Archive for the 'Quick and Easy' Category

Cookies Day 13: Orange-Almond Lace Cookies

Today was another easy cookie recipe, akin to the brownie thins I made yesterday. Remember how I said the brownie thins were like lace cookies? Well, today I made lace cookies. I guess they’re similar in the fact that they are both easy to make, expand A LOT when baked, utilize mostly butter, require dropping onto a baking sheet, and are very, very thin, but lace cookies have the brownie thins beat in their delicateness … and butteriness. When I took the cookies off of the baking sheet, Jay was like, “wow, you put a lot of oil on that sheet,” after which I informed him that what looked like oil was all residue from the cookies themselves.

Even despite all this butter, these lace cookies are so thin that I am shocked they do not crumble in my fingers when I pick them up. They’re surprisingly sturdy and pack a satisfying crunch around the edges, with a nice chewiness in the center. As for the flavor, the orange zest adds a nice citrus acidity that tempers the luscious heaviness of the butter.

These took just about as much time to make as the brownie thins, even though no microwave was involved. Spooning out the batter onto baking sheets can be a bit messy, so I suggest using a spatula to catch the drops.

I suppose these would make good gifts, packed snuggly in a decorative tin, but it’s hard not to crave the buttery crunch of these cookies all for yourself.

Orange-Almond Lace Cookies
(original recipe Bon Appetit December 1999)

Ingredients
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Preparation
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir 3/4 cup butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Remove from heat. Stir in nuts, sugar, flour, orange peel and salt; then stir in egg. Drop some batter by generous tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart (cookies will spread).

Bake cookies until lacy and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Gently slide parchment paper with cookies onto rack; cool completely. Transfer cookies to paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter, lining cooled baking sheet with clean parchment for each batch. (Can be made ahead. Store between sheets of waxed paper in airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.)

Cookies Day 12: Brownie Thins

I’m very, very happy to report that these cookies weren’t just good, not just great. They were glorious.

Do you like brownies? Do you like the edges of brownies? Do you like the crusty stuff that sticks to the pan when you remove the brownies?

If so, this recipe is for you.

Do you like one-bowl baking? Do you like easy baking? Do you like using your microwave when baking?

If so, this recipe is for you.

Do you like making desserts quickly, under 30 minutes? Do you like recipes you can throw together at the last minute? Do you like baking gifts for your friends, but not wasting your entire day?

If so, this recipe is for you.

I even royally screwed up this recipe by reading “1 cup sugar” instead of the actual “1/2 cup sugar” and adding a whole extra half cup to the recipe, and it still turned out great. This must be one of those recipes that you can’t screw up unless you really try, one of those non-bakers baking recipes. Furthermore, you do all of your butter- and chocolate-melting and mixing in one bowl, mixing only briefly.

The cookies are almost like lace cookies in chocolate form, chewy in the middle yet firm and crispy around the edges. The pisachios add a nice little crunch and difference of texture, while the unsweetened chocolate keep the cookies from becoming too sweet, even if you were to add extra sugar.

Brownie Thins
(original recipe Bon Appetit December 2007)

Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of coarse kosher salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Preparation
Position rack in lowest third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter 2 baking sheets. Place butter and chocolate in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium-high power until almost completely melted, about 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Add sugar and egg; whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Add flour, both extracts, and salt; stir just to blend. Let batter stand 10 minutes.

Scoop rounded teaspoonfuls batter onto prepared baking sheets, spacing apart (12 per sheet). Spray sheet of plastic wrap lightly with nonstick spray. Place, sprayed side down, over cookies. Using fingers, press each mound into 2 1/2- to 2 3/4-inch round. Remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle pistachios over rounds. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until slightly darker at edges and firm in center, about 7 minutes. Cool on sheet 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack; cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Fresca Smoothie

One of my new favorite snacks to make are smoothies. They’re not very complicated, especially when you can find bags of frozen mixed berries at the grociery store. I usually don’t stray from my simple go-to recipe of frozen berries, a little yogurt, a little milk, and a banana if I have one around. I’m a HUGE ice cream fan, and if I had my way I think I would eat it with every meal, but this also means I would weigh about 300 pounds. Smoothies, especially in small batches, are a good way to split the difference: nice and cold and generally thick with yogurt, but comprised of more healthy ingredients.

Last night I made a smoothie before the gym and had a little left over for after my workout. Lazily, I was spooning out the remaining smoothie from the Breville hand-mixer container, and I couldn’t help but feel bad that I couldn’t reach everything or scrape every last bit of smoothie from the sides. I knew we had some black cherry Fresca in the fridge, and I wanted one anyway, so I poured it into the smoothie container in an attempt to “deglaze” the container of the rest of the good smoothie bits.

In the words of Borat, “Great success!” The fizziness of the Fresca really lightened up the smoothie taste, and it got me to thinking, what if I added Fresca to the original smoothie recipe?

I decided to test it out, and the result was great. Usually my smoothies come out really thick, too thick to drink actually, but the Fresca served as a great thinning agent without diluting the flavor of the smoothie. The carbonation and bitter-sweet citrus added a subtle complexity and a little extra kick–although a soft, nudging kick–to the berries and tang of the yogurt. I gave Jay a taste of the final product without telling him what was in it, and I could see him thinking, “Something’s different, but I don’t know what it is.” Jay prefers thinner smoothies, so he was very pleased with the consistency of this one. When I told him I had put a can of Fresca in it, he was pleasantly surprised. “Looks like your plan worked!”

Another great thing abotu adding Fresca: it greatly increases the amount of smoothie without (1) watering the flavors down (2) distorting the flavors, or (3) adding a lot of calories.

Serving suggestion: serve your smoothie in glasses that have been sitting in your freezer for a while. We usually keep glass beer mugs in the freezer, and I poured my smoothie into one of these. The mug keeps the smoothie nice and cold, and after you’ve sipped on all the smoothie that remains viscous, you can scoop out the part that’s frozen to the side of the glass as an extra treat and different texture.

Fresca Smoothie: Ingredients:
NOTE: this are approximations, to taste. I never measure, I just kind of eyeball and do what I feel like. This is the order I put mine in the hand-mixer container.

  • half a 12 ounce bag od unsweetened mixed frozen berries (leave frozen, don’t thaw; the mixes I use always have blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and black berries)
  • 1 banana (I like mine with a little green on it)
  • 1 big spoonfull of sweetener or sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 can Black Cherry Citrus Fresca

Weekend Cookbook Challenge: Veggin’ Out

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Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 24 focused on vegetables this time around, and although this first seemed like an easy assignment, I had trouble finding a recipe from my cookbooks that was ALL vegetables. Granted, there are some cookbooks I’ve used a lot recently that I could have turned to, but I wanted to use something that had been sitting neglected on the shelf for a while.

Finally, I came across The New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healty Weight and a Healty Life. It was a cookbook my husband had bought early in our relationship but that somehow got used only a few times before being forgotten. Flipping through the pages, I couldn’t believe I had gone so long without cooking from it. Thanks to this challenge, I have a new rediscovery, and I plan on cooking from this cookbook much, much more.

I settled on brussels-sprouts with shallots and nutmeg, which required steaming the sprouts. I have only cooked brussel sprouts by caramelizing them, so this was unknown territory, and I think I steemed them for a little too long. Although I didn’t have any bitter sprouts in my bowl, Jay wound up with more than his fair share, and after tasting a bitter one, I don’t think I could cook sprouts this way again. Unfortunately, caramelizing the sprouts requires a lot more oil than this recipe (2 Tbs. versus 2 teas.). Maybe next time I will get the timing right and they won’t be so bitter.

Plusses on this recipe: after just a bowl of these sprouts, I was full. I think the nutmeg and the chicken broth contributed to this. I didn’t go to the gym the day I cooked these, so that could have been why I didn’t need extra food to fill up, but considering how little calories these sprouts have, I was happily surprised. If you’re looking for a way to eat less calories and still feel full, I suggest this recipe. Also, this recipe was relatively quick to make.

Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Nutmeg
(original recipe The New American Plate Cookbook)
Note: you can make a vegetarian version of this recipe by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. Also, be sure NOT to steam the sprouts too long or else they will become unpleasantly bitter.

Ingredients:
10 ounces fresh brussels sprouts (about 3 cups)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fat free reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt (Note: we both thought the sprouts also needed pepper)
3 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley (optional)

Method:
Remove any yellow leaves from the brussels sprouts and rinse them thoroughly. Time the bottoms and, with the tip of a knife, make an X in each stem end to help the sprouts cook evenly. Place a steamer basket inside a pot and add about 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil and put the sprouts in the steamer. Cover and steam over high heat for about 8 minutes, until sprouts are a bright, fresh green, and just tender but still crisp. (Sprouts can also be steemed in a microwave-safe contianer in the microwave). Drain the sprouts and set them aside.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the shallots and saute for about 2 minutes, until translucent. Add the sprouts and the broth, cover, and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the broth is absorbed. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt to taste. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the almonds and parsley over the top, and serve immediately.

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Weekday Fare

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A lot of people ask me, if you’re so into food, how do you stay so thin? Or, alternatively, how can you cook like this and stay in shape?

Usually I just kind of shrug and say, dunno, but really there’s a two-part answer. One: I’m pretty active and will go to the gym at least five days out of the week. Two: I don’t eat like it’s Thanksgiving every night. If I did, yeah, things would be different.

Basically, during the week I keep things pretty minimal. For one thing, I just don’t have the time to cook large and elaborate meals all the time. Second, I just plain can’t afford to buy all the ingredients that it takes to pull off one of my nice dinners. So usually I just keep it simple, and the simple things I happen to eat end up being pretty healthy: baby carrots, apples, sliced turkey, grapes, mushrooms, and spinach. Lots and lots of spinach.

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I absolutely love portabello mushrooms, especially when they’ve been grilled. This quick and easy (not to mention healthy) recipe is one I make for myself a lot. The heat of the grilled mushroom slightly wilts the spinach and melts the goat cheese.

Spinach salad with grilled portabellos and goat cheese
Ingredients:
About half a bag of baby spinach (basically however much you want on your plate)
1 portabello mushroom
1 oz goat cheese (I liked herbed or tomato and basil myself)
2 Tbs low fat salad dressing (I use Newman’s Own Lighten Up! Low Fat Sesame Ginger)

Method:
Arrange spinach on a large plate. Top spinach with crumbled goat cheese. Spray a grill pan or saute pan with cooking spray (I use Pam for Grilling because it can take a lot of heat without smoking). Grill the portabello until juicy and tender, about 6-8 minutes each side. [Note: I frequently get impatient here. Generally I will cook it less on each side then cut the mushroom in the pan and grill each cut side until fully cooked.] Cut up mushroom into thin strips, then top the salad with the strips. Drizzle the salad with dressing.

Note: a lot of times I’ll just use regular small white mushrooms in my salad. They work just fine sliced up and grilled, but I really prefer the meaty-ness of the portabello.

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