Saffron Toasts

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It doesn’t get much easier than a recipe with only four ingredients.  These golden toasts from King Arthur Flour taste like a savory and earthy biscotti.  I love them since they are fast and easy to make. They are good on their own but absolutely delicious when served along side a hearty tomato soup, corn and vegetable chowder or pumpkin soup.  Talk about the ultimate in comfort food.

SAFFRON TOASTS

1 pinch saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon of warm water

2 large eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

  • Soak the saffron threads in the water for 10-15 minutes to soften them for baking.  Preheat the oven to 375 and lightly grease a 9 inch x 5 inch loaf pan.
  • Using a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until light in color, thickened, and foamy.
  • Stir in the saffron and water.  Lightly sprinkle the flour over the surface of the  mixture and fold it in gently.  The mix will be thick and sponge-like, full of air and deep yellow in color.
  • Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 32 minutes.  The edges will be well browned and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Turn the loaf out onto a cutting board and use a sharp serrated knife to slice the bread into 1/2 inch slices.  Lay each slice on a baking sheet making sure that the cut sides are facing up (and down).
  • Place the pan under the broiler until the toasts begin to darken at the edges, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven, carefully flip each slice over and broil the reverse side as well.
  • Allow the toasts to cool completely before serving.  Store in an airtight container or zip top bag for up to 3 weeks.

Yield:  16-18 slices

Strawberry Mint Muffins

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Muffins are the perfect breakfast item.  I will bake up a batch on a Sunday morning to be enjoyed over lazy cups of coffee all morning long.  Leftovers can be reheated and eaten on the go for busy weekday mornings.  Just about anything can be added to a basic muffin recipe.  Fruits, nuts, chocolate; the possibilities are endless.  I like to use buttermilk as the liquid in this recipe since I think it adds a slight tang to the muffin but you could easily substitute plain yogurt or even sour cream.  Depending upon the add-ins, I’ve also used good quality unsweetened flavored yogurt with fantastic results.

This time of year I like to use fresh fruit.  Fresh seasonal fruits are a perfect foil to the sweet, crumbly cake but if fresh fruits aren’t in season, frozen makes an absolutely acceptable substitution.  With fresh strawberries in abundance I had been thinking about baking up a batch of strawberry muffins all week.  When I discovered mint growing in my garden I decided to turn these muffins into the ultimate spring treat.  The mint adds a fresh contrast to the sweet berries and the combination is amazing. Do eat these muffins warm.  If you can’t eat them fresh from the oven reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds. You won’t be disappointed.

STRAWBERRY MINT MUFFINS

3 cups flour plus 1 Tablespoon

1 cup white sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 Teaspoon baking soda

1/2 Teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 1/4 cups sliced strawberries

1 heaping Tablespoon fresh minced mint

1 Teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Granulated sugar (if desired)

  • Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  • Combine 3 cups of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the mint and lemon zest.  Set aside.
  • In a medium-sized bowl whisk the eggs until blended.  Add in the buttermilk and stir to combine.
  • Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg-buttermilk mixture.  Gently stir until just combined.
  • Add in the butter and mix until incorporated.
  • In a small bowl toss the strawberries with 1 tablespoon of flour.  Mix into the batter being careful not to crush the berries.
  • Using a large ice cream scoop or spoon divide the muffin batter evenly between twelve muffin cups.
  • Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with granulated sugar if desired.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until browned and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tins.

Carrot Tahini Muffins

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I have a carrot fan in my house. Ever since his teeth came in, my son has been obsessed with carrots. We visited Rome, Italy when he was just over a year old and tried to introduce him to McDonald’s french fries. Much to my husband’s display the fry was discarded in favor of a carrot. A year later on an epic road trip he ate so many carrots that crunching became the soundtrack for our trip and I began to see an orange tinge on his skin. (Maybe it was my imagination but given the amount of carrots he consumed I’m not so sure). At school he is known as the kid who loves carrots and will opt for the crunchy orange vegetable over a sweet treat any day. And carrots have become a staple on my weekly trip to the market; not having them in the house can cause chaos to ensue. But really, I’m not complaining because what mom doesn’t want her children to like healthy foods.

So in my quest to keep things fresh on the carrot front I’m always on the lookout for new recipes that include this favored vegetable. So when I came across this SmittenKitchen recipe for carrot muffins, I knew I had to give them a shot. I loved the fact that they aren’t filled with a lot of sugar and butter, instead relying on olive oil, buttermilk and a tahini for their moistness and flavor. Yes, tahini; the sesame paste most often associated with hummus and other Middle Eastern treats. Plus the afore mentioned carrots.

And the results? Absolutely delicious. They were a hit in my house and will be making regular appearances on my breakfast menus.

CARROT TAHINI MUFFINS
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cup packed coarsely grated carrots

Sesame seeds, for garnish

  • Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Whisk the olive oil, tahini and brown sugar together in the bottom of a large bowl.
  • Whisk in the eggs, then the buttermilk and vanilla.
  • Whisk in baking powder, baking soda and salt, then switch to a spoon or flexible spatula and stir in flour, then carrots, mixing just until combined.
  • Coat a standard sized 12-cup muffin tin  with a nonstick spray.
  • Fill each about 3/4 of the way with batter then sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds.
  • Bake muffins for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of each comes out batter-free.
  • Let them cool in pan for 5 minutes on a rack before transferring them to the cooling rack to cool completely.

Yields: 12 muffins

Chicken Lyonnaise Saute

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It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

This chicken dish, from the Washington Post kitchens, is so delicious and fast that it proves that you don’t need a long laundry list of fancy ingredients to make great food. Onions, garlic, broth and a splash of white wine combine to form a rich sauce for simple chicken breasts. Serve the chicken with rice or another grain that will soak up the tasty sauce and you are sure to have a new family favorite.

CHICKEN LYONNAISE SAUTE

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon dried thyme

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1/2 tablespoon sugar

  • Place the flour, salt, pepper and half of the thyme in a sturdy plastic food storage bag, seal and shake to combine.
  • Beat the egg in a medium bowl.
  • One at a time, dip the chicken pieces into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, then transfer to the bag.
  • Seal and shake to coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Transfer the coated chicken pieces to a plate.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Once the oil shimmers, place the chicken pieces in the pan, smooth side down. Cook for 5 minutes, until golden brown, then turn the pieces over and cook for 5 minutes, until golden brown on the second side.
  • Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet.
  • Stir in the onions, garlic and remaining thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until a light golden brown.
  • Add the wine and vinegar; cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, for about 3 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half.
  • Stir in the tomato paste, then the broth and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until the sauce is slightly reduced.
  • Return the chicken to the skillet, along with any accumulated juices.
  • Turn the chicken pieces to coat them with the liquid, then cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes or until the temperature of the thickest part of a chicken piece registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
  • Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates, spoon the sauce over the chicken, and serve.

Serves 4

Snickerdoodles

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Snickerdoodles are simple cookies with a funny sounding name.  There is really nothing fancy or exotic about this dessert but whether I make them for bake sales, cookie swaps, or dessert tables, they are snapped up in just a few minutes.  Snickerdoodles are a New England staple and I can always spot the New Englader in the crowd since they are the first ones to pounce on the cookie tray.  This recipe is courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen (another New England tradition) and comes together almost as fast as the cookies get eaten.

SNICKERDOODLES

1 3/4 cups white sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tarter

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 eggs

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375.
  • Place 1/4 cup of the sugar and all of the cinnamon in a small shallow dish.  (A pie plate works well).  Combine with a whisk and set aside.
  • In a large bowl combine the flour, cream of tarter, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.
  • Place the remaining sugar in a separate large bowl.  Add the butter and vegetable shortening.
  • Using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the ingredients together until they are combined and the entire mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes.
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time and beat until combined.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add the flour.  Beat until just combined and no flour streaks remain.
  • Place two tablespoons (use 1 for smaller, bite sized cookies) dough in your hands and roll into a small ball.
  • Roll each ball in the sugar and cinnamon mixture then place on a cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes (8-10 for smaller cookies).  The cookies will be soft and puffy when done.
  • Remove the cookies from the oven and allow the cookie sheet to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing the cookies and allowing to cool completely.

Rosemary & Red Wine Hamburger Patties

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Here is a ridiculously simple yet tasty dinner that is also fast. I think of it as a more sophisticated take on  your classic hamburger patty. My husband first introduced me to this dish early in our relationship; he wasn’t much of a cook but as an adult, realized that he couldn’t live on take out alone. I was skeptical when he first told me about this dish. Perhaps it was because he referred to it “as that hamburger thing”. However, I quickly changed my tune once I tasted it. In the years since then I’ve tweaked his recipe and in my opinion, improved upon it.

This is truly an easy dish to make. My number one recommendation, however, is to use a good tasting wine that you enjoy drinking. If you don’t like it in the glass, chances are you won’t like it on your plate. Besides, you only use a cup so there will be plenty left in the bottle to enjoy with your dinner. Serve this alongside noodles, mashed potatoes or another starch that can help absorb the yummy sauce because you won’t want to waste a single drop of it.

ROSEMARY & RED WINE HAMBURGER PATTIES

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 pound lean ground beef

salt and pepper

1 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced

3 tablespoons butter

Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat.

When the oil shimmers, add the shallot to the pan and saute until soft, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, use your hands to form the ground beef into four equal sized patties.

Season the patties generously on both sides with the salt and pepper.

Add the patties to the skillet and cook until the meat begins to cook and the patties are slightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.

Flip the patties and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the wine and the rosemary to the pan.

Continue to cook until the meat is cooked through to your liking and the wine begins to simmer. For me, this usually takes an additional 4 to 5 minutes.

Off the heat and stir in the butter. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve.

Serves 4

Crispy Smashed Roasted Potatoes

I’ve been trying to make more interesting side dishes to accompany my entrees.  While I will spend hours perfecting the perfect main course, by the time I get to the side dishes, I seem to run out of momentum.  This recipe for a ridiculously easy potato dish is courtesy of Fine Cooking Magazine.  With only three ingredients and a little prior planning this dish comes together quickly.  (Plus smashing the potatoes is a lot of fun!). I served the potatoes with sour cream and chives to go along with grilled chicken.  I’m now thinking that I could easily dress the potatoes up for a more formal dinner or even serve them with a dipping sauce as a part of a buffet table.  Regardless of how I make them in the future, this dish is a keeper.

CRISPY SMASHED ROASTED POTATOES
 
 
12 to 15 baby red potatoes
2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Boil the potatoes:
  • Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with at least one inch of water.  Add 2 teaspoons of salt to the water.  Bring the water to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook the potatoes until they are completely tender and can easily be pierced with a skewer.  Make sure they are cooked through but don’t over cook.  The total cooking time will be 30-35 minutes.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, set up a double layer of clean dish towels on the counter top.  As the potatoes finish cooking, remove them individually from the water, and let them drain and sit for just a minute or two on the dishtowels.
Flatten and cool the potatoes:
 
  • Fold another dishtowel into quarters, and using it as a cover, gently press down on one potato with the palm of your hand to flatten it a thickness of about 1/2 inch.  Repeat with all of the potatoes. Don’t worry if some break apart a bit; you can still use them.
  • Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; place a piece of parchment on top of the foil.  Transfer the flattened potatoes to the baking sheet and let them cool completely to room temperature.
Roast the potatoes:
 
  • Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Sprinkle the potatoes with about 3/4 teaspoon of salt and pour the olive oil over them.  Lift the potatoes gently to make sure some of the oil goes underneath them and they are well coated on both sides.  Roast the potatoes until they are crispy and deep brown around the edges, about 30 to 40 minutes, turning over once gently with a spatula half way through cooking.
  • Serve hot.

Popovers

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I love big, fluffy, and eggy popovers.  There is something innately elegant about this oh so simple treats.  Served in their simplest form with a dab of butter and a dollop of jam they are the perfect breakfast treat.  Or you can follow an old Maine tradition and eat popovers and chowder on the lawn of the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park.  In college I discovered Judie’s Restaurant in Amherst, Massachusetts where oversized popovers were served as the foundation for hearty sandwiches, as an accompaniment for soup or salad or all on their own.  (When I was back in Amherst this past summer I went to Judie’s with the sole purpose of eating a popover).

I tend to forget how easy popovers are to make. This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen only has six ingredients. Instead of using a blender I use a stick mixer which makes cleanup a breeze.  With a little prior planning (the batter needs to rest before baking) they are a snap to make.  If you want to serve them for breakfast you can even make the batter the night before and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.  If you do this there isn’t any excuse for not serving them for breakfast.

POPOVERS

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • Blend the eggs and milk in a blender until smooth.  Add the flour, melted butter, and salt and continue to blend on high speed until the batter is bubbly and smooth, about 1 minute. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • While the batter is resting, measure 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil into each cup of a popover pan.  Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, place the pan in the oven, and heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • After the batter has rested, pour it into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup.  Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and divide the batter evenly among the 6 cups in the pan.  Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes without opening the oven door.
  • Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake until golden brown all over, 15 to 18 minutes more.  Gently tip the popovers out onto a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving, about 2 minutes.

Browned Butter Flounder w/ Lemon Snap Peas

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It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

This is a fast and fresh tasting dinner option adapted from Cooking Light that literally cooks in minutes (so be sure to prep all of your ingredients before beginning to cook). There are just a handful of ingredients and best of all, everything is cooked in a single pan meaning cleanup is a snap as well. I’ve used flounder in this recipe but use whatever firm white fish you prefer.

BROWNED BUTTER FLOUNDER w/ LEMON SNAP PEAS

4- 6 ounce flounder fillets

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4teaspoon kosher salt

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Juice of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 lemon

8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

  • Combine the flour, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika and salt in a shallow dish.
  • Dredge the fish in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.
  • Heat half of the oil in a large non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat.
  • Swirl the oil to coat then add the fish to the pan, cooking for 3 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  • Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter to the pan.
  • Cook for 1 minute or until the butter begins to brown.
  • Pour the butter into a small bowl, stir in half of the lemon juice and the parsley.
  • Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining oil.
  • Add the snap peas and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender crisp.
  • Stir in the remaining lemon juice and zest and serve alongside the fish topped with the brown butter.

Serves 4

Gorgonzola & Mascarpone Torte

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Is it cheese?  Is it a cake? Is it cheesecake? Yes, sort of and sort of again.  If you love gorgonzola or any other type of blue cheese, this is the appetizer for you.  I do love gorgonzola but often find that a little goes a long way.  This recipe, courtesy of Janet Fletcher’s The Cheese Course combines pungent gorgonzola with a mild and creamy mascarpone. The result the best of both cheese worlds.  In addition to tasting amazing, this appetizer makes for an impressive presentation. Yes, it looks like a layer cake and on more than one occasion I’ve witnessed guests peering at the plate before inquiring as to what it was.  Cheese?  Cake?  A Cheesecake?  Yes, yes, and yes.

GORGONZOLA & MASCARPONE TORTE

1 large wedge of gorgonzola or other blue cheese, chilled

1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature

1/2 cup slivered almonds

  • Place the gorgonzola wedge on a cutting board and using a sharp knife or piece of unflavored dental floss, slice the wedge in half as though you are splitting a layer cake.
  • Place the bottom piece of the cheese on a serving tray and spread a thin layer of mascarpone over the top as though you are filling a cake.
  • Layer the remaining piece of gorgonzola on top of the mascarpone.
  • Spread the mascarpone over the top and sides of the gorgonzola to resemble a piece of layer cake.
  • Pat the sliced almonds along the outer edge of the cake.
  • Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill for several hours or up to overnight.  Remove from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before serving.
  • Serve with crackers, bread slices, or ripe pear slices.  This appetizer is perfect when accompanied by a nice glass of port or other sweet red wine.
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