Thursday, October 30, 2008

The-Best-I've-Ever-Had Chunky Applesauce


We've got apples coming out our ears right now. Some are from our ridiculously productive dwarf 4-way apple. Some are from the farmer's market. The best-tasting ones are actually from an orchard our friends gleaned! I was planning on canning a little applesauce and a little pie filling, but while blog hopping a few weeks ago I found a recipe for chunky applesauce that looked beautiful and sounded like it would be delicious. I ate a whole quart of it by myself yesterday, and I think it has forever ruined regular applesauce. I'm going to make as much of it as I can!

Amazing Chunky Applesauce
from The Farmer's Wife Blog

I got about 2 quarts from the recipe. I can't imagine only wanting 2 quarts of this, so you might want to do more.

4 pounds apples, peeled, core, and quartered (I used the magnificent core-peel-slice tool)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
4 big strips of lemon peel
juice from 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until apples are soft, 20-30 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel. Mash apples with a potato masher until desired chunkiness is reached. Ladle hot applesauce into hot, clean quart jars. Get out the air bubbles and wipe the rim of each jar. Put on lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October Daring Baker's Challenge: Pizza


Yes, the picture is a recycled one from earlier in the year. It gets dark too early to get good pictures now.

I love homemade pizza, so I was decently excited about this month's Daring Baker's Challenge. Not super excited, mind you, but excited nevertheless. Our very good friends from Nature of the Chemical Blog are pizza afficionados, so we got together one evening to test our pizza tossing skills.

The rules for this month's challenge were pretty simple: we had to use the recipe for Basic Pizza Dough from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and we had to toss at least two of the pizzas instead of rolling them out, which, apparently, is the cheater's method. This dough is a two-day process, so our lovely hostess did all of that for us; all we had to do was show up, toss, and top. And that's where the craziness started. I'm no pizza expert, but this dough was sticky, sticky, sticky. It was hard to get the dough off of my hands and into the air, even with floured fists. Once the dough was airborn, it was only good for one toss. After that, it was super thin and very much in danger of tearing. We had a few mishaps but managed to fix everything and get the pizzas in the oven. As far as crust goes, it was tasty, but seemed like a lot of trouble just for a pizza crust.

Notice the fingers poking through the crust. This happened a lot!

The real excitement of the night came in the form of toppings. We had so many delicious combinations:
  • bbq chicken with smoked gouda, red onions, and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce
  • zucchini marinated in balsamic vinegar and topped with mozarella
  • standard but delicious pizza margherita
  • some crazy concoction called "Halloween Pizza" with regular and sweet potato slices and rosemary infused olive oil
Most people probably would have considered their Daring Bakers requirements met after that, but not I. Oh no, I felt guilty that I didn't actually make the dough myself. So I planned to try the dough this week. Life got in the way, as usual, so instead of try the dough we were supposed to try, I just made my good old stand-by pizza dough recipe. To tell you the truth, it tasted just as good as the fancy-pants dough, and it took a lot less time. It even tossed like a dream!


Why am I dressed like a gondolier?

Pizzas from Pizza Night Pt. II:
  • pesto, zucchini, yellow squash, olive oil, fresh mozarella, and kosher salt
  • pesto, bacon, tomato, fresh mozarella, and kosher salt (my vote for the best)
  • tomato sauce, pineapple, bacon, fresh mozarella, sharp cheddar, and tomato (weird, but good)
We had lots of fun making pizzas on both occassions. Thanks to our friends for letting us ride their coattails on this one.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Easy Sugar Cookies

Last Valentine's Day I decided that I had HAD it with traditional sugar cookie recipes. I love how they taste, but I just can't stand setting aside an entire day to see them through from start to finish. The mixing, the chilling, the rolling. AAAGGGHHH! So, I figured there had to be a recipe for "drop" sugar cookies that tasted just as good as my old stand-by, all-day recipe, Ethel's Sugar Cookies from the Cooky Book.

I searched the internet until I found one that sounded a lot like Ethel's, but didn't involve chilling the dough or rolling it out or cutting it into pretty shapes. I was so pleased with how these drop sugar cookies turned out. They tasted so good that my husband and I ate them all, even though I had made enough to deliver to friends for the holiday! If you want to make your sugar cookies into fancy shapes, go ahead and use your traditional sugar cookie recipe. But if you are content to just make round cookies, these are so much easier, it is practically criminal.

No Chill, No Roll Sugar Cookies


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup crisco
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, crisco, and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; mix. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to mixer and combine. Add milk and stir until completely incorporated. Roll dough into Tablespoon-sized balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are just beginning to turn golden on the edges. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
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The Cake Slice Bakers, Challenge #1: Mexican Hot Chocolate Chiffon Cake



I can't resist a good excuse to bake, so I joined another baking club, The Cake Slice Bakers. We are baking one cake per month from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman, Peter Wynne, and Tina Rupp.

Our first challenge was the Cappuccino Chiffon Cake, but, not being a coffee drinker, I substituted Mexican hot chocolate for the espresso in the recipe. I made it when we were having company for dinner, and all I can say is, "WOW!" Words cannot express how delicious this cake was. AND as if its deliciousness weren't enough, it was really easy to make. Here's the recipe, with my modifications:

Mexican Hot Chocolate Chiffon Cake
Makes an 8-inch triple layer cake


Cake:
1/4 cup of neutral oil (ie. vegetable, canola, or soybean)
6 eggs separated
6 tablespoons of fresh Mexican hot chocolate cooled to room temperature
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 and 1/3 cups of cake flour
1 and 1/2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
Cinnamon for dusting

Mexican Hot Chocolate Syrup
:
1/3 cup hot fresh Mexican hot chocolate
1/3 cup of sugar

Vanilla Whipped Cream:
3 cups of heavy cream
1/3 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line the bottom s of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper but do not grease.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, Mexican hot chocolate, and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raise the mixer to medium high and gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. Do not whip to stiff peaks or the cake will shrink upon cooling.

4. Add the hot chocolate-egg mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just until combined. Add one fourth of the egg whites and fold them gently into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the pans.

5. Bake the cakes for 18 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans. Once cooled run a knife around the edge of the pans to release the cakes. Invert onto a wire rack and remove the parchment papers.

6. To assemble the cake, place one cake layer flat side up on a cake stand or platter. Soak the cake with 1/3 cup of the hot chocolate syrup. Spread 1 and 1/3 cups of whipped cream evenly over the top of the cake. Repeat with the next layer the same steps. Finally top with the third layer. Soak with syrup and frost the top and sides of the cake with the whipped cream.

7. To decorate the cake smooth out the whipped cream as much as possible on top. Lay a paper doily on top and sift cinnamon over the doily to reveal a lacy detail.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Syrup
makes 1 cup

In a bowl, stir together the hot chocolate and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

Vanilla Whipped Cream
makes 6 cups

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in large chilled mixing bowl with chilled beaters. With the whip attachment, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.

Mexican Hot Chocolate
I didn't think this had enough cinnamon in it, so I added more, maybe a 1/4 of a teaspoon. I got the recipe from the Nick Jr. website :)

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups milk (anything but skim)
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle
1 cinnamon stick
pinch salt

Combine milk, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon stick, and salt in a saucepan. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the pan. Heat over low, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted.
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Autumn + Baby Shower = Heaven!



My dear friend Marcelle is expecting a baby next month, and I had the honor and pleasure of throwing a baby shower for her this weekend. Now, spring may seem like the ideal time for a baby shower: soft colors, fresh flavors, new things blooming around every corner. But my favorite time of year is autumn, when we get to eat soup as often as we want, and the smell of spices fills the house. And it is always a blessing to celebrate a new life, no matter the season. Here are a few of the recipes from the shower:

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Don't be scared off by the secret ingredient: Velveeta, and lots of it! Everyone who asked what was in it was surprised to find so much cheese in the list of ingredients. The soup doesn't taste cheesey, just creamy and delicious. I promise.


12 chicken tenders, cooked and chopped
4-oz package wild rice, cooked according to package diections
1/2 stick butter
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
8 cups chicken broth
1 lb velveeta, cut into chunks
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

In a large pot, saute vegetables in butter until mostly tender. Add remaining ingredients and cook until cheese is melted and everything is heated through.


Apple Slab Pie
from Cooks' Country magazine
I made mine the day before and refrigerated it. It was really good, but I can't help but think it would have been even more delicious if eaten fresh.


For pie:
8 granny smith apples
8 golden delicious apples
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups animal crackers (I used Barnum's)
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages pillsbury pie crust (that's 4 crusts total)
4 Tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 Tablespoons Minute tapioca

For glaze:
3/4 cup reserved apple juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Peel, core, and slice apples. I used one of those amazing peeler-corer-slicer things and it only took me a few minutes to do all 16 apples. Toss apples with 1 cup sugar and salt and place in a colander to sit for 30 minutes. Make sure the colander is over a bowl because you'll need the juice that drains off of the apples for the glaze. Meanwhile, combine remaining sugar and animal crackers in the bowl of a food processor and grind into a fine powder. Dust the counter with this mixture. Lay one of your 4 pie crusts onto the dusted counter. Brush half of it with water, and lay another pie crust on top so that they overlap. Sprinkle more animal cracker stuff on top, and roll double crust out to a 19x14" rectangle. Gently place on a rimmed baking sheet and brush with melted butter. Refrigerate until apples are ready. Repeat the animal cracker roll-out method with the remaining two crusts and set aside. Toss drained apples with lemon juice, cinnamon, and tapioca. Evenly spread apples over bottom crust and gently top with second double-crust. Seal edges with water and a fork, poke hole all over the top, and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool for 1 hour. Meanwhile, bring reserved apple juice to a simmer in a small saucepan and let it reduce to 1/4 cup. Stir in butter and lemon juice, and let sit until cooled to room temperature. Whisk in powdered sugar and stir until smooth. Brush glaze over warm pie and let everything cool completely before serving. According to Cooks' Country, it serves 20, but those are really generous servings.



Quiche Puffs
I don't have a picture of these because there weren't any left over after the party. But they were delicious and looked pretty impressive, even though they only took a few minutes to make. And, they can be served warm or at room temperature, making them great party food.

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
2.5 oz deli ham, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 egg

Lay puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface and roll it out so that it is a little thinner and a little bigger than when it comes out of the package. I know that's not very exact. Cut it into 24 squares. Place squares into the cups of a lightly greased mini muffin tin. Basically, you want the squares big enough that the corners poke up out of the cups a little, but you don't want them overlapping with the next one over. It doesn't have to be exact. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Evenly divide filling among the 24 pastry cups; about 1 teaspoon per cup seems to work out well. Bake quiche puffs at 400 for about 10 minutes or until puff pastry begins to turn golden. Careful not to overbake!
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Monday, October 6, 2008

Evidence of my maturing taste in food: Dill Muffins


When I was little, my mom made these dinner rolls with cottage cheese and dill that were baked in a muffin tin. They were, to my young palate, the most disgusting things in the world. She might have only tried them once, but they left a big, bad impression on me, and I obviously have never forgotten them. Fast forward to a few weeks ago. A friend sent out an email stating that she was going to her mother-in-law's home to get dill, and that if anyone wanted some, there was plenty to share. I responded that I would love some. For whatever bizarre reason, I really wanted to make those dinner rolls from my childhood. It took me a few weeks to get around to them, but my husband claimed they were the best dinner rolls he'd ever had. They were really delicious. They were salty and buttery and very light, with a nice, harvesty crunch from the dill seed. I'm glad I gave these a second chance. Now, what else am I missing out on...?

Dill Muffins

1 package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup cottage cheese at room temperature (it really is important, trust me)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon dried, minced onion
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons dried dill seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups flour

Combine yeast and water with a pinch of sugar and set aside for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except flour. Add yeast and stir. Mix in flour. Turn dough out onto a floured counter top and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover, and let rise for 50 minutes. Punch down dough, divide into 12 portions, and roll into balls. Place dough into a greased muffin pan, cover, and let rise again until doubled in size. Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes at 350. They should be lovely and golden at this point. Remove from oven and brush tops with butter.
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