Saturday, December 31, 2011

Real Italian Calzones

I do love a good calzone! Chicken with black olives, pepperoni with mushrooms, whole wheat . . . I've always used the same base calzone recipe out of one of my cookbooks and I've experimented with fillings. This time though I decided to look for a new recipe altogether. I came across this one that sounded a bit different from my other with the biggest difference being that there is no sauce.

This recipe tops my other one by far! I love the mix of the cheeses that compliment the pepperoni and mushrooms. The only disappointment was that they turned out so flat. That could have had something to do with too much flour, or not enough rise time, or  . . . who knows. What I do know is that these are tasty and I will have plenty of chances to figure out the problem with the rising dough. Enjoy! 

Real Italian Calzones
Source: All Recipes

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced pepperoni
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
1 egg, beaten

To Make Dough: In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the oil, sugar and salt; mix in 1 cup of the flour until smooth. Gradually stir in the rest of the flour, until dough is smooth and workable. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes, or until it is elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 40 minutes, or until almost doubled. 

To Make Filling: While dough is rising, combine the ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms and basil leaves in a large bowl. Mix well, cover bowl and refrigerate to chill.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 

When dough is ready, punch it down and separate it into 2 equal parts. Roll parts out into thin circles on a lightly floured surface. Fill each circle with 1/2 of the cheese/meat filling and fold over, securing edges by folding in and pressing with a fork. Brush the top of each calzone with egg and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. 

Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot. 

Makes 8 servings

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monkey Bread

I made a batch of monkey bread (or pull apart bread as some call it) many years ago, but since I used refrigerated dough I decided that I couldn't count it on my top 100 list. I have been itching for a chance to make monkey bread from scratch for quite a while and I decided that Christmas Eve was the perfect time. Cream cheese cinnamon rolls Christmas morning, monkey bread Christmas Eve; pretty perfect for a holiday weekend if you ask me. And yes, I did run two days in a row just to make up for the calories obtained making these items! Yep, you read that right, making them not even eating them.

This monkey bread is AMAZING! It smells so good while baking, and it looks absolutely perfect as soon as you plate it. I think it looks beautiful without the glaze, but I went ahead and drizzled a half of a batch over the top. It sure doesn't need the sweetness as it already has plenty of that, but I thought it would add some contrast. I was also torn because I wanted to make the monkey bread with the traditional cinnamon and sugar, but I also wanted to add finely chopped apples. I decided to get the best of both worlds and make half of the loaf traditional and half with apples. Both halves are tasty and I couldn't recommend one over the other! Enjoy!

**I've submitted this to Sweet As Sugar Cookies Sweet Treat Link**

Monkey Bread
Source: Slightly modified from Brown Eyed Baker

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, 2 tablespoons softened and 2 tablespoons melted
1 cup milk, warm (about 110 degrees F)
1/3 cup water, warm (about 110 degrees F)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package instant yeast
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
2 teaspoons salt

Brown Sugar Coating: 1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 slices of apple, finely chopped (optional)

Glaze:1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk

In a large measuring cup, mix together milk, water, melted butter, sugar and yeast. Mix flour and salt in standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is shiny and smooth, 6 to 7 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and knead briefly to form smooth, round ball. Coat large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Place dough in bowl and coat surface of dough with cooking spray. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free area until dough doubles in size, 50 to 60 minutes.

For the sugar coating: While the dough is rising, mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Place melted butter in second bowl. Set aside.

Use 2 tablespoons softened butter to thoroughly coat Bundt pan. Set aside.

Gently remove the dough from the bowl, and pat into a rough 8-inch square. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut dough into 64 pieces.

Roll each dough piece into a ball. Working one at a time, dip the balls into the melted butter, allowing excess butter to drip back into the bowl. Roll in the brown sugar mixture, then layer balls in the Bundt pan, staggering seams where dough balls meet as you build layers. Sprinkle chopped apple on alternating layers if using.

Cover the Bundt pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in draft-free area until dough balls are puffy and have risen 1 to 2 inches from top of pan, 50 to 70 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Unwrap the pan and bake until the top is deep brown and caramel begins to bubble around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a platter and allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

For the glaze: While the bread cools, whisk the confectioners’ sugar and milk in a small bowl until the lumps are gone. Using a whisk, drizzle the glaze over the monkey bread, letting it run over top and down the sides of the bread. Serve warm.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gingerbread Snowmen

Sigh. Cheer. This is the last Christmas cookie post. I am torn because while it was fun to bake over the holidays it was also difficult to find ways to give these things away so we weren't eating dozens and dozens of cookies! Our neighbors, friends, and co-workers can only eat so many Christmas cookies. We know because we pawned them off on all these unsuspecting people.

Amazingly, in all my years of baking I had yet to make gingerbread cookies. In fact, as you can see from the title of this post, I don't even own a gingerbread man cookie cutter (hopefully that will be remedied sometime soon).

I was just about cookied out but really wanted to make gingerbread boys with my little boy this year. I decided to use a recipe posted by a friend since I was pretty sure that pure gingerbread made with molasses would be a bit strong for my little guy's picky palate. This recipe uses butterscotch pudding instead so it makes a gingerbread cookie that tastes like gingerbread without the overly sticky dough that isn't fun for a 5 year old (or his mom) to work with.

We had a very enjoyable time mixing the dough, rolling it out, cutting the snowmen, and baking. The 5 year old's attention span fell apart the next day when it came to decorating, but he was perfectly willing to enjoy the fruits of our labors while driving around after dark dressed in jammies, sipping hot chocolate, nibbling on gingerbread snowmen while looking at brilliantly glowing Christmas lights. Enjoy!

Gingerbread Men
Source: All Recipes

1 (3.5 oz.) package of cook and serve butterscotch pudding mix
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, cream together the dry butterscotch pudding mix, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon; stir into the pudding mixture. Cover, and chill dough until firm, about 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheets or use parchment paper. 

On a floured board, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness, and cut into shapes using a cookie cutter. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Tree Sugar Cookies

These were not cookies for just any old occasion, these particular cookies had a special destination. No, it was not my stomach! They helped disadvantaged kids have a great morning celebrating the Christmas season at a community event. I almost didn't get them iced in time, seeing as how I read the message and knew I needed to ice them Thursday night and then somehow transferred it in my brain to needing to ice them Friday night. Thank goodness I run by where the event was being held so I was able to stop in on my way back home to make sure there was still enough time to bring the 3 dozen cookies I had promised. Who can turn away a sugar cookie, after all? No one that I know. Enjoy!

You can find the cookie and icing recipe here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Snowflake Sugar Cookies

The saying goes "no two snowflakes are alike". Do you know how hard it is to stick to that saying when you are decorating cookies? These snowflakes became a bit tedious, as you can probably imagine. The blue and white base went fairly quick, but the snowflake design took a bit of time. You may have noticed that there are three white ones underneath the decorated flakes that are completely white. Yep. I made the executive decision to throw in the towel. That is the great thing about doing this for fun. You don't have to keep decorating if you don't want to! Enjoy!

You can find the recipe for these sugar cookies and icing here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mitten Sugar Cookies

I love cute little mittens! In the form of sugar cookies they are even better! I can't rave enough about this sugar cookie and icing recipe. It makes cookie baking and decorating so much fun. Enjoy!

You can find the recipe for the cookies and icing here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing

I know that people think pumpkins are usually for October or Thanksgiving, but really pumpkins are great any time of the year, right. I did actually make these cookies in the middle of November and I've had them sitting in my folder waiting to get posted since then. I thought about doing a 12 days of Cookies theme, but I only have 7 cookies planned for the Christmas break and between a lack of time and a husband who balked at even these 7 different cookies I thought I wouldn't push my luck. 

These cookies were a bit of a challenge for me. They didn't seem to puff up as much as I thought they would. A bit flat, but very tasty. The icing had a great browned butter flavor but also seemed a bit thin to me. It worked for the event that my husband took them to, but I think if I make them again there will need to be some changes. What, I'm not sure about yet. Enjoy!    

Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing

2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¼ teaspoons ground ginger
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2¼ cups light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1½ cups pureed pumpkin (or canned)
¾ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups powdered sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the pumpkin, half-and-half and vanilla. Beat until very well blended, about 2 minutes (the batter may look grainy at this point, but don’t worry, it will come together). Keep the mixer on low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to give it a final mix, incorporating any flour on the sides and scraping the bottom of the bowl.

Use a large cookie scoop to scoop balls of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1½ inches between them. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies spring back when lightly pressed. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes then remove them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.

To make the icing: Add the powdered sugar to a heatproof bowl. Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium heet and let it start melting. Continue cooking, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes golden brown and smells nutty (be paitent and watch carefully, it can go from brown to burnt quickly). Remove it from the heat and pour it over the powdered sugar, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the half-and-half and vanilla and stir until the icing is smooth. Using a small offset spatula, spread icing on each cookie. (If the icing stiffens before you get them all frosted, stir vigorously to lighten it up.)

Note #1: You can substitute evaporated milk for the half-and-half in both the cookies and the icing.

Note #2: If you don’t have a cookie scoop, transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitting with a plain tip (or use a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off) and pipe 1½-inch rounds onto the prepared baking sheet.

Makes about 3 dozen

Friday, December 9, 2011

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake

Yum, yum, yum! My mom sent me the link for this cheesecake and asked if it could be included in our Thanksgiving menu. I thought it would be a great idea since, one, I hadn't made cheesecake for a while, and two, I would be required to make it the night before and therefore not a slave to making dessert on Thanksgiving day.

We made a special trip down to Seattle to get the salted caramel sauce since they only sell it at a few locations. The cheesecake came together really well. I roasted a few different types of pumpkins, some sugar pie pumpkins and others just small sized pumpkins. It was interesting to see the difference in the pulps and seeds between the two.

My only problem with this dessert was that the spring on my springform pan was not as tight as it used to be. I guess after 15 years or so it's reasonable to think that the spring would finally be sprung! I should have gone with my initial reaction to the fact that I could easily pop the base piece out while the spring was tight. Like, three times I popped it out. Finally on the fourth time it stayed in and I thought maybe I had just put it a little off kilter for the first three times. Nope, not it.

After a few minutes I started smelling burning. I opened my oven and black smoke poured out. I managed to get a pan (I knew I should have stuck a pan in originally but I just overlooked it) in for the dripping. I turned off the oven and took out the bottom rack. I scrubbed the bottom of the oven as best as I could at 400 degrees F. I thought for sure my cheesecake was toast since I had to turn the oven off and then preheat it again 10 minutes into baking. The oven continued smoking throughout the baking time, often enough that we had to pop out the battery on our smoke detector. Miraculously the cheesecake turned out and it didn't take too much longer than the projected baking time. It was definitely worth the hassle. Enjoy!

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake
Source: King 5

2 cups gingersnap crumbs
1/2 cup butter 
1/4 cup brown sugar

1 medium sugar pie pumpkin
24 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups unrefined sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Hot Cakes salted caramel sauce, plus extra for drizzling (or use your favorite caramel sauce)

To make the crust
Combine all of the ingredients and press into a 9-inch springform pan.

To make the filling
Preheat oven to 400° F.

Cut the pumpkin in half crosswise and roast, cut side down, for about 30 minutes or until fork tender. Cool slightly and scrape out the seeds. Scoop out the flesh and puree in a food processor until smooth. You will need 2 cups for the filling.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth then beat in the eggs and egg yolk until incorporated. Beat in 2 cups of the pumpkin puree, the sugar, sour cream, flour, spices, vanilla and caramel sauce. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Heat a little of the extra caramel sauce and drizzle a pattern over the top.

Bake at 350° F for about 1 hour or until the center is set. Let rest for 20 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

UPS Delivers Birthday Cake

Wow, it's been just over a week since my last post! I don't think I've had that much time between recipes for quite a while. It never fails that this time of year is busy for us, and especially so for the past 5 years. Our little guy celebrated his 5th birthday this weekend and it seems to be a whirlwind of activity from one celebration to the next.

While I didn't do anything fancy with his cake I thought I would post it anyway just in case there are any others out there who want to venture into theme cakes while their kids are still young enough. I don't know how many more years I'll be able to pull these off, but I'll take it while I can get it!

His request for his cake this year started out a bit like last year with wanting roads and such. When he mentioned trailers again I decided I would surprise him with something similar yet different. He and his dad had been looking for a brown UPS truck pulling a trailer. While I couldn't find a brown truck pulling a trailer I was able to find a brown truck and a semi truck and trailer.

I borrowed a commercial size cookie sheet from a friend (13x18, I believe) and whipped up a box of devil's food cake mix. I used store bought vanilla frosting and just tinted it brown and green. Crushed up chocolate animal crackers made up the road and assorted candy from a bridge mix made up the rocks. I was able to find silver taper candles that worked perfect for the streetlights.

My plan was to make boxes and a UPS drop box out of rice krispy treats and then cover them in marshmallow fondant. I used cocoa krispies just in case the fondant didn't turn out (at least they would have been brown) and then made up my very first batch of fondant. I have never worked with fondant before, and probably won't use it a lot. I would have to say that this was actually edible, unlike those that you buy from the store pre-made. How could it not be; the ingredients are marshmallows, powdered sugar, and water. Sweet, sweet, sweet!

I tinted it brown, rolled it out, cut it to fit my little rice krispy boxes and molded it to shape. They turned out pretty good and I was very happy with them. Tasty too! The drop box was another matter though. No matter how I cut and molded it just didn't look right. In the end, I left it out. Designers prerogative, I guess.

In the end, one 5 year old was very pleased and that's all that matters in the end! Enjoy!

Marshmallow Fondant

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Daring Bakers - Sans Rival

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

Once again, I am feeling like I barely squeaked out the challenge. The month didn't start out that way. I had every good intention that first weekend of November of tackling the Sans Rival dessert. Even when that weekend came and went with no dessert made I still knew I had three weekends left before the challenge deadline and surely I could use one of them to get it finished.

The next weekend was completely gone when we decided to use the long holiday weekend to take a last hurrah camping trip before winterizing our trailer. Still though, one more weekend before Thanksgiving, of course I still had time.

Saturday of that weekend we went down to Seattle to visit some friends and get a few ingredients for our Thanksgiving feast and Sunday was spent in my classroom. Alas, here I was the night before Thanksgiving contemplating whether to skip the challenge and just focus on Thanksgiving or try at the last minute to do both.

What convinced me to give it a shot is that my husband purchased a few pounds of pistachios for this dessert. Yes, you heard me right, a few pounds. I asked for a few cups, he bought a few pounds. Pretty big difference. And while we managed to eat the pistachios that weren't necessary for the dessert I didn't want to just frivolously eat pistachios that were purchased with a purpose.

So . . . I  managed to go back and forth between making a dinner of lasagna soup, a pumpkin and salted caramel cheesecake for one of our Thanksgiving desserts, and the Sans Rival. It really was a bit challenging to keep things straight when I was working on vanilla buttercream and meringue but I could smell pumpkin roasting in the oven. It was a bit unsettling to say the least.

The fact that I was majorly multi-tasking did not lend to me giving my full attention to the Sans Rival. I felt as though I was just slapping it out to get it checked off a list instead of trying to make it a masterpiece. In the end I probably should have waited until another time to make it. The pistachios probably would have been better served being eaten plain.

I did figure out though that there may be something wrong with my oven. The meringue baked so unevenly I couldn't hardly believe it. I had three pans in the oven and the two on the top rack were barely cooked while the two on the bottom rack were brown and burnt. I also made smaller meringues and tried to use the toaster oven to bake those. That oven cooked just as unevenly but this time it was opposite; the top ones were blackened to a crisp, and the bottom ones were fine. Very strange and a little unnerving the night before a day where I was going to be using my oven for most of the day. That wasn't even the end of it. You'll have to read my post about my pumpkin and salted caramel cheesecake to hear about the other oven mishap (which actually worked out fine in the end).

So . . . will I make this again? Probably not. I'm not a big fan of light, airy desserts, and while it tasted pretty good (and grew on you as you stole little bites off the plate) I am much more into dense cakes, cupcakes, and cookies with just a bit of frosting on the side. This dessert was pretty much the equivalent of just eating the frosting and forgetting the cake. It was an interesting experience and reminded me a lot of the pavlovas that we made a while back so hopefully it will continue to hone my technique in using meringue. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Caramel Apple Pie

A few weeks ago I posted the apple pie recipe I have been using since I was 12 years old. I think that this caramel apple pie has caused me to modify the recipe that has been my tried and true for the past 24 years! (And yes, if you are capable of adding you can figure out my age.)

This pie was technically a hybrid pie. The crust is from my original pie recipe. I couldn't bring myself to add vinegar and refrigerate when I didn't have to, and I figured why change a good thing. The filling though, this will definitely be included in my apple pies from now on. Cooking the apples definitely softened them, and the spices, vanilla, and cream work together beautifully. The small bits of toffee don't hurt either.

The next time I make an apple pie I will be using my original recipe to make a top and bottom crust, and I will be using this filling recipe with the toffee bits. I don't think I will be using the full struesel topping because it is unnecessary, but I won't know that for sure until I make this recipe again. I think I can handle that challenge. Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Pie
Source: Food Network

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
5-7 tablespoons water

6 cups Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter

Struesel Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter
3 ounces toffee chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix flour and salt together with fork. Cut shortening into mixture with pastry cutter until dough forms balls. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time; mix with fork until flaky. Pack into a ball, divide in half, and roll out. Put into pan, cut dough slightly larger than the pan, fold edges under and flute.


Peel and slice apples. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and add apples. Toss to mix. Add vanilla and cream. Melt butter in heavy skillet. Add apple mixture and cook approximately 8 minutes to soften apples. Turn into pie shell.

Struesel Topping:
Combine the flour and sugar. Mix in butter with fork until coarse crumbs. stir in the toffee chips. Sprinkle over pie.

Bake on 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake 45 minutes longer.

Makes one 9-inch pie

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheesy Ham Cups

As you have probably read in earlier posts, my preschool age son can be a picky eater. He usually does not try something that is new to him even if it is something that the bearer swears he will enjoy. He will even turn down sweets because he doesn't want to risk something not agreeing with his picky palate. Oh, the frustrations of an independent will in a small person.

Imagine my surprise when he ventured to try these cheesy ham cups and decided that not only did he tolerate them but he actually liked them. Amazingly, a few days later he showed extreme excitement at the prospect of dinner which was scheduled to be cheesy ham and potato soup. The excitement was short lived when he realized that he had made an error and he was not getting cheesy ham cups for dinner but instead one of the worst possible meals, soup. That being said, his glowing praise should be enough of a recommendation for you to try these one day for breakfast, or even lunch or dinner, without me every expressing how delicious they taste.

Cheesy Ham Cups
6 slices deli ham
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, divided
6 eggs
8 ounces plain yogurt
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly grease 6 -10 ounce ramekin or custard cups. Place cups on a cookie sheet for ease of baking.

Place a ham slice in each cup. Sprinkle with onions and 1 cup cheese.

In a bowl, beat eggs and yogurt until well blended; pour into cups. Sprinkle with parsley and the remaining cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Apple Pie a la Mode

Did you ever have to take a home economics class in junior or senior high? I did. In both. And while I excelled at baking and managing my checkbook (go figure), I seriously failed at sewing. Tank top too small, shorts way too big. But I digress. Apple pie is what we are focusing on here, not the not so great junior high flashbacks.

One of the great things to come out of 7th grade was getting this apple pie recipe. Yes, when I was 12 years old I learned this recipe and have used it for all of my apple pies since. (Although you'll be reading in a few posts that I am going to be sprucing it up from here on out.) It has a flaky crust and a not overly sweet apple filling, a winning combination! Enjoy!

Apple Pie

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
5-7 tablespoons water

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8-9 Granny Smith apples

Core, peel, and slice apples. Mix in a large bowl with sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour and salt together with a fork. Add shortening and mix with a pastry cutter until dough forms balls. Add water 1 tablespoon at at time and mix with a fork until flaky. Pack into a ball, divide in half; roll out. Cut bottom crust and set in pan. Fill with apple filling.  Roll out other half of dough.

If making a one piece top crust: Cut top crust and lay over pie. Fold crust under and pinch together with bottom crust. Flute edge and cut slits in top crust.

If making a lattice top crust: Cut rolled out crust into strips. Lay strips over pie in alternating pattern. Pinch lattice strips together with bottom crust. Flute edges.

Bake on 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, then 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.

Makes one two-crust 9-inch pie

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Three Cheese Pasta Bake

Three cheese pasta bake is just a fancier way of saying baked macaroni and cheese. I thought for sure this would be a hit with my little man who loves macaroni and cheese. Boy was I wrong. I guess I should have known I would be. Anything that is different from the norm is cause for his nose to turn up just the slightest degree. Upon tasting it (which I thought tasted just fine) I knew we were going to have issues because of the bold flavor of the Swiss cheese. At that moment I just figured it was all the more for me! Enjoy!

Three Cheese Pasta Bake
Source: Adapted from  My Recipes taken from Southern Living January 2008

1 8-oz.) package penne pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup (4 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup (8 oz.) shredded Swiss cheese, divided*
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare pasta according to package directions, boiling to al dente.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour; cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk and half-and-half; cook, whisking constantly, 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, and salt, pepper, and nutmeg until smooth.

Stir together pasta and cheese mixture, and pour into 4 lightly greased 8-oz. baking dishes or 1 lightly greased 11- x 7-inch baking dish. (If using 8-oz. baking dishes, place in a jelly-roll pan for easy baking, and proceed as directed.) Top with remaining 1/2 cup Swiss cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Makes 4 servings

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dirt Checkerboard Cake

Cake! I love cake! Especially yellow cake with chocolate frosting! Is that enough exclamation points for you? This wasn't actually a yellow cake but it had plenty of chocolate frosting to fit the bill!

I wanted to make a checkerboard cake for our staff for Halloween. I knew I wanted to make a brown and orange cake (I just can't bring myself to do black food coloring for some reason, at least not in large quantities). The last time I made a checkerboard cake it was from scratch and it took a bit of time which I didn't feel like I had this time around. I decided to read all I could about making a checkerboard cake from box mixes.

Here are a few tips and tricks I found out while doing my research: Use two boxes of mix which will give you leftover batter but it's better to have more than less; when you use two types of cake mix (ie. chocolate and white) they will be different densities so pick one set of directions and use the same amount of water, oil, and eggs for both mixes; I read you can add 1/4 cup of flour to both mixes to make the batter more dense but I didn't do this. And as I posted in my raspberry checkerboard cake, always use a well greased pan insert and clean completely in between filling pans. Also, pull insert straight up and out so there is no bleeding between layers.

I was pretty happy with the way it turned out. One of the cake layers did beautifully, the second had a bit of trouble with sticking to the pan, and the final one had a lot of trouble with sticking and the rings started to separate. The thick chocolate frosting did help with getting the layers and rings together but I think in the future I will just plan to make the batter from scratch and divide it in half. I guess practice makes perfect so I'm just going to have to resign myself to making more checkerboard cakes so I can get better. It's a sacrifice, but I think I will be able to manage it.

Oh, and by the way, the photo above of the individual slice was taken at work after slicing the cake. It's not the best photo I could have taken, but it's not too bad considering that it is a point and click camera, it's a very thin slice because I didn't want too big of a piece of cake for myself, and I felt a bit self-conscious about cutting into the cake so that I could snap a picture. Not many people at work know that I have a food blog and I think people might think it is a bit weird to take pictures of food. Maybe not, but still, a bit self-conscious. Then you have the fact that my students were going to be walking in the door any minute and I wasn't sure if a staff member would innocently open my door to ask me a question and wonder why I was hunched down snapping a picture of a piece of a cake on a plate sitting on a piece of white construction paper sitting on my classroom floor. Okay, enough of the explaining since I think this paragraph may be longer than my actual write-up. Do you think I may have some issues? Don't answer that. Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cowboy Stew

Who doesn't think of beef stew as a comforting meal on a cold, crisp evening? I was really looking forward to coming home from a long day of work and sitting down to a steaming bowl of stew with a big hunk of french bread slathered in butter. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. One look at my face and the lack of chewing anything more than a couple of bites told my husband all he needed to know; his lunch for the next three days would be beef stew leftovers as he was the only one who was going to be eating it.

I'm not sure if it was because the beef was very sweet on account of the baked beans, or if the lack of carrots which are typically a part of my stew had me out of sorts. Or maybe it was the fact that my husband forgot that I can't stand big hunks of meat in my stew, or really anything for that matter, and didn't cut them small enough. The fact that you could make it in a crockpot was a plus, and if you enjoy your stew on the sweet side then I would suggest you try this recipe out. I think I'll be sticking with my traditional beef stew recipe for now. Enjoy!

Cowboy Stew
Source: What's For Dinner?

1 pound lean beef stew meat
4 potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 4" pieces
1/2 cup onion, chopped
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (28 oz.) can Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans 

Mix beef, potatoes, onion, salt and pepper in a slow cooker. Spread beans over beef mixture. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or until beef is tender.

Makes 6 servings

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

These pumpkins were so much fun to make! Way better than carving a real pumpkin and having to grab out ooey, gooey pumpkin guts. Wait, I still get to do that too so I guess I get the best of both worlds.

I actually worked on these cookies over about a week's time which was a nice experience. I'm usually of the mind frame of waiting until the last minute because I want them to be the freshest possible. However with these particular cookies that just wasn't going to work. Well, I shouldn't say that. It worked for about half of them.

I made two batches, one for my son's preschool class treats on his "star" day and one for my class at school a week later. His cookies for preschool were baked on Sunday, iced on Monday, and eaten on Tuesday. It was a long night on Monday after working a full day, coming home and making dinner, putting him to bed and then getting started on decorating. Let's just say the picture I had in my mind wasn't what came out on the cookies. The only saving grace I had that night was the reassuring thought that they were going to be eaten by preschoolers who hopefully had not yet developed into sugar cookie snobs.

Looking back on it they really didn't turn out too bad. The other batch was also baked on Sunday night, a few were iced on Monday. Most were then put into the fridge where I took them out every few days to add the icing. One day I iced all the stems. Another day I got almost all of the orange finished. The last day I finished the orange and did the green leaves and curling stems. It was so much fun on that last day to be able to add detail and not feel rushed.

I'm really happy with how they turned out. My husband ended up buying me a decorating tip and smaller disposable bag because the squirt bottles I typically use were just not small enough to get the leaf and curly stem detail. More practice needed, but not too bad at the end of the day. Enjoy!

You can find my favorite recipe for sugar cookies and royal icing here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Daring Bakers - Povitica

 The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

I have seen Povitica in mail-order specialty food catalogs and have always been intrigued by it. I love specialty foods, especially if they come in the form of sweet breads! I rarely purchase any of these foods, a little too rich for my wallet, but I definitely drool over the photos. You can imagine then that I really looked forward to baking this months challenge.

Povitica (pronounced poh-vee-teet-sa) is also called potica depending on what Eastern European country you come from. It is always fun completing challenges that are based in cultures different from mine.

I thought that the best part of this challenge was cutting into the bread! It was almost like opening a present on Christmas morning and not knowing what you were going to get. The outside packaging was so unassuming so I was on pins and needles waiting to see how the swirls turned out. You can see from the photos at the top that the two loaves of bread turned out quite different. But even within the same loaf the swirling was varied. The photo on the top left is the same loaf as the photo below, but one cut was made in the middle where the two ends met and there was less filling and the other cut was toward the end of the bread in the heart of the filling.

I did have some issues with the dough which I guess can be expected when you have to roll it out until it is almost transparent. Let's just say I didn't get it quite that thin. I know I complained last month about having to roll dough out to a certain size or shape but this month it was almost the other extreme. I wasn't sure how big I was supposed to roll it out nor what shape it was supposed to be in. At one point the directions said a 10-12 inch diameter which suggests a circle, but the rolling up process suggests a rectangle. I'm still not 100% sure and I think I got a cross between the two shapes. Mine looked a bit more like a wrinkly elephant ear.

I also ran into trouble with trying to figure out what type of filling to use. I decided to bake only two loaves instead of a full batch of 4 and I knew I wanted to use the traditional walnut for one of the fillings. At first I thought I would use a sweet pecan filling for the other but then I realized it would be too close to the walnut. Then I thought I'd use a cream cheese chocolate chip filling but I realized I didn't have cream cheese and I forgot to stop by the store twice when I had the opportunity so that was a no go. I finally scrounged in my fridge and realized I had a jar of apple butter which I could top with raisins and a few chopped walnuts. I think I liked the walnut filling better since it was a bit more mild when paired with the bread, but there were sometimes that I did like the tartness of the apple butter.

I enjoyed making this bread and now that I know a few tricks on how to and not to roll it out I think I will be making this around the holidays for some special gifts.

Makes 4 loaves

Activate Yeast:
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons dry yeast

2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons table salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
8 cups all-purpose flour, sifted then divided

Walnut Filling:
7 cups ground walnuts
1 cup whole milk
1 cup unsalted butter
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup cold strong coffee
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
melted butter

To Make the Dough and Activate Yeast:
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk up to just below boiling (about 180 degrees F), stirring constantly so that a film does not form on the top of the milk. Allow to cool slightly until it is about 110 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon flour, and the yeast into 1/2 cup warm water and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to stand 5 minutes.

Once milk is cooled to 110 degrees F, mix the scalded milk, 3/4 cup sugar, and the salt until combined. Add the beaten eggs, yeast mixture, melted butter, and 2 cups of flour. Blend thoroughly; slowly add remaining flour, mixing well until the dough starts to clean the bowl.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and does not stick. (You may not use all your flour.) Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (they will weigh about 1.25 pounds each). Place dough in 4 lightly oiled bowls, cover loosely with a layer of plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel and let rise an hour and a half in a warm place.

To Make the Filling:
In a large bowl, mix together the ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Heat the milk and butter to boiling. Pour the liquid over the nut/sugar mixture. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to be spread on the dough. (If the mixture thickens, add a small amount of warm milk.)

To Roll and Assemble the Dough:
Spread a clean sheet or cloth over your entire table so that it is covered. (I had to clip mine down so the cloth didn't move.) Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons to a handful of flour (use flour sparingly).

Place the dough on the sheet and roll the dough out with a rolling pin, starting in the middle and working your way out, until it measures roughly 10-12 inches in diameter. Spoon 1 to 1.5 teaspoons for melted butter on top and work into dough. (This part made my edges stick to my sheet.)

Continue to roll out your dough until it is thin enough to see the print of the sheet through it. Spoon filling evenly over dough until covered. Lift the edge of the dough and gently roll it jelly roll style. (You can also roll both edges in toward center until they meet - it will look like to long rolls sitting next to each other.)

Once the dough is rolled up into a rope, gently lift the end and fold it back to the halfway point. Then lift the other end and fold it back to the halfway point. Flip it upside down (seam side down) and set in greased loaf pan.

Brush the top with the coffee topping mixture or if you prefer, you can also used egg whites in place of coffee mixture. Cover pans lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap from dough and place in preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 300 degrees F and bake for an additional 45 minutes. (Check bread every 30 minutes - if it is browning too fast cover loosely with aluminum foil.)

Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter. Allow to cool in loaf pan until completely cool. It is recommended to slice it by turning it upside dough and slicing with a serrated knife.

Half Batch Ingredients:
Makes 2 loaves

Activate Yeast:
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast

1 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted then divided

Walnut Topping:
3 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 whole egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup cold strong coffee
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
melted butter

Quarter Batch Ingredients:
Makes 1 loaf

Activate Yeast:
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast

1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoons table salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted then divided

Walnut Topping:
1 3/4 cups ground walnuts
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 egg yolk from a large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons cold strong coffee
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
melted butter

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Almond Joy Banana Bread

Highlights magazine  . . . who would have thought that a kids magazine could lead to a batch of banana bread. My son was reading his magazine with dad and they came across a story of some kids baking up a batch of banana bread. He, of course, immediately wanted to bake up a batch but instead of it being a traditional banana bread he wanted it to have almonds. We ended up making one loaf with just almonds and the other loaf with coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips. Yummy! Enjoy!  

Almond Joy Banana Bread
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Place oven rack in lowest position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of loaf pans.

Mix sugar and margarine in large bowl. Stir in eggs until well blended. Add bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt just until moistened. Stir in coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips.

Pour into pans. Bake about 60 to 75 minutes (about 25 minutes for mini loaves) or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 5 minutes. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans. Cool completely before slicing.

Makes 2 loaves

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cranberry Zucchini Muffins

More zucchini bread experimentation as we harvest the plethora of plants that are taking over our garden. Dense would be a great adjective to describe this muffin. Heavy and chock full of cranberries and chopped walnuts. Filling the tin to the top is definitely the way to go. I love how the muffin tops are like large crowns popping up over where the muffin would normally end. I would recommend these as a great hearty muffin. Enjoy!    

Cranberry Zucchini Muffins
Source: Simply Recipes

1-1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups zucchini, grated
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch of salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl combine the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the zucchini mixture and mix in. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. Stir in walnuts and dried cranberries.

Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little butter or vegetable oil spray. Use a spoon to distribute the muffin batter equally among the cups, filling the cups up completely. Bake on the middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a long toothpick or a thin bamboo skewer to make sure the center of the muffins are done. Set on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from the pan, let cool another 20 minutes.

Makes 12 to 14 muffins

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Raspberry Cheesecake


Chocolate crust, creamy cheesecake, sweet yet tangy raspberry sauce . . . yum! These flavors and textures match together perfectly. This cheesecake recipe holds a special place in my life because it was the very first cheesecake that I ever made 15 years ago. Holy cow, 15 years ago! Has it really been that long? My very first Taste of Home magazine (mailed to me 15 years ago) introduced me to this delicious dessert and while I have made other cheesecakes since then it is definitely one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Raspberry Cheesecake
2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs, crushed
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

Raspberry Sauce:
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 cup whipping cream
2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed

Combine the three ingredients for the crust; press into bottom and 1-1/2 inches up sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Chill one hour or until firm.

Puree raspberries in blender. Press through a sieve; discard seeds. Add water if necessary to measure 1 cup. In a saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in raspberry juice; bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, flour, and vanilla until fluffy. Add egg whites; beat on low just until fluffy. Add egg whites; beat on low just until blended. Stir in cream. Pour half of filling into crust. Top with 3/4 cup raspberry sauce (cover and refrigerate remaining sauce). Carefully spoon remaining filling over sauce.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until center is nearly set. Remove from oven; immediately run a knife around pan to loosen crust. Cool on wire rack 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight. Add orange juice to chilled raspberry sauce; gently fold in raspberries. Spoon over cheesecake.

Makes 12-16 servings

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Apple Pie Bread

Another recipe I found while flipping through a magazine at the pediatrician's office. I think I saw 4 or 5 recipes in that particular magazine that interested me enough to come home and look their recipes up online. As I said before, I must have been hungry because it seemed like I wanted to make just about every food item I saw!

This bread comes together pretty easily and is super moist. There are two downfalls however; one is that the streusel-nut topping doesn't get baked in. It just sits on top of the bread so that when you take it out of the loaf pan half of the topping falls off the bread and onto the counter. You can still eat it with a spoon and it is yummy but the point is to have it on the bread. The other downfall is that it falls apart super easy when you cut it. Again, you can use a fork or spoon to eat it but it is frustrating to have it fall into a bunch of little pieces when slicing it. I thought maybe after sitting in the fridge it would slice easier, but not so much. It was tasty, but good luck with getting it to not fall apart on you. Enjoy!

Apple Pie Bread
Source: Better Homes and Gardens

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups peeled apple, shredded (about 4 medium)
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raisins

Streusel-Nut Topping:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Beat in sugar until combined. Add buttermilk and baking powder; beat until combined. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Add flour and salt; beat until combined. Stir in apple, nuts, and raisins.

Spoon batter into prepared pan; spread evenly. Make Streusel-Nut Topping; sprinkle over batter. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Makes 1 loaf

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chicken Meatloaf

My original menu plan and recipe called for a turkey meatloaf. I thought, "Great, now I can use that ground turkey meat that has been in my freezer for months." Not until I pulled it out to thaw did I realize that it was actually ground chicken and not ground turkey. Oops.

I don't think the taste (what there was of it) was altered much. It wasn't a great recipe, in fact I will probably use a different meatloaf recipe I have for future meatloaf meals, but at least I branched out and tried something new. I guess that's all I have to say about it which is pretty sad in and of itself. Enjoy, should you decide to try it!

Chicken Meatloaf
1 pound ground chicken
1 egg
1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with non-stick spray.

Combine all ingredients mixing by hand. Press into prepared loaf pan and cook for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Leaf Sugar Cookies

All last year I wanted to make leaf shaped sugar cookies but I couldn't find any leaf cookie cutters locally. I didn't want to buy online, and I couldn't get down to the big city to check out the cookie cutter store. A whole year has gone by and I finally made not one, but two trips to the big city just to get a leaf shaped cookie cutter!

I guess technically it was three times that I made the trip. The first time we were just passing through and we got there about an hour after the store closed. No big deal, we'll just stop by on way back through tomorrow. Um, nope. Didn't happen to notice the sign on the door when stopping by the first time that stated that the business would be closed on the next business day. Oops, a bit out of the way so hubby was not a happy camper. A week later, a special trip, and voila, leaf shaped cookie cutter in my possession! (I'll also have you know that I purchased a few Christmas ones and another apple because who knows when I will be getting down there again.)

Was it worth it? Absolutely! One happy boy who got to take cookies for his preschool star day, one happy mama who now has a leaf cookie cutter, and one happy hubby who gets to eat the spoils.

I used my tried and true sugar cookie recipe that you can find here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pineapple Zucchini Muffins

My neighbor gave me this recipe a few years ago when we had an overabundance of zucchini from our garden. I tried many different zucchini recipes but for some reason I never got around to this one. Well . . . I guess I can't say "for some reason" because I know the reason. She titled her recipe Spicy Pineapple Zucchini Muffins and when I think of spicy I think of chilis and jalapenos and spicy things like that which just don't go with zucchini bread in my mind. Once I actually looked at the ingredients and realized that the spicy was just cinnamon and nutmeg I realized that it wasn't much different from any other zucchini bread recipe. You might be saying, why didn't you just look at the ingredients two years ago when you got the recipe to see that there weren't jalapenos or anything like that in it. That's because my neighbor wrote the ingredients and amounts within the recipe and I guess I was in too big of a hurry to decipher her cursive handwriting.

What's funny is that when I mentioned to her a few weeks ago that I finally used the recipe to make some zucchini pineapple muffins she couldn't even remember having the recipe at all. She had no idea what I was talking about. Go figure. Enjoy!

Pineapple Zucchini Muffins
3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini
8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 loaf pans.

Beat eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla until thick and foamy. Stir in zucchini and pineapple.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir into mixture. Stir in walnuts and raisins.

Divide batter evenly between 2 loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; turn onto a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

Makes 2 loaves

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daring Bakers - Croissants

 The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Another Daring Bakers challenge where I am coming in just under the wire! It seems to be a busy time of year for me and I ended up putting my challenge off until the last weekend of the month, not knowing that I would be attending my grandfather's funeral this weekend nor that my son would be hosting preschool snacks on Monday and would want to take homemade sugar cookies. Baking did end up being a bit cathartic for me, but it also meant that it didn't get all of my attention.

Here I am, two and a half hours before the challenge deadline starting my write up while my croissants are in their last few minutes of proofing as the oven preheats to it's scorching temperature of 475 degrees F. I will admit right up front that I did get a bit frustrated with this experience toward the end. I have no idea what my croissants are going to look like in 7 minutes when they come out of the oven. There is definitely a smell of cooked egg wafting through the air right now as the countdown continues on.

I would consider myself an experienced bread and pastry maker, but I really bristle when a recipe tells me to roll an item out to a certain shape or size. Really, how many people can get it to the size the recipe calls for let alone the shape? I don't know about you, but my dough seems to have a mind of its own when it is sitting on my counter resisting my methods of carefully shaping and measuring. That being said, a few of my croissants are less like croissants and more like little puff pastry footballs and crescent moons and dolphins jumping out of the water.

Can I get a drumroll, please, as these come out of the oven? The bottoms smell a bit toasty. Burned or is it just the egg wash around the edges and on the pan? They are a little dark but the burnt taste is not there so that's a sigh of relief. And to the most important question: how do they taste? Great! They are light and flaky with just a hint of buttery flavor. I think I can count this challenge as a success, even though the dough rolling had me glaring at my rulers and uncooperative dough. Enjoy!

Source: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck

1¼ teaspoon dry-active yeast
3 tablespoons warm water (less than 100°F)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup milk
1½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 3/4 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons tasteless oil
½ cup chilled, unsalted butter
1 egg, for egg wash

Mix the yeast, warm water, and one teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Set aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little.

Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and 2 teaspoons sugar.

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour. Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and let it rest a minute. Knead the dough eight to ten times only by smacking the dough on the counter and removing it from the counter using the pastry scraper. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towl. Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.

After the dough has tripled in size, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips. Place the dough on a lightly floured board or countertop and use your hands to press it out into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches. Fold the dough rectangle in thirds, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up). Place the dough letter back in the bowl, cover with the plastic wrap and towel. Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size. (This second rise can be done overnight in the fridge.)

Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter. Place the block of chilled butter on a chopping board. Using the rolling pin, beat the butter down a little until it is quite flat. Use the heel of your hand to continue to spread the butter until it is smooth. You want the butter to stay cool, but spread easily.

Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter. Let it rest for a minute or two. Spread the dough using your hands into a rectangle about 14 by 8 inches. Remove the butter from the board and place it on the dough rectangle, spreading the butter across two-thirds of the rectangle but keeping it a ¼ inch from all the edges.

Fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third of the dough up. Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the top flap is to your right (like a book). Roll out the dough (gently, so you don’t push the butter out of the dough) until it is again about 14 by 8 inches. Again, fold the top third down and the bottom third up. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 2 hours.

After two hours have passed, take the dough out of the fridge, unwrap it, and place it again on the lightly floured board or counter. Tap the dough with the rolling pin to deflate it a little. Let the dough rest for 8 to 10 minutes. Roll the dough out until it is 14 by 8 inches. Fold in three, as before. Turn 90 degrees and roll out again to 14 by 8 inches. Fold in three for the last time, wrap in plastic, and return the dough to the fridge for two more hours (or overnight, with something heavy on top to stop it from rising).

Lightly butter your baking sheet so that it is ready. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on a lightly floured board or counter. Roll the dough out to a 20 by 5 inch rectangle. Cut the dough into half which will yield two rectangles (each 10 by 5 inches ). Place one of the rectangles in the fridge to keep the butter cold.

Roll the rectangle to a 15 by 5 inch rectangle. Cut the dough into three squares (each 5 by 5 inches). Place two of the squares in the fridge. The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime so roll it out again until it is nearly square. Cut the square diagonally into two triangles. Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is not a right-angle triangle, but more of an isosceles. Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining squares of dough, creating 12 croissants in all. Leave the tray of croissants on the counter, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Mix the egg with a teaspoon of water. Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants. Put the croissants in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the tops are browned nicely. Take the croissants out of the oven and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chocolate Walnut Pie Bars

Super sweet! That is an appropriate description for this tasty treat.We started out with bars cut to the size you see, but after our first round of dessert we cut them in fourths. Yep, they were that sweet. They sure were yummy though. Enjoy!  

Chocolate Walnut Pie Bars
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

Beat flour, butter, and brown sugar in small mixer bowl until crumbly. Press onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Beat together eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, butter and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Stir in morsels and walnuts; pour over hot crust.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Makes 3 dozen bars

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zucchini Bread Galore

Doesn't this picture look great! This is one day's worth of baking, minus a dozen muffins that were eaten before this photo was taken. Not only that but all of those delectable baked goods came from one squash and one zucchini (similar in size to the two in the picture). I love monster squash and zucchini from my garden!

I used my basic zucchini bread recipe and just added different extras to the mix. Some of the batches have just raisins, some just nuts, some raisins and nuts. All but the dozen muffins went into the freezer so we are ready to go with zucchini bread for the next few months! So much easier to freeze the baked bread than to freeze the shredded zucchini.

Zucchini Bread 3 cups shredded zucchini (about 3 medium)
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of loaf pans. Mix zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into pans. Bake 50-60 minutes (25-30 minutes for mini loaves, 20-25 minutes for muffins) or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Loosen sides of loaves; remove from pans. Cool completely before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days or refrigerate up to 10 days.

Makes 2 loaves

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bacon Cheddar Potato Soup

Besides baking the potato this soup was a pretty quick fix. Somewhat bland, but it works for a quick meal. Not a whole lot to say about it. Enjoy!

Bacon Cheddar Potato Soup
2 cups skim milk
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, baked
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, shredded + some for garnish
1/4 small onion, sliced, sauteed
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces turkey bacon, cooked, crumbled

Place milk, potatoes, cheese, onion, dill, rosemary, and salt in a stockpot. Heat thoroughly and break up potatoes. Add crumbled turkey bacon. Serve with shredded cheese garnish.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Birthday Bones

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Najia, happy birthday to you! Our beloved puppy dog turned 7 years old today. In her honor I baked my very first batch of dog bones. Call me lazy because these were some of the easiest things out there and I have been putting it off for years.

I can't really give you a thumbs up or down because, well, my dog doesn't have thumbs and she also doesn't have a very discerning palate. While she doesn't eat "people food" she does hoover up anything she can find on the ground when we are camping, out walking, or just about anywhere. I think she is pretty willing to eat just about anything.

These bones are great in that they only require 4 ingredients and there is a lot of flexibility even within that. If you go to the source website you can see that there are many variations that people have made and they have all turned out well. Again, what dog is going to turn up their nose at food being offered to them, definitely not mine.

I used whole wheat pastry flour (because that's what I had in the cupboard), crunchy peanut butter (maybe you can see the peanuts in the bone), and almond milk (because that's all the milk I had in my fridge). At first I was a bit worried as I was scooping the peanut butter into the measuring cup. As my peanut butter jar became more empty I started to wonder if this really was a cheaper way of doing things. I finally convinced myself that our dog would take the place of our son as the fourth peanut butter consumer in our family since our son does not like peanut butter and it would work itself out. After cutting out 84 little dog bones and one bigger bone I decided that the one cup of peanut butter is definitely worth the sacrifice.

From our dog to yours, enjoy!

Birthday Bones
Source: All Recipes

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted natural peanut butter
1 cup skim milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. 

Stir together the flour and baking powder; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter and milk. Stir in the flour mixture until well blended. 

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. 

Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. 

Note: Baking time is dependent on size and thickness of dog bones. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bushels of Apples Sugar Cookies

What better way to mark the start of the school year than with a bushel of apples. Or maybe I should say a batch of apples . . . sugar cookies that is. These cookies were made in honor of me going back into the classroom after an almost 5 year break and my son starting preschool.

All but one was either green or yellow, with just one red apple to complete the trio. I had planned to divide the cookies evenly into red, green, and yellow but after adding too much red food coloring for my taste and conscience I decided that all but one would be green or yellow. They turned out quite nicely, beautiful thick icing evenly coating the apple and a bit of glitter dust to finish it off. They were a hit at work and already have me thinking about what other cookies I am going to be baking this school year. Enjoy!

Note: This is the same recipe I have used for all but one of my sugar cookies. It is the best ever. Not overly sweet and the royal icing is a great compliment for decorating but doesn't add to the taste.
Sugar Cookies
Source: Treats

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract and mix until egg is completely incorporated. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; mix until no trace of dry ingredients remain.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4" thickness and cut shapes using cookie cutters.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.

Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup meringue powder
slightly less than a 1/2 cup of water
food coloring

Mix powdered sugar and meringue powder until well blended. Add water and mix until you get the consistency that you want. Add food coloring to achieve your desired color. Use pastry bags with #1 and #3 tips or plastic squeeze bottles to decorate.

For outlining: consistency should be like glue paste
For flooding: add enough water so that when you lift a spoonful of icing it runs back into the bowl and blends into the other icing in about 2 to 3 seconds

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have to admit that when I was flipping through the Better Home and Garden magazine while waiting for my son's appointment at the pediatrician I was either really  hungry or these cookies looked way better than they came out in my kitchen. Not that they were bad, but I wouldn't say that they were stellar either. Pretty much your average run of the mill chocolate chip cookie with some dried cherries thrown in. (You can see I added a few white chocolate chips as well as semi-sweet but that didn't do much for it.) I do have to say that one of the positives is that they seem to freeze well. We had a few fresh out of the oven and then threw the rest in a bag in the freezer where they still sit today waiting for us to get in the mood for chocolate chip cookies once again. Enjoy!

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Better Homes and Gardens

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 12 oz package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup snipped dried cherries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugars, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Stir in chocolate chips and cherries.

Drop dough by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9 minutes. Transfer to racks. Cool.

Makes 6 dozen