December 31, 2009

Best Eats of 2009

The end of a year calls for reflection-- reflection on tasty things you have eaten. At the moment, I am thinking of all the pigging out I did at family gatherings over Christmas. Ravioli stuffed with large chunks of fresh lobster and topped with a cream sauce. An especially perfect medium rare filet mignon topped with mushrooms. Stone-ground grits that I actually liked the taste of sans cheese. But I digress from the point of this post, which would be foods I actually blogged about this year.

I thought long and hard about what posts you, my blog-reading friends, told me you liked and about what I had made multiple times during the year. And so, I bring you the first annual Best of 2009 Maple Macaroni awards. I played with fancier foods in some posts, but it seems that the best recipes are new twists on the basics.

Best Crowd-Pleasing Dessert
Gooey Butter Cookies

Best and Most Versitile Snack
Black Bean Hummus

Best Cookie
Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

Most Innovative/Easiest and Most Simple Meal
Tortilla Pizzas

Most Decadent Finger Food
Chunky Chocolate Brownies

What were your favorite new recipes from 2009? Please comment and let me know, be it from this blog or wherever else.

December 29, 2009

Recipe: Carrot Cake

The secret ingredient to this cake is the maple flavor in the frosting; its subtle flavor is sophisticated and complements the carrot-spice flavor of the cake. When I made this last time, the cakes were stubborn to come out of the pans, but the icing came to the rescue and covered up their imperfection.

The recipe came from my mom's Mee-maw's files, but no one remembered her ever making it, or any other dessert. Thankfully, my grandmother revived this maple-infused gem of a recipe recipe back when she cooked and my mom made it years ago. Then last year I again brought it back to life and showed off the heirloom first for a friend's birthday and again this Thanksgiving.

Carrot Cake

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 eggs

1 cup canola oil

4 cups grated raw carrot (8 medium carrots)

½ cup chopped pecans

1 recipe cream cheese frosting (below)

Thoroughly stir together flour, sugar, soda, salt and cinnamon.

In large bowl, beat eggs till frothy: slowly beat in oil.

Gradually add flour mixture, beating till smooth. Mix in carrots and nuts. Pour into 3 greased and floured 8 inch round cake pans.

Bake in 350 oven for 25 or 30 minutes.

Cool pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool completely on racks.

Fill & frost with cream cheese frosting. Decorate top with pecan halves if desired.

Cream cheese frosting

1 8-oz. package cream cheese

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1-lb. box powdered sugar, sifted (I skip sifting because I am lazy)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon maple flavoring

In small bowl, blend softened butter and softened cream cheese with a mixer. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating till smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla and maple flavoring.

December 25, 2009

Recipe: Yellow Squash Casserole

I am not usually a big fan of the generic casserole with loads of cheese and cream-of-something soup. However, this one doesn't have too many ingredients to cover up the principal veggie, and the way it makes usually bland yellow squash taste so creamy and flavorful wins me over time.

My mom made a squash casserole regularly growing up, but the cream corn in this recipe made it the special-occasion squash casserole. Now I only make this one. My memory of the taste even convinced me to break my preference for seasonal eating to make a giant recipe of the crowd-pleaser -- half for community group everything-but-turkey Thanksgiving dinner and half for a dinner to serve residents of a low-income housing facility.

Squash Casserole

2 cups cooked and drained yellow squash

1 cup cream corn

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ cups breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs (I like Kashi 7-grain TLC crackers), optional

Sauté onion with butter until tender. Mix everything together. Pour into a casserole dish and addcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

December 18, 2009

Recipe: Tiramisu Toffee Trifle Pie

This festive layered dessert looks and tastes super fancy but was pretty simple to make. It was so photogenic for the pros that it made the  2000 Southern Living holiday dessert spread

Layer 1: slices of pound cake drizzled with coffee (I made decaf in my coffee pot so I could be a good old lady and get to sleep at night.)
Layer 2: a mix of chocolate syrup, cream cheese and Cool Whip that tastes like a light chocolate cheesecake
Layer 3: chopped toffee bars (or chopped whatever-chocolate-you-have-in-your-pantry, which was dark chocolate, milk chocolate-almond bar and toffee bits for me)

Bonus: The way these three layers enhance each other's flavors is a sum even better than its parts.
Tiramisu Toffee Trifle Pie

1 1/2  tablespoons  instant coffee granules

3/4  cup  warm water

1  (10.75-ounce) frozen pound cake, thawed

1  (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2  cup  powdered sugar

1/2  cup  chocolate syrup

1  (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed and divided

2  (1.4-ounce) English toffee candy bars, coarsely chopped

Stir together coffee and 3/4 cup warm water until coffee is dissolved. Cool.

Cut cake into 14 slices. Cut each slice in half diagonally. Place triangles in bottom and up sides of a 9-inch deep-dish pieplate. Drizzle coffee mixture over cake.

Beat mascarpone cheese, sugar, and chocolate syrup at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add 2 1/2 cups whipped topping, and beat until light and fluffy.

Spread cheese mixture evenly over cake. Dollop remaining whipped topping around edges of pie. Sprinkle with candy. Chill 8 hours.

December 13, 2009

Recipe: (Historic!) Banana-Blueberry Bread

This bread recipe came from the Best of Taste II cookbook published by the Minneapolis Star in 1974. Being as baking-obessed as I am,  I saw no choice but to make something as a part of my presentation on the Taste food section and its founding editor. Reason 173 to love grad school would be combining my love of food with archival research (!!), social history and journalism.  Plus, a little mid-morning sugar never hurts making it through a three-hour seminar.

Taste's original food writing was a notable feat in 1969 in an era when most newspaper's food stories were essentially unaltered releases from food manufacturers (shame on them). It was also part of a movement away from the traditional "fluff" reporting of women's pages to having non-gendered lifestyle sections with higher reporting standards and harder-hitting topics. (My apologies for dorking out over journalism history on my food blog.)

This recipe had a special asterick next to it in the cookbook noting that this "summery take" on banana bread was a special favorite of the editors. Luckily, with frozen blueberries I was able to treasure the taste of summer on day that required wearing multiple layers of clothing. The taste of the bread matched the sweet aroma that emanated as it baked; it lived up to  the book's claim that  “if someone could bottle the aroma of baking bread, he’d [OR she!, my edit] make a fortune." The inclusion of quick-cooking oats added a more little more grainy texture to the bread, but it was still sweet enough with the sugar and fruit to taste like cake.

Banana-Blueberry Bread
1 ½ cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp salt
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cups salad oil (apparently this is what they used to call vegetable oil)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups bananas, mashed
3/4 cup fresh blueberries (I used frozen)
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in oats. Add oil, eggs, bananas and blueberries, and stir just until all ingredients are mixed and moist. Turn batter into an 8 1/2x4 ½ inch loaf pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 60-65 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then removed from pan and let cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Wrap and store in refrigerator several hours or overnight before slicing.
Variation: Substitute 3/4 cup mashed fresh strawberries for blueberries.  

December 10, 2009

Books and Bites: Peppermint Bonbon Cookies

The dark color of this chocolate-peppermint bite beat out the darkness of the stories in David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice for book club this month.

The chocolate-intense cookie is soft, but the crushed peppermint adds a nice crunch and stronger mint flavor that brings out the mint in the chocolate dough. They look and taste like Christmas to me. The recipe requires that you allow the dough to get firm in the fridge, and rolling the balls of dough and then pressing in peppermint pieces turned out to be quite time- consuming. But masterpieces take time, right? 

If you make small dough balls like me, you'll end up with a large plate full of cookies. I brought mine to serve at an awards reception (where they garnered several compliments and a recipe request) and still had more than enough to stuff my face back home and freeze a bunch for visitors later. The recipe came from one of member's cousins, who got it Oxmoor House (who has a nifty how-to video for the recipe online).

Peppermint Bonbon Cookies
8  ounces  bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips)
1/2  cup  unsalted butter
1 1/2  ounces  unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2  cup  finely crushed hard peppermint candies (or candy canes)
6  tablespoons  granulated sugar
3  large eggs
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
1  teaspoon  peppermint extract
1 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour
3/4  teaspoon  baking powder
1/4  teaspoon  salt
1/2  cup  semisweet chocolate morsels
Additional coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies, divided
1/2  cup  powdered sugar (optional)
2 1/2  teaspoons  milk (optional)
1/2  cup  semisweet chocolate morsels, melted (optional)
Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint and 6 Tbsp. sugar. Let cool 30 minutes.
Add eggs to melted chocolate, 1 at a time, stirring well. Stir in extracts.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in chocolate morsels. Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm enough to shape.
Shape dough into 1 1/2" balls; place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 325° for 12 to 13 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked on top. Sprinkle coarsely crushed peppermints onto cookies; press candy lightly into cookies. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Whisk together powdered sugar and milk; drizzle over cooled cookies, if desired. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired. Sprinkle cookies again with chopped peppermint, if desired. Let cookies stand until glaze and chocolate are firm.

December 4, 2009

Recipe: Tomato Bisque

This creation came (hard) copy of a Ladies' Home Journal recipe for chicken tomato bisque my grandmother gave me a few months ago . I followed her enlightening (pun intended) notes to substitute of half and half for cream and leave out the chicken. The rich tomato, oregano and garlic flavors with a hint of cream stood quite well on their own, leaving no need for meat. A final word of advice: don't get lazy and skip the blender step like I did at first; a creamy tomato soup's taste and texture will best delight your tongue when pureed and left not with tomato chunks. It made for a simple, savory dinner (and side to a sandwich for lunch later in the week).

Chicken Tomato Bisque

2  Tbsp. olive oil

1  carrot, chopped

1  medium onion, chopped

2  cloves garlic, minced

1/4  cup all-purpose flour

1  28-oz can whole tomatoes with juice

1-1/2  cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tsp chopped oregano

1/2  cup heavy half and half

1  tsp salt

In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine olive oil, carrot, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until onion is soft, 6 to 8 min. Stir in flour until vegetables are coated; then add tomatoes. Add broth and 1/2 tsp oregano and stir, breaking up tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook 8 to 10 min.

Working in small batches, puree soup in a blender or food processor and transfer back to pot. Stir in half and half and salt and heat through. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper and serve garnished with remaining oregano.