Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Favorite Vinaigrette

Even if you are not a cook and have no desire to be one, anyone with a kitchen who occasionally puts a meal on the table needs to have a few basic recipes. You need a recipe for a good biscuit, nourishing bowl of soup, comforting meatloaf, and an easy vinaigrette. 

I never buy salad dressing anymore, I make it. It is just too easy to make it fresh than have to run to the store for something that has been preserved and bottled for God knows how long. This is my
go toversion, but it can be changed to suit in a variety of ways. When I want to dress a salad that contains fruit, I'll use raspberry vinegar, double up on the sugar, and halve the mustard (though always use some mustard, if only a tiny bit, because it provides an added zing). When I am making a version to dress an Italian salad, I'll make it a couple of days ahead and add a sprig of fresh herbs -- generally thyme -- for added flavor. To top a simple wedge salad, I'll often whisk in a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The varieties are endless and, with this one simple, easily changeable recipe, you will always have a delicious dressing on hand just waiting to enhance your perfect, fresh salad. Commit this one to memory, you'll thank me later. 

Simple Vinaigrette

1/3 cup cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt.
½ cup vegetable oil

Place all dry ingredients into the bottom of a medium size mixing bowl and whisk together until blended.  
Whisk in vinegar to blend.  
Slowly add oil in a stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. 
Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Will keep up to a week (if it lasts that long.)

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Twix Truffle Brownies

When either of my boys celebrate a birthday I always allow them to select whatever they'd like for dinner or dessert and I make it for them. Sometimes this is a difficult decision because, over the years, a goodly amount of food has been consumed. Number one son celebrated a birthday in August. When I asked him what he wanted for dessert it took him a couple of days to reply. He finally decided, since he is his mother's son when it comes to loving Twix bars, that he would like these Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars.  At about the same time he was making his decision, I stumbled across this recipe on the Chef-in-Training blog. I asked my son if, perhaps, we could try these instead of the cookie version because I was intensely curious. I mean, look at them!  Four layers of yummy goodness.

When his adorable little family came for a mini celebration, we tried them. Thumbs up all around. I asked my son which he preferred, the cookie version or the brownie version. He said he thinks there's a place for both. I agree. Give these a try, and imagine just how lovely they'd look with some candy corn or a pumpkin pressed down into the top. Fall is on the way!
Twix Truffle Brownies
Slightly adapted from Chef-in-Training

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup flour

Shortbread Truffle Layer
1 (10 oz.) box Lorna Doone's Shortbread Cookies
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar

Caramel Layer
14 oz. bag of caramel cubes, unwrapped
2 Tablespoons milk

Chocolate Layer
1½ cups milk chocolate chips
½ cup semi-sweet milk chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon shortening

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray and then line with parchment paper, overlapping about an inch on each end. This allows for easy removal of the brownies from the pan, once cooled, making them a cinch to cut and serve.

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add vanilla and eggs and mix well. Add salt, cocoa powder and flour; stir to combine. Do not over mix.

Pour into prepared pan.  Bake for 22-25 minutes.

Shortbread Truffle Layer
Place cookies in a food processor and pulse until they become a fine powder. Add cream cheese and sugar and pulse until mixture is well blended. Gently press shortbread truffle evenly over cooled brownies.

Caramel Layer
Place caramel cubes and milk in a medium microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments until melted, stirring in between each increment until melted and smooth. (This took me a minute and a half.) Evenly pour over shortbread truffle layer, spreading to cover completely. Place in fridge to let it cool.

Chocolate Layer
Combine chocolate chips and shortening together in a medium microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between each increment until melted and smooth. (This took me one minute.) Evenly spread over the top of cooled caramel layer. Let set up in fridge before cutting.*

*These need to be stored in the fridge and removed about fifteen minutes before serving. I didn't do this initially, and had a bit of a problem with chocolate slippage as you can see from the picture.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sweet Cherry Pie with Streusel

With the end of cherry season upon us, it’s time to bid it adieu in fine fashion, by turning the last of the plump, delicious bings into a toothsome cherry pie.  Despite the many and varied pies that I have featured on this blog, largely I am a pie baking novice.  I had never made a cherry pie prior to this one, not even using canned cherries or cherry pie filling.  I must say that I was enormously pleased with this one.  Instead of having mushy, overly-sweet-to-the-point-of-cloying cherries, these tasted as if I had just popped a fresh one into my mouth to enjoy; the streusel topping adds the perfect touch. I do believe this is going to become a summer ritual.  Join me, won’t you?

Sweet Cherry Streusel Pie
Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

1-2/3 cups streusel to top pie (recipe below)
1 small baking apple, peeled and shredded
5 cups sweet cherries, pitted
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Your favorite pie crust

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Have ready and refrigerated one partially pre-baked pastry-lined 9-inch pan, crimped as desired, and streusel to top.  Position racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack.

Place shredded apple, pitted cherries, lemon juice, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl and toss until well mixed. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and evenly distribute the chilled streusel on top.

Place the pie on a baking sheet on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then reduce heat to 375°F, move the pie to the center of the oven and continue to bake until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling juices are bubbling throughout, about 30-35 minutes longer.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, about 2-3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Streusel Topping

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugars, and salt. Pulse until mixed. Add in butter all at once and pulse 10-12 times until mixture resembles coarse meal. Chill 15 minutes before using.

For those without a food processor (and if you do not have one I recommend them for making scones alone), this topping can also be made by sifting together the dry ingredients, adding in the butter, and rubbing it together with your fingers until chunky, but not homogenous. I prepared it both ways, and found the processor method superior.

The streusel will keep refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 1 month.

My mother was the pie baker in the  family.  Today would have been her 88th birthday.  Happy Birthday, mom.  I miss you more than I can say.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Clean Snax™ A Truly Healthy Snack...no kidding!

What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say healthy snack (after you stop laughing, that is)? Impossible?  Non-existent? Tasteless? Cardboard? Or worse, perhaps?  If you, like me, have always found snacks that fall into the healthy category to be sorely lacking in everything from taste to texture to true nutritional value, let me tell you that this problem has been solved. 
Melissa's Produce, a name synonymous with good health and quality, has recently introduced four varieties of their Clean Snax (Isn't the name alone a comfort?  Clean.) Square morsels of crunchy goodness, gluten free Clean Snax contain both chia seeds (that alone pack a powerful nutritional punch), and flaxseed (a nutritional Amazon, with some evidence that they may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes). That's a lot of benefits in a snack food!
They come in four tasty varieties to suit every palate (though I find them all equally yummy): Almond, Cranberry, Coconut, and Pumpkin. Most importantly, they are good, very good. Mr. O-P had no idea that he was eating something good for himself when he popped open the lid on the convenient plastic container of the cranberry variety, and started noshing away. Considering he has been known to run from healthy food, if you don't tell him how good these are for him, neither will I.
A great snack to keep in the car for a boost of energy on a long drive, or to revive kids after a hard day at school. The perfect take along for camping, or for getting some protein into that afternoon coffee break.  These crunchy nuggets also make a great breakfast food crumbled a bit and drizzled with milk. Use them to top yogurt or pudding parfaits, crumble them into pancake or waffle batter, stir them into cookie dough in place of chocolate chips, or use them in place of streusel on baked goods. You are limited only by your imagination. But here's a tip: If you can, buy these by the case. You'll thank me later.

Disclaimer: I was provided with these snacks to sample from Melissa's Produce in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, you will love them.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Lemon Glazed Blueberry Scones

Remember all of those blueberries that I bought?  I am still chipping away at them.  I don’t regret buying those four GIANT containers, but they are starting to challenge my creativity. After using them in a savory dish here, I decided to go for something sweet with these fresh blueberry scones.If you have never made scones with fresh blueberries before, then you are in for a real treat.  They absolutely burst with freshness with every bite.  The additional moisture in the scones, however, prevents them from keeping for a long time, so be prepared to gobble them up on the same day that you make them, or package for the freezer where they will keep for up to three months.

Lemon Glazed Blueberry Scones

For the Scones
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of two Meyer lemons (reserve
¼ tsp.)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into
½” cubes
1/2 cup sour cream
1 extra large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries

For the Glaze
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest (reserved from above)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse together sugar and lemon zest until blended and fragrant.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and pulse until combined. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream and egg until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and pulse until dough forms, 5-6 pulses. 

Turn mixture into a bowl and fold in blueberries.

Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut into 6 wedges.  Carefully place on prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake until golden, about 17 to 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, remove to a wire rack under which you have put a sheet of waxed paper, and prepare the glaze.

In a medium bowl mix together the melted butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the tops of the warm scones once, then allow five minutes to set, then drizzle again, and let harden.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

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