Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nut Brittles

It’s so embarrassing. I’ve probably made fifty batches of nut brittles over the years, but this weekend I tried to make peanut brittle – and I failed miserably. It was yummy, but the texture was gross. The nuts were actually chewy. Not good. So, I’m determined to redeem myself. This is the recipe I usually use. I tried a different one this weekend, so maybe that was the problem?

You can change this up endless ways, using different nuts or seeds. I’m a huge fan of pecan brittle, but if you’ve never made it before, try peanut first. It’s more forgiving. Pecans go from deliciously toasted to open-the-window-to-clear-the-room-of-smoke black so quickly. If you want to get really fancy, you could add herbs or spices to the mixture. Just be careful of the quantities here. Remember while cooking is an art, baking (and candy making) are also a science. I’m thinking pinenuts and rosemary? That might be awesome.

Here is the recipe I’ve used a million times. Use this one. It rocks. It’s from – who else?—Martha Stewart.

·         Nonstick cooking spray
·         1 1/2 cups sugar
·         1/2 cup light corn syrup
·         3/4 teaspoon salt
·         2 tablespoons butter
·         1 1/2 cups mixed nuts, such as pecan halves, cashews, pistachios, coarsely chopped if large
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • Spray a rimmed baking sheet and a wide metal spatula with cooking spray; set aside. 

  • In a 2-quart glass measuring cup, combine sugar, corn syrup, and salt, stirring until sugar is moistened. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Stir in butter and nuts; return to microwave for about 5 minutes, until the sugar mixture is thick, bubbly, and very pale brown in color. Mixture is very hot; use handle when holding and pouring. (Alternatively… and this is the way I do it… place everything in a pot and on the stove.) I’ve found I can monitor things better and avoid scorching the sugar and burning everything.)

  • Remove from microwave, stir in vanilla and baking soda (mixture may foam up). Immediately pour onto prepared baking sheet, spreading mixture as thinly as possible with the prepared spatula. Let stand 20 minutes until hardened, then lift off sheet, and break brittle into bite-size pieces.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peppermint Bark

:209/365: I've been on a roll with Christmas treats this year. Peppermint Bark is always on the menu at our house in December. I mean, seriously. It's the easiest thing to make in the whole world. Never, ever buy it. We actually saw it in a tiny box at the store today for $5.99. You can get a box of candy canes for 99 cents and a bag of chocolate chips for less than two dollars. And I'm guessing you can make at least twice (if not three times) as much as there was in the box.

  • Candy canes (or peppermint candies). I've actually seen this with other hard candies, like butterscotch and Lifesavers, but I'm sort of a traditional gal. 
  • A bag of chocolate chips. I go with Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet, but Harrison loves milk chocolate. And while I'm not a fan of white chocolate, that is also an option. 

  • This is also your chance to be creative. Basically anything that will stick in melted chocolate (and seriously, what doesn't?), you can add. Some suggestions: nuts, cookies, candies, cereal, marshmallows, crystallized ginger, crystallized citrus peel, chilies, dried fruit, pretzels, caramels, chips. I'm thinking....pretzels and toasted pecans in dark chocolate. Or what about dried cherries and chilies in bittersweet? Or crystallized ginger and almonds in milk. Sigh. So much bark, so little time.

  • Start by melting the chocolate. This is best done over very low heat in a heavy pot, but you can use the microwave. Just be sure to monitor it carefully. It'll scorch if you walk away.
  • Unwrap the candies and put them all in a heavy ziploc bag. I let Harrison do this part. He loves it. Then just start bashing them with a rolling pin or even a hammer. I usually have him do this on a towel to protect the counter. 
  • Spread the melted chocolate on a parchment lined baking sheet. You can use Silpat, but it gets messy. 
  • Sprinkle with the crunched up peppermint candy. Then using a metal spatula, press the candy into the melted chocolate. 
  • Let cool.
  • Then break it up into pieces and eat.
Options to consider: Different chocolates or even a marbling of a couple of chocolates would be yummy. You might also try to add nuts or dried fruit. I've seen white chocolate, almond and dried cranberry bark. Another good one might include crystallized ginger or dried chili peppers. You can really use whatever would stick to the chocolate -- sprinkles or sugar decorations might be fun. And seriously -- M&M's or chocolate covered nuts or chunks of other candy bars or cookies or pretzels or chips. Yum.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reindeer Cookies

Every once in a while we manage to make something that is even better than the inspiration. I think this is one of those times. We needed to make some cookies for the school Christmas party. And we wanted them to be awesome, so of course we turned to Pintrest for inspiration. So cute and so easy! I'll give you both the uber-easy way and the "I have a little more time today" way.


The Easy Way

This makes fifteen good sized cookies.
  • One package of cookie mix (the original recipe called for peanut butter, but one of the kids in Harrison's class is allergic to nuts, so we used sugar cookie dough which I tinted with about 1/4 c of baking cocoa. (You will also need the ingredients for the cookie dough -- for the sugar cookie dough, you'll need one stick of butter and an egg. For the peanut butter, you'll need 3T of vegetable oil and an egg.)
  • Hershey's Chocolate drops.
  • Milk chocolate Flips -- or other chocolate covered pretzels.
  • Edible sugar googly eyes. (If you can't find these... use M&M's like the original version, but I think the googly eyes make these really special.)
  • Mix the dough together, then shape into fifteen balls. For the reindeer shape, make the balls slightly narrower on one end, forming a cone. Chill in the freezer for about five minutes.
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes.
  • Remove the cookies from the oven. Working quickly, press the pretzels, the drops, and the eyes into the cookies.
  • Let them cool slightly, then transfer them carefully to a wire rack. Be careful. The chocolate is very soft at this point. But it will firm up once the cookies cool.
The "I Have More Time Way"


  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Chocolate-covered mini pretzels
  • Edible googly eyes or M&M's
  • Hershey's chocolate drops

  •  Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Combine brown sugar, peanut butter, shortening, milk, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Add egg; beat until just blended.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix just until blended.
  • Form dough into 1-inch balls. To make reindeer-shaped cookies, pinch the bottom of the ball slightly to form a point, then gently flatten with your hand. Space cookies about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until set or just beginning to brown. 
  • Remove from oven and immediately (and gently) press two mini pretzels into the tops of the cookies for the reindeer's antlers. Press two googly eyes or M&M's into the reindeer for the eyes. Then press one chocolate drop for the nose.
  • Allow to cool 2 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack or paper towel to cool completely.

Makes about 40 reindeer cookies.

Source: Peanut butter cookie recipe from Jif.
This is the original photo. I really do think we nailed this one.Pinned Image
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Week Eighteen -- Santa Hat Brownies

I always have such high hopes for the holidays. I imagine days of baking and making cute gift bags with homemade treats. The reality is a little less, well, Martha-ish. However, I do firmly believe in making time for a few fun (and new projects)….. hence the Santa Hat Brownies.

Santa Hat Brownies
Adapted from this recipe found on Erica’s Sweet Tooth
Yields 12-16 brownies
·         1 pan of your favorite brownies, cooled and cut into desired size and shape (I used a round cutter) – or for the really rushed baker – those two-bite brownies they sell in the bakery department of every grocery store. (Shhh. I won’t tell.)
·         12-16 small strawberries, cleaned and hulled – Try to find smallish ones. The usual ones are enormous and way too big for this project.
·         Vanilla frosting. Either use the recipe below or just buy a can of white frosting. I mean, seriously. These are so cute, no one will notice.
To assemble, pipe a ring of vanilla buttercream on top of each brownie.  Cut off the base of a strawberry so it is flat and place it upside down on each brownie, pushing slightly to secure in place.  Top the tip of the strawberry with a dot of buttercream to finish the Santa hat.
Mascarpone Buttercream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2-1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and mascarpone cheese until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla extract and salt.  Add 2-1/2 cups of sugar, half a cup at a time and continue beating until smooth.  Add more sugar, if needed to reach desired consistency and sweetness.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Week Seventeen -- Gingerbread

Bang!'s Gingerbread
Courtesy of Bang! Restaurant

This cake refrigerates and freezes well, and is best served reheated for a few seconds in the microwave oven.

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter or oil a 9" x 13" cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper for easier removal.

Bring water and baking soda to a boil. Take off heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine minced ginger, lemon zest, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, ground cloves, and salt. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add molasses and continue creaming until light in color.

Add flour mixture and water and soda mixture, alternately, in three parts. Mix well between additions.

Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Scrape bowl and mix well for 2 minutes.

Pour batter into greased, lined cake pan. Batter should come up to the halfway point in the pan. Spread evenly. Bake at 350° for 45-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool for 30 minutes in the pan. Slice into squares and serve warm with lightly sweetened, fresh whipped cream. Who are we kidding? Just gobble it up. (My sister likes her's with some chocolate bits melted on top. I favor a schmear of Nutella.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Week Sixteen --Getting Your Chocolate Fix

Okay, I will admit that I am sort of a chocolate freak. In fact, when people say -- "Nah, I not really a fan of chocolate", it makes me a little nervous. I believe that they are A) mentally unsettled, B) in denial, or C) have been force fed Chips Ahoy and Oreos and therefore cannot be held responsible for their opinions.

But, tonight I have to admit something. While generally I'm all about good, real desserts, there are sometimes those moments when I just want something gooey and sweet and well, now. This is where these come in. And please don't sneer at them until you've tried them.

Chocolate Smoothies

1/2 c butter (the original recipe calls for 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup shortening -- but the butter is better)
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
pinch of salt
1/2 t vanilla
1 cup of chocolate chips
1 cup of chopped nuts (toasted) (optional)
1 cup of broken pretzels (optional)

Mix this all together until crumbly then press it into the bottom of a glass dish. A pie pan is fine (glass only) or a 9x9 cake pan (also glass).

Microwave at 50% power for approximately 4 minutes. This will vary, so keep an eye on it. You want it all to be soft, but be careful of scorching. It can get nasty quickly.

Remove from microwave and sprinkle 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips on top. (I suppose you could use any chips -- white chocolate, milk chocolate, even peanut butter chips.)
Let this melt then spread it all over the top like you are icing a cake.

Top with 1/2 crushed nuts (I like toasted pecans, but any nuts will do.) You can leave these off -- my sister does, but I do think they make it better.

Eat. That's it. Easy, gooey, yummy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Week Fifteen -- Layered Liquids and Layered Bars

It’s odd how things line up this way. We found this VERY cool experiment online and had to do it. It’s from Steve Spangler Science, which is seriously the coolest site ever for kitchen projects. We decided to do the Density Tower, which is less sinister than it sounds. I’ll go through all the steps, but you can also just watch the video on Steve Spangler's site.
What You Need:

·         A tall, thin glass cylinder. This can be a flower vase, a graduated cylinder, or simply a tall glass.
·         A turkey baster
·         Honey
·         Karo syrup
·         Maple syrup
·         Dawn dish soap (important as this is a known density)
·          Water – colored with food coloring
·         Vegetable oil
·         Rubbing alcohol – colored with food coloring.
·         Lamp oil
·         (An optional addition is milk, which we didn’t use. We thought it might get gross.)

What You Do:

You must add the substances in order. First, the honey, then the Karo syrup, then the maple syrup. Pour slowly and try to keep the substances from touching the sides of the cylinder. Then, using the turkey baster begin adding the other ingredients in this order: dish soap, water, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol, then lamp oil. For these ingredients, it’s best to also go slowly and let the substances slide down the inside of the cylinder. Then you’re done!

Magic Cookie Bars (or Seven Layer Bars)

Bring on the Magic Cookie Bars. Okay, to be truthful, the only magical thing about them is that they are so easy. Well, I guess they are also pretty darn good.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 cups (12 oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
(You will notice that there are only six layers here. The optional layer can be 1 cup of peanut butter chips or a drizzle of caramel topping. We went with just six ingredients.

Our modifications: We (I mean Harrison) aren’t big coconut fans, so we omitted the coconut in favor of toffee bits. (1 cup). Then we increased the nuts to 1 ½ cups. We used pecans, toasted (duh).
  • HEAT oven to 350°F. Spray 13 x 9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray.
  • COMBINE graham cracker crumbs and butter in small bowl. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly with fork.
  • BAKE 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Loosen from sides of pan while still warm; cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or diamonds. 
  • For perfectly cut cookie bars, line entire pan with foil, extending foil over edge of pan. Coat lightly with no-stick cooking spray. After bars have baked and cooled, lift up with edges of foil to remove from pan. Cut into individual bars.  (Sigh…. That’s the Eagle Brand method. We just pretty much scooped out what we wanted into a dish and ate it..)

Keep in mind that these are sweet! I mean, make your teeth ache sweet. And, I’m no baby, but whoa.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Week Fourteen -- Alien Cupcakes and Fruit Kabobs

More often than not the image of what we’re going to make doesn’t match up with what we actually make. This week was a prime example of this. My son’s teacher sent an email asking if we could send treats for Pumpkin Day. Well, sure. So, after much discussion we decided to make alien cupcakes and fruit kabobs because nothing says Pumpkin Say like a bunch of fruit on a stick and a weird aliens made out of fluorescent green frosting and Twizzlers.

And the image I had of all of this, of course, came from Martha Stewart. (That was your first problem, you say.) So, we go to the store and buy a chocolate cake mix – no, Martha didn’t recommend this – obviously. And we buy a can of vanilla frosting (also not very M.S.). We searched for the green taffy that she used, but all we found were bags of multicolored taffy. And I’m thinking to make 24 cupcakes, we’ll need to buy about eleven bags, so we kept looking. Luckily Twizzlers now has rainbow colored licorice (which I’m not entirely sure can actually be called licorice. (Seriously.) I already had some giant gumdrops at home (courtesy of Whole Foods – try the Acai berry ones. Yum).

So, here’s what we did:

1.       Mix cake mix according to the package directions. I’m sorry. I know. But, there it is.

2.       Pour the mix evenly into a lined cupcake pan. We filled them about ¾ full. I like a puffy cupcake.

3.       Bake according to the directions. Gotta love Duncan Hines.

4.       While the cupcakes baked, we mixed up some acid green frosting, sliced the gumdrops in half and sliced the Twizzlers into thirds.

5.       Cool the cupcakes. Frost. Decorate. Done. (Take that M.S.)

The fruit kabobs are also way easy. I would have to say I probably wouldn’t do these for the under six crowd. Halloween just isn’t going to be as much fun if someone gets a skewer in the eye. Buy fruit, wash, cut as appropriate, slide the fruit onto the skewers. We also used marshmallows, but beware if you want to do this. Add the marshmallows just before you serve them. They get mushy.

That’s it. Like I said, our photos probably more realistically reflect a ten-year-old and his crazy mom’s abilities than the beautiful photos that M.S. turns out. I like to lower the bar. It makes it easier to step over it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Week Thirteen -- Apple Pie in an Apple

An Apple Pie in an Apple is all kinds of genius. First of all you can convince yourself that it is fairly healthy. After all it’s an apple! Second, it’s really good.

Four apples (We used Granny Smith, but I imagine any apple would do.)
Granulated sugar to taste. We ended up using approximately ½ a cup.
2T of unsalted butter
2T of flour
2t of ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
One round of prepared pie dough.

What You Do:
·         Peel and core the apples.
·          Slice off the top ½ inch of the apples.
·          If you have a melon baller tool, this next step is easy. If not, it’s a little more complicated, but not much. Carve your apple into a bowl shape, being careful not to break through the walls of the apples. Reserve the chopped apple bits.
·         Place the carved apples on a parchment lined baking sheet.
·         Place the chopped apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl and toss gently.
·         Stuff the hollowed out apples with the apple bits and top with ½ T of butter. (Be sure to really overstuff the apples since it will all cook down in the oven.)
·         Using a large round cookie cutter, an empty jar or a knife, slice your dough into four rounds.
·         Top each apple with a round of dough and cut slashes in the dough to vent any steam.
Bake the apples at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or until the apples are soft and the crusts are golden.

You could serve these with ice cream or whipped cream, but we enjoyed them plain.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Week Twelve --Bacon Cheddar Scones and Baked Doughnuts

We’ve been reading The Emerald Atlas by John Stevens. I completely blame the book for our bakefest yesterday. Okay… blame isn’t the best word. Maybe credit? There is a scene in the novel where a dwarf delivers a breakfast for dinner feast to the Emma and Michael and Dr. Pym. Maybe it was just that we were hungry or maybe the description was so great or maybe both,
but we decided to partly mimic the meal. I say partly because in the book, the dwarf delivers at least seven different things. We started by making baked doughnuts, which we’ve done before, but which we enhanced with this round. The recipe is pretty basic, but it’s infinitely versatile. They’re really tasty despite being somewhat healthy. For best results, you really need a doughnut pan, but a muffin pan would work just as well, you’d just have doughnuts without any holes. Both of these recipes come from King Arthur Flour – which seriously is the greatest place for recipes, ingredients, mixes, and cool baking gadgets.
Baked Doughnuts

1 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons dried buttermilk powder
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
1) Whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
2) In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, oil and  water (or buttermilk or yogurt) until foamy.
3) Pour the liquid ingredients all at once into the dry ingredients and stir
just until combined.
4) Butter or grease the doughnut pan; non-stick pan spray works well here. Note: even though the pan is non-stick, since the doughnuts are low-fat they may stick unless you grease the pan first. Fill each doughnut form half full.
5) Bake the doughnuts in a preheated 375°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. When done, they'll spring back when touched lightly, and will be quite brown on the top.
6) Remove the doughnuts from the oven, remove them from the pan, and allow them to cool on rack. Glaze with icing, or coat with cinnamon-sugar or any non-melting sugar.

*** We made a few alterations. We put more batter in the pan. Using the amount the recipe called for made these wimpy flat doughnuts. By filling them to the brim, you get nice plump doughnuts.

*** We made a chocolate glaze with cocoa power and confectioner’s sugar and a bit of water. We added sprinkles to those. We also brushed a couple with butter and sprinkled cinnamon sugar over them. Finally we tried jelly-filled, which worked pretty well. Although I’d put a sheet pan under the pan to catch any runaway jelly. For these we put in half the batter, added about 2T of jelly, then topped with the remaining batter.

Bacon Cheddar Scones – note these are seriously the BEST scones I have ever tasted. Also we’re both veg, so we used soy bacon. You might try it. I think regular bacon might make the scones too greasy.

2 cups All-Purpose Flour or Pastry Blend
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) cold butter
1 cup (4 ounces) very coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 pound bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled (about 1 cup) We used Morning
Star bacon.
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons plain Greek
yogurt. (K.A.F. uses heavy cream here, but we substituted the yogurt.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
1) Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
2) Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly.
3) Mix in the cheese and bacon till evenly distributed.
4) Add ¾ cup of the yogurt, stirring to combine. Try squeezing the dough together; if it’s crumbly and won’t hang together, or if there are crumbs remaining in the bottom of the bowl, add yogurt until the dough comes together. Transfer the shaggy dough to a well-floured work surface.
5) Pat the dough into a smooth 7" disk about ¾" thick. Transfer the disk to the prepared baking sheet.
6) Use a knife or bench knife to cut the disk into 8 wedges, spreading the wedges apart a bit on the pan.
7) Brush the scones with a bit of beaten egg; this will help their crust brown.
8) Bake the scones for 22 to 24 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 large scones

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week Eleven -- Whoopie Pies

Whoopie Pies – although not the best. The best you can make at home.

I cheat. I do and I admit it. I actually make my whoopie pies in a muffin pan and then slice them in half and fill them. I am sure whoopie pie purists out there are shuddering reading this, but frankly it is just a whole lot easier. We made the classic chocolate cake and vanilla filling pies. There are a lot of variations out there. I also love pumpkin with cream cheese filling or gingerbread with vanilla. My son likes chocolate with chocolate filling. But, we decided to stick with chocolate and vanilla. You really can't beat that.

Chocolate Cake

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
3 T cocoa (heaping if you want them extra chocolate-y)
1 tsp. Real vanilla extract
5 T vegetable oil
1 T white vinegar
1 cup water

Mix the drys together and then make little depressions in it for the oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Then pour the water over the whole thing. It will feel like you’re making a mud cake, but stick with it. Pour into an unlined (but greased) muffin tin. Fill each well about ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 –22 minutes. Let cool then slice them in half horizontally.

Vanilla Filling

4T softened butter
4 T vegetable shortening
1 cup marshmallow fluff
Pinch of salt
Tsp of vanilla
3 cups confectioner’s sugar

Mix everything together, adding more sugar if needed. If it’s humid, you’ll need a bit more. Put icing (a lot or a little) on half of the pie and cover with the other half. Eat.

What to do with your leftover Marshmallow Fluff.... make Fluffernutter Sandwiches. Just substitute fluff for the jelly in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yum.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week Ten -- Salsa


I realize that I've pretty much stuck with sweet items recently, so I thought we'd try something decidedly not sweet. After moving from one side of the country to the other and then almost all the way back again, I've discovered a secret. If you move, take some recipes from your old home with you. When you make salsa for Mainers, they think you're a genius. If you made that same salsa in Texas, they'd probably tell you it was okay, but that they could do better. I've brought whoopie pies and scallops and blueberry pie to Texas from Maine. I've brought pecan pie and salsa and queso to Maine. So, here is an excellent recipe to use most anywhere.... but it will kill anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line!


2 qt. chopped tomatoes (you can use fresh, but canned is also fine... just get the whole tomatoes in their own juice.)
8 jalapeƱos
2 onions chopped -- any color
3 8 oz tomato sauce -- not pasta sauce, but just canned tomato sauce
3 t salt
3 green peppers chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 t oregano
1 t cumin
½ t pepper
½ t cayenne
½ t vinegar

Simmer on stovetop for 20-40 minutes or until slightly thickened. Let cool then eat it immediately or put it in the refrigerator. Don't try to freeze this. I tried once and the results were less than pleasant. The peppers and onions just get sort of mushy and rubbery. Yuck.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Week Nine -- Rainbow Cake

Okay, who wouldn’t be enchanted by rainbow colored cupcakes, especially when they are rendered in such bright colors that one might suspect they would glow in the dark? And who knew it could be so easy?
We actually opted to bake a rainbow cake instead of rainbow cupcakes, reasoning that the effect would be multiplied exponentially in a layer cake.

• One box of white cake mix
• Ingredients needed for the mix. In our case, 3 egg whites, 3 T of vegetable oil, and water.
• Food colors (We used Wilton gel colors for their lack of flavor and their bright colors.) Red, yellow, and blue.
• Either two cans of white frosting or a batch of homemade white frosting.
• Two eight or nine inch round cake pans.

• Prepare the cake mix according to the package instructions.
• Separate the mix into six (or seven if you’re a rainbow purist) bowls.
• Using a toothpick (or in our case chopsticks) add a small amount of the appropriate dye to each bowl, keeping in mind that you can always add color, but you can’t take it away (see our notes below). We ended up with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and vomit. I’m sorry, but there it is. Our purple just went south fast and kept getting worse the more we messed with it.
• Layer the colors carefully in your pans. If you are making layer cakes as we were, layer one with red, orange, and yellow (in that order) and the other with green, blue, and purple (or in our case just green and blue).
• Bake according to package directions, being careful not to over bake.
• Remove from the oven and let your layers cool. This is a good chance to mix up your icing, clean up all those bowls, and poke around for decorations (if you want to use them). We didn’t this time, but I think next time we might have to go bigger.
Once your layers are cool, slice them horizontally if you like into two layers each (for a total of four), or just use them whole.
• Ice your cake, being careful to cover all the color with your white icing. Your goal is to have a completely white cake when you are finished. This makes the reveal that much cooler. You can, at this point, use some of your frosting to make ‘clouds’ on top of the cake. You might also look for Sour Punch X-tremes to use as decoration. I see using them as mini rainbows on top or as a border around your cake.
• Slice into your cake and enjoy.

Notes on a Barf Cake: Okay, we ended up with vomit colored cake batter, so we decided to make a second (smaller cake) with it. Then we dyed some of our frosting rotten avocado green. My son called it barf cake. It’s true. And the thing is, I think the barf cake actually ended up being the highlight. Anyone can make a beautiful rainbow cake which everyone will ooh and aah over. Who can say the same about our barf cake?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Week Eight -- Apple Pie and Bubble Junk

I will confess that I wasn’t all that creative with one of our projects this week (yes, we did two, but one isn’t edible… I mean, I guess it is, but you wouldn’t want to.) The first was inspired by the amazing pyramids of apples that showed up last week in our grocery store. I promise not to bore you with my memories of picking apples in Maine. (Sigh… it’s just more romantic than picking apples at Brookshire’s here in Tyler.) I know I’ve already done an apple project, but please forgive me. I haven’t made apple pie in a while… so…. Here goes. My recipe is my own and of course it’s sort of flexible because I don’t know what kind of apples you are using or how sweet those apples are. I used McIntosh, which I know is some sort of culinary felony in some circles. I’ve been told (pinch your nose and read this aloud) “McIntosh are not for cooking. They are for eating out of the hand.” Whatever. I’m not a pomologist, ( so I pretty much just eat apples that I like (Honey Crisp, Jazz, Northern Spy, MacIntosh, Ambrosia, Winesap, Pink Lady, Pippen, and Black Gilliflower) This last one I’ve only had once and I include it because it’s amazing and I love the name and well, it’s black. Very cool. For a complete guide of registered apples go to:

So, apple pie is about the easiest thing you can do… seriously. And listen, if you are afraid of the crust, just go buy one for heaven sake. No one will know...unless you tell them or unless you are having Martha Stewart over for dinner. And if Martha is coming over, you’ve got bigger fish to fry than to worry about whether your pie crust is flaky enough.

Texas Size Apple Pie
The crust: (Or Pate Brisee if you are feeling fancy pants)

P.S. If you bought your dough… congratulations… you can skip all this business.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 to 8 Tbsp ice water

1. Place flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Zip it around for a few seconds. Add the butter pieces; process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. You can obviously do all of this by hand, but it’s easier with the for processor because you won’t’ have to worry about the dough getting too warm from your hot little hands.
2. Add the ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube with the machine running, just until dough holds together. Use that fun pulse button on your food processor for this so you don’t get that nasty flour gluten all worked up. (That will make your crust tough and Martha won’t like that.) Test by squeezing dough; if it is still crumbly, add a bit more water. REMEMBER! You can always add water… you can’t take it away!
3. Dump out the dough onto some plastic wrap. Divide the dough in two pieces. Pat each into a flat disk. Wrap the dough in the plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Apple Filling

• ½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
• Crust (Sorry Pate Brisee)
• 5 ½ pounds apples (about 12-14) Zip it… I know this seems like a lot of apples, but trust me.
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 1 cup sugar This will vary depending upon your apple proclivity
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ½ t nutmeg
• 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out your chilled dough (or unwrap your store-bought dough). You need to roll it out to about 15 inches so that you have enough to pinch the edges closed when you’re finished. Line your DEEP DISH pie pan with this. You can do a regular 9 incher, but you might have enough apples for almost two pies if you do this.
2. Peel, core, and slice apples. Put the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and part of the sugar. Toss the apples to mix. Taste the apples… add more sugar if you like.
3. Dump apples into you crust-lined pan. Dot with your butter chunks.
4. Place other pie crust (which you’ve either rolled out or unwrapped – if you roll it out, make it a little larger than the other.. .maybe 18 inches.) on top and seal the edges. Use your thumb and forefinger to make little pinches all the way around the edge so it looks nice and it holds all the hot apple bubbly goodness inside.
5. Cut vents in the top crust. This will allow the steam to exit your pie without blowing a hole in it.
6. Now, you can brush the crust with egg wash (egg yolk mixed with a little cream or milk) and sprinkle it with sugar, but it’s fine without. Note: if Martha is coming over, definitely do this. If I’m coming over, don’t bother.
7. Put your pie on either a baking sheet or foil to catch any overflow of the juices. That way you won’t have to buy a new oven when you’re finished.
8. Place the pie in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 minutes.
9. Cool before you eat it. I know…but it will be all dribbly and juicy otherwise. Trust me. Let the filling thicken….

Bubble Junk
This might not even be on your radar, but if it’s not maybe you shouldn’t be so sophisticated. There is something so soothing about making giant bubbles and watching them float up into the sky. Even better if you live in an upper floor of a building or live near a body of water. But, the best is when I lived in Alaska… the bubbles don’t burst in the winter, they shatter. Weird, right? Yep… bubble junk plus 50 below equals breakable bubbles.
So, here you go… this is best recipe for bubble junk.

1 cup dishwashing liquid… Blue Dawn is the best. (I don’t know why)
12 cups water
¼ cup glycerin (or corn syrup – but glycerin is better… less messy and you won’t attract bees.)

Mix it all together and let it sit for an hour or overnight. It just gets better.
If you have one of the giant bubble thingies that you can buy from Klutz… awesome, but a big can (like a coffee can) with both ends taken off it works great too.
Go eat pie and play. Life is too short to just sit at your computer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Week Seven - Applesauce

We had to make these, both because apples were on sale at the grocery store and because we are feeling very homesick for someplace where there actually is fall. My mother wrecked me and I’m wrecking my son. I never ate that weird tan stuff they call applesauce that you can buy at the grocery store. I even remember looking suspiciously at the yellowish blob of the stuff on my lunch tray in elementary school. The menu listed applesauce. It was only vaguely apple-y and only marginally edible in my mind… not because it was terrible. It was just not that good compared to the homemade stuff I grew up on.

Okay… you are likely saying to yourself. “That crazy woman! I don’t have time to make homemade applesauce.” But, don’t despair… it is EASY! And so worth it. The apple jelly is optional, but I highly recommend it. I mean, what else are you going to do with all that juice? And lest you think this is like those little packs of jam that they serve at diners… let me tell you quickly that like homemade applesauce, homemade jelly is an entirely different beast. A delicious beast.

The recipe is sort of vague, but I think you’ll get it pretty easily.
First, before you do anything… do you have a food mill? If you don’t, you should, but you can still make this recipe, it just won’t be quite as easy. Go buy a food mill. You can pick them up for about five bucks at an antique store like I did. I’m sure you can buy them new too, but probably not for five dollars.


Apples (duh) I usually won’t make applesauce unless I have at least five pounds, but this time I had ten. As for the kind? Get what you like. I love Macintosh, so if they are available, I buy them. A close second is a Jonathan apple or other thin-skinned apple. But, you can throw in whatever apples you like. You can even use the bruised ones… it doesn’t matter. And you may be able to get your produce person to give them to you for cheap or free because otherwise they’ll just throw them out.
Lemon juice
Nutmeg (optional)

  • If you have a food mill, congratulations. This will be easy. Just quarter the apples and chuck them into a pot filled with about an inch of water.…. Yes, seeds, stem, those maddening little stickers and all. If you don’t (I’m sorry), you’ll have to peel and core them then put them in the pot. See? The food mill is the way to go.

  • Cover and let simmer until they are soft. This usually only takes about fifteen minutes tops. Keep an eye on things and add water if everything starts getting dry. It just depends on how juicy your apples are at this point.

  • Let cool for a bit. You can uncover them to help them cool. Don’t be alarmed. They look gross.

  • Use a slotted spoon to scoop some into your food mill (or a blender or food processor). I guess you could mash them by hand with a potato masher, but I’ve never tried this.

  • Whirl everything around until your mill is empty. Repeat until you’ve used all the apples.

  • Add the juice of half to a whole lemon and a bit of sugar and cinnamon. Keep tasting it until you like the flavor. You can use artificial sweeteners or agave or stevia in place of some or all of the sugar, but I’m sort of a purist… or nonpurist, depending on your point of view.

  • Also, your applesuace will be brown, whether you add cinnamon or not. This is the natural color... that other junk is bleached or something. ;)

Apple Jelly

  • Now, you still have a pot of juice. You will need to strain this. You can use either a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Shhh. This isn’t hard.

  • Then pour the juice or drip it into a clean pot (a medium one).

  • Eyeball your juice (I told you this isn’t exactly scientific) and add ¾ to 1 cup of granulated sugar for each cup of juice. You can’t use anything artificial here…. Sorry.

  • Place over a low flame and stir it until the sugar is dissolved. Let it simmer for about five minutes. You may need to skim off any foam on the surface. I don’t know what this is… it’s best not to ask.

  • Now, let it boil gently until it begins to thicken. Use your spoon to judge this. Once it is about the consistency of honey, you’re ready to pour it into jars or some other heatproof container.

  • Let it cool and eat it. If it isn’t as firm as you like, just tell everyone it’s apple honey or apple syrup. If they still give you a hard time, tell them to shut it. Or just snatch it back from them and say “Too bad. More for me.” That’ll teach them.

  • Monday, September 5, 2011

    Week Six-- Cherry Pickles

    Yes, you read that right. Cherry Pickles. Obviously this is a very simple project, made even simpler by the fact that we used prepared pickles. I'm sure that you could make your own pickles, but for the sake of this project, I can't imagine why you'd go to that trouble.


    • Dill pickles.

    • Cherry Koolaid mix -- we used sugar free, but you could probably just use the regular mix without the sugar mixed in. Results may vary, however.

    • A jar

    What you do:

    The original recipe called for turning a whole jar of pickles into cherry pickles, but I thought that maybe we'd just start with three. Besides, three was all my jar would hold.

    1.Pour some of the pickling liquid into an empty jar. Don't fill it more than half full or you'll risk a flood of brine.

    2.Add the cherry Koolaid mix. I used enough to make around a quart. Obviously far more than needed to make my liquid cherry-y, but I figured we might as well go for it.

    3.Put the lid on the jar and shake.

    4. Slice up as many pickles as you can fit into the jar. I used three for my pint jar.

    5. Put the pickles in the jar. Put on the lid and let sit in the refrigerator for, well, as long as you can stand to wait. I figure about a week should do it.

    I have no idea if these will be good, but I'll post our results. Stay tuned.

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Week Five -- Serious Cookies

    I realize that two weeks in a row of cookies is probably a faux pas, but I see last week as more of an experiment -- I mean, come on -- cookies from a mix. These are the real deal. Cookies are so often maligned as being only for an afternoon snack or just for kids, but I’m tired of going to dinner at someone’s house or to a restaurant and having some fancy-shmancy nonsense that some people call dessert served to me simply because it’s fancy or complicated. I have decided to start a movement that will hopefully help elevate cookies to their appropriate place in the culinary world. And I’m pretty sure that these cookies will go a long way toward making this happen.

    Before you start these cookies, you must understand a few things. At the risk of channeling Martha Stewart, I do have to say that if you start messing around with either the ingredients or the method, you will not have the same results that I have had with these. For instance, if you decide to replace the butter with margarine, beware that these will not be the same…meaning they won’t be as delicious. Unless you have a dairy allergy or are a vegan, stick with the butter. Not only does it taste better, but it really is better for you. So, here goes… this recipe is infinitely malleable as long as you follow the principle recipe and the method. Really, your only limit is your own imagination here.

    Serious Cookie Master Recipe

    2 sticks butter softened (use REAL butter)
    1 ½ cups DARK brown sugar
    1 egg
    1 t REAL vanilla extract
    1 ½ cups whole wheat flour (you can also use graham flour with excellent results)
    1 t baking soda
    Pinch salt
    1 ½ cups rolled oats

    1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Cream butter and sugar until it is fluffy. You can do this either by hand or with a mixer.
    3. Add egg and vanilla. Cream again.
    4. Sift together flour, soda, and salt or just use your hands to fluff them together in a separate bowl. Add to the wet mixture. Now, here is where things can go wrong. Only mix this until it comes together… do not over mix. If you start working the flour too much, you will develop the gluten. This is desirable in bread… not in cookies.
    5. Add oats and whatever mix-in’s you choose. Mix gently.
    6. If you are working in a cool kitchen, you can go straight from here. If it’s a bit warm, chill your dough first.
    7. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet.
    8. Bake 10-12 minutes for 2T size mounds of dough.
    a. These also can be made into monster cookies… Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Use the 1/3 cup measure or even the ½ cup measure. You should flatten the dough blobs slightly with your fingers if you do the monster cookie method. This will help them bake evenly.

    Cookie Mix-in Options:

    Cherry Toffee Chocolate Chip
    1 cup dried cherries
    6 oz chocolate chips
    1 cup toffee pieces

    Toffee Pecan –
    1 cup toffee pieces
    1 cup chopped TOASTED pecans – Don’t be lazy. Toast your nuts first on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven. Check them often. They will burn quickly. (You can substitute any nut… walnuts, almonds, etc.)

    Coconut Almond
    1 cup toasted slivered almonds
    1 cup toasted sweetened coconut

    1 cup milk chocolate pieces
    1 cup chopped toasted peanuts
    1 cup toffee pieces

    Traditional Oatmeal
    1 cup raisins
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    ½ tsp. nutmeg

    Other mix-in options: citrus zest, candy pieces (such as MnM’s, chopped up candy bars, bashed up candy canes), chopped dried fruit, crystallized ginger, caramels (add a little sprinkle of sea salt just before baking).

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Week Four -- Car Cookies

    It has been a HOT summer here in Texas. Of course my son and I just returned from six weeks in Maine, inviting much ridicule and dirty looks from friends and family. I decided not to mention that we were wearing fleece coats on a couple of particularly chilly evenings. I’m pretty sure that might have sent them over the edge. But in homage to the heat, we’ve decided to embrace it for this week’s project. The weather forecast for Saturday here in Tyler is 107 degrees. I’ve lived in the Mohave Desert, where it can reach 125 degrees and up on a summer day, but 107 is plenty hot. We are attempting to bake cookies in our car. The USDA website states that eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees for safety. So, in addition to checking the temperature of the car, I’m going to check the temperature of the cookies themselves. I’ve elected to use a mix. (I know – hush), but I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on fresh ingredients if ultimately we can’t even eat them. If we’re successful, perhaps we’ll try again with real cookies.

    What You’ll Need:

    • One package of cookie mix. (We are using Betty Crocker Peanut Butter.)
    • The ingredients for your cookie mix. (In our case: one egg, 3T of cooking oil, and 1T of water.)
    • One pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups. (A last minute addition).
    • A car
    • A wicked hot day.
    • A thermometer – we are using a regular inside/outside thermometer and a candy thermometer. Make sure your thermometers go up past 120 degrees. Many don’t.
    • A cookie sheet.
    • Parchment (optional)


    · Park your car in the sun approximately 30 minutes before you plan to bake your cookies. This is the preheating of the oven phase. Try and angle your car so that the dashboard is completely in the sun.
    · Place your thermometer on the dashboard. Then seal up the car. No cracked windows here.
    · Prepare cookie dough following the package directions.
    · Place mounds of cookie dough on your lined baking sheet. We then flattened the cookies. I thought this might help them bake more evenly.
    Wait until your car temperature reaches at least 130 degrees. Then place the cookie sheet on the dashboard of the car, angling them to get the most sunlight.
    · Check on your cookies after 45 minutes and then every fifteen minutes or so. Use a hot pad. The pan will be much hotter than you think. We topped out our thermometer which reaches 160 degrees. Our candy thermometer showed that it was well past 170 by the time our cookies were baked. At that temperature, it took about 90 minutes to fully bake the cookies.
    · Take them out, let them cool, and eat them.
    · A surprise bonus…. Your car now smells invitingly of fresh-baked cookies.

    Just for fun we fried an egg on the pavement. It took seven minutes.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Week Three -- Pecan Pie (The South)

    This week’s project and next week’s project are an homage to both of my homes… I was born in the north, but I’ve lived in Texas longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. So, clearly I am neither a Yankee nor a Texan, but a little of both. Pecans are falling from the trees (or rather, the squirrels are chucking them at us whenever we get too close to the pecan treee in our backyard.)here in Texas, so I had to whip together a classic pecan pie. For the pie…. There are probably twelve thousand recipes for pecan pie. Some fancy (add bourbon and bittersweet chocolate and candied orange peel) and some not… corn syrup and store-bought crust. I have my own recipe. It’s (in my opinion) the best pecan pie. It focuses more on the pecans and less on the moodge that holds them together…. Now, for my Yankee friends… here in Texas you say, pee-can, (emphasis on the ‘pee’) not pe-con and never peck-ann.

    Deep Dish “PEE-can” Pie


    1 cup light corn syrup
    1 cup dark brown sugar
    1 t pure vanilla extract
    Pinch of salt
    3 eggs lightly beaten
    3 T melted butter (cooled)
    3 cups toasted pecans. (These can be halves or pieces or both)
    Pie dough for a single crust pie. (Either buy this or use a half recipe of the pate brisee that I listed in the apple pie recipe. )

    1. Combine the corn syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Add lightly beaten eggs and half of the pecans.
    2. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell. Then add remaining pecans, pressing down slightly to sink them into the pie base. (This makes certain that you have lots of delicious pecan goodness on the top of the pie. )
    3. Place pie pan on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Check periodically and cover with foil if the edges of the crust or the pecans become too dark. Tap center surface of pie lightly - it should spring back when done.
    4. Cool for at least an hour.
    5. Serve plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Week Two -- Cheese (Mozzarella)

    This week we decided to make cheese. After the obvious (and I know sort of gross) jokes about “cutting the cheese”…. (Keep in mind I am cooking with an ten-year-old), we got to work. But, let me say right up front that the work begins when you have to find milk that will work in this project. The best choice is local, raw milk. But, that isn’t available to everyone and is frankly somewhat cost-prohibitive. (The gallon my mom found at a local farm was eight dollars.) The second best choice is organic milk, but here’s the rub. It can’t be super or ultra pasteurized. While ultra-pasteurization is awesome for extending the shelf life of milk, it kills the necessary components for turning that milk into cheese. For more information on this, check out The Cheese Queen’s website. She is the best resource for making cheese. For more a more detailed explanation of the types of milk, go to: For a list of milk that might be available in your area, go to:

    Like I said, we were able to find raw milk at Lucky Layla Farms. By the way, this is also the very best place to buy Dulche de Leche. I didn’t know what this was until I tried it. Imagine the best caramel sauce you have ever had, and then take it up about seven notches. Now you’re close.

    With raw milk, it is suggested that you heat it to kill anything that might be lurking in its creamy depths. I poured the gallon of milk into a big stainless pot and put it on the stove with my handy dandy candy thermometer in it. (I’m serious… I’ve gotten more use out of that thing in the last two weeks, than ever before.) I really had to keep an eye on the milk. It heated up quickly. I got it up to 145 degrees for 30 minutes. Then we had to cool it quickly. I used an ice bath for this. After that, the cheese making began. The directions are pretty straight-forward, but I had to read them about seventy times. I think now I get it after having read it once. Following is the recipe from The Cheese Queen. Barbara Kingsolver mentions Ricki Carroll (The Cheese Queen) in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Caroll’s website, is the best place I found for recipes, sources, and help for making any kind of cheese. We started with Mozzarella because it seems to be one of the easiest. Other easy things to make include: Cream Cheese, Sour Cream, Yogurt, Fromage Blanc, Creme Fraiche, Mascarpone, Lemon Cheese, Herb Cheeses, Buttermilk, Kefir, Panir, Queso Blanco, and ricotta.

    Following is the recipe that we used for mozzarella cheese. It was really easy and I’m not just saying that. Harrison wants to make hard cheeses next, but that might have to wait awhile. That seems anything but easy.

    Mozzarella Cheese

    The Milk:
    Make sure the milk you use for this cheese is NOT
    --Homogenized milk will work fine.
    --Fresh farm milk will also work well but we encourage you to try with 1 gallon of store bought whole milk first.
    --Low fat milk will work but the cheese will be drier and less flavorful

    1/4 tablet of rennet (we used the vegetarian option)
    1 1/2 tsp. citric acid
    1 1/4 c. water
    1 T cheese salt (although I think most any salt would do)

    You will also need:

    --A 6 to 8 quart stainless steel pot. Aluminum or cast iron will not work.
    --A stainless steel or strong plastic slotted spoon.
    --A two quart microwave safe mixing bowl
    --measuring spoons
    --A thermometer which will clearly read between 80 - 120 degrees F.


    • Crush 1/4 tablet of rennet and dissolve in 1/4 cup of cool unchlorinated water and set aside to use later.

    • Add 1.5 tsp. of citric acid (diluted in 1 cup cool water to 1 gallon of cold milk and stir well.
      Now pour cold milk into your pot quite quickly to mix well with the citric acid . This will bring the milk to the proper acidity to stretch well later.

    • Next Heat this milk to 90F As you approach 90F you may notice your milk beginning to curdle slightly due to acidity and temp.
      NOTE: if having problems with milk forming a proper curd you may need to increase this temp to 95 or even 100F

    • At 90F remove the pot from the burner and slowly add your rennet (which you prepared in previous step) to the milk and stir in a top to bottom motion for app. 30 seconds, then stop.

    • Cover the pot and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.
      Check the curd, it will look like custard, with a clear separation between the curds and whey. If too soft or the whey is milky, let set for a few more minutes.
      Cut the curds into a 1" checkerboard pattern (as in photos above) and if a drier cheese is desired carefully cut and stir this curd to release more whey.

    • Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 105F, while slowly stirring the curds with your ladle. (If you will be stretching the curds in a hot water bath heat to 110F in this step.)
      Take off the burner and continue slowly stirring for 2-5 minutes. (More time will make a firmer cheese)

      Then scoop the curds with a slotted sp0on into a heat proof bowl to be used in the microwave. (If the curd is too soft at this point let sit for another minute or so)
      You will now press this curd gently with your hand, pouring off as much whey as possible. Reserve this whey to use in cooking.

    • Next microwave the curd on High for 1 minute. You will notice more whey has run out of the curd. Drain off all whey as you did before. Quickly work the cheese with a spoon or your hands until it is cool enough to touch (rubber gloves will help since the cheese is almost too hot to touch at this point)

    • Microwave 2 more times for 35 seconds each and repeat the kneading as in the last step. Drain all of the whey off as you go.

    • Knead quickly now as you would bread dough until it is smooth and shiny. Add salt near the finish. At this point the cheese should be soft and pliable enough to stretch like taffy.
      It is ready to eat when it cools.

    • Form it into a ball and drop into ice water to cool and refrigerate.
      When cold you can wrap in plastic wrap and it will last for several days but is best when eaten fresh.
      PS... I'll admit the cheese looks a little weird in the last photo, but it did firm up and get smooth as the recipe indicated and it was DELICIOUS!

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Week One -- Doughnuts

    Okay, I realize that there is a doughnut or donut or do-nut place on just about every corner and that they are amazingly cheap, but I’ve decided to ignore those two points. This week we are making doughnuts. (I am choosing this spelling for simplicity sake.)

    I should start by admitting that I have never actually deep fried anything. It’s sort of the whole idea of food swimming in oil, but it’s also the mess that has been prohibitive. But, I have decided to be fearless this year. We’ve made baked doughnuts. I bought a doughnut pan from King Arthur Flour last year, thinking we’d be baking doughnuts all the time, but the truth is, we’ve only used it once. The doughnuts were okay, but they definitely weren’t the puffy bits of heaven that we buy down the street.

    I poked around in my cookbooks and online and found what I think is an excellent recipe. (We’ll see.) It’s from Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats. I picked it because it’s simple and also because I really do think Alton Brown is cool in a geeky, smart way. Other reasons for picking this recipe: no lard (we’re vegetarians) and no off-the-wall ingredients (sweet potato, bananas, avocado???).
    Mixing the dough was easy. I didn’t even bother to haul out the stand mixer. I just did it by hand. And honestly even though I spent three years as a professional baker, it makes me crazy sometimes to have measurements given by weight. I have a scale, but again… hauling it out is a pain, so I just went by feel. I added flour little by little until the dough became soft and not too sticky. (One note: this recipe makes a mountain of doughnuts! We ended up freezing half of it to use later… maybe cinnamon rolls or something.) The first rise was about an hour.

    We rolled it all out and then I set my son cutting it. At first he was bummed that we didn’t have a doughnut cutter, but he rallied. We also used some dough to make impromptu twists. Then it was one more rise for thirty minutes. I took that time to make the two glazes... vanilla and chocolate... and heat up the oil. This last bit was sort of scary. I had images of kitchen fires and emergency rooms in my head. I also only used about two inches of oil. I didn't see the need for more. (And that was a good choice). I used a candy thermometer on the oil, which was a good choice as I had to keep adjusting the flame under the pot. After the oil hit 365.... which my son monitored, I slid the first few rounds of dough into the pot. They puffed immediately... which made both of us very happy. The recipe says that it takes about 1 min for each side, but it was more like 20-30 seconds. I used a long metal fork to flip everything. And then it was another 20-30 seconds before I took them out.

    We drained everything on paper towels and let them cool (a bit). Then we dipped them in the glaze. The twists I sprinkled with cinammon sugar. I liked the twists the best, but my son preferred the chocolate. (Duh...) Like I said, it made a ton, so we ended up giving most of them away, but they were really, really good.... fresh eggs, good milk, good chocolate... yep, probably a bit better quality than your normal doughnut shop.

    Making doughnuts was fun, but really messy and now I have a pot of oil on my stove and I’m not sure what to do with it. Yikes. But… they are wicked good. I have to say that these doughnuts beat any store-bought doughnuts hands down.

    Yeast Doughnuts

    recipe courtesy of Alton Brown (Good Eats, 2004)

    • 1 1/2 cups milk
    • 2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
    • 2 packages instant yeast
    • 1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    • 23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
    • Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

    Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.
    In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

    On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
    Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

    Vanilla Glaze

    • 1/4 cup whole milk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
    Combine milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan and heat over low heat until warm. Sift confectioners' sugar into milk mixture. Whisk slowly, until well combined. Remove the glaze from the heat and set over a bowl of warm water. Dip doughnuts into the glaze, 1 at a time, and set on a draining rack placed in a half sheet pan for 5 minutes before serving.

    Chocolate Glaze (Harrison’s favorite)

    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
    • 1/4 cup whole milk, warmed
    • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

    Combine butter, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla in medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Decrease the heat to low, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted. Turn off heat, add the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Place the mixture over a bowl of warm water and dip the doughnuts immediately. Allow glaze to set for 30 minutes before serving.

    Cinnamon Sugar (My favorite)

    • Ground Cinnamon
    • granulated sugar

    Combine cinnamon and sugar to your liking. (Duh) :)