Sunday, January 29, 2012

Valentine Cookies

The holidays seemed crazy busy this year. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was because we had a software change at work...very intense stuff. At any rate, I didn't make near the amount of baked goods that I usually do. It was my family that suffered for it. They didn't get their cut-out cookies....

The good thing about cut-outs is that they can adapt to any time of the year. July? Make them red, white and blue. September? Some lovely autumn shaped cookies will do. Late-January? I think it's time for Valentine's Day cookies.

Awhile back, my good friend, Julie, asked me for a good oatmeal raisin cookie recipe. I happily obliged. She paid me back with her family recipe for Sour Cream Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting. It was a good trade. :)

Sour Cream Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting (Linsmeyer Family Recipe)
2c. Sugar
1c. Softened Butter
1c. Sour Cream
1tsp. Baking Soda
2 Eggs
4 1/2c. Flour
1/2tsp. Salt
2tsp. Baking Powder
1tsp. Vanilla

Dissolve baking soda in sour cream. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add sour cream/soda mixture. Mix well. Sift together 2 1/2 cups flour and the remaining dry ingredients. Stir into batter. Stir in remaining 2c. flour. Chill, Roll, Cut. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes on ungreased cookie sheets.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8oz. Softened Cream Cheese
1/2c. Softened Butter
1tsp. Vanilla
4c. Powdered Sugar

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Gradually add powdered sugar. Beat until fluffy. Frost cooled, cut-out cookies.


You've probably noticed that I didn't use the cream cheese frosting on these. I love cream cheese frosting, but I was in a hurry and needed something that would dry fast. Besides, I was out of cream cheese. So, I simply blended 1 cup of powdered sugar with a tablespoon of milk and a tablespoon of corn syrup and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Then I divided it into two bowls and dropped a little food coloring in one of them. Since, I'm no artist, I drizzled and dripped my way along the tops of the cookies. 

Great cookies! Now, I need to go buy some green food coloring and shamrock cutters. St. Paddy's day is right around the corner. :)

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Johnny Marzetti

I admit it. I was a little leery of this dish. Johnny who? But, the hubby was insistent. Johnny Marzetti is a food from his childhood. Macaroni and ground beef. It sounded like Hotdish to me. I've also heard it called Goulash. Or Hash. Or American Chop Suey. I had to do a little research. Apparently, Johnny really did exist. You've heard of  Marzetti salad dressings, no? Well, before the salad dressings, back in the 1920's, there was a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. The owner created this casserole and named it after his brother, Johnny.

A little more research revealed that there are many ways to make Johnny Marzetti. Some use tomato sauce; some, tomato soup. Some use macaroni; some, egg noodles. In the Panama Canal Zone, it's spelled Johnny Mazetti, and it been a popular dish since WWII...but they add green olives to their recipe. With all of these variations, I figured I could get away with just about anything....

Johnny Marzetti (my way)
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bag veggie crumbles (or 1 pound lean ground beef)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 can (15oz) tomato sauce
1 can (14.5) diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound rigatoni, cooked al dente

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.; grease a 2 quart casserole dish.

Heat olive oil in a medium sized heavy saucepan. Add garlic, onions and green pepper and saute until softened, about 5 minutes (if using ground beef, omit the olive oil and brown the meat, with the onions and green peppers; drain).Add the veggie crumbles and cook until heated. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and seasonings. Cook until heated through. Mix in the rigatoni.

Place half of the pasta mixture in the casserole dish. Top with half of the shredded cheese. Repeat the layers. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.

As you can see, I used the Basil, Garlic and Oregano flavored tomatoes for the sauce, this time around. Feel free to experiment and try the other flavors. I'll bet using the spicy green chile version would be good, too.

Don't be shy with the cheese...pile it on!

Doesn't look vegetarian, does it? To be honest, I can't tell the difference between the ground beef and the veggie crumbles....

In the end, the hubby loved my version. He said it tasted just like he remembered it. For me, it was successful, because it didn't taste like I remembered it. :D How do you make yours? And just what do you call it?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Braided Lemon-Sour Cream Bread

Once again, it's time for a monthly Improv challenge, hosted by Kristen of Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker. If you haven't had a chance to visit Kristen, you should take the time to do so.....not only does she post some great recipes, she has some great stories to tell.

This month our ingredients are Lemon and Sour Cream. As it happens, I was looking longingly at a Braided Lemon Bread recipe on the King Arthur Flour website.  After making a few adjustments, I had my January Improv Challenge in the bag! The best part is that while there are a few steps, it's easier to make than it looks.

This recipe starts out by making a sponge--think of it as a big kick-start to your yeast. As King Arthur describes it, this dough is so rich that it needs a little help to get it to rise quicker.  The dough is certainly rich, filled with butter, sugar, eggs, and (here's where I made my sub), sour cream. The recipe also calls for 2 teaspoons of vanilla or Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor and I have to tell you, that Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor is the bomb! My friend DeeDee recommended it to me, so I had to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did. It made the dough taste like it came from a bakery.

Let me just share a couple of hints when working with this dough (with any dough, really). First, if you measure your flour in measuring cups, spoon it lightly into the cup and level it off. Start with the minimum amount called for in the can always add more. If you do add more, add it a tablespoon at a time until the dough is the consistency that you want. This time you are looking for a soft dough, so if it's a bit sticky, no worries.

Often, when you read a dough recipe, it calls for you to "punch it" down after it has risen. I'm guilty of using those words, myself. These directions call for you to "gently deflate" the dough, which really makes much more sense. Why rip into those delicate cells of yeast? Gentle is the way to go.

While the dough is rising, go ahead and get your filling together. First is a layer of cream cheese filling (a mixture of cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and flour), and then there is a layer of lemon curd. You can buy a jar of lemon curd, but I prefer to make my own (printable recipe here) because I don't like it too be too sour.

Add the zest of one lemon to 3/4 cup sugar. Cream this mixture with 1/4 cup softened butter. Add 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, one at a time, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in 1/3 cup lemon juice and a dash of salt.

Place the lemon mixture in a medium-sized heavy saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture just comes to a simmer and starts to thicken (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat, cover and chill until needed.

You'll have more lemon curd than you'll need for the recipe...just keep it refrigerated and use it on toast, or waffles, or pancakes, or crackers, a spoon.....

Now you're ready to make your braid.

What we're making here is called a "faux braid". Although, it looks fancy when it's done, it's really quite a simple procedure. Just roll out the dough into a 10"x16" rectangle. The recipe suggests doing this on parchment paper, but I just love my silicone mat for this. The dough was easy to roll without even adding any additional flour.

Now just lightly press two lines down each side of the dough (making three equal divisions). You'll then spread the cream cheese mixture down the middle and top that with lemon curd. Cut strips on each side of the filling (making sure you have the same amount on both sides). Starting from the left, bring one strip of the dough over the filling diagonally. Repeat on the other side, so that the strips overlap and continue down the entire braid until you have your formed loaf.

It looks a little like a mummy at this point, no? The nice part about using the silicone mat is that you can just transfer the whole thing over to a baking sheet and bake. Just brush a little egg wash over the top, and sprinkle with some pearl sugar.

The sour cream was a great addition to the dough--it was very soft, and it stayed that way for a couple of days.

You can see what I did with my extra curd. :)

I was so happy with the results of this recipe that I'm going to be making it with different fillings. Cherries? Blueberries? Apples? Yes, yes and yes! I also am thinking that, with a few changes, I can make this into a savory braid. What kind of filling would you like to see?

Again, this recipe is from the King Arthur Flour website The only change I made was to swap out the yogurt for the sour cream. You can find a printable recipe here: Braided Lemon Bread

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Minnesota Blue Cheese

I'm Dutch and I'm from Wisconsin. This pretty much guarantees that cheese is part of my DNA. To say that I love cheese is an understatement. I will admit, however, that I am fairly unsophisticated when it comes to cheese. So, when my friend, Jennifer, brought a wedge of blue cheese to me, I was a little confused. It turns out that Jen works with Joe Sherman, who happens to be an artisan cheesemaker with Northern Lights Artisan Cheese....

......and he gave Jen a sample of his famous Blue Cheese to pass on to me. Well, I was flattered, to say the least. I haven't had much of a chance to review many true Minnesotan foods, so I really wanted to do a good job. Frankly, I was nervous. Would my unsophisticated palate be able to distinguish a good blue cheese from the grocery store variety? Or would it be like beer to me, where it all tastes the same? I needn't have worried--this cheese is amazing!

Northern Lights was founded in 2005, but Joe has been making cheese since he was 19 years old in the early 80's. Although, the company makes other varieties of cheese, it's the Blue Cheese that is Joe's crown jewel. Produced in small batches and aged 4 months, it really is the cream of the crop!

Originally, I had planned on incorportating the cheese into a recipe, Blue Cheese crackers, perhaps? But, it really seemed a shame not to just enjoy it in it's pure form....and it is tasty. Blue Cheese can be a little overwhelming, but this was smooth and buttery.

Of course if you want to incorporate it into other things, how about a nice Blue Cheese Butter? Melted on a beautiful steak, burger, or even melted on vegetables or pasta, Blue Cheese Butter is ever so versatile.

Just combine 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, with 2 tablespoons of Blue Cheese crumbles, roll it into a log and refrigerate until ready to use.

I guess I could have rolled it a little more evenly. :)

Mmmm...melty, buttery Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions....

Jen had a chance to sample several of Joe's cheeses.

Is that Minnesota Hot Colby I see? Yes, please!

Disclaimer: I received a sample of cheese to review. As always, all opinions are my own and I received no monetary compensation.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cheesy Cauliflower

Many of you are aware of the fact that my husband and my daughter are vegetarians. As a result, I've been eating less meat myself. It's a good thing I'm a fan of veggies, no? My biggest worry for the two of them, is that they get enough nutrients in their diet. My daughter is on her own these days, so I will have to trust that she's eating sensibly. And my husband? Well, he's subscribed to Vegetarian Times Magazine. Now I'm getting suggestions as what to try. How cool is that?

The first issue of Vegetarian Times came just the other day with a glorious looking cauliflower casserole, Mac-And-Cheese Style Cauliflower, gracing the cover. Hubby and I were both drooling over it. I had to make it.

The hardest part was getting the cauliflower into pieces.

The recipe calls for 1/2 cup nutritional yeast. What? Yeast? I had to look it up. Apparently, the yeast is there to provide nutrition--it's different than the yeast you use to make bread. Here's a link to some info on it: Nutritional Yeast. After a little searching, I found it at Whole Foods in the bulk food area. I will say that if the smell of yeast is offensive to you, you can skip this addition (maybe use a little less of the liquid that is called for in the recipe), but I found that the smell totally bakes out and if it adds some nutrition, why not?

The recipe also calls for homemade bread crumbs. While you can sub some Panko crumbs, the homemade ones are really easy. I like to keep a bag in the freezer---whenever I have a day-old baguette, I just swirl the dried out leftovers in my food processor and add it to the bag.

Just spray the bread crumbs with a little cooking spray. I like the olive oil spray. Is it just me or do those fake butter sprays smell funny?

Bake it until it's nicely browned and bubbly.

 A couple of observations: to prevent the moisture from the cooked cauliflower from making the sauce too watery, just keep it in the pan after you drain it, and put it back over the heat for a few minutes to dry it out. Thanks to Chris DeNicolo, for that sage advice. I'm also going to saute some chopped onions with the butter the next time I make it. Other than that, the recipe is perfect. It will be made again.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kettle Corn Cookies

Who  puts popcorn in their cookies? Apparently, Trader Joe's does, because I saw a box of Kettle Corn Cookies when I was rushing through the store just the other day. I didn't have time to stop and look at them, but I was intrigued. Sweet and salty? The combo has to be good.  So, I made my own version.

Kettle Corn Cookies
Printable Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups Kettle Corn
1/2 cup salted peanuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugars. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla. Gradually, add the flour mixture, beating well. Stir in the Kettle Corn and the peanuts.

Drop by rounded teaspoons (I used a cookie scoop) onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool slightly before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Verdict? I like them. Hubby likes them. I'm bringing them all to work tomorrow, so we don't eat them.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pretzel Buns

Have you discovered Pinterest? Oh boy---is it addicting or what? I keep pinning pictures of great looking food to my boards. Besides my own stuff, though, I hadn't made any of the things that I fully intended to. Until today. Today, I made the Pretzel Rolls.

I've been eyeing these little devils for weeks, all the while buying pretzel buns at Trader Joe's. Want to see how I made them? Here you go:

Pretzel Rolls (adapted from [Une Bonne Vie])

1 3/4 cups milk, warmed to 110 degrees F. (bathwater warm)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3-3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
Coarse salt for sprinkling

Water Bath
7-8 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons baking soda

Place the warmed milk in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the olive oil and the yeast. Let this mixture stand for about 5 minutes or until it starts to foam (this way you know the yeast is working). Add three cups of the flour and the salt.

Attach the dough hook and knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding additional flour, if needed. The dough should nearly clean the sides of the bowl, but still be a little tacky. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly, by hand, for about a minute until the dough is smooth and elastic.

When measuring the flour, lightly spoon it into the measuring cup and level it off with a knife. If you have to add flour, add it a tablespoon at a time.

Place the dough in a well oiled bowl and turn it over so that both sides are oiled. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the dough rise in a draft-free area until it's doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.; Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Punch the dough down and plop it on a floured surface ( I prefer my Silpat), then divide it into 8 pieces. Form each piece of dough into a ball, slightly flattened. Place the dough balls on the lined baking pan, cover and allow to rise for an additional 20 minutes.

While the buns are rising, prepare the water bath. In a large pot, combine the water, salt, and baking soda; bring to a rolling boil. Gently drop the dough buns into the boiling water, two at a time, and let them "poach" for about 30 seconds on each side. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them back on the lined baking pan. Using a serrated knife, cut 2-3 lines across each bun and sprinkle with course salt. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the buns are a deep brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.

I found the dough balls to be a little sticky when I was putting them into the boiling water, so I dipped my fingers in a little flour first. The water does foam up, so make sure your pot is large enough. A crinkly appearance is normal--this disappears during baking.

As you can see, I was a little stingy with the salt--I usually scrape salt off of my pretzels, but I found that I did like a little on these.

If you aren't going to use all of these right away, go ahead and pop some in the freezer. They thaw quickly and stay fresh much longer if frozen.

I may never buy another hamburger bun again.