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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chocolate Chip Gingerbread



This is a favorite of family and friends. Joe likes it for breakfast. I like it anytime, with a glass of milk. It's easy, and I've never come across anyone who doesn't like it.

The original recipe is from www.epicurious.com, but my sister and I believe rounding up a bit on the spices and adding miniature chocolate chips makes it perfect. We start craving it when the first nip of autumn hits and don't tire of it till the spring thaw.



BUTTERMILK AND MOLASSES GINGERBREAD SQUARES

Nonstick spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 heaping tsp. ground cinnamon
1 heaping tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 heaping tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (or margarine, diet fine), melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg (egg substitute is fine)
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray an 8- or 9-inch square metal or glass baking pan with nonstick spray. Sift all-purpose flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and nutmeg into medium bowl. Combine molasses, 1/2 cup sugar, melted butter, buttermilk and large egg in large bowl; whisk to blend. Whisk in dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (Test sooner!) You can cool cake completely in pan on rack, but I confess to frequently digging out a corner while it's still warm. Yum. The original recipe calls for sifting powdered sugar over the cooled cake, if you want to go that route. I find it an unnecessary step, with or without the chocolate chips.

Note: If you double the recipe, which I nearly always do since someone I know usually needs a chunk of good cheer, the baking time increases. Start checking at 35 minutes.


The best macaroni and cheese

What happened to fall? I've been too busy with other things to do any blogging. It looks like the key may be getting up before anyone else.

Everyone seems to love this macaroni and cheese. Jackie, a friend in Medina, gave me the recipe. It's not something you want to eat on a serious diet, though. Well, you'd WANT it, but. . . .

It's also fine without the crumb topping. I use penne instead of elbow macaroni if my sister is going to partake because of justified childhood macaroni issues she is unable to overcome. Joe and I like to have broccoli with it so we can feel a little virtuous.

Mostly Sweetie Pie’s Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. elbow macaroni or small penne
1 cup milk (skim to whole, doesn’t matter)
2 12-oz. cans evaporated milk (skim, 2% or whole)
3 eggs
Salt, to taste (I skip it; lots of salt in the cheeses)
1 tsp. pepper (more if you use white pepper)
1 heaping tbsp. sugar
1 lb. shredded Colby-Jack cheese
½ lb. sharp Cheddar, shredded
½ lb. mild Cheddar, shredded and divided in half
1 lb. Velveeta (small box), cut into small chunks
2 sticks butter, cut into small pieces (I use one stick butter, one light margarine)

Topping:
4 tbsp. butter
2 heaping cups Panko bread crumbs
¼ cup shredded Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch pan. (Unless it’s pretty deep, also spray a smaller pan, 1 ½- to 2-quart. This makes a lot, but it freezes well).
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain (do not rinse) and set aside.
Meanwhile, for topping: In a saucepan or medium skillet, melt butter and add bread crumbs, stirring to toast a bit. Remove from heat and toss with Parmesan.
In a large bowl, whisk together milk, evaporated milk, eggs and seasonings. Stir in the cheeses except 1 cup of the mild Cheddar. Stir in butter chunks and slightly cooled pasta. Pour into prepared pans. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup Cheddar. Sprinkle the topping evenly over pasta. Bake 30 to 45 minutes until bubbly and top is lightly browned.
If you want the top to be browner, slide dish under broiler briefly.

FYI: The recipe is from the Sweetie Pie’s restaurants in St. Louis. The owner, Robbie Montgomery, was a backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner. She doesn’t use a topping and I made a few other minor changes, which is why it’s “Mostly” Sweetie Pie’s.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Toffee Pecan Rookie Cookies

I first made these cookies for a cookout with friends, then for co-workers at my new job.

When I worked at the Akron Beacon Journal, a colleague told a new hire -- tongue-in-cheek -- that she had to bring cookies during her first two weeks on the job. She did, and the tradition of Rookie Cookies was born. Thereafter, all newbies were told to expect this duty. I don't remember any of them even questioning it. Later we came up with Deserter's Dessert (this came back to haunt me when I took a voluntary layoff nearly two years ago) and Boomerang Brownies for those who came back to the paper. I just realized we should have demanded something from those returning from maternity or paternity leave. A missed opportunity!

This recipe is from the wonderful cookbook The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle. They are as addictive as the author warns. As a matter of fact, hold on a second. . . . OK, I feel much better. Darn, crumbs on my keyboard.
Anything in parentheses is my comment or change.

Toffee Pecan Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour*
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup or 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups English toffee bits, such as Skor or Heath (I used Heath bits with chocolate)
1 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with foil (or parchment paper) and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla. The dough will look a bit curdled, which is fine. At low speed, add the flour mixture a little at a time, mixing just till blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the toffee bits and pecans (I just dumped them in and turned the mixer on for a few whirls. Wood doesn't go in the dishwasher, after all).

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons (a cookie dough scoop works fine, too) onto prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until cookies are starting to turn golden brown around the edges, 14 to 16 minutes (Important: In my oven, it took about 10 minutes, so check them early!). Do not overbake. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

(* NOTE: The first time I made these, the cookies were sticking to the sprayed foil. After ruining a few that then had to be consumed immediately, I found I had to pry them off carefully and slowly with a metal spatula to keep them whole. I discovered one solution, if you don't have the time or patience to deal with the prying, is to add 1/2 cup flour to the batter at the start, and bake on sprayed parchment paper. The flavor is the same, but the cookies are a little puffier and the consistency is firmer and less lacy, therefore easier to remove. Either way, they are very tasty. I think I prefer the lacier version that's more work. Of course.)

Enjoy.




Friday, September 19, 2008

Quick open-faced bagel lunch


I needed to make a fast lunch, so I grabbed bagels my sister rescued from our freezer (among many other items) during a three-day power outage earlier in the week and slapped some salami, cheddar and Gorgonzola on top and broiled them. Then I peeled back the topping and stuffed in some fresh spinach. Yum. They'd be even better with more meat and cheese, but we ate too much butter kuchen (a German yeast coffee cake topped with a sugary butter stuff that oozes over the side when you cut it. The package top warns, "Do not tip!") in Kentucky on our trip.




Saturday, September 6, 2008

Buttery, crisp shortbread

I made these shortbread cookies this week when it was our turn to host our church group. The recipes are from a great little book, Shortbread, 30 sweet+savory recipes, by Jann Johnson. Both flavors were great, but I have a weakness for chocolate shortbread that just sort of melts in your mouth. So does my friend Brenda, who was loving enough not to curse me for making them. To ensure that melt-in-your-mouth experience, use real butter. It makes a difference in shortbread.

Mexican Chocolate Shortbread

10 tbsp. (1 stick plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly butter or spray an 8-inch round pan, preferably one with a removable bottom, or use an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed or with a wooden spoon, beat the butter till light in color, about 1 minute. Mix in the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and extracts, and continue beating till mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in the flour and almonds, if using, until just combined.

Press the dough evenly into the pan or pat into an 8-inch circle on baking sheet and flute or score the edges. Prick the dough attractively with a fork.

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes (start checking at 30!) or till just set and firm to a light touch. Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Transfer shortbread from pan to a cutting board and cut into 12 wedges (or smaller squares) with a sharp, thin knife.

Note: If you omit the nuts, use 1/4 cup additional flour.

Java-Honey Shortbread

1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 tsp. hot water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup honey

In a medium bowl, dissolved the instant coffee in the hot water. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed or a wooden spoon, add the butter and beat until light in color, about 1 minute. Mix in the brown sugar, salt,and cinnamon and beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in the flour until just combined.

Divide the dough in half and roll each portion into a 5-inc-long log. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Slice the dough 1/4-inch thick and place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Press with a cookie stamp or pierce with fork.

Bake in center of oven for 12 to 15 minutes (Start checking at 8 minutes), or till firm to a light touch. Let cookies cool.

In a small saucepan, heat honey to boiling and cook JUST until honey begins to darken (if it gets too dark it will be bitter). Immediately remove from heat. Be careful; honey will be very hot. Let it cool a bit and brush warm honey over each cookie. It will dry to a shiny, slightly tacky finish. High humidity will cause stickiness. Don't stack the cookies.

Makes about 40.

Note: Cookie dough also can be rolled out to 1/4-inch thick, cut with hexagonal cutters, and stamped.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Orange Cake

By the time I got to my camera, the family had already had their way with this cake, which was a hit with our 9- and 13-year-old nephews as well as the adults over Labor Day weekend. I heated up some jarred hot fudge sauce because most of us are chocolate fiends, but everyone wanted the orange sauce too, either on the accompanying vanilla ice cream or over the whole mess.
















The hardest thing about this recipe, which I found in its original form at http://www.allrecipes.com/, is finding the Duncan Hines Orange Supreme Cake mix I like to substitute for the yellow. Meijer carries it for under $2, or you can find it online by the case at https://buythecase.net/. The first time I made it, I used Jell-O orange pudding mix, which I can no longer find anywhere. You can use vanilla, but I like the extra zip from the lemon. If you can't find orange extract in your area, you can use the lemon the original recipe called for, or get a 4-oz. bottle of orange for about $6 at http://surlatable.com/. I nearly always use slightly diluted frozen orange juice concentrate when recipes call for orange juice, as this one did. Another way to kick it up a notch.


This moist cake is wonderful without the chocolate chips, too.

Orange Cake


1 (18.25-oz) pkg. orange (or lemon) cake mix
1 (3-oz.) pkg. instant lemon pudding mix
3/4 cup orange juice made with 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate mixed with 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tsp. orange extract (or lemon)
1 12-oz. package semisweet mini chocolate chips (optional)
Topping:
1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate mixed with 1/3 cup water
1 1/3 cups white sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Grease or spray a 10-inch Bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, stir together cake and pudding mixes. Make a well in the center and pour in 3/4 cup orange juice mixture, oil, eggs and orange extract. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat 4 minutes on medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for about 50 minutes, but start checking at 40 minutes to make sure you don't overbake cake.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, cook 2/3 cup orange juice, sugar and butter for two minutes.

When cake is done, place pan on rack, poke holes in cake with fork, cake tester or toothpick, and pour half of glaze over cake. Let cool in pan. Loosen cake around edges with knife, then turn out onto a plate and flip onto serving plate. Serve with a little sauce over top.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quiche with a potato crust















I originally found this recipe at http://www.bbonline.com/, one of my favorite sources for breakfast and brunch dishes. Now I see the same recipe all over, though not on the original site. Maybe the inn, Derby Hill in Loveland, Colo., is closed or no longer listed.
Bed and breakfasts usually offer very good fare. I’ve only eaten at one or two that did not, and that food was better than you’d get in a hotel’s standard complimentary breakfast. The hosts often are interesting, and only a few we’ve encountered have been … weird.
A woman at an inn in Silverton, Colo., ignored our arrival in favor of washing her SUV so she could make a point to her boyfriend, who apparently had neglected the chore. But her French toast was great and the room beautiful.
The suggestions for trimming fat are mine, though you go a long way just by skipping the usual pie crust. Someday I’ll try it without meat and with more veggies. We were quite happy with the potato crust; you can tell by the photo, which shows how large and unevenly we cut our pieces.

Crispy Potato Quiche
(6 servings)
1 24-oz. package frozen shredded hash browns, thawed
1/3 cup melted butter OR butter-flavored cooking spray
1 cup shredded hot pepper cheese or any cheese
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese or any cheese
1 cup diced cooked ham (turkey ham is fine) or cooked breakfast sausage
1/2 cup half and half (fat-free or low-fat OK)
2 eggs (egg substitute OK)
1/4 tsp. seasoned salt

Press thawed hash browns between paper towels to remove moisture. Fit hash browns into greased 10-inch pie plate, pressing to form crust. Brush crust with melted butter, making certain to brush top edges, or spray generously with cooking spray.
Bake at 425° for 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle cheeses and ham evenly over bottom of crust. Beat half and half with eggs and seasoned salt. Pour over cheeses and ham.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

The bed and breakfast site also has some great French toast and coffeecake recipes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Salmon Pasta Salad


This recipe is from Seafood Pasta and Noodles, The New Classics by Rosina Tinari Wilson. In addition to wonderful recipes, it contains beautiful watercolor illustrations by Marlene McLoughlin.

Sometimes I make all the parts of the salad the day before, and combine them quickly the next morning. I try to jam it back in the fridge before I “taste” too much of it. Something about fusilli is very appealing, besides the fact that the word sounds a bit like “feel silly.”
Use a fat-free mayonnaise substitute, and it’s a healthful dish.

Salmon Pasta Salad

½ lb. fusilli, broken in pieces and cooked al dente
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

1 lb. salmon fillet or steak, grilled, roasted or broiled and flaked (toss skin)
1 large red bell pepper, charred, skin peeled off (see note), chopped
1 large yellow bell pepper, charred, skin peeled off
6 green onions, thinly sliced (white plus 2 inches of green)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
1 tbsp. lemon juice (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Rosemary aioli:
1 cup favorite mayonnaise or substitute
1 to 2 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups mixed greens (optional)

Toss cooked fusilli with olive oil and salt; chill well.
Combine chopped peppers, green onions, and cooked salmon (with the additional olive oil and lemon juice if using. We liked it without the extra oil). Chill.
For aioli, blend mayo with garlic and rosemary. Toss with fusilli, then with salmon mixture. Chill well and serve cold on a bed of mixed greens, if desired.
Serves 6.

Note: To char and remove skins from bell peppers, I like to halve them and scoop out seeds, place them skin side up on a pan and broil them till sizzling and mostly black. Pop them into a paper bag and let sit for 10 minutes or so. (Place on a plate or layers of paper towels so you don't get a puddle of pepper juice on your counter.) Peel off the skin when cool enough to handle and chop or slice.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Homey vegetable casserole


Shame on me. I bought groceries without a menu plan, shopping the sales. I don’t usually do that because you have to go out shopping again after you figure out what to cook. This week I said “Fuggeddaboud id!” (Think Mickey Blue Eyes.)

So with my purchases in mind, I searched through cookbooks and the Internet for a recipe for a gratin with potatoes and eggplant. I was about to just make something up when I found this on Ashbury’s Aubergines Web site at http://www.aubergines.org/.

It was tempting to load this casserole up with more than the 2 or so cups of cheese called for, but a trip to my doctor this week (and the number on her scale) dissuaded me from adding more fat. I did add a bit more Parmesan and bread crumbs just by virtue of not measuring. I skipped the green pepper, which is banned from the house by my husband Joe, doubled the onion and used it in two layers, increased the garlic and added dried Italian herbs to the seasoning layers. I also peeled the eggplant, because I sometimes find the skin unappetizing. I added a little sugar to the tomato sauce, something an Italian taught me years ago.

Be sure to use nonstick foil or spray regular foil to avoid lifting off the top layer of cheese when the casserole is ready for the final baking time.

Next time, I may try lining the pan with the potato slices, because I think it would taste even better than the eggplant as it gets crusty during the baking time of as long as two hours. I’ll just put the eggplant slices on the next layer up. I may add spinach for more vitamins and color.

Leftovers microwave fine, but it really is best fresh out of the oven before the crispy edges soften. We had it with homemade cornbread and sliced fresh peaches.

Eggplant and Potato Casserole, adjusted
Makes 6 large servings

1 eggplant (about 3/4 lb.), peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
4 medium potatoes, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1/4 strips
2 small or medium yellow onions, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 large zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled Italian-style tomatoes with juice
2 tbsp. sugar
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly spray a large baking dish or 4-quart Dutch oven. Arrange eggplant slices on bottom and along sides of dish. Layer an onion over top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, a fourth of the garlic, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, a tablespoon Parmesan, and a fourth of the mozzarella. Arrange potato slices, overlapping slightly, over eggplant. Again, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, a fourth of the garlic, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, a tablespoon Parmesan, and a fourth of the mozzarella. Arrange peppers and onions over potatoes and repeat the seasoning layer. Top with zucchini.

In a separate bowl, crush tomatoes by hand (a potato masher can be handy here) and stir in the remaining garlic, olive oil, sugar, and a little salt and pepper. Spoon mixture over vegetables, and sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs and cheeses. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for about 90 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the top a bit browned. Let sit for a few minutes to make it easier to cut and remove servings to plates.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Welcome to my chaos,er, kitchen

I love cooking and baking almost as much as I enjoy eating. I’m all about kitchen experiments, or as Alton Brown says, playing with my food. I seldom follow a recipe exactly anymore. I’ll at least increase the garlic or cinnamon or substitute another herb for the cilantro that I don’t like so much. Sometimes the recipe is just a suggestion, kind of like speed limits or the Ten Commandments are for some people.

What I hope to do here -- God willing and pilot error not withstanding -- is share some recipes, cooking tips and various observations that may or may not have anything to do with what normally goes on in a kitchen. I'll test recipes from cookbooks and periodicals that catch my eye, and there will be at least one photo of each one (this is where pilot error may occur).

Everyone who cooks welcomes a new, tested recipe, and I welcome you to my blog.

For a while my posts will be intermittent, because we recently moved, still need to sell our house in Akron, and my sister and I are busy sorting through mountains of stuff in my parents' old condo. Then we get to put THAT on the market.

My blog name was born when I stumbled upon the above rhyme online about King Henry supposedly dumping his wife because of her use of herbs. To this I say, "You go, girl." Didn't the man eat everything in sight? How picky could he be?

Being a journalist by trade, I tried to prove that the very clever Ogden Nash wrote the rhyme (only one of the many references mentioned him), but I never could. And believe me, I looked through as many library books as I could find after my Internet search proved fruitless. I gave up because I'm not anal retentive, after all. I'm not. Or maybe it's that I'm not obsessive compulsive. Are those hyphenated? Wait, let me go look it up....