Monday, July 28, 2008

Italian vinaigrette from scratch

I didn't have any salad dressing on hand, so I threw this together. It turned out pretty decently. I didn't measure anything, so this is more for my sake in remembering what I used. The amounts are guestimations!

Italian vinaigrette
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
1-2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic minced
generous pinch of sugar
celery salt to taste

Optional toppers: fresh grated parm cheese and crushed black pepper

mix well and pour over the salad. I actually put mine in the salad spinner after dressing it to help mix the dressing throughout. I then spooned a little of the leftover dressing on top and grated the cheese and added pepper. Oh, and I soaked some boxed croûtons in the dressing for a min. to help them soften a little.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Strawberry Jam

A couple weeks ago I decided to try my hand at jam. I've never tried it before, but I had some great strawberries that needed to be used. I didn't have any room in the freezer, so I decided to actually cook and can jam. Here are a few things I learned.

Freezer jam will taste fresher and lighter since you don't have to cook the fruit and you can use less sugar. Only problem with that for me is a need for freezer space. I like the idea of putting it on my shelf if I don't have room in the freezer.

Sugar helps with gelling and it helps preserve and lengthen shelf life. If you use less sugar than called for by the type of pectin you're using, it will not set up properly. You'll have syrup rather than jam.

I bought the regular pectin since I didn't know there were different kinds. Big mistake. It meant that I had to use TONS of sugar (7 cups of sugar to 4 cups of fruit!) to make it gel properly. I didn't put in the full amount called for and decided I'd just use it as syrup if it didn't gel. That's exactly what happened. Even with the reduced amt. of sugar it still tasted super sweet. Fine for syrup, but it would have been too sweet for a basic fruit jam that I wanted.

There are different types of pectin you can buy. Regular pectin requires a lot of sugar if you can. It doesn't take quite as much when you do freezer jam, but it's still more than I want in my jam. There are also low sugar and no sugar pectins. No sugar pectins require a sugar substitute like Splenda if you use it according to the box. I found out this weekend that you can actually add sugar to jams made with the low/no sugar pectins and make it still work. My sister made some DELICIOUS jam with no sugar pectin by adding just 1 cup of sugar to it. It gelled well and tasted like fruit rather than sugar. Definitely do that next time.

So, my "recipe" suggestion:
1 box no sugar pectin
1 C sugar
1 C unsweetened juice (white grape or something that fits with the type of fruit you're using)
4 C strawberry

Follow the directions for cooked jam on the box.

ALSO: If you're doing cooked/canned jam, spend the $6 or whatever for the propper tongs! I totally burned myself when the bottles splashed back into my water bath because I couldn't grip them well with what I had.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cheesy Breadsticks

Matt requested cheesy bread to accompany our dinner tonight. Since he rarely has requests, I thought it best to comply forthwith. So I went to looking for a recipe. I was disappointed in the lack of cheesy bread recipes online! Almost everything I found called for canned biscuits or frozen pizza/roll dough.

So, I got out my trusty recipe collection and decided to create a cheesy variation of a fast bread stick recipe I got from a friend last year at a recipe swap. (Thanks Amy!) It worked so fabulously. I got one of the best compliments EVER from Matt. He said it made him think of something off of the food network (possibly a Diners, Drive-in, and Dives episode) where people say, "I come from miles away just for this bread". Yeah. It was good.

So, here's the recipe.

Easy Cheesy Breadsticks
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus some for sprinkling the top
1 1/2 C warm water (around 110*)
Approx. 3+ C BREAD flour (Trust me!! This makes a HUGE difference in the final texture of the bread!)

a little butter
a cup or two of cheese: I used mozzarella and cheddar inside and parmesan on top

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400*
  2. Dissolve yeast and sugar in the water. (Don't add the salt in yet because at this point it can kill the yeast.) Let it sit about 5-10 min. to bloom.
  3. In a stand mixer (or by hand), knead in the 3 cups bread flour and salt. Mix for a couple min. The dough is a bit sticky with just 3 cups. At this point I took the dough out of my mixer and kneaded in about 1/4 cup more flour by hand, just enough to get it not sticky and to a point where you can roll it out. You can probably keep it in the mixer and add a little flour at a time until it pulls off of the side of the bowl.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle, approx. 15 X 12. Put this onto a greased cookie sheet or baking pan (I bet a pizza stone would work nicely too, though the cooking time would change a bit if you did that).
  5. Sprinkle the cheese over half the bread vertically, leaving about 1 in. on the edges cheese free.
  6. Fold the un-cheesed (short) side over the cheesed side and press the edges closed. You will have a long strombli/calzone like bread.
  7. Brush the top with some butter, grate as much parm cheese as you'd like, and sprinkle the top with kosher salt. I didn't let the dough rest or rise any more than the time it took me to fill it and get it ready for baking.
  8. Bake at 400* for about 15 min.
  9. Let it rest about 5-10 min. after pulling it out so the cheese doesn't just goo out everywhere when you cut it.
  10. Cut it into 1-2 in. strips and serve as a breadstick.
* Just so you know, this dough doesn't have any butter or oil in the dough. The means it doesn't keep as long. You can always add in 1-2 Tbsp of EVOO or canola oil if you find you don't eat it quickly enough before it spoils.*

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What we ate: week 2

  1. Sausage, homemade rolls, coleslaw-The rolls were pretty decent. I just got the recipe off of allrecipes. Matt wasn't in the mood for a crusty roll, so I brushed them with butter and let them sit a little and the tops softened. I made the coleslaw mix with purple and regular cabbage, julienned carrots, small broccoli, green onions. The dressing recipe I use is Alton Brown's.
  2. Potstickers and fried rice (I made too much coleslaw mix, so I chopped it up into small pieces, added peas and used it in the fried rice. It worked well.) The potstickers I made awhile back froze really nicely. I just put two Tbsp oil in the pan, frozen potstickers, 2/3 C water and covered. Cooked for 8 min. on medium high, took off the lid and made sure everything had crisped up on the bottom.
  3. Chipotle beef soft tacos
  4. Homemade Chili Chock-full o' Veggies, Cornbread
  5. Hot dogs, spicy potato salad (made by a friend), watermelon

Cheesecake Pops

I recently found out about a cool blog-ring called The Daring Bakers' Challenge. Every month all participants get a challenge. They have to make the same recipe, take photos, and blog their end result on the same appointed day. This was the April challenge. I love challenges, so I decided to join the Darking Bakers and I will officially start with the challenges in August.

They are from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor.

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer set at low speed, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at lwo speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Lightly grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan). Pour the cheesecake batter into the cake pan and place in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly goldenon top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchemtn paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

My review of the cheesecake:
Most of the reviews said that this cheesecake didn't set at the time and temp. given in this recipe. So I wne to my normal recipe and took the time and temp from there. That was kind of a mistake because I ended up overcooking it a little.

Overall the taste was good, but this recipe called for a lot of eggs and I could actually taste the egg on the slightly overcooked edges. I didn't have a large enough pan to do a proper water bath and my cake ended up rising, splitting, and then collapsing a little bit. I think this was because of the eggs and perhaps over mixing combined with no water bath. I make cheesecake every valentine's day and I've never had problems like this. I think I will actually stay with my normal recipe from now on. Once I trimmed the top, bottom, and sides off, I was ready to scoop.

The ball rolling was a little messy, but I didn't have huge problems with it. I just had to periodically wash my hands to get the stickiness off. The sticks were easy enough, and dipping was fairly easy. However, because the cheesecake was frozen, it made the dipping chocolate firm up rather quickly, so I had to decorate fast. I just let them sit head up in a cup to firm before putting them back in the fridge.

Oh, I dipped a few in jam before I dipped in the chocolate. It made the chocolate a little tricky, but the pops with the thinner homemade strawberry jam turned out quite tasty. The ones with the thicker freezer jam were too sweet.

Main problem:
The main problem with this recipe was the stick. This is a rather cute idea, but the cheesecake just didn't adhere well enough to the stick to actually eat it like a lollipop. If I set them upside down the stick just pulled out when the cheesecake was at room temp. If I turned them right side up, the cheesecake slid right down the stick. So, overall, these were a little tricky to serve.

Cupcake bites

So, Bakerella got onto Martha Stewart with her little Cupcake Pops. Since I was already doing cheesecake pops for the party, I decided to make her Easy Cupcake Bites instead. They are pretty much the same thing, just less time consuming. This recipe is directly from her site.

Easy Cupcake Bites
1 box cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)
1 package chocolate bark (or candy melts for cupcake bottom)
Colored Candy Melts (for cupcake top)
Candy Cup Mold
Sprinkles and m&ms for decoration
  1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl. (The texture should be fine/fluffy)
  2. Using the back of a large spoon, mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)
  3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls (make sure they are smaller in diameter than that of your candy mold) and lay on wax paper covered cookie sheet.
  4. Chill in the freezer for a few minutes, until they are slightly firm, not frozen.
  5. Melt chocolate bark and candy melts in microwave per directions on package.
  6. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle, fill each mold cavity with a small amount of chocolate. Sorry, I didn't think to measure how much. But as soon as you fill the cavity, go ahead and place one of your rolled balls into it. Carefully push it down until the force causes the chocolate to push up and fill in around the sides of the ball. You may have to experiment with a couple to get the right amount. Stop pushing once the chocolate reaches the top edge.
  7. Place the mold tray filled with cupcakes in the freezer for just a few minutes to let the chocolate set. Remove and then gently pull up on the cake ball top to release from candy mold.
  8. Now, holding the bottom of the cupcake, dip the top in another color of melted chocolate.
  9. Decorate.
  10. And, probably impress your friends and family
What I used:
I used a butter pecan box cake. I only had about 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting I needed, and I used all my cream cheese on the cheesecake, so I had to improvise. I made an almond flavored butter cream frosting and added it to the cream cheese frosting. These two things combined made for a very sweet little cupcake bite.

What I suggest to remedy that:
I think these would work really well with a dark cocoa (preferably homemade) cake and cream cheese frosting. That way the frosting would balance out the cake rather than overtake it.

Problems I had and a few remedies:
  • I'm pretty sure the candy mold I used was a little shallower than Bakerella's. I just got it at Michaels. Anyway, because it had such a small base it was a little difficult to hold when I was dipping the tops. It was also difficult to set them down without getting chocolate smearing on the bases.
  • I just used candy melts from Michaels. The dark chocolate worked the best and stayed melty longer than the colored white chocolates. The colored melts seized pretty quickly and I kept having to remelt them.
  • After doing the bases, I tried dipping the tops. The cake had thawed and when I tried dipping the top ripped right off into the chocolate. I had to refreeze the bites before dipping the tops. This worked but presented a new problem.
  • Because the cake was frozen, the top chocolate cooled too quickly for me to properly decorate it by myself. It would have been easier with a helper, but I ended up with plain bites because I was cooking solo. They still looked cute.
  • Lastly, because I used a light brown cake, I was afraid it would look too bland inside. Bakerella's red velvet is stunning. I thought, "Hmmm...why not just color the frosting I mix in with the cake?" So I made pink frosting. Once I mixed it in with the cake and rolled it into balls, I realized that it made them look like uncooked meatballs. Eeew. So, I strongly discourage mixing a light cake with pink frosting.
  • Oh, and make sure there aren't any little pieces of cake not completely mixed in (like you see the white pieces below). They just made frosting a bit more difficult.
  • I first tried to "frost" the tops with a knife because it was hard to hold the little bottoms. DID NOT WORK. It was a much smoother top to just dip. That meant I needed a fair amount of chocolate. You can't just work with a little bit of chocolate at a time or the cake gets stuck and mucked up.
  • I kind of had a hard time figuring out the "perfect amount" of chocolate for the bases, because my bases weren't 100% even my top frosting was a little hard to get right on.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What we ate: week 1

  1. Stuffed chicken, sautéed purple cabbage, mashed garlic and rosemary red potatoes: The filling was left over from the ravioli. I butterflied chicken breasts, filled them with the artichoke/ricotta mixture, topped it with red sauce and grated parmesan cheese on it. Baked it in a small glass dish for 35 min. at 400*. The chicken was a little dry, but I like it like that. So, I'd probably reduce the heat to 375 or 350* if you like it juicier. For the cabbage, I just shredded it and cooked it in a small amount of EVOO with salt and pepper. Sometimes I add the fresh, precooked bacon bits for a little extra flavor.
  2. Homemade artichoke and ricotta ravioli, yellow squash: On the back of my leftover potsticker wrappers it said you can use them for raviolis, so I tried that. It was gross. The dough was too slimy when boiled. It may have been ok if we'd done fried ravioli, but I won't try it. The filling was good. It was my own concoction of garlic, onions, artichoke hearts, ricotta, parsley and salt.
  3. Curried vegetables and paneer cheese, rice, baked green beans: We ate this the night my crockpot shattered. We needed something quick, and the curry mixture was prepackaged. It was Tasty Bite: Cuisine of India brand. We both really liked it. It was very tasty. I can't remember the exact name of it though. I baked the green beans on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil, garlic, onions and pepper. I really like beans done this way, but I always over cook them. I bake them on 400* and depending on the bean size, it will take 10-20 min. Stir and check them every couple of min. to make sure they don't get over cooked.
  4. Beef and bean flautas, salad, and Matt made pico: The flautas are just flour tortillas with refried beans (cannery is what I use), cheese and seasoned ground beef down the middle. I roll them up without folding the ends (flauta means flute), and then I crisp them on all sides in a pan with a tiny bit of extra light olive oil.
  5. Bean, veggie, and bacon soup, sourdough bread: The soup base I use for this quick meal is Campbell's Bean and Bacon soup. I dice and sautéed veggies (save the zucchini till after you simmer the rice though) to a crisp tender, added in about 1/4 cup uncooked rice, and about 3/4 c water. Covered and simmered on low for about 15 min. and then added the soup, 2 cans water, and a little "better than bullion chicken base" to make up for the extra water I added. Carrots, celery, onions, a little garlic, zucchini are the veggies I use, but I'm sure bell peppers and other veggies would work fine too.
  6. Hamburgers,fries, and onion rings: Sometimes we indulge. For those in our area, Baker's drive in on Hwy 5 has great onion rings. Their fries are nothing special, the burgers are pretty decent, but their onion rings are delicious.