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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Herbed Cheese Spread

So, now that you have made a batch of Super Easy Cheese, what are you going to do with it? It's not really the sort of cheese you just sit around munching... unless you doctor it up a bit. That's what this recipe is all about. Add just a few subtle ingredients and watch this plain, fairly flavorless cheese blossom into a tasty, flavorful, spreadable cheese. It is really great spread all over your favorite cracker. And it is great for company; not only does it look and taste good, but it's a great conversation starter when guests ask where you got the cheese and you say, "Why, I made it myself!"

Herbed Cheese Spread
Yield: 1 cup of molded cheese (double or triple as desired)

1 cup fresh Super Easy Cheese curds
1 tsp minced shallots
1 tsp minced chives
1 tsp minced parsley
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1 - 2 TBS light cream
1/4 - 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Mix curds, shallots, chives, parsley, and pepper in a bowl. Stir to mix. Add enough cream so that the cheese is somewhat smooth and creamy but still can hold its shape. Add the salt to taste. Line a ramekin (see picture) or other similar 1 cup container with plastic wrap. Spoon full of cheese, firming lightly. Fold remaining plastic wrap over the top of the cheese. Refrigerate for at least four hours, preferably over night, before serving. This chilling time allows the flavors to meld and for the cheese to firm up. To serve, turn out onto a serving plate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Super Easy Cheese

Cheese is one of those items that most people probably never think about making, but it can be very fun and rewarding to make. While some cheeses are quite time consuming and/or require special materials, that is not the case with all cheeses. This recipe is a very easy cheese that can be made in just a few hours (you're not working the whole time) and with no special ingredients.

There are a number of things that you can do with the cheese; I will outline two of them over the next couple of days. The recipe is based on a queso blanco, a very basic white cheese. It can be molded and pressed into a block, but that requires special equipment. For the loose curd cheese recipe here, the most specialized equipment needed is cheesecloth. When was the last time you used cheesecloth to actually make cheese? Maybe it's time!

Super Easy Cheese
Yield: 3-4 cups of cheese curds

1 gallon whole cow's milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized milk)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (plus 2 tsp, if needed)

Pour the milk into a double boiler over medium-high heat. I do not have a special double boiler, I just sit one stock pot inside of another. The double boiler is not strictly needed, but I find that without it, I sometimes get cheese scorching slightly on the bottom with I add the vinegar.

Place a candy thermometer into the pot to keep track of the temperature. Heat the milk until it reaches 175-180 degrees F. This step should occur over a period of about 20-30 minutes. Stir periodically. Once the milk reaches 175-180 degrees, hold it there for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the vinegar and stir to mix. Continue to hold at the same temperature while the curds form.

Curd formation can take up to one hour to completely develop, but you should see some curds form almost immediately. Stir periodically and check the temperature frequently. As the curds form, you will be left with a pale colored whey. Be sure to wait until the whey is very clear before draining. This picture shows when you might be tempted to drain but don't yet! Be patient! To be fair, draining early will not ruin your cheese in the slightest, you just won't get as much of it.

If, after 50 minutes, your whey is still not pale as in the second picture, add two more teaspoons of vinegar to finish the process. Once your curds and whey look like this, you're ready to drain.
Have a colander lined with a quadruple layer of cheesecloth prepared. Drain curds into colander. You can save the whey if you wish and use it in baked goods, etc., or just let it go down the sink.
Tie up the cheesecloth into a little bag and hang on a wooden spoon across the corner of a sink to drain. Let it drain for about 2 hours, or until the bag stops dripping.
Once drained, the curds are ready to use. If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to eight days.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Muesli


This was a breakfast staple in my house growing up. I can claim no credit for coming up with the wonderful recipe. It's all my mom's creation... and what a creation, indeed! She had something like this at a restaurant once and worked diligently until she had recreated it to her liking.

I really like this dish because it is refreshing and filling. And it's easy to make! Just be sure to serve it right away as it doesn't hold well because the oats tend to get pasty over time. Add whatever fruits and grains you want to make it your own. It's a blank canvas waiting for your inspiration.

Muesli

1 Granny Smith apple
1/2 cup milk
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS lemon juice
1/8 cup light cream
3/4 cup quick oats
1 banana
1/4 cup raisins
3 TBS peanuts

Blend an unpeeled, cored half of the apple with the milk until smooth and frothy. Add remaining ingredients. Stir completely. Add any other fruits or grains that sound appealing. Grapes and peaches are especially good. Serve immediately or it can become pasty.

Italian Green Beans

I really like vegetables just as God made them (OK, so God didn't make them with butter, but, you get the idea). But sometimes, I like to give them a little dressing up. This recipe is quick and easy and changes the ordinary green bean into a very tasty side dish.

Italian Green Beans
Yield: 3-4 side servings

2-3 cups pared, cut green beans
1/2 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 TBS olive oil
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 15oz cans diced tomatoes with juice

Steam green beans in a sauce pan until fork tender. Meanwhile, saute onion, garlic, salt/pepper and herbs in the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and cook to reduce. Reduce until sauce is nice and thick. When green beans are done, add to the tomato mixture. Stir to coat and serve.

Crepes 101

Somehow, crepes have gotten a bum rap. I don't know why, they are really quite simple. I often whip out my crepe pan when I'm in the mood for a snack; I like them straight out of the pan. In fact, I like them so much, that I often find it difficult to amass enough completed crepes to be able to make anything with them! Which, incidentally, is the same reason there is not a photo of the crepes here... I ate them all before I could get a picture! Oops. Sometimes I just can't help myself. (I finally made crepes and remembered to take a photo to add to this post! -May 2012)

So, what is the trickiest part about making crepes? If there is anything, it must be putting the batter in the pan. Because the pan is already hot, the batter starts cooking immediately upon hitting it, so you need to shake that pan around to get the batter spread out. Oh, and that whole letting the batter sit thing, that's completely optional. While it does make a slight difference, I find the crepes are still fantastic when made right away. Who has time to wait for crepe batter?

This recipe can very easily be doubled or halved, depending on your needs. If you want to make sweet crepes, just add a tablespoon of sugar to the batter. Personally, even when using them for dessert applications, I still prefer to use a batter without sugar. In the future, I'll post some recipes using crepes.

Basic Crepes
Yield: 7-9 crepes

2 eggs
1 TBS melted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup lukewarm milk

Whisk all ingredients together. If it seems lumpy, you can always run it through a sieve to make a nice, smooth batter. While you can use milk right from the refrigerator, the butter tends to clump up with the cold milk. You can leave the batter to sit in a covered bowl for an hour before use or use right away.

Preheat an 8-10 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Put a tiny amount of butter in the pan, maybe 1/4 tsp. Let the butter melt and then use a paper towel to wipe over entire pan surface. Use a small measuring cup to pour a measured amount of batter into the pan. With a 10 inch skillet, I use about 3 TBS of batter. This means using a 1/4 cup measure filled about 3/4 of the way full. Pour batter into pan and immediately start shaking pan around to get batter distributed (see video below). Place back on heat. Within a minute or so, the edges will start to brown and peel back from the side of the pan. This tells you the crepe is about done. Remove when crepe has reached desired shade of browning. With thin crepes, there is no need to flip the crepe and cook the other side. Remove crepe on to a paper towel. Crepes can be kept warm until use in a very low oven.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pasta Carbonara


When I lived in the Mojave Desert of California, there was a great little Italian place that we went to all the time. Giovanni's was where I was first introduced to Pasta Carbonara. Oh, and what an introduction! While I just can't bring myself to make it quite as sinful as I'm certain the restaurant version was, I still think this is some great pasta. The sauce is quite possibly the easiest sauce around and it is so velvety and smooth and rich.

This recipe is a great one to make for company because it comes together so quickly and it is no more difficult to make it for ten as for two.

Pasta Carbonara
Yield: 4-6 servings

16 oz penne pasta
1/2 lb bacon or pancetta, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cloves shallots, minced
1 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 TBS chopped parsley (fresh or dried)
salt & pepper to taste

Put pasta water on to heat. Cut up bacon, garlic, shallots, and parsley. Combine cream, eggs, milk, and cheese. Set aside. When water boils, add pasta. Penne typically takes 8-12 minutes to cook, depending on the brand. Do not start cooking the rest until the pasta is in the water. Cook bacon. Add garlic and shallots about halfway through cooking the bacon. Pour off excess grease (leave however much grease your conscience will let you...). Drain noodles and immediately mix with bacon/garlic/shallots and the cream mixture that you set aside earlier. The heat from the pasta is what cooks the eggs, so don't dilly-dally. Mix thoroughly. Add parsley and salt and pepper. Heat over low until sauce thickens slightly, if necessary. Serve immediately.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Canning 101

Preserving food is all about keeping any creepy crawlies in the food in check. There are a number of ways of stifling their growth, cold temperatures being one of the easiest. The ease with which we store perishable foods these days was only a fantasy in yesteryear. Refrigeration and freezing are by far the easiest way to retard bacterial and fungal growth in food.

What are some of the others? Well, it's all about making an inhospitable environment for the critters. An environment that it too dry, salty, fatty, sugary, acidic, anaerobic, or hot is considered hostile to most microbes. Canning commonly uses the last four. Jams and jellies, for instance, are preserved by the amount of sugar they contain (have you ever noticed how long an open jar of jelly lasts in the fridge?).

There are two main types of canning: water bath and pressure canning:

Water bath canning requires an acidity of 4.6 or lower to help keep microbes in check. This acidity means that the jars of food do not have to be processed to as high a temperature. Water bath canning involves canning both acid and acidified foods. Acid foods are naturally high in acid and include most fruits like peaches, pears, and apples. Acidified foods are foods that have to have acid added to them in order to make them safe. Pickled goods are all acidified. If you are new to canning, you want to be sure to always follow tested recipes. I have been canning for over 15 years now, so I have started making up my own recipes, but to be sure they are safe and under the 4.6 pH requirement, I use a pH meter (see my aStore).

Pressure canning involves using pressure to increase the boiling temperature within the kettle. When you want to can something that is not acidic, you have to process the jars to a higher temperature; a pressure canner provides this ability. All modern pressure canners have very good safety valves, so you don't have to worry about you canner exploding if you don't know what you are doing (always a good thing to know!).

There are a few general things you need to know about supplies. The major components include canning jars (don't use other types of jars as they may not hold up to the rigors of the hot pot...), canning lids and bands, jar tongs, and a canner (either a large kettle/stock pot or pressure canner depending on what type of canning you are doing).


The basic procedures for canning are pretty standardized. So that I don't have to write them over and over again whenever I post a canning recipe, I will give those instructions here:


Water Bath Canning
  1. Prepare food as instructed.

  2. Wash jars in hot, soapy water. They do not need to be sterilized.

  3. Prepare canner. This means filling and starting to heat the water for a water bath canner (just bring to a simmer). Remember that your jars will displace a large amount of water. Take this into account when filling your pot up so that your jars will be covered by at least one inch of water.

  4. Have jars set out along with your canning funnel and bands. Heat up enough water to soak the canning lids. This process softens up the wax rim and allows them to sit better on the jar, making a better seal.

  5. Fill jars as instructed leaving the proper head space. This space should be defined in the recipe. Leaving the proper head space is important in obtaining a good seal. It typically varies between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch for water bath canning.

  6. Use a plastic knife or wooden skewer to poke down the sides of the jars to release any trapped air bubbles.

  7. With a clean sponge or rag, wipe down the top rim of the jar so that the lids can form a clean seal.

  8. Place seals onto jars and screw on with the bands. Bands only need to be hand tight. Do not over tighten!

  9. Using your jar tongs, place jars in your canner. Turn the heat up once the jars are in the water. Bring the water to a slow boil. Do not start counting your processing time until the water boils. Then process for the time specified in the recipe. Some recipes use a "pasteurization" process that uses a lower temperature. If this is the case, use a thermometer to keep track of the temperature.

  10. When the time is up, turn the heat off and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing them. While this step is not always needed, for certain items, pulling them out of the canner right away can cause the filling to come oozing out of the jars. This can be very messy and can lead to bad seals. While you are usually safe to pull jams, jellies, pickles, and fruit in syrup out immediately, I always figure better safe than sorry.

  11. Remove jars from the water and set on a towel lined counter. Let jars sit undisturbed to cool for 6-8 hours. As they cool, you should hear the tell-tale "pop" as the jars vacuum seal.

  12. Once the jars are cool, carefully remove the bands and wash the jars, if necessary. It is usually best to store canned goods without the screw band. Keep jars in a cool, dark place. Always check the seals before you use the food. "If in doubt, throw it out!"

Pressure Canning

  1. Prepare food as instructed.

  2. Wash jars in hot, soapy water. They do not need to be sterilized.

  3. Prepare canner. With a pressure canner, you will want to follow the instructions that come with your canner for its preparation. Because pressure canners use steam to heat the jars, you need to use the specific amount of water for your canner.

  4. Have jars set out along with your canning funnel and bands. Heat up enough water to soak the canning lids. This process softens up the wax rim and allows them to sit better on the jar, making a better seal.

  5. Fill jars as instructed leaving the proper head space. This space should be defined in the recipe. Leaving the proper head space is important in obtaining a good seal. When pressure canning, this head space is typically 1 inch.

  6. Use a plastic knife or wooden skewer to poke down the sides of the jars to release any trapped air bubbles.

  7. With a clean sponge or rag, wipe down the top rim of the jar so that the lids can form a clean seal.

  8. Place seals onto jars and screw on with the bands. Bands only need to be hand tight. Do not over tighten!

  9. Using your jar tongs, place jars in your canner. Close the canner and prepare it for the proper pressure. This procedure will vary depending on your canner, so follow the directions that came with your canner.

  10. When the time is up, turn the heat off and let your canner cool down naturally. This can take a while. Do not try to speed the process up! Let the pressure dissipate naturally.

  11. Remove jars from the canner and set on a towel lined counter. Let jars sit undisturbed to cool for 6-8 hours. As they cool, you should hear the tell-tale "pop" as the jars vacuum seal.

  12. Once the jars are cool, carefully remove the bands and wash the jars, if necessary. It is usually best to store canned goods without the screw band. Keep jars in a cool, dark place. Always check the seals before you use the food. "If in doubt, throw it out!"

This is a very abbreviated set of instructions for canning. I highly recommend that you invest in The Ball Bluebook for a more detailed set of instructions (see my aStore). It is really necessary, I think, to have a good reference around. I've been canning for a long time, and I always seem to be checking some bit of information in mine. If you have any troubles or questions, just let me know!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Peanut Butter Cups

This will be the last of the chocolate postings in this batch. I have to admit that I was not completely satisfied with the way my peanut butter cups came out. Oh, don't get me wrong, they're good. But they're not great and certainly not perfect. I'll post what I did and throw out my thoughts on what I plan on doing differently next time. I'll update this post next time I make them, but I'm kind of chocolated out right now and don't expect that to be for a little while.

Peanut Butter Cups

tempered chocolate
small waxed fluted paper cups

4 TBS shortening
2/3 cups peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla

Cream shortening and peanut butter together. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and whip together until slightly fluffy.

Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of the paper cups with tempered chocolate. You do not need to brush all the way up the sides. Put cups in refrigerator to harden. Meanwhile, spoon peanut butter filling into a pastry bag with a medium sized plain-hole tip. When cups are firmed up, squeeze a nice blob of filling in the middle. Then, using a spoon, pour tempered chocolate into the cup to fill it up. I found that it works best if you do not fill the cup all the way to the top.

That's it! Now here are the complaints about my results. I was a little disappointed in the filling because it was too creamy and not peanuty enough. Next time, I will try using real peanut butter (Jif, which I used this time, has too many extra ingredients, I think) and will add more powdered sugar to stiffen it up a bit. With these changes, I think they'll be pretty darn good!

And the winners are...


After deleting a couple of double comments and those comments related to the second prize where people were telling where they had posted my contest, I came up with a random number from random.org. The number was 112. And the winner is... (drum roll, please!)

THROUTHEHAZE

Congratulations, throuthehaze! I will be contacting you for a mailing address so you can receive your goodies.

As for part two of the contest, the person who posted my contest onto www.totallyfreestuff.com/www.topsavings.com was hands down the winner. That person was... (drum roll again, please!)

BABYBARNPLUS

Thanks, babybarnplus, for all the great help in getting the word out about my new blog! I'll be emailing you for a mailing address also.

And thanks, everyone, for coming to check out my blog and my April 2009 Giveaway. I had a lot of fun making the chocolates and I hope that you might consider trying to make some yourself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Haystacks

These may just be the easiest chocolates ever to make! If you're doing a bunch of chocolates, making the haystacks last is a great way to use up whatever chocolate is left in the bottom of your bowl. While they are so easy to make (just chocolate and shredded coconut), there are just a few things to consider to make the best haystacks possible:
  1. While you won't notice poorly tempered chocolate as much in haystacks as in other chocolates, you still want to use properly tempered chocolate for the best results.
  2. I much prefer using unsweetened coconut for making haystacks. If you can find it, I strongly recommend going this route.
  3. Toasting the coconut before dredging it in chocolate is an absolute must!! I just put it in a dry saute pan over medium heat and stir periodically until it has a nice light tan color.
  4. Be sure to let your coconut cool completely before adding it to your chocolate. If the coconut is too warm, it can ruin the temper of your chocolate.
  5. Use two spoons to shovel small blobs of chocolate covered coconut onto a parchment lined sheet pan. Refrigerate to harden. They can then be stored at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Turtles

The most serendipitous thing happened while I was making these turtles. When I've made turtles before, I was disappointed with the caramel because it was always too soft. So when making them this time, I searched out a recipe that I thought would give me something a little more firm. I decided on the "Caramels" recipe in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I figured if it made something that could be cut and wrapped in individual wrappers, it could certainly stand up to holding together some pecans and chocolate.

Well, I'm not sure if I screwed up or what, but the result was not good. Maybe my candy thermometer is off. I followed the recipe to a T and that caramel came out hard as a rock. Literally. I broke it in to pieces with a hammer. I was a little miffed and didn't really feel like making a new batch of caramel. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I thought I would try to salvage my disaster.

I broke off a handful of pieces and put them in a sauce pan. I turned the heat on medium low and let it slowly melt. Once it was fluid again, I added a dollop of heavy cream to thin it out a little bit. I then put a little sample in the refrigerator and let it set for five minutes. It came out just how I wanted it. It was soft and chewy but firm enough to not move around on its own. The great thing about this is that I now have a bunch of rock hard caramel in my pantry that is ready to use at the drop of a hat. It will keep forever, I imagine (it's like storing lollipops at this point). I kind of like that.

All right. So the turtles. They're pretty simple. The caramel is the tricky part and I've got that licked now. I'm a bit of an untraditional turtle maker, however. I prefer every bite of my turtle to be an even mixture of chocolate, caramel, and pecans. Therefore, my turtles have no legs or head or tail. I mold them in small 3 1/4 oz. plastic ramekins. I drop lightly toasted pecans in the bottom, pour a generous dollop of caramel in, and then top with tempered chocolate.

Once they are cool, they pop right out of the little dishes and they nestle perfectly in a standard sized muffin cup paper. I also like to make baby turtles where I lay two pecans side by side on a parchment lined tray and then follow the same procedure. I like being able to pop the whole thing in my mouth all at once.


Caramel for Candies

1 cup butter
2 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups light cream
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla

heavy whipping cream

Prepare a 8x8x2ish sized pan by lining with foil and spraying with cooking spray. Put butter, sugar, cream, and corn syrup in a heavy 3 quart sauce pan outfitted with a candy thermometer. Cook over medium-high heat until candy thermometer hits 248 degrees F. Note that since I'm not really 100% sure why my batch went awry, you may want to test your caramel by dropping a bit in a glass of water to be sure it will set up hard when cool. If it doesn't, let it go a few more degrees. It took my mixture approximately 30 minutes to reach this point. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and immediately pour into prepared pan. Let cool completely.

When caramel is cooled, remove from pan and peel off aluminum foil. Break into pieces either by dropping on the counter or tapping with a meat mallet. Store in an air tight container at room temperature until ready to make candy.

When ready to make candy, slowly melt desired amount of hard caramel over low heat. Once it is fluid, stir in heavy whipping cream until it is the consistency you are looking for. Check for how the caramel will behave when cooled by putting a small bit in the refrigerator for five minutes. Add more cream or hard caramel to adjust. Use immediately.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April 2009 Giveaway Update

I have just finished the chocolates for the giveaway. I posted a picture on the giveaway post. Check it out if you want to see what you could win!

Truffles, Part 2: Dipping the Centers

I think that it is so funny how you can do something so many times and suddenly, you figure out a whole new way to do it that is awesome. I have never made such perfect truffles before! They had always turned out fine. You know, they were homemade. But I always had problems dipping the truffles and having them turn out properly because I am too cheap to buy the expensive chocolate used by the pros for dipping. Couverture is used for dipping because it is more fluid at dipping tempertures. Well, I'm sorry; I'm not going to use it! It's hard to come by and it's darn pricey. So I always make do with Ghiradelli's chocolate, which tastes great but is a little thick for dipping. I used to always end up with really thick coatings and puddles around the bottom of the truffle as they cooled.

So what was that new thing I figured out? Hand rolling the truffles completely negates the problems of using a less fluid chocolate for coating your centers. I had read about hand rolling, but somehow never got the right mojo going for it. Now I can't believe it took me so long to figure out. It's so easy! Here's how it works:

Dipping the Centers

Temper about a third again as much chocolate as you think you will need to coat your centers using the procedure shown in my Tempering Chocolate 101 post. Prepare to hold the chocolate at the working temperature of 87-92 degrees with a heating pad (see tempering post for details).

Have all your centers sitting at room temperature. If you are dipping loose centers, then have them just cold enough to hold together. Using my "rolling" method, you will need to dip the truffles twice. But if the chocolate is properly tempered, you should be able to do a second dip within 10-15 minutes. A second dip will cover any cracks that develop or places where the first dip was too thin and filling came squirting out (see picture). The filling comes out through thin spots because the warm chocolate coating heats the filling enough to expand slightly. Just knock the tail off and proceed with your second dip.


I've outlined the rolling procedure in the video below. However, a couple of items to note. You want each coating of chocolate to be relatively thin. This keeps a large "foot" from forming on the bottom of the truffle, which can be unappealing. On your second dip, you will want to try to have the same edge down as before so that your finished truffle doesn't have a funny flat spot on it. Lastly, when I roll the truffles off of my hand, I am careful to have the last spot my fingers touch be on the top of the truffle. This seems to give the best finished appearance. Look for how I do this in the video.

The only other important thing to mention is that if you are making multiple flavors, you need to think about how to differentiate them. You can top truffles with all sorts of things. Melt some white chocolate or make royal icing in any color to make designs. Sprinkle with candy toppings (you'll probably need a helper to do this as the sprinkles need to be applied before the coating hardens). Be imaginative - the sky's the limit here!

Truffles are shelf stable and can remain fresh unrefrigerated for about a month provided they are kept from overheating. If you want to store them longer, they can be refrigerated or frozen. Thaw frozen truffles in the refrigerator. Let all refrigerated truffles come to room temperature before eating.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tempering Chocolate 101

I have added a second post on tempering which includes some additional thought and tips. You can click here to go to that post.

Tempering chocolate can be tricky. Even the pros don't get it right all the time. And those special chocolate tempering machines can still mess up from time to time. But it must be done! If not, chocolate can have some very unappealing characteristics, like the streaks seen in the photo here. It's still fine to eat, but it doesn't look as nice. If chocolate is really out of temper, it can become very chalky.

Why is this a problem? It has to do with the chemical properties of cocoa butter. Cocoa butter can form six different types of crystals, depending on how the chocolate cools. Unfortunately, only one of these six types has appealing characteristics for chocolate candies. The trick is to follow a procedure which allows only the most desirable crystalline structure to form.

How do we do that? Well, there are a couple of methods. The easiest - if you are starting with chocolate that has a good temper - is called the "seed" method. If the chocolate you are using is glossy and firm, snaps nicely, and does not have any streaks in it, you can use this method. If not, you will have to use the "seed-free" method I've outlined below.

"Seed" Method of Tempering

In a double boiler (same set up as for making ganache), place about 2/3 of the chocolate that you want to temper. Reserve the remaining third for later. Melt the chocolate slowly and use a thermometer to make sure you always know where you're at. Melt the chocolate until it reaches 105-110 degrees F. Remove from heat (be careful not to get any moisture in your chocolate from the condensed steam on the bottom of the bowl).

Keeping a careful eye on the thermometer, add about half of the reserved chocolate. Stir slowly but continuously, adding little bits of the remaining chocolate as it melts in. Stop adding any more chocolate when the temperature gets to 100 degrees or it may not melt. It's hard to work with when it's all lumpy! Continue stirring until the chocolate gets down to 87-92 degrees. Do NOT let it fall below 85 degrees or go over 95 degrees otherwise you will have to start all over.

Test your temper by smearing a bit of chocolate on a piece of wax paper. Put it in the fridge for about 2 minutes. Take it out and look at it. Is it shiny? Is it streak free? Does it break with a nice, clean snap? Does it refrain from immediately melting when you touch it with your finger? If the answer to all of these questions is "yes," your chocolate is good to go. If not, restart the process (you can use the same chocolate). If you do not have any more seed chocolate, use the "seed free" tempering method listed below.

Keep the chocolate within this 87-92 degree range while working with it. Stir regularly to keep the crystals in the chocolate from getting too large. To hold the temperature while I am working with the chocolate, I nest two bowls with a heating pad in between (see picture). My heating pad set on high is just right for keeping it at about 90 degrees. Be sure to have a towel to protect your heating pad from chocolate drips.

Let the finished chocolates harden either in a cool room or in the refrigerator.

"Seed-Free" Method of Tempering

This method is very similar to the one above, but instead of adding "seed" chocolate, you are simply using temperature control to provide seed crystals.

Heat all of the chocolate you want to temper in a double boiler. Heat it up to 115 degrees F. This melts all six of the cocoa butter crystal forms. Remove from heat, stir periodically while cooling down to 80 degrees. When chocolate reaches 80 degrees, give it a good stir and then return to the heat (I only need the heating pad here) and bring up to the working temperature range of 87-92 degrees.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Truffles, Part 1: Ganache Centers

All right, folks. Here we go. Once you see how easy it is to make your own delectable chocolate truffles you will never stoop to paying $30 a pound ever again! Now, I won't sugar coat it. Making truffles is labor intensive. I only make them once or twice a year typically. But I also usually make huge amounts when I do. If you just want to make one small batch (especially of only one flavor) then it isn't too bad at all.

So where do we start? In the center! The ganache filling is the easiest part of making truffles. Truffle centers are the creamy, smooth, rich part of the deal and they get that way with a lot of heavy cream. Because there is a lot of fat in the ganache from the cream, you don't have to worry about tempering the chocolate, which is the trickiest part of truffle making.

Truffle Filling - Ganache
Yield: about 30 truffle centers

8 oz high quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1-2 TBS liquor (optional)

Prepare a simple double boiler by adding 1 inch of water in the bottom of a sauce pan and setting a glass bowl over it (see picture for the set-up I use). Turn heat on to medium. When the water starts to simmer, be sure to turn it down. You want it to simmer, not boil, when melting the chocolate.

Measure the chocolate on a scale. I'm not usually a huge fan of weighing my ingredients, but because chocolate comes in all kinds of shapes making it hard to get a consistent measurement, a scale is best. Put chocolate in the bowl of the double boiler. Stir periodically to help it melt evenly. BEWARE: chocolate has an arch-enemy! Be very careful to never get any water or moisture in your chocolate or it could seize up into a ball and never recover.

Meanwhile, heat up the cream in a pan on the stove or in the microwave. You want to just bring it to a boil (bubbles around the edge, not a full on bubble fest). Set aside to cool. You do not want to add it to the chocolate until it is below 120 degrees F.

When the chocolate is mostly melted, remove from the double boiler. Pour the cream through a small sieve and into the chocolate. The sieve is important because as the cream cools, it will form a skim that you do not want in your ganache. Stir until completely incorporated. If adding flavoring, do so now. I would start with a tablespoon and then add until it tastes the way you want it. You want the liquor to impart a subtle flavor, not jump in your face. Place a cover of plastic wrap onto the surface of the ganache and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Once the ganache has chilled, it is time to shape the centers. There are many ways to do this. I use a #100 disher (holds about 2 tsp) and scoop ganache onto a parchment lined sheet tray. I scoop them all out and just let them fall willy-nilly. Once they are all scooped, I put on disposable vinyl gloves (find them in the first aid aisle - they are much cheaper than latex and won't leave your hands smelling funny). The gloves will help to keep your hands clean, but they also help form an insulating barrier between the chocolate and your hot little hands. If your hands are like ice cubes, I wouldn't worry about wearing gloves. Then I pick each one up and roll it around until it is spherical. Return balls to the tray and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to dip the centers in their chocolate bath.

A note about making multiple flavors: when you have finished making the chocolate/cream mixture, pour the ganache into the same number of bowls as flavors you are planning. You shouldn't try to do more than two flavorings per recipe quantity. I actually multiply the recipe by as many flavors as I want to end up with. For instance, I wanted to end up with 4 flavors, so I melted 2 lbs of chocolate and added 2 cups of cream. I then poured the ganache into four bowls and added 1-2 TBS of flavoring to each. This method is a lot easier than making a batch of ganache separately for each flavor. If I am working with multiple flavors, I always keep little sticky notes around so I can keep track of which batch is which.

Good liquors to use for flavoring: Bailey's Irish Cream, Kahluah, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Creme de Menthe... try your favorite!

Next we meet, we'll talk about tempering!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fresh Salsa

While I can my own salsa and enjoy eating it throughout the year, sometimes I want a salsa with a little fresher taste. In the summer, I make this with fresh tomatoes. When real tomatoes aren't available, I go for the diced, canned tomatoes and then add a bunch of fresh flavors.

I can make this salsa in about 15 minutes. It works best if you give it a couple of hours in the fridge to let the flavors meld, but it tastes great right away too. In fact, this evening, I was wanting something quick so I put together some nachoes. I love this salsa poured over the top! Again, Miss Wussy Mouth here... this salsa has no heat. If you like heat, add some jalapeno or tabasco. I'm also a fan of salsa with everything in little pieces. If you like a chunkier salsa, just chop the componants into larger pieces.

Fresh Salsa
Yield: about 3 cups of salsa

1 can petite diced tomatoes (with juice) or 2 cups fresh diced tomatoes
1/3 cup minced Anaheim chile pepper
1/3 cup minced green onion
1/3 cup minced onion
1/3 cup minced cilantro
4 cloves minced garlic
3 TBS lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Stir together and , if possible, let sit covered in the the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving. The amount of salt needed will vary on the brand of tomatoes used. Store in an airtight container up to five days.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 2009 Giveaway Update

Just wanted to say "Welcome!" to all of you that have entered my April 2009 giveaway. It's great to read the comments and see where everyone is coming from. I'm going to start making some of the prize items this weekend, and I'll post how I'm making everything so that even if you don't win, you can make your own!

Peach Cobbler

I'm not sure who originally came up with the idea of baking a biscuit-like topping onto a fruit filling, but they surely should be recognized as being a genius. Besides being absolutely delicious, they are quick to make (although not as quick to bake... 40 minutes can seem like an eternity!). And who can resist the siren call of fruit in the winter? OK, so it's spring - but you could've fooled me here. This chilly weather has me hankering for some comfort food.

You can make cobbler with just about any type of fruit. Besides peach, some of my favorites are blueberry, blackberry, and apple. When fresh fruit is not in season, I use either canned or frozen fruit. In this case, I used peach pie filling I canned last summer. You can use the stuff from the store. It's not the same, but it'll do in a pinch. If you can find a market that sells locally made preserves and canned goods, that's be a good bet. If you are using fresh fruit, you will need to cook up the filling first. Use about 4 cups of fruit, sugar to taste (usually 1/3 to 1/2 cup), a little water to get things going (maybe 1/4 cup), and some cornstarch (4 TBS) as thickener. Be sure to add the cornstarch before the mixture gets hot. If using hot filling, your cooking time will be reduced slightly.

Peach Cobbler
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 quart of peach pie filling

1 cup flour
1/8 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
4 TBS butter
1 egg
1/3 cup milk

sanding sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Beat egg and milk together and then stir into dry mixture. Pour fruit mixture into an 8x8x2 inch glass baking dish. Spoon batter over the top of the fruit mixture, spreading to cover most of the fruit. Sprinkle the top with sanding sugar (or regular granulated). Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes or until top is nicely browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful, sometimes it can look done but the batter can still be doing it's thing underneath. This is especially true if you have a lot of thick, cold filling under the batter when it goes into the oven. If this is the case, just bake a few minutes longer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Almond Chicken

This is a really great dish for a quick weeknight supper. Serve it up with a little rice pilaf and your favorite green vegetable, and you can have dinner on the table in less than half an hour! And it is very delicious: creamy, nutty, and tender. It's one of my favorites.

Almond Chicken
Yield: 2 large or 4 small portions

1 lb thawed chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 TBS butter
2 tsp lemon juice
2 TBS brandy
1/4 cup half & half cream
salt & pepper to taste

In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the almonds until they are nicely browned. Remove from pan to let them cool. Try to put them onto a paper towel or something flat where they can spread out and crisp up as they cool.

Add butter to skillet, keep heat at medium-high and add chicken. The trick here is to leave the heat high enough that they brown nicely but low enough that they stay tender and moist. When they are nicely browned but still just slightly pink in the middle, add the lemon juice, brandy, and cream. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the cream has thickened slightly and the chicken is just done. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return almonds to the skillet and stir to mix.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tomato Soup

It's time to start thinking about planting tomatoes. I am sad that this year I will have to forgo this ritual since my husband and I are in middle of moving from our small Ohio farm to a subdivision in Florida (that's the military for ya!). Eventually, I'll make some raised beds in our new yard so that I can raise tomatoes there as well, but it won't happen in time for this summer. Fortunately, I have jars of tomato products in my pantry from last summer's monster tomato crop to tide me over.

Of all the tomato products I can, tomato soup is probably my favorite. It is so much better than what comes in a can at the store. I use my countertop roaster oven when preparing the tomatoes for this soup; it's almost like having a giant crock pot. You want to cook off a huge amount of the water, and I find cooking them down in the roaster oven provides less opportunity for scorching. Plus, the capacity is pretty darn good. If you aren't interested in canning this soup, I have also included directions for making it at home in a jiffy using store bought canned tomatoes.

Home Canned Tomato Soup
Yield: Variable, make as much or as little of this soup as you need/want. Specific instructions are given on a per pint jar basis.

Prepare the tomatoes: Wash and remove the green stems of the tomatoes you want to use. Fill stock pot or countertop roaster oven with halved or quartered tomatoes to help them cook down more quickly. Cook until thick and reduced by at least 1/3. It somewhat depends on how watery the tomatoes were to start, but remember that thicker is richer! In my countertop roaster, I used the 300 degree temperature setting. This cook down part takes a while, maybe as much as 6-10 hours, but you can turn it on and basically walk away. You could make it go much faster if you stood there stirring it the whole time, but I don't have the patience for that! Once it is nicely thickened, let it cool enough to handle without burning yourself. Process the sauce through a food mill with a tomato screen.

Fill the jars: Before getting too far along, be sure to get your water bath canner water ready. If you aren't sure about canning processes, get the low down on my Canning 101 page.

For each pint jar, add the following:
2 tsp cook type clear jel (a special type of corn starch specially made for canning)
1/2 tsp tomato soup seasoning (see below)
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBS lemon juice
2 TBS light corn syrup

Add a small amount of soup to the jar and mix thoroughly. Then fill up the jar leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Seal and process for 35 minutes.

To prepare the soup for eating, pour soup into a sauce pan with half a jar (1 cup) of milk (or water). Heat over medium-high heat until the soup starts to boil and turns bright red. Serve with shredded cheese and sprinkle with dried oregano.


Tomato Soup Seasoning Mix

2 TBS dried parsley
1 TBS dried oregano
2 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp onion powder
4 tsp beau monde seasoning (a seasoning blend, often available in the spice section of the supermarket, available through Amazon if not)


Quick Tomato Soup
Yield: 2 servings

1 15-oz jar plain crushed tomatoes (be sure to check the label, a lot of them have other flavorings in them)
1/2 tsp tomato soup seasoning (see recipe above)
1/4 tsp salt (will vary depending on the brand of tomatoes you use)
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
2 TBS corn syrup
1 cup milk (or water)

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pot and cook over medium-high heat until it starts to boil and turns bright red. Serve with shredded cheese and sprinkle with oregano. Also very good with pepperoni that has been nuked in the microwave to a crisp. Yum!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Quiche

I just can't say enough good things about quiche. Easy to make and either humble or gourmet; it is a 'fill any niche' dish. I like it hot. I like it cold. Have it for breakfast. Have it for dinner. If you can make a pie crust (or buy one if you can't), then you can make quiche. If you want to make your own crust but aren't sure how, see my Pie Crust 101 post.

One of the things that I really like about quiche is that it is something of a blank slate. There are plenty of filling flavor variations available. Pick and choose your favorite ingredients and make your own personalized quiche. The quiche pictured has broccoli, onions, and ham along with a mixture of cheddar and Gruyere cheeses.

Quiche

1 pastry crust

3 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (preferably 2% or whole)
1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups of your favorite grated cheese (see below)
1 TBS flour

1 cup of you favorite cooked fillings (see below)


Since you want to add the filling to a hot crust, prepare the filling before baking the crust.

Mix eggs, milk, and salt (the small amount of salt is plenty here since the cheese is quite salty). Grate the 1 1/2 cups of cheese and toss with the 1 TBS flour. Prepare your chosen fillings. All fillings should be cooked and drained/squeezed dry if necessary; you don't want to end up with a watery quiche. If you choose broccoli, for instance, cook and then squeeze the excess water out of it with your hands. Stir milk mixture, cheese, and fillings together. Set aside.

Line a 9" pie shell with pastry dough. Do not prick crust. Line shell with a double layer of foil and bake at 450 degrees F for 5 minutes. Remove foil liner and bake another 5-8 minutes, or until pie crust is nearly done.

Reduce heat in oven to 325 degrees F. Pour filling into the pie shell and bake for approximately 55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Be sure to wait at least 10 minutes before serving or the filling will not hold together very well.

Possible Filling Options:
  • onions, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, leeks, scallions
  • bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, ham, chicken, crab
Possible Cheese Options:
  • cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, Gruyere, provolone, Monterey Jack

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pie Crust 101

Making pie crust from scratch can be frustrating. And while store bought crusts are quicker, they just don't come close to the flavor or texture of a homemade crust.

There are two key things to keep in mind when making crust: 1) make sure you use cold ingredients, and 2) don't over work the dough. I used to make pie crust by hand, but even though I knew how to make pie crust, I always had trouble! Somehow, I could never work the water in by hand without over mixing it. However, once I started using my food processor, I haven't had a lick of trouble since! It mixes quickly and easily so you always end up with a perfectly flaky crust. Check out this picture! This is a cross section view of a cinnamon sugar pinwheel made from crust. Look at all the air pockets in that crust! Delicious.

Check out the video I made showing how easy it is to make pie crust with a food processor.

Basic Pie Crust

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup chilled shortening
7-8 TBS ice cold water

Mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with pea sized chunks of shortening remaining. Add 7 tablespoons of water and process until just comes together. Add another tablespoon of water if necessary. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes before rolling.

While there are all kinds of variations on pie crust, adding vinegar, sugar, using different types of fats, etc., any rolled pie crust will be made in a similar fashion.

Gotta love that unflattering starting frame in the video!! Yes sir, that's a beaut.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Best Ever Pancakes

Plain old pancakes are fine, but this recipe takes a simple breakfast component to a whole new level. They're hearty and have a great flavor all their own. When you add syrup, they are breakfast redefined. I really like them with fresh blueberries in the batter. Or, you could chop up peeled apples into the batter and make a cider sauce to go over the top (just add cornstarch, heat to thicken, and, voila!). I also like the convenience of a having a mix on hand. But you can't buy pancake mix like this! You have to make your own. I think it is so worth it. I have to buy the powdered eggs especially for this recipe (from Barry Farms, see link on sidebar), but I like the fact that when I go to mix them up, all I have to add is water and oil. And the mix makes a great gift. People love receiving something so easy and yummy! I have also included the original recipe for these pancakes in case you don't want to make the mix but want to taste a great pancake. Do note that I made some changes to the recipe when I made up the mix version. Oh, and you can also use this recipe to make waffles.

Best Ever Pancake Mix

4 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (scant) baking powder
1 TBS + 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 TBS + 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 TBS + 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup buttermilk powder
10 TBS dried, whole eggs

Sift all ingredients together. Makes approximately 10 cups of dry mix. There are so many ways to package the mix for a gift, but I like simplicity. A computer printed label adds a sharp touch. To make pancakes, simply add 3/4 cup water and 4 tsp vegetable oil to every cup of mix used. One cup of mix makes about 4 - 5" round pancakes (ladled out with a 1/3 cup measure). See tips below on cooking great pancakes.

Best Ever Pancakes

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 TBS vegetable oil

Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately. Add wet to dry and mix only until incorporated.

PANCAKE COOKING TIPS: I think the single most important factor in cooking great pancakes is pan temperature. Pancakes cook best at a fairly low temperature. This can be challenging for those of us that tend toward wanting to nuke everything on high (I have the same issues when cooking grilled cheese). While every stove is different, somewhere between medium-low and medium is probably a good bet. You only want it warm enough that the pancakes still brown nicely, but cook slowly and evenly.

The other thing that I think a lot of people do is use too much fat in the pan. I watched a cooking show once where the host used 1 TBS of oil per pancake in the pan. If you like fried pancakes, that would be great (in that case you would want to use a higher temperature). But if you want a nice soft, fluffy cake, all you need is a non-stick skillet and a teeny, tiny amount of butter. I put a tiny dollop in the pan (maybe 1/4 tsp) before making the first pancake, let it melt, and then wipe the pan down with a paper towel. I never grease again.

Patience is the key for making perfect pancakes. Leave them alone until the edges get dried looking and the bubbles start to "set" (meaning that when a bubble breaks, the hole does not collapse immediately). Stick your spatula under the pancake to check the browning. If all looks good, give it a flip. If you have trouble with your pancakes falling apart when you flip, chances are you are trying to flip too early.

If making a bunch of pancakes and want to keep them warm to serve all at once, stash the finished ones in a oven set to the lowest temperature possible.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lemon Sorbet

I have adjusted this recipe from how I first posted it. I decided that it was just too tart. I changed the amount of lemon juice from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup and like it so, so much better. In fact, I pretty much have kept a container of this stuff in the freezer continuously since I first posted it!

I am always looking for ways to fool myself into thinking I am eating ice cream, but when you have something as good as this, you just don't have to pretend. And while it is still sweet, cold, and smooth, it has no fat. And the taste is so clean and tart. Sorbet is often granular and icy, but this will never be a problem when you add just a tiny bit of guar gum.

I used to snub my nose at guar gum; I thought it was some kind of artificial additive. Well, after finally doing a bit of research, I realized that it is all natural.. no more bizarre than say coffee or nutmeg. Guar gum comes from - imagine that - the guar plant. It grows in Pakistan and India and the beans are harvested and ground up into the product you purchase at the store. Guar gum has some very special properties: it has eight times the thickening power of corn starch and is a great emulsifier (I use it in my vinegarettes). It also helps to retard the growth of ice crystals in ice creams, sorbets, and the like. It has no flavor and makes such a difference in the texture. The only warning is to not use more than the recommended amount. If too much is used it can give things a very odd, slimy texture.

Lemon Sorbet

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 TBS grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp guar gum (optional)

Zest and then juice the lemons. Heat the sugar and water together until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool completely. Add juice and zest and chill in the refrigerator completely. Freeze in an ice cream machine following the manufacturer's instructions. Let process/freeze until it becomes thick and creamy. If in doubt, give it another couple of minutes. Sorbet melts very quickly, especially at this point, so have your freezer container ready. Scoop sorbet into container, put a lid on and let sorbet "ripen" in the freezer. This allows it to firm up so that it won't melt so quickly when it is served. I would give it at least 4 hours before serving.

This sorbet is very tart, if you want it a little less so, simply use less lemon juice. I would add 1 cup of the lemon juice and then start tasting as I add the rest to make sure it ends up the way you want. To get 1 1/2 cups of juice takes about 8-10 medium lemons. I use the cheaper lemons that come in a bag. I can get a bag of 10 lemons for less than $3.00.

This is also a great time to take advantage of all those lemons. Because I don't always have lemons on hand when I need zest, I try to keep dried lemon zest in the cupboard. When I make this recipe, I zest all of the lemons and spread the zest I don't need out on a piece of parchment on the counter to dry. When it is completely dry, store in an air tight container. Use as you would fresh lemon zest.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nana's Raisin Cake

I love old recipes. When I'm out antiquing, I often buy vintage cookbooks. So many of the recipes sound so good and down home that I'm sure they never were supposed to be forgotten. Then again, some are better left in the dust. The last vintage cookbook I found, The Lily Wallace New American Cookbook (circa 1943), had recipes for brains a la king and toast water. I think I can pass on those. But, I digress.

As I was saying, I love old recipes, and the ones that have been passed down within the family are the best. This is a cake my grandmother, Nana, made. I'm not sure of its origin. Perhaps a friend gave it to her... perhaps she clipped it from the paper. It is an unusual recipe in that there are no eggs and very little shortening, so I think it is probably a remnant from war time rationing. Nonetheless, it's a good recipe.

This "cake", while sweet, is almost more like a quick bread in its texture. I like to let it cool and turn it out on a board and slice it into nice squares with a serrated knife. But that's just me. It tastes just the same leaving it in the pan and slicing out one piece at a time!

Nana's Raisin Cake

Boil together for five minutes and then cool:
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 TBS shortening
2 cups raisins

Stir together:
3 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 cake pan. Boil raisin mixture and let cool. Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add liquid to dry and stir to mix. Be careful not to over mix. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fresh Creamed Corn

While this dish is absolutely at its best in the summer when you can make it with freshly cut from the cob corn, it's pretty darn good with frozen corn too. When you make it with the fresh corn, be sure not to cook it much after adding the cream; the best part is its fresh, crispy texture. I don't usually have fresh red bell peppers on hand, so when they are plentiful from the garden or on sale at the market, I simply cut them up and freeze them loosely tossed on a parchment lined sheet. Once they're frozen, I break them apart and transfer them to a zip top bag. It's by far the best way to keep peppers on hand.

If you really want to make a creamed corn that wows your socks off, add a teaspoon of cumin before serving. I'm not sure what it is about the combination of cumin and corn, but it is for sure a match made in heaven. The picture shown here is the cumin variety, which causes the sauce to have a slightly darker color. When you don't add the cumin, the cream has a nice pinkish hue from the red peppers; very pretty!

Fresh Creamed Corn
Yield: 2 cups

2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 TBS butter
1/4 cup diced onion or shallot
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp salt
dash pepper
1/3 cup light cream (like half-and-half)

Saute onion in butter in a sauce pan until translucent. Add pepper, saute 1 minute.

If using freshly cut corn from the cob: Add fresh corn and remainder of ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Cook only until heated through, 2-3 minutes.

If using frozen corn from a bag: Add frozen corn and remaining ingredients to pan. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 6-10 minutes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Curry Cashews

I grew up in the outskirts of Seattle and most of my immediate family still lives there. A handful of years ago, my brother took me to the 74th Street Alehouse and ordered their curried cashews for us. Well, I was immediately hooked! Unfortunately, I only make it to Seattle once, maybe twice, a year. I have to be able to eat these things more often than that! I've been making these little bad boys ever since. They are addictive, though. Don't say I never warned you!

Just a word about the curry powder... since curry is simply a spice blend and can have lots of variations, make sure you use a curry powder you like. I have, occasionally, made these things with an untried curry powder and had to throw them away. I now just stick with the McCormick brand and like them very well.

Curry Cashews
Yield: About 2 1/2 cups

1 approx 10 oz can roasted, salted cashews
2 tsp butter
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp onion powder
dash ground cayenne pepper

Put together spices in a small bowl and have at the ready. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add cashews. Stir occasionally, toasting them but being careful not to burn them. Toast for 3-5 minutes or until nicely browned and heated through. Remove from heat. Add spice mixture and stir to coat. You don't want to cook the curry powder, just heat it up with the residual heat from the cashews. Lay a double layer of paper towels on the counter and spread cashews out to cool. Be sure to only have them one layer thick so that they crisp up when cool.

If not using immediately, store only once completely cooled in an airtight container. I store them in a glass canning jar. The curry smell is very strong and a plastic container will hold the smell for some time after they are gone.

As for the cashews, you can use whole or pieces equally well here. I typically will use the whole ones if I am making this as an appetizer for company but will use pieces if it's just for myself. Do note that the salt content varies widely from brand to brand. I suggest tasting the cashews before you begin, if they are not salty enough for you, add a pinch to the spice mixture. Any seasoning you add needs to be added when the cashews are hot. Also, if you want your cashews a little spicier, just add more cayenne.

April 2009 Giveaway



For the next two weeks (starting at 12:00 am April 8 and ending at 11:59 pm on April 22), I'll be running a giveaway. Two prizes will be awarded; each winner will receive a 2 lb. assortment of handmade chocolates. Here is a picture of one of the prizes. Assortment includes: hand dipped truffles (including plain, Bailey's, Grand Marnier, and Kahlua flavors), haystacks, turtles, chocolate covered cashews, and peanut butter cups.

Here's how you can win:

Prize 1: Just leave me a comment in this post! While I encourage you to post other comments on my blog, I will only be selecting the winner from those within this post. I will randomly draw one comment to be the winner!

Prize 2: Using Statcounter's "Came From" statistics, I will award the owner of the blog or website that generates the most visits to my blog during the contest period with the prize!

Sorry, based on postage and freshness issues, this giveaway is only open to those willing to have their prize shipped in the US. Obviously, I can't get the prize to you unless I have some method of contacting you (keep this in mind if you are an anonymous poster). I will announce the winners on April 23.

Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you find something good to make.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Quick Fix Chili

I suppose there are some serious chili cooks out there that might take offense when I say that I'm not really sure why everyone seems to think that you can't make a good chili in a hurry. This chili takes less than an hour to make and the vast majority of that time it's just bubbling away, leaving you to do other things.

As an FYI, I may just have the wussiest tongue known to man. Since I got married, I have tried to expand my spice heat-tolerance, but not very successfully. This chili is quite mild, if you like yours to make you sweat, then add some jalapeno or cayenne. The chili peppers that I use in here are Anaheim peppers, which give good chili flavor without too much heat and are usually available in any grocery store. As for the chili powder, I just use the cheap grocery store type in the big jar. It's not hot, but adds great flavor.

Quick Fix Chili
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 TBS oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground meat (I usually use venison since it's what I have, but beef is great too)
1 16oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 c chopped fresh Anaheim chili pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
1 quart whole canned tomatoes (the large can, 28 oz, I think)
4 TBS chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Heat a stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, onions, and garlic. Saute until slightly softened. Add ground meat and brown, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to mix. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a slow boil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Serve with shredded cheese or sour cream. Cornbread is also a great accompaniment.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...


Salish Smoked Salt - This coarse grained alder wood smoked sea salt is fabulous. I keep it in a pepper mill on a fairly coarse setting. The aroma always brings me to a great place and it adds a wonderful finish to so many things. I love using it on my freshly steamed vegetables the best. It gives such a nice subtle je ne sais quoi to my favorite, asparagus. While I always get my smoked salt from Marketspice in Seattle's Pike Place market, a similar salt is available on Amazon and may be in your specialty market.

Freezer Jam - There are certain fruits that were just never meant to be cooked. Strawberries and raspberries are two I can think of right away. Their flavor changes so much when they are cooked! If you've never had freezer jam, you are really missing out. I no longer make traditional strawberry and raspberry jam except to sell or give away (it can be hard to transport frozen jam). Not only is it soooooo much better, but it is a lot easier to make even. The only draw back is that it takes up freezer space to store it and you have to let it thaw before you eat it.

Whipped Cream Chargers - Being a whipped cream fanatic, I think the best gift I ever got was a whipped cream charger. No more getting the mixer out just to make fresh whipped cream to dollop on a pie or cake or ice cream or... you get the idea. I love that I can flavor it however I want and it lasts a long time in the fridge. Homemade whipped cream at the push of a button!

Powdered Whole Eggs - I know, this one seems weird. But I really like to make my own batter mixes to keep in the pantry. I have a pancake mix that is divine. As far as I'm concerned though, for a mix to be easier than making it from scratch each time, it has to involve the addition of two or less ingredients when making it. Powdered eggs allow this to happen. I get mine through Barry Foods (see my links).

Madeira - A fortified cooking wine that I use all the time. I love the smell, I love the flavor. It's great for soups, sauted vegetables, cream sauces, and chicken or beef. It's available in some grocery stores and should be in all liquor stores.

Cast Iron Dutch Oven - This may be one of my favorite cooking vessels. You haven't had a pot roast until you roast one in a Dutch oven. There is something about the heavy cast iron that makes a perfect roast every time. I also use it to make soups and stews and bake no-knead bread.

My Nose - I'm not sure if I could cook without my nose. Unlike most cooks, I rarely taste my food when cooking. I'll test to see if the salt level is OK, but for the most part, I trust my nose. In my experience, if it smells yummy, it's going to taste yummy.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Croque Madame (ou Monsieur)

I really love gravy and sauces. I'm not a big fan of condiments, but give me a creamy, thickened sauce and I think I'm in heaven. I'm one of the few people I know that absolutely worships the ground that creamed dried beef walks on. When I was a kid, my mom would make it for the family for breakfast and I would lick the plate clean. Literally! Now as an adult, I try to conform to social norms, but deep down inside, I still want to lick that plate. The same urge hits me when I eat pot roast with gravy or open faced roast beef sandwiches. Now I can add croque madame to the list.

This is a great sandwich. It's not light, that's for sure. It's one of those sandwiches that can get you through the day. It's basically a ham and egg sandwich covered with a creamy cheese sauce. While I'm not a hundred percent sure of the origin of the name, the French verb croquer means "to munch", so I suppose it's appropriate. The only difference between the madame and monsieur version is that croque madame has a fried egg on it.

Croque Madame (ou Monsieur)
Yield: 2 big sandwiches

2 TBS butter
3 TBS flour
2 cups very warm milk
dash salt, pepper, and nutmeg
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 slices toasted bread
2 fried eggs
4 thin slices of ham
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese

In a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. With a whisk, add flour and stir to mix completely. Add very warm milk slowly, stirring continuously. Stir until sauce begins to thicken and then turn off heat. Stir in cheese and seasonings. Set aside until ready to assemble sandwich.

Turn broiler on and adjust oven so that the rack is on second highest level. Place bread in toaster. Fry the eggs in a skillet. Remove toast and put one slice on each oven-safe plate. Add one fried egg to each sandwich. Before turning skillet off, warm up ham in the skillet and then place on top of the egg. Put remaining slice of toast on top. Pour cheese sauce over sandwiches. Sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese.

Place under the broiler until bubbly and brown, about 4-5 minutes. Serve hot.

NOTES: Any type of Swiss cheese works in this recipe, but my favorite is Gruyere. Also, to have a nice, creamy sauce, 2% or whole milk is best.

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