Monday, December 30, 2013

Daring Bakers: Peppermint Whoopie Pies!

Well, I am a few days late for my whoopie pie post, but I promise, they were done on time!  I just got delayed with my posting, what with the holidays, lots of family in town, and a bit of sickness that kept getting me down.  But, I am feeling better now and ready to think about food again!

The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

I can honestly say that I have never had a true whoopie pie - the kind you would get in the New England area with a vanilla marshmallow filling.  However, I have made them before for the clever girl's Halloween party at school.  That version was a pumpkin whoopie pie.  This time I thought I'd holiday-it-up a bit and do a peppermint/candy cane version.  Because chocolate and peppermint are meant to go together.  It is a match made in heaven!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Handprint Christmas Ornaments

This may be late for this year, but something to keep in mind for another time.  Handprint ornaments!  Commemorate the year and size of your little ones forever with a handprint ornament for the tree!  They are simple to make!

paper for hand tracing
sharpie marker
embroidery floss/needle

Trace your child's hand onto paper and cut it out.  For every ornament you intend to make, trace two hands onto felt with the magic marker and cut them out.  This makes the ornament thicker and have some structure for hanging on the tree.  If you choose, pick a side to be the front and do a simple backstitch embroidery into the center of the hand with your child's first initial and the year.  You could also do this with a sharpie marker.  Place two hands together and sandwich a loop of ribbon at the top, which is where the wrist of the hand would be.  Using embroidery floss and the needle, secure the ribbon between the two felt hands, then use a running stitch to sew around the hand and up the fingers.  Depending on the age of your child, they might be able to help with the stitching!  The clever girl did some of mine!

I attached these to the tops of Christmas presents for the grandparents and they were LOVED.   These were a surprise for my family, so I couldn't post them earlier!  Sorry! 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nibby Pecan Cookies

Take a look at the cookies above.  They may not look like much but they are life altering.  They are Nibby Pecan Cookies, a recipe created by Alice Medrich.  First of all, Alice Medrich is known for her brilliance with chocolate, which pretty much, in my opinion, guarantees that her recipes will be great.  But this one seriously goes beyond great.  It is DIVINE.

I found this recipe because another blog that I follow, Loaves and Stitches, is doing a cookie countdown right now and this recipe was on that blog.  As soon as I saw them, I was hooked.  First of all, they use an ingredient I have never used before - cocoa nibs!  Cocoa nibs are tiny pieces of the roasted cocoa bean, raw, when the beans are READY to be made into chocolate but it hasn't yet happened.  So they have a great cocoa flavor but do not have extra sugar, butter, etc in them.  And they have a fabulous CRUNCH.  How come I never knew about these amazing things?  I have been enlightened!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Plastic Bag Holder

Okay, this is one of those no-brainer projects that I am not sure why I didn't accomplish AGES ago.  How do you store your random plastic bags?  You know, the ones you get from the grocery stores, Target, from your newspapers, etc.  While I bring my own bags to the grocery store, the bags from places seem to multiply at our house.  Especially the newspaper bags.  We only get one newspaper per day, thus one bag per day.  But somehow we have about 3 zillion newspaper bags.  They used to be all shoved into another plastic bag (a Target bag to be precise) and stored underneath the bottom shelf in my pantry.  But the bags are not happy to be kept there.  They kept jumping out and having little bag babies all over the floor, thus the aforementioned 3 zillion bags. 

Enter, Martha Stewart.  She has this brilliant tutorial for making a bag holder out of a kitchen towel!  An ah-ha moment!  I did not photograph the steps in making this thing because Martha (or rather someone on her staff) already did so and the tutorial is quite simple.  Go HERE to see for yourself.

Here is what I did differently:  On the bottom where you put the elastic, Martha suggests cutting a slit in the seam allowance of the towel, threading the elastic through the seam allowance, and then tying the elastic in a knot.  Instead, I ripped out a tiny piece of the stitching for the seam allowance on each end, threaded the elastic through, and then zigzagged over the elastic at each end.  No knot tying.  As it is, there is a bunch of fabric right there from when I sewed the seam making the towel into a tube, so I didn't figure I needed to bulk things up more and tie a knot.   Either way works.

What are you waiting for?  You likely have all of the supplies you need to accomplish this super-helpful project sitting around at home, and it truly takes all of about 15 minutes to accomplish.  Martha used the following supplies:  towel, elastic, twill tape, safety pin.  I used the same, but if you don't have twill tape, you could always use ribbon or a long piece of some other fabric.  It is simply used as the loop for hanging this amazing contraption in a handy location! 

I actually made two of these:  One for newspaper bags (we use them when we walk the dogs) and one for other plastic bags. 

Get on it.  Show those plastic bags who is the boss!!  My entire pantry has breathed a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Gingersnaps

This is the Baking with Julia version of Gingersnaps.  

WARNING:  This blog post will break one of my rules about reviewing recipes - don't critique a recipe if you have changed it up and don't like it.  You didn't actually try the recipe so you shouldn't critique it.  This is one of my rules and I am breaking it right now for this recipe.  There are reasons that I tried to jazz up this recipe!  I checked out the comments on the TWD blog from people who had already baked the cookies, and the overall consensus was that there was not enough ginger, that the cookie dough was way too sticky, and that the cookies did not "snap".  So, here is my thoughts on this cookie for whatever it is worth!

Personally, I don't recommend this recipe.  Sorry.  I just have this idea that gingersnaps should have two basic components:
(1) they should contain ginger
(2) they should snap after baking, as in crunch
Ginger and Snap.  Shouldn't be that unusual of a requirement, right?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Card Wreath

For years, I have struggled with how to display the Christmas cards we receive.  This year I happened upon the Craftiness is not Optional blog and found the perfect solution!  A clothespin wreath!  Brilliant.  Not only is it useful, it is also attractive!!  And simple to make.  Let's do it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Challah

Our recipe this week for Tuesdays with Dorie was Challah.  Yes, I know, it is Wednesday, but I promise I had this bread baked on time, I just didn't get to the blog on time!  Apologies!  I made the Challah bread for Thanksgiving dinner, as did many of my TWD cohorts.  The recipe makes 2 loaves, so we ate one with dinner and the other I froze so I can make French toast this weekend.

There is something amazingly therapeutic about braiding bread.  I love it.  Feeling the long soft strands and weaving them together to make a beautiful loaf is really rewarding to me.  Why don't I make this more often??  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cranberry Turtle Bars

These are likely to become a holiday tradition - Cranberry Turtle Bars.  Of course they are delicious any time, but the cranberries and pecans make me think of Thanksgiving and Christmas, so that is when I am probably most likely to make them. 

Cranberry Turtle Bars
adapted a bit from Gourmet magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, whole
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups pecans, tasted and cooled, then coarsely chopped

2 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.  Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the 2 shorts sides.  Butter all 4 sides but not the bottom.

Blend flour, brown sugar and salt in a food processor, then add butter and pulse until the mixture begins to form small lumps (pea-sized).  Sprinkle the lumps into the prepared pan, then press down firmly all over with a metal spatula and/or your hands to form an even layer.  Bake 15-17 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch.  Cool in the pan on a cooling rack.

Melt butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramel registers 245F on a candy thermometer.  This will take about 8 minutes.  Carefully stir in cranberries, and boil until caramel again reaches 245F.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Stir in pecans until well coated.  Working quickly, spread caramel topping over base, using a fork to distribute nuts and cranberries evenly.  Cool completely.

Lift bars in foil from pan and transfer to a cutting board.  Cut into 36 bars, or however many you choose.  Melt half of the chocolate on the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over a saucepan with barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat and mix in in the remaining chocolate, stirring until smooth.  With a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate in a thin drip decoratively over the bars.  OR put the melted chocolate in a small heavy-duty zip-lock bag, snip off a tiny piece of one corner, and pipe the chocolate over bars.  Let the bars stand at room temperature until the chocolate sets, about one hour.

Store in an airtight container, with waxed or parchment paper between layers, for about 1 week, or refrigerate/freeze.
Printable Recipe

I confess that when I made this recipe I used way more chocolate than the recipe suggested, and honestly, it was too much.  I know, that sounds like crazy-talk, but that much chocolate actually detracted from the cranberry/pecan flavors, instead of enhancing it.  So the 2 ounce amount is better. 

Serve these at a holiday function.  Or wrap them in a pretty container and give them as a gift!  Or hide them away and don't tell anyone you have them so you can eat them all yourself - a very tempting idea...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies

Since we were dealing with lots of chocolate earlier this week, I thought I'd continue that theme today with some Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies.  You might be wondering what the heck pumpkin is doing in a brownie.  And that might actually be a good question.  When I read the reviews of this recipe, there were definitely a few folks that thought the pumpkin did not belong.  Since I tend to love all things pumpkin, I thought I'd give them a try to see what I thought.  And I liked them a lot!  They are cakier than my favorite brownie, but that is okay with me.  They are supposed to be different!  It's a different recipe!

So yes, they fall into the "cakey" category of brownies, not the "fudgey" category of brownies.  But they are still very tasty.  There is a tiny hit of cayenne in the batter, which gives these brownies the littlest kick at the end.  I actually used less cayenne than the recipe suggested, and I found the amount to be perfect.  Again, something you didn't actually notice until the end and then got a nice kick.  Perfect.  Another bonus to these is that they stayed moist for several days!  And aren't they pretty? 

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
adapted from Martha Stewart

8 TB (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (original recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar  
4 large eggs
1 TB vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler, sitting over but not touching simmering water.  Stir occasionally until smooth.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne and salt in a large bowl and set aside.  Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until the mixture is fluffy and well combined.  This will take 3-5 minutes.  Mix in the flour mixture.

Divide the batter into two medium bowls, that fit about 2 cups per bowl.  Stir the chocolate mixture into one bowl.  Stir the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon and nutmeg into the batter in the other bowl.  Transfer half of the chocolate batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.  Top with half of the pumpkin batter.  Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer.  With a small spatula or table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled look.  Sprinkle the top with pecans or nuts of your choice.

Bake until set,40-45 minutes.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting out the parchment lining.  Cut the brownies into squares.
Printable Recipe 

I suggest giving these a try.  Spice things up a bit in your brownie world!  It's worth it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TWD - Baking with Julia: Double Chocolate Cookies

This week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe is Double Chocolate Cookies.  It is sort of a test of the question, "can you ever have too much of a good thing?"  Can you?  We'll see what you think at the end here...

Just as a preview, the double chocolate comes from both unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate.  Really.  No milk chocolate or white chocolate here to screw change things up.  We are talking about dark, chocolatey chocolate, and then more of that. 

Before we get carried away, lets start with the more basic part:

Indeed, there is flour, baking powder and salt in this recipe.  They are whisked together and put aside for later.  Do you see the tiny amount in the bowl?  That is all the flour in this recipe.  Not much.  The chocolate totally takes center stage here!

Onto the chocolate!  Now, I cheated, or rather changed things a bit here.  While I said above that this recipe was all about bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate, that was actually true as to what the recipe said.  However when I began making these cookies I realized I was low on unsweetened chocolate.  Instead of having 4 ounces, I had only two.  No, I was not going to jump into my car and go to the grocery store for 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate.  Not when there is an easy substitute to be found!  For every ounce of unsweetened chocolate, mix 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon of some sort of fat (butter/shortening/oil).  I used butter.  Since it just so happens that the Costco by me recently started carrying the most awesome cocoa powder ever (in my humble opinion) in GINORMOUS containers for the same price as the tiny container at the grocery store, and I bought two of those ginormous containers in a "what if they don't carry this forever" frenzy, I have plenty of cocoa powder to spare in such a substitute!  Yes!  So maybe my cookies should technically be called TRIPLE chocolate cookies??  What do you think?  Oh, and in case you are wondering, my most favorite cocoa powder is Rodelles.  Yum. 

Anyway, melt half of the bittersweet chocolate with some butter, the unsweetened chocolate, and the cocoa powder substitute (in my case) on a double boiler.

While the chocolatey chocolate is melting away, get to some serious whipping of eggs, sugar, instant coffee powder (decaf in my case) and vanilla.  Serious whipping, as in it goes for at least 10 minutes, until it is nice and frothy and thick.

Mix the melty chocolatey goodness in, and then add that tiny amount of dry ingredients and some MORE bittersweet chocolate.  This time the chocolate is in chunks (or chips in my case).  Refrigerate overnight.  That is the hardest part about this recipe.  Patience...

The next day, plop the batter down on parchment covered cookie sheets by the tablespoonful.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Now, the recipe says to err on the side of pulling the cookies out early if you are not sure.  The cookies should puff, sink, crinkle and wrinkle.  Hmmm.  Personally, I think the cookies were better when I erred on the side of baking them a little longer.  They weren't as gushy on the insides and were easier to get off of the cookie sheets (even after letting them sit a bit).  They were still nice and chewy and melty, but this way they also had a bit of a crunch around the edges, a bit more structure.  Just my opinion!

Now, on to the big question... can you have too much of a good thing?  Well, I have to admit that I found these to be a bit TOO much.  Did I actually say/type that??  Here is what I think:  While I do think that coffee enhances chocolate flavor (see my favorite chocolate cake recipe!) I think there was too much in this recipe, as the coffee flavor lingered.  I also think this recipe could have been helped by a hit of cinnamon or even cayenne pepper.  A little kick to cut the sweetness a bit.  Or maybe just reduce the amount of sugar??  Or both!  Now, do these petty critiques stop me from eating these cookies?  NO WAY.  Nope, they sure don't.

I mean, really, don't you want to just take a bite right now?  Trust me, a nearby glass of milk is necessary!

This recipe can be found on pages 329-330 in Baking with Julia.  I could not find a good source for the recipe online, so here you go! 

Double Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Baking with Julia
makes 24 big cookies (I made closer to 36, still pretty big!)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into larger-than-chip-size chunks
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 TB  instant coffee powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. 

Place the butter, half of the bittersweet chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate on the top of a double boiler over (not touching) simmering water.  Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and smooth.  Remove from heat.

Using the whisk attachment for an electric mixer, whip the eggs, sugar, coffee powder and vanilla until very thick, about 10 minutes.  The mixture should form a ribbon when the whisk is lifted, and the ribbon should slowly drizzle back into the bowl. 

On low speed, gradually add the warm chocolate/butter mixture.  Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl and continue to mix just until the chocolate is incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and the rest of the bittersweet chocolate pieces and mix thoroughly.  The mixture will look like a thick cake batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic and chill for several hours or overnight.  This dough can be made and chilled for up to 4 days before baking. 

Preheat the oven to 350F and position the oven racks so the oven is divided into thirds.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the parchment paper, spacing the cookies approximately 2 inches apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom mid-way through the baking period.  The cookies will puff and then sink, crinkle and wrinkle on the edges.  The cookies should not appear to be dry and they will not be crispy.  Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, where they should cool to room temperature. 

The cookies can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for 2 days or frozen for a month.  Thaw (wrapped) at room temperature.
Printable Recipe

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Amazing Baked Brie

The other day I mentioned that I had hosted my book group recently.  The morning I was to host, I woke up thinking that I needed to make a baked brie for everyone to nosh on before we actually sat down to eat.  Great idea, wouldn't you say?  Normally, when I make a baked brie I do it in puff pastry.  This time I didn't want to go the puff pastry route, I wanted to try something different.  Ages ago, I made a brie without pastry but I have no recollection as to what it was, just that it was pastry-free.  So I did a little searching to find a recipe that looked good and boy, did I find one!  How about Baked Brie with Pecans, Brown Sugar, and Kahlua??  Ahh, you've got me!

This takes no time at all to prepare.  If you happen to live by a Costco, during the holidays (and possibly at other times too) they have ginormous wheels of brie.  They are literally 19 or 20 ounces of cheesy goodness!  I recommend getting one of those bad boys and maybe doubling or 1 1/2-ing this recipe for the mega-brie.  Whatever guests you have will not complain.  The brie you see here is also from Costco, but it is a smaller 13.4 ounce-er.  The bigger the better with this thing, as it is amazing! 

Anyway, take that wheel of creamy deliciousness out of its packaging and set it on your cutting board.  Score a circle on the top of the wheel, 1/4 inch in from the edge.  With a spoon, scrape the white rind off of the middle of your circle.

Toast some pecans and mix them with brown sugar and Kahlua.  Seriously, with that combination, what could possibly go wrong?  Nothing, I say.  Put that heavenly mixture on top of the brie, staying within that circle you made.

Stick it in the oven for a few minutes, pull it out and KA-POW, you have created a scrumptious appetizer!  Serve with crackers and/or tart apple slices.  YUM. 

Now that I have made this brie, I am not sure I'll do the pastry-wrapped one again.  That one is delicious, I agree, but this one is not only delicious but EASIER.  No defrosting, rolling, wrapping of puff pastry.  And you could totally switch this one up in all sorts of ways.  Add some dried cherries or cranberries!  Use walnuts/almonds/hazelnuts, whatever your favorite nut might be!  Not a fan of Kahlua?  Use maple syrup!  Or honey!  Seriously, you could make endless renditions of this baked brie, and I think they would probably all be amazing. 

Try this.  It's so simple, and so good!

Baked Brie with Pecans, Brown Sugar, and Kahlua
adapted from many online sources

13.4 ounce wheel of Brie
2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 TB Kahlua
1-2 tart apples, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Using a knife, gently score a circle on the top of the wheel, 1/4 inch in from the edge.  With a spoon, scrape the white rind off of the middle of your circle.  Place the brie in the center of an oven-safe platter.

Mix the pecans, brown sugar and Kahlua in a small bowl.  Spoon the mixture into the center of the brie, covering the circle you created and staying within the 1/4-inch rim.  Bake for 8-15 minutes, until the topping begins to bubble.  Be careful not to overcook the brie - it will melt and lose it's shape if you leave it in the oven too long! 

Serve while warm, with crackers and apple slices.
Printable Recipe

This was a total hit with my book group, as I think it would be with any group!  Is there anything yummier than gooey melted brie?  Mmmm....


Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Group Soup

I am in a neighborhood book group, and yesterday was my turn to host!  For our group, that means that you choose the book and prepare a light meal at your house for the meeting.  I said a little prayer for fall weather (it had been in the 80's here - blech) and decided to serve soup and salad.  My prayers were answered!  A cool front came in during the afternoon and the temperatures dropped!  Perfect for soup!  Thank goodness, since we were having soup regardless!  I made Italian Sausage and Bean soup.  I found this recipe one day while at my favorite grocery store (HEB, for you Texans out there) with my sister.  They were sampling the soup and we both thought it was WAY too salty but had real potential.  Boy, am I glad we grabbed that recipe because it has become one of my favorites!  I think it may become one of your favorites, too!

In my personal opinion, this soup is even better the next day.  The flavors really come together and the broth thickens a bit.  So, if you are someone who likes leftovers, this is an awesome deal.  OR, if you like to plan ahead, cook up this soup the night before you want to serve it, stopping at the point before you would add the pasta.  Refrigerate overnight and then bring to a boil the next day, throw in the pasta, and VOILA!  Dinner is ready!

Italian Sausage and Bean Soup

2 TB olive oil, divided
1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed if in link form (can use turkey Italian sausage here!)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 TB minced garlic (around three medium cloves)
1 TB salt-free Italian seasoning (I recommend Penzey's Tuscan Sunset - YUM)
5-6 cups chicken stock
1 can Italian-style diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup elbow macaroni or dilatini (which looks like small tubes)


Heat 1 TB olive oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook until browned, breaking up the sausages into small pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon.  Remove to a paper-towel lined shallow bowl and set aside.

Add remaining oil to the same pot, and saute the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and Italian seasoning.  Cook 7-9 minutes, until the veggies are tender.  Return the sausage to the pot.

Stir in the broth, starting with the lower amount.  Add the tomatoes and beans.  Bring soup to a full boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

Before serving, bring soup to a full boil and add pasta.  Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the pasta is al dente.  Check the pasta package for an idea as to how much time this might take, though probably around 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and /or crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.
Printable Recipe

I think you could call this a minestrone soup, actually.  I am not sure why not. And I like that name better, so I think from now on I'll call this minestrone soup.  You look at the ingredients, do you agree that it is essentially a minestrone? 

Just in case you are wondering, we discussed the book, The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.  It was my second time reading it, and I enjoyed it just as much this time!  I highly recommend!

I hope you enjoy some hot soup on a nice cool fall day!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

These fall days have my mind going crazy with ideas.  The biggest question might be "why on earth does someone who loves autumn so much live in Houston?" and trust me, I ask myself the same thing all the time.  However since we just finished building our beautiful new home, I think we are going to be here for a while so I just have to continue bring fall into my home, even if fall doesn't really exist outside.  Mind over matter!

When I was little we went apple picking every fall.  Did I mention that I didn't grow up in this crazy autumnless state?  I grew up in St. Louis, a place that actually has FOUR SEASONS.  Crazy, I know.  Ah, I digress.  You cannot go apple picking in Houston, so I have been buying up all sorts of apples in the grocery store to create autumn at home.  And with numerous bags of apples on my counter, I decided to make apple butter, something my mom used to do when we were kids.  I have no idea what recipe she used, but the one I found turned out pretty darned tasty, I must say.  I found it at My Baking Addiction, and it is yummo!  You can probably use any mixture of apples for apple butter, but I recommend a mix of sweet and tart apples to get a more rounded flavor.  I used Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Honey Crisp and Jonathan. 

For reasons that can only be contributed to temporary insanity, I did not get out my apple peeler/corer/slicer gadget for this undertaking and instead used my trusty paring knife.  For 6 1/2 pounds of apples.  Yes, 6 1/2 pounds.  Why did I do that?  Who knows.  Regardless, it is totally doable if you do not have an apple peeler gadget, but if you do have one, by all means drag that bad boy out and put it to use!    Good gracious.

Oh, and lets talk about sugar.  The amounts in this recipe are only a suggestion.  I used less, as I tend to like less sugar in things and I did use some sweeter apples.  The recipe calls for 1 cup each of granulated and of brown sugar.  I used 3/4 cup each and could probably have used a bit less, for my tastes anyway.  Do an amount that makes you happy!

You have to have some patience for this apple butter. It cooks in the slow cooker for about forever.  But it is WORTH IT.  And I did sort of speed up the process a little bit.  You are supposed to cook th apples on low for 10 hours, but by the time I finished peeling and coring and slicing all those apples (see, crazy over here) had I waited for 10 hours, it would have been done in the middle of the night.  So, I cooked it for 4 hours on high and then 3 more hours on low.  After the 10 hours you are supposed to have a thick, dark brown mixture and that is what I had!  Then you add some vanilla and let it cook for another 2 hours.  Yes, patience is much needed here!  Trust me, you will be rewarded in the end.  You'll have lots of delicious apple butter that you can freeze/gift/eat.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter
adapted from My Baking Addiction
yield - 4 pints

6 1/2 pounds apples - peeled, cored, sliced
1 cup granulated sugar (or amount to your taste)
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed (or amount to your taste)
1 TB ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 TB pure vanilla extract

Place the apples in the slow cooker.  In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, spices and salt.  Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well.  Cook in the slow cooker on low for 10 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and is dark brown.  Play with the time here - I cooked it on high for 4 hours and low for 3...  Other combinations probably work too, you just need it to be thick and brown at the end!

Uncover the slow cooker and stir in the vanilla extract.  Continue to cook on low, uncovered, for an additional 2 hours.

Puree the apples with an immersion blender until smooth.  Spoon into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze.
Printable Recipe

If you have never had apple butter, either come on over and try some or get out your slow cooker and make some anyway.  It is sort of like a creamier kind of applesauce.  Put it on toast, on a peanut butter sandwich, cook it with a pork tenderloin, spoon it over vanilla ice cream... the uses are endless.  I guarantee you will be sad when it is all gone!  Yum.  It is so good!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Pumpernickel Loaves

Our recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie is Pumpernickel Loaves.  The recipe is on pages 95-98 of Baking with Julia, and can also be found here.  Though I have never made pumpernickel bread before, this recipe is a bit different in that the ingredient list includes unsweetened chocolate, espresso powder, molasses and prune butter.  Now, I must be totally honest here and admit that pumpernickel bread is not my favorite.  I like it okay, but it is never something I would choose at a deli or anything.  Honestly, I am not really a rye fan and since pumpernickel is in the rye family, it's just not my fave.  However, I gave this bread my best efforts anyway.  (to not such great results, unfortunately!!)

I actually made the dough twice.  The first time, I got all the flour in that the recipe called for and thought that it just didn't seem to fit the description that the recipe claimed.  It said the dough should be a very moist dough, very soft and elastic.  Not so much in my bowl.  I went through the first and second rise and then decided that it just was not right and pitched it right into the trash.  In the mean time, I watched the video as to how to bake this bread.  If you have ANY desire to bake this bread, I HIGHLY recommend watching this video.  The recipe gives this complicated description as to how to roll and shape the bread which makes a ton more sense after watching the video.  You can see the video here.   It is always fun to watch these clips to see Julia Child's expressions and hear her comments, so you might just want to watch it for the pure entertainment value!

When I attempted the dough for the second time, I really tried to channel Lauren Groveman (the recipe author) and imitate what I watched in the video.  I failed somewhere along the way, however.  This time I did not put in as much flour, yet still my dough was not "very moist and elastic".  She quite specifically stresses that you will need about 6 cups of flour in the dough, though the second time I only added closer to 5 cups  Still, I felt like my dough was closer to what she described when I was closer to 3 cups.  But I was hesitant to just stop there since she was so adamant on the 6 cups!  Maybe this is where I went wrong??  I don't know.  What I can say is that my bread turned out very dense, not nearly as light and puffy as they should have been.  The dough did rise well during both the first and second rise.  It did not rise much while it rested (suspended by cabinet pulls in tea-towel slings - how fun!), and then didn't rise a whole lot in the oven either. 

Please, fellow TWD bakers, help me figure out where I went wrong.  I really want to bake bread better than this!

The clever girl and I had some of the bread with breakfast - hers with a schmear of peanut butter and mine with a schmear of homemade apple butter.  Even though the bread was more dense than I prefer, it was pretty tasty!  I used less caraway seeds than the recipe called for, using only the whole seeds, none of the ground, so there was less RYE taste.  Stay tuned this week for the crock pot apple butter recipe!

Be sure to check out some of the success stories for this bread by heading to the TWD site and checking out the blogs of the other bakers! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Pumpkin Cheese Ball!

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have gotten into the fall/halloween spirit and as such went with the theme when preparing snacks for church last week!  Here is a pumpkin cheese ball!  No, there is no actual pumpkin in the cheese ball, it just looks one!  When looking for a pumpkin cheese ball, I found many recipes that used crushed nacho chips on the outside.  While I am sure that could be quite good, when I found this one I knew it was a keeper.  The recipe is based on a Cook's Country cheddar cheese ball.  All that is added is a bit of paprika around the outside to make it a bit more orange in color! 

Pumpkin Cheddar Cheese Ball
adapted from Cooks Country

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 TB mayonnaise
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
greens to set the cheese ball upon
crackers, chips,veggies for serving
stem of a bell pepper

Mix the cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and cayenne in a food processor until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to the center of a large piece of plastic wrap and shape into a mound with a spatula.  Bring up the four corners of the plastic wrap  and twist tightly to form a round ball shape. Set the plastic-wrapped ball in a small bowl if you have one, to help maintain the round shape on the bottom, and place in he refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days. 

Remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator and reshape as needed while still wrapped in plastic.  Unwrap, leaving the ball on the plastic wrap.  Gently sprinkle paprika all over the outside of the cheese ball an then roll in the toasted almonds.  Press the bell pepper stem into the top of the cheese ball, making a pumpkin stem.  Set on some greens in the center of a platter.  Let it sit out a bit before servings so it is not too firm.  Serve with crackers, chips, carrot sticks, red pepper slices, etc.
Printable Recipe

Obviously, you do not need to make this cheese ball look like a pumpkin.  It is a delicious cheese ball for whatever event you might plan/attend that needs a great appetizer.  Why purchase a cheese ball from the store when this one is so easy and so delicious? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

From Ballerina to Cinderella - A Costume Transformation!

The clever girl was in a dance recital this summer, and had THREE, yes THREE different costumes.  I decided then and there that one of those costumes would have to be re-purposed for Halloween in some way!  So, when the clever girl said she wanted to be Cinderella for Halloween, I thought, "PERFECT"!  I knew that her blue ballerina costume would be just right.

So I lugged that tutu to the fabric store to pick out some matching fabric, and found a satin and some sort of shimmery organza-ish fabric for an overlay.  I also picked up some white satin with some silver sparkles for those weird hip things Cinderella has on her dresses.  What are those things, anyway?  What woman in their right mind wants some sort of accent to their hips??

I was so intent on getting this costume created that I neglected to take any photos along the way.  However, hopefully I can explain what I did in case anyone else out there wants to create a Cinderella costume someday! 

For the skirt, I knew I would put it on elastic and it would be worn OVER the tutu part of the ballerina costume.  The tutu would give it the ball-gown body.  And the skirt had to be very twirly, of course.  The clever girl is 25 inches from waist to foot.  I needed enough length to hem the bottom and to encase a 1 inch elastic for her waist.  I used about 1 1/2 yards of the blue fabrics for the skirt, and cut those fabrics into two pieces of 3/4 yard each.  Thus, there were two pieces of the blue satin that were 3/4 yard and two pieces of the blue sparkly fabric that were 3/4 yard.  I sewed the selvages together to make a gigantic tube of each, separately. 

For the bizarre hip things, I used 1 yard of the white fabric, and cut it in half to make two pieces, 1/2 yard each.  I rounded the corners of those rectangles so they looked like two big half moons.  I did an overlock (serge type stitch) over the curved edge, turned it under, and sewed it flat.  Hem done!

Then I stacked up my blue skirt fabrics:  blue satin on the bottom and blue sparkly on top.  I pinned the white pieces on top of the skirt, so that the middle of each moon met the seam of the blue pieces.  This way, the seams would be on the sides, not on the front and back.  Get it?  And I did an overlock stitch all the way around, catching all those crazy wisps of these fabrics.  I folded this edge down 1 1/4 inches and sewed near the edge, leaving an opening for the elastic.  String in the elastic, close the opening, done!  The blue skirts got a simple "sort-of" 1/4 inch rolled hem.  I say "sort-of" because I didn't measure one darned thing, I just folded the fabric over twice as I sewed it all the way around.  It is probably terribly uneven, but hey, it is a Halloween costume!  Skirt, done.

Now for the accessories:  In my online perusal of Cinderella costumes, I saw that Ashley of Make It & Love It made gloves, a choker, and a headband for her little Cinderella.  I would have probably forgotten these very crucial elements if not for her!  I didn't actually look at her blog when I made the accessories, but we pretty much did them the same way.

For the gloves, I measured the clever girl's arms in three places:  length from bottom of middle finger to upper arm, circumference of upper arm, circumference of wrist.  Then I just made a pattern that took those measurements into consideration - I knew I would cut the fabric on the fold and one end should have a point to attach to her middle finger.  Thus the length of the pattern was the same as the length of her arm from finger to upper arm, and the widths were about an inch (total) bigger than her wrist/upper arm measurements.  It looked something like this: 

I cut two each from both blue fabrics, placing the longest side (with the finger point) on the fold.  I overlocked the point end and the upper arm end, sewing a blue satin fabric to the blue sparkly fabric.  Then I folded the glove right sides together and overlocked the edges together.  I sewed a small loop of elastic at the point to go around the clever girl's finger.  Done.

The choker is a rectangle of both blue fabrics made into a tube that is a couple inches longer than the clever girl's neck circumference.  I sewed velcro to the ends to put it on/take it off.

Finally, the headband is another tube, though this one is angled down at the ends a little bit. 

Something like that.  I attached a piece of elastic to each end to keep it snug on the clever girl's head. 

And, her costume was done.

And, she LOVED it!

She spent lots of time looking in the mirror!  

 And then she turned right into a princess!

 But pretty much, she couldn't stop TWIRLING!



 She loves her Halloween costume!

Oh, and in case your are wondering, of course the clever baby had to get in on the action as well.  You can't have a Cinderella without a Prince Charming, can you?  And who (in my world anyway) is more charming than the clever baby? 

 Yes, indeed, I did do that to my little guy. 

But seriously, is he handsome, or what?

His easy, peasy costume consists of some red knit pants and a grey/silver jacket that I found at a consignment shop.  I bought some gold braid, some gold fringe, and some gold rope and went to town.  I sewed the gold braid down each side of his pants.  Then I made little epaulettes with dark red felt and glued the fringe around three sides underneath and the gold braid around the four sides on top.  I sewed these to the shoulders of his little jacket, looping a piece of gold rope from one shoulder to the other, and another loop around his arm.  You can't see that too well on the photos, but it is under the arm closest to Cinderella. 

And here you go, Cinderella and Prince Charming.

So cute, I could eat them up!
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Raspberry-Fig Crostata

This month has 5 Tuesdays, so we have an extra week for our Tuesday's with Dorie posts!  It is sort of a catch-up week for those of us who might have missed a recipe, or maybe a re-do week if there was something we wanted to try again.  For me, it is a catch-up week.  Back in August, we had a week where we could do a choose-your-own-adventure recipe, in that there were two recipes suggested and we could pick which one we might want to make.  Personally, this was stressful as I don't want to miss any recipe and I knew that I wouldn't be able to make both recipes that week!  Ack!  So I actually made this Raspberry-Fig Crostata a week later and set the photos aside to post at a later date.  And that date has finally come!

By the way, as a side note, do you recall the choose-your-own-adventure books from when you were a kid?  I LOVED those things.  I would read them again and again, trying to figure out every permutation of choices to get to the different endings.  I will have to find some of those books for the clever girl... Don't you wish life could be more like a choose-your-own-adventure book sometimes?  In that if you start down one path and you don't like the consequences, you could say "re-do", jump back a few pages/days/months and make a different choice?  Sometimes we actually can to that, but many times, once a choice is made we just have to deal with the developments that come.  Sort of like that movie "Sliding Doors" with Gwyneth Paltrow from the late 1990s.  Have you seen it?  I loved that movie.  Still do, when it comes down to it! 

Anyway, on to the recipe!  This crostata, aka TART or PIE has a sesame-almond dough for the crust.  It is sort of like a shortbread cookie in texture, thus is a bit more crunchy than I am used to for a crust.  It was also quite sticky and kind of a pain, however at the same time it was very forgiving, for when it broke (which it did often) I could just press it back together and keep on moving!  I did not make a true lattice top for my crostata, as that was just too much work with such a tricky dough.  I just criss-crossed the strips and decided it looked wonderful as it was!

The filling is what really speaks for this crostata.  It is made of fresh figs, fresh raspberries, sugar, lemon zest, flour and butter.  Can you go wrong with that?  I think not.  It was delicious! I served the crostata with a dallop of almond whipped cream.  YUM. 

So here is to those days where you really can choose-your-own-adventure and have re-dos if you want, and to those other days when you have to go with the flow and follow where your choices might lead.  I hope the choices you make this week end with some successful baking and a tasty dessert!  You deserve it!

The recipe for the Raspberry-Fig Crostata can be found here, and the Sesame-Almond Dough can be found here

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mummy Dip

I love getting into a theme for food, and what better one than Halloween?  I provided the snacks at our church this past Saturday so I decided to get a little into the spirit, without getting too scary or potentially offensive.  I made a Mummy bread bowl filled with yummy green dip.  Easy peasy, you can do this!

Shaped pizza dough

I found the idea at the Kraft website, though I didn't actually use the dip they suggested.  It was a spinach dip and sounded fine, but this yummy green dip was recently sampled at my grocery store and it hit my two criteria for dips:  (1) easy and (2) the kind you can't stop eating!    Sold!  Now since my green dip recipe is from my grocery store, it calls for their particular products.  If you do not live in Texas and thus cannot get to an HEB, the "Relish that Corn" is a relish made of corn, pepper, vinegar and spices, and "That Green Sauce" is a creamy salsa containing jalapenos, poblano peppers, green tomatoes and sour cream.  If you can come up with some similar products in your area, you are good to go!

Mummy Dip
adapted from Kraft and HEB grocery stores

1 package frozen pizza dough, thawed (mine was 14 oz.)
1 egg, beaten
2 sticks mozzarella string cheese
1 12 ounce container whipped cream cheese
1 jar "Relish that Corn", juices drained
1 jar "That Green Sauce"
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Pat the dough into an oval of approximately 6-in by 12-in.  Indent the dough about 3 inches down from one end to form the mummy's head.  Let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes or until doubled in volume.

Heat oven to 375F.  Brush dough with the beaten egg and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.  Pull apart the string cheese to make thin strips and arrange the strips on the mummy's head an body for the wrappings.  Put back into the oven for 1-2 minutes, just until the cheese is melted.  Allow to cool.

Make the dip:  Combine the cream cheese, corn relish, green sauce and cheddar cheese in a medium bowl.

Use a sharp knife to remove an oval from the top of the mummy's body/stomach.  Scoop out the bread from the center, leaving a thin shell of crust on the bottom and sides.  Reserve the bread top but discard the bread crumbs.  Fill the bread with dip just before serving and cover with the top of the bread/belly.  Serve with crackers/chips/veggies.

Note:  For mummy's eyes, I cut small circles out of a red bell pepper, and then also cut small circles out of the mummy's face and set the pepper into the eye sockets.  You could also use an olive slice, in which case you could simply press the olive to the mummy's face while the bread is still warm from the oven, no need to cut out holes.  Or use whatever you desire to make an eye!
Printable Recipe

You could put any sort of dip inside your mummy.  If you wanted to get a bit more creepy, you could use some sort of red pepper hummus or some other red colored dip so that the guts are more "festive" looking.  Just an idea...

If you do live in Texas, I suggest trying this dip.  Super easy and I can't stop eating it!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dorie!

Yesterday was Dorie Greenspan's birthday.  Happy Birthday to one of my most favorite cookbook authors of all time!  Seriously, if you do not have one of her cookbooks, I highly recommend buying one.  I personally LOVE Baking from My Home to Yours.  Every recipe in there is great.  I did not know about the Tuesdays with Dorie group when they baked through this cookbook, which I MAJORLY regret.  Once we finish Baking with Julia, I may have to just bake through Baking from My Home to Yours on my own, unless there are others out there who want to join me??  If you are someone thinking of trying a bit more baking, this is the cookbook I recommend.  Dorie is awesome.  AND, she had a birthday yesterday.  Yes, it was yesterday and not today.  I know I am a day late.  However that seems to be how I roll lately with birthdays...  I have an IDEA on time, but the execution and completion may not happen in the most timely manner.  That way you can celebrate your birthday even longer, right? 

Above pictured are Dorie's World Peace Cookies.  This is essentially a chocolate shortbread cookie, with more chocolate inside plus some sea salt to give you a nice salty kick.  Yum.  The clever girl called them "brownie cookies" and she is on to something there.  They have the flavors of a good chocolate brownie plus that awesome salt kick, but have the shape and texture of a shortbread cookie.  Best of both worlds, I would say.  According to Dorie, the cookie got it's name from a friend who said that eating these cookies daily would ensure world peace and happiness.

World Peace Cookies
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 TB unsalted butter (11 TB total), at room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, OR a generous 3/4 cup mini-chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda together and set aside.

Beat the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.  Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 additional minutes.  Turn off the mixer and add the flour mixture all at once.  Drape a tea-towel over the mixer so you don't cover your entire kitchen with powder, and pulse the mixer on low speed 5-6 times.  Check the bowl - you want the flour to be starting to get mixed in - no longer on the surface of batter.  If your batter is at this point, remove the towel and continue to mix on low speed for about 30 more seconds, just so the flour has disappeared.  Do not overmix the dough - if it looks crumbly that is okay.  Add the chocolate pieces and gently mix only to incorporate the pieces.

Lay a piece of plastic wrap on your counter and turn the batter out onto the plastic.  Gently gather it together and divide in half.  Put one half back in the bowl for a moment.  Gently shape the other half into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Wrap with the plastic wrap and repeat with the second half of the dough.  Refrigerate the logs for at least 3 hours.  The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.  If the dough is frozen, do not defrost before baking, just slice into cookies and bake for one additional minute.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.  Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds 1/2 inch thick.  If the rounds crack while you slice them, just squeeze the bits back together.  Arrange the rounds on a prepared cookie sheet, leaving 1 inch between them.

Bake one sheet at a time for 12 minutes.  The cookies will not look done and they will not be firm, but this is perfect.  Stick the entire cookie sheet on a cooling rack and allow the cookies to rest until they are just warm, then serve them or let them come to room temperature.
Printable Recipe

If there is even a chance that these cookies could bring world peace and happiness, someone in the DC area needs to bake up some batches and get them to Congress.  Maybe these will help them figure out how to make good (dare I say better?) decisions. 

Again, happy birthday to Dorie.  What an amazing, brilliant cook. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes

Ahhh, fall-ish weather has been gracing us here in Houston, which always inspires me to make all sorts of fall-ish recipes.  Being that I love all things pumpkin, I thought pumpkin pancakes were in order!  By the way, did you know you can now get organic canned pumpkin at Costco?  Bring it on!

Anyway, I did some googling and found a delicious recipe at My Baking Addiction.  Perfect! Now, she calls for lowfat buttermilk, which is WAY easier to find than high-test buttermilk.  However in my pancake experience, the high test stuff is superior and gives you puffier yummier pancakes.  So I used the high-test stuff here, and subbed skim milk for the whole milk that she suggested.  Surely that evens things out, right? 

Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes
adapted from My Baking Addiction


1 1/2 cups lowfat buttermilk (I used high test!)
1/2 cup whole mlk (I used skim)
1 1/3 cups pumpkin puree
1 lare egg
2 TB vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
 2 teaspoons baking powder
 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans

Whisk the buttermilk, milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vanilla together in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking sod, pumpkin pie spice and salt.  Stir dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just combined.  Fold in the toasted pecans. 

Heat a griddle over medium heat.  Lightly butter the griddle and then wipe with a paper towel to remove any excess.  Pour or scoop the pancake batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/3 cup for each pancake.  When the surface of the pancakes have some bubbles, carefully flip the pancakes and resume cooking on the other side until lightly browned.  Transfer cooked pancakes to a cooling rack place on a baking sheet in the oven to stay warm.  Continue with the remaining batter.   Top with additional pecans (if desired) and some good maple syrup.
Printable Recipe

What a perfect start to a fall morning!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sausage-Kale Strata

We recently had a garage sale.  Lord, help us.  Garage sales are really something else.  I had thought (back when I must have been totally crazy) that we would have a garage sale before we moved into our new house.  However the timing of that was plain ridiculous, since I had a newborn baby at that time.  I certainly wasn't going to be having a sale with a newborn while we are trying to get ready to move.  That was crazy talk.  So we actually made a large donation of stuff before we moved, knowing we would have even more stuff afterwards.

It so happens that our new next door neighbor was building the same time we were, and moved in around the same time as well.  They mentioned that they were going to have a garage sale and wondered if we had anything we'd like them to put in the sale, so I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.  And it worked out well.  I had two boxes marked "garage sale" that we ended up moving to the new house, and had done lots of purging when we moved in, so we had plenty to sell.  And it was a success, though I must admit I don't plan to ever have another one.  They are a lot of work!  This is a long long way to introduce Sausage-Kale Strata, I admit.  I knew that on the morning of the garage sale I would not have the time (or energy) to make my typical Saturday morning breakfast.  I like a good breakfast on Saturday mornings - no cold cereal for me!  Thus a breakfast strata is the thing!  And then I found this amazing strata from the Pioneer Woman and thought I really needed to try it. 

Lordy.  I may never make another strata.  This is one DELICIOUS strata.  In fact, my neighbor (with whom we shared in the garage sale madness) said "this should be illegal".  And she might be right.  It is THAT good.  If you don't care for one of the ingredients, you could just use something else, however you really do just have to try this thing.  I halved the recipe from the Pioneer Woman site, and afterwards wished I hadn't.  I mean, it is probably good - I didn't really NEED seconds, but with something that delicious, you just want some seconds anyway!  And I have no idea how this thing would re-heat - though it would be worth trying.  Throwing leftovers away would be a sin. 

Here is the recipe.  Save it somewhere RIGHT NOW, put the ingredients on your grocery list, and plan on making this baby.  You will thank me.  I promise.

Sausage-Kale Strata
adapted from the Pioneer Woman
serves 12 - can easily be halved

12 whole eggs
2-1/2 cups half and half (I used milk)
salt and pepper, to taste
4 TB fresh oregano, minced (or parsley, basil, etc.)
1 loaf crusty French or Italian bread, cut into cubes
2 pounds breakfast sausage
1 bunch (large) regular kale, torn into pieces
olive oil, for frying
16 ounces (weight) white mushrooms, halved
2-1/2 cups grated Monterey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 425F.

Mix together the eggs, half and half (or milk), salt and pepper, and minced oregano.  Set aside.
Place mushrooms in a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until they are golden brown.  Set these aside.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat  Throw in the kale and cook for 2 minutes, until slightly wilted.  Remove from the heat and set aside. Put the the sausage in the frying pan and cut it into crumbles with a wooden spoon as it cooks.  When browned, remove the sausage from the skillet and place in a bowl or plate lined with some paper towels to get rid of any excess oil. 
Layer half of each of the bread, sausage, kale, mushrooms and cheese in a large buttered lasagna pan.  For half of the recipe, I used and 8x8-inch square glass dish.  Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese.  Slowly pour the egg mixture over the top.  Press the mixture down with your hands, and cover with plastic wrap.  Set the pan in the refrigerator overnight.  It helps if you have something to press down over the plastic wrap in the refrigerator, so all of the bread is evenly soaked.  I used a second 8x8-inch dish and placed some water bottles inside for weight.  
In the morning, preheat the oven to 350F.  Take the strata out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.  Remove the plastic wrap and cover the strata with aluminum foil.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is golden and slightly crisp.
Serve, and get ready to reap the praises of your friends and family!

You tell me.  Should this strata be illegal?  Should you have a license to make such amazing yumminess?  Maybe so! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Danish Braid

This week's recipe for Tuesday's with Dorie is Danish Braid.  I have been spending a lot of time learning about different braids lately.  I have watched all sorts of tutorials online on the French Braid, the Dutch Braid, a Rope Braid, a Waterfall Braid.... Braids, braids, braids!  Of course, those are braids for HAIR, not pastry, but braids nonetheless.  I am still on a quest for a great hairdo for when the clever girl is a flower girl in an upcoming wedding, thus I have been doing all sorts of research.  Have you ever noticed how you can watch a tutorial/video about something online and think, "oh, okay, that's not so hard" and then when you actually sit down to DO said thing it is an entirely different story?  Yeah.  That's what has been happening here.  I keep thinking, "wait, how did they do that again?" and then I have to find the tutorial again and try to memorize it all over again.  Ugh.  Thankfully, this pastry was much easier than the hairdos I have been attempting!

The big thing with this recipe is that it is actually several recipes.  Each individual recipe is quite simple, you just have to make them all first before you can do anything that resembles this Danish Braid.  You start with the Danish Pastry.  It is quite straightforward and wonderful in that you can make it several days in advance and then work with it whenever you get the time!  The recipe actually says to cut the butter into the flour using a food processor but I did it with my trusty pastry cutter instead.  The point is to keep the butter chunks pretty big so I figured a pastry cutter would be fine.  It allowed me to wash the food processor maybe one less time.

Then, decision time... what do you want in your pastry?  You need a creamy filling and a fruity filling.  There are several ideas provided, of which I chose the almond filling and apricot filling.  You could totally do whatever here and not use the recipes at all, however I love almond anything and almonds + apricots = goodness in my book so I went with those two recipes.  Plus it meant that I didn't have to think about anything more - I could just follow a recipe and move on.  Sometimes, the less thinking I have to do, the better...  Ever have days like that? 

Both of these recipes are made in the food processor, hence, I washed that thing a lot!  And both turned out quite tasty as well.  My only potential change would be sugar.  I found them both to be too sweet for me, though I tend to like things less sweet than others, I find.  In my humble opinion, in both fillings the sweetness overpowered the actual flavor of the filling.  You tasted SWEET before you tasted almond and apricot.  So I would reduce the sugar next time.

Now that everything is made, you can create the braid!  Roll out the dough and put the fruity filling in the middle third, all the way down the center.  Spread the creamy filling over the top of the fruity one, all the way down.  Now you can prep for the braid!  Like any braid, you need sections to braid together.  So you cut diagonal slits down the remaining two sides of dough and then start crossing one over the other.  Left, right, left, right, all the way down the dough.  Give it an egg wash and sprinkle it with pearl sugar (or big white sprinkles, in my case) and set it aside to rise a bit.

The recipe is enough for two braids, so while one rose, I did the second.  If I had been thinking (again, not something I seem to do much of these days....  Did I mention I made this pastry the morning after a dinner party in which we all enjoyed some delicious wine and I stayed up way too late?  Yeah.  That is my excuse, this time anyway...) yes, had I been thinking, I would have rolled out the dough on top of these squishy ice sheets that I have.  Boy, that was a terrible explanation.  Okay, you know how you can sometimes get a wine bag (here we go with wine again!) that has little squares in it that are filled with some sort of gel and you can throw that bad boy in the freezer so when you put the wine in the bag it will stay cool?  Well, you can buy those things in just a sheet, and they are great for putting under a metal edgeless cookie sheet and then rolling out dough on top.  It keeps the dough cooler.  Get it?  Some day I'll actually DO it and take a photo for you. 

Anyway, once they rose for about 30 minutes, into the oven they went.  The recipe stated they should be in for 15-20 minutes, but mine were done in about 12.  Any longer and they would have moved from "golden" to "browned" for sure!

Then you put a glaze over the top, which I wish I did not do.  The glaze is supposed to be coffee and powdered sugar, but I used cream and powdered sugar.  Regardless, (A) the braid does NOT need any more sweet, and (B) when you drizzle the glaze over the top, you lose the beauty of the braid.  So, next time, no glaze for me.  It is totally up to you but in my opinion, it is completely unnecessary and sort of ruins the overall look of the braid.  In fact, if you have the Baking with Julia book, the picture they use in the book is of an UN-glazed braid! Ah-ha.  Again, had I been really thinking at the time.... Drat.

However, after all of that, it was quite good.  It really was not hard to do and it would be fun to try different fillings - maybe a berry one, or a fig one, maybe cream cheese instead of almond.  It will be interesting to see what my fellow Doristas have done with their braids - what sorts of fun fillings they created!

You can find the recipe for the Danish Braid in Baking with Julia, page 205.  The pastry recipe is on pages 50-51, and the fillings are on pages 202-204.  Or, I found the recipes for the dough and the various fillings here.   Check out what other TWD bloggers have created by following the links here

Enjoy a fancy looking Danish for breakfast one day!  It is worth the work!