29 October 2008

Pizza Dough

How excited was I to see that pizza was the official October Challenge for the Daring Bakers? Pizza dough is so easy, and you can get mad-creative with toppings. I saw the announcement and gloated about how much time I’d have to come up with some spectacular combination of exotic flavors... And then I barely made the deadline (what can I say, October totally got away from me). Granted, taking photos with no lightbox late in the evening does not make for the best photo opportunities, but I made do.

The “trick” to this challenge was that we had to toss the dough like the pros do, and get photographic evidence of this. Pizza dough I can make in my sleep, but tossing the dough? Yeah, I officially suck at that. That dough never got more than an inch from my knuckles and it usually got holes in it – oopie. But! I gave it the old college try, as evidenced by the photo below. Thanks to Hubs for capturing this stunning action shot:

Yeah, see? The late evening is not the best for shooting.

I decided to make a bunch of small pizzas with random toppings. One was what I call “autumn margherita style”, with fresh mozzeralla and garlic and sun-dried tomatoes with a touch of dried basil. Another was classic veggie, with lots of mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, black olives… The third was the Hub’s creation, some thing with man toppings (I have no idea, was in a cold-induced fog), and the last was roasted chicken with garlic, bell peppers, and onions. Yum! I was going to make dessert pizza but decided against it at the last minute, given all the Halloween candies I already consumed that day. C’est la vie, I’ll give it a go next time I make pizza…

A big thanks to Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums for hosting this challenge. And don’t forget to check out the other Daring Bakers’ versions this month – there are a ton of mouth-watering pizza combinations out there!

Pizza Dough
(from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)

4 1/2 c. unbleached high-gluten bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant yeast
1/4 c. olive oil
1 3/4 c. water, ice cold
1 Tbsp. sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

Day 1
Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.

The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

Day 2
On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly pan.

Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

25 October 2008

Spicy Cocoa Gingersnaps

I wanted some molasses cookies, badly. I also wanted that spicy chocolate gingerbread cake. So, I decided to try to come up with my own little concoction...

There isn't much 'snap' in these gingersnaps - they are a bit more on the soft side, with crispy outsides. Just flat with a few roadbumps from the bittersweet chocolate; next time I'll try to get them a bit poofier.
These little suckers will curb many a craving, though - chocolate? Yup. Spicy? You got it. And sweet and warm with spices? Bingo :) These babies are a triple threat.

Spicy Cocoa Gingersnaps
(recipe by Nemmie)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ginger
1 tsp. chili powder
¾ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. allspice
¾ c. shortening
½ c. dark brown sugar
½ c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 c. molasses
1 c. bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift and mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, chili powder, cloves, and allspice. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugars, until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the egg, vanilla, and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Stir in bittersweet chocolate bits.

Roll dough into small balls, and flatten ever-so-slightly with the palm of your hand. Place on cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake 11-13 minutes, then cool on racks.

23 October 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

My dear friend Sarah over at Chomping the Big Apple is having a blogging event, and while I've been missing from most of those things lately, I had to give it a shot.

So what's this Cooking with Love thing even all about? We are to tell a love-related baking story, and blog the recipe on our site. Well, here you go, Sarah! Settle in with a big cup of coffee and a nice cupcake, I tend to write novels...

Everyone in life is blessed with some kind of good fortune. Maybe it's well-to-do parents. Maybe it's a dazzling voice. Maybe it's that perfect body where said person rarely goes to the gym and eats nonstop and still wears a perfect pert size 0 (hello Tinnie dear, I am referring to you here). In my life, my good fortune is my husband.

My husband has beautiful green eyes and a smart-ass smile. He twirls his wedding band around his finger when he's deep in thought. He has an obsession with all televised sports: when his teams are playing he will cheer yell and carry on like I've never seen before. And while he'd never admit to it, he has the most wicked sweet tooth I've ever seen. He bellows at me if I stir the pan while he's cooking, and he rubs his face whenever he grows tired, and he gives the best back scratches in the world.

My husband is smart, with the accurate answer whether it's a TV quiz show or questions about sports stats or where the stocks are going. He is our household's official bug executioner. He has a remarkable knack for fixing electronics, and he likes to tease me about my shoe collection. When we do the grocery shopping, he always sneaks away at some point and buys me flowers from the floral department. My husband is so good with my family. Often he is quite the goofball, the person who always makes me laugh and brings out my own sarcastic sense of humor. He also has a way of giving me a squeeze when he walks by me and a quick smile that makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the Midwest.

On one of our early dates he took me to one of his fraternity formals, and I remember afterwards sitting in a shady diner in KC at 3am, he in a nice suit and me barefoot in a slinky ice-blue number, laughing and digging into pancakes (and enjoying ourselves much more than we did at the stuffy formal). Even today, when I hear the doorknob turn in the evenings, my stomach does flip-flops and I make sure to quickly run my fingers through my hair.

My husband is tender and patient and kind. Always the level-headed one between us, he never gets overly excited or anxious. He never raises his voice. When everything else is chaos, he's like a deep breath of fresh air. Always calm and quiet yet earnest, my husband. That's just who he is.

I could go on and on and on, but people have other places to be. So let me just say that I'll always consider to be lucky because of him. And I pretty much don't deserve him, at all. He's the thing I'm blessed with in life, no doubt about it.

Now, to get back on topic: I mentioned his sweet tooth. Oh, but that man has quite the raging sweet tooth! Chocolate is a favorite, but if you want to really bring him to his knees: do a chocolate and peanut butter combo. That will get him every time, and so from early on in our relationship I have been making this flavor combination in every imaginable confection I can possibly bake.

In honor of that darling Husband-man: I made his absolute favorite, a peanut butter and chocolate dream. These suckers come from Ina Garten (a cookbook that Hubs, incidentally, bought me for my last birthday). The cupcake itself is deep, richly cocoa with a soft crumb, and the creamy peanut butter frosting tastes just like the inside of a Reeses Peanut Butter cup. 'Perfection', as my husband would refer to them.

Happy (late) anniversary, Sarah!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
(from Barefoot Contessa at Home, 2006)

12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 c. sour cream, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. brewed coffee
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing, recipe follows
Chopped salted peanuts, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.

Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frost each cupcake with Peanut Butter Icing and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing:

1 c. confectioners' sugar
1 c. creamy peanut butter
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp.pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 c. heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

17 October 2008

Cherry-Almond Upside Down Cake, and a Tag!

I've been tagged! Twice!

Not only by my girl Beth, Mommy Extraordinaire to Ethan, but also by my fellow-Eldridge-bride and pal Michelle. Yay! I'm one in a long line of Realies getting tagged for this thing ;) Here we go:

5 Joys
1. Baking and cooking (both are relaxing to me)
2. Chillin’ with the Hubs and R2D2
3. Nighttime snowfalls
4. Family: I luff you all, my lovelies
5. Christmastime – that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is just so lovely!

5 Fears
1. Tornadoes
2. Losing an eye or a finger (seriously, big fears of mine)
3. Losing someone I love
4. Since we bought the house – something happening so we struggle financially
5. I’m what you’d call a “nervous flyer” – I do it (because honestly, in this day and age, you can’t not fly), but I do it with clammy hands. Hurtling through the air in a metal tube is just not my idea of fun, sorry.

5 Obsessions
1. Home decorating
2. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
3. Hanging out (cyber-style or in real life) with the RB gals
4. Saison
5. Baking baking baking :)

5 Surprising Facts
1. I cannot make decent pie crust to save my life.
2. I am allergic to scallops.
3. I love going to new hair stylists, just because they generally fawn all over my hair (it's boring mouse brown, but also very thick, soft, and shiny).
4. I played the french horn in junior high.
5. Remember how my work was opening a time capsule left by the Beanie Weenie factory? Well, we had this huge company unveiling of the canisters... and they were empty. Empty! It was like a giant practical joke.

Now, try this lovely grown-up cake. Super delicious, and healthy too! That sweet cherry wine reduction is just divine.

Cherry-Almond Upside Down Cake
(from Cooking Light, June 2005)

1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1/4 c. dry red wine
2 lbs. dark sweet cherries, pitted (I used frozen, and thawed them overnight in the fridge)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Cooking spray
3/4 c. whole blanched almonds, toasted
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine 1/4 cup sugar and wine in a large saucepan over low heat; stir until sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to medium-high; bring to a boil. Stir in cherries. Reduce heat to low, and cook 5 minutes or until cherries just begin to soften, stirring frequently. Remove cherries from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving liquid in pan. Place cherries in a bowl; stir in lemon juice. Arrange cherries in an even layer in bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray.

Cook wine mixture over medium-high heat 3 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup. Remove from heat; drizzle over cherries in prepared pan.

Place almonds and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor; process until finely ground (do not process to a paste).

Place eggs and egg whites in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy; slowly add remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat until thick and lemon-colored (about 2 minutes).

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and salt.

Gradually sift flour mixture over egg mixture; fold in. Fold in ground almond mixture. Carefully spoon batter over cherries in prepared pan. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Place a plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate.

15 October 2008

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad

My favorite little grocery store has the most amazing grocery-made food offerings, I swear. The coffee/juices/smoothies are amazing, the main dishes rock (usually a salmon, a meatless option, and ground beef or turkey), the green salads and deli sandwiches are soooo good... Don't even get me started on their hummus, which is always in the fridge at home. My favorite of their offerings, though, are the side dishes.

They have a fantastic tabbouleh mix. A quinoa grain with black beans and mango. Lentil salads, Chinese noodle salads, side salads galore. They have roasted sweet potatoes with orange and caramelized onions, and the side dish I grab almost every time I'm there: roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic, and a dusting of fresh Parm. Oh, so so good.

Finally I decided to get off my lazy butt and try to make this at home. And embarrassingly enough: it was pretty easy to replicate. The outcome here is a little different, a stronger garlic flavor than The Merc's version, otherwise almost identical though. I love the crunchy, crispy (sweetly caramelized) Brussels sprouts with the tangy lemon and nutty cheese. Ooooh, you gotta try this yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad
(another Nemmie original)

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed and dried
4 garlic cloves, sliced
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 F. Cut sprouts in half and toss on a sheet pan with garlic slices. Pour olive oil over the mixture, and season with salt and pepper (and half of the lemon zest). Toss to coat, then top with small bits of the butter.

Pop in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, then stir and lower heat to 400 F. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. The sprouts will be tender and caramelized. Remove from oven, and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl: toss cooled sprouts with remaining lemon zest, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese. Chill or serve room temperature.

13 October 2008

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

...Or, as I prefer to call them: super lazy cheater cookies. I reserve these goodies for when I'm in a terrible hurry (or have greatly procrastinated) and can barely prop my eyelids open with toothpicks. They are super-quick, quite possibly the quickest cookie recipe prep ever.

The taste is pretty good for how easy they are - I like to add a few extras to bring out the pumpkin flavor, and love to add chips as well for some texture difference. The cookies are VERY cakey, usually not a big fan but hey - I can deal when it's this easy!

Pumpkin Spice Cookies
(adapted from here)

1 (18.25 oz.) package spice cake mix
1 (15 oz.) can solid pack pumpkin
3/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheets.

In a large bowl, stir together the cake mix, pumpkin, spice, and vanilla until well blended. Stirn in chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

11 October 2008

Orange Rosemary Madeleines

Let's talk about my mother-in-law.

Well, let's not call her by that name, which gives some readers shutters and bad connotations. Let's call her K. I did not meet my future mother-in-law right away when Hubs and I started dating; in fact, it took almost a year, not until his college graduation, for me to finally meet her. *

* In his defense, his parents lived about 200 miles from the college we both attended; not to mention, Hubs is quiet and private to almost a fault. Don't get me wrong, it's a valuable trait for a person to have (and one I share with him), but it is also somewhat of a curse.

Even now, we live a 3-hour drive from my in-laws. They are wonderful people, but because of the distance we don't get to see them as often as we (or they) would like. Even with the distance, though, I've been able to connect with that smart, sweet, soft-spoken woman who is my mother-in-law.

She's the one who immediately gives me a tight hug at the start and end of every visit to see them. The one who sits by me at family gatherings, fills me in on their family history, tells me how things are going around the town they live in. When we got married, the only time I almost cried was right before the ceremony, when she came over to calm me and tell me how beautiful I looked. And on a superficial note, I wanted a KitchenAid Mixer, bad. Have for awhile now. She wanted to get me one, and after seeing our new home, surprised me with the perfect one: almond in color, to match all our other appliances. What would I do without that woman, I tell you ;)

Most importantly, though, she really listens to me and understands me. We may not spend a lot of face-time together, but I feel very close to K. One time (once!) I mentioned that I needed a Madeleine pan, in passing. K. is the one who found this pan, scoured and cleaned it into pristine condition, and gave it to me as a "just because" gift.

So, K.'s the one who I thought of the entire time I made these little confections, and the one I think of every time I bust out the KitchenAid mixer (which, as my fellow bakers can agree, is done pretty darn often). Thanks K. for everything you've done for me :) It's warming and comforting to know you're thinking of me, too, in those odd moments of any day.

On to the Madeleine recipe: these suckers were good, the rosemary flavor was faint and blended so well with the orange. The recipe is a keeper, and for sure I'll make these cookies again and again.

Orange Rosemary Madeleines
(from Dorie's Baking: From My Home To Yours, 2006)

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. rosemary; keep on the stem (2-3 stems)
3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. sugar
Grated zest of half an orange
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp.. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven at 400 F.

Melt the butter with the rosemary in a small saucepan, remove from heat, and let sit for 15 minutes to infuse. Strain/discard the rosemary stems from the butter.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Working with a stand mixer and whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and orange zest until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. (NOTE: I like to rub the orange zest into the sugar before adding the eggs, to better capture the flavor.) Add the honey and vanilla and beat for one minute more. Switch to a rubber spatula and incorporate the dry ingredients. Fold in the rosemary butter. Refrigerate the batter at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (helps to create the bumps characteristic of madeleines).

Butter and flour your madeleines molds and divide the batter evenly. My molds are larger than the average molds, so I got 6 big cookies.

Bake 12-14 minutes, until they are golden brown.

09 October 2008

Roasted Beet Salad

My favorite corner market is starting to change out their regular items - the fresh berries and tender greens are gone, and the hearty gourds, the apples/pears/figs, and the root veggies are coming out full force.

Now: beets are something they have year-round, but my last trip they happened to have yellow, gold, and regular (red) beets. All I could think about was what a beautiful salad these beets could make, so I filled up my basket with a few pounds of them.

This beet salad comes from Serious Eats. It is perhaps more of a summer recipe, but it was good with the sandwiches that we've been having for dinner most of this (very busy) week. Sweet beets, raw spicy onion, and the tart vinaigrette all give it such great flavor, as well as my absolute favorite (cilantro). Yum! Give it a shot next time you need an easy (and tasty) side dish.

Roasted Beet Salad

1 1/2 lbs. beets, stems removed and washed

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

1 Serrano chile, seed and thinly chopped

1 tsp. minced ginger

2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped

Pinch of sugar

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Sprinkle the beets with salt and a tablespoon of the olive oil. Wrap in aluminum foil, leaving a little hole in the top facing up, and set in a roasting pan. Cook until easily pierced with a knife, 45-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the rest of the olive oil, red onion, Serrano, ginger, cilantro, sugar, and red wine vinegar.

When beets are done and cool enough to handle, peel and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

07 October 2008

Hershey's Candy Corn Cookies

Ah, candy corn. I absolutely love the stuff. Not sure why, but it's one of those things I just must have every year in the fall. You know how to make candy corn extra yummy, by the way? Mix in equal amounts cashews or peanuts. Mmmmmmmm. Best stuff ever.

So, Hershey has had this thing the past few years for making gimmicky, flavored Kisses. I've tried a few and they were good - the cherry cordial, the toffee, etc. (oh man, while we're on topic: check out Zoe's awesomely cute Kiss Site, it is too ridiculously adorable for words).
Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes - this season, Hershey came out with a Candy Corn Kiss, so um, yeah. Straight into the grocery cart, two bags in fact (hey, if they're good I don't want them to be sold out later). They don't taste exactly like real candy corn - that signature honey/caramelized sugar taste is more buttery, maybe because it's really white candy stuff we're dealing with (not white chocolate, but white stuff. Whatever, I'm trying not to think too hard about it). Still fantastic, a great showing by the Hershey company.

This recipe came off the back of the bag, and make for a nice way to get rid of a whole bag of these goodies so that I don't gorge myself :) The cookies are basically peanut butter with oatmeal in them, and a nice drizzle (as well as whole Kiss) of their candy corn goodness. Mmmm. Very cute presentation, and perfect for the autumn time!

Hershey's Candy Corn Cookies
(from the back of the bag, baby)

3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. shortening
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 c. quick-cooking oats, divided
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
66 Hershey candy corn kisses (pretty much the whole bag)

Heat oven to 350°F Beat peanut butter and shortening in large bowl until well blended. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together 1/2 cup oats, flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in remaining oats; place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten cookies with tines of fork to form a crisscross pattern.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Remove wrappers from candies. Place 18 candies in heavy-duty resealable plastic food storage bag. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) 30 seconds; knead bag and candies. If necessary, microwave at MEDIUM an additional 15 seconds at a time, kneading after each heating, until candies are melted and color is uniform. Cool slightly. Cut off corner of bag about 1/8 inch from point. Lightly drizzle cookies. Before drizzle sets, place candy piece in center of each cookie.

05 October 2008

Hawaiian Poke Stack

There is an outdoor shopping complex in the KC area called The Legends at Village West. That place is full to the brim with restaurants and retail (most outlets, like for Ann Taylor and Banana Republic and BCBG... me likey). It's a place we head to any time we need some retail therapy or just some window shopping, and of course a nice meal.

There are a plethora of restaurants to choose from, but we always seem to find ourselves at The Yard House. Hubs wants to go there for the beer, but I want to go there because the food is outstanding for a chain beer place. Namely (and something I get almost every single time), I go for their Hawaiian Poke Stack.

Spicy raw Ahi tuna served with crispy lavash crackers, avocado, and a wasabi soy sauce. When I have this beautifully-plated dish in front of me, I usually immediately dismantle it and give a good stir once around the plate, to mix all the components. Then it's just dipping up the spicy, buttery (and crunchy from the veggies) concoction with crackers. Heaven!

When I found out the Daring Bakers were making Lavash Crackers in September, I was totally stoked. Finally an excuse to try to recreate this dish at home! Then I was crestfallen - our dip had to be not only gluten free (yay, pass!) but also vegan (um, raw tuna? FAIL). So I made sure to save back a few crackers anyway, and do this dish for another post.

I kinda researched online about making your own poke, and read the menu description closely the last time we went to this restaurant (I also tried to pay attention to all the flavors going on). All in all, I think this is a very close copy of what is served at The Yard House. You might want to cut down a bit on the wasabi mixture; I went a little crazy (looooove that spicy wasabi). And don't marinade too long, or your veggies will lose that crispy texture! Mmmm, though: this will definitely get me through when it's been a long stretch between visits to Hubs' (second) favorite restaurant.

Hawaiian Poke Stack
(by Nemmie, inspired by Yard House)

1/2 c. water
3 Tbsp. wasabi powder (horseradish powder)
1/3 c. reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 Tbsp. peanut oil
1 Tbsp. dry Sherry
1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
4 green onions, very thinly sliced
Sesame Lavash Crackers (see here)
6 oz. sushi-grade tuna, finely diced
1/2 c. julienned carrots
1/2 c. bean sprouts
1 avocado, diced
Sesame seeds, for garnish

For the sauce: Whisk 1/2 cup water and wasabi powder in medium bowl to form smooth paste. Whisk in soy sauce, 2 tablespoons peanut oil, Sherry, sesame oil and ginger. Stir in green onions. Set aside.

Mix the tuna with half of the wasabi soy sauce mixture. Stir the carrots and bean sprouts with the remaining mixture. Allow both to marinade at least 20 minutes.

To create the stack: Mound 1/4 of the marinated vegetables and a few chunks of tuna on the center of two plates (reserve the sauce for end of plating). Place a cracker on each mound, then top with tuna. Top with another cracker. Place remaining vegetable mixture on top of this, and drizzle reserved soy mixture around outside of plate. Slice the avocado, and fan on the other side of the plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to garnish.

Dig in!

03 October 2008

S'mores Brownies

My brother Paulo will have Hubs and a few friends over every Sunday to watch ball games, and he's gracious enough to also feed that motley crew while they yell over the calls at the Chiefs game and complain about their Fantasy Football choices for the week. Aside from grabbing some beer on his way, Hubs is also nice enough to offer to bring dessert - which, of course, I am stuck making. Not really an issue, though, since I usually have lots of new recipes to try, and that makes it easier to get rid of the results :)

Here is one of the products of one Game Day baking experiment -S'mores brownies. Kathleen (of Tate's Bake Shop fame) named them 'Beach Brownies', but to me they are also like those treats everyone knows from cook-outs, camping trips, and picnics - s'mores. A lovely graham crust, fudgy chocolatey center, and toasted marshmallows covering the top. Yum!

Beware, though, these suckers are rich! A small piece goes a long way.

S'mores Brownies
(adapted from Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook, 2005)

2 c. graham cracker crumbs
7 Tbsp. salted butter, melted
1 c. salted butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp. vanilla
5 large eggs
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
25-40 mini marshmallows (about half a bag)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Spoon the mixture into a glass 9X13 pan, and pat down evenly to cover the bottom only. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the buter and sugar, stirring constantly until the sugar and butter are melted. In a large bowl, add the chopped bittersweet chocolate. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the chocolate and stir until it is melted. Add the vanilla and mix. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir until they are just combined. Stir in the chopped milk chocolate chunks.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Place the marshmallows evenly over the top.

Bake the brownies for 40-50 minutes, until crackled on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Let the brownies cool on a wire rack, and then cut.

01 October 2008

Cappuccino Crunch Bars

Recently, my company had a charity Bake Sale. Sadly I didn't make anything for it - a different department hosted and pulled off the event, so I just felt like I was intruding if I brought over half a dozen baked goods. Instead, I decided to go down to the break room with my hard-earned dollars and contribute in a monetary fashion. I grabbed some Rice Krispie Treats, and also some yummy-looking, cocoa-hued cookies. They looked very soft and cakey, and like they had peanut-butter chips inside. Yum!

Um, no. These puppies were NOT good. Sorry if the baker is reading this (although I doubt it, because work folks don't really know about my blog), but: they were pretty much infused with about every baking ingredient known to man. The cookie base was chocolate, with both a strong vanilla as well as almond flavoring taste. Rather than cakey, they were very hard and crunchy. And no wonder: they were chock full of butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, nuts, raisins, and dried cherries, cinnamon and nutmeg... Frankly, there could have been more things in there but there was only so much assault that my taste buds could handle. Pretty much a cookie flavor free-for-all.

Now, why would I bring up those terrible cookies as a lead-in to this recipe? Well, you see, I decided to make this recipe soon after that Yucky Cookie fiasco. A friend made them, and they sounded so so so good. Only: after starting in, I realized that these bars might have much the same problem. They contained so many different flavors: cinnamon, orange, white chocolate, coffee, chocolate-covered toffee bits... Uh oh. Not a good sign.

Thankfully, these bars were nothing like those awful cookies: soft interior with a crispy crust, the flavors went soo well together. The toffee and the orange dominate the most, with a warm, cinnamon-white-chocolate aftertaste. Mmm. So fear not, dear readers! These bars most definitely will not make you run for the nearest garbage can :)

Cappuccino Crunch Bars
(from Stacey at Simply Tasty)

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup butter (2 sticks) softened
1 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 Tbsp. hot water, cooled to room temp
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated orange peel
1 c. white chocolate chips
1 c. chocolate covered toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 10X15 jelly roll pan

Combine flour, baking soda, salt & cinnamon in large bowl; set aside. Beat butter and sugars with mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add coffee mixture, vanilla, and orange peel; beat well. Stir in chocolate chips and toffee.

Pour batter into pan. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.