Cornbread Muffins

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I am a terrible baker. There, I said it.

I see recipes for bread and cakes and cookies that I’d love to try all the time, but I generally steer clear because more often than not, my “bread” comes out resembling cardboard and my “cookies” end up as hard as a tack. Take cornbread, for example. It took me four Thanksgivings and four cornbread recipes until I finally got it right. But now that I’ve found a recipe that works, I’m never letting go of this one. For the past two years, this has been my staple cornbread recipe. These mini-muffins are moist, crumbly and slightly sweet. Most importantly, they come out of the oven consistently every time I make them.

Cornbread Muffins

Ingredients:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter mini muffin tray. Whisk cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl to combine. Stir in milk, egg and butter.

2. Working in batches and cooling tray before each batch, spoon two tablespoons batter into each muffin cup. Bake until pale golden brown on bottom, about 12 minutes. Turn muffins out onto rack and cool completely.

Spaghettini with Fried Eggplant and Capers

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If I had to choose, eggplant may very well be my favorite vegetable. When undercooked, it tastes terrible, but when cooked properly it becomes sublime, buttery perfection. I’m no stranger to eggplant and pasta dishes, so when Food and Wine ran a Sardinian-inspired version, I had to try it. I adapted the original version to my own tastes, using less oil, substuting the Pecorino for Parmesan, using brined capers in place of salted ones, and omitting the homemade croutons altogether.

This version might just replace my standard southern Italian-style pasta and eggplant recipe, which includes tomatoes and ricotta salata. That’s the thing with eggplant dishes – you can never have enough.

Spaghetti with eggplant and capers

Ingredients:
1/4 cup brined capers
1 lb spaghettini
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt an let stand for 15 minutes. Lightly pat with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. In a bowl, rinse the capers and squeeze dry. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghettini until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until the garlic is softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil until shimmering. Add the capers and fry over high heat, shaking the pan slightly, until the capers are golden and puffed, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a paper towel–lined plate.

4. Add the pasta to the eggplant. Add the Parmesan and the reserved cooking water and simmer, tossing, just until the water is nearly absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with the fried capers.

Pappardelle with Mascarpone-Porcini Sauce

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I’ve been cooking with dried porcini mushrooms a lot lately. I used them liberally in two Thanksgiving dishes: baked pasta shells with cheese, porcini, pancetta and radicchio; and porcini-potato gratin.

But we’ll get to those later. One of my favorite uses of this super-flavorful mushroom is in a pasta sauce, made even richer with the addition of creamy mascarpone cheese. Stirring in a classic tomato sauce at the end helps balance things out with a bit of acidity, making for a wholly satsifying dish.

Pappardelle with mascarpone-porcini sauce

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cans whole plum tomoates (preferably San Marzano)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 handful basil, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 package pappardelle pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In medium pot, gently saute the garlic with one tablespoon olive oil, and then add the chilli, oregano and tomatoes. Mix gently, taking care to not break up the tomatoes (this makes the sauce slightly bitter).

2. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour. Add the vinegar, then stir and break up the tomatoes in the sauce with the back of a stirring spoon. Add basil, season well to taste, and add one tablespoon olive oil. Cover and set aside.

3. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and add 1 cup boiling water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and garlic in a medium pan and saute over low heat for 5 minutes. 

4. Pick out the soaked porcini, reserving the porcini broth, and add porcini to the pan. Saute for 5 minutes. Pour in half a cup of the reserved porcini broth and discard the remainder. Simmer the mushroom mixture until the liquid is absorbed and then add the tomato sauce. Add the mascarpone and season to taste.

5. Meanwhile, cook the papardelle in salted wated until al dente and drain. Add pasta to sauce and toss. Serve warm.

Black Sticky Rice Pudding

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After a whirlwind of a week, I can finally sit down again and post. Summer is over, but I made this black sticky rice pudding during warmer weather when all I was craving was something slightly sweet.

Black sticky rice pudding

Ingredients:

2 cups black sticky rice
3 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup brown sugar sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 mango, sliced or chopped

1. Rinse rice a couple of times to remove any impurities until the water clears. Place the rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Let boil and stir frequently for 5 minutes, then cover, lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to low and let cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until dissolved. Add the coconut milk to the rice and stir well, then remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature and top with mango slices.

Cheesy Zucchini and Red Onion Flatbread

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this recipe was almost a disaster, as i accidentally placed all the toppings before transferring it to the baking sheet, and in the process of trying to move it made a huge mess. in the end, i resurrected it and it came out wonderfully.

Ingredients:

nonstick spray
1 lb pizza dough
3/4 cup garlic and herb cheese spread
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 T chopped parsley
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 thinly sliced zucchinis
olive oil
red pepper flakes

1. preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray baking sheet with nonstick spray.
2. roll out dough to 1/2 inch thick. spread half of herb cheese over 1 long half of dough, leaving 1/2 inch border. sprinkle with half of parmesan and 2 tablespoons parsley.
3. fold plain half of dough over filled half. spread remaining herb cheese over top; sprinkle with remaining parmesan.
4. arrange 1 row of zucchini down 1 long side of the dough. arrange onion slices in row alongside zucchini. repeat with zucchini and onion until surface of dough is covered. brush vegetables with oil; sprinkle with salt and red pepper.
5. bake bread until puffed and deep brown at edges, about 24 minutes. sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.

in other news, i finished reading christopher de bellaigue’s in the rose garden of the martyrs: a memoir of iran. considering that most iranian memoirs are written by iranians, it was a fresh look into a european’s take on modern iran, and namely how the revolution and iran-iraq war has shaped it. and with all the headlines about iran lately, i highly recommend rageh omaar’s bbc documentary inside iran. it’s easily one of the best documentaries i’ve seen on the subject.