July 31, 2012

Anything Goes Broccoli Salad

I don’t know why, but I can still remember the first time that I had broccoli salad. I think because it was a new concept from the typical summer salads like potato and pasta. Or maybe because it had bacon in it. Whatever the reason, I enjoy this salad and love the way it has evolved over the years. You can add as many ingredients as you want or leave out items that you don’t care for. I don’t usually like raisins, but in this salad, they just work. Though, if I’d thought of it sooner, I would have bought dates instead.

Feel free to amend this recipe to suit your tastes and style. Work with what’s listed in the recipe or try out other goodies like green grapes, celery, cauliflower, or pine nuts. I made it with and without red onions and prefer to leave them out, but you don't have to.

1 lb broccoli, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 C sunflower seeds
1/2 C raisins, purple or golden
1/2 C cheddar cheese, shredded or cubed
1 C mayonnaise
2 T white vinegar
2 T sugar
1/8 t black pepper

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the broccoli, red onion, bacon crumbles, sunflower seeds, raisins, and cheddar cheese.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar, and black pepper. Pour dressing over broccoli mixture and stir to coat all ingredients with dressing.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving but best if made one day ahead.

July 27, 2012

Homemade Crackers

It’s the 27th of the month and that means unveiling July’s challenge from The Daring Bakers! Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love. The only requirements this month were that we needed to make two crackers using two different methods. That meant we could hand roll our dough, run it through pasta rollers, or the icebox method.

Since I don’t have pasta rollers, the decision of methods was made for me. That left me with the fun task of choosing what crackers I would be making. Growing up, we always had goldfish crackers on hand and seeing the numerous recipes out there, again made my life easier. For my second choice I wanted to make a cracker that was packed with the savory flavors of rosemary and Parmesan.

This has been a hectic month for the man and me and so I went the route of selecting recipes from the interwebs. I was not let down by either of the sources and wound up with two very tasty and very different crackers.

Goodlife Eats is where I found my icebox cracker recipe. It happened that the particular recipe was a guest post from Carrie of La Pomme de Portland. Not only was her post charming to read, the recipe was divine. Even though I used dried rosemary and shredded mozzarella, the smell coming from the oven had me anxiously awaiting the results.

The goldfish crackers were also made using a food processor and then hand rolled and cut out. The recipe came from the sweet site, Cupcake Project. Since there are no little ones running around, I decided to make large fish adjusting a whale cookie cutter that we’d picked up from Sur La Table. If I make these guys again, I will use a sharp cheddar and maybe increase the amount, as they were just a teensy bit bland.

I tend to have a lot of fresh baked goods on hand and not wanting anything to go to waste, I only made half batches of the two crackers. Neither were adversely affected by the reduction and everything had time to be eaten while they remained fresh and crisp.

July 23, 2012

Salted Caramel Bondies

One of my dearest friends LOVES these bars. She is not a huge fan of sweets, but these have a special place in her heart. It was recently her birthday and of course these were one her of gifts.

This recipe was inspired years ago after I had my first salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks. I was so confused by the combination that at first I wasn’t sure I even liked it. After my tastebuds had a chance to calm down, I found myself craving the sweet and salty duo. As much as I enjoy a brownie, especially the corner pieces, I don’t feel like blondies get their fair share of representation. Seriously, how can you not like a rich, cakelike version of a chocolate chip cookie?

Salted Caramel Blondies
1/2 C unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 C light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1-1/2 t vanilla
1-1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
3/4 C caramel bits, divided
3/4 C semisweet chocolate chips
coarse salt, for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350º F. Spray and line a 9-inch x 9-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two opposing sides.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Once melted, set aside to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl by hand, stir together melted butter and brown sugar until well combined. Add in eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Fold in chocolate chips and 1/2 the caramel bits. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining caramel bits and coarse salt.

Bake until top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes. Set pan on a wire rack, and let cool completely. Using parchment overhang, lift blondie from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into desired sizes and enjoy!

July 20, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Years ago my inspiration for this recipe was those who love chocolate, no matter what time of day. I wanted an alternative to the same ol' muffin that could be enjoyed with your morning beverage and still be packed with good things. These are light, ultra moist, chocolatey muffins that you would never believe have about 2 cups of shredded zucchini in the batter.

I love the earthy smell that comes from the zucchini as it is grated and the cinnamon really comes through in the final product. I have been using Vietnamese cinnamon for several years and love the bold, spicy flavor. If you’re not a fan of cinnamon, you can skip it and no one will be the wiser. Also, be sure you squeeze out all of the water from the zucchini or you’ll end up with waterlogged muffins that will sink in the middle due to not being able to bake thoroughly.

Chocozini Muffins
1-1/2 to 2 C grated zucchini, drained (1 large zucchini)
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C Dutch process cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda           
1/4 t salt                   
3/4 t cinnamon                               
1 C light brown sugar           
4 T unsalted butter, room temperature       
2 large eggs               
1/2 t vanilla               
1/3 C semi-sweet chocolate chips       

Heat the oven to 375º F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with liners.

Wash the zucchini thoroughly under running water with a vegetable scrub brush. Grate the zucchini, squeeze all excess water from it, and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips.

Fill the liners 3/4 full with batter and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

July 17, 2012

Mini Meatloaves

I don’t enjoy cooking like I enjoy baking, but I push myself because the man and I love food and it’s a nice feeling to provide a tasty meal for us. One reason I don’t is that things have a tendency to go wrong. Not so horribly wrong that the food is inedible, but enough that I suffer moments of panic and uncertainty at the fate of our dinner.

When I decided that I wanted to make meatloaf for us I knew I would be ok. I have made a couple in the past, but they didn’t taste all that great, so back to the drawing board I went. I knew what flavors I wanted in the meatloaf and working with ingredients that I had on hand, came up with 6 tasty mini meatloaves that we will definitely have again. The meatloaves were not super moist, probably because my ground beef was very lean. For sides we enjoyed mashed potatoes and some thrown together glazed carrots. Certainly a dinner I could feel good about!

Mini Meatloaf
1-1/2 lb ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 C bread crumbs
2 T minced onion
1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 C chili sauce
1/4 C brown sugar
1-1/2 T yellow mustard

Heat oven to 350ºF. Lightly spray a 9-inch by 9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine together the ground beef, egg, cheese, bread crumbs, minced onion, salt, and pepper. Take small handfuls of the meat mixture and form into six small loaves. Place the meatloaves in the prepared dish.

In the same mixing bowl, stir together the chili sauce, brown sugar, and mustard. Spread the sauce evenly over top of all the meatloaves.

Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160ºF. Enjoy with additional comfort foods, and any leftovers can be turned into meatloaf sandwiches!

July 13, 2012

Indoor S'mores

When I knew I was going to be making homemade marshmallows, I looked into what more I could do with the soft, fluffy bites of goodness. That kind of thinking led me straight to s’mores. I found two recipes that were almost identical, one for s’mores bars and one for s'mores cookies. I meshed the recipes together, changed a couple of items, and then split the dough so that I could make both treats.

I have a couple of notes for anyone that wants to make either of these goodies. For the cookies, use only dehydrated mini marshmallows, such as Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits because they can handle being baked. Homemade marshmallows are a sugar syrup whipped with gelatin, and were reduced back to that causing the dough to spread into a runny caramelized mess. Most of the cookies were salvageable and still quite tasty, but the marshmallows were lost. For the bars, there was no issue, even though they were in the oven for about the same amount of time.

Overall, the dough is a great base for either s’mores bars or s’mores cookies, depending on your preference. The crushed graham crackers in the dough smelled wonderful while the goods baked. The man and I enjoyed the bars more as they so closely resembled over-the-campfire s’mores. Even the next day the marshmallow was gooey and sticky and the chocolate was just slightly softened, both held perfectly in between the graham cracker baked crust.

S’mores Bars or S'mores Cookies
1-1/3 C all-purpose flour

1 pack (8 full rectangles) graham crackers, crushed (about 3/4 C graham cracker crumbs)

1 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t salt

1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 C sugar

1/4 C brown sugar

1 egg

1 t vanilla

for bars
5 Hershey’s milk chocolate candy bars (1.55 oz)
3 C mini marshmallows (homemade or store bought)

for cookies
1 C chocolate chips

1 C Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits

Heat oven to 350º F. For bars, lightly spray an 8-inch by 8-inch glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. For cookies, line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Finely crumble the graham crackers by using either a food processor or by placing them in a bag and gently smashing. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the graham crumbs, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together. For cookies, gently fold in the chocolate chips and mallow bits. Place spoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared cookie sheets and slightly flatten. Bake for 10-11 minutes, until lightly browned and set in the middle. Repeat until all dough has been used, making about 20, 3-inch cookies.

For bars, put half of the dough into the prepared baking dish and gently pat it down. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven. Place the chocolate bars on top of the crust so that it is covered as evenly as possible. Place the marshmallows on top, again covering it as evenly as possible. Take the remaining dough and crumble it over top of the marshmallows. Return to the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the top has lightly browned. Let cool completely before cutting and enjoying!

July 9, 2012

Homemade Marshmallows

I had big plans of sharing this tasty recipe for homemade marshmallows in time for fourth of July s’mores, but we were part of those affected by the crazy storm that hit the mid-Atlantic. Better late than never, as there are still plenty of cookout days ahead!

If it is my first time making something, I will scour the interwebs to see how much variance there is between recipes so that I can venture into my project armed with knowledge. Also, depending on what I am making, I will also see what more I can do with it so that I get the most out of the goodness.

In addition to making vanilla marshmallows, I really wanted to make strawberry ones as well. After my research, I took the risk that I could just add strawberry (or any flavor) jelly to the vanilla marshmallow. It was a success and now you know that you can flavor marshmallow with just a little bit of fruit jelly. Once it was ready, I poured about half of the marshmallow mixture into one prepared dish to leave as vanilla. I added jelly to the remainder, whipped it to incorporate, and poured it into another prepared dish. Since I used two dishes, my marshmallows were thinner, about 3/4-inch thick, and I got a lot of them. Being thinner made it super simple to use cookie cutters to cut shapes out.

The vanilla marshmallows were good, and like everyone else out there says, nothing like store bought. They have a fresher taste and are more creamy than sticky inside. Even though I didn’t think they were all that special, the overall act of making them and the rustic look they have adds so much to their charm. The strawberry ones to me were out of this world, but the vanilla ones were favored by a couple of others that tried them.

Making the marshmallow mixture wasn’t difficult and it wasn’t near as sticky as I had prepared myself for. I don’t have a candy thermometer, just a regular handheld one and it worked just fine. Clean up of any utensils, pans, and dishes was a breeze by letting sticky items soak in warm water for just a little bit.

Strawberry Marshmallows
6 T confectioners sugar
3 T corn starch
1 C cold water, divided
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 C sugar
1 C light corn syrup
1/4 t salt
1 T vanilla
1/3 C strawberry jelly, omit if you want plain vanilla

Lightly coat a 9-inch x 13-inch glass casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Combine the confectioners sugar and corn starch and then sift into sprayed dish, covering the bottom and sides.

Empty the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer and then pour 1/2 C cold water onto the gelatin. Mix gently and then set aside for gelatin to soften, about 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1/2 C of water. Gently stir together the ingredients and then allow to come to a boil undisturbed. Any sugar that is stuck to the side of the pan can be brushed away with additional water with a pastry brush so that none of the sugar crystallizes. Let the syrup reach 240º F and then remove from heat.

With the stand mixer on low, slowly pour the syrup into the bowl. Get as much syrup out without scraping the pan clean. Gradually increase the speed of the stand mixer until it is on high and let it whip the mixture until it has become thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes.

Warm the strawberry jelly in the microwave for about 30 seconds to thin it. Add the vanilla and jelly to the marshmallow and whip until incorporated.

Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth top as much as possible. Sift more of the confectioners sugar mixture over top of the marshmallow to cover. Let sit uncovered for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When ready to remove the marshmallow, dust a cutting surface with more confectioners sugar mixture. Use a knife to gently separate the sides of the marshmallow from the dish if it is sticking and then place onto prepared surface. You can then cut squares with a knife or shapes with cookie cutters. Toss the cut marshmallows in the remaining confectioners sugar mixture and then shake off any excess.

July 5, 2012

Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are wonderful in their simplicity, but more often than not, it doesn’t end there. Just like with cakes and cupcakes, it is the finishing touches that require more time. I’ve only ever used royal icing for my sugar cookies, and so this time around I decided to try glace icing.

I liked the consistency of the icing and it was very easy to apply to the cookies. At first I thought it was too liquid, but when I put it on the cookie, it stayed until I spread it to cover more area. I found it wasn’t necessary to pipe an outline and then flood the center making it less time consuming which is always a plus. Once it had dried, I don't think I would be able to taste a difference when compared to royal icing and so I now have another option for icing cookies!

Sugar Cookies
2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
(1/2 t baking powder, omit if cutting in shapes and you don't want cookies to puff up at all)
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 C  sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla or almond

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until the dough is smooth.

Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Heat oven to 350º F.

Lightly flour your work surface and roll the chilled dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Use desired cookie cutters to cut the cookies and place on baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges have lightly browned. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy right away or decorate!

Makes about 20, 4-inch cookies

For chocolate sugar cookie dough, add by hand, 2 T cocoa powder. I only made half the batch of dough chocolate, so only used 1 T cocoa powder.

Glace Icing
1 C confectioners sugar
2 T milk
1 T light corn syrup
1 t vanilla or almond
coloring, if using

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk gently, until well combined and smooth. Apply as needed for decorating. Will make enough icing for the above cookie recipe.