Friday, October 26, 2012

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Shepard's Pie

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention. The same might as well be said of creating new recipes.

Like I said, my father's out of town. That's when my mother and I normally treat ourselves to everything that he won't eat – things like spinach, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. This time, though, we have to work around my sister's birthday and my work schedule. Sure, he'll be gone for five dinners, but only two of them can my mother and I choose what we eat and eat together. And we have to squeeze in one of his least favorite restaurants while we're at it.

I was browsing recipes a couple of weeks ago on Food52, looking for a creative non-pasta ground beef dish. After seeing not much besides pasta, stuffed peppers and Shepard's Pie, I came across this Sweet Potato Cottage Pie.

I'm not a huge fan of Shepard's Pie or Cottage Pie, typically, and it's not just that I don't really care for ground beef. I think it's the fact that it was one of the few meals my father felt comfortable cooking, meaning back when my mother worked retail when I was a kid, we'd eat it for days on end. Still, it got me thinking. And it kind of took off.

I found a few Sweet Potato Shepard's Pie recipes on the internet – here and here – but when I realized the limited time we'd have to squeeze our favorite foods in, I started taking inspiration from each, adding the broccoli, and making it into something new:

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Shepard's Pie
Inspired by this and this and this recipe
Serves 6

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 oz cream cheese
1 pound lean ground beef
1 small onion
1 cup tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 oz cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups chopped broccoli

  • Preheat oven to 350. In a medium size pot, boil sweet potato until tender.
  • In a large skillet, cook beef and onion until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add tomato sauce and spices. Spread in a baking dish. Top with broccoli and set aside.
  • Mash sweet potato with cream cheese, salt and pepper with a potato masher or electric mixer. Spread over meat and broccoli
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Dare I say I think I actually created something original here? And you know what, it was good. Darn good, in fact. I had to resist eating seconds. Plus, my mother even told me to freeze a helping to save for my aunt.

It's kind of sad that my father won't eat it. For as much effort as it was, I want to make it again. Two thumbs up, easily. Only because I only have two thumbs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cleaning out the Pantry (with a twist): Cranberry Orange Nut Muffins

That time of year is almost in full swing. There's two big bags of candy sitting by the front door for the kids who come a-knockin' and the first of three birthday cakes have been ordered. (No, I'm not baking those. Maybe next year). Pretty soon, we'll start the Thanksgiving meal lists. Not good for those who watch their waistline. Still, I have made a vow to keep myself in the kitchen.

My father is out of town this week, and you know what they say: When the cat's away, the mice will play. My father doesn't care for fruit besides apples and bananas, so with him gone, it was time to knock out a Martha White Cranberry Orange muffin mix.

I still don't care for baking from a mix, especially another one with fake fruit. The good thing with these mixes is that they only make six muffins, meaning that they'll be gone before my father comes back with Tim Horton's donuts. (We really need to get those in Florida). Plus, there's always room for a little creativity...and getting rid of some sliced almonds as well.

I made the muffins as directed on the package, topping each one with a scant tablespoon of the sliced almonds. Then, bake as usual.

The only issue I had was that, as can probably be expected, a few of the almonds fell off getting them out of the pan. Still, I was pleased with how they turned out:

Now doesn't that look good enough to eat?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sourdough Surprises: Mexicali Grissini

October started off so beautifully. Even with 90 some odd degree weather, the humidity dropped and the breeze made it seem like fall, as much fall as we get in Florida. And then, on the day I planned to make sourdough grissini as part of dinner for this month's Sourdough Surprises, a front comes through and stalls out. Great bread baking weather, right?

But I keep my promises. Besides, I think part of the reason for joining a group like Sourdough Surprises is the challenge. So, on to my grissini.

I'll admit that I was not looking forward to this one. Years ago, when I first started baking with sourdough, one of the first things I tried making were breadsticks. They turned out horribly. I figured we could at least feed them to the fish in the pond by my sister's house. I'm not kidding – the fish wouldn't even eat them. Still, I am up for a challenge.

I knew I wasn't going to be able to do the suggested recipe. For one, my father will not eat olives. We've found by accident he likes a few foods he didn't think he did, but I doubt I could slip that past him. And no way are my mother and I trying to eat them all. For two, my food scale broke years ago (what I get for using it to weigh my parrot) and I never replaced it. Every single sourdough grissini recipe I found called for ingredients by weight, though. So I took EatingWell.Com's grissini recipe, halved and modified for sourdough. With the addition of my filling, of course!

I played around with some ideas, trying to use up some random ingredients. Maple walnut? Chocolate? Then again, I haven't baked anything savory in a while. So I decided against desert. I was pretty sure I wanted to do something Mexican-themed, something I love very much. It took off from there.

For the second time, I cooked with Kraft Mango Chipotle dressing. It's new (there's still no link or mention of it on the Kraft website), so it might be hard to find, but get it if you can. It's delicious as a marinade, as a salad dressing, and as it turns out, a base for my breadstick filling. I think the fruitiness kind of gives it a California flavor – hence calling them “Mexicali”. I mixed that with some taco sauce as my base, sprinkled some cheese on it, and voila!

My Recipe:
Sourdough Mexicali Grissini
Adapted From EatingWell.Com
Makes 12 Grissini
6 oz fresh sourdough starter (A little over 2/3 of a cup, or 1/2 cup plus 2 tblsp)
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting.
1 tblsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

2 tblsp Kraft Mango Chipotle Dressing
1 tblsp taco sauce
1/2 cup shredded jack cheese (Mine was a combo of Monterrey and Colby Jack)

  1. Mix sourdough starter, about half the flour, salt and oil in a large bowl. Add additional flour until dough is no longer sticky. Knead until smooth and elastic.
  2. Lightly oil a large bowl. Roll dough in oil until coated. Cover and let rise until doubled.
  3. Mix salad dressing and taco sauce.
  4. Spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each into a roughly 6”x8” rectangle. Brush with dressing mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Cut each half into 6 strips. Carefully twist and place on baking sheets.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden

I'd suggest serving them warm out of the oven, but with my family – especially during the week – that's not going to happen. They were still very good a few hours later:

They were a little stale the next day with my lunchtime salad:

Not sure if I'll do this again anytime soon, but it worked out.

Check out our other great grissini:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sourdough Banana Bread

It seems like banana consumption goes in spurts at my house. We usually shop on Sunday, and some weeks they're gone by Wednesday. Other weeks, on Saturday, there's half a bunch still sitting there overripe. They go into the freezer. Every so often, I'll have one in a smoothie. Sometimes another recipe comes up and having a supply of overripe bananas comes in handy. I do love myself a Doctor Bird Cake, and this Sweet Potato OatmealCasserole was delicious (and easily modified for non-vegans)

Recently, though, they've been getting frozen faster than I can use them. So I decided to knock out a few of them and use the sourdough starter at the same time: Sourdough Banana Bread.

A quick internet search yielded a couple easy recipes. The first two were almost identical, except one called for half a cup of shortening and the other only a third of a cup. Even though it only saves about 20 calories in a one-inch slice, I went with the lower fat option. To me, it adds up.

I took a baggie with 3 bananas in it out of the freezer and let them thaw in the fridge overnight. The only thing I don't like with frozen bananas is that they ooze a brown liquid. My guess is that's because ice crystals rupture the cells, allowing the juices to flow out. However, it makes them a bazillion times easier to mash – no food processor needed. I just mash the baggie until no big chunks remain.

Anyway, the recipe I used:
Sourdough Banana Bread
Taken from

1/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup mashed banana
1 cup sourdough starter
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp grated orange rind
Cream together the shortening and sugar, add egg, and mix until blended. Stir in bananas and sourdough starter.

Add orange rind or vanilla. Sift flour, measure again with salt, baking powder, and soda. Add flour mixture and walnuts to the first mixture, stirring just until blended.

Pour into greased 9x5" loaf pan. Bake in moderate or 350 oven for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool before slicing.

If there's one thing about banana bread that I like better than the taste, it's the smell. I find it heavenly. This one certainly smelled perfect, and it tasted darn good too. Two thumbs up. The lower fat recipe is just right. No alterations needed whatsoever.

Although, I have a bag of almonds in the freezer I need to use...but maybe that needs to wait until the bananas pile up again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Maple Spice Microwave Mini Cake

Ah, October. The humidity is down for now, the air has cooled a little, it's been sunny and pleasantly breezy. It almost feels like least as much fall as we get here in Florida. Naturally, it's also the time to start thinking about fall foods. Like spice cake.

I've mentioned a few times about the “Meal Deals” that my local grocery store has. A fairly frequent one is buying some bacon and getting pancake mix and pancake syrup free. We go through the pancake mix and bacon a lot quicker than we do the syrup, and it's starting to pile up. So I decided to try something with it.

I know very little about replacing sugar in a recipe with maple syrup. It's not my family's favorite, so it's not something I've tried before. But still, this is a microwave cake. I figure if I messed it up, it's small enough to not make a fuss over.

I took my base recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Kirbie's Cravings. There aren't a whole lot of mug spice cake recipes out there, so I started with her “Light Strawberry Mug Cake” and swapped the pancake syrup for the sugar and added the spice, omitting the strawberries. Yes, I know you're supposed to reduce the liquid. I didn't.

The cake itself came together nicely. I noticed two things baking it, however: One, it took a lot longer – almost two and a half minutes – to microwave. For two, it was very dense. It almost had a pudding like consistency. This was mentioned in Kirbie's original post on the recipe, so I can't necessarily blame that on too much liquid.

Still, I can have my cake and eat it too. I topped it with about a teaspoon of cinnamon sugar for a little extra oomph. Yet neither myself nor my mother could taste maple (granted I didn't use real maple syrup), and it wasn't very spicy either.

Anyhow, the recipe I used:
Maple Spice Microwave Mini Cake
Adapted heavily from Kirbie's Cravings
5 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup pancake syrup (use real maple if you have it, but otherwise the blends will do)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 egg
5 tablespoon nonfat milk
1 tablespoon oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1tsp Pumpkin Pie spice
1tsp cinnamon sugar (optional)

  1. Combine all ingredients except cinnamon sugar. Stir until smooth. Spray a microwave-safe 2 cup ramekin or oversize mug with baker's spray and pour in batter
  2. Microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds. Continue in 20 second intervals until cake tester inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean.
  3. Invert ramekin over a small plate and top with cinnamon sugar, if desired.

Dense and non-spicey-maple-y as it might have been, it still tasted good. I'm going to keep this in the play-around with file. That is, if I don't find another recipe I have to try first.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sourdough Pancakes

Sourdough isn't all about baking. Much as I love to bake, I just love being in the kitchen. And when I can make a meal for my family and have to worry less about indulging, so much the better.

That's why one recipe I've made time and time again is sourdough pancakes. I'm always good for "brinner" or breakfast-for-dinner, and this is definitely a favorite.  That being said, I definitely have a love-hate affair with them. While I am quite a capable cook, expert pancake flipper I am not. It takes practice, and I guess I don't make them often enough. This time around, though, they turned out pretty darn good. 

This particular recipe came from my mother's old Hickory Farms sourdough recipe file. It came as part of a kit with a little packet of sourdough culture. To give you some idea of how long it's been in my family, there's a handwritten date on it that says Spring 1975.

I modify the recipe differently on different days. The one thing that's consistent is omitting the oil. I tried it as written, and it just wasn't right, so I kind of thought maybe the oil was for greasing the pan/griddle. Therefore, I tried it without and it worked. I've added extra sugar when I wanted sweeter, added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a half a teaspoon of vanilla for a little extra flavor, but this time around, it was regular.

The recipe:

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
3 tblsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups ripe sourdough starter
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
[3 tblsp cooking oil]

[Since I use a frying pan instead of a griddle (possibly part of my problem with pancakes), I can't preheat it, but the recipe says 375 degrees] Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well to blend. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Batter may be slightly lumpy.

Grease [or spray] hot griddle/pan for first pancakes and as needed. Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto griddle for larger pancakes or about 1 tablespoon batter for silver dollar pancakes. Bake until edges are dry.

It says it makes 12 large or 48 small pancakes, but I use a 1/4 cup ladle and it typically makes 15-18 pancakes.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled baking...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shine Supper Club: Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad

I had one semester in college where I attempted to work nearly full time hours while maintaining a full time school schedule. I think I had all of four days where I didn't have school or work. Meals were usually either at the mall food court or the campus cafe. It got expensive quick. One day, I found a little bit of time and threw together a pasta salad with a bunch of ingredients I found laying around. I had a portable meal that was cheaper (and healthier) than fast food, and it could keep a couple days. I started doing this whenever life got hectic: the same basic dressing recipe, a protein, a vegetable, some pasta – and I freed up some time.

Life is seldom that hectic anymore (especially when you work for an NHL team right now...). However, the Shine Supper Club is doing favorite pasta recipes this month, and I happened to have some leftover Miracle Noodles from last night's dinner. So lunch was set.

When I can plan for this (it's a pot luck favorite, in fact), I have a set recipe:

Secret Mustard Dressing
~1/2 cup Ranch Dressing
~1/2 cup Mustard (I use about half yellow and half brown)
Hot sauce, to taste

  1. Mix ingredients. This recipe is forgiving and adaptable – adjust it according to your tastes. (Personally, I like it sinus-clearing spicy, but this is the pot luck version!)
Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad

1 Box Pasta, preferably elbow noodles
2 medium zucchini, shredded
1 medium tomato, diced
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
Secret Mustard dressing (see above)

  1. Prepare pasta to al dente. Drain, rinse and allow to cool
  2. Toss with dressing. Mix in other ingredients
  3. Serve. If this is a pot luck, it goes fast!

Now, that's the pot luck version. Obviously, zucchini is out of season, and I didn't have a tomato handy. Besides, I was making a single serving. I had a couple of baby carrots from feeding the bird and turtles, and some leftover bacon. So I chopped up some carrot and tore up some bacon to throw together this version. Plus, I used a packet of Chinese mustard and quite a bit of chili powder in the dressing. And the Miracle Noodles. If you're expecting these to taste like regular pasta, you will be disappointed, but they work for me.  However, this recipe works just as well with regular pasta.

I do wish I had bought a shape other than fettuccine, but that's what makes it the “Kitchen Sink”. It's less of a recipe and more of a technique. Use what you have and what you like, and you can't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spooky Speculaas Moons (aka Homemade Biscoff Cookies)

There's no other explanation for this. I had a craving.

I was introduced to Biscoff as a cookie many years ago, given away on a Delta Airlines flight. I hate flying, but man I loved those cookies. One time when I wasn't with him, my father asked if he could have an extra one to take home for me. A nice flight attendant gave him a whole sleeve. I was in heaven for a week or two (that was several years ago, before the airlines hit so much financial trouble and well before my diet). They're not cheap where I live and never on sale, and seeing as I don't travel anymore, I only get one every so often when my father brings them back.

It seems like everyone is using Biscoff spread these days in their recipes as well. It's made by the same company, and supposedly tastes like the cookie. Again, it's not cheap. It's $5 a jar at my local grocery store and even more at the specialty store, and similar prices online. Deals just don't seem to be had. Yet here I am, reading recipes for Biscoff this and Biscoff that. I want some.

As it turns out, Biscoff are speculoos or speculaas cookies, which are traditionally eaten on the Feast of St. Nicholas (not Christmas) in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Northern France. Recipes are actually fairly easy to come by and are written in plain English. Some are pressed into molds, like Biscoff cookies, others are rolled. I had to do it.

I selected this recipe, because I have a big set of cookie cutters that I just bought and wanted to use for Halloween, and because I didn't want the hassle of ground/roasted/blanched almonds (they're in this recipe too, on top, and easily omitted or added as you like). I modified it somewhat, halving it and subbing allspice for aniseed out of personal preference. Neither are in the traditional mix of speculaas spices, but after baking them, I looked on the ingredients list for Biscoff and the only spice listed is cinnamon. So Biscoff aren't traditional speculaas either.

My recipe, as follows:
Spooky Speculaas Moons (aka Homemade Biscoff Cookies)
Adapted from
Makes about 2 dozen cookies
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
9 tblsp butter (1/4 cup +1 tblsp, or 1 1/8 sticks)
3/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tblsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
dash of salt

  1. Cream butter and sugar together
  2. In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Gradually add to the creamed mixture, mixing well, until the dough forms ball
  3. Roll out to about 1/4” thick. Use cookie cutters to shape into desired forms
  4. Bake at 375 for about 12 minutes, until lightly brown

Word of warning: these smell good. Really good. I honestly couldn't wait to seal them up because they were making me hungry. They're not quite Biscoff – a little spicier and crunchier. But they are as good as they smell. In fact, I think I like them better than Biscoff.

Now I just need to find a way to get the spread. On the other hand, there's no eggs in this dough...

I might have another project on my hands.