Monday, October 30, 2006

Popcorn Balls

I had more fun making these than anything I've made in a long time. I've always wanted to make popcorn balls. I have this faint memory of Christmas time and visiting Santa. After sitting on Santa's lap, my brother and I were given wrapped popcorn balls. They tasted like the most delicious sweetness, with a little salt and crunch. The popcorn balls I made for Abbie's Halloween party came close to this memory, but aren't all food memories unattainable in real life?
I found this recipe on Baking Space. I changed a few things- the recipe calls for margarine. I NEVER use margarine. I think they could have used a little salt as well, 1/4 tsp. maybe? It might be fun to add some different flavors, or nuts, or chocolate next time.

Popcorn Balls
3 bags popped popcorn
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tsp. cold water
2 5/8 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup marshmallows

Lay out parchment paper for your finished popcorn balls. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the corn syrup, butter, cold water, confectioner's sugar and marshmallows. Heat and stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Carefully combine the hot mixture with the popcorn in a BIG bowl, coating each kernel. Grease hands with butter and quickly shape the coated popcorn into balls.

I used Paul Newman's Natural microwave popcorn. One box has three bags-how about that!
I used mini marshmallows. When you're making the balls, you'll need to work fast- the sugar sets up quickly. When I say grease hands with butter, I mean get 3 tbs. of butter, and get it soft. Every few balls, coat your hands in the butter like you're putting on skin cream.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween Sugar Cookies

Today was Abbie's playgroup's Halloween Party at our house. What fun! The kiddies were all dressed in costumes and there was plenty of sugar to go around. The moms all brought a little something to make goody-bags for the kids, and my offering, as usual, was a monogrammed cookie for each child. I love decorating sugar cookies, and the holidays give me a perfect opportunity. Along with sugar eating and socializing, we had pumpkin decorating and cookie decorating. I made a bunch of sugar cookies in Halloween shapes, some royal icing, and put together some bowls of sprinkles. It took 1 1/2 hours to clean my house after the party, but it was worth it! They had a great time- what kid doesn't like royal icing? I did have to stop Abbie from putting the squeeze bottle directly up to her lips and sucking the icing out. She does decorate a mean cookie, though.

After testing many recipes over the years, I have found that Martha Stewart's Sugar Cookie recipe works without fail every time. Here is her recipe, with my small changes mixed in.

Sugar Cookies
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (good vanilla)
royal icing (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.
With mixer4 on low speed, gradually add flour mixture, and beat thoroughly until combined. Divide dough in half, and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, atleast 1 hour. Place cookie sheets lined with Silpat baking mats or parchment in refrigerator as well.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator to temper slightly.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, then place cookies on chilled baking sheets. Place baking sheets with cookies back into the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to oven, and bake until edges are starting to brown, 15-18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. Leave cookies on sheets 2-3 minutes after taking them out of the oven. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Decorate as desired with royal icing.

Royal Icing

1/4 cup meringue powder
1/2 cup water
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp. lemon extract (optional)

In a small bowl, beat together meringue powder and water until soft peaks form. Stir in sugar until fully incorporated. Add vanilla. Add water as needed to adjust consistency.

I put leftover dough in the freezer before I roll it out again. Try not to roll the dough out too many times, it makes the dough tough.
I bake each cookie sheet separately in my oven; 7 minutes, rotate, then 8 minutes.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ina's New Cookbook and Pumpkin Scones

It's here, it's here, it's here!!! I have received Ina's new cookbook and am just pleased as punch! It was just the motivation I needed to come into the kitchen and make my husband some much deserved pumpkin scones. We are hosting Abbie's playgroup's Halloween Party, and I intend to make everyone GO OUTSIDE. My dear husband cleaned the leaves off the lawn and picked up all the dog poop. Hmmm, I'm in love. So while he was at work, I whipped up some scones. Abbie often accompanies me in the kitchen, but today was the first real cooking she's done. Abbie stirred the pumpkin mixture together. Delicious the first day, they get a little less crisp on day two. These are from the wonderful Cheeseboard Collective Works.

Pumpkin Scones

1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup canned or homemade pumpkin puree
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream, buttermilk, and pumpkin.
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the salt and the sugar to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the butter and cut it in on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until it is the size of small peas. Make a well in the center and add the pumpkin mixture. Mix briefly, just until the ingredients come together; some loose flour should remain in the bottom of the bowl.
Gently shape the dough into balls about 2 1/4 inches in diameter, and place them on the prepared pan about 2 inches apart.
For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture on the top of the scones. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

I like to use my big ice cream scoop to get the dough on the baking sheets. They all come out about the same size, and you don't need to get your hands dirty. I hope you enjoy making these for the dog-poop-picker-upper in your life.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chicken Noodle Soup

Today is Ina Day! Ina Garten's new cookbook "Barefoot Contessa At Home" was released today. I'm expecting my signed copy in the mail any day now. In honoring Ina Day, I had to make an Ina recipe. I had just made loads of chicken stock a few days before, and had a chicken breast in the freezer. Abbie is a huge soup freak, and loves this. It makes a ton of soup, so you can freeze some. Home-made stock is always better than store-bought, but if you have to use it, buy Swanson's. Ina starts by roasting chicken breasts, then shredding them into the soup. Do yourself a favor, and buy a whole chicken. Eat half of it for dinner, make stock with the carcass, then make soup with your stock and leftover chicken. You won't be sorry.
Congratulations Ina!

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole (2 split) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts homemade chicken stock
1 cup medium-diced celery (2 stalks)
1 cup medium diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups wide egg noodles
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breast on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred or dice the chicken meat.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot and add celery, carrots, and noodles. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked. Add the cooked chicken meat and parsley and heat through.
Season to taste and serve.

Shredding the meat makes it look kind of earthy, and not manufactured. I like it better that way.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake

My sister-in-law came over for dinner with her new boyfriend. She often brings a new special friend over to meet us first- before she brings him home to the parents. This is wise, I believe. It gives the boy an opportunity to meet some family, with out the hardcore question and answer that comes with meeting a girl's parents for the first time. My husband and I question the fella in a kind, but probing way, then are required to report back to my mother-in-law with any information worth repeating. In this case, I really liked the boy who came to dinner. I think they make a good match. I never know what to make for New Boyfriend. I wanted he and SIL to feel comfortable and have a good time. There were initial fears that NB didn't like soy sauce. This would be a big problem in our family. But he is fine, no apparent eating issues. So what did I make? I roasted a chicken, of course! Who doesn't like a roasted chicken in October, with potatoes for god's sake! So dinner was taken care of, what about dessert? I had ripped out this recipe from Sunset magazine in November 2004, and tucked it into my "things I'd like to make at some point" file. I took this new boyfriend opportunity to make it. It was certainly a fall dessert. Very gingerbread-y, the pears are pretty, but didn't seem to add much flavor. I served it with whipped cream, but vanilla ice cream would have been nice too.

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake

2 tbs. plus 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 tbs. chopped crystallized ginger
2 firm-ripe bosc pears (1 lb. total)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dark molasses
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan that is atleast 2 1/2 inches tall. Line pan with a 10 inch round of cooking parchment, pressing into the bottom of the pan and up the sides about 1/2 inch. Cut 2 tbs. butter until about 1/4 inch chunks and drop evenly over parchment in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar and the crystallized ginger.
Peel pears and cut in half lengthwise, then slicing parallel to cut edge, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. With a small knife, cut core from each slice. Arrange slices flat in a single layer, over sugar mixture in pan, trimming pieces as needed to fit.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and allspice.
In another bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat remaining 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in molasses.
Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beating until incorporated, then beat on high speed just until well blended. Pour batter over pears.
Bake in a 325 degree regular, or 300 degree convection oven until a toothpick inserted in center (not in fruit, the recipe reminds us) comes out clean, 1 hour AND 35-40 minutes. Center may settle slightly. Let cool in pan 20 minutes. Remove pan sides. Invert a platter over cake, then holding the two together, invert again. Carefully remove pan bottom and parchment. Make real whipped cream from whipping cream, and serve cake with a dollop of whipped cream.

Some thoughts:
It would have been easier to keep the 2 tbs. of butter cold, then cut them into 1/4 inch chunks.
For the pears, I cut them lengthwise slightly off center to keep the stem in place, then used my melon-baller to scoop out the core. I patched in the hole with scrap pieces of pear. You'd never guess it was patched in after it was baked.
When I first read the recipe I thought, "Oh good, this bakes in 35-40 minutes. I'll have plenty of time to roast the chicken afterwards." I was wrong. And then my meat thermometer is broken...
The magazine says, "Leave the stem on one slice of pear for an artful presentation". My husband asked if there was a stick in the cake. You make the call on your own cake.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

I was looking for a good pumpkin cookie recipe when our internet service failed. My husband called the company, who said they were having a technical problem that wouldn't be fixed until 3:00. Hmmm. What to do? Make up your own recipe! So here is my recipe for Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies. I wanted a cookie that was like a regular oatmeal raisin cookie, with lots of pumpkin flavor, that reminded me of pumpkin pie. I didn't add nuts, because Abbie prefers cookies without them. The only criticism I have for these cookies is that they were a little cakey. I think I would either increase the amount of granulated sugar to 1 cup, or decrease the baking soda some. Earlier in the month I baked a sugar-pie pumpkin, pureed it, then measured and froze 1 cup portions. So I used my pumpkin here, but I don't see why you couldn't use canned. I was tempted to put a nice little glaze on these, but am trying to cut back on the sweets a little in preparation for those mini Almond Joys on Halloween!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup, (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar (increase to 1 cup?)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. good vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree'
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups oats
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the pumpkin. Mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture with the mixer on low speed, until just combined. In another bowl, combine the oats and raisins. Stir into the dough to combine. Drop dough onto cookie sheets covered with silpats or parchment using a 1 1/2 inch scoop. Wet 2 fingers and press cookies down to flatten slightly. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool 2-3 minutes on cookie sheet, then cool completely on a rack. Makes 5 dozen.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tomato Tart

There are many tomato tart recipes out there. I've got three in my recipe book right now. I've borrowed bits and pieces from the ones I like, and created a tart which made my husband proclaim, "This is the one". I like to serve this to vegetarian friends, who are too often served some sort of pasta dish when invited for dinner at a friend's house.
I've used heirloom tomatoes here, but it is easier to use Roma or Plum tomatoes because they have less water. The colors and taste of these tomatoes make me think of the tomatoes from my father's garden. This was a last chance tart, as the tomatoes are almost gone for the summer. The flavor of the tomatoes really comes out in this dish, and the combination of goat cheese, tomato, and basil is great. The fontina buubles slightly under the broiler. Melted cheese. Delicious!

(Draining the tomatoes is optional. Drain them if they are very ripe.)

1 head roasted garlic (recipe follows)
1/2 recipe Martha Stewart's pate brisee, or 1 Pillsbury Pie crust
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
3/4 cup grated italian fontina
2 lbs. tomatoes
3 tbs. olive oil, divided
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
10 basil leaves, in chiffonade

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Drain the tomatoes. Slice tomatoes 1/4" thick and lay on a rack over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper. Let drain 30 minutes.

Spray a 9" tart pan with Pam cooking spray. Form crust in pan, prick with a fork, and chill. Line the crust with tin foil and pie weights, rice or beans, then blind bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove the weights, prick again with a fork, and bake for 8 minutes more.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread roasted garlic over the bottom of the tart. Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Cook onion with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper until golden, about 10 minutes. Spread onions over garlic, then top with 3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese and 1/4 cup grated fontina. Arrange tomato slices over the cheese. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of fontina and a 1/4 cup of goat cheese. Drizzle with 1 tbs. olive oil. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then place 7" under broiler for about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, and top with basil. Serves 4.

Roasted Garlic
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the top off of 1 head of garlic. Place garlic in a square of parchment paper. Pour 1 tbs. olive oil over garlic. Wrap parchment-covered garlic in tin foil. Bake in the oven until soft, about 1 hour.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Chocolate Skeleton Cookies

Many of the things I bake are for my daughter, Abbie. Two things are accomplished here- I get to bake, and I have a willing party to eat what is prepared. These cookies are going to the pumpkin patch tomorrow with Abbie's playgroup.

I've seen several recipes for Skeleton cookies, but most are made with a gingerbread cookie. I used a chocolate cookie recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine, and made a few changes. The cookies are delicious, very chocolatey, like an Oreo. The skeleton bones are royal icing. I had elaborate plans for the bones, but modified my design when I saw how little space there was to decorate. I added a little black gel food coloring to some royal icing at the end to make the eyes and nose.

Chocolate Skeleton Cookies
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Droste)
1/2 tsp. salt
12 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 tsp. good vanilla
1/4 tsp. espresso powder
royal icing (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg. Add vanilla and espresso powder. On low speed, mix in flour mixture. Divide the dough in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 45 minutes, and up to 2 days.
Chill cookie sheets. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick on a floured board. Using a 5 inch gingerbread man cutter, cut out men and place on chilled cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Chill formed cookies on cookie sheets in the refrigerator about 10 minutes. Bake cookies 10-15 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Decorate with royal icing using a pastry bag with a number 2 tip. once cooled completely. Let icing dry overnight before storing cookies.
Makes 22 cookies.

Royal Icing
1/8 cup meringue powder
1/4 cup water
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/8 tsp. good vanilla (optional)

In a small bowl, beat together meringue powder and water until soft peaks form. Stir in sugar until fully incorporated. Add vanilla. Add water as needed to adjust consistency.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

So I've finally decided to begin. I'm not really a writer, but I love to cook and to bake, and I love to share food with others. I am also completely fascinated by food blogs. I love to see what other people are making in their kitchens. Especially what people are cooking for dinner. But that's for another day. So let's begin. I'll cook, you'll read, (hopefully), and perhaps be inspired.