Monday, February 27, 2012

Crackling Oatmeal Cookies

You're My Best Friend by Queen
It's a post about being where you love to be, with the ones you love, seeking out new and old things to love.  It's not about home, though.  It's about shopping.  No - that's not a typo or a link.  I just didn't want to say it too loud because some people might judge.  A trip to our favorite shopping destination has become part of our "adventure" category.  I, personally, try to situate this destination on the end of my errand list or maybe even the only thing on my errand list so that I can relax and enjoy it, take my time.  You only do this with the things in your life that you love - or at least deeply appreciate.  I have about three stores total to which I give this sort of preferential treatment.  The others will be revealed in time.  For the present, though, I'm choosing this song for it's upbeat tempo and for the feelings of happiness it conveys.  For this is how I, er, we feel about . . . 

My grandson, W, loves to go to Costco.  I suppose, to be accurate, I should say that he LOVES to go to Costco.  It has become a situation where said store must be spelled around him when planning a visit to their premises.  Otherwise, any knowledge of an impending trip causes constant haranguing about how much longer until the departure will take place, where the card is (so he can hold it and show it), what he wants to get when he gets there, and, woe be unto any attempt to make any other errands before the stop at the great bulk capital of the world!!!  He actually somehow finagled his way into obtaining his very own Costco card, complete with picture I.D.  What can I say?  I have cute grandkids!

Now, some might find this an annoying trait, but it's one of my favorite things about him!  Why? Because I LOVE Costco, too!!  I guess to be fair I'd have to say that his aunt, my daughter, D, LOVES Costco as well.  So much so that she, being age 21, will sometimes argue with her nephew, age 2, over who gets to hold the card.  Luckily, she got her own card so now they can each hold a card when visiting together.  And visiting Costco en masse is always on the list of things to do when we are all together because, well, why not just come out with it - we are a family of Costco LOVERS!  Or, more appropriately, lovers of Costco.  Or . . . anyway, I think you get my drift!?  We enjoy shopping there!

Costco is a veritable walk-in treasure chest of goods to be explored and discovered.  One of my favorite discoveries has been these:

I can't even begin to tell you the creative paths my mind took to make this delicious snack justifiable via the "good for you" lane.  This is the conclusion to which the fast-track of justification led me.  Dark chocolate has flavonoids which act as antioxidants and help lower blood pressure.  Pomegranates are packed with antioxidants and help relieve the symptoms of arthritis.  Boom!  There you go - it's healthy!

And what do I do with such a healthy snack?  I pair it with another healthy snack!  An oatmeal cookie!  So what we have going on here are antioxidants galore, an arthritis reliever, a blood pressure friend, and a fiber booster!  And because you're my best friends, I want you to enjoy these deliciously soft cookies as well!

Crackling Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate
Printable Recipe Card
1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1 t. cinnamon
1 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 t. almond extract
2 1/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. kosher salt
2 1/2 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. chocolate-covered pomegranates

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 c. of the sugar and the teaspoon of cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the rest of the sugar, brown sugar, and butter until light and fluffy - about 3 - 4 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating after each.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in mixing bowl and mix until just starting to come together.  Add the oats and the pomegranates and mix until just blended.

Line sheet trays with parchment paper.  Scoop out cookies and roll in the cinnamon and sugar mixture.  (I freeze mine at this point.)  I used a #16 scoop for these.  Since the chocolate-covered pomegranates are on the larger side I opted for a larger-sized cookie.  A #16 scoop is approximately 1/4 c. of dough.  If you don't want to freeze yours, at least chill the dough for about half an hour before baking.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Space the cookies about 3 inches apart on the sheet tray.  Bake for 18 minutes, turning pan halfway through.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet by Burton Cummings
You'll notice I didn't use the famous Bachman-Turner Overdrive option on the song choice today.  That one will do if you're insistent on the matter.  I have nothing against it.  I rocked out to it as a teen like everybody else.  But then one day my second oldest brother was playing an album and he yells for me to come listen to this one song.  He asks if I recognize the voice.  I do, but I don't.  My mind is screaming the answer at me but I can't make it out!  He finally tells me that Burton Cummings of The Guess Who released a solo album and it included a cover of BTO's song, written by former Guess Who bandmate, Randy Bachman.  A-ha!  Cummings' bluesy-lounge take on You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet had me wide-eyed and rolling on the floor!  Was it meant to be funny?  I don't know.  But it remains today as my favorite rendition of the song - mostly because it wholly embodies the message the song conveys - just when you think you know what's coming, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.  And that describes working with puff pastry perfectly!

I enjoyed Science class well enough growing up.  Barring a minor incident as lab assistant in Mr. Miller's class in junior high, I did quite well!  Mr. Miller never let me forget my faux pas, shaking his head at me every time he saw me forever after.  That's OK.  He thought his kids were "cuter than a button." A button.  I cherish the day my classmate, Jane, responded to his daily "button" comparison with a shrug of her shoulders, a roll of the eyes, and the dry comeback, "If you think buttons are cute."  Bazinga!

Although I always did well in Science I really struggled in Physics.  Mr. Angove tried so hard, providing one-to-one study sessions, gesticulating wildly with his hands, saying, "But it's the simple laws of nature!"  He was so passionate about the subject it made me feel bad that I wasn't "getting it."  I guess I understood chemical reactions but I chose to leave some aspects or laws of our physical world a mystery and call it magical.  Bless his heart, though, because he never shook his head at me.  Ever.  He had faith that one day I'd "get it."  And I have - to some degree.

A big part of cooking involves both chemistry and physics.  Have you ever thought of dinner as a science project?  Try it!  You could have fun with your kids trying to pick out everything that's going on in that kitchen/lab of yours!

 I'm giving you a recipe today that allows for some great scientific fun.  Puff pastry is a delight to work with.  It adds elegance and sophistication to the most humblest of ingredients.  The most important thing to remember when working with puff pastry is to keep it cold.  If it gets too warm you're not going to get the best results as you're robbing it of it's big chemical reaction.  The pastry starts out relatively flat, hiding lots of thin layers of cold, cold butter.  There's no yeast here.  It's magic happens as it bakes when those layers of butter hit the high heat, start to melt, giving off steam which pushes the layers up, up, up!  Think of getting hit with a sudden shock of hot or cold water.  If the pastry is too warm it's just not that big of a shock when it hits the hot oven.  Keep it cold!

As you pile on the ingredients you'll be thinking, "Hey, this is kind of high for this little square!"  No worries.  That dough is going to puff up high and form a nest right around it saying, "You ain't seen NOTHIN' yet, b-b-b-baby!"  Sweet pears, tangy cheese, earthy mushrooms, savory nuts and onions.  Delicious!  

Caramelized Onion Tarts with Pears and Gorgonzola
Makes 4 tarts
1 onion
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
5 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 red Bartlett pear, cored and sliced thin
1 sm. container Gorgonzola cheese
1 container Boursin Lite Garlic & Herb cheese spread
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 package of puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator according to package directions

Caramelize the onions in the olive oil and butter.  Add the salt and pepper.  Remove onions from the pan and set aside.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté for about 5 minutes to where they're browned on the edges.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Add the leaves from three of the sprigs of fresh thyme.  Set aside.

Lightly flour your working surface and carefully unfold your puff pastry and place on work surface.  Lightly flour your rolling pin and roll over the pastry to coax it into a square that's about 12x12.  Use a sharp knife and divide the dough into 4 equal squares.  Slightly separate the squares.
Use the tip of the knife and cut inside the border of each square about 1/2 inch, cutting clear through two of the corners and leaving the other two opposite corners attached.
Notice that the top left and bottom right corners are not completely cut through.  These corners act as "hinges" when folding the dough.

Brush the edges of the inside square with an egg wash.
Take the right flap and fold it across the square, bringing it to rest on the left side of the inside square.
Now take the left flap and fold it across the square, bringing it to rest on the right side of the inside square.
Repeat for remaining squares.  You have now made "baskets" for your goodies.

Place pastry baskets on parchment lined sheet trays and begins assembling the ingredients.  

Start with spreading 1 T. of the Boursin cheese spread in the bottom of each basket and then top with enough caramelized onions to cover the open space.
Add a few mushroom slices and about 1 T. of walnuts to each tart.
Top with the sliced pears and a sprinkling of Gorgonzola crumbles.
Brush the outer strips of the pastry with egg wash.
Bake at 400 degrees for 18 - 20 minutes, turning the pan halfway through baking.  Sprinkle with more Gorgonzola cheese and the leaves of the remaining sprigs of thyme when they come out of the oven.
These are delicious served both hot and cold.  They reheat well in the microwave - try 30 second intervals.

Science never looked so good!  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Baskets of Beignets

Born On the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival
My oldest brother was, and probably still is, a big CCR fan.  As a matter of fact, most of my earliest appreciation of rock came through him.  Whatever he was listening to, I was listening to as well - and liking what I was hearing!  When I was nine, he was listening to a CCR song that sang about the bayous of Louisiana.  I had seen pictures of bayous and I'd lay in my bed, listening to John Fogerty's gravelly and earnest voice sing about running through the swampy lands of Louisiana.  I really, really, really wanted to see Spanish Moss surreally dripping from trees.  I wanted to see alligators.  I wanted to chase a hoodoo.  I wanted to know what exactly a hoodoo was!  Many, many years later, I would get to go to New Orleans and see the bayous, and the Spanish Moss, and the fascinating charms of "The Crescent City."  What I hadn't known about until my visit were beignets.  Now, why hadn't anyone told me about the beignets?!

My first trip to New Orleans was back in the early 90's.  I accompanied my husband on a business trip.  I was usually left to myself during the days, which was fine by me as it afforded me the chance to explore the city on my own and shop at my leisure - an utter luxury for a mother of five children!  I'd heard mixed reviews about this city perched on the mouth of the Mississippi.  I was about to discover that they were all correct!  My verdict?  Read on . . . 

One sunny day I had wandered down to an area called Jackson Square.  The sidewalks were lined with artists and their easels and performing musicians. Little boutique shops filled the ground floors of the buildings around the square and I started to explore their wares.  I came upon one that sold needlework supplies.  I was a big cross-stitch fan at the time and was curious to see what they offered.  Well, come to find out, they were more of a needlepoint store - a craft I had never learned, and didn't think I ever wanted to learn.  As I searched their stock to see if I could find at least a few counted cross-stitch patterns, the ladies of the shop started chatting with me to see if they could help.  I shyly told them of my cross-stitch love and they showed me what they had.  But then the one lady asked if I did needlepoint.  I said that I hadn't and tried to let her know of my indifference toward the craft.  She looked at her partner and they exchanged a look of what I can only now describe as combined surprise and challenge!  A convert was to be made!  

"Why, how do you know you don't want to learn if you've never tried it" they asked.  Before I knew it they had me perched on a stool, pulled out a canvas with a simple pattern of a bright golden yellow crescent moon against a deep blue background.  They found me needles and yarn and proceeded to demonstrate the simple stitch of needlepoint.  I spent a good hour, maybe more, in that little shop, in the company of those charming ladies, listening to their banter and reveling in that kinship that only sisterhood can provide.  I was a total stranger.  But, for that wee bit of time, I was not only a customer, I was a friend.  They asked about my explorations of their city thus far and filled me in on what I still needed to see and do.  They were utterly flabbergasted that I hadn't been on down to Cafe du Monde for beignets yet.  I promised I would go straightaway after leaving their place. 
 I left with a good head start on my new project under way, and followed their directions to this cafe with the beignets that were supposed to change my world!

They did!  Little pillows of fried dough.  Puffs of powdered sugar.  Call them a donut if you must, but you run the risk of making them sound ordinary when you do.  It's one of those experience moments, really.  It's akin to enjoying buffalo wings - at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York or a Philly Cheesesteak - in Philly!  Best when served hot alongside a rich beverage, these sweet and tender squares are a must do!  And a must make!

Beignets, friendly people, beautiful countryside, delicious food, and surprises around every corner.  That's New Orleans to me.  Laissez les bon temps router!  "Let the good times roll!"

slightly adapted from my
1 envelope (2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water, divided
1/2 c. granulated sugar, divided
1 c. evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 t. salt
1/4 c. butter
6 1/2 - 7 cups flour
Vegetable oil
Powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand-mixer, combine the yeast with 1/2 c. of the warm water and 1 t. of the granulated sugar and let stand for 5 minutes.

Add milk, eggs, salt, and the remaining sugar and stir.

Heat the remaining water until hot and add the butter.  Stir until the butter is melted, making sure it's no hotter than 115 degrees.  Add to the yeast mixture.  Beat at a low speed and gradually add 4 cups of the flour until smooth.  Gradually add the remaining flour, beating until  a sticky dough forms.  Transfer to a greased bowl and turn to grease the top.  Cover and chill for 4 - 24 hours.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface until 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into squares no bigger than 2 1/2 inches.  I used a rolling cutter with a fluted edge to give them a pretty detail.

Because there are no holes to help cook the centers, as in donuts, you need to keep them on the small size so they can cook all the way through on the inside without burning the outsides.

Heat your oil to 350 - 360 degrees with a depth of 2 - 3 inches.  Fry in small batches, 2 - 3 minutes per side.  Place on a rack set inside of a sheet tray to allow them to drain after frying.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Serve with yummy dipping sauces if you desire.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stir-Crazy Stir-Fry

Fire by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Things are going to get hot in the kitchen today!  So, of course, I need a song that echoes that mood.  Jimi comes through PERFECTLY with this song.  This song has a driving beat and lots of energy AND it talks about fire.  This is stir-frying in a nutshell.  High heat, quick cooking times, and quick stirring and/or the tossing of food!  Stir-frying is fun!!!  And I'm happy to have Jimi by my side today!

I've made stir-fry for years.  We received a wok as a wedding gift and I set about using it the best I knew how.  Hmmm.  

Let me just say that it has taken DECADES for me to get the patience part of cooking down.  I always wanted to just get it over with so I'd just lob everything into whatever cooking vessel I was using, apply heat, and then cook to submission!  There was no finesse - no understanding of the nuances of cooking.  And it ultimately ended up taking longer to cook than had I done it right to begin with.

During the last quarter of culinary school I was able to learn the simplicity and joy of a proper stir-fry.  In case you've been serving steamed veggies and boiled meat, like I used to, I'll let you in on what I learned.

Proper preparation is paramount.  Stir-frying is more about the preparing of the food than the actual cooking of it.  The reason you are able to cook the foods so quickly is because they are supposed to be cut in thin strips, in uniform size.  

When adding meats, such as chicken, beef, or pork, they should be cut on the bias in long thin strips.  It's easiest to do this if you cut it while it's a bit frozen.   Marinades add wonderful flavor and help tenderize the meat.  Because shrimp already cooks quickly, you just need to shell and devein them.  If the shrimp are large, though, I'd either cut them in smaller pieces or butterfly them.  

Next, choose your vegetables.  I choose mine almost strictly based on color.  You really want a vibrant palette - it's the most important appeal of a stir-fry!  Just look at this beautiful color display!
Red, purple, yellow, orange, and greens - it's going to be deliciously beautiful!  

After you've prepare these veggies for the cooking process they should be all lined up something like this ~
Long thin strips, celery and green onions cut on the bias to create length and interest.  I love that I can find the carrots already julienned in the produce department at my store.  If you're not a fan of chopping, you can certainly use a mandolin.  It's worth it to invest in one that is really sharp, though!  It's maddening to work with a dull mandolin!
(That glove is called a cutting glove, made to be used with knives.  I find it very helpful when using my mandolin as well!)

Essential to the flavor profile of a stir-fry are these three ingredients - cilantro, fresh ginger, and garlic.
 I like to scrape the brown skin from my ginger root and store it in a baggie in the freezer.  When it's time to add, I pull out my microplane and zest the ginger across the top of the contents of the pan.  Ginger root can be very fibrous.  In a frozen state, it's easier to cut across the fibers and create a beautiful dusting of ginger that permeates its flavor throughout the dish.  It's just not the same without it!  Ginger is potent - you don't need very much!

With your meat prepared and your veggies and herbs prepared, you are ready to start the show!  IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO A PROPER STIR-FRY IF YOUR FOOD ISN'T ALREADY CUT AND READY TO GO!!  Please don't think you're going to be able to cut as you go.  In order for the veggies to maintain their crispness they have to be seared quickly and served at once.  If they are made to wait, they wilt and lose color.  This is the patience part of cooking!

"Let me stand next to your fire!"

Get your pan hot, hot, hot!  Then stream in a quick swirl of vegetable oil.  I just make a swoop around the sides of the pan and call it good.

Add the meat in small batches so the pan doesn't cool down too much and you can maintain that sear.  Toss the meat to coat with oil and stir!  Keep it moving!  You are just getting a good color on the outside - a quick sear - 1 - 2 minutes is all.   Remove and let set aside while you finish with the veggies.  You do the meat first because it's more forgiving than the veggies.  It also allows it some resting time to cook a little further.

Making sure that the pan has kept it's high heat, add the veggies in order of their hardiness, tossing or stirring and coating with the oil after each addition.  Season lightly with salt.  If necessary, add a little oil, but add it by running it down the sides of the pan allowing it to sneak in under the veggies.  

I usually start with the celery and follow with the carrots, peppers, and red onions.   I save the red cabbage for towards the end because it tends to bleed and become dull otherwise.  Remember, you are stirring and/or tossing as you go!  Green onions go in next, followed by the garlic, fresh ginger, and cilantro.  As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant, I add the yakisoba noodles, toss and stir,  and do a quick turn around the pan with some soy sauce and a small dash of sesame oil.  I add the meat back in, give it all a quick toss to mix, taste for seasoning, and out to the serving dishes they go!  I add some green onions and cilantro to garnish and we dig in!

The aftermath of a very satisfying adventure!
"Yeah, I like it like that!"

2 T. miso paste
1 T. mirin
1 T. soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. sugar

Place ingredients in a plastic bag and smush together.  Add the sliced meat and seal the bag, working out excess air.  Using your hands, work the marinade into the meat, trying to get it coated as thoroughly as possible.  Store in refrigerator for at least an hour.  This is enough marinade for 8 oz. of meat.

Choose an array of vegetables that are colorful, trying to include as many different colors as possible.  Some suggestions:
red cabbage
bell peppers - red, orange, yellow
red onion
snow peas
green onions, for cooking and garnish
ginger root
cilantro, for cooking and garnish

You will also need:
vegetable oil
soy sauce
sesame oil

Other delicious additions:
black bean sauce
sambal oelek (spicy chili paste - a little dab'll do just fine)

Monday, February 13, 2012

"As You Wish . . ."

All You Need Is Love by The Beatles
I wish I could offer a link for you to download this song but couldn't seem to find one.  I'm sure you could find it in iTunes, though!  No music library would be complete without it.  It's simple.  Some say too simple.  We all get it.  Yes, there are more complex emotions and character traits that go towards making the world a better place like virtue, dignity, integrity, honesty, etc.  But it fundamentally begins with a compassion, a desire, a concern, a LOVE of something or someone to set the others in motion.  It makes me happy that we have at least one day a year set aside to celebrate love.  Here's a little game for you - go to your iTunes library, highlight the "Name" category, then put "love" in your search box.  How many songs do you have where love is featured?  I have over 400.  It'll take me more than a day to listen to them all, back to back, without stops.  Sounds good to me!  At least I'll have some delicious cookies to tide me along the way!

I recently had the opportunity to share the meaning of the phrase, "As you wish . . ." with a younger sister.  She had asked me if I could do something for her and I responded, "As you wish!"  She was perplexed at such a reply.  Was I being sarcastic?  Was I suggesting she was being demanding?  I couldn't believe she wasn't as proficient as I in the language of The Princess Bride - one of the best movies EVER made!!!  I was thrilled to be able to share this clip with her to explain my reply.  It made for a tender moment when she realized I was actually telling her I loved her - or more appropriately - that I would love to help her.  It's all the same.  

Helping each other with a loving heart ~  I had a reminder lately at how important that can be and the profound message it sends to the receiver.  We all know how much we appreciate being the recipient of such pure love.  Often I think we are a little embarrassed to let ourselves show such genuine concern - like we'll be laughed at.  Or taken advantage of.  It's a curious situation in which we find ourselves in a day when such basic emotions are needed most of all.  

I suggest an "As You Wish Day."  We can choose one day a month - actually write it in our calendars - and concentrate on saying "As you wish" to as many people as you can that day - and following through with pure intent.  After awhile we can choose two days, etc.  Hopefully it'll help us find our way to showing our love in the best way possible - through helping each other with pure intent.  

Sharing these cookies is a great way to start!  I married a couple of recipes and came up with this Chocolate Sugar Cookie recipe that is heaven!  I've given it a little special twist for Valentine's Day by adding cardamom and orange extract.  I've tweaked the frosting and icing as well - cardamom in the buttercream and orange extract in the icing.  Why celebrate such a special day with ordinary flavors?  I adore the flecks of the cardamom among the pink of the buttercream.  Spice things up! 

You can use all sorts of sizes to make a beautiful display of cookies!

You want the recipe?  As you wish . . . .

Chocolate Sugar Cookie
Printable Recipe Card
2 3/4 c. (355 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 c. (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. baking powder

1 c. butter (227 g), softened
1 3/4 c. (350 g) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t. cardamom (optional)
2 t. vanilla extract (I used orange in this batch)

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and cardamom, if using, until well combined.  Set aside.

In a mixer bowl, thoroughly cream together the butter and the sugar until light in color and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure one is incorporated before adding the next.  Add the extract and mix to combine.

Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix until incorporated.  

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Make a mixture of 1/2 c. flour and 2 T. of cocoa powder and stir well.  Use this to dust your surface when cutting out the cookies.

Dust the working surface with the flour/cocoa mixture and roll out your dough, working with half the dough at a time.  Roll to a 1/4" thickness.  Cut out your desired shapes and place each cookie on baking sheet.  For larger cookies, bake for 4 minutes, turn the pan, and bake for another 4 minutes.  Decrease the time for smaller cut-outs.

When cool, decorate with your favorite frosting and/or icing!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sunshine Lemon Bread

Sunshine Superman by Donovan
You have to admire a man with confidence.  "Superman or Green Lantern ain't got nothin' on me," is what Donovan says in this classic funky song from the 60s.  It's a song about a guy who really digs this chick and he's letting her know just how groovy it'll be if only they were together - how he'll dive for pearls for her and keep her in a fresh supply of rainbows and never-ending sunsets.  Sigh!  It sounds wonderful, right?  It sounds like a lot of work!  Really - all he'd need to do to win this girl over is make her this Lemon Bread.  Seriously.  Find this guy some lemons - QUICK!!

Winters can be so dreary.  Sometimes it just seems to go on for foreverrrrrr!

I, personally, think that that is why God gave us citrus from fall to spring.  He wanted to apologize for having to have dreary precipitous months in order for us to be able to have enough moisture to grow the food we eat.  Of course, he made that citrus grow in places where there AREN'T dreary months with which to contend.  But he DID give us brilliant minds that helped us figure out how to get that citrus shipped to dreary places, right?  He is a loving Father in Heaven.  Citrus is just one of his tender mercies.  

A while back I made some lemon tartlets.  I was happy that the stores were full of Meyer lemons again. Well, a few days after I made those tartlets I still had some of those lemons around and I got to thinking about how to use them.  I was looking for inspiration.  I put a stack of cookbooks on my kitchen table with the intention of perusing each and every one of them until I found something that got me excited.  Well, it didn't take long!  I got excited - really excited - thumbing through the very first one called "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  I found their version of a quick lemon bread and couldn't wait to start zesting and juicing those deep golden yellow babies!  For this recipe I'm thinking you'll need about 5 regular lemons or about 8 Meyer lemons.

I love how excited my mouth gets when it knows something lemony is on its way.  On this particular day my mouth said it really wanted this lemon bread to be moist.  I mean MOIST!  It wanted tang!  It wanted just enough sweetness to not let that tang get too bossy and it wanted that icing on the top to be the kicker - the perfect blend of tart and sweet AND with a buttery texture!  My mouth gets pretty demanding sometimes.  That's OK because this bread delivered!  It tasted just how I wanted it to.  And, that, folks, IS Sunshine Superman baking.  That's how you win hearts!

Lemon Lemon Loaf
Printable Recipe Card
makes 2 loaves
from "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
with just some minor changes by myself

1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1 t. kosher salt
2 1/4 c. sugar
8 eggs, room temperature
zest from 4 lemons
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 c. sour cream, room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 9x5 loaf pans.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

Zest the lemons into the sugar and use the sugar to "wipe" the zester clean, retaining all those wonderful lemon oils (i.e. flavor) that have accumulated on the zester.  Juice the lemons and remove all seeds.  Put the lemon juice and zest in a blender with the sugar and add the eggs.  Blend until combined.  With the blender running, drizzle the melted butter in through the hole in the lid, mixing well.  Add the sour cream and vanilla and blend until just combined.  Transfer mixture to a bowl.  

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the lemon mixture one third at a time and gently fold after each addition just until combined.  Do not over mix.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 30 - 35 minutes.  A toothpick should come out clean when it's fully cooked.  

Let cool in pans for 15 minutes before turning them out onto a rack.

While the bread is baking, make the lemon syrup and the glaze.

Lemon Syrup
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. sugar

Combine the juice and the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Cook 3 minutes more.  Set aside.  

Lemon Glaze
2 c. powdered sugar
4 - 6 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. melted butter

Stir ingredients together until smooth and velvety.  It should be thick but pourable.  Add more lemon juice if needed.

When loaves have cooled for 15 minutes, poke with a toothpick all over the tops and sides.  Place cooling racks in a sheet tray and, using a pastry brush, brush the lemon syrup over the sides and tops of the loaves.  Apply a second coat when done with the first.  Let them cool completely.

When completely cooled, pour the glaze over the tops and let it run down over the sides.

OK - NOW we're sweet-talking and winning hearts!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Muddy Buddy Cupcakes

Drive by Incubus
Several years ago I was on a long drive with my second son, K.  We had recently moved a couple states away, leaving our older children behind while they attended college.  There were plenty of trips back and forth and I was accompanying K on this particular one.  He was lead driver which gave him the right to choose the music.  Luckily, we liked much the same music, including Incubus.  I distinctly remember the moment Drive came on and K sang right along with mighty gusto.  I hadn't realized before what a nice voice he had and I really enjoyed listening to him sing along with Brandon Boyd.  As he sang the words, "Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there, with open arms and open eyes," I thought how well this sentiment suited my son.  He is truly an embracer of life.  Well, it's K's birthday tomorrow.  He'll be 28.  He likes Incubus and loves Muddy Buddies . . . and I love him.  Happy birthday, K-bear . . .

K is my second son and third child.  He gives magnificent hugs - always has.  He is the funniest person I know - although I think all of my kids have magnificent wit - what's a mama to do but be honest, right? Even at six months old he had a flair for comedy.  He had literally rolled himself up into a newspaper.  I couldn't find him anywhere!  Then I noticed the wiggling roll of papers in the corner of the living room.  I carefully unrolled him and he stared up at me with the biggest smile on his face and started the most infectious belly laugh!  He KNEW he'd done a funny thing!  

Along with being funny, though, K is super sensitive and was always very intuitive about my feelings.  He could usually sense if I was sad or upset and, as a little guy, would come take my hand and give me a smile and a hug.  All you moms out there can appreciate that quality.  He is a very loyal friend and I think it's fitting that his favorite snack is Muddy "Buddies."

You know what Muddy Buddies are, right?  That "Chex cereal mixed with melted chocolate chips and peanut butter and coated in powdered sugar" concoction.  It's so easy to make I wasn't sure I could make an entire post about it alone.  So, of course, I got my thinking cap on and tried to think about a snazzy way to use the Muddy Buddies.  It didn't take too long before I realized - cupcakes!!!

That was the easy part.  The hard part was how to make a cupcake with the peanut butter and chocolate flavor combo different from any other Reese's cupcake out there.  How do you capture that delicate crunch you get from the cereal?  My first attempt had me folding the prepared Muddy Buddy pieces right into the batter.  Wrong!  They became this nasty entity that was neither crunchy nor chewy - more rubbery.  Not a winner.

Think!  Think!  Think!

Ta-da!  A brilliant idea!  I thought of one of my favorites - the S'mores cupcake.  It has a delicious graham cracker crust on the bottom of the cake part!  I would do the same but create a crust using the Muddy Buddies!  I ran a test batch and these were the outcome!  Very much winners!

You start out by making a batch of the Muddy Buddies.

Muddy Buddies
9 c. Rice or Corn Chex cereal
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. butter
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Put the cereal in a very large bowl with lots of room for stirring.
Place the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter in a microwave-safe dish and melt in 30 second intervals, stirring after each until melted.
Add the vanilla and stir to combine.
You can also do this on the stovetop, if you prefer.
Pour the melted mixture over the cereal and stir until well-coated.  
Sift the sugar over the top in three rounds, stirring after each to evenly distribute.

Now, for the cupcakes!!
It'll make 24 of them so you'll need that many cupcake liners.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Take 3 cups of the Muddy Buddies and place in a food processor.  Pulse until they become crumbs.  Add 2 T. melted butter and pulse until it comes together and you can pinch the mixture between your thumb and finger and it stays formed.

Place about 2 T. of this crumb mixture in the bottom of cupcake liners and tamp down until flat like this:

I tried several implements to try to make the tamping easier but the one that worked the best was that little wooden tool in the picture below.  To keep the crumbs from sticking I dipped it in powdered sugar.

Par bake the crumb crust for 5 minutes.

From here on out I'll give you the methodology and let you be free to use your own chocolate cake and chocolate frosting recipes if you'd like.  But for those who want to know the finer details of how I made mine, I'll include my recipes at the bottom of the post.  OK?  OK!  Let's go!

Prepare your chocolate cake batter and pour it over the par baked Muddy Buddy crusts until they are about 3/4 full ~

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes.  They should spring back when you touch them lightly on the top and a toothpick will come out clean.

Let cool.

Stir 1/2 cup of peanut butter into your favorite chocolate frosting recipe and frost each cupcake in your favorite manner.  

Take 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and  gently sift across the top of the cupcakes.

Decorate the top with two little Buddies.

Embrace tomorrow "with open arms and open eyes," but, today, sit back and ENJOY!!

It looks like somebody with really big teeth enjoyed this one!!

Chocolate Cake
makes 24 cupcakes

1 1/2 c. AP flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 c. sugar 
1 1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
3/4 c. buttermilk
3 T. vegetable oil
1 1/2 t. vanilla
3/4 c. warm water
1/4 c. sour cream

Sift together the dry ingredients - flour through salt - in a mixer bowl.  In another bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla, and warm water.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix just to combine.  Add the sour cream and stir to mix until smooth.  Don't forget to scrape the sides of that bowl!
Use as needed!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting
makes about 4 cups of frosting

1/4 c. plus 2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz. hot water
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 lb. chocolate chips, your choice, semi-sweet or milk
1/2 c. peanut butter

Combine the cocoa powder and hot water and set aside.  In a mixer bowl, thoroughly cream the butter and the powdered sugar and salt until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides often.  Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring after each interval.  Add the peanut butter to the warm chips and stir until combined.  With the mixer on low, add the chocolate/peanut butter mixture to the sugar/butter mixture.  Add the cocoa mixture and blend well.  Frost away!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On A Roll

Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner
In choosing today's song I enlisted the help of one of my daughters.  I said, "My ham and cheese rolls - name a song!"  She instantly sputtered back by singing Ike Turners part in Proud Mary in her best low voice, "Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river."  I replied, "Proud Mary?  The Ike and Tina version?  Not the Creedence Clearwater Revival version?"  She explained how it HAS to be Ike and Tina's version because you start out rolling the dough and working "nice and easy."  But when you take them out of the oven and they are "fantasmic!" (her word, which I'm pretty certain was a huge compliment) - that's the part of the song where they kick it up and end things "rough."  So, clear out the kitchen because we are going to be "rollin' on the river" today!

I can't even remember where I got the ideas for these Ham and Cheese Rolls but I'm pretty sure it's been within the last ten years! But what a great addition it has been to my kitchen repertoire.  They can be as easy or as involved as you want to make them.  I tend to choose the more involved route because I don't usually have prepared bread doughs on hand - or if I do, they're in the freezer and I haven't remembered to take them out to thaw.  Alas, it's easier for me to just whip up a batch of roll dough.

These always show up after we have a ham dinner.  It's the absolute best way to use up that leftover ham. But I will confess, right here and now, in plain public, that sometimes I stage a ham dinner just so we can have these later!  They are just THAT yummy!

You know what the best part of these guys are?  They don't belong to just one meal group - they belong to them ALL!  They are fitting for breakfast and can easily be taken on the fly for on the way to work or school.  

My kids LOVED taking these for their school lunches - and I LOVED sending them because they are like a sandwich, but I didn't have to drag out all the components first thing in the morning and get to work.  I just popped one in a baggie, added an apple, some carrot sticks, and a cookie to the brown bag, and it was all good!  

They are great for dinner and can take any soup and elevate it to fine dining status.  They are also a delicious companion to chili - think Super Bowl Sunday here.  Or if it's a breakfast dinner, just think of how wonderful these would be alongside an omelet or even just scrambled eggs.  

And I can personally attest to their value as a member of the afternoon snack category.  These rolls give a "pick-me-up" a la "the lift" Patrick Swayze gives "Baby" in Dirty Dancing.  Yeah, I hear those mixing bowls being hauled out of the cupboards!

As I said, you can use a prepared bread dough like Rhode's Bread, let it thaw and then roll it out.  Or they would be good with the Pillsbury Pizza Dough as well.  I'm going to include my roll dough recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, but feel free to use one of your own if you want!  Do whatever you have to to get yourself involved with folds of ham and cheese in soft, chewy dough!

Ham and Cheese Rolls
Printable Recipe Card
1 recipe of roll dough (see below)
2 cups of cubed ham
2 cups of shredded cheese, any will work or a combination of several
1/4 c. mayo
2 T. dijon mustard

On a floured surface, roll dough out into a rectangle about 12x15.  Mix together the mayo and mustard and then spread edge to edge all over the top of the dough.  Scatter the ham evenly across the surface, followed by the shredded cheese.  It'll look something like this:

Now, "nice and easy," start with that long edge directly in front of you and start to roll up, keeping it as nicely tucked and tight as you can.  You will end up with a long log.

Using a long, serrated knife, cut the log in half, then divide those halves in half.  You will have 4 smaller logs now.  Then simply cut each of those into three even rolls.  There will be 12.

Aren't' they pretty?!

Now place each roll in a sprayed muffin tin, cut side down, like this:

Cover and let rise for about 30 - 45 minutes until they look like this:

(This is where you pause the song at 1:30 - cause as soon as these come out of the oven, things are going to get crazy with trumpets and saxophones and dancing!)
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes.  When I pull mine out of the oven I like to do a quick dance across their tops with about a teaspoon of butter, total - I find it keeps their tops nice and moist - and looking pretty!    Cue Tina - "Doot, doot, doot, doot!"

Basic Roll Dough
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1 pkg. active dry yeast (2 1/2 t.)
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1/4 c. butter
1 1/4 c. milk
1 egg

In a mixer bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour with the yeast, sugar, and salt.  Stir to combine.  Heat the milk with the butter until just warm and the butter starts to melt.  Pour into the flour mixture and mix well. Add the egg and incorporate.  

Add the remaining flour and mix for three minutes at high speed.  This is a soft and fairly loose dough.  Grease a large bowl and turn dough into it.  Cover and let raise in a warm place until double - about an hour.