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:   ♥   ♥   ♥

Squash & Bean Bake

Just five days left until I can chuck my cell phone into the depths of my closet, grab a 6-pack of hard cider, and escape with my tent and books to the farthest campsite I can find. I’m constantly texting friends and family, and I’m not much of a drinker (my absinthe-loving days left behind me in Japan), but July 1st will mark the first time in just over two years that I will no longer be on-call 24/7! The tissue bank business is one that I really admire. They do fantastic work and I’m so proud to have been even a small part of it – but I find myself fantasizing about having a steady schedule, becoming a “morning person” because I get up early not for being up all night, and falling asleep at night knowing I’ll be free to sleep through its entirety.

I’ll be glad to have a bit of a respite before the Big Move, too. Anything that will help calm my nerves and settle my mind before selling my soul to graduate studies is well worth it. I’ve been climbing as much as possible just for that reason, the cost of the gym pass justified now since I doubt I’ll have much time to climb in Halifax. All I’m missing is a more-experienced partner so that I can get off the plastic and onto the granite. I boulder outside as the weather permits and I used to feel comfortable setting up solid (oh, ‘scuse me, I mean “bomber”) anchers, but it’s been years since I’ve worked any gear more complicated than an ATC (being on-call has a way of seriously restricting all mountain activities). I no longer feel confident enough to grab my less experienced friends for a day-trip of simple top-roping. I’m hoping to beg/plead/bribe my way into some more experienced groups later this summer but the clock’s ticking. Anyone confident in their trad skills and live in Vermont? Seriously, contact me.

Well, I could chat about climbing all day but then this wouldn’t be a food blog now would it? 😉 Back to the subject of the post: this simple but flavorful dish joins the ranks of those that were eaten up with such enthusiasm that I’ve only a few photos left as evidence of its existence. No joke, the recipe fills two 8 x 8″ pans (I prefer the depth of using multiple square pans over a single 9 x 13) and both were gone by noon the following day. Oh, and none of us are vegetarian. If that doesn’t convince you this is a winning meat-free recipe, I don’t know what would.

Squash & Bean Bake (adapted from Eating Well‘s June 2011 Edition)

Ingredients:

For the Filling…

2   t   EVOO

1   large onion, diced

3   cloves garlic, minced

2   jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

1   T   paprika

1   t   ground cumin

1   t   dried oregano

1   t   ground cinnamon

pinch of ground cloves

1   lb.   butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and diced (~ 3 C)

1   14-oz. can crushed tomatoes

1   C   vegetable broth

1   15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed

1   15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed

¼   t   salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Topping…

1   T   EVOO

¼   t   salt

8   corn tortillas

1   C   sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. For the filling,  heat the 2 Tablespoons oil in a large skillet over Medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant – about 3 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeños and repeat for another minute more. Add paprika, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves and continue cooking while stirring for another minute. Add squash, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a simmer. Allow dish to simmer while covered for 10 – 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Add beans, season with salt and pepper, and transfer mix to two 8 x 8″ square baking dishes or a single 9 x 13″ dish.
  2. Prepare the topping by combining the 1 Tablespoon oil and ¼ teaspoon salt in a small dish and brush it on both sides of the corn tortillas. Using a pizza-cutter, cut the tortillas into ¾” strips and then cut the strips in half. Layer the tortilla strips and cheese on top of the dish(es). I alternated strips, cheese, strips, and finished with cheese.
  3. Bake the dish(es) in the center of the oven until the center is bubbling and the tortilla strips have darkened to a light tan – about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well in the oven (microwave works, too, but your tortilla strips will be chewy).


Beezer’s Notes:

If you’re trying to introduce more legumes in your diet, find new ideas for your CSA share, or get your kids to eat something other than mac ‘n cheese I really recommend making this bake. It actually went above and beyond my expectations. I first highlighted it simply as a way to use up the can of beans sitting in my cupboard (although neither kidney nor cannellini beans are called for in the original recipe) and I’m so glad I did. I think the magic’s in the spice/herb combination as the flavor is fantastic. It helps to like squash, but even if you aren’t much of a fan it really just adds a subtle sweetness to the mix – squash isn’t the central flavor by any means. Also, don’t worry about the heat: the filling isn’t spicy at all (you’d need to keep the jalapeño seeds in for that), but tastes like a Mexican-meets-Thanksgiving dish, haha. Not the best for summer, maybe, but with all the cold rain we’re having up here you’d never know. Finally, the crunchy-cheesy topping went perfectly with the soft filling; the baked tortilla strips a genius move for having healthy substitute for a pot-pie crust. I have only a few tweaks for the next time I make this: add some corn and maybe even a Tablespoon of chipotle chili in adobo sauce too add some smokiness. Overall, though, an excellent dinner!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Tuna, Artichoke, and Basil Stuffed Potatoes

I woke up to a cool, drizzly Sunday morning and decided the best thing to do after having had a fantastic birthday yesterday was to relax today and finally post this recipe on my neglected blog. This spring has been one of the busiest I’ve had in years, rivaling my undergraduate days only with less exam stress and more long-distance driving. It was great to unwind a bit, have fun with family, and do what I do best: climb and eat! haha 🙂

I began the day by grabbing coffee and negotiating crowds at Burlington’s newly-reopened Farmer’s Market with my mom and  my brother’s girlfriend. It’s already obvious it will be a busy season for the park: only the second day the market has opened and nearly half the grounds were occupied with white tents and a variety of tables. Food vendors seem to be staking their turf early this year and after drooling over vegan baked goods, Tibetan lunches, African samosas, maple desserts, and a good old-fashioned American grill we nabbed a few grapefruit-sized stuffed dumplings from the Tibetan vendor, plopped ourselves down on the grass, and ate breakfast.

Then, threading our way out of the market and onto the cobbled Church Street strip, we did some celebratory shopping before meeting up with my two brothers for an afternoon of climbing at the gym. The only thing that would make the day more perfect would have been climbing some actual rock, but with record rains this season that wasn’t an option. Still, I was able to stick a previously-failed 5.8+ route, so my muscles are slooowly but surely starting to come back and I’m hoping to regularly climb a respectable 5.9 by summer. I can’t decide what’s harder about returning to a sport you love after years of absence: the actual physical rehabilitation or the mental teasing that comes with what you know how to do but physically can’t anymore.

Finally, to round out a perfect day with a perfect evening, the rest of the family joined us for dinner at Asiana House for some excellent food. We took turns swapping maki rolls for bites of tempura, a slurp of udon, or a spoonful of bibimbap (our favorite dish name of all time). My grandmother’s taste for Asian food has grown over the years since my return from Japan – and multiple birthdays at such restaurants – and she can now add green soba to her list of enjoyable meals. My aunt learned the best way to eat edemame and, while I still have to convince her to use chopsticks, she was the only one to order sashimi so I forgave for her for the fork, haha.

I suppose my real single regret of yesterday was leaving my camera at home. I would have loved to share the photos of both family and food with you, but it says something when an amateur photographer is having so much fun she forgets the camera. It was a great birthday.

Tuna, Artichoke, and Basil Stuffed Potatoes

(from Eating Well‘s April ’11 Edition)

Ingredients:

4   medium russet potatoes, scrubbed

2   5 – 6 oz. cans of chunk light tuna, drained*

¾   C   nonfat plain Greek yogurt

½   C   plus 2 T chopped fresh basil, divided

1   6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (~ ½ C)

2   scallions, chopped

1   T   capers, rinsed (optional)

¼   t   salt

½   t   freshly ground pepper

¾   C   shredded provolone cheese

1   plum tomato, finely chopped

* Note: Please see the Seafood Watch program by Monterey Bay Aquarium for how to buy sustainable tuna. Along with sustainability, you can look here to find cans that are BPA-free. I took Eating Well‘s suggestion and used the brand Wild Planet. Finally, if you may become pregnant, are pregnant, or are feeding young children you should limit your consumption of tuna to 12-oz. a week for light tuna or no more than 6-oz. for albacore tuna due to the risk of mercury contamination. Yellowfin tuna is considered a “light” tuna but has higher mercury levels similar to albacore so please take note. More seafood safety information here.

Procedure:

  1. Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave on Medium, turning once or twice, until soft – about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tuna, yogurt, ½ Cup basil, artichoke, scallions, capers (if using), salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
  2. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully cut off the top third lengthwise. Scoop out the insides and add to the bowl with the tuna mix. Place the potato shells in a microwave-safe dish. Mash the potato and tuna mixture together with a fork or a potato masher until well blended.
  3. Evenly divide the tuna filling among the potato shells – they will be very well stuffed. Top with cheese and microwave on High for a few minutes until filling is hot and the cheese has melted. To serve, top each potato with some tomato and a little of the remaining 2 Tablespoons basil. They will keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days, just reheat thoroughly before serving.

Beezer’s Notes:

I don’t eat seafood as often as I’d like, but for some reason I find myself posting two seafood recipes in row. My body is probably trying to tell me something… Anyway, these stuffed potatoes are really great. They’re incredibly easy to put together, quick to cook, and very filling! They should please children and adults alike with their mild but flavorful stuffing and adaptability (scratch the capers for bacon, add some chili powder, or do a 3-cheese blend with some diced pickles instead of herbs for tuna-melt twist). Their only weakness is also their strength: they are huge. With a salad as a side, I could only eat half a potato at once. I want to work on a mini-boat version of this recipe using fingerling potatoes for an appetizer spin.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥


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