Friday, November 23, 2012

Vanilla Bean Scones

My sister-in-law, Lisa, has to be Starbucks’ number one fan. Any time we go out to dinner with her and her husband, Don, we have to end the evening at our local shop enjoying lattes and tea. We call it “going for Earl Grey” since that is my husband’s favorite beverage. My drink choice varies from mocha lattes to the flavor of the month, with the occasional black tea thrown into the mix. Lisa always orders a tall mocha latte, non-fat, no whip, fireball (190 degrees.) In fact, the baristas know her so well they start making her drink when they see her walk in the door!

(This is a photo of Lisa and Don taken last Christmas. Aren't they cute together!)

Lisa also loves the petite vanilla bean scones. They are her dessert of choice. So last spring when I saw an episode of The Pioneer Woman when Ree Drummond made her own version of these tiny scones, I knew I had to make some for Lisa for her birthday, which was this week.

These little scones taste amazing! I only had one problem with the recipe…the vanilla beans. Yes, the beans are a wonderful way to impart vanilla flavor into the scones, and they look nice with all of the little black dots of vanilla. However, the recipe calls for three beans—two for the scones and one for the glaze. At my store they sell the beans two in a jar. So I would have to buy two jars to get the necessary beans. That’s $20, which seems like a lot for just one ingredient.

Still I wanted those little black dots. So I used two beans (one for the scones and one for the glaze) to get the look I wanted, and then I added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla to the scone recipe to make up for the missing bean’s flavor.

Lisa loved them! And Don said they were better than the coffee shop kind.

I agree.

Vanilla Bean Scones
Adapted from a recipe by Ree Drummond on The Pioneer Woman Cooks website
Makes 24 scones

For the scones:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg

For the glaze:
1/2 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
1 vanilla bean
5 cups powdered sugar
Dash of salt

Measure out the cream. Split the vanilla bean pod lengthwise and scrap out all of the seeds inside. Add the seeds and the bean pod to the cream. Add the vanilla extract to the cream. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into tiny cubes and add to the flour. With a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it becomes tiny sand-like crumbles.

Remove the vanilla bean pod from the cream. Pour the cream into the flour mixture and stir gently with a fork until just moistened and it starts to come together. The mixture will be crumbly, but if you squeeze it together it should hold its shape. Add more cream if necessary.

Pour the scone mixture onto a floured surface and shape into a rectangle. Use a rolling pin to spread out the rectangle until the dough is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Using a knife or a pizza cutter, trim the edged to even-out the sides of the dough rectangle. Cut the dough into 12 squares or rectangles (3 cuts across and 2 cuts lengthwise), and then cut each square in half on the diagonal to make triangles.

Place the scone triangles onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the scones just begin to turn golden in color. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the scones to cool on the sheets for 15 minutes. Remove the scones from the baking sheets onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely.

For the glaze, measure the milk into a measuring up. Slice the vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise and scrap out the seeds. Put the seeds and pod into the milk and set aside.

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the salt. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the milk and pour into the sugar, whisking until smooth. Add more milk if necessary to get the desired consistency.  
Dip the cooled scones into the glaze until completely coated. Set the scones on a cooling rack with parchment paper or foil underneath to catch the drips. Allow the scones to sit until the glaze has completely dried. Store in an air tight container.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Harvest Bisque and Finding Romance

It is a cold and rainy day here in Topeka—perfect for this delicious Harvest Bisque!

However, before I share this recipe, I want to tell you a little story. November 11 is a special day for The Picky Eater (my husband, Michael) and me. Not only do we honor those veterans who have done so much for our country, but this is also the day when we met two years ago.

Michael and I connected on I had only been living in Kansas for a few months after almost 20 years in New England. I signed up for the dating website to meet new people, discover more about my new state and city, and to have some fun. I wasn’t really looking for romance—honestly! But if something happened, well…

After exchanging emails and phone calls, we set up a date for Thursday, November 11. We met for the first time in the parking lot of a local grocery store. Seven months later, Michael proposed to me in the same parking lot.

Our first date was at Prairie Band Casino. I was excited to go there, not to gamble, but because I heard the food was great! :) We decided to go to the Longhouse Buffet. Since it was Veterans Day, they were offering free meals to all veterans, so the line was very long. As we approached the front of the line, a single middle-aged veteran asked, “Since it’s so busy, would you like to share a table with me?”

I thought Michael would say no since it was a first date. But instead, he accepted! So our first dinner together was shared by Floyd the Veteran, a very nice man who spent the entire meal telling us all about his wife and stepson, who was a handful.

At one point during dinner, as Floyd was talking about all of his stepson’s legal issues, I put my hand on Michael’s arm. It was like magic! We looked into each other’s eyes for just a moment, and a warmth and electricity filled my heart.


Now we celebrate this day each year. Even though we will celebrate our wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve, this day is our own special day when we remember meeting and falling in love.

So, what does this story have to do with Harvest Bisque? Nothing really, except for the fact that because of that first date I now am able to cook a wonderful, flavorful autumn soup on a cold November day in the warmth of our small apartment home in downtown Topeka.

I have never been more happy or more in love.

Now, for the bisque: I got this recipe from the chef of a New Hampshire restaurant that closed when he moved on to teach new chefs at a local college. I love the combination of corn and squash flavors in the soup. You can use any type of squash you wish (acorn, Hubbard, or butternut), but I use pumpkin puree since it is easy to find this time of year. Just be sure to not buy the pumpkin pie mix instead!

Harvest Bisque
Serves 8 to 10

6 slices of bacon (or substitute 4 tablespoons butter)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 quart (32 ounces) low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
2 cans (14 3/4 ounces each) creamed corn
1 12-ounce package frozen corn kernels
15 ounces winter squash puree (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, Hubbard, etc)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 cups half and half (or heavy cream, for more richness)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and it is crispy and browned. Remove the bacon and save as a garnish, if desired. If substituting butter, simply melt it until it begins to bubble.

To the bacon fat, add the onion and fry until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except for the half and half. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked. Add the half and half and adjust the seasonings. Serve as is, or puree with a hand blender for a smoother consistency. Top with bits, if desired.

This soup freezes well. Just be sure to not add the half and half or cream before you freeze it, but wait to add it when you are ready to serve.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Macadamia Nut and Lime Banana Bread

Sometimes I wonder why we keep buying bananas. More often than not, they sit around until becoming a long, black object that looks more like a science experiment than a fruit. The Picky Eater likes dark bananas, but sometimes they even become too dark for his tastes. And I know that dark bananas are best to use for baking, but they sure look disgusting.

When our latest banana bunch turned black, I said, “Well, I guess it’s time to make banana bread.”

The Picky Eater, who loves banana bread, asked, “You’re not going to do anything weird to it, are you?”

He knows me well.

So I made a simple banana bread just for him.

But I couldn’t stop there. I am a food blogger, after all. I wanted to create bread with a little more pizzazz. It just so happened that sitting next to the dark bananas were two neglected limes. Then I remembered the macadamia nuts I had in the freezer.

Ah ha! Macadamia Nut Lime Banana Bread was born!

I started with Mamaw’s basic banana bread recipe. I changed it up a bit by using half butter and half canola oil for a more tender crumb, and adding vanilla for more depth of flavor. Then, for the macadamia nut-lime version, I added a tablespoon of grated lime zest to the mix, plus the macadamia nuts. Then I poured a lime glaze on top while the bread was still warm.


Macadamia Nut and Lime Banana Bread

Makes one loaf

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1 tablespoon lime zest

For glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Juice on 1 lime
Lime zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the sugar, butter and oil. Add the eggs and vanilla. Mash the bananas until fluffy and mix into the batter. Stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Mix in the nuts and lime zest until just blended.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the loaf pan and set on a rack to cool.

For the glaze, mix the ingredients together until smooth. If the mixture is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If too stiff, add more lime juice or water.

While the bread is still warm, brush on half of the glaze with a pastry brush. Allow the bread to cool for 30 minutes, and then brush (or pour) on the rest of the glaze.