Tuesday, December 1, 2009

For the love of honey... or, I can Can-Can!

Maybe it's coming from a crafty family, or just me, but I've always loved homemade gifts. As a kid I enjoyed them but I'm not sure I really appreciated them properly until I started making them myself. Of course, some of the best homemade gifts are edible. So when I came across a recipe called Love Honey, I knew it would make a great gift.

I've always wanted to learn how to can and preserve my own food. There's just been one little thing holding me back...I'm scared. Scared of the equipment, scared of the hot water and most of all I’m scared of glass jars exploding in hot water! Luckily, this recipe did not require anything but a jar with a screw-top lid. We went right to the store so I could purchase the required jars and get started. The choosing of the jars was a little more complicated than I had imagined. We found two styles that seemed small enough, based on the fact that one recipe makes one cup of honey, and both pretty in their own way. Since I photograph everything and want the product to show through the glass, we opted for the smooth-glass with an interesting shape instead of the fancier etched glass jar.

Upon returning home and opening the package of jars to sterilize them I realized, with extreme horror, that we'd accidentally bought jars that don't have screw on lids, but actual canning lids! It was late at night (when all my good ideas come to me... like painting the kitchen purple) and I'd already torn off the cardboard box, so now I felt obligated to use them. The torn packaging, when pieced back together, had minimal instructions for the canning process.

A couple years ago I came across a recipe for Banoffee Pie. I love the holiday movie, set in Great Britain, titled Love Actually. And in it there is a scene about banoffee pie. I wonder every time I see it just what is banoffee pie? Well, here it was and I almost felt silly when I found out it was simply banana and toffee. I had to make it, of course. I remember making toffee in high school Spanish by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk on a hotplate so I figured this would be just as simple. Well, it is when you don't forget about the 4 cans on the stove. Apparently, it's like running your car without replenishing the oil. When you let all the water boil out you get exploding cans. They didn't spray all over the kitchen, but were horribly disfigured and I was only able to get enough caramel out of the three I could open (scraping around the blackened areas) to make one of the two pies. My favorite large pot, in breast cancer pink, was ruined. The pie tasted amazing, so all was not lost, but the fear of ruining another pot was something that dawned on me now as I stared at these canning jars.

I've already spent many hours online researching canning methods, recipes, rules and especially the dangers, so I felt more or less the same about doing it as I had in the past. The difference now was I had the jars and the product sitting in front of me. I didn't have the canning pot or the special tongs but even so, I decided it was time to face my fears and finish what I'd started.

I winged it according to the simple instructions on the box and using my largest non-stick Dutch oven for the boiling water bath. The most trouble I had was not having tongs that would grip the wide mouthed, 2-inch tall jars. I used two pancake spatulas to pick up and lift (juggle) the jars out of the boiling water. I don't recommend this method however, it worked.

According to the recipe we now leave the honey to cure for three or four weeks. Luckily, my math skills are far below my writing skills so we ended up with at least two and a half cups of honey leftover after filling the four canning jars. This I poured over a double batch of spices in an old pasta sauce jar and planned on keeping and testing myself. The honey has become my number one favorite flavoring in everything from oatmeal to coffee (instead of cream and sugar). I can't wait until Christmas so I can get the reactions of my family. The flavor seems to mellow as it cures, but it comes on sweet followed by a potpourri of holiday spices and then finishes with a perfectly melded flavor.
This recipe is so easy but is really something special. I hope you give it a try!

UPDATE: 1/14/2010
Email from a friend: "I really liked the honey. I had it on my oatmeal and it had just the right amount of sweetness and the spices were mellow and not overwhelming, a lovely blend of both sweet and spice. When things are too spicy I get heartburn, but this didn't come close. I'm still looking forward to toast with it."

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's called stuffing for one reason....

There are many discussions on the internet as to whether it's called stuffing or dressing, but as I read through the histories and opinions of each author I formed a theory of my own. It's called stuffing because I can't help but stuff myself with it. Sure, I'll have a bite of turkey on my plate, some mashed potatoes and gravy, maybe even some veggies, but those are all just for show. If it wouldn't look strange, I'd just leave the bird frozen and serve up stuffing every year. I've never actually felt the desire to call it dressing either. I'm sure it's all in how we're raised, tomato/tomatoe, but even so, I can't recall one time when I've seen anyone lean back from the table, loosen their waistband and happily sigh, "Ah, I'm dressed!"
When I was young I loved the holidays at grandma and grandpa’s house. Grandma made the best stuffing ever! Until I found out what it was made of. I know a gizzard and a few kidneys shouldn't change my opinion of it but I've got a squeamish side. I wasn’t about to give up on my stuffing habit though, so I went on the search for a perfectly turkey-less turkey stuffing. After several years of acceptable, but similar, recipes I found one in the Christmas 1997 issue of the Taste of Home magazine. Over the years it has evolved into my version below, which has become a staple on our holiday table. Don’t be afraid of the rye bread. The 3 to 1 ratio of light to dark rye creates a balance that doesn’t overpower the dish, it’s just enough that friends and family recognize it as something extra special you've done with your stuffing. Feel free to substitute all light rye if the dark is too strong for your family’s tastes and any apple is fine, but I personally prefer the crunch and tartness of the granny smith. It has lots of flavor, lots of texture and is good stuffed or baked alongside the turkey. I hope you enjoy this as much as my friends and family do!

Rye Bread Stuffing
1 lb day-old light rye bread, cubed
1/2 lb day-old dark rye bread, cubed
1 lb Jimmy Dean brand sage flavored sausage
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 large granny smith apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh minced Italian parsley (or dried parsley flakes)
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3-3 1/2 cups chicken broth

Instructions: Toss bread cubes in a large bowl. In a skillet, cook and crumble sausage just until cooked through. Remove to paper towels to drain. To same skillet, add onion, apples, celery, garlic and butter. Saute until apples and vegetables are tender. Add both the onion mixture and sausage to bread. Add nuts (if desired), seasonings and enough broth to moisten. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake; stuff turkey just before baking. Bake any additional stuffing separately in a greased 2 quart casserole dish. Or bake all stuffing separately in a greased 13x9x2 baking dish. To bake stuffing separately, place in greased dish, cover and bake at 325 degrees for one hour; uncover and bake for 10 minutes longer.
Serves 10-12 (11 cups of stuffing)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 70 minutes

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Well, it's October again and that means its breast cancer awareness month. No doubt we've all been affected by cancer in some way. I've lost two friends, one in real life (Dec 2005) and one online (Oct 2009) to breast cancer. I don't want this to feel like a depressing column though. Both of these women were positive about their fate and honest about their experiences. They found a way to let others into their hearts to share the laughing, smiling or crying. Simond and Ellie will be greatly missed but the marks they made on our hearts will always be with us.

Every October on Recipezaar we tag recipes to make that have the word pink in the title or contain a pink ingredient. I've made several already and have another 5 to go.... for now. I'm sure I'll keep tagging more recipes throughout the month but we definitely started off with some real treats. We had a drink to toast the courageous women who battle this disease every day and a bright and cheerfully unique cheesecake.

Pink Daiquiris

Pink Lemonade Cheesecake

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taking Food For Granted…?

Yeah, I’m guilty. There are some foods that I give very little thought to. They seem so common or ordinary that my mind never stops to give them their proper due. I’ve realized that tacos are one of those foods. On just about every major intersection you can find a taco restaurant and mobile taco stands (trucks), or taqueria, are frequently seen in parking lots around town; always busy during the lunch hour.

I remember late one night during high school when my friends and I drove through a taco restaurant. I ordered the craze of the moment for all four of us; BLT soft tacos. It was a genius idea; a soft flour tortilla wrapped around crunchy fresh lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese and crispy fried bacon pieces all smothered in a ranch dressing. We’d been eating them nearly every day since they were introduced, hoping to contribute to sales enough that the taco chain would make them a regular menu item. We’d spent the evening at a football game and dance and were really ready to dig in. Until out of the loudspeaker, the words you never expect to hear at a taco joint… “I’m sorry, but we’re out of cheese.” There is nothing like a crazed taco fan that has just been told she can’t have them. I politely… okay, sarcastically (I was a teenager, after all)pointed out that there was an Albertson’s right across the street and that I was pretty sure they’d have cheese in stock. Amazingly, this tactic did not get us BLT tacos and shortly thereafter they were discontinued. When I look back I see this incident should have been the beginning of my taco reverence, but it wasn’t going to happen for another 20 plus years.

Last month we were preparing for my daughter’s third birthday and for family to be in town for two weeks. We’d been eating some quick and easy meals for several days while getting the house and party stuff ready, including tacos, but the night before everyone was to arrive I really needed to clean out the refrigerator to make room for the food we’d be buying the next day. While tossing miscellaneous food items from the fridge I realized I still had a lot of taco fixin’s. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is the result of cleaning out the fridge, but not wanting my family to know that’s what I was feeding them. I found a can of black beans in the pantry, a container of tomato sauce where I’d only needed two tablespoons from the can for a previous recipe (it hadn’t been frozen in ice cube trays yet) and the last remaining chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Chipotle peppers start out as jalapenos but after being dried and smoked they become less spicy and provide a rich, smoky-sweet flavor to your recipes. It doesn’t take much chipotle to jazz up the same old soup or stew and I usually open a can and store the leftovers in the fridge in a small recycled maraschino cherry jar. The resulting recipe garnered rave reviews and gave me a new appreciation for the taco. They’re quick, convenient, versatile and delicious. It’s no wonder humans have been filling tortillas with everything from eggs to fish for centuries. I hope you enjoy these delicious, protein-packed tacos as much as we did and feel free to change up the meat to cooked and shredded pork, chicken or turkey and the veggies to whatever is on hand.

Tink's Spicy Beef & Black Bean Tacos
1/2 head lettuce, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
1/4 head purple cabbage, shredded
4 green onions, sliced into 1/4 sections on the diagonal
1 lb ground beef (I use lean chuck roast that I grind up into hamburger)
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup white onions, diced
1 chipotle chile in adobo, diced
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 (15 1/2 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
6-8 tortillas (I use tomato and basil flavored but flour tortillas were fine too)
sour cream (optional)
cheese, shredded (I used pre-shredded Mexican 4-cheese blend)

1) In large bowl, toss together lettuce, carrots, green onions and cabbage. Set aside.
2) Brown beef in skillet until almost no pink remains and drain grease (if needed). 3) Add garlic, onion and chipotle chili. Cook and stir until no pink remains in beef.
4) Add tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, salt and black beans. Stir to combine and simmer until heated through.
5) Warm the tortillas between paper towels or in tortilla warmer in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
6) Top tortillas with sour cream, salad mixture, cheese, beef and bean mixture; fold and enjoy!
Serves 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One of my fondest memories growing up is the reaction my best friend had about my mom's fried rice. She was so addicted to it she would randomly request that mom make some. I have been craving it lately but knowing that it needs to be done with "yesterday's" leftover rice gets me every time. (If fresh rice is used it will stick together in a mushy mess instead of separating out into individual dry pieces.) Well, as luck would have it I spaced when making rice a few nights ago & instead of loading the rice cooker with 2 cups rice & 4 cups water I put in 4 cups of both! So I added another 4 cups of water & wow... that was a lot of leftover rice! So, last night I combined what I could remember of mom's fried rice with what I had on hand & my family loved it. We ate this for a main meal but usually it's served as a side. The first bite I took really did take me back 25 years! I hope you enjoy it too! :)

Fried Rice with Bacon (Oriental Style)

1 lb bacon
4 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
salt & pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves (or to taste)
6 green onions, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces on a diagonal (5 for stir fry & 1 for garnish)
1/2 cup carrots (pre-shredded or 1-2 carrots finely diced)
3/4 cup frozen mixed vegetables (the small diced size)
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granule (I used a leftover packet of chicken flavored seasoning from Ramen noodles as well as 1/2 packet of the chili flavor)
2 tablespoons water
5 cups cooked rice (brown or white, but be sure it's refrigerated till cold)
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
3 teaspoons sesame oil

Trim most of the fat from bacon & chop meat into bite-sized pieces. Fry in large skillet until almost crisp. With slotted spoon, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Set aside. Leave 1 teaspoon (or less) of the bacon grease in pan but wipe out any more than that & reduce heat to medium low.
Lightly beat eggs, milk, salt & pepper together, then add to hot pan & scramble. Breaking up into small, 1/2 inch or so, sized pieces & cook til dried but not browned. Remove to small bowl & set aside.
To pan, add olive oil, garlic, 5 of the sliced onions, shredded carrot & frozen veggies. Stir fry for about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle bouillon (or packets) over veggies then add the 2 Tablespoons water & stir to dissolve.
To pan, add rice, soy sauce & sesame oil. Stir fry for about 3 minutes or until rice is evenly coated with the soy sauce.
Stir in bacon pieces.
Gently stir in scrambled egg.
Garnish with last sliced green onion.
Serve with additional soy sauce, sesame oil or chili oil.

Makes 4 main dishes or 6 side dishes.
15 minutes prep
30 minutes cooking

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why do they always discontinue the good stuff?

We were shopping with Sophie last week when Bryan commented again on how we can't find his favorite frozen snack anymore. We used to buy a box of bagel dogs every time we went to Costco but Costco has long since stopped carrying them. We also would buy the mini bagel dogs when we could find them. Even I would eat one once in a great while. So I suggested we just try making them ourselves. The next day I spent some time researching bagel recipes & then found a recipe for bagel dogs at another blogsite Cooking Dunkin Style who found the recipe at America's Little Germany who found the "Mall Pretzel" recipe at Allrecipes.com - Mall Pretzels(no previous source listed from there).

I remember making bagels years ago when my son was a toddler & I guess it must've been quite an experience, as I've not done it since. I've often thought about doing it again though and I do remember the hassle of making, boiling and then baking them. So when I saw this recipe, where the boiling is replaced by a quick dunk in a baking soda and hot water bath, I had to give it a try. The recipe as written is excellent but I've changed the instructions slightly to make the mini-dogs. We only made one full sized bagel dog, to compare, & I personally like the flavor of the hot dog better than the little smokey, but I like the size of the minis. Cause they're just plain fun to eat!
I used my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attachment for the mixing & kneading with great results.

Mall Pretzel - Bagel Dogs

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 package Little Smokies cocktail sausages(rinse, drain & pat dry with paper towels)
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast, brown sugar and salt in the 1 1/2 cups warm water. Stir in flour, and knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover, and let rise for one hour.
Combine 2 cups warm water and baking soda in an 8 inch square pan.

After dough has risen, divide in half and put one ball back in the bowl and cover again. Gently roll and stretch the second half into a log about 16 inches long and cut into 16-20 pieces. Roll each piece into a 7 inch rope, then starting at one end of the little smokie begin wrapping the dough around in a spiral, ending at the other end. Crimp the end or push it under the last wrap if needed to secure.

Dip it into the baking soda and water solution. Place on parchment covered cookie sheets, and let rise 15 to 20 minutes.

Bake at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Repeat with remaining dough. Feel free to experiment with different sizes of dough you use for wrapping, especially if you choose to make the full-sized dogs. I ended up liking the thicker wraps best because the dough stayed soft & puffy instead of getting hard & crunchy on the outside. Any leftover dough can be formed into pretzels, twisted into pretzel sticks or I even tried just cutting them into bite-sized bits that were great for toddler snacks.

Serve with melted Velveeta cheese, ketchup, mustard, BBQ or horseradish sauce for dipping.

Yield depends on how many Little Smokies or hot dogs you're using. One full recipe will make a nice addition to your appetizer tray.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake or Cupcakes

Easier than burnt sugar cake and a really good substitute is the Brown Sugar Pound Cake(cupcakes) I've been tinkering with. Originally credited to the Crisco.com website I found it on Zaar, here: Brown Sugar Pound Cake

I've made the cake into cupcakes and actually ended up enjoying them even better that way. I've tried them with both the frosting from the cake recipe and this frosting, Browned Butter Frosting. Both frostings were deliciously thick & rich and both very good.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Question: What is the only food that never spoils?

Answer: Honey
Question: What is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water?
Answer: Honey

A couple months ago I participated in a world-wide honey swap on Recipezaar. The partner I was paired with lives in Florida and we shopped for items that are honey related and made up packages to send to each other. I did my research on honey, as I didn't want to send her something that she can get in her area. I ordered several jars of raw honey that are produced locally with flowers and berries grown in the Pacific Northwest. Also some diabetic-friendly syrup made with the official state fruit, huckleberries, made by the local company my dad's cousin started when I was a child. My swap partner sent me some Tupelo honey, Chilean raw white honey from South America and raw honey made from the rata flower in New Zealand. I really enjoyed this swap, as I learned a lot about honey; health benefits, history and of course, it’s always fun to get surprises in the mail!

Made by bees as food to sustain them throughout the winter, honey is free of fat, cholesterol and sodium but contains vitamins and antioxidants that help speed healing and fight infection. For centuries it has been used as a topical first aid treatment as well as for digestive disorders. It has no additives, is a natural sugar substitute (especially for diabetics) and is easy to digest.
Honey will vary in color and flavor depending on the nectar source and can be very pale to a dark amber color. Flavors range from mild and sweet to very bold. In North America there are 300 different varieties of honey. The most common nectar sources are clover, sage and citrus blossoms but honey can be produced with everything from eucalyptus and the tea tree to alfalfa and buckwheat nectar.

Honey is amazing in the kitchen as it can adapt to all types of cooking processes and can be used in everything from savory marinades to breakfast muffins. Because of its unique ability to attract and absorb moisture, your baked goods will be moist when baked and stay fresh longer. The only caution is not to feed honey to children less than one year of age as honey can carry botulism spores that can be harmful to young immune systems.

Here I'd like to share with you two of my original recipes, both featuring honey, and created for a Recipezaar contest using a specific list of ingredients.

But first, have you ever wondered where the term honeymoon came from? About 4,000 years ago in Babylon, as part of the bride's dowry her father would supply the groom with all the mead he could drink for the first month of marriage. Mead is a mixture of water, honey and yeast that is allowed to ferment and is considered to be the oldest of alcoholic beverages. It was believed that drinking mead during the honey month would ensure that the couple's first born child was a male. Because their calendar was lunar based, the "honey month" eventually became known as the honeymoon.

Pumpkin Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft, bakery style cookies packed with pumpkin, grated carrot and chocolate chips. Don't expect a crunchy cookie, as these are more like muffin tops.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin, not pre-spiced pie filling
1/2 cup baby carrots, grated
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter (melted)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In medium bowl, whisk eggs lightly. Stir in pumpkin, grated carrot, honey and melted butter. Whisk until combined then stir in the chocolate chips. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Don't over mix. Spread a sheet of parchment paper over cookie sheets & drop 1 Tablespoon of batter for each cookie about 2-3 inches apart on parchment. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, and then cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool the rest of the way. Yield: 42 (2-1/2 inch cookies)

Easy Veggie Salad with Asian Dressing

1 (12 ounce) package broccoli slaw mix (or a mix of shredded broccoli stems, carrots & purple cabbage)
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas, drained (garbanzo beans)
1 cucumber, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup artichoke heart, chopped
3/4 cup tomato, chopped

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use sea salt)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

In large bowl, combine all 5 salad ingredients.
In small bowl combine all 11 dressing ingredients. Stir or whisk to combine.
Pour dressing over salad, mix well. Cover and refrigerate til serving time.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sometimes Burnt is a good thing!

The attraction of creme brulee is the contrast between cold, creamy custard and the warm, crunchy caramelized sugar on top. To achieve this, the custard is first baked in a bain-marie, or a water bath, then cooled and chilled. The bain-marie prevents a crust from forming across the top before the center of the custard is fully cooked.
When the custard has chilled for several hours a layer of sugar is sprinkled across the top and the custard is set under a broiler or a butane hand torch is used to quickly melt & caramelize the sugar. This leaves the custard cold and smooth while the topping is warm and gets crunchy as it cools. Torching the custard is done at serving time and can look pretty impressive but with very little work involved.

The origin of creme brulee is hotly contested, as are many dishes I've researched. It seems all the countries were getting the same brainstorms around the same time. lol

The earliest mention of creme brulee is in a French cookbook by Francois Massialot in 1691 but in his 1731 edition he changed the name of the same recipe to read creme anglaise. My guess as to why he would do this is to appeal to the English market as well as the French.
Trinity College in Cambridge, England claims that they were the creators of creme brulee, calling it Trinity Cream or Cambridge Burnt Cream in 1879. They use a branding iron in the pattern of the college arms to caramelize the top of each custard.

There is another version of creme brulee that hails from the Catalan region of Spain, aptly named Crema Catalana, and it also claims to be the predecessor of France's creme brulee.
While creme brulee is traditionally flavored only with vanilla (other flavors can be used, such as chocolate, fruit or liqueurs) the Catalan version is flavored with lemon or orange zest and cinnamon. The Crema Catalana is not however, baked in a bain marie, as the creme brulee is.

I have tried many versions of creme brulee and there are two that stand out for me. A lemon creme brulee made with the bain marie method and a super easy creme brulee cheesecake. Both are actually easy and both require refrigeration time, but that allows for making these a day ahead if you plan to serve them for a special event.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nothin' askew here!

It's barbecue weather again! Yipee! I know, there are celebrity endorsed indoor grills that I could use all winter long. And why wouldn't I? I mean, if a boxer can run the thing then I surely could! But, it comes down to the best thing about a barbecue. It's outdoors. It's fresh air, sunshine, smoke billowing out from under the grill lid and the smell. The sweet, smoky scent that makes you feel like you're cooking over an open fire.

While there are different definitions of BBQ the one common thread is that they're all meant to be outdoor cooking. In the southern U.S. BBQ is the technique. Large pieces of meat or whole animals rubbed with spices & slow spit-roasted to tender perfection. Others say it's only BBQ if the meat is smothered with a sauce.

Although I'm guilty of calling it all a barbecue, I do see the difference in grilling vs. spit-roasting or kalua style. I've tasted kalua pig & it's the best piece of meat ever. But it's not often I have the time or energy to dig a hole in my backyard, layer it with banana leaves (seriously difficult to find in Idaho), heat the lava rocks & bury the pig in a pit for 12 hours. Although, after giving this some serious thought I decided I might just plan a party & make kalua pig.
After doing the research on it... and seeing the photos of the pig... I've thought better of that plan. I think I'll stick to grilling at least this summer.

Here are a few of our first of the season grilled treats:

Iron Springs Honey Chipotle Glazed Chicken Skewers

Prawn and Bacon Brochettes

Caramelized Pineapple with Hot Chocolate Sauce

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I've been making my own original recipe for dinner roll dough for almost 20 years now & it's one of my most requested recipes. It's a yeast recipe & I usually can whip out 24 dinner rolls in about 90 minutes, but sometimes even an hour & a half is too long.
One night about a year ago I was going to make meatloaf but Bryan said he didn't really feel like it. He suggested he barbecue some hamburgers instead. I loved the idea & we got all excited until I realized we had no buns for hamburgers.
Of course I ran to Recipezaar.com to find a hamburger bun recipe. I couldn't believe the name of these buns & since I was going to be making some anyway, I might as well test out this recipe. This recipe was no lie! Forty minutes later we had fresh, hot homemade hamburger buns to go with our freshly barbecued hamburgers. Delish!
I've since made them many, many times. For hamburgers, sloppy joes, soups. I've made a double batch even but you really have to be on your toes to form that many buns quickly (or recruit some help) & I was using two ovens. I do all the mixing & kneading in the Kitchen Aid mixer & the Artisan model mixer can make the double batch all at once.
Leftovers I let cool on racks then put in a large ziplock baggie. I'd love to tell you how long they last but we never have them around for more than two days. They make awesome meat & cheese sammys, PB&J, toast & jelly, or just warmed & buttered. They stay nice & soft. Since we're coming up on barbecue weather, you all need to try these. You'll likely never buy store-bought buns again!

40 Minute Hamburger Buns

Friday, May 22, 2009

Banana, Lime & Coconut Cake from Australia... Mmmm

You may end up seeing a lot of baked goods here. I have a sweet tooth. In my column I try really hard to alternate between main dishes that are practical & probably needed by more people on a regular basis than things like cakes, candies, cookies, cupcakes... you get the picture. But again, in the blog format I am so excited that I can post whatever I want to! So, the following is our favorite dessert from the Australia/New Zealand leg of the Zaar World Tour. My family went crazy over this one. The bananas keep the cake very moist & the lime & coconut add texture & flavor accents. Delicious! I loved how easy it was to make & that it only made a single layer. Sometimes I do just want a cake but don't want the hassle of stacking & icing two layers. The recipe does not tint the cream cheese frosting but I had some neon green food coloring that I used in a beverage & I thought it would make a great "lime" color for the cake. The only problem was that every time I took a bite of it I expected a "lime" flavor out of it. LOL
Next time I think I'll add a little lime juice & zest to it.
Banana, Lime & Coconut Cake

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My new favorite beverage...

Red Cactus Margarita - Alcohol Optional

I hate to get into the habit of not posting a full column here but I have a feeling I'm going to start doing it anyway. I have tried so many recipes that I would love to share with others that I don't readily have enough to fill a column with so I'm going to start putting them up here with or without full columns.

First off is my new favorite drink. I rarely drink alcohol & in fact the "stocked bar" we have in the house has all been purchased for recipes. LOL
Note to self: Post the Whiskey Cake. :)

Currently, the event going on in the Contest & Events forum on Recipezaar is the Zaar World Tour V. This is the first round that I've participated in myself & I am so glad I did! If you've read even just a couple of my columns you'll know how much I love history & the origins of recipes, ingredients & techniques, so it won't come as a surprise that my favorite part of the ZWT is cooking foods from different regions. We are just finishing up the Australia/New Zealand & Spain/Portugal regions. We're still in Mexico for a bit longer & I'll probably end up posting photos of several of the recipes I tried but my first one comes from Mexico. Posted by someone who has become a real special friend & after trying this drink I think I'll keep on being her friend. LOL

Just kidding, Bren! You know I love ya, even without tequila!

One of the best things about it is that it would be good without the alcohol too. The cranberry/raspberry concentrate was one I'd never seen before but sure enough there it was, top spot in the frozen juice case! I'm so glad I was able to find it too. It has a great new container! You know how the "old" frozen juice containers are cardboard? I hate those. Especially when you don't need to use the entire amount. I use a lot of orange juice concentrate straight from the frozen container in marinades & such. I was really excited to see that the cranberry/raspberry container was plastic with a full-on lid that snapped right back over the top. Unlike the limeade concentrate's cardboard & metal flap sitting askew in the freezer. Well, I really didn't like the look of that messy can since I only made a half a recipe the first time.... so I had to make a second batch of this drink. It was most refreshing on our most recent 90+ degree days. I've also tried this with Absolut vodka, which turns out to be just as yummy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread - no starter required

While the Internet has made your average hand-written letter almost obsolete, there is one piece of mail that has survived the technological evolution, the chain letter. If you don't remember the paper version, you are probably still well aware of the electronic version. Originally, a friend would send you a letter with a list of (usually) 10 names on it. You were to write out one letter for 10 of your friends plus one letter for whoever's name was at the top of the list. In your letters you would remove that top name, add your own name to the bottom of the list and then send your letters out. Always, a promise of good luck would befall you if all 10 friends received their letters and continued the chain. Today, it’s so much easier to be a friend. We get a forwarded email that we can quickly forward to 100 friends (that's extra good luck!) before your first cup of morning coffee goes cold.

I have friends who still enjoy these. I personally never did, except maybe the very first time when we were young kids and just getting MAIL addressed to us was a big thing. I cannot tell you how many times I've broken the chain, but I can tell you that if my good luck was hinged on how many letters I did NOT send, then I'd own stock in the Luck Company.

So what does this have to do with food? It brings us to the chain letter of baking, Amish Friendship Bread. You receive one liquid cup of a sourdough starter from a friend. Then you stir it and feed it flour, sugar and milk in a particular order for the next ten days. At this point you have grown your starter and it's time to divide it up: one portion to bake, one portion to start another round of starter and two portions to give to friends. The basic dough can be used for sourdough type breads but the Friendship Bread is the recipe that gets passed along with the starters. If you haven't eaten Friendship Bread you're missing out. No, not on friends, on a deliciously sweet cinnamon bread that is even more addicting than the forwarded emails.

Similar to my experience with the hand written letters, I can find plenty of reasons that don't allow me the time or patience to stir and feed the starter for 10 days, so imagine my excitement when I found a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread without a starter! I've since changed the recipe slightly. Sure, we can't trace it back to someone's Aunt Sally in Hoboken and it does have a few modifications, but it's an excellent substitute when you're craving something sweet for breakfast, brunch or with your after-dinner coffee. Or... if you just happen to have a couple friends over, say... fixing the plasma television your precocious toddler just bashed in with a two dollar Happy Meal toy, it makes a second loaf they'll surely appreciate being sent home with.
Below is the original recipe with my cinnamon-sugar mixture added, but at times I have also substituted 1/2 of the vegetable oil with applesauce to make it a bit healthier and I have also tried adding 1/2 cup dried cranberries or currents. So far it's been fun and easy to experiment with but tastes just fine in its basic form.

Amish Friendship Bread - no starter required

1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (3 1/2 ounce) box instant pudding mix (any flavor)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

For topping:
1/2 cup white sugar
2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (to taste)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine oil, sugar, vanilla, eggs, salt, and cinnamon.
Add flour, milk, soda, pudding, and baking powder. Mix well.
In small cup or bowl combine the topping ingredients.
Grease 2 large loaf pans and sprinkle with a portion of the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Pour batter into pans and sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top. Bake for 1 hour.

Yield 2 loaves
15 min prep time
60 minute cook time

I’d been planning this year’s holiday feast when it occurred to me that my biggest culinary decision every year is dessert. Pumpkin pie? Apple pie? Both? I found it somewhat surprising, as I rarely have room for dessert after gorging on stuffing, potatoes and gravy. Oh, and a bit of turkey and ham. Yes, on Thanksgiving I can spread the table with carbohydrate packed foods and excuse it as tradition. Then of course I finish off that tradition by serving up deliciously sweet pies. Now I wonder how pie became the most common dessert presented at holiday tables.
While researching, an excerpt from an old Schoolhouse Rock video comes to mind, “Mother Necessity, with her good intentions, where would this country be without her inventions?” All great ideas were created out of a need to solve problems or make daily chores easier. As it turns out, this extends to pie crust as well. Pies were developed as a way to keep seasonal fruits and meats from spoiling. The double crust sealed in freshness, extending shelf-life of perishable foods and served as a vessel in which to cook the sweet or savory fillings. At serving time though, the crust would be discarded because it was too tough to eat. The most surprising information about pie at the table recalls the nursery rhyme, "Sing a Song of Sixpence". Apparently, even the fillings weren’t always meant to be eaten. Royal banquets featured the “animated pie" as a form of entertainment. A large pie crust containing anything from blackbirds to frogs and other small animals was presented at the table. When the crust was broke open the contents would be released to fly or hop out and entertain the diners.
Now that pies are eaten in whole, I’ve heard many friends and family say that making a pie crust is a daunting task for them. Producing a light and flaky crust can be a challenge, but sometimes making them pretty is an even bigger one. Using ice water and as little handling as possible, I’ve managed to make pretty good crusts but I struggle trying to scallop the edges. I use a knuckle pinching technique to avoid tearing a hole in the crust with my fingernails. It works, but it’s not very uniform. I’ll be honest; I’d give up pie before I gave up my nails. In order to save myself the pain of choosing, the following recipe has been a welcome addition to my pie collection. The flaky, freeform crust lets you present a beautiful apple pie without the worry of perfection.

Rustic Apple and Cranberry Pie
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons shortening
5-6 tablespoons ice water

2 1/2 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I use only Granny Smith but a mix is also nice.)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I like the orange flavored cranberries too)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg

1 egg white, beaten
1 tablespoon sugar

PASTRY: Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade; pulse to mix.
Add butter and shortening and pulse 5-8 more times until the mixture looks like coarse oatmeal. Sprinkle with 1/2 the water and pulse. Gradually add in more of the water, a Tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together when pinched with your fingertips (you may not need all of it). Note: This can all be done by hand with a pastry blender as well.
On a floured surface, form the dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and for up to 3 days.

FILLING: Toss apples, cranberries, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and spices together in a large bowl; set aside.

BAKING AND ASSEMBLY: Preheat oven to 400°F Roll dough on a floured surface to make a 15 inch circle. Fold dough into quarters; place on a large baking sheet and unfold. Place filling in the center of the pastry, leaving a 2 1/2 border all around. Fold the pastry border over the filling (I fold this in several small sections- some pieces of the crust will overlap each other, and this is just how it should be; remember that it's a rustic pie). Brush pastry with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes. Cover the pie with foil and bake for 15 minutes more. Cool on baking sheet on a wire rack. Cover and store pie at room temperature. Serves 12 Prep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes

Presto Pesto!

Green food has always been something of a culinary hurdle for me. Yes, mom read Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham to us and now I’ve read it to my children, but there is still something much less appealing about green food once it’s on your plate instead of on the page. In recent years I’ve begun to coordinate my eyes and my palate to accept green food as not being yucky. I remember going to the 13 Coins restaurant, a Seattle landmark since the late 1960’s, one night with some friends. One friend raved about the pasta he was eating and wanted everyone to try it. Even in a dim booth at about 1 o’clock in the morning and no doubt after a few shots of tequila, I could see that the food was decidedly green, but since everyone else was trying it out I felt that I needed to as well. That was my first experience with pesto. I’d never tried it nor even heard of it before, but certainly didn’t want to admit to being ignorant of it. I can’t say that I enjoyed it; after all, it was green. It’s been about 15 years now and I decided it was about time I gave pesto another chance.
Just northwest of Genoa, Italy, along the Mediterranean is a region known as Liguria. Due to the mild climate, the mountain terrain and its position along the coast, the Ligurian diet depended on and was influenced by what could be grown or caught from the water, like herbs, vegetables and seafood. While the region does produce both white and red wines, they are only sold locally. The two most recognizable inventions to emerge from Liguria are pesto and focaccia bread.
The most traditional recipe for pesto uses fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and cheese. All of the ingredients were hand ground into a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle, hence the word pesto. Fresh ingredients are a must as pesto is not cooked in any way. It’s easy to make and very versatile. While most recipes will call for an exact amount of each ingredient, it’s very common to make adjustments according to your personal preferences, the flavors in accompanying dishes or what you have on hand. Pesto is traditionally eaten as a sauce for cooked pasta, but can be used as a condiment for grilled Panini sandwiches, as pizza sauce, in breads, spread over toast points and broiled as an appetizer or use a few teaspoons as garnish for your homemade soups.
This recipe is a basic basil pesto but I have noted several different substitution options for the herb, nuts, oil and cheese. Pesto is quick and easy so don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Go green! It’s what’s in style.

Fresh Basil Pesto with Variations
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use finely ground sea salt or kosher)
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
Fit your food processor with the steel blade attachment. To bowl, add basil, garlic, oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Pulse several times, scraping bowl if needed, and continue until the mixture is a smooth paste. Add a tiny bit of oil if mixture gets too thick.
When the consistency is right, transfer to a small bowl and fold in the shredded parmesan cheese.
To serve with pasta: Stir a few tablespoons of pesto with a splash of cooking water from your favorite pasta until it’s a good serving consistency and toss with hot pasta until coated.
To Store: Cover with a thin layer of olive oil or spray with non-stick cooking oil and keep in the fridge for several weeks. For long-term storage fill ice cube trays with pesto, freeze and then pop out into a re-sealable plastic bag. Thaw just the right amount of fresh pesto for your meal any time you want it!
*NOTE: Other aromatic herbs, nuts, oils or hard cheeses can be used in place of or in combination with the basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and parmesan. Keep in mind the herb is the star of the show and should have the most prominent flavor when mixing and matching ingredients. Also, consider the rest of your meal and what fresh flavors might compliment it best. Have fun experimenting with some of the following!
Herbs: fresh cilantro, spinach, oregano, sun-dried tomatoes; Italian flat leaf parsley can be used by itself but is also perfect when one of the other herbs has too strong of a flavor or when you may be running short on the amount.
Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans.
Favored Oils: porcini mushroom, walnut, lemon, rosemary, raspberry.
Cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Romano.
Yield: one cup of pesto
Prep time: 10 minutes

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sometimes recipes come together out of boredom with the usual or with inspiration from an outside source and other times they are born out of necessity; I have a short list of ingredients on hand or something that needs to be used up before going to waste. I think it may have been a combination of these that brought today’s recipe to light.
I know deep frying isn’t the hip thing it once was but some of my favorite childhood memories were made when mom would get out the Fry Baby. She’d batter and fry chunks of fish, chicken & veggies. My favorite was the broccoli. Years later, I bought my first deep fryer and I couldn’t wait to share this treat with my son. I pretty much stood the whole dinner, as I dropped one basket of veggies or meat after the other, but I was on the proverbial edge of my seat waiting to hear what my son thought of this special and exciting treat. He ate the first few bites quietly. I could only assume he was reveling in the taste and enjoyment of them, and then he asked if we couldn’t just steam some of that broccoli instead of frying it? What?! You mean you want healthy, steam-cooked vegetables instead of heavy, greasy, heart-stopping fried ones? (sigh)
Needless to say my fryer goes for long periods without use, but when we want authentic egg rolls or chicken nuggets the deep fryer is the best way to accomplish those. Egg rolls we’ve done in the skillet tend to get flat on one side or end up looking like triangles and they soak up so much grease by the time they’re cooked. The deep fryer cooks quickly and evenly without allowing time for the food to soak up the oil and the finished product has a light & fluffy texture.
So last night my husband and I were watching the Food Network and saw mention of a restaurant that serves deep fried French toast. There was no recipe or hints on how it was made but sounded interesting enough to play around with. I browsed my kitchen and made a few notes on what to try this morning. I had a loaf of thick sliced Texas Toast in the freezer (put that in the fridge to thaw), a half a package of cream cheese to use up and a couple homemade syrups that needed to be eaten or vacuum-packed and frozen. I used a deep fryer for this but you could easily do it in a deep sided pan on the stove or a deep sided griddle.
This delicious breakfast has a light & fluffy coating on thick slices of Texas Toast, filled with a lightly sweetened cream cheese with a hint of almond flavoring. We tried these with my homemade blueberry/raspberry syrup from Verry Berry French Toast, with Blackberry-Raspberry Sauce, store-bought orange marmalade and maple syrup. Enjoy!

Lorilyn's Deep Fried Stuffed French Toast

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
10 slices Texas toast thick bread (or other thick sliced bread)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
oil (for frying)
powdered sugar (optional, for garnish)

In stand up mixer or in small bowl, combine cream cheese, almond extract and powdered sugar until fluffy.
Fit a cake decorating bag with a large tip (star or round) and fill with cream cheese mixture. Set aside.
Using a serrated bread knife, slice each piece of Texas Toast into half on the diagonal.
Along the newly cut diagonal edge, use the tip of the knife to gently make a one inch slice into the center of the bread, making sure the slice runs parallel to the top and bottom of the bread.
Insert the decorator tip into the opening & squeeze out about a teaspoon or so of filling. With a thumb & finger, gently pinch the opening to close it back up & cover the filling. (This could also be done with a ziplock baggie with a corner cut off, although not quite as easily.).
In mixer or another medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt.
Beat in milk and eggs until batter is smooth. Pour into deep wide bowl or into a pie plate, for dipping.
Pre-heat deep fryer or griddle (about 350°) and when ready dip filled slices of bread into batter, turn once and place into fryer basket. (Mine will hold two slices at a time.)
Fry 2 minutes or until lightly browned & crispy looking then turn each slice over with a pair of tongs and fry the other side for 2 minutes or until done.
Remove with tongs to paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.
Repeat with the rest of the slices.
Serve immediately (careful - filling is hot) with your choice of syrups, jams or jellies.
Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 4 minutes

I spend an insane amount of time online. As a volunteer forum host in the Contest & Events forum on Recipezaar.com, I spend my days testing, creating & drooling over photos of delicious food. I know! I’m spoiled, but sometimes I wonder how I ever find the time to just cook. Then a recipe comes along that I cannot resist trying, even if it’s something that isn’t going to fill our tummies with a hearty meal. That’s what happened a few weeks ago when I stumbled on a recipe for homemade ginger ale. It did take me several weeks to get the time to try it, but now that I have, I know it’s something I’ll be doing a lot during the scorching summer months. We don’t usually keep soda stocked in the house, as it tends to disappear in record time, so imagine the surprise on my teenager’s face when I told him that the two 2-litre bottles of soda in the fridge are to be consumed as quickly as possible!
The fact that both math and science play significant parts in the act of cooking and baking will come as no shock to most of us. But the idea that I could carbonate my own beverage certainly did. A beverage containing dissolved carbon dioxide will be bubbly, fizzy or make a popping sound when the cork is removed. Carbonation can be produced naturally or artificially. Artificial carbonation originated in England around 1767 with a man named Joseph Priestly who found that infusing water with carbon dioxide created a bubbly and refreshing beverage. He developed and taught his technique to the Royal Navy Captain, James Cook and his crew for their second exploratory voyage, but it was JJ. Schweppes who eventually capitalized on this method of artificial carbonation and began commercializing bottled mineral water and ginger ale. Natural carbonation occurs when spring or well water absorbs underground volcanic carbon dioxide or as today’s recipe will demonstrate, when yeast ferments sugar dissolved in water, while sealed in a pressure-tolerant container.
Carbon dioxide is a chemical compound (CO2) formed when one carbon atom is sandwiched between two oxygen atoms. It can be found in liquid and solid form, both important in the food industry as refrigerants. In its solid state, carbon dioxide is known as dry ice. In liquid form carbon dioxide is used to remove the caffeine from coffee beans.

The following recipe, with instructional photos can be found on the website of David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D., Professor of Biology & Chemistry at U.C. Clermont College. I found this to be an easy, fun and educational activity for my family. While I enjoy the strong flavor of fresh ginger, it was too strong immediately after making for my family. The flavor does mellow with time but in the future I plan to cut the amount of ginger in half. I also have plans to try this with a simple lemon & lime combination as well as a batch with some root beer extract.

Carbonate Your Own Ginger Ale

Ingredients and supplies:
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 – 2 Tablespoons fresh gingerroot, grated (I will use 1 TBL in the future)
1 lemon, juiced (optional in recipe, but I really enjoyed it)
¼ teaspoon fresh granular baker’s yeast
Cold water
1 clean 2-litre plastic soft drink bottle with cap (do not use a glass container)
A clean funnel

1. Insert funnel into 2-litre bottle and pour in sugar.
2. Add the yeast through the funnel and shake and swirl gently to combine
3. Place grated ginger into a glass measuring cup
4. Add the juice of the lemon to the measuring cup and stir into ginger.
5. Pour lemon and ginger slurry into bottle.
6. Begin pouring cold water into bottle, washing down any ginger left in the funnel.
7. Fill with water to the neck of the bottle, leaving about one inch of headspace. Screw cap on securely and invert bottle repeatedly to thoroughly dissolve the sugar.
8. Place in a warm location for 24-48 hours. (Do not leave at room temperature longer than necessary for the bottle to feel hard when squeezed. The pressure may cause an explosion or a fountain when opened.)
9. After 24 hours, test to see if carbonation is complete by squeezing bottle forcefully with your thumb. If the bottle dents in, it is not ready yet.
10. Once the bottle is tight and doesn’t dent when squeezed, place it directly into the refrigerator. Refrigerate overnight to thoroughly chill. (Once chilled, there is little chance of explosion.)
11. When ready to serve, crack the lid slowly to release just a little pressure at a time. (It took us 10 minutes to open ours without a ginger ale fountain, but the hissing and bubbling was very entertaining to my toddler.)
12. When you can remove the cap you can choose to strain the ginger before serving. (I did because my family doesn’t like orange juice pulp so I didn’t figure this would be any more welcome.)
13. Pour entire bottle through a fine mesh strainer set over a juice pitcher. Then use funnel to pour ginger ale back into the bottle.
14. Wash out the sediment in the bottle when empty.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sunrise Biscotti

Everyone loves a good cookie, right? With so many deliciously easy classics like chocolate chip, peanut butter & sugar, why would anyone want to spend extra time cooking them instead of eating them? Maybe it's because as we grow our palates become more sophisticated. Maybe it's just a never-ending search for the "perfect" cookie. I really don't know the reason, but I do know that there is a cookie that has become wildly popular since the coffee explosion of the 90's that tends to be overlooked as a classic. I'm talking about biscotti.
While the cookie's invention is credited to a Tuscan baker, who served them with a glass of sweet wine, they were actually being used way before the Renaissance by the Romans. I say being "used" because they weren't a product of indulgence; they were a form of nourishment. Biscotti, from the root words "bis" meaning "twice" & "cotto" meaning "cooked", were unleavened wafers that were baked once to cook them, cooled & then baked a second time to dry them out. Drawing out the moisture in the wafers extended their shelf-life & enabled the Legions to be away on long journeys with food that would resist mold & spoilage & still taste fresh. While the idea of baking twice seems daunting, I actually find it much faster than baking 6 dozen chocolate chip cookies. And the variety of biscotti is only limited to the imagination. Try my original creation of blood orange, white chocolate & pecans. I don't mind dunking my biscotti in coffee, but I really like to just enjoy the delicate mixture of flavors on their own. Therefore, Sunrise Biscotti will produce a slightly softer cookie than the biscotti found in coffee shops everywhere.

Sunrise Biscotti

1/4 cup butter (no substitutes)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 blood orange
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In large mixer bowl, add sugar, butter & honey.
3. Grate the peel from the blood orange using the large side of the cheese grater. Take care not to grate the pith (the white layer between peel & fruit). Add grated peel to mixer bowl.
4. Cut orange in half & squeeze juice out of both halves; add to bowl.
5. Cream all together til light & fluffy.
6. Add almond extract & then both eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
7. Sift together flour, baking powder & salt. Gradually blend into creamed mixture.
8. With wooden spoon, stir in chopped pecans & white chocolate chips. Dough will be slightly sticky.
9. Turn out onto lightly floured surface & divide into two halves.
10. Using your hands, roll one half into a 10-12 inch log & place lengthwise on greased cookie sheet.
11. Gently flatten log into a long rectangle about 2-1/2 inches wide. Repeat with second half of dough, leaving about 3 inches between flattened logs on cookie sheet.
12. Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until a pale gold color.
13. Remove from oven but leave logs on baking sheet til cool enough to handle.
14. Gently transfer to cutting board & slice each log on a diagonal into 1-inch wide slices.
15. Return to baking sheet & arrange so that there is a little space between each cookie.
16. Return to oven & bake 10 minutes, then turn each cookie over to expose the opposite cut side & bake for 10 minutes more or until golden & crisp.

Yield: 24 cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

I found an interesting recipe a while back that simply said it was from the South. I love Southern cooking. I know, it's not all that healthy but sometimes it just tastes so good. And I have the philosophy that if you deprive yourself you're just going to end up eating double of it later. So every once in a while I indulge. Fried food (I love making egg rolls), gravies or rich desserts. This particular recipe was like hitting the lottery. It was going to satisfy two of those cravings at once! Mmm... I couldn't wait to try Chocolate Gravy.

No, that's not a typo, Chocolate Gravy. Sure, it sounded gross but the ingredients were nothing unusual. It was just the idea of chocolate gravy. If I'd called it Chocolate Sauce I wouldn't have seen the "Are you out of your mind?!" looks from my family. As it turns out, getting around the name wasn't the hard part. Since the description was so sparse it didn't tell me if this was something Southerners served at breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. And because of that it sat around the house, haunting me, for weeks. Yesterday morning I woke up and decided to make a "fun" breakfast.

Chocolate Gravy hails from the southern region of the Appalachian Mountains, covering the area of range from Alabama up to Kentucky and although pinpointing a specific origin wasn't possible, I did find numerous mentions of it being served in Georgia. Most often the recipes were handed down from grandmothers. It turns out that this mining region, stereotyped as hillbilly, redneck or a quaint backwater has actually been the starting place for many famous leaders, musicians, literary figures, innovators and some important social movements. Famous figures such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nina Simone, Pearl S. Buck (first American woman to win the Nobel Prize), Thomas Wolfe and Cormac McCarthy to just name a few. I figured if all these good things were gifts from that part of the nation then who was I to say Chocolate Gravy wasn't worth a try?

As it turns out, buttermilk biscuits smothered in chocolate gravy with a few fresh strawberries on the side is my new favorite breakfast. Oh, I served a ham and cheese omelet too but I made sure I ate my dessert first. I did find many recipes that use fresh milk instead of canned but this one posted by Nancy Sneed was the one I found first so it's the one I started with. I did have to make some changes to the original recipe, which I've noted, and I elaborated on the instructions as they were very simple. I hope you enjoy this treat as much as we did. I think it would be a fun way to celebrate Valentine's Day with the whole family.

Chocolate Gravy

1 Cup sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons cocoa (I used Dutch processed cocoa)
1 dash of salt (I used fine ground sea salt)
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk (I had to use two 5 oz cans + 1 Tbl 2% milk)
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh buttermilk biscuits (or a tube of refrigerated Pillsbury biscuits)

Mix dry ingredients in small saucepan.
Add evaporated milk and stir.
Cook on medium to medium high heat until the mixture thickens, stirring frequently.
When the chocolate is the consistency of gravy, add the butter and vanilla. Stir well to combine.
Serve over buttermilk biscuits.

Lessons in Coconut...

For me, one of the most appealing aspects of cooking is that I’m always learning something new. It may be a new ingredient, an unfamiliar technique, or the random mistake that shows how certain ingredients and techniques don’t go together. It was the latter that I found useful this last weekend.
Recently, my 15 year old son made his first batch of freezer jam and I wanted to use it for something other than toast. I stumbled on a delightful bar cookie recipe posted on Recipezaar.com by an online friend in South Whales, JoyfulCook, that called for jam and desiccated coconut. My first attempt at Raspberry Shortbread was a failure. I use coconut all the time but really never gave much thought to the word desiccated. As it turns out, it doesn’t mean shredded. It means dried. But did you know there are 5 different types of desiccated coconut? Yep. Basically they’re all dried, or desiccated as I can now proudly say with a certain air of authority, but there is sweetened, unsweetened, fine, medium or large shredded and is sold in bags or cans. I honestly have never noticed anything in my local grocery store but sweetened coconut in a bag. Using the sweetened variety of desiccated coconut in the topping, mixed with an egg and a good amount of sugar, created a fruity baked soup instead of a cookie. Still delicious, we just had to eat it with a spoon. The truth is I’ve got a bit of an ego and I just couldn’t be defeated by coconut so armed with my newfound knowledge I was ready to go back into battle. I found an online company and ordered my first bag of unsweetened desiccated coconut (I’ve since found the unsweetened variety hiding in the health food section of my local grocery store).
My mom came to visit over the Thanksgiving holiday and we worked on perfecting this recipe. The second attempt wasn’t perfect either, but we were able to cut some of it into bars and transport it to my cousin’s house where the recipe was requested by several family members. Mom and I both continued to rework the original recipe even after the holiday was over and she flew home.
Over the years there have been several recipes that I have tried and failed at. Rarely do I consider them failures and throw out the recipe. If the flavor is there then I feel the need to try again, and again, and sometimes again to get it right. I have a few recipes that were developed by trial and error that my family and friends still request. I am printing here the version of Raspberry Shortbread that was finally successful for me. It’s very easy to make with simple ingredients but a big reward in the end. With a buttery shortbread base, slightly tangy raspberry filling and a crunchy coconut topping each layer compliments the other and these bars will make a pretty addition to any festive tray of goodies.

Raspberry Shortbread
½ cup (4oz) butter (no substitutes)
1-3/4 cup self-rising flour (or: add 1-3/4 tsp baking powder, ¾ tsp baking soda and ¾ tsp salt to all purpose flour)
1-1/2 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut
1-2/3 cup sugar (divided)
2 eggs
4 Tablespoons raspberry jam

1. Line a 9x13 baking dish with foil, making sure the ends extend enough to lift out after baking and preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Cream butter and 2/3 cup of the sugar. Add 1 beaten egg, mixing well then stir in the flour.
3. Knead dough a few times on a piece of waxed paper sprinkled with a little flour, then press dough evenly over bottom of the foil-lined dish.
4. Bake crust 15 minutes then set on baking rack to cool for about 15 minutes.
5. Spread warm crust evenly with jam.
6. With a fork, lightly beat the last egg, stir in the 1 cup of sugar and then add the coconut. Stir well. Use the fork to gently spread the coconut topping over the jam.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until coconut is nicely browned and the center is only slightly moist.
8. Immediately lift the shortbread out of the pan using the foil ends and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares and leave to cool completely. If making ahead: after cooling, separate bars onto a cookie sheet and freeze for a couple hours then wrap and store in the freezer.

Burnt Sugar Cake... as close to Gramma's as I can get it.

I didn’t grow up living near my grandparents but whenever we visited them and had an occasion to do so, dad and I would beg grandma to make our favorite 3-layer Burnt Sugar Cake. It had a sweet but mellow caramel flavor to it and she would just pile on the frosting, which in my humble opinion was the very best part. As a child I didn’t have any interest in the baking process. I suppose at that time it hadn’t yet occurred to me that grandma wouldn’t always be there to bake it for me.
Somewhere around my mid-teens I decided that the wait for that cake between visits was just too long and during a summer visit I asked Grandma to teach me. I like to think that she was as excited as I was for this adventure and as I gathered my learning tools, notepad and pencil, I looked like a wide-eyed puppy dog expecting a special treat. I looked around the kitchen counter, and not finding what I was looking for, I asked “Gramma, where’s the recipe?” She laughed, throwing her head back slightly and with a wave of her hand she said, “Oh Honey! I don’t have a recipe!”
I watched her every move and attempted to jot down and translate for myself her little bits of this and scoops of that using as much kitchen experience as I had, which by then was a meager menu of grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup. For anyone who hasn’t tasted a Burnt Sugar Cake, the name can be misleading. In general, cooking anything to the burn-stage is usually a recipe for disaster but in the context of cake we are simply allowing plain white sugar to slowly heat up, melt and turn a deep golden brown color, also known as caramelization. Thanks to Betty Crocker online I have found the Burnt Sugar Cake recipe printed in the 1950’s Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. It’s as close as I’ve found to Grandma’s recipe except it makes a double layer cake instead of a triple layer. Enjoy!

Burnt Sugar Cake
1 cup white sugar
½ cup boiling water
Cold water (amount will vary)
½ cup shortening
1-1/3 cups white sugar
3 eggs
2 -1/3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Caramel Frosting
Caramel mixture remaining from cake recipe
Cream (about ¼ cup, but amount will vary)
6 Tablespoons butter
3 Cups powdered sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or one 13x9 pan. Add the 1 cup of sugar to a small heavy bottom or non-stick saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is a light to medium golden-brown color. The mixture will continue to cook even after removed from the heat so you can remove the pan when the color is almost as dark as you would like it. I like to use the color of a regular wrapped caramel as a guide. Once removed from the heat, slowly and carefully pour in the ½ cup of boiling water, stirring constantly. Place back on low heat and stir until any lumps are dissolved. Pour ¼ cup caramel mixture into a liquid measuring cup and then add enough cold water to make 1 cup of liquid. (Pour the remaining caramel mixture into another liquid measuring cup and set aside for the frosting.) In mixer, cream together ½ cup shortening and 1-1/3 cups white sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Begin stirring flour mixture and caramel and water mixture into the creamed mixture, alternating the two until incorporated. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes and then remove from pans and finish cooling on the rack. (If using the 13x9 pan just allow to cool completely in pan.) For frosting: Add enough cream to the remaining caramel mixture to equal ½ cup and add to clean saucepan along with the 6 Tablespoons butter. Cook and stir over low heat until smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar, 1/3 teaspoon salt and the vanilla. Spread on cake while frosting is still warm.
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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License