Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Help me decide!

I am making a pie this weekend to promote a pie-making contest that we will be holding at church in a few weeks. I cannot decide what type of pie to make that will be the most taunting and make people most excited for this event. Can you please tell me what your favorite pie is, and point me in the right direction? I will blog about the process of whichever one I choose, so feel free to suggest one that you want to learn how to make. I am up to the challenge :-)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Cookies

Peanut butter and jelly is, by far, my favorite sandwich. I do not allow myself to eat it for lunch everyday any more, because that would lead to a less-than-balanced diet, but on the days that I do have it, I look forward to it all morning. These cookies take that wonderful sandwich combination, and make it dessert! They are very rich, but oh so delicious. If you are a PBJ fan, you must try these:

Here is what you will need:
2 sticks of Butter
1/2 C Sugar
1/4 C Brown Sugar
2/3 C Peanut Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
3/4 tsp Salt
2 C Flour
3/4 C Raspberry Jam

Beat butter on Medium speed, 1 minute. Gradually add the sugars beating til well blended.

Add Peanut Butter, Vanilla, and Salt. You can use creamy or chunky peanut butter. I use chunky, because I like it better, and also because it adds more texture. Lower speed to medium-low and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in flour until just blended.

Now you have your dough. Refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. This will make it a lot easier to roll-out and cut into circles for the "sandwiches". It is nearly impossible to roll-out/cut-out cookie dough that has just been prepared, so make sure that you leave time for this step.

Once the 2 hours is up, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Roll the dough out to less than 1/4 in. thick. Cut out dough with round cookie cutter. If you don't have a round cookie cutter, you can use the top of a glass. This is just to make sure that all of the circles are the same size, since you will be stacking them.

Transfer to baking sheets. I used a stone, so I did not grease it, but if you are using a regular cookie sheet make sure to grease it. Bake 18-20 Minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack and allow them to cool completely. Make sure that you wait until they are cool before handling them, or they will break apart. Because these are shortbread cookies, they are very fragile. Once they are cool, spread half of the cookies with the jam.

Make sure not to put too much on or it will be a huge mess. I love my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be dripping with jelly, but here, moderation is best. Trust me on this, I am not a fan of moderation in most things that relate to food but it is good here.

Top the jelly covered cookies with the remaining plain cookies, and you are all set. Here is what they look like when they are done:

Is your mouth watering yet? The jelly is a great addition to the shortbread, because shortbread has a tendency to be a bit dry. The jelly adds moisture, and a wonderful flavor combination. Go make them now! Your husband/boyfriend/roommate/dog will thank you! (our dog always gets a little peanut butter as treat when I make anything with it, so he likes this recipe too!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chilled Strawberry Soup

Okay, I know this sounds very strange. I really only made it because I wanted to see what the heck it would be like. Here is the recipe
1 C Apple Juice
3/4 C Water
2/3 C Sugar
1/2 t Ground Cinnamon
1/8 t Ground Cloves
combine in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; Cool.

3 C Strawberries
1/4 C water
Puree until smooth in blender. Pour into large bowl.

2 C Plain yogurt
1 t Vanilla
2 drops Red Food Coloring

Add to pureed strawberries with the apple juice mixture. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Garnish with additional strawberry halves.

This is why you need food what happens as the ingredients are added:
1st picture-yogurt/vanilla addition
2nd picture-apple juice addition
3rd picture-food coloring

I was not going to use the food coloring at first, then I saw the nasty brown color and knew that Tim would scrunch his nose at me if I put that in front of him! Be careful if you are klutzy like me, I got red food coloring on my fingers and had to go to work the next couple of days looking like I cut my finger open, and did not clean it up!

Okay now for the review:
This recipe is delicious, but I have had the leftovers in a cup rather than a bowl. I like it as a drink, think: smoothy. It is really very refreshing, and sweet though. The cloves and cinnamon add a very interesting flavor that I thoroughly enjoyed. This was also very quick to make, which is nice on a busy spring day! Go try it, I bet you will be pleasantly surprised!

Recipe from: Simply In Season

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring! Yay!

Just a quick note to say, I am excited that there is sunshine outside, and the first batch of lemonade Popsicles in the freezer. I love this time of year!

Holiday Mashed Potatoes

BEWARE: If you start making these potatoes, and sharing them with people, you will be asked to make them for every holiday that you are ever invited to. You will no longer have to ask "what should I bring?" because the answer will always be the same: "Bring your famous mashed potatoes!" I have been making these potatoes for several years. I don't even remember what cookbook the recipe is in, I just know that it is one that sits on my Mom's kitchen counter with all of her other cookbooks. I started making these for Thanksgiving, and they were a definite staple. Then, it got expanded to other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. This is why I am writing this post now, I just finished a batch for our Easter dinner tonight. I am quite honored that I got asked to bring these potatoes to Easter dinner because we will be eating at my In-laws' house, and my Mother-In-Law has her own version of regularly requested potatoes. I think this means that she is admitting defeat, but I am not sure.
After that long-winded introduction, here are the "Famous" Mashed Potatoes:

8 Large Baking Potatoes
1 Stick Butter softened
12 OZ Cream Cheese softened
1 Pt Sour Cream
1 Small Bunch of Green Onions Very finely chopped (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Scrub your potatoes, or if you prefer, peel them. I like the texture of the skin in the mashed potatoes, but that is simply my preference.

Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters depending on how big they are. The smaller you cut them, the faster they will cook.

Place your cut-up Potatoes in a big kettle/soup pot, whatever you have. Add some salt, and put in enough water to just cover the potatoes.

Cover the pot and put it on the stove (duh) and bring the water to a boil. Cook the potatoes for about 15 minutes, and then start to test for done-ness. You will know that the potatoes are cooked when you can easily poke them with a fork, and if you try to lift them out of the water with a fork, they fall off.

While the potatoes are cooking, chop up your green onions.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain out all of the water, and transfer them to a big mixing bowl.

Add the Butter

Cream Cheese

And sour cream (sorry sour cream by itself is really not photo-worthy, it mostly just looks gross)

Mix this all up with a hand mixer, stand mixer, or potato masher. Whichever you prefer will work. Mix until they reach your desired consistency. I say this because some people like their potatoes really chunky, and some like them really smooth. Go with whatever you like best, they will be great either way!

Add some salt and pepper to taste. Add the salt slowly, and just keep tasting them as you go in order to make sure that you do not add too much.

Now that everything is all mixed up just how you like it, add the chopped green onion. Use as much green onion as you like. You can eye-ball it as you go if you want. Mix this in by hand.

Now, you can either serve the potatoes, right away, or stick them in a covered casserole, and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to heat them up. When you are ready, just pop 'em in the oven until they are heated through, and serve. It is nice to top them with some fresh chives or ground nutmeg if you have it.

Tada! All done! Easy right? Now you can sit back, relax, and listen while everyone tells you how wonderful of a cook you are :-) Enjoy, and Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

2 Recipe Updates!

I was planning to only be updating you on the final results of the Honey Sponge Cake that I made for Passover, but I had leftover Sesame Chicken Couscous Salad for lunch yesterday, and Holy Cow, was it delicious! So, you will be reading about both recipes again today.
Let's start with the Sesame Chicken Couscous Salad. What I have to say about that is simple: It is WAAAAAY better the next day. It was so delicious, it was like I was having a gourmet treat for lunch rather than leftovers. The flavors blended together beautifully, it was much less liquidy and everything about it was perfect. I will still be experimenting with the flavors of it, and trying to find some more ingredients that make it a bit more exciting, but for now, I will know to always make it one day before I want to eat it. It makes a huge difference!

Okay, and now for the Honey Sponge Cake:
First, I am going to let you look at the final are some pictures:

How does it look to you? Beautiful? delicious? spongy? Yes, yes, and yes! All of the above. This cake is amazing. I was shocked that it tasted like something other than cardboard (if you have any previous experience with Passover cakes you will know what I mean) I was very nervous to serve it because I usually never serve anything to people that I have not tried myself. After our Seder was complete, I walked over to Tim, who had just taken his first bite, and meekly asked, "how is it?" He said "It's good" so as I breathed a sigh of relief I walked over and cut myself a piece. I was still a bit nervous, and hesitantly took a bite. It was wonderful! It was so moist, the consistency was perfect. The honey flavor was distinct but not overwhelming. It was not messy and gooey like I had imagined. Everything was better than I expected. I love it when that happens!
I decided to top the cake with strawberries, because it looked too plain and lonely by itself. The strawberries ended up being a perfect accent to the cake. They tasted great with the honey, and were refreshing as a pairing with the dense cake. I loved this cake so much, that I am going to make another one tonight. I need something to get me through this week without bread, and cookies, and all that other good stuff! I think I will get some strawberries to go along with it too!
I am no longer scared of baking cakes for Passover. I have a feeling that this one will be requested again next year, and I will also feel more comfortable experimenting with more Passover dessert recipes now that I have overcome this first flour-less obstacle. Yay!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Honey Sponge Cake For Passover

This was my first Passover-friendly baking experience. I think it went well. I will not have the final verdict until we try it tomorrow night at our Passover Seder. The process was not too difficult though, just relied on a lot of ingredients that I did not have in my pantry prior to this afternoon. The final product is a bit sticky, (because of the honey, I suppose) but seems like a light, spongy cake; not dry like most desserts that you get for Passover.

Here is what you will need -unless you are a gluten-free eater, you will probably need to get to the store before-hand to get the grain-free ingredients:
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 C Honey (about half of a normal sized container of honey)
1/2 C Sugar
Zest and Juice of half a Lemon
1/2 C Matzah Cake Meal
3 Tblsp Potato Starch
1 Tblsp Ground Cinnamon

And now for the important part, the process: (drum roll please)
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Have handy an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Seperate your eggs first, so that they are all ready to go when you need them.

Zest and juice your lemon, and set this aside

Beat egg whites in large bowl until stiff (read fluffy, airy, etc).

Continue beating, while very slowly adding the sugar. When whites are shiny, set aside.

ooooo shiny! no, we must focus!

Beat egg yolks with honey, lemon zest and juice.

The chunky looking stuff is just lemon zest-calm down :-)

Fold in Cake Meal, Potato Starch, and Cinnamon

Fold yolk mixture into whites, until all is incorporated.

See how the egg whites look all fluffy, and light? This is how you know you have beaten them correctly/long enough. Fold this in carefully to ensure that you do not ruin that fluffiness. I used a silicon spatula, and mixed very, very, very (do you get the point?) slowly. This fluffy egg white mixture will aid in the leavening of the cake. It will also add an airy-ness that would otherwise be replaced with dry, grossness. We have to be especially careful about this since we are not using regular flour.

Pour batter into an ungreased pan and bake 55-60 minutes.

I placed my tube pan on top of a cookie sheet to catch any spilled batter. This is a good idea because the tube pans do not always seal all the way. Or, if you are a klutz like me, and spill the batter while you are pouring it, it will be on the cookie sheet instead of all over everything else (hopefully)

When the baking time is complete, invert the cake on a cake rack and let cool completely before removing from the pan. The cake will be very sticky, so be ready!

The cake smelled delicious while it was baking, I cannot wait to try it tomorrow night! Check back to see the photographs of the completed product, and to find out if it tastes as good as it smells!

Sesame Chicken Couscous Salad

This recipe was not a huge hit with the guys, but I think that with a few minor adjustments, it could be very tasty. It is a nice light recipe, simple to make, and leaves you feeling satisfied, but not stuffed. This is a characteristic that I enjoy about Spring and Summer meals. In the winter, I enjoy feeling full, whereas in the summer I want to be just satisfied, but not weighed down by what I have eaten. I like to be able to walk, run, take a bike ride, at any time and not have to worry about letting my food settle first. Anyways, back to the recipe at hand. It had a wonderful combination of flavors, though it may have been a bit heavy on the lemon juice. Here is the recipe:

1.5 C Chicken Broth
1 tsp Soy Sauce
1 tsp Sesame or Olive Oil
combine and bring to a boil.

1 C Uncooked Couscous
Place in a large bowl and stir in boiling broth. Cover and let stand 5-8 minutes. Fluff with fork.

2 Green Onions Sliced
1 Lrg Sweet Red Pepper Chopped, optional

Stir in. Cover and Refrigerate until chilled.

1.5 C Sugar Snap Peas or Snow Peas (I left these out because I am not a huge fan)
3/4 C Broccoli Florets
Steam Peas 1 minute. Add Broccoli and steam 2 more minutes or until crisp-tender. Rinse in cold water and drain.

1 C Cooked Chicken chopped
Add to couscous with broccoli and peas

1/4 C Lemon Juice
2 Tblsp Olive Oil
2 tsp Soy Sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp Sesame Oil optional
Combine and mix into couscous mixture.

1/4 C Slivered Almonds toasted
1 Tblsp Sesame Seeds toasted
Mix in immediately before serving. Serve Chilled or at room temperature.
Serves 4

A few things that you should note before making this recipe:
It has a very tangy flavor, which I loved, so if you are into that, you will love it!
It will be better made the day before eating so that the flavors have time to blend together, and also so that the grains and vegetables soak up all that liquidy goodness.
You can add or eliminate ingredients as you please. This is a great base recipe, has a lot of potential for improvement, and probably just needs some experimentation :-) I am not ready to give up on this one yet!

Here is a full list of the ingredients:
1.5 C Chicken Broth
3 tsp Soy Sauce
1 tsp Sesame Oil or Olive Oil
1 C Uncooked Couscous
2 Green Onions
1 Lrg Red Sweet Pepper
1.5 C Sugar Snap Peas or Snow Peas
3/4 C Broccoli Florets
1 C Cooked, Chopped Chicken
1/4 C Lemon Juice
2 Tblsp Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Sesame Oil-optional
1/4 C slivered, toasted almonds
1 Tblsp Sesame Seeds toasted