Friday, October 30, 2009

Creme Brulee (Chocolate With Francois) and a GIVEAWAY!

Chocolate. (I'll pause for a moment to allow you to finish whatever fantasy popped into your brain as you read that word.)

There are those who say chocolate is better than sex. (No comment.... hubby reads my blog.)

I'm just sayin' that on the short list of things that never disappoint, beg from, require anything of, demand something from, and are always able to satisfy me, chocolate is near the top. Notice I didn't say at THE top. (Hi sweetie! How's your day going?)

Julie from a Little Bit of Everything decided to invite any interested chocoholic home bakers to join her in a chocolate-filled adventure, Chocolate with Francois. We're going to work out way through Francois Payard's Chocolate Epiphany. We'll be blogging about our efforts on the 30th of each month, starting with this month.

Julie chose Chocolate Creme Brulee as our very first recipe. She will have the recipe posted on her blog and since she requested that only the person who chooses the recipe for the month post the actual recipe, I won't post it here. But please feel free to check out Julie's blog and do make this wonderful chocolate dessert. You won't be disappointed.

The recipe itself is very simple and straightforward. Chocolate and cream are combined with eggs and sugar then the custard is baked in ramekins.

The only step that I was unfamiliar with was caramelizing the sugar on top. I debated whether to do this in the oven or pull out hubby's propane torch to do the job, and finally decided on the torch. What fun!

I've never had chocolate creme brulee before so I can't compare this recipe to another variation of the same, but I will tell you that this was a very rich and luxurious dessert.

Thanks Julie for hosting this group and for picking such a fabulous first recipe!

And... just because I find it so surprising that you guys actually continue to read my daily drivel, I think it's time to reward you for your loyalty by offering my first ever giveaway.

Just leave a comment below telling me your Halloween plans, (or in the event that it's past Halloween, please tell me how many kids you stole Snickers bars from) and I'll enter you into a random drawing for this full-size, 19 oz. Creme Brule candle from Gold Canyon Candles. I have absolutely no affiliation with Gold Canyon, but along with Yankee Candles, they are my favorite for their lovely and long-lasting scents and burning time. I was first introduced to them at a home party years and years ago and any time I see that they're offering free shipping, I order up a year's supply. I'll accept all comments posted through Friday, Nov. 6th. Good luck and thank you all for your continued support!

I'm in Houston for my nephew's wedding as you're reading this. (What does it say about my family that the bride had to specify that we all behave and that no one wear a mask to the ceremony?) I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween and I'll see you back here next week!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pizza Napoletana (BBA Challenge do-over)

In the interest of perfection or just plain old need to get it right, I attempted this pizza again with one of the reserved dough balls I had waiting in the fridge.

I'm happy to report much greater success this time around. Instead of trying to toss the dough into circular form, I simply formed it into a rectangle on parchment paper.

MUCH easier to get it into the oven intact. And I don't think the crust suffered a bit by baking on the parchment paper.

I opted for the more traditional toppings of pizza sauce, turkey pepperoni, green peppers, mozzarella cheese and just a sprinkling of Italian seasoning.

I reduced the oven temperature just a bit to 500 degrees and baked the pizza for 9 minutes. The crust was perfectly crispy and the cheese melted just the way I like it. I'm still choosing the Pain a l'Ancienne as my favorite between the two, but I was much happier with the way this pizza turned out today than the one I made on Monday.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Risotto Balls (Arancini)

Remember that butternut squash risotto I made a few weeks back? Well, we had tons leftover. (Why can't I remember that there are just the three of us now?)

Anyway, I froze the leftovers and finally found time to make them into one of my most favorite appetizers ever, risotto balls. Creamy and cheesy meets deep-fried and crunchy here folks. These are to die for.

The beauty of these babies as it relates to entertaining is that the risotto is made in advance and the only prep work involved at party time is the dredging and frying. Super quick and super easy. I'm going to give you the deep frying directions here. Feel free to use your favorite risotto recipe to make this your own special appetizer.

These risotto balls are stuffed with a little cube of cheese just to put them over the top. I used pepper jack here, but once again, use whatever cheese you like or have on hand.

Risotto Balls (Arancini)

2 cups risotto, chilled
2 ounces cheese, cubed 1/2"
1 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Tabasco (optional)
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped
vegetable oil, for deep frying

I used my deep fryer to make these, but if you're going to make them on the stove, use a heavy pan and heat about 3" of oil to 350 degrees.

Set up a work station with three separate shallow containers. In the first container place the flour and season with salt and pepper. In the second container, whisk the eggs with a few drops of Tabasco (if using.) In the third container, place the Panko and season with Italian seasoning and parsley.

Prepare a baking sheet with waxed paper. This is where you'll place your prepared risotto balls before deep frying them. Prepare another baking sheet with paper towels. This is where you'll place your deep fried risotto balls to drain.

Take about a heaping tablespoon of risotto and form it into a ball, about 1 1/2". Make a small hole in the ball and insert the block of cheese.

Reform the ball so the cheese is covered. Dredge each ball in the flour then into the egg then into the Panko crumbs. Drop into the heated oil and fry until brown and heated through, about 4 minutes, turning the balls halfway through frying. Drain on paper towel.





Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pizza Napoletana (BBA Challenge)

I really wanted to nail this one. I had visions of presenting you with a gorgeous photo of a perfect pizza, plated prettily and cozied up next to a glass of wine. But we don't always get what we envision, do we?

This week's Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge has us baking Pizza Napoletana. The recipe itself is easy enough. The day before you're planning on serving pizza, the ingredients are mixed and kneaded then formed into dough balls and left to rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Mr. Reinhart recommends that each dough ball weigh six ounces (or larger if we think we can handle it when we form the crust the next day.)

MISTAKE #1. I can handle a bigger dough ball than six ounces, I thought to myself. Back in college I worked at a pizza parlor and surely my experience at ringing up orders on the cash register accounted for something, right? I made my dough balls nine ounces.

This morning I took a dough ball out of the fridge at 9:30, planning on pizza for lunch. I plopped it on my floured counter and patted it into a 1/2" thick circle as directed. I then let it rest for two hours, prepping my pizza peel with semolina flour and heating my stone and oven to 550 degrees in the meantime.

MISTAKE #2. Just because you think you're an experienced dough handler and might possibly be able to toss a 14" crust successfully, you might also want to stop for a minute and use your pea-brain to figure out that your pizza peel and your baking stone are only 12" wide.

I scrunched it on the peel as best I could, then topped it with pineapple mango chipotle salsa, a mixture of grated swiss and monterey jack cheeses, green pepper slices and crisp bacon pieces. When I went to slide it onto the pizza stone, it stuck to the peel and sort of plopped onto the stone, bacon pieces flying everywhere.

MISTAKE #3. I should have either used much more semolina flour on my peel or just used parchment paper and called it a day.

The reviews were mixed regarding the taste. Hubby loved it, but I wasn't impressed. I actually enjoyed the flavor of the Pain a l'Ancienne as pizza crust much more than this recipe. For that reason, I'm kind of glad that I screwed up the Pain a l'Ancienne because I'll most likely use that as my go-to pizza dough recipe from here on.

The good news is that I still have three more dough balls to practice with. I'll keep you posted in the event that I finally do nail one and have that perfect photo to share with you.

Thanks as always to Nicole from Pinch My Salt for hosting this fantastic challenge. I'm still learning and still get excited each week as I tackle the next recipe.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hanky Pankies

If you're a cheese purist (anti-Velveeta) or are here in search of a healthy appetizer, read no further. Just please come back tomorrow and I promise you'll find something more to your liking.


OK. For the two of you who are remaining, let me share my recipe for Hanky Pankies, and then the three of us can hit the gym afterward, OK? OK.

Hanky Pankies are one of my go-to foods for parties. Why? Because they're easy and they can be made ahead and kept in the freezer until needed. They're also one of the first things to disappear from the food table every time I make them. With the holidays approaching, you can be sure that I will have at least two gallon baggies of these in my freezer at all times.

Hanky Pankies

1 pound bulk sausage
1 pound ground beef
1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed (see note below)
1 TBSP Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp garlic salt
party rye or pumpernickel bread

In large skillet brown sausage and ground beef. Drain. Return meat to skillet and return skillet to burner. With burner turned off, add Velveeta and cover skillet with lid. The Velveeta will take just a few minutes to melt. When melted, stir to combine. Stir in garlic salt and Worchestershire sauce. Let mixture cool for 10-15 minutes so the cheese thickens back up a bit. Top each piece of party bread with a heaping tablespoon of the meat and cheese mixture. Place breads on wax paper-covered baking sheets in a single layer and freeze for about an hour. Remove from baking sheet to gallon-size freezer bags and store in freezer.

To bake: Preheat oven to 425. Place desired number of hanky pankies on baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

NOTE: I have tried this recipe with 2% Velveeta and it works, but the richness is lost. And let's face it; the rest of the ingredients pretty much slam the door on this being a figure-friendly recipe in the first place.



Saturday, October 24, 2009

How I'm Spending My Weekend (Weekend Whine)

I don't know why this always catches me off guard. I mean it's not like it doesn't happen like clockwork every Spring when the weather starts warming up and again in the Fall when it starts to cool back down, but I guess I must just put it out of my mind the rest of the year because when it happens, it still overwhelms me and drives me absolutely freaking crazy.

I'm talking about the beetles invasion. And I'm not referring to John, Paul, George and Ringo, unless of course these Asian lady beetles are prone to taking on the masculine names of famous musicians.

For approximately two weeks in the spring and fall I become a professional bug sucker. Using the highly technical apparatus pictured below, I stand guard at doors and windowsills, always on the ready to suck these bugs to their deaths.

*disclaimer* Do not try this at home. I have been through rigorous training and have logged many hours as an apprentice before becoming licensed to suck. (The ladder climbing class alone is enough to break most people.)

Hundreds upon hundreds of them. Into my hair they drop. The dog spends the entire time shaking himself silly, trying to keep them from buzzing into his ears. There's even one climbing on my keyboard as I'm typing this. The sound of the vacuum cleaner running is as much background noise as the television or radio. It's only for two weeks each time, but I'm telling you for those two weeks, I'm fit to be tied.

The bright side? They're not termites. I've been there, done that too. Talk about insanity!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Potatoes Au Gratin (FPF)

In this week's edition of Food Processor Fridays, I'm going to be learning right along with you, my loyal readers. Doesn't it do your heart good to know that I don't know it all like I sometimes want you to think I do? (Nod your head here please.)

You see, as I was reading over a recipe for potatoes au gratin that I'd found in the booklet enclosed with my Cuisinart, I knew immediately that 60 ounces of potatoes was going to yield much, much more than the six servings that was stated. So I immediately cut the potato amount back to two pounds. I could have cut it back even more because as you can see by the photo below, two pounds of potatoes made approximately 8 servings, four individual 1-cup servings and a separate 4-serving casserole as well.


I also knew that the stated baking time of 25 minutes was not going to be adequate time to get these potatoes done to the tender, creamy consistency that I was shooting for. It wasn't enough time for even the small ramekins, so I can't imagine that it would have even come close if I'd used the 4-quart baking dish and 60 ounces of potatoes that was suggested.

So see? I figured out all the details for you. Unless you want to eat au gratin potatoes until the cows come home, you'll be happier with this adapted recipe. These really were tasty potatoes and I love that there's no butter in them. The richness comes from the cheese, whole milk and half & half which have their own amounts of fat of course, but when spread out among eight servings, we're still only talking a little over eight grams of fat per generous 1-cup serving. Not too terribly bad for a very rich tasting potato dish.

Potatoes Au Gratin

3 ounces Gruyere cheese
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small mild onion, peeled and quartered
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut flat at ends
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup half & half
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 8 ramekins or 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Insert shredding disc into food processor and shred cheese. Remove from processor to separate bowl.


Insert metal blade into food processor. With machine running, drop onion pieces and garlic cloves through feed tube and process until finely chopped. Put onion/garlic mixture into a large saucepan with the milk and half and half.

Rinse out processor bowl and insert shredding disc. Shred potatoes.


Add potatoes to milk mixture. Season generously with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring continuously to prevent scorching. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.


Remove saucepan from heat. Place ramekins or casserole dish on a baking sheet and distribute potato mixture evenly between them. Top each dish with the shredded Gruyere.


Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your dish. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mini Pumpkin Toffee Cheesecakes (Treats For Co-Irkers)

I'm so glad that you don't actually get to see behind the scenes and witness the craziness that sometimes occurs when I'm baking. It's not that I don't know what I'm doing; it's more that I get distracted and forget how many eggs I've added to something and I'm then forced to look in the trash and count the shells. Or maybe I'll be working on two recipes at the same time and accidentally add an ingredient from one recipe to the other recipe instead. On one occasion I may have even added ammonia to a recipe calling for white vinegar. In my defense, both gallon jugs are stored under the sink and look almost identical! Don't freak out. I caught the mistake as soon as the ammonia smell hit my nose, but the ammonia was already dripping off the spoon into my salad dressing. Do-over.

Today was one of those days. In true Mag-math fashion, I calculated the amount of cream cheese incorrectly for these mini pumpkin toffee cheesecakes, but by the time I'd figured it out, the cream cheese was already creamed with the brown sugar and I had to refigure the entire recipe to make it all come out correctly. It was no big deal except that there was leftover cheesecake batter to deal with. I decided to see if I could use the extra batter to make these mini-cheesecake tarts.


They turned out beautifully and I'll keep this in mind for future cheesecake recipes because each one of these mini tarts is just enough for hubby and I for dessert. I store all my individual cheesecakes in the freezer and thaw them as needed. They take only about a half hour to thaw and are great to have on hand when company drops by, or in the event that you have a late night emergency craving for cheesecake. (Not that this has ever happened to me, of course.)


Mini Pumpkin Toffee Cheesecakes

Crust:

1/2 cup gingersnap crumbs (I used the food processor)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
2 TBSP sugar

Filling:

12 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup milk chocolate toffee bits

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Lightly spray the wells of the miniature cheesecake pan with cooking spray.

Crust:

Combine ingredients for crust, mix well, divide among the mini cheesecake pans and press into the bottom. I used a shot glass to do this. Bake crusts eight minutes, until set. Transfer to a wire rack for cooling, and lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Filling:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat well. Add the pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice and beat well until fully mixed, about 1 minute. Stir in the toffee bits. Pour the batter over the crusts, dividing it evenly among the pans.

Bake until filling is set, 20-25 minutes. Cool on wire rack, and then refrigerate at least three hours before unmolding and topping.

Topping:

1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup marshmallow Fluff
1/4 tsp vanilla
tiny pinch of salt
Whisk topping ingredients until smooth. Dollop a rounded teaspoonful in the middle of each cheesecake. Sprinkle milk chocolate toffee bits on top if desired.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Panettone Panzanella With Bacon And Brussels Sprouts

"I really, really like this salad," said hubby during dinner this evening, "but if someone asked me to describe what it tastes like, I don't think that I could." As I listed each ingredient he'd nod enthusiastically, and was then able with each subsequent bite to notice that particular ingredient's presence.

Tangy, sweet, apple-cidery vinaigrette
Caramelized, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside Brussels sprouts
Buttery toasted, citrusy Panettone croutons, seasoned with sage, thyme and freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Crispy, smoky and salty bacon bits
Cold, bold and crunchy radicchio


Sound interesting? It was truly a unique and delicious salad and quite striking in appearance. I think this would be a fantastic salad to serve at upcoming holiday dinner parties, don't you?

The reason I even decided to try this recipe was that I needed to find a way to use some of the Panettone I'd made for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge yesterday. I froze most of it and plan on trying my hand at some Panettone French toast this weekend, but I still had two small loaves left to toast into croutons for this salad.

The original recipe can be found at Epicurious and my adaptation follows below. This recipe serves eight so feel free to halve it. (I did.)

Panettone Panzanella with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Apple Vinaigrette:

2 TBSP butter
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, quarter, cored, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sweet onion, diced
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup apple cider (may not need all of this)

Croutons:

9 cups 3/4" cubes Panettone
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh sage, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
6 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Salad:

1 10 oz head of radicchio, halved cored, sliced
12 ounces center cut bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled (I did mine in the oven at the same time I roasted the Brussels sprouts.)
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved
2 TBSP olive oil


For the vinaigrette:

In a medium heavy skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add apples and diced onion and saute until brown, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes. Cover and cook until apples are completely cooked and soft. Place apples, onions and pan juices into a blender and let cool for a bit. Add honey, oil and vinegar and process until smooth. Add cider a little bit at a time until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt and pepper.

For the croutons:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place Panettone cubes into a large bowl. In a small skillet, melt butter then add garlic, sage and thyme. Saute for a minute or two, until fragrant. Pour butter mixture over the Panettone and toss to coast. Sprinkle cheese over all and season with salt and pepper. Spread cubes onto prepared baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, about 6-8 minutes, stirring halfway through bake time. Do not over brown these. You'll want them golden and crispy on the outside, but still soft on the inside. Cool on baking sheet.

For the salad:

Place radicchio in a large bowl of ice water. Chill for at least an hour.

Oven roast the Brussels sprouts at the same time you're toasting your croutons. Toss Brussels sprouts with the 2 TBSP olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes or until lightly caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside until ready to use. You'll want these at room temperature.

Combine croutons, bacon and Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Drain radicchio very well and then add to salad. Add vinaigrette to coat, tossing to blend well.

Panettone on Foodista

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Panettone (BBA Challenge)

I have been looking forward to making this Panettone with about as much excitement as I hold for my yearly gynecology appointment. If you've been following along with me as I bake my way through Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, you already know that with the exception of raisins in raisin bread, I absolutely despise fruit and nuts in my bread.

Know what though? Heretofore, I'd never eaten bread with fruit that had been soaked in a half a cup of rum. Yeah, I know! As it turns out, I love bread with fruit! In fact, after eating a whole loaf slice, (HIC) I'm ready to proclaim this bread one of my favorites from the whole bookie wookie!!!

I'm really not snockered. Well, at least not on rum. (HEE!) In fact, I'm fairly certain that most of the alcohol evaporates during the baking process so I don't think it would be possible to get inebriated from eating this Panettone.

Instead of using candied fruit and golden raisins for this recipe, I used this dried fruit blend from King Arthur Flour.

It was soaked overnight in a mixture of rum, Fiori di Sicilia, orange extract and vanilla.

I found that the dough took extra time and flour to come together in such a way that I could handle it, but I finally found my window pane and settled the rich dough into a bowl to ferment for two hours.

Instead of making the traditional full-sized loaves, I opted to make smaller loaves and baked them in 3 1/2 inch Panettone papers that I ordered from Amazon. These aren't the smallest, muffin size papers, but the next size larger. I used about 6 ounces of dough per loaf, totaling nine loaves.

I baked them for 40 minutes and their internal temperature was right at 185 degrees.

I have to admit that I'd never tasted Panettone before so I'm not really worthy of judging this recipe over any other Panettone recipe, but I will say that it truly was a delicious bread. I was pleased with the soft and tender crumb as well as the citrusy flavor of the fruit bits. I would definitely make this bread again.

Thanks again Nicole at Pinch My Salt for organizing this challenge. Next week we're making Pizza Napoletana. Now that one I REALLY am looking forward to!