Friday, March 30, 2012

Oreo Truffles

I really need to step up my game in the food photography department. Yikes, the picture of these truffles really stinks. I think my problem is that I don't have a lot of props or dishes, I don't have a lot of knowledge about lighting, and I don't have a lot of time to work on it. Yes, I know, excuses, excuses, excuses. If only this was my job, then I would have to find time for it, right? I wish. And since it's not, you'll just have to endure very unprofessional photos of everyday food that is made in my non-professional kitchen. Now on to the Oreo truffles!

I was asked to make a cake for the baby shower that was canceled back in January because of our lovely winter snowfall, and seeing as how I came down sick the weekend before the shower I just didn't have energy to teach all day, make 3 dozen iced sugar cookies for our fantastic classified staff, and bake and frost 2 three layer cakes. Instead, I suggested the idea of a dessert bar. Another staff member was planning to bring dark chocolate cupcakes so I figured we wouldn't want too much cake (did I really just say that there could be too much cake?) for the shower and volunteered to bring Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars, Lemon Bars, and Oreo Truffles.

Not as much work as 2 three layer cakes but still a bit of work. What made me choose Oreo Truffles were a few things. First, I wanted something that was mostly chocolate. Second, I leaned toward wanting one dessert with mint but wasn't sure how many people actually like mint. Third, I wanted something easy. Fourth, and finally, pictures of these were everywhere I looked. Blogs, facebook, pinterest, you name it and they were there.

They really are easy to make. I found a few sites that had clear directions as well as helpful tips. You really can't mess up a three ingredient dessert, but some truffles can definitely look a bit better than others. I didn't spend my time trying to temper the chocolate to make it shiny. I just didn't have enough time, nor was I motivated to have them look perfect. They were good. I think I liked the regular Oreo filling compared to the berry filling. Oh, did I mention that I made half with a regular Oreo filling and half with a berry Oreo filling? My son took one bite of a berry Oreo and said, "It tastes like my vitamins." No, that doesn't mean healthy and good for you, it means fake grape (or fruit) flavoring. Others liked them, but I think I was a purist when it came to a choice between the two flavors. The regular Oreos are in white chocolate and the berry Oreos are in semi-sweet chocolate. Enjoy!

Oreo Truffles
Sources: The Capitol Baker and Two Peas

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 package Oreo cookies*
16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate**

*You can use any type of Oreo cookies with this recipe- regular, chocolate, mint, vanilla, or berry.
**You can use any type of chocolate with this recipe - white, dark, semi-sweet, or milk chocolate.

Place the entire package of Oreos in a food processor or blender and pulse until crushed completely. If you do not have a food processor or blender, you can also place the cookies in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush the cookies.

Pour the crushed cookies into a bowl and mix with the cream cheese until well blended. You should start by using a spoon, but may need to use your hands to ensure the cream cheese is evenly distributed. Place the bowl in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.

Shape the mixture into 1 inch balls and place in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. While rolling, if you feel the mixture is becoming too soft, simply place the bowl in the fridge until the mixture becomes more firm.

Shortly before removing the balls from the freezer, melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave. If using the microwave, heat in 30 second intervals and stir in between. Do this until the chocolate can be stirred to be completely melted. Take the melted chocolate and set aside for 1 minute. Now you can dip each ball into the melted chocolate and place on a wax or parchment paper lined baking sheet. You can use a fork to lift the chocolate covered ball out and onto the paper, or a large skewer stuck through the top. The fork worked best for me after trying a few different options. You should have leftover chocolate for drizzling as a garnish, or if you are sprinkling with Oreo crumbs, sprinkle immediately after transferring from the bowl to the pan.

Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Shortly before removing the baking sheet from the fridge, take the remaining melted chocolate and if it has hardened you can place it in the microwave for 5-20 seconds. Wait a few minutes for it to cool and then place in a ziploc bag and cut a small hole in one corner. Remove the balls from the fridge and pipe the chocolate on top of each ball.

Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Makes 36-48 truffles

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Dutch Crunch Bread


 Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

Dutch Crunch Bread - I love the sound of that! Anything that has "crunch" in the title draws me to it. The Daring Bakers challenge this month was to make this type of bread which I had never heard of before. The pictures absolutely fascinated me! 

Dutch Crunch Bread, also known as Tiger Bread (although in my case I think it looks more like a giraffe or a cheetah with all of those spots instead of stripes) is made from a regular white bread recipe and then coated with the Dutch Crunch topping.

You'll have to excuse my first photo up there. I usually like to take a nice photo that showcases the recipe but I just didn't have a lot of time and was planning to showcase the sandwiches that I constructed using the Dutch Crunch Bread. Anyway, I digress.

I didn't have any trouble with the bread dough. It came together as it should and rose to the desired size in the expected time frame. I slathered it with the Dutch Crunch topping, which I have to admit reminded me a bit of the paper-mache days as a kid. I was curious as to whether the dough would "deflate" some with the topping on it, but it seems to hold its shape just fine.

At this point I wasn't really sure what to expect. So many different varieties of the bread had been posted on the forum, some beautifully crackled and darkened, others pale with no cracks. There seemed to be uncertainty as to what was going to come out of the oven. I was pleasantly surprised when I cracked open the door and saw that there was crackling and browning on the outside of the crust. Since they came out of the oven pretty late in the evening we saved the sandwich rolls for lunch the next day. 

Hot ham and Swiss sounded like a great combination on the day that I made sandwiches. Gooey, tangy Swiss cheese melted into Black Forest Ham. Yum! I'll take one now, please. The bread reminded me a bit of a kaiser roll or a ciabatta bun. Not quite chewy like a kaiser and it crumbled a bit more than a ciabatta. It wasn't sweet like it sounded like Dutch Crunch Bread is but it was a nice sandwich roll.

Since we only used 3 of the 6 rolls we put the leftovers in a ziploc bag for the next day. I didn't want them drying out and becoming hard as rocks, but I'm not sure if having them in a somewhat air-tight package made their taste a little more blah. Kind of hard to describe, but I didn't feel like the sandwiches the next day were as tasty. It could have also been that I didn't warm up my roll like I did the day before. It seemed to crumble a lot more and was just a ho-hum kind of bread. Pretty, but not spectacular tasting.

Either way you slice it, these sandwich rolls were fun to make and pretty fun to eat! I'm thinking I'll try them again to see if there is another bread recipe I like better with the Dutch Crunch topping. Enjoy!

Dutch Crunch Topping
(layer on any white bread recipe you'd like to)

2 tablespoons (2 packets) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115ยบ F)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or sesame oil)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rice flour (white or brown; NOT sweet or glutinous rice flour)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a whisk; beat hard to combine. The consistency should be like stiff royal icing – spreadable, but not too runny. If you pull some up with your whisk it should drip off slowly. Add more water or rice flour as necessary. Let stand 15 minutes.

Using a brush, spoon, or your fingers, coat the top of each loaf or roll with a thick layer of topping and spread it around. (Error on the side of applying too much topping – a thin layer will not crack properly.)

Let stand, uncovered, for any additional time your recipe recommends.

When baking, place pans on a rack in the center of the oven and bake your bread as you ordinarily would. The Dutch Crunch topping should crack and turn a nice golden-brown color.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Why is it that salted caramel in a recipe always sounds so good? And when did salted caramel replace regular caramel as the "in" thing? I have no answer to these questions, but what I do know is that these cookie bars are pretty amazing! Two layers of chocolate chip cookies with salted caramel in between. Who could say no to that?

Another plus is that these are easy to make. You whip up your batch of cookies, press half of the mixture into the pan, melt the caramels and pour them over the bottom layer, then spoon the top layer on. The one trick I used was for the second layer. Instead of just spooning the second layer on, I scooped a spoonful and flattened it in my hand before placing it over the caramel. This worked well for me because if I tried to spoon it on then the caramel was moved from where I wanted it.

This is definitely a "must make again" recipe, which is saying a lot since there are so many recipes out there that I still want to make. Enjoy!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Source: Two Peas and their Pod

2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
10 ounces caramel candy squares, unwrapped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
sea salt, for sprinkling over caramel and bars

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart baking pan (11x17) with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the melted butter and sugars together until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave caramels on High until caramels are melted, stirring every 20 seconds. This will take about 2 minutes, depending on your microwave.

Divide the cookie dough in half. Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula. Pour hot caramel over the cookie dough. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough over the caramel and spread dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.

Bake cookie bars for 30 minutes or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool bars on a wire rack to room temperature. Cut bars into squares and serve.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Penne Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato and Chicken Cream Sauce

Another recipe off pinterest! I feel good that I am not only pinning yummy looking food, but I am actually making the recipes. It's nice to go to my pin board to find recipe suggestions for our two week menu. Granted, most of my pinned recipes are related to baking, but a few have to do with savory dishes. It could be that I am more picky with savory dishes, or it could be that they don't draw my eye. Whatever the case, this one is a keeper.

I did very few modifications to this recipe. I decided to double the amount of pasta and used whole wheat noodles. I also added shredded chicken to give it a bit more protein and some substance. Even with that it still left you wanting more. I'm not sure if that was because all pasta dishes seem to do that to me because I love pasta, or if it just wasn't as filling. Also, because it wasn't drenched in cream sauce it was a bit dry the next day for leftovers. We still enjoyed it because we knew that not being drenched in sauce was a bit healthier and not so calorie laden, but I'm sure that if you didn't double the pasta you would have a more restaurant style Alfredo dish. Enjoy!

Sun-Dried Tomato Penne Pasta with Chicken
Source: Slightly modified from Very Best Baking

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
16 ounces dry penne pasta (I used whole wheat)
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 can (12 fl. oz) evaporated milk
2 cups Italian four cheese blend, shredded
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Bake or grill chicken breasts; cool, and cut into small pieces or shred. Set aside

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Add the sun-dried tomatoes to the boiling water for the last two minutes of cooking time; drain.

Meanwhile, combine evaporated milk, cheese, basil, garlic powder, and black pepper in medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Add chicken, and stir until combined.

Add pasta and sun-dried tomatoes to cheese sauce; stir until combined.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oatmeal Blender Waffles

All of my cooking endeavors are not successes. Not that I thought you thought that or anything, I just thought I'd warn you that this was not a particular success. From the beginning, I thought it was a bit strange to mix up the waffle mix which included milk and then to leave it sitting at room temperature for 12-24 hours. I guess the thought of milk not being refrigerated just sounds a bit different. I did it though.

The next morning the batter was super thick while trying to blend it up so I had to add quite a bit more milk. Even with greasing the waffle iron the batter stuck and pieces of the batter were uncooked. Out of the 6 or so waffles we made, maybe 2 of them were cooked the way they were supposed to and came off the griddle without tearing into pieces. Oh, wait, those are probably the two that you see in the picture because they were the only ones that were anywhere near photo worthy. I don't think this recipe will be a repeat in our household, but if you venture to give it a shot, enjoy!

Oatmeal Blender Waffles
Source: Hallee the Homemaker

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups uncooked rolled oats
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Place buttermilk, olive oil, vanilla extract, and rolled oats in blender; blend at highest speed for 3 minutes.

(The batter should always swirl about a vortex in the blender. If it doesn’t, slowly add more liquid until the hole reappears. This is the secret to light and tender waffles. Batter for pancakes may be thicker, but keep batter relatively thin and keep it churning.)

Cover blender; let stand at room temperature overnight or 12-24 hours.

Preheat waffle iron at highest temperature, or griddle on medium high.

Just before baking, add egg and optional liquid if batter needs thinning; blend on highest speed for 1 minute.

Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend in thoroughly, but briefly.

Pour batter onto hot waffle iron, sprayed with olive oil. Bake about 3½ to 4 minutes in waffle iron until crispy. If making pancakes, pour onto hot griddle. Cook until bubbles pop on the surface, then flip and cook for about 1-2 minutes longer, or until browned.

Makes about 5-7 good sized waffles, depending on waffle iron size or about 10-12 good sized pancakes depending on pancake size

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mini Milk Chocolate Bundt Cake

Every 5 months or so I get an opportunity to bake up a yummy dessert to serve to my book club compadres. Chocolate is always a good choice, especially during the winter, and you know how much I love cake. So . . . choosing a chocolate cake is a pretty sure bet.

I decided to try out another recipe from my cookbook, Baking From My Home to Yours. There are so many great recipes in there that I had a hard time choosing. I think the biggest factor in deciding to go with the Mini Milk Chocolate Bundt Cakes was that I didn't want any leftover cake. I knew that if I served a cake with some ice cream to each person they wouldn't be able to resist eating the cake in its entirety, therefore no leftovers. Perfect plan, perfectly executed!

The milk chocolate cake has a mild flavor, the nut swirl in the center gives the cake some crunch. The dark chocolate drizzle adds a bit more pizzazz, and the ice cream accompaniment brings it all together. 

I'm not going to post the recipe because I didn't adapt it or modify it in any way and that would be copyright infringement, but I definitely think that purchasing Dorie's cookbook is a welcome addition to any baking kitchen. And if you are local you can always borrow mine to try it out. Enjoy!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips

I honestly wasn't sure what to classify this as; a dessert, an appetizer, a fruit dish . . . it really is a chameleon of a dish. I came across it on pinterest and decided to make it for our football festivities about a month ago. I wanted something fun and sweet to enjoy after eating homemade pretzels and pepperoni pizza puffs so I opted for a healthier form of dessert (hence why it has the dessert label).

It is really easy to put together but the fruit does get brown pretty quickly even after adding in the orange juice. I would suggest making the cinnamon chips first since they don't have to be warm when served and making the fruit salsa right before you plan on eating it. Either way, you can't go wrong. Enjoy!

**Yes, I had to buy Crisco since we rarely use it and I didn't realize that they had a spray. So, I bought a big old tub which will last us a VERY long time. I'm thinking the next time I make this I may just use regular butter since that's what we use in our house. I'm not sure if it will make a difference. I guess I'll see.**

Fruit Salsa
1 pound fresh strawberries
2 fresh kiwis
1 Granny Smith aple
1/4 to 1/2 cup orange juice

Chop fruit into small chunks. Add orange juice and stir well. Serve with cinnamon chips or as a topping for waffles or pancakes.

Cinnamon Chips
3-4 flour tortillas (depending on how many chips you want)
butter flavor Crisco spray (or regular butter flavored Crisco, melted)

Using kitchen scissors, cut tortillas into wedges. Place on cookie sheet. Spray or brush with Crisco. Sprinkle heavily with cinnamon/sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lemon Loaf

As I stated in my Daring Bakers post on this Lemon Loaf I really had wanted to make it a Meyer Lemon Loaf but I can never seem to find Meyer lemons. I can tell you that when I come across some I am definitely going to buy them and use them immediately.

This loaf was pretty easy to make, the only real hassle was having to scrape off all the lemon zest. Oh, and don't forget to get your simple syrup ready while the bread is baking. I completely forget because I got distracted with doing other things and realized it as the bread was coming out of the oven. Nothing like having to scramble. Enjoy!

Lemon Loaf

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
zest of 3 Meyer lemons (regular lemons can be used)
2 cups white granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature 
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice (regular lemons can be used)
pinch of salt
9 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

Simple Syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
juice from 1 medium Meyer Lemon (or regular lemon)

1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F. Butter and flour two 8” x 5” loaf pans.

2. Sift together flour and baking powder; set aside.

3. Place sugar, lemon zest, and eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat with a whisk until the mixture is a light lemon color and thickened a bit. This can also be done with a mixer. Whisk in sour cream, then salt, and lemon juice.

4. Gently whisk in the flour in four parts, then whisk in the butter in three parts. You’ll have a thick, pourable batter flecked with lemon zest.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

6. While the loaves are baking, prepare simple syrup. Boil together sugar and water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice.

7. Turn the loaves out of their pans onto a cooling rack and brush liberally with the lemon syrup, repeat brushing as you feel necessary. Let cool.

Makes two 8x5 loaves