Monday, October 31, 2011

More Halloween treats

Crunchy Brown Sugar Shortbread
Cookies 1,001 Mouthwatering Recipes From Around the World

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 ¼ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl. Beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy. Mix in the dry ingredients to form a smooth dough. Press the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter two cookie sheets. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of ¼ inch. Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. Gather the dough scraps, re-roll, and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used. I ended up making balls of dough and squishing them down with cookie stamps. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, placing the 1-inch apart. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until just golden at the edges, rotating the sheets halfway through for even baking. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes 16-20 cookies.

I received a set of Halloween cookie stamps for my birthday and I made sure to get a batch of stamped cookies made for Halloween. I'm trying hard to use my holiday-themed cooking items - sprinkles, cupcake liners, cookie cutters, etc.

I knew for the stamp to work, I'd have to use a shortbread cookie recipe and I'm really not a big fan of homemade shortbread. I can't pinpoint why that is since I love Lorna Doones and other commercial shortbread cookies but whenever I've made shortbread, I haven't been that impressed. Maybe because it looks like I keep making the same basic recipe (I just noticed that - I knew I made shortbread before but I just verified that it wasn't a recipe from this book - I didn't think to check if the recipe was basically the same). I know there are variations - I think I'd probably prefer one without brown sugar.

Even though I didn't swoon over these, both boys ate a couple of these right away. Go figure - they don't get excited over most of the baked goods I make. I wasn't expecting these to be a hit with them but they were.

I love this cookbook. I have the cake version too. Both have lots of recipes (1,001 they say but I never counted), which is great, but whenever a book boasts a huge amount of recipes, you can't trust that they were all meticulously tested. Also, these books want to show you lots of recipes - not necessarily the best recipes. For those reasons, every recipe is a bit of a crap shoot but I've had more successes than not.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just a picture: Halloween cupcakes

No recipe today (I just can't produce the material I used to!) I had a bunch of Halloween sprinkles in my stash and I received some nice greaseproof Halloween-themed cupcake liners as a gift for my birthday earlier this month so I just wanted to make some cupcakes without looking for a recipe. I haven't had a lot of success with from-scratch cupcakes and I'm not really on a mission to find that perfect cupcake recipe either so for these I used boxed mix (yellow with orange flecks). I will still occasionally try more cupcake recipes but if I don't resort to the box more often, I'll never make a dent in my supply of cupcake liners and sprinkles.

I like boxed cake mix. It's consistent. These cupcakes all rose beautifully - the all had the same not-too-high of a dome on top and none of them mushroomed over. They weren't dry although I probably overbaked them slightly. Topped with Easy Buttercream (I'm not as big a fan of canned frosting as I am of boxed cake mix), these weren't half-bad.

(This barely made a dent in my sprinkle stash but what do you want to bet that I pick up more Halloween sprinkles on clearance after Halloween?)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sorry, Mandi

Citrus Cookies
Homestyle Cookies, Muffins + Cakes Copyright 2009

9 tablespoons unsalted butter (125 grams)
¾ cup powdered sugar (90 g)
1½ cups all-purpose flour (185 g)
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest I used the zest of one lime
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest I used the zest of one lemon
1/3 cup sour cream (80 g)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Orange Icing

1 ¼ cups powdered sugar (150 g)
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest I used the zest of one orange
2 tablespoons orange juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Light grease two baking trays. I used parchment paper.  Place the butter, powdered sugar, flour and lime and lemon zest in a food processor. Process for 10 seconds or until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and lemon juice and process for 10 seconds or until the mixture is finely combined.
2. Drop level tablespoons of mixture onto prepared trays, allowing room for spreading. Mine didn't spread that much.  I used a cookie scoop and flattened the dough slightly.  Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. I had to bake mine about another 5 minutes longer.  Cool completely on wire rack.
3. To make orange icing, combine the icing sugar, zest and juice in a bowl. Stand the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring until the icing is smooth and glossy. I nuked it.  Spread the icing over the cookies with a flat-bladed knife. I just dipped the tops of the cookies in the icing.

Makes about 30. I only got  about 20.

This recipe is so positively citrusy.  Great for anyone who loves citrus, but not-so-great for Mandi, who I know is allergic to citrus.  Hopefully there aren't too many others ought there saddled with a citrus allergy.  I think that allergy would be a tough one to deal with.

Zest is really the best way to get citrus flavor in a baked good and Microplanes make it so easy to get fine bits of zest.  The Microplane is definitely one of my most recommended must-have kitchen tools. I have the classic version but they make several different products for the kitchen.  I have no affiliation with Microplane - they just make a great product.  I can't even remember how I zested citrus before I bought this tool.  I remember that zesting wasn't all that easy or efficient but now it's both.  With the zesting out of the way, this recipe comes together very quickly.  It doesn't make a lot of cookies but sometimes you just don't need dozens of cookies. 

As I've mentioned before, I am glazed-challenged.  Anything glazed usually comes out too sticky but this is the first time I cooked a glaze and the results were awesome.  The surface was completely dry yet the glaze did not get tooth-chipping hard.  They did have somewhat of a matte finish which isn't as appealing as a bit of shine.  A sprinkle of sanding sugar would have provided some sparkle.  I really couldn't decide if these cookies were visually appealing or not. I was really on the fence.  I liked the color (that's all natural).

This cookbook is from the bargain book table of one of the large bookstore chains (which has since gone out of business). I was meeting someone for lunch nearby and decided to 'browse' for a while (this was months ago).  It's a big book with lots of color pictures.  It has U.S. measurements but it must have it's roots in Europe somewhere since you can tell by the measurements and the ingredient names (dessicated coconut, sultanas, for instance) that it didn't originate here.  I have plenty of these books in my collection.  It's hard to resist the big color pictures - it's food porn at it's best.  I did start to shy away from them since I find they mostly come from the same publishers, they contain a lof of the same recipes, and I do try to mix things up in my collection.  However, this book was definitely a fresh addition to my collection.

Question of the Day:  What do you use to zest citrus? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

She's back - again!

Marinated Green Beans

The New Holly Clegg Trim & Terrific Cookbook Copyright 2002, 2006

2 pounds fresh green beans
¼ cup chopped red onion I used green onion
2 cups cherry tomato halves I used grape tomatoes
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook or steam the green beans in a little water in the microwave or on the stove until crisp-tender. Drain. (I shocked them in ice water.) Add the onion and tomato.

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, olive oil, salt and pepper and toss with the green bean mixture. Serve or refrigerate until serving.

I put this cookbook aside because I really hate to share any single cookbook too heavily but it's been a while and some of you may still need to know about this cookbook.  This is my favorite 'healthy' cookbook.  I have a lot of good healthy cookbooks but I love how well-rounded this one is.  It's not low-carb or high-fiber or fat-free or sugar-free.  Everything is in moderation.  Most importantly,  the recipes are for the kind of food that  I eat.  They are mostly from scratch but there are a few convenience ingredients making appearances.  There are recipes you can serve your family for dinner and recipes that are 'fancy' enough to serve to company.  Nothing is overly complicated.

I had picked up some pre-trimmed, steam-in-bag, fresh green beans at a good price and decided to try this recipe with one bag of them. It was a 12-ounce bag so I added a bit more tomato.  I couldn't find red onion in the store and I already had green onion so I went with that.  It worked for me.  I should have made the full recipe - I loved this.  I will probably make another batch tomorrow.  Of course, as I always caution, you must use a good balsamic.  The one I use is a store-brand, from Weis stores, if you  live and shop in this part of Pennsylvania.  I've tried some nasty ones in the past.  If I had never found one I liked, I would have been scared away from all recipes with balsamic vinegar. 

Question of the Day:  Are you watching anything particular in your diet right now (sodium, carbs, fat, etc)?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cooking For One: Cheese Soufflé

Cheese Soufflé
Cooking For One Is Fun Copyright 1976

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 drop Tabasco
1 egg
3 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese

1. Heat the butter in a small pan and add the flour, stir and mix well. Cook 1 minute.
2. Add the milk all at once, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk. Add the salt, pepper, and Tabasco, continue mixing.
3. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken and is rid of lumps.
4. Break the egg and drop the white into a small cup or ovenproof bowl (?? - put it in a bowl or container large enough to beat the eggs white). Place the yolk in another small container.
5. Add a tablespoon or so of the white sauce to the yolk and mix well. Pour this into the remaining white sauce and stir well.
6. Beat the egg white with a rotary beater until it forms stiff peaks. (I used the whisk attachment on my stick blender.)
7. Pour the thickened white sauce into a greased casserole or other suitable vessel; stir in the grated cheese and mix well. (I folded the egg white into the white sauce before putting it in the baking dish.)
8. Carefully fold in the stiff egg white and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until the top of the uncovered dish is brown.

* Use a small soufflé pan or at least a straight-sided small casserole so that the soufflé can rise unimpeded up the straight sides of the container while cooking.

Cooking For One will be a new  feature around here.  The boys are being very picky lately so I am concentrating on getting them to eat better foods and different foods - I don't want to focus too much on trying new recipes on them.  That leaves just me to eat my cooking (except for my baked goods which I share with coworkers).  I'll still be making larger recipes but I can't really be making several servings of food just for me all of the time.  I enjoy leftovers but some one or two serving recipes will help mix things up. Also, I no longer have a second freezer so I can't just freeze things willy-nilly like I used to - another good reason to cook smaller. (Boy, do I miss that second freezer.)

I shouldn't have any trouble finding material for this although I don't have too many cookbooks that concentrate on small recipes.  I have a few.  Some of my cookbooks devote a section to cooking for one or two.  There are recipes here and there throughout my collection that are just written for one or two.  Many recipes can be scaled down.  Still, it's definitely not the 'norm' to see recipes for one. I find that odd since I'm sure there are many people cooking just for themselves.  It may not be the most effective use of time or energy to make a small portion but you'll certainly get more variety in your diet.

This book was written by a single gentleman and it's a real gem. I picked it up at a library sale for a dollar.  I could probably populate this feature solely using recipes from this book.   It has a little bit of everything and uses mainly fresh ingredients.  The recipes aren't exactly unique but there are recipes that most people wouldn't think of cooking up in a small portion (like a pot roast for instance). 

I've always wanted to make a soufflé but it's one of those things that only I would eat so this single small cheese soufflé was just perfect.  I've never had a soufflé before but I think it came out great.  It wasn't exactly a  'WOW!' but hey, it's basically just eggs and cheese.  A delicious flavor combination with a lovely light texture but, again, it's just eggs and cheese.  Now that I've gotten my feet wet, I'm looking forward to making other soufflé variations.  I'm on the lookout for a nice soufflé dish.  The little dish I had worked fine but something smaller with straight sides would help make a more 'dramatic' soufflé.

I'm going to reinstate the question of the day! That might help to increase the number of real comments over the number of spam comments. 

Question of the Day:  How often do you cook dinner for one?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Please don't call A&E or TLC

Well my cookbooks are all out of boxes, my internet is back and it's time to start cooking again.  I'm still working on a few move-related things around the house so I haven't been spending much time in the kitchen but hopefullly I will get back into the swing of things soon.  I will admit that cooking is not as much fun when I have to wash all the dishes by hand but I'll just have to get used to that.
In the meantime, I thought I'd show you my cookbook collection.

This was my main shelf at one point.  When I bought this shelf, I think it fit all of my cookbooks, just about. 

However, I discovered my cookbook guy about that time and started acquiring more cookbooks at an alarming rate (they were so cheap!) I soon needed another shelf.  I brought this bookcase from my parent's house.  It's very sturdy.  Why can't they make solid bookshelves like this for a reasonable cost anymore?  Those shelves will never bow like the particle board shelves do. 

That shelf got filled up eventually too.  I had another small shelf that I had been using for books but I repurposed it when I moved so now I found myself with several boxes of books and nowhere to put them. I refuse to buy any more fake-wood assemble-yourself shelves if I can help it (although they usually look very nice they are no match for actual books).  I tried to be patient but that stack of boxes was starting to make me itch.  I finally picked this shelf up at a yard sale for $10. I would have liked something larger but this is nice and solid - all wood - and it fit in my trunk.  I will repaint it eventually.

The rest of the books ended up over my kitchen cupboards.  This isn't ideal but it does helps spread the madness a bit and that space really needed something.

I thought that was all of them but oh, then I remembered the books I put in the trunk that I'm using as a coffee table.

I thought that was all of them but wait! I spotted a the pile of children's cookbooks that I had separated from the rest (I need to find a special place for those since the boys like to look at those but I don't want them swallowed up with the other children's books). 

Okay, now that really is all of them.  That's 25 years of collecting cookbooks.  Having them all out in the open has shamed me into not buying more.  Well, I'm trying really, really hard not to buy anymore.  I don't want to end up on an episode of "Hoarding - Buried Alive" (Under a Pile of Cookbooks).