Wednesday, December 30, 2009

easter 2009

I'm finally getting around to posting about Easter! We had a few friends over for a traditional dinner. The kids did a fun egg hunt outside and we got to share lots of great food and great company.

I set the table with some nice branches I got at the flower market. I was really excited because I showed up there right at the close of business a couple days before Easter and saw them. I was trying to decide which bunch to get and the lady ended up giving me two bunches for the price of one because one didn't have quite as many flowers as the other. Yay! Love deals like that. Zach also helped me make some little birds' nests for the table settings. We melted 1 cup of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips with 1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter. Then we stirred in 2 cups of corn flakes and dropped 1/4 cupfuls onto parchment, pushing gently in the center to form a nest shape. Once they firmed up we put a few Cadbury mini eggs inside and placed on small plates at everyone's seats.

For appetizers we had three things: Brochettes of Melon, Prosciutto and Fresh Mozzarella, Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves and these great little cucumber sandwiches my friend Susie introduced to me a couple years ago.

Then we had Raspberry Soup, again (the recipe is in last Easter's post). This is one of my favorite traditions we started a couple of years ago. Again, a Susie recipe. Funny thing, though. It calls for sherry and we decided not to put it in this time (my friend Emily made it for me). The texture was quite different. It has unflavored gelatin in it but it seems to set up quite a bit firmer than with the sherry. The reason why I think this is the culprit is because we made this same recipe for a church "tea party" once and also forwent the sherry and the texture was the same. I thought the person who had made it had made some sort of mistake, even though they said they followed the instructions. I've never had this problem (not that it's really a problem- it still tastes fantastic), but I usually put the sherry in. So, the texture looks a little lumpy and not so smooth, but the mouthfeel is okay. It doesn't feel like lumps of jello or anything. So, feel free to do either way, but beware of the results.

For the main course we had Pineapple-Mustard-Glazed Ham. It was really good! It was fairly minimal effort, other slicing up two pineapples, and just bakes for a while. The glaze turned into this caramelly (is that a word?) sauce with soft pineapple that made a perfect foil to the smoked, salty ham. I love the dark brown pieces on the edge. I hoard them. We also had scalloped potatoes (recipe courtesy of Emily, who brought them), green beans with browned butter and toasted hazelnuts, and rolls.

When we finally had room again (or at least a small corner available), we broke into dessert. I decided to make the Rich Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting and Truffle-Egg Nest. I cheated a little with the white chocolate on the outside of the truffles. I used white chocolate chips, which don't get quite as thin when melted as actual chocolate. I could tell the swirling thing wasn't really an option for me, so I just colored the chocolate with a blue and green paste coloring. I got a system going where I tapped off the extra chocolate really quickly before the truffle started melting to the fork I had the "egg" sitting on. I used a chopstick to push the eggs onto a piece of parchment. I also decided marshmallows might be fun and appropriate (think peeps) so I used the same recipe I used for the coconut and peppermint ones at Christmas (you can find my recipes in this post), but instead of the other flavors, added 1 1/2 teaspoons of almond emulsion (you can just use pure extract instead). They were really yummy. Especially on top of hot chocolate later in the week. :) My friend, Rebecca, also made some mini pecan tartlets which were very tasty. Not too sweet and tender crust. Her recipe is included below.

Scalloped Potatoes (from Emily)

5-6 large potatoes, peeled and sliced as thin as possible
Cheddar cheese, grated or sliced as thin as possible (I used sharp)
1 Can Cream of Mushroom Soup
7oz milk (2/3 soup can)
salt & pepper

Grease/spray the bottom and sides of a 3 qt casserole (or 9x13 pan). Cover bottom of pan with one layer of potatoes. Cover potatoes with one layer of cheese. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Repeat layers of potatoes, cheese, salt & pepper 4 times. Mix cream of mushroom soup and milk together (I added a little garlic and onion powder). Pour over the top of the layered potatoes. Bake covered at 325 for 2 hours - until potatoes are soft. For a crispy top remove lid for the last 15 minutes. (I also added a handful of Gruyere because I had some in the fridge)

Pecan Tartlets (from Becca)

Crust (24 tarts):
1 cube butter (room temp)
3 oz. cream cheese (room temp)
1 cup flour

Combine butter and cream cheese, then cut flour into butter/cream mixture. Get a small ball of dough (walnut size), and press into mini muffin tin -- push dough all the way up the sides of the tin. Ensure there are no holes in the crust, otherwise the pie filling will stick to the pan.

Pecan Filling (48 tarts):
2/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. melted butter
1 c. corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 c. pecan pieces

Simply mix all the ingredients together. You may reserve the pecan pieces to be placed individually in the tarts if desired. Pour filling the the crust. Bake 375 for 20 - 25 minutes. Let tarts cool, then pop them out of pan w/ a paring knife. Top w/ whipped cream.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

working on the easter menu

A number of years ago we began the tradition of making a really nice Easter dinner with friends. It is so fun to decorate with touches of Spring and bring out the really good food that goes along with it. This year I think I am going to do a ham. It's been a while since I have. One of my friends is going to make pecan tartlets and I am trying to decide on the other dessert. Here are a couple of the cakes I'm thinking about:

Aren't they beautiful?

Here is link to last year's dinner and the year before (pictures taken by my friend Rachel). What are you making for Easter? Do you have any fun decorations you do for the table?

french lentil soup

Last week I made this excellent soup, which you don't expect to be so excellent because it is made with such basic, inexpensive ingredients. Really. I fed a whole crowd of people at our Nieghborhood Watch meeting for almost nothing. I ate the last bowl yesterday- and it was a sad moment.

A great thing about lentils is that you don't need a whole day to make soup, as with other beans. Beware, the chopping does take a while (especially if you make a double batch!). But it is well worth it.

I served it with another new recipe, Butternut Squash Oatmeal Bread. Is was very fast, compared to other yeast breads, and the squash gave it a really nice buttery flavor. It would make a really good sandwich bread, if it doesn't all get eaten with the soup!

French Lentil Soup

Yield: Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons extra–virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery stalks plus chopped celery leaves for garnish
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add 4 cups broth, lentils, and tomatoes with juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups soup (mostly solids) to blender and puree until smooth. Return puree to soup in pan; thin soup with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls, if too thick. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, if desired. Note: I used the vinegar and it brightened up the flavor just the right amount. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with celery leaves.

Butternut-Oatmeal Bread

2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (105- 115 degrees)
5 1/2 to 5 3/4 cups bread flour, divided
1 1/4 cups mashed cooked fresh butternut squash (about 1 medium squash)- I pureed in food processor
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons quick-cooking oats, divided
vegetable cooking spray
1 tablespoon water

Combine yeast and warm water in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes. Combine yeast mixture, 3 cups flour, and next 4 ingredients in a large mixing bowl; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer 2 minutes or until smooth. Gradually stir in 1 cup oats and 2 cups flour to make a moderately stiff dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), adding enough of remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, to keep dough from sticking to hands. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 35 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down; divide in half. Turn one portion onto work surface; knead 4 or 5 times. Roll into a 14x7 rectangle. Roll up, starting at short side, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets; pinch ends to seal. Place dough, seam side down, in an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 3-inch loafpan coated with cooking spray and sprinkled with 1 1/2 teaspoons oats. Repeat procedure with remaining dough and 1 1/2 teaspoons oats.

Brush loaves evenly with 1 tablespoon water, and sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 tablespoon oats. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 25 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pans immediately; cool on a wire rack. Yield: 2 loaves, 16 servings each. Calories: 116 Protein: 3.5g Fat: 1.5g Carb: 21.8g Fiber: 0.5g Cholesterol: omg Iron: 1.4mg Sodium: 112mg Calcium: 14mg

from Cooking Light Five Star Recipes: The Best of 10 Years

Sunday, March 15, 2009

my new favorite cupcake

This one's for you Tannya (aka cake-batter-lady). I knew it was a good sign when I was making these cupcakes Saturday and I couldn't get enough of the batter. Normally it doesn't tempt me too much- I'd rather have more of the finished product. But I'm such a sucker for anything with a deep caramel taste. Brown Sugar Poundcake Cupcakes. Yum. Then came the frosting. That was even worse (I mean, better). I actually kept the mixing bowl to myself after I'd frosted them. It is made of butter you cook until it has turned golden brown and then you carefully pour the liquid butter, leaving the browned solids behind, and mix with the standard sugar, vanilla and milk (truth be told- I actually used a touch of cream because I had some).

I brought them to be the "grown-up" cupcakes for Alex's end-of-the-season basketball party that night. The kids got the cupcakes from a box, but at least I frosted with homemade 7-minute frosting. These are a definite keeper! Yum!!

Brown-Sugar Pound Cupcakes with Browned-Butter Glaze

from Martha Stewart Living, February 2009

Makes 29 (I got more like 24)

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar (I think dark would be really good too)

4 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup buttermilk

Brown-Butter Glaze (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cream butter and brown sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

2. Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk and ending with dry mixture. Scrape sides of bowl. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. I used a spring loaded ice cream scoop to make sure all cups had the same amount.

3. Bake cupcakes until toothpick inserted into centers come out clean, about 22-25 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.

4. Set rack with cupcakes over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon glaze over tops, and let stand until set. Serve glazed cupcakes immediately. (but they do still taste very good for a few days- if they last that long!)

Brown-Butter Glaze

Makes 1 cup

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk (I used 2 T of cream, and a little milk to get the proper consistency)

1. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Carefully pour butter into a bowl, leaving sediment behind (because the butter was foamy and it was a little difficult to see the solids, I poured the butter through a fine mesh strainer).

2. Add sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons milk to butter, and stir until smooth. If glaze is too thick, add more milk. Use immediately.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

candy chat- part 3

Dark Chocolate Orange Fudge has been my Christmas candy stand-by for, I don't know, at least 10 years. It is always a hit and was a great recipe find. I can't even remember where I found the original recipe... maybe in a magazine ad somewhere?? It called for semi-sweet chocolate chips and chopped walnuts but since I really, really love dark chocolate I had to try it with the Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It was also back then that I discovered orange oil and decided it must go in as well. It tastes like a dark, gourmet version of those foil wrapped chocolate oranges you buy at the holidays and break apart. The orange oil, rather than extract, is really key. It is made from the peel of oranges and tastes like the real deal. The only brand I am aware of, though there may be others, is Boyajian. You can find it at gourmet kitchen stores and online.

One thing is, I'm sure some may scoff at this not being "real" fudge. Yes, it contains chocolate chips and melted marshmallows, and doesn't use a candy thermometer. BUT, it is so much better than any "real" fudge I have ever had. It is very creamy and rich. Not gooey and overly sweet.

There are recipe variations listed at the end of the recipe. I like the peanut butter one, and really, you can experiment with just about any kind of chip and flavor. Let me know if you discover another "keeper" flavor combo. Oh, of course this is a great treat for Valentine's Day too. :)

Dark Chocolate Orange Fudge

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2/3 cup undiluted Carnation Evaporated milk
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups (4 ounces) mini marshmallows
1 ½ cups (9 ounces) Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 teaspoon orange oil

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil and measure and place into pan the chocolate chips followed by the marshmallows. This way when it is time to pour the chips and marshmallows you are ready to go (no waiting) and the marshmallows hit the hot sugar mixture first, which is key, because they take longer to melt than the chocolate chips.

Combine butter, evaporated milk, sugar, and salt in medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 4 to 5 minutes (for my stove 4 1/2 minutes makes the creamiest fudge), stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips, and orange oil. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until marshmallows are melted. Pour into foil-lined 8” square baking pan. Chill until firm.

Variations (replacing bittersweet chocolate chips and orange oil):
* 2 cups milk chocolate chips and 1 tsp vanilla
* 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup semi-sweet
* 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chips and 1 tsp vanilla
* 2 cups butterscotch
* 1 ½ cup mint chocolate chips

OR replace orange oil with any other extract

Sunday, January 18, 2009

candy chat- part 2

I made homemade marshmallows for the first time this fall from a recipe I got from Bon Appetit written by Molly Wizenberg, of the fabulous blog Orangette. I was surprised at how truly easy they are to make. And though I enjoy a good Jet-Puffed marshmallow, these treats will make you wonder if they are even in the same recipe family. Homemade marshmallows are so light- and they melt in your mouth- and are so light... I decided to experiment a bit with the original recipe and add coconut. These turned out so well that they made it into the holiday goodie boxes and a spot on the "for years to come" list.

I also made a batch of the original marshmallows and added 1/2 teaspoon of good peppermint extract. I wanted them to look like the peppermint marshmallows you can buy at fancy grocery stores. Those don't seem to actually have swirls of colored marshmallow, just a swirl of very dark red right on top. So, after I put the marshmallow mixture in the pan, I dipped a toothpick in some red food coloring gel and dragged the toothpick in a pattern across the surface. It turned out pretty well, I think, though I'm curious if there any tricks anyone knows of, because it wasn't exactly easy, and it disrupted the surface of the marshmallow a little too much for me. Still, they were pretty and very tasty in a cup of hot cocoa.

If you try this recipe, let me know if you come up with any other great variations!

Homemade Coconut Marshmallows
Based on the recipe from Bon Appétit July 2008 by Molly Wizenberg

These can be layered between sheets of parchment and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

7oz package flaked coconut
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water, divided
3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 cup potato starch*
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Spread flaked coconut in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil.

Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over mediumlow heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 8 minutes.
With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and coconut extracts and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula. Sprinkle the toasted coconut evenly across the surface of the marshmallow. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift light dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13x9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.

*A food thickener made from cooked, dried, ground potatoes, this gluten free flour is also known as potato flour; available at most supermarkets.

Monday, January 12, 2009

post-holiday candy chat

I realize that no one is in the mood to make candy right now; you've probably sworn off the stuff for a while. However... I never got around to posting what I made this year and thought it would be fun to open the discussion up to more people. Email me what you like to make every year (along with the recipe of course!!), or something new and fantastic you tried this time (with a picture if you have it) and I will post for all. Or, you can just post it all in the comment section.

I am going to post a different treat every day or so until I get through all the sweets I made. Here is a picture of the box I gave to a few people:

The first recipe I'll share is one I posted last January, and will be one of my staples from now on. It makes so many and seems to be well received.

You should sift the spices over the caramel mixture as you stir at the end. If you dump them in you will end up with pocketfuls of spice and it is not very fun to try to distribute the mix when it is already on the sheetpan- trust me. Also, I find you can cut them a bit smaller than suggested. I think I cut maybe 160 or even 192 from the batch this year and could have even made them a little smaller. I find parchment works best for wrapping. Cellophane falls off; waxed paper sticks too much. Just store them in an airtight container for a few weeks. I gave some of these as gifts in those small organza drawstring bags you can get at craft stores in packages of 8-10. ABout 8-10 caramels inside fit perfectly and and is a nice size treat for a friend.

Gingerbread Caramels

Makes about 12 1/2 dozen

Vegetable-oil cooking spray
4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream
2 cups light corn syrup
4 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


Coat an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short sides. Coat parchment.

Bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil in a large pot over high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan, and continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage), about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet, without scraping pot. Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature for 24 hours without moving.

Coat a large cutting board generously with cooking spray. Pull up parchment to unmold caramel, and invert onto the cutting board. Remove parchment. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.