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 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, 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 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