Thursday, February 14, 2013

Marinara Sauce

 I have to thank this past week's Bountiful Basket for the impetus of this post. Last week, I had the option of getting a 25# case of Roma tomatoes. I love homemade spaghetti sauce, so I naturally jumped at this. They also had an "Italian Pack" that included onion, garlic, eggplant, oregano, and basil. So today, I sent my little lovelies off to school, an I started my sauce! Here's what I started with

A big beautiful case of Romas. So the first step is to set up your work station. Believe it or not, the peeling step is going to go really quickly. Here's what my setup looks like
I have a pot of boiling water about half full, a very large bowl of ice water, a bowl to hold the peels and two empty bowls to hold the peeled tomatoes. First you need to remove the core of the tomato, where the stem connects. I use a melon baller to do this
Then, flip over the tomato and cut a shallow "X" in the other end. This will help the peels come off easier.
Once you have this done to all your tomatoes, gently place about 10-12 tomatoes into the boiling water. Don't walk away, because you'll only want to leave them in there for about 30 seconds, or until they look like this
 Then just scoop them out with a slotted spoon or a pasta spoon, like I did and drop them into the ice bath. Let them sit there for a minute or two, and then just peel the skins off. It's so easy! Here's what they'll look like once they're peeled
Repeat this until all your tomatoes are peeled. Then, slice them in half and use your finger to scoop the seeds into your garbage bowl. Understand you'll never get every seed, but try to get as much as you can, because they'll make your sauce bitter. Next, chop an onion (I used 2 large onions for 25# of tomatoes) and garlic and saute them in oil in the pot you're going to cook your sauce in. Once they're translucent, add in all the tomatoes at once. Turn the heat to low, and let this cook for several hours. I usually aim for 6-8 hours, to let the moisture cook off and to develop the flavor more deeply. Once they're cooked down by 1/4 to 1/2, remove it from the heat, and either mash it gently with a potato masher, or use an immersion blender. I use an immersion blender, only because my youngest won't touch spaghetti sauce that has a chunk of tomato in to, and the oldest won't eat it if he sees an onion. Here's what my sauce looks like before it's pureed.
And it smells heavenly too! If you like your sauce like this, now's the time to season it to your taste. I use fresh herbs, so they go in now, oregano and basil. But if you use dry herbs, they can go into the pot as soon as you add your tomatoes. Don't forget salt and pepper. I also usually add a 1/2 to 1 cup of red wine to my sauce as well, early in the cooking. I like the nice complex flavor it adds, and all the alcohol cooks out during the long simmering process. I find using Romas I don't need to add sugar, but if you're sauce is just too tart, by all means add some sugar! Here's one last picture of my finished sauce with the immersion blender still sitting in the pot, lol!
So I hope everyone can start making their own sauce! It's so simple! The taste is fresher than you can even imagine! As always, if you have any questions, please leave a message and I'll get back to you!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Biscoff Hot Cocoa (No, seriously...)

Okay so the hubs was whining to me tonight that I promised him hot cocoa on Saturday and here it was, Sunday, after he spent ALL WEEKEND decorating outside, and still he had no hot cocoa. I decided to reward him, in spades. I crafted up a new treat. Hot cocoa with Biscoff spread added. It's obscene hot delicious this was! Also, I'm not sure why, but adding the Biscoff makes the cocoa thicken, so it's almost like a liquid pudding. So here's the recipe:

1 cup skim milk
1T. chocolate syrup
1T. Biscoff spread
Marshmallows (if you like them)

It's so simple. Add milk, chocolate syrup, and Biscoff to a pot, and whisk over medium heat. It takes a while, so be patient. Don't be tempted to crank the heat up, just let it go low and slow. When it's close to ready, throw a few marshmallows in the cup, then pour the cocoa over the marshmallows. Let it cool for a minute, or risk a scorched tongue, lol. Here's a pic of the ingredients. I wanted to include a pic of the finished drink, but in the time it took me to type this, the hubs grabbed the mug and drained it, lol!
(BTW, if you haven't tried Biscoff, be warned, it's addictive! It's also available at most, if not all, grocery stores now as well as Amazon.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Stock

I'm trying my hardest to get recipes up more often than every 6 months, so here's the 2nd one this week. This one is really a "gimme", you make it from the leftover parts of your turkey that you would just be throwing away anyhow.

Bones and scraps form your turkey, once all the meat has been picked from it (don't worry if there's some meat left on it, that's okay.)
4 or 5 carrots, broken into pieces
4 or 5 stalks of celery, broken into pieces
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 T. peppercorns
2T. salt (I use kosher, because I prefer the flavor
1T. ground sage

Put all this into a very large pot and cover it with water. At least a gallon of water, but more if your pot can hold it. Start with cold water, it allows everything to come to temperature at the same time.
Put it on the stove and cook on low. I usually put it on right before I go to sleep and let it cook away overnight. It shouldn't be boiling, just a gentle simmer. (No bubbles breaking the surface). I know some people are nervous about leaving the stove on overnight, so if that's the case, just let it cook all day. I usually let it go 8-12 hours, depending on how busy I am the next morning. When I get up, I turn it off and remove it from the heat so it can cool a bit. Then I strain it through a large strainer to get the bones and veggies out, then through a fine mesh strainer to get the peppercorns out. I store it in quart mason jars in the fridge, or in plastic storage containers if it's going into the freezer. I use it everywhere a recipe calls for chicken stock or broth. It also makes a delicious base for turkey noodle soup. The bones and veggies will be "spent" from the long cooking, and won't have any flavor left, so go ahead and throw them away. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beef Barley Soup

Now that the weather here in the Pacific Northwest has turned a bit, I decided it's time to start pulling out my fall favorites! Today will be beef barley, a vegetable-laden, hearty soup that, in my opinion, gets better after it's had a day to sit in the fridge. I really like it when it's super thick and the barley isn't chewy anymore. So lets get it started!

Beef Barley Soup
2 pounds stew meat (the least expensive beef I can find)
1 gallon good quality beef stock
5-6 carrots
4 ribs of celery
1 large onion
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cup pearl barley (i don't use the quick barley unless i have no other choice)
 2 tsp. pepper
salt to taste

Here's the barley I use:
(This is not a brand endorsement, it's just what is available where I live)

First, get your beef stock in a large pot. Make sure it's a pot that can hold more than a gallon, because you're going to be adding quite a bit to it. Get the stock simmering on low heat while completing all the other steps.
Rough chop the carrots, onion, and celery, remember, pieces shouldn't be any larger than what you can fit on a soup spoon. This is a good rule in general for soup. No one wants to have to cut anything up or try to bite through something when eating soup.
As you can see, this last time I added corn. You can really add any vegetable you like. I had gotten fresh sweet corn from a Bountiful Basket, so I cut 2 ears off the cob and added them in.

Next, make sure your stew meat is trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces. By trimmed, I mean cut off any extra fat or gristle. This is an important step because you don't want to have any excess fat floating around in the soup. Now you're going to want to brown the beef. Don't skip this step, because this is where are the meaty flavor in your soup comes from. You really want it browned dark, almost to where you think it is burned. Get a pan smoking hot, put the cut beef into it, and leave it alone. Also, make sure you don't overcrowd your pan. I usually do this step in 2-3 batches. If the temp of the pan drops too much, the beef will just boil and not have a crisp, brown sear to it. Give the meat a few minutes to really gain a dark color before you start moving it around in the pan. Continue until it's seared nicely on all sizes, and looks like this:
Remove the beef from the pan, but don't put the pan in the sink just yet. Now add the browned meat and chopped vegetables into the beef stock. Heat the pan on medium, and add a tablespoon or 2 of the heated beef stock to loosen the browned bits from the bottom, then add the tomato paste. Continue cooking the tomato paste until it starts to brown. I think this adds a nice, complex roasted tomato flavor to the soup. My youngest won't eat tomatoes he can see in anything, but he loves this soup.
(This is the tomato paste once it's started to turn brown. In this pic you can see I added the onions as well to give them a bit of caramelization)

Once the tomato past is a light brown, add it into the soup as well, along with pepper and salt. I will taste the soup several times throughout the cooking time to see if it needs more. I like to go very lightly with the seasonings, as I can always add more, but once it's in there, you can't take it back out!

Now I just let it cook for several hours, stirring to make sure nothing is sticking. Leave it down on low, just below a boil. The last hour before I'm ready to serve it, I add the barley. It takes a while for the barley to cook, so I live to make sure it has plenty of time to cook up plump! (Yum!)

That's it! I like to serve this with biscuits or hot bread. This makes a big batch, so we usually only eat half of it the first night, then I have the rest for lunch during the next week! Here's a few pics of the finished soup!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Makin' Whoopie!

Whoopie pies, that is!! Gotcha! I know, I know, I haven't posted in what feels like forever, but trust me when I say that things around here have been so crazy that hectic ran out the door screaming! Anyhow, this holiday weekend has provided me the slowdown I've been craving, so I busted out the mixer (Blue Devil) to whip up some whoopie pies. First, let me say, Thank you to all who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Please take a minute this weekend to remember all those who gave their all for us. Now, onto the deliciousness of a whoopie pie. I hadn't made these before for one very simple reason, every recipe I saw for them included shortening. Now, I don't have anything against shortening per se, I just don't care for the smell of it in baked goods or the "mouth-feel" it leaves behind. (you know how when you eat inexpensive cake or cupcakes your mouth feels all coated and greasy? that's the telltale sign of icing made with shortening)
     So, I did some hard thinking and some reading about what makes up a whoopie pie and decided I was going to forgo the shortening and try something else. If you've never had one, a whoopie pie is 2 very cake-like cookies sandwiched with an icing-type filling. Today's is very simple, but now that i know it works, I have big plans to try something special, like a sour cream whoopie pie with brown butter filling (mouth watering yet?)
     This recipe is truly so simple that my 7 year old son helped me put it together. First, here's a shot of the finished product. My recipe makes 13 whoopie pies, and as of 10pm PST there are only 2 left, so I'd say they're delicious too. So here's what it looks like when it's done:
Yummy deliciousness in all it's uncomplicated glory. Seriously, I'm sitting here at 10 o'clock at night trying to convince myself that I don't need to brew a cup of coffee and gobble this down with it! Anyhow, onto the recipe:

For the cookie/cake:
2 C. All purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 C. cocoa powder
1 C. sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/3 C. vegetable oil
3/4 C milk or buttermilk (I love the tang of buttermilk personally, esp paired with cocoa powder)

For the filling:
1/4 C. butter, at room temperature (don't skimp, use real butter, I mean otherwise, why bother, and really it's
                                                      not like you're eating these every day, right?)
3/4 C. Marshmallow Creme
1 C. Confectioner's Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean or 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

So preheat the oven to 350. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or spray it with cooking spray. I opt for parchment because it makes cleanup so much easier. In a bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa powder, and sugar. Don't bother with sifting for this recipe, you really don't need to do it, unless one of your ingredients has very large, hard clumps, in which case you should just replace it. Add the egg, oil and milk/buttermilk.
     Now I want to speak to something here. I always bake with all my ingredients at room temperature unless the recipe calls for something otherwise. Including my eggs. That's right, I pull out however many eggs I need and I leave them sitting on the counter until they feel just cool to the touch. They shouldn't be cold anymore. Room temp eggs combine better. Plain and simple. No, I'm not worried about salmonella from the eggs for 2 reasons. First, eggs are so scrutinized here in the US that I honestly don't feel I have anything to worry over. When was the last time you heard of someone contracting salmonella from an egg? How about from raw spinach? That's because we don't eat raw eggs, which is my next point. These cookies are baked at 350 for 10 minutes, so any "nasties" that might be lurking in there are long since dead by the time I'm gobbling down the cookies. **Disclaimer: I'm not advocating leaving eggs or any other perishable item out at room temperature, you can certainly use them straight from the fridge, this is solely my preference**
Back to the recipe. Once you add the wet ingredients (egg, oil, and milk), whisk it until it all comes together to form a thick batter. Make sure you use a spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl so everything is well mixed. Once it comes together and you don't see any lumps, put the whisk down. Don't mix it anymore. In fact, at this point, walk away and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Seriously...go...change over some laundry, have a cup of coffee, pay a bill, make a phone call, anything, but just let the batter rest. This is an important step. This gives the flour and cocoa powder time to hydrate, or suck up some of the liquid. You'll notice when you come back to it that the batter will look much thicker. It's supposed to. Now, pull out the sheet pan you either sprayed or lined with parchment paper, and no, waxed paper isn't the same thing, so don't use it unless you fancy a cookie that tastes like a crayon. Scoop out 1 tablespoon of batter every 3 inches apart or so. On my 1/2 sheet pans that means I can bake 6 cookies at a time. I know you're going to be tempted to cram more on, but resist! These babies spread! My trick is to use a disher, or spring loaded ice cream scoop, so all my cookies are the same size. It makes like so much easier when it comes time to sandwich them together if all the cookies are the same size. I used a 1 tablespoon disher, and next time I'll probably step down to a 1/2 tablespoon disher. Understand that you're going to be spending a good deal of time here removing cookies and dishing more batter out here, but it's well worth it. Remember way back I said this makes 13 pies? Well that means you're going to bake 26 cookie disks because each pie requires 2 cookies (top and bottom) and 13x2=26. (See? Isn't math fun?) Bake them for 10 minutes or until they start to look dry and no longer shiny just around the edges. It really depends on your oven. What I recommend is check them at 8 minutes. Press down gently on the center top of one, and if it springs back, it is done. This is one cookie you don't want to overbake, because they're just not as good with crusty edges.
     While the cookies are baking, put the butter, marshmallow creme, confectioners sugar (aka powdered sugar), and the scraped inside of a vanilla bean or vanilla extract into the bowl of your mixer.Use a whip attachment, if you have one. Start up the mixer slowly unless you enjoy breathing in powdered sugar that has been whipped into the air. Once it's incorporated, turn that mixer on high and give it all she's got. This is my oldest son's favorite part and conversely my youngest son's least favorite part. The oldest loves to try to watch the whip spin, while the youngest thinks my mixer is just too loud. Whip this mess like crazy. You want lots of volume because this is your filling. It's not going to look like enough, but it definitely is.
     Once all the cookies are baked, let them cool until they are completely cold. They can't have any warmth left in them of they will melt this filling. Remember, there's no shortening so the melting point is going to be much lower. (see at the bottom if you want the totally nerdy explanation as to why it makes a difference).
Turn half the cookies upside down and divide the filling among them, then smoosh the unfilled cookie top onto them. That's it! How's that feel? Even better, how does it taste? Bite into one and enjoy the rich dry chocolate cake filled with sweet marshmallow-y filling! I love these with a cup of coffee, and like I said, once I figured out how to do it without shortening, I was doing my happy dance! Enjoy!!
 **NERDY EXPLANATION** As for vegetable shortening, it has a melting point of 117 and 119 degrees, whereas butter has a melting point of 82 and 96 degrees. Now, last time I checked, normal, walking around people typically have a body temperature of 98.6 degrees, give or a take a few degrees, but certainly nowhere near 117 or 119 degrees. It's physically impossible for shortening to completely melt in your mouth, even when mixed with other ingredients, because your body just doesn't get that warm. That's why cheap icing leaves a greasy "feeling" in your mouth (and on your kid's hands...but that's a whole other problem)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Breakfast anyone? Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Muffins

So I went a little crazy buying strawberries lately, since they're in season, and they remind me so much of spring and summer. (I've been hard pressed to get into the spring mode since it's still just rain, rain, rain here!) Well, this morning, I opened the fridge and stared at 15 pounds of fresh berries and decided I needed to do something with them other than just gobble them right out of the containers. They're super sweet, so they're delicious like that too! The boys have been begging for me to bake, and since it's Easter break and they're home all day, I figured I would bake something...but what? Trifle? it's yummy, but a bit of a hassle, plus, I just don't have room in the fridge for the trifle bowl. Strawberry pancakes? been there, done that....also, we're having pancakes later in the week with these awesome silicon pancake Easter shapes I got on clearance, so I didn't want to detract from that thunder. What to make, what to make...Muffins! Yes! That's just the thing, that way I don't have to portion anything out for anyone (kids!), and once they're mixed up, all I have to do is check them, not stand over a hot stove! Here's a pic of the finished product
Muffins are very simple to make ingredient-wise, but very easy to mess up preparation-wise. BUT, I'm here to help! If you follow these directions, you'll never eat another muffin with the consistency of a brick! Enjoy!
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Muffins
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves or jelly
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped strawberries (bite-size pieces)
1 cup milk chocolate chips (or semisweet if you prefer, even white if that's your fancy!)

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Prepare 24 muffin cups with liners. You definitely need liners on this one unless you like throwing away muffin pans. In a mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until it looks smooth. Make sure you use a spatula and scrape down the bowl at least once here to get the butter that will stick to the bottom of the bowl. Beat the egg in a separate bowl, then add it and mix until it's completely incorporated. Add your buttermilk, preserves (or jelly), and vanilla, and mix again until incorporated. Remember to scrape your bowl down frequently during all this mixing because the denser ingredients like to migrate to the bottom of the bowl! Okay, your batter looks broken and disgusting right now, right? Don't worry, it's supposed to. Trust me. You're going to want to cry at the way it looks but trust me when I tell you it's supposed to look like that. Now, in a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. whisk it together really well.

 I'm going to break out a sec here to talk about measuring out flour. If you need 2 cups, like in this recipe, please please please don't measure it from your flour bag or canister with the 1 cup measure... Flour compacts in storage, and if you do it that way, you'll have waaay too much flour! It can vary up to several ounces and believe me, a few ounces in a recipe like this can make or break it! Instead, use a 1/2 cup measure and really dig into the flour, then pour from the 1/2 cup measure into the 1 cup measuring cup. Let it fall into the 1 cup measure. It should be just about enough to fill the 1 cup measure. Level it off with the flat edge of a knife, and resist the urge to tap the cup. Flour should be "fluffy" when added, not packed down/. Sugar is packed, flour is not! Now, back to the recipe...

So dump the flour mixture straight into the mixing bowl containing the butter, sugar, buttermilk mixture and start mixing it on slow. Scrape the bottom of your mixing bowl again, but just mix until the big clumps of flour are gone. It won't look like it's mixed enough, but it is. Now add the strawberries and chocolate chips, and mix those in by hand with the same spatula you've been scraping the bowl down with. Fold them in gently. That's all the mixing these muffins need. Now, scoop into your muffin pans that you lined with papers (I use an ice cream scoop so all my muffins are the same size, and so do professional bakeries) Put them on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, rotate the pans. That means put the pans that were in the back in the front, turning the pans at the same time, so the part of the pan that was facing the back of the oven is now facing the front of the oven. This ensures they don't burn due to hot spots in the oven, and every oven has hot spots. At 20 minutes, if your muffins look like the pic above, you're done! Take them out and let them cool for about 10 minutes (if you can control yourself!). If they're not quite done, which means if the top doesn't spring back when you lightly press on it, then give them 4 more minutes and check them again. Keep doing that if they need more time. Every oven is different, and mine were perfect at 20 minutes. That means start peeking at them at 18 minutes. They're so light and delicious!! I hope you all love them!! Let me know if you have any questions!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who Wants To (Lego) Party?

Well, my younger son's birthday party is a mere 2 weeks away so we are in full Lego party frenzy here. I thought I'd post one of the items I made for his party... Lego marshmallow minifigure heads. These are super cute, and a really good introduction to working with coating chocolate. I'm going to start with a finished product picture, and then walk you through how to do it.
Super cute, right? These are going to be the toppers for his cupcakes. He's so excited and honestly, I am getting there too!! So let's start with ingredients. You'll need 1 bag of large marshmallow, 1 bag of small marshmallows, 1 bag of candy melts (I use Wilton brand), a pack of lollipop sticks, and a food grade marker. I bought the food marker online from Amazon. Here's the items so when you go to buy them, you know you're getting the right thing.

So, the first step is prepare your work area. Line your counter with wax paper. It makes cleanup much easier, and the candy releases from it very easily. One very important rule. Chocolate doesn't play nicely with water!!! Make sure every last bit of you tools, workspace, bowl, etc is completely dry. Not mostly dry, no partly dry, I'm talking Sahara desert dry. Water causes chocolate to bind, which means it turns all grainy and clumpy. Once it's hit that point, you're sunk without a ton of work. Okay, so put all the candy melts into a microwave safe bowl. I use a ceramic bowl because it holds heat so well, so the chocolate stays fluid longer. Put the candy melts into the microwave and set it on 50% power. Start with 1 minute, and stir. Continue doing this at 50% power until the chocolate is fully melted and will run off of a spoon, like this:
While the chocolate is melting oh so slowly in the microwave, cut the mini marshmallows in half like this:
I know you will be temped to crank up the microwave to full power but trust me, don't. There's nothing like the smell of burnt chocolate to help you learn that lesson. Please let my mistake help prevent you from making the same one. If your candy burns, it all has to get throw out. It ruins the flavor of the entire batch.

So now, pick up the half of a mini marshmallow, dip it into the melted chocolate and stick it onto the top of the regular marshmallow. Here's two pics of these steps:
You can see I have a bunch lined up already "glued" together. Now you need to let them sit for a few minutes until the chocolate sets. You may want to nuke the chocolate for another 30 seconds at 50% power and give it a stir. Remember, you want it to be really "liquidy". Once they are set, grab a marshmallow stick and carefully jam the marshmallow onto the stick, almost all the way. It should like this:
Now you're going to dip the marshmallow into the melted chocolate and swirl it around to make sure it's completely coated. Lift it straight out of the chocolate and tap the stick on the side of the bowl. This will help remove the excess chocolate so you don't have a puddle under your candy while they are setting. Use the spoon you stirred the chocolate to carefully scrap the excess chocolate. It doesn't matter if you scrape it bare, because it's the back, and no one should be that picky anyhow! Here's how it looks once it's coated.
From here, I just lay them out on the wax paper, being careful to make sure they don't touch, since they will stick together and make an ugly mess. Here's my work drying.
Once they dry, use the food safe market to gently draw faces on each one. I just grabbed a bunch of heads from the boys Lego bins and started copying them. Now, as the candy sets, it won't be shiny anymore, but that's okay.  That's it! All finished! To clean the bowl, I just run really hot water in it and then add a drop of dish detergent. Easy! Enjoy and happy "Lego-ing"!