Thursday, September 15, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've stated before that Peanut Butter and Chocolate are my very favorite food combinations. I would eat anything that came with those two things. So, last night when Mr. E was expressing his extreme need for a cookie (OK, he wanted the dough), he suggested making some cookies that appeared on his cousin's blog. THEY WERE INCREDIBLE! I  loved them. They immediately went into my permanent collection of recipes. 

What is so great about them is the peanut butter flavor is subtle yet perfect. It's just the right amount. I don't usually like PB cookies for that reason. The peanut butter flavor is so strong, it's almost artificial. But, in these it was just the right amount. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Oh, and by the way, I added much more chocolate chips than called for. I always do!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips 
Bake at 375 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes.  Makes 5 dozen cookies.

The only changes I made was that I halved the recipe--we certainly do not need 5 dozen cookies around here. And I added a dash of vanilla. Every chocolate chip cookie recipe needs it. Oh! And when you measure out your peanut butter, whether you do 1 cup or 1/2 cup, make sure it's a HEAPING cup! 

Doing the Can Can

Over the past two or three years, I've tried to learn about canning.  I've read books, searched the Internet, and tapped the experience of friends and neighbors.  My family can't quite understand why I like it.  My mom and sister (yes, my blog partner Mrs. E) tease me about it calling me a "pioneer."  Despite their teasing, they are more than happy to gobble up jars of goodies that I bring them when I visit.  Not to mention Grandpa C (my mom's Mr.) LOVES it when I make him homemade peach jam.

I love the look of canned items.  I've even taken some pictures to blow up and hang in my kitchen someday.  When I go to the state fair each year, the canned items are some of the things I look most forward to seeing.  I love the colors and the varieties of foods--although the canned meats usually looks disgusting.  This year, the grand champion of canning entered 39 different items and won 26 blue ribbons.  Look at all her hard work:

I find all those jars mesmerizing and beautiful.  I'm sure others would find it crazy!

Since my family has been requesting strawberry jam for a while, I unpacked all my canning supplies a couple months ago when I finally found some strawberries on sale.

(Did anyone else notice that strawberries never really went down in price this summer?  UG!)

For my strawberry jam I use the non-pectin recipe from the Ball canning book.  It's a great overall canning recipe/guide book that you can pick up for 5.00-6.00 at almost any store that sells canning supplies.  The drawback to non-pectin jam is that you have to cook it for a while and you get less jam from the batch because your mixture boils down.  I started with 12 pounds of strawberries and only ended up with 9 pints of jam. It's not a lot to pass out to the family, but it will do.  I like the texture of boiled down jam better than pectin jam because it's not so "coagulated."  With boiled down strawberry jam, the texture is just perfect to use the jam as ice cream topping too.

Let me just interject here that freezer jam appears to be a lot like boiled jam in texture to me, but I never make it.  I simply do not have the fridge or freezer space to store a lot of jam, so I have to go for preserved jars. 

A couple of weeks passed by and I got an urge to try a new jam...PLUM!  I watched local sales and found plums on sale for 50 cents a pound.  When I told my mom I was going to make plum jam, she told me my grandma used to can whole plums.  I consulted my canning book and decided to give them a try as well.  Mr. C can't get enough plums during the summer so whole fruits seemed like the perfect item to attempt.  Between calculating what we'd need for jam and whole fruit, Mr. C and I decided to buy 40 (yes 40!!!) pounds of plums.

Our kitchen was OVERFLOWING!

(Don't you just LOVE my new gigantic colander?!  THANK YOU IKEA!)

One Friday afternoon, with Mr. C's help, I decided to do 10 quarts of plums.  Can you spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R?  It was a horrible experience.  We could hardly get any in the jars, I couldn't get the air bubbles out, the syrup half boiled out of the jars, and worst of all, the finished product looked disgusting.  The whole adventure was, well, disastrous.  After staring at the jars for a day, I decided they were horrible and there was no way I was wasting precious food storage space on them.  So, I opened every jar and recycled the plums.  Instead of turning 20 pounds of plums in to jam, I was now back at my original 40.  40 pounds of plums for jam!  Can you even imagine?  Needless to say, I made jam for DAYS!

It was a ton of work, but I must say the final result was more delicious than I anticipated it would be.  Mr. C was so enthralled by it, he ate a piece of bread with plum jam every day for two weeks.  Not only that, he put some on barbecued ribs and it was FANTASTIC.  I ended up with 28 half-pints and 16 pints of this newly discovered treasure.  This gives me plenty to hand out to the family, keep for us, and give away (can you say "hello Christmas gifts!").

(If you're wondering what the orange jars are, it's peach jam that I made at the same time as the plum to restock Grandpa C's cupboard.  He just loves it!)

In case you want to try this delightful treat, I am putting the recipe at the end of this post.  Plums are still a great price right now, so I encourage you to give this one a try.

At the end of the plum overload, my neighbor called saying the house next to her had an apricot tree (just typing that makes me smile thinking of singing "popcorn popping" with my niece!) FULL of fruit that the owners did not want.  We spent two days picking and I ended up with three overflowing laundry baskets.

It took me a few days to get them all canned in to halves and jam.  By the end of about the fourth day, I was so sick of apricots that I will not cry if I don't see a fresh one for a while.  Even after canning 17 quarts of halves and 20+ jars of jam, (and eating a few along the way each day) I still had apricots to give away.  GOOD RIDDANCE!

Remember my whole "I love boiled down jam the best" comments from earlier?  That went out the window with the apricots.  I did my first batch of apricot jam by boiling it down, but after an hour I still couldn't get it to the thickness I wanted.  I was too burned out from 40 pounds of plums and probably double that in apricots to deal with boiling anymore.  I went to the store for some pectin and didn't look back.

22 pints and 4 or 5 half-pints later I was finally done!  My kitchen windows were full of jars for days.

In total I think I made roughly 60+ jars of jam (along with the 10 canned and then un-canned quarts of plums and the 17 quarts of apricots) and went through almost 50 pounds of sugar.  Want to hear the funniest part of it all?  Mr. C and I really do not eat a lot of jam!  Oh well.  It's been great for learning, I have all my neighbor/work gifts done for Christmas, and I have 2 1/2 cases of jam and fruit to take to my family next month!  Plus, who knows...maybe some year I will be taking a picture of my own canning blue ribbon at the fair!

As promised, here is the plum jam recipe from the Ball canning book:
Plum Preserves
5 c pitted tart plums (about 2 1/2 pounds)
4 c sugar
1 c water
Combine all the ingredients in a large sauce pot.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly almost to a gelling point.  As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat.  Skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process 15 minutes (or 25 if you're in a high elevation like me) in a boiling-water canner.  Note: I cut my plums in fourths.  Yield: about 5 half-pints

Side note: I have FANTASTIC recipes for canned spaghetti sauce and salsa that I will be posting as soon as my tomatoes finally ripen so I can use them!  I'm hoping that happens in the next couple weeks!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In case you are wondering...

...what happens when you accidentally hit the side of your oven door "just right" with a glass measuring cup, this is it:

If you think you are looking at one million pieces of shattered saftey glass, you're not.  You're looking at 10 million!  And the circular space on the front left corner area is where my naked foot was during the rainshower of glass.  Delightful!

As a side note, the glass measuring cup didn't have so much as a chip out of it.  Go figure!

For the Hostess Who Wants To Be The Most-ess

Let me start this post by saying that I certainly do not consider myself to be "The Hostess with the Most-ess." In fact, quite the opposite.

About four months ago my mom and three of her sisters came to stay with me and Mr. C for a night before we all headed to a conference. I was SO excited to have them all come stay!  I always have grand ideas of being the perfect hostess offering the most comfortable beds, delicious warm cookies for snacks, and a breakfast that makes my guests feel as if they are on vacation at a resort. Then reality clubs me on the head--HARD!  The reality of my accommodations is that I can't offer overly comfortable beds. In fact, my mom and one of her sisters had to sleep on air mattresses in my craft room. I didn't serve warm cookies as a snack either since we'd eaten ourselves silly at a family party that day.  Breakfast, however, I had a little more control over. I don't really have the funds, nor did we all have the time, for a resort style breakfast, but I did get up early to make fresh muffins to serve alongside some fresh fruit. That, my friends, is where this post takes muffinland.  But first, a little flashback.

Eight or so years ago my good friend Cheryl bought a muffin cookbook with cover art that matched her kitchen decor perfectly.  Year after year I looked at that book sitting happily on it's little kitchen display shelf hoping someday I'd find a copy to add to my (ever growing) collection.  It must have been meant to be!  About a year ago I was wandering around a local thrift store perusing the cookbook shelves of the book area--my most favorite thing to do there.  As my eyes went back and forth along the shelves looking at all the titles (wondering how so many copies of Cooking the Costco Way could possibly be donated to one store), there it was in all it's glory!  The muffin book I had been wanting for YEARS was just waiting for someone to take it home.  It was in perfect condition.  In fact, I could have sworn it was a brand new book that had never even been cracked open.  Want to know what the best part was?  The 2.00 price tag on the front!  You can bet that book went home with me that day and is living happily ever after on one of my cookbook shelves.

Now, back to the present...or the recent past.  You know what I mean.
When I knew that I wanted to make my visiting family members a nice breakfast to help them start their day off right (shoppers need good nourishment in the mornings!), I turned to my muffin book.  I wanted something hearty...breakfast in a muffin.  I also wanted flavors that were different than something my guests could have found at a local bakery or convenience store.  As I flipped through the pages of my thrift store treasure, I decided "Ham and Cheese" muffins fit the bill perfectly.  Just to make sure the recipe was going to suit my guests, I made a test pan a few days before their arrival and subjected Mr. C to a taste test.

Want to know how good they were?  Let me just say that the one dozen muffins I made were gone by the end of the day.  (I'd like to say Mr. C ate most of them, but I'd be lying.  I'd be thinner, but I'd be lying.)

So, just in case you haven't come across this book at your local thrift store, here is the recipe to tide you over until you do.  (Incidentally, as I type this blog, Amazon currently has used copies as cheap as 3 cents.  GO BUY IT!  It has chapters like "For Chocolate Lovers," "Variations on a Cake," and "Garden Variety."  There is even a recipe for Peanut Butter Bacon Muffins!)  As usual, on the flip side I'll tell you about two changes I've made to the recipe and something I have discovered after making this recipe a few times.   

Ham and Cheese Muffins (makes 12)
1 egg
2 T sugar
1 c sour cream
1 T oil
1 t prepared mustard (see my note below)
1 1/3 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c diced cooked ham
1/2 c shredded Swiss cheese (see my note below)
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg.  Add the sugar, sour cream, oil, and mustard.  Mix well.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Gently stir in the ham and cheese.  Fill greased muffin tins.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until muffins are brown.

OK, now for my changes.  They aren't big ones, but they've made a big difference in the taste of the muffins at our house.  First, the mustard.  One teaspoon just isn't enough in my opinion.  The first time I made the recipe for Mr. C to taste test, we couldn't even tell the mustard was in there.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not so in love with mustard that I need to feel like I'm eating a hot dog or a pretzel, but the flavor is a nice compliment to the ham and cheese so I like having a hint of it.  To remedy that, I put in a full tablespoon (and sometimes even a bit more) rather than a teaspoon.  If you do that, I don't think you'll be disappointed...or even be assaulted my mustard flavor.  My second change is the cheese.  I don't use Swiss and I don't use half a cup.  For me, Swiss does not have a strong enough flavor to use in this recipe.  I ALWAYS use cheddar cheese (mild, not sharp, but use sharp of you like it). Also, half a cup isn't enough to taste either.  I ALWAYS use a full cup.

Remember when I said I have discovered something after making these muffins a few times?  Well, this is it: these muffins do not stay fresh for a super long time.  In fact, not even for a little bit of a long time.  Mr. C and I have found that we prefer these muffins when they are still warm out of the oven.  If you can't have them that way (which we sometimes cannot), I would suggest not making them more than a day in advance of when you are going to eat them.  By day two, they are on the fast track to stale-ville.  If you have to make them more than a day, pop them in your freezer and keep them fresh that way.  That's what I do when I make them for Mr. C to take to work for breakfast.

When all was said and done I didn't end up feeling like the "Hostess with the Most-ess." Although, one of my aunts asked for the muffin recipe and another said, "I'm coming back to this hotel!"  I hope that means they enjoyed themselves.  I was delighted to have them here and it gave me a great excuse to try out a new recipe.  We'll see if they want to check back in to Hotel C again next year!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cheesy Tuna and Rice Muffinlettes

Last week I was flipping through our family cookbook trying to find something new and delicious to cook this week. When I search through the family cookbook it is a secret, to everyone but my husband...and now all of you, that I search for recipes made by my dear Aunt Judy. Judy is an exceptional cook. She has a plethora of recipes and they are all, and I mean every single one of them, delicious. My husband loves everything she makes so when I stumbled upon this recipe and realized that I had every single thing necessary to make it stockpiled (P.S., I'm a couponer), I decided to try it out.

I was a little worried about the tuna in the recipe. Don't get me wrong, I love tuna. But sometime recipes that have tuna in them tend to be a little too "fishy" for my taste. Then everything smells like tuna, and many people know I do NOT like to smell my dinner after I'm done eating. It makes me nauseous. So, I was a little skeptical about the tuna. But the tuna was GREAT! It didn't add a tuna flavor just more of a meaty texture. I think you could probably exchange out shredded chicken in place of tuna, but it might get a little dry when you bake these. Really, the tuna was exceptional.

I loved these! DELICIOUS! The spices in them were perfect, and the rice was such a great little addition. It was like a meal, right there in one little cup. And you know what else? It's a little cheap meal! Leftover rice? Got it. Cheese? Got it. Tuna? Got it. Spices? Got it. I HIGHLY recommend these. I might be munching on the leftovers for lunch today.

Oh, and Little E, my 21 month old...LOVED THEM! Kid friendly!

Cheesy Tuna and Rice Muffinlettes

2 c. cooked rice
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can tuna, drained and flaked
3/4 c. olives, sliced (optional, I didn't have any last night so I didn't add them but I think it would be great!)
1 T. dried onion
1 T. parsley flakes
1 t. seasoned salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. milk

Mix beated eggs and milk; stir in rest of ingredients and mix together thoroughly. Spray muffin pans with non-stick spray. Divide mixture among cups. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve with lemon juice. (I didn't have any lemon juice, so I didn't do this, but I think it would be great!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Strawberry Sauce

Little R is a strange eater. One day she loves something, the next day she won't go near it. One of those foods she is most fickle with is strawberries. One day she will eat two or three whole ones the next day she won't even touch them.

And so came the dilemma of having a huge pound of strawberries that were not getting eaten. I was really worried they were going to go bad so I started scouring every cookbook I owned attempting to find a recipe I could throw them in. I found a great one in the Our Best Bites cookbook, which is based off the Our Best Bites website.

My dear sister, Jackie, bought me this cookbook earlier this year as a "Welcome to Utah!" gift when I came to visit her. I was so excited when I went upstairs and saw it sitting on my bed. I have followed the Our Best Bites website for a long time and I love all of their recipes. This is one of the greatest cookbooks I own. This cookbook, the Pioneer Woman cookbook, and our family's cookbook is the most used cookbooks in my tiny, but not so tiny, collection of cookbooks. I recommend this cookbook to EVERYONE. It will be one of the greatest investments you make in your kitchen. The recipes are so simple and easy, but delicious! I have made so many things in it and everyone of them has turned out PERFECT. I HIGHLY recommend everyone going out and getting this book. (P.S. I'm not getting paid for saying that!)

So, Our Best Bites had a great recipe for Strawberry Sauce that looked perfect. I decided to pair it with Double Chocolate Waffles from the same cookbook, a recipe Jackie will be posting later. They write in the cookbook that this sauce is great drizzled over ice cream, waffles, pancakes, cheesecake or blended with ice cream to make milkshakes. I love this sauce. It is lick-the-spoon delicious.

Strawberry Sauce
From: Our Best Bites

1 Pint strawberries, washed, hulled and roughly chopped
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 t. almond or vanilla extract

Combine strawberries, sugar, and vanilla in medium saucepan and bring to a simmer of over medium heat. Cook for five minutes. The cookbook says to stir constantly and break the strawberries up but I really didn't do that. I stirred occasionally and just tried to push on the strawberries. After five minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before pouring into a blender or food processor. Pulse until the consistency you want is reached.

Sauce can be refrigerated for one month and frozen for up to three months.

I put it on Little R's waffles this morning...P.S. she didn't touch them. I'm so shocked.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins

My sister has informed me that it has been nine months since my last post... I could have birthed a baby since my last post. Unfortunately, I did not but I'm going to try really hard to get more up.

Today I have DELICIOUS blueberry muffins! I found the recipe in the July/August 2011 issue of Cooking with Paula. There is a whole section in the magazine that use blueberries and this is only the first of many that I plan on making!

I love blueberry muffins. Especially when they have a crumble top but when I saw the recipe for these I got really excited, even if they lacked the crumble top. What really got me excited was the orange zest in it. I love how blueberries and citrus taste together.

What REALLY made these muffins incredible was the oatmeal. I'm not an "oatmeal-in-my-baked-goods" kinda girl. I don't care for oatmeal in my cookies or muffins so I was a little skeptical. But this recipe has you soak one cup of oatmeal in one cup of 2% milk for ten minutes which I think was the best thing that I could have ever done. The muffins were so moist and I really attribute it to the oatmeal soak.

I hope you enjoy these more than my husband. This was our exchange:

Husband: (takes bite) Hmm..
Me: Yes?
Husband: Does this have orange in it?
Me: Just some orange zest, only a tablespoon.
Husband: Hmm..
Me: like it?
Husband: They don't taste like how I would expect them to taste.
Me: What did you expect?
Husband: Costco blueberry muffins.
Me: Dear, those aren't muffins. They are little blueberry cakes.

So, to wrap up...if you only like your muffins to taste like the giant muffins/little cakes at Costco, you won't like these. But I LOVE THEM!

Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins
From: Cooking with Paula July/August 2011

1 c. old-fashioned oatmeal (I used quick oats and it was fine)
1 c. 2% reduced-fat milk (I actually used whole since I have it for the baby who won't drink it)
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 T. orange zest
1 egg
1 c. AP flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. cinnamon (who measures cinnamon? i sure don't.)
1/2 c. chopped pecans (DELICIOUS! They add an incredible crunch!)
1 1/2 c. frozen blueberries (I think you could easily use fresh or thawed blueberries, but I would recommend tossing them in flour before adding them to the mix so they don't bleed too much in your batter)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, stir together oats and milk, let stand for 10 minutes. Add sugar, oil, orange zest, and egg, and stir well.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, powder, soda and cinnamon. Add pecans, tossing well. Add flour mixture into oatmeal mixture, stirring just until combined. Gently, but quickly, fold in ONLY 1 cup of the blueberries.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with remaining 1/2 c. blueberries.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Finally, something that worked

Last weekend...and the weekend before...I had grand plans to cook something new and exciting every day and put up lots and lots of blog posts.

Didn't happen

So then I scrapped the idea of lots and lots of blog posts and just stuck with cooking something new and exciting every weekend day.

That DID happen.

What didn't happen was having all those new and exciting things turn out so fabulous and delicious they were worthy of blog posts.

I'm not sure what has happened, but I have been in a downward cooking spiral lately. It seems like everything I've been attempting to make turns out to be disasterous in the process or less than thrilling in taste...assuming I actually got it to work. Not only that, poor Mr. C fell victim to my disasterous cooking spree when I accidentally hit a measuring cup full of boiling water as I was pulling it out of the microwave. The mini flood landed in a pan of oil he was using to fry up some tortillas.

Oil burn. NICE!

That was it...the final straw. I said right then and there, "I am not going to cook anymore. Nothing is working for me lately." Good thing I have a few recipes in my "to be posted" computer file. Since strawberries are starting to fill the grocery store shelves, and prices are finally coming down (unlike everything else at the grocery store), how about if we stroll down strawberry lane with "Strawberries and Cream on a Cloud."

Mr. C chose this recipe for our Sunday dessert a couple weeks ago. It's one I got at a class I attended a long time ago at Thanksgiving Point (long before I became Mrs. C)--back when the classes there weren't almost 50.00 each. I wish I could remember the teacher's name, but I can't. (I think it might have been Lori Bennett.)

Without question, the best part of this recipe is the "Creme Anglaise" that is drizzled (or in my case, POURED) over the top. It's absolute edible ecstacy. Take a look at the recipe and then we'll chat about some of the changes I made to the recipe.

Strawberries and Cream on a Cloud
8 c sliced strawberries
2 T sugar
2 T orange juice
1 t grated orange rind
3/4 c slivered almonds
2 T sugar
1 c cake flour
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 t salt
10 large egg whites (save 8 of the yolks for later)
1 1/4 t cream of tartar
3/4 c sugar
1 1/2 t almond extract
Creme Anglaise:
2/3 c sugar
8 large egg yolks
3 1/2 c 1% milk
1 T vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. To prepare strawberries, combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and chill 3 hours. To prepare cake, place almonds and 2 T sugar in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Sift together cake flour, powdered sugar, and salt in to a bowl. Combine the almond mixture with flour mixture, set aside. In the large bowl of a mixer, beat egg whites at high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Add granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle flour mixture over egg white mixture, folding it in 1/4 c at a time. Fold in almond extract. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch fluted/bundt pan and spread evenly. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until the cake springs back when lightly touched. While the cake is baking, prepare the creme anglaise. Combine the sugar and egg yolks in a large saucepan, stirring with a whisk until blended. Gradually add milk to the pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook over medium heat until mixture coats the back of a spoon (about 8 minutes), stirring constantly. Immediately pour mixture into a bowl; stir in vanilla. Cover and chill. (The mixture will thicken as it cools.) When cake is done baking, turn the pan upside down and cool 40 minutes. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Invert cake onto plate. Serve with strawberries and creme anglaise.

Are you salivating yet? You should be. If nothing else, the creme anglaise is worth drooling over.

Let's talk about a couple changes I made. First, I used orange juice concentrate instead of regular orange juice for my berries. I don't recommend doing that. It was too strong. Because I love the almond and vanilla flavors in the other elements of the recipe so much, the super strong orange taste was just a bit too overpowering. Next time, I'll use plain juice.

Second, I didn't have any slivered almonds for the cake so I used sliced. The substitution worked just fine. The cake is nothing more that homemade angel food cake with finely chopped nuts added. If you don't want to go to the effort of making homemade angel food cake, just buy one. However, after trying my friend Cindy's homemade version a couple years ago, I'll never buy a store bought one again. The freshness of homemade just can't be beat. If you're never tried homemade, try it just once...for me. The cake is relatively easy to make. It takes a little patience to go from this... this... ...but it is OH SO WORTH IT! The cake needs to be inverted while it cools. Since an angel food cake/fluted pan has a hole in the middle, I prop mine on top of one of my vinegar bottles.

It'a a great little set up.

The last changes I made were in the creme. The recipe calls for 1% milk. I never have that on hand since all we drink is skim. I used skim and didn't really have any issues other than timing. The original recipe says it takes about 8 minutes for the creme to become thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but mine too MUCH longer--probably twice that. Whether or not that was caused by the lack of fat content in the milk, I don't know. Either way, everything tasted just fine in the end. Also, I added a teaspoon of almond extract to the creme in addition to the tablespoon of the vanilla. As I mentioned in my last post, Mr. C is so enthralled with almond extract, I knew he'd go crazy for it. And he did! (To be honest, so did I!) It's a great addition to the creme, so I'll make it a permanent part of the recipe from now on.

As you can see, we didn't exactly drizzle the creme on. With something that delectible, more is definately better!

One of the nice things about this dessert is that all the components save for several days so it is one you can enjoy over and over. We ran out of berries before anything else. In fact, I still have creme in the fridge and half the cake is chillin' in the freezer for now.

I think I see a trifle coming!

Friday, March 11, 2011

If I add almond, he will come

Mr. C loves a lot things. . .popcorn, the Military channel, fried chicken, a good book, movies, and black licorice--to name just a few. Right up near the top of his list of favorite things is almond extract. He loves it. I mean LOVES it. (I swear I could boil a pot of water, drop in some almond extract, and he'd gobble it up.) So, when it came time to choose our Sunday evening dessert a couple months ago (from the giant bag of untried dessert recipes), you can imagine my lack of surprise when he chose "Almond Poppy Seed Bars" from a past issue of Paula Deen's magazine.

Sometimes I get a little burned out on poppy seed recipes since they became so trendy years ago with muffins, breads, and salad dressings. It's not that they don't taste good--don't get me wrong. It's just that I often find them unoriginal. Nevertheless, Mr. C saw the word almond in the title during his dessert search and that was all it took.

The recipe is very easy to follow and put together. Take a look at it and then I'll add a couple personal notes on the flip side.

Almond Poppy Seed Bars
2 1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c milk
1 c oil
3 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
3 c flour
4 1/2 t poppy seeds
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c butter, melted
3 T milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 X 17 X 1 baking pan. In a large bowl, beat sugar, milk, oil, eggs, vanilla, and almond extract at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating until combined; spoon into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool until slightly warm. For frosting, combine all ingredients and beat at low speed with an electric mixture until smooth. Spread frosting over warm cake. Cut in to squares and serve.

In making my bars, I changed two things from the original recipe. First, the original recipe says to use a 10 X 15 pan. I tried that, but it was way too small. The pan was not big enough to hold all the batter. I bumped up to a 12 X 17 (make sure your pan has an edge!) and that was large enough. The other change I had to make was the cooking time. The original recipe says 20-25 min. I had to go 28 minutes. My convection oven can sometimes have issues with cakes, so that's why I listed a bake time of 25 minutes above. You might be able to go as short as 20 minutes, but I'd guess you'll need at least 25.

Just a word about the frosting. There was PLENTY. In fact, there was almost too much for me because the bars are not very thick. But, I will be the first to admit that I am not a powdered sugar glaze/frosting girl. (I feel like no matter what you do, it always tastes like powdered sugar.) I did add a bit of almond extract to my frosting for both my and Mr. C's benefit. Had the cake been in the 10 X 15 pan, there would have been too much frosting for me for sure.

One side note about poppy seeds. I highly recommend that you do NOT buy a small bottle from the spice section of your grocery store. Poppy seeds are WAY WAY WAY too expensive when you buy them in that packaging. If you can buy them in bulk, it's the best way to go. My brother-in-law works for Honeyville Grain, so I buy mine there. Honeyville offers a great price for a good quantity of seeds. If you don't have access to a bulk buying option, swing by the bakery counter of your local grocery store. Bakeries will sell you items like seeds (poppy or sesame) or sprinkles (yes, they are cheaper than the bottles too!) used in making their own baked products. You'll save a lot by purchasing your seeds (and sprinkles) this way.

Overall, we really liked this recipe. (It's being given a permanent home in my recipe binder.) After baking up the bars are more like a cake, but they are flavorful and moist no matter how you classify them. If you need a quick and easy dessert, or want to try something new and different, you won't go wrong with this one!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Does it really work?

I hate to throw away food. I hate, hate, hate it. I feel like I might as well drop cash in the garbage.

I recently opened my veggie crisper to find that I had let a stalk of celery age past it's prime. DARN IT! I get so annoyed with myself when I let that happen. Then I remembered reading online somewhere that you can soak stalks of celery in water for 24 hours to rehydrate and revitalize them.

I decided to give it a try:

So...does it really work?

For me, yes and no. Ultimately my stalks were returned to a fair amount of firmness, but I had to let them soak in the water for three days, not one. The stalks weren't super crispy as if they were fresh from the grocery store, but they were firm enough I was able to use them in a couple recipes.

Would I do it again? Probably not. I think I'll just try harder not to let the celery get soft!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day is coming...bring on the chocolate!

I know it's stereotypical to think that all women love chocolate, but they don't. I have two neighbors that despise it and WILL NOT eat it in any form or recipe. May I say, however, that I am NOT one of those people. I love chocolate. I mean I love, love, love chocolate...especially dark chocolate. I will eat it in cake, brownies, candy, fondue, and dip. Simply put, I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!!

Ever since I was young (yes, that means for a LONG time), I have had a love affair with chocolate mousse. I don't know why. I don't know how it started. But, whenever I'm asked what my favorite dessert is, it's not uncommon to answer "chocolate mousse." (I actually have a lot of favorites. I can never narrow my favorites down to one.) I can remember going to Sunday brunches and always going straight to the always dainty pedestal glasses of chocolate mousse before anything else. MMMMM! Just thinking about a dish of that smooth, creamy, rich, decadent dessert is making my mouth water!

Several years ago during a routine trip to the grocery store, I noticed some recipe cards available for the taking on a service counter. (How could I not grab a couple???) One of the recipes was for....cue the angelic chorus now...CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. Since I'd never attempted to make this delicacy myself, I grabbed a card and told myself that I would, indeed, someday, make a big ol' bowl of long time favorite dessert. I tucked the card away awaiting the perfect moment to pull it out.

And then it arrived...VALENTINE'S DAY! The holiday of love, delicious dinners, and chocolate! Mr. C and I talked it over and decided this was the perfect opportunity to pull out the chocolate mousse recipe and GO FOR IT!

On a personal note, let me just say how bizarre it was when Mr. C and I were dating to discover that his favorite dessert is also chocolate mousse. I'd never met anyone else who loves as much as I do. Not only does he love chocolate mousse, he loves Idaho Spud candy bars like I do. I didn't even know anyone else knew they existed. OK, enough of the goofy personal stuff. Time to get back to the pressing matter at hand...mousse!

The mousse came together so quick and easy. I was shocked at how simple it was to make. Then again, how could it not be when it only has 4 ingredients? Let's take a look at the recipe and we'll talk about it on the flip side:

Chocolate Mousse
8.8 oz fine Belgian dark chocolate
6 egg whites
1/2 c sugar
1 2/3 c cream
Melt chocolate. Slightly beat egg whites; add sugar then beat mixture until stiff. In a separate bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites in to the melted chocolate. Fold in the cream. Chill until ready to serve. Serves 10-12. The mousse can be served with whipped topping, berries, and/or chocolate shavings on top.

How simple is that!

Now a couple personal notes. First, for the chocolate in the recipe we used the Hageland chocolate that I refer to
here. It is inexpensive and delicious. In my cooking classes I always say, "You get what you pay for when it comes to chocolate, so don't scrimp." I don't think you have to break the bank, but buy some good chocolate. Don't just pull out the bag of chocolate chips. Second, if you are saying, "But Jackie, I HATE dark chocolate," don't worry. Mr. C despises it with a passion I cannot describe to you here. This recipe has enough sugar and cream in it to ease what some consider bitterness in dark chocolate. The dark chocolate makes the mousse rich, but not bitter. Finally, unless you're feeding a crowd, you may want to cut the recipe in half. When it says "serves 10-12," it's not kidding. The recipe made A LOT. We ate it bit by bit for about a week.

Since Valentine's Day will be here in just a few short days, why not whip up a bowl for you and your sweetheart--or, just for you if you prefer. I'm not opposed to a bowl of my own, a spoon, and a comfy couch!