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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cry Me A River, A Chocolate River

MOLTEN CHOCO BANANA BREAD

When I’m under some sorta house arrest.

Aaaahh, but then of course. The top reason why any city-dwellers love where they dwell. The absolutely knight-shinning quality of… the 24 hour corner grocery store. Yeah sure, I have one of those, too, and just like any others, my corner grocery is good for only two things. Alcohol. And over-ripen bananas.

Never disappoint.

So I got myself bananas, so three of those could carry the extra streusels left from these muffin French toasts (you heard right) in the form of banana bread. And it did the job well, it did, never gonna make a post. But there left the three extra over-ripen bananas on the counter on their way to be crowned The Lord of the Fruit Flies in my falling Kingdom, and out of the corner of my eyes, laid quietly was the beauty of a bar of chocolate tucked behind the coffee machine, almost forgotten by time itself.
Out of the corner of my eyes… out of the corner of my desperate gaze for something to cook with… I thought, the Lord has spotted his milkmaid-mistress.
I know I know, bananas and chocolate… pfff… hardly any ground-shattering pairings there, I mean they’ve already had so much unlawful sex together it’s scandalous. But I don’t want just chopped chocolates in my banana bread. I want… a banana bread that comes with its own chocolate sauce!  Sauce, sauce… the world molten came to mind. And really though, why not? They need to spice things up a bit. They need to make illegitimate royal babies! And… violà.
There’s a river… running through my banana bread, a choco river… wider than a mile. I knew I’d cross you in style someday… Listen, there’s a ridiculous amount, almost too much molten chocolate lava moving slowly inside this supposedly rustic cake, only, if only, there’s such a thing as “too much chocolate” in your world or HA! I’m just talking crazy. And even though it’s absolutely unnatural not to eat this cake warm out of the oven, the chocolate lava never really solidifies even when it’s cooled, making it kind of a thick/super rich chocolate ganache filling right in the center of this unseemly banana bread. Is that offending anybody here?






Well then you’re not getting a slice.
The amount of molten chocolate in this recipe was quite… ferocious. I would dial it back to about 2/3 of the amount in this recipe. But then again, I’m not that big of a chocolate person so you be the judge. And also, the molten chocolate recipe was adapted in a way that it’s thicker than a typical molten chocolate cake (think thick fudge). Because this is a “rustic loaf cake” after all and I wouldn’t want half of the cake “running away” at the first slice.
I used a combination of whole wheat flour and cake flour because I ran out of all-purpose, a little accidental conscience… But you may use other whole grain combination that you prefer. And also I prefer a combination of unsalted butter and vegetable oil to reach a balance of flavor and moisture. But if you want to use all butter, not gonna hurt my feelings…
I suspect that these would be fabulous in individual muffin-size as well if you don’t mind the dividing. The baking temperature should probably be increased to 375, and the baking time shortened down to 25-30 minutes. Just a thought.

Molten chocolate center: 

5 ¼  oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 ½ tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. flour
1 large egg
1/3 c. powdered sugar

Banana bread:  

5 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 large super ripen bananas
1 large egg
½ c. light brown sugar
1 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. whole wheat flour
½ c. cake flour, or all-purpose flour
1 tsp. of baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt

To make the molten chocolate center:
Add the chopped bittersweet chocolate and unsalted butter into a microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on high on a 30 seconds-interval and stir in between, about 1 min in total, until the chocolate has just melted but not scolded, then whisk in the flour until very smooth. In another bowl, whisk the large egg and powdered sugar until foamy, then add to the chocolate mixture and fold it in until evenly incorporated.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 min (easier to work with when firmed up) while preparing the banana bread.

To make the banana bread:
Preheat the oven on 350.
Add the unsalted butter and vegetable in a large microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and whisk the warmed up mixture until the butter has completely melted (if the butter is still too cold to melt, microwave for another 10 seconds). Break the bananas in pieces and mash them into the melted butter with the tip of the whisk until very little lumps are left. Whisk in the large egg, light brown sugar, molasses and vanilla extract until smooth and thick. (To spare using an extra bowl) Whisk whole wheat flour, cake flour (or all-purpose), baking soda, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg and salt inside the loaf-pan that you’re baking with. Then add the dry ingredients into the banana/butter mixture, and slowly fold the batter together with a fork until just evenly combined, but not over-worked.
Pour the batter into the loaf-pan (if yours isn’t non-stick, lightly butter and flour the pan first), then take the molten chocolate-batter out of the fridge and add it right into the center of the banana bread batter in dollops. Gently press the chocolate-batter into the banana bread-batter, but not too much. Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes, until a wooden skewer comes out clean from the center of the banana bread, but still runny and gooey from the center of the molten chocolate.
Let it cool for 15 min in the pan before removing. I may have made the mistake of cutting it too soon (can you blame me?) and the I had a chocolate river situation… sort of.
If not serving immediately, warm up each slice in the microwave for 15-20 seconds.  Don’t worry, the chocolate center will not set, but it’s just better to eat when it’s hot…





Fly Me To The Mooncakes!

“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to”.
Carl Sandburg

“The moon of a bright silver, which dazzles by its shining, illumines a world which surely is no longer ours; for it resembles in nothing what may be seen in other lands”.
Pierre Loti


For centuries, people have been fascinated by the moon, whether it's romantic overtures, songs, or mental illnesses. We associate the moon in many ways.
The late great Frank Sinatra sang "fly Me To The Moon", as one of the best romantic songs of all time. 

Recently, a friend who resides in Hong Kong, sent me some really delicious looking pictures of a popular Chinese pastry called Moon cakes.
During the months of August and September, the Chinese celebrate the lunar festival by sharing these little pastries with friends and family.
I had the opportunity back in 1980, during one of my many travels while employed with Hilton to witness the festivities and to taste these delicate pastries. Such wonderful memories.
So I thought I would share with you, the pictures that were sent to me and give you a simple recipe for making your own mooncakes all year.


As you can see above, this is what they use to form the cakes before baking. Since I didn't have one for myself to use (at times I wished I did), I used a tart pan instead. In the wooden mooncake molds, there are symbols for harmony, friendships and many other types of representing symbols to choose from.




Don't the look delicious? 


Chinese Moon Cake

Dough: 
1 ½ c. flour                
¼ c. instant nonfat dry milk                
1 tsp. baking powder                
1/8 tsp. salt                
¼ c. brown sugar                
1 large egg                
½ stick (¼ cup) butter or margarine                

Filling:  
Mix together:
1 c. coconut flakes
1 c. finely chopped walnuts    
1 c. finely chopped dates
1 c. lotus nut paste or red bean paste    
2 tbsp. softened butter              

Mix:  
1 egg yolk
½ tsp. sesame oil

Grind dry milk in a blender or food processor to make the granules into a finer powder. Place flour, dry milk, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat egg with sugar until sugar is dissolved. Gradually add egg mixture and butter to the dry ingredients. Mix well with 2 knives or pastry blender to get dry dough similar to pie dough. Roll out the dough to about 1/16 inch thickness. Cut a piece of dough large enough to line the bottom and sides of the moon cake mold (or a tart pan). Gently press into place. Spread and press filling over dough, leaving enough room at the top for a layer of crust. Cut another piece of dough to cover the filling; gently press into place. Remove excess dough and return it to the bowl. Firmly but gently press all over the cake to get a good impression and smooth surface (this will be the bottom). Holding the mold, cake facing down, in one hand, give it a whack against a hard edge (such as the table edge or the center divider of the sink,) catching the cake with the other hand as it is released from the mold. Place cake on baking sheet. Repeat until all cakes are made. Brush tops and sides with yolk mixture. Bake at 350 in the center of the oven until the bottom is golden brown, 18-22 minutes. Turn heat dial to broil. Open oven door partially and watch the cake tops turn brown, about 30 seconds or so. As soon as the tops have acquired the desired brown color, remove cakes from oven and transfer to racks to cool. Store in container at room temperature or refrigerate or freeze for longer period. Moon cakes are rich; cut into slices before serving.   Variations: There is an endless variety of moon cakes. Cakes can be filled with lotus nut paste, red bean paste, any sweet filling having a somewhat thick consistency.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Joys Of Baking With Children

For my eighth birthday, my grandmother gave me a cookbook. It wasn't much of cookbook, but it was mine. I can remember her helping me through those recipes until soon, I was confident enough to tackle many of them on my own. It changed my life. It started a lifelong love of cooking.  
That cookbook also provided a wealth of shared experiences with my grandmother. The greatest conversations that I recall from my childhood and youth took place in that kitchen. The cookbook is long gone but the memories, the lessons that I learned from my grandmother, and my passion for baking and cooking remains. I'm glad that my grandmother had the wisdom to give such an unusual gift to an eight year old boy.  
Cooking with small kids can be a joy for them and for you. Cooking with older kids (especially a teenager) will pass on life skills and create memorable, shared accomplishments. Maybe, just maybe, a lot more will come out of the experience than a chocolate layer cake. We read about one smart mother who used the kitchen as a parenting tool. Whenever one of her daughters had a crisis (from a fender bender to a broken heart) she would head for the kitchen with that daughter in tow. There she would bake something with her daughter and make it all better. I'm sure the cakes and the pies were minor contributions. The conversations, the friendships, and the opportunity to mutually engage in a constructive conversation were invaluable.  
Whether with your children, your grandchildren, or the neighborhood children, don't miss the opportunity to bake with kids. My desire is that these recipes will come to represent many happy moments and memories for you and the kids in your life.    

10 Tips to Make Your Baking a Success

1. Keep it safe. Teach your kids safety. Keep younger children away from a hot stove and sharp knives.  Even very young children will want to put the flour in the mixing bowl or break an egg. Turn the mixer off and let them do it.  
2. Keep it simple. Choose simple recipes and quicker recipes for young kids. Kids love to get their hands in the dough. Consider a cookie recipe, like snickerdoodles, where the cookies are hand-formed.  
3. Make it feel good. Overlook boo-boo’s like egg shells in the dough. Praise often even if the product isn't perfect. When a mess happens, take it in stride and don't voice blame.    
4. Build kids not cookies. The kitchen makes an excellent classroom. Help the child read and interpret the directions (learning to follow written instructions is an important life skill). Help the child understand the fractions found in most recipes. With older kids, use the opportunity to pass a little wisdom along (even if it slows down the project).    
5. Take your time. Neither you nor your kids will enjoy the experience if you're fighting the clock. It takes twice as long to bake with kids (it's just worth it).  
6. Keep it clean. Teach good hygiene habits. Teach kids to wash their hands often and to clean and disinfect the counters. Help them use clean sponges and dishtowels.  
7. Teach ingredients. Teach them the basics of ingredients. Explain how yeast works or baking soda. Show them the difference between granulated sugar, brown sugar, and confectioners' sugar.  
8. Keep that food safe. Teach them food safety principles. Make them aware of dangerous bacteria and how they thrive. Teach them to keep hot foods hot (over 140 degrees) and cold foods cold (under 40 degrees).  
9. Consider mixes. Have a few mixes on hand for cooking with kids. With a mix, there is less that can go wrong. Since it takes less time to bake, a mix may be more suitable for a child's attention span or may better fit an available block of time.  
10. Clean it up. Teach them to clean up as they go and afterwards. Let them know that the job is not done until the kitchen is clean.  

Bake What They Like and Other Recipe Choices  

It’s pretty hard to get the kids excited about something they don’t like. So my first rule in selecting recipes for this collection was: “Is this something little Johnny will like?” Kids have different tastes but generally they like simple flavors (chocolate, peanut butter, bananas) and often don’t care for nuts and dried fruit. So most of these are straightforward, kid-proven flavors and I left the nuts and dried fruit out.  
These recipes have differing degrees of complexity. But then we should be cooking with our kids from little tykes through the teenage years. If your youngster wants to tackle a more complex recipe, that’s okay it will just require more hands on involvement from you.  
I selected a range of recipe types.  When you find one that suits you and your kids.  
Oh, and just for the fun of it, I even included some recipes for children’s activities. Recipes like play dough, face paint, and painted cookies.  Your kids will love these.  

Cupcakes
There’s something about having your own individual little cake that is exciting. It’s neat, it’s scrumptious, and it’s yours. You can make cupcakes with any cake batter but I’ve included a couple surprises. Cupcakes with peanut butter or cream cheese-like fillings.  
At a birthday party, consider a large cake with candles for the lighting and blowing out ceremony and then cupcakes for each of the guests. Stick a candle in each cupcake and let the guest blow his or her candle out.    

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Cupcakes
Not only does each kid get his own little cake but this combines youngsters’ favorite flavors: Peanut butter and chocolate brownie. And it’s an easy recipe. Simply drop a spoonful of peanut butter on each cupcake before baking.
Note: This recipe can be doubled.  
 
2/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ c. butter
¾ c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
½ c. flour
 
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, stirring as needed. Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Stir the eggs and vanilla into the mixture. Stir in the flour. Line nine muffin cups with paper liners. Divide the batter between the nine liners. Put a half teaspoon of peanut butter in the center of each. Bake for 20 minutes. Do not over bake. A toothpick should still have gooey crumbs on it if tested. Cool on a wire rack.    

Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcake  
This is a fun cupcake that doesn’t need to be frosted. It’s a wonderful combination of double chocolate and cheesecake filling made into a moist, scrumptious cupcake. It’s kind of a surprising little cupcake. The tops and the bottoms are made of moist chocolate cake. The middle is marbled with cheesecake filling. Inside, you will find a sprinkling of chocolate chips.
 
6 oz. light cream cheese
1 large egg
¼ c. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1 ¼ c. flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold butter
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
 
Preheat the oven to 375.
For the filling, mix the cream cheese and egg together until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla and blend well. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand. Set aside. For the cake, melt the baking chocolate in the microwave. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the melted chocolate. Add the vanilla and beat in the eggs, one at a time until light and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and beat in. Line 12-14 muffin tins with paper liners. Place a spoonful of chocolate batter into each cup. Divide the cheesecake filling between the cups, spooning the filling over the chocolate batter.  Place a spoonful of chocolate batter on top of the filling so that the bottom and top of the cups are chocolate. (Don’t worry about covering the filling, let the oven do that for you as the chocolate batter expands.)  
Bake for 20 minutes or until done. A toothpick inserted in the cake portion will come out clean. Remove the cupcakes to wire racks to cool. If you choose, dust the tops with powdered sugar.  

Tip: Get the Last Drop
To get the last drop of the honey, syrup, or molasses from the measuring cup, heat the cup for five to ten seconds in the microwave. The remaining warmed syrup will run right out.  

Tip: Brown Sugar a Little Hard?
If your brown sugar has become hard, stick a slice of bread in the container and seal it back up. The syrup in brown sugar is hygroscopic, that is it draws moisture from the air rather than becoming drier. Because it is hygroscopic, it will draw moisture from the bread and become soft again. Discard the bread slice.  

Hand Formed Cookies
Little kids like playing in the dough.  Every mom, dad, or grandparent ought to be armed with a few recipes that they can make with junior where he or she can get their hands in the dough.  If they can make little round balls with the dough and then roll the ball through some sticky sugar, so much the better.  Here you will find suggestions for a couple of hand-formed cookies.  

Cherry Chocolate Cordial Cookies  
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tbsp. butter
¼ c. light corn syrup
2 ¼ c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. shortening
¾ c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. cherry flavor/extract
turbinado sugar maraschino cherries

Note: Turbinado sugar is an amber, large crystal sugar. You will use this sugar to roll the dough balls in before baking.  If you prefer, use large crystal white decorating sugar.  Both are available at your local store.    
Preheat the oven to 350.
Melt the chocolate chips with the butter in the microwave. Add the corn syrup and set the mixture aside to cool. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Cream the shortening and sugar together. Add the eggs and extracts and beat after the addition of each egg. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate mixture. Add the dry ingredients and beat in. Chill the dough for several hours. Form round balls about the size of walnuts. Roll them in the turbinado sugar and place them on a lightly greased cookie sheets about two inches apart. Press your thumb into each to form a depression then press a maraschino cherry into the depression. Bake them for eleven minutes or until done. (Do not over bake. They will still be soft and puffy.) Move them to wire racks to cool.



A Story in Recipe Development
I found a chocolate mint cookie recipe that looked good. I tried it. It wasn’t. Maybe if I used almond instead of mint? I added the turbinado sugar for texture and interest. Too dry. I added a little butter, an egg, and cut back on the flour. It tasted good but was too cake-like and not enough spread. I didn’t like the cinnamon and eliminated that. I added more sugar to increase the spread and cut back on the flour again.  Now I had a good cookie but thought it could be better. I substituted bakers unsweetened chocolate for the semi-sweet chocolate chips to make it darker and richer. I substituted brown sugar for the granulated sugar for more flavor and just a touch more spread. I added maraschino cherries. Perfect! I then called them Cherry Chocolate Cordial Cookies.
 
Chocolate Pintos Cookie  
Though this recipe has very different origins, it is similar to the previous recipe except that it is rolled in powder sugar and doesn’t have corn syrup or the cherries. The resulting cookie is softer and more fudge like and powdered sugar keeps the cookie soft while the crystals in the previous recipe gave the cookies crunch.
   
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. shortening
4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate  
2 c. sugar
4 large eggs
½ tbsp. vanilla
powdered sugar

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. Place the chocolate in a microwave proof bowl. Add the shortening and microwave until the chocolate melts, stirring once or twice. Add the sugar to the chocolate mixture and stir until smooth or mix in a stand-type mixer with a paddlewheel attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each egg until combined. Add the vanilla. Chill the dough for several hours. Preheat the oven to 375. Form round balls about one inch in diameter from spoonfuls of the chilled dough. Roll the balls in powdered sugar. Place them on a lightly greased baking sheet with room to expand. Bake for ten or eleven minutes. The cookies will still be soft. (Do not over bake.) Remove them to a wire rack to cool.  
 
Sometimes a mix is the best answer when time is limited or when a child’s attention span is short. Consider these hand–formed cookie mixes.  

How to Measure Properly
There's a right way and a wrong way to measure and by measuring right, you will get the consistent results you are looking for.    
To measure liquids: Use a clear glass measuring cup, one designed for liquids. Fill it to the mark and set it on the counter or on a shelf at eye level and look at the glass. Never try to hold the glass up to your eyes (it will never be as level and steady as on the counter).  
To measure dry ingredients: Use a dry measure of the capacity you wish to measure (either a spoon or a cup). For a cup, stir to loosen and unpack the ingredients then lightly spoon them into the cup. Level the top with a spatula or the back of a knife. Except for brown sugar, never pack the ingredients into the measuring cup. When using a measuring spoon, scrape the top level as you do when measuring with a cup.
To measure herbs: Lightly fill the spoon to the top with herbs but do not level with a spatula as you would with powdered ingredients. Dump the herbs into your hand and crush them to release the flavors before adding them to the recipe.  
To measure shortening: Pack the shortening into a dry measure with the back of a spoon or spatula pressing to force out any air pockets, then level it by scraping the top of the cup.  
Flour can be tricky to measure. I’ve always use a scale to get accurate, consistent measurements. If you use a dry measuring cup, stir the flour to fluff and loosen it (packed flour will weigh considerably more than loosened flour) then spoon it into the measuring cup. Also, scooping the flour out of the bag with the measuring cup rather than spooning flour into the cup will give you significantly more flour.  

Sugar Cookies
Kids may log more hours in the kitchen with sugar cookies than any other type of cookies. The appeal is threefold: they like to cut them out, they like to decorate them, and with simple flavors and frosting, they like to eat them.  
Everyone has their favorite cookie recipes. Regardless of the recipe, there are guidelines that you can follow to make the very best sugar cookies. I’ve included those guidelines.  

How to Make the Very Best Sugar Cookies
Everyone loves sugar cookies. But sugar cookies don't always turn out right. I have compiled this list of tips and techniques to help you make the very best sugar cookies.  

1. Measure ingredients accurately, especially the flour. Too much flour will make your cookies hard and dry. If you scoop the flour with the measuring cup instead of spooning sifted flour into your cup, you are likely to have 20% too much flour.
2. Sugar cookies are made by the creaming method. This is the most important step in making sugar cookies it incorporates the air into the dough that acts as a leavening agent. Use the paddle attachment of your electric mixer to cream the sugar, salt, and spices with the butter or shortening. Cream the ingredients together at low speed, not high. For light cookies, cream the mixture until it is light and fluffy. For a denser, moister cookie, cream only until the mixture is paste like.
3. Add the eggs and liquid after creaming, beating these in at low speed.
4. Mix the flour into the creamed mixture only until it is combined. If you over-mix, you will develop the gluten and make a tougher cookie.
5. Choose a low protein flour, preferably pastry flour, for your sugar cookies. Avoid bread flours with their high protein content. All purpose flour is an acceptable compromise.
6. If the dough is too soft to work easily, chill it until firm. The dough should be pliable but not squishy soft. Handling of the dough with warm hands will make the dough soft.  
7. Use no more flour than necessary to dust the counter. The flour will work into the dough for a drier, tougher cookie.
8. Too much re-rolling will make for tougher cookies. Not only does successive re-rolling work the dusting flour into the dough, the continued working of the dough develops the gluten.
9. When cutting shapes, make the cuts as close together as you can to minimize the amount of dough that will be re-rolled.
10. Most recipes call for the dough to be rolled to 1/8 inch in thickness. This creates a crisp cookie. For a moister, less crisp cookie, roll the dough to 1/4 inch only.
11. Remove the cookies from the counter with a thin metal spatula.  
12. When garnishing cookies with sprinkles, drop the decorations from a height of eight or ten inches for a more even distribution.  
13. The size of the cookies will affect bake times. Put same sized cookies on the same sheet.
14. Do not over bake cookies. Thin cookies will bake in seven or eight minutes at 350. Thicker cookies will take ten or twelve minutes. Cookies on darker pans will bake in less time. When done, the cookies will still be pale-colored with just a tinge of brown at the edges.  
15. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Do not frost them until they are completely cooled.  

Tip: The Proper Way to Cream

One of the keys to consistently good cookies is controlling the temperature of the butter that you cream together with the sugar. Butter can act as a liquid or a solid depending on its temperature and how it is handled. When the butter behaves as solid, you will have a lighter, more tender cookie. When the butter acts as liquid, you will have a crisper cookie with more spread.  
Most cookies are designed for cold butter that acts as a solid. Use only cold butter. (Yes, I know many recipes call for “softened butter”.) Cut the butter into chunks, beat it for a moment with the paddle attachment of your stand-type mixer, and add the sugar. The sugar will cut into the butter leaving tiny air pockets that will help leaven the cookie. If you beat the sugar and butter mixture for too long, friction will warm the butter until it becomes soft and begins to melt. Using cold eggs will help keep the butter solid.  

Drop Cookies
Drop cookies make great kid cookies. There is not a lot of precision involved though it is nice to have all the cookies of similar size though that they will bake evenly). There is usually a nice margin of error with most recipes in case junior doesn’t measure quite accurately. And there is immediate gratification the cookies are done and on the rack in a hurry so that your apprentice can savor the cookies of his or her labors.  
There are lots of good drop cookie recipes. I’ve included a couple here that I felt were kid favorites.  

Peanutty Peanut Butter Cookie
These peanut butter cookies have two characteristics that make them outstanding. They have enough butter to be smooth without the “sandy” texture of many peanut butter cookies and they are loaded with snack type peanuts. I designed these as kids’ cookies but they may be even better as adult cookies.

2 ½ c. flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ c. butter
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
¾ c. peanut butter
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 ½ c. salted snack type peanuts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Cream the butter and sugars together.  Add the peanut butter, honey, eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and beat in. Add the peanuts. Spoon the batter onto greased cookie sheets about two inches apart. With the back of the spoon, flatten the dough to 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in thickness. Bake them for nine to  ten minutes or until done. (Do not over bake.) Let them sit on the baking sheet for one minute and then move them to wire racks to cool.
Baker’s Notes: This is a very good cookie. The honey was added as a hygroscopic agent to help keep the cookies moist.      

Refrigerator Cookies
Refrigerator cookies as kids’ cookie have advantages. You build refrigerator cookies in stages first mixing the dough, then refrigerating the dough, then baking. Mostly, kids want immediate results and mixing cookie dough that doesn’t turn into cookies right away doesn’t work.  
I’ve included this recipe because it is so good and combines two of kids’ favorite flavors (chocolate and peanut butter). Consider mixing and baking the cookies and have the kids help fill them and put them together. This is a very good grown-up cookie so make plenty.  

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie
Thin peanut butter wafers sandwiched with a creamy chocolate filling. This recipe is bound to be a hit at your house. It’s one of my favorite recipes.

½ c. butter
½ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c. peanut butter
1 ¼ c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda

Cream the butter and sugars together with the paddle attachment of your mixer. Add the salt, egg, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the peanut butter and mix. Add the flour and baking soda and beat until combined. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes to firm up slightly. Divide the dough into two portions. Using wax paper, roll each portion into logs 1 ½ inches in diameter. Refrigerate for two hours or until firm  Preheat the oven to 325. Cut cookies into slices just thicker than 1/4 inch. Place them on a greased baking sheet and bake 12 to 14 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown on the edges. Cool on a wire rack.

For the filling:
Mix ½ cup whipping cream, 2 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup in a heavy saucepan. Heat until it simmers. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Spread the chocolate chips in the pan and let them melt for several minutes and then whisk the chips into a smooth sauce. The filling will thicken as it cools.

Related Cookie Mix. Sometimes a mix is the best answer when time is limited or when a child’s attention span is short. Consider this sandwich cookie mix.  

Tip: What’s the Difference between Baking Powder and Baking Soda?

Baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable. Baking soda is a very powerful chemical leavener.  It is an alkaline that reacts with an acid in the presence of water. (Remember those chemistry sets that we used to get at Christmas? When we mixed an alkaline with an acid, we got lots of fizzing and bubbles.)    
Recipes calling for baking soda must contain an acid in order to react and leaven. Buttermilk, molasses, and fruit juices are common acids used in recipes. When baking soda is mixed with buttermilk (for example) in a batter, bubbles are formed. These bubbles lighten the batter and when heated in an oven, expand even further.  
Baking powder is a self contained leavener. It is mixture of baking soda and a dry acid. When water is added, the chemical reaction occurs creating bubbles. In double acting baking powder, a secondary reaction occurs when the batter heats in the oven.

 No-Bake Cookies
No-bake cookies are wonderful kids’ cookies. They provide an almost immediate reward. Perfect for a youngster’s short attention span and as a parent or grandparent, you don’t have to navigate a hot oven with your young friend. If it’s summertime, you don’t need to heat up the kitchen to whip up a batch of cookies.  
There are two major types of no-bake cookies: stovetop cookies and microwave cookies. Stovetop cookies are almost foolproof but because many are mixed right on the range like Rice Krispie treats care must be taken that little Johnny doesn’t get burned.  
The secret to microwave cookies is the cook time. Microwaves cook so rapidly that the timing must be right on to make perfect cookies. Cooked a little too much and the cookies are hard. Too little and they are sticky and gooey.  
Nearly all no-bake recipes are easy. The following were selected because they appeal to kids tastes.  

Chocolate Peanut Butter Drops
 
2 c. sugar
½ c. milk
¼ c. butter
1/3 c. cocoa
2 ½ c. quick oats
½ c. peanut butter
½ tbsp. vanilla  
 
Combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook for two more minutes stirring constantly and then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla, then the oats. Let cool for several minutes and then drop spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Let the cookies cool completely before removing them from the waxed paper.  
 
More No Bakers
When thinking of no-bake cookies, don't forget the perennial favorites, Rice Krispie Treats and Frosted Graham Crackers. I’m assuming everyone has the recipe for Rice Krispie Treats. Consider adding chocolate chips, dried fruit pieces, or cinnamon candies for a little pizzazz.  
To make Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats, melt 2/3 cup chocolate chips (for a recipe calling for six cups of cereal) with the marshmallows and butter. This is a real favorite most kids like these more than regular Rice Krispie Treats and they are no more difficult to make.  
For Frosted Graham Crackers, simply pick your favorite frosting and sandwich that between two graham cracker squares.  Pick a frosting with a powdered-sugar base that will set up firm and won't be messy.

Just Plain Fun
Sometimes you can lure kids into the kitchen with craft-type projects instead cookie dough.  Kids have a ball making their own play dough or painting cookies.  (In fact, some of these projects are pretty fun for adults.) You’ll have lots of fun with these.  

Make Your Own Play Dough
When we were children growing up in a farming community, our parents were pretty self sufficient. I don’t know whether children’s commercial play dough was available but we never saw any. Instead, my mother made homemade play dough with flour and salt. There are still advantages to making your own: It’s inexpensive, you can make it in larger quantities for little Johnny’s party, and little Johnny can help make his own play dough. When you make your own, little Johnny has a sense of self sufficiency and you demonstrate that everything fun does not have to come from the store. Besides, you know what is this play dough and when it ends up in a kiddy’s mouth, there’s no reason to be concerned everything is edible. The following recipe is a big batch recipe. It is intended to be enough for a party or group of kids and makes about ten cups of play dough (the equivalent of twelve commercial Play Doh containers). If you want a smaller batch, divide the recipe in half. If you are having a really big party and want more play dough, make two batches. This recipe is about all that can be made in a stand-type mixer at one time. You can also make this play dough by hand.
If you want multiple colors, divide the dough and knead in the food coloring after the dough is made. If one color is sufficient, add the food coloring with the water and save the step of kneading in the coloring.

7-8 cups  flour
3 cups salt
3 tbsp. cream of tartar
¼ c. vegetable oil
4 c. hot water
food coloring

Mix seven cups of flour together with the salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the oil and water and knead with a dough hook in your electric stand-type mixer for five to six minutes. (If you are kneading by hand, knead for eight to ten minutes.) Add more flour to get a soft, workable dough.
Store the dough in a sealed container to keep it from becoming dry. If it becomes too dry, place it back in the mixer bowl and knead in a dribble of water.

Party Face Paint
At birthday parties or at Halloween, kids love to paint their faces. Here’s an easy, safe recipe costume face paint.  

1 tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. water
½ tsp. cold cream
2 drops food coloring

In a small mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well.

Kids' Party Munch
This works as an after-school snack, as trail mix, or as an after-lunch dessert. Collaborate with your child to use the ingredients that he or she likes best.  

2 c. Chex type cereal
½ c. raisins or dried cranberries
½ c. M&M's
½ c. roasted peanuts  

Options: Any of the following may be added or substituted in the recipe. Other nuts, coconut, miniature marshmallows, peanut M&M's, dried fruit, or miniature pretzels.  
Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl. Store in a tightly covered container.

Painted Cookies
This is one of the most fun kitchen projects that I have found. It’s both artsy-crafty and baking. It’s not just a kid’s project though little Johnny will love it. Painted cookies are also a fun craft for older kids and adults. I have seen pictures of painted cookies that are truly beautiful. Carefully painted cookies make wonderful decorations for Christmas or holidays. And since they are painted with edible paint, you can eat those creations that you don't keep.  
There are two ways to paint cookies, before and after they are baked. I would like to acquaint you with both methods.  
We all usually think of painting cookies as a kid’s activity and it is. Kids can spend hours making cookies into shapes and painting them. It addresses two passions, cookies and creativity.  Allow kids imagination to run both in the shapes they make and the colors they paint.  

Painting Cookies before They are Baked
Raw cookie dough can be painted because it is fairly dense and the paint stays on the surface rather than soaking in. I have tried both egg yolk based paints and cornstarch based paints. The egg yolk based paints are dense and opaque and create a colored “skin” on the cookie. When the cookie expands in the oven, the colored skin does not expand with the cookie and therefore does not leave complete coverage. Because of the pigment in the yolks, the colors are yellow tinted. Use egg yolk based paints a paint cookies before they are baked when the yellow tint from the yolk is acceptable and when the edges of the cookie do not have to be covered.  
Kids will have a great time molding animal shapes and characters. Help them press the shapes to a uniform thickness so that the cookies will bake uniformly. The seams formed by pressing the bits of dough together act as lines to guide your child in his or her painting.  
Edible paint can also be made with cornstarch. The cornstarch does not cover as well nor create the skin that egg yolks do but the colors are true and the paint seems to expand with the cookies a little better.  
Cookie dough can be used as a canvas and kids can paint scenes or designs with egg yolk based paint.    

Painting Baked Cookies
Once the cookie is baked, the surface has risen and is much more porous. To paint baked cookies, the porous surface is covered with a hard shelled frosting, usually a frosting with meringue powder added to create a smooth, firm surface. On the frosted surface, bright colors and crisp lines are painted using undiluted food coloring. Just dip the tip of the paint brush right in the food coloring bottle.  
Whether painting on unbaked cookies or frosted cookies, simple water color brushes work well. They are inexpensive, you can buy them in different widths, and they clean up with hot water.  
Here you will find the recipes that you need to paint your cookies. I hope that you and your kids have a wonderful time.  


Easy Meringue Frosting
Meringue powder is made with powdered egg whites (plus starches and flavors). Reconstituted egg whites dry hard leaving a shell on the frosting. You can purchase meringue powder at baking supply stores, on the internet.  

3 tbsp. meringue powder for icing
¼ c. water
2 ½ c. powdered sugar, more or less
 
Stir the meringue powder and water together until smooth. Add enough of the powdered sugar to obtain the desired consistency for spreading. Completely cover any leftovers.  

Egg Yolk Based Paint (for decorating unbaked cookies)

2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. water food coloring
 
Stir the yolks and water together until smooth. Add the food coloring. Clean up with water.  

Cornstarch Based Paint (for decorating unbaked cookies)  

3 tbsp. cornstarch
water
food coloring

Stir enough water into the cornstarch to make a slurry. Add the food coloring.  

Painted Peanut Butter Cookie  
This peanut butter cookie recipe was developed specifically for painted cookies. Because it has a dense dough, it works well to paint cookies before they are baked and leaves a smooth surface if you choose to paint your cookies after baking. Because of the peanut butter in the recipe, the cookie is a bit fragile and will not withstand rough handling.  
 
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. shortening
1 c. peanut butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla  
 
Preheat the oven to 350.
Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Cream the shortening, peanut butter, and sugars together. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat after the addition of each egg. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and beat them in. The dough should be a soft clay like consistency. If it is too moist, add a little flour a tablespoon at a time. Form the cookies. You can either roll the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut into shapes with cookie cutters or you can roll the dough into round and long shapes and form characters, animals, flowers or other shapes.  If desired, paint them with an edible paint designed for unbaked cookies. Bake cookies on ungreased sheets. Place cookies of similar sizes and thickness on the same sheet so that the cookies on each sheet will bake uniformly. Bake them for ten minutes or until done. Move them to wire racks to cool.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Could This Be A Start Of A New Holiday Tradition?

Each year, cooking for the holidays are usually considered a tradition. But there are some who sets off a new tradition,





Bacon and Spinach-Stuffed Rib-Eye Roast

Pack this stunning beef roast with a savory stuffing, which keeps the meat juicy and makes a fine accompaniment on the plate.

STUFFING

1 lb. applewood-smoked bacon cut crosswise into 1/2' pieces
½ c. finely chopped celery
½ c. finely chopped shallots
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 ½ c. cooked (or three 10-oz. bags frozen, thawed) spinach, squeezed dry, chopped
¼ c. crème fraîche or sour cream
2 c. coarse fresh breadcrumbs made from day-old white bread
½ c. finely chopped scallions
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, whisked to blend

ROAST

5-bone standing beef rib-eye roast (10–13 lb.), chine bone removed, fat trimmed to ¼ inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ c. finely chopped fresh thyme

STUFFING
Pulse bacon several times in a food processor to coarsely chop. Scrape bacon into a large skillet; cook over medium heat, stirring often, until brown but not crisps, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off and reserve 2 tablespoons bacon drippings for another use. Return pan to medium heat. Add celery, shallots, and garlic; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach and crème fraîche; cook, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes longer. Scrape mixture into a medium bowl.
Stir breadcrumbs, scallions, sage, thyme, and nutmeg into stuffing mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic and refrigerate, Stir in eggs. Spread stuffing out on a rimmed baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and chill until stuffing is firm, about 1 hour.

ROAST
Let meat stand at room temperature for 4 hours.
Arrange a rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 450.
Set a V-shaped rack inside a large roasting pan. Place roast on a work surface with bones standing straight up. Using a knife, cut along bones so only 1 inch of meat is attached at base of bones.
Season roast (including the bones) generously with salt and pepper, rub with oil, and sprinkle with thyme. Place roast, bones facing up, in prepared pan; wrap bone tips in foil to prevent burning.
Pull bones away from meat to create a 3-4 inch wide pocket at the top. Lightly pack stuffing into pocket. Starting at one end, tie kitchen twine horizontally around bones to keep them in place and secure stuffing. Tie the roast vertically between each bone.
Roast beef for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue roasting for 3 hours (beginning to probe center of roast at the 2 hour mark) until an instant read thermometer inserted into thickest part of roast registers 110-115 for rare and 120-125 for medium-rare.
Transfer roast to a carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Remove twine.
Carving option 1: Cut between ribs to make 5 large bone-in steaks to share.
Carving option 2: Spoon stuffing into a serving bowl. Slice off rib rack by cutting through strip of meat at base of bones. Slice between bones and transfer ribs to a platter. Place meat on a work surface; cut into ¼ - ½ inch thick slices. Transfer slices to platter with ribs and serve with small spoonfuls of stuffing on the side.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Magnificent Bird For The Holidays!

Every year, preparing the turkey has always been a challenge for me. For I have never like preparing it the same way every year. Each year I always try a different technique and evry year I seem to bring it just a higher notch than the year before. Although, this year it will be somewhat different for me, for I won't be preparing the festivities this year.
So from my kitchen to yours, have a safe and happy holidays.

Thanksgiving Turkey 

Based on a 12-14 pound turkey

Turkey Brine
Two days prior to roasting turkey you should create the brine: Place the water in a large pot that can easily hold the liquid and the meat you intend to brine. Add all the ingredients and stir for a minute or so until the sugar and salt dissolve. Refrigerate turkey in the brine for 24 hours. If the meat floats to the top, use a plate or other weight to keep it completely submerged in the brine. After 24 hours, remove from brine and dry off with towels. Refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours.

Turkey Roasting
Remove turkey from fridge and leave turkey on counter for about an hour to warm up a bit. Stuff the cavity with lemons, herbs, and onions, if desired. Rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Stuff compound butter (see below) under breast skin and put on roasting rack over roasting pan, breast side up. Pour 1 quart turkey or chicken stock into pan- add more during roasting if stock evaporates.
Preheat oven to 500. Place turkey in oven, legs side towards back of oven. Turn oven down to 450. Roast until the legs wiggle easily, about 2 hours. After about 20 minutes you can lift the turkey from the rack to make sure it does not stick. Baste turkey with pan juices every 15-20 minutes during roasting. Roast turkey until the thickest part of the thigh meat registers to 160-165.
The general rule for roasting turkey is to roast for 12 to 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh registers at least 165.
Remove turkey from oven and make gravy with pan juices.

Turkey Butter (aka compound butter)
With the paddle attachment in a mixer, blend all ingredients until well combined. Make 2 flat patties with butter and chill. This will help stuff the butter between the turkey skin and breast meat.

Turkey Gravy
Take the finished turkey out of the roasting pan to rest before carving. Place heavy bottomed sauce pan on medium heat and melt butter. Add picked thyme leaves and bay leaf.
Add flour and stir until combined. Keep stirring until mixture is light brown. Add white wine and cook until alcohol has evaporated.
Slowly whisk in hot stock, bring to a simmer and cook until desired thickness has been reached. If gravy is too thick, add stock to reach softer texture. This should take about 15 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Wonderful World of Cheesecakes

I enjoy making cheesecakes, especially if I can make different variations of it. Using many different flavors and types.
There are dessert cheesecakes and then there are savory cheesecakes that can be used as appetizers. In this blog, I will introduce to you both. Desserts and Savories. I hope you'll enjoy them both, for they are truly delicious and fun to make.
We'll start with the most popular type of cheesecakes, which are desserts and then end with the savories.
Once you start making them and wowing your friends and family, you'll be forever in their minds.

Dessert Cheesecakes


Candy Cane Cheesecake

1 1/3 c. chocolate cookie crumbs
2 tbsp. sugar
¼ c. butter
1 ½ c. sour cream
½ c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. peppermint extract
38 oz. Pkg. of cream cheese
2 tbsp. butter
2/3 c. crushed peppermint candy

Preheat oven to 325.

Combine first 3 ingredients and press into a 9 inch springform pan. Blend sour cream, sugar, eggs, flour and both extracts until smooth. Add cream cheese and 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in crushed candy. Pour into crust and bake on lowest rack of oven for 50-60 minutes or until firm.
Allow to cool (top may crack) and refrigerate overnight. Remove from pan and serve.
Top with sweetened whip cream and garnish with candy cane if desired.


Chocolate Velvet Cheesecake

1 c. Vanilla Wafer Crumbs
½ c. Chopped Pecans
3 tbsp. Granulated Sugar
¼ c. Margarine, Melted
16 oz. Cream Cheese, Softened
½ c. Brown Sugar, Packed
2 Large Eggs
6 oz. Semi-sweet Chips, Melted
3 tbsp. Almond Flavored Liqueur
2 c. Sour Cream
2 tbsp. Granulated Sugar

Combine crumbs, pecans, granulated sugar and margarine; press onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 325. 10 minutes. Combine cream cheese and brown sugar, mixing at medium speed on electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in chocolate and liqueur; pour over crust. Bake at 325. 35 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425. Combine sour cream and granulated sugar; carefully spread over cheesecake. Bake at 425. 10 minutes. Loosen cake from rim of pan; cool before removing rim of pan. Chill.
VARIATION: Substitute 2 tablespoons milk and ¼ teaspoon almond extract for almond flavored liqueur.


No-Bake Vanilla Cheesecake with Thin Mint Crust

When I started out on my self-appointed task to make homemade versions of some popular Girl Scout cookies. But I thought it might be fun to throw in a recipe that used Girl Scout cookies, too, and this is that recipe. I opted to use the ever-popular Thin Mints – crispy, chocolate dipped mint chocolate wafers – as a crumb crust to compliment a vanilla cheesecake.
Because the cookies are chocolate-covered, the idea of an unbaked crust appealed to me as it guaranteed that I wouldn’t end up with chocolate running all over the floor of my oven. No-bake cheesecakes, however, have never been a favorite of mine because there seem to be so many ways to screw them up. They should be easy to make because you don’t need to worry about over cooking or fussing with a water bath, as you do with some baked cheesecakes, but I’ve had too many that are extremely fluffy (Cool Whip marshmallow-type consistency) or far too dense (straight cream cheese, perhaps cut with a little lemon zest). This in mind, I decided to see if I could find a nice middle ground that would taste like a nice, creamy cheesecake while still showcasing my mint chocolate crust.
I used a mixture of cream cheese and whipping cream as the base for the cheesecake – the cheese for flavor and texture and the cream for lightness. Held together with a bit of gelatine (or gelatin, if you prefer), the cake turned out beautifully: easy to make and satisfying to eat. It is light and creamy, yet not “airy” at all. It’s quite a bit lighter than most baked cheesecakes, though in this case it really seems to let the mint chocolate flavor of the crust stand out. In fact, the whole dessert reminds me a little bit of mint chocolate chip ice cream, flavor-wise.
Now, if you don’t have a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints or you don’t want to make them yourself, Keebler makes a cookie called Grasshoppers that are identical to Thin Mints. Same texture, same shape, same nutritional stats, same taste – and they’re usually really inexpensive when they’re on sale.

1 box Thin Mint-type cookies*
2 tbsp. butter, softened
16 oz. cream cheese, softened (low fat is fine)
¾ c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. hot water
¼ oz. powdered gelatine (2 ½ tsp. or 1 packet)
1 c. heavy whipping cream

Lightly butter the sides, but not the bottom, of a 9 inch springform pan.
In a food processor, whiz together Thin mints and butter until mixture is coarse crumbs. Press cookie crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate crust for 20-30 minutes.
In the food processor (wipe out excess crumbs, but there is no need to clean it) whiz together softened cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until creamy, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula to ensure even consistency.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, whisk together hot water and gelatine. If gelatine is not fully dissolved, microwave the mixture in 30-45 second intervals, whisking until gelatin is entirely suspended.
Turn on the food processor and with the motor running, slowly pour the gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Keep the motor running and stream in the whipping cream, continuing to process until filling is light and smooth.
Pour cheesecake filling into prepared pan and rap gently on the counter to even out the surface of the cake and shift any large air bubbles out of the batter.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, until well-set.
Slice with a warm, clean knife to get neat slices.
*Chef’s Note: A box of Thin Mints should have 36 cookies in it. I used 32 cookies for my crust. While you can certainly incorporate all of them, feel free to save a few to snack on or to garnish your plates with. The crust is reasonably thick and 4-8 cookies reserved should not make a huge impact on the final product.


Peanut Butter Cheesecake
 
Crust:
1 c. graham cracker crumbs (44 wafers)
3 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350.
Mix crumbs, 3 tablespoons sugar and butter in bowl. Press onto bottom of 9 inch pie pan. Bake 10 minutes. Remove.

Filling:
16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. sugar
½ c. peanut butter
3 tbsp. flour
4 eggs
½ c. milk
½ c. grape jelly, optional for topping

Beat cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, peanut butter and flour at medium speed with electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in milk; pour into crust.
Bake in preheated oven 55 minutes. Remove. Loosen cake.
Stir jelly until smooth; drizzle over cheesecake in lattice design. Refrigerate.


Savory Cheesecakes:

CHRISTMAS SAVORY CHEESECAKE

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
Handful of fresh marjoram or oregano
1 1/2 cups pesto (recipe below), divided
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup sour cream, divided
4 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 sun-dried tomatoes in oil drained and chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan, then dust the bottom and sides with the bread crumbs. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup pesto, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, eggs, salt, lemon zest, nutmeg, and black pepper. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Pour mixture into prepared pan.

Place springform pan in a water bath and bake in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes, or until just set. Remove pan from the water bath and place on a cooling rack; allow to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate cheesecake for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Run a thin, sharp knife around the edges of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan, and remove the pan's outer ring. Use the remaining 1 cup pesto to "frost" the sides of the cheesecake. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup sour cream over the top, smoothing with a spatula. Arrange the chopped sun-dried tomatoes in a ring around the top of the cheesecake.


CHRISTMAS PESTO RECIPE
Pesto
3 cups loosely packed fresh basil (leaves only)
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
3/4 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except olive oil, in a food processor. Process and slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube. Add more olive oil if mixture seems too dry.Serve over Christmas cheescake


Spicy Mexican Avocado Cheesecake

This cheesecake doesn’t get eaten like a cake … it is really a dip. A spicy, creamy, avocado dip. Perfect for a party. I know, New Year’s is over and everyone is done partying and onto their grilling, while others are in the midst of planning wedding and family reunions. So I hope you will pardon me while I continue the celebration of life …

Makes 1 small 5-inch cheesecake. If you want a larger cheesecake, make a double batch of the filling.

Crust:

I think a walnut crust would work better if you cut out the sugar or use a salty or cheese cracker in place of the graham crackers. Or try using tortillas for a crust.

Filling:

4 oz. fat-free cream cheese
4 oz. light cream cheese
1 reduced fat cheddar cheese stick (or a bit of shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese)
1 ripe avocado, pitted
¼ c. lowfat Greek yogurt
1 egg and 1 egg white
1 jalapeno
For topping: Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, salsa, onion, bacon, olives, tomato, lettuce, corn, black beans … basically anything Mexican! I threw together a few things I could find in my sister’s kitchen
Crackers or tortilla chips for dipping

Preheat oven to 350.  Make the crust. Crust options:
Use the walnut crust except cut out all the sugar and use salty or cheese crackers in place of the graham crackers.
In a blender or food processor, combine all the filling ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture over crust and spread evenly.  Place pan on a baking sheet and bake about 20 minutes or until set.
Cool to room temperature and chill.
Top with your desired toppings.  I spread the top with Greek yogurt, then a layer of salsa, then shredded cheese, lettuce, onion, and corn.
Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.


Zucchini Cheesecake recipe

2 medium squash, shredded and drained
1 cup Bisquick 
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese 
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper 
1/2 cup olive oil 
4 eggs

Mix all ingredients (except squash) together. Making sure all excess moisture has been squeezed from the squash, fold in. Bake in a greased 8-inch square dish for about 30 minutes at 350.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Baby It's Cold Outside!

When Old Man Winter flexes his muscles and it gets cold outside, nothing beats a nice cup of hot chocolate.
So to get warm and toasty, grab a cup and start making some hot chocolate by using one of these delicious recipes.

Red Velvet Hot Chocolate

Just when I thought I had made everything with red velvet that was under the sun, I thought of another fun way and it is sooo sinfully delicious too. In fact, drinking this is like having a whole cake in one cup.

Red velvet cake is a classic dessert. However, sometimes a classic needs a little change. When it's cold outside, this hot chocolate recipe will warm you up and keep that fun red velvet look!
Red velvet cake is synonymous with delicious. It's a classic Southern treat that has hit it big in bakeries all across the nation. However, don't be scared to think outside the box when you want this sweet treat.

A fun way to switch things up is by taking the idea of this traditional cake and turning it into a delicious hot chocolate recipe. Its bright color and delicious chocolate taste will tickle both children and adults with delight. Plus, it's a few less calories than devouring a whole cake.

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 teaspoon red gel no taste food coloring
Whipping cream
Vanilla sugar (see Chef’s Note below)

Vanilla sugar whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar ( see Chef’s Note below)

For whipped cream: Add heavy cream and vanilla sugar to a cold metal bowl. Either whip by hand with whisk or with hand-held mixer until soft peaks form.
For hot chocolate: In a small pan, combine milk, chocolate morsels and food coloring. Gently simmer until hot and all the chocolate is melted. I like to use a small whisk to make sure everything is incorporated. Top with freshly whipped cream.

Chef’s Note: To make Vanilla Sugar without having to use Vanilla Beans (Which are rare and expensive in Grocery Stores) just use Vanilla Extract and Sugar in a ratio of one teaspoon of Vanilla Extract to every two cups of regular granulated sugar. Then spread the well mixed vanilla sugar on a baking pan lined with wax paper to dry.


Traditional Hot Chocolate 

This is the only one of the group here that includes chocolate pieces, which creates a beverage with more fat. That said, this recipe will yield a beautiful cup of hot chocolate that will still be better for you than a chemical and preservative laden cup made from an instant mix.   

1 c. milk 
1/2 vanilla bean, split 
3 oz. dark chocolate, cut into small pieces  

If using unsweetened chocolate you may want to add a sweetener to taste- honey, agave syrup, stevia, and natural sugar cane are healthier options. Heat milk to scalding in a medium saucepan, add vanilla, and let steep with the heat off for 10 minutes. Strain and return milk to saucepan to reheat milk. (You can use 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract instead and skip the steeping process.) Whisk in chocolate until melted and frothy. Serve.

Maple Cocoa 

Maple syrup is one of a wholesome-cooking cook’s best-kept weapons in avoiding refined sugar. It not only adds a punch of sweetness, but that special almost-smoky maple taste adds incredible depth to baked goods and sweets that are hearty in flavor (meaning, great with chocolate and nutty things, not so good for angel food cake). This one is nice with the neutral flavors of regular dairy, but you can use any alternative milk you’d like as well.
1 c. milk 
2 tbsp. cocoa 
1 tbsp. maple syrup 
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
Pinch of salt   

Combine ingredients in a medium pot and warm on medium-low heat, whisking until frothy and hot.  

Mexican Hot Cocoa 

Hot cocoa in Mexico and other southern realms retains the heat, which is very clever since chocolate and spice go together as well any pair of flavors possibly could.   

1 c. soy milk (or regular milk) 
1 tbsp. Sucanat (see Chef's note) 
2 tbsp. cocoa powder 
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract  
Pinch of salt 
Pinch of cinnamon 
Pinch (or more, go crazy!) of cayenne   

Combine ingredients in a medium pot and warm on medium-low heat, whisking until frothy and hot.    
Chef's note: Sucanat is the trade name for “Sugar Cane Natural,” a non-refined cane sugar that is made by crushing sugar cane, extracting the juice then heating and drying it. It’s a more wholesome sweetener than refined sugar – but if you don’t have it, agave syrup, stevia, or regular sugar can be used instead.  


Ancient Mayan Hot Chocolate

Indigenous Maya people still drink the following ancient hot chocolate recipe. In ancient times, Maya never mixed the cacao bean paste with milk, instead they used hot water; it was the Spaniards in Colonial times that began to add milk, cream, and sugar to the cacao paste to create a soft creamy taste similar to current hot cocoa.
Chocolate lovers will find a truly rich, deep, bittersweet chocolate flavor with a pinch of soft chili pepper touch enhancing the deep aroma of this pure and authentic traditional hot chocolate. Remember, the quality of the Kakaw or cacao paste, you use, makes all of the difference when it comes to nutrition value, aroma and flavor. Pure organic cacao butter is filled with antioxidants and mood smoothing polyphenols that aid a healthy body. If you find Maya hot chocolate a bit too strong and unfamiliar, just exchange the traditional use of water for milk, but then you will have altered that which makes a hot chocolate an authentic hot Maya drink. Great to revitalize the senses and energize your mind!  

3 c. boiling water
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
8 oz. bittersweet Maya Kakaw or Xocoalt (chocolate paste) or 3 tablets Mexican unsweetened chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp. pure honey
Pinch of dried red chili (This is what makes the difference so try it!)
1 dried organic grown vanilla bean, split lengthwise  

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the cinnamon sticks to boiling water. Cook until liquid is reduced to 2 ½ cups. Remove cinnamon sticks; add the vanilla bean and lower the heat a bit, wait until bubbles appear around the edge to reduce heat to low and drop the chocolate pieces and wild pure honey, mix well and whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted. Turn off heat, remove vanilla bean. Whisk vigorously to create a light foam effect, sprinkle the dried chili pepper and serve.
If chocolate is too rich and you prefer to thin it, do so with a little milk to smooth its taste, but remember doing so will change the chocolate from Maya to a European style hot chocolate!