Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Caramel-Filled Chocolate Cookies...The Addiction Continues

What a long day! The new washing machine stopped draining (of course, the machine is digital so you can not just take something apart). I am working outside and the weather is back to being cold, rainy, and gusts of wind are shooting from all directions. I am also missing my little girl. Ashley, my daughter, just passed her driving test and received her license last Friday. She is 18 and decided to go for the weekend with friends. Today is the first day I have seen her since Friday and I feel heart broken and hoping she stays safe. I don't have words to put down that describe trying to let go and let her grow. Great, I am getting teary eyed again. Baking cookies and staying busy helps me from driving the dog, 2 cats and my hubby nuts. I am picking everything up before the item is even set down, fed the dog twice on accident, and the cats sense me contemplating giving them a bath. Cookies sound so much safer.

So here we are with another chocolate and caramel dessert to share with friends and send off to work. Did I mention that Ashley came home, stayed for about 1 hour and left because she had friends waiting soooo, of course, I called with bribery of freshly baked cookies for her to come and pick up whenever. I can see this bribery thing is my next new skill set. Hopefully Ashley is not reading this but if you are kiddo, just kidding! LOVE YOUUUU....!
Oh yes, cookies. Here is the recipe and may I say YUM!!! in advance. While Ash was here, she unwrapped all the Rolos for me.

Caramel-filled Chocolate Cookies With White Chocolate Drizzle
These yummy chocolate cookies have a tasty caramel surprise inside. With crushed pecans on top and a contrasting white chocolate drizzle, They are almost to pretty to be eaten but it can be done.

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. plus 1 Tablespoon sugar, divided
1 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. baking cocoa
1 t. baking soda
1 1/4 c. chopped pecans, divided
1 package (13 oz.) Rolo candies
4 squares (1 oz. each) white baking chocolate, melted

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, 1 cup sugar and brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa and baking soda; gradually add to the creamed mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in 1/2 c. pecans.

Shape a tablespoonful of dough around each candy, forming a ball. In a small bowl, combine the remaining sugar and pecans; dip each cookie halfway. Place nut side up 2-inches apart on greased baking sheets.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 7-10 minutes or until tops are slightly cracked. Cool for 3 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Drizzle with melted white chocolate.
This recipe should make about 3 dozen cookies =D

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday with Dorie: Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart plus Chocolate Caramel Bars

Carla of Chocolate Moosey chose Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart for this Tuesday with Dorie group baking event and what a great selection! Caramel made from scratch, mixed with honey toasted peanuts (coarsely chopped) and topped with a dark and shiny ganache...the kind of dessert to show off to anyone who will pay attention and who wouldn't? I made my tarts into miniatures just because. Alright, I have several reasons. I have these adorable little tart pans with removable bottoms "and" small tarts are easier to transport and share at work. The adorable-ness (is this a word?) factor brought in high points!

Baking with the TWD group has helped my self-confidence in the kitchen beyond words. There are times I see an aspect of a recipe and my first reaction will be to shy away because I know the recipe will go beyond my comfort zone in the kitchen. Making real caramel is one of the challenges I have backed away from in the past. Following Dorie's directions for advanced preparation really made the caramel process approachable and once I read the recipe about 150 times, I was ready to jump in.
The butter was frozen ahead of time and ready to be chopped.
I made Dorie's Almond Sweet Tart Dough on page 444 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, pressed the dough into the tartlet pans, froze the dough for about 1 hour, then baked the shells.

All ingredient for the caramel were assembled, including a heatproof bowl. I was surprised at still being a little nervous. Other fellow baker's low points when making caramel have stuck with me so I was really hoping for success.
Stage 1 of making the caramel was melting the sugar and getting a little golden color.
Stage 2 was adding the corn syrup and boiling the syrup until the color reached a deep caramel hue.
Stage 3, and last part to the caramel process, was adding the butter and salt (I used unsalted butter), lowering the temperature and allowing to boil for 2 minutes. The caramel is poured into the heatproof bowl, my heart is no longer racing and guess what? We made caramel! The fear factor was so much worse. I know it is silly to be worried over such things but we are dealing with molten lava here!
Semi-sweet Callebaut chocolate was chopped, put into a bowl with hot, heavy cream poured over the pieces, and chunks of butter swirled in leaving a shiny and smooth finish. The wooden spoon was taste tested after completing this process.
Chopped honey roasted peanuts were added to the caramel and the assembly of the tarts is almost over. The final step was pouring the delicious ganache to the tart's crust edge and Ta Daaa....we all now have Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tarts!
To get the recipe now, goto Carla of Chocolate Moosey's blog or buy Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours cookbook. To see how all the rest of the TWD bakers did, check out the TWD baker blogroll.
A chocolate fix must have been in order because I also baked Super Chocolate Caramel Bars. These Kraft caramels have been sitting in the kitchen, taunting me to do something with them for over a month. Well, I did something with them! A friend from Group Recipes posted this and stated that she found the recipe on Delicious and gooey.
Super Chocolate Caramel Bars
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Miracle Whip (found in the salad dressing section)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
1 package (14oz size) caramels
1/4 cup milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans


Heat oven to 350 degrees F
Beat eggs, sugars, Miracle Whip and vanilla at medium speed with electric mixer; add flour and baking soda.
Set aside 1 cup of the batter.
Spread remaining batter into a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Cool 10 minutes.
Melt caramels with milk in heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently until smooth.
Top crust with caramel mixture; sprinkle with chocolate chips and pecans.
Spoon reserved 1 cup batter by teaspoonfuls over pecans
Continue baking 12 - 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool, refrigerate for about 1 hour, then cut into squares.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beautiful and Delicious Breakfast ~ Torta Rustica

My first torta and the recipe comes from Gale Gand. She was among the first chefs for Food Network as the program was getting off the ground. Such a talented and personable chef with recipes and flavors I can relate too and strive to duplicate or slightly alter to my own family and friend's taste buds. This Torta Rustica is no exception. A Great breakfast or brunch dish with flavors, aroma, color, and presentation that will knock the socks off of anyone given the pleasure of sharing such a wonderful dish!

When you cut the torta rustica, you will see all the layers for a wonderful presentation and the recipe could not be easier to put together.

Torta Rustica
9 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 t. unsalted butter, plus more for the cake pan
One 10-ounce package frozen whole-leaf spinach, thawed
4 t. Olive oil
4 cups sliced white or cremini mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup heavy cream
One 16-ounce box frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
6 ounces sliced ham
One 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained

In a medium bowl, beat 8 of the eggs with 4 teaspoons water and season with salt and pepper. Melt 1 teaspoon of the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the eggs, and scramble them loosely, stirring with a wooden spoon until they're barely cooked through, about 2 minutes. (They will cook more in the oven.) Spoon the eggs onto a plate and let them cool.

Place the thawed spinach in a colander and use your hands to press out as much moisture as possible.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the butter and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat and saute the sliced mushrooms until tender, 3 to 4 minutes, seasoning them lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and set aside to cool.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons butter and 2 teaspoons olive oil in the same saute pan over medium-high heat and saute the garlic for 30 seconds. Add the drained spinach and heat through. Add the heavy cream and cook, stirring to combine, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let cool. (You can prepare the spinach and mushrooms a day in advance and refrigerate them until ready to use.)

Generously butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

Unfold 1 pastry sheet onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to remove the creases, and then cut a round of dough the same size as the cake pan, using the bottom of the pan as a guide. Place the pastry on a baking sheet and chill it until you're ready to use it.

Roll out the second pastry sheet and cut out a slightly larger round (Big enough to line the cake pan and have about 1 inch of dough hanging over the edges of the pan). If the dough becomes too warm and pliable, place it on a baking sheet and chill it for 15 minutes to make it easier to handle. Line the cake pan with this larger pastry round, gently easing the dough into the corners of the pan, leaving any excess dough to be trimmed later. Chill the dough in the cake pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.

To assemble the torta, remove the cake pan from the freezer and trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch. Spread half of the cooled eggs over the pastry in the pan. Spread half of the spinach over the egg, then half of the cheese, half of the mushrooms, half of the ham, and finally all of the peppers.

Repeat in inverse order, layering the remaining ham, mushrooms, cheese, spinach, and ending with the remaining eggs.

Fold the overhanging dough in over the filling. Make an egg wash by beating the remaining egg with 1 Tablespoon water, and brush the edge of the pastry with egg wash. Place the refrigerated pastry round on top, and press down gently to join the edge of the round with the egg-washed edge of the pastry in the pan. Brush the top layer of pastry with egg wash. Use a knife to cut a small hole in the center of the top pastry layer, to allow steam to escape during baking; then score radiating lines away from the hole for decoration, if desired. With the decorative design, don't cut through the pastry; just scratch the surface. Chill the entire torta for 30 minutes to let the layers settle.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the cake pan on a baking sheet and bake the torta for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until golden brown on the top. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Then cut it into wedges and serve.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sunday plus Peaches and Cream Parfait

Sweet Melissa Sunday's choice for the week: Caramelized Onions, Sage, and Cheddar Muffins by Hanaa of Hanaa's Kitchen. Such a great savory muffin to go with Fall food such as soups, stews, chili. . .come to think of it, just about any type of dinner.
The recipe required little advanced preparation and the result was 20 perfectly domed and flavorful muffins.
Caramelizing the onions first allowed the flavor to mellow and blend the chopped onions with the cheddar and sage without any one ingredient standing out. If a cook puts in the right onion, wow, the flavor will be onion and then whatever is accompanying the powerful flavor.
The recipe is a great addition to my personal cookbook for fast, easy, and flavorful accompaniments. Thank you Hanaa for a great choice this week. To see how everyone in the SMS group enjoyed making the savory muffins, please click on the link here. To get the recipe now, click on Hanaa's blog: Hanaa's Kitchen, or buy the Sweet Melissa Cookbook.
Easy and showy desserts are sought after by so many of us. We work, we take care of families, we have last minute dinner parties and all of the above mentioned events mean limited time or last minute preparation for a nice dinner and dessert. Peaches and Cream Parfaits are just that dessert! Start marinating the peaches in brown sugar and flavoring of choice before starting dinner. Also, whip together heavy cream with honey and left sit in refrigerator while dinner is moving along. Dessert will be putting everything together in a pretty parfait or champagne glass for a grand finale.
Peaches and Cream Parfait:
1 recipe Honey Whipped Cream (below)
1 almond biscotti or 2 amaretti cookies, crushed by hand
1 recipe marinated peaches...(below)
Layer starting with the Honey Whipped Cream, sprinkle Biscotti or Amaretti cookie, then the Marinated Peaches and continue to the top of the parfait glass. Finish top with a dollop of the Whipped Cream and the remaining crumbs. Pretty and delicious!
Marinated Peaches
4 large peaches
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 T. Amaretto (OR use Peach Schnapps, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or a dessert wine, Muscat Canelli, or Sauternes into the brown-sugar syrup)
Make a simple syrup with the brown sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let cool. After cool, add the flavoring of choice.
For peaches, you can use canned peaches. Fresh peaches will require bring a pot of water to boil and having a bowl of ice water next to the boiling water. Dip peaches in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Then remove and put into ice water. Peel skins off peaches and slice into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Mix the sugar syrup with the peaches in a bowl, cover with Syran Wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or until ready to use.
Honey Whipped Cream
1 1/2 cup cold heavy cream
5 T. honey
Whip cold heavy cream in a chilled bowl using a wire whisk attachment at medium-high speed until cream starts to thicken.
Turn off mixer and add honey. Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary. Whip the cream on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Use right away or refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oven Fried Eggplant Parmesan...YUMMY

The only time I have ever seen eggplant Parmesan was on a TV show through

Food Network. Eggplant looks like one of those vegetables that is great for everyone else to eat but not something I would get excited about trying. Okay, the eggplant has made a journey to this kitchen once upon a time because of a magazine recipe with this gorgeous picture of grilled eggplant. What could be easier? The grilling experience was a failure. The eggplant was soft in the middle, crunchy on the outside, the skin was tough and the flavor had a bitter taste to it. Time has past, about 2 years later, and I am ready for a new go at eggplant. I think all of us who truly love food in just about every form understand there "has" to be a way to cook or bake something so we will actually like it. Well, I found a way to enjoy eggplant....Oven-Fried Eggplant Parmesan...Delicious!
For the sauce, I used a jar of freshly canned spaghetti sauce from a friend who goes by the name of JJ. This man is amazing! He finds a recipe and re-creates the recipe to bring about another JJ masterpiece~! JJ, thank you for helping add to making my eggplant Parmesan pop with flavor. To everyone else in the food blogging world ~ basil, tomato, and seasoning of choice in a marinara or spaghetti sauce will make this dish crazy delicious!
You will need:
2 lbs. or about 2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/4-inch thick round slices
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, beaten
3 cups dry fine breadcrumbs, I use Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
Canola oil for frying, about 2 cups
4 cups of your choice for marinara or spaghetti sauce, warmed
16 basil leaves, torn into large pieces
10 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
6 ounces freshly grated Grana Padano cheese(1 1/2 cups)~you can use freshly grate Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Put down a layer of eggplant slices, sprinkle generously with salt, add another layer of paper towel, and repeat so forth for the rest of the eggplant. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Put the flour and egg in separate wide shallow bowls. In another wide bowl, toss the breadcrumbs with the thyme and 1/2 t. salt. Dredge the eggplant slices in the flour, dip in the egg, and then coat with the breadcrumbs, pressing down to pat the crumbs onto the eggplant.

Line the baking sheet with fresh paper towels. Pour enough oil into a large saucepan to measure about 1/2-inch deep. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F. (If you dip a piece of eggplant into the oil, it will sizzle immediately).

Working in batches, add as much eggplant to the pan as will fit in a single layer and fry, flipping once, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat, layering the fried eggplant between pieces of paper towel and adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain 350 degrees F., until all of the eggplant is fried.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. and position a rack in the center of the oven. Arrange a layer of eggplant in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top with 1 cup of the marinara and then sprinkle with one-third of the basil, mozzarella, and Grana Padano. Repeat with 2 more layers of the remaining eggplant, marinara, basil, mozzarella, and Grana Padano.

Bake until the cheese melts and browns and the sauce bubbles around the sides, 25 to 30 minutes (cover with foil if top browns too quickly). Let cool for a couple of minutes, then cut into pieces, and serve...YUMMY!

I found freshly made and packaged pasta to cook and put the Eggplant Parmesan over...added freshly baked with garlic and buttered bread and dinner is served.

I have now found my new way to enjoy eggplant...Delicious!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pear Tarte Tatin with Almond Pastry

How many people across the food blogging world are trying to work through Julia Child's first Volume 1 cookbook after watching the Julia and Julie movie? I am still seriously thinking about cooking and baking her recipes from cover-to-cover, only changing how I blog about the recipes. I would love to mix videos and pictures with the write-ups but blogging is like everything else...anyone can do the simple surface basics but to make a project special, research and learning is involved. I have no idea how to do a video focused on being a visual for following Julia's steps or changing food pictures for my blog. I want the entries to be a visual to show how to follow each recipe. Trying new recipes and growing in skill and technique is such a mental high to treasure and look back on with pride. Desire has a huge play in this too. Julia has always been my hero and I have wanted to cook through her cookbook for years now but the challenge has always felt daunting. I have no idea why the moment is now different but it is.

I also have to justify to myself for taking the hours combined over the last 6 years, the sorting, and the filing of all the categories of recipes collected that were, to me, the best sounding recipes I felt I could not live without at that moment. I have thousands and thousands of recipes. My father told me if I tried, I could never cook and bake from every cookbook and cooking magazine I already have. I know he is right BUT I feel a challenge coming on, a personal one that proves a point to myself...who I know is very stubborn. I have started going through my own collection of recipes as of several days ago. The idea is to work through my own recipes and tie these recipes to Julia's when making complete dinners throughout the week. Also, I have to justify all the cooking magazine subscriptions. These magazines are my splurge to myself but become overwhelming when life gets busy. How do I justify 10 new magazines and I have only had the time to look at one for the month...looking at one means looking at the photos and recipes but not reading the magazine from cover-to-cover.

Finding the time to get my yard projects, such as all the weeding and burning of brush, completing my list of seeds to be planted during what months in the winter in my newly wired and plumbed greenhouse, and the ever growing list of projects to improve the home all need to be fit into the short amount of hours left after coming home from work. Finding balance for quality is the key I am looking for and I still have not figured out how to accomplish balance so physical or emotional burnout is not waiting at the corner.

A new recipe of choice comes from my recent favorite magazine: Fine Cooking; Big Buy. Big Buy is all about buying a large quantity and knowing how to use all of that particular item without waste. I go to Costco and see a bundle of asparagus and in the cart the bundle goes. Thin stalks looking fresh and ready for dinner...if I am feeding 20. I'm not so the magazine gives ideas on versatility of recipes for any particular ingredient. Right now, I still have pears left over from my canning expedition. I found a recipe to try using my cast iron skillet ~ a new technique for me ~ called:
Pear Tarte Tatin with Almond Pastry.

For the Pastry:
4 1/4 oz. (1 cup) cake flour
4 oz. (8 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
1/2 t. table salt
1 t. granulated sugar
1 1/4 oz. ( 1/3 cup lightly packed) ground almonds
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
3 T. heavy cream

For the Caramelized Pears
3 lbs. pears (about 6 large), peeled, halved, and cored
1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger tossed with 1 t. sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter

Make the Pastry:
In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, salt, and sugar. Pulse briefly until the mixture has pea-size lumps and the rest looks like cornmeal. Add the almonds and pulse for just another second. Mound the mixture on a work surface, make a well, and pour the egg yolk and cream into the center. Continue mixing the ingredients until you have a shaggy dough. Knead the dough just until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Caramelize the pears:
Cut the pears lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Toss them with the ginger-sugar mixture. Heat a 9-inch cast-iron or other heavy-based pan with an ovenproof handle over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and water swirl the pan to combine. Watch the sugar syrup carefully as it bubbles. When it turns light brown, add the butter and cook, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, until the caramel is an even, deep brown. Remove the pan from the heat and let the caramel cool slightly. Carefully arrange the pear slices in the caramel in a single concentric layer. Top with additional pear slices, continuing the circular pattern until the pears reach the top of the pan. (They'll shrink as they cook.) Return the pan to medium-high heat and cook until the pears on the bottom layer are fork-tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly while you roll out the dough.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Roll the dough on a floured surface into a 10 1/2-inch round and drape it over the pan of pears to cover. (If the dough is still cool, you can pick it up with your hands; otherwise, gently roll the dough onto the rolling pin to move it to the pan.) Fold the excess dough onto itself to form rough border. Press the crust down onto the pears to compress them slightly.

Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Bake the tarte until the pastry is crisp and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Carefully invert the tarte onto a serving plate with a rim to catch the caramel. Pour any caramel that stays in the pan over the tarte.
I found the pear tarte to be absolutely delicious, easy to make and bake, and gorgeous for presentation. The cast iron skillet was a breeze and easy to use. Yummy dessert that included a feel-good for trying a new technique for me.