Buffalo Fried Calamari with Ranch Dip

Buffalo Fried Calamari

Beer and fried food – it may be an American cliché but as the superbowl approaches, it’s hard to resist this game-time tradition. Fried calamari has become a favorite restaurant appetizer. It’s often sandwiched between wings and mozzarella sticks on restaurant and pub menus. This buffalo fried calamari recipe combines the best of classic buffalo wings and traditional fried calamari to make one spicy indulgent party appetizer.

Of all the recipes on my site, Fried Calamari with Two Dipping Sauces remains one of the most popular (yes I’m surprised too since I barely knew how to use a camera back then). So when I had buffalo fried calamari at a popular pizza restaurant, I was inspired. I wanted this dish to have a fresh and clean taste so I was determined to make each component from scratch. Somehow this makes me feel healthier when consuming a gazillion calories (the superbowl counts as a special occasion, right?). Of course, making everything from scratch isn’t necessary but I love adding fresh herbs to homemade ranch dressing (you can use blue cheese dip if you prefer) and having the ability to control the heat and spiciness of the buffalo sauce.

Unlike the heavy beer batter I’ve used previously to coat the calamari, I opted for a light flour coating to offset the additional layer the buffalo sauce adds. I simply marinated the cleaned cut squid in buttermilk for extra tenderness and coated it in lightly salted flour. After frying, the squid remains tender with a light crunch and can be easily tossed in the buffalo sauce. Eat while still hot and dip in the cool creamy ranch dip. The fried tender calamari with the heat of the spicy buffalo sauce and refreshing garlicky ranch dip is a dangerously tasty combination that’s sure to distract you from the game.

Buffalo Fried Calamari with Ranch Dip

Buffalo Fried Calamari with Ranch Dip

Buffalo Fried Calamari with Ranch Dip

Ingredients

Fried Calamari
1 lb cleaned squid
2 cups buttermilk
vegetable oil for frying
1 ½-2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
 
Ranch Dip
1 clove garlic, minced and pressed into a paste
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire
3 scallions, chopped
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Dash of hot sauce
 
Buffalo Sauce
1 clove garlic
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup hot sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

Instructions

Make the ranch dip and the buffalo sauce.

To Make the Ranch Dip:

Combine garlic paste, sour cream, and mayo in a medium size mixing bowl. Stir in buttermilk, lemon juice, and Worcestershire. Mix in scallions, parsley, basil (if using), salt and pepper, and hot sauce. Chill and serve cold.

To Make the Buffalo Sauce:

Melt butter with whole garlic clove in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in hot sauce. Bring to a simmer. Whisk in vinegar, Worcestershire, onion, powder, garlic powder, and cayenne powder. Remove garlic clove. Keep warm until ready to use.

For the calamari:

Clean and cut squid in rings. Place in a large bowl. Pour enough buttermilk in the bowl to cover the squid. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Pour flour and salt into a shallow dish or pie plate. Drain calamari and toss in flour to coat.

Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a dutch oven or large heavy pot to 375 degrees.

Carefully add the squid to the oil. Fry until just lightly golden, about 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Place calamari in a clean bowl and lightly toss with buffalo sauce until just barely coated. Transfer to another bowl or plate and serve with ranch dip for dipping.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese is an American classic. It’s practically a staple in our diets, or at least the boxed version was while growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. When craving the favorite cheese drenched pasta, how do you decide which one to make? From baked and boxed to fancier truffle and healthier spinach versions – there’s a variation to match any specific craving. I keep it simple: if I’m craving comforting mac and cheese and willing to consume large amounts of this caloric delight for dinner, I want the real deal. Extra cheesy baked macaroni and cheese with a lightly crunchy top – no funny business.

This mac and cheese recipe is not from my grandmother’s books or any of her colleagues, it’s a creation of my own. As I expand this blog to include other classic recipes besides those of my grandmothers, classic baked mac and cheese was a obvious necessity. My grandmother had very few pasta recipes – I’m not sure if this was due to the time period (1960’s), or if it was just a category she was still in the process of mastering. Either way, there are some great classic pasta recipes out there, such as mac and cheese, that I felt should be included here.

Although this is a classic baked version, it is extra cheesy. This recipe includes four different types of cheeses: sharp cheddar, gruyere, parmesan, and mozzarella. Cheddar and gruyere are used in the cheese sauce and the mozzarella and parmesan are used in the gooey yet crunchy bread crumb topping. The combination of cheeses not only provides different textures but also different layers in flavor.

Another minor difference between this recipe and classic mac and cheese, is the pasta. While macaroni can easily be used, I prefer cavatappi pasta. This squiggly pasta is like macaroni with ridges and an extra curl at the end. The result is more pasta and more crevices for the cheesy sauce to hide. Rich with tender noodles and melted sharp cheese, each bite will satisfy that common craving for this American tradition.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 lb cavatappi or elbow macaroni pasta
3 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon mustard
pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
5 ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated gruyere
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Place the parmesan and bread crumbs in a small bowl and stir in the melted butter.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente (just tender). Drain the noodles (do not rinse).

In a small saucepan over moderate heat, warm the milk just until it simmers— careful not to boil. Remove from the heat.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in flour. Cook just until the mixture starts to turn a golden/tan color, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the warm milk, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the dry mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Add 5 cups grated cheddar cheese and gruyere. Stir until it's completely melted. Season to taste.

Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to coat the pasta in the sauce.

Pour the macaroni and cheese into the prepared baking dish and top with mozzarella, remaining ½ cup of cheddar and the bread crumb mixture. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Mac and Cheese

Beef Stew

Beef Stew

As the darkest and coldest part of the winter looms, the next three months or so are the most difficult to get through. There’s little to look forward to (the Super Bowl doesn’t quite do it for me) and spring seems so far away. This is when I remind myself that it’s stew and soup season. These hearty but often healthy dishes can be as comforting as a fire in a fireplace (which most of us don’t have in NYC) on a cold winter day. If this winter becomes anything like last years – and lets hope it doesn’t – stews and soups are like that forgiving friend that’s always there for you. The cook times can work around your schedule and often the longer a soup or stew sits, the better it tastes. An easy one pot meal that can be made in the slow cooker while you’re at work.

Though it may not be the prettiest, this beef stew is a classic recipe that I adapted from my good old friend, “The James Beard Cookbook.” I also referred to a version by my grandmother, Paula Peck, in “The Art of Good Cooking.” Instead of just the standard, beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions – I also added mushrooms, tomatoes, and celery. Feel free to experiment with whichever vegetables you prefer. Since the beef needs to be cooked slowly to break down the fat and make it tender, I added each vegetable throughout the cooking process accordingly to my preferred doneness for each one. However, both the vegetables and beef could all easily be thrown together in a slow cooker. After just a few hours, the house smells of rich beef broth with scents of onion and thyme. Serve alone or over rice – the broth acts like a thick gravy that will be devoured with each steaming beefy bite. It may even make you forget about the long stretch of winter ahead, at least for the moment.

Beef Stew

Ingredients

2 lbs beef round or lean beef chuck, cubed
½ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, large dice
1 clove garlic
2 ½-3 cups beef stock or broth
1 bay leaf
4 red potatoes, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tomato, seeded and chopped

Instructions

Place flour in a shallow dish and add salt and pepper. Roll meat cubes in flour mixture.

Melt butter in a large heavy soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and beef cubes. Brown beef cubes on all sides.

Add enough stock to fully cover meat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add the bay leaf. Simmer, degreasing occasionally, until beef is tender (1 ½-2 hours).

Halfway through cooking (about 45 minutes), add the potatoes, carrots, celery, parsley, and thyme. Add the mushrooms and tomato about 15-20 minutes later.

Serves 6-8

Remove the thyme stems and bay leaf. Serve hot in large bowls or with rice.

Beef Stew copy

Avocado Grapefruit Fennel Salad

Avocado Grape Fruit Salad

With the holidays behind us, we feel guilty about our episodes of gluttony. Though it may not last more than a week or two, we make New Years resolutions to exercise more and eat better. The gyms are packed and there’s that buzz about kale, quinoa, chia, and other healthy super foods. Since grapefruit is said to have properties that help reduce belly fat and we have all heard about the health benefits of avocado, I present you with this light Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fennel salad. A salad reminiscent of summer yet perfect for your post-holiday health kick, no matter how short it is.

You may be thinking that this healthy salad seems too modern to have any connection to my grandmother and the early American foodies. However, I actually found this recipe, in it’s most basic form (no fennel), in “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. I’m not sure of its history before his cookbook but to me, this qualifies grapefruit and avocado salad as a classic.

I made just a few modifications to the original recipe. I added fennel, which provides a crispy crunch and a licorice flavor gives the salad a light freshness. You can pick whichever vinaigrette you prefer but I opted from a lemon one made with fresh lemon juice and olive oil (which also helps preserve the color of the avocado). Want an extra kick? Try adding a little onion and chili flakes. All of your sweet, savory, and spicy bases are then covered.

Another fun and surprising aspect of this super simple salad is its seasonality. Yes, it’s somewhat seasonal. It may look like a summer salad that’s perfect for a hot day (which it can be), but grapefruit will be at its peak soon – making it cheaper, sweeter, and juicier than it is the rest of the year. So pick your favorite, white or ruby red, and whip up this light refreshing salad for lunch. With the superbowl right around the corner, the return of your favorite greasy appetizers will come sooner than you think.

Avocado Grapefruit Fennel Salad
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 grapefruits
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 avocados
  • dried basil (optional)
Instructions
  1. Pour lemon juice into a small mixing bowl and slowly add olive oil in steady stream, while whisking to emulsify. Whisk in dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Peel and segment grapefruit with a sharp knife, ensuring all white pith is removed. Place segments in a medium mixing bowl. Thinly slice fennel and add to the grapefruit. Slice or dice avocado and add to the mixture.
  3. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and lightly toss to combine. Season with additional salt and dried basil (if using). Serve immediately.

Grapefruit Avocado Fennel Salad

The Best Recipes of 2014

It’s been an interesting year. From the disappearance of Malaysia flight 370 to the Ebola outbreak and many other poignant news stories, those compiling this year’s lists of highlights and countdowns have their work cutout for them. Since I’ve never done a list of highlights on this blog before but I always catch myself reading those that I come across,  I thought I would give it try – for my recipe posts, not news events of course (I have no business discussing those). So I went back and reviewed the roughly 30 recipe posts of 2014 and picked my favorite 5 recipes, almost exclusively based on taste. Yes, pretty photos and writing are important but what we really want is a darn tasty recipe, right?

Before we get to the top 5 picks, other notable highlights of 2014 for Megan Peck Cooks include the a few stories I wrote for Edible Magazine:

Striped Bass Plaki on Edible East End  – a story about my grandmother’s amazing whole striped bass dish made with local Eastern Long Island seafood.

Linzer Torte on Edible Manhattan (featured in the Holiday Issue) – holiday memories surrounding my grandmother, Paula Peck’s, festive cocoa scented Linzer Torte Recipe.

I also had the honor of participating in the research for “1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” by Mimi Sheraton – just recently released and can be purchased on amazon (available in bookstores January 13th).  It was such a pleasure to work with Mimi Sheraton, a good friend of my grandmother’s.

Now for my top 5 recipe posts of 2014:

Classic Baked Lasagna

A classic lasagna recipe made with béchamel sauce instead of ricotta cheese. This will quickly become your favorite lasagna recipe and replace that tomato sauce-drenched version from the local mediocre Italian restaurant.

Lasagna No Ricotta

Smoked Salmon in Sour Cream-Horseradish Sauce

Horseradish, salmon, and dill add a freshness to this dip-like spread. Add a few slices of cucumbers for a refreshing crunch and this is the perfect light lunch or appetizer.

Smoked Salmon Spread

Salad Nicoise with a Twist

A salad nicoise that doesn’t follow any of the rules. Purple Peruvian potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and garlic scapes are added to make an amazing seasonal salad, exploding with flavor.

Salad Nicoise with a Twist

Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce

Baked apples are taken to a whole new level with this crisp stuffed version. Oats, sugar, butter, and cinnamon are stuffed into a whole apple then baked and topped with homemade caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Excessiveness never tasted so good.

Stuffed Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Ginger Almond Sandwich Cookies

Lemon buttercream fills these spicy ginger almond sandwiches. A Paula Peck cookie favorite turned into irresistible sandwiches that will disappear as fast as you can make them.

Ginger Almond Sandwich Cookies

 

Happy New Year and hope to see you all in 2015.

Mini Chocolate Almond Meringue Tarts

Mini Chocolate Meringue TartsI know this may seem like an odd selection for a recipe post just a few days before Christmas. It’s not holiday specific and it doesn’t contain peppermint, molasses or ginger, or any other Christmasy baking ingredient that is usually expected this time of year. What you have here is a tasty little party dessert that covers all your festive baking bases. Almond paste is the dominant flavor in the crust, which then accents the rich chocolate ganache filling. But lets not forget the meringue. These lovely white peaks are the finishing touch that brings all of the components together into one delicious mini dessert.

I developed this recipe solely based on inspiration. It is not a Paula Peck recipe nor one from her colleagues. I happen to try a version of these little delights at an Italian Bakery in New Jersey that I often frequent. A chocolate tart with an almond flavored crust seemed brilliant to me and I’m always a sucker for meringue. I had seen the recipe for Almond Short Pastry in my grandmother’s book , “The Art of Fine Baking,” and the use of both ground almonds and almond paste convinced me it would make the perfect tart dough. The richness of the hard cooked egg yolks (one of her best tart-making techniques) combined with the nutty almond pairs beautifully with the chocolate filling. The meringue may be over kill but it definitely gives these tartlets the snowy-peak feel appropriate for holiday entertaining. Besides, who can resist the pillowy white marshmallow texture on top of almond chocolaty morsels of magic?

Ingredients:

Almond Short Pastry
1/2 cup almond paste
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup unbalanced almonds
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup butter
pinch cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 hard boiled egg yolks, pushed through a sieve

Chocolate Ganache
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1-12 ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Meringue
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lightly grease a muffin pan.

Cream almond paste with raw egg yolks until soft. Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Mix flour and ground almonds together and place in a bowl, making a well in the center. In the well, place sugar, salt, lemon zest, softened butter, spices, hard boiled egg yolk, and almond-paste mixture.

With finger tips, combine the center ingredients, gradually incorporating flour and nuts to make a smooth, firm ball of dough. Chill until firm enough to roll between sheets of wax paper (about 1 hour).

Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick. Using a 3 inch round cookie cutter or top of a glass, cut out rounds of dough and gently place them in muffin tin, lightly pressing down to line each cup. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until just barely beginning to lightly brown. Half way through baking, prick centers of cups so they do not continue to puff up. Allow to fully cool.

While tarts cool, make the ganache filling:

Heat the heavy cream and milk in a pot over medium-low until it simmering slightly. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until well incorporated. Beat the eggs and add them to the chocolate mixture, stir until completely combined. Pour the filling into the cooled tartlets and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes until the filling is set and the surface is glossy. Cool completely.

While tartlets cool, make the meringue topping:

Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch.
Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined.

Pipe mixture onto tartlets. Raise oven heat to 350 and place tartlets in oven, until meringue is golden (about 5-10 minutes). Cool.

Yield about 12 mini tarts.

Mini Chocolate Ganache Meringue Tarts

 

Potato Pancakes with Honey Crisp Apple Sauce

Potato Pancakes with Apple Sauce

Before you discard this post because you don’t celebrate Hanukkah or understand why potato pancakes/latkes are so tasty, let me assure you that you don’t have to be religious to enjoy this simple (and vegetarian) side dish. I have an affinity for the sweet and savory combination of shredded potato and onion with cinnamon apple sauce. This may have started when I was was a child, with our attempts to celebrate Hanukkah by re-creating this traditional dish. It’s beyond that now. These pancakes actually follow the basic no-fail culinary combination of sweet, salt, fat, and acid – practically guaranteeing its tastiness.

This basic recipe was adapted from “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. It’s strange that James Beard published a potato pancake recipe but my grandmother did not. With her Jewish background, it seems only natural that she would have a recipe for such a common dish. But it appears she made Spinach Pancakes more frequently than potato pancakes (based on “The Art of Good Cooking”). Nonetheless, this is a great base recipe, and paired with my homemade Honeycrisp apple sauce, it’s even better. Simply grate potato and onion into a strainer and squeeze out some of the liquid. This is then mixed with egg, a small amount of bread crumbs, and salt. Saute in butter (or blended butter and oil) and you have a crispy pancake that includes the salt and fat required for the dish.

The apple sauce makes up the acid and sweet components of the culinary combo. Just boil honey crisp apples (I like the juiciness and sweet honey flavor of honey crisps) in a little water with a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of sugar, and a touch cinnamon. Finish with lemon juice (for the acid and to help keep the color). You will have a delicious apple sauce and as you can see here, I almost prefer equal parts apple sauce and pancake. Each bite should have a good amount of both. Sour cream can also be added but I’ve never found it necessary. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, these potato pancakes with sweet homemade apple sauce make a satisfying lunch or snack.

Ingredients:

4 medium potatoes
1 1/2 medium onions
1 egg
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Butter

Honey Crisp Apple Sauce
6 honey crisp apples
1 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash and peel the potatoes. Grate with a grater and drain off all the liquid that collects in the bowl. Grate the onion into the potato and mix in the egg, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Put in four large spoonfuls of the mixture. Pat down slightly to create pancakes, about 2 inches wide. Cook gently until brown on the bottom, turn, and brown on the other side. Add more fat and continue cooking until all of the mixture is used.

To make the Honey Crisp Apple Sauce:

Peel and core the apples. Halve lemon and rub on apple halves to prevent browning. Dice apples. Place apples in a large pot with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Stir in honey and sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes or until apples are soft and create a sauce. Stir in cinnamon and lemon juice.

Serve pancakes with large spoonfuls of apple sauce.

Serves 5-6.

Poppy Seed Caramel Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon and caramel rolls seem to be everywhere these days, or at least photos of them are. The gooey texture is both photogenic and irresistible. I often see these well-known breakfast rolls prominently displayed on large white plates or cake stands at cafés around New York City. I almost always have to buy one. A version of my own was long overdue yet perfectly timed with the Holidays.

The base of this recipe came from the “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard but the inspiration came from two very different sources: a nostalgic Christmas memory and a popular babka bakery in New York City. Growing up in a cozy Minneapolis neighborhood, our neighbors exchanged small gifts (usually of homemade goodies) every Christmas. My family looked forward to the plate of Caramel Rolls that was routinely included in these gifts every year. Each roll was always the perfect size, not too big nor too small, with just the right amount of caramel. We would save them for breakfast on Christmas morning.

The addition of poppy seeds to this nostalgic replication was inspired by Breads Bakery, one of my favorite bakeries in New York City. They are known for many delicious breads and pastries but their chocolate Babka is particularly impressive (they even ship it nationwide!). The deep chocolate swirls remind me of black poppy seeds and inspired me to combine them into this indulgent sweet bready treat.

These delectable rolls can also be made plain, without poppy seeds, for a classic version. However, those of us who love poppy seeds, will enjoy the light crunch and texture that the spattering of poppy seeds provides. These caramel rolls may be different from those that I looked forward to every Christmas as a child, but they are better than what I find at most cafes here in the city. They just might make it on the table with the holiday desserts this year (as well as for breakfast, of course).

Ingredients:

2 (1 1/2 tablespoons) packages active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Topping
4 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 brown sugar
cinnamon and poppy seeds for sprinkling

Mix the yeast in a large bowl with ½ cup of the warm milk, honey, and sugar. Let stand a few minutes to proof. Melt butter in remaining milk and add the salt. Combine with the yeast mixture.

Add the flour a cup at a time and stir it in with a wooden spoon. Continue mixing until dough is thoroughly blended. If you are using an electric mixer with a dough hook, knead at slow speed for 3-4 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead until dough is very soft, smooth, and elastic. Transfer to a well-buttered bowl and allow to rise in a warm spot until double in bulk (around 1-2 hours).

While dough rises, grease bottom and sides of a 9 inch round cake pan or 8 inch square baking pan. Mix Melt 4 tablespoons of melted butter with ¾ cup brown sugar. Pour into prepared pan.

Punch down dough and turn out on a lightly floured surface. Roll out with a rolling pin into a rectangle, about ½ inch thick. Spread with softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and poppy seeds.  Roll up and cut the roll into 1 – 1 ½ inch slices. Arrange slices in the prepared pan.  Cover and let rise 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt tablespoon. Brush the rolls with the butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds and cinnamon. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly then run a butter knife along the sides of the pan to release the rolls. Place a serving plate on top of the rolls and while holding the bottom of the baking pan, flip upside down onto the serving plate so that the bottoms of the rolls are facing up and the caramel sauce covers them.

Yield 9 large rolls or 18 small rolls.

Poppy Seed Cinnamon Roll

 

Curried Carrots and Peppers

Curried Carrots and PepperIndian food is often my go to comfort food. When the warm intense spices fill the kitchen with the scents of cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds, I feel at home. I also don’t feel guilty after eating a big meal because most of what I make from this unique spicy cuisine, is healthy (unlike other comfort foods like mac and cheese and mashed potatoes that I also adore). Indian food isn’t usually considered diet friendly because Indian restaurants often use a lot of oil and cream. And the Samosa, arguably the most popular Indian dish/appetizer, is basically potatoes and vegetables fried in dough. But since the traditional spices are strong and flavorful, it’s easy to make tasty Indian dishes with very little fat – especially vegetables. This recipe for carrots and peppers uses just a little oil, spices, lemon juice, and touch of sugar. It makes a flavorful side dish (or main dish if you are full from all of that holiday food).

Surprisingly, this recipe is from “The Art of Good Cooking.” It continues to amaze me how my grandmother managed to replicate and publish such ethnic recipes over 50 years ago, when so many side dishes still came from a can. Living in Harlem, she was surrounded by diversity and learned many of these recipes from friends or neighbors. This dish, titled “Oza’s Carrots and Peppers” in her book, is an example of that influence. An obvious question is, who’s Oza? The introduction to the recipe mentions that Oza was an Indian friend and neighbor. Not long ago, I heard from Oza’s son. He mentioned that Oza, now 92, still has fond memories of my grandmother and grandfather.

The only modifications I made to the original recipe is the amount of oil and curry powder (I believe curry powder was less potent in the 1960’s). I also prefer to make my own curry powder by using a combination of ground coriander, cumin, and turmeric (proportions below). The original recipe already had the fat, acid, and sweet components to make it the perfect party for your taste buds. As we fatten our bellies with baked goods and rich foods this holiday season, these spiced vegetables can provide a nice break for your body but still provide the comfort of the holiday season.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup peanut oil
2 teaspoons brown or yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons curry powder (or 1 teaspoon each ground cumin and ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 carrots, thinly sliced
3 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt and Pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

In a deep saucepan, heat peanut oil until almost smoking. Add mustard seeds. Turn heat down and add cumin seeds, curry powder, and cayenne. Cook 2 minutes. Add sliced carrots and green peppers and stir into the spices. Cook until vegetables begin to change color but are still crisp. Stir in brown sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.

Serves 4

 

Ginger Almond Sandwich Cookies

Ginger Almond Sandwich Cookies

There is no shortage of cookie recipes this time of year. Everyone seems to have a favorite type of cookie or baking tradition that they don’t normally stray from during the holidays. I am no different. I have few really good cookie recipes that I repeat for special occasions. A recipe has to be both special and scrumptious to make it into that repeat category. But this year, I used a familiar good cookie recipe and promoted it to an amazing one by creating these sandwich cookies. These are delicious cookies. Seriously. After taking just one bite, a friend commented “you should sell these,” and he doesn’t even like dessert.

Ginger is an obvious go to flavor this time of year and I’ve been making these tasty almond cookies from “The Art of Fine Baking” for a few holidays now. I even shared the popular recipe in culinary school when we were required to make a gourmet buffet of sorts. Molasses, cinnamon, cloves, and ground ginger provide these buttery cookies with a rich spicy kick. Sliced almonds add a tender crunch to the soft (but not gooey or crumbly) finished cookies. Since the dough (if you don’t eat most of it first) is formed into a log, chilled, and then sliced into even symmetrical rounds, these are easy candidates for sandwiches. Lemony butter cream was the logical choice to help balance the strong spices that accent the deep molasses flavor. Piping this sweet cream onto the cookies proved surprisingly quick. I had to stop myself from eating each cookie sandwich as I made them.

It’s easy to fall back into the same habits and bake the same desserts every holiday season but without trying anything different, you may never establish your next favorite baking tradition. This is the lesson I’m learning…as I gobble down another gingery lemon scented sandwich cookie.

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sliced almonds
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Lemon Buttercream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, molasses, spices, baking soda, and almonds. Mix in flour. Form dough into two logs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice dough logs 1/4 inch thick and place slices on prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake 8-10 minutes or until just lightly browned.

While cookies cool, make the lemon cream:

Beat butter with sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in zest, lemon juice, and vanilla.

When cookies are cool, fill a piping bag with lemon cream and pipe an even layer of cream on half the cookies. Top each cream filled cookie with a plain one to create sandwiches.

Yield approximately 30