Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scary Cookies

This week will end with Halloween. Many parties already happened last weekend. I came across a recipe that by the looks of it instantly inspired me to make it --- soft cookies with candy corn! When I stood in front of the many varieties of candy corn at Target, original, pumpkin, marshmallow and fruit loop, I picked up the fruit loop ones. The pink tones looked extra cheerful.
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The basic recipe is just like other soft, chewy cookies, with an addition of cornstarch or instant vanilla pudding mix (which is also basically flavored cornstarch). I stay pretty close to the recipe, and baked the first batch.
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However, after 12 minutes of baking the cookies looked like this.
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Flattened and the candy corn had melted out of the cookies. Ouch! I let them cool for 9 minutes, and the melted candy corn could be scraped off the silplat liner, and the creation of cookies/candy was ready. But that was not really the plan….. it was more of a Franken-cookie.
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I read the instructions again, and it had a 1/2 cup more flour than I used, and it asked for ‘chill the cookies for 3 hours before baking’. So, I did.
The next batch looked better.
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Still, the cookies are pretty tricky. As long as there is candy corn on the bottom or the side of a cookie it is likely to melt. It might be better to make the dough and press a few candy corn on top of the cookie ball before baking them.
Taste? Fabulous!!
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Candy Corn Softbatch Cookies
1/2 cup/1 stick unsalted butter, soften
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1 1/2 cups candy corn (1o to 11 ounces)
1 cup white chocolate chips
Directions:
  1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla extract and crème fraiche on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda and pudding mix.
  3. Put speed on low, and slowly added the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute; don't overmix.
  4. Add the white chocolate chips, and mix until just incorporated. (No candy corn yet!)
  5. Using a small icecream scoop, (or any size of icecream scoop you like based on the size of the cookies you would like to make) form heaping 1 – 1 1/2 –tablespoon sized mounds.
  6. Press about 3 candy corn inside of the cookie dough ball.
  7. Place mounds on a large plate, and slightly flatten mounds. Cover the mounds with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before baking. 
  8. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Place mounds on baking sheet, ca. 8 cookies per cookie sheet, and bake for about 9 minutes. Do not overbake since the cookies will firm up as they cool. Baking longer than 10 minutes will make cookies spread too thin, the candy corn getting contact with the cookie sheet and starting to melt.
  9. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for about at least 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooking. They will be sticky because of the slightly melted candy corn.
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Happy Halloween!



Monday, October 20, 2014

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate Seeds

The weekend took me to Trader Joes, and it is the time of the year again when TJ sells the picturesque and inexpensive Brussels sprouts, right on the stem. $2.99 for about 2 pounds of Brussels in a scenic package? Here, please! Last weekend, a friend of mine brought me a regular and an organic pomegranate, right from her garden in California. Lunch brought both together in an epic package---- roasted oven-roasted Brussels sprouts (which looked a bit more like kale chips once roasted), goat cheese crumbles (also restocked from TJ), pomegranate seeds and balsamic vinaigrette. Fabulous!

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The little pomegranate is the home-grown, organic one.

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Crispy roasted Brussels sprouts.

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Roasted Brussels Sprout salad with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds (2 servings)

  • 1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned and cut in half
  • 1 drizzle of olive oil
  • 1/2 medium sized red onion, diced
  • 5 baby portabella button mushrooms, sliced
  • another drizzle of olive oil
  • balsamic vinaigrette
  • 2-4 TB goat cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Heat the oven to 400F. Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil and distribute with a silicone brush. Halve the Brussels Sprouts and roast for ca. 15-20 min. They should be brown on the outside and cooked/tender on the inside.

On the brussels are roasted, heat a pan with another drizzle of olive oil, saute the onion and mushroom until the onions are brown and the mushrooms charred and cooked. Add about a cup of the roasted brussels sprouts to the pan, add some salt and combine the flavors.

Serve with pomegranate seeds, goat cheese crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Easy and fast chili in the rice cooker

It is still warm outside, but fall is the time for chilis.  I tried a very tasty, fast and healthy version with dried beans cooked in the neuro-fuzzy rice cooker really quickly. It has a ‘keep warm’ option and it cooked perfectly on the normal rice setting without needed to soak the beans overnight. I used small beans, a half can of pureed pumpkin, 2 dried ancho chilis, espresso and chocolate, some garlic and bouillon. After it cooked in the rice cooker, I sauted an onion, corn and a hot pepper in a pan and added the cooked chili to add in the charred onion flavor. – Fabulous! And just enough for 2-3 smaller servings. Or 2 hungry people.
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Easy and fast chili in the rice cooker
  • 1 cup of small dried white and/or black beans
  • 2 dried ancho chilis, stem removed
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (or instant coffee)
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 can of pureed pumpkin
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1.5 teaspoon bouillon mix
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
Place the dried beans in the rice cooker. In a blender, add the water, garlic clove, and cut the anchos into smaller pieces with a scissors. Add the pumpkin, espresso and cocoa, and mix all the ingredients until the anchos are really fine-grained. Add the mix to the beans in the rice cooker, and the bouillon mix, close rice cooker and cook on white rice setting. The beans cook slightly softer if the ‘keep warm’ option is used and the ‘cooking time’ is overall about 1h.
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In a saute pan, heat the butter and brown the onion. Add the bell pepper and corn, and saute for about 10min (or until soft). Add the cooked chili mix from the rice cooker, and mix all through, and cook for another 5min. Adjust for salt and pepper. Enjoy!
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Whole Wheat Story

We have a beautiful, warm and long Columbus day weekend, with the temperatures hitting the 70s again today. Weather that is inviting to take strolls to watch the leaves turn color or go for a hike. At this time of the year, everyone is grateful for the extra present of warm, sunny days when you can walk around in sweaters without a jacket. – My weekend was (and still is) full of work and without opportunities to do any shopping or hikes. Sigh. Instead, my mind feels like it went on an extra long hike, tired in a good way, having exercised every neuron and having given the whole brain a solid workout, like your body is good tired after a 5h hike. 

This morning I came across an article about whole wheat flours. Knowing that whole wheat is good for you, I still gave up using if for baking because it often ruined baked items by not rising sufficiently or changing the taste and texture in unexpected ways. Nevertheless, a good opportunity to learn more about them and used in a more informed way. Knowledge is power.

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So, here are the cliff notes on whole wheat flours:

  • whole wheat flour is made from red wheat berries, and therefore the color is darker, more reddish. It is basically the entire berry including the bran grounded. It has more protein and needs extra liquid than all purpose flour for successful baking (or use it in combination with all purpose flour).
  • White whole wheat flour is made from the hard white wheat berry. It is also all ground down, but the flour has a white color (please, don’t confuse it with bleached whole wheat flour, which is not a good idea).
  • White whole wheat flour is less nutty, but sweeter in flavor then whole wheat flour.
  • Although all-purpose flour can usually be substituted 1:1 with white whole wheat flour, some recipes might come out too dense. In these cases, use 75% white whole-wheat flour and 25% all-purpose. (This oatmeal recipe might be a good recipe to try)
  • Whole wheat pastry flour is made from the soft white wheat berry, has less protein and is finer ground. It is the closest to traditional all-purpose flour, so in many cases, whole-wheat pastry flour is the best 1:1 substitute for all-purpose flour in baking recipes. however, it is still denser than all purpose flour so experiment first.
  • Note about all whole wheat flour: they have more oils from the bran and so get rancid more easily. I personally put all my GF flours, nut meals and whole wheat flours in the freezer.

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I might get me some whole wheat pastry flour and try these delicious fig oatmeal cookies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Camden, Rockport and Salt Water Farm

Fall is, besides summer, the nicest time in Maine – a unique time with the charms of the foilage. This year, the fall has been warm and dry, providing plenty of opportunity for hikes and trips to the coast. Here are some photos from a recent weekend trip down the coast to Belfast, Camden and Rockport. In Rockport, I finally checked out Salt Water Farm Market Café. Unfortunately I made it between lunch and dinner time, but I was still invited to take a peek into the restaurant. Beautiful place with a great patio and a scenic view of Rockport Harbor, and unlike other places, still quiet and quaint, off the beaten (and loud) path of Rt 1. My late lunch was finally had at 40 paper, a beautiful roasted beet pizza. On the way home, I dropped by Salt Water Farm, the farm at which farm to table workshops take place.
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Camden downtown
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40 Paper
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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pumpkin bread, in any shape or form

These days are busy, so busy that I sometimes hardly have time to grab lunch, and there are days that I dream of fabulous new fall recipes involving pumpkin bread. Here are a few that I would like to make immediately!

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How gorgeous is this pumpkin bread cake with roasted pumpkin seeds and cream cheese frosting?

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or, how about this variation with plenty more of maple butter cream and a coconut flavor to the pumpkin bread?

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Or, maybe pumpkin cupcakes. These are even glutenfree.

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Or Joy’s simple pumpkin bread with walnuts?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Yesterday, I roasted one of the small butternut squash I had brought home from the farmers market in the oven. The house smelled heavenly. Once it was roasted I made a classical butternut squash with celeriac, carrots, a potato with most of the flavor from the sweet, roasted butternut squash. This morning I pureed the cooled soup and poured on serving in an altas jar to bring for lunch. ---- Glass has the advantage that I feel more comfortable heating the soup in the microwave instead of in a plastic container. ----- Fabulous early fall lunch!

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Soup on the go.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Makes 3 servings:

  • 1x smaller, 1-2 pound butternut squash, halved
  • 1 ts olive oil + 1 ts butter
  • 1/2 vidalia onion (or 1 shallot), peeled and diced
  • 1 small sized peeled sweet potato
  • 1 small diced and peeled carrot
  • ca 6oz of celeriac root, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups water mixed 1 ts bouillon (or vegetable stock)
  • Salt (to taste)

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 375F. Halve the butternut squash, leave skin on and place cut side down on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake for ca. 30min until soft and the juices have caramelized. Cool, and cut into 1 inch chunks.
  • In a medium-sized heavy bottom cast iron pot, heat the of olive oil and the butter. When heated, add the onion and soften. (ca. 3 to 4 min). Add the carrot, potato, celeriac and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until slightly caramelized. Add with the bouillon and the squash.
  • Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Purée the soup with a immersion blender (or cool and use a regular blender). Add more stock or water if necessary.
  • Serve with sunflower seeds, goat cheese and fresh thyme.

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