Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints

When you’re a cook, there’s a bunch of questions you get asked all the time.  I thought it might be fun to answer some of them right now, as a prelude to the recipe.  The hands-down number one query is “What’s your favorite thing to cook?”.  This is the toughest one too; There’s so much I love to cook!  But the answer I find myself giving again and again is “Soup”.  Pure, warm coziness in a pot, soup comforts the heart and contents the belly.  I think soup may be my favorite thing to eat too.  

Another common question, “How do you come up with your recipes?”  There are lots of answers to this one.  Sometimes, but not too often, I’ll make up something totally unique and new and one-hundred percent created by me.  More often I’ll cook from memory, an old favorite I’ve made so often and for so long,  it’s locked in the brain.  Often too I’ll try out a cool new dish I find in a cookbook or magazine or blog or even on a restaurant menu, something new and unique and delicious looking, something I’d have never thought up myself in a million years.  I’ll sometimes follow these recipes to the letter (usually the case with desserts especially), and sometimes I’ll steal just the idea itself and run with it, making up my own recipe as I go along.  My favorite method of creating recipes works when I’m making something definitive and traditional – say like granola or shepherd’s pie or spaghetti & meatballs – something classic that you can make a million different ways.  For these sorts of dishes, I’ll read about a dozen different recipes for the same one thing, gathering lots of variations on the theme.  Then I’ll pick and choose the  ingredients and techniques I like best from the whole collection, amalgamating the recipes and fusing them together to create my own hybrid take on the dish.
Not quite melted yet...

A third most popular question is “How do you organize your recipes?”.  Short answer is that I keep them filed on my computer.  For those who are interested, the long answer is this:  Inside my RECIPES file I keep two main sub-files, Tried & True and Looks Good.  Each of these files contains the same titles for sub-folders - Soups, Salads, Fish, Meat, Pasta, etc.  You get the idea.  When I find a a new recipe that looks promising, I’ll scan it from a magazine, copy and paste it from a website, or type it up into a Word document, then save it into its respective Looks Good folder.  (If a recipe looks really good, I won’t even bother sub-categorizing it into one of the smaller folders, but place it right in the main Looks Good file, to keep it in the forefront of my mind.)  Once I’ve tried out the recipe, I’ll either (A) move the document into the correlating Tried & True folder, because I really liked it and would make it again (At this time too I’ll edit the written recipe, adding any big changes or little tweaks I made while cooking), or (B) move the doc into the trash, because we didn’t love it all that much.  And that’s basically my system.  I really like it.  And it’s especially nice for sharing recipes.

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints

One recipe that hardly lasted an afternoon in the realm of Looks Good was for these Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints.  We had plans to go to a dinner party one evening, and I’d offered to bring along an hors d’oeuvre.  Wanting to try something new, and not finding quite the right fit within my Looks Good–Hors D’Oeuvres file, I started scanning through the web.  I stumbled upon this recipe somewhere within the vast fabulousness of  (My honest answer to that particular question is “Yes, I ADORE Martha!!")  Anyways, as soon as I came across the recipe for these Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints, I knew straight away that I’d found that evening’s hors d’oeuvre.  How cool, I was thinking, to do a savory twist on the classic thumbprint cookie! So I diligently stuck with my system, copying and pasting the recipe into Word, then filing the doc into its proper Looks Good folder, even though I just knew from the beginning that these were going to be a big hit, and would ultimately end up in Tried & True
And a big hit they were!  Huge, huge hit.  The kind of hit where they were completely gone in a few minutes.  The kind of hit where it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that everybody went totally nuts over them.  Crisp and toasty and the epitome of golden brown, these savory cookies were surprisingly delicate to the bite, like tender pillows.  Wonderfully light and airy, but they carried a perfect richness too, with nutty cheese and smoky specks of ham.  In the centers were nestled golden pools of melted Gruyere cheese.  By the way, following the question theme of this post, even thought it’s not really a common one, my answer for “What's your favorite cheese?” is most definitely “Gruyere”.  Salty and nutty and absolutely gorgeous when melted, Gruyere has a flavor that just floors me every time.  These thumbprint hors d’oeuvres deliver all the goodness of Gruyere’s maximum taste, and with maximum style too. 
   Melty goodness    
Like I’d said, this wunderkind of a recipe lasted hardly a few hours in the Looks Good folder, before getting a quick and well-deserved promotion into the ranks of Tried & True.  And if I had a third folder called All-Time Absolute Favorites, it totally would have ended up there.  Because even though I’ve only made them twice so far, that’s exactly what they already are!

Any other cooking questions?  Let me know.  It’s been fun coming up with answers!

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints
Adapted from a recipe on
Makes 3 dozen
Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped Black Forest ham (about 3 ounces)
1 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese, plus 36 cubes (1/2-inch) for centers (8 ounces total)
Preheat the oven to 400°F and line two baking pans with parchment paper or foil.  Combine the butter, salt and water in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Add the flour, stirring vigorously until incorporated.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a thin film forms on the pan’s bottom, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 2 minutes. 
Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl.  Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon to fully incorporate each egg before adding the next.  Stir in the pepper, ham and cheese. 
Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with the largest star tip you’ve got.  (I use a Wilton 1M open star tip, which you can grab at Joanne’s for about a buck.)  On the prepared baking pans, pipe 1 1/2-inch wide rosettes, spacing them about 2 inches apart. 
Thumbprint dough
Make an indentation in the center of each rosette with your thumb.  (Lightly wet your thumb to keep the dough from sticking to it.)  Bake until crisp and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking pans halfway through. 
Remove from the oven.  Press a cheese cube into each indentation.  Return to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes.  Serve warm. 
Gruyere middles


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal with Golden Raisins & Honeyed Walnuts

It happens without fail.  Come autumn, I fall hopelessly in love again with apples.  The rest of the year, I could take ‘em or leave ‘em.  And I usually end up leaving ‘em, always passing them up for a more seasonable and perfect tangerine or plum or cherry.  But then cold weather hits, and all over again, I fall head over heals for this crisp, tart, juicy, perfect fall fruit. 

The very best part about apples, I think, is apple picking.  Could there be a more glorious way to usher in autumn, than wandering through groves of gnarly apple trees, on a cold but sunny day, where the sun shines but the wind blows, with the grass between the trees a little too long and a little too dewy, with shining apples beckoning from the branches, and soft, squishy fruits rotting on the ground, and with the sweet smell of cider thick in the air?  I just don’t think so. 

Golden Delicious Apples and Steel-Cut Oats

A trip to the orchard in mid-September is a treasured yearly tradition for Ben and me, one we’re sure never to skip.  The rich nostalgia we unfailingly experience during our yearly apple-picking outings, is only the half of it.  The other half, of  course, is the bushel of apples we return home with.  A whole delicious collection of multi-hued varieties.  Jonagold, Macoun, Idared, Golden Delicious, Cortland, Jonamac… I love sampling them all, fresh out of hand.  And then, once each variety has been taste-tested, I finally get cooking.  Well, cooking and baking!

Golden Deliciousness

And so, don’t be surprised if you happen to find a couple or more apple posts, come these next few weeks.  (I do believe I have an apple butter recipe up my sleeve, in fact, that I hope to share in a little while.)  But I’m getting ahead of myself!  Let’s move on to the matter at hand, this Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal. 

A lonely apple seed

A fall snack

Get ready for deliciousness!  This velvety pot of porridge and all its delectable toppings, makes for one heartily tasty breakfast.  It starts with steaming bowls of tender, creamy steel-cut oatmeal, lightly sweetened with brown sugar and warmed with a hint of cinnamon.  Nestled on top… plump, chewy golden raisins, sticky specks of honey-glazed walnuts, cinnamon-flecked slices of sautéed apples, and glistening swirls of melting brown sugar. 

It might sound a little over the top, and yes, a touch of butter and extra sprinkling of sugar do keep this oatmeal out of the ranks of the purely virtuous porridges.  So I worry this may dissuade some of you from trying it.  But one glance at the recipe below and you’ll see, it’s a far cry from bad-for-you food.  Along with the honest goodness of apples and raisins and walnuts, lies only a mere touch of decadence.  The beautiful, fruit-topped bowls are surprisingly subdued, lightly sweet, not too rich, full of apple goodness and warming spice, the kind of breakfast that makes you feel like you started you day off in the most perfect way.   

Walnuts, brown sugar & apple

Brown Sugar Sweetness

I’m a little worried too, that you may be put off by the extra few steps involved in making this oatmeal.  And I totally get that.  While it’s not a complicated recipe (and it’s relatively quick too – every last step is easily accomplished by the time the oatmeal finishes cooking, in about 20 minutes), it’s also not one I’d venture to whip up every weekday morning, before rushing out the door to work.  I kind of think of this as our weekend oatmeal.  A hearty, immensely satisfying alternative to pancakes or omelets or French toast or waffles.  On cold Saturday mornings, I like to whip up a double batch, and fill two big bowls with its steaming comfort.  I hope you too will whip some up, come your next cold Saturday morning.  As you take your first bite, know that Ben and I will probably be doing the same! 

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Makes 2 small (weekday) bowls or 1 big (weekend) bowl
I adore steel-cut oats!  And I guarantee, once you’ve tried them, you’ll be hard-pressed to go back to using regular old rolled oats again.  The tender, chewy bite of steel-cut oatmeal makes all the difference in the world, transforming a mundane , mealy porridge into a lovely bowl of velvety goodness. 
Also, there’s no need to be super strict regarding the apple variety.  I always find that Golden Delicious apples are great for cooking and baking, so I recommend them here. 
Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal with Golden Raisins & Honeyed Walnuts
1 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons water, divided
1/2 cup steel-cut oats (I like this brand.)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon plus 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, divided, plus more for sprinkling
1/8 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/4 cup raisins (golden or regular)
1/2 Tablespoon plus 1 Tablespoon butter, divided
1/3 cup walnut pieces, sifted to remove any dusty particles
1 Tablespoon honey
1 large Golden Delicious apple, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/4-inch thick)
First, begin cooking the oatmeal:
In a small sauce pot, bring 1 3/4 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the salt and oats and give it a stir.  When the mixture begins to simmer, cover with a lid, and turn down the heat to maintain the barest of simmers.  Simmer gently  for about 2o minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the oatmeal is creamy and tender.  Add 1 Tablespoon brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and stir to combine.
As the oatmeal simmers, you can prepare the topping
In a small bowl, cover the raisins with a generous amount of very hot water and set aside. 
Heat 1/2 Tablespoon butter in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat.  When the butter is melted and frothy, add the walnut pieces and stir to coat with butter.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the walnuts begin to turn golden-brown and give off a toasty aroma, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the honey, and continue to cook for about 1 minute more. Then transfer the honey-coated walnuts to a small plate and set aside. 
Wipe out the sauté pan if needed, then add the remaining 1 Tablespoon butter.  Over medium-low heat again, melt the butter.  When frothy, add the sliced apples and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender and golden brown around the edges, about five minutes.  Drain the raisins in a colander, then add to the apples, along with the remaining 2 Tablespoons water, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon.  Cook for about 1 minute longer, stirring frequently, until the water is evaporated. 
Sliced apples, just into the pan
Sauteed apples with raisins, brown sugar & cinnamon
Pour the cooked oatmeal into two bowls.  Top each bowl with a half of the honeyed walnuts and half of the apple-raisin mixture.  Sprinkle with a little extra brown sugar too, if you’re so inclined!

Apples, all lined up

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pumpkin-Coconut Bundt Cake

A pretty treat

If this Bundt cake seems familiar to you…good, because it should. :)  It’s an cold-weather version of the Lemon-Coconut Bundt Cake I blogged about this spring.   With the cool winds and fiery colors of autumn finally beginning to kick in around here, I’ve been itching to incorporate a little pumpkin cookery into my dessert repertoire.  I had tons of pumpkin desserts to consider and choose from - pumpkin cookies,  pumpkin pie (of course), pumpkin mousse, pumpkin roulade, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin crème brulee – each one fancier and flashier than the next.  So why, you may wonder, with all these exciting treats to choose from, did I decide to make a humble pumpkin Bundt cake? 

Ingredient Collection

The answer lies in that lemon cake.  A simple confection itself, that cake was pure perfection, one of the best desserts I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat.   And I wanted to recreate that same lovely deliciousness with this cake – but with a little less less lemon, and a little more pumpkin.  So that’s basically just what I did.  I started with the Lemon-Coconut Bundt Cake recipe, nixed the lemon juice and zest, added pumpkin puree, a scoop of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg, then substituted in some brown sugar for half of the granulated sugar.  I liked the idea of keeping the coconut, a little twist I was glad to keep, and so I did.


The result was pretty darn good.  Moist and tender, not too sweet, definitely yummy.  But taste tests among a bunch of friends yielded thoughts that perhaps it could be a bit more pumpkiny
an idea I definitely agreed with.   And so round two included double the pumpkin, a pinch more cinnamon, a speck more nutmeg, a little less coconut, and a ratio that generously favored the brown sugar.  I was willing, and actually expecting, to try out this recipe as many times as needed, but one bite of Test Cake #002 left no doubt in my mind that no other trials were necessary.  This simple cake too, just like it’s sweet-tart sister, was absolute perfection. 

Pumpkin Puree

With the same dark golden, crisp outer crust, and an utterly moist, achingly tender crumb, there’s no denying that these two cakes hang from the same branch on the Dessert family tree.  They definitely share some strong genes, but  they’re delightfully different too.  While the lemon cake boasted huge flavor and bright, brag-worthy zestiness, this pumpkin cake is bit more demure. It gracefully carries a certain subdued maturity, and shines in its classic simplicity.  Deep, rich pumpkin flavor hums a low tune in perfect harmony with light trill of subtle sweetness, and the result is utterly charming.  A dessert perhaps more suited for brunch or tea, rather than say, a birthday party.  But that’s alright, I do believe.  Because this chilly time of year, I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more alongside a steaming mug of tea or coffee.

Powdered Sugar Dusting 

Pumpkin-Coconut Bundt Cake
Serves 10
Pumpkin-Coconut Bundt Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
about 1 Tablespoon confectioners’ sugar, for  dusting the cake
Vanilla ice cream, for serving  (optional)
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Coconut & Pumpkin
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle position of the oven.  Generously grease a 10-inch Bundt pan with vegetable oil, and set aside. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon & nutmeg.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, coconut milk, pumpkin puree and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, doing so in about three batches, and stirring gently after each addition, until the ingredients are just combined.  Fold in the coconut flakes. 
Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan.  Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a wooden tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack.  To invert the cake, place the serving dish up-side-down over the top of the cake pan, then flip over and lift the pan from the cake. 
Fresh out of the oven
Allow to cool completely.  Once cool, sift a pretty dusting of confectioners sugar over the top.  Slice and serve.  By the way, this goes marvelously with scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Pumpkin Farm Stand

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Green Tomato Jam

Green Tomatoes

Hello, long lost friends!  I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.  And I’ve got to say, I’m really happy to be back now.  I have a million and one excuses for being AWOL for so long, but I think it just boils down to the fact that in certain circumstances (such as this one), I’m an all or nothing kind of girl.  For those million and one reasons, I couldn’t give this blog my fullest attention over the summer, and so it kinda got left behind.  But I’m back now, hopefully for the long haul.  And while I’ve got a few more plates in my life spinning right now, I’m going to try to stay as consistent as possible with these blog updates from here on out.  While my fullest attention is still not quite doable, I’ll look at this as an exercise in moderation, which will be good for me I think!  Thanks for your patience over the summer!  I’m so glad to be in touch with you all again. 

Not quite ripe

Green beauties

Today I want to share with you a neat recipe – Green Tomato Jam.  Kinda out there, right?  A little weird, but in a good way.  I admit, this is not the most traditional of recipes, but it’s definitely super delicious.  Sticky and sweet, with a familiar tomatoey tang, but also an enticingly mysterious twist.   And it’s so beautiful, like a shining jarful of glittering green gems. 

Green tomato still life

For those of you with backyard vegetable gardens, this is a great way this time of year to use up all that hard green fruit hanging from your tomato vines.  You know how come late September, tomatoes never seem to sweeten up the same way their summer cousins do.  And no matter how pretty and red they eventually get, they’re always still a little mealy.  Well, this recipe makes the most of this fall-time flaw. It really highlights the goodness of these green guys.  And it even makes me look forward to the true end of tomato season. 

Diced green tomatoes

When I ransacked my parents’ garden last week, bringing back to Chicago a big paper bag of un-ripe tomatoes, by Dad was intrigued by the green tomato jam idea.  And his first question, of course, was:  “But how are you going to use it?”.  Ah, good question, Dad…

Pretty colors

This sugary, savory jam is no wallflower.  It’s comfortable and charismatic in all sorts of situations.  To name a few… with a creamy goat cheese and salty crackers, as a sweet relish alongside pork chops, dolloped atop crispy potato pancakes, even spread inside a gooey grilled cheese sandwich.  And it’s so pretty and tasty, you’ll be tempted to just eat it by the spoonful, all by itself.  Go ahead.  I always do!


I hope this recipe isn’t too out-there for all of you!  And I hope you’ve got a few green tomatoes at your disposal, to try it out.  I’m thinking there’s still a few weeks left in this underappreciated green tomato season.  Here’s to us making the most of it!

Green Tomato Jam

Green Tomato Jam
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
This is an easy and not too time-consuming recipe, but requires a 24 hour rest in-between  steps.  I’m not sure why exactly, this day’s wait is necessary, but I’ve tried it out, ignoring the wait, and don’t get quite the same sugary, jammy consistency. 
Also, along with the totally un-ripe green tomatoes, I like to throw in a few slightly ripened, pinkish-orange tomatoes too, for a nice color contrast. 
Green Tomato Jam 
2 pounds green (un-ripe) tomatoes
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Rinse tomatoes in cold water.  Drain and dry.  Slice tomatoes into quarters.  Remove the seeds, core and inner membranes, and discard.  (Leave the skin on.)  Slice the tomatoes into about 2 cm pieces.
In a bowl, stir to combine the diced tomatoes with the sugar and lemon juice.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours.
Diced tomatoes, with sugar & lemon juice
Bring the tomato mixture to a boil in a medium sauce pot, then reduce the heat to low, and keep at a low simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, bring the mixture to a boil again.  Reduce heat to low and continue cooking at a low simmer for 15 minutes, again stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  Allow to cool to room temperature. 
Can be stored refrigerated, for up  to two weeks.  To keep for longer, follow a basic canning procedure and keep in sterile jars. 

Green tomato collection