Thursday, December 6, 2018

Gingerbread Muffins


One of my favorite flavors this time of year is gingerbread, whether it's in a latte or a loaf. I love the flavors so much I think they are perfectly acceptable any time of year, however society might disagree. In any case, we're lucky it's the right time of year to enjoy these gingerbread muffins!

Although they are quite easy to make, I would heed the warning within the recipe to not overfill the cups. I was sure that I hadn't overfilled the batter, and even baked 2 additional muffins in another muffin pan, and mine still ended up being too full. They expanded a bit over the edges and sank in the middle as the recipe warns. The muffins were still excellent, however!

Although most people think of gingerbread cookies this time of year, as opposed to the more cake-like variation, I personally love gingerbread in loaves or muffins in this case. They are packed with flavor, heavily spiced, and so comforting with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning.

Gingerbread Muffins
Makes 12 regular or 6 jumbo muffins
(From Muffins & Biscuits)

6 Tbsp [85 g] salted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/3 cup [80 ml] buttermilk
1/2 cup [120 ml] molasses
1/2 cup [100 g] firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups [180 g] all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F [165°C]. Line a 12-well standard or 6-well jumbo muffin pan with paper liners or coat thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and the eggs. Add the buttermilk, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla and whisk until well combined. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and black pepper. Stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and use a rubber spatula to carefully fold together until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, or your muffins will be tough; the batter should still have a couple of streaks of flour.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared muffin wells. Because these muffins have a lot of moisture, they are prone to collapsing a bit in the center. To prevent this, do not fill the muffin wells more than two-thirds full (if you have a little extra batter, make it into pancakes) and do not open the oven to rotate the pans during baking.

Bake until the tops are puffed and a muffin bounces back when you poke it gently in the center with a finger, 18 to 22 minutes for standard muffins or 25 to 28 minutes for jumbo. Because these muffins are dark in color, it’s a little more difficult to tell when they’re done. If you’re not sure, then slip a small sharp knife or a metal skewer into the center of a muffin; if it comes out clean, then the muffins are done.

Remove the muffins from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully lift the muffins from the pan and transfer them to a wire rack to cool a little more. (Use a butter knife to lift the muffins out if you didn’t use paper liners.)

Dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar just before serving, if desired. Serve warm.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie


This is THE BEST pumpkin pie you will ever have. Although I love pumpkin pie I rarely make it because it seems almost boring to me when there are so many other interesting pies I could be making, but this particular pumpkin pie is anything but boring.

It begins with a brown butter butterscotch which gets pureed into a mixture of pumpkin and spices. A dash of molasses and lemon juice add further flavor complexity, and a surprise addition of carrot juice really takes things over the top. The result is a decadent, creamy one-of-a-kind pumpkin pie with a hint of tanginess that almost reminds me of cheesecake but way scaled back.

I shared this recipe with a friend of mine prior to Thanksgiving and told her I was thinking of making it for the occasion. She added it to her Thanksgiving menu as did I, and at both Thanksgivings it was met with rave reviews.

I froze some of my leftover carrot juice in ice cube trays with plans to make another pie this Christmas, which is only 3 weeks away! That's how much my family enjoyed this pumpkin pie that after years of avoiding making pumpkin pie because it's just too typical and not exciting enough for the menu, I'm making it twice in one season.

This is the pumpkin pie of our dreams, and I highly recommend making it for Christmas, for the weekend, for the office, for fun, for whatever purpose you choose because it's really better than the pumpkin pies of your past.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
(From Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground cloves
1 teaspoon molasses
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup carrot juice
One par-baked All-Butter Crust for a 9-inch single-crust pie (see Note)
Preheat the oven to 350° and position a rack in the center of the oven. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue to cook; the butter will foam and then begin to turn golden, then nut brown; whisk occasionally. When the butter is nut brown, immediately add the brown sugar, whisk, and then carefully add the water to loosen. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue simmering until a candy thermometer reads 225°F. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, cook until the mixture smells caramelized and starts to darken.) Slowly add the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble rapidly) and whisk until smooth. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and yolks together with the salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, blend the pumpkin puree with the allspice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, molasses, and lemon juice until smooth. With the machine running on low, stream the brown-butter butterscotch through the food processor’s feed tube and process until combined. Stream in the egg mixture, followed by the milk and carrot juice; blend until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides with a rubber scraper.
Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a separate bowl, pressing through with a rubber scraper. Pour into the prebaked shell. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Let to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Ode to Barcelona: Escalivada, Gambas al Ajillo, Sangria Roja


The following recipes are a lot less complicated and less time consuming than the bombas I shared in my previous post, so I decided to share them all in a single post. They make up the bulk of my Ode to Barcelona tapas menu.

Escalivada, sometimes called escalibada, is a Catalan roasted vegetable dish featuring eggplant and red bell peppers, and sometimes onions and/or tomatoes. One of our surprise dishes off the confusing menu at Vinitus was escalivada with goat cheese. It was delicious and unexpected.

This version is more of the traditional approach, and less refined and structured than the goat cheese-topped version at Vinitus. It's so very lightly dressed, and I used some cava vinegar I purchased in Barcelona as the acidic element. Although it appears to be incredibly simple (and it is), the flavors are great. This is a very nice vegetable dish to add to a tapas menu.

I also included gambas al ajillo, or garlic shrimp. I've made a different recipe in the past, but this one is more garlicky and the winner of the two versions in my opinion. It reminds me a bit of a Spanish shrimp scampi.

Finally, I'll share a recipe for my beloved sangria. You hardly need a recipe for this crowd-pleasing drink, as there are so many different ways to make it truly unique. In this particular case I was inspired by some of the fruits that were featured in various sangrias we drank in Barcelona (mainly citrus fruits and some green apples), and in particular the usage of cinnamon. One evening our sangria was topped with ground cinnamon, and yet another day it was garnished with an entire cinnamon stick in the glass.

I infused the sangria with a couple broken cinnamon sticks. The flavor really comes through, especially since I chilled my sangria for a full 8 hours before serving. The cinnamon along with the apples and citrus really shine with the flavors of fall and winter. Berries are another traditional element in sangria, but use whatever fruits you like.

Escalivada (Catalan Roasted Vegetables)
Serves 6 to 8

2 eggplants
2 red bell peppers
3 small onions, unpeeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating vegetables
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or cava vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Lightly rub the eggplants, bell peppers, and onions with olive oil and set them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until the skin is blistered and blackened and flesh is tender when pierced with a knife, rotating the vegetables once or twice partway through cooking.

Remove vegetables from the pan as they are done, the eggplants and peppers will roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, and the onions will likely take an additional 10 minutes or so depending on their size.

Put the eggplants and red peppers into a plastic bag, seal and let them rest for about 10 minutes. This will loosen the skins. Carefully peel the skins off the vegetables and remove the stems. Gently scoop out the seeds from within the eggplant and peppers, and tear or cut the flesh into strips. Slice the peeled onions with a knife.

Whisk together the 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, and dress the vegetables, lightly tossing to help incorporate the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Arrange the vegetables in a serving dish and top with chopped parsley. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to develop. Serve cold or at room temperature, preferably with crusty bread.

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)
Serves 6

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used garlic oil leftover from making allioli)
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Zest of 1 lemon
Chili flakes, to taste
Kosher salt

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large non-stick or cast iron pan, and add the garlic. Gently cook the garlic, stirring regularly to allow it to infuse the oil and become fragrant and golden. About 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the shrimp and continue to cook, stirring to ensure it cooks evenly, until shrimp is mostly pink throughout, another 5 minutes or so. Add the parsley, sherry, lemon zest, chili flakes, and salt to taste. Cook another few minutes to absorb flavors and finish cooking the shrimp. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Sangria Roja
Serves 6 to 8 (but really in my family only about 4!)

2 (750 ml) bottles Spanish red wine
6 ounces (3/4 cup) brandy (I used apricot brandy)
6 ounces berries (I used blackberries)
1 orange, thinly sliced into rounds
1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
1 granny smith apple, cored and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

Combine all the ingredients in a pitcher. Refrigerate for at least an hour, but preferably longer to really infuse the flavors. Aim for 8 hours or overnight.

*Note* Many sangria recipes use some sweetener, such as simple syrup or even fruit juice. This is a matter of personal preference. You can sweeten this sangria more if you'd like, although my family enjoyed it just as is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ode to Barcelona: Barceloneta Potato Bombas


I returned from my recent trip to Barcelona incredibly inspired by the food I had enjoyed there. There were many dishes I wanted to recreate, and decided to plan an ode to Barcelona in the form of a tapas party for my family.

There are many dishes from our trip that didn't make it onto the menu simply because I had to limit the number of dishes, but I hope to try some of the others in the very near future. This is the menu I came up with for the occasion.
Spanish cheeses
Serrano ham
Olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes
Pan con tomate
Garlicky fried mushrooms
Escalivada (Catalan roasted vegetables)
Gambas al Ajillo
I purchased a variety of Spanish cheeses from Whole Foods including 6 month aged Manchego (sheep's milk cheese), Capricho de Cabra (soft goat's cheese), and Drunken Goat (aged goat's cheese with edible red wine rind)--the latter two are from the same cheese maker.

I also was able to procure Serrano ham there as well (I later found some at Aldi as well). Although it's from a different breed of pig, and not nearly as amazing as jamón ibérico, it's the best I could do with my resources stateside. It reminds me a bit of prosciutto. The jumbo green olives were pre-stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, and were purchased from the World Market section at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

The pan con tomate doesn't really require a recipe, although I shared one years ago in another post. When we were in Barcelona, we ate this tapas dish more than any other, and everywhere it was made with different types of bread. On this occasion I used ciabatta bread, split and light toasted, rubbed with fresh whole garlic cloves, halved tomatoes and a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. So simple and so incredibly good! I also made some gluten-free pan con tomate on gluten-free baguettes for my nephews!

I'll share a few of the other recipes for the sangria, escalivada, and gambas al ajillo in another blog post but today I will focus solely on the bombas.

Bombas were actually invented at La Cova Fumada in the Barceloneta neighborhood of Barcelona. You may recall from my Barcelona blog posts that I had planned lunch one day in Barceloneta but had to change my plans last minute. Well, my plan was to eat at La Cova Fumada, the birthplace of these famous potato bombs, but that unfortunately didn't happen on this trip. I still managed to eat bombas on two other occasions in Barcelona, and it was so memorable that I absolutely had to try making them myself at home.

Our favorite bombas from the trip were filled with stewed beef, but the more traditional version uses ground meat as the filling. I compared a lot of recipes to figure out the best way to approach this dish, and I actually ended up making twice as much filling and twice as much bravas sauce than I needed, so I scaled those portions down for the recipe below. I actually froze my remaining bomba filling so I can easily make another batch of bombas in the future.

I yielded 21 bombas, but small discrepancies in measurements, or depending on how much you peel your potatoes may fluctuate that number a tad. You'll just want to aim for about 1/4 cup potato and 1 tablespoon filling per bomba. Using a measuring cup and spoon will save the day and yield more accurate and evenly sized bombas.

Before breading and frying

Although there are a number of steps, the recipe is actually not very difficult. It just requires a bit of planning and patience, but the different components are quite easy to make and the bombas themselves are pretty easy to assemble as well. I was worried shaping them would be messy, but it wasn't too bad at all.

I used a deep fryer to cook these, which I highly recommend since it keeps the oil temperature steady, and doesn't make a huge mess on my stovetop. They fry very quickly, at only about 2 minutes each.

My next post will feature more recipes from this tapas feast but first here's a bonus! I used some of my leftover bravas sauce and allioli from the bombas recipe to make what I'm calling "trashy" huevos cabreados, or angry eggs.

Huevos cabreados were one of my favorite discoveries in Barcelona. We really didn't know what to expect, but were floored by how much we loved this dish of french fries, bravas sauce, and allioli topped with a fried egg which was sliced table side and tossed together.

I recreated it in the trashiest, most American way possible: with frozen tator tots baked until crisp in my toaster oven. This was a super easy rendition of the original, and I didn't even need to heat up my deep fryer or slice a single potato into matchsticks. I just drizzled the two sauces over the top of my tator tots, finished with the egg, and viola!

Barceloneta Potato Bombas
Makes about 21 bombas

6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
4 ounces (113 g) ground beef
4 ounces (113 g) ground pork
1/2 tomato, flesh grated on a box grater, skin discarded
1 teaspoon sweet (regular) paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Chili flakes or cayenne pepper, to taste

2 1/2 pounds (1134 g) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg

Bravas sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sweet (regular) paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth
Kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste

To finish:
Vegetable oil, for frying
All purpose flour, as needed
2 to 3 large eggs, beaten
Dried breadcrumbs, as needed

To make the allioli: In a small saucepan combine the garlic cloves and olive oil and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the garlic is tender and honey gold (occasionally tilt the pan as needed to keep the garlic submerged--even off the heat the olive oil should be hot enough to keep cooking it). Watch the garlic carefully so that it does not overcook. Life the garlic cloves from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to cool. Reserve the garlic oil for another use (1 tablespoon will be used later for the allioli).

In a small food processor fitted with the metal blade, puree the garlic cloves, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of the garlic oil. Taste, season with salt, and pulse to mix. Scrape the allioli into a lidded storage container and chill for up to 3 days. You should have about 1 cup allioli.

To make the filling: In a large non-stick skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and pork, and cook, breaking the meat up into small pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink and most of its natural liquid has evaporated. Add the grated tomato, paprika, garlic, salt, and cayenne and continue cooking until the remaining liquid has absorbed/evaporated. Set aside to cool completely.

To make the potatoes: Add the cubed potatoes to a pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Salt generously and bring to a boil over high heat, being careful it doesn't boil over (lower the heat as needed). Boil the potatoes until they are easily pierced with a fork, drain and then return to the pot off the heat. Add the olive oil and mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth. Adjust seasoning if needed. Let the potatoes cool slightly and then mash in the egg (you don't want the potatoes super hot or else the egg will cook). Set aside to cool to room temperature.

To assemble the bombas: Scoop 1/4 cup of the potato mixture at a time into the palm of your hand. You can slightly wet your hands as needed if the potato starts to stick to your hands during this process. Carefully pat the scooped potato into a disc about 1/2-inch thick in the palm of your hand. Add 1 tablespoon of the cooled meat filling into the center, then carefully cup your hand to start bringing the edges of the potato together and use your other hand to pinch it closed. Smooth into a round ball and set aside as you continue shaping the remaining bombas. The bombas can be refrigerated at this point until you are ready to bread and fry them.

To make the bravas sauce: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and paprikas and whisk for a couple minutes to ensure the flour starts to cook. Slowly add the chicken broth while continuing to whisk into a smooth sauce. It will thicken more once the mixture comes up to a boil. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. This sauce can be served hot, warm, or room temperature.

To finish the bombas: To each of 3 wide bowls add flour, beaten eggs, and dried breadcrumbs to set up a dredging station. Dredge each bomba one at a time in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, and set aside on a clean tray or work surface until remaining bombas are breaded. You can also bread them in batches as you fry them, but this can get messy.

Heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 350 degrees F. You'll want the oil to be deep enough so the bombas will be fully submerged once you add them to the oil. Fry the breaded bombas in batches for about 2 minutes each or until they are golden brown. If you fry them much longer the balls may start to crack open. Set finished bombas aside on a paper towel-lined tray or sheet pan to drain. Serve bombas immediately with the allioli and bravas sauce.


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