Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

At this point I have eaten my weight in cookies, truffles, cheesecake, and other holiday delights. If you're a regular reader, you probably have the suspicion that I eat nothing but sugar. I promise, I eat vegetables. I even like them! And my favorite way to eat them in the cooler months is in a hearty soup. I made this soup a couple of months ago and it immediately went into our menu rotation. It's simple, doesn't take long to make, and tastes very rich, even though it's pretty healthy! There's only a little over 1 ounce of cheese in a serving and lots of vegetables, but it tastes as rich as baked potato soup.

After you've got the cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic chopped, this soups comes together in about 20 minutes. If you've got a food processor or mandoline to help you out with the chopping I'm pretty confident you can have this done and on the table in about 40 minutes. Alternatively, you could use chopped, frozen veggies to make this even quicker.

After chopping, you throw all the vegetables in a large stock pot with 4 cups of chicken broth and let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Then you take the soup off the heat and puree. If you prefer chunky soup, you could skip this step or just partially puree. If you like smooth soups, I highly recommend getting an immersion blender. Seriously, you do not want to be transferring boiling soup in batches into a blender. Plus taking apart and cleaning a blender might be the most obnoxious kitchen chore on earth. An immersion blender costs about $30. There's one piece to rinse off. And no moving boiling pots of stuff, while you're dogs are circling for anything you might drop. What is there to think about?
After pureeing be careful because the soup may continue to boil, sending splashes of soup flying. Just leave it alone for a couple of minutes until it stops boiling. Then you add shredded cheese, milk, salt, white pepper, dry mustard, and a teensy amount of dill.

The key to this soup is to use a good cheddar. If you use something bland, your soup will be bland. Go for an aged sharp cheddar. I used Hooks 1 Year for this batch. The golden color of the soup comes from the carrots so feel free to use a good quality white cheddar if you want.

As with a lot of soups, this tastes even better a day or two later, after the flavors have melded. Your finished product will look something like this:

I'll update this post with some better photos of the finished soup the next time I make it.

Cauliflower Cheddar Soup
Yields 6 servings
Adapted slightly from LonghornMama's recipe on

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups chopped potatoes
1 large head cauliflower or 1 1/2 small ones
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
3 large garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces good quality sharp, aged cheddar, shredded 
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon dill
salt, to taste (we use low sodium broth so I add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons)
white pepper, to taste (I don't measure, but I probably add in the neighborhood of 1/4 to a 1/2 teaspoon)
3/4 cup milk (I've been subbing cream + water, I do this a lot when recipes call for milk since I don't usually have any)

1. Throw all the veggies in a stockpot with the broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
2. Remove from heat and puree soup with an immersion blender to desired consistency.
3. Stir in spices, cheese, and milk. Taste and adjust spices.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grandma's Gingerbread Cookies

Most people get gingerbread cookies wrong. They choose cuteness over content and use hard-as-a-rock royal icing or bizarre candies to decorate them. Or they think they must be baked until so firm that they can be used to make a scale model of the Empire State building out of gingerbread. My version tastes like what you always wished gingerbread houses would taste like, but never do. Spiced, but not a ginger slap in the face. Firm, but still chewy. Covered in cinnamon sugar rather than some unidentifiable candy.
My grandma has been baking this recipe for decades and I believe it was originally from an old issue of Woman's Day or a similar magazine. The use of allspice, sour cream, and orange zest set it apart from a lot of gingerbread recipes. The only changes I've made to the recipe are that I use Fage Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream, I coat them in cinnamon sugar (a lot of my family like them with Red Hots instead), and I bake them at a lower temperature for a chewier cookie.

To start this recipe you heat some molasses, cream it together with sugar, and add the spices.
Then you add the sour cream (or Greek yogurt), melted butter, and alternately stir in egg yolks and flour sifted with baking soda.

Once you've added about 4 cups of flour, you'll have a smooth but somewhat mushy dough. You pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour so that it's easier to roll out and work with. then you roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and cut your cookies. I accidentally added too much flour to this batch, so the dough is a little dry in the next picture.

Then the cookies get dipped in cinnamon sugar. I like a lot of cinnamon so I usually use a 3 to 1 sugar to cinnamon ratio. Since I usually have cinnamon sugar sitting around premixed, I'm not sure how much the recipe uses. The amounts in the recipe below will probably give you more than you need. You can always mix it up as needed: 1 tablespoon of sugar to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Yet another reason I love this ratio: it's easy to remember!

The cookies get baked for about 10 minutes (it takes exactly 9 minutes on my oven) on parchment lined cookie sheets. Then I usually let them set up for a minute or two before transferring them to a cooling grid.

Grandma's Gingerbread Cookies
Yields around 4 dozen large cookies


1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons molasses
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup sour cream (or a good quality unsweetened Greek yogurt)
2/3 cup (a little under 11 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 egg yolks
4 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out)
2 teaspoons baking soda

Cinnamon Sugar
6 tablespoons sugar
6 teaspoons cinnamon


1. Heat the molasses in the microwave and pour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar.

2. Add everything EXCEPT the egg yolks, flour, and baking soda. Stir until smooth.

3. In another mixing bowl, combine the baking soda and flour. Alternately add the egg yolks and flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Mix until a smooth dough has formed, adding additional flour if necessary.

4. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to an hour.

5. Roll out dough on a well floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies.

6. On a small plate slightly larger then your largest cookie cutter, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Lay the cookies in the cinnamon sugar, pressing gently. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheets.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Let set up for a minute or two before transferring to a cooling grid.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dark Chocolate Pecan Macarons

Ok, it's confession time. I am not a French pastry chef. I know, shocker right? But that did not stop me from trying to make macarons last week. (Perhaps it should have.) I had tons of trouble with them. For those of you who aren't familiar with them, a macaron is a meringue sandwich cookie that's often filled with jam or buttercream and in shops they're often died in unnatural, Easter-egg colored hues.
It all started with some egg whites I had left over from making lemon curd. And after some googling, I found an awesome macaron recipe by David Lebovitz, who is a pastry chef. And even though I should have been wary seeing as it took him 7 tries to get them just right, I brazenly decided I would try anyway.

What's especially funny is I don't even like meringue that much. Meringue cookies are often under-flavored and have a weird styrofoam texture. And even when meringue is good like on lemon pie, it has a tendency to weep and make the pie a sloppy mess. If you were going to personify foods, meringue is a prima donna. If you get one little tiny thing wrong, you'll just get frothy whites instead of meringue. By some dumb luck, I'd never had a problem making meringue. This time I failed three times before realizing my whites were contaminated by a tiny bit of yolk and therefore wouldn't turn into meringue.

But by then, there was no turning back. I had powdered sugar in my food processor and meringue murder in my heart. Oh yeah, I also realized I didn't have any almond flour, which is an essential ingredient for macarons, but I did have pecans. These might be the worlds first pecan macarons. 

And then I under-baked the first batch and got a gooey mess stuck to the baking sheet. And then I over-baked the second batch. And then I cried inside for all the chocolate I was wasting and made the filling anyway.

And in the end, I got the world's ugliest macarons. They have air bubbles and blemishes. And they don't have the proper 'foot' at the bottom. And a good number of them caved in because the shell separated from the interior.

Despite all the drama, they taste AMAZING! It's like eating little clouds of dark chocolate. They're chewy and melt in your mouth. And after they sit for a while, the filling melds with the cookie and the macarons gets even better. I will be making these again with some strategic changes.

The first step is to combine the nut meal with powdered sugar and cocoa in the food processor and process until smooth.

Then you should do some thing I didn't: sift the resulting mixture so any random nut chunks don't give your mixture a grainy texture.
Then make the meringue.  If you've never made meringue before, you should know that fat, grease, or extra moisture of any kind can ruin meringue. This includes egg yolks and greasy or wet mixing bowls. The easiest way to ensure perfect meringue is to do two things. One, take a cloth dampened with vinegar or lemon juice and wipe down your mixing bowl and beaters, then allow to air dry. Two, be very careful about separating the egg yolks from the whites. Separate over a smaller bowl and then transfer the white to the mixing bowl each time. That way if you break a yolk you only have to toss one egg rather than all of them.

As you're making the meringue you add in the granulated sugar gradually. You want the finished mixture to be at the soft peak stage, not firm peaks. My meringue is over beaten and that's probably the number one reason the macarons came out so ugly.

Next you very gently fold in the cocoa/nut/powdered sugar mixture into the meringue until they are just combined with no streaks of white. Then you load the batter into a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe them onto lined cookie sheets. Then you smack the cookie sheets against a counter a few times to flatten them slightly and release any air bubbles and bake.

Unlike with most cookies, with macarons you should err on the side of over-baking because even if they are a bit too crisp, they absorb moisture from the filling and the air so that 24 hours later they are the perfect texture. It's also a good idea to use two stacked baking sheets rather than one. Supposedly this helps keep air pockets from forming between the shell and the interior of the cookie. This blog has some great tips and troubleshooting for macarons.

While the macarons are cooling you make the filling, which is basically a dark chocolate ganache made with a half pound of dark chocolate. You chop the chocolate pretty fine:
Then you just boil the cream, remove it from the heat, stir in the chocolate, and let it stand for a minute or two. Then you stir and add the butter. Then you've got to let it set up for about 20 minutes so it's a spreadable paste. When it's done, it will look like this:
Then you assemble:
You can store them at room temperature for 5 or 6 days or freeze them. Since they're pretty labor intensive for a cookie, I made a double batch and we had no problem eating them within a week.

Dark Chocolate Pecan Macarons
Yields about 15 cookies
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz's recipe 


Macaron Batter

1 cup (100 g) powdered sugar
½ cup powdered pecans (about 2 ounces, 50 g, chopped pecans, pulverized)
3 tablespoons (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 g) granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling

½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 g) dark bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, cut into small pieces


Make the macarons:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, grind together the powdered sugar, pecans, and cocoa powder. Sift the resulting mixture.
  3. Beat the egg whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until you have meringue at the soft peak stage (you should be able to make peaks with a spoon, but they should sort of melt back into the mixture after a second or two).
  4. Gently fold the sifted dry ingredients into the meringue until there are no streaks of white.
  5. Stand a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip in a tall glass and transfer the batter into the pastry bag.
  6. Pipe 1 inch circles of batter onto a lined cookie sheet two inches apart. Rap against the counter a couple of times to flatten and remove air bubbles. Stack the filled cookie sheet onto another cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes until completely firm. Err on the side of over done. Let cool on cookie sheet.
Make the filling:
  1. In a saucepan, heat the cream and corn syrup until it just bubbles around the edges. 
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Let stand a minute or two.
  3. Stir until smooth and then stir in the butter until smooth.
  4. Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes or so until the filling sets up into a spreadable paste. 
  5. Gently remove the macarons from the cookie sheets and assemble with the filling. I only used a couple of teaspoons of filling for each cookie so I had some filling left over.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Honey Vanilla Granola

Let me start out by saying, I am the type of person who takes 15 minutes in the cereal aisle because I read all the ingredients on the label. And when I finally settle on a natural or organic granola with no weird preservatives and that tastes good, I might be paying upwards of $5 for a small box. That's pretty expensive for something that is mostly oats. NEVER AGAIN!

Granola is one of those things that tastes a million times better when it's homemade. And you can completely customize it. Although my version has a decent amount of sugar, the other ingredients are pretty darn good for you: whole oats, nuts, and virgin coconut oil. Seriously, just smelling this baking I knew I would have a crack like addiction to it. For real, make it now!
My other reason for making this is I am making two care packages. One for my sister-in-law, Kimberly, and one for my brother-in-law, Brent. He's an avid rock climber and she's a sky-diving, marathon-running adrenaline junkie. Needless to say, these are two fit people and I felt a tad guilty when I looked over their packages and realized I was sending them giant sugar bombs. Now they're getting giant sugar bombs plus granola! But seriously, this granola would make an awesome gift packaged up in 2 1-quart mason jars or in cute holiday bags.

The recipe is super easy. Basically, you mix your dry ingredients together and heat your wet ingredients together in saucepan. Then you toss them together and bake. It's really that simple. Five to ten minutes of active cooking time and under 30 minutes of baking and you've got granola. Here it is before and after baking:
 If you like your granola with clusters or you want to try and cut it into bars, put a solid layer down on your baking sheet and don't stir the granola while it's baking. If you like a looser texture, then put down a thinner layer and stir it 2 or 3 times. I went the clusters route and got one solid block of granola:
Which I broke up into large chunks:
Next time I'll be doubling the amount of nuts; adding a little more salt, vanilla, and cinnamon; and replacing the honey with maple syrup for a different flavor. For this batch I used a mix of pecans and walnuts and buckwheat honey. Because buckwheat honey has such a strong flavor, it's the main note in this version, but if you used something milder like orange or clover honey, the vanilla would probably come through more. Anyhow, I highly suggest playing around with it. If you want to add dried fruit, stir it into the granola after it's done cooling.

Honey Vanilla Granola
Yields about 8 cups
Adapted from Bev's recipe on


4 cups oats
1 cup nuts, coarsely chopped (next time I'll be doubling this amount)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (you could substitute another neutral vegetable oil, but coconut is excellent for you and adds a hint of it's flavor)
1/4 cup honey
4 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a large jelly roll pan (or any baking sheet/pan with an edge to it).

2. In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients.

3. In a saucepan, melt the coconut oil and combine it with the honey and vanilla. Pour over the oat mixture and toss until combined.

4. Spread evenly on the baking sheet and bake on the middle rack until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. For loose granola stir 2 or 3 times while baking (see discussion above).

5. Let cool completely before breaking it into pieces and storing. If you want to try bars, use a thicker layer of granola and let them cool slightly before cutting into bars. Since the granola sets and gets crunchier as it cools, you'll have a small window somewhere in the first 10 minutes out of the oven where the granola will be somewhat set, but still pliable, when you can cut it into bars.

Update 12/22/11.

I've made this recipe several times now and I really like a maple pecan version with Grade B maple syrup in place of the honey, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups pecans, and if you like it really mapley add 1 1/2 tablespoons maple extract too and skip the vanilla.