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Cream Scones With Cherries

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I can't remember if I've told you this or not, but I can still remember the first time I had a scone.  It was my freshman year of college, and one morning in our cafeteria there were these triangular, tough biscuits with blueberries.  They were topped with coarse sugar.  I decided to try one and absolutely loved it.  Slightly sweet, dense, and not dry, flecked with blueberries- they were a whole new baking experience.  I had no idea what they were, and I had no idea other people outside the Gardner-Webb cafeteria knew what they were.  Later, on another morning, a friend of mine remarked something about these little triangular biscuits and called them scones.  Oh, so these are somewhat familiar to others.  Hmm.  And so began my love of these little gems.  Those still hold the place of best scone ever in my mind, and I am slowly working to dethrone them.



While they're wonderful for breakfast, my favorite application for scones  is mid-morning or afternoon snack, with coffee or hot tea.  This particular recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours and is one of many wonderful recipes I've made from this book.  It's also a good base recipe for jumping off into your own flavor worlds- add citrus fruit zest, other dried fruits, chocolate chips, or nuts for variety.  I would bet you could do savory applications, too.

This recipe is easy, and using a cold cheese grater and very cold butter make the work very quick.  

Cream Scones with Cherries
from Dorie Greenspan

1 egg
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Beat egg and cream together and set aside (a two cup measuring cup works really well here). 
In large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Add the butter and rub it into the flour until you have a pebbly mixture.

Pour the egg and cream into the flour/butter mixture and stir to combine with a rubber spatula. Add in your dried fruit or other flavoring ingredients.  When the mixture is totally incorporated, divide the dough into two equal sized balls. Pat them disks about an inch tall. Place them on a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet. Carefully cut each disk into six segments (I used a bench scraper) and separate them.

Bake the scones for 20-22 minutes, until the are nicely browned. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Notes
  • The original recipe calls for dried currants, which I've never before seen in my grocery store.  What I know I love and can find are dried cherries.  
  • Depending on the effect you want, you can brush the top with more cream or an egg wash for a sort of glaze.  You can also sprinkle on coarse sugar.  I left them au naturale.

Sauteed Green Beans and Tomatoes

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There are some vegetable dishes I make or eat that blow me away, and it's not because I'm that good.  It's because the vegetables are that good, especially when simply prepared in a way that lets flavors just shine.  Flavors blend and create this flavor show in your mouth that make your eyes roll and your head tilt slightly back at the impact of delicious flavor.  Some vegetables, even when not in season, deliver that kitchen-cred wow factor when you saute them in garlic and olive oil, which is exactly what I did with these tomatoes and green beans.



I am a frequent and devoted shopper at Aldi stores.  They sell produce at a much lower price than competitors, and while I've gotten some duds (talking to you, organic baby carrots), I've overall been very pleased with the items I've bought.  They had these green beans and tomatoes for a good price, and I sort of remembered seeing some cooking shows that blanched green beans and then sauteed them with garlic and oil.  I got the idea to add the tomatoes, and had a great side dish.


This is one of those dishes that are quick, simple, and take few ingredients, but whose flavor is very good.  What else do you saute like this?

Sauteed Green Beans and Tomatoes
serves 4

1 lb green beans, washed and trimmed of ends
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved if you want the cooking to be quicker
2 Tb olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Ice Water

Blanch your green beans:  bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  To the side, partially fill a large bowl with ice water.  Throw in the green beans, boil for 1-2 minutes.  Using a sieve, spider, or tongs, quickly remove the green beans to the bowl of ice water.  Allow them to cool for a minute or so in the water and remove to a colander or paper towel lined plate to drain the water.

In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-low.  Add your oil, and when it's warmed, add the garlic.  Allow the garlic to infuse into the oil, being careful not to let the garlic turn brown.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and add your tomatoes, cooking until they start to wilt a bit, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the green beans and saute the tomatoes and green beans until softened (green beans will still retain some of their firmness), about 1 minute.  Serve.


Notes

  • Blanching the green beans makes them a more vibrant green and helps bring out some flavor.  You can skip this step if you're feeling lazy.
  • Times and stove temperatures are relative to your stove.  I tend to feel like my stove runs hot, so I am either usually at lower temperatures than a lot of recipes suggest or shorter times.  Your stove may be different
  • I used a 12 inch skillet.  It's wonderful for sauteing!

Lemon Cheesecake

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I've had this recipe on my "share as soon as spring feels like it's here and here to stay" list.  It may be the only one in that category, actually.  I made it last September, for my mom's birthday.  It was a huge hit, and it was delicious.  I just didn't share it with you then because I felt like I needed to wait until spring, because for some reason nothing says SPRING! like lemon or strawberry flavors.  Maybe it's the brightness.  Maybe it's the cheery yellow color, reminding me of daffodils and the sunshine.  I don't know, but this would make an awesome Easter or Mother's Day dessert.

Like all cheesecakes, it's dense, but the lemon gives it some lightness, too.  The curd on top just accentuates the lemon flavor even further, sending lemon lovers into lemon-flavored Heaven.



Since it's baking, I don't like to fool around much with the recipe, so I made it as-is, except that I used generic animal crackers rather than the brand called for.  The recipe comes to us by way of America's Test Kitchen, so their test chefs have spent loads of time perfecting the recipe.

ATK's Lemon Cheesecake
from America's Test Kitchen

Crust
5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and kept warm

Filling
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz.) sugar
1 tablespoon grated zest and 1/4 cup juice from 1-2 lemons
1 1/2 pounds (3 8-oz. packages) cream cheese, cut into 1 inch chunks, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
\
Lemon Curd
1/3 cup juice (from about 2 lemons)
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz.) sugar
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Place the oven rack in the lower half of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

Place the animal crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are fine crumbs. Add in the sugar and pulse again. Add the butter in a steady stream and continue to pulse until the mixture starts to come together, about 10 1-second pulses.

Transfer the crumb mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly into the bottom. Bake until it is golden brown, about 13-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, wrap the pan with 2 18-inch pieces of foil. Set in a roasting pan and set aside.

To make the filling, place 1/4 cup of the sugar and the lemon zest in a food processor and process until the sugar turns yellow and fragrant. Add in the remaining zest and pulse a few times to combine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese for about 5 seconds. With the mixer on low, add in the lemon sugar in a steady stream, then switch to medium and beat until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the eggs, 2 at a time, scraping down the bowl in between additions. Add in the lemon juice, vanilla and salt and mix to combine. Add in the cream and beat to combine, another 5 seconds. Scrape the bowl again to make sure everything has been incorporated and pour into the springform pan.

Place the pan in the oven and carefully add enough water to the roasting pan to make it halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the center is slightly giggly and the sides start to puff and the surface is no longer shiny, about 55 to 60 minutes. Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open with a towel or wooden spoon. Allow the cake to cool in the oven for 1 hour.

Remove from the roasting pan and transfer to a wire rack. Run a small paring knife around the edges of the cake and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

While the cheesecake is baking, make the lemon curd. Heat the lemon juice in a small pan over medium heat until it is hot, but not boiling. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. Gradually whisk in the sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the egg mixture, then pour the mixture back into the pan. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 170°F, or until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter until it is melted. Stir in the cream, vanilla and salt. (If you have lumps in the curd, pour through a fine mesh strainer to strain any lumps.) Pour the curd into a small nonreactive bowl. Cover the surface of the curd directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

When the cheesecake is cool, top it with the lemon curd while still in the springform pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, but 24 hours is better.

Notes

  • As far as concerns the lemon juice, I think I used a total of 4-5 lemons for this recipe.  I definitely used at least 3 for the curd portion.  
  • I bought a cheesecake pan years ago from Magic Line, because they're made in the USA, as opposed to the springform pans that I found.  Cheesecake Pans have fixed sides and a removable bottom, so you can use other pans, but take extra care to make sure the cheesecake is not still attached to the side.

Parmesan Crusted Chicken

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The last couple weeks in the Givens household have been slammed busy, which sadly leaves little time for cooking and baking.  These are the times I tend to feel the most drained and stressed because, really, if you're too busy to feed yourself real food, what kind of crazy are you living?  Do you ever find yourself in a similar situation- stretched thin, and it just sort of all happened at once?

Fortunately, there are some things in this world that don't take a lot of advance planning and preparation, just a decently stocked pantry (and fridge/freezer).  Usually a pasta dish can be thrown together with little or no thought, and can use many combinations of meat, vegetables, sauces, and cheese.



 This particular chicken dish came from Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals show from the mid-2000's.  It's quick, easy, simple, and delicious.  You don't even really need a recipe.  I started making it before I was very good at cooking, and it was good even then.  This has always been a hit of a meal.  Drew and I still make it with some regularity, and he even cooks it at the fire station with an enthusiastic reception.

This chicken is good served with a side of pasta, mashed potatoes, polenta, vegetables, or a salad.  This time I blanched some green beans and then quick-sauteed them with tomatoes in a garlic-oil mixture.  SO GOOD.  Taste and see!



Parmesan Crusted Chicken
adapted from Rachael Ray, original recipe here.

Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bag (1.5-2 cups) shredded parmesan cheese (not the powdery stuff in a can, but the shreds in a bag)
Fresh ground black pepper

Heat a 10-12" nonstick skillet over medium-high and add your oil.

Pour the parmesan cheese into a pie dish or large plate and sprinkle with pepper.  One chicken breast at a time, press each side of the chicken breast into the cheese, forming a thin layer of cheese all over.  Whatever cheese is left, you can press it into the chicken by hand.

Place the chicken into the prepared skillet and let it sit there until the cheese isn't sticking at all to the bottom of the pan, about 5-7 minutes.  That's how you know it's ready to flip.  Flip the chicken and allow it to cook on the other side, about 5-7 minutes.

Remove from the pan and allow the chicken to rest.  Serve however- as a part of a pasta dish, with vegetables, with salad.

Notes

  • Really, this is so super easy, I don't have much to share.  My one big tip is one I remember from Rachael Ray- when you put the chicken in the skillet, don't move it around or try to flip it until it easily slides around on the pan's surface.  
  • When coating the chicken with the parmesan cheese, you're not using a binder, so it does take some work to get it to stick.  You won't have a uniform coating, and that's OK.  It does all work out in the pan.  


Chocolate Hazelnut Pot De Creme

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Have you ever had a pot de creme?  If not, I've got your back- the t is silent (those French!).  I had not had one before I made these, but had seen them on food shows and in cookbooks/magazines.  They didn't strike me as incredibly interesting until around Valentine's I saw an episode of the old Food Network Show, The Best Thing I've Ever Made, the chocolate episode.  Aarti Sequeira made these chocolate hazelnut pots de creme and she just raved about them, as did the people who were eating with her.  It seemed easy, economical, and impressive, so why not?  Drew and I made them for our belated Valentine's Day meal.  We are sold.



Think of this as a Nutella-flavored, thick pudding with a spicy kick at the end.  They're so good, and to top them with freshly whipped cream, chopped hazelnuts, and some sea salt sends you out of this world.  It all seems so simple- chocolate, nutella, heavy cream, and egg yolks.  What results, though is a dense, smooth custard that is absolutely packed with flavor and give you some complexity and depth of flavor as your taste buds sense chocolate, hazelnut, and the spicy Sriracha.  The whipped cream serves to cut the richness while adding more creaminess, and the salt and hazelnuts just intensify everything.  Pardon me while I go make more right now.


These, by the way, are so simple, but are elegant in an understated way.  Their individual serving size makes them fun.  They can be dressed down by putting them in regular custard cups or even 8 oz Mason jars, or dressed up by putting them in nicer dishes or even pretty stemmed glasses.  We made these for our Valentine's date night.  I'd definitely make them for a dinner party.  


Chocolate-Hazelnut Pots de Creme
from Food Network/ Aarti Sequeira
serves 8

1 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella
3 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate (70 percent and over), chopped
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped cream or creme fraiche, for topping
Cocoa or grated chocolate, for dusting
Minced hazelnuts, for garnishing
Sea salt, for garnishing

poon the chocolate-hazelnut spread into your blender. Add the chopped chocolate. Set your ramekins/cocottes/teacups/glasses on a baking sheet.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, heavy cream, sugar, salt and egg yolks over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 8 to 10 minutes; I like to use a flat-bottomed wooden spatula so that I can make sure the eggs aren't catching on the bottom and cooking. Cook until the custard thickens, resembling something like very thick paint. It should register between 175 and 180 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Another test: the custard should coat the back of the spatula, and when you draw a line across the back of the spatula with your (clean!) finger, the line should hold and maintain its edges without running. Remove from the heat immediately.

Now, pour the warm custard through a strainer into the blender. Let it sit 5 minutes to melt the chocolate. Add the Sriracha, espresso powder if using and vanilla extract. Then, put the lid on the blender, hold down with a thick kitchen towel, and blend on low, then high, until smooth and combined, scraping down the sides if necessary. Taste for seasoning.

Pour the custard into your containers, tapping them against the rim of the baking sheet to remove air bubbles. Pop them in the fridge and chill until the custards are set, 2 to 3 hours.

Top with whipped cream or creme fraiche, some grated chocolate and minced hazelnuts. A little sea salt would be nice too.



Notes

  • If you do decide to use whipped cream to garnish your pots de creme, you'll want about 1 1/2 to 2 cups total heavy cream.
  • I used a candy thermometer to make sure the temperature of my custard was right.