Cooking in Quarantine: Easy Mu Shu Pork

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Grocery shopping every two weeks takes some planning. Mu Shu Pork is one of my family’s fave dinners so I made some adjustments to keep this a simple, use-what-you-have-on-hand meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. pulled pork (I supported Back Beach BBQ again and tipped 20%)IMG_5332
  • 3 tbsp. Hoisin sauce
  • 10 oz. mushrooms (I used shitake)
  • 1 red pepper, julienned (not necessary, but I had one that needed to be used)
  • bag slaw mix (you can chop cabbage and carrots, but the bag is cheap & easy)
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, diced

**I had some ginger root and garlic that needed to be used so I grated the ginger and minced the garlic)

Prep:

  • Heat oil in large in large pan (I use a stir fry pan)
  • Add mushrooms and cook until they soften and start to brown
  • Add garlic, ginger, peppers, coleslaw mix & Hoisin
  • Once veg begins to soften and wilt, add pork and heat through
  • Give it a taste & add salt or more Hoisin if needed

IMG_5334This makes enough for at least two dinners for a couple (it went three nights for me).

The Mu Shu needs a vehicle for serving. I like Bibb Lettuce so it mimics lettuce wraps, but you could also make Mu Shu tacos with tortillas or you can buy the traditional pancakes at a local Chinese restaurant, in the freezer section of some grocery stores or Asian markets.

Or, you can make your own if you want to give it a go. Here is a recipe I like.

 

Stay Safe and Cook On!

Other Posts in Cooking Quarantine series:

Cooking in Quarantine- continued

 

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Two new easy to prepare items during #stayhome time- Lime Berry Blast Scones & Enchiladas Rojo with Chicken & Black Beans.

One thing we can do to help our neighbors who own restaurants suffering during this time is get some take out.

Chicken has been scarce for weeks in my area, but many locally-owned restaurants have it to prepare their dishes. In thinking about enchiladas this week, I remembered this and ordered a pound of pulled chicken from Back Beach BBQ in Panama City Beach, FL. BBBQ_Sign_FINAL LOGOBBB is a small, independent business that smokes some of the best meats anywhere around.

I plan to shift my protein buying to places like this that need our support. Many of these establishments have picked up the #toosmalltofail and I am all in on making sure they ride this out.

There are also Virtual Tip Jars popping up all over to help our favorite out of work servers and bartenders.

Enchiladas Rojo (makes 10 soft taco size):

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  • 10 tortillas
  • 1 lb. chicken (I used BBB pulled chic, but could use a rotisserie chx or cook up some from freezer)
  • 1 can Black Beans (15 oz)
  • 2 packs Rick Bayless red enchilada sauce
  • 1 onion (I used white), chopped
  • 4 oz queso fresco (or whatever melting cheese you have on hand)

*I had 2 serrano chiles going soft and a bunch of cilantro starting to brown so I threw those in as wellIMG_5319

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Saute chicken, beans, onion, chiles and cilantro over medium heat in a large skillet. After onions soften, begin filling tortillas. I use about 2 tblsp. of filling for each tortilla, then roll and place in baking pan seam side down.
  • After filling pan with enchiladas use one pack of Bayless sauce to cover each set of enchiladas. Crumble queso fresco on top and put in oven until cheese melts.

We ate a couple the first night and froze the rest for later meals. Easy and covers you for a few meals!

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Lime Berry Blast Scones (makes 18, adapted from Ina Garten):IMG_5315

Ingredients-

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • dash salt
  • 2 cups berries (I usually use 1 cup dried and 1 cup fresh, but certainly could be done with all dried or all fresh- I also use any fruit including fresh cranberries even though Ina advises against it)
  • lime, lemon or orange zest (if you have

Directions-

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Mix dry ingredients on low in stand mixer. Dice cold butter and add to dry ingredients. Keep mixing on low until butter is size of large peas. Add eggs and cream. Mixture will be clumpy.
  • Put berries in measuring cup and add a couple teaspoons of flour. Sounds strange, but definitely helps scone dough stay together when wet berries are added. Combine berries with dough slowly until just comes together.
  • Scoop dollops of dough onto prepared pan and bake 25-30 minutes. This makes more freeform scones…not the pretty biscuits some are used to. Rotate pan halfway through to ensure even cooking. When bottoms start to brown, remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Now you have breakfast for a number of days and some extras for friends and neighbors who cannot get out. IMG_5314

Stay safe and Cook On!

Cooking in Quarantine- continued

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Cresting the second full week of voluntary shelter in place, I turned again to what I had on hand for a multi-night meal- Easy Pasta with Meatballs. I keep various pastas in my pantry, as well as some jarred sauce just in case.

I used one box of Cavatappi (corkscrew-type pasta) and one jar of Rao’s mushroom and Italian sausage sauce. For the meatballs, you can use any ground meat you have in your freezer. I use a mix of ground pork and ground sirloin. The recipe is based on Ina Garten’s Roasted meatballs.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. ground meat (I like pork and sirloin, but could be anything from chicken to lamb)
  • 1 3/4 cups breadcrumbs (I like panko)
  • 1 cup shredded or grated parmesan
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • I bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped (can omit if you do not have)
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions: 

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (use foil if you do not have).
  • Mix all ingredients in large bowl until combined. Form palm-sized meatballs and put on prepared sheet. I made 12 meatballs of pretty good size.
  • Bake in oven for 30 minutes.

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  • Cook your pasta in boiling, salted water. Drain and return to pot. Add sauce and that is it!

For a couple, this should be enough for at least two nights before you need to make more pasta and sauce. I froze the extra meatballs in individual servings so that unfreezing and reheating would be easier.

Stay safe and healthy and Cook On!

Cooking in Quarantine- Part One

anise aroma art bazaar

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As resources become scarcer and going out becomes more dangerous, I hunkered down to figure out what I can do with what I have on hand. I think this is the way lots of people are thinking in the days of Covid-19. I follow lots of chefs on Twitter and Insta and love what they are doing with the current situation. Ina Garten asked followers to post what they had in their pantry and she has been reworking her classic recipes into doable meals based on different ingredients. Jamie Oliver also retooled his feed to showcase cooking for your family with what is on hand- granted he has an enormous garden and lots of dry goods, but it still gives inspiration for ways we can reimagine our raw ingredients. His hashtag is Keep Cooking and Carry OnTom Colicchio started the hashtag cooking in crisis and it has been a dizzying amount of gorilla-style recipes home and celebrity chefs are cooking daily. Michael Symon also has an Insta and Twitter series going, #symondinners and highlights his 10 day plan for dinners with what is on hand. I love it!

That brings me to my own pantry. I keep it pretty stocked. I dabble in meals and love to bake. Last Sunday I made a meal plan for the next 14 days just in case we had to be home or the stores were out of our normal stock. This meal plan was predicated on picking up a few items, but unfortunately, between panic-buying and Spring Breakers flooding into my Florida town, the shelves were pretty bare. I think many people are finding themselves in that situation and my advice is look to the ethnic aisles. People are mostly buying up pasta, sauces, canned meals etc., but the Indian, Thai, Mexican and Chinese sections were healthy on stock. The jarred curries, thai sauces, varied beans and noodles are great alternatives and if you throw in some frozen veggies, rice, or polenta, make a hearty meal.

Here are some pics of my meals thus far this week (past six days). I went for multi-night meals that could be easily reheated. Root vegetables are very shelf stable and many people have proteins in their freezer. It is about what can we do with what we have.

Roasted Pork al’Diavolo with Rutabaga Mash and Brussels Sprouts

Enchiladas Verde with Spinach, Mushroom and Chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken I had on hand and just picked it; you could also use any veg you have that needs to be used)

Blueberry Lemon Scones (these make a delicious breakfast item that only require dry pantry ingredients…I had some fresh blueberries and a lemon so I added these, but I make these with dried fruits regularly)

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Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad (as a coastal resident shrimp is readily available and many house have it on hand, but this could just as easily be done with canned tuna or just vegetarian)

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Next week will be bringing Meatballs with Cavatappi, Enchiladas Rojo w/Black Beans, Blackberry Lime Scones and Tumeric Roasted Chick Pea Salad. Message me if you would like any of these recipes- I am working on putting together a document with ingredient list and variations on recipes depending on what you have in your pantry. Be safe in this difficult time and be kind to all those grocery store clerks, pharmacists, garbage collectors, health care providers on the front lines out there.

The Chemistry of Baking

IMG_2625As stated in my bio, I am a recovering baker. I love the scent of fresh cream butter, the whisps of flour that float in the air as you mix a batter and that knowing feeling that what is in the oven is done without a timer. It puts me at ease and makes me forget everything else.

So today is my birthday and I am making strawberry cupcakes with a dark chocolate buttercream frosting…because they are my favorite. When I first started developing my strawberry cake recipe, it surprised me how many recipes out there called for strawberry gelatin or jam. I wanted a fresh strawberry cake, but very few bakers on the web had tried this so I gave it a go. It became more successful every time I baked it because I kept adjusting the ingredients until they melded perfectly. For me this is the chemistry of baking- figuring out how ingredients interact with each other and the results that will ensue.

Over the years, lots of people have commented on the moistness of my cakes and the texture of my frostings and I know in my heart it is that understanding of what each ingredient does in a recipe, but a recent query from one of the Chemistry teachers in my building got me thinking about this more deeply. Is there a fat that makes cakes moister, a ratio of butter to sugar that keeps frosting from being grainy?

I believe there is and I used my birthday cupcakes as a vehicle for experimentation. I made two batches of strawberry cake- one using room temperature butter and the other canola oil to see which produced the better cake and what the real difference were using all the same other ingredients. img_2622.jpg

The Experiment

I am not a big measurer, but for this experiment, I measured everything precisely so my data would be reliable. I tend to always go for butter because butter makes everything better in baking. I always think a perfectly creamed butter will yield the most flavorful, fluffy cakes. But, in this case the canola oil really surprised me. I expected the oil-based cakes to be more spongy, but not as fluffy or rich as the butter cakes and the butter cakes did have a much smaller grain in the finished cake, but they were not appreciably better tasting.

I did not miss the butter in the oil-based cakes and they rose about the same size as the butter. TIMG_2623he oil-based cake was far moister. My only beef with it was the slightly spongy texture of the batter. You can also see from the picture, the oil-based cake had a much larger grain in the finished cake.

This cake recipe does have fruit in it so I will need to try this experiment again with a more straightforward batter, but for now the oil wins for me because of the incredible moistness of the final product- even the second day!IMG_2626

 

 

 

S’mores and Softball

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Cupcakes are a touchy subject with me.

I have actively eschewed them for about four years…about the time all the “Cupcakeries” started sprouting up. There seemed to be a cupcake shop on every corner, in every town I visited. I don’t like to follow the herd in baking matters, so my cupcake liners have laid fallow in their drawer.  Until two weeks ago.

My daughter plays travel softball and it was her coach’s birthday. It was an occasion screaming for cupcakes! Not just any cupcakes though, s’more cupcakes. The kind of cupcake that embraces all the great things about summer- campfires, simple foods, lazy evenings with groups of friends, vacations. The kind of cupcake that brings back all those golden childhood memories. The kind of cupcake that lingers with you not just for the flavor, but also the experience. That was the cupcake we needed.

A little backstory, Liv has been playing travel softball for three years  and much of our summer is spent in the shadow of a backstop with swirls of red field dirt floating around. When your child plays a sport, you want them to have a good coach who they respect and will learn from.

Enter Vanessa. She is a twenty-something, sassy, former D1 college softball player who took on our group of young ladies- I use the term ladies loosely- this season. She is one of those beautiful souls who tells it like it is, always. She has inspired Liv with her knowledge of the game, passion for playing, and easy-going humor. Vanessa is one of those rare people who come into your life and you hope they will stay.

Vanessa’s birthday happened to fall on a weekend we had a local tournament. She willingly gave up birthday plans to coach our girls. Liv and I decided we needed to do something to celebrate and whenever we decide that, it usually results in baking. We have ten girls on the team plus parents and siblings, so cupcakes were the logical confection. We wanted to do something different though; something you could not just pick up at the local cupcake shop. We talked about flavor profiles and what V. liked, but we were struggling.

As we got on the subject of dinners with Vanessa, it struck me that all of our pre-game rituals involved a Starbucks stop. V. has been on the S’mores Frappucino pretty heavily lately and from that the idea was born. We would bake s’mores cupcakes, bruleed marshmallow and all. With Liv doing the torching…maybe.

My main issue going into this was the frosting. I can make a rockstar, solid-peaked meringue, but how to incorporate marshmallow was the sticky wicket. I thought about melting marshmallows down like I do for Rice Krispie treats, but I worried it would solidify too fast to incorporate. Then a thought from my childhood came to me- Fluff!That gooey, goes best on peanut butter but is good friends with jelly ambrosia of my younger years. I mentioned it to Liv and she gave me the puzzled look. I realized at that moment I had fallen down as a parent. My child had never experienced Fluff. No fluffernutter sandwiches, no banana fluff snackies- how could I have let this happen. Now it could be because she hates peanut butter or that I spent a decade of her life banning all processed foods, who knows but it was getting remedied that afternoon. She was dubious; I was excited.

After our jaunt to the grocery store and the great hunt for Fluff, which by the way is now called “marshmallow cream” and no longer resides in the peanut butter and jelly aisle, we got to work. I gave Liv Nanny’s no-fail chocolate cake recipe and let her have at it. Hard to believe a year ago she barely knew how to make pasta. Now classmates clamber over her cookies and brownies when she brings them to school. They often don’t make it past the bus. Pretty cool!

Ingredients:

Nanny’s No-Fail Chocolate cake (makes one layer cake or 24 cupcakes):
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup Hershey’s dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup room temperature butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
Marshmallow Meringue frosting:
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 oz. Fluff

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin pans with non-stick spray and line cups with parchment cupcake liners (you can get them anywhere, including Kroger).
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt.
  • In a stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter with the sugar until incorporated and fluffy. Add the eggs for the cake one at a time.
  • Add the vanilla extract and on low speed, begin adding the flour mixture. Alternate the addition of the flour mixture with the sour cream.
  • Once combined, grab your ice cream scoop and fill the cups about 3/4 full. Bake for about 18 minutes, depending on how fast your oven cooks. You want a toothpick to come out clean when inserted.
  • Remove from oven and cool completely.

Meanwhile, let’s make the frosting.

  • Using a clean stand mixer bowl (clean is really important for meringue), beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form. I will say I mistakenly added the sugar prematurely, but everything came out okay so don’t freak out if you make a mistake. Sometimes some of my best recipes come from mistakes!
  • Add in the sugar on high speed until the meringue looks glossy and stiff peaks form. You can judge the peaks by stopping the mixer and lifting the whisk out. If the meringue does not move and holds the peak shape, you are good to go.
  • Time for the Fluff! Fold the Fluff into your meringue. Most people will say you need to be gentle here, and that is preferable, but if you get a little impatient and fold too quickly, just use a hand whisk and bring the meringue back.
  • Once combined, put your frosting in the fridge for about 30 minutes to set.
  • Once cupcakes are completely cool and frosting is set, get out the piping bag and frost the cupcakes.
  • For the brulee, I like a hand torch. They are inexpensive and readily available at most stores. You could also use your oven at high heat. Torch each cupcake to light golden brown color.
  • Insert your mini hershey bars and graham pieces, and voila, S’mores Cupcakes!
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Yes. She did torch the meringue!

After some cooling time, wrangling of the chocolate bars because you know the store did not sell mini hershey bars, and some mangled graham cracker cracking; the cupcakes were frosted and adorned. Of course we tried one because as responsible bakers we could not let things leave our kitchen without a taste test. They were delicious, gooey, and more importantly, Vanessa loved them. Another success for Liv and I!

Easter Cheesecake

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The seersucker suits. The pastel bonnets. The array of delicately patterned eggs nestled around the yard waiting to be found. I love Easter. It is one of those holidays that still holds some non-commercial magic in our family. We gather together at Granny’s house for some food, fellowship and front yard football. It is potluck style. Everybody brings their favorites and Granny cooks a big ham to share.

Liv and I have been on a roll with cheesecakes lately so we decided that would be our contribution. The pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving was a huge success, and the Chai cheesecake at Christmas was decimated. We talked about flavors and decided to try a riff on Cadbury Eggs. My kids love these Easter confections and this would be an opportunity to teach Liv how to make caramel from scratch. We talked about how to recreate the flavor profile of the eggs and decided on a white chocolate filling, a chocolate graham cracker crust, and layer of toppings that included caramel, chocolate ganache and chopped up Cadbury Eggs.

Ingredients:

Crust-

1 box chocolate grahams, ground

1 stick unsalted butter

Filling-

8 ounces white chocolate

2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 tub mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp. all purpose flour

1tbsp. pure vanilla extract

Toppings-

1/4 cup lt. brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

3 oz. dark chocolate

4 Cadbury Cream Eggs, chilled overnight and quartered

Procedure:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees to bake the crust. Butter a 14 inch springform pan and place a disk of parchment paper in the bottom. I do this so the cake will easily release and I can move it to a tupperware container for transport.

Using a food processor, grind the chocolate graham crackers. I use a whole box because I like my crust to come up the sides of the cheesecake, but if you prefer just a bottom crust, just use two packs of the grahams. Once they are ground, transfer to a bowl and combine with melted stick of butter. You want the crumbs to be moist with butter, but not greasy. Press the mixture into your prepared springform pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until crust begins to darken slightly and hold together. Once finished, cool to room temperature before filling. Drop your oven to 325 degrees for the cheesecake.

Next comes the filling. Get a double boiler going over medium heat (or you can use a large bowl over simmering water) and place your white chocolate in the top. Once melted, remove from heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile in a stand mixer, beat your cream cheese and mascarpone until fluffy. Add sugar and combine. Next add the eggs one at a time, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

Once the mixture is combined, add the flour and vanilla extract. By this time your white chocolate should have cooled. Add that slowly to the mixer, beating until all is smooth.

The next step may be the most important for a tasty, unbroken cheesecake. Cut some large pieces of heavy duty foil and make a shell layer around the springform pan. It should come up to the edges of the pan. Then place your foil-lined pan in a larger pan (I use a Wilton bottom cake layer round). Fill your crust with the cheesecake filling and move the pan to the oven. Once secure on the rack. Fill the outer pan with warm water until it comes about halfway up the springform. This will allow the cheesecake to bake in a water bath. Water baths ensure even baking when cooking a custard or egg-based cake. It is the only way I have found to get the perfect texture with a cheesecake.

Bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. At this point the edges should be set, but the center should still be wobbly. Shut the oven off and open the door to allow some heat out. Then shut the door and leave the cheesecake in there another hour to finish baking. Once finished, cool on a rack to room temperature. After it reaches room temperature, it will need to chill and set in the fridge for about 8 hours.

Meanwhile, let’s make the toppings. I love homemade caramel and it is pretty easy to make. It just take precise measuring and patience. I let Liv do this completely on her own with just some verbal direction from me. First, you melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the brown sugar and stir with butter. Then comes the cream. Once you put the cream in the pan, you must whisk it constantly until it cooks down to a dark toffee color and reduces by about half. If it smells burnt at all, you must do it again. Luckily, Liv got it right on the first try! We put the caramel in a small sandwich bag and put it in the fridge to cool slightly.

The other topping is a dark chocolate to drizzle on top of the cheesecake. We did the same thing with it as the white chocolate. Bring some water to simmer in the bottom of a double boiler and put the dark chocolate in top. Allow it to melt completely. Once smooth, place it in another sandwich bag and put in the fridge to cool.

The Cadbury Eggs should be good and hard by this time. Move them to a cutting board and gently cut them into quarters. arrange them around the perimeter of the cheesecake. Next take your cooled caramel and snip the tip of the sandwich bag so you get a very slight opening to drizzle caramel. We did a spiderweb pattern with both toppings, but you can decorate however you like. Do the same with the chocolate- a slight snip in the tip and drizzle the chocolate over the caramel, creating whatever pattern you like. Once it is decorated, put it in the fridge to chill and set.

It was a huge hit for our Easter gathering and I even heard some say it was their favorite cheesecake yet!

Best Cookies…Ever!

IMG_1329Last night as I looked out my dining room window at the kids sledding down our enormous road blanketed with cottony white snow, I was taken back to my own childhood riding down Nanny’s hill on our old wooden toboggan until it was too dark to see. We would trudge up the hill, sleds in tow, to the porch and peel off the hundreds of layers of long johns, sweatshirts and thermal padding required to keep Vermont children playing outside in the dead of winter semi-warm. Though, who am I kidding, kids don’t get cold even if they are blue. The best part of coming in was knowing there was a big kettle of warm milk on the stove for hot chocolate and a batch of the best cookies ever- no-bake chocolate oatmeal drop cookies.

In the South they call them Preacher cookies, but growing up we knew them as Aunt Julie’s cookies. I could always count on Aunt Julie making something yummy for Christmas, birthdays and any other holiday. She believed in homemade gifts and went to great lengths to make them special. Every year at Christmas I knew I would get some luxurious homemade soaps, cozy scented candles and delicious jars of homemade confections. Her peanut butter fudge was legendary, but her chocolate oatmeal drop cookies held my heart. Aunt Julie was never stingy with her knowledge. Weekends in the summer I would stay with her and she would teach me all about soap and candle making and the finer points of candy making. I am not sure I could still make a candle or bar of soap, but each year for Christmas Liv and I make jars of cookies and candies in homage to her. We spend hours tempering chocolate, making peanut butter fillings and creating just the right fudge consistency. But, just like my younger self, my children always request the chocolate oatmeal drop cookies.

Watching the kids outside frolicking in the snow with our huge golden retriever, I knew what Liv would need when she came in. I took out my copper-bottom pot and filled it with fresh milk to start heating. Mugs were filled with cocoa powder, sugar and a touch of cinnamon. I made Liv some warm hot chocolate just like Nanny used to for me when I would come in after a hard day of sledding. The only other thing she would need? Aunt Julie’s chocolate oatmeal drop cookies to munch with her hot chocolate in front of the fireplace.

This is maybe one of the easiest recipes ever, but it must be followed exactly. I have tried to make a double batch, not use a timer, change the peanut butter and it always fails. Now I just stick to the way Aunt Julie made them and they are right every time.

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cups granulated sugar

4 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s)

1/2 cup milk

3 cups quick oats (I use Quaker)

2 tbsp. creamy peanut butter

Process:

Melt butter in deep sauce pan. Add cocoa, sugar and milk and boil for 3 minutes. Make sure you set a timer as soon as you see the mixture begin to bubble. Too long on boil and they will be dry, too short a time and they will be sticky and unset. After 3 minutes, remove pan from heat and add oats and peanut butter. When just combined, drop on wax paper to dry. They should be ready to eat in just a couple of minutes.

Cookie Extravaganza, Part 1

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The holidays bring about those moments when I get out the rolling pin, my arsenal of cookie recipes and flour…lots of flour. Every year Liv and I break out the cookie cutters and bake hundreds of cookies for family and neighbors. I try to keep our tradition of decorating cookies and creating care packages for people we care about alive so Liv will carry it on when she has her own family. We have some favorites we make every year, but we also try out new ones each year to see what we might like to add to our cache.  When the kids were younger I would invite all their friends and cousins over to decorate cookies with us. I would spread out the candies and food coloring and let them have at it.

One of our new favorites from this year is the gingerbread dough pictured above. It is a recipe I found on Food Network. It is courtesy of Paula Deen and is posted below. I followed the recipe exactly and the dough was perfect. It rolled out well, was easy to cut and had that nostalgic gingerbread flavor I always crave around the holidays.

Recipe courtesy Paula Deen for Food Network Magazine
Gingerbread Boys and Girls Gingerbread Boys and GirlsTotal Time:
2 hr 30 min
Prep:
35 min
Inactive:
1 hr 35 min
Cook:
20 minYield:
18 to 20 cookies, depending on cutter sizeLevel:
Intermediate

Ingredients

For the cookies:
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Using a mixer on low speed, cream the brown sugar and butter in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Mix in the eggs and molasses.

Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix with a spoon. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap; place in the refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes, until pliable. Line 1 or more cookie sheets with parchment paper. Take about 1/2 cup dough at a time and roll on a floured surface until – to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out shapes with 5-by-3-inch gingerbread boy and girl cookie cutters. (Re-roll the scraps.) Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, leaving space between them. Refrigerate the cookies for 20 minutes, then bake until they just begin to brown at the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Liv and I also tackled traditional sugar cookies, but with not as much success. I usually stick with a killer shortbread cookie dough, but it is a boatload of room temperature butter and we were hosting a holiday party with a cookie station so I needed something a little more streamlined. Unfortunately, it did not work out the way I wanted. I again turned to Food Network for a recipe and found what looked to be a solid recipe. I think it could have worked out if I had reduced the amount of sugar to allow for a softer dough with less of a grainy texture. We made do though and it was entertaining. We were able to roll out about half the amount of cookies for the dough we made. I microwaved it for 10 seconds to melt the butter some and then quickly rolled it out with lots of elbow grease to keep it sticking together. Then I sprinkled water on it and rolled lightly. With those steps I was able to salvage some cookies. It was not pretty though, we plastic-wrapped our whole island, there was flour everywhere and dough was stuck to everything, including us. In the end, what we were able to bake turned out pretty tasty.
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Recipe courtesy of Food Network
Ingredients2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Coarse sugar, aka sanding or crystallized sugar
Royal Icing, recipe follows
Royal Icing:
5 tablespoons meringue powder (egg white powder)
6 tablespoons water
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 3 3/4 to 4 cups or 1 box)
Food coloring, as desiredDirectionsWhisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter and both sugars in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and orange zest mixing until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, and continue beating until the dough comes together, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

For rolled cookies: Roll about a tablespoon of dough by hand into a ball. Dip 1 side of the balls into some coarse sugar and place them sugar-side-up on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving about 1-inch between cookies.

For sliced cookies: Divide dough in half, roll by hand into 2-inch-wide logs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Cut the logs into 1/4-inch-thick cookies and place them on ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1-inch between cookies.

For cutout cookies: Divide dough in half, pat into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Roll dough between lightly floured parchment, or waxed paper, until about 1/3-inch thick. Transfer sheets to a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut into desired shape using a cookie cutter, place them on ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1-inch between cookies. (Gather the dough scraps together, pat into a disk, chill and reroll.)

Refrigerate cookies while preheating the oven to 375 degrees F, for at least 30 minutes.

Bake the cookies, until the bottoms are golden, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on shape. Cool on sheets until firm enough to transfer to a rack to cool. Decorate as desired and serve, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

 

Next up, cookie bark, hazelnut shortbread and chai cheesecake!

Thanksgiving- Installment 2, Sides and Dessert, oh the dessert…

Adding on to the fabulous turkey and gravy from last post, we enjoyed some delicious side dishes and crazy good dessert. I must spend a moment on dessert. Years ago, when I owned and restaurant and catered I always wanted to change my concept to a bakery and book shop because my passions were baking and reading. It would be the kind of place I wanted to spend all my time, surrounded by a bevy of my favorite characters and confections. But, it was not meant to be. My cafe was successful and my customer base was established and if you know anything about the restaurant industry, you do not mess with a good thing. Now that my restaurant has been gone for a number of years, I find myself still yearning for those early mornings when the sun was just peeking up over the beach and the ovens were hot, ready for whatever I filled them with. I can say it now, I am a recovering baking addict. My personal twelve step program involves lots of prep and baking around the holidays- even if nobody is coming over. This year was no different except I had help. Dangerous. Liv was as excited to get into the flour and sugar as I was and we were feeling experimental. I made the traditional Maple Pumpkin Pie my family loves- actually I made four. We also decided to try our hands at Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake and Pumpkin Creme Brulee. For some reason I never make cheesecake any more. I used to make about 10 per week when I had the restaurant and they were some of the most popular desserts, but since I left the industry, I just have not made any. It could be that my husband hates cheesecake and I just don’t have the audience for it or it could be the complicated nature of cheesecake with its water bath and temperamental top you hope does not crack. I don’t know. It just does not seem to happen in my kitchen, until this year. I made the requisite traditional dessert so I gave myself license to branch out. I am just going to say now, I could not have chosen two more labor-intensive, difficult desserts to make with Liv, but the results- Amazing! My husband actually devoured both desserts and raved about the cheesecake. The top was perfect- no cracking and the gingersnap crust was crumbly perfection. The Creme Brulee had a beautiful spice from the added cardamom and a pudding-like texture with that hard, crystallized sugar top. I could not have been happier and more importantly, Liv and I survived creating two fairly difficult dishes with only a few squabbles and a little food processor hiccup. Below are our side dish and dessert recipes.

Cranberry Sauce (It is not that hard to make it fresh, though my son prefers the can variety you can still see the can imprints on :). In addition to a condiment with the turkey, we used this as a topping on the cheesecake and it was the perfect tart counterpart to the creamy texture of the cheesecake.)

Ingredients:

1 bag of fresh cranberries

1 large orange

2 cinnamon sticks

1 cup of granulated sugar

Procedure:

In a medium-sized saucepan, mix together cranberries, sugar and zest of orange. After zesting orange, juice it into your cranberry mix. Add cinnamon sticks and turn heat to high. Allow sauce to come to a boil and let cranberries start popping. Once cranberries have popped and sauce begins to thicken, remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer to serving dish and put in refrigerator for 3- 6 hours. When ready to serve, remove cinnamon sticks.

Crawfish and Andouille Cornbread Stuffing

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 lb. Andouille sausage links, cut into small rounds

1 lb. bulk sausage (I use country)

2 vidalia onions, chopped

3 celery ribs, chopped

2 red bell peppers, chopped

1 poblano pepper, chopped

10-12 oz. crawfish tail meat

2 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. hot sauce (I like Melinda’s)

12 oz. dry cornbread stuffing (I use Pepperidge Farms)

2 cups  chicken stock

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add all sausages and cook until browned . Add onions, celery, peppers and crawfish. Cover and cook until vegetables begin to be tender, stirring occasionally. Add thyme and hot sauce and continue to cook for another minute.

Transfer contents of skillet to a large stainless steel bowl. Add stuffing mix and chicken stock and mix by hand until combined. Transfer to a glass 13×9 baking dish and put in oven to bake. Bake until top becomes crispy- about 45 minutes.

Warmed Cauliflower and Herbed Barley Salad

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I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit last year and have been dying to make it. I changed it a little to accommodate my family’s palettes. Here is the link to the original recipe. I omitted the mayonnaise and tarragon. It was adored by everyone at my table, including the picky eaters and was the perfect side dish with turkey, cranberry and feta sandwiches the next couple of days!

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin

This is another recipe I originally found in Bon Appetit and adapted slightly. I missed a cheese element in my potato casserole and found this recipe too wet in its final form. Here is the link to the original recipe and below is my adaptation. This is perennially requested at my holiday table.

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Ingredients:

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp. at room temp to coat baking dish

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, rinsed

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled

2 cups whole milk

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

8 oz. Gouda cheese, not the processed version, firm gouda

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 13×9 glass baking dish.

For the next step, I have always used my mandolin. My husband watches in fear, thinking I will slice my finger off at any moment and we will head to the emergency room. This year since Liv was cooking with me, I decided to give the slicing attachment on my food processor a shot. Best decision ever! She was able to slice the potatoes on her own and they were uniform size. Place one layer of potatoes (mix them together) in the prepared baking dish.

Now it is time to turn to the cream element. Bring milk, garlic, thyme and nutmeg to boil in a medium saucepan. Pour 1/3 of mixture over potatoes. Spread 1 layer of Gouda next. Repeat these steps until ingredients are exhausted. I usually get about four layers in my dish.

Cover with foil and bake one hour. After an hour, remove foil and dot top with four tablespoons of butter. Sometimes I grate some more Gouda or fresh Parmesan on top for a little extra something. I did not this year, but it is a good addition. Put back in the oven and bake for another 40 minutes or until golden brown. It will still be a little liquidy, but will set after it cools slightly.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

I have a base cheesecake recipe I always used at the restaurant, but with the addition of an ingredient like pumpkin I decide to consult a couple of recipe sites to see how they handled the additional moisture. The one closest to my own recipe ended up being from Food Network. I did a variation on their Almost Famous Pumpkin Cheesecake. The original recipe is linked here. Below is my recipe adaptation.

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Ingredients:

approx. 6 tbsp. unsalted butter- melted, plus some for buttering pan

1 box gingersnaps, ground

2 lbs. cream cheese, room temp

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup sour cream

1 15 oz. can pumpkin

6 eggs, room temp

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 tsps. cinnamon (I like roasted)

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10 inch springform pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs and the melted butter. Once the crumbs are moistened, transfer to the springform pan and press into bottom and up sides. Bake about 15 minutes. The crust will start to look a little puffy and be very aromatic. Remove from oven and cool. Wrap bottom and sides of pan with heavy duty foil. Place in a large pan that will accommodate a water bath.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until combined, scraping sides as necessary. Add the sour cream, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla and spices to the mixture and beat lightly until combined. Pour into cooled crust.

Place large baking pan with cheesecake mixture in it, on the lowest oven rack. Pour hot water into the outer pan until it comes up to halfway on the springform pan. Bake in oven until center just sets (it will still be moving but not breaking the top), about 90 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the door to allow some of the heat out. Then close the door and leave the cheesecake in there for one more hour. Carefully remove the pan from the waterbath to a cooling rack and allow to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Whipped cream is the traditional topping, but I used the cranberry sauce and it was a sweet-tart masterpiece.

 

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Again, I have a base recipe I use for Creme Brulee, but with the additional moisture added by pumpkin, I consulted recipe sites for their adaptations. I found a solid recipe on Food Network again and went with the original recipe except I added 1 teaspoon of cardamom. It turned out beautifully. The custard was silky and maintained that standby pumpkin pie flavor while being something different. The recipe is linked here. I will definitely make it again!

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