Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pasta alla Norma

This dish sparked my obsession with ricotta salata.

Ricotta salata is ricotta cheese that has been pressed, salted (hence the salata) and dried. It's also incredibly cheap for the flavor it brings to a dish. It's got to be the cheapest cheese at Brooklyn Larder.

It's nothing like the ricotta we think of in cheesecakes and lasagna. Instead, it's a firm block of cheese that's easily grated. The Kitchn calls it cheese that can't stand alone, and I tend to agree with that description. It's a bit too salty to make it onto your cheese plate.

Get a bigger piece of ricotta salata than you need for this pasta dish and experiment with it. Grate it over your salad. Use it in place of feta in an omelet. Grate it over a delicious veggie burger. Try it with this raw kale salad and smile.

Ricotta salata is perfect in this pasta alla norma recipe. It contrasts with the heat of the red pepper flakes in the sauce, and the saltiness is a great contrast to the sweeter tomatoes.

The eggplant is microwaved before it is sauteed, which helps cook the eggplant through but requires a lot less oil to be used, making the dish considerably healthier. It's great reheated for lunch--just add the ricotta salata before serving.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

I've been on a bit of a peanut butter cup kick lately.

There's my childhood favorite, the Nectar Nugget. It's one large peanut butter cup coated with milk chocolate. It's the perfect balance of sweet and salty. I've been eating them since I can remember, and I'm excited every time I get a package from home and there's one tucked inside.

There's the new kid on the scene, Justin's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. These are just perfect at room temperature, where the peanut butter filling is a little melty. Unlike the Newman's Own Peanut Butter Cups, the chocolate in these tastes high quality, and it melts easily.

But then again, there's always Reeses. I seek these out on road trips, when I've been driving on the highway for hours and the gas station selection is less than ideal. They're a bit too sweet, but they're certainly addictive.

So when I saw a recipe for Salted Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cup cookies, I just had to give it a try. I went for Reeses because I couldn't imagine cutting the other peanut butter cups up, though I'm sure they'd be just delicious in this recipe. I omitted the Fleur de Sal on top of the cookies because I found them salty enough without it.

I had one almost straight from the oven and was delighted. They're the perfect mix of salty and sweet, of chocolate and peanut butter. Warm, the chocolate and peanut butter are melty and delicious.

Now I just need to get them out of my kitchen before I eat them all.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Walking into Blue Sky Bakery on the weekends is always a treat. I say weekends because they don't open early enough on weekdays for me to make it there before work. That's probably a good thing.

You go to Blue Sky for the muffins. For $2.25, you get your choice of fresh-baked muffins. Pumpkin apple walnut. Zucchini raspberry chocolate. Mango blueberry. Triple berry bran. Pineapple coconut cream cheese. The New York Times describes them as having a ray of sunshine in every bite.

And the list goes on. Nearly every time I visit, they've got a new muffin in the rotation.

Without question, my favorite muffin they offer is the pumpkin muffin filled with chocolate chips and cream cheese. When you order it warm, the cream cheese is still soft, and your teeth sink right through it. The cream cheese is unsweetened, which makes it a perfect contrast to the bits of bittersweet chocolate filling the muffin.

Here's my attempt at recreating their muffin (and giving you the chance to try them if you don't happen to live within walking distance). They're a bit smaller than the true Blue Sky muffins, due to the capacity of my muffin tin, so I couldn't squeeze quite as much cream cheese inside as I would have liked. If your muffin tin is larger, go crazy with the cream cheese. It's hard to have too much.

True to the Blue Sky style, I left my muffins wrapper free. They just look a bit more natural that way.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baked French Toast

I love brunch.

Well, I love to go out for brunch. I love to sit with a steaming mug of coffee someone else made. I love to be served delicious foods with far too many components for me to make at home. I love to have someone else whisk the dishes away and wash them at the end of my meal.

And very, very infrequently, when I think I'll have the stamina to get up early and prepare a meal to be served by noon, I'll make brunch myself. Those mornings, I'm always particularly thankful to have go-to recipes like this Baked French Toast from Baked Explorations.

It couldn't be simpler. The night before the big brunch (or before you want a tasty treat), you slice up some challah bread and whisk up a cream/milk/egg mixture. You soak the bread slices overnight, arrange them in a fresh pan with the custard filling and pecans in the morning, and bake them. If you want, you can prepare a simple fruit topping. The dish takes some time to cook up, but the work is pretty much done when you wake up, and the french toast bakes up beautifully.

Here's the recipe for the Baked French Toast and a delightful raspberry sauce to accompany it. In an attempt to bake more locally, I omitted the raspberries which aren't in season here, and I prepared Smitten Kitchen's sauteed apple topping. It's a pretty foolproof recipe, and it's a great way to bring a lot of life into those less-than-ideal winter apples. I substituted toasted pecans for almonds, since that's what I had leftover in my fridge.

Be sure to visit Baked Sunday Mornings to see all the other bakers who tried out the Baked French Toast.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Barley Risotto

It's 61 degrees right now. Absolutely gorgeous out. I spent the morning outside, walking to the post office to pick up a much-awaited package, getting pumpkin muffins from my favorite local bakery, enjoying a rich cup of coffee.

Today is the day to be outside, to enjoy the spring day that's been given to us as a special treat. It's a day to visit the farmers' market and pick through the vegetables without freezing your hands.

It's not really a day to make barley risotto, although if you made it, you wouldn't complain. Barley risotto is perfect for those cold winter nights when wind whips at your windows and you want nothing more than to be curled up on the couch with your down comforter. It's for those nights when you're tired of soup.

This risotto has got a little more bite and texture to it than its arborio risotto cousin. It's a little healthier for you, with a bit more fiber than usual. The cheese is totally optional, and I've been omitting it lately, but it's certainly delicious, and it will make the risotto a bit creamier. The barley risotto on its own lacks the creaminess of arborio risotto, but I find that a welcome change. It's hard to eat risotto five day sin a row as leftovers, but when it's barley, you can get away with it.

And, best of all, pearled barley is cheap. The grocery store around the corner sells a bag for $1.19. That makes about 10 servings of risotto.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


2011 ended just the way I would have wanted. Good friends over for dinner. A home-cooked meal. Nothing too fancy. This mac and cheese with this delicious green salad. Going out in the neighborhood with more delicious sweets than we could manage to eat. Planning cards. Dancing.

And now, it's here. 2012. And I've got a few blogging resolutions to go along with it.

1) To post at least once a week and more if possible
2) To make it to the farmer's market more often and to regularly feature the seasonal goods coming out of my kitchen
3) To make my own breads, ice creams and pastas, and to share them with all of you here (now that I know how, it seems like a shame not to make them homemade)

Here's to 2012!