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Well, this month the Daring Bakers made lovely Opera Cakes.  All except me.

I adore opera and opera cake and was looking forward to this challenge, but we are moving in a few days and the packing up started before I could get my challenge done.  So, for those of you who are dropping by to check out my cake, my apologies.

I do plan to make this cake in June when my younger daughter and her husband move here from Texas.  I’ll post pix then.  In the meantime, check out about a thousand other opera cakes at http://daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com/

Chocolate Pistachio Cheesecake Pops

Apologies to the other Daring Bakers who actually had their posts on the appropriate day. My cheesecake was actually done, but I am experiencing technical problems. If you are reading this, it means I finally won! Persistence pays.

Chocolate Pistachio Cheesecake Pops

This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge is Cheesecake Pops from a nifty little dessert cookbook intriguingly called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. I don’t own this book (yet) but on several trips to the local bookstore, I have thumbed through it drooling over the yummy-sounding recipes therein. Our hostesses were Deborah at Taste and Tell and Elle at Feeding My Enthusiasm. Thanks ladies, great job!

Being no stranger to baking cheesecake, I was eager to tackle a different recipe for what has become one of my very favorite desserts. The cheesecake went together like a dream–the batter was silky smooth and the cheesecake baked perfectly without cracking. So, what was the problem? The weather. We have been socked in with rain for several days and with posting date approaching and the dew point hovering around 70 degrees, I knew the dipping process would be challenging. I scooped my cheesecake balls and froze them, but by the time I had the third one dipped into the chocolate and rolled in the pistachios, the first one was coated with a fine dew. returning them to the fridge did nothing to alleviate the problem and sitting an hour at room temp didn’t help either. So nothing to do except snap a few pix and eat dessert.

After scooping the cheesecake balls, the pan of cheesecake with Swiss cheese holes made a wonderful parfait with fresh strawberry coulis. Just too good to waste any bits! BTW, the recipe halved beautifully–I used three whole eggs, low-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), and an 8-inch pan. Because it went together so quickly and was sooooooo creamy and delicious, I think this will become my default recipe. I think it would work wonderfully in a pie crust topped with fruit, or in a graham crust as a traditional cheesecake. The possibility for flavorings is endless.

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate – you can use all one kind or half and
half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of
flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating
or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the
three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted
decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints,
mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) – Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add
the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but
still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place
the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the
boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.
Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45
minutes
.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When
the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce
balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully
insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the
cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When
the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the
chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or
in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the
chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is
melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely
smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose
it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping,
or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately,
you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high
at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen
cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it
completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you
like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decora
tions.
You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate
(dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over
dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined
baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate
and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

I’m a Daring Baker!

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It all began innocently enough. The search for Tex-Mex recipes led me to the Homesick Texan. I felt an instant kinship–being an ex-pat Texan myself, with a Texas-sized craving for authentic Tex-Mex food–which does not exist on the East coast. I must confess, in addition to delicious recipes, Lisa’s witty and colorful stories pulled me right in–I’ve read her whole archive. Then–I noticed a list of her favorite food blogs. Little did I know what wonders awaited. So the trail led to something called Daring Bakers. After reading a dozen or so accounts of Potato Bread, Buche de Noels, and Lemon Meringue Pie, I just had to play too. I was too late to get in on the French Bread, but seeing the spectacular results some of the other bakers had (Peabody, you inspire me), I could barely contain my enthusiasm.

The March Challenge is Perfect Party Cake, a delicious recipe by Dorie Greenspan from her Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250). A big Thank You to Morven for hosting this month’s challenge!

Light as a Cloud
Light and Fluffy, Not Too Sweet, Tangy with Fresh Lemon–Just Perfect!

As you can see, my result was very nice. I did not get quite the volume I had hoped for, but I think that may be because I missed the “put pans on a baking sheet” instruction, even though I had read the entire recipe completely several times before starting. The layers were, however, thick enough to split, and the cake did not become soggy from the filling. Look closely and you can see the lemon filling in the splits.

Butter and Sugar

Start with Butter, Sugar and Lemon Zest

When I read the entire recipe, including the buttercream frosting, I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t a Paula Deen recipe. Now, I love butter almost as much as Paula, but aside from a pound cake, I seldom make anything that requires a whole pound of the sublime stuff. Creaming is generally my favorite part of cake-making. I love to see how the sugar takes up the butter, turning it fluffy and light. This time, mixing the lemon zest into the sugar was my favorite part. The aroma of the zest wafting up from the bowl perfumed the entire kitchen. It Starts with Butter

Kicking up a Little Sugar

Making cakes “the right way” is almost a lost art–cake mixes are so easy and they have gotten so much better over the years. And lives have gotten so busy. Sifting flour and dry ingredients together is seldom done anymore. It was my job when I was a little girl–the sifter seemed so heavy and I tried so hard to keep all the flour in the bowl. Making this cake was a trip down memory lane for me.

A Shiny Smooth Batter

Nice and Smooth and Glossy Cake Batter

Part of the reason this cake came out so nicely is the attention paid to pan prep. Buttering the pans, cutting parchment rounds and buttering again assured a nice cake bottom. And OMG–you should smell the butter when the cake is taken out of the pans! I decided to make a simple lemon filling for the layer splits and have buttercream between the two layers. The recipe for the filling makes a lot more filling than this cake requires, but it will make a nice few tarts for later in the week. A Slice of Lemony Perfection

Here’s a Piece of Cake for You!

Mom’s Lemon Filling

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water + 7 Tbsp cornstarch

3 egg yolks

3 Tbsp butter

juice of 2 lemons (squeeze fresh)

zest of 1 or 2 lemons

Method :

Bring water and sugar to a boil, stir in cornstarch/water mixture and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Lightly beat eggs with fork, fold in a spoon of the pudding to temper eggs, then add eggs to hot pudding and continue cooking 1 more minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients. Cool with lid on to prevent film from forming. Refrigerate till ready to use. Makes a good Lemon Pie, too.

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An Apple a Day

One of my New Year’s resolutions, and probably the one I’ll have the most success in keeping, is to use up what we buy to eat. I would love to try the European style of shopping–going to the fresh food purveyors and buying just what we need for the day. Making a week’s menu and spending half a day Saturday foraging for the week’s food is just not my style. So up and down the aisles we go, grabbing what looks good and hoping for inspiration.

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That’s how dessert tonite happened. Short on time, with an apple and half a loaf of stale bread needing to be used, I settled on an old favorite, bread pudding–with a bit of a twist. Hiding in the back of the fridge is about half a cup of buttermilk. Okay, we have the makings of Apple Bread Pudding with Buttermilk Sauce. Now before you say “yuck, I don’t like buttermilk,” let me assure you that buttermilk sauce is really a sweet caramel-ly sauce that sinks into every nook and cranny of the baked pudding, puddling lusciously on the plate. With a tall glass of cold milk, you can’t beat this for comfort food.

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Pure Comfort
For the longest time, I shied away from making bread pudding–back when I thought I had to have a recipe for everything. There wasn’t a recipe for it in Mom’s recipe box, and there wasn’t a recipe for it in any of my cookbooks–and Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet–as I said, that was a l-o-n-g time ago. Then in an epiphanic moment, I realized that bread pudding is nothing more than french toast in a baking dish. Now, doesn’t that open up all sorts of possibilities.
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Up Close and Personal
So, here is the method and the ingredients–just change ‘em up to suit your taste. It will vary depending on the type of apple, the bread–how much, now dry, what kind. But this is one of those recipes that, even though it may not be exactly the same every time, it will certainly be good.
Appley Bread Pudding
1 or 2 apples, coarsely grated, including skin
1/2 loaf stale bread (I used plain white bread this time)
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk (maybe more, it needs to be very wet)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Method:
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Generously butter baking dish.
Break or cut bread into 1 inch pieces.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs and milk together, stir in sugar, then add remaining ingredients. Pour into buttered baking dish. Bake 50 to 60 minutes till knife inserted halfway between edge and center comes out clean. Serve warm with Buttermilk Sauce.
Buttermilk Sauce:
Inspired by Paula Deen
1/2 cup butter (use the real thing)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch salt
Method:
When pudding is nearly done, start the sauce. Melt butter in a large saucepan–this will bubble a lot when the baking soda heats up. Stir in sugar, buttermilk and baking soda. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, but keep a boil. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
When Bread Pudding is done, remove from oven, poke holes in pudding with a knife or handle of wooden spoon, pour sauce over and let stand 1 hour. Serve warm. Add whipped cream if you need more decadence.

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Acquired Taste

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What’s better than peppers and onions?

When I was a little girl, I thought Mother was the best cook in the whole world–I’m a little more worldly now, and I know she was a great cook–with what she had to work with. There were only a few things she ever made that I found totally repulsive–lima beans, calf brains, and stuffed peppers. I still hate lima beans and calf brains, but I have come to appreciate suffed peppers.

Growing up in Oklahoma, my parents were children of the Great Depression. By necessity, they learned to be frugal and “made-do.” We always had plenty to eat–we were a meat and potatoes family. Most vegetables came canned, either canned from the garden or canned from the grocery store–I don’t remember very many fresh vegetables, except onions, iceberg lettuce, carrots, and the dreaded green peppers.

It wasn’t so much that I hated peppers, I hated the way she made them–peppers steamed till limp, then filled with ground beef mixed with Spanish rice–from a can.

Until I married and moved to Texas, I had never tasted rice except Spanish rice from a can. I know–most of the world considers it a staple, and my dad saw plenty of it while he was in the Army in WWII. When he got home, he decreed that he would never eat rice again, and he never did–nor did we! Except about twice a year, in stuffed peppers.

Fast-forward several decades–It’s 2 pm my thoughts turn to dinner. What to make, what to make–from the rest of the hamburger in the fridge and the cup of rice in the pantry. There’s a beautiful green bell pepper in the fridge. It is February in North Carolina and I can only speculate where that pepper originated, yet it will make a tasty dinner, with home-made beef and Spanish Rice.

No limp peppers, though, maybe just a few minutes in the microwave to soften slightly, then finish in the oven while the cheese is melting. And freshly made rice with tomatoes and chopped pepper and onions. Yum! Here’s the recipe.
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Filling the peppers
Spanish Rice Stuffed Peppers
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
Preheat Oven 350 F.
Serves 4
1/2 to 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 poblano pepper, diced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 can (16 oz) diced tomatoes, juice drained and reserved
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup white or brown rice
1 tsp. beef bouillon paste (Better than Bouillon)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground oregano or 1 Tbsp. fresh oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
water + reserved tomato juice to make 2 cups
1 cup shredded cheese, cheddar, pepper-jack, Mexican blend
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Melty cheese–the best part!
Method:
1. Cut two of the bell peppers in half vertically, remove seeds. Place cut side down on a plate and microwave till peppers begin to soften, 4 to 6 minutes.
2. Dice the onion, poblano and remaining bell pepper.
3. In a large skillet, break ground beef into pieces and begin to brown. When about half done, add diced onion and diced peppers and saute an additional 2 minutes. Drain excess grease from skillet.
4. Add rice to mixture in skillet and saute, stirring frequently, till rice begins to toast.
5. Add drained tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings. Measure reserved tomato juice and add water to make 2 cups liquid and add to skillet. Bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook till rice is tender, adding more liquid if necessary.
6. Spray baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
7. When rice is done, remove from heat. Pile the rice mixture into pepper halves and place into baking dish. Place any remaining rice around the peppers. Top with cheese and place in oven till cheese is melty and browned, 10 – 15 minutes.
8. Serve hot with cornbread or warm tortillas.
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Serve with cornbread or warm tortillas!

The Age-Old Mystery

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The chicken, of course. In the beginning, God created animals, not eggs. Adam named animals, not eggs. If eggs had come first, Adam would have had noodles but no chicken. So that brings up the next question:

Where do noodles come from?

Well, ya gotta break some eggs! Actually, pasta is one of the simplest foods–a pile of flour, a few eggs, a pot of boiling water–simple. Here’s the tasty recipe for my home-made Chicken and Noodles. Apologies for the last pic–gotta get more light in the kitchen so the camera will focus.

Where do noodles come from?

My Pretty Brown Eggs

On your counter or large cutting mat, pile up the flour, sprinkle the salt over the flour, mix it in a little and make a well in the center of the flour–just stick your fingers in the flour and make a bowl shape to hold the eggs. Crack the eggs and, with a fork, begin incorporating the flour into the eggs, working from the center out. You’ll know when to switch from the fork to your hands. You will end up kneading in most of the flour–don’t feel that you have to use all the flour or add a little more if its really sticky. Just knead it like clay till it forms a fairly smooth ball. At this point I usually cover it with some plastic wrap and let it rest on the floured board. Actually, I am letting me rest, but the dough probably needs it, too–to give the flour time to actually absorb all the egg.

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Rollin’ the Dough!

Because I have a small counter space, and because it is easier to work with smaller amounts, I usually divide my dough into several pieces. Use plenty of flour on your board and your rolling pin. Just roll and turn and roll some more till the dough is as thin as you want it. I make mine as thin as I have energy for–the noodles will be twice as thick once they are cooked, so don’t quit too soon! And don’t stress if your dough splits along the side or takes on a funny shape–we’re making noodles here, not pie crust.

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What’s Harder than Watching Noodles Dry?

Once your dough is rolled thin, it’s time to cut. Use the pizza cutter or a knife to cut them as wide or as narrow as you like–remember, they will be a little wider once they are cooked–and the cuts don’t have to be perfect. Noodles are an artisan dish. A quick way to breeze through the cutting is to roll the flattened dough up, jelly roll style, cut off slices then shake them out into a loose pile. Spread noodles out to dry, sprinkle lightly with flour, let them sit uncovered for at least an hour–several is better.

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Turning Those Noodles into Dinner

Chicken and Noodles

For the Noodles:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the “Chicken and Noodles”

1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 Tbsp Canola or Olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
salt (amount depends on how salty the stock is–taste it)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf (optional, but it really enhances the flavor)
1/2 tsp. dried rubbed sage or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or rosemary, minced
1 recipe egg noodles
2 cups cooked chicken, broken into pieces

Method:

Make and dry the noodles according to directions above. After the drying period, noodles may be cooked immediately or stored in an air-tight container, in refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

When ready to cook noodles, begin heating a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat, add oil, onions, carrots and celery. Sweat the veggies for a few minutes till onions become slightly translucent. Add stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf and sage. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Add the noodles, and any flour that clings to them. (There should be enough liquid to cover noodles.) Adjust heat and simmer till noodles are tender–about 20 to 22 minutes. Stir in the chicken to heat through. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve steaming hot. Serves 2 to 4

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