Category Archives: Winter

Fresh Herbs and Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Is it just me, or did September fly by?  I must have been ecstatic last month, (“Time flies when you’re having fun…”).  So it’s with a bit of a rush that I prepare this month’s Piedmont Pantry column for The Piedmont Post, because I blinked and my deadline is nigh.

 

As it turns out, this recipe is a nice metaphor for making the best when time is of the essence.  Surely you may find yourself in a similar position – the need to pull something together quickly to serve, with ingredients you may already have on hand; or are easy to gather.

 

High impact with minimal effort – there’s much to love about this easy, homemade cheese spread.  It’s always a crowd pleaser, slathered on sliced baguette, crackers or a variety of vegetables.  Best of all, it takes only a few minutes of chopping and mixing from start to finish.

 

The instructions say to refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving to allow for the flavors to fully develop.  Truth be told, it’s perfectly delicious as soon as it’s made – as you will notice when cleaning up the bowl.

 

Cream cheese is a refrigerator staple in many homes, including ours.  Here we’re fond of cream cheese and smoked salmon on a bagel or toast.  An unopened package of cream cheese will last several months in the ‘fridge.  So why not keep it on hand?

 

I have a small herb garden, in pots, in our back yard.  It’s easy-peasy for me to head out and snip away as needed.  Bits and pieces from your garden or refrigerator are fine here.

 

This recipe is flexible.  Mix and match the herbs to suit your taste or availability at hand.  Try using other soft, spreadable cheeses such as fromage blanc, chèvre, or ricotta.

 

And it’s scalable.  Make only a fraction of the recipe to use up a bit of cream cheese you have, or multiply it for a crowd.  Soon you will be whipping up your own versions on instinct, with no recipe required.

 

Bonus:  This cheese spread is also delicious on pasta.  Boil pasta to desired doneness.  Drain, reserving at least 1/ 2 cup of the boiling liquid.  Add cheese spread to taste and mix until evenly distributed.  A few splashes of the reserved pasta water will help loosen up the sauce and make for a luscious coating on the pasta.  Serve with a generous scattering of grated Parmesan cheese and flourish of more fresh herbs.

 

Fresh Herbs & Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Makes about 1 cup

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 – 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (Basil, marjoram, and thyme; alone or in combination, are all delicious.)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, start with about 1/ 4 teaspoon each

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium mixing bowl and blend well until they are smooth. This can be done by hand, or with an electric mixer or food processor.  Fold in the garlic and herbs.  Taste and season with salt and pepper to your preference.
  2. Transfer to serving bowl or ramekins, cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours; up to 2 days.
  3. Serve with sliced breads, crackers, sliced vegetables – whatever you like. It will soften up at room temperature, making it not only spreadable, but “dip-able” with a sturdy celery or carrot stick.

Slather-Worthy

 

Few and fresh ingredients

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French Yogurt Cake with Lemon and Rosemary

Lots of Lemons!

Lots of lemons at this neighbor’s house!

     A walk around my neighborhood tells a tale of bumper crop lemons.  I am only seeing front yards, and they are laden with lemons!  This quick loaf cake recipe uses only the lemon rind, leaving you with options for using the juice.  I suggest making lemonade, to serve along with this cake, and setting out a lovely Mother’s Day brunch table.

     I hope you find the combination of lemon and rosemary in a cake appealing.  It may be a new cake combo to you, and if so, you may well be delighted with their subtle pairing here.  I use a mild, “buttery” olive oil for another intriguing layer of flavor.  As you might imagine, the resulting cake is fragrant, light, moist, and tender.

     Oil-based cakes stay moist for days.  And left overnight, the lemon and rosemary become more flavorful.  I mention this to say this is good for making in advance.  Once it’s served, it’ll go fast in any case.  It certainly does at my house!

     Speaking of Mother’s Day, coming up this weekend, this recipe is easily made by novice bakers.  A bit of measuring, mincing and whisking and you’ve got a top-notch gift for Mom, or Grandma, or Auntie, or a cherished friend.

Happy combination of sugar, lemon and rosemary

Happy combination of sugar, lemon and rosemary

A few advance tips:

  • Pre-measure the 3/4 cup of yogurt and bring it to room temperature before you begin mixing the ingredients. The eggs should also be at room temperature.
  • Use a quality olive oil that boasts a “buttery” taste. Save a “grassy” or “peppery” olive oil for another time.
  • This cake is perfectly delicious without the rosemary, so feel free to take baby steps with adding it. But I promise, if you enjoy rosemary, it does bring a taste sensation to desserts.

 

French Yogurt Cake w-Lemon & Rosemary v2

French Yogurt Cake with Lemon and Rosemary

Adapted from Andrew Knowlton/Bon Appétit

 

Ingredients

 

  • 1-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/ 4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary, to taste
  • 3/ 4 cup whole milk, plain yogurt
  • 1/ 2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional (include if using a lesser amount of rosemary)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar for the topping, “Turbinado” raw cane sugar is a good choice

 

Preparation

 

  1. Lightly coat an 8-1/ 2” x 4-1/ 4” loaf pan with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Dust with flour, tapping out any excess.  Set aside.
  1. Position an oven rack to the lower third position. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  1. Whisk 1-1/ 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/ 2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, rub 3/ 4 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist. Stir in the minced rosemary.
  1. Add 3/ 4 cup whole milk yogurt, 1/ 2 cup olive oil, 2 large eggs, and 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract; whisk to blend.
  1. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth the top. Sprinkle the top evenly with the course sugar.
  1. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.
  1. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack; let cool completely before slicing.
Sprinkled with Coarse Sugar 2

Coarse sugar sprinkled atop makes for a bit of crunch

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Potato Leek and Greens Bake

The makings of a fine dish

The makings of a fine dish

     THIS dish is the star every time we sit down to our spring time, corned beef dinner.  Yes, we all appreciate the corned beef, but these potatoes, aka colcannon, are what my family love.  Homey comfort food in the spotlight.

     My version has plenty of flavor and we like the combination of both cabbage and kale.  The extra step of browning the top in a medium-high heat oven creates crispy bits that are everyone’s favorite.  If you bake it in a square pan, be prepared for the corners to be in high demand!

     I hope you will make this your own, preparing it to suit your taste buds.  It’s pretty goof-proof, so there’s leeway for additions and substitutions.  Use any proportion of cabbage and kale.  A vegan option using olive oil and vegetable stock will have plenty of punch; and it should also adapt nicely to mashed cauliflower in place of potatoes, if that’s your thing.

     And, by all means, prepare it year-round too.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment for a variety of meals.

Colcannon Baked Q60

Potato Leek and Greens Bake

INGREDIENTS

  • 2-1/ 2 pounds russet potatoes, about 6-7 medium
  • 1/ 2 medium head of green cabbage, yielding about 1-1/2 cups steamed
  • 1/ 2 bunch kale, yielding about 1-1/ 2 cups steamed
  • 1 cup leeks, white and pale green parts only; halved lengthwise then sliced crosswise in 1/ 4-inch pieces
  • 1/ 2 cup half-and-half (whole milk is OK), plus additional if needed
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cut the cabbage into two wedges through the core. Cut away the core, then cut each wedge crosswise into 1/ 2-inch slices.
  1. Remove the tough center stem from the kale leaves. If the leaves are very wide, cut into about 2-inch widths; then cut into 1/ 2 –inch slices.
  1. Steam or sauté the cabbage and kale until just tender. Set aside.
  1. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the leeks and cook until softened, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking.  Add 1/ 2 cup of half-half, remove from heat and set aside.
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in a pot large enough to cover the potatoes with water, with at least 1-inch of room left to the top of the pot to avoid the water boiling over.  Boil with medium heat until tender enough to pierce through with a fork using only slight pressure, about 10 – 15 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and coarsely mash, with a potato masher.  It is preferred if bits remain.
  1. Transfer the mashed potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Add the leek-half-half mixture and stir until incorporated.  Stir in the cooked cabbage and kale, making sure to achieve even distribution throughout the potatoes.  The result should be the consistency of chunky mashed potatoes.  Add additional milk, sparingly, if needed to create the consistency you prefer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Transfer this entire mixture to a shallow 2-quart baking dish that has been well buttered. Dot with the 1 tablespoon of butter.  Bake in a preheated 400*F oven, set at “Convection” for about 10-15 minutes to brown the top as desired.

Notes:  IF you happen to have leftovers, my best tip for reheating is to form the potatoes into about 4-inch patties and cook in a lightly buttered skillet until heated through and a bit of brown-crispiness is achieved.  These are so good you may find yourself doubling the recipe just for the leftovers!

A bonus to this recipe — Save the potato peels for making these crisps.

Roasted Potato Skins 200Pixels Q50

Crispy Potato Skins! Peels, olive oil, salt, pepper and 400*F at convection setting until crispy. Stir after about 10 minutes for even crisping or about another 5 minutes. Watch them carefully — they are thin so go from crisp to burnt quickly!

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Chocolate-Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Pretty Much Always on Hand

Pretty Much Always on Hand

     Cookies are the favorite dessert in my house.  No question.  Hands down.  My family certainly enjoy other desserts; but when asked, they want a big plate of cookies set at the center of the table.  And dishes of ice cream for good measure.

     I am a longtime fan of David Lebovitz.  I enjoyed his desserts when he was pastry chef at Chez Panisse; and now his cookbooks and blog bring his recipes straight into my kitchen.  When it comes to chocolate, he’s masterful.  You can bet on rich, deep chocolate flavor.

     These cookies are very chocolate-y, soft and have a burst of brightness from the dried tart cherries.  They come together very quickly, with typical staples you may have on hand.  You will be rewarded within an hour of commencing the recipe with these endearing cookie bites.

A few advance tips:

  • Use quality chocolate. That’s the predominate flavor here.  I use Guittard, conveniently packaged in baking wafers for easy melting.  And easier snacking—that’s a clue by the way, the chocolate must taste good to you on its own!
  • Do not over bake these cookies. They may seem under-baked when you pull them from the oven, but they will firm up as they cool.  You are aiming for soft, fudgy cookies.
  • By all means experiment with other dried fruits; and add some chopped nuts if they’re your thing.
  • I halved the original recipe here, so it will double perfectly if you’re in need of greater quantities.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies Cooling Close

Chocolate-Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Adapted from David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert

Makes about 30, 2-inch cookies

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or baking wafers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/ 4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 7/ 8 cup (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/ 4 cup dried, tart cherries, cut into pieces about the size of the chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Combine the bittersweet chocolate and butter in a large, heat-proof bowl.  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer with the whisk attachment), beat at high speed until the mixture forms a well-defined ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes.  Adjust the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate-butter mixture until thoroughly incorporated.  Use a spatula to stir in the flour mixture, followed by the chocolate chips and dried cherries.
  4. Cover and refrigerate the dough until it is firm enough to handle, about 15 minutes.
  5. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  6. Drop the dough in generous tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them evenly, about 2-inches apart.  Gently flatten the dough to an even thickness.
  7. Bake for about 9 to 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies feel just slightly firm at the edges.  Baking time will vary slightly based upon the thickness of the cookies.
  8. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a thin spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Note:  The dough can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.  You will have to bring the dough back to room-temperature to scoop the cookies.

Flatten the cookie dough for quick, even baking

Flatten the cookie dough for quick, even baking

Baked cookies do not spread much

Baked cookies do not spread much

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