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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sangria Jelly

One of my favorite things about the holidays is that it gives me a great excuse to do all sorts of cooking that I can then give away as gifts. Every year, I prepare goody bags for family members. A lot of these recipes I have highlighted in my "Gift Ideas" section of this site and some of the others are forthcoming. This year, I included granola, chocolate cubed cookies, lemon jellies, pumpkin bread, butter toffee, and gingerbread men. For the kids, I included lollipops. For the adults, I included two kinds of jelly. One is this lovely sangria jelly. The other is a margarita jelly which I will post in the not too distant future.

I love making jelly to give as gifts. Of course, some are easier to make than others. Making jelly, with its crystal clear beauty, can be time consuming depending on the fruit being used. Some jellies can't be made at certain times of the year due to the lack of fresh fruit. That's why I especially like to make unusual jellies like this one which use mostly bottled or readily available juices and wine. I previously posted one of my favorite jellies to make, wine jelly. This recipe is a variant of that one. It still uses a bottle of wine, but it includes some fresh citrus juice, which moderates the wine flavor a bit. Its flavor is reminiscent of a gorgeous glass of sangria and it is just as beautiful.

This is a jelly that is quick and easy to make and is always appreciated as a gift. In fact, I can usually make a batch, start to finish, in less than half and hour.

The first step is to be sure you have all of your equipment set out ready to go. Here, you can see the jars I used. The jars should be washed but do not need to be sterilized since you will be processing them in a water bath. If you need a refresher on canning processes, go back and take a look at my Canning 101 post. The other equipment that should be handy is a jar lifter, jar funnel, small pan with hot water and tongs to warm the lids, a pot for cooking the jelly, and a large kettle for the water bath. What I really love about canning jelly recipes is that they typically make small amounts in small jars, which means I don't have to drag out my huge canning kettle; I can simply use a small stock pot. Don't forget to add a splash of vinegar to the water to keep your jars from ending up with mineral residue on them.

You will first gently heat the wine, triple sec, orange and lemon juices in a large pot. Remember, hot sugar syrups expand quite a bit when cooking, so give yourself plenty of room. When the mixture is warm, add the sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Be careful not to overheat this jelly or it may end up with a slightly bitter taste. When the mixture is just about at a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and add the pectin. Stir completely and remove any foam that may have formed on the surface.

Pour into the jars, leaving a quarter inch head space. Wipe the rims, and use the screw bands to hold the hot lids in place. Process in a water bath for ten minutes. Remove water bath from heat and let sit five minutes before removing jars from the water. This last step helps to keep hot jelly from oozing out of the jars which can happen if they are removed too suddenly from a hot water bath. Let jars sit 24 hours before removing screw bands to clean the jars for storage.

Sangria Jelly
Yield: 8 half-pint jars
Adapted from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt

3 cups pinot noir wine (or similar)
1/2 cup strained orange juice
1/4 cup strained lemon juice
1/4 cup triple sec liquor (or similar)
6 cups granulated sugar
2 3-ounce packets of liquid pectin

Heat the wine, juices, and liquor in a large pan over medium heat until it is warm. Add the sugar and stir, heating gently, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Heat until the mixture is almost to a simmer. Be careful not to overheat this jelly as it may develop a bitter flavor. Remove the pan from the heat and add the two packets of pectin, stirring completely. Skim off any foam and pour into eight 8-ounce jelly jars. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel and screw on hot lids and bands.

Process in a water bath canner for ten minutes. Remember to only start timing once the water has returned to a boil. When the ten minutes is up, remove the canner from the heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing jars from the canner to a towel lined counter. Let the jars sit undisturbed for 24-hours before removing screw bands and cleaning the outside of the jars, if necessary.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Easy Candied Pecans

Last year, I posted a recipe for candied nuts. They are delicious and beautiful. However, they are kind of a pain in the tuckus to make... relatively speaking, anyways. They're fine if you are making a dish of them to put out as appetizers or what not. What they're not so great for is that moment when you decide you're in the mood for a tasty salad with some candied pecans for crunch and you want them to basically prepare themselves while you put your salad together.

So, I came up with this little recipe. They are just as tasty as the original version, although they don't have quite as crunchy a kick. They aren't quite as pretty either, since they don't end up encased in beautiful sugar crystals. What they are is quick, easy, and delicious. I can put them on the stove when I start making my salad and they are typically done before I have finished putting the salad together.

The first step is to mix together a little brown sugar, kosher salt, and cinnamon. The proportions here are up to you. I usually mix together about two tablespoons of sugar, a dash of salt, and dash of cinnamon. I simply toss the three of them together with my fingers.

Throw your pecan pieces in a dry saute pan over medium to medium high heat. I store my nuts in the freezer, so it takes a few minutes for them to thaw out before they start toasting. Keep an eye on them and shake the pan periodically to move them about. When they start to brown and you can smell their toasty nuttiness, throw in some of the sugar. Don't go too crazy adding sugar; you don't want the nuts swimming in it. In the following picture you can get an idea of the proportions I use. Stir until all the sugar is melted and starting to brown a bit.

The last step is to pour the nuts out onto a sheet of parchment paper to cool. Some of the sugar will be left behind in the pan. Pull the nuts apart with a fork or other utensil, otherwise they'll all stick together as they cool. Give them about five minutes to cool and harden before serving.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cream Puff Swans

Cream puff swans are the most impressive of the lot, which is why I saved them for last. What amazes me is that for such an impressive dessert, they're surprisingly easy. To make them, you simply need to pipe two different shapes out of pate a choux.

The first is the swan's neck. You always want to pipe a few more necks than you plan to need because invariably one will break or turn out deformed if you don't have any extras. To pipe the neck, use a Wilton #12 tip or similar to pipe out an S shape. Once it is piped, dip your fingers in water to pull one of the ends into a small point. This will give the finished product the graceful head that really makes these things look fabulous. In the photo below, that's my pinky finger for size reference.

The second shape, which forms the bodies and wings, is a large oval blob of pastry dough. I used a pastry bag without a tip to make the oval. I know that, unbaked, they kind of resemble a pile of you know what. But they'll look much better cooked, I promise! Because the necks and bodies are such different sizes, you'll either want to bake them on separate baking sheets or be prepared to pull the necks off of the baking sheet when they are ready lest they get too dark. If you look at the first picture, you can see that my necks got a little darker than I would prefer, so just be sure you keep an eye on them.

As soon as the bodies come out of the oven, use a serrated knife to open them up as shown in the following picture. You want to cut an oval out of the top of the body, leaving enough of the sides to have a decent container. Slice the cut away part into two, cutting the long way. These pieces will end up being the wings. Let all the parts cool before assembling the swans.

To assemble them, pour some kind of sauce in the center of the plate. Here I've used a chocolate sauce, but your swan can be swimming in whatever sauce you want. Place the neck into the body, and, while holding it in place, fill the swan's body with pastry cream or some other filling such as ice cream or mousse. The filling should hold the neck in place at this point. Place the wings into the body so that they sweep up and backward as shown. You can serve them as is or sprinkle them with powdered sugar. While the parts can all be prepared ahead of time, be sure to assemble only right before you plan to serve them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cream Puffs

Behold the humble cream puff. After what I've shown you so far this week, these guys need almost no instruction now. Whip up a batch of pastry cream and let it chill. Mix together a batch of pâte à choux pastry and pipe into small, one inch sized balls of dough. Use a damp finger to press the balls into a nice shape before baking. Be sure you read the tips about shaping and baking them in the pâte à choux pastry post and the tips about filling them in the eclairs post. This pastry recipe will make about 50 cream puffs.

Let them cool completely before piping them full (but not too full lest you create a pressure filled pastry "bomb") of pastry cream with a small diameter cake decorating tip. If you prefer, you can instead fill them with plain or flavored whipped cream. They can be dusted with powdered sugar if you choose as well.

These will stay fresh and delicious at room temperature the entire day they are made. If you want to save them for more than one day, be sure to refrigerate them since they are filled with a custard. I personally don't think they are nearly as good after the first day since the trip into the refrigerator softens the pastry up quite a bit. Theoretically, they can even be frozen and thawed to eat later. Again, not as good as the first day, but still worth the calories.

Check back tomorrow for the pièce de résistance:
Cream Puff Pastry Swans! A dessert to make your company swoon.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Here goes idea number two of items you can make with pâte à choux pastry and pastry cream: eclairs! How can you go wrong with cute little custard filled, chocolate glazed pastries? You can't. You just can't.

You can make them whatever size you wish. I like them fairly small. The little guys I made the other day were two biters. In my humble opinion, smaller is better. If they get too big, you run the chance of initiating the squirt hazard. There's nothing more embarassing than biting into a filled pastry and having pastry cream ooze everywhere.

To make this size of eclair, I used a Wilton 12-inch pastry bag without a tip to pipe out the pastry. To keep them nicely shaped, use a pair of damp scissors to cut the pastry when you have enough dough piped out. I piped these about two inches long. Dip your finger in water and smooth out any deformities you see in your piped pastries.

Bake the pastry at 425° F until the pastries are deeply golden. Remove from the oven and pierce the end with a sharp knife. This cut serves two purposes. The first is to provide a small vent for some of the steam inside the now hollow pastries to escape. The second purpose is to provide "easy access" for the tip of the pastry bag you will use to fill the pastries.

Let the pastries cool completely before filling. Load a pastry bag fitted with a small, round tip. Pastry cream is the classic filling. One nice thing about pastry cream is that it is stable for a day at room temperature.

When filling the pastry, be careful not to fill them too full or you will really have a squirt hazard on your hands. I made this mistake the first time I filled puff pastry. I stuffed them full enough that the filling ended up under a little bit of pressure. Biting into them caused a small cream explosion which, despite tasting good, was quite messy. I find using the increasing weight of the pastry the best way to gaugue when they are getting full. If the cream comes squirting back out the hole, you need to scale back.

Making the glaze, which you want to have harden into a firm topping that can be handled somewhat, is pretty straight forward. Melt three ounces of chocolate with two teaspoons of corn syrup in a double boiler or in the microwave. When the chocolate is mostly melted, stop heating it and let the residual warmth melt the remaining bits. Add one tablespoon of butter and stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

It is easiest to dip the eclairs if the chocolate mixture is in a shallow bowl. Dip the top half of the eclair in the chocolate and shake it while still upside down to let the extra chcocolate drip off. Then turn the eclairs right side up and set them on a tray or rack to set. Depending on the temperature and humidity in your house, the dry time will vary. I think it took mine about twenty minutes the other day. It does not form a hard shell; it is more like the chocolate glaze on a donut, so be gentle when handling even after they have dried.

And the last step? Well, that's the best step of all... to enjoy and share the fruits of your labor. Have I mentioned lately that I love food?

Sunday, December 19, 2010


The first thing you can put together from pastry cream and cream puff pastry is a profiterole. Technically, there are a number of things with which you can fill a profiterole. Here, I have used the pastry cream, but you could also use ice cream or whipped cream. Additionally, you can flavor the pastry or whipped cream any way you wish... lemon, chocolate, almond; the choices are endless.

With profiteroles, you want to pipe a fairly good sized blob of pastry. I usually pipe them to the size of a golf ball. If you want to fit a scoop of ice cream inside, you'll want to pipe them even larger. When they first come out of the oven, slice them open so that there is a large base and a small cap. Bake at 425° F until the pastry is puffed, dry, and deeply golden. Slicing them open immediately helps release the steam inside so that they cool without softening up too much. This is especially important for the profiteroles because they are fairly large in size.

You can top profiteroles with whatever delicious sauce you would like, but chocolate is classic. Putting together the chocolate sauce is super easy. Simply melt a bit of chocolate in a bowl in the microwave. Stir in a little heavy cream and any flavoring you might be interested in, such as liquor or extract. I like to put it into a squirt bottle so it's easy to make a very attractive dessert.

The last component I had on the dessert pictured above is a fruit sauce. I used a raspberry sauce made by blending thawed frozen raspberries, sugar, and a little lemon juice. I put the raspberry sauce in a squirt bottle, too.

To assemble the dessert, squirt a little bit of the chocolate sauce in the middle of a plate to anchor the cream puff and help it sit straight. Place the base of the cream puff on the chocolate and fill with your choice of filling. You can pipe or spoon in the filling. Put the cap on and drizzle chocolate sauce over the top. Squirt small blobs raspberry sauce around the perimeter of the cream puff and use the tip of a knife the drag some of the sauce to make a pretty comma shape. I tried using a toothpick, but I did not find it was substantial enough to do the job properly.

Although you'll want to serve immediately for best results, you can prepare all of the components ahead of time and simply assemble at the last moment.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pate a Choux

For such a delicious pastry, pâte à choux is pretty straight forward. You first start with a hot mixture of butter, water, sugar, and a dash of salt. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.

When the mixture comes to a boil, add the flour to the pot all at once and begin stirring immediately with a wooden spoon with the pot still on the heat. Once the mixture forms a thick ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan, continue cooking, stirring, for another two minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the eggs are well incorporated and the dough is smooth. You could do this part by hand, leaving the dough in the pan and beating the eggs in with the wooden spoon, but I find it a slippery, frustrating task to do by hand. It is so quick and painless in the mixer; I highly recommend using it for this task if you have one. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a tip depending on the shapes you are preparing. I like to stand my bag in a tall drinking glass. It makes the bag so much easier to fill.

Roll the top of the pastry bag closed and pipe shapes onto a parchment lined baking sheet. You can see here that I did a wide variety of shapes in this batch. I will show you how to do each variety and show you the end results over the next few days. If you've ended up with any weird shapes, you can fix them by dipping your finger in water and pressing the dough into place. For instance, I always end up with a little tail when I pull the pastry bag away when I am piping. If I were to leave those tails there, they would bake too quickly and leave hard, over baked "horns" on my cream puffs. That's just not acceptable! Fortunately, the dough is very tractable as long as your fingers are wet.

The other concern when piping the shapes out is that any seams in the raw dough will be accentuated during baking. This means that when you are piping, you need to try and reduce seams. Use the largest tip you have available for the job. If you need to pipe a shape that is larger than the tip you have available, there are two ways to manage that task. The first is to not use a tip and simply use the opening on the pastry bag to pipe the shapes. I find when I do this that I need to use scissors to cut the dough between shapes. The other method is to not move the piping bag as much when piping and let the dough "build up" more. You can see in the photo below that seams can cause some real shape problems. Even with your best efforts, you'll probably still end up with a few that look like the one on the right, but if you're careful, they should be fairly rare.

The last consideration when making cream puffs is to be sure and bake them long enough. I always find myself wanting to take them out of the oven too soon. You want to bake them until no beads of moisture are on the sides of the pastries and they are a rich, dark golden color. The pastry on the left is the point at which I am always tempted to remove them from the oven; the pastry on the right is the minimum amount of coloring for which you should be aiming. If you don't bake them long enough, the moisture content will be too high and they will end up floppy and a little doughy when cooled.

Depending on what type of pastries you are making, there will be variations in how you treat the pastries as they finish baking and cooling, so I will address that issue in specific posts on the various types of pastries that can be made with this basic recipe.

Pâte à Choux
Yield: approx. 2 1/2 cups dough

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter, cut in small pieces
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sifted flour
4 eggs

Heat the water, butter, sugar, and salt together in a sauce pan until it comes to a boil. Add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a thick ball that leaves the sides of the pan. Continue cooking, stirring, for another two minutes. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with a paddle attachment. (You can do this part by hand, but it can be a slippery, exhausting task). Beat the eggs in one at a time on medium-low speed. When all eggs are incorporated, beat an additional 20-30 seconds until the batter is shiny and smooth.

Place the batter in a piping bag and pipe into the desired shapes onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 425° F until puffed and nicely browned. Cool puffs completely as directed for each shape.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pastry Cream

I am really excited about the batch of posts that goes along with this one. Today I'll start with pastry cream and then tomorrow I'll show you the basics of pâte à choux, otherwise known as cream puff pastry. What I love is that once you have these two recipes, the possibilities are endless. Brace yourself... in the next week you will see some of the prettiest food you've ever seen. One of the desserts I prepared and photographed was so beautiful I couldn't eat it. In fact, it's still sitting in the kitchen... three days later. But every time I look at it, I smile, so I guess it was a fair trade.

The great thing about desserts composed of cream puff pastry and pastry cream is that they taste as wonderful as they look. Hoo yeah. Let's get started with these two basic recipes so we can get on with the really fun part!

The first step is to scald some milk on the stove. Whole milk produces the best pastry cream, but I suppose you could get by with 2% in a pinch. You only want to heat it until bubbles form along the edge and it is starting to steam.

While the milk is heating, beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a balloon whisk until the mixture is thick and will leave a trail when you move the beater over the surface. Then mix together the flour and cornstarch together and add it to the eggs, beating to combine.

The next step is to temper the eggs. Simply pouring the hot milk into the eggs all at once would provide too much heat too quickly which could cook the eggs too quickly, leaving a gloppy, lumpy mess. To prevent that disaster, you just need to start slowly. Pour a small stream of the milk in to start. Once about half of the milk has been added, you can go a little faster with the second half. Be sure the mixer (or your hand!) is whisking continuously as you add the milk.

Wash the sauce pan you heated the milk in and pour the egg and milk mixture back into it and place on the stove over medium heat. Heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture just starts to boil. At this point, the mixture will be quite thick and the boiling will not be visible while you are stirring, so occasionally stop stirring for a moment to see if a big bubble will pop through the surface. Once you notice that the mixture is, indeed, at a boil, continuing cooking and stirring for two more minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pass the thickened pastry cream through a sieve into a bowl to remove any unappealing lumps that may have formed.

Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the surface of the cream. This will keep a rubbery skin from forming on the surface. Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight to cool completely before using. Pastry cream will keep in the refrigerator for maybe four days before it starts weeping pretty badly or at room temperature in baked goods for a day.

Pastry Cream
Yield: About 2 cups
adapted from Patisserie of France, by H. Walden, 1988

1 1/4 cups milk (whole milk preferred)
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
3 TBS flour
2 tsp corn starch
dash salt
1 tsp vanilla

Heat the milk on the stove (or in the microwave) until bubbles form at the edges of the pan and it is just starting to steam. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until they are thick and yellow and will leave a trail across the surface when the beater is lifted. Mix together the flour, cornstarch, and salt and stir into the egg mixture.

Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture slowly with the beater running to temper the eggs. Rinse the milk heating sauce pan and return the mixture to it and heat over medium, stirring continuously, until the mixture just starts to boil. It will be very thick and may not look like it is boiling while you are stirring, so stop stirring for a moment from time to time to check its status. Once it reaches a boil, continue cooking and stirring for another two minutes. This step is very important to have a smooth pastry cream that does not have a raw flour flavor.

After the two minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pass the mixture through a sieve and into a bowl to remove any lumps. Cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the surface of the cream so that a skin does not form. Chill for a few hours or overnight before using. Pastry cream will keep about four days in the refrigerator or one day at room temperature in pastries.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Amy! She is the winner of my KitchenAid Slicer/Shredder Attachment giveaway. There were only ten entrants, so there were pretty good odds for each of them. I intentionally did not publicize this giveaway as I have my previous ones since I wanted to give folks who actually read my blog more of a shot at winning. In the past, I found that most entrants came to the giveaway page on my blog through a link, signed up, and then immediately left. Besides, I wanted some suggestions on recipes folks want me to tackle in the future.

I received some great suggestions! Kimmy mentioned that she would appreciate some posts on making fresh pasta. That is one request I will definitely be fulfilling in the not too distant future. I also received requests for more cheeses, more homemade condiments, more chocolates, and more gift jar recipes. You betcha!

Alyssa asked if I would make Baklava. Well, I have never made it, so that in itself is challenge enough for me! Sharon asked about a Doberge cake... well, I had to look that up since I'd never heard of it. A super tall cake with lots of layers of cake and filling? Heck yeah. I'll give that a go!

Amy, the winner, asked for more slow cooker recipes. I have to admit, I received a slow cooker for a wedding gift seven years ago and have only used it a handful of times. For some reason, crock pot cooking seems to fall in the same category as casseroles, which are types of cooking I don't seem to do much of, but I'll see what I can do.

There was only one request that I can flat out say I just can't fulfill. Mmalavac asked about making homemade filo dough. While there are a bunch of sites on the Internet that purport to show how to make homemade filo dough, I just don't buy it. Part of the magic of filo dough is the amazing thinness of the sheets. I just don't think you can duplicate that process at home. However, I can show you a video of how filo dough is made by hand... you'll quickly see why I don't think it can really be made at home. I originally saw this video on How It's Made on the Discovery channel, I think, but I found a clip of it on YouTube. You've got to see it to believe it! I didn't think dough could be worked like that!

Congratulations again, Amy! I will be sending your KitchenAid attachment to you as soon as I get a mailing address from you. Thanks everyone for your great suggestions!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

I feel like a failure for not getting this posted before Thanksgiving. Of course, I didn't actually make up the recipe until I was making cranberry sauce the day before we all sat down to eat. I suppose there are a lot of folks out there who do another round of traditional feasting for Christmas. Additionally, this version of cranberry sauce may just alter your thinking about it only being a once or twice a year dish.

I have always felt that store bought cranberry sauce was a little blasé. Well, that goes without saying... I am all about cooking from scratch, after all. Unfortunately, I always felt freshly made cranberry sauce had an astringent quality to it I didn't quite care for. I noticed early on that when I canned my own cranberry sauce, I really only started enjoying it after it had been sitting on the shelf for a few months.

With that in mind, I started playing with ways to balance the cranberry's natural tannins. Citrus became my go-to ingredient for many years. This year, I wanted to try something a little different, so I decided to add some apples and spice. What a wonderful decision! This is, hands down, the best cranberry sauce I've ever eaten. Apparently, my mom agrees, since we practically started duking it out over who would get to eat most of it. Even if you're not a big fan of traditional cranberry sauces, I urge you to give this one a try.

You can start with fresh or frozen berries. I found this bag in the deep, dark recesses of my freezer. To be honest, I'm not really sure what year I bought those berries. Fortunately, since we were going to cook them, it didn't really matter. There are four main flavors in this sauce: cranberry, orange, apple, and fall spices. You want to start with the cranberry and orange. In a sauce pan, mix the berries, orange juice, zest, sugar, and water and bring to a simmer.

Once the cranberries have started to pop, add the peeled, diced apple and orange segments. Simmer over medium low heat until the apples are tender and then add the spice mixture. Let simmer five minutes and then remove from the heat and cool slightly before decanting into a pretty bowl, covering with plastic wrap, and chilling in the refrigerator.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Yield: 2-3 cups

1 bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
1 orange, zested, sectioned, and juiced
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp spice mix (mix 1/4 tsp of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves)
1 TBS brandy (optional)

In a sauce pan, bring the cranberries, orange juice and zest, sugar, and water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the berries start to pop, about 5-10 minutes. Add the apple and orange sections (cut out so that you do not end up with the membrane) and cook over medium low heat until the apple is tender. Stir periodically to ensure the mixture does not scorch on the bottom.

When the apple is tender, mix together 1/4 teaspoon of the following dried spices: ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Then use 1/4 teaspoon of that mixture to spice to sauce. You can save the remaining mixture for later or discard it. Let the mixture simmer for five minutes before removing from the heat, cooling, and decanting into a bowl to refrigerate before serving.

NOTES: This sauce is quite delicious warm and you could very easily serve it right after removing it from the heat. Also, it would be wonderful with some currents or raisins. If you decide to add them, be sure to put them in when you put in the apples so that they can soften.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

This is a great quick bread. I usually make it in mini loaf pans. I also usually make a double batch so that I can freeze a number of the loaves to have on hand. They freeze so well and taste just as good thawed as they did when they were first baked. I often give these as gifts. The little loaves are so cute!

The best thing about this recipe is how moist the loaves are. I like them with walnuts, myself, but you can omit 'em if nuts aren't your thing... or, maybe, you'd prefer pecans? Go for it.

As far as I'm concerned, using fresh/frozen pumpkin puree is critical, but you can used canned if you want.

Mix the wet ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Then add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and stir thoroughly. Add the chopped nuts last, if you're using them. The batter will be fairly loose.

For best results, spray the bread tins with cooking spray and then line with parchment across the wide direction to ensure they release easily. Once they are baked, let them cool just a few minutes before removing them from the pans. Cool completely before wrapping and storing.

Pumpkin Bread
Yield: 2 4x8 loaves or 5 mini loaves

3 1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves

1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
2 cups pumpkin puree

1 cup walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350° F (325 if you are baking mini loaves). Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly. Add the walnuts last, stirring to combine.

Prepare two 4x8 loaf pans or five mini loaf pans by spraying with cooking oil and then lining with parchment, if desired. Evenly distribute batter between the pans. Bake full sized loaves for 45-50 minutes and mini loaves for approximately 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake. Let cool a few minutes before removing from the pans to cool completely.

Friday, December 10, 2010

KitchenAid Attachment Giveaway!

I know... it's been a long time since I've had a giveaway. Better late than never, right?

I am giving away one Slicer & Shredder attachment for a KitchenAid stand mixer. Ever since I got my food processor, this attachment has become a little superfluous in my kitchen. It's in almost new condition, and - if you have a KitchenAid stand mixer - it can be a really handy attachment to have on hand. I've decided that it deserves to be in somebody else's kitchen now... someone who will use it and appreciated it as it deserves.

It comes with four cones: fine and coarse shredders and thick and thin slicers. The main body of the attachment has an attached food pusher on hinges.

If you are interested in this item, whether for yourself or someone else, simply respond to the following question in the comment section of this post:

What is one recipe or skill you would like to see addressed on this blog?

One entry per person, please. Contest runs until Wednesday, December 15th, at 11:59 pm. An entrant will be randomly selected from all comments and I will ship the attachment off by priority mail as soon as I get a mailing address from the winner. If you post as an anonymous user, please be sure to include an email address so I am able to contact you if you win.

Good luck, everyone!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Favorite Sugar Cookies

Everyone has their favorite sugar cookie recipe. This one is mine; it's the recipe I grew up with. We made them every Christmas and I always associate them with that holiday. Maybe that makes me biased, but I've tasted a lot of sugar cookies, and I still think it's a pretty darn good recipe.

I particularly like how light and crispy a cookie it makes. The mixture of the butter flavor with the vanilla and almond flavorings really is superb and once they are decorated with a little sprinkled sugar, they are divine.

When I was a kid, my mom would mix up the dough and cut out the shapes and my brother and I would sit at the table decorating them. We took our job very seriously and it took us quite a bit of time to decorate them "properly." I still like a beautifully decorated cookie, but I'm a bit more assembly line these days. My favorite is the holly leaf cookie. Green sugar (make your own with sugar and food coloring) and red hots for the berries make a beautiful, festive cookie.

Mix the cookie dough in the traditional way: cream the butter, sugar, egg, and extracts and then mix in the combined dry ingredients. It will be a fairly soft dough at this point, so roll it out into a log inside a sheet of plastic wrap and then put it in the refrigerator to harden for an hour or so.

Cut the dough into four pieces and only take one out of the chill box at a time. Roll the dough out on a well floured surface with a covered rolling pin. I bake mine on a parchment sheet because I get a little crazy with the sugar and it makes clean up easier, but these cookies have enough butter in them you can bake them on an ungreased sheet and never worry about them sticking.

Roll them as thin as you reasonably can. It gets harder as the dough warms up, but I find 3/16 of an inch is pretty doable. See how thin they are? They poof up nicely when they bake so if you start them out too thick, they end up heavy and too dense for my taste. If you like a thick, somewhat chewy sugar cookie, then - by all means - roll them thicker, but I think they're best when they're thin.

Decorate as you wish and bake in a 375 degree F oven for about 10 minutes. I think they have the best flavor when they are slightly browned. Just be aware, when you first start to see color, either take them out of the oven or start hovering. If you walk away, there is a good chance by the time you come back they will be over baked. That last bit of browning goes fast!

Cool on a rack and then store in an air tight container. They are fairly fragile, so don't just toss them into a cookie jar or you'll end up with a bunch of pieces.

See how much they rise? So delicate and crispy. Oh, if I hadn't already consumed forty of these in the last 24 hours, I'd go have one right now for a mid-morning snack. Oh, who am I kidding? Now that they've crossed my mind, I'm going to go have to eat one... or many. I don't think I've ever been able to stop at one. They're that good!

My Favorite Sugar Cookies
Yield: about 75 cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tarter

Cream the butter, sugar, egg, and extracts together. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and then stir into the wet ingredients. Dump dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form the dough into a log. Wrap and chill for an hour before rolling.

Roll out on a floured surface with a covered rolling pin. Place on a parchment lined or ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate as desired and bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or until gently browned. Cool on a rack and store in an air tight container up to one week.
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