18 muffin wells).

2. Brown ground beef or turkey over medium-high heat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Drain.

3. Press 1 wonton wrapper into the bottom of 18 muffin wells. Sprinkle a layer of Parmesan on top of each wrapper, then a thin layer of ricotta and a sprinkle of mozzarella. Using your fingers, crumble a layer of ground meat on top of cheese, then spoon a small amount of spaghetti sauce on meat. 

4. Repeat layers again: wonton wrapper, Parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella, meat, sauce. Top with one more sprinkle of mozzarella and Parmesan.

5. Bake 18-20 minutes or until edges are brown. Let stand for 5 minutes, then loosen edges with a knife and remove from pan.

Makes 18 "cupcakes."