Friday, February 26, 2010

Holy Crap

Today is E's thirtieth birthday. That means we have now officially known each other for exactly half of our lives. In other words, we are now twice as old as we were when we first met, and damn, if that doesn't make me feel kinda old. Or old-er. Or something. Hmph! I'm snowed in yet again, so today is all about baking for birthday dinner, wrapping up a few weekend loose ends, and trying to keep my surprises up my sleeve. The perfect sustenance for snowbound secrecy? Suspiciously sweet muffins that are moist, chocolately, and good for you, too.

Dark Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
adapted from an old recipe I printed years ago from who knows where...

1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbls. Vital wheat gluten
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. rolled oats
1 1/4 c. pureed pumpkin
1/3 c. applesauce
4 egg whites
1/2 c. skim milk
1/2 c. dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners. Sift dry ingredients and set aside. Mix wet ingredients until thoroughly blended. Fold into dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Scoop evenly into muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tastes Like Jamaica

Another round of breakfast chat with my lovable and logical husband...

(Eating slices of mango while making our breakfast)
I love fresh mango. It tastes sort of woodsy to me, you know? 

(Eating mango over the sink)
I doesn't taste like wood, it tastes like Jamaica.

(pausing over the stove)

You know, it tastes like Jamaica would taste. If you ate a piece of it.

(waiting silently for this little conversation to play out)

So like, if you ate a piece of Italy, it would taste like tomatoes, if you ate a piece of Jersey, well, that would just taste like dirt. But if you ate a piece of Jamaica it would taste like mangoes... and weed.

Clearly we have some issues with Jersey :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chocolate, Cherries, and Cheese

The latest assignment for Healthy Bread in Five was ½ recipe Red Beet Buns, pages 180-181, and ½ recipe Chocolate Espresso WW Bread, pages 304-305, for Chocolate Tangerine Bars in honor of Valentine's Day. The latter had me excited, since I'm a huge chocoholic, the former... not so much. Can we talk about how much I dislike beets? The smell of them, the palm staining prep, the amount of work that goes into cooking them... Ugh. And the taste? Well, to be honest, I don't really know what a beet tastes like. I haven't taken the tiniest bite of a beet since I was 8 and my mother forced me to try one at Easter dinner, where sliced beets were once religiously served along with the relish tray and mint jelly. Thankfully, I'm not the only member of my family who's culinary tastes have moved on. While many members of the baking group raved about the lovely onion flavor and subtlety of these beet buns, I just couldn't do it. On to the chocolate.

I made a full recipe of the Chocolate Espresso Whole Wheat dough. First I baked the Chocolate Tangerine Bars. The loaf came out oddly misshapen, but I sliced it into squares and dipped the ends of each bar into the leftover melted chocolate from my Brownie Bites Valentines. While I did love the texture (so light!) and the flavor of cranberry and citrus in the bars, I didn't feel the need for the extra chocolate chips. I decided to mix cranberries, orange zest, and chopped walnuts into another half pound of dough and baked muffins (minus the extra chocolate). In the book they call their version cupcakes, but who are we kidding here? Cupcakes are made with cake batter. Yeast doughs can yield muffins, certainly, but not cupcakes. But I digress...
I also baked a regular loaf, then rolled the remaining dough out to make little Chocolate Cherry Ricotta Tarts. The loaf was delicious with a smear of peanut butter and I cut it up for French Toast on Valentine's morning, too. So good with sweetened vanilla Greek yogurt and leftover cherry filling! Cutting out the hearts left me with a bunch of scrappy bits, which I tossed into the food processor and pulverized into crumbs. I included that in my dessert recipe for that night, but I'll save that one for tomorrow (I can only fit so many recipes in one post, you know!).

Chocolate Cherry Ricotta Tarts 
1/2 lb. Chocolate Espresso WW Dough
3/4 c. ricotta cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbls. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cherry pie filling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease a muffin tin.

Lightly flour work surface, rolling pin, and the surface of dough. Roll out to an 1/8 inch thickness. Cut circles using a biscuit cutter. Press each circle gently into bottom of each cup of muffin tin. Set aside.

Mix vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon into ricotta until well combined. Spoon evenly into each cup of muffin tin. Top with a generous teaspoonful of cherry filling. Bake for 20 minutes or until set.

Don't forget to visit Michelle's Blog to see the latest creations on the Bread Braid!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day Valentines

Today we finally get a snow day! I know, those of you who have been stuck inside for 6 days and lost power are probably sick to death of it all, but this is the first real snow we've seen since moving to Jersey. I'm usually a big fan of snow until Christmas, and then I'm done, but living in Michigan will do that to a girl! Right now I'm just excited that I don't have to do my usual hour commute today, 'cause you know there is no way in hizz-ell I was gettin' stuck overnight in Yonkers!

In addition to making a pot roast for dinner and baking a loaf of bread, I spent some time today finishing up a little craft project I started with the J's yesterday. The J's are 2 of the coolest kids I have ever met and I'll be nannying for them 5 days a week by the end of this month. They are 6 and 8 year old brothers with gorgeous red hair. They ski, play drums, take tae kwon do lessons, act, and the oldest was a Cambell's kid last year. So yeah, they rock! They also love crafting and baking, so basically hanging out with them is almost too much fun to get paid for :) Yesterday I introduced them to Happy Hearts, a project the lovely Sarah Zamora introduced me to 2 years ago.  I made a ton of them and traded them with a bunch of artists, and now I hang them up every February. I thought it would be fun to do something different with them this year, so I adapted the original garland idea to make flowers. Instead of the mess of collage, stamping, and trimming, we doodled. The J's decorated a bunch of them and they had the idea of adding messages to the backs to give each one as Valentines to family members. Brilliant! You can put yours in a vase like I did, or tie a bunch together to give as a bouquet to your mom :)

Doodle Hearts Flower Bouquets:
You'll need:
2 pieces of heavy cardstock
Ink pens, gel pens, or markers
9 pieces of Floral Wire
Craft glue (I'm a ModPodge junkie!)

1. Download the Happy Hearts Template and print 2 copies onto cardstock.

2. Decorate all 9 hearts on 1 page with doodles using a black ink pen. 

3. Color in doodles with shades of pink and red. 

4. Go to town embellishing doodles with glitter if you want to (Me? I'm BIG on glitter, the J's? Not so much.).

5. Cut out all 18 hearts. You'll be sandwiching the floral wire between a doodle heart and a blank heart. If you choose to add messages to the backs, now is the time to do so on the blank hearts.

6. If you want curly stems, now is the time to wind your floral wire around a fat marker. Stretch the coil out to your desired length. 

7. Spread a thin layer of craft glue on the back of a doodle heart. Lay the top end of floral wire in the center and press a blank heart (message side out if you wrote on them!) on the back. Make sure edges line up and press firmly.

8. Continue for all hearts until you have a bunch of 9 doodle heart stems.

9. If you want to add leaves you can do the same thing with green shades. You can use a leaf template if you don't want to draw your own. 

10. Allow the glue to dry for at least 10 minutes, then tie your bunch together, varying heights of the flowers, with ribbon. Voila!

Now make a little love shelf and be happy you had a day off :)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Brownie FAIL

Really? You're wondering how someone who is a pretty experienced baker can f up something as simple as a batch of brownies, right? Well, apparently it can be done. And it can be done with pan slamming, utensil tossing, and curse slinging grace. And it can end happily, thanks to a little patience and some good old stubborn attitude.

Now every year I make something special to send to my nephews for Valentine's Day. This year I was planning on doing little petit fours using a gourmet cake mix my sister gave to me. Then I read the ingredients and realized that I couldn't use it, since my nephew is allergic to tree nuts and unless I want my sweets to make him swell about the face and break out in hives, that wouldn't be a nice gift. I grabbed a box of brownie mix instead, and got to work. When I pulled the batch out of the oven 30 minutes later, I set it to cool on a wire rack and came back later to find every scrap of brownie firmly cemented to the bottom of the glass baking pan. Now, I'm no dummy. I know that you need to grease a pan, I even use parchment paper to make a sling for my breads and brownies. Somehow, those two facts escaped me this time. Maybe I was distracted by the stomping of my upstairs neighbors feet or the sugar rush I felt from eating large tablespoons of raw brownie mix. Whatever it was, I was pissed.

Almost 20 minutes of cursing and prying and I ended up with this...
And these...

Sigh. They were so soft and mushy I knew I'd never be able to cut them smaller, so I stuck these squares in the freezer for an hour. I tossed that big bowl of scrappy trash in, too, for my brilliant new Valentine's Day dessert plan (more on that later in the week!). Once I took them out the had firmed up enough to cut, so I ended up with these...

I only got 2 dozen thanks to the mangling of the batch of brownies, and I used the tiniest heart shape from my Wilton set. It's about the size of a quarter. It's about this time that I realized, no matter what a mess I had made, I can salvage just about anything with a little chocolate. I got to melting, dunking, and decorating, and ended up with these...

Awww... aren't they cute? They are just bite sized and they each fit perfectly inside a mini cupcake wrapper, which conveniently makes them fit just right inside a little pine nuts box :)

Ahhh, a happy ending after all :)

Jojo's Sweethearts Brownie Bites:

One batch of standard brownie batter (I used a box, but you can make your favorite from scratch recipe)
Zest of one tangerine
1 cup dark fondue chocolate (or candy melts)
Pink, white, and red nonpareils
Red sweethearts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 inch glass pan and line with parchment paper to create a sling. Stir zest into brownie batter. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan to a cutting board when completely cooled.

Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out brownies. Set aside.

In a double boiler or microwave, melt chocolate. Using a fork*, dip brownies into melted chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Lay on a wire rack** and decorate with nonpareils and sweethearts. You need to do this step quickly as the chocolate sets as soon as it cools! Continue for each brownie. Allow chocolate to set for 15 minutes before packaging.

* I don't spear the brownies with a fork, I lay them flat on top of the tines. It lets all the extra chocolate drip off, and they slide off the fork easily.

** I don't use wax paper for this because I hate when little pools of chocolate harden around the bottom of a treat. It ruins it. This way any excess drips off, and I can just pop the cooled bites off by pushing them up from underneath the rack with my fingers. Yes, you'll get a little wire mark in the bottom, but it's better than a puddle!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Mission Accomplished

The end of the month means the end of the latest assignment from my HBin5 baking group. Thank goodness, I finally got one right :)

Our mission if we chose to accept it:
Prepare 1 Full recipe Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Pages 92-93.

Use this dough to create 1 Loaf of Sandwich Bread, 1 batch of Hamburger or Hotdog Buns, pages 94-95, and 1 Loaf of Apple Strudel Bread, pages 277-278.

The sandwich loaf was my favorite bread so far, a little sweet, super soft, and perfect for any type of sandwich we thought up in a few days. My favorite? Fried Elvis Presleys, aka peanut butter and banana sandwiches pan fried in a little butter until the peanut butter gets all gooey and warm and the bread is nicely toasted. Thanks Nigella for that inspiration! This sandwich, full of cheap ingredients and with even-cheaper-than-store-bought bread,  is definitely a budget buster.

I brought about half of the loaf over to my cousin Libby's house last weekend and her kiddos (ages 1 and 4) went to town on it. It made wonderful toast with homemade wild blueberry jam from her family in Maine.

One down, two to go! I was excited about the apple strudel bread (even though we all know, this really is not a strudel!) because I planned to bring it to Sunday's party to celebrate my Aunt Cynthia's 10 year anniversary of being cancer free! Woop woop! I'll admit, I was a little nervous, too. I didn't feel like transporting my huge tub of dough to Libby's house and I figured I'd be too busy playing with the kids (and drumming for Rock Band) to prep it! I decided to do it ahead of time. I know, big risk :) Friday afternoon I rolled the dough, filled it with raisins, walnuts, a chopped Granny Smith Apple and cinnamon sugar, rolled it up tight, and set it into the loaf pan lined with parchment paper. I drove from Jersey to Connecticut, stuck it in my cousin's fridge, and baked it Sunday morning. When we arrived at the party on Sunday afternoon, half of the bread disappeared with coffee before lunch was even served. Not surprising the way we are in my family. With all of the women together, it gets pretty loud, pretty hyper and pretty messy. We all talk at once and we all love food, so what can you expect? We had an amzing time and I've converted at least 2 people to the HBin5 cult :)

Last task, hot dog buns. I have had this package of NY System Hot Weiner Sauce Spice Mix in my spice cabinet for a long while, so I decided this was the perfect time to use it. I'm not the only one who thought of hot dogs, but I think I'm the only Rhode Islander in the group, so I am definitely the only one who made gaggiz (aka gaggers, or hot weiners, the real way to eat a hot dog :)). These are not your sloppy, wet Coney dogs like they make in Michigan (which honestly, I think are gross) nor are they overflowing with stuff like Chicago dogs (pickles on a hot dog? Really?).  These dogs feature a slathering of yellow mustard, a spoonful of meat sauce made of ground beef, onions, and spice mix (yes, I'm being vague, but I don't know what's in it!), a handful of chopped white onion, and a sprinkle of celery salt. Usually they are served on a steamed white hot dog bun, but obviously I used the whole wheat buns. I also used turkey instead of beef and used 2 Tbls. of  butter instead of lard, but don't tell anyone. I think that's probably considered a major sin in terms of hot weiners.

We ate ours too fast for me to take photos, but you can visit the Olneyville NY System website to see how they look and to order your own spice mix! You'll get the recipe on the back, although we used more than the required amount of spice mix to get the right taste. I think I even doubled it. The turkey was a good substitute, but if you want to mimic the real deal, go beef.

If you're looking for more inspiration, don't forget to visit the Bread Braid on Michelle's blog to see the rest of the groups' offerings and visit the I Heart Cooking Clubs blog to see what everyone else there brought to the table for the Budgets and Bargains theme!