Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Penne Ala Vodka


Well, I finally get it. I've tried vodka sauce before and I just didn't quite understand what all the hype was about. I didn't find it much better than regular sauce and I knew it had a ton more calories/fat. Today, however, I stumbled across a super simple vodka sauce recipe and decided to give it a try. Well I guess super simple is my style because I loved it. It was flavorful and creamy and delicious! I had some left over dough so I made some rolls and dipped them in an olive oil, butter, herb mixture. Thanks Foodie Bride for the perfect simple recipe!

Simple Vodka Sauce
(Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride)
2/3 cup Vodka
pinch crushed red pepper
6 Tbsp butter
3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (canned)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parm-reggi, grated

Add the red pepper to the vodka, set aside. Melt the butter, add the vodka, and bring the sauce to a boil. Add tomatoes and cream and return sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Toss cheese and sauce with the pasta. Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheesecake the daring way....

This months challenge appeared to be really easy. Cheesecake, which I've made before, just with a new twist. Rolled into balls, dipped in chocolate and served like a lollipop. I hate to say it, but I'm really not sure that I can call this a "successful" challenge. This is really the first challenge that I haven't felt very happy with. There were several places where it just seemed to go wrong for me.

First, I under baked my cheesecake. The recipe says to bake for 35-45 minutes. After 60 minutes I finally felt like it was set enough. The center was still a little jiggly, but it usually is with cheesecakes. So I let it cool and then stuck it the fridge to firm up over night. At first touch it seemed firm. But I knew with the very first scoop that something was not right. When I went to try and roll it into a ball it turned to goop in my hand. Only the very outer edges were firm. All I can say is thank goodness for my pampered chef scoop! I used that to form some very sloppy balls.

I had a few topping ideas in my head. I knew I wanted to dip the cheesecake in semi sweet chocolate since I don't really care for milk chocolate. I also planned on rolling them in chocolate sprinkles (or jimmies), drizzling with peanut butter, and I had a grand idea of flavoring the chocolate with raspberry extract. I think the problem was that my cheesecake was very oddly shaped. So it was hard to dip and then roll. Then on the last half of the batch I tried my extract. Big mistake. For some reason my extract turned my perfectly melted smooth chocolate into a stiff, sticky mess. Certainly not suitable for dipping and rolling. So I pitched the chocolate and got lazy on the second half and just drizzled.

The good news is that the cheesecake tasted good, and I managed to take some decent pictures despite their sad sad look. I think I would like to try this recipe again and make sure that my cheesecake is all the way set next time.

There is other good news too! The Daring Baker's have launched a new site that has public forums where non-members can post their baking trials and triumphs! Stop by and check it out. Also check out the blog roll to see what the other DBer's have been up to! Thanks to Elle & Deborah for a very challenging challenge! ;)

Cheesecake Pops

Adapted from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.
Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

I knew the moment I saw this recipe that I would love it. I really can't say no to green chilies. I love them. I also have a hard time saying no to chicken enchiladas. I am happy to report that this recipe did not disappoint me! I'm excited because the flavors are similar (but actually much better) to the chicken enchilada's I have made before, but this recipe is from scratch and uses no cream soups. I did use flour tortillas so I'm not sure if the actually "disqualifies" me from using the word enchiladas, butnext time I will try it with corn tortillas. I also think that the filling would make a great base for enchilada soup. So you'll probably see a post about that soon! Enjoy!

Green Chile Enchiladas
(Source: The Way the Cookie Crumbles food blog)

Note: To wet the tortillas before heating and rolling them, I usually hold them under running water for a second. Alternatively, you could brush water on them using a pastry brush.

1 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (12-16 ounces)
salt and pepper
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water (I used chicken broth)
3 tablespoons butter
½ large onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk plus ¼ cup
4 ounces chopped green chiles, undrained
½ cup sour cream plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar, shredded, plus ¾ cup (3 ounces)

1. For chicken: Adjust oven racks to the lower-middle and upper-middle positions; heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed 9-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until oil just begins to smoke; swirl skillet to coat evenly with oil. Brown chicken breast skin side down until deep golden, 3 to 4 minutes; turn chicken breast and brown until golden on second side, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Place in oven on lower-middle rack. Roast until thickest part of breast registers about 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 18 to 25 minutes. Using potholder or oven mitt, remove skillet from oven. Transfer chicken to platter and set aside until cool enough to handle. Pour water into hot skillet and scrape with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Pour liquid into small bowl. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. For filling: Melt butter until foaming in medium saucepan over medium heat; add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1½ minutes. Do not brown. Gradually whisk in milk and reserved water from deglazing. Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Stir in green chiles, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Remove from heat, and stir in ½ cup sour cream.

3. For sauce: Set aside ¼ cup of filling mixture. Add an additional ¼ cup milk and 2 tablespoons sour cream and stir until blended.

4. Remove and discard chicken skin. Using fingers or fork, pull chicken off bones into 2-inch shreds and 1-inch chunks. Stir shredded chicken and 1 cup shredded cheddar into filling mixture. Spread ¼ of sauce in bottom of 9×13-inch pan.

5. Lightly wet both sides of four tortillas; place on baking sheet in oven for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Spread approximately ¼ cup of filling down center of each tortilla. Fold in sides and place enchilada, seam side down, in prepared pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas until all the filling has been used, wetting and warming tortillas as necessary.

6. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas and top with remaining ¾ cup cheese. Bake on upper-middle rack until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted, 20-25 minutes. Let rest 5-10 minutes and serve.

Black Beans

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic crushed
1/4 of an onion diced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 can Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chiles)
salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pan. When the oil is hot add the onions and garlic. Let the onions sweat out but do not let the garlic burn. After a few minutes add the black beans and chicken broth. Then season the beans with chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Bring the beans to a simmer then add the Rotel tomatoes. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fit For an Angel

Sunday afternoon Jesse and I were shopping at Sam's and he started drooling over a stack of pre-packaged angel food cake. He said in an oh-so-subtle way that he wanted to buy one, unless I could make it. Well, I took that as a challenge. Of course I could make one! Then of course I start to wonder if I really could make one. I never have before and really wasn't even sure how an Angel food cake was made. No worries, I have google! I was pleased when a blog I recognized popped on the first page. Baking Bites is a great blog. I usually check it at least once a week. I knew that I would not be let down by her recipe!

I'm not sure what I thought was in an angel food cake, but I was really taken back by the number of egg whites! It took 11! So now I have to find something to make with 11 egg yolks. Maybe some kind of custard or something, not sure yet, I have a few days to use them. Anyway, this recipe was very easy to follow and had the most delightful aroma. I didn't want to wait for it to cool! This recipe is definitely a keeper! The only thing I did differently was use a bundt pan, I didn't have tube pan with a removable bottom. It still worked fine and I had no trouble getting it out of the pan.

The Best Angel Food Cake

(Source: The Best Recipe as seen on Baking Bites)

1 1/2 cups egg whites (10-12 large), room temperature

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided

1 cup sifted cake flour

1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste

1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar and the cake flour. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until frothy, the add cream of tartar and salt. Beat until fully incorporated then begin to add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar 1-2 tablespoons at a time. When sugar has been added, beat egg whites to soft peaks. You will know when you have soft peaks because the egg whites will look like soft waves and when you lift the beaters, the peaks will droop back down into the batter. If your batter is falling in ribbons, it is not quite down. Don’t be afraid to slow down the mixer and check a few times as you get close. Do not beat all the way to stiff peaks. Once you have soft peaks, add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat for a few seconds to evenly distribute.

Sift the flour/sugar mixture over the egg whites in 6-8 additions (depending on your proficiency with folding flour into egg whites) and gently fold it in after each addition. It is better to take your time and do it gently than to rush and deflate the egg whites.

Spoon batter into an ungreased 9 inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Smooth the top with a spatula and tap the pan on the counter once or twice to ensure that there are no large bubbles lurking beneath the surface.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Mine took 55 minutes.

Remove from oven an invert pan over a bottle. Allow to cool completely or overnight.

Gently run a thin knife around the sides, then around the bottom, of the pan to release the cake when you are ready to serve it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sausage and Cheese Calzone

Ok, I guess it's "technically" a stromboli since I put the sauce in the dough...

Friday night we ate out with my parents and last night we had dinner at a friends house so I definitely wanted to make dinner tonight. I knew that I had some left over pasta sauce and italian sausage in the fridge so I thought about making a baked ziti or something. Then I remembered this dough I made a few weekends ago that I have been dying to try it again. So I settled on making calzones. It's funny because I make BBQ calzones all the time but I had never made one with "traditional" ingredients before. Now I have and I can't wait to do it again. :)

Sausage and Cheese Calzones

1 recipe for pizza dough (below)
1/2 lb italian sausage
1/2 cup pasta sauce
2-3 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dry parsley
Olive oil for brushing

In a small bowl combine 1 tbsp parmesan cheese and dry spices and set aside. Roll pizza dough into 2 even circles. Fill half of each circle with sauce, then sausage, then cheese. Fold the other half of the dough over the filled side. Pinch edges to seal. Brush each calzone with olive oil then sprinkle with dry spice mixture. Cut 2 inch slashes in the top of the calzones (to release steam). Bake at 425 for 15 -17 minutes.

Jay's Signature Pizza Crust
(Source: Allrecipes.com as seen on Amber's Delectable Delights)

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and brown sugar in the water, and let sit for 10 minutes.

Stir the salt and oil into the yeast solution. Mix in 2 1/2 cups of the flour.

Turn dough out onto a clean, well floured surface, and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let the dough rise until double; this should take about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, and form a tight ball. Allow the dough to relax for a minute before rolling out. Use for your favorite pizza recipe.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). If you are baking the dough on a pizza stone, you may place your toppings on the dough, and bake immediately. If you are baking your pizza in a pan, lightly oil the pan, and let the dough rise for 15 or 20 minutes before topping and baking it.

Bake pizza in preheated oven, until the cheese and crust are golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

**This dough makes enough for 3 calzones. I made 2 for tonight and froze a ball of dough for another time.**

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chewy Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Tonight we are going to have dinner with one of my very best friends from high school and her fiance. She is making dinner so I told her I would bring dessert. Even though I am always looking for an excuse to bake, I was for some reason stumped. I had no idea what to make. I thought about cheesecake, but Jesse doesn't really like cheese cake so I knew he wouldn't eat that. I also thought about a regular cake, but that seemed like too much. Brownies came to mind but I feel like brownies can some times ::gasp:: be over done. It seems like everyone is always bring brownies. In the midst of the five minute conversation I had in my head about brownies I remembered a cookie I had just tried this week. A bakery near where I work made these delectable chocolate cookies that tasted almost exactly like a brownie. They were rich with a fudgey center, but they were sturdy like a cookie. So I set out on a mission to find a recipe.

I settled on a recipe from Hershey's website since I have yet to be let down by them. These cookies are very good, but they came out a little more "rough" than I was expecting and lighter in color. Maybe I should have blended for longer? OR maybe I should have used half regular cocoa powder and half special dark? Either way the cookies are very much edible and I will be taking them to dinner, but I am still in search of the recipe for that delicious bakery cookie.....

Hershey's Chewy Brownie Cookies
(Source: Hershey's Kitchen)

* 2/3 cup shortening
* 1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
* 1 tablespoon water
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 eggs
* 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa or HERSHEY'S Dutch Processed Cocoa
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
* 1/4 cup chopped walnuts(optional)

1. Heat oven to 375°F.

2. Beat shortening, brown sugar, water and vanilla in large bowl on medium speed of mixer until well blended. Add eggs; beat well.

3. Stir together flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating on low speed just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle chopped walnuts on each cookie, pressing down lightly.

4. Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are set. Cookies will appear soft and moist. Do not overbake. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 3 dozen cookies

**I topped each cookie with chocolate ganache and confectioners sugar. I also added raspberry extract to half of my ganache along with a few drops of red food coloring. The cookies that are pictured have the regular chocolate ganache.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

Wow! That's really the best way to describe these cookies. Perfectly soft, with just the right texture and a great peanut butter taste. They really hit the spot, and that's saying a lot seeing as I have been craving chocolate chip peanut butter cookies for a while now and my expectations were high.

I started my search for the perfect recipe on Friday night. I started on Allrecipes.com. But the problem with allrecipes is that most of the reviews are crap. Half of them say it is the best recipe ever and the other half say it is the worst recipe ever. So you start reading great reviews and you get really excited. Then you come across the bad ones and you just want to throw in the towel. I decided that it would best if I just found a recipe in a blog. You still get first hand experience, plus you can see pics and read about any changes the author made or will make, with out a bunch of negative to throw you off. Now I have heard great things about this blog, but I have some how never really spent much time looking through it. Now that I know how great it is I am sure I will go back and you will see more entries with her recipes. I know that I will for sure make these cookies again. Mmm mmm mmm!

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies
(Source: Magnolia Bakery Cookbook; found on the Smitten Kitchen blog)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (I used smooth)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (for sprinkling) sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips (I used milk chocolate peanut butter swirl chips)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter chips. Place sprinkling sugar on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crissscross pattern (I used the back of a palette knife to keep it smooth on top), but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Stuffed Pepper Stew

I love stuffed peppers but I never think to make them. This recipe was so easy that I had no choice but to make it. I actually got it from a woman I work with. She was heating up leftovers one day for lunch and they looked and smelled so good. Of course having a total food addiction I had to ask her what it was and subsequently steal the recipe. I am so glad I did because this turned out to be a quick and delicious week night meal. Just a warning, this makes a TON. I didn't think to cut it in half but I definitely will the next time I make it. This could easily feed a family of six!

Stuffed Pepper Stew
(This is a Rachael Ray recipe but I'm not sure which cookbook it comes from)

2 tbsp EVOO
1 1/2 lbs ground sirloin
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp allspice (I omitted and used a tsp of chili powder)
4 cloves garlic
1 lg onion cut into bite size pieces
3 green peppers, seeded and cut (I used red and yellow)
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken stock
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup orzo pasta
12-15 basil leaves,torn
Grated Parmesan to top

Heat medium soup pot over medium high heat with EVOO. When oil is hot add onions, beef, salt, pepper and allspice (or in my case chili powder). Brown the meat for about 5 minutes then add garlic, peppers and bay leaf and cook 7-8 minutes or until veggies are tender. Stir in stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook to al dente. Turn off heat and fold in basil. Serve in shallow bowls with grated cheese on top. *I topped with cheese and put under the broiler until the cheese was bubbly and starting to brown.