Friday, April 30, 2010

Fresh and Flavorful Turkey Burgers with Homemade Burger Buns

There's nothing like the zest that fresh herbs add to a dish. In my experience, the use of fresh herbs allows for and even commands simplicity in cooking. Pairing one or two fresh herbs with simple, unobtrusive ingredients really allows their flavor to take center stage. My turkey burgers this week were both wonderfully simple and full of flavor. They are seasoned with chopped fresh rosemary (from my herb garden) and store-bought parsley (mine's not quite ready for cutting).

Keeping it simple allows for a pleasant, fuss-free weeknight meal. A simple meal also lends itself to taking on greater baking endeavors - such as made-from-scratch burger buns! For these buns, I followed the recipe for Tassajara Yeasted Bread in the Tassajara Bread Book (the recipe can also be found at I divided the recipe in half and then separated the dough into six rolls instead of placing it in a loaf pan. This recipe calls for the dough to rise three times. I assumed that it would only need to rise twice so I hadn't budgeted time for a third rise. Therefore, I omitted the first rise and all still turned out fine.

Turkey Burgers with Fresh Herbs and Goat Cheese
-adapted from
Yield: 4 medium burgers
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • pinch of black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, cut into 4 slices
  • olive oil or cooking spray
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg with herbs, salt, and pepper. Add bread crumbs and ground turkey and mix just until well combined. In a saute pan, heat olive oil or cooking spray. Add burgers and cook about 5 minutes on each side or until meat in center is no longer pink. Top with goat cheese and your choice of burger toppings. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring Harvest Dinner: A Lesson in Waiting

Our Sunday dinner this week was inspired by an effort to eat more seasonally. Here in zone six, asparagus and strawberries are ready for harvest. So I put together a spring-inspired dinner of asparagus soup (that I made with locally grown asparagus), homemade rosemary bread, and strawberries, which I served with a cream cheese dip.

I've been doing some reading lately (more on that later) and it's gotten my wheels turning about being more conscious of my food choices. As I flipped through my meal plan notebook from the past few months, I realized that I ate a lot of asparagus in January. I'll be honest, if you had asked me a few months ago when asparagus was harvested, I probably would have guessed in the spring, but truly, I hadn't really thought about it. I suppose that's pretty much the norm in our modern lives. We can go into the nearest grocery store and get pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want it, regardless of where we live or what month of the year it is.

As I did my grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon, I was happy to plunk into my cart a number of conscious spring-time choices; a load of spinach for a mid-week spanakopita, strawberries for sorbet, and lettuce to use in salads and turkey burgers. I was also aware that it was not yet harvest-time for the potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers that I also tossed into my cart, which means that they have likely traveled across more than a few state lines.

In recent years, I've experienced the reward of purchasing seasonal, local produce. It looks better. It tastes better. I feel better about buying it. Better yet, I know where my money's going when I buy it - right into the hands of the farmer who produced it. I had that kind of experience this week when I bought my local asparagus. It was 10 times more flavorful than the asparagus that I prepared in January and I all but laid eyes on the very soil where it came out of the earth.

I learned a lesson. It pays to wait.

My first memorable experience in patience and restraint when it comes to food was with apples. Six years ago I started eating organic apples that I bought from the local health food store. They were so superior in flavor and texture that when I bit into a conventional apple, I nearly spit it out. I was sold. From then on I knew that, if nothing else, I would only eat organic apples.

As the season waned, I noticed the abundance of apples starting to dwindle, until one day I walked back to their usual spot on the bottom produce shelf and found that there were none - something that I rarely, if ever, experienced with conventional foods at the regular grocery store. For a moment, I pondered stopping at that regular grocery store on my way home and picking up some apples there. However, I knew from previous experience that I'd just be disappointed. So that was it. I didn't eat another single apple until early autumn of the following year.

Let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

Cooking notes: For the Asparagus Soup, I followed the recipe in The Big Book of Soups and Stews. I winged it with the cream cheese dip. I mashed up about four strawberries, mixed them with 4 oz. cream cheese, and then kept adding vanilla yogurt until the consistency was right and it tasted sweet enough. The rosemary bread is from the Tassajara Bread Book.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Long Live Pizza Friday!

I've reinstated "Pizza Friday" at our house!

For the first few years of our marriage, "Pizza Friday" was a weekly tradition. That tradition has evolved quite a bit since it's inception. In the beginning, we ordered take-out pizza, then we bought regular frozen pizzas, moving on to frozen pizzas in the organic foods section.

When I first starting making pizza at home, I used the pre-mixed dough packages that you can get in the store for something like .79 cents. There was our vegan phase when we topped them with nutritional yeast flakes. No your eyes aren't playing tricks on you - yeast flakes. Sounds appetizing, right? (Actually, it wasn't all that bad.) Eventually, I moved up to rapid rise yeast and finally graduated to regular slow-rise yeast.

What a difference the good, old fashioned yeast makes! If only I had known years ago how tasty and relatively easy a homemade pizza is. We could have been devouring it years earlier! Oh well, better late than never.

Since I started with the slow method, I've experimented with a number of different crust recipes. However, I keep returning to this one by Elise from Simply Recipes. It yields a crust that is so light and airy.

This week we went with a traditional pepperoni pizza (obviously our vegan phase has ended), though we like to vary the toppings from week to week. Oh, and the olives are only on Miguel's half. :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Oh my goodness, these cookies are so very, very delicious.

They came out so much better than I thought they would. When I first started to prepare them yesterday, I intended to make a half-batch. Then as I was mixing together the flour with the other dry ingredients I had a change of heart and decided to make the full batch and give some of them away. Later, after all the ingredients were mixed together I turned the dough out onto the carving board and attempted to bring it all together in the disc that was to go into the refrigerator. The dough kept crumbling and would not come together! I was beginning to get worried and thought that possibly in my decision to make a full batch I had miscounted the cups of flour and dumped in too much. So I divided the dough in half in order to make it easier to work with and kept at it until I finally formed two cohesive discs.

I remained unconvinced, however, that my little cookies were going to be okay. In fact, I was so sure that they were irreversibly wrecked, that while they baked in the oven, I composed a whole post in my head about kitchen failures and what that does to my inner chef (or in this case, my inner baker).

So you can imagine my delight when I pulled them out of the oven looking all sweet and dainty. I could barely allow them enough time to cool before I bit into them. They were soft and scrumptious; not at all the dry, crumbly mess that I had envisioned. In retrospect, I think my blunder may have been, in my haste, not waiting for the butter to fully come to room temperature. Thankfully, it ended up being just a tiny mistake that didn't affect the outcome.

I really think that the quality of the jam makes or breaks this cookie. Use an ordinary jam and you will have an ordinary cookie. Use a quality jam and you will have a fabulous cookie!

For about 1/4 of the cookies I used this seedless raspberry jam from West Virginia. I love that this jam does not contain corn syrup. It's hard to find store-bought jams and jellies that aren't made with corn syrup.

For most of the cookies, I used this orange marmalade that my parents brought back for me from Florida. They were so good that when I made the second disc of cookies I used only the marmalade.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies - a Barefoot Contessa Recipe

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
  • Raspberry and/or apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

Want to know more about Barefoot Bloggers? Click the image below for more information.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Banana Bread

Remember when I said I never, ever eat raw over-ripe bananas? (In a previous post I showed you my Banana Pancakes.) Well, it's happened again. That resolution that I made at the grocery store this week to eat a banana every night for dessert vanished when my hubby came home with a half-gallon of Breyer's ice cream ( an unavoidable weakness ). So there my little bundle of good intention bananas sat, exponentially gaining brown spots by the day until I deemed them inedible.

Not one to be wasteful, I promptly arranged to make

Banana Bread.

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
2 eggs
3-4 over-ripe bananas, smashed (preferably 4 - for a moister bread)
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbs. strong brewed coffee (I usually just use my leftover morning coffee)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a loaf pan with oil and flour. Combine the first three ingredients and set aside. Cream together sugar and butters with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time, then add bananas, milk, vanilla, and coffee. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Fold in walnuts. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until inserted knife in center comes out clean.

I've also followed this same recipe for Banana Muffins. It makes exactly 12 large muffins. And tastes great with a cappuccino!

This is one of a pair of Mourning Doves nesting in a tree outside of our kitchen window.

While I was preparing this bread one of them kept dashing down to the ground and fluttering back up again with food (I assume seeds of some sort. I don't think they eat worms). Mourning Doves are one of my favorite birds so I'm happy to have them as neighbors. I love the way they look, move, and sound. Interestingly, they also tend to form strong bonds with their mates, often staying with them through the winter, after the breeding season is over.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Project of the Season

This time of year, my wheels get to rolling and I think up way more projects than I'm ever able to accomplish. There's just something about spring. I suppose it evokes thoughts of new beginnings, rejuvenation, and new life. Well, in addition to preparing my garden soil for new life I've also given new life this week to an old step stool that has been in my parent's garage since my grandmother died in 2004.

This is what it looked like when I started:

The tag on the bottom says "Cosco Product." I suspect that it was made somewhere around the late 1940s. I found an image for a Better Homes and Gardens ad for one on this Flickr site. The stool was originally red but as you can see it's been painted many colors since then. All through my childhood I remember it looking pretty much like this. At my grandparent's house, it served as my chair at the dinner table up until I was about 7 or 8 years old. I loved to sit in it. I suppose I thought it was special because it was different from everyone else's chair. (In reality, it was probably my chair so that my head would reach up over the dinner table.) When my mother was in high school she used it to paint her room a blinding blue for a home ec project. Before I painted it you could still see little specks of the blue paint.

After pouring over paint colors at Home Depot, I finally settled on "Green Apple." Here's the result:

My plan is to adorn it with little plant specimens in all sorts of non-traditional containers - i.e. tins, colanders, old tea pots, things of that sort. For now there's just this lonely little Pothos. It was once a glorious plant, bushy and trailing as far as 5 feet. However, at the end of last season I left it outside too long at it got bitten by a hard frost. There was one little sprig that I thought I could salvage so I clipped it and brought it inside where it's been rooting all winter in my front window. I've had this plant for 13 years so I knew I had to at least try and save it.

What's been on the menu this week? I was inspired by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution to make this stir fry dish:

Unfortunately, I have no recipe to post. I used this one as a loose guide but I never strictly follow stir fry recipes. It's very much a "dash of this, dash of that" type of dish for me. Therefore, I never really make the same one twice. For this one, I stir-fried the beef (3/4 lb. top sirloin) in a mixture of vegetable and sesame oil with a little soy sauce, fresh sliced ginger, and garlic. Then I removed it from the wok and added red peppers and mung bean sprouts (also with a generous splash of soy sauce). Once they were tender I added the beef back into the mix and sauteed it for a few more minutes to ensure that everything was heated thoroughly. I served the mix over Japanese noodles.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

The Barefoot Blogger pick for this week was Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies. The timing of this recipe could not have worked out better for me. 1) My mom recently gave me a ton of toasted pecans and I had no idea what I was going to do with them all. 2) I'm going out of town tomorrow to visit the in-laws and had yet to think up something to bring. I always bring with me a little hospitality gift - usually a quick loaf of some sort but I wanted to do something different this time. This fit the bill. I also had the added bonus of already having all the ingredients in my pantry.

I thought these cookies were a success. I left out the raisins because my hubby is not a big fan. Otherwise, I did everything according to the recipe. They seemed to retain quite a bit of their chewiness after cooling completely, which is nice. I loved the simplicity of this recipe. The measurements are standard and easy to remember. I can imagine making these another time or two and then never having to look at the recipe again. It's that simple.

Also, this is the first time I've ever baked with parchment paper. There's no turning back now.

For the in-laws, I put about a dozen cookies in two large treat bags (there are two because my husband's parents are divorced) and whipped up a couple of little tags to adorn them. They're sure to bring smiles tomorrow.

Future Note: This would be a good recipe to revisit this summer as an ice cream sandwich with some homemade vanilla ice cream.

I'm a Barefoot Blogger!

Woo hoo! I'm now a Barefoot Blogger.

Barefoot Bloggers is an online community for those who love Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, on Food Network. The group makes two BC recipes per month and posts about them on a specified date. I love love love her recipes and have always had pretty good success with them so a while back I requested to join the group. I mistakenly thought that I would get an email confirmation so I'm not sure exactly when I was added but I just checked the site this morning and my blog was on the participant list.

The posting for yesterday was supposed to be Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies. I have all the ingredients so I'm going to whip up a batch after I run some errands and hopefully have a posting up by this evening.

Check back soon to see how they turned out!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Portal Cake

Yesterday was Miguel's birthday. When we lived in our town the first time (we moved away and then moved back) we traditionally bought each other cakes from a local bakery - usually decorated in some theme based on something that we were interested in at the moment (I'm blessed with a husband with a variety interests and hobbies so decorating and gift ideas are pretty easy). The above cake is a replica of the cake from the end of the video game, Portal, which my husband loves. You can see an image of the actual cake from Portal HERE.

I thought about ordering one this year but ultimately decided against it. In line with my newly enhanced domesticity, I thought it only appropriate to make one. Over the last week I've been researching just the right recipes for both the frosting and the cake.

In the past I haven't had a lot of luck with frosting. I can almost always achieve an excellent flavor, but I have had more difficulty with the consistency - particularly with a two layer cake. Most often, it's too runny and oozes out of the sides. With that in mind, more recently I've been too cautious and it's been too thick to spread.

The frosting for this cake had both a good flavor and consistency - and that consistency has so far remained constant - always important.

I only slightly adapted the recipe from the Joy of Baking website by using less milk and more vanilla. For the chocolate I used two 4 oz. Semi-Sweet Ghirardelli baking bars.

Chocolate Frosting

8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter, cut into cubes
3 c. confectioners sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

If, like me, you do not have a double boiler, you'll need to "invent" one. One of my medium pots fits nicely on top of one of my tall soup pots so I used that. Combine the first four ingredients in the top bowl or pot. In the lower pot, bring enough water to boil so that the upper container just barely touches it.

Stir the mixture until it's completely melted. Then remove from heat.

Next add the three cups of confectioners sugar and whisk until it looks like this:

It will be a little runny - that's okay. If necessary, transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for several hours, or until firm. About 15-30 minutes before you're ready to spread the mixture take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit so that it starts to come to room temperature. Beat the frosting for a minute or two with an electric mixer until it is spreading consistency.

For the cake, I followed to a tee, the recipe from Smitten Kitchen for the perfect birthday cake. I think the key ingredient in this cake is the buttermilk. I've only recently (gasp, I know) started using buttermilk in my baking and now I'm addicted. For years I shied away from it because I don't like to drink it and I was always worried that it would make my goodies taste like curdled milk. How wrong I was! I've since learned that buttermilk actually enhances the flavor of many baked goods and improves rise and tenderness.

Along with the cake, I made a few Portal inspired gifts. If you're unfamiliar with the game, these gifts will seem a bit strange.

This is what is known as the "Weighted Companion Cube." I made it out of perler beads. In fact, it took nearly 2,000 perler beads to complete this project.

This is an image from the game that I embroidered. I printed off the image then used transfer paper to convert it to fabric as a pattern. It is stitched almost entirely in split stitches, with a few french knots in the text. I adhered it to a piece of sticky foam board before framing it.

Here's a detail of the stitching: