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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This baker's delight includes puff pastry and chocolate....

One of my absolute favorite things are fresh baked croissants. Especially the almond filled croissants. And in a close second are the chocolate filled ones. There are two bakeries fairly close to me...yet still a bit too far for a quick run...that make killer almond croissants. BUT they go fast and I'm not always in time to get to one when I do make my way to one of them. A while ago, when I first got it, I bookmarked a recipe in Nigella Express...a chocolate croissant recipe. Since I am too lazy to make my own puff pastry at home my kitchen is way too small to roll out puff pastry at home, I figured that Nigella's recipe using packaged puff pastry would come in a very close second! And how fitting that our theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs this weeks is Baker's Delight...because for this lazy baker...this recipe was a true delight :)Chocolate Croissants
from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson 
Half a 17.2 oz packet ready-rolled puff pastry
2 1/2 oz chocolate (milk or dark, depending on taste)
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 425° F.
Unfurl the sheet of pastry and then cut it into 4 squares. Cut each square diagonally to give 2 triangles (they will appear quite small). Put the triangle with the wider part facing you and the point away from you.
Break off small pieces of chocolate...look at this rich, dark chocolate I used, yum...Place it about 3/4" up from the wide end nearest you. Carefully roll from that chocolate-loaded end toward the point of the triangle. You should now have something resembling a straight croissant. Seal it lightly with your fingertips and curl it around into a crescent. Mine are kind of wonky looking...but it didn't matter in the end.Place the chocolate croissants on a lined baking sheet and paint with the beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes until golden and puffy and exuberantly, if miniaturely, croissant-like (I love listening to Nigella describe food). Next time I'm quadrupling the recipe and filling half with chocolate and half with almond paste...simple baking genius. I think I have a girl-crush on Nigella.
Aren't you in the mood to bake up some goodness? Check out some Nigella recipes and head on over...
Monday, September 28, 2009

Stuffed, Wrapped JalepeñO for Ovarian Cancer Awareness

When I saw this post by Cathy of The Dutch Baker's Daughter, I was very inspired to get involved and show my support for Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, as well. I do not know anybody who has directly suffered from Ovarian Cancer, but I know that it can affect myself or someone I know and love in the blink of an eye. Knowledge is power.

A while back I saw these tempting Jalapeños cooked up by someone, somewhat popular. I know that you know that that was tongue-in-cheek. Everybody knows The Pioneer Woman.

Stuffed & Wrapped JalapeñO's
Jalapeño Peppers- halved lengthwise, remove seeds & ribs...leave a few for heat, if you wish
Cream Cheese- HOMEMADE or store bought
Bacon- cut into 3rds (2 pcs. for every 3 jalapeños)

Preheat your oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with foil and slide a rack on top.
Line up your ingredients and begin by packing some cream cheese into each jalapeño half. Next, wrap each stuffed half with a piece of the bacon. You can secure with a toothpick if you'd like.
Or simply place on prepared baking sheet.
Place in oven and bake 20-25 minutes...until the bacon is perfectly browned and melded to the outside of the chili. Eat 'em hot or at room a snack...or made as a component of a whole meal like this... A friend of ours made a huge batch of tamales. I adore tamales, especially when you heat them on a comal until the outsides are golden and crisp and the innards are all warm and toothsome!!Simply plate them up with some salsa and a dollop of crema, sour cream or even homemade cream cheese (like I bring them together with the jalapeños...which I used as a sort of garnish) and add a few stuffed, wrapped jalapeños and you've got an amazing, soul warming, mouth watering meal!
Want a bite?

O Foods Contest for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and for the second year in a row, Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso are hosting the O Foods Contest to raise awareness of this important health issue.
There are TWO WAYS to take part in the O Foods Contest:
ONE: Post a recipe to your blog using a food that starts or ends with the letter O (e.g., oatmeal, orange, okra, octopus, olive, onion, potato, tomato); include this entire text box in the post; and send your post url along with a photo (100 x 100) to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on Monday, September 28, 2009.
PRIZES for recipe posts:

◦1st: Signed copy of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma, Executive Pastry Chef of Babbo Ristorante in NYC, who is currently battling ovarian cancer, inspired this event, and will be choosing her favorite recipe for this prize;
◦2nd: Signed copy of Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home by Mario Batali (winner chosen by Sara);
◦3rd: Signed copy of Vino Italiano: The Regional Italian Wines of Italy by Joseph Bastianich (winner chosen by Michelle).
TWO: If you’re not into the recipe thing, simply post this entire text box in a post on your blog to help spread the word and send your post url to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on Monday, September 28, 2009.
Awareness posts PRIZE:
◦One winner chosen at random will receive a Teal Toes tote bag filled with ovarian cancer awareness goodies that you can spread around amongst your friends and family.

From the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund:

◦Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1 in 67.
◦The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, making it difficult to diagnose, but include bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency).
◦There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests which can detect ovarian cancer when patients are at high risk or have early symptoms.
◦In spite of this, patients are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. Only 19% of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region.
◦When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%.
Please help spread the word about ovarian cancer.
Together we can make enough noise to kill this silent killer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Time to make the cheese...the Homemade Cream Cheese!

It's that time again...cheese making time! Afterall, cheese is one of the my main food groups. Natashya (my cheese-making partner-in-crime) and I decided we were going to try our hands at Cream Cheese this time around. One thing to be careful of when making cream cheese...well, if you've started with some other fresh timing. The Queso Blanco and Mozzarella (which were the last 2 I made...along with the goat cheese which never was) were different in that they were larger batches; more milk & higher temperature=more time. This process used about half the amount of liquid and half the desired be sure to keep a close eye on the milk while heating it. I, on the other hand jumped on the computer while my milk was heating and went higher than the desired temperature (if only I could have hit the other cheese head-on like this without constant temping). So, this was a bit of an adventure for me...trying to right my initial wrong...but in the end, I was very pleased...I'm sure I cheesed. ...and feeling squeezed, I promptly sneezed and then got teased. Sorry. Dr. Seuss/Happy Gilmore moment. Homemade Cream Cheese from The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley 6 c. (1 1/2 qts.) whole milk 4 c. (2 pints) heavy cream try not to use ultra-pasteurized 1 c. plain cultured yogurt those live cultures are essential...good bacteria! 1 rennet tablet I used 1 tsp. liquid rennet (this is the conversion between the two) 1/4 c. cool water (55 to 60 degrees F) salt I used Sel Gris-Velvet* Combine milk, cream and yogurt in a large pot and stir well. Warm to 100 degrees F (this is where I initially messed up and heated to, pay attention) over low heat. Check temperature with a thermometer. Remove pan from heat. Dissolve rennet tablet (or liquid rennet...hmmm...wasn't sure if I still needed the water since I had liquid form...but I used it) in the water in a small bowl. Add to warmed milk mixture, and stir thoroughly for 3 minutes. Cover and let stand for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until curds are firm and break away fro sides of the pan. The temperature should drop no lower than 85 degrees F (which wasn't a problem for me since I was already way up there). If it does drop below 85, slowly reheat to correct temperature.Cut curd into 2" cubes okay seriously, I had nothing to cut. I don't know if it was due to initially heating it too high or using liquid rennet and water or something completely unrelated. Let stand 15 minutes undisturbed ooooo-kay. Line colander with a double layer of butter muslin (something I still haven't found. I took a tip from Natashya and lined with a clean, used-only-for -this-purpose, white cotton cloth.) Pour, ladle or spoon (I had no choice but to pour) the mixture into the lined strainer. Fold the excess cloth over the curds and set the colander in a large bowl Cover the bowl and refrigerate to drain 8 hours or overnight.This is what I had the next extremely wet mass. Okay, I don't think my cotton cloth allowed it to drain very well; the weave must have been too tight. So, at this point, the recipe says to... Transfer the drained cheese to a clean bowl, season to taste with salt, and stir well. The cheese is now ready to be used in flavored cheese spreads or for cooking. Unless you're, if you're me, you would go ahead and transfer your wet mass to a bowl and season with some delicious Sel Gris-Velvet Sea Salt and then re-line your colander with cheese cloth this time...bigger holes for the whey to drain. Then put it back in fridge overnight...or 2 nights if you're really busy that day in between.Much thicker. Still Creamy, but YUM!Now, use as you would any cream cheese...although it is way creamier and the flavor is so insanely out of this world delicious! I had just been to the Mexican Bakery that morning to get some fresh from the oven bolillo's...I shmeared the homemade creamier-than-creamy cream cheese on the soft, warm bread and proceeded to moan my way through breakfast. Store cheese in an airtight container and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.And then I used some of the homemade cream cheese to make some of these.... Oh yeah, you've probably seen them around. A little blog by a semi-well-known blogger featured them a while back. More about that in the next post to come...tease....mmmm hmmmmm. *Sel Gris-Velvet is very, very similar to the Korean Bamboo Smoked Sea Salt that many of you have asked about, but is unfortunately unavailable (to me...that I know of) anymore. Sel Gris- Velvet is a whole mineral sea salt that gets its beautiful grey color from the clay that lines theh solar evaporation ponds used to produce the salt. They have full flavor without being "too salty." The high mineral content makes it naturally lower in sodium than other sea salts. It's velvety texture results from being stone ground to almost the consistency of baking flour. Order it HERE! If you head over the Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, you'll see what happened when Natashya hit the kitchen to make her cream cheese. Fresh Cream Cheese on Foodista
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nigella's Banana Muffins...a new Family Favorite?

The theme these week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is Family Favorites...and yes, we're still cooking with Nigella. A perennial favorite in our house is Banana Bread. Although I rarely stray from our usual recipe, I decided why not do something wild and crazy!? So, I made a different banana bread...well, muffin in this case...recipe. Gasp! And you know, we really liked it. It was different from our norm...the norm being a bit sweeter and more moist...and most of all comfortable. Nigella's version simply used honey as the sole sweetener (aside from the natural sweetness of the nanners). The flavor was understated and homey and somewhat more "natural" than ours. This actually made me wonder if the kiddos would like them as much. But I needn't have worried. You see this towering bowl of mini muffins.... didn't tower for long! I made them over the weekend and between the running in and out of the house and grabbing one each time they made a pass...they made quick work of them! Thanks Nigella for expanding my banana quick bread horizons. I am not abandoning the recipe that has been a favorite for generations, but I am going to use your recipes when I make mini-muffins for sure

Banana Muffins
from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1/4 c. (2 oozingly, bulgingly heaping Tbs) clear Honey
1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
2 large, very ripe Bananas
1 heaping tsp. Baking Powder ...for some reason this confuses heaping!? I was taught to always level, Nigella. Why do you make me pull hairs!
~9 oz. self-rising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the butter, honey and vanilla in a pan on a low heat to melt, then remove and set aside for a few minutes. Mash the bananas.
In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Mix the melted butter mixture with the bananas and then mix that into the dry ingredients. Don't over mix: just stir a couple of times; you will have a not terribly attractive lumpy sludge, but don't worry about it LOL.
Put paper cups in muffin tins if using and fill about 2/3 full of mixture. I just used some spray. (~10 regular size muffins or 24 mini's....but I only got 20 minis)
Put in oven and cook for about 25, Nigella...why do you not give a separate time for the minis? These would turn to powder in that amount of time. My minis took roughly 10 minutes. Leave in pans for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins to a wire rack to cook for another 5-10 minutes.
Pop in mouth each time you walk past. Just in case I wasn't obvious up there...I do want to re-iterate that these muffins are not too sweet and fairly dry.  Good for some, not for others...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hen of the Woods!...foraging for nature's Autumn bounty.

It is finally here...the Autumnal Equinox, Fall, Mabon, the changing of the guards (and I must say, I think these guards have the best uniforms), the first day of favorite season and I am beyond ready to give thanks for Summer's bounty and start foraging for comforts of the new season! I was blessed to receive a gorgeous Hen of the Woods mushroom a couple of days ago from my neighbors. Their family had gone out mushroom hunting and came back with 7...7!...bags of mondo specimens of this earthy, pungent, autumn mushroom! Hen of the Woods, also known as Maitake, Sheep's Head, Ram's Head or Chicken of the Woods, is a perennial mushroom. So, if you can remember where you found this beauty (probably at the base of a sturdy hardwood or pine tree) you can go back and collect another next year. Maitake have been used for Medicinal purposes in their native Japan and in China for many years "due to their ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids. Some think may also be useful for weight loss. They are also Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and Niacin), fibers and amino acids."* These mushrooms can grow very large...the one I have is almost a foot wide! I'm not sure how much it weighed because I'm a bad foodie without a scale but it was pretty heavy. Of course, some of that weight may have been contributed by all the little critters taking up residence in its many nooks & crannies. Ick. I am a nature-lover and all, but insects in all their creepy crawly glory, still give me the willies. I don't run screaming or anything, but I do get a good shiver. Needless to say, it is very important that you clean the Hen of the Woods well before using them. Fill up your sink, or an extra large bowl with warm water and salt. I halved the big mass and one half at a time, dunked it into the prepared water. This will get out the critters and debris that are trapped or hiding. Five minutes should be sufficient. While I'm doing this, I cut off the woody base and separate the mushroom a bit. You may have to flick some smaller bugs off with your finger or the tip of a paring knife. See the dirty, bug filled water you'll have when you're done. But trust me, it's well worth it!
Remove from the water after ~5 minutes and gently rub off any excess dirty that may be clinging. Now you have clean Hen of the Woods to do with what you will!And since I know that you want to know what I did with them....I made a perfect meal to celebrate Autumn...earthy and delicious!

Hen of the Woods w/ Chicken & Herbs
by girlichef

1 Tbs + 2 Tbs. Butter, divided

~1 lb. Chicken Thighs, boneless & skinless (or not)

Sea Salt

Black Pepper, freshly ground

2 small Onions, sliced thin

3-4 cloves Garlic, peeled & smashed

3 large handfuls (double-handed) Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, free of dirt & debris

few glugs White Wine

3-5 fresh Sage leaves

2 sprigs Rosemary

few sprigs fresh Thyme

1/2 c. Chicken Stock

Begin by slicing or chopping your Hen of the Woods into large pieces and set aside.Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high then drop in 1 Tbs. of butter and add your chicken thighs, seasoned w/ sea salt & pepper. Sauté until the first side is browned, then flip over. Once second side has begun to brown (they will not be cooked through), remove the chicken to a plate until you're ready to add it back in.
Drop your onion & garlic into the pan and begin to sauté them in the fat that the chicken thighs left in the skillet. Once they have begun to soften and turn golden, add in another Tbs...or two of butter. The mushrooms love to soak up liquid, so be sure to add enough. Drop in your prepared mushrooms.Stir everything around in the pan, and once the mushrooms have begun to soften and brown slightly, add your few glugs of white wine. Scrape up any fond that had developed on the bottom of the pan. Add your herbs to the pan, pour in your chicken stock and nestle your chicken thighs back into the mushroom mixture. Once the liquid has come to a good bubble, cover the pan and reduce heat to a low simmer for ~20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.Adjust seasoning to taste with more sea salt & black pepper. I served over egg noodles with some green beans on the side. Delicious, comforting, earthy, rustic...the perfect way to say welcome to Fall!!Are you wondering if I had any Hen of the Woods left? I mean that was a biggun, right! Yes, I definitely did. I decided to try my hand at preserving to see which methods I liked best. First, I scattered some on a sheet pan to freeze. I've read that you do not need to blanch or pre-treat Hen of the Woods as you do most other mushrooms, so I didn't....they froze up very nicely and I transferred them to freezer bags. We'll see what happens when I try to put them to use next time. I'll be sure to give you an update. I also have a batch in the dehydrator right now, but those won't be done for at least another day, so again...update to follow. And I'm going to give you fair warning....dehydrating them completely and totally stinks up the house. The kids are pretty unhappy about that right now. And I have to say, I'm not particularly enjoying it either, but it's looking like the end result will justify the means. I found some great tips on storing them here.
9/23/09~UPDATE!! This is my quart sized bag of dehydrated Hen of the Woods Mushrooms. So amazing how much water is in them...I started out with about the same amount that is on the sheet pan above for freezing and they dried down to this!! I can't wait to use them in something this way. I feel pretty cool to have dried my own mushrooms. ;) It worked so well!

*source: Wikipedia

Hen Of The Woods With Chicken and Herbs on Foodista

I am revisiting this post for the Hearth and Soul Hop this week (vol. 21).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Zucchini Bread w/ Nutella

I really like zucchini bread, but I never make it. Ever. I think it's because of the memory of the best EVER zucchini bread from my MSU dorm cafeteria/dining hall. I do not know why I loved it so much, but I still think of it ALL OF THE TIME! They only put it out every once and a while, but I'm sure it was one of the major contributors to my Freshman 15 (okay 20). I loaded up whenever I saw it on the line.

If only I could pull the flavor combo from those deep, dark pockets in my memory where things just sort of get lost. So, instead of waiting for that perfect zucchini bread recipe of my dorm daze days to magically appear, I decided to just start trying some. I'm bound to fall into one that is pretty close sooner or later. Right?
Zucchini Bread w/ Nutella
adapted from The Ungourmet

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs 
1/4 cup honey 
2 tsp vanilla 
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt 
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or half ap and half whole wheat flour)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp cinnamon 
2 cups shredded zucchini 
1/2 cup chocolate chips, optional
1/3 cups chopped toasted hazelnuts, optional
6 tsp Nutella

Cream your butter and sugar. Add honey (spraying the measuring cup with nonstick spray will help it all to come out!), eggs, vanilla and yogurt, mix well to combine. Stir in dry ingredients.
Fold in shredded zucchini (and other ingredients if you're using). Divide mixture between 2 greased loaf pans. Dot with Nutella and then swirl it around with a fork.Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for ~50-60 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. So yes, it was delicious! But, it's not that recipe. Argh. Although I will definitely keep it around for making until I have found that perfect one. Sorry for no sliced picture, but I carried both of the loaves with me to different places to share and forgot to bring my camera along, too. I absolutely cannot be expected to remember everything. Because whoever expects it, will be disappointed and I hate to disappoint. Kim's page has a picture though, and mine looked pretty close, so go on over there if you are dying to see the insides! Zucchini Bread on Foodista