Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gingerbread Houses

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I once attempted homemade gingerbread houses, about 5 years ago. It was a horrible failure and I haven't thought of it since then. But with young boys, it sounded like a great holiday bonding activity, so I shored myself up and determined to try. (PS- I missed last month's challenge due to procrastination and travel. I will be posting an attempt, albeit very late, watch for it!)

I chose to make the Good Housekeeping recipe, since I love molasses and had it and whipping cream on hand. It made a delicious dough! I used a template I found online for the house pattern, it can be found here. I tried to make the simple caramel syrup for wall glue and failed. It just crystallized as the water evaporated. Oops. Well, luckily the royal icing worked wonderfully on my house!The roof stayed up!

However, I also thought I'd make multiple houses since there was a terrific amount of dough left over. I thought I'd just shave an inch of each side of the template and have a smaller house. It worked wonderfully until construction time. The roofs would not stay on, I finally determined my roof lines were just way to steep and repair attempts failed. Oh well. Lesson learned.
The roof stayed on this little house for about 5 minutes than slid off and couldn't be repaired.

We did have a lot of fun building these gingerbread houses, though it is quite time consuming! A full day was spent on it! Good memories and tasty gingerbread made for a good reward.

Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger


1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pumpkin muffins

I have made them 4 times in two weeks and have had requests for them from people. We really like these rich pumpkin muffins and so here's the recipe to share with you.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 F.Prepare muffin cups.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together pumpkin puree, oil and eggs. Stir pumpkin mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Yields 18-20 muffins.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dinner in a pumpkin

An amusing way to cook a tasty casserole, this turned out to be a very tasty dinner. We really enjoyed it - you can mix in the cooked pumpkin pieces or just enjoy the aromatics. I think it would be a great Halloween dinner tradition.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb hot sausage, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2 Tbsp brown sugar
28 oz beef stock
1.5 cups rice
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
frozen vegetables
1 sugar pumpkin

Brown the beef and sausage in a skillet, then add 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice and all the brown sugar. Add beef stock and rice and cover and cook until rice is tender. Then mix in cream of mushroom soups and any vegetables you might like to add. Heat oven to 400 F.

While rice is cooking, cut top off a pumpkin, going more straight across than what you would for a jack-o'lantern. Scoop out the innards. Put the casserole mixture in the pumpkin and put lid back on. Place pumpkin on a tray or in a casserole dish. Put in oven for 1.5- 2 hours until pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork.

Scoop out filling and pumpkin flesh to each person as desired to serve.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Unless you’ve been frozen in permafrost for the past five years, you’ve likely noticed that cupcake bakeries have popped up all over like iced mushrooms. Knock one down, and three take its place. Much has been made about not only the cupcake’s popularity, but also its incipient demise as the sweet du jour. Since we seem to be a culture intent on the next sensation, pundits, food enthusiasts and bloggers have all wondered what this sensation might be. More than a few have suggested that French-style macaroons (called macarons in France) might supplant the cupcake. This may or may not come to pass, but the basic premise of the French macaroon is pretty tasty.

In the United States, the term “macaroon” generally refers to a cookie made primarily of coconut. But European macaroons are based on either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites. The texture can run from chewy, crunchy or a combination of the two. Frequently, two macaroons are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam, which can cause the cookies to become more chewy. The flavor possibilities and combinations are nigh endless, allowing infinitely customizable permutations.

Why did I procrastinate this challenge until 10pm yesterday? Lack of planning or a very busy month, or perhaps a combination of both. I was excited about making these and hoped to spend the month figuring out how to make them best in my house. But I have attempted them, and here they are:
In case you don't already know from the picture, I did not succeed at making beautiful perfect French macarons. They did rise some, but not much. They did not obtain a lovely foot. Part of it could be my oven which is 60 years old and super special. But I'm sure if I put in the time I might be able to figure out how to make them work appropriately in my oven.
I need to work on folding in the flour even more gently. I also think I needed a longer time at the lower temperature to set the shape. Plus I tried to do multiple sheets at a time which didn't work and burnt the bottom of one set, and caused others to spread while waiting so I really think this is a recipe you need to make more than once to figure out.
Taste wise, they are yummy. Making my own almond flour was fun! I have plenty of almonds on hand anyway and I aged some egg whites that were left from another recipe. Honestly I just wish I had made them multiple times before the due date.
I also ended up making a toffee ganache filling because that's what I had on hand and it was super sweet with it, too much for my taste. A good dark chocolate ganache would be preferable.
I'm not great at choosing options and making variations like a lot of the daring bakers so choosing a filling is more about what I have on hand than anything. I encourage you to try macarons. (And yes, that is how it is spelt for the French version. :D ) They are a lovely little sandwich cookie and I will be trying them again in the future.
My sad little cookies waiting for fillings.
French Macarons


Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spicy Braised Peanut Chicken

Another tasty recipe from this friend. I loved how easy this was to get into the slow-cooker and how I had everything on hand. It is North African in style, and is delicious with the chicken thighs and couscous, but you could easily substitute chicken breasts and rice if that's what you have on hand.

It is really tasty comfort food. It is also cheap if you get a good price on chicken thighs! I got a package of 10 thighs for $3.50, add the tomatoes ($0.60) & rotel ($0.80 for 2 cans) being on sale and its about $5 for this dinner.

Spicy Braised Peanut Chicken
1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
8 chicken thighs, skins removed
1 large onion, chopped
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained (RoTel)
1 can (14.5 oz) crushed or diced tomatoes, undrained
2 Tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups hot cooked couscous

Heat oil in 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Cook chicken in oil about 4 minutes, turning once, until brown.

Mix onion, diced and crushed tomatoes, honey, cumin and cinnamon in 4-5qt slow cooker.Place chicken in slow cooker. Spoon tomato mixture over chicken.

Cover and cook on low heat setting 7 to 8 hours or until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut.

Stir in peanut butter until melted and well blended. Serve chicken and sauce over couscous.

Serves 4

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thai Chicken

This recipe from Taste of Home was recommended by a friend when I was looking for recipes that have peanut butter in them. It is quick and easy to make and includes all things I keep on hand.

Yes, I keep red bell pepper on hand - in the freezer in julienned strips in fact. When bell peppers are cheap I buy a bunch and freeze them. You can blanch them for a few seconds first but I don't bother.

No picture, sorry, but I wanted to remember this recipe for future dinners.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pumpkin Waffles

I have been given a bunch of eating pumpkins and now am searching out tasty pumpkin recipes. Today we had pumpkin waffles for breakfast and they were delicious. I recommend you go try them!

Ultimate Pumpkin Waffles

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vols Au Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Puff pastry is in the ‘laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough. A laminated dough consists of a large block of butter (called the “beurrage”) that is enclosed in dough (called the “détrempe”). This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly (a process known as “turning”) to create the crisp, flaky, parallel layers you see when baked. Unlike Danish or croissant however, puff pastry dough contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely aeration to achieve its high rise. The turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise.


I procrastinated this challenge this month. I could list reasons but they aren't great. However, It wasn't a huge challenge to me as I've made croissants in the past and making puff pastry dough is pretty similar. Roll dough, add butter packet. Lots of rolling in "turns" and putting it back in the fridge when its not cold enough. Eventually you have it incorporated in such a way that you get lots of tasty flaky layers.

It's a time consuming process and on top of that I had to choose a filling. I was never inspired by anything new to try and finally just used vanilla pudding and kiwis. They made a lovely light dessert. Honestly, making puff pastry is not something that gets me excited or that I ever really plan to do again. I guess its good to know I can though right?

As far as mistakes, I skipped the egg wash and that was not smart b/c the layers need something to help them stay together. I also improvised on my hole cutters and so some had too big of holes and some had too little. Luckily after you add filling, it doesn't really matter. They taste good either way. If you would like to make them, be sure to visit another Daring Baker's page for the recipe. Either way, check out all those daring bakers. Some of them are super creative!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day

I finally got a copy of this awesome book from the library and it was worth the wait! While many of the ideas are explained on the blog, the book is a good read and full of interesting info. I made our first loaf yesterday and it was amazing. It actually did have the custard crumb interior with the perfect crust. It was delicious and I only got one piece! So we're having more today. The recipe really is super simple. It is about the technique. If you haven't read this book yet or tried this method, you really need to check it out. It will change how you view baking bread at home. I am excited for the sequel on healthier breads as well.

Link to master recipe for basic bread dough in this method.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spanish Lentils & Rice

I love this simple dish. It's super tasty, super simple, frugal and a great variation from typical casseroles that are heavy and meaty. The lentils & rice make a good complete protein so you can just add a salad and its a quick, easy, healthy, complete meal. Approximate cost: $2.50 for entire casserole.

Spanish Lentils & Rice
from 2003 Southern Living
Makes 4-6 servings
approx 20 min. prep, 30 min cook, 20 min bake

3 1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1 cup dried lentils
1 tsp salt
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 (10 oz) can ROTEL Mexican festival diced tomatoes
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil in medium saucepan, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender.

Saute onion and bell pepper in large lightly greased skillet over med-high heat until tender. Add cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.

Stir onion mixture and tomatoes with rice mixture, and spoon into lightly greased 13x9 baking dish.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, top evenly with cheddar cheese, bake 5 more minutes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dobas Torta

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
of Sugar
and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

So, what is the Dobos Torta (or Torte)?

The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

The last time I attempted a multi-layer cake, I had issues with stacking the layers and getting a nice cake shape. Guess what I had issues with this time? The same thing, only worse since there were more layers!

Additionally, making the layers for this cake was quite difficult for me. It involves lots of parchment paper, drawing circles, pouring/spreading batter, multiple timers and shelf rotations...and not really knowing how dark to let a layer get before it was done. I think I should have cooked most of my layers longer because they were extremely sticky still when cool and stuck to everything. (I also realized afterward that I had forgotten the vanilla to flavor them, but luckily they still had a good flavor.)

There was no way I was going to be able to trim the 9" rounds into perfect 8" rounds, just keeping them whole was challenging my skills. Plus I used a large plate to flip some of the layers off the parchment paper and one layer stuck firmly to the plate. Since there was no way to remove it, it became the bottom layer. I toyed with the idea of trimming the rounds, but my layers were too delicate and sticky. It just wasn't going to happen without shredding them - which meant I would destroy the circles I had so carefully kept whole coming out of the oven!

Making the buttercream went a lot better, but I should have chilled it longer before assembling the cake. It was still a bit runny and slid all over the place. My cake frosting skills are not the best anyway, so this became quite the challenge.

The caramel came out extremely lemony and hard to eat for us. No one liked the flavor, and it seemed incongruous with the rich chocolate buttercream flavor. At least in making the caramel layer I succeeded pretty well. Though I suspect maybe my caramel had caramelized too much perhaps and the fact that I used store bought lemon juice may have affected the flavor as well. Extra pieces of caramel were twisted to try and make decorations but they proved too soft and chewy to hold much shape.

With no hazelnuts or almonds on hand to decorate I used the extra buttercream to make some rosettes to dress it up a bit, but I think nuts would have been lovely. My dinner party guests loved the cake, the rich buttercream and light cake layers are very delicious together, even if not aesthetically stunning.Would I make it again? Maybe. The buttercream I would use again, perhaps a different recipe for the cake layers. No caramel layer though.

Thanks to the hosts for a great Daring Baker challenge! It stretched my skills and introduced me to new things. It was great fun to say I was making a Hungarian dessert! For the recipe, visit the hosts' blogs, linked at the beginning of this post. Make sure to visit other Daring Baker blogs to see some awesome cakes made by all the amazing Daring Bakers out there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mock Tom Ka Gai (Coconut Lime Chicken Soup)

I had a friend make this for us while she was visiting and it is amazing. We could not stop eating this soup; it is delicious! Quick and easy if you have cooked chicken on hand.

1 lb chicken meat cut into strips or shredded (she used a roast chicken from the store and pulled the meat off )
2 (14 oz cans) coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
4 Tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup rice
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced green onion or lemongrass
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Bring coconut milk and chicken broth to a boil. Reduce heat, add ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, cayenne, rice and chicken meat. Simmer 10-15 minutes until rice is done. Add scallions and cilantro and serve hot. Enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mallows & Milans

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

I love cookies so this challenge was very exciting! Making marshmallows has been on my to-try list for a while as well. For this reason, I started with the mallow-esque cookies first. The wafer base was a simple tasty cookie. I did them the day before I was to make marshmallows. Making marshmallows goes quickly at first - the sugar solution started boiling much faster than I expected and I was scrambling to get the gelatin bloomed in time. Then it came time to whip the egg whites to soft peaks which took a few minutes and then it was time to mix the sugar solution and the egg white solution and I was foolishly using a hand mixer. This part felt like it took forever! I'm pretty sure it would have been simpler and faster with my stand mixer, but that didn't occur to me in the first 15 minutes of mixing with the hand mixer and by then I wasn't switching! So lesson learned: USE A STAND MIXER when making marshmallows!It is true what they say, the homemade marshmallows were soft, light, airy, delicate... amazing and totally different from store bought. They easily piped onto the cookies and waited a bit to firm up before we did the chocolate dipping. These cookies were only hard for me because cookies are all about quick gratification of a sugar craving usually and these take several waiting stages to make! 2 long hours later, I mixed my oil and chocolate, being careful to keep the temperature low to prevent chocolate issues. Then I dipped the marshmallow cookies in the chocolate and put them out to harden. Which they never did. Perhaps because I keep my house at 80 F in the summer, or perhaps too much oil? or perhaps I didn't temper it as well as I thought I did. I'm not sure. They went into the fridge to develop a shell though and then I could photograph them and finally sample them!They do taste like little bites of moon pie, a delicacy I haven't had since I was a small child. And they are very much like mallowmars, according to my DH and friends. I took them to a party and they were a big hit. My only complaint about the recipe is that the dough portion makes WAY more than 2 dozen cookies (I cooked up half the dough and got 3 dozen easily) while marshmallow filling wise, I had just enough for 2 dozen cookies and enough chocolate maybe for 3 or 4 dozen. So the cookie recipe should be scaled down or halved when made again. I'm freezing all the extra wafer cookies to use next time we want some mallows!Recipe:

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 10 min Inactive Prep Time: 5 min Cook Time: 10 min Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170 grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Making the Milans:

I didn't make the milans until the last day before the challenge, it looked like a quick and easy recipe, since it had a ganache like filling and I've dealt with ganache several times in the past. The tricky part with them was the cookies which are piped out onto cookie sheets for baking. I didn't have any parchment paper or silicon mats on hand, and usually its not too big of a deal but for these cookies it was an issue. They are very sugary and caramelize to the pan if left on at cooling. But you have to let them cool on the pan because they are so soft coming out of the oven! At any rate, my first few batches are not very pretty to look at and I'm not going to be able to get parchment paper before publishing this to make some prettier cookies. These cookies are very rich. Love the hint of orange taste in the ganache and the vanilla/lemon combo in the cookies. I wish I'd halved this recipe too because they are so rich! We did need more ganache filling because DH liked it thicker between the cookie wafers.
Milan Cookies

Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Prep Time: 20 min Cook Time: 1 hr Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Black Bean Enchilada Bake

Another entry in the frugal dinners category, this one is tasty, healthy & filling. It's also quick to pull together once your beans are ready (which takes a bit of pre planning but is worth it from a cost perspective!)

Start 2 days before by putting your black beans to soak. Rinse and sort a pound of black beans, then cover with water in a large bowl and leave overnight to soak. The next morning, drain, rinse and put in the slow cooker. Cover with water and put on low for several hours or the whole day until they are cooked. Cool down and place in the fridge in storage. Use 2 cups in the following recipe. The remaining 3-4 cups of beans will keep up to a week in the fridge for other recipes or you can place single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer to freeze individually and transfer to a freezer bag once mostly frozen. This way you won't have a frozen lump of beans.

Now to make the enchiladas you'll need:

1 T oil
1 large onion $0.10
3 cloves garlic, minced $0.10
2 cups of your cooked black beans $0.30
1 cup frozen corn kernels $0.50
1 tsp cumin
2.5 cups salsa, divided $1
6-8 small tortillas, corn or flour $1
1/2 - 1 cup shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar, combo...) $1

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat, saute onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the beans, corn, cumin and 1/2 cup of salsa. Cook for 3-4 minutes, coarsely mashing beans with the back of spoon or a potato masher. Spoon 1/3 cup of filling into each tortilla, roll up. Spoon 1/2 cup salsa into 11x7 or 8x8 baking dish. Arrange tortillas seam side down, top with remaining salsa. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Uncover, top with cheese, bake 2 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Makes 4-6 servings (or more depending on what you serve it with!)

Total cost of meal: ~$4

This was a big hit with my boys & DH. Meatless main dishes that satisfy them are awesome! Using dried black beans really makes it cheap too! Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Red, White & Blue Popsicles

Strawberry puree made from white grape juice and a couple strawberries on the bottom layer, topped with vanilla yogurt and then some blueberry puree made from blueberries and white grape juice. Freeze in a fun popsicle mold and you have your own healthy rocket pops!

Another popsicle option - make smoothies and freeze into popsicles. These are a mixture of orange juice, spinach, banana, blueberry, strawberry and yogurt. The spinach does not give any flavor and a good blender mixes it up so small the kids never see it. A fun way to get in a "green smoothie"!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Honey & Spice Banana Muffins

The first time I made this muffin recipe I found on the side of a cereal box, we were pleasantly surprised. They smelled amazing and were quite tasty. Since then we have tried several types of flake cereals and had them all work wonderfully in this recipe.

These delicious muffins are a great way to use overripe bananas or bran cereal. But you don't really need a reason to make them, they are so delicious! These egg-free muffins could easily be dairy free and gluten free as well. Using freshly grated nutmeg is great fun too. Hope you enjoy them!

1 cup bran flakes cereal
1/4 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter/margarine, melted
2/3 cup mashed ripe banana
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Heat oven to 375. In a small bowl, soak cereal in milk for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, then add cereal mixture. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1-2 minutes). Spoon into greased or paper-lined 12-cup muffin pan, filling cups 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched lightly. Cool 5 minutes; removed from pan. Yield: 12 muffins

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bakewell Tart

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

Bakewell Tart History and Lore

Flan-like desserts that combine either sweet egg custard over candied fruit or feature spiced ground almonds in a pastry shell have Mediaeval roots. The term “Bakewell pudding” was first penned in 1826 by Meg Dods; 20 years later Eliza Acton published a recipe that featured a baked rich egg custard overtop 2cm of jam and noted,

“This pudding is famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of our northern counties where it is usually served on all holiday occasions.”

By the latter half of the 1800s, the egg custard evolved into a frangipane-like filling; since then the quantity of jam decreased while the almond filling increased.

This tart, like many of the world's great foods has its own mythic beginnings…or several mythic beginnings. Legend has it in 1820 (or was it in the 1860s?) Mrs. Greaves, landlady of The White Horse Inn in Bakewell, Derbyshire (England), asked her cook to produce a pudding for her guests. Either her instructions could have been clearer or he should have paid better attention to what she said because what he made was not what she asked for. The cook spread the jam on top of the frangipane mixture rather than the other way around. Or maybe instead of a sweet rich shortcrust pastry case to hold the jam for a strawberry tart, he made a regular pastry and mixed the eggs and sugar separately and poured that over the jam—it depends upon which legend you follow.

Regardless of what the venerable Mrs. Greaves’ cook did or didn’t do, lore has it that her guests loved it and an ensuing pastry-clad industry was born. The town of Bakewell has since played host to many a sweet tooth in hopes of tasting the tart in its natural setting.

Bakewell tarts are a classic English dessert, abounding in supermarket baking sections and in ready-made, mass-produced forms, some sporting a thick sugary icing and glazed cherry on top for decorative effect.

Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee or just eat it sneaky slice by sneaky slice until, to your chagrin, you realise the whole tart has somehow disappeared despite you never having pulled out a plate, fork or napkin with which to eat it.

Is it a tart or is it a pudding?

Someone once said something like “The Bakewell pudding is a dessert. The Bakewell tart is that girl over there.”

It’s a debate that rages on and we aren’t taking sides on this one. But we will say that many people call this pudding a tart.

While we’re at it...
The etymology of pudding is a rather interesting and slightly convoluted one.* The naming confusion may come from the British manner of referring to the dessert course as ‘pudding’ (as well as referring to fat babies by the same name, though we don’t think that is what was the inspiration in this case). And so any dessert is a pudding until another name comes along and adds clarity to what it really is.


Making the tart went pretty well. My shortbread crust was the hardest part. I had to patch it A LOT. But then I coated it with what seemed like a generous amount of homemade strawberry jam and topped with my frangipane batter for baking.

Jam recipe: Buy strawberries & Sure-jell. Follow instructions on insert in sure-jell for canned strawberry jam. Make jam. Eat jam. Repeat.

I baked it in my half size oven which means it was done before the timer went off, thankfully my nose told me so before I burnt it! (I love my fifties oven with its 1.5 ovens, but it does change things!) I also loved using my tart pan since I never really use it!

I am NOT an almond fan but decided to keep an open mind - My kids and I really liked it! It is best warm, right out of the oven. As it cooled, the frangipane soaked up all the jam and it seemed less sweet and dessert-y and more like a sweet bread.

With the extra crust I let my 4 yr old helper make his own little tart. His had a pretty thick shortbread bottom as a result and was very tasty. I think lots of little tarts would be very fun and a great way to give individual servings at a party.

I intended to try some variations but time got away from me. Other awesome daring bakers did do some variations, so check them out!


Bakewell tart
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)

Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Weekly Meal Plan 4th week of June

Hot weather means the less cooking time, the less heating up of the house there is!

Monday: Chicken & navy bean tortilla soup in slow cooker, recipe found here at allrecipes, using leftover chicken from Sunday, had to cook beans though.

Tuesday: Chicken tacos/burritos using leftover chicken & extra beans + caeser salad kit

Wednesday: Lentil-Almond-spinach burgers (modified from Moosewood cookbook based on what I had on hand to use up) + Banana honey spice muffins

Thursday: Fried egg sandwiches & salad

Friday: Spinach-ricotta pie from Moosewood cookbook

Saturday: Pizza/Calzones make your own

Sunday: BBQ Chicken thighs & legs, cooked outside.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Weekly meal plan 3rd week of June

Monday: 7 layer dip & chips (Perhaps a bit non-traditional but a favorite dinner here)
Tuesday: Pork tacos w/extra grilled tenderloin from last Sunday cut in strips
Wednesday: Campfire Stew/Foil Dinners from Paula Deens "My first cookbook"
Thursday: Hash w/tofu & eggs & leftovers
Friday: BBQ Chicken thighs & pasta salad
Saturday: BBQ Chicken pizza w/leftover bbq chicken
Sunday: Dad's choice (unknown as of yet)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Grilled pork tenderloin

What we had for dinner Sunday:

Alton Brown's Grilled Pork Tenderloin in marinade. Make it now. It's delicious. You'll be glad you did. It is delicious, flavorful, easy...

How to get cheap pork tenderloin? Use this coupon Gather Round the Grill pork coupon at the store when you buy charcoal and one other item. Did you know tenderloin is best cooked quickly?

We bought several large pork tenderloins with these coupons and then split them to make multiple dinners. Cooking them this way was awesome. It is delicious. Here's the link again: Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chocolate sandwich cookies

When I was young, there was a mom at church who made these delicious cookies that were like "Oreos" but better - at least that was my introduction to them the first time I tasted them. She wouldn't share the recipe with anyone. It was her secret, at least until she moved away. She then gave it to my mom and one other mom to have as a secret, since she was moving across the country.

The recipe is quite simple. However if you are expecting it to taste like an Oreo, you will be disappointed. I know my reaction was "That's not how an Oreo tastes!" To which I was told something like "Yeah, it's better!" It is a delicious sandwich cookie but with a soft cookie and a cream cheese filling, it is different and tastes nothing like an Oreo to me. It is, however, delicious and easy and totally worth the time to make.

I was reminded of these simple treats by a facebook message from a friend asking for the recipe. I called my mom and she laughed and said it was on the internet already and told me where. She never was one for the big "secret" of it all. Since it's already out there for others to find, I think its fine for me to share it here. Hope you enjoy!

Home Made Oreo Cookies

2 (18 ounce) boxes devil's food cake mix
4 eggs, beaten well
2/3 cup oil
1/2 cup butter
4 ounces cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Mix eggs, cake mix, and oil together well.

2. Shape into gumball sizes balls.

3. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Inside Cream Filling:

1. Mix butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla together.

2. When cookies are completly cool frost the flat side of one cookie, place another cookie on top of the frosting (flat side to flat side).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weekly meal plan 2nd week of June

Monday: Leftover chicken curry (made a double batch on Saturday)
Tuesday: Tangy chicken bowl (using leftover chicken from Sunday) (recipe is from BH&G Low Cost Cooking)
Wednesday: Potato, Egg, Sausage, & Tofu Hash (using leftovers and excess in the fridge)
Thursday: Steak fajitas (found some steaks half price at store, making 2 meals from them)
Friday: Steak salad (like chef salad with steak strips from previous day)
Saturday: Homemade Pizzas
Sunday: Pork loin (next day will be pork too!) & potatoes

This week dinners are mostly without recipes. DH will make the pork loin on Sunday and will probably research a recipe online he likes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Weekly Meal plan 1st week June


Monday: Grilled Fish
Tuesday: Hamburgers
Wednesday: Calzones
Thursday: Corn Chowder in slow cooker
Friday: Spinach Ricotta Pie
Saturday: Chicken Curry
Sunday: Roast chicken & potatoes

This week's menu mostly comes from Moosewood Cookbook, one of my favorites.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Meatloaf "Surprise"

This recipe is actually called Savory Scotch Meat Loaves, and is in the Better Home and Garden's Low Cost Cooking Cookbook. But with my kids we call it Meatloaf Surprise, because of the surprise of an egg inside. It is quite tasty and economical as well as easy. According to tonight's dinner conversation, the boys would like to start experimenting with different surprises on the inside. We'll see how those experiments go, I guess they aren't being surprised by the egg inside anymore.

Having been inspired by $5 dinners, I'm endeavoring to calculate the total cost to make this meal as well.

This recipe makes 4 servings:

Hard boil 4 eggs, peel and set aside. $0.40

Mix together:

1 lb ground beef (or pork or turkey) $1.58
1 beaten egg $0.10
3/4 cup soft bread crumbs (I just put a piece of bread in the food processor) $0.05
1/4 cup finely chopped onion $0.16
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper $0.25
1/2 tsp salt
dash pepper

Shape one-fourth of the mixture around each hard cooked egg, completely enclosing the egg. Arrange in an 8x8 baking dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Drain off excess fat.

Mix together:

1/2 cup ketchup $0.25
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp vinegar $0.01
1/2 tsp chili powder $0.01
1/4 tsp dried oregano, crushed $0.01

Pour sauce over meat loaves and bake in 350 degree oven for an additional 15 minutes. If desired, top with shredded cheese.

Total cost: $2.82

Serve with a salad.

Here is a link to the original picture.


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