Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gooey Goodness!

Whew...I nearly forgot that it was Tuesday. It has been one of those days. Luckily I started my daily review of the food blogs and the first blog I saw had their post up, so it suddenly clicked!

This week's challenge was Dorie's Gooey Chocolate Cakes. I've been pretty excited about this because A: I love chocolate and B: I was hosting Emma Day with my niece and knew that she would be a great helper. (She also helped me with the Daring Baker post below if you need more cuteness in your day.) We had a great time making these cakes. They really were perfect to make with a five year old because they do come together so quickly. There was very little patience required, the hardest part for her was waiting on the butter and chocolate to melt, but she was mesmerized by the process. She kept giving me a running commentary on how many bits of butter were left unmelted! But in no time we were at the table enjoying our cake and ice cream. Here's a picture of Emma enjoying her cake:
The cake itself is really yummy. I don't think mine was quite as gooey as it was supposed to be, but they still tasted really good. These are definitely something I will make again when I need a quick and tasty dessert!
Anyway, here's the recipe:
Gooey Chocolate Cake

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate,
4 ounces coarsely chopped,
1 ounce very finely chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
6 tablespoons of sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. butter (or spray – it’s easier) 6 cups of a regular-size muffin pan, preferably a disposable aluminum foil pan, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Put the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, put the coarsely chopped chocolate and the butter in the bowl and stir occasionally over the simmering water just until they are melted – you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until homogenous. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and, still using the whisk, stir (don’t beat) them into the eggs. Little by little, and using a light hand, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and sprinkle the finely chopped chocolate over the batter.

Bake the cakes for 13 minutes. Transfer them, still on the baking sheet, to a rack to cool for 3 minutes. (There is no way to test that these cakes are properly baked, because the inside remains liquid.)

Line a cutting board with a silicone baking mat or parchment or wax paper, and, after the 3-minute rest, unmold the cakes onto the board. Use a wide metal spatula to lift the cakes onto dessert plates.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

March Daring Baker Challenge

The Perfect Party Cake
(with Pierre Herme's luscious lemon cream)

This month's Daring Baker Challenge was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. As all of you know, I'm a huge Dorie fan so I was definitely up for yet another Dorie baking challenge. One of the great things about this challenge was that this month's host decided to let us change things up a bit as far as fillings were concerned.

Once I read that I immediately knew where I was headed in Dorie's cookbook, straight to Pierre Herme's lemon cream recipe. Dorie raves about this recipe, and after making it I know why. It is absolutely the tastiest, most wonderful thing I've ever eaten. Upon tasting my eyes immediately rolled back in my head in pure delight! I have to say that at first I was concerned with this being a cantankerous (we love that word in my family) recipe, but surprisingly it is fairly easy-going. I actually hideously overcooked it (thanks to my crappy thermometer), but it still tasted amazing, once I strained out a small amount of scrambled eggs along with the lemon zest.

As far as using the cream as a filling, it worked out really well in the end. Although I'm afraid that the lemon cream stole the show some from the cake and frosting. The cake itself is beautiful. The crumb of the cake is fabulous, it's almost a cross between pound cake and angel food cake with a hint of lemon flavoring. I must say that the layers are durable too; I nearly dropped one on the floor but caught it at the last minute and it held up just fine. The frosting is nice as well, but it's actually a little too light for me but probably is perfect for this cake. I'm a fan of a thick powdered sugar frosting, but this is very tasty too!

All of the flavors work really together. I can't wait to take this to work tomorrow and get some other opinions on the cake. I have a feeling that it will be a big hit because it is such a light tasting cake. Don't let it fool you though there's actually nothing light about this cake, between the cake, frosting, and lemon cream there are 6 sticks of butter in this recipe, but you would never know it by taking a bite.

I also have to say that I had some help with my baking today, my niece Emma came over for an "Emma Day" and was a big help in the kitchen. Here she is juicing some lemons and enjoying the lemon cream:

Alright, here are the recipes! I definitely recommend the cake and the lemon cream! I really think that everyone should make the lemon cream right now, I mean stop everything, make it, and eat it with a spoon! It's that good!

Pierre Herme's French Lemon Cream
(This is from Dorie's Baking from My Home to Yours, the recipe is for a tart but can be served many ways)

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks, plus 5 tablespoons butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temp.

Tools: Instant read thermometer, strainer, and a blender or food processor

Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk--you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling--you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point--the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience--depending on how much heat you're giving the crea, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cooks to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going--to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machinea little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake
Baking From my Home to Yours

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour (updated 25 March)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Couple of changes: I didn't use the coconut obviously, and I also just baked the cake into three layers, which required me to cut down the baking time. I didn't much like the idea of sawing my layers in half.

Please excuse my pitiful attempt at presentation, it's embarassing, really it is! Oh, and I thank my husband for the fabulous picture at the top of the post! He's amazing!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quick & Yummy Dinner

I'm finally getting around to posting a non-TWD post as well as a savory post! I almost forgot to take a picture of our dinner tonight, but luckily my dear hubby was sweet enough to run out to the car and grab my camera at the last minute! YAY!

Tonight's dinner was Sauteed Salmon with Spinach Fettucine. I make the salmon my standard way by coating it in olive oil then sprinkling a pretty good amount of sea salt (I use William Sonoma's fleur de sel) and pepper on both sides of the fish. Then I saute in a bit more olive oil until it is done to your liking.

The spinach fettucine recipe comes from Cooking Light, but I actually lighten the recipe even more than they have. One thing I did differently tonight that I think worked really well was using fresh baby spinach (rather than frozen spinach) and wilting it by draining the pasta over the spinach in a colander. I definitely like the flavor and texture of fresh spinach much more than frozen spinach.

I'll note the other changes I made in italics in the recipe. Definitely a yummy supper and is actually really quick to make. Tonight we were eating in less than an hour after I got home. That's super-fast for us! Anyway here's the recipe, I hope you give it a try!

Spinach Fettucine
Adapted from Cooking Light
1 lb. uncooked fettucine (I use whole wheat angel hair, hubby doesn't like fettucine)
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup reduced fat cream cheese
3/4 cup fat-free less-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
3/4 cup half-and-half (I use skim milk, I'm sure H&H is creamier, but just not necessary to me)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 10 oz. pkg frozen spinach, thawed (I used fresh spinach wilted by draining the pasta on top in a colander)
10 center-cut bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (I leave this out because I normally serve it with salmon, which is so much healthier than bacon, this actually seems a little weird to me in this recipe)

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting the salt and fat. Drain pasta (I drain on top of the fresh baby spinach), reserving 1/2 cup pasta water (I replaced this with more chicken broth for flavor).

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, saute 30 seconds. Add reserved pasta water (Again, I used chicken broth) and cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

Combine broth and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture to pan, stirring with a whisk to combine, bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add parmesan cheese, stirring until smooth. Add half-and-half (I used skim milk), salt and pepper. Stir in spinach (Unless you wilted the spinach with the pasta). Combine cheese mixture and pasta in a large bowl, tossing to coat. Sprinkle each serving with bacon (If using).

Quick final thought: One issue I had the first time I made this was on timing everything to get done at the same time. I found with this attempt that if I start making the cream sauce and sauteing the salmon right after I put the pasta in the boiling water the timing works out pretty well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I'm out this week!

Hello everybody! I decided to take a break from Tuesday's with Dorie this week. I just didn't have enough people around this week to eat the Flan. I'll be back next week with Gooey Chocolate cake though (YUM!) Definitely take a look at all of the other posts on Flan by visiting the blogroll at Tuesday's with Dorie.

I'll try to be back some this week with some other posts as well. We have some really good meals planned for the week so hopefully I'll get to post some "eats" rather than all "treats"!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blazin' Blaisins

TWD: Dorie's Brioche Raisin Snails

I really wish that I had more time to post things other than my TWD posts each week, but for some reason I just haven't had an enormous amount of time for cooking lately. I'm going to make a real effort to post about some other stuff here over the next week or so. Not that I don't love Tuesday's with Dorie, but I definitely need a little more variety.

Anyway, on to this week's challenge...This challenge was chosen by Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (the link is in my favorites list). She bravely chose Dorie's Brioche Raisin Snails. I must be honest and say, I saw this at first and groaned, you see I'm a raisin hater. They just do absolutely nothing for me in a dessert. This is odd but for some reason I liken biting into a raisin in a cake or cookie to biting into a large bug. Yes, I know I'm an odd person; my husband judges me frequently! Anyway, finally I saw that some people were subbing the raisins out for other dried fruits and fortunately I was able to find dried blueberries (hence the "blaisins" in the title), can I say YUM! I knew these would be perfect.

The next step was securing some help and hopefully a better location for making this complicated challenged. Luckily I know that my mom is always willing to help out when I need a hand and a bigger kitchen. She volunteered and we spent most of Sunday making the parts of this challenge. We made a fantastic brioche dough, an okay pastry cream (it tasted fabulous but was a little lumpy, I think I rushed it), and some really, really good flambeed dried blueberries. That was definitely the coolest step. We tried to take a picture but unfortunately the flames just wouldn't show up, but trust me it flamed up pretty good!

We decided to let all of the pieces chill overnight and got together on Monday to finish up the snails or Brioche Blueberry Twirls (I renamed them because I couldn't get past the "snail" idea...once again I'm a weirdo). I must say that these were actually really easy to put together. The dough rolled out with no problems, the pastry cream, raisins, cinnamon, and sugar were of course easy to apply, and the mixture actually rolled up with no problems whatsoever! I was a little worried about cutting each roll, but I just used short, fluid slices to cut through them without flattening the whole roll. After rising, they turned out perfectly!!

Finally, the taste...WOW, these are so incredibly tasty. Every aspect of these snails or twirls was fantastic. The brioche was nice and buttery, the blueberries were tangy and sweet, and the pastry cream was luscious! The icing was the perfect finishing touch. I really could not have been more pleased with how these turned out, but I must say the blueberries were the best touch. I really think that raisins would have done these "snails" a disservice. The blueberries are the way to go...trust me! These would definitely be worth trying again with blueberries if you tried something else the first time. Anyway, here's the final product and if you would like the recipe visit Peabody's blog.

I also have to give credit where it is due; my mom is a stickler for presentation in photos so she created my leafy presentation for my final picture. She actually clipped the leaves and berries from the plants in her yard. As soon as she e-mails me a picture of her beautiful yard I will be sure to post it here. She does a fabulous job with her flowers and plants; it's always beautiful! So thanks Mama!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuesday's With Dorie

This week's Tuesday's with Dorie challenge was the Russian Grandmother's Apple Pie Cake. One of the best things about this cookbook is that Dorie not only provides you with great recipes, she also takes a number of chances to tell you some great stories about where her recipes came from. This recipe is one of those that has an interesting story. There are actually very few cookbooks that I've taken the time to read anything but the recipes, but I must say that this cookbook is worth the extra time. If you have this book but haven't taken the time to read her stories, definitely give them a chance. I think that is part of what makes her cookbook so great, you really get a better idea of where she is coming from.

Anyway...on to today's recipe. The recipe is obviously for a apple pie cake, I think you would have to make it as is to really understand why it's called a "pie cake," but I tried a little something different with this one. Another great thing about Dorie's cookbook is her "playing around" section on most recipes; that section gives different ways to make each of her recipes. I love that because not only do you get all of the base recipes, you also get ways to make each one different. On this challenge I chose to do one of the "playing around" options, which was Apple Turnovers.

Initially I was really excited about this week's challenge. I've been loving apples since the Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake so I thought this was another great chance to get yummy apple flavoring in my dessert. My only problem was that I seem to be in some sort of a cooking slump. I keep saying that I've lost my mojo. The previous night I had a disasterous run in with fried chicken (too bad to even be posted), so I was a little apprehensive and I think my nerves got the best of me.

The raw dough for the turnovers tasted amazing (I'm a sucker for raw dough), and the filling tasted really good as well. Something happened in the cooking process though. The poor little turnovers just dried out. They still looked pretty (if you look past the vents; I kept calling them self-venting), but they were just too dry for me. Everyone was nice and said they tasted good, but I think they could use some work. It may have been the Fuji apples, maybe they are a bit drier than other varieties. So if you have any suggestions please let me know. I would love to make these again and get a little gooier of an apple turnover. Anyway, here's the recipe and the instructions for the turnovers.

Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake

For The Dough
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
3 1/4 - 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix (I like to use Fuji, Golden Delicious and Ida Reds; my grandmother probably used dry baking apples like Cordland and Rome)
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting

To Make The Dough: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice - the dough will probably curdle, but don't worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3 1/4 cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra 1/4 cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples: Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice - even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that's fine - and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9x12-inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking shee tlined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it's a little more malleable, you've got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan - because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven's heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about 1/4 inch thick - you don't want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that's fine; if it doesn't that's fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenely across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you've got a 1/4 to 1/2 inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don't have that much overhang, just press what you've got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65 to 80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You'll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

To make the turnovers:

Cut the apples into small pieces. Roll the dough out to around 1/4'' thickness, cut into 4.5-5 in. circles. Spoon around 2 tablespoons of apple mixture into each circle. Lightly dab a little water around the edges of the circle and seal with a fork. Cut a slit in the top of each turnover and bake for 25-30 min. on a lined baking sheet.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

TWD: Snickery Squares

Well if you read my previous post you know that I had some issues with this recipe. It was definitely not the recipe's fault; I blame myself completely. Unfortunately, my issues didn't quite end with the initial dulce de leche fiasco.

I will say that the flavor of these squares are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! They seriously might be one of the tastiest desserts I've ever eaten, and trust me I've eaten an embarassing amount of desserts in my 26 years! However, my creation is one of the ugliest things I've ever seen. I know the problem lies in the dulce de leche.

You see after my attempt at making the DDL failed, I relied on being able to find it in a store in Florence, SC (which is a good bit bigger than my hometown). Unfortunately the closest thing I could find was a caramel spread. I thought it may work because the first ingredient listed was sweetened condensed milk, so I though it may be close to DDL. I guess the difference was that this spread just refused to actually set up. So after cutting into squares the caramel/DDL substitute just ran everywhere (this was after being in the freezer for at least an hour). The two squares in the above picture just happened to not run as much as the others. So they definitely don't look as tasty as they actually are. Luckily I stopped cutting at about half the pan so I have some non-spread out squares to bring to work tomorrow.

For full disclosure (haha) here is a picture of the bars that I attempted to remove from the pan:

So anyway, I'm very happy that I completed the challenge. I'm quite pleased with the taste so I can guarantee that I will be trying this again by making my own dulce de leche using one of the recipes that the some of the other TWD bakers used!

Here's the recipe (I nearly forgot it):

Snickery Squares

For the Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 TBSP powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
3 TBSP water
1 ½ cups salted peanuts
About 1 ½ cups store-bought dulce de leche

For the Topping:
7 ounces bittersweet, coarsely chopped
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 8 inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet.

To Make the Crust:
Toss the flour, sugar, powdered sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the yolk over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds-stop before the dough comes together in a ball.Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Have a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet at the ready, as well as a long-handled wooden spoon and a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.Put the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keeping the heat fairly high, continue to cook the sugar, without stirring, until it just starts to color. Toss the peanuts and immediately start stirring. Keep stirring, to coat the peanuts with sugar. Within a few minutes, they will be covered with sugar and turn white—keep stirring until the sugar turns back into caramel. When the peanuts are coated with a nice deep amber caramel, remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto the baking sheet., using the wooden spoon to spread them out as best you can. Cool the nuts to room temperature.When they are cool enough to handle, separate the nuts or break them into small pieces. Divide the nuts in half. Keep half of the nuts whole or in biggish pieces for the filling, and finely chop the other half for the topping. Spread the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and sprinkle over the whole candied nuts.

To Make the Topping:
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove chocolate from the heat and gently stir in the butter, stirring until it is fully blended into the chocolate.Pour the chocolate over the dulce de leche, smoothing it with a long metal icing spatula, then sprinkle over the rest of the peanuts. Slide the pan into the fridge to set the topping, about 20 minutes; if you’d like to serve the squares cold, keep them refrigerated for at least 3 hours before cutting.
Cut into 16 bars.

Monday, March 3, 2008

TWD: TBPS (Tuesday's With Dorie: To Be Posted Soon)

But first...a disaster of sorts (well, probably not really a disaster, just a mishap I guess)...

Why did I begin this challenge thinking that I was capable of tasks that Dorie obviously felt were too difficult to print in her cookbook. I mean her cookbook isn't your typical Betty Crocker type book to begin with. It does take some cooking knowledge and skill to turn out her recipes. I also think Dorie is awesome..I mean really awesome. Her recipes so far have been amazing. They turn out perfectly, and they are usually easy too cook.
But no...this time...I felt the need to challenge myself further. You see this week's challenge called for using dulce de leche, store bought dulce de leche for that matter. For some reason I immediately decided that I was better than dulce de leche; I was even better than the common method of making dulce de leche (boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk); I decided that I had to make the real deal dulce de leche. You see...I became a dulce de leche snob before I EVER TASTED IT!

My first excuse was that I couldn't find store bought dulce de leche in my tiny little town. Well that excuse went out the window when I went to Charleston on Sunday and HELD a jar of the stuff, but I put it back....the snobbery was growing. My next excuse was the fear of a can of sweetened condensed milk exploding, which was unfounded as well when I read that as long as the can stays covered in water there are really no worries. (There was also snobbery there too, I read somewhere that wasn't the real stuff). So truly I was out of excuses, but because I am a DDL snob it didn't really matter.

So I researched and found a recipe for DDL snobs! Basically you mix a heck of a lot of milk and sugar together with a little vanilla and sea salt and boil it for a few hours and it magically becomes DDL. So let's see, I start this beautiful mixture at around 6:30; I'm still reeling from my snobbery at this point and thinking how fabulous I am for challenging myself to the fullest. I'm even writing my post in my head about how great it was (and how awesome I am) to make my very own DDL sauce.

It is now 11:52 p.m. and this is what's left of my snobbery, my beautiful plans for my TWD post, and of course my dulce de leche...

What you see there is a pot soaking in my (probably a bit dirty) sink, with WHITE (note no caramelization) chunks of dried milk in it. So it goes without saying that Dorie should have no worries that the great Lori of Carolina Eats & Treats will soon take over her reign as queen of the baking world...at least the TWD baking world.

Oh well...tomorrow we go to a bit larger city than where I am now and I plan on actually purchasing a jar of DDL if I can actually hold another one in my hands! So stay tuned everybody because the crust is made, the peanuts are candied, and I will find the sauce to complete this challenge!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

French Toast w/ Homemade French Bread

I mentioned in the post below that some serious motivation was required to make me complete the last Daring Baker challenge. I must admit that my sister was a big part of the motivation, but I also was motivated by the thought of a thick slice of homemade french toast. I experimented with an Allrecipes French Toast recipe on Christmas morning this year with some thick slices of Challah bread and it was great, but I envisioned that fresh French bread would make it amazing.

Usually my hubby is lucky if he gets breakfast at all on weekday mornings, so I think he was feeling especially fortunate when I told him that I was making a nice, hot breakfast on a weekday. So I got up early, ran my pitiful one mile, then came home and got the French toast going. It actually ended up being a really quick to cook so that part wasn't too bad.

The results were absolutely fabulous! I just dipped my hubby's toast in the egg mixture to make sure his wasn't soggy in the middle, but I soaked mine a little longer to get the flavor throughout. I think we were both quite pleased with the end result. I have to say though that the fresh French bread definitely made a difference. The slices were so thick and the bread soaked up the mixture like a sponge. YUM! If you are a French toast fan then you definitely need to try making it with French bread!

Here's the recipe:
From Allrecipes (2 servings)

4 thick slices bread
2 eggs
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
salt to taste

I usually add a little powdered sugar to the mixture so you get a little caramelization on the outside of the bread

Beat together egg, milk, salt, desired spices and vanilla.
Heat a lightly oiled griddle of skillet over medium-high flame.
Dunk each slice of bread in egg mixture, soaking both sides. Place in pan, and cook on both sides until golden. Serve hot. I spread some butter on each slice and of course smothered it in maple syrup!

Friday, February 29, 2008

February Daring Baker Challenge-French Bread

I nearly backed out of this challenge...I mean I came so close to backing out. Yes, I realize that is not very daring of me, but when I compared the size of my kitchen to the length of this recipe I was just not sure I could do it without losing my mind. Luckily my sister, of Whiskful, was kind enough to offer to do the challenge together. So keep in mind any pieces of kitchen you see in these pictures are of her beautiful kitchen, not my pitiful one! In the end I was quite happy that I chose not to be a poor sport and a wimp. It was actually a lot of fun and really not that difficult, although it was quite time consuming. I definitely feel more like a daring baker now than I did before we took this on!

Anyway, on to the process. I'm not going to post the recipe here, but if you want to view it you can visit Breadchick's blog (who was also one of the hosts for this month's challenge). We of course had to do much kneading and rising, which should be expected when baking any kind of bread. I think I was a little shocked by just how long it was supposed to take for this bread to rise. I mean who has time to do all this except all of us crazy, daring bakers!

We had every intention of serving this bread with a full meal for our whole family, but we slightly underestimated the time it would take to finish the bread, so unfortunately our poor families had to smell the bread (which was a fabulous scent...I must say) but not get to eat any of it with dinner. After a near disaster (I smushed my sister's loaf while trying to move mine into the oven...thank goodness the loaf sprung back from disaster...whew!), we finally finished baking the bread around 8:30.

I think it turned out quite nicely. My hubby and I were able to hold out tasting until around 10:00, when we finally gave in and it was a fabulous tasting bread. I cannot believe that yeast, flour, water, and a little salt could make something that tasted so good.

We ended up making a batch of French Toast the next morning, which I'll post about separately a little later on. Anyway, this was a fantastic bread and it ended up being a great baking experience. Now I feel bad that I had any doubts whatsoever about baking this bread, it was definitely worth it!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie

I've definitely been lacking in my blogging duties lately, but I've got a backlog of things to post now so keep an eye on the blog to see all of the latest "goings on" in my kitchen!

My first post after the absence is another one from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home To Yours, once again it's a phenomenal cookbook. The recipe for this week was Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits. I must say that I was pretty excited about this week's choice because I happen to think that I am a connoisseur of fine biscuits.

In the end, I was quite pleased with the taste of biscuits, but mine just did not rise well at all. They ended up fairly flat, they were still tender on the inside, but they didn't have the look that I was going for. I feel fairly certain that I made a mistake somewhere in the process. My best guess is that I overworked the dough. The next time I make biscuits I think I will go with the method of grating frozen butter into the flour mixture to avoid overworking the dough. So I would definitely recommend the recipe, but anybody should watch how much they work the dough.

Here's the recipe...enjoy!

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
(Makes about 12 biscuits)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

1/2 cup cold sour cream

1/4 cold whole milk

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between-- and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading-- 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even-- a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy. Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.) (I actually froze most of my biscuits and have already cooked some of them and they turned out wonderful; I would definitely recommend freezing some of them!!)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie

I can't begin to explain how excited I am about this new group of food blogging challenges. This group cooks a different recipe each week from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours cookbook. I was so happy when I stumbled upon this group on the blog Culinary Concoctions by Peabody; I had just received this cookbook and immediately fell in love with it. So I was thrilled to have a reason to make a recipe from it each week.

The first challenge for me was Dorie's Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake. Just looking at this recipe made my mouth water so I was super excited about cooking it. I've only made one cheesecake before this one, so I was a little nervous about how it would turn out, but I think mine came out pretty well.

First the recipe:

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

For the Crust

30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs) (I used graham cracker crumbs)

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples

1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter

3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths

2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling

1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

6 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp apple cider (I used apple juice)

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tsp ground cinnamon

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sour cream

1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:

Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.Getting Ready to Bake: Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.
Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.

The first thing that comes to mind about the end result of this recipe is YUM! I could not have been more pleased with the appearance of the cake (no cracks!!), and the taste was out of this world. I will have to say that the color didn't photograph particularly well, but take my word for it, this cake is fabulous!
I served it to most of my family on Sunday night, and it was very well received. My niece was especially excited about the cake. I really think she would've eaten the whole thing if we would've let her. She also is now insisting on me making the cake again and having a special "Emma Day" to eat it!
Stay tuned for next week's challenge; I may actually be more excited about the next challenge than I was about this one!
If you want more info about the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, visit the blog at http://tuesdayswithdorie.wordpress.com/. There are also links on that page to all of the other members so you can check out their versions of the Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Yes...I know this recipe has been done to death on food blogs recently, but it really is yummy, so I thought I would post it anyway. I made this for Super Bowl Sunday, and I think it went over pretty nicely. My biggest concern was being able to take a nice picture of a somewhat unattractive dish. Luckily my husband stepped in and helped me come up with a great picture!

Buffalo Chicken Dip (recipe from Allrecipes.com)
2 (10 oz) cans chunk chicken, drained (I used one rotisserie chicken)
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup Ranch dressing
3/4 cup Frank's Red Hot
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 bunch celery, cleaned and cut into 4 inch pieces
1 (8 oz) box chicken flavored crackers

Shred rotisserie chicken (I used mostly white meat, but added in a little dark meat for flavor). Heat chicken with hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, until heated through.
Transfer meat and sauce to small crockpot. Mix in cream cheese, ranch dressing, and cheddar cheese. Heat on low.

Serve warm with celery and crackers.

A quick synopsis of the results: I'm really glad that I decided to use rotisserie chicken. I can't imagine that the canned chicken would have added much in the flavor department. The rotisserie chicken worked great because of the added flavor plus the meat was tender and mixed in well with the sauce. The smaller pieces of meat allowed you to get more chicken and sauce in each bite, which is always important with dips. I also liked using the crockpot rather than baking the dip (as some recipes suggest); using the crockpot allowed the dip stay warm throughout the party.

Anyway if you haven't had a chance to try this dip yet, I definitely encourage you to give it a shot with this recipe. It is well worth it!

Monday, January 28, 2008

My First Daring Baker Challenge!!

I was very excited to join the Daring Bakers this month. For anyone who doesn't know about the group, it is a group of bloggers (and some non-bloggers) that take on a different baking challenge each month. Everyone uses the same recipe and posts about their results on the same day. Anyway, today is my first post on the results of the January Daring Baker Challenge!
The challenge this month was Lemon Meringue Pie. I was initially somewhat nervous about this challenge because first of all I've never made a pie crust before and my mom has a somewhat legendary LMP recipe. My mom's pie has always been one of my favorites so I wasn't sure if this recipe would be up to par with my all-time favorite pie.

On to the results and recipe for anyone who wants to give it a try:

First the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

My results:

As a whole the pie tasted very good; it was very "lemony" though. I did realize that it is quite different from my mom's LMP recipe. Her pie is much sweeter than this version. I actually ended up liking this recipe nearly as much as the original, but I really don't think of them as the same kind of pie.

Making the crust was definitely an experience for me. I had observed crusts being made before, but I've never made one on my own. I was very pleased with the taste of the dough (yes...I'm a raw dough eater), but the final product was a bit frightening. I'm not sure where I messed up, but my crust went through a weird shrinking phase. I think the edges were too thick, and that I didn't extend the crust far enough above the edge of the pie plate, which caused it to shrink. It still tasted wonderful but it was quite ugly. Luckily the meringue helped to hide the flaws in my crust.

The filling was also a first for me. I had never done a true lemon curd before but it was surprisingly easy. I was a little nervous about burning the mixture but it all worked out fine. Many people complained about a runny curd, but mine set up quite nicely. The taste was really good if you are into a true lemon flavor. I'm used to a sweeter lemon filling, but I can definitely appreciate the lemon flavor of this curd.

I was very excited about making the meringue because I've assisted in making meringues many times as a child. This recipe was a little different, but luckily I already knew the basics of making meringues. The most important seems to be making sure you don't get any of the egg yolk into the egg whites. The egg yolks will prevent the meringue from whipping properly. Anyway, the meringue turned out pretty nice, but I could never make it form really stiff peaks. You can see that in the picture, the points kind of fell down rather than sticking up straight, but I still think it looked pretty. The flavor was different too; I've never added vanilla to a meringue before so that was odd to me. I actually like the flavor better without the vanilla, but I had to follow the recipe to a "T". My only problem was that there seemed to be a liquid seeping from the meringue after baking. It didn't affect the taste but it definitely affected the look of the pie. I wish I could say what caused that, but I really have no idea.

Overall it was a very good tasting pie and, I think, a great first attempt at making homemade pies. I liked the recipe and I would recommend it to others, but you may want to do some research on preventing meringues from weeping.

On to February....I can't wait for the next challenge!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

These are my husband's favorite cookies! The best part is that they are so simple to make. I can imagine that these will be my "go-to" cookies for quite awhile. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of these because they were gone pretty quickly. I will say that these are a bit hard to make pretty, but they are so tasty! Anyway, here's my mother-in-law's recipe.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp cocoa
3/4 stick butter (6 tbsp)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups oatmeal

Mix first three ingredients together until moistened in a sauce pot. Bring mixture to a low boil and allow it to thicken slightly. Remove from heat. Add next four ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Spoon mixture onto parchment paper to form cookies.

Eat with a big glass of milk! YUM!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Corn & Crab Bisque

I've been trying to work up the courage to make a crab dish for quite awhile now, so I finally decided on this bisque recipe from The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine cookbook.

I was fortunate enough to have some frozen crab meat in the freezer that was pulled from the crab trap by my own hands (OK...my dad's hands) as well as cleaned, boiled, and picked by my hands. There was a tremendous amount of work invested in this crab meat so I really wanted to do it justice.

Corn & Crab Bisque

3 cups whole kernel corn

1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat

1 cup butter

1 cup diced onions

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced red bell peppers

1/4 cup minced garlic

1 cup flour

2 1/2 quarts shellfish stock

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1/2 cup chopped parsley

salt and white pepper to taste

In a 2-gallon stockpot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add corn, onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic. Saute 5-10 minutes or until vegetables are wilted. Whisk in flour until white roux is achieved, but do not brown. Slowly add stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Bring to a low boil, reduce to simmer and cook 30 minutes. Add heavy whipping cream, green onions and parsley. Continue cooking 3 minutes. Gently fold in lump crabmeat, being careful not to break lumps. Season with salt and white pepper.

Note: I made a half recipe, because the original recipe is for 12 servings.

Overall I think this was a pretty great bisque. It didn't turn out quite as thick as I would have liked, but it still tasted really good. One mistake was that I paired it with the Lemon Parmesan Risotto. The risotto completely over-powered the bisque. It really didn't stand a chance when put up against the risotto. I guess that was a rookie mistake. If we would've been eating dinner properly, meaning soup then the main dish, it probably would've worked a little better. I also think I messed up a little in making the stock. For some reason I decided to use the cheapest dry white wine possible in the stock, and I really think that affected the overall taste. With all that considered, it's a great recipe and we all enjoyed it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chocolate Ganache Tarts

This little dessert was somewhat of a creation of my own. However, I did base it on a few recipes I had on hand. I used a crust recipe that had been used previously for a pie, and I used a ganache recipe from Donna Hay's New Food Fast. Then I added my own spin by whipping the ganache and piping it into the mini tart shells.

For the crust:

3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 in. pieces

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup ice water

Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out dough to a thickness of around 1/8 inch. Using a narrow drinking glass, cut the dough out into small circles (make sure to flour the rim of the glass). Press the circles into a mini-muffin pan (I did make sure the bottoms were well floured so the shells wouldn't stick). Refrigerate the shells for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake shells until edges are golden brown. Allow shells to cool completely.

For the ganache:

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

10 oz. dark chocolate (I used a dark milk chocolate)

Break chocolate into pieces in a medium, heat proof bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat until just before it begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour cream over the chocolate. Allow the mixture to sit for a minute or so, then whisk to combine the cream and chocolate.

Allow the ganache to cool completely and set. (I used the freezer to speed up the process)

Pour cooled ganache into a mixing bowl and whip the ganache at high speed with an electric mixer.

Pipe mixture into the cooled tart shells.

This actually turned out quite good as well. I do think I whipped the ganache one stage too far. I think the next time I make it I won't whip the ganache quite as much. It sort of came out as a rich chocolate whipped cream. I also chose to use the dark milk chocolate because one of my guests was not a fan of dark chocolate. So if you happen to love dark chocolate then definitely go with that, but the dark milk chocolate turned out really well. I am planning on making this again for an event, but I may just spoon the ganache into the cup and top with a dollop of meringue next time.

Lemon Parmesan Risotto

This dish is the first of a few I made last night. I must say that this was probably the highlight of the dinner. I got the recipe out of Donna Hay's Modern Classics 1 Cookbook. This was the first dish that I've attempted from her cookbooks and I must say that I was highly impressed. I plan on cooking many more of her recipes.

Anyway, here's the recipe:

Lemon Parmesan Risotto

20 g (3/4 oz) butter (I used 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

5 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 cups arborio or other risotto rice

3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

20 g butter, extra

sea salt and cracked black pepper

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, oil and onion and cook for 6-8 minutes or until soft and golden. Place the stock in a separate saucepan. Cover and bring to a slow simmer (I just microwaved it until it was hot).

Add the rice and lemon rind to the onion mixture, stirring over medium heat for 2 minutes or until the rice is translucent (It took me a good bit longer than 2 minutes for the rice to become translucent).

Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time, stirring continuously until each cup of stock is absorbed and the rice is al dente (around 25-30 minutes). To serve, stir through the parmesan, extra butter, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

I also topped the risotto with shrimp sauteed in olive oil, butter, and garlic.

Like I said above, this was quite delicious. This was my second try at risotto and while my first attempt was really good. This was even better. I probably ended up using more parmesan than called for, but in my world there is no such thing as too much cheese. I highly recommend the recipe, and for anyone who is intimidated by risotto, this is actually pretty simple to make just a bit time consuming.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Creamy Spinach Lasagna

I figured I might as well start off with a food-related post. As you'll see I am trying to eat healthier so today's post is a recipe I tried last night from Cooking Light, Creamy Spinach Lasagna. I'll be posting pictures of recipes in the future, currently our camera is MIA but we should have it back soon. Thanks for looking.

Creamy Spinach Lasagna
Cooking Light's Annual Recipes 2007

12 cooked whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/4 cups chopped onion (I only used 1 1/4 cups, not a huge onion fan)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (16-ounce) package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups 2% reduced fat milk (I used skim)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (26 oz) jar marinara sauce
Cooking Spray
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions (I did add some olive oil so the pasta wouldn't stick together)
2. Preheat oven t0 375
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cook 10 minutes or until onion is browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and spinach. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 3 minutes or until spinach is tender. Set aside.
4. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, level with a knife. Combine flour, milk, salt, black pepper, and red pepper in a small saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups milk mixture to spinach mixture. Cover remaining milk mixture, and set aside.
5. Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over sauce; top with half of spinach mixture. Top with 3 lasagna noodles, 1 cup marinara sauce, and 3/4 cup cheese. Layer 3 lasagna noodles, remaining spinach mixture, and 3 lasagna noodles. Top with remaining marinara sauce. Pour reserved milk mixture over top, and sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 375 for 50 minutes or until lasagna is browned on top. Yield 8 servings.

Overall I was pretty impressed with this recipe. The spinach mixture had some good spice to it thanks to the ground red pepper. The milk mixture on top was a little bland. I feel sure that was supposed to be a type of bechamel sauce, but it definitely didn't live up to a true bechamel sauce, being low fat that's not too surprising. We definitely enjoyed it though, dear hubby even liked it despite it not containing any meat.


Thanks for happening by. I've finally decided to start my own blog after lurking obsessively on countless other food blogs for the past year or so. I'm going to do my best to stick with it and post regularly so I can develop an audience for my posts. I will say early on that living in small town (B.F.E.) South Carolina sometimes limits me when it comes to finding specialty ingredients so bear with me when it comes to my ingredients list. Feel free to leave comments and suggestions. On with the food!!