Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Oh! Cherry, Not All Alone Bars

One of my favorite songs, is "Oh, Sherry" by Journey...yes, I'm a Journey fan and Steve Perry's vocals for this 80s rock band was the inspiration for these cherry (instead of Sherry), white chocolate, and pistachio bars I baked today.

I discovered it's also the 100th Anniversary of the gift of the cherry trees (Sakuras), from Japan to our Nation, and in celebration of this beautiful gesture I wanted to honor this occasion with my recipe.  The unseasonably warm weather in Washington, D.C. brought out the blossoms early, but nonetheless, spectacular.  I've been lucky enough to have lived in the Maryland/D.C. area and visit Tokyo to witness this moment when Spring has indeed arrived.  Just driving down the Basin, you are in awe of these pink beauties standing in a rows as if they are debutante's at their coming-out ball.  All over Japan, they celebrate this time by having family picnics under the trees, called Hanami--literally means "viewing flowers," which is the primary reason for this event, but a variety of Japanese performing arts are also part of this tradition.

Oh! Cherry, Not All Alone Bars

2 cups + 1 T (4 sticks + 1T) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 1/3 + 2 T light (or golden) brown sugar, packed
2 T molasses
2 Vanilla beans, split and scraped or 1 T Vanilla extract
4 large eggs
4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups dried cherries, soaked in 3/4 cup hot water with a Pomegranate/Cherry Green Tea bag
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped pistachio

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  

Melt butter and  use approximately 1T to brush the 12"x17" baking pan with, then line bottom with parchment and brush with more butter.

Bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil (I did mine in the microwave for 1 minute).  Add the tea bag (if using), then the dried cherries.  Let steep about 30 to 40 minutes.  Drain, reserving liquid and coarsely chop the cherries.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, measure the brown sugar, vanilla (beans or extract) and molasses.  Beat on medium to blend.  Add the slightly cooled butter while the mixer is on low to slowly incorporate.  When it looks like most of the butter has been absorbed by the sugar, raise the speed to medium and beat well.  Test the  bottom of the bowl, underneath, for temperature before adding the eggs (you wouldn't want scrambled eggs in your mixture:-)  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the bowl and beat again.

Add the dry ingredients--flour, baking powder and salt and mix on med/low to incorporate--don't over mix.  Remove from the stand and with a spatula, make sure all the flour mixture is indeed incorporated.  Stir in the chopped, dried cherries, 1 cup of the white chocolate chips, and 3/4 cup of the pistachios.  
Spoon mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Sprinkle top with the remaining 1 cup white chocolate chips and 3/4 cup of pistachios.

Bake for 10 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 325F-degrees and rotate pan.  Bake an additional 16 to 18 minutes, until golden brown.

Optional Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2-3 T reserved cherry/tea liquid
1 T light Karo syrup

Mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the bars, if desired. 

Sharing the beauty of nature is truly a wonderful gift--Happy Anniversary Cherry Trees. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Spring-time Bundt Cake

I know Spring will come, after all, Hall Borland wrote~"No Winter Lasts Forever, No Spring Skips Its Turn." In the meantime, I've decided to play Mother-Nature (like I do when I create my 3-D paper flowers) and bring some sunshine into my kitchen ;-D

My inspiration today goes back to the girl scouts.  Their new variety, in honor of the 100th Anniversary, is Savannah Smiles--a lemony shortbread in the shape of a big smile.
You just can't go wrong with least that what my mother thought and I have to agree.  It has a bright, fresh taste and there isn't a baked good, when it's added, that will disappoint you.  I decided to use these cookies as a crunchy topping on my lemon bundt cake...a decision that came out very well.

Lemon Cookie~Crunch Bundt Cake
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
Zest of one lemon (reserve the juice for the glaze)
1/2 tsp. Tahitian Vanilla powder (I purchased it at Williams-Sonoma)
3/4 cup Lemon Bits 

3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1-6oz carton of Greek-style Lemon Yogurt 
1 pkg.  GSA-Savannah Smiles cookies
3 T. unsalted butter, melted

Place cookies in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush.  Place in a bowl and add the melted butter.  Stir to combine and set aside.

Preheat oven 350F-degrees.  Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with a non-stick baking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy.  Add the lemon zest and beat to mix.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again.

Add the lemon extract and vanilla powder (if using) along with the lemon bits.  Mix to combine.  In a separate bowl, blend the dry ingredients together.  Add them all at once along with the lemon yogurt.  Mix on medium speed to blend, then turn up the speed a bit and mix 1 minute more.  Spoon batter into the prepared bundt pan.
Add the cookie crumbs on top and bake in the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes.
Watch the cake closely after about 40 minutes and if necessary, "tent" the cake with aluminum foil to prevent the top from browning too much.
Let cool in the pan about 7 to 10 minutes and then cover a plate with wax paper or parchment and turn the cake out.  Place the serving platter over the bottom of the cake and flip it up to expose the crumb side.  Add glaze, if desired.

1 cup confectioners' sugar
juice from the lemon
1 T Karo syrup

Mix everything in a small bowl and pour over the warm cake.

The cake, inside is a beautiful, natural yellow, which reminds me that Spring indeed will not miss its turn.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saol fada chugat...

Today is St. Patrick's Day and being Irish, it's a big holiday for our family to celebrate.  My mother always cooked corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes (or colcannon) and there were loaves of soda bread baking in the oven.  I've never been big on corned beef, but the cabbage, potatoes and soda bread could sure sustain me and put a smile on my Irish face :-D.

It's also a day I've come to dread because two years ago on, March 17th, I flew to Kentucky to be with Kelly when she was going to have a surgery to remove the expanders that had been put in place after her mastectomy.  She had decided that it wasn't worth the uncomfortableness and since her latest scans and blood work had come out good, the doctors felt she could go through this ambulatory surgery with no problems.  I was there to help with Ari since she was once again restricted from lifting anything over five pounds.  When I left on the 25th, she said to me, "Mom, this is the best I've felt in over a year."  We had hope that she had finally gotten a break with this awful cancer, but sadly less than two months later, she passed away. 

I have baked a shortbread from another favorite cookbook--Tartine by Elizabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson as something to keep my mind off this memory.  Baking does that for me and puts me in a happy place.
The only difference is that I substituted maple sugar, my new favorite flavor, for granulated sugar in the recipe, but otherwise it's the same.

1 cup (2 sticks) + 2 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar (I used Maple Sugar 
1 3/4 cups + 2 T King Arthur all-purpose flour
1/3 cup + 2 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp. Irish Cream flavoring
Preheat oven to 325F-degrees.  Butter a 6" x 10" glass dish.  I didn't have that size, but did have a 5" x 12" biscotti pan that I used.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and salt until the consistency of whipped cream.  Sift the flour and cornstarch together into the bowl.  Add the sugar and mix just until a smooth dough forms.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared dish.  The dough should be no more than 2/3-inch deep.  Bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned, about 30 minutes.  The middle of the shortbread should remain light.  Let cool on a rack about 5 to 7 minutes, until warm to the touch.

Sprinkle the shortbread with superfine sugar (you can also use confectioners' sugar).  With a sharp knife, cut the shortbread into rectangular fingers about 1/2-inch wide and 2 inches long.

Now, in case you're wondering the meaning of Saol fada chugat...
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all.  We're having more snow and it seems Winter just doesn't want to let go. 


Friday, March 16, 2012

TGIF ~ Chocolate Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

We've had a very interesting week here in Seattle; two mornings we woke up to snow and the rest of the time, it's poured.  Oh, I know what you're saying...doesn't it rain all the time in Seattle?  Actually that's not true with both New York and Atlanta having more rainfall than we do, but we do have more gray days.

Anyway, with the busy week I've had, helping a friend out who owns a spectacular online craft store (Ellen Hutson LLC),  trying to keep up with all my chores at home, and skyping with the grands, I just needed something chocolaty.  I turned to one of my favorite recipes in the Spago Desserts cookbook by Mary Bergin and Judy Gethers.  It's a wonderful combination of flavors and believe me, very satisfying.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky (I used chunky)
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1/3 cup + 1T cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350F-degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
In a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed.  Add the peanut butter, vanilla extract, and melted bittersweet chocolate.
In a separate bowl, measure out all the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.  Add the dry ingredients to the batter and beat on medium speed.  Stir in the peanuts and chocolate chips.
At this point, chill the dough about 30 minutes.
Use a scoop to measure out about 1 tablespoon of dough on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake in the preheated oven about 10 1/2 to 12 minutes (mine baked for exactly 10 1/2 mins.)
 Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly for about 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.  The recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

What's better than a glass of cold milk and these cookies to end the week.  I know they lifted my spirit. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Banana Coffeecake

It seems like I'm always doing a "banana" recipe--trying to come up with something different than the usual quick bread.  Well, I've never made a coffeecake, so here it is.

Coffeecakes, although originally made to go along with coffee, includes quite a variety of one-layer cakes, some even having coffee in the recipe.  I'm not a coffee drinker even though my Dad brewed a 40-cup urn with coffee every day for he and my Mom to drink--they liked coffee, black.  What's even more ironic is that I live in Seattle, which is pretty much the coffee capital of the world with a Starbucks on every corner. LOL!

Banana Coffeecake
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3 medium bananas)
2 Vanilla beans, split and scraped (or 1 T. vanilla extract)
2 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups sour cream
Streusel Filling/Topping:
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamon
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
3 T. unsalted butter
3/4 cup pecans
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a 10-12 cup bundt pan with a baking spray and set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix up the streusel filling/topping.  Place all the dry ingredients in the bowl and then, use a pastry cutter to cut the butter in. There should still be small chunks of butter throughout the mixture.  Stir in the pecans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the mashed bananas and mix to combine.  Don't be alarmed to see a somewhat "curdled" batter.
 In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients.  Add them alternatively with the sour cream, starting and stopping with the dry ingredients.  Once it's all combined, beat 1-minute more.  

Place half of the batter into the prepared pan.
Sprinkle with half of the streusel mixture.
Repeat with the remaining batter and streusel.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes.  Use a skewer to check if the cake is done--no crumbs on the skewer means it done.  Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes.  I used a plate with parchment paper to turn out the cake, then, I placed the serving dish over the bottom and flipped the cake on upright so the streusel top shows.
Glaze: (optional)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T light Karo syrup
1-2 T hot water
 Mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the top of the cake, if desired.

I know it was National Pi Day, but when bananas are need to decide to bake or throw them out.  The coffeecake really is delicious, but I'm having mine with a cup of tea.  Enjoy!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Happy 100th Anniversary to the Girl Scouts

This week marks the 100 Anniversary of the Girl Scouts!  The first troop consisted of 18 girls with their founder, Juliette Gordon Low, proclaiming, "I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and the world, and we're going to start it tonight."

I was a Girl Scout and my girls were Brownies and I can tell you it's a wonderful organization that listens to girls and gives them a sense of self-esteem.  Today's membership is over 3.2 million!

In honor of this all-important anniversary, I have baked my version of a "Thin Mint" Cupcake.  A chocolaty-minty cake with a dark chocolate coating under a minty-green buttercream then topped with a piece of a real Thin Mint.  Today, I picked up several boxes to support one of our local troops, who are also encouraging buyers to buy cookies to support our armed-forces troops.
The enthusiasm is contagious and these brave girls (and their Mom's) are out selling cookies in the rain to put a smile on your face!
Thin Mint Cupcakes
12 T ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (or 1 T vanilla extract)
1 12oz pkg. Dark & Mint Chips, melted and slightly cooled
 2 1/2 cups Queen Guinevere Cake Flour
1/3 cup cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven 350F-degrees.  Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar thoroughly.  Scrape the sides of the bowl, as necessary.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the melted mint/chocolate chips and beat to combine.  In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients and whisk together.  Add to the batter, alternatively with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Scoop batter into the liners.  I used oversized liners and was able to get 22 cupcakes; with regular liners, you can easily get 2 dozen.
If you don't fill another pan, add water to the empty openings to ensure proper baking.
Bake the cupcakes 18 to 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 
Melt a 12 oz bag of bittersweet chocolate over a double boiler.  Leave out some of the chips to add to the melted chocolate to "temper" it.  You will get a shinier glaze.
Dip cupcakes tops into the melted chocolate.

While the chocolate sets on the cupcakes, start making the Minty Buttercream.

Minty Buttercream
4 eggs whites (1/2 cup)--I used a product called All Whites so I wouldn't have egg yolks to store
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of Kosher salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt.  Place a sauce pan, with about 2 inches of water on the stove and heat on medium.  Place the bowl over the pan and whisk.  Use an instant thermometer to check temperature.  When the mixture reaches 140F-degrees, remove from the pan and place bowl on the mixer. 

Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg white/sugar mixture until stiff peaks, on high speed.  Lower the speed to med/high and start adding the softened butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time until all the butter has been incorporated.  Don't be alarmed if the mixture looks curdled when half the butter has been added; it will come together, promise.
I added a couple of drops of green food coloring and 1/2 tsp. peppermint flavoring.  Fill a piping bag with your favorite tip and top each of the cupcakes with a swirly dollop.  As a garnish, of course, add a quarter of a Thin Mint.

Today, over 200 million boxes of cookies are sold annually in nearly a dozen varieties.  My favorite is still the Thin Mints, although this year, in honor of their anniversary, they introduced a new cookie called Savannah Smiles.

Happy 100th, Girl Scouts!!

March's Give-Away Apron with a Riddle

It's an age-old riddle of what came first...the Chicken or the Egg?  And, do you know that scientist have actually studied this and have come up with a definitive answer?  Researchers at the Sheffield and Warwick Universities in Great Britain claim it's the Chicken because a protein, only found in the chicken's ovaries, is necessary for the formation of an egg.  This protein speeds up the development of the hard shell, which is essential for protecting the delicate yolk.

I know a lot about eggs.  My grandparents raised chickens (so does my sister) and my mother told me once she had a pet chicken who was born with no feathers.  They had to keep her inside for fear she'd freeze when the temperatures were low.  I think she called her Inky Dink, but I'll have to defer to my sister to correct me if that's wrong.  I buy about 3 dozen eggs a week to bake with or to eat and although my lovely daughter, Erin would like me to bake Vegan, I just can't bring myself to do without eggs and butter...sorry sweetie.

One of my favorite Sunday brunch recipe is quiche.  Last week I made them individual so I could freeze some for later.
These papers can be purchased through Sur La Table

I cooked some veggie sausage, then mixed up eggs and half & half to pour over them

I baked the individual quiches in a 375F-degree oven for 18-20 minutes

Some roasted red potatoes and cheesy biscuits make a wonderful breakfast for these cold mornings.
As usual, post a comment during this month and your name will be entered in a drawing for this "most happy" apron!  Then, it's on to "Why did the chicken cross the street!"  LOL!!