Monday, October 27, 2008

Chocolate Blossoms

The Christmas baking was full speed ahead this weekend with four different cookies made and safely away in the freezer awaiting my Christmas basket assembly. I'll blog each one eventually. This is going to be fun!

These Chocolate Blossoms are a twist on the traditional Peanut Blossoms made with peanut butter. Instead, these use cocoa which makes for an intense chocolate dough. It is important to shove (not a technical cooking term) the chocolate kiss quickly into the cookies as they come out of the oven before they cool too much to get them to adhere. I engaged the husband's help to do one tray while I did the other. Now I can tell you all he helped with the goodies this year.
Chocolate Blossoms
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
extra sugar for rolling the cookie balls
48 milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped

In large bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, shortening and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, blend well. Add flour baking soda and salt and blend. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour for easier handling. (I omitted this step and they were fine.)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Shape dough into 1 inch balls; roll each ball in sugar and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until set. Immediately top each cookie with a candy kiss, pressing down firmly so cookie cracks around the edges. Remove from cookie sheets to cool. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Tis The Season (Almost)

Growing up, my remarkable mother always starting baking Christmas cookies every weekend sometime in November, so by Christmas there was a freezer filled with various tins of scrumptious cookies. Now, there was one small glitch to this scheme of hers, and that was my two brothers would often raid those tins in the freezer, thus come the holiday season there weren't quite as many cookies as my mother had planned on.

We could always depend on a number of consistent cookies each year with a few new ones thrown in the mix. There were snowballs (my father's favorite), English tarts, orange slice bars, Nanaimo bars, and the most wonderful cut out sugar cookies. These were a special treat in my book as not only were the frosted so beautifully with the help of all us kids, but my mom made angel cut outs for each one of us. The amazing thing is, she still makes these angel cookies to this day for each of us, our spouses, her grandchildren and now this year, her first great-granddaughter. They are always frosted with blue dresses, blond hair (too bad about the dark haired members who have joined our family over the years) and faces painted on with food coloring. She also pipes each of our names on them with frosting so they are uniquely ours.

These angel cookies are always a lovely ending after our traditional English Christmas dinner of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding and even though my brothers, sisters and myself are all in our 50's, I think we all revert back to our childhoods a bit as we take the first bite of our special angel. Thank you mom so much for this beautiful tradition.

Now that I have wiped the tears from my eyes, I will tell you that I decided to bake cookies this year and give each of my family a basket of treats at Christmas to share and hopefully enjoy. The next few weeks of my blog will be devoted to this effort with the first recipe to begin now with a Swedish cookie called Split Seconds. These were super easy and I think they will make a nice, colorful addition to the Christmas cookie baskets.
Split Seconds

2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup preserves or jelly (I used cherry preserves)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; blend well. Add flour and baking powder, mix well.
Divide dough into four equal parts. On a lightly floured surface, shape each part into a 12 inch roll; place on an ungreased cookie sheet approximately 3-4 inches apart. Using handle of wooden spoon or finger, make a depression down the middle of each roll, approximately 1/2 inch wide and 1/4 inch deep. Fill each roll with 2 tablespoons of preserves.Bake for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool slightly. Cut each baked roll diagonally into 12 cookies. Cool on wire racks. Yields 4 dozen cookies.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Baked Goat Cheese and a Salad

Not a very clever title today. I haven't done enough salads on my blog so I decided to include this one which was served for dinner this weekend along with Seafood Fettucini Alfredo. Though the salad tasted good, I was disappointed by the baked goat cheese. It just didn't get brown which I thought would happen. The failure I believe goes to the fact that I baked the cheese in a baking pan as opposed to the baking sheet called for in the recipe. It pays to follow instructions! All in all it was a nice salad and I would definitely make it again. (P.S. I know Gladys, yours wasn't plated as nicely as the one shown above!)
Mixed Greens Salad with Baked Parmesan Goat Cheese
1 5.5-ounce log creamy goat cheese (such as Montrachet), chilled

1 egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1/3 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
6 cups (4 ounces) mixed lettuces

Cut goat cheese log into 4 equal rounds. Place egg in a shallow bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Spread flour in a shallow medium bowl. In another shallow medium bowl, mix panko, parmesan, thyme and cayenne. Coat each cheese round completely with flour, then dip into egg, letting excess drip off, then coat well with panko/parmesan mixture. Place on a baking sheet, cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Add shallots and tomatoes to dressing and set aside. (Dressing can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)
To bake goat cheese, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake cheese, uncovered, until heated through and coating is light golden brown, about 6 minutes. Watch carefully.

To serve, toss greens with enough dressing to coat lightly, and mound salad on 4 salad plates. Garnish each serving with a baked goat cheese round.

Makes 4 servings.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pate Choux Eclairs avec Creme Patissiere et sauce au Chocolate

Bonjour. Aujourd'hui nous faisons cuire un très bon dessert classique français. Translation: Good Day. Today we are cooking a very good classic French dessert. Eclairs filled with pastry cream and topped with a bittersweet chocolate sauce.

I wanted to challenge myself with a multifaceted dessert and this one fit the bill. I went to a number of sources for each component which consist of: 1)eclairs; 2)pastry cream; and 3)chocolate sauce. Each piece of this dessert was fairly easy in it's own right and the pastry cream can be made a couple of days prior to needing it as it can stay in the refrigerator covered with plastic. Those French really know how to cook, don't they?
So here we go.

Note: There is one special equipment requirement and that is a large pastry bag and pastry tip for piping out the eclairs.
Pate Choux Eclairs
1/2 cup water
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Return to moderate heat and stir constantly until the dough leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating hard until the dough is smooth after each egg. Put the dough in a pastry bag and pipe onto an ungreased cookie sheet in strips about 4 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Bake for 30 minutes or until the puffs are golden. Take from oven and put a slit in the side of each eclair to let the steam escape. Put on racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container if not using within 2 hours.
Above: Flour, water, and butter combined and cooked.
Above: Adding eggs one at a time.
Above: Dough ready to be piped onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Above: Piped eclairs ready for the oven.

Above: Finished eclair shells.
Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp unsalted butter

Combine the milk and 1/4 cup sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining tablespoon of sugar until thick. Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch into the mixture and combine and continue beating until well mixed.
Above: the egg yolks and sugar ready for a good stir until it thickens.
Above: Finished pastry cream ready for it's plastic wrap cover and refrigeration until ready to use.

Remove the milk from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour half the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and stir. Return this mixture to the remaining milk in the saucepan and bring to a boil very quickly, whisking to prevent scorching. Remove from the heat and pour into a clean bowl. Rub the top of the cream with butter to prevent a skin from forming. Top with a piece of plastic wrap so that it covers the entire surface of the cream and let cool completely then refrigerate.
Sauce Au Chocolate (Chocolate Sauce)
2/3 cup white corn syrup
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 ounces (2 squares) unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 big pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

Boil the corn syrup in a small saucepan for a minute or two, until it forms heavy strands as you drop it off the spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the water. Stir together the sugar and cocoa getting out all of the lumps, then whisk them in the syrup. Simmer, stirring for several seconds until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the baking chocolate and simmer, stirring until melted. Blend in the butter and cream. Bring to a full boil for 15 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in the salt and vanilla.
Above: Corn syrup at a full boil
Above: Chocolate with addition of cream and butter.

This is a very loose sauce and I was wanting a more thick frosting that I could apply to the tops of the eclairs so I took half the sauce and mixed in confectioners sugar until it came to the consistency of frosting.

Cut eclairs in two and scrape some of the insides. Pipe or spoon in the pastry cream. Put top back on. Apply a layer of chocolate frosting over the top of the eclair. Put a puddle of the chocolate sauce on the plate and set your beautiful filled and frosted eclair in the middle of the sauce. A dollop of whip cream would certainly not hurt if you have some around. Indulge!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ain't It The Fall

Fall is not my favorite season. Never has been. It is too much of a reminder that Winter is coming, and that is my least favorite season. This weekend though, Fall was very kind and gave us two beautiful days. I was at a farmer's market and couldn't help but be impressed with the beautiful colors all around me, so I thought I would share them with you, my loyal readers.

The title above is significant as when I was young and sad in my twenties, I had a favorite song called
Ain't It the Fall by that long defunct group called Starland Vocal Band. Who remembers them? (Oh come on now, Afternoon Delight?? I knew you'd remember.)

It used to make me cry.

Much happier times now, no matter what the season.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cherry-Poppin' Tomato Sauce

The Husband tore down the garden on this gorgeous Fall day and there was still an amazing quantity of produce left on the vines to deal with. The corn on the cob was blanched, thrown in ice water for a few minutes, wrapped individually in plastic wrap and then put in freezer bags for the deep freeze. These lovely ears will be enjoyed in the dead of winter and we will remember our bountiful garden in the summer of 2008.
Above: Corn fresh from the garden.
Above: Corn in their blanching bath
Above: All wrapped up and ready for the freezer

As for the many cherry tomatoes, I opted to roast those and they too will be frozen and enjoyed later in the year when we are facing day after day of gloomy weather and there won't be a decent tomato anywhere to be found. I wish I had smell-o-computer so you could all enjoy the aromas in my house right now. The garlic and spices have permeated every corner of every room and it's divine. This sauce will be so delicious mixed with a delicate angel hair pasta, a few sprigs of fresh basil and some generous shavings of Parmesan cheese. We might not be able to wait until winter to devour this creation!
Cherry-Poppin' Tomato Sauce
5 cups cherry tomatoes
4 cloves finely minced garlic
4 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Italian Seasoning to taste
Chili Pepper flakes to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and take stems off cherry tomatoes. Put in single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, Italian Seasoning, chili pepper flakes and minced garlic. Pour olive oil over all of the tomatoes and gently toss with a spatula.
Bake in oven for 45 minutes. Let cool completely. Put in freezer bags or eat immediately as a sauce with pasta. This would also be good over toasted Italian or French bread slices.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Apple A Day

At the local farm market I found such an array of apples I had a hard time choosing so I went for a variety and decided to do an apple tasting. What a wonderful place in the country (and world I might add) to live where one can pick from 7 or 8 varieties of apples all grown in the field right next to the market. Thank you Johnny Appleseed and Mother Earth!

I chose 5 different apples for my apple tasting today. These included in the picture below from top left clockwise: Golden Delicious, Johnagold, Melrose, Honeycrisp and in the middle, Gala.
The Golden Delicious was large and firm, very juicy and on the sweet side.
The Johnagold was very sweet and juicy and also quite firm. A very nice eating apple.
The Melrose was an apple I had never tasted before. It was the most interesting tasting with a almost lemony perfumy taste to it. Quite unlike all the rest.
The Honeycrisp was my favorite. It was the least sweet of them all, very crisp (thus the name) and very juicy. Loved this one.
The Gala was the smallest apple and my least favorite. Though it was crisp, the flavor was bland.
With this wonderful mix of apples around me I decided to combine them all in a big pot and make some homemade applesauce. I peeled and cored the apples, cut them into bite size chunks, tossed them in the pan with a couple tablespoons of water and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon over medium low heat, covered them with a lid and let them stew away for 45 minutes. The house filled with that wonderful homey aroma of cinnamon and apples. I like my applesauce to have some detectable chunks so I don't cook mine down to total mush. The applesauce was on the tart side when finished so I added 2 tablespoons of honey at the end to complete this heartwarming fruit dish.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Alchemy of Cooking

I love the magic of cooking. I love how you can take the most simple of ingredients; a sprinkle of yeast, a bit of sugar, a few cups of flour, mix it together, let it sit for a couple hours and voila - a beautiful bread dough

I made pizza dough with a delicious recipe that I've had around for awhile. It is very simple to make and very easy to work with once it's risen. Pizza is a great thing to try at home as there are endless possibilities for toppings. I like to divide the pizza into two parts; one with a meat choice and one vegetarian side. Tonight's pizza included tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese topped with a dry salami on one side and garlic olive oil, mozzarella, Parmesan and a sprinkling of fresh basil on the other side.

Really, homemade pizza is a fairly quick dinner once you have finished the dough and it has risen to all of it's glory. Just spread or roll the dough out onto your pan, slap on the toppings, pop it into the oven for 15-20 minutes and there you have it.

Pizza Dough
1 Tbsp dry active yeast (1 envelope - I use fast acting)
1 1/4 cup warm water (under 110deg F)
1/4 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive plus a little extra for greasing the pan
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Place the yeast, 1/4 cup of warm water and sugar into mixing bowl. Stir and set aside until the yeast foams, about 10 minutes.
From This - a few ingredients - yeast, water, sugar.

Add the remaining water, olive oil and cheese. Using the dough hook of your electric mixer, mix on low speed just to blend. Still on low speed, add the flour one sixth at a time. Add the salt and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3-4 minutes. While the dough is mixing, flour your work surface and grease a large mixing bowl with some oil.

Remove the dough to the floured work surface and knead for a minute or two to form a smooth ball. Place the dough in the greased bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
To This - a lovely, soft malleable dough. It's magic!

Once the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a floured work surface, roll it or stretch it with your hands into a circle or square until the dough is approximately 1/4 inch thick. Place dough onto a greased baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal (I omitted this step and it came off the pan just fine).
The Pizza ready for the oven.

Distribute your topping choices over the pizza dough and set the baking sheet in the top third of the oven which has been set to 450 degrees. Bake until the crust is golden brown the the cheese is bubbling, approximately 15-20 minutes. Enjoy a wonderful, flavorful pizza!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lemon Shrimp Linguine

Last night's dinner along with the previously posted Risotto filled baked tomatoes included a lemon shrimp linguine dish which was fast, easy and very flavorful. I adapted this recipe from one I saw on an Ina Garten episode on Food Network. To make things quicker, I purchased cooked, peeled and deveined prawns. There are times when I don't mind making the effort and doing all that prep work but we have a wonderful fish store in town, Fitts Seafood, who will do all of that for you (for a price of course).

If you are looking for a quick dinner involving pasta and prawns, this one fits the bill.
Lemon Shrimp Linguine
3/4 lb linguine (fettuccine or spaghetti noodles would also work)
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (more garlic to taste)
1 pound of large shrimp/prawns -peeled and deveined if purchased raw
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

Heat a big pot of water with 2 Tbsp salt for linguine. Once boiling add noodles and cook until done according to package directions.

Heat butter and olive oil together in a skillet. Add minced garlic and saute just until you can start to smell garlic. Add the salt, pepper, shrimp and saute until shrimp just turn pink. If shrimp are already cooked, just heat through. Remove from heat and add parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice and red pepper flakes. Drain pasta and put back in pan. Pour sauce and shrimp over pasta and toss well. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Big Boys

The Big Boy tomatoes are finally ripening and we must get them picked soon as the rains have begun and Fall is definitely in the air. I picked a dozen or so of these big red beauties today and shared some of the harvest with the nice neighbor lady next door along with some basil. With the rest I decided to try my hand at a stuffed tomato to go along with tonight's pasta dinner.

I recently read this recipe and thought it sounded interesting and the nice thing was that I had all of the ingredients in my cupboards so didn't need to make a trip out for anything. It was extremely easy to put together and as it was cooking for 75 minutes, the house was filled with the perfume of garlic and onions. After cooking, they weren't the most attractive dish I've ever seen, but they are extremely flavorful and a great way to use ripe, big tomatoes from your garden or the farmers market. Give it a try.
Risotto Filled Baked Tomatoes
4 large tomatoes
1/2 cup yellow onions finely diced
1 finely minced garlic clove
Olive oil (Approximately 3 Tbsp)
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup water
5 fresh basil leaves
Seasoned bread crumbs
2 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and gently scoop out their insides, flesh, seeds and juice and put in a bowl. Chop up any of the bigger tomato flesh. Set the hollowed out tomatoes into a lightly greased baking dish.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm up 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and saute a few seconds until you can smell it. Add the rice and saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomato juice, flesh and water and the basil leaves torn into small pieces and a pinch of salt. Stir. Reduce the heat slightly, cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.Spoon the rice mixture into the tomato shells. Top with a generous sprinkling of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese which have been mixed together. Arrange the potato slices around the tomatoes. Sprinkle everything with olive oil, making sure the potatoes are well coated on both sides. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cook for 15 minutes to allow the juices to settle then serve.