Shortbread Cookies

shortbread cookies
Shortbread Cookies

EASY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Only three main ingredients, no need to roll out dough and no mess on your counter top.

2 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients with a pastry blender, food processor, or your fingertips much like you would a pie crust. It will look like coarse meal.

Press into the bottom of a greased, 11×17 inch sheet pan or cookie sheet. It will seem a little dry and you may think this won’t work, but it will if you take care to pat and press, working dough out from the middle in order to keep an even thickness to the edges, even a bit thinner in the middle and thicker around the edges.

Place in oven and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until slightly puffy. Then temporarily remove from oven and score the cookies with a crinkle cutter or pizza cutter, marking the lines where you will break cookies apart. It’s okay to cut all the way through. 1-1/2-inch x 2-1/2-inches is a good size, but do as you please. Next take a fork and poke holes in each cookie. Work quickly, while they are still hot.

Return cookies to the oven for another 10 or more minutes until center area just starts to get golden and the edges are browning. Yes, you do want some variation in the coloring. If they are too evenly white, they won’t be crisp enough. Or you can carefully remove the outer, browner cookies and return the middle to bake until golden. Makes about two dozen cookies.

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Ratatouille

a vegetable stew in a tomato base
Ratatouille

RATATOUILLE

My Aunt Frances calls this “peperonata” but it is the same dish. She adds eggplant and potato where I use bok choy. In this summer vegetable stew, you can get creative and use what you find in the garden.

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup coarsely chopped bok choy
1 cup coarsely chopped green bell pepper (or fresh
green beans)
1 cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup diced zucchini squash
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped Swiss chard or kale
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set a large saute pan or high-sided pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and carrots to the pan, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes, then add garlic. Add the bok choy and green and red peppers. Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add zucchini, tomatoes, oregano, Swiss chard, salt and pepper and cook for a final 5 minutes. Stir well to blend and serve either hot or at room temperature.

Variation: substitute ¼ c tomato paste and 1 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth for the chopped tomatoes.

Rustic Rhubarb Scones

rustic-rhubarb-sconesRUSTIC RHUBARB SCONES

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup raw sugar plus ¼ cup raw sugar, plus another 3 tablespoons
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6-7 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into bits
4 cups frozen diced rhubarb (when thawed, with juices, this will be about 2 cups)
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk (white reserved)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking oil.

In a small bowl, mix thawed rhubarb with 1/4 c. sugar and the 1 egg, and additional egg yolk (keeping one egg white reserved).

In a large bowl, lightly mix the flour, ½ cup raw sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the rhubarb mixture into the flour mixture. Dough will be wet and sticky. It’s the extra juices from using frozen, then thawed rhubarb that makes this dough more wet than ordinary scone dough, and this recipe was designed to work this way.)

With slightly wet hands, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter) on the lined baking sheet. This next step is optional: Depending on the wetness of your dough, you might try scoring it into wedges or squares.Brush top with remaining egg white (lightly beaten) and sprinkle top with reserved granulated raw sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, or top is a deep, golden color. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool before serving and cutting.

These scones are moist, almost cake-like, with a crispy crust on day one. On day two, the crust softens, but they are still moist and delicious. They also freeze well. Serve plain, with coffee; or serve as a dessert, with a dollop of whipped cream. Rhubarb is a surprisingly high source of calcium. Optional: for a less sweet scone, eliminate the ¼ c. sugar and leave rhubarb natural and more tart. Serves 12, 295 calories per serving.

Spanish Flan in Ramekins

Spanish Flan in Ramekins
Spanish Flan in Ramekins

Spanish Flan in Ramekins

Preheat oven to 350°F and have the baking pan you’ll use for the water bath at hand. This flan is lower in fat and sugar than classic versions.

For the flan custard filling:
3 large eggs
1 can (12oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14oz) condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar

For the caramel:
1 cup sugar
water
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Making the Caramel

Place 1 cup sugar, lemon juice and just enough water to make the sugar look like wet sand and spread in the bottom of a saucepan. Carefully brush the sides of the pan with water so the sugar won’t crystallize on the sides. Heat on medium-high heat until the sugar melts and is bubbling evenly. Cook until the caramel is a medium golden color. Be patient, don’t stir, but you may swirl the pan to allow for even coloration. As soon as caramel reaches desired color, remove from heat and pour into 7 ramekins, working quickly. Tilt ramekins to cover the bottom if there is time. Caramel will harden quickly in containers.

Meanwhile, put the eggs in a blender and mix for a few seconds. Then add evaporated milk and condensed milk, vanilla and sugar and mix for a few more seconds (don’t overdo). Pour into the caramel-coated ramekins, filling 2/3 full. Place all in a large shallow pan, then add boiling water to make a water bath (about 1-inch). Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for about 35 minutes. Flans are done when they have begun to set (centers jiggle slightly). They may not seem done, but will continue to cook after removal from oven. Remove from the oven, taking care not to spill the hot water. Let cool while sitting in the water bath until they can be handled. If you cook them too long, the texture becomes less creamy.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours before inverting and serving. This wait time helps more of the hardened caramel revert to a liquid state giving it a syrup-like consistency. Immediately before serving, run the tip of a paring knife around the edges, invert a small plate with curved sides (to contain syrup) over each flan, quickly turn it over and gently remove the ramekin. Some hardened caramel may remain in the dish, that is not unusual. You won’t need it all anyway. You should have creamy, picture-perfect flans crowned with a syrupy golden caramel. Garnish with a sprig of mint or nasturtiums in summer. Can be made a day ahead. Serves 7. (Will keep in refrigertaor for a week if carefully wrapped.)

Flax Seed Muffin-Top Breakfast Sandwiches

flax muffins made into egg sandwich
Flax Seed Muffin-Top Breakfast Sandwiches

FLAX SEED MUFFIN-TOP BREAKFAST SANDWICHES

These muffin-tops are my own creation. We love them at our house. Sometimes we simply toast them and eat them plain.

FOR THE MUFFINS:
1 cups all-purpose flour,
1 cup ground flax seeds
1 Tablespoon baking powder

½ tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

TO MAKE 4 SANDWICHES:
8 Muffin-Tops
mustard
4 slices provolone cheese
lettuce

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two muffin-top baking pans, or use two cookie sheets each arranged with 6, 4-inch greased baking rings with the thick rim up.

2. Mix together dry ingredients. In separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Mix the two together just until moistened. Do not over mix. Divide batter by spoons full between all 12 rings, a scant 1/4 cup in each ring. They will not look full enough, that’s okay. Bake for 15 minutes. (The sides will have pulled away from the rings.) Remove from oven and let cool.

3. To make Muffin-Top Breakfast Sandwiches: Warm muffin-tops in a toaster. Fry eggs, breaking the yolks. Spread half the muffin tops with a very thin coating of mustard and place an egg on top of each. Place a slice of provolone cheese on each of the other muffin tops, add lettuce and put together. Muffin-tops can be made ahead and frozen

Hot or Cold Sicillian Pasta

bow tie pasta with mushrooms and cheese
Sicillian Pasta: serve it hot or cold

HOT OR COLD SICILLIAN PASTA

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup mushrooms, crimini or portabello, chopped
1/2 cup fresh zucchini, diced
1/2 cup canned, roasted red bell peppers, chopped (they come in a jar)
3 Tablespoons Greek olives (kalamata), chopped
1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tablespoons sunflower nuts
Cooked pasta
salt and pepper to taste

1. Scrub, prepare, chop or have ready, all ingredients. Cook 8 ounces of bow tie pasta (farfalle) while preparing sauce.

2. Saute garlic in the oil and remove it. Saute mushrooms and zucchini in remaining oil and remove from heat.

3. Return garlic to mixture and stir in red peppers, Greek olives and parsley.

4. Spoon dressing mixture into a large bowl and cool to room temperature. Add feta and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Stir piping hot pasta into dressing. Top individual servings with sunflower nuts (or pine nuts for a more traditional touch).

Variation: Chill the dish (having added the feta and Parmesan cheeses) and serve as a cold salad. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and stir right before serving.

Cilantro Lime Shrimp Cakes

shrimp cakes on a blue plate
Cilantro Lime Shrimp Cakes

CILANTRO-LIME SHRIMP CAKES

A few years back, my nephew-in-law, chef Jason Wood, shared a recipe with Chuck and I that we loved. Eventually we lost the recipe. On this snowy April day, instead of doing yard work, I took to the kitchen armed with what I remembered about the recipe (not easy after about 8-9 years) and came up with this delicious knock-off.

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grated zest of 2 limes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-2/3 cups panko-style bread crumbs
1 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped
Oil for frying
Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS:
In a bowl, combine the shrimp, eggs, cream cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and lime zest. Mix in the panko-style bread crumbs, green onions and cilantro.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form shrimp cakes by firmly packing some of the mixture into a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop (the kind that ejects the ice cream). Turn out the formed shrimp cakes onto the paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all mixture is used. Gently press each cake with a spatula to flatten slightly. Cook immediately, or make ahead and refrigerate for up to two hours until ready to use.

Heat a generous amount of vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp cakes and cook until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side. This recipe can be cooked in two batches when using a large skillet (keeping the first batch warm in a 300 degree oven for up to 30 minutes).

Makes 12-14 shrimp cakes. Serve them as either an appetizer with a light drizzle of chili sauce or as a main course for 4. Terrific warmed in the microwave the next morning for breakfast or brunch.