Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Caramel Cake

Usually, the first thing that I decide on for a special occasion is dessert. For some reason, a dessert for Christmas was just not coming to me. Sure, I had LOTS of ideas of snacky type desserts but I wanted a REAL dessert. I contemplated several different things (which I will still make) but finally landed on caramel cake after talking to my mom.

Caramel cake, I would have to say, is my family's favorite dessert. My brother had caramel cake as his groom's cake. It is just GOOD! I was really excited to finally get to make it. Enter! Over Christmas, I was on call every other night. That did not leave much time for cooking; but, I didn't think it would be a problem. Normally, call over Christmas isn't that bad...different story this year! So, when I got home, I just wanted to sleep...not make a caramel cake. My mom, thankfully, offerred to make the actual cake part. The scratch recipe she used didn't turn out (apparently, other people had trouble with it as well) so we used a cake mix. The icing, however, was fantastic!!!!

Oh my! The caramel cake we tasted originally is more of a fondant icing, but this one was perfect...even Daddy agreed after trying it. The recipe I used made 5 cups, so I halved the recipe and it turned out to be the perfect amount for a two layer round cake. I also used buttermilk instead of heavy cream. No problem...tasted great! It was even better after a couple of days because the icing had a chance to seep into the cake and created almost a simple syrup effect. So good! Somehow, I don't think anyone would complain if this became a Christmas tradition...and I would go in search of a good cake recipe!

Quick Caramel Icing - adapted from Southern Living December 2010

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Bring first 3 ingredients to a rolling boil in a 3 1/2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly (about 7 minutes).
2. Stir in buttermilk and bring to a boil; remove from heat. Pour into bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer. Gradually beat in powdered sugar and vanilla at medium speed; beat 8 to 12 minutes or until thickened. Spread over cooled cake immediately. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Plov

When we were discussing what to make for Christmas Eve dinner, I decided that it would be fun to do something different.  My mom suggested chicken dumpling, but we've done that before and I just didn't really enjoy it.  I suggested that we do pelmeini ( a Russian meat ravioli type dish).  At first, I thought that's what we were going to do, but then Mama and Daddy decided we'd do plov.  Since they would be the ones making it, I relented!  ;-) 

Plov is a traditional Russian dish of rice, carrots, and meat.  In Bishkek, they used mutton but we used a mix of beef and lamb.  You have to have patience and a thick walled pot to make this...a perfect use for my LeCreuset pot! 

The recipe we have called for 1.5 cups of oil (as "plov requires much oil"); however, my dad reduced it to 1 cup.  We all decided that it was still oily and probably could be reduced even more.  One of the MUSTS for plov, it putting a head of garlic in the pot when you make it.  This cooks the garlic and makes it soft and "sweet."  Oh, it's so good...just hope that your other friends like garlic, too!  It was a great meal! 


4 cups rice
1 mid size onion (slice)
½ kg carrots (cut into tiny sticks/shreds)
1 cup oil (you might could try a little less)
~1 kg meat (lamb and/or beef)
1 head garlic (whole)

Put oil into the pot with thick walls. When oil is hot enough put onions and fry till they have a golden color. Put meat and and fry until the juice is clear. Add carrots and fry. Put rice in and add 5 cups of water. Bury a head of garlic in rice and season with salt and pepper. Do NOT stir the rice and meat together, wait for the end to do that.  Wait until it boils all around, turn to simmer, cover, cook for 15 minutes. If the rice does not seem done, add a bit more water and cook for longer.

Mix when ready to eat then pour onto a large platter.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pumpkin Balls

When looking for tasty treats to make for Christmas, I found these yummy looking pumpkin balls at Annie's Eats

When I took them to work (yes, I worked over Christmas.  In fact, I was on call every other night for six days), one of our hospitalists tried one just moaned.  When he found out that I had made them, he told me he hated me...that's a good thing in this case!  :-)  My dad, for some reason, thought there was coconut in them. Hmmm...they were very pleasant and a different twist on truffles. 

Pumpkin Spice Truffles adapted from Annie's Eats

Yield: about 30 truffles
1 cup white chocolate, coarsely chopped (about 5 oz)
½ cup pumpkin puree
1.5 cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 oz. cream cheese, softened

For dipping:
about 16 oz. chopped white chocolate, melted (or white candy melts)

To make the truffle filling, melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water just until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. Add the pumpkin, gingersnap and graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, and cream cheese. Mix well until completely blended and smooth. Transfer the miture to the refrigerator or freezer until it has thickened up enough to scoop and roll into balls (about 1 hour).

Scoop the filling mixture and roll into balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Transfer to a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and let chill until firm, about 2 hours.

When you are ready to dip the truffles, melt the white chocolate or candy melts for coating in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Once completely melted and smooth, carefully dip one of the balls of filling into the chocolate. Turn quickly to coat and balance on the tines of a fork to shake off the excess. Transfer to a lined baking sheet and sprinkle with additional gingersnap crumbs, if desired. Repeat with the remaining filling balls. Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator and chill until the coating is set. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quick and Easy

(This is the THIRD time I've tried to get this to post!)  During the holidays, I think we find that we get very busy.  So, when it was getting close to Thanksgiving I decided that it would be the best use of my time NOT to go to the grocery store.  I have things in the my cabinets, though my refrigerator was getting empty.  What to make, what to make!  If you're looking for something simple, this is it. 

Given, it is meat free (actually vegan though I wasn't trying for that), this is a satisfying dinner.  I just pulled out a can of chickpeas, green beans, and rotel tomatoes.  Combine, heat and eat!  Yum.  I served this alongside couscous.  I think that maybe next time I'd jsut use diced tomatoes and flavor on my own.  It was just a tad too overpowering and I couldn't taste the green beans as much as I would have liked.

Green beans, chicpea, and tomato "goulash"
1 can french style green beans
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can diced tomatoes or rotel tomatoes
2 handfuls of spinach (this was last had to be used!)

Open cans, put contents in a microwave safe bowl OR sauce pan.  Heat until hot.  Add spinach, if using, and heat for a minute longer. Put on plate and eat!!!  It went GREAT with couscous.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Help! Someone has Stollen My Bread!

Ok...that was cheesy, but I couldn't help it.  The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration. 

When I read the description of stollen I was a bit's described as a "bread-like fruitcake."  Fruitcake????!!  Ehhhh....okay, I guess I'll make it.  However, after making this, I don't know that I would call it a fruitcake in the way that we (or at least I) think of it.  I think of fruitcake as a thick, syrupy yet dried (almost) pound cake with those candied cherries (you know...the ones that have been dyed green and bright red!) and other dried, sweetened fruits.  This really is a bread that you put some dried fruits in and coat with butter and powdered sugar.  It apparently keeps for a fairly long time if stored properly. 

I made this one Saturday for my Sunday School class.  Turns out, one of my friends loves Stollen but hasn't had it in a while.  She spent several years of her childhood in Germany and really enjoyed stollen but hasn't had any recently because the one her mom buys has raisins, and she doesn't like them.  Thankfully, I had used pomegranite infused craisins (TOTALLY different from raisins) and pecans.

 She said that it was great...and everyone else seemed to like it, too.  I had only 1/3 of the entire thing left after class!  Of note, I only had 2 eggs and 1 stick of butter but the bread still turned out well. Thanks, Penny, for a great, seasonal, and international challenge!

Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people

¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 taspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (I didn't use)

1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins/craisins
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Soak the raisins. In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under raisins.  (I did not soak my craisins in anything)

To make the dough:
Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball. 

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath

Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.

Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. 
Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder. 

Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape. Using kitchen scissors (or a knife!), make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough.  Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.

Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. (I stopped here, it was towering with sugar!) Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first. The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times (I only did this once!), since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!  When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Tradition Resumes

For the longest time, it seems that whenever I went home I'd make banana muffins.  For some reason, the past few times I've gone, that hasn't happened.  Well, I made it a point to make some over Thanksgiving.  The recipe I used is from an old cookbook...I think Better Homes and Gardens Breads...but don't hold me to it!  The recipe is for Best Muffins and is just a basic muffin recipe.  However, the cookbook gives options of different types of muffins by modifying the batter.  I added bananas to make it banana muffins.  These turned out really good, though Mama didn't think it was banana enough.  I had only used two small bananas, so you could easily remedy that by adding an extra banana.  These baked up, if only I can get banana bread to do the same!

Banana Muffins
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 well beaten egg
3/4 milk
1/3 cooking oil
1 cup mashed ripe banana (2-3 bananas)
1/4 cups chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mash banana is a bowl.  Add in all wet ingredients.  Then stir in all dry ingredients.  Spray muffin tins and pour batter into molds.  Bake in muffin pans for 25 -30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Makes ~12 muffins.  Enjoy!

Makes 12 muffins

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fresh is BEST!

Over Thanksgiving, my brother really wanted to go to the Russian restaurant we found.  However, his wife and I both didn't feel like driving the hour and 20 minutes to get are not our friends!  Anyway, Philip decided that he wanted ribs.  So, after shopping, we went and got some ribs at a local restaurant.  When we got home, he said he wanted fries to go with them.....ooops, no fries!  So, he and Kenna made some.

  After he made them and I tasted them, I had memories of Daddy making them when I was little.  Let me just tell you...homemade fries are SO much better than the frozen variety...and they are really simple.  You just cut your potatoes into the size and shape that you want, season them, and fry them.  Not sure what oil we used, but I know that peanut oil is a good frying oil because of the high smoke point. 

You can flick some water or flour into the oil to check it for being ready to fry.  If it sizzles they it's ready.  Check out these beauties! 

Homemade Fries
potatoes, cut into size and shape you want
oil, for frying

Heat oil in a large, thick pot or frying pan.  Meanwhile, cut potatoes into wedges.  Season with whatever seasonings you like.  You can even use some flour.  To test oil, flick some flour into it.  If it sizzles and bubbles you're ready to fry.  Place the potatoes into the hot oil.  Allow to cook until golden brown.  Pull out with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.  You might want to add extra seasoning when you do this.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Favorite Candy

If you're looking for an easy and delicious treat to make for the holidays, this is one.  My favorite candy is Reese's...anything!  This is very similar to Reese's peanut butter but except in bar form.  I got it on a receipt from Kroger.  I guess it's because I bought Nestle's morsels.  When I made this, I misread the directions and didn't split the peanut butter, I put it all in the mixture.  This worked and I can't really see it being done another way.  Since I didn't have any peanut butter to put in the topping, I just used peanut butter and chocolate swirled morsels.  Worked well!  Once again, I took this to a shower, but this was a wedding shower.  I sent the rest home with my friend for her husband...he really enjoyed them, too!

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars from Nestle
2 cups peanut butter, divided (or not!)
3/4 cups butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
3 cups graham cracker crumbs (you can get these already crushed at the store!)
2 cups chocolate chips

Prepare a 13X9 pan with cooking spray.  Bean 1 1/4 cups peanut butter (or all of it like I did!) and beat until creamy.  Slowly beat in 1 cup sugar.  Then stir in remaining sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.  Press this into the prepared pan.

Melt 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips over low heat with 3/4 cup peanut butter (or add some peanut butter chips like I did!).  Spread over peanut butter mixture an refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Cut into bars and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Take Me to a Party!

With Christmas parties coming up, we will all be baraged with lots of unhealthy (but YUMMY!) food.  I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities you will have to take a dish to one of these parties.  Why not take something that is at least half-way beneficial for you.  I took this grape salad to one of our many baby showers this year and everyone really enjoyed it. 

It is creamy and calls for cream cheese and sour cream.  However, you can lighten it up by using light (or even fat free) cream cheese (though I'd stick with light) and using Greek yogurt for the sour cream.  It is sweetened with sugar, though I've seen people use splenda.  After you mix up the creaminess, you simply stir in grapes.  There is an option to top it with brown sugar and nuts, but I just used the pecans.  So, you have a delicious salad (this is frequently used for bridal brunches here in the South) that people will enjoy but it's not too much of a splurge!

Grape Salad
4 cups green grapes
4 cups purple grapes
1 package cream cheese
6oz. container Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (I think I reduced it to 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar (optional)

Pull grapes off of stems and wash.  If you want to, cut grapes in half. However, this is not required.  In a bowl, mix cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, and vanilla together.  Stir this mixture and grapes together.  Put in your serving dish and top with pecans and, if using, brown sugar.