Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sometimes I Crave a Scone

Sometimes I crave a scone- a buttery, sweet (but not too sweet), flaky, warm scone. I have tasted many-a scone at coffee shops and bakeries. Some are moan-able and others I could pass up. I think of scones as somewhere between a muffin and a biscuit. I have also found that there are scone people and not-scone people. I am not sure what that is, but I can tell you if you ever wanted to find out which you are, this is the recipe I would recommend you use for your evaluation.

For years I have sought out the “perfect recipe” for scones. I was having some moderate success but then I found it. The perfect scone recipe. I discovered it in The Bread Bible, a book that Bread-Mentor-Steve recommended to me. Many of the recipes in this book are rigorous and technically challenging to me. (You know a cookbook is intense when it gives the measurement for ingredients in weight as well as traditional measure- for example: water - 1 liquid cup or 8.3 ounces) The scones, however, are straightforward and produce a lovely and consistent outcome!

I started making them a couple of years ago and because it makes a large batch, I found myself racing to eat them (and share with others) before they got stale, or halving the recipe. Then I tried freezing some and found that, if they are sealed well, they can be frozen, thawed, and warmed in the oven and they taste day-1 fresh.

They have been the crave for the past couple of weeks. I have had two requests for them from people who have been “thinking about them lately”. So, I decided to make them, send some to my kids’ teachers, bring some to my co-workers, and have pictures to show you of the process.

Flaky Scones
(adapted from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

1 cup butter, cold
4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup (or more) dried cranberries

[I always lean towards cranberry, or sometime apricot, but you can make yours with whatever you like.]

Cut cold butter into 1- inch cubes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, press the cubes into large flakes. (Or use an electric mixer). Stir in cream just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps.

Stir in the dried cranberries.

Knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together, and turn it out onto a lightly floured board.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees 30 minutes before baking. Have a baking stone or sheet in the oven before preheating.

Lightly flour the top of the dough, and roll it out into a long rectangle 1-inch thick and about 8 X 12 inches.

Keep the edges even by smacking a large knife against the sides of the dough.

Fold the dough in thirds, lightly flour the board again, and rotate the dough.

Roll it out again and repeat the “turn” 3 more times. Roll out the dough once more. Trim the edges so that it will rise evenly.

Cut the dough in half so that you have 2 pieces. (Notice my sophisticated method of measurement)

Cut each piece of dough into triangles.

Place them on the warm stone or baking sheet with one inch between.

Bake the scones for 15 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the tops are golden and firm enough so that they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger. Do not over-bake!

Place 2 cotton towels on two large racks and, using a spatula, lift the scones from the baking sheets and set them on top. Fold the towels over loosely and allow them to cool (see photo at top of post).

[To reheat: Bake at 300 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes on until warm to the touch.]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Get Your Muffin On (Post #3 of 3)

Muffins are one of my very favorite things to bake and EAT They are healthy (or at least can be), are a breakfast-y food, (which is my favorite meal of the day), and they are fun to make and hard to bomb (unlike layered cakes). Not only that, but they are easy to transport, simple to share and they are versatile- with mix-ins and toppings. I am a fan.

With this passion and adoration for muffins, I have made a whole lot of them in the past 20 something years and I have a few tricks I have learned along the way. I am excited to share them with you.

Here are some Muffin Making Hints:

* I have found that when baking muffins that have berries, the berries tend to stick to the bottom of the pan and therefore, it is helpful to use paper muffin liners. However, I tend to shy away from muffin liners due to the loss of muffin, which sticks to the paper. So, I have learned that if you use the paper muffin liners, place them in the pan and then grease the inside of the paper liners and the muffins beautifully peel away from the paper.

*Use an ice cream scoop to measure your batter. (My mom taught me about scooping cookies this way, which I will post about soon, but scooping batter is a more recent practice). Most of the time, the batter will be too thin to actually “scoop”, however, the scoop allows you to have a consistent portion of batter in each cup. You simply scoop the liquid and carefully tip over the scoop, pouring the batter into the cups.

*Getting the correct amount of batter in your cups is important to make sure they don’t overflow or end up skimpy. At times, recipes instruct how full to fill the muffin tins. However, I have found that often times there is a variance. Some muffins crown and others spread on the top. I have learned that it is helpful to take note the first time making a recipe. I typically fill the tins ¾ full the first time and then make a note on the recipe of the “correct fullness” for the next time.

*If your recipe includes berries and/or chocolate chips, toss them in the dry ingredients before stirring them into the wet ingredients- this help keeps prevent them from getting into clumps.

*When you are adding various “mix-ins” to your muffins, sprinkle a little of the mix-in on top in order to identify the type (as well as a nice decorative touch). For example- I made 3 varieties of my pumpkin muffins: plain, pecan and chocolate chip…noted by the ingredient on top.

*Lighten Up Substitutions-
I really like a healthy muffin and there are some simple ways to lighten muffins up without compromising the taste or texture!

-You can use low-fat vanilla yogurt in place of butter or margarine. I typically use ½ of the amount of butter called for and the other ½ yogurt to keep the flavor and texture true. It works really well.

-You can use egg whites in place of some of the eggs. 3Tbsp. egg white = 1 egg. I again, use some of each.

-Wheat or white wheat flour can be used instead of all-purpose flour. You can experiment on what proportion you want to substitute. You want to make sure it doesn’t compromise the fluffiness.

(King Arthur Flour has a great white wheat flour that you can pick up at the grocery store). My bread-mentor, Steve, introduced me to King Arthur Flour products and their great website. Their recipes make me drool. I have tried several of them and they are keepers for sure! The most recent recipe I have used is the Pumpkin Muffins. They are autumn-in-a-muffin; moist, spiced, fluffy, beautiful- I made them for my class last week and can’t wait to make them again!

I made 3 varieties, because I was making them for my family and for my 8 a.m. class. My students had mentioned pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and I knew my kids would like plain and I would choose pumpkin pecan. I think they were all pretty great. I wish I had a pumpkin pecan one right now.

Pumpkin Muffins
1 cup (8 ounces) pumpkin (about 1/2 of a 15 ounce can)
2 large eggs

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 Tbsp. molasses

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 tsp. ground cloves, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, and 1 tsp. ground cinnamon)
1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 cups King Arthur White Wheat Flour
1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda
Preheat the oven to 400°F. 

In a large bowl whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, oil, molasses, salt, spices, and milk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together. Add all at once to the wet ingredients and mix until all ingredients are well combined. Spoon the batter into the greased muffin pan. Almost filled to the top. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or when touching springs back. Makes 12 muffins.

Just for some extra yumminess…

Maple Cinnamon Butter
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp.brown sugar

Beat all the ingredients together until the mixture is smooth. Serve with Pumpkin Muffins.

So, there you have it: Goodwill, Flow Charts, Freezing your leftover ingredients, Muffin Recipes and Tips! Whew! Glad to get all that out there! Let me know what you cook up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Watch Your Waste (post #2 of 3)

I really don’t like to waste things. In fact, we bring take-out containers of left-over scraps home from restaurants, hoping that we can make a meal (or a late night snack for Dave) out of them. (If we happen to be out to eat with friends who don't want their leftovers we have been known to ask if we can take them. Our friend Amy, who lived with us for a while, used to bring home “doggie bags” of leftovers from business lunches for Dave--just in case).

I also really dislike wasting ingredients and groceries. It pains me to find slimy cilantro in the refrigerator drawer. (My remedy for this, is to SHARE the bunch of cilantro with a friend or neighbor after taking what I predict my recipes for the week will require.)

And the freezer is a great remedy for extending the life of foods.

Freezing Buttermilk is one of my newer discoveries. My mom tried it out and the Red Velvet Cake I made for Dave’s birthday was made with it and proved successful! Just measure and pour into sealed containers and label the date and portion on it with a Sharpie.

Bananas: If you have bananas that are really getting ripe (and you don’t have enough to make banana bread or time to make it), you can peel them, put them in a Ziploc bag, and stick them in the freezer. They can be thawed for banana bread making and are perfect for smoothie making - adding a thick, frozen creaminess.

Bread: I keep most of our bread in the freezer, so that it has a life beyond a few days. This is true for sandwich bread, when we are in a season of sporadic sandwich eating as well as artisan (crusty) bread, which doesn’t contain preservatives. I just leave half in a bag on the counter and the other ½ zipped away in the freezer. Then when we are ready for the “new fresh installment”, I just set it on the counter and in a few hours it is like day 1 bread…all over again.

Onions: When I am using part of an onion, I oftentimes go ahead and chop the entire onion, bag it, label it and freeze it. It can be thrown into the saute or soup straight from the freezer next time you need ½ a cup of chopped onion. It is so handy and prevents dying onion from stinking up your refrigerator.

Tomato Paste: I have a Mexican rice recipe that my family loves that calls for 2 Tbsp of tomato paste. It feels like a waste, even with the little can that I buy, to trash the other 6 Tbsps that remain in the can. But unless you are a frequent user of tomato paste, it is one of those ingredients that you might “lose” in the back of the fridge in some container. So I started scooping 1 Tbsp size portions into snack size Ziplocs and freezing them to be pulled out when making the recipe.

And you can freeze cheese.
And don’t forget leftover pancakes.
And it goes on and on and on…

Now I must warn you: freezer storing candy bars does not necessarily extend their life as I seem to like them EVEN MORE when they come right out of the freezer!

(stay tuned for Post #3 about Muffin Making)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thrift Shops, Muffins & Flow Charts

If you take a girl to Goodwill this is what she’ll do…
She’ll find some really fun treasures which she'll buy and take home with her.
And as she is cleaning the vintage batter bowl that she bought, she will be inspired to make some muffins.
So she’ll stir up some blueberry blossom muffin batter.
When making those muffins she’ll realize she has some leftover buttermilk, which will remind her to package and freeze that leftover milk for good keeping.
And upon opening the freezer, the cool wind will remind her of autumn,
Which will remind her of those moist pumpkin muffins that she loves so very much,
Which she will promptly bake, and all the while she'll be thinking of the tips
that she has learned along the way that have helped her muffins to improve over time. Thinking about these things will make her want to share them with all of her friends, which will inspire her to summon them all…. and chances are when she gathers her friends, she’s gonna want to take them to Goodwill for Half Price Saturday!

So. This is a silly story version of what has been going on in my mind for the past couple of weeks as one thing has led to another. I have been pondering how to post everything that I want to share with you. And a run to Goodwill was the impetus for it all!

I adore thrift shops, muffins and cooking tips, and I have so much I want to tell you… the question has been how do I ration this into a manageable post? (Since I don’t think people hang around a blog for more than a couple of minutes at a time). What was I to do? I had to talk it out and then draw it out.

And here is
the flow chart
I sketched of what
is in my mind.
I concluded that
I will post in
3 consecutive installments
the ideas and recipes I
want to share with you.
I hope you'll enjoy!

Post #1:
Some people are not into thrift shopping, but I, myself, would choose digging through a bin of house wares at Goodwill over strolling through the racks at a mall department store any day! I love studying things and wondering who the former owner was, what life an item had before hanging out on this shelf, curious about what its next life could be. Repurposing treasures is a creative, therapeutic and life giving pursuit.

A couple of weekends ago, I went to Goodwill and spent about $10 and took away some lovely treasures: a pretty cornflower blue mug,
a vintage printed juice glass,
a plate with a lovely border edge,
a white milk glass mixing bowl with a pour spout,
and a couple of cotton sheets- one maize yellow, the other blue.

I came home, washed them all and began to dream about where each treasure would go, if they were to be given as gifts or used in our home, and such. I wanted to try out that batter bowl A.S.A.P. so I stirred up some blueberry blossom muffins in it and brewed some good coffee to be drunk in my pretty blue mug. These items, and a beautiful sunny morning, made it feel like such a special day. My few dollars used to reclaim another person’s throw-aways brought energy and creativity to my home. I have put zinnias in the juice glass, served cookies on the bordered plate and I have a new blue mug for early morning coffee. (I know I don’t need another mug…but how can you go wrong with 49 cent happiness?)

The Blueberry Blossom Muffins are a variation of a Cooking Light magazine recipe I saved from a decade ago. I just recently rediscovered them. They are tasty and versatile.

2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups low fat buttermilk
¼ cup butter, melted
½ -1 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
Grated rind of an orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Combine and make a well in the center of the mixture. Combine buttermilk and next 5 ingredients in a bowl; add to flour mixture. Stir just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with sugar (I like to use Turbinado Sugar). Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from pans; cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cookie Dough & College Students

College students are a great food audience. They typically either: live in a dorm with no kitchen and eat at the cafeteria (the ‘Caf’); or they have a small kitchen, not much cookware and no budget with which to buy ingredients. They are fairly deprived of access to homemade goodies. So, it doesn’t take much to wow them and endear them to homemade baked goods.

Conveniently, I know a bunch of students because I am a professor of social work at Belmont University in Nashville. These students are bright, dynamic, wonderful and great at eating goodies. I love baking for my students.

I try to bake muffins or cookies for them when I can. It is such fun to show up to an 8 a.m. class with a basket full of muffins, or a batch of cookies to munch on in the afternoon. Our department hosts a dinner each semester for students, faculty, staff and significant others to hang out and get to know each other outside of the classroom. Last night was our fall social work dinner which we hosted at our home. The house was filled with conversation, eating and laughter. I made 2 pans of Chocolate Chip Cheese Cake Bars. My friend, Audra, introduced them to me a couple of years ago and I promptly made them for my students, thinking they would really enjoy them. How could they not? They are pretty much 2 slabs of doughy chocolate chip cookies with a layer of cream cheese gooeyness tucked between them. And my hunch was right- they gobbled them up and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ and requested them for the next event, which I gladly provided. I am guessing they love it so much (as does my husband) because they'll buy a roll of cookie dough from the grocery and eat it with a spoon.

So, I joyfully made them again this semester to express my adoration for my students and to treat them to some homemade chocolaty goodness. In addition to these, we had some yummy pumpkin muffins, cookies and brownies that were brought by my colleagues. The students appeared to delight in the feast. Mission accomplished!

I will say, the challenge with this recipe is cooking it evenly so that the middle is done and the edges and top aren’t over done. Last night the middle was oozing all over the place, which didn’t stop them from lopping it up, but it made me concerned that they were basically eating liquid cheese cake. It could have been named “Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Goo”. Next time I will make it in two smaller pans (maybe square glass dishes) so that there are more edge pieces.

You can cut corners (though not cost) by using 2 rolls of purchased chocolate chip cookie dough instead of the cookie dough recipe. But I prefer it with from-scratch cookie dough.

Chocolate Chip Cheese Cake Bars
Cookie Dough Layer
(This is my adaptation of the classic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Combine butter, sugar and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat until creamy. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat together. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Mix well. Stir in chips. Refrigerate for an hour or so. (You can omit the refrigerating, it is just a little stickier of a job).

Cream Cheese Filling
2 (8 oz packages) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla

Beat cream cheese in mixer until smooth. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla and blend thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 350. In a greased baking pan carefully place ½ of the cookie dough- pressing it together and into the pan.

Pour the cream cheese filling over this layer. Spread evenly.

Place the remain ½ of the cookie dough on top- this is tricky so you need to crumble little pieces all over and gently press together.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until browned on top and when jiggled only moves a little…like I said this is tricky to discern!

Let cool for at least 15 minutes. Serve in the pan- there’s no way to cut this and transfer to a pretty serving dish, so don't even try - just get your spoon ready!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Delicious Nameless Dish

This summer we have been trying to eat low fat/high fiber with lots of fresh produce. I created this recipe and have made it many times lately, each time with a little variation. If you know the Weight Watcher’s jargon, this meal can have as few as 3 points. It is savory and filling and you don’t feel deprived one bit!

I have taken pictures of this meal the past few times I have made it, but have been stalling on posting about it because I can’t figure out what to call it! I have tried different names on for size:

Caribbean Main Course Salad
Roasted Veggie Black Bean Salad
Spicy Veggie and Bean Salad Plate
Roasted Veggie, Black Bean, Shrimp Salad
The Kicky Plate

I have asked friends, called my mom, looked in cook books for something similar…but they all seem too long of a name, or too general or negligent of some important aspect of the dish. Some might say it’s flavor is Caribbean, some Southwestern.
So, my wise friend Gretchen suggested that I just ask YOU, the readers to HELP ME NAME this dish!

So will you?

Here it is: (click for recipe)

The dish is kind of a salad platter-
I pile:
-Torn green leaf lettuce over ½ of the dinner plate
-A pile of diced fresh tomatoes in a spot on the lettuce
-½ cup (or so) of warm, seasoned black beans on another spot on the lettuce
-A spray of roasted vegetables
-A handful of cooked spicy shrimp
-A large dollop of light sour cream
-A tsp of finely chopped red onion

For the elements:
Black beans - I usually season with kosher salt, cumin, garlic powder, and Cholula (or Tabasco) to taste. Black beans are a favorite at our house. You can open a can, drain and rinse, season it and let it simmer on the stove for a 15 minutes, or you can start with a sack of dry beans and cook on the stove for hours until tender and then season. Either way you can make some tasty beans

Roasted Veggies - Use whatever vegetables you like or have on hand- our favorites are asparagus, red bell pepper and zucchini. Clean and cut veggies into large pieces (they will shrink) toss in olive oil (unless I’m being REALLY good and then I spray Olive Oil Cooking Spray on them and toss) and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Then place on a greased baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees until tender, tossing ½ way through (about 20-30 minutes depending on the vegetables you choose).

Spicy Shrimp - I place raw, peeled, deveined shrimp in a small bowl and toss with kosher salt, the juice of a lime, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and Cholula. I spray my stove top grill pan and cook on medium high for a few minutes on each side until white (fully cooked).

This entire meal takes no time to put together and it is savory, kicky, filling and fresh!
It needs no dressing because the cool, creamy sour cream melds with the grilled veggies and beans to make it’s own sauciness.

You can switch it up however you like-exchange the shrimp with tilapia or roasted chicken or just go vegetarian. And you can add shredded cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, and/or rice if you want. This is the “lightest” version but get creative and individualize the dish to your liking.

So, what are we to name this thing?
You might want to make it and see if the name comes to you!

Friday, September 3, 2010

A gift of Baked Goods

Several years ago we were trying to think of a fun gift to give to our friend David for his birthday. We considered a gift card from his favorite coffee shop or a nice book or a cool travel mug. Then, when considering what he really loves and what we uniquely could give him, it dawned on me that we should give him the gift of Baked Goods: a Dessert-A-Month for a year. I thought it would be fun and it didn’t feel too overwhelming, as it is spaced out over 12 months. Well, you would have thought that we had given him a pony by his excited reaction when we gave him this gift promise.

It was such fun to gather requests each month from him and bake, deliver and then hear feedback. My Dave was the delivery guy many times and often times David would insist they eat some together in that very moment. Dave never rejected the offer. Then they would ooh and ahh together.
So, this year when his birthday rolled around we gave him another year of Dessert- A –Month (I was hesitant because I didn’t want to be redundant, in giving the same gift two years in a row, to which David replied that my hesitation was ridiculous). So the gift is on and each month I will feature a post of The David Dessert of the Month and a story behind it!

My friend Emily recently sent me this great quote that I have saved for this post because it made me think of David.

"When people take a bite of your baking, you want to witness closed eyes, a smile, no talking for a second more than it takes to munch, and then that sigh-- in short, the 'bliss factor'. That's how you know you've done your magic." A Passion for Baking by Mary Goldman

Giving baked goods to people who savor the “bliss” is a joy indeed.

I sent him a message on Tuesday declaring that it is September and it was time for a dessert request. Gooey Butter Bars were his choice for September.

There is some history with David and Gooey Butter Bars.
Last year when they were the request of the month, the bars came out of the oven around 9:30 p.m. Dave called David to see if he could come down the street and bring him the Ooey Gooey. Typically I would cut them and send the majority of the batch and keep a few of them for my Dave and kids. But being hot and gooey, I just sent the entire glass casserole dish. When he arrived David and he each ate a large piece, after which David cut some to send back home with Dave to enjoy later, leaving approximately 2/3rds of the dish remaining. The following evening Dave had eaten his couple of pieces and was feeling gluttonous. He sent a message to David that said, "I ate all of mine!" which David replied, “I ate all of mine too!”
Outrageous!!! The guy is passionate about dessert!

Gooey Butter Bars are buttery, simple and pretty addictive. It is an easy recipe that is made with a cake mix in the crust. The recipe is sometimes considered a cake, but it is really more bar-like.
(Some people liken these to Chess Squares - they may even call these by that name but I don’t agree! I think of Chess Squares as an eggy- dessert and these have cake mix, powdered sugar and cream cheese- which changes everything for me. Chess Squares are one of the few desserts that I can typically resist. These are much harder to resist).

Paula Deen includes this recipe in one of her cookbooks and she gives several variations to change it up. They are fun! I have tried several. I love the chocolate pecan the best. But this week I made the classic, for this was the request of the eater.

Gooey Butter Cake
Click for Printable Recipe

One package yellow cake mix
1 egg
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients and mix well. Pat into a lightly greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Prepare filling.

1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, melted
4 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Add butter; beat. Add powdered sugar and mix well. Spread over cake mixture. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden. You want the center to be a little gooey so do not over-bake.

Chocolate Pecan: Substitute Chocolate cake mix in the crust. Add mini chocolate chips and chopped pecans on top of filling before baking.

Pumpkin Spice: Add a 15 ounce can of pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg to the filling.

Red Velvet: Substitute red velvet cake mix in the crust.

Carrot Cake: Substitute a spiced carrot cake mix in the crust. Add chopped pecans or walnuts and shredded carrots to the filling.

Lemon: Substitute a lemon cake mix in the crust. Add lemon juice and lemon zest to the filling.