brass bra popovers

Have you been outside recently? It’s gives new meaning to the phrase “It’s colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra!” Seriously, it’s the kind of cold that makes you want to pack the family up and buy a beach shack in Fiji. (The cost of living has to be better than New Jersey and think of all the tourist worthy souvenirs the kids will learn to craft out of coral and palm fronds!) Yup Fiji definitely seems to be the way to go, but until those change of address cards hit the mail I’ve been doing my best to keep the family warm with knit hats, flannel pj’s and giant comforting pots of hearty soups and stews.

I’ve been the butcher, baker and candlestick maker behind the famous (or is it infamous) beets and blue cheese dot com for three plus years, and in that time I’ve posted twenty-three recipes in my soups and stews category. Twenty-three… that’s a lot! I’ve given you everything from Fish Chowder with Bacon and Butternut Squash to Slow-Roasted Tomato BisqueHomemade Wonton to Curried Carrot & Parsnip. Creamy Broccoli & Kale to Cold Cucumber and Potato. Not to mention recipes for Chicken Stout StewTurkey and Bean Chili or good ol’ Classic Beef Stew. And with each recipe I suggest you serve it with homemade rolls or rosemary soft pretzels, bialys or blue cheese crackers; something wonderful and freshly baked. Usually I take my own advice and bake something yummy to serve on the side, but recently I’ve been feeling restless. I’m tired of the same old drop biscuits or cornbread, I want adventure!

Hello popovers.

Back in the day popovers were my thing to make at Thanksgiving. They seemed fancier than your standard roll, required special equipment (something this new cook was happy to go out and buy) and made everyone ohh and ahh when they came out right. When being the operative word. I’m still not positive which recipe I was following, my guess it was it mash up of two, but while they worked like a charm one day they were a giant flop the next. Annoying, aggravating and enough to make this gal shelve her popover pans for years. I came upon those pans the other day and since I happened to be feeling invincible, decided it was time to give them another whirl. However this time I went directly to the source; King Arthur.

When it comes it baking the folks at King Arthur really do seem to know a thing or two. They have blogs and hotlines, recipes and communities, products and classes… they are the undoubtedly the end all and be all of baking information. My family and I actually visited the King Arthur Flour Vermont campus this past summer and honestly if they would have agreed, I would have moved in. It’s an amazing place filled with baking, eating, learning and buying opportunities all set in the beautiful Vermont countryside. A total baking mecca. Anyway back to those popovers— According to the baking gurus at K.A. the ultimate popover is in fact not the result of starting them off in a cold oven, nor does it matter if you use a blender or whisk the batter by hand. No according to them it’s the temperature of your ingredients that are the key to perfectly puffy popovers. Interesting. So armed with some fresh popover baking advice and a King Arthur recipe I focused my attention on baking up a batch of my own. And guess what? Perfectly puffy popovers!

Oh yeah, I’m back baby. I am back.

Super Simple Popovers
These are truly so easy to make you’ll find yourself enjoying popovers all the time.

popovers4

4 large eggs, warmed in a cup of hot tap water for 10 minutes before cracking
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk, lukewarm
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups Unbleached Bread Flour
3 tbsp. melted butter

  1. Position the oven racks on a lower portion of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.  
  2. Thoroughly grease* a popover pan (or standard 12-cup metal muffin tin, one whose cups are close to 2 1/2″ wide x 1 1/2” deep).
  3. Traditional method: Whisk together the flour and salt. In a desperate bowl whisk together the milk, eggs and melted butter. Add the flour mixture and blend until just combined.
    Blender method: Place the milk, melted butter, flour, salt and eggs, lightly whisked, into the jar of a blender. Blend on high for several seconds, 
    then stop to scrape the sides. Blend for an additional few seconds but do not over blend
  4. Pour the batter into the popover tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full.
  5. Bake the popovers for 20 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 350°F (again without opening the door), and bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until they’re a deep, golden brown.
  6. As soon as you remove the popovers from the oven stick the tip of a knife into the top of each to release steam and help prevent sogginess. Let the popovers cool slightly in the pan then remove and serve.

*I’ve experimented with several types of fat to grease my popover pans including butter, vegetable shortening and bacon grease. The bacon grease seemed to work the best, followed by the butter. But you be the judge.

**adapted from King Arthur Flour
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the michael corleone of bread

After my last bread baking fiasco I swore that I was done. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t make anymore attempts until I finally took that baking class. I just couldn’t face one more disappointment. But the thing is, I have a sickness. An obsession. A undeniable need to fulfill my bread baking desires. I just can’t stop myself from attempting another “this might be the one” recipe. Sigh… It’s as if the very moment my latest baking disaster wound heals, there I am with yet another recipe to try. But the odds are in my favor, right? Sooner or later I’m bound to find success. I mean, you remember the pretzels don’t you!?!

Sure enough and completely true to form, a few weeks post fiasco I had my lastest bread baking blast of brilliance (say that three times fast). “Wouldn’t it be lovely if my family woke up to something freshly baked for breakfast?” I thought over coffee one morning. I’d been jonesing to try my hand at bialys, those wonderfully oniony cousins of the bagel, and (since the sting of my last disaster had dissipated nicely) this quiet Saturday morning seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.

A little mixing, a bit of kneading. Some proofing and then sautéing. Deflate, form, spoon, bake and… “Just when I thought I was out— they pull me back in!” Yeah they were good, really good. So good that I will undoubtedly be lulled into giving “the perfect crusty loaf” another go sometime soon. And who knows (big wink), maybe this next recipe really will be THE ONE.

Bialys
These contain way more onions than traditional bialys, which is perfectly fine by me. Slather a little butter on one of these babies fresh out of the oven and— Whoo-hoo, call yourself a rock star!

bialys4

3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. instant yeast (such as SAF)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup + 2 tsp. lukewarm water

for the filling:
2 cups onions, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

  1. Place the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Allow to knead on medium for about 8 minutes, or until you have a smooth, fairly stiff dough.
  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours, or until it’s just about doubled in size.
  3. While the dough is rising, make the filling. Sprinkle the diced onion with salt and sauté in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until it’s a dark golden brown. Remove from the heat, stir in the poppy seeds and transfer to a small bowl to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.
  5. Gently deflate the dough and divide it into 8-10 pieces (depending on how large you want your bialys). Shape each piece into a disc, place the discs on a prepared cookie sheet and use your thumb to flatten out the center and give the bialy it’s classic bowl shape. (Be sure to keep the remaining dough covered until you’re ready to use it.)
  6. Spread the onion filling into the center of each bialy.
  7. Top the prepared bialys with a sheet of parchment paper; then with another cookie sheet. (You want to weigh them down so they don’t puff up too much.)
  8. Bake the bialys for 5 minutes. Remove the top cookie sheet and parchment paper and continuing baking for another 8-10 minutes, or until they’re a dappled golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, slather with butter and enjoy the adulations.

*adapted from king arthur flour

blue cheese + chive biscuits

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! Are you still recovering from a day full of over-indulgence coupled with way to much Black Friday shopping and topped off with a few lingering house guests? Yeah me too. And while the best part of this post-Thanksgiving weekend is undoubtedly the leftovers, it somehow feels a bit too easy to just pop open a few Tupperware containers and call it dinner. Instead I try to offer a little something freshly made along with those leftover holiday favorites. But let’s be honest, the best part about Thanksgiving leftovers has to be the sandwiches and while any type of bread will do, Blue Cheese and Chive Biscuits are my favorite. They can turn a simple turkey and leftover cranberry sauce sandwich into something truly outstanding.

I make these biscuits fairly frequently (if you’ve ever been to our house for smoked ribs then you’ve definitely had them) because they’re delicious right out of the oven, they’re fantastic toasted alongside eggs for breakfast and they take simple leftover Thanksgiving turkey (or Easter ham) and turn it into something you could proudly serve guests.

I know hosting for the holidays is a big undertaking… but next time consider doing it for the leftovers!

Blue Cheese + Chive Drop Biscuits
These biscuits are wonderful anytime… along side your morning eggs, as an accompaniment to your summertime bbq or as the vehicle for an amazing turkey sandwich. But the fact that they can be made ahead and frozen really makes them stellar.

t-day sandwich4

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 oz. buttermilk blue cheese, crumbled
1 large bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
1 cup light buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and chives. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.
  2. Drop dough in 10-12 equal mounds on the cookie sheet. Bake until golden, about 16 to 20 minutes.

*To make and freeze: Follow the instructions above, drop them onto the baking sheet and slide the baking sheet into the freezer. Once the biscuits are firm, place them in a freezer bag or airtight container until you’re ready to bake them. They can be baked straight from the freezer, just add a few minutes to the baking time.

pumpkinpalooza

As far as seasonal food trends go the pumpkin-spice craze has got to be the biggest one around. Each Fall the world seems to be overrun with all things pumpkin: pumpkin spice pasta, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice marshmallows, pumpkin spice beer and vodka, pumpkin spice potato chips, pumpkin spice body lotion, pumpkin spice bagels to go with pumpkin spice cream cheese and of course pumpkin spice room freshener (a must for every seasonally appropriate home). Whew— thats quite a list, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re so off our rockers over this spicy combination that even the beloved M&M isn’t safe from it. Thats right folks, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s available exclusively at Target and completely sold out when I recently looked for them. It would appear that we’re treading dangerously close to a world-wide state of pumpkin spice hysteria.

Not wanting to be left out, I too decided to make friends with pumpkin. It is after all high in fiber, a cup of puree contains a day’s worth of vitamin A and more potassium than a banana, it’s rich in beta-carotene which is good for your eyesight and lowers the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and the seeds contain chemicals called “phytosterols” which help reduce LDL. So really whats not to love about it, right? If you recall I already use it for my devil dogs Pumpkin-oatmeal dog biscuits and in the past I’ve substituted it for butternut squash in soup, but the weather was cool and I felt like baking…

Last Fall I gave you my coveted Cranberry-Orange Muffin recipe and while I still maintain it’s muffin perfection, I decided to play around with the recipe just the same. A few spices, some pumpkin puree, a little yogurt and one crumble topping later a new Greco family seasonal favorite was born.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Crumble Muffins
These muffins are the perfect way to enjoy the flavors of the season.

pumpkin-cranberry muffin4

Crumble:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter, melted

Batter:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
a pinch of nutmeg
12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Angostura bitters
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/4 cup plain Russian kefir yogurt (or Greek)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ginger, salt and melted butter. Use a fork (or your fingers) to blend the mixture until it’s crumbly, breaking up any large clumps. Set aside.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, gently stir in the cranberries.
  4. In a medium bowl combine all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until well blended (the batter will be thick). Spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups, top with a generous amount of crumble and bake for 30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling

*recipe makes 12-16 muffins

an irishman for a day

I consider myself relatively fearless in the kitchen. I’m willing to try just about any technique, recipe or style of cooking at least once and I’m confident enough in my abilities that I can improvise if/when things go awry. However all that goes out the window when we’re talking about bread baking. No matter how many times I attempt to bake a nice crusty loaf of bread the results turn out disappointing. I don’t know if it’s my own impatience with the whole proofing, kneading, rising process or if I’m choosing overly complicated recipes, but every time without failure… failure.

Since next weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and EVERYONE is officially Irish for a solid 12 hours, I like most of America will be cooking up what we imagine to be true Irish fare… soda bread and something that takes several hours of slow cooking to go along with it. Usually that means corned beef but this year I’ve decided to branch out a bit, to make something that wasn’t so reliant on the quality of the pre-brined corned beef I purchased. Rather I was looking for a recipe that required real honest cooking and that I had more control over (I like control). Anyway I decided that this St. Patty’s my family would be feasting on homemade soda bread and Chicken Stout Stew. Since soda bread by nature is really much more like a quick bread than a yeast bread, I considered it to be far less intimidating and chicken stew with a nice hardy stout in the gravy— how could I miss?

Well it turns out that I couldn’t… The stew was so tasty and my soda bread so successful that we briefly considered changing out last name to O’Greco.

Éirinn go Brách and sláinte!

Irish Soda Bread
This is one of my all time favorite breads. It’s perfect alongside some stew or toasted and slathered with jam for breakfast. It’s easy to throw together, doesn’t require much advance prep and it comes out delicious every time.

soda bread2

3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup raisins
4 tbsp. butter, frozen
1 1/3 cups + 1 tbsp. light buttermilk
1 large egg

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and raisins. Using a box grater grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Sir with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Knead the dough a couple of times before forming it into a ball. Place the loaf on the prepared cookie sheet and use cooking sheers (or a sharp knife) to cut a deep ‘x’ across the top of the loaf.
  4. Bake the bread for 45-55 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before slicing.

*adapted from king arthur flour

Chicken Stout Stew
This recipe calls for chicken thighs, which happen to be perfect for slow cooking. I won’t deny that they take a bit more time to trim and clean, but if you were to use chicken breast instead it would undoubtedly be dry and disappointing. I promise that the extra effort will totally be worth it.

stout stew2

6 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cubed
6 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
7 slices quality turkey bacon, diced
4 cups chopped onion
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can Guinness beer (or other stout)
1 lb. whole baby carrots
12 small potatoes, quartered
6 springs fresh thyme
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups frozen baby peas

1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme

  1. Combine 6 tablespoons flour with salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Trim and cube the chicken and add to the bag. Seal the bag and shake to dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides, transfer to the slow cooker. Continue with the remaining chicken, adding additional oil to the pan as needed, and reserve the seasoned flour that remains.
  3. Add the diced bacon, onion and garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the seasoned flour that remains from dredging the chicken over the bacon mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes more. (The fat and flour will create a light-colored roux.) Add the stout and stir, being sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Pour the bacon mixture over the chicken and add the carrots, potatoes and thyme. Pour the broth and Worcestershire sauce over the top and give everything a good stir.
  5. Cover and cook on medium 4 1/2 hours, until the chicken is falling-apart tender.
  6. When the stew is nearly done add the frozen peas and allow to continue cooking until the peas are heated through. Meanwhile sautee the mushrooms with the salt and thyme until they are nicely browned and all the moisture in the bottom of the pan has cooked off. Add the mushrooms to the stew, season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve with a little soda bead.

*adapted from eating well

mea culpa muffins

I think I owe you an apology. You see I have a recipe, a really good one that I know you’ll like, and I’ve been purposely keeping it to myself. I don’t know why. I’m usually a good about sharing and not at all the jealous or easily threatened type, but I guess my actions would say otherwise. And the real kicker about this recipe is that there’s a time component to its key ingredient. In other words, if I don’t share this recipe with you now I’ll have to wait another year before I can.

Oh the inner struggle; the soul searching; and ultimately the decision to come clean with you my readers and share this most coveted of recipes.

So here goes. Here’s the recipe you’re gonna love, you’ve gotta try and you can’t go wrong with. (drum roll please) It is… Cranberry Orange Muffins! I know, you’re feeling let down right about now, right? All this fuss over a muffin. I hear ya, but these muffins really and truly are the most fantastic muffins you’ll ever make. Ever. I’ve been making these babies every Fall/Winter (when fresh cranberries are available in stores) since my son was a toddler—he’s now 8—and I have yet to have a single man, woman or child declare them anything but delicious.

So here you go my dear reader, my loyal listener, here is the recipe most near and dear to my heart. Use it well and think of me fondly with each “Wow, these muffins are delicious!” compliment you accept.

Cranberry-Orange Muffins
This recipe would also work well as a quick bread but since muffins make the perfect breakfast or school snack, I usually stick to muffins.

cran-orange muffins3

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
2/3 cup orange juice
1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin pan with liners, lightly spray with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add the orange zest to the flour mixture and whisk to combine. Toss in the cranberries and stir until each is well coated with flour.
  3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the oil and orange juice and whisk together. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just moist. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 16-18 minutes, until muffins are golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool the remainder of the way.

for the love of soup!

So long Summer and hello soup season. I love soup. During the cool months I usually have a pot cooking on the stove every Sunday. Soup makes for the perfect busy weeknight meal, satisfying lunch or even quick breakfast (yes I’m one of those leftovers for breakfast kinda people). Good ol’ Chicken Noodle, Curried Butternut Squash, Chicken-Corn Chowder and Lentil are a few recipes in my permanent rotation. I make my lentil soup with red lentils (rather than the traditional brown), carrots, lots of onion and a bit of bacon. I don’t imagine my kids would be compelled to dig into a big bowl of brown mush, no matter how much I assured them it was delicious, and the red lentils create a lovely soup in a kid-friendly shade of orange. But regardless of the type of soup on the menu, I always make homemade dinner rolls, cornbread or drop biscuits to go along side. There’s just something about freshly baked bread that can turn even a meal of leftovers into something special.

Red Lentil Soup
The consistency of this lentil soup is well, soup-like, rather than thick and stew-like as most lentil soups tend to be. However if you like yours thicker omit the two cups of water.

5 strips thick cut bacon, diced
2 large onions, chopped
4-5 medium carrots, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 16 oz bag red lentils, rinsed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
7 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

  1. In a Dutch oven cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and the fat has rendered, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove bacon and set aside.
  2. Add onion, garlic and carrots to rendered bacon fat and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add lentils, thyme, broth, water and bacon. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover; cook until lentils are almost done, about 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in salt, pepper and paprika and let finish cooking uncovered another 5-10 minutes. Fish out the thyme stems and serve.

*adapted from martha stewart

Homemade Herbed Drop Biscuits
These are terrific with the addition of fresh thyme, sage, basil or rosemary. Use whatever herbs you like most and happen to have on hand.

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl melt the butter. Whisk together the butter, milk, beaten egg and herbs and set aside
  3. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet mixture to the dry and blend with a fork until all ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Drop by the tablespoon full onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake 15-17 minutes, until the tops have begun to brown. Serve warm with butter or cool and store in an airtight container.