Cheddar Nut Scones

I was grabbing breakfast on the run earlier this week and had been scanning the baked goods at a local coffee shop. The scones of the day were these giant orange wedges dotted with something green and dusted with red pepper flakes. I just finished wondering why on earth someone would ruin a perfectly good scone by covering it in pepper, when the man in front of me exclaimed, “Oh you’ve got those scones again! Fantastic, I’ll take two!”

Not only was I surprised at his enthusiasm, but you’ve got to understand that two scones together were quite literally the size of a football. I can’t tell you if the man ate them both himself, but he was whistling as he carried his bulging paper bag and coffee out the door …and then it was my turn to order. And there was one single scone left.

I’m sure you have figured out that my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the last – very strange – scone. Along with a half-caf soy latte, my prize and I braved the morning drizzle …and as soon as I had taken that first bite I knew that guy was on to something. The scone had all the magic of the traditional cheddar variety, but with whole pistachios adding a satisfying crunch and red pepper flakes providing a deep warmth. The pepper didn’t bother me at all and – surprise, surprise – turned out to be the key ingredient. If you’ve ever had Mexican hot chocolate then you’ll know what I’m talking about. That giant scone lasted all day and before I had even gotten through half of it, I knew I wanted to try to replicate it at home (in a slightly smaller form, haha).

Cheddar Nut Scones (inspired by Uncommon Grounds)

Ingredients:

* makes 8 – 10 small scones *

3   C   AP flour, plus extra for dusting

2   t   baking powder

pinch of salt, if desired*

1/3   C   unsalted butter at cool room temp (neither fridge-cold nor soft)

1   C   buttermilk (or 1 C milk + 1 T lemon juice, let sit 5 minutes)

1   egg

½   C   shelled whole pistachios

½   C   shredded cheddar cheese, minced fine

1   t   red pepper flakes, powdered**

extra cheese and pepper for topping as desired

* Note: Between the (usually salted) pistachios and the cheese, I didn’t bother to add any salt to my dough. Depending on your preference or the nuts you’re using, though, you might want to add a pinch.

** Note: In order to avoid pockets of spiciness, blend the flakes in a food processor or grind with a mortar & pestle to produce a fine powder. If you’re apprehensive about the heat, start with just a pinch and see how the scones come out. If you’re a fan of all things spicy, feel free to load ’em up!

Procedure:

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt (if desired), and butter in a food processor until the blend resembles fine crumbs (or, alternatively, use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut in the butter). In a separate bowl, beat together the buttermilk and egg. In a third small bowl, combine cheese, nuts, and red pepper powder. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and gently mix until just combined. Add the fillings to the dough and work them in.

2) Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead only three or four times to make the dough nice and smooth (overworking the dough means dense scones). Pat or gently roll the dough out to a circle of about 1½” in thickness (I had to use a rectangle due to limited counter space, but do what you can). Using a pizza cutter or knife, divide the dough into equal-sized wedges and place wedges on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

3) Top scones with a sprinkling of cheese and extra red pepper flakes as desired and bake until golden – about 15 minutes. A toothpick test can check to ensure the centers have cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for a few minutes before serving warm with coffee or tea.

Beezer’s Notes:

My mini-replicas turned out very similar to the giant version from the coffee shop. Their scone was a bit more crumbly, so I’m suspecting I overworked my dough despite being careful, but the flavors were spot on and the delicious subtle heat was there without being overly spicy. I’m a big fan of pistachios so this recipe makes me happy as-is, but I can see it being equally tasty with sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Give it a try and tell me what you think! Perhaps this strange peppery madness is just a local thing, haha.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥

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Bacon-Wrapped Eggs

I’m sitting here with a mug of fabulous tea we found at yesterday’s farmer’s market, listening to the giggles and babbles of the adorable toddler in the apartment above us, and my stomach is full from the fourth straight meal I’ve made from scratch since the semester ended: I am very happy.

There’s still quite a lot on my to-do list that must be done in prep for next semester. I’ve been told we must “hit the ground running” with my research and so I decided I’d spend Winter Break reading a book on data analysis and getting somewhat familiar with SAS. Last semester I all but ignored my volunteer work, which is really important to me, so I’m also determined to not only catch up in that but figure out a way to keep it in my schedule. Oh, and of course there’s exercise (which my poor body thinks is simply walking up 3 flights of stairs now), brushing up on my Japanese (I have a willing conversation partner I’ve completely ignored), and – of course – cooking! …but I gave myself one full week to be a complete and total bum first, and believe me I’ve taken full advantage of it!

Until yesterday, I only went as far as to throw on a hoodie and yoga pants each morning this week. I made myself some tea and, for the first four days, spent nearly all my waking hours (which were reduced significantly, by the way: I slept about 12 hours a night up until Friday, haha) reading Game of Thrones – which seems to be the official Book Of Halifax. No joke: everyone from my students to coworkers to professors has recommended this series to me. I know the HBO show‘s been getting a lot of buzz, so I gave in and read the first book. I’m usually pretty picky when it comes to SciFi/Fantasy, but Haligonians know what they’re talking about. If you’re a fan of political intrigue, blood, sex, betrayal, and generally all things medieval (oh, and did I mention the walking dead?) you should give this series a chance. My favorite character so far is Arya followed very closely by Tyrion. Usually my favorite characters are always the ones who end up getting killed, but I’ve already been warned that nearly everyone meets untimely ends in this series so I’m prepared for the worst.

Getting back to the food, my brother linked me this cute breakfast idea a while ago and I promised to give it a go. Ever since the apple sundaes my family’s been sharing recipe ideas they want me to try. Usually the recipes are ones I wouldn’t have chosen on my own, but they’re almost always fun and interesting so I figure why not? Just because I’m taking what I eat more seriously doesn’t mean I can’t have fun while making it. 😀

Bacon-Wrapped Eggs (via my bro, slightly adapted from RecipeCards)

* makes enough for 2 servings of two eggs each *

Ingredients:

4   eggs (free-range if you can)

6   slices of bacon (I love applewood-smoked)

½   C   shredded cheese of your choice (I used a mix of Pepperjack and Havarti)

chopped fresh herbs, optional*

salt and pepper

* Note: It kills me not to have my potted herbs anymore (live plants are not allowed to cross the border and for good reason) and I simply can’t justify buying a bagful of fresh herbs from the store because – even when I try – I never seem to use it all before it goes bad. May the kitchen gods forgive me, I used dried dill here…and I’m asking for a basil plant for Christmas, haha.

Procedure:

1) Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook 5 slices of bacon on Medium-low heat until browned but not crisp. Set slices aside on a paper towel-lined plate and pat with another paper towel to dry. Turn up the heat to Medium and cook the remaining slice of bacon until crisp – you’ll be using pieces of this one as bases for the eggs. Dry this slice as you did the previous ones.

2) Line the bottoms of 4 ramkins (muffin tins work just as well) with pieces from the crispy slice. Wrap a piece of bacon around the circumference of the ramkins and crack an egg into each. Top with shredded cheese, herbs, and salt and pepper as you prefer.

3) Place ramkins on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 – 15 minutes until eggs are set. If you like your yolks slightly runny (as I do) remove when whites have solidified but yolks are still jiggly when gently shaken (they will continue to cook a bit after you remove them from the oven) – about 10 minutes. If you like your yolks fully cooked, bake for the full 15 minutes or until the yolks themselves turn opaque and are only slightly jiggly.

Beezer’s Notes:

To be honest, these turned out much better than I had anticipated. They were very cute, nicely bundled eggs that were easy to eat alone or on toast. Brad put his directly onto a toasted bagel and had a breakfast sandwich. Aside from missing my fresh herbs, the only thing I’d change in the future is how I pack the bacon into the ramkins since my eggs seemed a little sunken in their wrappings. Havarti and Pepperjack were the cheeses I had on hand, but the goat cheese & chive blend used in the source recipe looks delicious as well. In general, I prefer my bacon so crisp it’s almost burnt so I’ll probably save this recipe for when folks visit (it’ll be so easy to whip up a dozen of these babies – did you watch the video?) or when I want to entertain kids.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥

Homemade Bagels!

Yes, this post title deserves an exclamation mark after it. Why? Because during my year in Japan the food I ended up missing most surprised me: it wasn’t one of the foods I ate on a regular basis like non-fat yogurt, seriously sharp cheddar, or multigrain bread…it was bagels! Bagels with cream cheese or PB&B or just a generous slathering of butter. Yes, my friends, I craved the usually oversized, chewy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside: BAGELS!

Well, I’ve been back on this side of the planet for about 3 years now and have been able to satisfy any cravings that pop up unexpectedly…until now. I’m sure there has to be a homemade bagel shop somewhere in either Halifax or neighboring Dartmouth, but without a car or significant free time I’ve been stuck with these. I was gamely making do until a friend of mine from Colombia mentioned that the only bagels he’s ever tried are the pre-packaged ones from the grocery store (*gasp*). I decided that, for both our sakes, I was going to try the homemade bagel recipe so clearly laid out for me in my go-to bread book: The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.


Homemade Bagels! (adapted very little from The River Cottage Bread Handbook)

makes 1 dozen little bagels

Ingredients:

1  lb.  2  oz.  unbleached, white bread flour

1½   t   instant yeast

2   t   fine salt

1   C   +  1  T   warm water

1½   T   superfine sugar

3½   T   vegetable oil, plus extra as needed

1   medium, free-range egg – beaten*

poppy or sesame seeds for topping (optional)

* Note: For my vegan friends out there, just skip the egg-wash and use water or a light brush of oil to adhere seeds.

Procedure:

1) In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast onto the warm water and let sit while assembling the rest of the ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and sugar (since I didn’t have superfine sugar, I dissolved mine in the water). Pour the wet ingredients into the large bowl with the dry and begin to incorporate the two with a wooden spoon. Once the dough has begun to cling together, turn it out onto a clean surface dusted with flour and kneed until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes) – or, alternatively, use a standing mixer with dough-hook attachment for about 5 minutes on medium speed.

2) When dough has become smooth and elastic, shape into a round and coat it with a bit of oil. Place in a clean dry bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a bag, and let sit in a warm place to rise.

3) When dough has approximately doubled in size (anywhere from 1 – 3 hrs depending on the temp. of the room – I let mine sit overnight), deflate it, kneed it a bit to redistribute the yeast, and divide into 12 even pieces. One at a time, roll the pieces into a sausage-shape about 6″ long. Wet the ends and press them together to seal piece into a ring shape. Assemble all 12 pieces and place on a lightly-oiled baking sheet. Cover rings with clean clothes and let proof <– have a cold room and/or want to speed up this step? I began preheating my oven here and set the covered baking sheets on top (NOT in!). The heat from the oven warmed the dough and the rings doubled in size within an hour.

4) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a wide pot filled with about 4″ of water to boil. As water is heating, place proofed rings on a tray (I used a bowl but some got squished) off to the side and re-oil your baking sheet off to the other. In addition, get a clean dry towel ready to drain the wet bagels on. When water is at a rolling boiling, turn it down to a simmer and begin poaching your bagels in small batches – they will puff up a bit in the water! – by cooking a batch for 1 minute on each side before putting them gently onto the dry towel.

5) When all the bagels have been poached and drained, gently place them onto the prepped baking sheets. If any have come apart just carefully stick them back together again. Brush bagels with beaten egg and sprinkle with any toppings you’d like. Bake for 15 minutes or until the bagels are a uniform, glossy, golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes or until just slightly warm before slicing (otherwise they’ll seem gooey).

Beezer’s Notes:

Folks, Daniel Stevens knows what he’s talking about. These little guys had the perfect texture and the most lovely color, and you know what? They really aren’t difficult to make, you just add in the poaching step. My dough was a bit dry, I’ll admit, but I think that was due to letting it rise overnight. If you’re going to do the same you might want to rub in an extra teaspoon of oil beforehand.

My friend from Colombia said he really liked them although, since he’s never had any homemade bagels before mine, we admit he’s a bit biased, haha. Finally, if you’re like me and really love a good bagel, you might want to consider doubling the batch and either making 2 dozen small ones or one dozen jumbo. I rather like the palm-sized versions so I’m going to make 2-dozen next time and begin trying more exotic flavors (cinnamon raisin, cinnamon sugar, blueberry…).

Overall Enjoyment:  ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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