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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gorgonzola & Sun Dried Tomato Crackers

If you like cheesy crackers, then you will love these little guys. They have a nice cheesy flavor and the sun dried tomato rounds it out. I developed this recipe for Uncovering Food's July Mystery Ingredient Challenge. While I don't have the recipe quite as vetted as I usually like before posting, I am on a time crunch and out of town to boot. I am visiting my mom in Seattle, which usually is a chance for a week of unbridled cooking and eating. Unfortunately, it is hot in Seattle right now. Like record breaking hot. And not just like "hottest temperature recorded on this day" hot, but like "hottest temperature recorded in Seattle ever" hot. Not the best conditions for playing around in a kitchen with the oven on.

Nonetheless, I think the recipe is good enough for an initial post. I will make any necessary tweaks when I get back home. I ate quite a few the evening I made them and enjoyed them thoroughly. The only two issues I am not 100% happy with is the salt level and the best baking temperature and time. I started at 425 degrees and initially undercooked them as they did not get crispy. When I cooked them longer, they got too browned too quickly at 425. I think that baking them at 400 would alleviate this problem and allow them to stay in the oven long enough to get nice and crispy without over browning.

The recipe starts out just like making a pie crust. Place the flour, salt, and thyme in a food processor. Whir to mix briefly.

Add the Gorgonzola and butter and process briefly to make a coarse meal. Dump in the milk and process, pulsing, until it just comes together into a ball. Dump the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and mold into a disk. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

You can either make these all at once, or freeze some or most of the dough to make small amounts of crackers whenever you want them. I made one-quarter of the dough and froze the rest for later. Roll the dough out fairly thin, as thin as you can and still have the dough maintain its integrity. Use plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. Cut into small, one inch squares. I used a fluted ravioli cutter to make them pretty.

Transfer the crackers to a parchment lined baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a toothpick, cake tester, or fork, prick the top of the cracker. Brush with egg wash (one egg yolk and a tablespoon of water). Sprinkle with a little kosher salt or crushed sea salt, if desired. I like the little salty edge, so I used sea salt from a grinder.

Bake crackers until they are nicely, deeply golden. If you under cook them, they do not crisp up very well when they cool. Expect them to be in the oven at least 15 minutes. Look how flaky they turned out! Delicious!


Gorgonzola & Sun Dried Tomato Crackers
Yield: about 80 1"-crackers

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
2/3 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup cold butter cut into small cubes
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup oil packed sun dried tomatoes (press to drain off excess oil)

Combine flour, salt, and thyme in a food processor. Process briefly to mix. Add the cheese and butter. Process until just resembles coarse meal with pea sized chunks. Add the milk and process just until the dough starts to form a ball. Dump onto a piece of plastic wrap, form a disk and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out however much of the dough you want to use at the current time. One quarter of the dough makes about 20 crackers. Cut into one-inch squares and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Bake at 400 degrees until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack until completely cooled.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fried Potatoes and Hamburger

This here is my husband's favorite meal. Every time I ask for his input on what he wants for dinner (or breakfast or lunch, for the matter), his reply is always, "fried potatoes and hamburger." Always. In fact, if I try and serve it with side dishes, he gets upset because then he has less room to fill up on his favorite meal. It's a guy fest, what can I tell you?

Fried Potatoes and Hamburger
Yield: serves 2-4

1 TBS vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lb hamburger
2 TBS minced garlic
2 TBS vegetable oil
5 medium potatoes
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
dash pepper
shredded cheddar, for topping (optional)

Wash the potatoes and prick with a toothpick or cake tester. Microwave on high until they are almost tender through. Let cool until they can be handled. Rub off the peel and cut into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions once the skillet is hot. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the onions have browned slightly and are translucent.

Add the ground meat and begin to brown. After the meat has browned slightly, push the meat and onions to the side of the pan and add the remaining oil and let heat. When oil is hot, add the potatoes and garlic. Stir to evenly coat and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring infrequently, until potatoes are nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes.

Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Make-It-Up-As-You-Go Risotto

I don't know about you, but I love risotto. There is something about that creamy, flavorful, luxurious side dish that initiates a Pavlovian response just thinking about it. Whoops! There I go again.

One of the best things about risotto is that it is truly the "make-it-up-as-you-go" dish. Because the main concern of consistency is taken care of with the gradual addition of broth until you reach the perfect point, most of the ingredient components can be changed on a whim.

There are, however, a few ingredients that are essential, I think, to good risotto. Broth is a must and the better the broth quality, the better your end result. I like to use both arborio (short-grain) rice and orzo pasta to achieve a nice balanced flavor and texture. Additionally, I'm not sure you can have risotto without a little cream and Parmesan cheese. Other than that, though, it's all fair game. My favorite combination is portobello mushrooms, onion, and herbs. I also really like the addition of green peas, but somehow I ran out the other night. But that's the great thing about risotto! It didn't matter... just use what you've got.

To get things started, you want to brown some of the ingredients to get the flavors going. Melt some butter in a large sauce pan and brown the aromatics (onions, garlic, mushrooms, and similar ingredients). When the are lightly browned, add the pasta and rice. Stir and brown for a few minutes more. Add any herbs or other flavorings that can take some cooking (for instance, don't add green peas until the last minute, but carrots, for instance, would be all right). Add enough warm broth to barely cover the mixture and simmer.

Keep an eye on it and add small splashes of broth as needed to keep things moist. Taste periodically to see where you're at. When the pasta and rice are nice and creamy, stop adding broth. Add a splash of cream, some Parmesan cheese, and any finishing seasonings that are required (salt and pepper especially). Serve and enjoy! It's that simple!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Prepping Artichokes

Artichokes have always been a little odd to me. They seem so prehistoric. And when I really think about it, it does seem wacky to be eating what basically is the unopened blossom of a thistle. And intimidating? Well, goodness, just look at them. It's no wonder so many people pick them up at the market and wonder, "What the heck am I supposed to do with that?" Fortunately, they're not as difficult as they might seem. Once they're prepped, there are plenty of things you can do with them. The simplest is steaming them and dipping into melted butter. Stuffing them is probably the second most popular preparation. There are lots of recipes out there for what to do with them. In this post, I'm going to show you step by step how to get those funny flower buds ready to use.

The first step is to cut off the top. Cut off enough to reach the pinkish/purple portion in side.

The next step is to trim the prickly ends of the leaves off. The best tool for this task is a kitchen shears or scissors. Oh, and this is important. See that bowl in the upper right hand corner of the following picture? That bowl has some acidified water in it. Artichokes, like so many other types of produce, oxidize and turn brown when exposed to air. Be sure to have this bowl ready to dip the artichoke in periodically to prevent browning. You can acidify the water with lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid.

While some recipes require the artichokes to remain whole, I prefer to cut them in half. I think it makes them steam more evenly. It's also much easier to remove the choke if they are in half. If your recipe needs them to remain whole, skip this step.

Now pare the tough outer layer of the stem off with a paring knife. This step may involve removing some of the lower leaves to reach the tender inner stem. Notice that I am keeping the spare half in the acidified water.

Artichokes brown very quickly. It doesn't look very attractive all browned, does it? So be sure to have the water ready and dip frequently.

Here's the choke or the "thistly" part that needs to be removed. As you can see, it wouldn't be good to eat.

Use a large spoon to scoop the choke out, scraping to clean it out thoroughly. If you are keeping your artichoke whole, this can be tricky. Peel back the leaves enough to access the center and scoop out. You may need to cut the tops back more when preparing them whole than when you are halving them.

And that's it! Now they are ready to use in your favorite recipe.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Peach Cake


Goodness gracious, what a week! Between an 800 mile drive on Tuesday and two tow truck calls, I've not had much time left over to drool over some good recipes. Fortunately, that has all changed now. My truck is fixed and the peaches are ripe. I bought a bag of them at a farmers' market in the middle of Alabama before I broke down.

I spent some time pondering how I wanted to use those peaches. After much debating, I decided on a cake. This dessert involves a simple cake with peach slices dropped on top. Lastly, it involves sanding sugar sprinkled over the top which bakes into a lovely browned, sweet crust. Look at that!

Here's what it looks like before you bake it. You could place the peaches in a design if you want, but I kind of like the random placement.


Peach Cake
Yield: One 9" cake

1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
dash salt
3/4 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/3 cup plain yogurt (or sour cream)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 peaches peeled and sliced
2 TBS sanding sugar (or granulated if it's all you've got)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, vanilla, egg, yogurt, oil, and lemon zest together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir completely. Spray a 9" round pan with oil. Pour the batter into the pan. Place the sliced peaches on the top of the batter. You don't need to press them in; the batter will rise up around them. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake at 350 for 60 minutes or until the cake is nice and golden and a tester comes out clean. Let cool slightly before serving.
Since originally posting, I have adjusted the baking temperature and time. I was finding that the higher temperature was browning the outside faster than it could finish baking in the center! I hate it when that happens! I also adjusted the amount of leavening... using less actually produces a cake with a better texture! Sometimes, less is more! Oh, and adding raspberries on top too? Yowza!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beer Boule

As far as bread making goes, this recipe is pretty straight-forward and the flavor is fabulous. It uses a pre-ferment to develop that flavor and adds beer for an extra dimension. It is great right out of the oven or - my favorite - as toast in the morning. It also makes a good sandwich bread. While I was shooting for making a very rustic loaf when I developed this recipe, it is delicious despite not fulfilling my original goals.

If you don't have much experience with cutting boules, I'd like to share some of my trial and error experience here: the best way to cut and serve bread from a boule is to cut it in half (ending up with a right and left) and then place the halves cut side down on your board to cut slices. It's embarrassing to admit, but it took me a while to figure that out. For some reason, I kept trying to cut the bread like a pie or cake and it doesn't work very well!


Beer Boule
Yield: one 8" diameter boule

For the pre-ferment:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup lager beer (I used Yuengling)
1/2 tsp instant yeast

Mix all pre-ferment ingredients together in a bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for 6-12 hours. Then place the bowl in the refrigerator for 1-3 days.

1 tsp yeast
1 cup warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt

Remove pre-ferment from the refrigerator an hour or so before continuing to allow it to come to room temperature. Transfer the pre-ferment into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, water, and flour. Mix together and then knead with a dough hook for 6 minutes. Let dough rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the kosher salt over the bread and then knead with the dough hook for an additional 4 minutes. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double.

Prepare a sheet pan with parchment. Gently deflate the dough and shape into a boule by pulling the edges of the ball underneath to form a nice round shape. Place shaped dough on the cooking sheet. Spray with oil and cover with plastic wrap or a barely damp flour-sack towel. Let rise until nearly double.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Before baking, with a very sharp knife or razor, cut an 'X' in the top of the boule about 1/2 an inch deep. When the oven is preheated, place the loaf in and let bake until golden. Shoot for an internal temperature of 200 degrees. It took about 30 minutes in my oven.

Remove bread from oven and let cool slightly before breaking into it. Very yummy with butter melting all over it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ode to My Cast Iron

While I am not quite as devoted to my cast iron as I used to be, I still believe there are many things that are best cooked in it. I used to own nothing but cast iron skillets, but, to be honest, my arms started getting tired. Actually, I think the real reason had to do with finally being able to afford good quality non-stick cookware. Either way, I still love my cast iron. Here's why:
  • Nothing manages heat better. If you want to pan fry something, nothing beats cast iron. Looking to roast something in the oven? Nothing keeps moisture in the meat better.
  • It's the original stove to oven cookware.
  • If your cast iron is well seasoned, it allows you to enjoy non-stick cooking at high temperatures without having to worry about toxic materials leaching into your food like is believed to be possible with Teflon pans. In fact, cast iron contributes iron to your food!
  • You don't have to break the bank to buy a good cast iron pan.
  • You don't have to worry about using special utensils when cooking.

As you can see, cast iron has a lot of benefits. Sure, there are a few draw backs, namely - it's HEAVY! But, heck, you can get a workout while you cook! The only other potential drawback I can think of is that it really requires you to clean the pan immediately. You shouldn't use soap on cast iron (it tends to remove the pan's seasoning); salt and hot water is all you need to keep your cast iron in tip-top shape.

To enjoy the full benefits of cast iron requires the pan to be well seasoned. This involves wiping down the inside surfaces with vegetable shortening. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for about an hour. While Lodge is the most common new cast iron available, if you can find a Wagner pan at an antique store that is in good condition, you should grab it. Wagner pans have a smoother interior surface that I find forms a better non-stick surface when seasoned properly.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chocolate-Cubed Cookies

These cookies were also a big seller at the farmers' markets. They are a darn fine cookie by themselves, but I tell ya, once I realized I could squeeze a bunch of ice cream in between them, it's been hard to look back. I like to make them and fold them up in wax paper for keeping. Wrap them like they wrap your hamburger at the fast food joint and then tape them closed, if need be. This is a great dessert to have on hand for when children come to visit... of course, grown-ups love them too!

If you are just making cookies, you can simply use a disher to make perfectly round cookies. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, I find it helps to flatten them before baking. Dampen your hand so that the dough doesn't stick and press them until they are about 3/8 inch thick.

This cookie dough freezes well. Simply freeze the dough balls until hard and then transfer to a zip-top bag. When you are ready to bake them off, place the frozen balls on a cookie tray and let thaw before baking. Again, if making them for ice cream sandwiches, press them flat with a damp hand.


Chocolate-Cubed Cookies
Yield: 28 - #24 disher size cookies

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

2 cup flour
1 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp table salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips

Cream the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla together. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix thoroughly. Add the chocolate chips and mix to evenly distribute.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes or until the center is set.




Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sauteed Summer Squash

When summer comes and you are inundated in summer squash, this is a life-saver recipe. It's also good any old time you want to indulge in some tasty, flavorful vegetables. This is another one of those quick and easy side dishes of which I am such a fan. Usually, when I am preparing a meal, I choose one of the dishes to focus my main energies on. For instance, if I am making an involved main course, I'll be sure that the side dishes are all simple and easy like this one. I also often make this dish as a great lunch. You can even change it up to suit your needs. Sometimes I add pieces of chicken, maybe some mushrooms. Hey, it's good with onions, too. But, to be honest, I think I like it best in its most simple format.

The first step is to slice up some summer squash. Yellow crookneck is my favorite, but you can also use small zucchinis or a mix. I slice them about 3/8 inch thick.


This is one of those dishes that involves no measuring. Slice up as much squash as you think you need to feed everyone. Mince up a few garlic cloves, however much you want based on how well you like garlic. If you're trying to keep the vampires away, use a bunch. If, on the other hand, you are planning a romantic evening with your sweetie, maybe use a little less.
Get your saute pan heating over medium-high heat with some butter. You can use olive oil, but I really like the flavor that browned butter imparts to this dish. Don't use too much. You don't want the butter flavor to overpower the flavor of the squash. Saute over relatively high heat, stirring occasionally to keep things from getting too dark. You do want the squash to caramelize a bit, so let it sit as long as you can before stirring. You may need to turn the heat down if it is blackening too quickly. There is no need to cook the squash completely through, either. If you cook it too much, it just ends up getting all limp and floppy, which - in my book - just isn't that appealing. Don't forget to add some salt and pepper for seasoning. Right when it's about done, splash a little (again, not too much) white wine to deglaze the pan. Remove from the heat and serve hot.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Baked Potato Salad

As some of you might recall, I've previously mentioned my problem with mayonnaise based salads. I just can't eat them. You will never see me eat traditional potato salad... ever. You could, however, see me eat this dish any time I get the chance.

The great thing about this "salad" is that it's a go anywhere, do anything dish. I usually make it with dinner when I want mashed potatoes that aren't mashed potatoes, but it also makes a great potluck take along. I like it because it doesn't need to be steaming hot when it is served. In fact, room temperature is just fine.

Baked Potato Salad
Yield: 6 servings

6 cups scrubbed, cubed potatoes (about 3/4 inch chunks)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk (adjust as necessary)
1/2 tsp salt
pepper
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup bacon bits/lardons (optional)

Place potatoes in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool down. Adding the cheese and sour cream when the potatoes are hot simply leads to a melty mess. Make sure the potatoes are no longer hot before proceeding.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir to mix thoroughly. The great thing about this recipe is that the proportions of all ingredients can be altered to suit your taste. Do you like a little more sour cream tartness? Add an extra dollop. More onions? Throw them in! You get the idea. One of the joys of this dish is its flexibility.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kofta Challow

Yes, I know. It doesn't look like much, does it? But what you see, my friends, is one of the best dinners around. It's not the food's fault that I am still an amateur photographer who continues to find certain foods very challenging to show off. But trust me, this dish is so worth your attention.

For those of you that stop by here regularly, you've probably gotten sick of me raving on about Afghan cuisine. And - possibly - wondered if I was ever going to post this recipe. I think I've talked about it multiple times now. Well, here it is! And you should try it. Soon.

It's a pretty straight-forward dish. Kofta refers to a Middle Eastern meatball dish while the challow refers to the rice. So, what you're seeing is basically a meatball and rice dish with wonderful Middle Eastern seasoning and LOTS of onions (which is lovely because onions are so good for you!).

The meatballs contain a fair amount of onion and garlic. Therefore, you want them to be grated or processed into very small pieces otherwise your meatballs will just fall apart.

Here's what my onion/garlic mixture looked like after processing:

Mix together the remaining meatball ingredients in a bowl and then form 2" meatballs. These meatballs are pretty loose, so you'll have to be somewhat careful with them. I lined the pan with some foil so that I could get them up easily since I freeze them briefly before cooking. Chilling them before cooking helps to hold them together in the initial stages of cooking.

Look at all those onions! Yum! Saute until they are slightly browned.

Then push the onions toward the outside and start sauteing the meatballs in the middle. Again, the meatballs are quite fragile until they get cooked through a little bit, so turn them very carefully. Turn regularly to brown all sides. Once they are nicely browned, add the remaining ingredients to make the sauce. This is a good time to start the rice since the dish is about 20-30 minutes from being done.

Lastly, about 15 minutes before serving, add the cauliflower. Strictly speaking, the cauliflower is optional, but it is so wonderful with this dish that I would never consider making it without.



Kofta Challow
Yield: 2-4 servings
adapted from the recipe on Afghanistan Online

For the kofta:
1 lb ground meat (beef or lamb)
1 medium onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 whole egg
3 tsp ground coriander
1 TBS beef bouillon granules/powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Process the onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped, or grate onion on a box grater. Press the onion between your hands to press out some of the water. Combine onion, garlic, and meat in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and shape into 2" diameter meatballs. I use a #12 disher to size them. This recipe makes approximately 8 meatballs. Set meatballs onto a lined tray or plate and place in the freezer to firm up for 10-20 minutes.

For the sauce:
2-3 TBS vegetable oil
2 medium onions chopped
1 TBS tomato paste
1 TBS beef bouillon granules/powder
2 tsp paprika
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 cups water
Half head of cauliflower, cut into pieces

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are slightly browned. Push the onions to the sides and add the meatballs. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Be gentle when turning them, until they are partially cooked, they are very fragile. When the meatballs are browned on all sides, mix the remaining sauce ingredients in a separate bowl and then pour into the skillet, mixing gently. Reduce heat and simmer meatballs in sauce for 10-15 minutes uncovered. Add the cauliflower and cover, cooking until tender, about 10-15 minutes more.

For the challow:
1 cup aromatic rice (Basmati or Jasmine)
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom

Bring water and spices to a boil. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. Begin rice while meatballs are simmering uncovered.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls

I have posted an updated version of this recipe that outlines some delicious changes to this recipe. If you are planning on making cinnamon rolls, I strongly urge you to use that recipe over this one. 

I've been wanting to post this recipe for some time. I just had to wait for the right moment to be able to make them. I needed to make sure I had an outlet lined up for the largest part of the batch. See, I just can't have this sort of thing sitting around the house. I have will power at the store but none at home. Once the food is in my house, I have no power to keep myself from eating it. This recipe makes three of these gorgeous tins of rolls and I simply cannot allow more than one to stay here.

The military is very good at taking care of their own. Yesterday, I put together a dinner delivery for a family that recently had a new baby and I thought, "Ah ha! I can make cinnamon rolls and send them along." And I knew a neighbor down the street would appreciate the other. Phew! All right! I am now cleared hot for cinnamon roll making.

Making cinnamon rolls is pretty simple, I'm almost sad to say. If they were more difficult or time consuming, maybe I wouldn't be so tempted all the time. As you can see, I make mine in the disposable 8-inch square aluminum pans with plastic lids because I have to deliver most of them elsewhere, but you can make them any shape or size and in any type of pan that suits you.

They start out like any bread dough. Mix the dough and knead it for a couple of minutes. This dough is pretty darn sticky, so if you have a mixer, I strongly advise using it! Let the dough proof in a oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap until it doubles. Knock the dough down and pour out onto a very well floured board. Trust me, don't skimp on the flour here or you'll be scraping dough off your counter for the next ten hours! Roll out into a roughly 18 x 12 inch rectangle.

The original recipe I used simply uses a cinnamon-sugar mixture in the centers. What I've learned, unfortunately, is that if you really like those gooey cinnamon rolls like they have at Cinnabon, you have to add butter... and a fair amount of it. I used some here, under the sugar mixture. It was probably half a stick's worth. It was good, but next time, I will mix the butter, sugar and cinnamon together first and spread it on the dough. They're fine without the butter, but they're absolutely divine with it. If you're looking to replicate the Cinnabon thing, then a large amount of butter is absolutely required. Once you've put your chosen filling in there (add raisins if you like 'em), roll them up, slice them (I did 12 - 2 inch slices for my pans), and place them in greased pans to rise. You will be amazed at how much they poof, so don't be discouraged if your pans don't seem that full at first. Let rise until doubled, about 30-40 minutes.

Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Pull from the oven and let cool completely before drizzling the glaze over top. They smell sooooo wonderful!

Mix the powdered sugar and milk together (and extract, if desired) and drizzle over the tops. I've found if I try and glaze them before they are completely cool that the glaze melts and doesn't look as nice.

Again, I use these little tins so they are easy to transport to their new homes. Well, except one of the tins stays here, of course!

When you are ready to indulge yourself, place a roll on a plate and pop it in the microwave for 20-25 seconds. Ahhhhhhh. I already miss those other two tins...


Cinnamon Rolls
Yield: 12 large rolls
adapted from Country America magazine, March '94

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 tsp table salt
3 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar
2 TBS cinnamon
6-8 TBS butter, softened (optional)

2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 TBS milk
2-3 drops almond extract (optional)

Mix the yeast and warm water and let stand a few minutes until foamy. Add to the milk, sugar shortening, and salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add one cup of the flour. Mix thoroughly. Add the eggs and two more cups of flour. Mix on medium-low for 3-4 minutes with the paddle attachment (or with a wooden spoon in a bowl). Stir in the remaining flour.

Place dough in a greased bowl covered with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Knock down the dough and turn out onto a well floured counter. Roll out into a roughly 18x12 inch rectangle. Dough should be about 3/4 inch thick. Mix the butter, cinnamon, and sugar together. Gently spread this mixture evenly across the top of the dough. Roll up the dough and cut into 12 slices. I like to trim the ends of the roll off and discard so that every slice has a nice shape and look to it.

Place the rolls into greased pans. I use 8" disposable aluminum pans. Four rolls fit in each. Let rise until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Mix the powdered sugar, milk, and extract, if using. Drizzle over thoroughly cooled rolls.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Classic Basil Pesto

Finally. Finally. FINALLY! Despite not having a garden this year and having to make do with a few late starters in pots on the deck, I finally had enough basil to make my first batch of pesto. And it's a darn good thing, too, because I was starting to go through withdrawal.

I can't remember when I last ran out of pesto. But I've been out now for months. Oh, the shame. See, the nice thing about pesto is that it keeps perfectly in the freezer. In the freezer, it stays the most glorious shade of green forever. I'm not kidding! I've had pesto in the freezer for over a year before with absolutely no degradation in its color or taste. And when it thaws, it tastes like you just picked the basil five minutes ago and whipped it up. You can't beat that!

But here's the problem. Basil, despite being an easy herb to grow, can be hard to come by in large quantities sometimes, and to make a lot of pesto you need a LOT of basil. I know where we live now, I could search until I fell off the edge of the earth and never find anything but those silly plastic containers of herbs you get in the grocery store. Yeah... great, I could make one tablespoon of pesto. In fact, the only time I actually had more basil than I could use was two years ago when I planted a forty foot row of it in my garden. Now that's what I'm talking about! .:sigh:.

Well, until I can get back to the wide spaces of dirt, a couple of basil plants will have to do. I'll just have to be a little stingy in my use of it.

Here's how I make traditional, classic basil pesto:

Take a pile of basil. I picked all that I could without hurting my plants. I got about four cups of loosely packed basil out of this bunch once the leaves were stripped from the stems.

Then I toasted a small handful of pine nuts in a dry skillet. This is my preferred method of toasting nuts. If I put them in the oven where they are out of site, I invariably forget about them (read: burn the heck out of them). I toast them over medium, medium-high heat until they are lightly browned. Let them cool before using in the pesto. You could use untoasted pine nuts, but I think I'd rather have my pesto without them rather than go the untoasted route. There's a huge difference in flavor.

I use my food processor here. Throw in the basil, garlic, cooled pine nuts, salt, and pepper and whir the heck out of it.

Stop when it gets to looking about like this:

Now for the best part. Add the cheese. I use Parmigiano-Reggiano, but you could go Wisconsin style if you choose. Lastly, while the processor is running, add the oil. Process until you get a loose paste. I like to keep my pesto a little on the thick side. I figure you can always add oil later if you want to thin it down, but it's kind of hard to take it out.

Either use fresh immediately or freeze. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week, but unless you pour a generous skim of oil across the top or add some kind of acid, you're going to end up with very unattractive, brown pesto. Darn that oxidation! Unless I'm using it right away, I just freeze the pesto into ice cube trays. When they are frozen, pop the cubes out and store in a zip top bag. Then, they are always at your beck and call. They thaw in the microwave in 20 seconds flat!

Classic Basil Pesto
Yield: one cup of pesto
4 cups of fresh basil leaves
3-5 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 TBS toasted pine nuts
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Process the basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and pine nuts until well ground together. Add the cheese and then add the oil while pulsing the mixture. Add oil until you get a loose paste. You can add more oil until it gets to the consistency you like. Freeze immediately into ice cube trays for long term storage or use fresh immediately. If you must store in the refrigerator for a bit, be sure to cover with a generous skim of olive oil or add some lemon juice to the pesto to prevent browning.
My favorite uses for basil pesto are on pasta (such a quick, easy, and tasty side dish) or broiled onto nearly cooked chicken breasts or pork chops. Oooo, and rolled up in a nice pork loin; that's good, too.
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