Monday, July 27, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays and Daring Bakers: Cookies and Jam!

Summer is supposed to be relaxing, right? Maybe I just look at past summers through rose-colored glasses, but this summer has been the busiest one on record! Family reunions, summer festivals, out-of-town visitors, trips to the city; I'm amazed I've had time to cook anything! This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe was chosen by Margot of Effort to Deliciousness. She chose Strawberry-Ruby Grapefruit Preserves, which I happened to make a few months ago! I was excited to make these preserves because, while I've made lots of jam, I've never made it from scratch. I've always used liquid pectin, but in this recipe, we used granny smith apples! It was awesome! And the combination of strawberry and grapefruit made my whole house smell like a candy factory! I do have to say that liquid pectin makes a nice, smooth jam, and cooks up a lot faster. But if we ever have to go back to pioneer times, now I know what to do! You can find the recipe on Margot's site here.

On to Daring Bakers. I must admit that I was not excited about this month's challenge: homemade versions of store-bought cookies. I prefer homemade cookies anyway, so why would I want to make a store-bought cookie knock-off? But I digress. I chose to make the mallows because they sounded easy (wrong!) and tasty (sort of wrong!). The recipe has three parts: a slightly sweet, slightly cinnamon-y cracker-type cookie base with homemade marshmallow piped on top, all covered in chocolate. I thought this recipe would be a breeze, but I hit several roads blocks right off the bat. The dough needed to be rolled ultra thin and cut into little circles, but the dough was so sticky--even after chilling and much extra flour--that I had to scrap my first few attempts. The recipe also said it made 2 dozen cookies, which is exactly what I needed, but it made 200! But the cookies were actually really tasty, and I fed lots of the extras to my kids. That's actually the part of the recipe I would make again, if I were inclined to make homemade crackers. On to the marshmallow!

This was my first time with it, and probably my last! I love store-bought marshmallows, so I'm pretty good just sticking with them. I thought the directions could have said something like, "Watch out! This stuff will harden super quickly when you take it off the heat, so work quickly!" I had to find this out the hard way. About half-way through piping the marshmallow onto the cookies, the little "kisses" of marshmallow started to look like a mess.

Plus, I'm not big on meringue or divinity or anything egg white-y, and that's what the homemade marshmallow tasted like to me. Lastly, the chocolate glaze was a cinch (thank goodness!), but it was almost 100 the day I made these and they were a liquidy mess unless refrigerated. They basically had to go straight from fridge to mouth, otherwise there was chocolate everywhere. Oh well, better luck next month! It is well past midnight as I type this post, just in case anyone is wondering why it's so negative! :) And should you want the recipe, just click here!

The July Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Italian-Style Stuffed Zucchini: Tastier than it is Pretty

One of the things I wonder during the summer is how in the world people let their zucchini get so big! I've seen friends with 2-foot-long monster squash that somehow hid in their garden, undetected, apparently for weeks. We have never had that problem. Quite the opposite, in fact. No matter what we do, our zucchini fail to thrive. We started the gardening season so hopeful this year. Our two little zucchini plants grew and bloomed, and each had the beginnings of half a dozen zucchini on it. We harvested three small zucchini before our plants took a turn for the worse. Despite our TLC, despite our daily watering, despite our pleas, the little fruits turn a sickly shade of yellow, shrivel up and die, and the leaves turn brown. Needless to say, we had to resort to store-bought zucchini when we made this delicious recipe. But I hope that someday we'll be one of those families putting a basket of ginormous zucchini on the corner with a sign that reads, "Free Zucchini. Please take some!"

Italian-Style Stuffed Zucchini
Not the best-looking dish, but one of the tastiest ways to eat zucchini!

4 zucchini (think grocery-store sized), trimmed, halved, and seeded
1 lb lean ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup italian-style bread crumbs
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 head roasted garlic (you could easily substitute an equal amount of minced garlic)
salt and pepper
1 24-oz jar tomato-based pasta sauce

Combine beef, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, onion powder, and garlic. Scoop meat mixture into zucchini shells. Lightly spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, and place stuffed zucchini into pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with pasta sauce. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Whole Orange-Poppy Seed Cake

This week's recipe for Whole Orange-Poppy Seed Cake from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book was chosen by me! I had a really hard time deciding on a recipe, and even chose a different one first. But I just kept thinking about this cake and eventually changed my pick. I was intrigued by the concept of using the entire orange; peel, pith, and all! I thought it would have a slight bitterness to it, but that wasn't the case at all; you would never know that it had the peel of an entire orange in it! It could not have been easier and tasted absolutely delicious. I am a fan of lemon poppy seed cake, but I really enjoyed the orange flavor of this one. It was a very refreshing change of pace, and one I would welcome again and again!

Whole Orange-Poppy Seed Cake
from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

for the cake:
1 whole orange, well washed
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds

for the glaze:
2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan. Using a sharp knife, remove the little green stem from the orange skin. Cut the orange into 8 pieces. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the orange pieces (skin and all!) and 1/2 cup of the sugar until pureed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, so that no large orange skin pieces remain. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar until smooth. Stir in the orange pulp. whisk in the melted butter to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds to combine. Sprinkle over the orange mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The cake is done when a wooden skewer inserted intot eh center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes before unmolding the cake onto the rack for glazing. In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, lemon juice, and sguar at a high simmer. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until reduced by half. Using a pastry brush, brush the hot glaze all over the cake while it is still warm.

**There is also a lemon variation, but for that, you'll have to buy the book!**

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with Cornmeal Crumble Crust

Last week's recipe from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book was chosen by Eliana of A Chica Bakes. I'm so glad she chose this recipe! My week to choose our recipe is coming up, and I had a really hard time choosing which delicious baked good to try. I originally chose this one, and then decided against it, then felt guilty about switching, so I was thrilled when Eliana chose it! I like cheesecake a lot, but I don't luuuurve it. And I merely tolerate blueberries. Yet somehow, this recipe spoke to me. I received the Sweet Melissa Baking Book for Christmas last year, and this is one of the first recipes I drooled over. I was going to make it for a baby shower, but then it turned out that tons of people were bringing desserts, so I brought paper cups or something. Then, when I got home from the grocery store this week, I realized that I hadn't picked up any cream cheese! I bought the blueberries, I bought the mascarpone, but spaced the cream cheese. And I can really only make one trip to the grocery store a week. Anyway, better late than never!

This cheesecake is amazing. The flavors are incredible: the lemon is very present, but not overpowering; the blueberries are sweet and subtle; the crust is buttery. The textures are superb: the cheesecake is super smooth, creamy, and dense, not at all airy and crumbley like some cheesecakes; the cornmeal keeps the crust from getting even the least bit soggy. I would definitely make this again. Melissa Murphy has created yet another stellar dessert!

If you'd like the recipe, Eliana has graciously posted it on her blog. Or you could get yourself a copy of this amazing cookbook!
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cooking With Kids: The Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook (and Disappearing Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Cookbooks for children are funny things. I find that the majority of them fall into two equally awful categories: the food looks like something a child could easily make but that no one in their right mind would eat, or the food is super cute but requires tons of work from the parent to puree 10 different sauces to create a painter's palette of fruit and veggie dips or to cut out sails from patterned paper and thread them onto toothpicks to insert into your carefully crafted chicken salad boats (and yes, those were specific references). As the parent of a child who loves to cook, I want recipes that look delicious, don't take hours, and actually allow my child to do most of the work.

So, here at Lulu the Baker, we will be doing a series of children's cookbook reviews! Up first is The Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook. We bought this book on one of our semi-weekly trips to the craft store. My daughter loves the Disney/Pixar movies, so Lightning McQueen, Woody, Sulley, Mike Wisowsky, and Ratatouille on the cover captured her attention immediately and she plunked herself down in the middle of the aisle and started reading.

Good Things:
-Disney has made a real effort to make the recipes healthy. Any bread product called for is whole grain, dairy products are all low-fat, and each recipe comes with nutritional info.
-The pictures look nice and the food looks appetizing (for the most part).
-We've made only 3 recipes from this so far, but all were good. The chocolate chip cookies were exceptionally tasty.
-The directions are great. Very clear, very detailed.
-The cookbook also has excercise ideas and fun food trivia on each page.
-Each recipe also includes a list of utensils to be used while preparing that dish.

Bad Things:
-My little chef is quite young, so this probably wouldn't bother the parent of an older child. The book doesn't distinguish between which parts of the recipe should be done by the child and which should be done by an adult. Not a big deal; any grown-up worth their salt can just use common sense to figure that one out, but it'd be nice if it said, "Get a grown-up to help you put the baking sheet in the oven," or something like that.
-Lots of recipes call for bottled dressing, pre-cooked chicken, cake mixes, canned chili, etc. But again, asking a 6-year-old to bake a cake from scratch probably wouldn't work!
-As an adult, I find the pages really bright, busy, and kind of overloaded, but my kids LOVE it.
-A few of the recipes look barfy, but only a few, which I think is pretty good for a children's cookbook.

Overall: I think this cookbook is great for little kids who want to start helping out in the kitchen. The recipes are easy, fairly healthy, and actually look appetizing. Older kids who are interested in cooking can probably find a better book out there, but for small children, this one is great.

Disappearing Chocolate Chip Cookies
from The Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook
I was kind of curious as to how these cookies would turn out. They were delicious right out of the oven and really good the next day too. They are the texture of pumpkin cookies: light and cakey.

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. Put oats on a cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes or until toasted. Remove from oven, pour into a blender or food processor, and grind. Set aside. Beat butter in a large mixing bowl for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined. Add yogurt, eggs, and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour, oats, and chocolate chips, stirring between each ingredient. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for 9 minutes. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack. Makes a whopping 60 cookies, no joke!
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sweet Melissa Tuesdays: Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream

My husband and I got one of those cool Cuisinart ice cream makers for our wedding. You know, the one with the bowl that goes in the freezer and never needs ice. We were really excited about that gift. We even got the extra bowl so that we would never have to wait for the other one to be washed, dried, and refrozen. I guess we thought we'd be making ice cream twice a day or something. Anywho, we tried it once, it failed, and that was that. Then, in February, the Daring Bakers challenge called for homemade ice cream. I believe it was the night before the challenge was due that I finally got around to digging our ice cream maker out of the garage. But the bowl has to freeze for at least 24 hours before it'll work (which I think was the problem the first time we tried it), so I had to scramble around and borrow one from a friend. Not wanting to be unprepared for the rest of my ice cream-makin' life, I stuck our bowls in the freezer just in case I ever needed them again. So when I decided to go ahead and make last week's Sweet Melissa recipe for Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream even though I'd missed the posting date, the stars aligned perfectly to give me exactly enough heavy cream (seriously, TO THE DROP!), a ziplock full of tahitian vanilla beans from ebay that I thought I'd zip through and haven't, and a pre-frozen bowl just waiting to be used! And the resulting ice cream was delicious. Carmely, rich, smooth; the kind of ice cream you'll store your ice cream machine bowls in the freezer for.

Karen from Karen's Cookies, Cakes, & More chose the recipe for this week (Thank You Karen!) and has posted the recipe for the ice cream, along with hot fudge and butterscotch sauces, here.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Give-Away Winner!

So here's something crazy. My mom is always telling me that a bunch of family members read my blog, which surprises me because they never leave comments. So who should leave the winning comment on my one-year anniversary give-away? My aunt! Ha ha. Life is funny, isn't it. I love you Aunt Gigi, and thanks for a wonderful reunion; we will definitely be back next year! And many thanks to everyone who left well-wishes!
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