Archive | August, 2011

This is for you mom.

30 Aug

Last week would qualify as the worst week I have ever experienced in my 31 years of life. Last week my mother passed away suddenly. At only 53, it was a shock to us all and we are still numb from the loss. My mom wouldn’t want us to to be sad for too long and would want us to get back to some sense of what is normal for us as soon as possible. So that is what we are all trying to do. I’ll forget for a minute that she is gone and then it will hit me and steal my breath away. It was too soon. I thought I had more time. But there is just never enough time. So to honor my mom and show her I miss her I’m sharing this recipe with you. It’s not one she ever made, more an adaptation of one of my childhood favorites – the Archway brand chocolate chip drop cookies – that we would sometimes get in place of her making chocolate chip cookies from scratch. She would have made these cookies, I know it. I can see her sampling the cookie dough and eating one right off the cookie sheet. She would love these cookies, and be proud that we both share the love of cooking and feeding people, that her “recipes” will live on through her daughters. That we all grieve and cope with loss differently, and this is my way of working through it.

Life is short. Love your ass off. Do what makes you happy. Never hold back the words ” I love you” and never think you can say those words too much. You can’t. My Mom left this world truly happy with her life and the things that were happening in it. That is a gift that you can’t put a value on, to her for being able to leave this world happy and to those of us left behind to miss her. It helps us find peace.

This one is for you mom. I hope they serve these cookies in Heaven. I love you.

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Cookies

3 cups (approx 450g) plain flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups raw sugar (see note)

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

1 cup milk  chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with flour mixture, until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips..

Drop level tablespoons of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are puffed and golden, 13 to 15 minutes per batch. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheets for 1 minute, then transfer them to cooling racks. These are fabulous warm from the oven, but also good at room temperature. They freeze fantastically as well.

To freeze: cool cookies completely. Store in airtight container, layering cookies with a piece of waxed paper in between each layer to prevent them from sticking together. Cookies will still taste great 3 months later, but I doubt they will last that long.

Note: these cookies are soft and yummy, but the raw cane sugar will melt and give them a little bit of a crunch on the outside. It’s delish! If you substitute regular white granulated sugar, this will not happen and the cookies will look a little different than in the photo. I’ve had them this way too and they are still great!

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Comfort food and childhood memories – Poor man’s spaghetti

22 Aug

For all of us there are foods that throw us immediatley back into our childhoods and fill us with memories. For everyone it’s different. Maybe it’s the smell of apple pie baking in the oven. Stuffed peppers, chocolate chip cookies, homemade bread or corn dogs.

For me, it is what my Bubba and my gram called “Poor Man’s Spaghetti”. My gram grew up on this, and then my mother, and my sister and I have enjoyed it all of our lives. This is something my gram ate as a child when they ran out of homemade sauce, and at 85 she still eats it today. As a kid my sister and I ate it because it was delicious and filling and alot more mellow than traditional pasta sauce. The recipe is very simple but one that throws me right back to my childhood, sitting at my grams kitchen table with my little sister slurping it down with a glass of ice cold milk.

Sometimes it’s the simplest recipes that mean the most.

Poor Man’s Spaghetti

1/2lb pasta of your choice, cooked to package directions

3 tablespoons butter

1 (10 3/4oz) can of Campbell’s tomato soup

 

In a saucepan melt butter and heat with tomato soup until bubbling.

Add pasta and stir to combine, heating pasta.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Note: to make this a heartier meal, you can add 1/4-1/2lb cook ground beef or turkey.

 

Homemade pizza dough means perfect homemade pizza crust, calzones, or breadsticks.

19 Aug

Pizza. It’s great for any time of year. It can be a quick meal. Great food to feed a crowd. Goes well with an ice-cold beer on your deck in the summer. You can top the dough with whatever your heart desires. But great pizza is only as good as the crust you put your ingredients on. Inferior crust leaves you feeling cheated somehow. Enter in the most perfect pizza dough recipe ever. Thank you Cooks Illustrated.

Basic Pizza Dough

½ cup warm water
1 envelope or 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
4 cups (22 oz) bread flour, plus more for dusting hands and work surface
1½ tsp. salt
1¼ cup room temperature water
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the bread flour and salt, mixing briefly to blend. With the mixer on low-speed, pour in the yeast/water/oil mixture.  Mix until a cohesive dough is formed.  Switch to the dough hook.  Knead on low-speed until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

***If you are freezing the dough for later use, you would do so at this point. Split the dough into two pieces (or 4 if you want smaller portions for calzones and breadsticks) Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. Dough will still rise some so be sure to put plastic wrapped dough in a freezer safe baggie***

Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1½-2 hours.

Press down the dough to deflate it and transfer the to a lightly floured work surface.  Divide into two equal pieces.  Form each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball.

Cover with a damp cloth.  Let the dough relax for 10 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven and your pizza stone to 500˚ F for 30 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.  Shape the dough and brush the outer edge lightly with olive oil.  Top with whatever your heart desires.

Bake until the crust is golden brown, and cheese is bubbling, 8-12 minutes.

For Calzones:

One ball of dough will make 2 calzones. Roll dough out on parchment sprinkled with cornmeal and cut in half. Fill with desired ingredients (I make one with ricotta, artichokes, spinach, shrooms and smoky cheddar. Another with ricotta, mozzarella, pepperoni, hot peppers, shrooms and sauce) leave outer edges clear so that you can fold the topping in.

Fold over edges, pressing to close, and brush entire calzone with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic salt. Score calzone so steam can escape.

Put in 500˚ F oven on preheated pizza stone for 20 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Note: to use frozen dough, take out of freezer and thaw the night before in the fridge. Or remove from freezer and thaw on the counter for a couple of hours the same day.

Cacio e Pepe – a carb lovers dream…a dieters nightmare!

15 Aug

My name is Heather and I am a carbaholic. There. I said it. I feel so free now! Not really. It’s not like I hide my love for all things carb related. If there is a bread basket on the table, i’m eating at least 2 pieces slathered in butter before dinner arrives. If it’s a pasta dish, I always eat just one more bite after I feel full because if it’s good, I know I shouldn’t finish it because i’ll be so full i’ll hate myself, but I WANT to finish it. A quick way for me to lose 10lbs would be to stop eating so many carbs. But it would not be enjoyable at all so….

Now onto Cacio e Pepe – this is a roman pasta dish, and it’s so simple to make but tastes so decadent and rich that you’ll want to eat the whole pound yourself. The recipe I made is a variation among variations – mine is just a variation of the cheeses. Traditionally it’s Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma. Well I had parmesan and smoked cheddar. So it worked out wonderfully – the smoked cheese gave it a nice deep taste. I served it with some poached and pan seared chicken sliced up thinly to get some added benefits and it was delicious. I had to stop myself from eating it because I was so full but it was SO GOOD! I used homemade egg pasta that I had whipped up a huge batch of last month and froze into pasta nests uncooked for later use. You can use plain old boxed pasta, but it seems kind of a waste to me. The egg pasta just made it super perfect. I’ve included the recipe for fresh pasta below which is very simple to make.

Enjoy!

Cacio e Pepe

Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. pasta, preferably homemade egg pasta
4 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more
to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup smoked cheddar                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 1/2 cups reserved pasta water

Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta; if using fresh cook for 2 minutes (if pasta is frozen, cook for up to 5 minutes). If using boxed pasta, cook as directed until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a 12″ skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add pepper; cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Ladle 1 cup pasta water into skillet; bring to a boil. Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet; spread it evenly. Sprinkle the cheeses over pasta; toss vigorously to combine until sauce is creamy and clings to the pasta without clumping, about 2 minutes, adding some pasta water if necessary.

Transfer to 4 plates and sprinkle with extra cheese and more pepper.

Note: serve with cooked chicken or shrimp for a more complete meal if desired.

Homemade Pasta

It’s this simple – 2 eggs for every cup of flour. So to make the above pasta dish, you’d want to make 4 rounds of this (8 eggs + 4 cups of flour).

What I do is mix it up in my little food processor. My hands stay pretty clean and it does all the dirty work for me. The traditional method is to put out a cup of flour, make a well in the center and add the eggs. Mix with your hands until it’s all combined and then knead it until it’s smooth and shiny. Let rest for 10 minutes, roll it out and slice it.

Here’s what I do:

add eggs and flour to food processor, run it until it’s all combined. plop pasta ball onto the floured counter and knead it till it’s smooth and let it rest.

I then run it through my pasta roller twice to the desired thickness, then run it through the pasta slicer. Add this to boiling SALTED water for 2 minutes and voila.

How to make creamy limoncello

12 Aug

I once had limoncello, and to  me it tasted like what I thought the lemon Pledge would taste like should I ever be inclined to ingest it. Needless to say I didn’t want to drink it often, if ever. No matter how ice-cold straight from the freezer it was, I still couldn’t get past taking a few tiny sips.

So I decided to go out on a limb and make some creamy limoncello. Why not? I mean, I liked creamsicles, so wouldn’t creamy limoncello be good? Why yes it was, to be exact. It’s nice and smooth and doesn’t have any of that Pledge like taste. It’s great all by itself in a small glass to sip after dinner or with dessert. It’s fabulous mixed in with a lemon/lime soda as an evening cocktail.  And another bonus – it’s WAY FASTER to make than making plain old limoncello. Soaking time is only 1 week. Sweet!  The only drawback I can see is that you must keep it in the freezer since there is milk in it. And really, this is only a drawback if you have a super small freezer.

I deviated from the recipe in only one way – I used fat-free skim milk (Dean’s Skim Choice to be exact, which looks and tastes like 2%) I did this because this is the milk we drink and always have on hand. The original recipe called for whole milk. I don’t really see that it matters. Use whatever type of milk you like, but do not use heavy cream.

If you cannot get your hands on some Everclear, fear not. Just use the highest proof vodka you can find. It doesn’t have to be the super best quality, just high-proof.

Creamy Limoncello

1 liter (4.25 cups/33.8 oz) Everclear or highest proof vodka you can find (100 proof)
8 lemon peels
2 orange peels
2 liters (8 3/4 cups/67.6 oz) milk of choice
5 lbs sugar – 10 cups
1 shot glass whiskey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl or crock place lemon and orange peels. Pour Everclear/vodka over the peels. Soak for one week, stirring daily.

After one week, strain lemon and orange alcohol; discard peels. Pour alcohol in a heavy bottomed large saucepan and add milk, sugar, whiskey, and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then reduce until just bubbling, for 5 minutes. Stir continuously so it does not boil over. (You are cooking to dissolve the sugar. You will lose some of the alcohol content but it’s not a big deal since you are using such a high-proof.)

Remove pan from  heat and let cool completely. A thin film will form on the top of the limoncello. Using a large spoon, skim it and discard.

Pour limoncello through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher.

Pour into bottles or freezer safe mason jars and freeze. Keep in freezer at all times. Shake before using.

Enjoy!
Creamy Limoncello mixed with lemon lime soda - summertime in a glass!

Happy National S’mores day! You can’t have s’more without these bad boys….

10 Aug

Mmmmmarshmallows! forgive the photographic craptasticness.

It’s no secret that I love s’mores. And you cannot have s’mores without marshmallows. You just can’t. Otherwise it’ll just be melty chocolate on graham crackers. Awhile back I stumbled upon a post by Rebecca Crump over at http://www.ezrapoundcake.com – she had a post titled “Marshmallow 101” – color me intrigued! Marshmallows from scratch you say? Well i’m all in. Here is the best part. Instead of just posting a photo of the finished product (like I’m doing because let’s face it, Rebecca’s got all the details plotted out for you!) she gives pictures of the process step by step, a marshmallow making tutorial. Oh ya! (please also forgive the photographic craptasticness that is my marshmallow picture. It’s the only photograph I have of my marshmallow making success!)

Don’t let the details scare you. It’s not complicated to make marshmallows from scratch. You just need to have all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go so there’s no fumbling when you get to the next step. This recipe will require that you have a candy thermometer, so if you do not have one make sure to get one prior to testing out this recipe since you will be required to get the sugar to a certain temperature.

Once I got to the point where I was putting the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan, I was totally amazed at how EASY it was to make marshmallows. I could have kicked myself for having waited so long to make them! And let me tell you, you’ll never want to go back to store bought marshmallows again. They now taste like spongy cardboard to me.

And homemade marshmallows? They make for some really amazing s’mores. Last winter I didn’t have any Hershey bars but had a wicked hankering for s’mores since we had a nice fire going and I substituted Nutella for the Hershey bar.

oh.my.gawd.

It was bliss sandwiched between a graham cracker. To die for. I highly recommend the homemade marshmallow nutella s’more combo. Celebrate National S’mores day the right way!

Click the link below to be taken to the fantabulous tutorial and become a marshmallow making queen. or king.

Marshmallow 101 Tutorial by Rebecca Crump of EzraPoundCake

Nothing says summer like S’mores…..except the S’mores cupcake says it a little cuter!

8 Aug

I love s’mores. I love cupcakes. What better marriage of favorites that to combine the two? That’s exactly what Lisa over at www.snappygourmet.com did!

She had me at the graham cracker cupcake! These are great for summer parties because they are easily portable and you don’t have to worry about the icing getting all funky and melty because it’s covered in chocolate! I keep mine refrigerated until ready to go and then leave them out at room temperature to let the marshmallow icing get nice and soft and gooey. They also freeze very nicely. I had run out of chocolate to cover the tops on the last batch so I iced the cupcakes and froze them. Now I have homemade cupcakes awaiting their chocolate bath for whenever I need a sweet treat for guests or something to take to a party.

don’t get me wrong – I still love me some good old fashioned campfire s’mores. But these are a great substitute for when there isn’t any fire to toast a marshmallow in or if you’re feeling more refined. And a cupcake is the perfect dessert portion and totally portable. And these will make you a hit at your next event. So whip some up today!

S’mores Cupcakes
modified slightly from original recipe at Snappy Gourmet

Yield: approximatley 24 cupcakes

Cupcakes:
2 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 20 whole sheets graham crackers)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup milk

Frosting:
1 (16oz) containers marshmallow fluff
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Chocolate Dip:
Melted chocolate – I used milk chocolate candy melts. 1 bag was almost enough for the whole batch.

Garnish:
Graham cracker crumbs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cupcake pans with 24 paper liners.
2. Whisk together graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl until well combined.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together 3/4 cup butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined. Beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Alternate beating in 1 1/4 cup milk and flour mixture until combined.
4. Spoon cake batter into paper liners. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick comes out clean when inserted into middle of cupcakes. Cool completely.
5. Meanwhile, prepare frosting by beating together marshmallow fluff and 1 cup butter in large mixing bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Beat in confectioners’ sugar until well combined. Beat in milk 1 tablespoon at a time until frosting just comes together. Refrigerate frosting for about 30 minutes or until firmer.
6. Spoon or pipe frosting  onto cupcakes to desired height. Freeze for 15-20 minutes so icing is firm and can stand up to dipping in the hot chocolate.
7. When frosting on cupcakes is firm enough to turn upside down, melt chocolate. I suggest using a double boiler (rather than the microwave) so that chocolate stays warm and smooth while dipping cupcakes. Dip cupcakes in chocolate letting extra chocolate to run off before placing cupcakes on a baking sheet (or dish). Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top of cupcakes if desired while chocolate is still warm.

Refrigerate any cupcakes you will not be using. When you want to serve them, be sure to take them out of the fridge long enough for them to come to room temp so the icing gets nice and gooey. These freeze well – store in and air tight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight or on your counter for a couple hours.

Notes: I could not pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes because it was pretty firm out of the fridge and would have required super human strength for me to get it out of the piping bag. So I instead used a large spoon and scooped it onto the cupcake, smoothing to the edge so as to cover the whole top of the cupcake.

The icing recipe listed above is more than enough to ice 24 cupcakes with some to spare. It is VERY sweet. Like give you a cavity sweet. I was not the hugest fan of it at first because it was so sweet, but once it was coated with chocolate it balances out nicely and is very enjoyable to eat. The original recipe had double the icing – so if you want a heaping pile of icing just double the recipe above.