Thursday, March 29, 2012

Savory Scones, British Style!

I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred
Don't laugh!  I tried to come up with a different song!  But if you had been able to vicariously taste the buttery and smoky flavors of this scone when I took my first sample taste - feel the tender flakiness of the crumb as it melted in my mouth - you would have had the same thought I did!  That being "This scone is far too good-tasting for it's own good!"  You'd never know just how terrific it really was just by looks - not to say that it looks shabby in the least!  It's just so incredibly tender, moist, and flaky!

Scones really weren't part of my world until I moved from Pennsylvania out to Utah after I graduated from high school.  And suddenly I was hearing about them alot!  My future mother-in-law made them one night and I was delighted with this new treat.  Little pillows of fried roll dough slathered with honey butter!  What's not to like, right?

Years later, however, I heard some people talking about scones and the one asked the other to clarify as to which kind of scone they were referring.  Now, wait a minute!  There were other types of scones?  I listened (ok - eavesdropped) further and learned that a scone could also be a biscuit type of bread which is baked, not deep-fried.  Apparently this is how the British fix them. Interesting.

One day I was able to taste one of the British variety.  I was not impressed.  Dry.  Bone dry.  And not much flavor.  It took me awhile to build up the desire to want to try them again.

But when I actually went to England and had a proper scone, I was converted!  They need not be dry and tasteless chunks of bread.  They most certainly can be buttery and flaky and mouth-wateringly delicious!  You just need to know the right techniques and have the right recipe!   And I've found a keeper!  You can make it sweet or savory - just add your preference to the basic recipe.  Oh me oh my!  The possibilities!  I really hope you find a minute very soon to try this savory version.  Bacon, Cheddar cheese, and green onions.  Make a whole recipe, divide into wedges, wrap and freeze, and then, when you want some for a meal, just take however many wedges you need and bake them up!  No need to thaw!  Brush with a little cream on top first.  You can get away with serving plain old scrambled eggs for dinner when you have one of these riding shotgun!  No butter or toppings will be necessary.  Just try to remember to breathe while you snarf it down!
Bacon and Cheddar Scones
printable recipe card
makes 8
3 c. flour (368.5 g)
1 t. salt
1 T. baking powder (14 g)
1/4 c. sugar (42.5 g)
3/4 c. butter, cold and cut into pcs. (170 g) (1 1/2 sticks)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 c. heavy cream
2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 green onions, sliced thin

In a large mixer bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Add the cold butter pieces and mix on low until the size of peas.

In a smaller bowl, combine the egg, egg yolk, and cream.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and butter and mix until just starting to incorporate.  Toss in the cheddar, bacon, and green onion slices.  Continue to mix until ingredients just come together.  Do not over mix.  If you look carefully, you can actually see small bits of butter.  That is perfect!

Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper and shape into a circle about 1 inch thick.
Divide into wedges but keep together.  Wrap in the parchment and then in plastic wrap.  Chill or freeze until ready to use.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the scone wedges on a parchment lined tray, spaced about 2 inches apart, and brush the tops with cream.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown.  Cool.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cupcakes With A Cause

Survivor by Destiny's Child
This is the theme song for strong women!  Whether you're going through a difficult breakup, hard economic times, or trying to conquer bad habits and create reform in your life - you're going to need a motivating theme song.  "I'm a survivor, I'm not gon' give up, I'm not gon' stop, I'm gon' work harder . . ."  It seems a rather large hunk of song for such a sweet-looking cupcake, right?  Well, that cupcake was made for a fundraiser geared to help women become fighters - and survivors - of one of the most terrifying battles around - breast cancer.  Let's think pink today.

A while ago I was asked if I could possibly donate some baked goods for a local breast cancer fundraiser.  I checked my schedule and was glad to see that I was going to be able to do it.  I think I can say that breast cancer is one of the greatest fears among women.  I think I can also safely say that most of us know someone that is battling or has battled this disease.  According to this website, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting one out of eight women.  I'm all on board with a project whose goal is to reduce that ridiculously high number.  So - what can we do?

While men can get breast cancer as well, it is predominantly a women's disease.  Early detection greatly increases your chance of survival so it's key that monthly breast self-examinations are part of your routine.   Also, check with your doctor to see when you should start getting mammograms - and then get them.  Please.  For your sake and for your loved ones.

I love that a pink ribbon is the breast cancer awareness symbol.  It is such a delicate choice.  Delicate doesn't have to mean weak, though.  Strength and resolve can reside deep within and be called forth when needed.  The women I know that have battled this disease are all graceful and serene, exuding the quiet strength of steel.  This cupcake is to honor them.

I knew that pink would be involved in whatever I decided to make for the fundraiser.  And, for some reason, I had already been conjuring up how I would go about making a cherry cordial cupcake - with an actual cherry cordial inside.  Cherries could provide the pink element I wanted.

The final project came together when I finally found a recipe - no - THE recipe for a white cake mix from scratch that I was 100% happy with.  When I envisioned a cherry cordial cupcake that used a beautiful, fluffy white cake instead of the usual brown chocolate cake, I got even more excited.  I loved the delicate nature of the end product.  But it would also have some sneaky elements.  I love hiding ganache just about anywhere and this cupcake would be hiding some right beneath it's buttercream rosette on top.  Simple and elegant with lots of flavor!  I could hardly wait to get working on it!

Cherry Cordial Cupcakes
makes 12

White cake:
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar (300 g)
1 c. buttermilk
2 c. cake flour (223 g)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
1 t. almond extract
3 egg whites, beaten stiff
12 cherry cordials, frozen

Chocolate Ganache:
1 lb. chocolate chips - I used a mix of both milk and semi-sweet
1 c. heavy cream, heated to a simmer

Cherry Buttercream Frosting:
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar (410 g)
1 c. butter, softened (227 g) (2 sticks)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake liners in a cupcake tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy - because of the high sugar to butter ratio this will take about 5 minutes.

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

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture, stirring just until it starts to incorporate.  Add half of the buttermilk and stir just until it starts to incorporate.  Add half of the remaining dry ingredients and stir until it starts to incorporate.  Add the remaining buttermilk and stir until it starts to incorporate.  Add the remaining dry ingredients until it starts to incorporate.  Stir in almond extract and then gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.  Do not overmix.  Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full with the batter.  Place a cherry cordial in the center and give a gentle press but don't try to submerge them too deep.
They will sink on their own when they bake.  Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.
It's fine if some of the cordials don't sink entirely because you will be covering the tops with ganache and frosting.

Make the ganache by placing the chocolate chips into a food processor bowl and chopping.  While the processor is running, pour the heated heavy cream through the food chute and continue to process until the chocolate is melted and is smooth and silky.  Place in a pastry bag fitted with a tip with a 1/4" round opening.  Pipe a small circle of ganache in the center of the top of each cupcake.
Make the frosting by creaming together the powdered sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Add the cherry juice concentrate and blend well.  Place a large star tip in a pastry bag and fill with the frosting.  Pipe a large swirl on the top of each cupcake, being sure to cover or "hide" the puddle of ganache but not covering the entire surface of the cupcake.

You can make the chocolate curls to garnish the top by taking a large chocolate bar (milk chocolate works well) and taking a vegetable peeler and shaving it down an edge.  They will be delicate to handle.  Place a few curls on the top of each cupcake.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mom's The Word

Que Sera Sera by Doris Day
I absolutely love Doris Day!  Her movies, and, in this case, her music, make me all sorts of happy inside.  And I can't think of Doris without thinking of my mother.  My mother also loves Doris Day and her movies were always welcome in our home while I was growing up.  Mom would always laugh and pshaw the notion when I told her I thought she looked just like Doris Day - a brunette Doris Day, that is.  What do you think?  I mean - just look at that smile!
Since this song was born before I was it has been a part of my entire life.  I love it's message - "What Will Be, Will Be."  It's an admonition of faith.  As long as you do what you feel is right you can have faith that all things will work out - eventually.  That's exactly what my mom taught me.  And, you might have guessed already with all this talk about my mom that today is her birthday.  And I'm sharing another "Mom" food memory in her honor of her day!

Salad Dressing Cake!  Not salad dressing as in Thousand Island or Ranch.  But salad dressing as in sitting next to the mayo in the condiment aisle.  As in Miracle Whip, folks!  
I've already shared my Mom's biscuit recipe with you.  It's a keeper!  But today I want to share "the cake" recipe of my childhood.  I seriously can't remember any other cake.  Thank goodness it's a tasty one!

My mother didn't believe in mixes.  Nay, she despised mixes.  Mixes denoted laziness and my mom would have nothing to do with laziness or being idle!  In fact, I really can't conjure up any image of my mother where she is not being productive or industrious in some way or other - unless she is sitting down and enjoying the company of guests.  

The Salad Dressing cake was my mom's answer to the no-mix mantra.  It's a short-cut cake where the salad dressing replaces the fat and egg in the typical cake recipe.  It's a great recipe to have in your arsenal for those times when you're craving something sweet but - gasp! - have no eggs!  It's a pretty straightforward concoction.  No sifting or "messing around" required.  Mix together dry ingredients, mix together wet ingredients.  Combine the two and, in less than five minutes, your cake is in the oven and you're off to change loads, iron clothes (an ancient practice that is almost non-existent in modern day), dust the furniture, weed the flower beds, sweep the floor, pay the bills, change the sheets, mend the clothes, feed the animals, and all the other tasks my mom could probably complete in the 25 minutes it takes to bake it.  She astounds me with her work ethic.  No moss grows or dust settles on that woman!

As I made this up for today's post and took a couple bites to sample it, the thought of milk came shouting into my brain.  Milk!  I want milk!  This was curious to me because we didn't drink much milk growing up - it was too expensive to keep a family our size supplied with milk.  But, milk was the memory that came flooding back to me.  And, then, the light bulb went on!  We used to place our pieces of cake in a small bowl and create a moat of milk around the outside.  The cake would soak up the some of the milk and we'd take our spoons and eat like little piggies!  Was this one of those kid things - you know, the disgusting food combos you thought were "the best" as a child but wouldn't feed your dog as an adult.  I wondered.  So I promptly put my piece of cake in a little bowl and poured in the milk.  And tentatively tasted.
Oh.  My.  GOODNESS!!!  It is NOT just a kid thing.  This is delicious!  If I had a restaurant, this is exactly how I would serve this dessert!  Hmmm.  Replacing the fat and eggs with salad dressing actually reduces the calories in this cake.  I haven't had breakfast yet.  I'm thinking it just might be a cake-start day!    What a wonderful way to start my productive and industrious day!

Thanks, Mom, for being such a hard worker!  But, most of all, thanks for never making me feel like all the hard work on our behalf was a drudgery.  Thanks for showing me, by example, how fulfilling and satisfying creating a home can be!  Happy Birthday!

Salad Dressing Cake
1 c. sugar
2 c. flour
4 T. cocoa powder
2 t. baking soda
1 c. salad dressing (Miracle Whip)
1 t. vanilla
1 c. warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl.  In another bowl, stir together the wet ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.  Spray a rectangle cake pan and pour the batter in and smooth it out so that is evenly spread.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.  Cool, then top with your choice of frosting.  

I've used a cream cheese frosting and added shaved milk and dark chocolate on top.  I also lined my pan with parchment, leaving the long sides to hang out over the edge so I could lift the cake out after it was frosted and decorated.

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Oh, Pretty Baby!"

Can't Take My Eyes Off You by Franki Valli
How many of us are lucky enough to have our theme song born the same year we are?  My little sister is! "You're just too good to be true!  Can't take my eyes off of you!  You'd be like heaven to touch!  I wanna hold you so much!"  I could literally quote the whole song and it would completely sum up how I felt as my eyes gazed upon her for the very first time.  The only thing I would change is, instead of the "And I thank God I'm alive" part, I'd say "And I thank God you're alive." She completely transformed my life - in the very best of ways.  And these Lemon Cream Puffs are what I made for her to celebrate her birthday this year!

It was my little sister's birthday this past week and I had her and her family over for dinner to celebrate the day she rocked my world!

You see, I was seven years old when she arrived and had reigned those seven years as the princess supreme in our home - the youngest child AND the only girl after three boys.  I admit I was a bit spoiled.  You'd think I'd resent the arrival of a new baby - and a girl, at that.  But not so!  If I could only take you with me back to that day in March when my parents brought her home.  They sent you home in a box in those days!  No, really!  It was like a cardboard cradle sort of thing - not a car seat in sight!

They brought her in and placed her on the table and I peeked over the side of that box and saw the most exquisite little human being ever!  "Oh, pretty baby!!!"  Instantly, I was in love and I couldn't take my eyes off her.  She was teeny, tiny with a perfectly round little head and tiny, pink lips.  She had wisps of dark, curly hair and blue, blue, blue eyes.  She was better than any baby doll I had ever had!  And I wanted to hold her, feed her, kiss her - I can only imagine what my parents had to go through to keep me away!

I look forward to celebrating this special time with her.  It always makes me reflect to that very first time we met.

When I asked her what she would like for a dessert she started out vague.  I could tell she was poking around to see if I already had something in mind.  I didn't.  At all.  Complete blank.  I suggested the usual - cake, pie, cookies, etc.  All she would settle on was "something with lemon."  Hmmm.  Thanks, sis!  But, then, it popped right into my head - right after Lemon Meringue pie, of course, which is MY birthday dessert!  No - I couldn't make her MY favorite!  I'll make cream puffs!  I haven't made cream puffs for a very long time!  And I'll make a lemon filling to go inside!  They'll be light and airy!  A perfect finish for the lasagna I had already decided to make for dinner.  Yay for good decisions!

Her son sure liked the puffs!  Much more than the "basagna," although I'm proud of him for making a respectable attempt!  I also served a garlic parmesan bread and that's really not fair competition to "basagna" in kid-land.  If I was five, I'd only want to eat the bread, too!  But he sure perked up when the Lemon Cream Puffs came out!  I'm pretty sure you will, too!

Lemon Cream Puffs

1 batch of cream puff shells

Lemon Filling:
1 egg
1/3 c. sugar
3 T. fresh lemon juice (1 - 2 lemons)
2 T. butter
1 c. whipping cream
1 T. sugar

3 oz. white chocolate
1/4 c. powdered sugar

Follow the instructions on my tutorial page to make the cream puff shells.

For the filling, combine the egg and sugar in a small saucepan and stir well to combine.  Add the lemon juice and butter and mix well.  Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continue to stir until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat a spoon.  Press through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface of the filling to keep a film from forming.  Chill.

Pour the whipping cream into another bowl and beat on medium low speed.  Small bubbles with form.  Gradually increase the speed of the mixer.  When the cream starts to form soft peaks, sprinkle the sugar in and continue beating on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks.
Scoot the whipped cream to the side of the bowl and add the chilled lemon filling to the empty space.  Using your spatula, stir and scrape the lemon filling until it is loosened up.  Start incorporating the whipped cream in to the lemon filling about a quarter cup at a time until you've stirred in about a cup of the whipped cream.  Then pull the rest of the whipped cream in and stir it all together.  It will be a very light and airy, but lemony, filling.  Place in a pastry bag.  Cut the cream puffs in half and pipe the filling inside so that some of it holds the puff ajar.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave in 10 second increments, stirring after each increment, until melted.  About 40 seconds.  Place in a ziploc bag and snip off the corner.  Drizzle the melted white chocolate over the tops of the puffs.

Place the powdered sugar in a small strainer and very lightly dust the tops of the puffs.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Meet My Beau, Reuben

Someone Like You by Van Morrison
Continuing on with my homage to Irish performers this week, I was so happy when my eyes rested upon this selection by soulful and bluesy Van Morrison.  This is not to be confused with another popular and amazing song with the same title by Adele.  I'll figure out something lovely to go with that fabulous song another time.  Today we're all Irish.  

And, why was I happy upon being reminded of this song?  Because I love it when everything clicks together so beautifully - recipe, story, and song.  Especially when the song is a personal favorite - which evokes the loveliest of memories from some of my favorite movies - picture Colin Firth sweeping Renee Zellweger into his arms at the end of Bridget Jones Diary!  Today is about favorites.  And Reuben?  Well, he's one of my "besties."

As long as I can remember I've had this attraction for Reuben.  Whenever he's around it's very hard for me to concentrate on anything else.  Philly tries with his sautéed onions and gooey cheese.  Dagwood is just too over the top for my tastes - show off.  And Elvis, well, that's a difficult one.  He puts up a very good fight, all warm and creamy, making me think he's good for me just because he's packing some fruit.  But you want to go with what you know.  That with which you are familiar.  And, for me, that's Reuben - salty, cheesy, buttery, flavorful Reuben.

This is the problem, though.  Reuben may not be good for me.  It's a debate.  You can read about it on the internet.  Reuben's "people" talk about the virtues of all the nutrients you get with him - protein and minerals.  His naysayers say his papers appear to be in order, but, in reality, he usually hides all sorts of transgressions.  He's inconsistent, people tend to embellish and make more of him than he truly is meant to be.  Ah, fame.  What'a a guy to do?

So when I see him in the offing our eyes are magnets for each other.  People who know me point him out saying, "Hey, look.  There's Reuben."  I respond that we've already acknowledged each other but I'm trying to be a good girl.  And then I begin my search for someone else that's like him.  My eyes scan and scan.  It ends up being a 50/50 thing.  Half the time I settle for something else that looks like it could be a new and healthy relationship.  But just as I'm talking myself into this new love, Reuben goes sauntering by on his way to another table, and, heaven help me, my eyes follow him all the way to somebody else's lips.  Sigh.

I had Reuben for lunch the other day.  I ordered some corned beef and swiss cheese at the deli, strained some sauerkraut, and found some beautiful rye bread at the store since I didn't have time to make my own.
To try to keep the conversation light I grabbed a low-fat Thousand Island dressing.  I was all set to grill him about his imperfections and decided instead that I'd really press him for some answers about his inconsistencies and why he couldn't just be a good guy all the time.  I pulled out my panini press and went to work.  Under the pressure, he said I wouldn't be happy with cheap imitations - that it was all his imperfections that drew me to him in the first place and I'd be sorry.

He was right, you know.  That low-fat attempt to turn him into a good boy left me wanting.  I'll never do that again - try to change him.  He is meant to be what he is - full of flavor, no excuses.  We just agreed to not see each other as often.  We parted friends.  But I know I'll see him around town - around the country - heck, we run into each other around the world!  But we have an understanding now.  I pray for strength to resist his charms too often!

Reuben Panini
sliced or shaved corned beef
sliced swiss cheese
Thousand Island or Russian Dressing
sliced Rye Bread
sauerkraut, drained

Heat your panini press to high.

Build your sandwich by slathering the dressing on top and bottom slices of bread.  Heap your corned beef on followed by the sauerkraut and then topped with the cheese.  Put the top on your sandwich and then spread butter on the top and bottom of the outside of the sandwich.  Place in your panini press and bring down the top plate to press your sandwich and cook until golden brown and the cheese is melty and the sandwich is heated through.  If you don't have a press, use a skillet and place another skillet on top to press the sandwich down.  Turn the sandwich over and repeat to brown the other side.  Remove the sandwich and slice in half.  Serve with a dill pickle and chips or fries if you like.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Linger by The Cranberries
This song has a 36 second intro filled with m-m-m-ms.  The Cranberries are from Ireland and this weekend is St. Patrick's Day. And the lyrics are about how cheating can really mess with a relationship.  Yep.  That's pretty much what this past weekend was all about.  I knew I wanted to post today with a St. Patrick's Day theme and chocolate and mint came to mind with mint being green and all.  I decided that that flavor combo would manifest itself in the form of a brownie.  And, although I did the majority of the planning of this brownie while on the treadmill, full of resolve to limit my samples to little nibbles . . .  I tried!  I really tried!  But these turned out really, really GOOD!  So good, in fact, that my husband, who doesn't even like the chocolate/mint flavor combo, has eaten AND returned for more nibbles!  And the cheating belongs to me.  I've been doing so well on my resolve to eat better and exercise more.  Well, I'm exercising alright!  But these guys won out.  The Cranberries chastise me - "do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?"  And then I take a bite and end up saying, "M-m-m-m-m!"  For about 36 seconds.

I'm not Irish and I've never been to Ireland, although it's definitely on my list!  I HAVE been to England, however, and enjoyed being the center of a rousing rendition of an Irish pub-drinking song. Literally!

In 2003, my daughter and I went to England to attend a study abroad program at Cambridge University.  We arrived a week early to give ourselves some time to explore London.  It was wonderful! And, to this day, one of the most memorable and funny experiences of the trip happened one night on the tube (their subway.)

It was late and we were heading back to our room via the tube. Being short, I always had to make sure to claim one of the poles that extended from ceiling to floor to hang onto since there was no way I could reach the upper rails.  On this particular night the seats were taken but there was plenty of floor space and I easily found my way to a pole and held on.  Everything was quite serene until one stop near Picadilly Circus.

The doors opened and admitted this group of about five strapping young men, mugs in hand, spirits high! It was evident that they were in the middle of a pub crawl.  Remember how I said there was plenty of floor space?  They apparently didn't notice.  Like they apparently didn't notice little 'ol me clinging to my pole.  For they all decided to huddle around the SAME pole.  To make room I proceeded to wrap my body around the pole - a skill I  had already perfected from riding the shuttle bus when I attended Weber State University!

My eyes desperately sought out the face of my daughter, a few poles away and OUTSIDE the circle of friendship of which I was now so intimately a member.  She seemed amused.  I decided to be amused later, providing I escaped unharmed!  What could possibly happen on public transit, right?

All went well for a stop or two.

Then suddenly, one of the guys did a sort of "Hip, Hip, Hooray" type of thing and the whole of them launched into one of the most rousing songs I have EVER been a part of without singing myself!  It was deafening!  They sang with gusto, clinking mugs together!  I didn't understand a word but I was pretty sure it was Irish.

At this point my eyes were wide open - think Lucille Ball.  Were these the hooligans about whom we had been hearing so much on the news???  All I knew was that I was going to stick tight to my pole and make as little motion as possible so they would continue to not notice I was smack dab in the middle of them, their hands holding the same pole, above and below my own.

One stop more, the doors opened, they exited, and, like a vacuum, all sound went with them, leaving nothing but a humorous memory for this American lady!

If I could track down those blokes today I'd gladly treat them to a batch of these delicious brownies.  A layer of chocolate mints, like me, smack dab in the middle, baked until melty, then topped with a layer of ganache.  The textures in this brownie will certainly have you either singing your own pub song or joining The Cranberries with m-m-m-ms.

Minty Chocolate Brownies
4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1 c. unsalted butter
2 c. sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
1 c. flour
3  5 oz. boxes of Haviland Thin Mint patties, frozen
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate pieces and/or milk chocolate (I used a blend)
5 oz. heavy cream
2 t. peppermint extract
1 bar white chocolate or 3 oz. white chocolate chips
green food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 13x9 pan by spraying and lining with parchment so that the long ends hang over the edge, creating the handles with which you will remove the brownies from the pan later.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the unsweetened chocolate and butter and melt in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until melted.  It should take a total of 2 - 3 minutes.  Let cool.

Stir in the sugar, salt, and vanilla and blend well.  Being sure that it is cooled, add the eggs and whisk together.  Add the flour and fold in just until blended.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Place a layer of the frozen chocolate mints.
Add the remaining batter and use an offset spatula to evenly spread it across the mint layer.
Bake for 25 minutes.  Let cool.  Using the handles, lift the brownies from the pan and place on a cutting board and pull the parchment down, exposing the sides.

Place your semi-sweet/milk chocolate chips in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to break into smaller pieces.  Heat the cream just to a simmer.  With the food processor running, pour the hot cream in through the chute.  The cream will melt the chocolate and create a luxurious chocolate mixture.  Continue to process until velvety smooth.  Add the peppermint extract and mix well.  Pour the ganache over the top of the baked and cooled brownie, using the offset spatula to reach the corners and create a smooth top.  Chill.

Place the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt in 15 second intervals, stirring well after each interval.  Take about a third of the melted white chocolate out and place in a separate bowl and color with green food coloring.  Place the white chocolate and the green chocolate in plastic bags and snip the corner.  First, using the white chocolate make a drizzle diagonally back and forth, going past the edges, down the entire length of the brownie.  Next, using the green-tinted chocolate, do the same thing going in the opposite direction.  Then, to create a plaid, use the white chocolate again and drizzle again in the same manner as the first time.  
Sprinkle with green sprinkles, if desired.  Chill.

Trim off the outer 1/4" edges - I used a pizza cutter.  Then divide into squares.
As far as which chocolate mints to use, I did a test between the Ghirardelli squares and the Haviland Thin Mints.  
I absolutely couldn't tell the difference in the end.  And, since the Havilands are .89 at my Walgreen's right now and it only takes two and a half boxes, that would be my choice.  You're going to put them in the freezer anyway so stock up while they are on sale!  Also, you don't have to unwrap each piece, which saves time.  It takes two bags of the Ghirardelli squares which is more than twice the cost of the other.  And there's the unwrapping issue . . . But use what you have!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Copycat Seafood Brodetto

Soldi, Soldi, Soldi by Sophia Loren
I searched diligently for a song about doing something your own way (My Way by Sinatra - too swan-songish) or being a copycat (The Cranberries - too not-at-all-the-sentiment-I-was-looking-for) or fishing (too, well, American sounding.)  I puzzled a little longer then hit myself up alongside my head.  I have a CD of Italian songs that I listen to all. the. time.  I bought it years ago for a church youth spaghetti feed for background music.  I loved it so much it's been a regular go-to when I'm doing just about anything around the house.  My kids know it well.  When Sophia's song comes on we all chip in on the "cha-cha-cha" part.  Translated, the title means Money, Money, Money.  Nothing about fishing, but it truly sets the mood as I pretend I'm Sophia, sashaying around the kitchen as I whip up a beautiful fish stew from my husband's catch of the day.  No - really! 

A little over a year ago I made a trip to our local Olive Garden restaurant and began my perusal of the menu to find something I could eat that wouldn't break the calorie bank.  They have several options - but I was getting tired of those same options.  Often I'll get an appetizer and make it my meal - love the Sicilian Scampi!  Today, though, I was hoping something new would pop out at me.

And it did!  They had this dish they called "Seafood Brodetto."  As I read the description it passed on all criteria.  Fish and seafood - we know that's good for you - check!  Tomato based broth with no mention of creams - yes!  A quick consult with the nutrition app on my phone informed me that it was a mere 480 calories - yes!  yes!  yes!  I was hoping to be in love in the very, very near future.

And I was!  As the server brought out the dish I noticed this half-lemon perched on the side.  She informed me that I really must squeeze the juices all over the dish to truly appreciate the flavors.  I love testing "authority" so I, of course, took a taste before the lemon squeezing and, then again after the squeeze.  She was right.  The lemon brought the dish to life.  To life, I say!  The presentation was appealing - it came from the kitchen in it's own little round crock-like dish.  It was served with two slices of grilled ciabatta bread.  Being afraid of the aftermath of most "light" fare, though, I was hoping that this fish stew was going to fill me and leave me satisfied.

And it did!  Despite the lack of any apparent abundance of fats or creams, I was full AND satisfied!  With so many flavors to decipher and pinpoint, my tastebuds had all sorts of things to talk about.  There was a slight acidity besides the lemon, a warmth that most likely came from the chile flakes I saw.  The vibrant colors of red from the tomatoes, green from the spinach leaves, orange specks from some carrots and shrimp, and white from the fish and scallops.  The tilapia filet was nestled down in this flavorful hot tub surrounded by shrimp and little scallops.  I was hoping I could figure out how to make this at home.

And, after a few attempts and many trips back, I think I did!  I did some research on brodetto to help fill in some of the blanks and discovered that the other acid I was tasting was most likely red wine vinegar.  I loved the story of how brodettos were made in little Italian fishing villages from the catch of the day, and just about every person had their own version.  A-ha!  The license to do some free-wheeling!  Today I'd like to share the result of my culinary journey with you and hope you'll enjoy it as well!

Seafood Brodetto
Serves 4
Printable Recipe Card
2 shallots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of saffron
pinch of chile flakes (optional)
1 T. olive oil
2 T. tomato paste
1/2 c. white wine
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 qt. seafood stock
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 tilapia filets
8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and cut into bite-size pcs.
1/2 lb. bay scallops
1 c. baby spinach leaves
grated Parmesan cheese
2 lemons, halved and grilled
Thick-cut baguettes slices, grilled

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, hopefully more wide than tall, over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until translucent - about 3 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, saffron, and chile flakes, if using, and sauté for 5 minutes more.  Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add the tomato paste and stir and toast for 2 minutes.  It will probably stick to the bottom of the pan.  This is great,  but adjust the heat so it doesn't burn.

Add the white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pot.  Add the red wine vinegar, stock, and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil then turn heat down to simmer.  Let simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

I was happy to find this new addition to the stocks section at my grocery store.
If your store doesn't carry it I'd try a vegetable stock or a chicken stock.  Or make your own seafood stock using your shrimp shells, some celery, onion, and carrot simmered in a quart of water, then strained.  It takes about half an hour.

Gently add the tilapia filets to the simmering broth, making sure they are submerged in the liquid.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Filets will turn opaque.  Add the scallops and shrimp pieces and gently stir.  Further cook at a simmer for 5 more minutes until the shrimp have turned orange pink and the scallops are opaque.  Taste and season, if necessary.

To serve, use a fish spatula or a long, slotted spoon and place a filet in each person's bowl.  Ladle the rest of the soup over the filet, equally dividing among the bowls.  Top with leaves of fresh spinach and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add some slices of toasted baguettes in the side of the broth and the grilled lemon halves on the side.  If you MUST, a quick drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil wouldn't be a bad idea.  Squeeze the lemon over the bowl before eating.  Give a stir and enjoy!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Knotty Buns

Twist and Shout by The Beatles
This is the song that kept playing through my mind as I "twisted and tied" these cinnamon buns.  It's just a matter of twisting the dough and, when they are done, there will be shouting!  Oh, yes.  You, and those with whom you may share these, will shout!  Originally I thought about Chubby Checkers' The Twist.  But the urgency in John Lennon's voice just begs me to choose him - er, them.  I find this vocal to be a little out of character for Lennon's usual fare - think Imagine.  I remember reading once that The Beatles had recorded Twist and Shout at the end of a strenuous day and his voice was shot.  He gave it what he could.  Ends up - even his last shreds of voice are pretty darn stellar.  These cinnamon rolls are also a little out of character.  But they are also pretty darn stellar.

I've been thinking I'm coming down with a cold the last few days.  The sinuses are pounding - my teeth hurt.  The usual.  I've been craving comfort.  No - not chicken soup kind of comfort.  Sweet and chewy - "There, there, sweetheart.  It'll be ok" kind of comfort.  I really don't want to have a cold right now.  Maybe it won't happen.  I don't know.  But I'll quit whining now so I can get on with sharing this great recipe - this sweet and warm cinnamon comfort.

I mentioned these cinnamon buns last December when I used part of its recipe in a marriage of recipes to make Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread.  In that post I had told about how we had visited my husband's cousin and his wife and she had treated us to my first memorable cinnamon buns.

I thought it was worth a trip back to that day so I could show you exactly how she made her own very unique version of this treat.  I've never seen them done this way since - unless I'm the one making them, of course!

This is literally a hands-on recipe.  You're gonna get in there and handle the dough.  You're gonna get messy with butter and cinnamon and sugar.  You're gonna LOVE it!  Kids will want to help so decide, right off the bat, if you're gonna be up for this.  Hint - let them!  It's also great fun!  So let's wash our hands and get to work!

Cinnamon Knotty Buns
makes 12
Printable Recipe Card
1 1/2 c. warm water  (12 fl oz.)
1/4 c. sugar (50 g)
1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 t.)
12 T. butter, softened (170 g)
1 egg
1/4 c. powdered milk (34 g)
1/4 t. cinnamon
2 t. kosher salt
5 c. flour (625 g)
3/4 c. sugar (150 g)
3/4 c. brown sugar (165 g)
1 1/2 T. cinnamon
2 cubes butter (227 g)

4 c. powdered sugar
2 oz. low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. low-fat sour cream or plain non-fat yogurt
2 T. butter softened
1 T. vanilla extract

In a large mixer bowl, combine the warm water and sugar and give it a stir.  Sprinkle in the yeast and give it another stir.  Let sit for a few minutes.

In a separate bowl combine the powdered milk, cinnamon, salt, and flour.  Whisk together.

The yeast mixture should be foamy now.  This lets you know your yeast is good to go!  Attach the bread hook to the mixer.  Add the butter and egg and mix.  Add the flour mixture and mix on medium high speed until ingredients come together and turn from raggy to just smooth - about 2 - 3 minutes.  This is a soft dough.  Spray another large bowl and transfer the dough to it.  Turn the dough to coat with the spray, cover and let rest where it is warm for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile - make the frosting by creaming together the wet ingredients then adding the powdered sugar and mixing well.  Then set up your dipping  "stations."  Combine the brown and granulated sugars with the cinnamon in one bowl.  Melt the butter in another bowl.
Now, you know that nothing but good can come from a set-up like this, right?!

When the dough has risen for 45 minutes you have a couple options.  You can just start grabbing handfuls of dough and estimate or you can turn the dough out onto a working surface lightly coated with spray or flour and divide the dough into 12 equal portions.  Either way is fine, you just need to end up with 12.

Take your portion of dough and pull it into a rope about eight inches long.

Dip it in the melted butter.
Roll it into the cinnamon and sugar mixture.
Gently tie it into a knot, pushing the end up and through the hole with your finger.
Lay them on sheet tray that has been lined with parchment paper and lightly sprayed.

Let rest for 30 minutes, covered.  
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes.  
Let cool and drizzle frosting over the top.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Quick Chicken Pot Pie

Bend Me Shape Me by American Breed
Yeah, so maybe this song choice would have been more accurate for the last time we used puff pastry, with all the folding and shaping involved.  But I'm sticking with it - just to emphasize how versatile puff pastry can be.  And how wondrous it is, even when simply sliced into rectangles.  You really can shape it any way you like and create some wonderful edible art, lifting any "ho-hum" dinner to "out of this world" status.  Your family will ask, "Who's coming for dinner?"  And feel honored when they find out it's them!  This song could be the national anthem of Puff Pastry Land.  It's all the dough really wants - to be loved, I mean.  "Bend me, shape me, any way you want me, as long as you love me, it's all right."  

So there I was - with a left over puff pastry sheet from last week's post and a goodly amount of chicken left over from a mega-roasted-chicken Sunday dinner when I roasted up four birds for some fun weekend company.  A perusal of my vegetable bin found some straggling mushrooms and fresh thyme.  And I try to always have some Laughing Cow Lite cheese on hand.  (You should, too, by the way.  Especially if you're calorie conscious.  Those little wedges can do magic tricks!)

What to do to use up these ingredients and not let them go to waste?!

As I sat at my kitchen counter, staring at the items before me, I remembered a photo on the cover of my Real Simple magazine a month ago, which showed this tasty looking chicken pot pie using a puff pastry topper instead of the traditional pie dough treatment. Although I adore making pies, sometimes you just want something quick.

I was too lazy to get up and track down that particular recipe so, while my behind was glued to the chair, I started thinking about how to go about making a chicken pot pie filling.  I suddenly realized how easy it would be AND I had all the ingredients required.  It got me so excited that I broke free from the chair and started making this recipe.  And just try to imagine how happy I was when it actually turned out DELICIOUS!

At least I'm pretty sure it was delicious.  I pretty much inhaled it.  But, happy news!  It reheats beautifully!  The next day for lunch I popped one of those little dishes into the microwave for 2 minutes, stirring halfway through, until fully heated.  I had stored the extra puffs in a separate bag.  I heated one for about 20 seconds.  I placed it on top of the chicken dish and took my time this time. Verify!  Delicious!
Quick Chicken Pot Pie
serves 4
Printable Recipe Card
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 T. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped carrots
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. black pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
3 T. flour
1/2 c. white wine
2 wedges Laughing Cow Lite Swiss Cheese
2 1/2 c. chicken stock
3 c. cooked chicken, cubed
1 c. frozen peas

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the puff pastry from it's package and place on lightly floured work surface.  Cut along the folds to create 3 long rectangles, then cut each of them in half for 6.  Place each rectangle on a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake for 15 - 20 minutes.  They will puff up like pillows.  Remove when golden brown on top.  Set aside.

While the puff pastry is baking start the chicken dish.  In a deep Dutch oven or other large pot, swirl the olive oil in and heat over medium high heat.  Add the onions, celery, and carrots and stir to coat.  Cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent - about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook until they just start to get a little brown on their edges.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.

Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables.  Cook for 2 minutes stirring frequently.  The mixture will be dry but don't worry, you're just cooking out the raw flour flavor.  It's OK if bits get stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Just don't let them burn.  Adjust heat if that starts to happen.

Add the wine to the pan and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until bubbly.  Add the wedges of Laughing Cow cheese and stir to melt.  Pour in the chicken stock and stir.  Bring to a bubble and then stir in chicken and frozen peas.  Remove from heat.

I ladled mine into individual serving dishes but you can place yours in a large casserole dish if you don't have the mini dishes.

Put the chicken mixture into the oven and heat for 15 minutes until bubbly.  To serve, place each rectangle puff on top of each mini-dish or simply set along the chicken dish when scooped onto each person's plate or bowl.  You will have two extra puff pillows - or not!