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boursin spinach gratin

April 9th, 2010 | 18 Comments »

Boursin, people. Boursin cheese. Rich, creamy and speckled with herbs. Melted and mixed with fresh spinach, topped with crunchy bread crumbs and baked to perfection. Ultra-satisfying and delicious. But strangely, I took a bite and swore I’d had it before, sometime far and long ago though. I know it wasn’t recently, and I’m pretty sure I was quite young, but the flavor of this was familiar in that misty, distant fashion that reeks of deja vu.

On my birthday in early March, we dined at a restaurant where perfectly cooked rotisserie meats were the star, and along with the meltingly tender chunks of meat that graced our plates, Mike and I selected a side of creamed spinach that was equally blissful. The spinach was tender, perfectly cooked and  in a delicious bath of smooth, lightly seasoned sauce. I remember sighing sadly as the last bite was scraped from the dish, and it was so blissful and perfect that I dreamed about it for days afterwards. Who dreams of creamed spinach? Especially since it was the first time in my life that I’ve eaten it. Yes. First time. I fell hard I guess. I’d seen numerous recipes for it, chock full of decadent heavy cream that made my arteries cringe away in fright. Not that Boursin cheese is any different; folks, this dish is rich like an oil baron. But given the richness of the added Boursin, I knew I wouldn’t need heavy cream to make it. In fact, I think having heavy cream, which the original recipe calls for, would make this dish a bit too much. As it is I could only manage a few mouthfuls, complete with much eye-rolling, and heavily satisfactory sighs. Heavy cream AND Boursin? Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.

Of course, any dish where there is delightful browned, butter drenched panko crumbs gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from this girl. I find myself making up excuses to brown myself a pan of them, fluttering them through my fingers to grace the top of just about anything, then gleefully slurping the rest from my hand. Something about their delicate crispness just makes my mouth happier. With this spinach, they form a nice crust on top of the gratin as it bakes, adding a polar opposite element to the smooth creamy base and lovely al dente spinach.

While this isn’t exactly the lightest of Spring fare, and I certainly wouldn’t want to drench the upcoming fresh spinach crop under such a disguise, I am glad to know that for a cool night I have an option to set my mind dreaming once again.

And maybe more importantly, keep it there for good. Does the idea of Boursin cheese make you swoon too? Tell me how you love to eat it, and to offer you another decadent side dish, please check out Chris’ Ultimate Boursin Mashed Potatoes.

Boursin Spinach Gratin
From Spring 2010, At Home with Kowalski’s magazine. Heavily adapted by Kate

1 bunch fresh spinach, destemmed, washed well and spun very dry
1 t. unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
3 T. AP flour
1-1/2 c. plain soymilk (alternately, use 1 c. skim milk & 1/2 c. heavy cream)
1 pkg Boursin Herb and Garlic cheese,  5.2oz
3 T. fresh shredded parmesan, or other hard cheese of choice
1 t. lemon zest
2/3 c. panko bread crumbs
1 T. melted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425°

In a medium oven proof skillet with a cover, melt butter and add shallot, cooking and stirring until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour to coat and then slowly begin whisking in milk until fully incorporated. Stirring constantly, bring sauce to a gentle simmer to thicken, then add in Boursin cheese, a small amount at a time, until all of it is blended into the sauce.

Drop a handful of spinach leaves into sauce and stir to coat. Add more, a handful at a time, until all spinach is mixed well with the sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Mix panko, salt and pepper and melted butter, sprinkle over top of spinach and place pan, uncovered, into oven. Bake for 10 minutes, until bubbly and crumbs are browned. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly (remember that pan handle is HOT!) and serve immediately, sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

Alternately, mixture can be divided among smaller ovenproof ramekins to be baked. Divide spinach into ramekins before topping with bread crumbs. Baking time will be shorter.

Cookies, version 2009

December 10th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

Swedish Fruit Cake (Fruktkaka)

December 4th, 2009 | 10 Comments »

No fruitcake jokes. None. This is NOT anyone’s nightmare of a fruitcake, the hefty, dense and vastly feared offering that comes around this time of year. No sir. This is what something labeled ‘Fruit Cake’ should really be.

Of course, with me, if I see anything with figs in it, I’m suddenly propelled to make it. I adore figs. Fresh from the pack and popped in my mouth, crunchy seeds and chewy pulp and I am a very happy girl. Me and figs are tight.

But there was something else about this recipe that touched a distant spot in me, something so long ago that I can’t even begin to place it. This cake, an authentic and traditional Swedish Christmas offering, spoke to me from my past, in a whisper so quiet and unassuming that I barely heard it until the required fruit mixture of raisins, dried apricots and figs was marinating in it’s liquid bath on my counter, and I popped open the lid to stir it around. Has that ever happened to you? A scent stirs in you a touch of something from the dark recess of memory that springs back to life and yet you can’t understand it’s origin. But somehow, you just know you loved it at one point when you were small and trusting, and you’ll love it all over again, as an big grown up adult. We’re built like that, you know. Aroma is so powerful, and your nose can carry you backwards like no other part of your body, leading your mind to a precious but forgotten memory. I love when it happens. That’s why I bake. For the smells.

But it’s also for a plate of this, a moist and densely loaded sliced cake that is buttery, sort of spicy and altogether flavored much like a cascade of tastes that tumble across your mouth as you nibble. The macerated fruit is chewy and tender. A slice jogs that memory and I wish I could place where it started but all I know is I’ve got it now, it’s on a page and I don’t have to be without it again. How wonderful it was to find such a taste that I never even knew I had missed. It tastes a bit like a late afternoon in winter, where the amethyst twilight shares itself with a cup of steaming tea. With lingering aromas of something glorious from the oven, and enchanting like a first snowfall.

It was even enchanting to Harmon.

But then again, we’ve known for a long time that he’s pretty much made out of sugar and spice.

From the December 2009 issue of Saveur magazine

4 oz. each dried figs, apricots and raisins- fine chop figs and apricots
1/2 c. dark rum
1 T. orange zest
1-1/2 t. lemon zest
12 T. unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1 c. superfine sugar
4 eggs

Combine figs, apricots, raisins and both fruit zest with rum and stir to combine. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for up to 4 hours, and as long as overnight. Stir the mixture on occasion.

Heat oven to 350°. Grease the bottom and sides of a standard loaf pan and dust with flour. Tap out excess and set aside.

Whisk flour and baking soda in a measuring cup and set aside. Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, and blend on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape the bowl a few times to make sure it’s uniform. Add the eggs one at a time and blend thoroughly after each one. Add the fruit, then the flour mixture and blend until fully combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Unmold cake after 15-20 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

I chose to macerate the fruit in apple cider, as opposed to the suggested rum. I’m not a huge fan of rum due to an excess of cheap drinks in college, and I found apple cider to be an appropriate and worthy substitute. Being that I somehow KNEW I was going to love this recipe, I doubled the batch, but the doubled fruit amount was excessive. I did not add it all to the cake or there would have been little ‘cake’ and way too much fruit. The extra fruit compote is perfect on oatmeal, spooned over yogurt or simply enjoyed with a spoon. Warm it up and it becomes even more sublime.

Wordless Wednesday

April 8th, 2009 | 8 Comments »


Recipe after the jump

Come in to my kitchen…

Cherry Poppyseed Scones

January 4th, 2009 | 2 Comments »

By the time Christmas rolled around this year, I’d done so much baking that I was really fed up with it, and I kinda thought that I wouldn’t want to see any more butter or flour or sugar for a very long time. I was tired of the futziness, the precision, the exact timing to prevent burnt cookies- eww!- and especially the clean up.

Ok, so I lasted maybe a week. Maybe.


But then I had a craving for a scone. And not for a ‘scone’ like a standard hockey puck offering from a coffee shop type of scone- a blob as dry and flavorless as sawdust and so bad that you might as well call it a STONE- no, I wanted a scone, people. I wanted light and airy, tender on the inside and slightly crusted on the outside. I wanted…..well, I wanted what’s in that photo, and wow, did it deliver.

The desire for such a breakfast delight actually came to me as I was falling asleep one night; I decided that I wanted to make fresh scones and the next morning it came back to the brain like a train hurtling at me top speed. I popped up off the couch, the morning sun blazing in on me, the cats and my steaming cup of coffee and strode purposefully into the kitchen, scones on the mind, digging out the perfect cookbook and turning, almost instinctively, to the recipe I needed. Sorry- it’s from that anonymous chef that I’m embarrassed to like- no love- and the cookbooks of his that I have. With some twists of my own, I had my scones, and they were perfect.

Dried Cherry Poppyseed Scones
anonymous Food Network chef

2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
3 T. poppyseeds
5 T. butter, cold
1 c. milk or cream
1 c. dried cherries

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place parchment on a cookie sheet.  Place cherries in a heat proof bowl. Boil water to vigorous bubbles and pour just enough in the bowl to cover the cherries. Stir to combine and allow to sit, stirring occasionally until the water is tepid and the fruit soft. Drain the fruit, reserving the juice.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and poppyseeds. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. You want to leave larger pieces of butter. Make a well in the center and add the milk, stir to just combine everything, making sure you scrape across the bottom of the bowl. Toss the drained fruit with just enough flour to coat them lightly, then add to the dough, stirring carefully until just incorporated.

Lightly flour your countertop and turn the dough out. With your hands, shape into a square, roughly about 10″x12″ or so. With a sharp knife, bench scraper or spatula, cut the square into four equal portions, then cut each portion in half, corner to corner, to form triangles. Carefully lift the triangles with a spatula onto your prepared sheet. Alternately, you can scoop the dough straight from the bowl to the cookie sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Allow to cool.

For a glaze, combine reserved juice with about 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar and a little melted butter. Drizzle over scones before serving.

Even with my dairy intolerance, I prefer to use butter in my baked goods, and it doesn’t cause me as much misery as milk or cheese so I roll with it. I subbed vanilla soymilk for the cream with perfect results. The original recipe called for fresh blueberries but it’s January in Minnesota and that ain’t happening. Currants would also be delicious, or maybe chopped apricots, figs or even dates. The glaze I made was very thin, and it’s also totally optional. These taste slightly sweet, with that good baking powder biscuit-y kind of texture; light, fluffy and tender and utterly delicious.

Let's appreciate doughnuts, shall we?

November 5th, 2008 | 3 Comments »

Today is National Doughnut Appreciation Day. Talk about a perfect day, custom designed for my child.

Griffin is a doughnut fiend, probably because I refuse to buy them or have them around the house, those saturated fat laden, high fructose corn syrup all refined white flour deep fried gut bombs generally found in your average grocery store- sounds delicious, doesn’t it, ewwww!- and so simply due to ‘being deprived’ (as he likes to think) whenever he sees them, it’s a huge WANT!!!

And quite frankly, I really don’t blame him. I love them too. I just don’t buy them as I love my body a whole lot more.

It’s no secret that the best tasting things are always the worst for us to consume; pie crusts made with lard are the flakiest, richly marbled steaks are the most beefy, that Lemon Drop martini- yummy!- is loaded with sugar, and the donut, deep fried and sugary is a delight. You just need to know how to say ‘When’. In college, one of my favorite Sunday morning rituals was to wake early and walk to the corner store to buy a newspaper and a package of Entenmanns Old fashioned donuts, you know, the ones with the cracked edges. I would go home and brew the coffee, then sit in the sunroom of my apartment and proceed to give myself a sugar rush of amazing proportions. Then it was perfectly fine; I only had a mountain bike for transportation and I rode it everywhere, plus I used to swim at the university’s aquatic center three or four times a week for at least an hour- hard- so it never bothered me to put that kind of junk in my body. I was lean and fit. Then.

But that was also before the evils of saturated fat, HFCS and things dunked and cooked in boiling oil became ‘No-No’s’ in any sane person’s diet. Even with that kind of knowledge, it doesn’t mean that I don’t wish for a cakey, flakey sugary oval once in a while. Preferably with good dark coffee and my former collegiate fitness level.

In my search for a donut recipe that I could be pleased to make, I came across this one on Heidi’s site and knew it would be perfect. I also knew that Griffin would be thrilled to help me if it meant he could freely consume the results. With a day off of school for him, it turned into our donut making day and we couldn’t have been more excited about the results.

Indulge me while I brag slightly about my most resourceful husband; while I mused and searched my kitchen for the best tool to cut out the dough centers, pushing everything feasible around in my gadget drawers in a futile search, Mike spied a prescription bottle and said ‘Hey how about a pill bottle sawed off and filed?’ Within 10 minutes he handed me my hole cutter and I nearly knocked him down in my effort to thank him for his ingenuity.

With the dough created and raised to the correct proportions, I set out to cut the rounds while Griffin took charge of making the holes.

He may not looked very thrilled here, but believe me, he was chomping at the bit to eat our results. The donut hole cutter is on the counter in front of him. Pay no attention to my messy hair- I fixed it later!

Once out of the oven we brushed them with melted butter and sprinkled cinnamon sugar over them while still hot. It melted into a nice thin glaze.


The results of this recipe were stellar, and would make a perfect base for cinnamon or caramel rolls too. They were sweet and moist, a bit more roll-like than cakey but with an amazing flavor and texture. The plus side was that they didn’t coat my mouth with that deep fried taste, they weren’t heavy at all- so you can eat more of them!- and despite being stellar right out of the oven, they still tasted terrific with a short spin in the microwave the next day to warm them. The bonus, of course,  is that they were fabulous with coffee.

If the urge strikes you to make a sweet treat and avoid the deep fryer, by all means give this recipe a whirl. And enjoy National Doughnut Day!


Indian Red Rice Pulao

April 29th, 2008 | 4 Comments »

Indian Red Rice Pulao with Pistachios

From The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

1 T. canola oil or ghee
1 T. chopped ginger
1 T. brown mustard seeds
1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground turmeric
1 c. red rice or brown basmati rice
2 c. water
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt
2 c. cauliflower florets
1/2 c. currants
2 T. lemon juice
2 large scallions, slivered
1/2 c. shelled pistachios or toasted slivered almonds

In a 2-qt saucepan, heat oil briefly and add ginger and mustard seed. When ginger is fragrant and seeds are popping slightly, add chili powder and turmeric and cook for a few seconds. Add rice, water, carrot, brown sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low and set a timer for 35 minutes. When the timer goes off, quickly put cauliflower and currants on top of rice, cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove pan from burner and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and serve topped with scallions and pistachios.

KATE’S NOTES: I used a combination of red and brown basmati rice for this dish and it was terrific. I felt that the finished dish was a little sweet; next time I think I will cut back on the brown sugar and maybe add less currants. By the time I added the cauliflower, all the water in the pan had been absorbed, so I poured in more, and it ended up cooking for a while longer than listed in the recipe, but it wasn’t a huge issue. The carrot, being small and thin had just about fallen apart by the time it was all done. Overall, it was a phenomenally flavored dish and I can’t wait to make it again.