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This month our Baking partners challenge is “Bar” recipes.  The recipes are for Lemon Bars, an all time favorite! and I adored the Chocolate Raspberry Walnut Bars too.

This month’s challenge was suggested by Suja from Kitchen Corner Try it! 
Lemon Bars

Recipe source The Secrets of Baking, Sherry Yard and The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle

Basic short crust recipe:
All Purpose flour- 1 1/4 cup
Confectioner’s sugar- 2/3 cup
Pinch of salt
Cold unsalted butter cut into half inch cubes- 10 tbs  (1 1/4 stick)

For the filling:
Sugar- 3/4 cup
Lemon zest- 1 tablespoon
Eggs-4
Lemon juice-1 cup
Condensed milk- 1/2 cup (or milk 1/2 cup. Milk or condensed milk is optional it gives the bars a custard flavor and firmer texture)
All purpose flour- 3 tablespoons
Salt- 1/8 teaspoon
Yellow food color- 2-3 drops (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting

To make the crust

  • Pre-heat oven to 325 degree F and position rack in the center of the oven.Butter 9inch square baking pan and set aside (you can also line pan with aluminum foil)
  • Using a food processor,mix flour,sugar and salt.
  • Add pieces of butter and pulse 8-10 times till the mixture resembles coarse meal. Process until the mixture forms large clumps and holds together when pinched between two fingers (around 15-20 seconds).
  • Scrape dough into prepared pan and pat it into an even layer.
  • Using a fork prick the dough at one inch intervals.
  • Bake the crust for 20 minutes till the edges become golden brown.
  • Allow this to cool in the pan on a wire rack.

To make the filling

  • Pulse sugar and lemon zest in a processor till it is fragrant.
  • Beat eggs and mix the sugar and whisk till it is pale yellow color.
  • Add the condensed milk, lemon juice, flour and salt.
  • Pour over the baked crust.
  • Bake at 325 degree F for18-20 minutes or until just set and firm to touch.
  • Cool in room temperature and the place in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour before cutting into bars.
  • To finish dust the top of each bar with powdered sugar and serve.
  • Store lemon bars tightly warped in room temperature for two days or in the freezer for one week. (I store in the fridge)

Chocolate Walnut Raspberry Bars
Recipe source Faye Levy’s Chocolate Sensations

Walnut cookie dough
Walnuts- 1 cup (3-3/4 0z.)
Egg yolks-3
Sugar- 1/2 cup
Salt- 1/4 teaspoon
Vanilla extract-2 teaspoon
Grated lemon zest- 2 teaspoon
Chilled Unsalted butter- 1 cup ( 8 oz.)
All purpose flour- 1 3/4 cups
Chocolate Raspberry filling
Raspberry preserve- 1/2 cup
Semi sweet chocolate cut into chunks- 6 oz.
Nutty crumble topping
Sugar- 2 tablespoons
All purpose flour- 1/4 cup
Walnuts- 1/4 cup

To make the dough

  • Finely process nuts in a food processor and set aside.
  • Combine egg yolks, sugar,salt,vanilla,lemon zest and butter in the food processor.  Start with 10-12 pulses and the continuously pulse for 5 seconds until combined.
  • Add flour and walnuts and process for five seconds.
  • Scrape down and continue processing till the dough begins to form sticky crumbs but does not come together as a ball.
  • Put dough in a plastic bag or a wrap and press together to form a ball. Chill for one hour.
  • Pre heat oven to 350F (175C).
  • Cut out 1/4 of the dough and set aside in the refrigerator.
  • Pat the remaining dough in bottom of an unbuttered 13″x9″ pan.

Filling

  • Stir preserve, using a rubber spatula.
  • Gently spread over the dough.
  • Sprinkle chocolate over the jam.

Topping

  • Cut reserve dough into small pieces. In the food processor process flour, walnuts, sugar and the cut dough till it resembles a crumbly mixture.
  • Spread this evenly over the chocolate.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes until the crumbs are firm and light brown.
  • Cool in pan over a rack till it is lukewarm.
  • Using a sharp knife slice into bars.
  • Store in airtight containers (up-to three days in room temperature) (I store in the fridge)

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CHIPOLTE CHEDDAR MACARONI & CHEESE ala TAMY

CHIPOLTE CHEDDAR MACARONI & CHEESE ala TAMY

I originally thought this was going to be just another mac and cheese recipe and maybe if I had followed the recipe it would have been, but instead I “doctored” the recipe to fit hubby’s taste and what I had on hand. The results according to hubby were phenomenal, but requests I make it again so he can tell for sure.

CHIPOLTE CHEDDAR MACARONI & CHEESE ala TAMY
1 1/2 cups dried macaroni (elbows or shells)
1 1/4 cup diced ham
1/2 cup garlic pepper crispy onions
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste
4 slices Chipolte cheddar cheese, torn into pieces
3 slices sharp cheddar cheese, torn into pieces
3 slices white American cheese, torn into pieces

  • Preheat oven to 350˚.
  • Prepare macaroni according to package directions. Drain well.
  • Using the same pan, melt butter and add cream until smooth.
  • Add cheese a few pieces at a time, stirring until well blended.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add ham pieces, coating them well with sauce.
  • Fold in pasta.
  • Pour into casserole dish.
  • Sprinkle with crispy onions.
  • Bake 20 minutes or until heated through and golden on top.
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GLAZED STUFFED PORK CHOPS – the secret is in the sauce

Glazed Stuffed Pork Chops
4 VERY thick pork chops
8 slices oatnut bread
butter
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup apricot pineapple jam, room temperature**
1 tablespoon peach schnapps
1 large lemon, juiced

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Slit each pork chop along 2 sides to create a large pocket.
  • *Toast each slice of bread well and then lightly butter.
  • Cut each piece into small squares.
  • Toss with thyme, garlic salt and pepper.
  • Stuff each pork chop with 1/3 cup of mixture.
  • Whisk together the jam, peach schnapps, red pepper flakes, ginger and lemon juice.
  • Place chops in a square greased baking dish.
  • Arrange remaining stuffing around the edges.
  • Glaze chops and stuffing tops.
  • Bake uncovered 30 minutes.
  • Turn chops, glaze chops and stuffing again. Bake another 30 minutes.

*If you prefer, prepare 1 box of stove top stuffing instead.
**Tonight I used Lemon Curd and had a distinctively fresh flavor with the same consistency.  Use whatever flavor speaks to you.

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Cinnamon Chocolate Babka Muffins

Cinnamon Chocolate Babka Muffins

DOUGH
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed 110 degrees
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons instant rapid rise yeast
1 large egg at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

  • Using a stand mixer, use a paddle to combine the milk, sugar and yeast, stirring to blend.
  • Add the egg, flour and salt mixing on low until a sticky dough begins to form.
  • Mix in the butter until well blended with no remaining chunks.
  • Switch to a dough hook and knead on low for about 10 minutes. The dough will be loose and sticky.
  • Butter a large bowl.  Add dough, cover with tea towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place. This will take 1-2 hours.

FILLING
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

  • Chop chocolate pieces in a food processor until small coarse pieces.
  • Add brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and pulse until coarse crumbs.
  • Set aside.

EGG WASH
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon heavy cream

  • Whisk together until well blended.

STREUSEL TOPPING
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

  • In a small bowl combine the brown sugar and flour.
  • Cut the butter in with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Set Aside.

ASSEMBLY

  • VERY GENEROUSLY butter 12 muffin tins OR use muffin papers for easier clean up.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface.  Gently depress the center to deflate.  Let rest 5 minutes.
  • Roll the dough into a 12×20 rectangle.  (flour as needed to prevent sticking)
  • Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough.
  • Roll the dough into a tight log.
  • Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces (HINT: I now use dental floss for all this type of cutting.  You get a good clean cut every time.)
  • Place each piece into you prepared tin or papers.
  • Cover with your tea towel and let rise 30 minutes or so.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • After 30 minutes, brush tops with the egg wash.
  • Sprinkle each with the streusel topping.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and brown around the edges.
  • Cool completely on wire racks in the tin. (I use the papers because I like them warm, but the come out of the tins better cool).

 

 

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POTATO PANCAKES

This one is for Riley at Pig’n’Pancake in Seaside.  Thank you for being a great server and so friendly. You made breakfast enjoyable during our stay.
POTATO PANCAKES

3+ cups peeled, grated & squeezed* potatoes
1 large bunch green onions, minced or 1 small Vidalia onion, minced
1/2 cup self rising flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup buttermilk**
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons butter, melted

  • Sift together the flour, salt and pepper.
  • Whisk together the buttermilk, egg and butter until smooth.
  • Whisk in the flour mixture until well blended.
  • Fold in the potatoes and onions.
  • Drop onto hot griddle and make your pancakes.
  • Serve with applesauce and sour cream or with the Sauerbraten gravy.

*I use a cheese cloth towel as my base. I grate the potatoes on top of it and then bring all the corners together like a knapsack wrapping the potatoes inside. I continue to tighten the turns until I squeezed all the moisture from the potatoes.

**I generally use regular milk and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar.

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2014, COOKBOOKS, MENUS and A PLAN FOR SIMPLIFYING

Every year I receive a new cookbook from my brother as a gift for either my birthday or Christmas.  I sit and devour these books as I read them like a novel tagging every “MUST TRY” recipe.  Besides those cook books I’ve been collecting recipes from magazines, newspapers and blogs.  I recently scanned in all those little pieces of paper which took up and entire 18 gallon tote.  I also vowed to hubby not to cut out any more, well at least for awhile.

This year I’ve decided to work on the basics – my working theory that once you have a good foundation the rest is all icing.  I’m particularly fond of tutorial style with color pictures and/or historical based cookbooks.  So all the scanned little recipes will wait (by the way, there were over 5000 recipes in that tote) and I’m going to concentrate on these 3 cookbooks this year.
I’ve always believed that no recipe is the same depending on who is making it and their techniques – whether the techniques are passed down through the generations, are school learned or experience learned through trial and error.  Once you get your basics down pat, variations based on your likes and dislikes become fun and easy to experiment with and then the rest is all gravy.
So I sat down with these cookbooks and read from cover to cover, tagging each recipe that caught my eye (and tummy too) to try or technique I wanted to learn and then made a list by categories.
Like Julie cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, I will work my way through these books before buying another cookbook or touching my stash of recipes. My biggest drawback will be that I’m only cooking for 2 so need to alter or adapt almost every recipe. Spices and seasonings will become my best friends to make these recipes my own.  It’s all about your choice of ingredients, spices, seasonings and ALSO about HOW you put them together.
Our palates know flavors and based on our genetics we all crave different flavors, flavor combinations and have our individual cravings and comfort foods.  Cooking healthy can be done from scratch easily with enough preparation and organization.
My ultimate goal is to cook my way through 2014 using absolutely no pre-prepared ingredients while learning new techniques and trying tried and true recipes.
Here is my basic thoughts on menu planning and what should be in a basic pantry from earlier posts:

There is more to menu planning than just deciding what to make for dinner, at least for the average family. We’re a military family used to getting paid once a month and trying to make it last. So for me, menu planning also encompasses recipe scouring, coupon clipping (we love to read the Sunday papers and have coffee. One of the things I always go for first is the coupons to see what I can save for us – hubby always laughs when I get excited at a large coupon for something already on the list – LOL), sale ad reading and logical common sense planning. I do participate in Menu Plan Monday, but I actually prepare my menu for the entire month all at once and then just break it up for posting.

I start the last week of the previous month with checking out what I already have in the freezer inventory and then the ads for my local markets for the upcoming week. I see what meats will be going on sale and then scour my recipe file for recipes to match. One of the biggest things I do to help not only with cost of ingredients, but also waste is to make sure to back up recipes to each other that use similar ingredients that I can buy in bulk. For example if a recipe calls for 1/2 an onion for Monday night’s recipe, I make sure Tuesday night’s recipe uses the other 1/2. I also know which meals we’ll probably have leftovers for so I plan to either freeze part of it for a future meal or plan a CORN (clean out refrigerator night) within my plan if there is only going to be a little of this and that leftover. I write my list and then I match up the coupons for whatever staples (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc…) I need and then the luxuries if there is room within the budget. If there is a really good sale I buy in super bulk for the following month also. Now I know this sounds like a lot of work, but the whole process takes less than an hour and then it’s done for the month.

I have every scrap of a recipe I ever saved as well as many of my grandma’s too. It’s like an obsession with me. If a recipe sounds good in a magazine, I figure I can make it better based on my family’s likes and dislikes and tuck it away to try and manipulate at a later date. I recently decided it was time to clean-up this mess.

I found an old metal LP file box at a garage sale for 50 cents and dressed it up a bit so it didn’t look like a trash bin on my kitchen counter. (it was a beat up lime green with stickers everywhere). I have written 2 family reunion cook books in the past which helped some with eliminating the scraps of paper and I’m also in the midst of writing a Tastebook to use as family Christmas gifts that is helping to clean up this mess on a permanent basis.

I have a perpetual list on the counter and every time we use something or run out of something, everyone is trained (finally) to list whatever they used or ran out of on an ongoing basis.

We keep a pretty concise calendar with everyone’s activities, appointments, meetings and such on it. I also write what we will be eating on each day so they’ll know what to expect. For the planning purposes here I’ll show you the rest of the month so you can see the pattern(s). If for some reason we have to cancel a night I will rearrange the week so that the meal actually canceled is one using something from the freezer, not the fresh ingredients I’ve already purchased. When I do the shopping I buy in bulk to cut the cost and since I have my menu plan ahead of time, I break down the bulk package into meal appropriate sizes before freezing when I get home.  Then I wrap each meat package with a color coded band to help keep the freezer organized.  Red for beef, green for fish, blue for chicken and yellow for pork.  

Here is a sample month of menu planing with links to current recipes.  With each meal we also incorporate a small salad or 4 ounces of Green Goddess.

MONDAY ~ Meatloaf & Scalloped Potatoes 
TUESDAY ~ Stuffed Shells & Salad 
WEDNESDAY ~ Seafood Salad & Parmesan Rolls 
THURSDAY ~ Chicken Cacciatore & Salad 
FRIDAY ~ Chicken Carbonara & Salad 
SATURDAY ~ Lemon Lime Pepper Chicken & Rice Pilaf 
SUNDAY ~ Hot Wings and Home made bleu cheese dressing

MONDAY ~ Out  
TUESDAY ~ Mexican Baja Casserole 
WEDNESDAY ~ Spaghetti Bolegnese & Salad 
THURSDAY ~ Sauteed Garlic Shrimp & Salad 
FRIDAY ~ Meatloaf Muffins & Garlic Smashers 
SATURDAY ~ Chicken and Onions in White Cream Sauce 
SUNDAY ~ Beef Stew & Cheddar rolls

MONDAY ~ Taco Ring Salad 
TUESDAY ~ Chicken Cordon Bleu & Applesauce 
WEDNESDAY ~ Orange Honey Chicken & Fried Rice 
THURSDAY ~ Grandma’s Chicken and Noodles – I’m working on a written recipe for this – I’ve made it from scratch for so long – it’s hard to write it down – LOL 
FRIDAY ~ Chili and Beer Bread 
SATURDAY ~ Chicken Enchiladas & Refried Beans 
SUNDAY ~ Stuffed Pork Chops & Salad

MONDAY ~ PEANUT PORK NOODLE SALAD
TUESDAY ~ HOBO FOIL STEW
WEDNESDAY ~ CHICKEN SAUSAGE GUMBO
THURSDAY ~ HOT CHICKEN SALAD
FRIDAY ~ CROQUE MADAME
SATURDAY ~ HOT WING SOUP
SUNDAY ~ TWISTED PEPPER STEAK IN GRAVY

As you can see the theme for this month is chicken with a bit of pork and hamburger thrown in. 

~ Tools, Condiments and Seasonings ~

I’ve been thinking about this category a lot and no matter how you look at it, it is subjective. I mean if I cooked a lot of oriental food I’m sure I’d find a WOK an essential tool, but I don’t so we’ll approach this through logic and I’ll list ‘my’ essentials and then you can interpret any way necessary for your household and the meals you prepare.


As for essential tools I have many that I consider truly essential! But, in reality we can truly get by with very few. I consider a good set of cutting boards, a set of great sharp knives, my cast iron skillet, quality stainless steel pans, spoons, spatulas and tongs a necessity. I try to stay away from most plastics as they do wear quicker and tend to harbor bacteria. I’m still using the same stainless steel tools and cookie sheets I spent a small fortune on 20 years ago, so that expenditure has paid off. The cast iron skillet has been passed down through my hubby’s parents and grandparents and it too is still going strong. I did purchase new heavy gauge stainless steel pots and pans about 10 years ago and they look brand new as stainless cleans so well. I also stay away from all non-stick surfaces as they do wear eventually and I just don’t want that in our food. I do change my cutting boards and rubber spatulas every couple of years just to be on the safe side despite always running them through the dishwasher.


As much as I like all my pampered chef toys, they could all be eliminated by using just what I have listed above. Personally I cannot live without my essential Kitchen Aid stand mixer & hand mixer and my Cuisinart mini food chopper. I have a blender, but only use it to make my home made Creamy Tomato Basil soup. I don’t even own an electric can opener. I do love my slow cooker too and my Magnalite stock pots and roaster, but they too could be substituted with other pots and pans.


Now for seasonings, this too is subjective based on the foods you prepare, but honestly if that recipe you cut out of a magazine calls for Herbs de Provence don’t run out and buy it for a one time recipe. It is a combination of herbs you probably already have on hand. It usually contains rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf and thyme. So you can adjust what you have with your own likes. What I consider essential in the spice cabinet around here is kosher salt, sea salt, white & black pepper, celery salt, garlic salt/powder, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, paprika, cinnamon, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, PURE vanilla, maple sugar, orange rind, bourbon extract, rum extract and vanilla powder.

In the pantry I have:
  • flours ~ all purpose, bread and cake flour, self rising flour
  • sugars ~ fine sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar
  • coconut
  • golden raisins
  • cornstarch
  • baking soda 
  • baking powder
  • rices ~ white rice, brown rice…
  • barley
  • split peas
  • tapioca
  • various pastas.
In the way of liquid essentials I have: 
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • soy sauce
  • honey
  • apple cider vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • avocado oil
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • balsamic vinegar and several flavored rice wine vinegars.

In the refrigerator I have:
  • mayonnaise
  • ketchup (both homemade when I have the time)
  • mustard (despite my severe allergy everyone else LOVES it)
  • sun dried tomato pesto
  • Better than Bouillon chicken and beef bases
  • fresh lemons & limes
  • chili sauce.
The real key here is to have what YOU need on hand at all times without a lot of effort.

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