Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Year of Feasts for the Eyes from 2010

 This last year has been a true learning curve for my recipe blog. I mean that quite literally, because I have taught myself how to make recipes for the very first time! I had so much fun learning how to make my own Semolina Gnocchi, just by watching a television show.

 I literally paused the video to try and figure out how Lydia Bastianich made her Sardinian Sausage Sauce and Ciccione pasta. I couldn't find the recipe online, and I didn't have her cookbook.  I felt like an honorary Italian for a day.

I also received a very unexpected surprise-- I won a contest for making "Eggs In Purgatory"!

I was given a $500 spa gift certificate and give a one year's supply of coupons for Eggland's Best Eggs. I have been spreading out the enjoyment of massages at a local spa, and I'm sad to see generous supply of my free eggs are dwindling.  This recipe will also be featured in an upcoming cookbook from Ladies Home Journal.

I am looking forward to the return of grilling season.  One of my favorite recipes I created was this Lamb Burger, glazed with fig jam and caramelized onion.  Just looking at this photo makes me drool at the memory biting into this, and tasting the feta cheese that I had stuffed in side.

I am mourning the loss of our tomato garden, because this Seared Scallop and Pasta dish is not only super fast to make-- it's one of my favorite recipes that I've made.

 I reconnect with my Mexican roots by learning how to make a very easy-- and really good-- Tex-Mex Chili Gravy.  At last, I could have my favorite cheese & onion enchiladas, right at home.  This is comfort food!

I finally learned how to make my own soft pretzels, and these were much easier than I thought they'd be.  These were a big hit for my annual Oktoberfest party.  I won't be waiting a whole year to make these again.

I love to bake, and I have to give this Savory Crostata pastry my own special award for it's flavor.  The pastry is tender, and the addition of marscarpone and Parmesan cheese yielded a flavorful pastry that made me do a happy dance.

The filling enabled me to use our homegrown Swiss Chard, ricotta cheese and leeks-- I loved this, and it's a perfect meal to serve to a vegetarian.  I must make this again-- soon!

  I have a sweet tooth, indeed.  Lemon is my chocolate, without a doubt.  I created this Lemon Curd Ice Cream when I was gifted with a jar of homemade lemon curd.

 This photo doesn't begin to do justice to the success of this recipe.  It was creamy, and the lemon balance was perfect.  I'm watching our Myer lemon tree very closely, because I'm going to make my own homemade lemon curd and more of this ice cream.  This is my favorite ice cream recipe, so far.

Strawberry season is months away, but I can guarantee that my son will be begging me to make this cake again.  This is a Cook's Illustrated winning recipe. The sponge cake is one that I've used for other recipes. 

I am a fan of the Pioneer Woman's recipes, but I have to limit how often I make them.  If I had her busy life on a cattle ranch, maybe I could indulge in many of her butter-laden recipes.  However, I can see myself eating a slice or two of her Perfect Pound Cake.  Ree Drummond knows how to pick great recipes!

One of my most memorable moments was actually meeting a Food Blogger, that I'd only known via email or phone.  We finally got to meet,  in person, and I was looking forward to it for weeks.   I talked Monica, of "Lick the Bowl Good" into flying out from Texas. She agreed to be my roommate and travel companion in San Francisco. I drove 2 hours north to pick her up at the airport, and the adventure began! We attended the Foodbuzz Food Blogger Festival, along with over 300 bloggers from around the world!  Even though I'm old enough to be Monica's mom, I didn't feel an age barrier between us.  I felt as though our meeting was simply a formality because we got along great and shared a lot of laughs.

Foodbuzz arranged for gourmet food trucks to be parked inside Ft. Mason.  Here is a local chef and friend, Todd Fisher and his lovely wife (Ada) posing with Monica.  Todd presented a winning recipe from Fresh Express-- which is located in the Salinas Valley where I live.

Of course, we tooled around San Francisco in my car.   (We won't talk about how I lost my wallet, and someone turned it in for me. Or, our adventure through some sketchy parts of San Francisco at night-- trying to navigate back to our hotel.

Other lovely "faces" from the Foodbuzz even is (top left) Joan of Foodalogue, and lovely Val of More than Burnt Toast.  I loved meeting this lovely young gal from New Jersey, Allie of "All I Eat Food!"

(Bottom Left)  ...and, Monica's wonderful husband "Mr. H" flew in from Texas on the last day of the Blogger Festival.  I've forgotten the name of the girl with the gorgeous hair, but I do remember she was from Vermont. Such lovely ladies, aren't they?

It was bittersweet saying goodbye to my Texas friends, as I drove home, while they stayed in San Francisco for a couple more days.

In the summer of 2010, I had to make a huge adjustment in my work schedule.  I'm gone from early morning until almost 9:00 at night.  As a result,  I find that time has become very scarce to edit and post recipes that I've made.  I'm a perfectionist, yes indeed.  Each post is about a two-hour investment for me, as I try to decided which of the many photos I take will best show you how I made something.  I do my best to carve out time to post at least one or two recipes per week. 

I'm so thankful to all of you who visit my blog on a regular basis.  It is my joy to share with you-- and to show you-- the dishes that I prepare for my husband and my son.  I have come a long way in how I photograph food. I've overcome my aversions to certain foods-- such as curry, butternut squash and garbanzo beans!  I still have many recipes on my "Bucket List" that I hope to learn. Many of the inspirations come from you!

Tomorrow is the last day of 2010.  Overall, I feel very blessed with all that I have.  I'm looking forward to another year of new recipes and good health for all of us!

Happy New Year!

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Easy German Stollen

Whatever happened to my childhood Christmas time-line? As a kid, it seemed as though that special day of our family gathering to celebrate on Christmas Eve would never come.  Being of German descent, my mother would make a traditional German dinner and then the kids would disappear into our bedrooms. We couldn't come out until we heard Mutti ringing a bell to signal that the "Krist Kindlein" (Christ Child) had come. Our parents weren't particularly well-to-do, but my memories were that gifts were abundant.

Now that my parents are gone, I try to carry on the traditions to my own son and niece.  German Stollen is very much a part of my Christmas childhood memories.  I've never made my own Stollen, and it's been my Recipe Bucket List for several Christmas's past. In the meantime,  I have resorted to buying German Stollen's from Trader Joe's. They're not bad, as long as you eat a slice with a cup of coffee.  A few days ago, I spotted King Arthur Flour's recipe for their Easiest Stollen. Traditional Stollen is made with yeast; this version uses ricotta cheese and baking powder. I was intrigued, and grateful, to find a short-cut since December 23rd was the first-- and only-- day that I had to bake something to give as gifts.

There are two ingredients that King Arthur recommends to make this recipe-- Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor and Lemon Oil.  I fell in-love with the Buttery Sweet Dough flavor, about a year ago.  It smells like yellow cake batter, and it gives a special flavor to any of your baked goods.  Trust me, this is one of my favorite products that I order from King Arthur Flour's website (yes, I pay for it... I'm not given this for free).  The lemon oil is a great product, because it's a natural product, made from the lemon rind (unlike lemon extract).  Is it required that you use these?  No.  The lemon oil is a shortcut from having to zest lemons, and I think it packs a great punch of lemon citrus.  Of course, you need pure vanilla.

As you can see, I shop, often, online at KAF-- I bought this European candied mix peel, last Christmas. It was destined to become Stollen.  It never happened, so I used half to make an Easter Ricotta Pie.  The other half was exactly enough to make this stollen recipe-- and it was still good to go!  You can use any kind of dried fruit-- cranberries, raisins... whatever you like.  If I didn't have this fruit, I would have chosen golden raisins because they are very traditional.

Almonds are the traditional nut to add to Stollen. I didn't have slivered almonds, but I always keep a bag of sliced almonds on hand.  These are already toasted, which really brings out the flavor.

For the dry ingredients, we need flour, salt, baking powder and salt...

For the wet ingredients, we need ricotta cheese, vanilla. Add lemon zest or use the optional lemon oil and Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor...

...give it whisk and smell.  Wow!  The aroma smells so good with the vanilla, lemon and emulsion!

The dry ingredients are whisked together, and then the nuts and dried fruit is added...

Now, we need COLD butter.  

 My shortcut is to grate cold (or frozen) butter. It works great!

Time to make dough!
With a stand-mixer, it takes a minute or two (or, you can do this by hand).


Now, we add the wet ingredients...

...and mix until the flour is just moistened. Don't overwork it!

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead it two or three times, until it holds together.

Cut the dough in half. In my case, I cut the dough into thirds. I was going to give two away, and keep one for "us".

My own "twist" to this recipe was to add a very traditional ingredient-- Marzipan.  I love it.  Skip it if you don't like it...

I decided to make one Stollen without marzipan and two with (guess which one is for "us"?) Now fold the Stollen in half, leaving the top half a little short of the edge. (I have read that the shape is to symbolize the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.)

These are baked at 325F for about 40 minutes. Because these are smaller (at 3 Stollen), I set my timer for 25 minutes. They are perfect and smell really great!  To me, they seemed more like a large cookie..but I carried on with the next few steps:

Remove the stollen from the oven, and transfer to a rack. Brush them each with 2 to 3 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle heavily with confectioners’ sugar.

Allow the stollen to cool, then brush with butter again, and sprinkle with sugar again. I know this appears to be a bit excessive, but trust me-- it's how the German's roll (said with affection).

Now, for the moment of truth...
VERDICT: This recipe gets the O-M-G rating from me!  The stollen reminds me of Biscotti, without the crunch of a second bake.  The outside texture is a little crunchy, which isn't how must authentic stollens are.  However, the inside is moist and has just the right amount of density to it. The flavor... (rolls eyes).  I think the Buttery Sweet Dough flavor is something you have to experience.  The flavor tastes like vanilla, lemon and butter. The fruit is just the right amount.  The powdered sugar coating give just the right amount of balance.  I'm beginning to have my first pangs of greed selfishness.

One Stollen was devoured by my husband and son.  They loved it!  I set one Stollen on the table, unsliced.  Is this a subliminal message "look, but don't eat"?

The next day, I unwrapped the third Stollen, and gave it  a fresh dusting of powdered sugar.

VERDICT #2: I think these taste better after a day...or two. The spirit of giving is alive and well!  OK, so I didn't give these away. I shared them. This is a new Christmas tradition for me to make, only I'll quadruple how much I make.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I like this recipe better than the yeast type of bread. Seriously. I don't think I'll wait an entire year to make this again.  A slice, or two, of this with a hot cup of coffee brings back memories of watching my Mutti dunk hers with glee.  

The Stollen recipe is posted below:

Merry Christmas 2010!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tate's Bake Shop Signature Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe


In my last post, I shared that I received a copy of Kathleen King's cookbook "Tate's Bake Shop" and an assortment of their cookies-- and I promised I'd have a giveaway.  Three weeks ago, I received a package of their signature Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Raisin and White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies. 

My boys were more than happy to eat the majority of the cookies, since I'm trying to cut back on my dessert and sugar consumption.  However, I did eat one of each cookie. After all, I had a duty to try this cookie which has received quite a few awards.   First, let me talk about the chocolate chip cookies-- they are thin and crisp, buttery and, oh, so delicious!  They could become very addictive, and I can see why Tate's Bake Shop calls their chocolate chip cookies their "signature cookie".  I ate one two and had to fight the urge to eat the entire pack of 12 cookies.  The oatmeal raisin cookies--  I regret to say that they aren't my favorite.  I can't pinpoint what it was, but they have an unidentifiable background flavor that felt as though it was missing the "Wow Factor".  However, the White Chocolate Macadamia cookies were outstanding.

As for the cookbook--  I read all 150 pages of the recipes.  The categories include Muffins & Scones, Pound Cakes & Breads,  and Cookies & Bars.  There are Pies, Crisps and Cobblers recipes, Cakes and even a Healthy Category.  As you can see, I bookmarked several recipes that caught my fancy.  There aren't photographs for every recipe, but the photographs in the center of the book are visually tempting and well done.  I posted the recipe for the Double Berry Crunch Muffins, that were moist and really good.  So, I pondered what to make next.  My son was lamenting that the chocolate chip cookies were gone (which he ate most of, anyway).  That's when I decided to follow Ina Garten's introduction to the cookbook that says "start with the chocolate chip cookies".  So, that's what I did...

The ingredients are similar to the  traditional Toll House Cookie recipe... except that less flour is used, and water is added to the batter.  Okay, maybe that's what makes the batter thin enough to spread and create Tate's Bake Shop thin and crispy cookies?

I figured that since Tate's Bake Shop is in the Hamptoms, and because Ina Garten always says to use "good" ingredients, that's what I did.  I've been enjoying a year's worth of Eggland's Best eggs for several months (I won them with this recipe).  Singing Dog Vanilla is a product that I really like (giveaway coming up after the holidays). 

Cream the butter and sugars...

 Add the vanilla and water until just combined. Add the eggs and mix lightly...

Stir in the flour mixture-- TIP:  I actually caught Kathleen King on an episode of The Barefoot Contessa. She showed Ina how pulsing the stand mixer is an easy way to add flour, without overworking the dough.  (Overworked dough = gluten = tough cookies).

 DOUGH REVIEW: I belong to the "I love to eat cookie dough" club.  OMG... this is the kind of dough you want to hide in a closet and eat in giant spoonful sizes.  I didn't, but let's say that I licked the beater clean.  The oven is preheated to 350F...

Fold in the chocolate chips and scoop onto a baking sheet using either parchment paper or a Silpat mat.  Bake for 12 minutes (mine took 15)...

...turning halfway through the baking so they bake evenly...

These do resemble the authentic Tate's Bake Shop Cookies, don't you think?
 After cooling them on a wire rack, I took a bite.

VERDICT:  The flavor is spot on good!  Are these the same as the cookies that Tate's Bake Shop sent me? Unfortunately, NO.  They just aren't that crispy thin cookie that I found surprisingly delicious (I'm a chewy kinda girl...or so I thought).   I had read this in some of the reviews about this cookbook that reviewers suspected that Kathleen King deliberately left something out of the recipe she shares.  I don't think that's the case-- I think it has to do with the commercial ovens she uses to product the thousands of cookies she ships all over the country each week!  I don't have a convection oven, but I know someone who does-- I'm going to ask her if we can experiment and see.   BOTTOM LINE:  Still, this is an excellent chocolate chip cookie. My son liked the Tate's Bake Shop crunchiness the best. My husband, on the other hand, loved my home baked version the best.  As for me... I'm so proud of my will power in that I ate only one cookies (and 1/2 the next day). Here's the printable recipe card:

Tate's Bake Shop has offered to let me choose one person to receive the same three-cookie assortment that was sent to me....

Plus, your own copy of the Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook. 
**THE GIVEAWAY ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED**All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me what your favorite cookie is.  For an extra entry, please "LIKE" Tate's Bake Shop on Facebook.  You can also order any of these cookies online-- and trust me, I will be doing the same.  These would make a great last minute gift for someone special, and the prices are not outrageous, considering how good the cookies are. Just use coupon code "cookie" online at their website, and you'll receive a 15% discount (good through December 31st).   I will randomly choose the lucky winner on Thursday, December 23rd at 7pm.  I will post the winner either that evening or on the morning of December 24th. 

Good Luck!

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