Wednesday, December 22, 2010

mushroom cups

(This picture does not do these little beauties justice at all! By the time I remembered to snap this photo, our party was under way and the mood was not quite serious for good photos. Trust me, these are excellent!)

One of my favorite appetizers, easy to prepare ahead, great for the freezer and absolutely delicious, these little cups are a thing of beauty. And all from a lowly slice of white bread and some mushrooms. They are a little fussy to make, but not difficult.

Here’s what you need:
24 slices of white bread, cut into 3 inch rounds (I use a ½ Cup measuring cup)
5 T butter
¼ C minced onion
½ pound mushrooms, minced
2 T flour
1 Cup half-and-half
½ t salt and pepper to taste 
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1 ½ T fresh parsley, minced
1 t lemon juice
3 T Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on the top

Here’s what you do:
Cut 3 inch circles from each slice of bread and carefully place in 1/8 cup muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes. (These are so cute and toasty!)

Melt butter and slowly soften the minced onions for about 3-4 minutes – don’t brown them.

Add the mushrooms and cook on low for about 10 minutes or until the liquid from the mushrooms is evaporated.

Stir in the flour. Add the half-and-half. Continue to cook over low heat until it is very thick, maybe 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, parsley and seasonings.  Carefully fill each cup using two small spoons. There should be enough mushroom mixture to generously fill 24 cups, plus one big spoonful for the cook ( J ) Sprinkle each cup with Parmesan cheese.

From this point you can continue to cook them for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cheese on top is nice and brown. Or you can freeze them and cook them from their frozen state for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Enjoy!

(printable recipe) 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

crystallized ginger

Every time I pass by this stuff I stick one in my mouth.

 I never knew you could make this in a home kitchen and I’m too cheap to purchase it, so when I opened a new cookbook and found this recipe, I was quick to try it. Granted, my crystallized ginger is probably not as beautiful as professionally prepared, but remember, it was my first time making it. I will make this again for sure because I love all things ginger. Just think – now I can make anything I want that calls for crystallized ginger without the sticker shock.

Here’s what you need:
½ pound of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch slices and 1 Cup sugar

Here’s what you do:   Peel and slice the ginger

Cook the ginger in boiling water for about 20 minutes to soften it a bit. Drain and allow to dry on a wire rack.

Combine ginger, 1 Cup sugar and 2 Tablespoons water in a 12 inch skillet. (they need a lot of room)
Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. 

Stir it once in a while and shake the pan around so the slices don’t stick together. Do not let the sugar caramelize! As soon as the sugar is thick, syrupy and begins to crystallize, remove the ginger with a slotted spoon. 

You’ll know when to stop cooking….. the sugar turns from granules to crystals in an obvious way. The unexpected bonus from this fun project was the 'throw-away' sugar that was left in the pan. We have used it in tea and cocktails. It would be excellent sprinkled on oatmeal or ice cream. Can't stop eating it! And yes, the pan was easy to clean...... (look at it!)

The recipe said that this process takes 52 minutes….. 52! So, I was compulsively standing at my stove watching the ginger bubble and boil in the pan…. Every few minutes I glanced over to see how it was going. I just could not imagine what would happen at minute 52 and I was compulsively frantic over the thought of what would happen at minute 53…… Well, it did not take 52 minutes! The magic happened for me at 25 minutes….. perhaps my heat was too high? Don’t know and don’t care because I am perfectly happy with the results.

The large pieces were dipped in unsweetened chocolate for a special treat with espresso. I stuck them in the freezer to harden for a few minutes and they turned out perfect! I sent the picture below to my daughter who said, "Mom, that's so Ann Arbor!" 

(recipe from: 2010 Christmas with Southern Living )

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

scallops in white wine

Do not be intimidated by cooking seafood! Just remember these few simple rules: one – never over cook it, and two- only use the freshest seafood possible. It’s that simple. I’ll admit that choosing seafood can seem a bit daunting, especially when you see the price tag, but jump in and give it a try. It’s healthy and it brings a whole new dimension to the weekly menu. Scallops have a very mild taste and a firm texture. We love them around here and when they go on sale, I purchase them in bunches.

Here’s a quick lesson about scallops. Bay scallops are the small ones; they are sweeter and more expensive than sea scallops, which are the large ones and the less expensive ones. Sea scallops might be a bit chewier too.

This recipe is an adaptation of Ina Garten’s Scallops Provencal. She usually piles on the butter, but I have toned that down. Very light, very fresh tasting, a nice week night dinner because it's very quick and easy. 

Here’s what you need:
About 1 pound of very fresh bay or sea scallops (you can see in the pictures that I used sea scallops)
Salt and pepper
Flour for dredging
2 T butter
¼ C finely minced shallots
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
¼ C chopped parsley (don’t skip this ingredient! I was lucky to have the last bit of fresh parsley from my herb garden. We are having a very mild November here in Michigan and I’m squeezing out every last leaf from my herb garden!)
½ C - ¾ C dry white wine (you can see in the picture, it does not have to be expensive wine…)
Fresh lemon

Here’s what you do:
Prepare the shallots, garlic and parsley and have them ready to go. Measure out the wine also.
Dry the scallops on paper towels and generously salt and pepper them on both sides. 
Carefully dredge them in flour, shaking off excess. This flour coating will later thicken the wine sauce a bit.

Melt the butter in a large pan and when very hot, add the scallops in one layer. Don’t let them touch and do not be tempted to move them around. Just leave them alone and they will get brown.

 After about 3 minutes, if they are golden, turn them over gently. When they have been turned over, add the chopped veggies and stir and soften them. Total cooking time is maybe 5-6 minutes.

Toss the scallops in the sautéed veggies, add the wine and stir gently. I used my lucky, broken wooden spoon…..Serve with fresh lemon juice.   I served this with risotto, salad and carrots. Crusty bread for the wine sauce would be perfect also.  Very nice. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

coffee crunch bars

This is a most excellent and very different type of bar – a very sophisticated and delicious combination of chocolate, coffee and toffee. They are crunchy, but not dry; chocolaty, but not sweet; rich and buttery, but not heavy tasting.

Here’s the ironic thing about this particular batch of bars. I made them for a dessert buffet at my school and you know how it is when you donate something to a buffet- you glance over every so often to see how much is left – hoping that your particular donation is the first to go because it’s so yummy. Doesn’t everyone want their dessert to be the best it can be? Well, this particular night, these bars were hardly touched!!! I’m not used to that!!! They ended up in the ‘left-over’ pile to sell in church the next morning……. Sigh

Don’t let my story scare you away from these. I have made them many times and they are A+. Trust me! (Notice the low temperature on the oven! I’ve ruined these in an oven which is set too high!)

Here’s what you need:
2 Cups flour
½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
2 sticks + 2 T butter (no substitutions here please or they really will end up in the ‘left over’ pile)
1 ¼ C packed dark brown sugar
2 T instant coffee powder
½ t almond extract
1 C semisweet chocolate chips
½ sliced or slivered almonds

Here’s what you do:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. (Notice the low temperature)
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar for a full 2 minutes. 

Then add the dry coffee powder and almond extract. Beat for another 1 minute. Add in the flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing well after each addition. Finally, add the chocolate and almonds.

Turn out onto an ungreased baking sheet. I know, it looks hopeless, but it turns out great every time! Using your hands, shape and convince the dough into a 12 inch square – let the warmth of your hands help the butter behave!

Pierce all over with tines of a fork at about 1 inch intervals.

Bake until the edges are slightly brown – about 40 minutes. Cool for 1 minute and immediately cut into small squares. I start in the middle and work my way evenly to each edge. Notice that I trimmed away the ‘not-so-pretty-but-oh-so-tasty’ edges. You should end up with about 48 squares. 

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. These really crisp up and live up to their title as they cool.

Monday, December 6, 2010

cookie walk fund raiser

Cookie Walk
Every other year I take my 7th and 8th grade students to Washington DC. It is an outstanding trip. We begin in Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg and then head up to the capital stopping on the way at Mt. Vernon. While in Washington, we see the museums, the Capitol Building, the monuments and memorials, the National Achieves, the Library of Congress…… basically, we do it all…..

All this takes money, so I’m sometimes known as the ‘fund raising’ person. A Cookie Walk is a super easy way to make quick money.

Here’s what you need:
A day when lots of traffic will come to your location. I hold my Cookie Walk at our school’s annual Craft Fair.
Many different bakers willing to make many different types of cookies
Decorated and lined coffee cans (or other take away containers)
Tablecloths, trays, doilies, plastic gloves, cash box
Vacuum :) 

Here’s what you do: 

Invite people to choose a can and wear a disposable glove. 

Allow guests to fill their cans with whatever cookies they wish. 

This room smelled so great - spicy and sweet! 

Be sure to have a wide variety of cookies. I usually ask for  Christmas themed cookies. 

All the cookies were sold in about 2 1/2 hours.... just a very few leftovers. People were waiting at the door to be the first ones in for the best cookies. 

My Cookie Walk is in our school's preschool room, which is perfect because there are two doors and I can direct traffic in one door and out the other..... people pay at the end of the line. 

If you have specific questions regarding how to host your own Cookie Walk please feel free to contact me! 

Friday, December 3, 2010

applesauce snack cake

Does everyone out there subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated Magazine? If not, you should! Every recipe that I’ve made from it has been outstanding- and that’s no exaggeration! Many of my favorite recipes come directly from this magazine, with no tweaking ever. See the cannoli ice cream cake for one that I’ve already posted here on the blog. The recipes are always a bit more involved and the methods are more complicated, but the result is perfection. This cake is no exception.

My kids especially love this cake and slice a piece off every time they pass by. I have doubled the recipe here – unfortunately my pan was not quite large enough for the batter and it overflowed a tiny bit while baking, but no worries. You could easily cut proportions in half and bake in an 8 inch square pan.

Here’s what you need:
1 ½ C (about 2 ounces) dried apples, cut into small pieces
2 C apple cider
2 t vanilla extract
1 1/3 C sugar
1 t cinnamon
½ t nutmeg
¼ t cloves
3 C flour
2 t baking soda
2 C unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs
1 t salt
2 sticks butter, melted and cooled

Here’s what you do:
Cut the dried apples in smallish pieces and simmer with the cider for about 20 minutes. (or less time if you are making a smaller cake.) Stir frequently and when the liquid has evaporated, remove and cool to room temperature. (I cool mine by placing the pot in an ice water bath)

Mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves with a whisk.  Remove 4 Tablespoons of the sugar/spice mixture to a small bowl and set aside. This will be the topping later.

Whisk the flour and baking soda and set aside. Prepare the pan by spraying it, then fitting in parchment paper or foil and then spraying it again. This cake is easy to remove!

When the apple/apple cider mixture is cool, process it along with the applesauce and vanilla in a food processor. Scrap the sides so there are no large chunks of apple. This will become the most delicious and intense base for the cake.

Whisk the eggs and salt. Add the sugar/spice mixture (NOT the topping) and whisk until light in color. Add the butter – keep whisking. Add the applesauce mixture – keep whisking.

Add the flour/soda mixture and with a wooden spoon mix until just incorporated. Be gentle.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle sugar/spice topping over the cake and bake at 325 degrees for about 50-60 minutes.

This is a very dense and moist cake – Don’t take it out of the oven until it is completely set and a knife comes out clean from the center of the cake.

We all have our favorite pieces of the cake..... the proof is in this picture!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

chocolate-pumpkin tart

This is one of those recipes that has been in my pile for about a year and I’m glad I finally got around to trying it because it’s a keeper. It's fantastic! It comes from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine. I inherited a huge stack of these magazines last year and have been leafing my way through them ever since.

Click here to see how beautiful the professional photos are (unlike mine….) You can see why I was inspired. Especially nice is the crisp chocolate layer hidden between the pumpkin and the crust. I wish the pumpkin top had smoothed out more during baking, because I was not pleased with the look of the final product, but that did not hinder the taste at all. It is not too sweet and the chocolate really enhances the pumpkin flavor.

I did have a tiny bit of trouble spreading the melted chocolate over the crumb crust, but luckily, the pumpkin hid my mess…..

And finally, I think some type of garnish would have jazzed up the look of this- it doesn't need more chocolate flavor so a chocolate drizzle would be too much.... but there’s always next time…. And there will be a next time!

Here’s what you need:
1 ½ C chocolate teddy graham cookies
2 T sugar
3 T melted butter (plus more for later)
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ½ C canned pumpkin
1 large egg
½ C  heavy cream
¼  C pure maple syrup
¼ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t salt

Here’s what you do:
Pulverize the cookies and sugar in a food processor until very fine. Add the melted butter. 

Using the bottom of a small measuring cup, carefully press the crumbs in the bottom (not the sides) of an ungreased 9-inch removable bottom tart pan. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and pre-bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes.

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. I used baking chocolate and did not have the problems some people in the reviews were having. If you see on the Everyday Food site, people who used chocolate chips had trouble with this step. Chips never melt very well.

Pour the melted chocolate over the crust and carefully spread it. I did have one messy place as you can see, but no problem.

Freeze the whole thing for about 5 minutes to set it all in place. Then, with a pastry brush, spread some melted butter around the edges and up the sides of the tart pan. This kept the pumpkin layer from sticking to the pan when you remove the sides – worked great!

Whisk the egg, pumpkin, cream, syrup, spices and salt until a beautiful consistency and pour over the chocolate. Take some time to smooth it out now, mine was not so pretty…….

Continue to bake (on the baking sheet) for about 45 minutes or until set. Cool for 1 hour and store in the refrigerator. Keeping the whole thing cold is essential if you want the crisp, hard layer of chocolate in the middle. It would not be as dramatic if that middle layer was room temperature.

This was a breeze to unmold, but I did not dare to lift the tart from the bottom of the pan. If you are looking for something a bit more sophisticated to replace your regular pumpkin pie this might just do the trick! It’s really good!

(printable recipe)