Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy 1st Blogoversary!

364 days (and 220 posts) ago this blog was born.

What an incredible year this has been. I think this might have been one of the first new years resolutions I've ever actually kept! I have had many successes and definitely my share of failures this year in the kitchen.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2010!
THE BEST
Beginning the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge and in particular making bagels and challah! Look at that gorgeous braid!
Baking my great grandma's and grandmas' recipes including the infamous sticky buns.
Croquembouche- I was totally blown away by what I'd created.Conquering chicken!!! I cut up a whole chicken- a defining moment!  I was so proud of myself and I know my husband was blown away. I also roasted a chicken- more than once. I can cook a whole bird! This is life altering cooking here people!

THE WORST
The most memorable disaster was the sugar cookies I decorated. The decorations came out nicely, but the cookies themselves were TERRIBLE. In my post I said they were okay, but I was lying. They were absolutely horrible. Butter is a key ingredient to a good sugar cookie and accidentally halving the butter turns sugar cookies into dry chalky flour. Okay, that might not seem like a huge disaster, but I spent a lot of time on those cookies and to have them turn out so horrible was crushing. As a side note- I think I did too good a job of not mentioning my failures as they happened. I know I burned things and had other disasters. Next year I'll work on showcases my failures more.


THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
This 12 Layer cake I'd had in my recipe box for half a decade. I was so excited to make it and even made it as my birthday cake. It was just a big stack of pancakes with chocolate syrup. Yuck.


THE PRETTIEST
Rainbow Cake

40th Anniversary Cake- Red Velvet Cake


THE YUMMIEST THINGS I MADE

Cheesecake- #2

Cocoa Crinkle Sandwich Cookies

THE BEST BEST BEST BEST BEST THING!
A future in the kitchen with my daughters.

It's been quite an adventure so far.

I'll go quiet for a bit now. I'm coming down from the holidays and gearing up for a big 3rd birthday and 10th anniversary celebration!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Modern Baker: One Step Croissants

This is my last Modern Baker Challenge recipe for the yeast risen specialties. Next quarter we're on to savory tarts and pies!

I love croissants. I especially love fresh croissants from a patisserie on the streets on Paris. I was very skeptical these croissants would hold up to that memory. Phyl didn't have rave reviews of this recipe either. I almost didn't even go through with the recipe, but curiosity got the best of me and I went for it.
Making croissants yourself is a good reminder of how much butter goes into them! Yipes for cholesterol!
I had a bit of trouble with the dough. It was really wet so I added some extra flour and I think I over-corrected too much. The final croissants were dense and a little dry. The taste was okay but the whole experience of them just wasn't the same as eating a croissant from a proper bakery. I don't think this is a bad recipe, I just think I have a certain way I like my croissants. I probably won't make these again.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Homemade Almond Joy

Each year I try one candy recipe to add to my cookie plate and each year I continue to realize that candy making is a little harder than I first expect. I found this recipe for homemade almond joy on one of my favorite blogs- Joy the Baker. She has such fun baking projects and I really thought these would be easy.
My little coconut mounds came out nicely- although in retrospect perhaps a bit too moist.
 I couldn't decide between one or two almonds so I did a bit of each.
The chocolate was warmed, and.... what a mess ensued. I can assure you they tasted good even though they didn't look pretty. Joy's were quite pretty if you'd like to see what they could turn out like with a little more practice. I just need to learn how to dip. I probably should have started with extra small pieces.
Homemade Almond Joy
Adapted From: Joy the Baker
Printable Recipe
makes about 30 little bars
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
30 almonds
about 20 ounces (a bag and a half) of good quality semi sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, spread raw almonds onto a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

2.In a medium bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract.  Stir in the unsweetened coconut. Place mixture in the freezer for 3o minutes.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove the coconut mixture from the freezer.  With clean hands shape one tablespoon of coconut into a little log about 2 inches long and 3/4-inch thick. Press the logs together very well so they don’t crack when dipped. Place the log on the lined baking sheet and continue until all of the coconut mixture is gone. Rinse hands occasionally if they get too sticky.  Press an almond on top of each coconut log.  It might not completely stick.  That’s ok.  Place the baking sheet in the fridge to chill while you melt the chocolate.

4. Place a medium  pot with two inches of water over a medium flame.  Bring the water to a simmer.  Place chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl and place the bowl over the simmering water.  Stir the chocolate as it melts.  Turn off the flame once the chocolate has melted but keep the bowl of melted chocolate over the hot water.

5. Remove the coconut candies from the fridge.  Place one coconut almond log on a fork.  Use a spoon to scoop a bit of chocolate over the almond.  This will help the almond stick to the candy and not fall off during dipping.  Lower fork into chocolate and spoon chocolate over candy to coat.  Lift fork and gently shake to release some of the chocolate.  Scrape the bottom of the fork along the side of the bowl and place on the lined baking sheet.  You might need a toothpick to help get the candy off the fork. Repeat until all candy is coated in chocolate.  If chocolate gets thick, just turn on the flame and heat slightly.

6. Let dipped candy harden in the fridge for 45 minutes.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.  If you need to layer the candy in a container, use waxed paper to separate the layers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speculoos {FFwD}

These speculoos cookies are my last French Fridays with Dorie recipe for the month. I thought they would make a fabulous addition to my cookie plate this year. After reading Phyl's review I was eager to try them myself.

The dough came together easily. Dorie suggests waxed paper to roll out the dough between before refrigeration. I have consistently forgotten waxed paper at the grocery store for the last month. Instead I used two silpats and rolled the dough between it and then wrapped it in plastic wrap. It worked great.

My smallest cookie cutter was just a round cutter. It's not as fun and fancy as the scalloped cutter would have been but my cookies would have been huge had I used it. With the leftover scraps I rolled them into little balls and baked them for some petite rounds.

The flavor of the cookie is really nice. It's not overpowering with cinnamon and would be a great cookie to go with coffee (not that I drink coffee). This year, it's a great cookie to balance my cookie plate.

Candy Cane Twists

A fun alternative to the classic sugar cookie for my cookie plate this year- candy cane twists! A little peppermint extract, a little food coloring, and a lot of rope/snake making.
Candy Cane Twists
Adapted From: Family Fun Magazine
Printable Recipe
1c butter, softened
3/5 c sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 c flour
green food coloring
red food coloring

1. Cream butter and sugar together. Add the egg. Add the vanilla and peppermint extracts. Beat well until all is incorporated.

2. Add the flour and salt in three batches until the dough is evenly mixed.

3. Divide the dough into thirds. Add the red food coloring to one third. Add the green coloring to one third. Knead the color into the dough. Wrap each ball into plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 375. On a floured surface roll out two pieces (about tablespoons worth) of contrasting colored dough into 8 inch long ropes. Twist together and pinch at the ends. Bend the shape into a candy cane shape. Repeat with remaining dough.

5. Bake cookies until set but not brown, about 10 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through. Cool the cookies on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack and cool.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cocoa Crinkle Sandwich Cookies

My favorite holiday cookie! It's been on my holiday cookie plate for the past three years.
 You begin with delicious chocolate cookies.
Store bought frosting is just easier when you've got a kitchen of cookie making going on.  I prefer vanilla frosting, especially with chocolate. Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting is, in my opinion, the absolute best!
 And rolled in crushed candy cane!
Cocoa Crinkle Sandwich Cookies
Adapted From: Holiday Cookies
Printable Recipe
1 3/4 c flour
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c butter
1 1/4 c sugar, plus more for rolling
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 can frosting
1/2 c crushed candy cane

1. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. Melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat and slightly cool. Add sugar, whisk until smooth. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time. Stir in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Shape dough into equal sized balls. I prefer 1/2 inch so final sandwich cookie is small. Place sugar in a bowl. Roll balls in sugar and place on baking sheet.

4. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove cookies from cookie sheet immediately. They get crispy as they cool and are harder to remove. Cool cookies completely.

5. Stir frosting. Place about 2 tsp of frosting on the bottom of a cookie. Press another cookie (flat side) into the frosting to make a sandwich. Press together so the frosting slightly squeezes out on the edge of the cookies. Roll the exposed frosting into the crushed candy cane.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Flourless Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

The minute I saw these cookies on Joy the Baker's blog in June I knew I had to make them. I didn't know it would take me this long, but as I was preparing my cookie plate for this holiday I immediately thought of these cookies. They were the perfect addition.
A few years ago we switched to an all natural peanut butter. It took a little getting used to at first and the fact it had to be mixed by hand upon opening to incorporate the oil was a pain, but now the staple peanut butters like Skippy and Jiff taste odd to me. I love the natural stuff. I prefer chunky. My husband prefers creamy. I guess it's one of those little marriage compromises that I most often buy the creamy.
 Flourless Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies
Adapted From: Joy the Baker
Printable Recipe
1 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
About 1/4 cup any fruit preserves-any you fancy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixer combine peanut butter and sugars until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Add egg and baking soda and mix for another 2 minutes.  The dough will be crumbly.  Roll into teaspoon sized balls and make a small indentation in the center of the dough ball with your pointer finger. Fill the depression with fruit preserves. Bake for 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a baking sheet for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Friday, December 17, 2010

{FFwD} Beef Daube

This is my third French Friday's with Dorie recipe this month! I also plan to do the cookies as well. I don't promise this level of commitment each month. I'm tempted to take all of January off cooking and baking- break out the boxed mac and cheese!

However, the whole point of learning to cook this year was to get myself more comfortable with cooking new things- particularly meat. This daube used chuck roast something I've only bought once before. I wanted to give it a try.

There was a bit of prep work for this meal. I spend an hour chopping, prepping, and sauteing my way through the first stage. I began by cooking bacon and then browning my chuck roast. (I inadvertently bought pre-sliced chuck, so my beef was already in sheets and couldn't be cubed). After that I sauteed my onion and shallots, added the brandy, and finally the bacon and beef back into the pot. I tossed in some carrots and turnip along with garlic and herbs and then poured in a whole bottle of shiraz. I popped it in the oven and two and a half hours later it was ready.

Daube is a french stew, however my liquid had boiled down to the point where we simply ate the meat and veggies on their own. I had had a long day and wondered if all this work had been worth it as I sat down to dinner. This meal took a good chuck of my day.

It was fantastic! Oh my, lick your lips delicious! I will make this again. I had no idea I could make something so delicious!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MSC: Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes

I opted not to do this month's Martha Stewart Cupcake. I'm not a fan of fruitcake. These cupcakes were last November's cupcake and I've been itching to try them.

The cupcake is a sweet potato cupcake. Fantastic! Seriously! Better than pumpkin in my opinion! I used two sweet potatoes. Cooked them until soft and seeping. Removed skins. Mashed. Added to batter.
There were two toppings for this cupcake. One was the marshmallow. I grouped marshmallows on my baking sheet and broiled them for a couple of minutes. I then gingerly moved each mound to a cupcake. 

The second topping was candied pecans. My candied pecans did not turn out right. My sugar turned dry and into crystals instead of syrup. What did I do wrong? Too much heat maybe? Regardless, I added the pecans and the results were still good! Little sugar pockets attached to pecans!

Fantastic cupcakes!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daring Cooks: Eggs Benedict

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.
Eggs Benedict was the Daring Cooks challenge for December. I was so excited when I saw the challenge. I have wanted to learn how to poach an egg and I've wanted to try eggs Benedict ever since Julia Roberts told Richard Gere in Runaway Bride that it was her favorite egg dish. Julia (Maggie in the movie) always chose the egg dishes of her current boyfriend. At the end of the movie Maggie discovers for herself that HER favorite egg dish is eggs Benedict.

Eggs Benedict is a dish served on half an English muffin which is topped with bacon (or ham) a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.

Let's get started!

Hollandaise is a rich egg yolk and butter sauce. You whisk egg yolks in a double boiler and then add a substantial amount of butter. Be careful! The first time I made it I started rereading the directions while whisking over the heat. When I looked down I'd made scrambled eggs. Oops. Too hot.
That's better.
Poaching an egg is a little intimidating at first. I added vinegar to the simmering water to help stabilize the egg. I also cracked the egg into a dish so I could slide it into the water instead of drop it from the eggshell. Here we go...
Beautiful!

It was absolutely delicious! I love eggs Benedict! The hollandaise sauce was light, tangy, and buttery and the whole English muffin, bacon, egg, and hollandaise sauce combination is perfection.
Eggs Benedict
Printable Recipe
4 eggs
2 English muffins
4 slices of Canadian bacon or bacon
Chives, for garnish
Splash of vinegar (for poaching)

For the hollandaise (makes 1.5 cups):
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp water
¼ tsp sugar
12 Tbl unsalted butter, chilled and cut in small pieces
½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:
1. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer.
2. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces and set aside.
3. Whisk egg yolks and 1 tsp water in a mixing bowl large enough to sit on the saucepan without touching the water. Whisk for 1–2 minutes, until egg yolks lighten. Add the sugar and whisk 30 seconds more.
4. Place bowl on saucepan over simmering water and whisk steadily 3–5 minutes until the yolks thicken to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Remove from heat (but let the water continue to simmer) and whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time. Move the bowl to the pan again as needed to melt the butter, making sure to whisk constantly.
6. Once all the butter is incorporated, remove from heat and whisk in the salt, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper (if using).
7. Keep the hollandaise warm while you poach your eggs in a thermos, carafe, or bowl that you’ve preheated with warm water.
8. If the water simmering in your pan has gotten too low, add enough so that you have 2–3 inches of water and bring back to a simmer.
9. Add salt and a splash of vinegar (any kind will do). I added about a tablespoon of vinegar to my small saucepan (about 3 cups of water), but you may need more if you’re using a larger pan with more water.
10. Crack eggs directly into the very gently simmering water (or crack first into a bowl and gently drop into the water), making sure they’re separated. Cook for 3 minutes for a viscous but still runny yolk.
11. While waiting for the eggs, quickly fry the bacon and toast your English muffin.
12. Top each half of English muffin with a piece of bacon. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, draining well, and place on top of the bacon. Top with hollandaise and chopped chives, and enjoy!
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