Saturday, June 27, 2009

Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy Anniversary (and Daring Bakers and SMS and a give-away!)

Wow! Today is momentous on three levels. First, we have a great Sweet Melissa recipe for the week, Double Dark Chocolate Cherry Cookies, which you can find by clicking here.

Second, we have a great Daring Bakers recipe for the month, Half Blackberry-Half Chunky Applesauce Bakewell Tart, which you can find by clicking here.

And third, it was one year ago today that I wrote my first post for Lulu the Baker! Wow. And my 100th post is just around the corner (as in, this post makes #96). If I had planned it just a little better, they could have coincided, but I'm not that organized. I actually am really organized, but not in this case!

In honor of my 1 year anniversary and my looming 100th post, Lulu the Baker is having a give-away. And boy, is it fantastic. I put together a lovely little bunch of things that I would love to get, so I hope you will too! The lucky winner of our give-away will win:
  • the latest--and, I believe, inaugural--issue of Mixing Bowl, the new all-cooking-all-the-time publication from Better Homes and Gardens
  • a package of King Arthur Flour Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin Mix, which I'm having a hard time parting with :)
  • a cute, magnetic list-makin' note pad featuring an oven mitt and tea kettle
  • a Wilton 9-inch angled spatula, for all your spreadin' needs
  • a Wilton mini Noah's Ark cookie cutter set
  • 350 white mini baking cups (also from Wilton, so you can tell I went shopping at Michael's)
  • 25 clear cellophane bags for treats
  • 35 adorable Martha Stewart labels for said treat bags
  • a spool of brown and white striped baker's twine to finish off the treat bags
  • 2 really cute (if I do say so myself) kitchen towels, embellished by yours truly

Phew! That took ages to type, and one of you lucky readers can win it all! Just leave me a comment below. And tell your friends! You don't have to blog about it or anything (although I certainly won't stop you from doing so); just spread the word! I will randomly choose a winner on Monday, July 6th!
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June Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart with Blackberry/Spiced Apple Filling

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England. You can find the recipe for this lovely tart on both of their blogs.

One of the things I love about the Daring Bakers Challenges is that half the time, the item we are baking is something I've never even heard of before. This month's recipe, the Bakewell Tart, falls into that category. Baking something completely new to me always adds an extra ounce of zing to an already exciting time; not knowing how something is supposed to look or taste or smell makes it fun!

We didn't have a lot of artistic license over this recipe; we were required to make the crust and frangipane (aka, almond stuff) recipes provided. But sandwiched in between the two we could put basically anything we could spread on a crust. I actually made strawberry-raspberry-ruby red grapefruit preserves specifically for use in this tart. The preserves were completely from scratch--no store-bought pectin here!--and smelled absolutely heavenly while cooking. And they tasted really good and bright and summery...but I just didn't want to put them in my tart!

So I used blackberry jam (from Costco, but it is made in my state, so don't take too many points off for using something store-bought) on one half, and homemade chunky applesauce on the other. The recipe for the applesauce is here, and I encourage everyone to make some this fall. It is amazing; people say it tastes like apple pie filling, and they don't mean it as a compliment, but how is that a bad thing?!

As of posting time I had yet to taste the Bakewell Tart; the month got away from me, and then the day got away from me too! But it is out of the oven and quite pretty, and I managed to snap a few pictures in the fading 8:30 PM light. Thank goodness for my northern latitude! I would never get pictures of anything if it didn't stay light for so long!
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Sweet Melissa Sundays: Double Dark Chocolate Cherry Cookies

These cookies wildly surpassed my somewhat low expectations. I like chocolate-covered strawberries, and I love orange and chocolate flavors together, but other than that, I'm really not into fruit and chocolate pairings. As a result, I was skeptical about these dark chocolate cookies filled with dried cherries, even as Melissa Murphy, the author of the Sweet Melissa Baking Book, assured me that they were delicious in the recipe's forward. I was even less excited when I took them out of the oven, because I didn't think they were very pretty. So I ate one. And I liked it. So I ate another one. And another. And another. And another. And another. Yes, that is six cookies! And then I had two more the next day. They are really good cookies! The flavor of the cherries didn't come through as an overt, fresh cherry flavor. It was subtle and just a little tart, much like a dried cranberry, and gave the dark, rich chocolate of the cookie a little punch of zip.

Two tips if you're going to try these, and I do suggest you try them:
1) Do not bake them for 15 minutes, which is what the book says to do. Maybe 12 or 13, unless you like crispy cookies, in which case, by all means, leave them in for the full 15.
2) If your dried cherries are the size of quarters, like mine were, try snipping them into fourths with a pair of kitchen shears. This will spread the cherry love a little.

A big thanks to Megan of My Baking Adventures for choosing this week's delicious recipe. If you haven't had the pleasure of visiting her blog, she posts a great weekly ice cream series called The Weekly Scoop, which is awesome for these hot summer months. She also has this week's recipe, so do swing by. And to see a list of the other Sweet Melissa bakers, click here.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Love Cubans!

OK, so I've never met anyone from Cuba (at least that I can remember), and I'm not a cigar-smoker. I'm talking sandwiches here, people! Years and years ago, my dad told me about a place near his office that made these tasty Cuban sandwiches with roast pork, ham, mustard, and dill pickles on grilled bread. That's the first time I ever heard of Cuban sandwiches, but over the years I've seen recipes pop up here and there in magazines and on TV. The thing is, I never got around to eating one, even though they sound like they'd be right up my alley. So when I was writing up my menu and shopping list for this week, I decided to give them a whirl and see how they turned out. In a word, PERFECT! I really am sorry that I didn't try making these sooner, because they are quick, easy, and extremely delicious.

I decided to wing it with the recipe instead of making someone else's version of Cuban sandwiches. If you look them up on Wikipedia, it lists both the traditional and nontraditional ingredients, so it is pretty easy to figure out what to do. I started with country style boneless pork ribs, seasoned them with a garlic, oregano, salt and pepper rub, then simmered them for a few hours with some chicken broth and a bay leaf. When the pork is ready, all you have to do is shred it with a pair of dinner forks. I am trying to feed my family less processed fare, so when it came to ham, I opted for a presliced natural ham without additives from the deli section. Traditionally, Cubans are made with swiss cheese, but I'm really, really not a swiss cheeser, so I opted for the much tastier provalone. Add some dill pickles and a little mustard, panini it up, and you're done! So, so, so good. There really isn't anything else I can say, except thank goodness I have enough of everything left over that I can make one of these again for lunch tomorrow!

Cuban Sandwiches
If you are cooking the pork the same day you want to serve the sandwiches, please note that it requires a few hours of prep and cooking time. Very easy; just requires some forethought.

1 1/2 lbs country style boneless pork ribs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
olive oil
1 14-oz can low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
8 slices deli ham
8 slices provalone cheese (or swiss, if you're masochistic)
dill pickle slices
4 sandwich rolls or large hamburger buns

Combine salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic in a small bowl. Rub both sides of boneless pork ribs with spices, and let sit on the counter for 1 hour. Heat a small amount of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven, and brown pork ribs on both sides. Add broth and bay leaf, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer pork for 2-3 hours, until meat is very tender and falls apart easily. Remove pork from skillet, shred, and set aside.

Preheat your panini press. (If you don't have one, preheat 2 nonstick skillets. You put the sandwiches in one skillet, then put the other skillet on top and weigh it down with a nice, heavy can of something.) Lightly butter the outsides of the hamburger buns. Spread the inside of the top buns with mustard. Layer pork, ham, pickles, and cheese on the bottom bun, top with the mustard-slathered top bun, and cook in your panini press until outside is golden and cheese is melted.

Serves 4
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Recipes From Cheryl, Part II: Cockroach Bars

Another recipe from my childhood! These delicious cereal bars are kind of like a mix between rice krispy treats, popcorn balls, and chocolate. The gooey chocolate caramel sauce sticks to your teeth and they are just so tasty! And healthy, right? Puffed wheat...healthy...anyone...anyone? You can find lots of versions of this recipe on the internet (although they call them chocolate puffed wheat bars or something like that), but this one has the most chocolate caramel goo and the least cereal. I like my sticky sweets sticky! Do you ever have rice krispy treats from someone else and you think, "Did you put ANY marshmallow or butter in these???" We can't have that! If you missed the first part of my Recipes From Cheryl series, Nanaimo Bars, click here. And enjoy! Enjoy all that chocolatey goodness!

Cockroach Bars

4 1/2 cups unsweetened puffed wheat
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Measure puffed wheat into a large bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add corn syrup, brown sugar, and cocoa and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla, stir, and pour over puffed wheat. Stir gently with a spatula until cereal is evenly coated. Press cereal mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 8x8" square baking dish and cool completely before serving.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Butterscotch Cashew Bars

**If you are looking for the Pina Colada Cake from the Cake Slice Bakers, just scroll down! And stay tuned: my blog's 1 year anniversary AND my 100th post are both coming up soon, and I'm thinking of doing a little give-away to celebrate!**

This week's recipe for Butterscotch Cashew Bars from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book was chosen by Pamela of Cookies with Boys. If you are interested in the recipe for these tasty bar cookies, please visit her blog!

I have to admit that while I thought these cookies were good, I didn't love them. I thought they sounded so promising; I love cashews, I love sticky, gooey butterscotch, and I love shortbread. The combination of the three in bar-cookie form just didn't knock my socks off. Don't get me wrong, they were good enough for me to eat one each day for three or four days, but I could keep my hands off of them, which is unusual with me and baked goods! With the chocolate chip cookies from last week, I ate some before breakfast, some on my way out the door to run errands, a few while cooking dinner...You get the picture.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cake Slice Bakers #9: Pina Colada Cake

This month's featured cake from the Cake Slice Bakers was the lovely Pina Colada Cake. I was excited that it won our monthly poll because I love coconut and pineapple flavors together, and because the cake sounded perfectly summery.

I loved the actual cake layers; they were moist, light, and full of brown sugar. The batter was a snap to make and smelled delicious while baking. And, because I halved the recipe but only have one 6-inch cake pan, I got to have a house filled with the wonderful smell of warm brown sugar for almost 2 hours! The filling was also amazing, and something I would make again and can think of a dozen applications for. It was a mixture of crushed pineapple, lime juice, sugar, and vanilla bean, boiled down to a thick, sweet goo. I ate several spoonfuls and would happily have eaten all of it right out of the pot!

The frosting was not my favorite, but I'm pleased that it turned out. Last month, my brown sugar buttercream never came together, so I was thoroughly impressed with myself for managing to crank out what I imagine was a good coconut buttercream this month. Call me crazy, but I just like frosting made with powdered sugar! But now I can say I know how to make buttercream frosting, so I'm glad I went ahead and tried it.

I loved garnishing this cake and think it was quite a stunner, if I do say so myself! I had a really hard time choosing pictures to post!

I am too lazy today to type out the whole recipe, so click here to go to Lick The Bowl Good, a blog with lovely, lovely food photography and great recipes, including the one for this cake!

Our year of baking with Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne is actually winding down pretty soon, and I have thoroughly enjoyed baking these recipes, and have even found a few that will become go-to's. I would definitely recommed this fantastic cookbook to anyone looking for great cake and frosting ideas.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Homemade Bread Isn't Scary!

I think a lot of people--myself included--shy away from making our own bread because we think it is a) really tricky, and/or b) really time-consuming. Guess what? It isn't. Yes, yeast can be a scary thing; heaven knows I've messed up my fair share of yeast breads. But there are some tricks you can use to assure yeasty success every time you bake. And yes, the amount of time between when you start your bread and when you can eat it is in the hours, not the minutes, but most of that is waiting time, not working time.

Here is my mom's recipe for homemade bread. I happen to think it is the best in the world!

Mom's Bread
You can make this with all white flour or a combination of white and wheat. I tend to like it a little less wheaty, so I never go over half with the wheat flour.

1/2 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cups hot water
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup honey
1 Tablespoon salt
6 cups flour, plus more if needed
2 Tablespoons butter

In a 1-cup measuring cup, combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. Here's my yeast tip, and it hasn't failed me yet: Fill a small bowl with hot water; it shouldn't be boiling, just get your tap water nice and hot. Place the measuring cup with the yeast, water, and sugar into the hot water bath. Set aside to proof. In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine hot water, oil, honey, and salt. Now, before you add your yeast, make sure it has grown since you first mixed it with the water. I've never had the water bath method fail, but I guess there's a first time for everything, right?! If your yeast looks good and bubbly, add it to the mixing bowl, along with the first 2 or 3 cups of flour. Stir to combine, then add remaining flour. If you are using a stand mixer, this is when you should switch to your dough hook. If you are making your bread by hand, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes. The dough should form a nice ball that is no longer sticky when touched (you should be able to touch it and come away with a clean finger) and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If needed, add more flour in 1/4 cup increments. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm room for 1 hour.

Punch down risen dough, and turn it back out onto a well-floured surface. Give it a good knead for a minute or two, then divide the dough into 2 equal portions (I use a pastry cutter for this part, but you could use a knife). Shape each portion into a long oval, place in greased bread pans, cover, and let rise 30 minutes.

Bake loaves in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. If the bread is done, it should make a nice, hollow thud when you tap the top. Remove loaves from oven and immediately remove from pans. This part is a little tricky; try not to burn yourself. I usually use a pair of clean oven mitts to handle the piping hot loaves. Put them on a cooling rack and rub top crusts with butter.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds

A few years ago, I finally found what I thought was the best-ever chocolate chip cookie recipe. I got it from my friend Jill, and it is basically the Nestle Tollhouse recipe but with a little extra flour added. I love that recipe; the cookies turn out soft, buttery, and delicious. As a result, I was skeptical that Melissa Murphy's chocolate chip cookies could be as good.

I was so, so, so wrong. The first thing that both my husband and I said after we took our first bite was, "Oh My Gosh. Those are amazing!" (The kids liked them too, but they're hardly discerning when it comes to sweets.)

The cookies call for best-quality semisweet chocolate cut into chunks, so I used 1 2/3 Scharffenberger 62% bars and 1 Lindt milk chocolate bar because I love milk chocolate. It turns everything it touches into gastronomic gold! You could easily use semisweet chips if you wanted to make these cookies a little easier, but I love the dirty, marbled effect you get from using chopped chocolate. The recipe also calls for toasted almonds, which really puts these cookies in a league of their own.

The best thing about these cookies is that they are really no harder to make than normal chocolate chip cookies. Toasting almonds and chopping nuts and chocolate bars only takes about 5 minutes of work, and after that the recipe is pretty standard.

The author of the Sweet Melissa Baking Book, Melissa Murphy, was our host this week!! You can find the recipe on the Sweet Melissa Sundays website, and can also check to see if the other Sweet Melissa bakers liked the recipe as much as I did!
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Monday, June 8, 2009

Chicken Gyros and Tzatziki

I grew up in Las Vegas and spent many a vacation driving that long, ugly stretch of I-15 between Las Vegas and LA. For some reason, somewhere along the way, I got the idea that I wanted a chicken gyro from The Mad Greek in Baker, CA. Probably because we never did make that stop, I built chicken gyros up in my mind until they reached a crazy, manna-like status. I finally had one from a food-court Greek place at the mall in college, and I was right: they are delicious!

I found this particular recipe on Recipezaar and liked it enough to stop looking any further. The marinade is ridiculously easy to throw together, and the chicken turns out flavorful and moist. The real star of the show, the tzatziki, is delicious and refreshing--perfect for summer. I have a tendency to really heap it on my gyro so that everything is practically drowning in sauce. Last time I made it, I doubled the recipe and ate the leftovers with pita chips for several days after. Those were good days!

Chicken Gyros and Tzatziki
from Recipezaar here

for the chicken:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast tenders

Combine all ingredients in a gallon-sized ziplock bag, seal, and turn gently to evenly distribute marinade. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Remove chicken from bag and discard marinade. Saute chicken in a large non-stick skillet for 7-8 minutes or until cooked through.

for the tzatziki:
1 cup chopped cucumber (I used a hot-house cucumber because they don't need to be peeled, and the dark green looks pretty in the sauce)
2/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt (I would love to use Greek yogurt, but my regular grocery store doesn't carry it)
3/8 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
a pinch of kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, cover, and chill until needed.

to assemble:
Place chicken on warm pieces of flatbread. Top with tzatziki, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, and thinly sliced red onion. Roll (if your flatbread doesn't tear!) and eat.
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Bear's Peach Cobbler

This week's SMS recipe was chosen byAndrea of Nummy Kitchen. You can find the full recipe on her blog!

I love peach cobbler. In high school, I used to order it for lunch in the cafeteria at least once a week (and no, I wasn't a fatty in high school). I loved it, and it was cafeteria cobbler, so it probably wasn't of the highest quality (no offense to Clark High School!). Bear's Peach Cobbler from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book is very good. It didn't curl my toes or anything, but it was easy and tasty. Tasty enough, in fact, that I only managed to save a tiny amount to take pictures of the next morning! That's why you only see 1 square inch of biscuit poking out of the whipped cream in the picture below. There isn't any biscuit hiding under the whipped cream!

Click here to see how the other Sweet Melissa blogger/bakers fared this week! Up next: a big surprise! Even I don't know what it'll be!!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Recipes from Cheryl, Part I: Nanaimo Bars

When I was growing up, the leader in charge of 11 and 12-year-old girls at church was a wonderful woman named Cheryl. I remember lots of fun parties at her house during the summer, most of which were luaus. We made leis out of oleander flowers (which are EXTREMELY poisonous; it gave my mom fits!) from the hedges near her pool, drank some kind of delicious pineapple punch out of hollowed-out pineapples, swam, and generally had a blast. I was debating a few months ago which delicious recipe of hers I would make that weekend, and decided to do a little series highlighting the wonderful goodies my sisters and I grew up eating courtesy of Cheryl.

In our first installment, we have Nanaimo Bars (pronounced nuh-NY-mo), named for the city in British Columbia where they were created. You can find a million recipes for these, but they are all very similar. They are a cross between a bar cookie and candy. Super rich, super delicious. So very, very yummy. You'll be tempted to eat several because of their tiny size but you'll get a tummy ache!

Nanaimo Bars
from Cheryl Poulsen

1/2 cup butter
5 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 beaten egg
1 2/3 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut, toasted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I used pecans)

Combine butter, cocoa, and sugar in the top of a double boiler and cook gently until it starts to bubble; remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add vanilla and egg and stir. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add crumb mixture to chocolate mixture and press into the bottom of a 8x8 square pan. Set aside.

2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 Tablespoons instant vanilla pudding powder
1/4 cup milk

Beat ingredients until well-combined. Spread over cooled crust. Cover and chill.

4 ounces chocolate, half semisweet and half bitter, or whatever combination you like
1 Tablespoon butter

Heat ingredients in the top of a double boiler and stir until chocolate and butter are melted. Pour over chilled bars and let cool. Before topping hardens, score top gently. I did 6 rows and 4 columns to get 24 little bars. Allow to cool completely. Cut with a very sharp knife so as not to crack the chocolate.
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