Sunday, August 31, 2008

Making Whoopie

Pies that is. Get your minds out of the gutter.

I have made a recent discovery lately that has thrilled me to no end. The public library has hundreds of cookbooks ready and willing to be checked out. I love cookbooks and I have a collection of approximately 100 volumes that I have amassed over the years. I find myself often sitting at the kitchen table perusing them for inspiration.

The first cookbook I ever received was the well used one pictured below. I believe my mother joined a cookbook by mail club and she got myself and my two sisters each a cookbook for the Christmas of 1972. I don't recall which books they received, but I have so enjoyed mine over these past 36 years (Oh my, how can it be that long ago?)The problem is, I need new material occasionally so I started going to the library and checking out 3-4 cookbooks at a time and it is so much fun. There have been a couple so far that I have on my list to purchase, but the great thing is I haven't wasted money buying books I would wind end up not using. I have a few of those in my current collection.

Today I was looking through a pretty cookbook called GoodHousekeeping's Great American Classics Cookbook. It was filled with scrumptious photos and delicious sounding traditional American recipes, one of them being this Whoopie Pie recipe. This was an extremely easy recipe to make and it was so nice not to have to dirty up the big mixer. It was a simple one bowl/one spoon cookie dough and the marshmallow filling was equally simple. A very tasty recipe.Whoopie Pies
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
6 Tbsp melted butter or margarine
1 tsp vanilla extract

Marshmallow Creme Filling
6 Tbsp. softened butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 jar (7-7 1/2 oz) marshmallow creme
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 deg and grease or line with parchment paper two large cookie sheets.

Prepare cookie dough by mixing in a large bowl, flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt, milk, butter egg and vanilla with a large wooden spoon.

Drop 12 heaping tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart on each prepared cookie sheet. Bake until puffy and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, approximately 12-14 minutes. Switch cookie sheets in oven halfway through cooking. Cool cookies on a rack completely.

Prepare marshmallow creme filling by creaming butter in bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually add in powdered sugar, then beat in marshmallow creme and vanilla until smooth.

Spread 1 rounded tablespoon of filling on one side of 6 cookies and top with the other six cookies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Super Garage Sale Buy

Sometime in the last 18 years since I moved to Salem, I purchased an Italian Atlas hand crank pasta maker for the phenomenal price of $5.00. Currently they range in price from $40-$100 according to my Internet search today. At the time I made this bargain buy, I had never even attempted making homemade pasta. I bought it on an impulse and thought it was something I couldn't pass up. I have used it many times since.
I have made linguini, spaghetti and lasagna noodles but something I have never attempted is ravioli and today was the day for that culinary challenge. It was certainly time consuming but a very satisfying experience. I started by making the pasta dough which consisted of 2 cups of flour and 3 eggs processed in the food processor until it came together in a ball. It rested for a few minutes after kneading until smooth. I then made the filling. The filling consisted of 1 cup of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, salt and pepper to taste, 2 tablespoons of tomato puree and 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil thoroughly mixed together. Once the filling was done, I rolled out the pasta sheets and set them on flour covered towels. I then took one sheet, placed it on my flour covered granite counter, put a teaspoon of filling approximately 1 1/2 inches apart, painted the dough sides and in between the filling with water than placed a second sheet on top. I pushed around the filling gently with my fingers to get out any air bubbles then around the sides to seal the two pieces of dough together. I tried at first to cut the ravioli with a biscuit cutter but I found it cut too close to the filling so I opted to use a knife to trim around the excess dough and then cut each ravioli to the size of approximately 2 inches by 2 inches. These precious pillows were then placed on a flour covered towel on a cookie sheet where they rested in the refrigerator until time to cook. They cooked in gently simmering water for approximately 10 minutes.

To dress the ravioli I made a tomato alfredo sauce consisting of heavy cream gently boiled until it coated the back of a spoon, added a couple of tablespoons of butter, a tablespoon of tomato puree and approximately 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese.

My assessment of this dish was just so-so. The ravioli filling was rather bland and there was just too much dough around the filling. From now on I will leave the stuffed pasta making to the pros. The sauce was pretty good though. You can't go wrong with cream, butter and parmesan cheese, now can you?

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Garden Update

The corn on 7/22/08 and the corn on 8/22/08

The garden is thriving. Soooooooo many beans to be picked I have to make two trips to the kitchen to deposit the filled colander. The corn is nearly ready to start harvesting I can't wait! And the cucumbers (all three of them) are ready to pick. That plant was very sad for weeks due to the cold weather we had this spring. But it perked up and we will definitely have a cucumber harvest of sorts.

Now about the tomatoes. We are harvesting the cherry tomatoes but I am having my doubts about the Big Boys and whether we will get any off that plant. Many green ones but none starting to ripen that I can see. The Husband usually has great luck with tomatoes but again, I think the cold spring weather was very detrimental to our tomato harvest.

When I was growing up we had no garden whatsoever. It is so satisfying to be able to step out into my back yard and pick vegetables. I know it sounds so simplistic but it gives me great enjoyment!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Grandma's Tarts

My English grandma always had a large decorative tin of tarts ready for us when we came to visit. There were of maids of honor (so named by King Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn who was a lady in waiting to his first wife Katherine of Aragon), coconut tarts, and jam and lemon curd filled tarts, with each layer separated in the tin by wax paper. It was such a treat to sit at my grandparents dining room table with cups of tea and the delicious tarts. My mother also made tarts, but with her busy schedule it was usually at Christmas or at times when she baked a pie she would make jam tarts with the leftover pie dough.

I am very pleased that I was able to get my grandma's recipes for her various tarts and I try to make them at least once a year. When finished, I too always put them in my favorite tin which is decorated with tart pictures and the poem about the Queen of Hearts and her tarts. I hope my nieces will learn how to make them as it would be a shame for those traditional recipes to be lost.

Since I made my gloriously successful berry pie, I decided to throw together a few jam tarts with my leftover pie dough. I was able to do so primarily because The Husband was at work and not stealing and eating the raw dough before I can get to the rest of my baking.
Above: Tarts ready for baking.

For these tarts there is no recipe other than taking leftover dough, rolling it out and cutting into circles to fit the muffin tin, filling each tart with approximately 1 teaspoon of a jam, jelly, or lemon curd and baking at 350 degrees for approximately 12 minutes until crusts are light brown. Let tarts cool in tin for 10 minutes or so, until jam sets then remove and cool them on a rack.
Above: Tarts baked and ready for their special tin.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Facing Fears

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt
"You must do things you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt

Taking to heart the inspirational words of this fine American couple, I decided to tackle my fear of pie making again before the summer slips away and all of the fresh fruits and berries are long gone. I recalled making a couple of pies a few years ago for Thanksgiving when my mother was here visiting and I used a pate brisee recipe for the crusts and they turned out fairly well. I chalked their success up to the fact that my mother was in the kitchen with me bringing me good cooking Karma. That theory is now put to the test, as is that pie crust recipe.

Pate Brisee Pie Crust
(Makes two 9-10inch crusts)
2 sticks very cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
In processor bowl pulse flour, sugar and salt together 3-4 times. Add butter and mix until a coarse crumble forms, no more than 30 seconds. Very slowly add water through the feed tube of the processor with the machine going, adding just enough so that mixture holds together when pinched together. Divide the dough into two and form into smooth circles, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes but as long as overnight. If overnight, take dough out for 30 minutes prior to rolling it out.
Above: Ingredients for pie dough.
Above: Processed dough holding together nicely.Above: Dough balls ready for the Big Chill overnight.
The next step in my process was to make the berry filling, roll out the crusts and put the pie together and it worked BEAUTIFULLY! I have finally found a pie crust that works for me and I will never ever waver from it again. No more lard, no more shortening, no more vinegar, just pure butter and lots of it.
Above: The Willamette Valley's delicious berries-Marion and Blackberries with a sprinkle of lemon zest.

The berry filling consisted of 3 cups of Marionberries and 1 cup of blackberries and a couple teaspoons of lemon zest which were coated with a slurry of 2 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of water and 3/4 cup of sugar. The bottom crust was rolled out and filled with the berries, then the top crust was rolled out and put on top and crimped and a few slits were put in the top crust to let steam escape. Then the top was brushed lightly with cream and sprinkled it with sugar. It baked at at 450 deg for the first 10 minutes then turned down the heat to 350 deg where it stayed for another 45 minutes. Approximately 10 minutes prior to taking it out, the edges were covered with foil so as not to burn. A baking sheet was kept under the pie during baking to prevent spillage all over the oven. Above: Pie ready for the oven, glazed with cream and a sprinkle of sugar.
Above: Finished pie in all it's glory.

I served the pie ala mode with homemade vanilla ice cream. Pie Oh My Indeed!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Pictorial Study in Green Beans

It was 98 degrees yesterday. It will be 100 degrees today. It's hot. The house is hot. I'm hot. But the garden likes the heat and the many, many bean plants are thriving so I was up at 6am this Saturday morning to go harvest and put up some beans before it becomes unbearable in the kitchen.

The process is so easy and will produce garden fresh beans all winter long with just a little effort now. Here's what I do in a brief narrative and I'll let the photos tell the whole story.

Freezing Green Beans
Use fresh beans (if you're lucky enough to have a nice spouse like The Husband who grows a garden) or go to your local farmers market and purchase some local produce.
Cut of tops and ends then wash thoroughly and drain.
Put in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes (either left whole or cut to your liking).
Immediately submerse in a bowl of ice water until cool.
Drain on paper towel.
Spread in single layer on cookie sheet and place in freezer until frozen.
Put in freezer bags and put date on bag. Enjoy all year long!
Above: Fresh picked and cut.

Above: Beans blanching in boiling water.

Above: Beans being shocked in ice water.

Above: Beans ready for flash freezing.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Peachy Dessert

We're off on another mini-vacation. This long weekend will be spent in Astoria, Oregon with the Father-In-Law and other family members. I always look forward to our getaways to that quaint town on the Columbia River.

One of my old travel companions, Laddy Joel and I once had a humorous trip through Astoria on our way to a vacation in Cannon Beach. We needed gas and stopped in Astoria where, much to our delight, attached to the gas station was a wonderful little store called the POP SHOPPE. And guess what they sold there? POP!!! Many, many varieties of pop which came in small clear bottles. They were all lined up on shelves looking like little jewels. Oh what decisions we had to make. As I recall, we bought a whole case, 24 bottles of pop, and enjoyed every one of them.

I don't really like pop anymore.

Okay. Enough reminiscing. I'm making dessert for Friday night's group dinner and decided on Peach Crisp as the peaches at the Wednesday Market were so beautiful and ripe. It's a very easy recipe and serves 8-10. I made them in individual ramekins but this could also be done in a 13x9 pan.
Peach Crisp
8 ripe peaches (peel by letting the peaches sit in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. The peels slip right off)
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp of cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 375 deg.Slice the peaches into a large bowl. Sprinkle with flour, cinnamon and vanilla and toss carefully until the peaches are well coated. Pour into greased 13x 9 baking pan.

Crisp Topping
2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cubes of room temperature salted butter
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and with fingers, mix the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles a medium crumb. Generously layer the topping over the prepared fruit. Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and fruit is bubbling. Serve with ice cream or vanilla flavored whipped cream. Enjoy the summer's bounty.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Easiest Cookie Ever

Coconut macaroons. Truly, the easiest cookie ever to make. Total of 5 ingredients. That's it. And they're very satisfying. Though not calorie free, they are nearly fat free and did I mention they are the easiest cookie ever to make. Of course, you must like coconut. Here is the recipe I've used forever (good for Passover too.)
Coconut Macaroons
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
14 oz. shredded sweetened coconut
2 room temperature egg whites
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
That's it for the ingredients.
Preheat oven to 325 deg. Combine milk, coconut and vanilla in a large bowl. In your mixer bowl beat the egg whites and salt until they form medium soft peaks. Gently combine the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Put a large teaspoon of mixture per cookie onto a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. There you have it. Makes approximately 24 cookies.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Poached Scallops with Garlic-Parsley Butter

I am in vacation mode and not in the right frame of mind for writing much today. Our Sunday night dinner was moved to Saturday night as we are off on a mini-vacation to Wildlife Safari near Roseburg, Oregon tomorrow. I've never been and am looking forward to the adventure. We are in an animal mood as last Monday we had the day off and went to the Portland Zoo.

Today I went to the local seafood market to see what "caught" my eye and I decided on the big bay scallops to use in a recipe I have made a number of times and it is always tasty. Served with the scallops, we had couscous with spinach and lemon zest and steamed green beans, our first harvest of them. It was a nice, light summer dinner and very quick to prepare!

Poached Scallops with Garlic-Parsley Butter
12 scallops (approximately 3/4 lbs of 1 inch wide scallops)
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced shallots
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 Tbsp dry white wine
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Pat scallops dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Add scallops and cook, turning once until opaque but still moist looking, approximately 4 minutes total. Transfer scallops to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Add 1/2 Tbsp. butter, garlic and shallots to pan and saute for approximately 2 minutes until translucent. Add remaining 2 Tbsp. butter, chicken broth, parsley, tomatoes, white wine and lemon juice; bring to a boil and cook 2-3 minutes. If desired, a dollop of cream can be added at this point to make a richer sauce.
Serve scallops over couscous with the sauce drizzled over the top.