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Friday, October 28, 2011

Jelly Candies

About a year ago, I posted a recipe for lemon jellies. These cute little lemon candies are so tasty and such a cheerful lemon hue. I absolutely adore them, but what is good in lemon must be good in orange and other citrus flavors, right? So I made a batch of orange ones. I made them exactly how I made the lemon ones, except that I substituted oranges and used orange coloring.

You know what? They weren't right. I was so disappointed because they were cloyingly sweet. Fortunately, I have a fix for that. I got out the old citric acid granules and - voila! - a wonderful orange version of the lemon jellies was born. When I make orange jellies, I add about one half teaspoon of citric acid to the hot mix. If you really want a nice, tart treat, you can also add a little pinch to the dredging sugar.

So, if you want to make a nice, colorful assortment of jellies that looks adorable gifted in little cellophane bags or piled high in a candy dish, make a batch of lemon, orange, and lime jellies. Just be sure to add some citric acid to the orange and lime ones!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stablilized Whipped Cream

A couple of weeks ago, I made a chocolate pie for company. I wanted to include a whipped cream border that I could apply before my guests arrived and would hold until I was ready to serve my pie. I knew better. I really did. I knew that piped whipped cream would be all weepy and deflated by the time I went to cut that pie. And it did. It looked horrible.

But I knew there had to be a way. I mean, really, look at all those diners that have pies with beautiful whipped edges. Therefore, when I was taking a pie to another dinner last Saturday, I was determined to figure it out. Enter stabilized whipped cream, the answer to all my prayers.

By the way it is made, stabilized whipped cream is sort of like a mousse. You whip the cream and add gelatin for stability. It then holds its shape beautifully in the refrigerator for hours and hours (even days!). While the end texture is not quite the same as freshly whipped cream, it is still delicious and its beauty and convenience make it a winning choice!

Stabilized Whipped Cream
Yield: approx. 2 cups

1 tsp unflavored gelatin
4 tsp cool water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix the gelatin and water in a small microwave safe bowl. When the gelatin is soft, after a few minutes, place the bowl in the microwave and heat gently at ten second intervals until the mixture is melted and warm, but not hot. Mix the cold whipping cream and powdered sugar together in a glass or metal bowl. Mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then increase to high speed.

When the cream reaches soft peaks, slowly add half the gelatin mixture (you will discard the remainder). Continue whipping until stiff peaks develop. Pipe onto your dessert and keep refrigerated until serving. If you want to make a double batch, double the cream and sugar, but simply use all the gelatin mixture.

NOTE: I mix twice the gelatin mixture needed for the single batch because it is easier to measure and because with such a small amount, so much ends up sticking to the inside of the bowl. Feel free to add any additional flavorings to your whipped cream as usual, such as vanilla, chocolate, lemon or lime zest, etc.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lemon Biscotti

I just love these little cookies. They're lemony and have a nice bite. They have a different texture than a lot of cookies. They're not crispy in the same way a lot of cookies are, but then again, they also have half the calories and a third of the fat content of your typical cookie (like chocolate chip or snickerdoodle).

Traditionally, biscotti do not have any fat in them. No butter, no shortening, no oil. However, I found those cookies to have a somewhat less than satisfying texture, so I started experimenting. What I came up with is a nice in between, I think. There's enough butter in them to have a nice flavor and a little bit of snap, but not so much as to be overwhelming. I think you'll really like them. I sure do.

While these twice baked little snacks involve a little more effort than a normal cookie, they're still pretty straight forward. And they are so darn cute!

You start by mixing together all of the cookie ingredients. I use my stand mixer, but the dough is soft enough, you could probably mix them fairly easily by hand. Turn the dough out onto the counter and roll into a log. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a eight to ten inch long roll. Press each log flat.

These will rise a bit, so you want to start them off fairly thin. Shoot for about a half inch thickness.

Bake the cookies in a 350° F oven for about 40 minutes. Be sure the cookies have started to brown before pulling them out. If you pull them out before they brown a little, the inside often has an undercooked flavor that won't go away even after the second baking.

Remove from the oven and carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. Reduce the heat in the oven to 325° F. Carefully slice the loaves across at half inch intervals using a serrated blade. You should end up with 13-15 slices plus two small ends. I eat the ends at this point. It's the cook's prerogative.

Place an oven safe rack in the cookie sheet and lay the slices wide side down; spread them out as much as possible. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip the cookies over and bake another 10 minutes. Let them cool completely before icing.

Mix together the icing ingredients until they are smooth. Use enough milk to obtain a consistency that allows the icing to pour easily. Place in a flat bottomed dish that allows you to easily dip the bottom of the biscotti into the icing.

Let the excess icing drip off and then lay them upside down on a cookie sheet to dry. Allow at least an hour for drying.

These biscotti keep well in a plastic bag or other air tight container for at least a week. They are very attractive if wrapped in small bags and given as gifts.

Lemon Biscotti
Yield: 25-30 biscotti

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs

For the icing:
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2-4 TBS milk

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and lemon zest together. Add the lemon juice, eggs, and butter and beat until well mixed. Turn out on a counter and form into a log about one foot long. Divide into two logs. Shape each log until they are about 8-10 inches long. Press until they are each about one half inch thick. Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until they start to turn golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325° F. Using a serrated knife, slice into half inch wide cookies. Place the wire rack onto the cookie sheet and lay the slices, wide side down, on the rack, spread out as much as possible. Bake for 10 minutes, flip, and then for ten minutes more. Cool completely before icing.

Mix the icing ingredients together. Use enough milk to make a fairly thin icing; the icing should pour easily. Place in a flat bottom dish or bowl and dip the bottom of each biscotti into the icing. Let drain slightly and then place upside down on a baking sheet to dry. Let dry at least one hour. Store in an air tight container up to one week.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cottage Cheese

I received an email last week asking about dry curd cottage cheese and whether my Super Easy Cheese would be similar. Unfortunately, they are not the same. The good news is that even though it is often hard to find dry curd cottage cheese at the market, it is fairly easy to make at home. The recipe I am about to show you will make regular cottage cheese or dry curd cottage cheese; the main difference is whether you add additional cream at the end.

I think the only hang up with this cheese is the length of time it must sit. It requires a packet of starter (available from cheese supply companies) but no rennet. As such, it must develop curds solely through bacterial action. That takes time... almost a full day. Fortunately, the actual work time in this cheese is fairly minimal. Here's how it goes:

First, pour a gallon of milk into a heavy duty, nonreactive pot. You can use any type of cow's milk from skim to whole. I used 1% for a nice low fat product. Heat the milk to 72° F. Because most of us have to use store bought, homogenized milk, it helps to add a little calcium chloride. Homogenization makes it a little harder for the milk to form firm curds and the calcium chloride helps to mitigate this issue. Add the calcium chloride mixed with a little water after the milk has reached this target temperature.

Add the starter packet, stir, and then cover. Set aside to let the milk set for about a day. Shoot for a room temperature around 70-74° F. After a day, the milk should have set and show a clean break. A clean break is where when you cut the milk, you can still see the cut when the knife is removed.

Cut the curd into roughly 1/4 inch pieces. Cut one way and then at an angle the other way. Don't forget that you need to cut the curds in pieces from the bottom of the pot up to the top as well. Let the cut curds sit for 15 minutes. See how you can clearly see the break in the curd in this picture? If your mixture does not do this, it probably needs to set a little longer.

Heat the curd gently, increasing the temperature slowly to 100° F and then hold at this temperature for 10 minutes. Stir periodically. If some of your curds seem a little too large, don't worry, they'll break down as you heat and stir them. Increase the temperature to 112° F slowly (about a degree per minute). Once at 112° F, hold this temperature as best you can, stirring regularly until the curds are firm. The whey will be completely separated from the curds long before they are firm. Go here if you need a picture of what the whey looks like when separated from the curds. This last firming step can vary in time, but be prepared for anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

You can test curd firmness by squishing one between your fingers. You want to have a little resistance, not pudding. When the curds are firm enough, drain them into a cheesecloth lined colander. Let drain. Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of cold water in which to wash the curds. Dip the curd filled cheesecloth into the cold water. This step has two purposes. First, it chills down the curds, firming them and it also rinses the curd to reduce their sour flavor. If you like more sour curds, only dip them the once. If you prefer a more mild cottage cheese, dip the curds a few times, changing the water between dips. Remove the curds from the water bath and let them drain for about five minutes.

Dump the drained curds into a bowl. Use a spoon to stir the salt into them, breaking up any clumps that may have formed. At this point, you have dry curd cottage cheese. If you prefer the more traditional style, simply mix in a little cream.

Curds may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. Eat plain or with fruit, or use in cooking. This is a versatile, flavorful cheese!

NOTE: You may find that you have a hard time keeping the milk at the exact temperatures specified. Don't fret. In my experience, you do the best you can and it works out fine. Just remember to check the temperature of the milk in the middle of the pot (versus the edge) and stir frequently to avoid hot spots.

Cottage Cheese
Yield: 1 1/2 pounds
Adapted from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making

1 gallon milk (skim, 1%, 2%, or whole)
1/8 tsp calcium chloride in 1/4 cup distilled water (optional)
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
cream (optional)

Heat the milk in a heavy pan to 72° F. Stir in the calcium chloride mixture, if using. Then add the starter and stir. Cover and let sit in a 70-74° F room for 18-24 hours.

At this point, the curds should have set and the milk should show a clean break. Cut the curd into 1/4 inch cubes. Let sit for 15 minutes and then begin heating gently up to 100° F. Hold at 100° F for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat slightly and heat slowly (aim for 1 degree per minute) until the curd reaches 112° F.

Hold the milk at 112° F, stirring regularly, until the whey separates from the curd completely and the curds become firm. The whey will separate long before the curds are firm. Times may vary widely depending on your milk; be prepared for 30-60 minutes. Test the curd's firmness by squeezing one between your fingers; it should have some resistance and not squish like pudding.

Once the curds are firm enough, drain them in a cheesecloth lined colander. Fill a bowl with cold water and rinse the curds. If you prefer a milder flavored cheese, rinse 2-3 times, changing water between each dip. Drain the curds for five minutes and then pour into a large bowl. Salt the curds, mixing to evenly distribute. At this point, you have dry curd cottage cheese. If you prefer and more traditional style, add cream to taste. Cheese will keep in a refrigerated air tight container for one week.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Parmesan Potatoes

Behold the most delicious potatoes ever! My mom made these for our family while we were growing up, and they have always been one of my favorite dishes. My only complaint is that she would stack the potatoes too much. As you might imagine, the best part of these potatoes is that golden, delicious crust on the outside of each slice. If you stack the potatoes too much, then only a small percentage of the potatoes have that crust. That state of being is an unfortunate and unnecessary occurrence. You may need to use a larger pan, or even two pans, so that the potatoes are spread as close to one layer thick as possible, but it is really, really worth it.

The other thing I want to throw out there is that potatoes have really gotten a bum rap lately... kind of like what eggs went through in years past. While, obviously, if you always eat your potatoes deep fried or mashed with a stick of butter, they are not a very good meal choice. By themselves, however, potatoes are a healthy and delicious addition to any meal. They're definitely a better choice than pasta. In fact, serving for serving, I would even argue that potatoes are a better choice than brown rice! I love this nutrition data site and suggest you go compare the nutrition data of potatoes with your other side dish options if you have been hesitant to eat potatoes lately.

This dish is nice because you get all the flavor and "pow!" of a sinful side dish while actually being quite restrained. You can use any kind of potato. In this case, I used little red potatoes, but you can use russets or Yukon Gold, or... whatever. I like to leave the skin on. I like the way it looks; I like the way it tastes. Plus the skin has a large percentage of the fiber and nutrients of the potato. Slice the potatoes thinly, about 1/8 of an inch. I use a mandolin, but you can slice them the old fashioned way or with a food processor.

Be sure you've started your oven to preheating to 425° F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking oil. Place your potato slices in a bowl and toss with a little bit of melted butter. You only need a tiny bit! The potatoes just need to have a little bit of a sheen from the butter (or oil, if you prefer).

Lay the potato slices out on the baking sheet as close to one layer thick as possible. In this case, I had plenty of room on my baking sheet. When things are a little tighter, I use a shingle pattern to maximize my use of space. Sprinkle the slices with a little salt (go easy, Parmesan is already pretty salty), some pepper, a little grated Parmesan cheese (I use the stuff in the green can for this application), and a little bit of paprika.

Bake until the potatoes are cooked through and golden. Depending on how many you are baking, it could be anywhere from 20-40 minutes. For best results, serve immediately!

Parmesan Potatoes
Yield: 4 side servings

3-4 cups of sliced (1/8 inch thick) potatoes
1 TBS melted butter
3 TBS grated Parmesan cheese
dash paprika
salt & pepper to taste

Toss the potatoes in the melted butter. Lay out on a greased baking sheet as close to one layer thick as possible. Sprinkle with cheese and paprika. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake in a 425° F oven until the potatoes are cooked through and golden. Baking time will depend on how thickly you stack your potatoes, but start checking after 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
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