Friday, December 31, 2010

January Meal Plan

As much as I love the holidays, it is nice that things will soon be returning to normal.  The Christmas toys have all found homes on the shelves and today I started the undecorating process that I would normally have put off for a few more weeks if it weren't for Little Man's interest in our Christmas tree.  It is sad to see the bare tree sitting in the corner, waiting for Hey, Babe to help me pull it apart and stow it away in the attic for next year, but I am ready to move on into the new year.  I will be hunkering down and keeping warm for the next few months by dreaming of the garden that I hope to plant in the spring.  Meanwhile, here is our menu for the coming month:

Mon. Tues. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat. Sun.

Spanakopita Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Beef Tacos Chicken Tortellini Soup Fried Fish Sandwiches Crepes Cider Baked Ham, Roast Veggies, Scalloped Potatoes General Tso's Chicken Salmon Salad Sandwiches
White Bean and Ham Soup Chicken Marsala, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roast Carrots Ham Sandwiches or Omelets with Ham French Toast, Sausage Salad Pizza Steak, Fried Mushrooms & Onions, Creamed Spinach, Salad Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Meatloaf, Roast Veggies Rice and Beans Horseradish Honey Salmon Waffles, Bacon Spaghetti and Meatballs company Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Pepperoni Pan Pizzas Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, rice, green beans Spinach Lasagna Eggs, Home Fries Slumgullion Buffalo Chicken Wings, Fries, Salad Salmon Salad Sandwiches

May the Lord bless you all in the coming year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sugar High Friday #72: Trifles!

I knew exactly what I was going to make when I saw the announcement on Cream Puffs in Venice stating that Sugar High Friday #72 was featuring Trifles.  My family had already decided on an Italian-American theme for Christmas dinner which meant that Tiramisu though probably quite cliché was my obvious number one choice.

I was a bit at a loss for what recipe to use since there are so many available.  I browsed through several cookbooks as well as some blogs from my reader before I remembered that the Daring Bakers had made Tiramisu before I became a member.  After checking out the recipe and some of the posted results I felt confident that using their version would get me the results I was looking for and so when my sisters came to visit we did some prep by baking the ladyfingers.  

I have to admit that I did not make my own marscapone, as the original challenge called for and I wonder if that was a mistake.  I have never tried marscapone, in any recipe calling for it I have always subbed in the standard cream cheese, and so I was curious as to what was so special about it.  Before adding it in with the other ingredients I tasted it and from my perspective it was nothing special.  Perhaps this is because I did not taste a possibly incredible home made version instead.  Until I find time to make the marscapone myself, I suppose I will not know.

I cannot begin to describe home wonderful this tasted.  There were going to be 10 of us eating this after dinner since I was pretty sure that the kids would only be interested in cookies (turns out I was half right).  I recalled the recipe saying that it served 6 so I doubled it.  I am so glad that I did!  I have to say, serving only 6 people from one batch of the recipe would mean extremely large portions.  After double the recipe we were all able to have a slice on Christmas, and then we all got another piece the next day when we were finishing leftovers.  Something to keep in mind, not that any of us were complaining when it turned out that we had so much.  As I made each of the components I tasted them.  My only change to the given recipe was to omit the lemon zest since I didn't have any.  I believe that in the future when (not if) I make this recipe again, I will have to reduce the sugar a bit, either that or perhaps add more coffee or some bittersweet chocolate. 

After assembling your tiramisu it helps for serving if you let it sit in the freezer for a bit.  This enables you to more precisely slice and serve each portion (while semi-frozen).  Of course, by doing so you are suppose to wait  and allow them to finish thawing, however, I can vouch for how tasty they are before they have completely thawed.  What can I say? I couldn't wait.

If you wish to make your own incredibly delicious Tiramisu, please find the recipe I used here, on the Daring Baker's site.  And please be sure to check out the round up for Sugar High Friday #72: Trifles!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Make Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

I have to admit that I have never tried any variety of fruitcake.  I know that there are different versions of fruitcake for different cultures, but until this challenge I hadn't tried any of them.  I was a little leery of fruitcakes in general since they are so often disdained and joked about, but I am willing to try almost anything once so I was ready for the challenge.

The first thing I decided was that I wasn't going to buy the candied fruit.  Not only was I going to make the candied orange peel, which seemed simple enough to do myself, but I was also going to make my own Glacé Cherries rather than buy a package of the loaded-with-artificial-flavors-colors-preservatives-and-chemicals variety.  It wasn't until after I decided to go that route that I realized that doing so would add a week to my prep time.  Apparently making candied cherries is a slow process.  Nevertheless, I felt that it would be worth it and followed through ending up with not only a large bunch of candied cherries, which was much more than the dozen the recipe called for as optional (oops, didn't catch that part until much later) but also a pot full of mildly cherry flavored sugar syrup.  I set the syrup aside for another use (which I will talk about another day) and continued with the Stollen.

The candied orange peel was quite simple to do and I am sorry I only made two oranges worth. I used most of it in the Stollen and there isn't any more left to snack on.  Of course since it was so easy to make it will be no trouble to make another batch.  I didn't try any of them dipped in chocolate because I liked them to much the way they were to change anything.

In the Daring Bakers forums I picked up quite a few tips as to flavor variations as well as assembly, and I am quite happy with the ones I chose to implement.  For the most part I used the recipe as written, but I did make a few adjustments.  For example, raisins? Not happening in something I bake.  Raisins are okay plain, or dipped in chocolate, or mixed into a trail mix, but once you start cooking them and making them all weird and squishy I am gone.  Instead of adding the raisins I added an equal weight of my previously mentioned plethora of candied cherries (yes, I know they are also squishy, but since they aren't raisins for some reason it doesn't bother me.  I can't explain it so don't ask.)  I didn't want to lose the flavor and moisture that the rum was supposed to add with the soaked raisins but I didn't have any rum, so I just mixed an equal amount of blackberry brandy in when I was adding the chopped fruit and nuts.

One of the tips I read was regarding the mix-ins.  It was suggested that by only adding half of them during the mixing process and the remainder after the dough had risen and been rolled out, you allowed the fruit to avoid being smashed and deformed and it was easier to roll out the dough.  I followed this advice, mixing in only half of the chopped and candied orange peel, the slivered almonds, and the chopped glacé cherries.  When it came time, I rolled out the dough with a little bit of flour to prevent sticking (wow, did it get big!) and sprinkled on the remaining chopped fruit and nuts.  I wanted to experiment a bit with the flavor so I added about 1/2 a cup of mini chocolate chips and about 6 oz of almond marzipan pinched off into small pieces so that it would be evenly distributed.  The dough looked very full before I started rolling it up.

I was thrilled with how this turned out.  None of the individual steps were time consuming or hard, but since some items required several days to complete this is not the kind of recipe you can start on a whim and finish in one day.  My mother in law said after tasting it that not only was it delicious but that "it is an experience."  Coming from a die hard chocolate fan that is saying a lot.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Stollen, and might not be so hesitant to try another type of fruitcake in the future.  Right now I am trying to decide between turning the last few pieces into french toast or bread pudding.  Of course, if I keep stealing tastes that will eventually become a moot point.  Thank you Daring Bakers for the lovely challenge!

Please visit the Daring Kitchen for the original recipe and don't forget to see how everyone else tweaked their version of this Stollen. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing, week 12

I'm so sad.  This is the last week of us all baking new Christmas Cookies and sharing with one another.  I have really been enjoying the excuse to try several new and different varieties that I've had my eye on for a while.  For today's cookie I decided to go once again with pumpkin.  I have never tried a plain pumpkin cookie, whether it be one I've made myself or otherwise, but the idea sounded so appealing that I wanted to give it a shot.  While I was looking for inspiration for a recipe, I flipped through my Baking Illustrated cookbook and came across a recipe for chewy Sugar Cookies. Thinking that this recipe might be a good starting point I decided to whip up a batch as written to see how well it might be converted into a pumpkin cookie.  I was a bit disappointed in the results, the cookie wasn't quite what I had hoped for.  It tasted good (there are none left) but it wasn't going to fit the bill, not even as a base.

(pumpkin puree before cooking)

Looking for new inspiration I decided to do an online search.  It seemed that most of the recipes that were turning up would turn out a soft, pillowy, muffin top of a cookie.  This still wasn't what I was looking for.  Until I came across a recipe on Erin's site.  She describes typical pumpkin cookies as looking "more like an orphaned whoopie pie half" which is very apt.  However, she also stated that an error in forgetting to cream the butter and sugar together corrected this problem in her pumpkin cookies.  Another source, guilty kitchen, used pumpkin butter instead of plain puree to eliminate the fluffiness of her pumpkin cookies.  I decided to combine both of these ideas into a recipe of my own to see how it would turn out.

(pumpkin puree after cooking about 30 minutes)

While I was making the cookies I wondered if they should have an icing or glaze like there was on several of the recipes that my search turned up.  One of them made a browned butter icing and another had a cream cheese icing, since both sounded delicious I combined them into a browned butter cream cheese icing.  The result fell a bit short of my expectations, next time I am just going with the cream cheese icing (reflected in the recipe below, if you want to try it with the browned butter the only change is to brown the butter before adding the cream cheese).  These cookies were not cakey, so I successfully avoided that, but neither were they chewy or crunchy.  They tasted like a cinnamon roll mixed with a slice of pumpkin pie and then injected into a cookie.  While that isn't at all what I was anticipating, I am not about to complain about the mouthwatering little morsels on my plate.  Overall, I am very pleased with how my experimenting turned out.

Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing
15 oz. pumpkin puree (alternately, substitute about 1 cup of good pumpkin butter for this and the 1/4 cup of brown sugar)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamon
1/4 tsp ginger

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine pumpkin puree and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Keep cooking, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning, until the puree becomes quite thick and has reduced in volume by about 1/2, about 30 minutes.  Allow to cool before proceeding.

Meanwhile, measure into a medium bowl all the dry ingredients (flour through ginger) and stir to mix.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  When pumpkin puree has cooled, add it to the bowl of your mixer along with the butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla, stirring only to combine.  Add the dry ingredients, mixing until no visible flour remains.

Using a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop, measure out portions of dough on a cookie sheet.  Using your palm which has been moistened with water (or the flat bottom of a glass or measuring cup) press down to flatten each mound of dough.  These cookies will not spread and flatten much on their own so squish them to your desired thickness.

Bake in the preheated oven for around 12 minutes, being sure to switch the pans halfway through for even cooking.  Cool on the pans a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Icing
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1-2 tablespoon milk (until desired consistency)

In a small bowl, whip together the softened butter and cream cheese.  Stir in the powdered sugar.  Add the milk a little at a time until you have reached your desired consistency. Spread or drizzle on each cookie depending on thickness of icing.

Please be sure to check out everyone's entry for the final week of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Making Eggs Benedict with the Daring Cooks

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

When this month's challenge was announced I read through the introduction to the recipes and did a quick scan over the ingredients list.  What I realized when I did so was that I had nearly all of the required ingredients on hand at the moment.  Not only did I have the necessary ingredients but since I waited until the last minute to make my souffles last month, I still had the yolks sitting in the fridge waiting to be used.  Perfect!  I made a quick substitution of regular bacon for the Canadian bacon and started whipping up a batch of English Muffins since they were the only thing I was missing.  I made these within days of the announcement so it makes total sense that I am posting it at the last minute, right?  No procrastination happening over here.

I can't even begin to describe how incredible these were.  I would love to say that I will be making these often but the two sticks of butter in the sauce kind of put a halt on that thinking.  And it is a good thing that whisking the butter into the yolks was kind of time consuming (anyone else with a sore shoulder the next day?) because otherwise these would be all to easy to indulge in more often than I should.  That's not to say that I won't make these again because, wow, they were so awesome.  I wanted to eat the sauce with a spoon and probably would have if Hey, Babe wouldn't have made fun of me.  I it the same as the challenge recipe except I added a little onion powder and mustard powder to the sauce and then I topped mine with some chopped dill.  I'm actually kind of sad remembering these because they are all gone now.

From what I understand the sauce isn't supposed to keep well but since we had leftover sauce I decided to see what would happen to it the next day.  I found that if you reheat it very gently and slowly over a double boiler while stirring, it was usable but not quite as pretty as the day before.  It didn't bother me though, and I had it over a piece of toast and a fried egg the next day.  I miss this sauce.  What I would like to know is why no one ever told me how incredible Eggs Benedict taste. 

The English Muffins were also great, and relatively easy to make.  I used this recipe from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhardt.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rugelach Four Ways, week 11

"Christmas is coming and I am getting..." heh heh, oh wait.  Wrong words.  Although with all the cookie baking going on around here you never know, it might be more accurate.  Rugelach.  An incredible, pastry-like cookie that is both delicate and flaky, with each one wrapped around itself into an elegant crescent shaped morsel of delight.  For the most part the only Rugelach I have ever eaten are the ones Mom would pick up once in a blue moon when she would head to SAMS Club for a bulk shopping trip.  I was hooked after my first bite.

These were surprisingly easy to make.  I had always thought that such an elegant cookie would be incredibly finicky to assemble and I am so pleased that I was wrong.  Of course I'm kicking myself for putting off making these for so long, but I do that often so that's nothing new. 

Although I knew that I wanted to make these Rugelach, I had no idea what I wanted to fill them with.  I know that several recipes call for fillings of a mixture of sugar, chopped nuts, and chocolate chunks but I wasn't sure that was the direction I wanted to head in.  I browsed my fridge and cupboard and saw that we had a jar of Strawberry Jam, Apricot Preserves, Chocolate Chips, leftover Cranberry Sauce, Walnuts, and Nutella.  I knew that with all those options it wasn't going to be easy to pick just once, and since the dough gets divided into four parts I decided to make four different flavors.

Apricot, Strawberry, Cranberry-Walnut, and Nutella were the four I settled on.  It wasn't until after I started spreading the cranberry sauce on the first round of dough that I remembered the apricot preserves were designated for another recipe and that there wouldn't be any to spare for this one.  No problems there, I planned on making either a second Cranberry-Walnut or a Strawberry one sprinkled with mini chocolate chips, depending on how the cranberry turned out.  I changed my mind at the last minute after tasting how wonderful the strawberry and nutella fillings tasted together (they had combined on the pizza cutter and I couldn't resist). 

A few tips if you make this recipe.  Make sure you use parchment paper on the cookie sheet or you are going to have a hard time removing them without breaking them.  My first batch stuck pretty firmly to the pan, but I learned my lesson and the remaining three did fine on the parchment paper.  Do not use strawberry jam, or I should say, if you choose to use it be prepared for it to ooze out all over the parchment paper (you will be very glad for the parchment paper at this point) and turn into a rather interesting strawberry caramel of some sort.  It didn't seem to have a very strong flavor either, I may have had better luck with a homemade strawberry puree of some sort.  Definitely go for the Nutella.  If you don't like Nutella, that's fine.  Make them with it anyway and I'll let you know where to mail them.

Finally, grease and flour your counter where you will be rolling these out. What?  The counter? Yeah, you read that right.  I'm going to post (hopefully over the weekend) about a few cookie tips and I will talk more about this then.  You don't have to grease and flour the counter, you could just flour it, but it seems to stick so much less if you do both.  (The real last tip is to actually make them instead of waiting months or years like I did.)

A bit of Dorie Greenspan, a bit of Ina Garten, and a bit of me
For Dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces cream cheese cut into small pieces
2 sticks unsalted butter, diced into small pieces

For Filling:  (I didn't measure this is an estimate.  Feel free to add more or less to taste, or make additions of such things as cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, etc. to the fillings)
scant 1/4 cup of selected filling per round of dough it is to be used on (Nutella, Cranberry Sauce, Apricot Preserves, Raspberry Jam, etc.)
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk for egg wash
coarse sugar to top

Measure flour, sugar, and salt into your food processor.  Add the diced cubes of butter and cream cheese and process until it looks like large curds (do not process until it comes into a ball or it will be over mixed).

Divide the crumbles of dough onto four separate pieces of plastic wrap and press them each into disks.  Wrap each piece and chill in the fridge at least 2 hours or overnight.  When dividing the dough I found it worked best for me to use my kitchen scale in this manner: Place a bowl on the scale and balance to zero.  Dump the contents of your food processor bowl into the bowl on the scale and read the weight of the dough.  Divide that number into four.  Reset the scale to zero and remove a quarter of the dough, which will be reflected in negative numbers of the scale, and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Reset to zero again and repeat for each quarter.

When ready to assemble, preheat oven to 350°F.  Put about a tablespoon of oil (or less) on your countertop and spread into a very thin later.  Sprinkle flour on top of the oiled spot and using your hand, spread the flour out well.  Alternately, you can just flour the counter but I find the previous method works better.  Roll out each ball of dough into a 9-12 inch circle.  Spread your selected filling over the dough, leaving a slight perimeter bare.

Using a round wheeled pizza cutter, cut the circle into even wedges, I chose 16 since it is easier but you may also do 12 for larger cookies.  Starting with the bare outer edge, roll each piece up and place on a parchment lined cooking sheet.  Chill for 30 minutes.

Brush each cookie with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Bake each tray 15 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes four dozen or so depending on how you divide your rounds.

Check out what everyone else is serving up! Remember, next week is the last week before Christmas so you'd better start baking!  Week 11 of the Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brazilian Rice and Beans

When I make our meal plan it is sometimes with specific recipes in mind, sometimes with specific dishes in mind (though not the exact recipe) and sometimes with just a vague idea of an ingredient or two that I'd like to base the meal around.  Usually it is a combination of all three.  For this meal I knew that I wanted to make something with rice and beans and that was all I had.  So I did a google search to see what I could find. 

Since rice and beans are rather common ingredients my search brought me a lot of results but the one that piqued my curiosity was one I found on Naturally Ella.  The gorgeous photos of this dish of not just rice and beans but the addition of sweet potatoes convinced me that I should try it.  It was delicious.  The addition of sweet potatoes added even more to the heartiness of the rice and beans but without becoming an overly heavy meal.  The rice was gone after dinner but there was a little bit of the sweet potatoes and beans mixture left and so I had those the next day alongside a scrambled egg.

I made no real change to her recipe other than reducing how spicy it was going to be (Little Man will eat a long list of things but spicy foods are not included on that list).  I also found that a little shredded cheddar and some sour cream were wonderful accompaniments.  I am sure that I will be perusing Erin's blog again.  It seems that she is mostly vegetarian and so may be a good source of inspiration for vegetarian entreés, something I try to include often in our menu.  I have plans for a huge garden in the spring and I know I am going to need resources to use up all my homegrown produce.

As I said, I made no changes to Erin's recipe, as such I feel I shouldn't post it.  If you would like to try it please see her original post.  Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Creamed Spinach

There are a lot of foods that while they might be incredibly appealing taste wise, are rather difficult to honestly say look appealing.  For me, creamed spinach is one of them.  I never thought it looked like something I wanted to eat and so for a long time I didn't even try it.  Not that there was a lot of opportunity to do so, but when those rare opportunities presented themselves I quickly passed them up.  I can't clearly recall when this changed but I do know that I am quite glad it did. 


Creamed spinach is rather simple to make and because it is so full of leafy green spinach (which I know is good for me) I can pretend that it is super healthy too.  Or at least I can  for as long as I can ignore all the heavy cream I'm generously adding to the pot.  There is always the option of being less generous while making this, but considering that cream gets first billing in the recipe I find that hard to do.  Personally, I would always rather have less of something incredible than be able to have more of a less tasty diet version.  This is exactly why I add an ingredient not usually called for, freshly grated Parmesan.  It snuggles in with the cream sauce and adds a further depth of flavor to an already wonderful dish. 

Ironically, I paired a diet-like version of a recipe with this creamed spinach.  It was not for health concerns that I chose to serve oven fried chicken over deep fried chicken.  I dislike the waste of oil, the lingering smell (and sometimes residue) in my kitchen, and the potential for danger (that oil is HOT) that deep frying nearly always implies. The recipe for the chicken comes from Cooks Country magazine but since I was a bit torn in my opinion regarding the results I will not be posting the recipe (if you are interested it is on their website which you need a paid subscription to access, or it is also in their Oct. '05 issue).  While I loved how tender and flavorful the chicken was after marinating it in some buttermilk, I was not impressed with how incredibly salty and dry the "breading" made of a combo of corn flakes and bread crumbs turned out to be.

Next time I will stick to my instincts and avoid a "diet" version of a recipe.  That and make more creamed spinach because it was good.

Creamed Spinach
2 pounds fresh baby spinach, washed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

To a large saute pan add a tiny bit of water, enough to barely cover the bottom and place over medium high heat.  Add the spinach and cover, allowing the spinach to wilt and start releasing its moisture (don't worry if it looks like it won't all fit, it will cook down a LOT).  Remove as much water as possible by either adding the spinach to a fine mesh strainer and pressing with a large spoon, grabbing fists full and squeezing (ouch it's hot), or rolling inside a dark (to prevent staining) dishtowel and wringing it out. Finely chop the spinach and set aside.

In your now empty saute pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute,stirring, until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and keep stirring, just until the liquid is released. Add the cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan, and cook until the Parmesan is melted and the cream is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve immediately with some crusty bread available so that you don't waste any of the creamy goodness.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Oatmeal Cookies, week 10

I had plans of making a delicious and slightly healthier version of a standard Chocolate Chip Cookie today.  I have made it once before and thought to tweak the recipe a bit to make them just right.  Unfortunately, when it came time to assemble I had no idea what proportions I had combined last time.  Somehow I lost my notes (wait, did I make notes?) and so I had to start over, otherwise known as wing it.  They did not come out as planned.  Instead of chewy and delicious cookies they turned into little free-form Chocolate Chip muffin-type things.  Tasty, but not quite right.

Instead I bring to the cookie platter some delicious Oatmeal Cookies.  Crunchy on the outer rim, soft and chewier in the center.  Instead of the typical cinnamon, this recipe calls for nutmeg which apparently adds the spice you look for in an oatmeal cookie without overwhelming the flavor of the oats.  All in all, a classically simple and delicious addition to your standard Christmas Cookies.

Since I still had the dough from the cookie experiment last night sitting in the fridge in my mixing bowl, and since it was now a solid immovable mass I decided to make these by hand.  This of course meant that I would have to really let my butter soften to "room temperature", a rather relative term considering how chilly my kitchen was.  We intentionally keep the thermostat low (compared to most households) figuring that we can put on a sweater or (hopefully) move around and warm ourselves up.  Of course, this often backfires as I just want to curl up under a blanket with the kids.  Baking projects are therefore an excellent way to warm things up around here (which then creates even more of a need to get moving).  All of which is besides the point.

Instead of waiting for hours (days?) for the butter to soften in my cold kitchen, I decided to preheat the oven to around 100°F and let the butter sit in a glass bowl there for the 10-15 minutes it was going to take for Little Man and I to get everything else together and the dry ingredients mixed.  This worked very well.  The butter wasn't melted and liquidy, but it was nice and soft.  Just right to use my potato masher and a little bit of muscle to mix it all up.

Some people prefer their oatmeal cookies plain (me), others prefer them with raisins (eww, why?), or butterscotch chips (my mom), or chocolate chips (okay, also me), or craisins (has possibilities), etc. etc.  Oatmeal cookies are such a blank canvas and feel so wholesome because of the oats (just forget about the butter and sugar, okay?).  Take this base and change it up at will.  Add in your favorite goodies whether they are nuts or dried fruit, or even replace some of the flour with some cocoa powder.  Switch the nutmeg back to the standard cinnamon if you like (or don't.  I liked them just as much this way).  Whatever you do, don't forget to scoop out a couple of balls of dough and freeze them (like I explained here) to save for later. You know, after your guest have eaten the cookie platter clean.

Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from Baking Illustrated
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 sticks softened butter
1 cup brown sugar (it says light, I used dark because it's what I had)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups raisins, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, chopped nuts, craisins, etc. etc. (you get the idea.  Or not, your choice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  In a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients, flour through nutmeg.  (Leave the oats separate).

2. In a large bowl, use your mixer to beat the butter until it is creamy (or use a potato masher and your muscles to beat it into submission, if you feel like you have to earn these cookies).  Add the sugars and keep mixing until they are thoroughly combined and fluffy.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

3. Using a sturdy spoon, mix the dry ingredients into the creamed butter starting with the flour and then adding the oats after the flour is combined.  If you are adding any extras in, mix them in a the same time as the oats.

4.  Use a 2 tablespoon (or larger) cookie scoop to portion out the dough onto your cookie sheet.  Space them around 2 inches apart to allow for some spreading.

5. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, especially the edges (the centers might not look quite done but they will be just right).  The original recipe said to bake them for 22-25 minutes which sounded terribly long for drop cookies.  I baked mine for around 12-15 minutes and they were just right so maybe I just made them smaller then I thought or my oven runs hot (I've never noticed that before though).  Use your best judgment.  Let the cookies cool on their cookie sheets for a few minutes before removing them to a cookie rack.

Make sure you check out what everyone else is baking up for Christmas, we only have a few weeks left!
Week 10 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December Meal Plan

I can't believe that December has already arrived.  After focusing on the bustle surrounding our Thanksgiving weekend plans that included five days of having company, I have only just had a chance to recover.  Now that I am at least mostly recovered, I put together next month's plan.  There are still three days that are kind of up in the air regarding specifics (they would be the holidays of course).  There will be several meals repeated this month since we didn't use them last month and they still sound appealing.

Hey, Babe's family tradition for New Years Eve is to graze on hors d'oeuvres all evening which since it sounds rather appealing we will continue but have yet to nail down which ones exactly.  Since Hey, Babe's family always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, that is when we get together with them to celebrated Christmas (very convenient) and then they next day we do my family's celebration.  Once I find out what everyone else would like to bring for the meal (both will be at our house this year) I will finalize what I will be making.  

Mon. Tues. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat. Sun.

Omelets Chicken and Rice Casserole Sheet Pan Pizza Potato Soup Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Barbecue Chicken Braid Spinach Pasta e Fagioli Soup Chicken Stir Fry Tex-Mex Pizza Penne with Vodka Sauce Monte Cristo Sandwiches Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Arroz con pollo Cream of Tomato Soup Crispy Fish Tacos Spaghetti with Chickpeas Pepperoni Pan Pizza Rump Roast, Potatoes, Carrots & Parsnips Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Beef Soup from leftover Roast Spinach, Cheddar & Mushroom Quesadilla & Sweet Potato Black Bean Soup Chicken Curry Over Rice Omelets Christmas Eve Potluck:
Black Bean Soup
Christmas Day Potluck:
Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Chicken Enchiladas Chicken Tortellini Soup Horseradish Honey Salmon Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, rice, green beans hors d'oeuvres
(specifics are as yet undecided)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Make Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I have never tried crostata before, so I was looking forward to this challenge.  While the cream filling sounded right up my alley, I decided to instead go for a simpler version topping it instead with my homemade apple butter.  I thought it would be a nice addition to our Thanksgiving dessert spread.

This was a very easy tart to put together, especially since I was able to whip it together in the food processor.  It was nice and tender and just sweet enough to complement the apple butter.  I actually enjoyed this crust so much that I may use it instead of my standard crust for the pumpkin pies next time.  There are several variations for a crostada including fresh fruit, preserves, or cream, so rather then put all the recipes here I will instead simply provide the link to the options, please head over to the Daring Baker's site if you would like to try one of the variation for this delicious dessert.
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