Saturday, February 26, 2022

ChezCindy: Chilled Orange Slices with Thyme Syrup


Winter is the perfect time to make this elegant dessert using fresh citrus orange slices.  A simple syrup is first made using fresh thyme leaves.  Then a variety of colorful orange citrus slices are steeped in the syrup to infuse the flavors together.  Thyme leaves and oranges complement each other in flavor, but you could also use fresh mint in place of the thyme.  

I used several types of citrus oranges, including a new variety called 'raspberry orange' that is deep crimson in color.  This tinted the syrup a beautiful soft raspberry color.  The clementines bring a different texture, alongside the standard navel orange. Topping the chilled orange slices with a sweetened whipped cream is the final sweet touch for this simple dessert.    

Chilled Oranges Slices with Thyme Syrup
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
5-6 oranges

Working with a wide skillet about 3-inches deep, combine the wine, water, sugar and thyme leaves.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, heating until the sugar dissolves in the liquid.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 5-7 minutes, slightly thickening the liquid.  Turn off the heat.

Using a sharp knife, remove the peel and the white pith from each orange.  Slice each orange crosswise into quarter-inch rounds.  Add the oranges to the thyme syrup, gently moving them around to cover each round with the syrup.  Steep the orange slices in the warm syrup for 5 minutes.  Remove the orange slices to a large glass dish to cool.  Chill or use while still warm.  

Serve the chilled orange slices topped with fresh whipped cream.  The warm orange slices are also delicious served over vanilla ice cream.  

Saturday, February 19, 2022

ChezCindy: North African Couscous and Sautéed Vegetables


Couscous is a time-saving dream for a busy day, ready in minutes to serve a hungry family.  It is derived from coarsely ground semolina flour, formed into tiny pellets.  Standard cooking method for couscous is to simply add it to water or broth that has been brought to a boil and removed from the heat, covered for roughly 5 minutes until the tiny pellets become hydrated.  The couscous takes on the flavor of the broth or seasoned water.  

In this recipe I use a North African spice blend known as Ras el Hanout.  This phrase means "top of the shop" meaning that in traditional spice markets, this is a spice blend created by the head spice maker.  Each version can vary to the preference of the spice maker, but most contain cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried peppers, and turmeric.  Once you become familiar with the name, you will notice that Ras el Hanout is available in most grocers or specialty shops.  

The recipe is plentiful with leftovers for another meal.  I served the couscous with the chicken burger and tzatziki sauce I recently posted.  It was hearty and delicious.  

Spiced Couscous with Sautéed Vegetables 
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large broccoli stalk, cut into florets and the stalk cut into 1-inch pieces
2 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 orange or red bell pepper cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons Ras el Hanout
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup couscous
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth

Equipment needed:  Large 12–14-inch skillet with a lid

Working with a large skillet over medium-high heat, place 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan, swirling to cover the bottom.  Add in the broccoli florets, stalks and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, tossing to cover with the oil cooking for 7-10 minutes to soften and begin to add a bit of browning to the broccoli.  Transfer the broccoli to a bowl, setting aside.

Add 2 additional tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet.  Add in the zucchini, bell pepper and red onion, plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Toss together, sautéing until just tender, about 6-7 minutes.  Sprinkle in the Ras el Hanout and garlic, stirring to combine for about 30 seconds.  Add in the couscous, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the pre-cooked broccoli, tossing and combining with the vegetables in the pan, cooking all together for 1-2 minutes to toast the couscous.  Turn off the heat, add in the vegetable broth, cover and let sit until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Season as needed with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Serve hot or room temperature.   

Saturday, February 12, 2022

ChezCindy: Peanut Butter Cookies - 3 Ways


This versatile peanut butter cookie recipe can be transformed into three different cookies by using your favorite add-ins, depending on what you are in the mood for.  I actually posted this peanut butter cookie recipe years ago, peanut butter cookie comparison.  Using the gluten free recipe versus the more traditional recipe that uses all-purpose flour, I had fun folding in a variety of ingredients to switch things up a bit.    

Pictured above, are the regular crisscross shaped peanut butter cookies.  I also used chocolate chunks as one add-in, with the other being a cranberry oatmeal peanut butter cookie.  Other ideas for add-ins could be white chocolate chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips; chopped chocolate-covered toffee candy bar and chopped pretzels; dried cherries and chopped toasted almonds.  Use your imagination to create what is perfect for you.   

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

*1 1/2 cups of chopped nuts, chocolate and/or dried fruit (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  

Mix together the peanut butter, the 2 sugars, eggs, baking soda and salt until combined.  *Fold in your favorite ingredients.  

Shape the dough into small balls (about 1 tablespoon) and place onto the parchment paper, about 1 inch apart allowing for the cookies to spread.  Bake in the oven for 7-8 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through the cooking time.  Remove from oven, slide the parchment paper off of the trays onto your counter.  Allow to cool. 

*Optional Add-ins
*Chocolate Chunk Peanut Butter Cookies:  fold in 1 1/2 cups chopped chocolate chunks

*Cranberry Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies:  fold in 3/4 cup dried cranberries and 3/4 cup rolled oats

*Mixed Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies:  fold in 3/4 white chocolate chips and 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

ChezCindy: French Apple Tart


You may have been at a bakery and seen beautiful squares of glazed apple tart and been impressed with the gorgeous sheen upon the thinly sliced apples.  As you bite into the square, crackles of pastry flake at first bite, followed by the taste of the sweet glaze and tart apples.  Simply a bite of perfection.  You can make this French Apple Tart at home.   It's not as difficult as it may seem, when taking a shortcut.   

Making the tart as the pastry shop does is very involved, taking hours to make.  They are most likely making their crust using sweet creamy butter and flour, folding and rolling to make the best flaky pastry dough.  My shortcut is to use frozen puff pastry.  Doing so makes this dessert complete in roughly an hour.  

Shortcut French Apple Tart
1 sheet puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farms
4-5 medium Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced into 1/4"-inch pieces
1/2 cup apricot jam or orange marmalade
2 tablespoons brandy or water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Thaw the frozen puff pastry according to package directions.  Working on a lightly floured surface, unfold the single sheet of puff pastry and roll out to roughly 10x12 inches. Place the dough onto the prepared sheet pan, refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Cut the apples into quarters through the stem.  Peel and core the apples, slicing crosswise into 1/4-inch thin slices.  Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator.  Working quickly, place the apple slices diagonally down the center of the puff pastry.  Continue making diagonal rows down both sides of the first row until the puff pastry is covered in apple slices, filling in the corners with smaller pieces in a decorative fashion.  You may have a few leftover apple slices to snack on.  

Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the apples.  Dot the tiny pieces of butter over the sugared apples.  Place the sheet pan into the preheated oven, for 45-55 minutes until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown.  As the tart is baking, the apple juices may run off of the parchment paper and get very dark*.  Not to worry, the tart will be great.  

Remove the baked tart from the oven.  Heat the jam or marmalade with the brandy or water in a small pan, stirring for a few minutes until combined.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the jam mixture over the apples and edges of the crust.  Using a large metal spatula, loosen the tart from the parchment paper, sliding it onto a cutting board.  Cool for about 10 minutes and serve, cutting the tart into large squares.  

*The apple juices may run off the parchment paper and slightly burn onto the sheet pan.  Once the tart is removed from the pan, place the sheet pan in a wide sink, filling the pan with water to soak.  The burnt apple juices will hydrate and clean off easily after soaking for about 20-30 minutes.