Category Archives: Comfort Food

Comfort on a cold day: Toasted Anise Cake

frozen_fennel

During the coldest days of the year, I make frequent trips out to the chicken coop. The hens are fine of course, they’re rated to about -20F (-30 if you speak Celsius), and a few of them will happily wade around in snow up to their egg-holes as long as the sun is shining — but the eggs freeze solid and explode if left in the nests for too long.

frozen_chicken_coop

no_skating

I’m nowhere near as cold-hardy as the chickens, but once I’m outside I marvel at the stark beauty of the icy yard and almost manage to forget about the cold.

ice_on_the_pond

ice_designs

In the end I’m always glad to be forced out into the elements, because it makes the house seem that much warmer when I come in.

bake_in_loaf_pan

Especially when I have a batch of these toasted anise cake slices fresh out of the oven. They make the house smell heavenly, and the crunchy texture (similar to biscotti) is perfect alongside a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. Or a bowl of sorbet, when the days get warmer again.

enjoy_with_coffee_or_tea

Toasted Anise Cake

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: About 12 cookies

Toasted Anise Cake

These toasty cake slices are similar to biscotti, and are delicious with a hot cup of coffee or a bowl of lemon sorbet.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, finely crushed
  • Special equipment:
  • mortar & pestle
  • stand mixer
  • 8 1/2 by 4 1/2" loaf pan

Instructions

  1. Put rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter and flour loaf pan.
  2. Crush anise seeds using mortar and pestle.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, anise, and salt in a small bowl.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar in a mixer bowl at high speed until tripled in volume, and thick enough to form a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to fall apart when beater is lifted (about 12-18 minutes)
  5. Sift flour mixture over egg mixture in 3 batches, folding in each batch.
  6. Gently stir in butter, and immediately pour batter into loaf pan and smooth top.
  7. Bake until loaf is golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a cutting board (right side up) and cool for 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 400F.
  9. Trim ends and cut loaf into 1/2-inch-thick slides. Arrange slices on a baking sheet and bake until undersides are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Flip and bake until the other side browns, about 5 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

Adapted from Gourmet.

http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/toasted-anise-cake/

Empanadas de Pino (y Pollo)

empanadas_de_pino

Every culture has its own version of empanadas, and for good reason — what could be better than a portable, sturdy crust stuffed with any number of sweet and/or savory fillings?

Unfortunately, most of the empanadas I’ve had here in the US are deep-fried, oozing affairs that require the use of a knife and fork. My sister, on the other hand, spent a considerable amount of time bicycling in South America and as a result is something of an empanada connoisseur/fanatic. And so I was a little intimidated when she challenged me to make her favorite, “empanadas de pino.”

Empanadas are basically a sturdy pie crust made with plenty of lard*, and a savory filling. They can be baked or fried, but I see no need to involve a deep fryer in this recipe (or in most recipes, if I’m being honest). Empanadas de pino are the standard Chilean version, filled with a mixture of beef, olives, raisins, and hard-boiled egg — and they are more delicious than any description could possibly convey.

empanada_assembly

*I used lard that I rendered myself from a piece of whey-fed pork fat I got from Windsor Dairy; you can find sources for responsibly raised lard here

I also made a version with chicken, since we had leftovers from one of our boys that I roasted earlier in the week. I went all savory with the chicken-and-egg empanadas, leaving out the raisins and adding some chopped jalapeño-and-garlic stuffed green olives. These were also extremely tasty, and I can’t think of a better use for those last shreds of meat I pull off a chicken before it goes in the stock pot.

assembling_chicken_empanadas

Virtually every food is more delicious empanada, but anything saucy/cheesy/greasy tends to soak through the dough and make a mess. So it’s best to stick with fillings that are on the dry side.

crimp_the_edges

And the best thing about empanadas? Apparently, you can make a whole bunch of them, and then put some in the freezer instead of the oven. I had every intention of trying that with this batch, but they all disappeared. Maybe next time.

brush_with_egg_and_milk

Empanadas de Pino

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: About 8-10 large empanadas

Empanadas de Pino

This is the most traditional empanada filling used in Chile, and it is delicious. It's best when allowed to rest in the fridge overnight before being made into empanadas.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed works best)
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup beef glace or good-quality stock
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped black olives
  • 3 eggs, hard-boiled (if using fresh eggs, make sure they're at least a week old)
  • Empanada dough (recipe follows, this amount of filling uses roughly 1/2 batch.)

Instructions

    Hard-boil the eggs:
  1. Put eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 inches cold water. Partially cover pot and set over moderate heat, occasionally rolling the eggs with a wooden spoon to keep the yolk centered. When the pot boils, cover and set a timer for 30 seconds. Then, remove the pot from heat and let stand covered for 15 minutes. Remove eggs and immediately put under cold running water for 5 minutes (this keeps the yolk from turning green). Dry and refrigerate for 30 minutes before peeling.
  2. Make the beef filling:
  3. Brown beef with onions in a large heavy skillet. Add flour and cook another 5-10 minutes longer.
  4. Let cool, and refrigerate overnight if possible (or up to 2 days).
  5. For each golf-ball-sized bit of dough, use about 3 tablespoons beef filling and top with a few raisins, sliced olives, and a slice of hard-boiled egg.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/empanadas-de-pino-y-pollo/

Empanada Dough

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: Makes about 12 large empanadas

This all-purpose dough is perfect for wrapping around your favorite savory (and sweet) fillings.

Ingredients

    For dough
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 12 tablespoons good quality lard, chilled (I used whey-fed pork fat from a local dairy, which I rendered myself)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup cold water
  • 2 egg yolks
  • For egg wash:
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Instructions

  1. Sift flour, salt, and sugar together into a bowl.
  2. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, blend the butter and lard into the flour mixture until well-combined and the largest lumps are pea-sized.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks with 3/4 cups water. Gradually stir in the water/egg mixture with a fork, adding a bit at a time, and add more water if necessary to make the dough come together. It should look a bit shaggy until it's thoroughly chilled. Wrap tightly and refrigerate at least an hour, or up to a couple days.
  4. Roll dough into balls about the size of golf balls, and roll out with a rolling pin into a 6-7" round. Place about 3 tablespoons of filling in the center and wet 1/2 of the edge with a finger dipped in water, then carefully fold the dry edge up and over the filling, pressing it against the other edge to seal the empanada. Use your fingers to roll and crimp any excess dough to reinforce the seam. Use a fork to gently poke a few holes across the top.
  5. The empanadas can be frozen at this point and baked later, if you wish.
  6. Beat egg yolk in 2 tablespoons milk, and lightly brush on finished empanadas before baking. Bake at 350F for about 35-45 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown. NOTE: Lard is wonderful, in part, because your pastry will get nice and brown and crisp but will take forever to burn. However, the egg wash on these can make them appear browner than they actually are. Don't be too quick to pull your empanadas out of the oven, and be sure to take a peek at the underside when you check them.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/empanadas-de-pino-y-pollo/

Unruly Hens and Old Fashioned Gingerbread

frozen_sunset

We’ve barely begun 2014, but the sun sets a bit later each day and I can feel the promise of spring on the horizon.

The hens are feeling it too; egg production is ramping up and it’s getting harder to enforce their early winter curfew.

Most of the chickens follow me right out to the coop, but I almost always have to round up a few stragglers at bedtime. It’s normally a quick and easy affair, but the other day was something else entirely.

beeline_for_the_birdfeeder

It was sunny when I let the chickens out, so they happily plowed through an acre of snow just to get to the bird feeder. Then, a cold front came through and they didn’t want to walk back through the snow to get back home.

A couple of the hens started to follow me out to the coop, but I came back to find they’d given up and planted themselves in the garden, fluffing their feathers like little down jackets. One after the other, I scooped them up and carried them to the coop, their feathers warming my hands as they settled into my arms. I’m pretty sure they were grateful.

I soon realized I wasn’t done giving free rides out to the chicken coop, and that not everyone would be as cooperative. The other hens huddled together, eyeing me uneasily, reluctant to be picked up but not wanting to run out into the snow.

Most allowed themselves to be caught without any trouble, but not Shelly. She dodged me several times, but finally I managed to come within an inch of grabbing her. That is when she completely freaked out.

Shelly is a pretty small chicken, and I knew from her past adventures that she is better at flying than most. But I was shocked when, with a series of loud squawks, she launched herself off the ground and flew across the entire garden, about 150 feet. And then she started gaining altitude and fluttered up onto a tree branch, about 8 feet off the ground.

oh_shelly

I scrambled up onto a piece of lawn furniture and grabbed hold of her tail before she could fly up to a higher branch, prompting her to go hide under the big spruce tree instead (with four of her friends). It took me over an hour to get them all in for the night.

sunset_stream

Today, most of the hens are out in the snow again, pecking at the door and lurking on the back steps. Probably waiting for me to give them a ride home. Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll let them in, where there’s freshly baked gingerbread and chai tea, and it’s (slightly) warmer than outside.

morning_tea

As excited as I am for the spring weather to get here, I’m always sorry to see gingerbread season end. In case you’re wondering, gingerbread season starts when the first chill of autumn creeps into the air, and ends after the last blizzard of April — if to you gingerbread means houses and cookies shaped like little men, you’re definitely missing out on the best part of the season. Fortunately, you still have time to catch up.

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Ebelskivers (Danish Pancakes)

Last week, I was rummaging around in the cupboard and found a forgotten gem hidden in the back: an ebelskiver pan.

turn_them_carefully

I first fell in love with these little Danish pancake balls during a snow day in the second grade. My mom made them, stuffed with spiced apples, and my friend and I inhaled the entire batch before heading out to play in the snow. On our first toboggan run, fortified by all that flour and sugar, we set a new distance record — and went sailing right though the wooden snow fence at the bottom of the hill. It was our only run of the day. Minutes later we were in the car, creeping over snow-packed roads to get my friend’s forehead stitched up.

Whether it was the trauma of the sledding incident, or just that we ate all the ebelskivers before she got a chance to try any, Mom didn’t make ebelskivers for us again and eventually gifted me the pan. And then I forgot about them too, until last week.

fold_whites_into_batter

ebelskivers_on_plate

Ebelskivers can be made plain, like little pancake popovers, or filled with pretty much anything. I used chopped spiced apples, plus a variety of homemade preserves — raspberry, chokecherry, and plum butter. Generally speaking, the thicker the filling, the better the result. The unanimous favorite was the plum butter I made a few seasons ago (and meant to recreate for you this past summer, but then there were no plums to be found anywhere.) Chokecherry jelly was a close second.

add_batter_to_cover_filling

Browsing around on the internet, I found a lot of instructions involving knitting needles and metal chopsticks. Some say the proper way to make ebelskivers is to stick a pointy object (gently!) through the batter and turn them gradually to make a perfect ball. I didn’t think this would end very well for me and my jam-filled morsels, and didn’t bother to try it. Instead, I found it easiest to run a butter knife underneath the ebelskiver, then quickly flip it over and tuck the uncooked side into the well with my fingers.

plum_ebelskivers

And really, once you’ve tried these tender little pancake bites you won’t care about the proper technique, or burned fingers, or even that these are slightly more fussy and time-consuming than their flat relatives. Now that I’ve become reacquainted with my favorite snow-day breakfast, ebelskivers will be making an appearance during every blizzard, brunch, and holiday in my house.

plum_filling

Ebelskivers (Danish Pancakes)

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: About 21 ebelskivers

Ebelskivers (Danish Pancakes)

These traditional Danish pancakes are perfect for a snow day or lazy weekend brunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted (plus additional for greasing pan)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Preserves or chopped apples for filling (about 1/2 cup)
  • Special Equipment:
  • Ebelskiver pan

Instructions

  1. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl.
  2. In a metal mixer bowl, beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks.
  3. Whisk sugar, egg yolks, milk, and butter together in a large bowl.
  4. Sift dry ingredients over wet and whisk until just combined (batter will still be lumpy). Fold in egg whites.
  5. Heat ebelskiver pan with about 1/4 teaspoon butter in each well until bubbly. Add 1 tablespoon batter to each well, then add 1 teaspoon of filling. Add batter to cover filling.
  6. Cook over low-medium heat until edges are set and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. With a knife or metal chopstick, gently turn the ebelskivers over and tuck them upside down into the wells to cook the other side.
  7. Cook until both sides are browned, about 4 more minutes. Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

Notes

Ebelskivers may be kept in the oven on warm until the whole batch is cooked, but they're best straight out of the pan.

Adapted from Serious Eats.

http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/ebelskivers-danish-pancakes/

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

half-eaten

It’s summer squash season, and the piles of fresh zucchini are starting to lose their novelty. So when I’m staring at a fridge full of squash or a zucchini the size of my leg, I usually resort to shredding and hiding them in baked goods. Or at the very least, shredding and hiding them in the freezer for a snowy day.

cocozelle_squash

shredded_zucchini

Zucchini does wonderful things for muffins. It makes for a soft, delicate crumb; and more importantly, it enables you to call them “muffins” when really they taste like cupcakes.dry_ingredients

I used black cocoa powder, which is basically Dutch-processed cocoa taken a step further so that it’s even darker and less bitter. It’s great to have on hand if you want baked goods with a mellow chocolate flavor and super dark color, i.e. Oreo-type cookies or ice cream sandwiches.

A note on cocoa powder: You can usually use natural cocoa powder in place of Dutch (NOT vice versa, at least for cakes and cookies). But be warned that the natural acidity will react with the baking soda in this recipe and your muffins will have a reddish tint, like Devil’s Food cake. And I can’t promise they won’t be a little taller or flatter than they should be, since I haven’t made that substitution in this particular recipe.

coconut_oil

Finally, I find that coconut oil makes these extra delicious and “healthier,” giving us all the more reason to eat cake for breakfast. You’re welcome.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

A delicious, kid-friendly way to use up extra zucchini.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder ("black" cocoa powder if you have it)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin coconut oil (I like Nutiva)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound zucchini (1 cup grated)
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • Special equipment
  • Electric mixer
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • Cupcake liners

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and coarsely grate zucchini. If you're using a big monster zucchini, scrape out the seeds first.
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Beat together sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla using an electric mixer until creamy, about 3 minutes.
  4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  5. Divide among 12 lined muffin cups and bake until tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes.
  6. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/chocolate-zucchini-muffins/

An unlikely comfort food: Quinoa Pudding

It’s been a rough week. After a promising start to the season, the state of Colorado is on fire once again and many of my loved ones are evacuated and waiting to hear if their homes will survive. We’re safe here on the farm — nothing more than a little smoke and some extra-beautiful sunsets in my neighborhood, but every time I look at the thick haze settled over the mountains my heart sinks.

smoky_flatirons

At the same time, I learned that one of my friends was experiencing a health crisis. So the past few days have been spent watching and waiting, and of course worrying. For me, a heavy heart leaves no room for the stomach — this has been the sort of week where I’ll watch the fiery sunset until the colors fade, and then realize I haven’t even begun to think about dinner.

smoke_at_sunset

Fortunately, I had a big batch of this quinoa pudding in the fridge. It’s the ultimate comfort food, as far as I’m concerned. It reminds me a lot of tapioca pudding, but with a texture that will probably be a lot more appealing to the tapioca-haters out there (I just don’t understand.) Not to mention, it’s nutritious and easy to digest.

ingredients

It’s just what I need when I’m feeling sick, or sad, or just looking for a quick and delicious breakfast. And I haven’t tested this theory yet, but kids will probably love it too.

breakfast

Quinoa Vanilla Pudding

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Quinoa Vanilla Pudding

Easy, delicious, and nourishing -- this pudding is comfort food at its finest.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flakes (you can find these sold as a hot breakfast cereal)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ripe peaches, nectarines, or plums (optional)

Instructions

  1. Rinse the whole quinoa thoroughly to remove any bitter residue (you don't need to do this with the flakes.)
  2. In a 2-quart heavy saucepan, combine milk, sugar, and whole quinoa (not the flakes.) Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is tender (about 20 minutes.)
  3. Stir in the quinoa flakes and simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, thoroughly beat the egg in a small bowl.
  4. Slowly dribble a ladleful of the hot quinoa mix into the egg while stirring with a whisk (this tempers the egg so it doesn't curdle.) Then, gradually whisk the egg mixture into the rest of the quinoa in your saucepan.
  5. Cook for another 2 minutes under low heat; be careful not to let the mixture boil. Whisk in vanilla and remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes to thicken. Serve hot, cold, or with a splash of milk and some fresh fruit.

Notes

Adapted from Whole Grains for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff.

http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/an-unlikely-comfort-food-quinoa-pudding/