Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chocolate Cinnamon Muffins

Chocolate Cinnamon Muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
heaping 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
6 Tbsp oil or melted butter

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. 
In a large bowl, stir together the first 5 ingredients. Mix in the cinnamon and chocolate chips. Make a well in the center.
In a separate small bowl, beat the remaining ingredients. Add to well. Stir just to moisten.
Scoop batter in prepared tins. Bake for 20 minutes, until well risen, firm, and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
These are delicious (but a bit messy) warm!

These were quick, easy, and decadent. They rose very nicely and were nice and moist. The hint of cinnamon really helped to bring out the chocolate flavor in these muffins. One change I made, was I used mini chocolate chips, then placed a spoonful of regular-sized chocolate chips in the center of each muffin. Fresh from the oven or reheated in the microwave, this made a nice molten center.

Tee, Susanna. "Chocolate Cinnamon Muffins." Recipe. 1 Mix, 100 Muffins, Bath, UK: Parragon Books Limited, 2008. 55.

Monday, January 30, 2012

My First Cake

Since I have not baked anything recently, today I will show you my first cake. This wasn't the first cake I had ever made, I had made many before that, but this was the first cake I decorated somewhat professionally. This was right after I took a three day basic cake decorating course. Before this, decorated cakes for me would simply consist of a simple layer of frosting, and maybe adding some sprinkles or other decorations, but that was about it. Taking this course changed everything. It taught all about buttercream and piping; how to pipe borders, lettering, edging, and best of all, how to make buttercream roses (I'm still working on that one). This course was very enjoyable and helpful to me. After taking it, I went out and bought some more decorating equipment, whipped up some more cakes, and practiced, practiced, practiced. I learned so much about cakes and decorating techniques. 



This is the cake I decorated on the final day of the course. I was trying to practice many of the techniques I had learned. I used a simple one layer 8-inch round cake, iced in vanilla buttercream. Then I dyed the remainder of my buttercream blue to use for decorating.  The bottom border is a shell border. The top border is a star border. The top of the cake contains some piped rosettes. These three techniques were all done with the same star tip. I added some writing with a simple open tip. Then I made buttercream roses using a special flower tip and a flower nail. These were some of the first roses I had ever made. I am quite proud of them, considering it was 32C that day, and the buttercream was beginning to melt! Since this cake, I keep improving upon my decorating skills with each new cake. I love cake decorating. It is so fun and relaxing!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Master Sugar Cookie Recipe

Sugar cookies are suitable for any occasion. They can be plain and simple or decorative and fancy. They can be cut into virtually any size and shape imaginable. They may be decorated with icing, sprinkles, sugar, candies, glazes, or chocolate. They can be piled high with cream and fruit, or sandwiched together with a filling. They can also be jazzed up a little with the addition of spices, cocoa, or chocolate chips. Here is a basic recipe for simple sugar cookies. The recipe may easily be doubled or tripled.

Sugar Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, mix well. Stir in the remaining ingredients until incorporated. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a flattened disk and wrap well with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes before rolling.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325F. Grease or line baking sheets. Roll out the dough, one half at a time, into 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Cut out shapes with a cutter dipped lightly in all-purpose flour. Bake cookies 1-inch apart on baking sheets for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned, depending on size. 

Cool cookies completely before frosting and decorating. Sprinkles and sugar decorations may be placed on before baking. Cookies may also be rolled into 1-inch balls if you don't have time to refrigerate, roll, and cut.

Here are some sugar cookies that were decorated to look like atoms for a chemistry class. The ratios of protons, neutrons and electrons may not be totally realistic, but they look pretty cute.



DECORATING IDEAS: Frost cookies with icing, melted chocolate, or a corn syrup glaze. Leave as is, or add candies: sprinkles, jelly beans, candy-coated chocolates, chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, marshmallows, etc.  Sandwich cookies together with chocolate filling, peanut butter, jam, icing, cream cheese, etc.  Pipe a swirl of whipped cream on each cookie and top with a fresh strawberry or other fruit.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Learn From Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. To err is human. Mistakes are an inevitable process of life. Unfortunate as they may be, mistakes can teach some very valuable lessons. I have acquired much of my cooking advice through mistakes, trial and error. You have to experiment and take some chances to find out what works and what doesn't. For example, I learned that when in doubt, use parchment paper to line your pans. Parchment paper is guaranteed not to stick to anything. Waxed paper or foil on the other hand, may stick to your squares and make them unnecessarily difficult to eat. Forgetting to set a timer may result in burnt baked goods. And all-purpose flour is not always a suitable substitution for tapioca. It doesn't thicken nearly as well. 
Some of the best things in baking have come from mistakes. Brownies are believed to be invented when a chef forgot to add a leavening agent to his chocolate cake. Also, many acceptable substitutions we use today came from trials. The use of sour cream in cake mixes to keep them moist most likely originated when someone was out of milk.

Other mistakes I have made? One time I halved a recipe for chocolate cake to make just one layer. It ended up overflowing out of the pan and onto the oven floor. When your cake starts to smell like burnt marshmallow, check it out. It's probably not a good sign! Don't halve candy recipes either, they don't set properly. Oh, and moist cakes don't tend to support themselves very well. That's how I ended up with my creation, "Caramel Chocolate Mudslide".

Typically, you should follow all of the instructions of a recipe as closely as possible, but know when to trust your own instincts. And don't be afraid to experiment a bit, that's how really great results are achieved! And listen to those many pieces of baking advice you have heard, most of them are right. Like frosting a warm cake? Don't do it. Peeking into the oven while a cake is baking? It will probably affect it's rising. 

Bottom line here: Mistakes will happen, especially in the kitchen. Accept them, admit them, and learn from them.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hamburgers

Tonight my father whipped up a batch of his famous hamburgers for supper. In the summertime, he likes to barbecue them, but in the winter, that isn't a very practical idea. Cooking them in the oven is a decent substitution, although I still prefer the taste of them when they are barbecued. Dad's hamburger recipe is quite simple, he uses just fresh ground beef as the base, along with some binders such as egg and breadcrumbs, and some flavor additions such as minced onion and ground black pepper. Nothing fancy and nothing too difficult. He also makes the hamburgers relatively small in size compared to the burgers you see in restaurants today. None of those 1/4 or 1/2 pounders here! Some of my family's favorite toppings for hamburgers include: lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and relish. Barbecue sauce, raw onion, and bacon slices are also good. We tend to eat our burgers on just plain old hamburger buns, but fancier sesame or foccacia buns would also be good. There is nothing like a classic hamburger for supper!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cookie Baking Tips

Cookies are easy, relatively quick, and delicious little bundles of joy! They can be anywhere from simple no-bake to elaborate rolled and filled cookies. Drop cookies are excellent recipes for beginner bakers to try. Rolled and cut-out cookies are fun to make for holidays and special occasions. Filled and iced cookies are great for fancier occasions and parties. Whatever type of cookies you want to make, here is a basic list of tips that should help every type of cookie turn out delicious.

  1. Start with room-temperature ingredients. Room temperature ingredients are the best for baking, so take butter, eggs, and milk out of the fridge a half hour or so before starting.
  2. Make sure butter is properly softened. If a recipe calls for softened butter, make sure it is thoroughly soft before using. Do not use the microwave to soften butter, as it yields uneven results.
  3. Cream butter and sugar together well. If a recipe states to cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, this step will take a couple minutes by machine and several minutes by hand. Ensure that it is done properly for the best texture and rise in cookies. Also make sure that any eggs and vanilla are thoroughly incorporated as well.
  4. Chill dough if needed. For most rolled and cut-out cookies, and drop cookies with a particularly sticky dough, the dough must be chilled for several hours before baking. This is often done right in the mixing bowl, or the dough is separated into disks and wrapped with plastic wrap. Allow dough for rolled cookies to warm up slightly if too stiff to roll.
  5. Flour any rolling surfaces, rolling pins, cookie cutters, and hands that will contact these cookies to prevent sticking.
  6. Bake only one tray of cookies at a time, in the center rack, to prevent uneven cooking or burning.
  7. Check the cookies after the minimum baking time and every minute after. They are usually ready when they are just set, can be lifted without breaking, or are slightly brown on the bottom.
  8. Make sure cookie sheets are thoroughly cooled before placing another batch of cookies on to them bake. This prevents the cookies from spreading.
  9. Do not grease the pans unless a recipe calls for it. Lining pans with parchment paper is a very good and convenient idea. This way, sheets of cookie dough can be prepared in advance and just slipped onto a baking tray to bake. A particularly good idea if you don't have many cookie sheets. It also eliminates the worry of cookies sticking, and cleanup is a breeze.
  10. Transfer cookies from the baking sheets according to recipe instructions. Some say immediately to prevent sticking, some say wait a few minutes for the cookies to set. Cookies should be transferred to a wire rack or a plate with a spatula to cool completely before storage.
  11. Store cookies in an airtight container or a sealed plastic bag. Many cookies can last up to a week at room temperature, freeze for longer storage. Store different types of cookies in separate containers.
  12. Cookies should be completely cool before frosting or filling. However, sprinkles and hard candies may be placed on cookies before baking.
 
                                       PHOTO CREDIT:"jollys-cookies_n"  http://greatlakesgazette.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/a-jolly-good-place-in-petoskey/ . Great Lakes Gazette, n.d. Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Salmon

Salmon is a very nutritious fish best known for its benefit of omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats). Salmon is an excellent protein choice for supper. It is relatively low in calories and the bad fats, and high in protein and the good fats. Nutritionists are always recommending we eat more fish rather than meat, and that we consume more omega-3s. Salmon is the way to go!  Fresh salmon can be a little tricky to get sometimes and can be a bit pricey, but canned salmon is always a great alternative. It is quite inexpensive, and the presence of bones (soft, perfectly edible) contributes high amounts of calcium and Vitamin D. Another tasty choice is smoked salmon, which can usually be purchased refrigerated or frozen. It has a very nice flavor and is great to make appetizers and hors d'oeuvres. Salmon can be prepared by baking, grilling, smoking, or pan-frying. My favorite preparation method for salmon is to smoke it on maple planks on the barbecue, with just a sprinkle of brown sugar for flavor. Salmon also goes well with a variety of different foods. A fool-proof choice is to pair salmon with stir-fried broccoli and rice. Salmon also pairs well with risotto and noodles, makes an excellent sandwich, and creates a delightful appetizer served atop a slice of baguette with cream cheese. I had salmon for supper tonight, and if there were leftovers, I would use them for a sandwich tomorrow. But of course, there isn't any left!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dad's Raisin Bread

My father's mother always used to make loaves upon loaves of homemade bread. So I guess that is why my father gets the urge every once in a while to try his own hand at bread. He has made homemade bread a few times before, usually white but sometimes raisin or cinnamon raisin. He has had his fair share of troubles, from poor recipes to low risings, but this time he really nailed it. I think he has finally found a perfect recipe for raisin bread, with a few of his modifications of course. First of all, the recipe didn't call for any eggs, but Dad added one. We also found the bread a tad too salty, so next time he will cut the amount of salt in half. And it just isn't true raisin bread without adding cinnamon!


This bread has a nice, soft texture with a crisp outer crust. The raisins are plump and juicy. You can really taste the rich, buttery texture in the bread. It is fairly firm bread, that is good for toast in the morning or for sandwiches for lunch. It rose very nicely and baked well. While the bread baked, the enticing aroma that filled the entire house was almost too much to handle. We were not able to wait the 10 minute recommendation of cooling the bread in the pan. Surprisingly, the bread didn't fall apart even though we hacked into it while it was still piping hot. I hope Dad makes this bread again real soon. Delicious!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crunchy Multi Seed Loaf

Yesterday I had the craving to make and enjoy some homemade bread but I didn't have a lot of time to do it. I didn't have the time to mix up the dough, I didn't have the patience to knead, and I didn't have the oven space to allow the dough to rise. So I took the easy way out and made a quick-bread, more like a loaf. Loaf breads are a lot quicker and easier than making traditional yeast breads, and they can also turn out quite well. They aren't quite as sturdy as yeast bread, and they are usually richer, so they are not the ideal choice for sandwiches. They are an excellent choice for breakfast and snacks though. Loaf breads use chemical leavening such as baking powder or baking soda in place of yeast, so they do not need to pre-rise. They also tend to be moister and sweeter than yeast breads. This loaf was very moist, sweet, and soft. The taste and texture reminded me of banana loaf without the banana. This loaf contained whole wheat flour, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, brown sugar, buttermilk, and egg, making it quite hearty and nutritious.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Merry Fruit Squares

The other day I came across some leftover mixed fruit from Christmas time baking in the cupboard. Although this stuff will last for a year, thanks to a large amount of sugar and a multitude of preservatives (not exactly healthy stuff, but essential ingredients of fruitcakes), I don't feel like looking at it for that long. I really didn't feel like mixing up any more fruitcakes or fruit breads, as we just finished eating those. So I went looking for a different recipe that uses mixed fruit. 

I came across a tasty-sounding one in Company's Coming "150 Delicious Squares". If you have some leftover fruit, or happened to pick some up at the after-Christmas clearance sales, you should try these yummy squares!



Merry Fruit Squares
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup glazed cut mixed fruit  
1/4 cup dates, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

*I used about 2/3 cup each of chopped mixed peel and glazed mixed fruit, because that's what I had. I didn't use any nuts.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until they are thick and increased in volume. Add the sugar and continue beating. Beat in vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Pour into greased (or lined) 8x8 inch square pan. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes until set. Cool and cut into squares. Freezes well.

These squares are quite soft in texture, almost cake-like. They are sweet, moist, and just a little sticky. They are chock full of delicious fruit. The batter is very basic, simply eggs, sugar, vanilla, flour. The recipe suggests you could add an icing, but the squares really don't need it. They would make a colorful addition to a dessert plate any day. They are very quick to whip up - just one bowl. And they cut very easily. Yum!



Paré, Jean. "Merry Fruit Squares." Recipe. 150 Delicious Squares, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1981. 95.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins

I found this delicious recipe in my Hershey's Recipe Collection recipe binder. It makes twelve very moist and very decadent muffins. They also contain oatmeal, so you could eat them for breakfast. They are still much healthier than some store-bought or coffee shop muffins. They are also quick and easy to make. I left out the chopped walnuts, and I certainly didn't miss them!

Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk or soured milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I left these out)

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a small bowl, stir together the oats and the buttermilk. Let stand for at least 20 minutes.
In a large bowl, stir together the oil, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Add oat mixture, mix well. In a separate medium bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Add to oat mixture, stir until just moistened. Stir in nuts, if using.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

West Side Publishing. "Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Muffins." Recipe. Hershey's Classic Recipes, Lincolnwood Illinois: Publications International, Limited, 2009. 338.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cereal

For some reason I've got breakfast on the mind, so I am going to name as many different types of cereals (brand names) as I can. I won't go into individual flavors or varieties though. I won't even peak into the cupboard.

  • Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Kashi, Vector, Oat Bran, Frosted Flakes, Corn Flakes, Chex, Shreddies
  • Oatmeal Crisp, Honey Bunches Of Oats, Reese Puffs, Nesquik, Honeycombs
  • Sugar Crisp, Special K, Heart to Heart, Red River, Quaker, Cocoa Puffs
  • Alphabets, Cap'n Crunch, Mini Wheats, Lucky Charms, Life , Raisin Bran
  • Muslix, Just Right, Great Grains, Apple Jacks, Trix, Bran Flakes, Fiber One
  • Honey Smacks, Golden Grahams, Wheet-A-Bix, Cookie Crunch, Total
  • Magix, Crispix, Cinnamon Harvest



I'm sure you can think of many more. Out of this list of 45, I am not exactly proud to announce that I have consumed 30 of them at least once in my lifetime (for most, it has been a lot more than once).

A lot of these cereals have also been transformed into cereal bars, snacks, cookies, etc. Their labels are largely recognized by the mascots they used, as in Rice Krispie Squares with Snap, Crackle, and Pop, and the toucan on the box of Fruit Loops and Fruit Loops Bars.

This list is largely composed of sugar cereals, and there are a lot more that I have not mentioned. These cereals really should not be considered breakfast cereals at all, but rather desserts. They have very high sugar contents, and do not make a good start to the day. Examples include: Reese Puffs, Nesquik, Froot Loops, and Cookie Crunch. Even cereals that sound healthy may contain large amounts of sugar, such as Honey Bunches Of Oats and even Multi Grain Cheerios. Check those labels!!

PHOTO CREDIT:"b209192437 (1).jpg" 
http://www.healthkicker.com/720496554/choosing-the-right-cereal/. healthkicker, n.d. Friday, January 20, 2012.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brown Rice

When we say brown rice in our house, we are not referring to the whole grain, healthier version of the popular grain. Rather, we are actually referring to white rice that looks brown due to the addition of flavorings and spices. Does this make a healthier side dish? No, probably not, but does it taste good? Definitely! It is a recipe my mother has been making for a long time. It goes well with a variety of main courses, and makes a good-sized amount to feed the whole family. It also makes good leftovers, and is good for potlucks.


This dish is flavored with dry onion soup mix and soya sauce. Sometimes we add sliced mushrooms and/or chopped green pepper to this dish for added color and flavor. The dish is very easy to make. You simply mix dry rice with the flavoring ingredients directly in the casserole dish, pour boiling water over it, and place it in the oven. The temperature and cooking times can vary, depending on if you want to bake something else along with the rice at the same time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Minecraft Cake

Here is a cake I made to resemble a video game character. This is the creeper in the video game "Minecraft". This is just the head of the creeper, although it would have been very neat to make the full body from cake too, and have it stand up (this also would have been very difficult and would make quite a large cake). I don't know much about video games, but apparently the creeper character is known to explode. Well, my cake didn't explode, which is probably a good thing, because then it would not have been able to be eaten.

To make this cake, I made a rectangular chocolate cake. I started by dirty-icing the entire cake in vanilla buttercream. I marked out a pattern of squares, each 2cm x 2cm in the icing. I started with the face, piped with chocolate icing, and used a picture I printed off of the internet as my guide. Then I made three different shades of green buttercream, and generated a random pattern of how the colors would go in my head. I used a basketweave tip turned upside down, so that the lines (or basket weave) would not show. Essentially, this made just a flat tip. I piped straight lines to fill in all of the squares. This was a fairly simple cake to make. The piping was not difficult, as it consisted simply of lines and squares. It was a very fun cake to make though, and although it may seem a bit tedious, I didn't find that at all. I finished off with a simple shell border around the bottom edge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Roasted Chickens

Roasted chicken! Yum! These little birds are so much quicker and easier to prepare than an entire turkey, and leftovers are also easier to handle. We ended up cooking three birds to feed our family, with leftovers, but one bird would make a nice meal for a smaller family. It is also nice to have some precooked chicken on hand. Freeze it and save it for later to add to soups, stews and casseroles. Roasted chicken dinners are very good, they are usually composed of vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. However, if you are tired of the traditional roast chicken dinner, roasted chicken is also very good for hot chicken sandwiches, casseroles, soups, and divans. Chicken is an extremely versatile meat that goes with a wide variety of vegetables, grains, and flavors. Roasting chicken allows you to easily cook an entire chicken, and lends a moist and tender quality to the chicken. It isn't difficult, and all you need really is a suitable roasting pan. Here we have a large enough roasting pan to accommodate three whole chickens, but we've also got a smaller roasting pan for when we only want to cook one. In my opinion, if you are going to have the oven on to cook one bird, you might as well throw in another or two, as they may come in handy later on for a quick and easy meal!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Slow Cooked Root Vegetables

This is a nice vegetable dish to make in the wintertime, when there aren't many vegetables in season, the ones that are in season aren't all that appealing on their own, fresh vegetables don't have the best flavor, and hot, slow-cooked dishes are the way to go. This recipe combines equal amounts of carrots, parsnips and turnips with some sweet potato and onion. They are flavored with olive oil, salt, pepper, brown sugar and parsley. All of the vegetables are cut into approximate one inch chucks, seasoned, and thrown into the slow cooker. Simple, easy, and no work after the vegetables are prepared. This side dish makes a nice accompaniment to any meal. I was a little bit skeptical when my father first pulled out this recipe, but he really pulled it off. Not bad at all for a dish of cooked winter vegetables! I really wish I had remembered to take a picture of these vegetables when they were still in the crock pot right before they were served, as they looked very lovely presented that way. But I didn't, so here is a picture of them in a bowl.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Créme Brûlée

Créme Brûlée is a fancy, restaurant-style dessert that can easily be prepared at home with a little practice and a few special tools. Is is basically a rich baked custard which is chilled, then covered with a layer of sugar. The sugar is then lit on fire - which causes it to caramelize. A mini kitchen blow torch is the right tool for this job, they are easy and safe to use, and relatively inexpensive - definitely a worthwhile investment! (See my post from December 2nd) Of course, you may just place the créme brûlées on the top shelf in your oven and broil them on high for a few minutes, but that is not nearly as fun. This also has the disadvantage of the entire dish becoming warm, when really the highlight of créme brûlée is the warm, crisp top over the cool, creamy bottom. 

You can make créme brûlée pretty much any flavor you want; chocolate, orange, caramel, vanilla, cappuccino, etc. I have done chocolate before, which is really good. This time I decided to do vanilla. Some chefs will insist you must use a real vanilla bean to achieve a good vanilla flavor, but I got very good results using vanilla extract. Just don't go for the artificial stuff, or you will definitely be disappointed. This is a basic recipe for vanilla créme brûlée. It can be altered to suit your tastes and the amount you need. Many cookbooks publish this same basic recipe, with a few slight changes such as oven temperatures and ingredient amounts. Some say to heat the milk and cream first, but I didn't find that necessary. Some also say to use a water bath while others don't. In my experience, I have found that a water bath helps the custards to cook more evenly.



Créme Brûlée
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup milk, evaporated milk, or half-and-half cream
1 vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease six to eight ovenproof ramekins, and place them in a baking pan large enough to accommodate all of them. Prepare a kettle of water to boil. 

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick. Sugar should be dissolved and mixture will be frothy.

If using a vanilla bean, steep the contents in a saucepan with the milk and the cream for about 20 minutes. Strain, then temper the egg yolks with a bit of this mixture. Whisk the rest into the egg yolks until smooth. If using vanilla extract, skip the steeping process and simply add the milk, cream, and vanilla to the egg yolks. Whisk until smooth.

Divide mixture among ramekins. Pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, being careful not to spill any water into the ramekins. Carefully place in preheated oven. Bake for about 50 minutes until almost set. Filling may still jiggle a little in the center, but will set upon cooling. Remove ramekins from hot water bath, cool completely. Chill for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days.

Sprinkle each ramekin with more granulated sugar. Ignite using a kitchen blow torch, or place under a preheated broiler on top rack in oven. Heat until sugar is browned and bubbling. Serve immediately.

I accompanied my créme brûlées with some homemade meringue cookies. A light garnish to balance out with the rich texture of the custards.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chocolate Meringue Torte

Here is the finished dessert using the meringue bases from yesterday. It is rich and chocolatey, but incredibly nice and light at the same time. It is composed of a decadent whipped cream chocolate cream cheese filling sandwiched between three eight inch layers of meringue circles, and finished off on the outside with more filling and some fresh cherries. This creates a beautiful contrast between the base and the filling, both in taste and texture. The meringue is light and delicate, and the filling is deep and rich. The meringue is made with brown sugar, which as I had previously discovered, lends it a more sweet and caramel-like flavor that complements the chocolate cream cheese filling perfectly. Although this dessert looks very impressive and earns the name of a torte, it is relatively simple and quick to put together. It also must be made in advance, so it can chill overnight and set and blend flavors. You may just need to add on a few last minute decorations, slice, and serve!

FILLING
1 package cream cheese (eight ounces, or 250 grams), softened
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup whipping cream

FILLING: Beat the cream cheese, milk, and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the melted chocolate. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until stiff. Fold into the other mixture. Spread between the layers of meringue, and frost the top and sides of the torte. Chill for eight hours or overnight.

I found this filling recipe made too much filling for the three meringue circles - it would have overpowered the delicate flavor of the meringues and weighed them down. So I didn't end up using all of the filling. Next time, I would cut down on the filling recipe by at least a third, maybe even halve it. Actually, the meringues are so good they could almost star on there own, you hardly even need a filling!

Paré, Jean. "Chocolate Meringue Torte." Recipe. Desserts, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1989. 94.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meringue Circles

Tonight, I had some extra egg whites so I decided to whip up some meringues. I am planning to make a Chocolate Meringue Torte tomorrow using these circles by sandwiching a rich chocolate cream cheese filling between these three eight-inch round layers of meringue, but they must cool completely before assembly. The meringue shells should hold the filling beautifully. I was a little leery to make these meringues today, as the weather is a bit wet, but they turned out very well regardless!

MERINGUE
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar, packed


Preheat oven to 275F. On a piece of parchment paper or lightly greased foil, outline three circles, each eight inches in diameter. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until soft peaks form. Add brown sugar gradually, beating until very stiff. Spread the meringue evenly over the outlined circles, smoothing the tops. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until meringues are dry and fairly firm. Allow to cool before removing foil.

Paré, Jean. "Chocolate Meringue Torte." Recipe. Desserts, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1989. 94.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pancake Supper

Pancakes for supper are a regular occurrence for my family. In fact, we rarely eat them for breakfast. We commonly enjoy waffles for supper too. Often these are served with pan-fried ham and scrambled eggs. Having breakfast-style meals for supper is quick, easy, and tasty. It also makes a very well-balanced meal that doesn't require a lot of preparation work and uses ingredients on hand. These are the pancakes that my mother has been making for as long as I can remember. Mom likes to make small pancakes, about four inches in diameter, instead of large plate-sized pancakes. That way we can eat a lot more, and they fit on the plate and in your mouth better. Everyone enjoys different toppings on their pancakes, common toppings in our house include butter, syrup, jam, peanut butter, and applesauce. Cooking pancakes on a griddle makes the work go a lot faster - we can fit up to ten pancakes on our griddle at the same time. That means a lot less batches, and a lot less cooking time. Griddles are also very easy to use and clean. Here are some pancakes that were cooked up for supper tonight!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hearty Beef Stew

There is nothing like a hearty bowl of beef stew to warm you up on a chilly winter day, especially when it's your mother's homemade stew. This stew starts with a thick, homemade broth that is simmered on the stove for several hours, filling the house with delicious smells. Then cubed stewing beef, sliced onion, sliced carrots, diced potatoes, and canned peas are all added. This is simmered until just tender. The stew is excellent served with a crusty piece of bread, and makes a very filling meal that warms you right up! The recipe can also be adjusted to make more servings, and it reheats very well the next day. A nice change from the common chicken noodle soup or bowl of chili. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Creaming Butter

Creaming butter, often with sugar, is an extremely common, crucial step in many recipes for baked goods such as cookies and cakes, but it is also a step that is often done improperly. Creaming butter and sugar together at the start of a recipe incorporates a large number of air bubbles, which causes the baked product to rise well in the oven and turn out light and fluffy in texture.

TO START: Butter should be softened. To soften butter, it should be placed out at room temperature (on the counter) for at least thirty minutes, but no more than seventy five minutes, or until butter reaches a temperature of sixty-five to seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Butter that is warmer will become too soft to cream properly. Although butter packages say to keep the butter refrigerated, fresh butter can safely be stored at room temperature for up to a day or two, and older butter can stand at room temperature for a maximum of two hours, without posing any risk of spoilage or food poisoning. Although quicker and much more convenient, try to refrain from softening butter in the microwave. Often butter softened in the microwave either does not get soft enough or gets too soft and melts in places. It is rare to get butter at just the right temperature by microwaving it, as microwave ovens heat foods unevenly. If you are in a hurry, cut cold butter into smaller pieces to warm at room temperature, or put the pieces in a small bowl placed in a larger bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

TO CREAM: The butter should be placed, with the sugar if called for, in a bowl that is able to accommodate the butter with plenty of extra room for mixing. Butter can be creamed by hand with a wooden spoon, by using a handheld electric mixer, or by using a stand mixer. Obviously creaming by hand will take the longest, but it is also the most fun! Now, simply beat the butter! Begin at low speed, increasing speed if necessary. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula often to ensure all of the butter creams fully with the sugar. Most recipes recommend beating until light and fluffy. When it is light and fluffy, you will know, if you don’t know, it is not light and fluffy yet, so keep on beating! Thoroughly creaming butter really takes about eight to ten minutes, but if a recipe indicates a shorter length of time, follow the recipe. Many bakers don’t cream butter for nearly as long as they should, so don’t be afraid to beat! The risk of over beating butter is quite low, so just keep going.

ADDITIONAL TIPS: Use a bowl that is at room temperature, so the butter does not melt or solidify. Creamed butter should be used immediately. If butter melts or becomes too soft to cream, do not try to re-solidify it and use it again, save it for another purpose. If you are using hard margarine in place of butter, the same rules and methods apply.

There, now that you have your perfectly creamed butter, you are probably ready to add the eggs to your recipe. Before you do, I recommend you take a spoonful of the creamed butter and sugar mixture and taste it. It is absolutely delicious, especially if the sugar is brown! You will also notice the incredibly desirable light and creamy texture in your mouth. That is the result of properly creamed butter.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Making Candy

Most candies have the reputation of being difficult and time-consuming to make, but some are quite quick and fun to make. Fudge, caramels, toffees, pralines, nougats, and marshmallows are all rewarding to make. They just require a little practice and patience. If you are planning to make candy, the best thing you can do is invest in a simple candy thermometer. These thermometers are quite small, and can cost as little as $5. They are definitely a worthwhile investment. If you don't happen to have a candy thermometer, you will still be able to make most candy recipes, it will just require a little closer attention and extra testing. However, if you want to be absolutely sure you have the correct temperature, and to avoid disappointment or poor results, I highly recommend you invest in a candy thermometer. For example, I once made a fudge recipe that required boiling the mixture to an exact temperature, removing it from the heat, then cooling it to an exact temperature before pouring. Had I missed either of these stages, the fudge would not have turned out. Candy thermometers are also useful for checking the temperature of hot oil when deep-frying. Here is a little guide to candy thermometer temperatures, what they mean, and how to recognize them without a candy thermometer.

  • Thread (223-234˚F or 106-112˚C)
    • Forms loose, thin thread. Easily drips from a spoon.
    • Uses: sugar syrups, candied fruit, glacé.
  • Soft Ball (234-240˚F or 112-115˚C)
    • Forms soft, sticky ball in cold water, but flattens easily once removed.
    • Uses: caramel, fudge, praline, fondant, buttercream.
  • Firm Ball (242-248˚F or 116-120˚C)
    • Forms pliable, sticky ball that holds shape briefly.
    • Uses: caramel, nougat, marshmallow, gummies, toffee, meringue.
  • Hard Ball (250-266˚F or 122-130˚C)
    • Forms hard, sticky ball that retains shape.
    • Uses: caramel, nougat, toffee, divinity.
  • Soft Crack (270-290˚F or 132-143˚C)
    • Forms firm, but pliable strands.
    • Uses: butterscotch, nougat, taffy.
  • Hard Crack (295-310˚F or 146-155˚C)
    • Forms stiff, brittle strands that break easily.
    • Uses: brittle, toffee, hard candy, lollipops, spun sugar.
  • Caramel (320-360˚F or 160-182˚C)
    • Forms strands that become golden to dark amber.
    • Uses: praline, brittle, caramel coatings, nougatine.

“Stages of Cooked Sugar.”  http://www.joyofbaking.com/StagesOfCookedSugar.html . Joy of Baking, n.d. Monday, January 9, 2012.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

The ultimate combination again: chocolate and peanut butter! This is what is referred to as "cheaters' fudge" because it is not boiled to a certain pouring stage as indicated on a candy thermometer. The recipe comes from my Hershey's Recipe Collection recipe binder. Although this fudge is boiled and not made in the microwave, it is a very quick boil, that need not be completely accurate in time. Also, after the boiling process, marshmallows are melted into the fudge to give it the characteristic fudge texture. It is a fairly easy recipe that makes very good fudge. This fudge has a perfect texture, not too soft and not crumbly, with a smooth, rich taste. I cut some of my fudge into fun shapes. Because this fudge is fairly high, I cut it in half horizontally before using cookie cutters to cut out the shapes. This way, the fudge is not too thick and is easier to cut. These shapes make the fudge more visually appealing. The only problem with this is there will be more scraps of fudge leftover. Not good for serving, but excellent for nibbling! This fudge is very tasty, and the flavors of chocolate and peanut butter marry together perfectly.

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8-inch square baking with foil, butter foil.
In a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, milk and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, then boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients until melted and smooth. Transfer to prepared pan. Refrigerate for one hour, or until firm. Cut into pieces. Store in a cool, dry place, tightly covered. Makes about 1 3/4 pounds. 

West Side Publishing. "Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge." Recipe. Hershey's Classic Recipes, Lincolnwood Illinois: Publications International, Limited, 2009. 246.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Crumble Cake

Finally some fresh baked goods to post about! Today I made a Peanut Butter Cup Crumble Cake. It begins with a basic moist chocolate cake layer baked in a 9x13 inch pan. Then it gets frosted with chocolate buttercream, scattered with chocolate peanut butter cup pieces, and drizzled with chocolate ganache. The final product is an indulgent combination of chocolate and peanut buttery goodness. 

Overall, the recipe is fairly simple and straightforward to make. The chocolate cake is from scratch of course, but it is an easy, one-bowl recipe where the dry ingredients are measured into a bowl and mixed, then the wet ingredients are added and the entire mixture is beaten together. The buttercream frosting is also one-bowl. The method for making the ganache is interesting; some buttercream is reserved then heated and thinned out to form a ganche. It leaves out an extra step of having to make a separate ganache, but it really adds to the overall taste and appearance of the cake. The peanut butter crumble is simply chocolate peanut butter cups that have been cut-up and scattered over the cake.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Fondue

Fondue is a very fun dish to prepare and eat! I myself own two separate fondue sets, each complete with a fondue pot, candle, and dipping forks; and one even came with mini ladles, dipping bowls, and a turn-table for the dippers. Fondue originated in Switzerland, and literally means "to melt". It was a peasant dish, and was created to use up old foods.

There are many different types of fondue, and fondue can be an appetizer, a meal in itself, or a dessert. Types of fondue include: chocolate, butterscotch, eggnog, cheese, cream, and broth fondues. Each type has the same basic idea: prepare a sauce, put it in the fondue pot over heat to keep warm, prepare some foods for dipping, dip the foods in the sauce, and enjoy! I have an entire cookbook devoted to different fondue recipes.

Fondues are very fun, but some safety precautions need to be taken, as heat and open flames are involved. Traditional fondue meals also follow a certain etiquette. 
  1. No double dipping
  2. Don't use your fingers to dip
  3. Each guest should have two forks: one for dipping, and the other for taking the food off of that fork and eating with
  4. The fondue pot should be safely placed on a sturdy surface, within easy reach of all guests, and away from any materials that may catch fire
  5. It is said that if you drop a piece of food in the fondue pot, you must kiss someone at the table

Here is a chocolate fondue I prepared for Easter. I used a bunny-shaped cookie cutter to make a dipping pool of chocolate fondue on everyone's plate, with little candies for the eyes and noses. The dippers here include: apple, banana, strawberries, cereal treats, and cookies.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Lingering Treats From Christmas

As you may have noticed, I have not been doing much baking lately. That's because of all of the Christmas goodies that are still around here. We still have a freezer stocked with Christmas cookies, we've got fruitcake, panettone, boxes of chocolates, and candy canes. It will take us a little while to finish eating all of these goodies and finally give us some free space in our freezer, and then I can make some more treats. I thought it would be appropriate if I put together a mini-guide with suggestions to how long these items will be good. Then you can determine what to eat first and what to save for later.

Baked Goods
  • Plain Cookies and Bars - Will keep in the freezer in an airtight container for up to a year, but start to lose quality after 3 months. Store different types of cookies in separate containers.
  • Iced or Decorated Cookies and Bars - Don't hold up as well in the freezer, but well-wrapped can keep for several weeks or a couple months.
  • Fruitcake - Most fruitcakes well-soaked and well-wrapped will keep at room temperature for several months, even after a few months of aging. They also hold up very well in the freezer for longer storage. Store-bought varieties will keep for six months to a year.
  • Panettone or Fruit Bread - Keep in a cool, dry place, well-wrapped, for a month or two. May be frozen for longer storage.  Store-bought varieties will keep for six months to a year.
Candy and Chocolate
  • Boxed Chocolates - Check the best before date, most last six months to a year. Once opened, they may not last as long, unless all of the chocolates are individually wrapped. Chocolate is generally good until it begins to take on a white color, called bloom, and even then, sometimes this does not effect the quality of the chocolate.
  • Candy Canes and other hard candies - Since these are composed primarily of sugar, they will stay good for a year or so.
Dinner Leftovers
Leftovers from Christmas dinner will keep in the freezer, well-wrapped.
  • Turkey, Chicken, Ham - 2 to 3 months.
  • Vegetables - 3 to 6 months.
  • Bread/Rolls - 6 to 12 months.
  • Desserts - Cakes, pies, and cheesecakes freeze well whole or in slices, for a few weeks to a few months.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ribs

Ribs are one of our favorite dishes to make in our slow cooker. A slow cooker is a very convenient kitchen gadget to have, it is incredibly easy to use and clean, and it prepares meals for you effortlessly while you are away. To make these ribs, they are first marinated in a dry spice rub overnight. In the morning, they are placed in the slow cooker to cook, and are eventually covered in sauce as well. The sauce may also be prepared in advance and refrigerated overnight. 

My father has done quite a bit of experimentation with slow-cooked ribs, testing whether they should be pre-browned and how, when the sauce should be added, how much sauce should be used, and how long the ribs should cook for. He has also tried different sauces, including barbecue and bourbon whiskey sauce. I believe he has finally came up with the perfect ribs! Here are the steps to follow:
  1. Place the ribs in a plastic zip-top bag and coat with a dry spice rub. Shake to coat. Marinate for several hours or overnight.
  2. Nine hours before mealtime, place the ribs in the slow-cooker on low.
  3. After four hours of cooking, drain off any fat from the ribs, add the sauce, and continue to cook.
That's all there is to it! This makes a great batch of tender ribs that fall off the bone, but stay on enough to eat with your fingers. They are excellent served over a bed of rice to soak up any extra sauce. Although some sources recommend to precook the ribs, it doesn't seem to add anything to the flavor, makes the ribs cook too quickly or too tender, adds an extra step, and adds extra cleanup to a dish that should be a simple slow-cooked meal. The sauce is added later to prevent it from becoming greasy due to the rendering of fat from the ribs, and to prevent it from becoming overcooked and separating. However, the lack of sauce at the beginning of cooking does not cause the ribs to be dry.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry muffins make a classic choice for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. They are just so delicious on their own! 

You can find recipes for blueberry streusel, blueberry nut, blueberry banana, and blueberry oat muffins, but this is a recipe for just plain old blueberry muffins. 

This is the recipe my mother always uses. I love coming home to the enticing aroma of a batch of fresh blueberry muffins.

Blueberry Muffins
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter or hard margarine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk (may need a bit more)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center.  In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg until smooth. Mix in milk and vanilla. Pour into well. Stir just to moisten, batter will be lumpy. 

Stir blueberries with flour lightly (to prevent them from sinking in the batter). Fold into batter. Fill greased or lined muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake in 400F oven for 25 minutes until nicely browned.

From Company's Coming "Muffins & More".

Paré, Jean. "Blueberry Muffins." Recipe. Muffins & More, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1983. 13.