Friday, May 14, 2010

One Scone, or Two?

Last week the playgroup Emi & I go to had a Mother's Day potluck in the park, and as usual, I was scrambling around at the last minute, searching the cupboards for something to bring. Then I spied a package of cream cheese in the fridge and instantly I knew what I to make.

Scones smothered in large dollops or rich, sweet Devonshire cream are lovely with cucumber sandwiches and cups of strong Earl Grey tea. They're also the perfect accoutrement for a picnic brunch. 

I dug out an old Bon Appetit scone recipe I like to trot out anytime I serve "high tea." I like this recipe because the scones come out light and fluffy, almost like cake, and they're ridiculously easy to make. Occasionally I'll add a cup of fresh strawberries or currants. For our Mother's Day picnic, I threw in 1/2 a cup of toasted pecans.

My other favorite teatime goodie is Devonshire cream. I discovered a great recipe years ago when I threw a baby shower for a friend who'd spent a few years living in London and came back with a taste for clotted cream. Now, I can't even remember where I got the recipe because I just scribbled the ingredients down on a piece of scrap paper, which is tucked safely in my three-ring-binder/family cookbook.

Like the scones recipe, this version of Devonshire cream is really simple and super yummy. It also goes great with waffles or fresh berries.

Devonshire Cream

3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
4 tsp. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla

In an electric mixer, whip ingredients until soft peaks form. Chill until serving.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Slow - and Yummy - Asparagus

I never cared for asparagus growing up. The few times my mom prepared them, they were undercooked and bitter-tasting. As an adult, I tried a few overcooked versions and actually liked the vegetables a lot more, until I gradually learned to cook them myself and settled somewhere inbetween.

I got one of my favorite asparagus recipes from my father-in-law, who served them cold with this delicious, bright, creamy dill sauce. A friend offered a much simpler method - roasting with a little bit of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper - and one Christmas Eve I served asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with olive oil.

Now, I have a new favorite asparagus recipe.

I was checking out the New York Times Dining & Wine section online not long ago, when I stumbled on this great article describing another way of cooking asparagus - slow-cooked in paper packets.

I wish I could say I put my own spin on Melissa Clark's recipe, but aside from a couple cloves of crushed garlic and a few dashes of truffle salt to finish the dish, I followed her suggestions exactly and dinner that night was perfection. I couldn't wait for Sunday, when I could go back to the Farmer's Market for more asparagus.

Give the NY Times' slow-cooked asparagus a go, or try my father-in-law's cold asparagus with dill sauce.

Brian's Cold Asparagus with Dill Sauce

2 lbs. fresh asparagus
1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Steam asparagus until tender, then shock in ice water. Drain and let chill in refrigerator.

In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Once asparagus has chilled, drizzle with sauce and serve cold.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Falafel Craving

When my little one was still in the midst of her picky toddler phase, my mom picked up a copy of Healthy Meals for Babies & Toddlers to inspire me. I was immediately intrigued by a recipe for falafel. Spicy with a bit of crunch, these traditionally deep-fried garbanzo bean fritters are stuffed into pita bread and drizzled with a cool, creamy yogurt sauce.

I have fond memories of walking into Westwood Village for a little Middle Eastern brain food during my college days, and once I read the recipe I was seized by a craving for falafel so of course, I had to give it a try.

I checked out a few recipes online first to compare ingredients - spices, in particular - and techniques. I liked the recipe in the book because it called for pan-frying the falafel, rather than deep-frying them, which can be messy and not exactly healthy. I fiddled with the recipe a bit, using dried chickpeas soaked overnight rather than the canned stuff, and threw in red pepper flakes for more flavor. I also borrowed Guy Fieri's recipe for yogurt sauce.

I ended up making this dish twice. The first time, the patties didn't hold up well in the frying pan, so I tried adding an egg to help bind the batter and it worked like a charm. I also found it helpful to make sure the pan was very hot before frying the falafel, and I cooked them almost to the brink of burning. This gave the patties a crispy layer that held them together as well as a satisfying crunch.

Oh, and by the way, Emi loved this dish.

Falafel with Yogurt Sauce

For Falafel:
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1/4 onion
2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
1 egg
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp. red pepper flakes

For Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin

In a small bowl, combine yogurt sauce ingredients and mix well. Let chill in refrigerator.

Combine falafel ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a frying pan until it is shimmering. Using a cookie-dough scoop or a spoon, drop several scoops into the hot pan and flatten slightly with the back of the scoop.

Cook for three to five minutes. Once the edges are a golden brown, use a spatula to get a look at the bottoms and if they're a rich, crunchy, brown, flip them over and cook the other sides.

Serve inside warm pita bread and drizzle with plenty of yogurt sauce.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Oatmeal Pecan Cookies for Kids

I recently made a batch of Auntie Sharon's favorite polenta cookies, and of course, Emi got to try a few. They were an instant hit with my 18-month-old, and pretty soon the sound of Emi squawking "Coca, coca, coca" was ringing through the house - all day long.

I was good and limited her intake to about a cookie a day, all the while thinking I should find a more toddler-friendly recipe. Things came to a head on Sunday when we took Emi to an art show, and I made the fatal error of slipping her a few, broken cookie pieces. Poor Daddy had to follow her around the block about a half dozen times, then chase her up and down a short flight of stairs.

So I did a little online research and came up with this adaptation of Ina Garten's Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookie recipe. I cut out the raisins, since I hear they're not good for kids' teeth, swapped out all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour and replaced white sugar with agave syrup. I kept the brown sugar in because I like the molasses flavor, but I cut the amount in half.

My cookies came out very moist, almost cake-like. I'm guessing the agave syrup had something to do with it, so next time I might play with the ratios a bit and use only about 2/3 cup of agave for every 1 cup of sugar. I usually like a bit more crunch to my cookies, but Emi likes them!

Oatmeal Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup agave syrup
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.