August 23, 2012

Breakfast Strata

Since it’s been so hot this summer, I thought that a nice indoor brunch with friends would be a welcome change of pace. The menu I selected was ideal for an early day meal because just about everything was prepared the evening before. All that needed to be done in the morning was to make mini quiche filling and then pop all of the dishes in the oven. It took a little bit of coordination to bake the various goodies because the temperature needed was not the same for everything. All worked out well and the table was surrounded with great friends, laughs, and food.

I made a variety of dishes to suit everyone’s tastes and to make sure no one went hungry. Plates were loaded up with this breakfast strata, hashbrown casserole, mini quiche, cinnamon rolls, and fresh sliced strawberries. A strata is a great way to feed many people with little work involved. Another positive is that you can get creative by adding the goodness of green chilis, jalepenos, mushrooms, bacon, or whatever else you prefer.

Breakfast Strata
1 lb sausage, cooked and drained of oil
7-8 slices of white bread, torn or cubed into small pieces
3 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 C onion, diced
8 eggs
1-1/3 C water
5 oz milk
1 pkg Mccormick country gravy mix

Lightly spray a 9-inch x 13-inch casserole dish.

Lay the bread pieces in the bottom of the prepared dish. Crumble the cooled sausage over the bread and then evenly sprinkle the onions and shredded cheese on top.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, water, milk, and gravy mix. Gently pour the egg mixture evenly throughout the casserole dish.

Cover with plastic film and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350ºF and bake for 50-55 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes, then serve.

Serves 6-8

August 14, 2012

Oatmeal and Peanut Butter Cookies Revamped

I recently made two normally very basic cookie recipes, and kicked them into high gear by adding even more sweet goodness into them. Both of the revamped results were even better than I could have imagined. The array of flavors made each bite unique, while never overpowering the base of the cookie.

My oatmeal cookie is a favorite to many people and when I started making them, I only wanted oats filling it up. My sister, who loves these and came up with the name, has always insisted on nuts. While she was out here for a visit, I made her a batch before she headed back home. Half the batch was just oats and the other half I added chocolate chips, coconut, and pecans.

O-O-Oatmeal Cookies
3/4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 C old-fashioned rolled oats (use 3 C if omitting all other mix-ins)
1/2 C chocolate chips
1/2 C sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 C pecans or walnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt.

Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine.

Add the flour mixture and mix just until dough has formed. Add oats and additional mix-ins and mix just until incorporated.

Place spoonfuls of batter about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and slightly flatten.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and set in the middle. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all of the dough has been used, allowing cookie sheets to cool before placing the next batch on sheets to bake.

makes 36 3-inch round cookies

If you know me, you’ve probably received baked goods as a gift, a thank you, or just because. As much as I like peanut butter, I’ve never been a huge fan of peanut butter cookies and so didn’t have a recipe on hand. This is the first time using one from Smitten Kitchen and they really hit the spot. They baked up perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I did make one little change by using butterscotch chips instead of peanut butter ones. The mix-ins made a huge impact, providing an additional hint of sweet from the chocolate and a tang from the butterscotch chips.

Loaded Peanut Butter Cookies
1-1/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C peanut butter
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 T milk
1 t vanilla
1/2 C chocolate chips
1/2 C butterscotch chips
1 T sugar, for rolling the cookies in

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Set aside 2 baking sheets.

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

Using an electric mixer, blend together the butter and peanut butter. Add both of the sugars and beat until fluffy. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and mix until smooth.

Add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Gently mix in the chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Form the cookie dough into small balls and roll in the sugar. Place on baking sheets, about 2 inches apart and slightly flatten with the tines of a fork or the back of a spatula. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all of the dough has been used, allowing cookie sheets to cool before placing the next batch on sheets to bake.

Makes 34 3-inch round cookies that I highly recommend enjoying with a cold glass of milk!

August 10, 2012

Flaky Pineapple Squares

My mom recently leant me a cookbook that she and some ladies put together in 1979. I was after one particular recipe, but as I flipped through the typewritten pages, I stumbled across a recipe that I had forgotten all about. As soon as I saw the words flaky pineapple squares with my mom’s name next to it, my mouth started to water. How could I have forgotten about these bars?! Slightly sweetened pineapple sandwiched between a flaky crust that gets a subtle nutty taste from all of the butter baked in. I had to make these and I had the perfect opportunity to share them because I really could and would have eaten them all. By myself. Happily.

Since making these bars was unscheduled, I only made a half batch. I ended up putting myself in a bind with time, but it all worked out and I was actually 15 minutes early with all of my baked goods. Whew! Had I been thinking, I would have rolled out the entire piece of dough and then folded it in half to complete the assembly.

Flaky Pineapple Squares
4 C all-purpose flour
1 lb unsalted butter
1 C sour cream
1 t vanilla
2 - 20oz cans crushed pineapple, drained
1 C sugar
3 T corn starch
confectioners sugar, for dusting

Using a food processor, pastry blender, or two knives, cut the butter into the flour. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla until combined and dough forms. (I did it quickly by hand so as to not allow the butter to be warmed by me) Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

In a large saucepan, cook the pineapple, sugar, and corn starch over medium heat. Gently stir the mixture until it thickens, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Once ready to assemble the bars, heat the oven to 325º F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the dough and place it on an ungreased jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Gently spread the pineapple filling evenly over the dough almost up to the edges. Roll out the remaining half of dough and gently lay on top of the pineapple.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Cut into desired sizes and dust with confectioners sugar. Can yield up to 70 bite size pieces.

August 7, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes

My gf B, that I have known for 14 years, is getting married later this year. (hooray!) Among the preparations for her bridal shower, making the dessert was one of my tasks. Since she means so much to me, I couldn’t refuse to make her favorite cupcake for one of her many special occasions this year. I can’t think of a better reason to finally succumb to the pressure of never making red velvet before.

I used my chocolate cake recipe as a jumping off point, and after some trial and error came up with a light and fluffy red velvet cupcake that was my compromise to the overly dyed versions out there. It is a luxuriously deep, rich red that while not photogenic, looks and tastes great. I paired it with my cream cheese frosting that mirrors the creamiest of cheesecakes. Yeah, I licked the spatula and everything else it was on clean.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
1 C all-purpose flour
heaping 3/4 C sugar
2 T cocoa powder*
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 egg
1 t vinegar
1/2 t vanilla
0.5 oz red gel good color (I use Wilton’s no-taste red gel)

Heat oven to 350º F. Line one standard 12-cup muffin pan with liners.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, vegetable oil, egg, vinegar, vanilla, and red food color.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture. You can mix the batter by hand or with a mixer, just be mindful not to overmix. Fill the cupcake liners 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Recipe can be doubled.

*I use Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa, which is a blend of natural and Dutch-processed cocoas and possibly why the color turns out so deep. If you make these with regular cocoa, please let me know how the color turns out!

Cream Cheese Frosting
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature       
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature   
1 C confectioners sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla

Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the butter and beat until well combined. Add the confectioners sugar in two additions, beating well after each one. Add in the vanilla and mix until well combined. If the consistency is a little soft for your decorating needs, pop it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Decorate away!

August 3, 2012

Classic Spritz Cookies

I love cookies. A lot. Cookies, potato chips, and donuts are huge weaknesses of mine. We recently had a party and I felt it was the perfect opportunity to make a big batch of spritz cookies and try out some things I’d seen around the interwebs. I amended my go-to recipe but had mixed feelings about the results, though thankfully they were almost as tasty.

The dough was stickier and so not great for using with a cookie press and I was surprised at how much the dough spread while baking. For piping the dough, which was one of the things I wanted to try, it worked well, but required a bit of strength to push it through the 1M decorator tip. I will continue to use the best recipe I've tried as it has never failed me with the cookie press. I also feel it’ll take the same amount of upper body strength to pipe the dough.

The other thing that I wanted to try out was making my own colored sugar for decorating. I mixed Wilton icing color with a T of sugar in a plastic bag. Once I felt that all of the sugar was sufficiently coated, I placed in on a piece of aluminum foil to allow it to dry. Now I have plenty of orange and hot pink sugar without having to spend money on jars that would take me too long to get through.

Spritz Cookies (from Joy of Baking)
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 t vanilla
2-1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt

Heat oven to 350º F. Set aside two cookie sheets.

Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. On low speed, add the flour and salt and mix just until incorporated and dough has come together.

Place dough in cookie press or pastry bag fitted with desired tip. Form cookies onto baking sheets spaced about one inch apart. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and cool on pans for a few minutes. Remove cookies from pans and place on wire racks to cool completely. Repeat until all dough has been used, allowing the cookie sheets to cool completely between batches.

makes 3-4 dozen, depending on size