Tuesday, December 28, 2010

And the Angels Sang...

As per my Christmas Wish List, I recieved a food processor. But I don't really know what to do with it. I haven't taken the time to read the manual yet, but I'm imagining it will be helpful during gardening season. I also see that there is a dough blade, so the labor of bread-making will be eased.

Congratulate me, friends, and tell me your favorite uses for your food processor.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Candy Making

For the last couple of posts, I just dash off a couple of quick thoughts, imagining that the NEXT time I post, I will really have the time to actually WRITE. But here's the thing: My kids are on Christmas break and I need to play the Wii with them and read to them and bake with them and crush them in Scrabble. I also, realistically, need to address Christmas cards and page through recipe books and dash to the store for the holiday baking supplies and then fly back to the store because I forgot the sour cream. You know how it is.

Holy crap, here is another example: I just now took a break in the middle of this post to make sure the Christmas cards got out in time. I recently got a teasing, but unwanted, comment from someone about not getting theirs until after Christmas, so I felt the burden of getting this done TODAY. Brilliantly, I thought I'd go south to my tiny hometown's post office, where there is never a line, to get my Christmas stamps. If I went north to my current larger town's post office, it would be no closer and I would for sure wait in a sizeable line. Great plan, right? Right, except that, true to the small town post office form, I found that they closed up shop over lunch. When I got there, it was 40 minutes away from the time they would re-open. So I went to the large P.O. and waited in that god-forsaken line. (Why, oh why is there not a bilingual postal worker at a counter at all times?)

Anyway, that's done and now I find myself dashing off another quick post with thoughts and pictures from our family's recent candy making endeavor. Nothing fancy, but these are usual treats from our Christmas kitchen in recent years.

English Toffee

1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 t. water
4 chocolate bars

In a heavy saucepot, heat butter, sugar and water, stirring often until sugar is absorbed by butter. I've seen several descriptions to mark the point at which to stop cooking.... until it changes from yellow to amber in color, until it reaches 300 degrees, the hard crack stage. The method I use is to look for that change in color and test the hard crack stage by dropping a bit into a glass of water and checking to see if it turns to hard candy.

Next, pour the hot mixture onto a buttered cookie sheet. (Note: I doubled the above recipe and it didn't quite fill the cookie sheet.)

Immediately place pieces of chocolate bar evenly over the hot mixture.

I found that by the time I had placed the chocolate on the far end of the sheet the chocolate closest to me was already melted and ready to spread. Use a spatula to spread the melted chocolate over the hot toffee.

Put in a cool place and, once hardened, break into irregularly-sized pieces.

Pretzel, Hershey Kiss & M&M Candies (I don't really know what they're called)
Equal numbers of bite-sized pretzels, Hershey's Kisses and red and green M&M's.
(As a side note, when I was a junior in high school, my beloved English teacher, Mr. Jordan, went down a rabbit trail with us in which we wondered whether the term "M&Ms" only applied to the candy in the plural form. Should a singular candy be referred to as, simply, an "M?" We wrote to the Mars company with our query and they responded, to our delight. Would you like to know the official answer? As it turns out, the name of the candy is actually "M&M's Chocolate Candies." That being the case, the singular form would be "an M&M's Chocolate Candy.")

Preheat your oven to 200 while you use your children as free labor to spread a layer of pretzels on a cookie sheet. Next,unwrap dozens (or hundreds) of the kisses and center each one on a pretzel. When the oven is warm, pop in the cookie sheet.

It doesn't take long to melt the kisses, maybe 4-6 minutes. Remove from the oven and press a festive M&M's Chocolate Candy into the center of each. Allow to cool and serve.

By the way, these candies might seem to fall into the category of candies that look pretty and festive, but which you don't actually like to eat. Not so. I really like the salty and the sweet together, the chocolate and the crunch. Yum.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cranberry Cordial

I remembered this recipe from last Christmas season on a friend's Facebook page. I never got around to it that winter, but I asked her to post again and I've got a batch brewing as we speak.

Cranberry Cordial
2 lbs. (8 cups) fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
6 c. sugar
1 liter light rum

In a gallon jar, combine berries, sugar and rum and gently stir or shake to combine.

Store in a cool, dark place for 3-6 weeks, gently shaking every day. (I found it took several shakings to completely dissolve the sugar.)

Strain the berries. Don't throw them away! Serve them over ice cream or use them in other recipes.

Strain again through cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove all the seeds.

Serve. Or pour into decorative corked bottles to give as gifts.

I'm interested to see how this turns out, as I've never made it before. I didn't get it started in time to serve at any Christmas soiree, but I always entertain at New Years, so that's the plan.

I've also been mulling over starting a batch of Kombucha. Have you ever made it? Maybe I'll start it soon, so that I'll have one jug of 'booch and one of hooch!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

This is another dessert from The Pioneer Woman's throwdown with Bobby Flay. I tried it on Thanksgiving Day and we all really loved it and fought over the bowl scrapings of the Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise. I made it again two days later for another Thanksgiving Dinner. It's definitely more complicated than my usual cooking, so it seems like it needs an occasion to warrant making it. Plus, it's impressively rich and one can't just go around eating desserts with nearly a dozen egg yolks, heavy whipping cream and four-ish cups of sugar every day and for no good reason.

I found that nearly every element of this dessert could be made ahead. The pumpkin bread, for instance, could be made several days in advance.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
6 large egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
3 T pure maple syrup
1 c. pumpkin puree (I used butternut squash from the garden)
2 T bourbon
1 loaf pumpkin bread, cubed and toasted
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, recipe follows
Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 325. Combine cream, milk, vanilla bean AND seeds in medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, maple syrup and pumpkin in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined. Remove the vanilla pod. Add the bourbon and whisk. Here, Bobby says it should be strained into a clean bowl. My butternut puree was pretty smooth. I didn't strain and suffered no ill effects.

Scatter bread cubes in a buttered 9x13 pan and pour custard over all. Press down on the bread to make sure it completely submerges and wait about fifteen minutes before continuing with the recipe to allow time for the bread to soak up all that eggy, creamy goodness.

For best results, put this baking pan into a larger roasting pan and put tap water in the outer pan until the water level is halfway up the sides of the 9x13 pan. Bake about one hour, or until the edges of the pudding are puffy and the middle jiggles only slightly. Remove from oven and water bath and allow to cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

I like to serve it with some of the Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce drizzled fancily onto the dish, then spoon the bread pudding onto that. Finally, top with a generous portion of the delicious Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise.

Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce

1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. apple juice
1 star anise
A 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/8 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 T apple schnapps

Combine cream, juice, anise, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks and nutmeg in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, but allow to steep for at least 20 minutes while you make the Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise. Strain into a clean bowl.

Combine sugar, water and vinegar in a small saucepan and place over high heat without stirring until it's a deep amber color, about 8 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture a little at a time, whisking until it is smooth. Add the apple schnapps and cook 30 seconds longer. This sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Heat through before serving.

Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

2 c. half and half
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 sugar

Bring the half and half and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

Whisk eggs and sugar together until they reach the pale ribbon stage. This will help to prevent those chunks of cooked egg from appearing when you add the hot cream mixture. Slowly add the hot half and half, whisking constantly. Return to the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. (Why a wooden spoon? Bobby doesn't say. His specificity without explanation is frustrating.) Allow to thicken until mixture easily coats the spoon.

Remove from heat. Strain into a bowl to remove bean pod and any errant bits of cooked egg. Set bowl over an ice bath and stir until cooled. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Lick the spoon. (That's my generous instruction to you, not Bobby's.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Pretty Way to Serve Salad

I know I'm supposed to be giving you the recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding, but I can't face it just yet. It's a more complicated recipe than my usual and I want to be able to focus on it better than I can at the moment. It was a ridiculously busy weekend. All good, mind you, but crazy for sure. My son's choir had concerts every evening of the weekend at the local college's Festival of Carols, where I was overcome by the beauty and wept and kissed like, I don't know - an Italian? instead of the rest of the stoic Germanic people there. We had our third Thanksgiving over the weekend in the big city three hours away (where half of my husband's family has moved over the years). The hostess graciously suggested that we bring salads and desserts, which she thought would travel better than the hot foods. I guess I'll share with you the easy, colorful dish I offered.

I made a lettuce salad, which had simple ingredients, but the assembly of the dish makes a nice impact. Served on a tray instead of a bowl, start with a bed of lettuce and add the ingredients you like in columns down the serving tray.

In this salad, I used broccoli, red onion, hard-boiled egg, radish, cheddar cheese, mushrooms, celery, tomato and black olives.

In addition to being different and attractive, I find it also allows picky eaters to avoid certain ingredients more easily than a regular tossed salad.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

Now the recipe I really want you to have is for Pumpkin Bread Pudding. That post is coming. But first we need a loaf of pumpkin bread. This recipe makes just one loaf, so why don't you double it? It stands on its own just scrumptiously. You can gobble one up while it's still warm and cube the other for this wonderful dessert.

Pumpkin Bread
4 T unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil
8 oz. (scant cup) unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
2/3 c. water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter or lightly spray the bottom and sides of a loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine all the dry ingredients EXCEPT the sugar.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together softened butter, sugar and oil on high speed until light and fluffy, about one minute.

Add the pumpkin puree and beat until combined.

Add eggs, one at a time and mix JUST until incorporated. Do not overmix.

At low mixer speed, slowly add the dry ingredient mixture and water and mix until just combined.

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes.

Allow to cool in the pan for ten minutes and then remove from pan to cool completely.

Stay tuned for the fabulous Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe.