Friday, January 31, 2014

With Two You Get...Red Velvet Fortune Cookies

Today begins 15 days of celebrating the Year of the Wooden Horse as the New Year kicks off  in China, Taiwan, and Singapore and in our family it is a day marked with much happiness for our two granddaughters who have come into our lives.
The Horse is a symbol of traveling, competition, and victory, therefore, it's consider to represent a speedy success in China.  Someone born in the Year of the Horse will have busy schedules set for the goals they make.  Also, the Horse is connected to heat, fire, and red; since red is also connected to love, the horse is treated as the romantic star in the Chinese Zodiac.  Because of this symbolism, I decided to created Red Velvet Fortune Cookies in honor of the this celebration.  Well, I also live in the South and Red Velvet was my first choice!

Red Velvet Fortune Cookies
4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine* granulated sugar
5 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 T heavy cream
3/4 cup + 2T King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 T European cocoa (i.e., Callebaut or Dutch-processed)
1/2 tsp. Red Velvet flavoring (or red food coloring)
1/2 tsp. Almond flavoring
pinch of salt

First, make a template.  I cut a 4-inch circle from a sheet of clear plastic, using my Sizzix die.
Preheat oven to 375F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat silicon liner.
In a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar until white and frothy.  Sift the dry ingredients and add to the egg white/sugar mixer.  Add the heavy cream and flavorings to the melted butter and use a small whisk to combine.  Add to the mixture and beat on low just until combined--don't over mix and create air bubbles!
Place the plastic template on the Silpat and scoop about 1 Tablespoon of batter in the center.  Use an off-set spatula to spread evenly. Remove the template and make another cookie on the same Silpat.  I recommend you only do 2 at a time because these cookies cool quickly.

Bake in the preheated oven about 5 minutes.  Remove and use a large off-set spatula to loosen the shape.
Place the "fortune" in the middle, bring up the edges and press together, then bend the cookie over a cup to form the shape.  I'm sorry I can't show you photos on how I did this; it takes to hands to create the cookie and I couldn't get Rosie the cat to take the photo!

Repeat the process until you've used up all the batter.  This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies.

I think part of the fun is creating your own "fortunes."  Make it a family affair, then, have a wonderful dinner together.  When I was in Taiwan with my daughter and her husband to pick up our granddaughter, Maddie, I learned that the New Year is definitely centered around family--Gung Hay Fat Choy!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Afternoon on the Amazon" Monkey Bread & Hot Caramel

One of my and our grandson's favorite children's series in literature is the "Magic Treehouse" books by Mary Pope Osborne.   We enjoy reading about the adventures of Jack and Annie (brother and sister) from Frog Creek woods in Pennsylvania who travel through time learning about different cultures and times in history.  Today, via SKYPE I read to him, Afternoon on the Amazon and traveled to the rain forest.
Although these young adventurers run from army ants, crocodiles, snakes, piranhas, jaguars, and vampire bats, there is a monkey who helps them find their way safely and get back to the treehouse and give them the treasure they are searching for.  It's the monkey that inspired my baking today to bake Monkey Bread.

Monkey Bread is known by many names--Bubble loaf, Pull-a-part bread, Pinch Me or Pluck Me Cake, Golden Crown, and many more. Whatever you call it, the bread is usually a yeast bread that has been divided into balls, dunked in melted butter and rolled in a cinnamon-sugar mixture.  In the United States, where it originated,  this gooey treat is served at breakfast, but also found at fairs and theme parks.  It first appeared in a woman's magazine in the 1950s and is usually served hot from the oven so the individual can pull out the section of dough.

Monkey Bread
1/2 cup milk
4 T unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 T granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
Scant 1T of active dry yeast (equivalent of 1 pkg.)
3 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour.
1/2 cup (+ more if needed) water

8 T unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 T cinnamon

In a glass 2-cup measure, heat the milk and 4T of butter together in the microwave (about 40 seconds).  Meanwhile, in a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the egg, sugar and salt together.  While the mixer is running on low, add the milk/butter mixture, then, sprinkle the dry yeast over the liquid and mix thoroughly.  Allow to rest about 5 to 7 minutes until the yeast looks foamy. 

Change to the dough hook attachment and add 2 cups of flour and the 1/2 cup of water.  Mix together, adding the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour.  If needed add more water so the dough comes together.  Transfer the dough to a wooden board to knead smooth.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a large glass bowl in the microwave for 45 seconds; use a pastry brush to coat the sides of the bowl.
 Place the dough, face down into the bowl, then turn it right-side-up.  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl tightly.
Allow to rise about 1 1/2 hours (this depends on the temperature of your kitchen) or until double.  To test, push your finger into the dough; if the indentation remains, the dough is ready.
Have your melted butter and sugar~cinnamon mixture near by.  Brush a "monkey bread" pan with melted butter. [You can also use a bundt pan--it should have a center "stem"].
Divide dough into pieces and roll into 1 1/2-inch balls.  Dip into the butter, then roll in the sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Place the balls in the prepared pan.
You can sprinkle any remaining sugar/cinnamon mixture over the balls.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise another 30-40 minutes, or until double.  Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Allow to rest for a few minutes before you turn the pan upside down on a serving platter.

Meanwhile, if you would like to pour some caramel over the bread and accompany it with some Hot Caramel, make my Homemade Caramel
I drizzled about 4 tablespoons over the top of the bread while warm.  Also, as a change up to a cup of Hot Chocolate, I made Hot Caramel.

1 1/2 cups of milk
2 heaping tablespoons of homemade caramel

Whisk the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Pour into a mug and serve with a couple of "Monkey Brains!"
A guaranteed treat for a cold afternoon with your children or grandchildren.  I just wish my special guy was here to share this snack with me. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Banana Bread Biscotti with Chocolate Chips & Pecans

[The artwork on the mug was done by our grandson, Ari--his interpretation of the artist Wassily Kandinsky]
My banana recipe of the month :-D  I tried to think of something new and different I had never tried with bananas and decided biscotti might be a good choice.

The name Biscotti translates to twice-cooked cookies or biscuits and have been one of my favorites since I learned to make them.  Traditional biscotti was made with almonds, pine nuts, or pistaschios, but I decided to stay true to my surroundings and add pecans (walnuts would also be good.)
I also added mini chocolate chips, but you could easily chop a chocolate bar or add another flavor like cinnamon chips.  Since they are twice cooked, you get a dry cookie that is begging to be dunked; tea, coffee, or even a glass of wine. 

Banana Bread Biscotti with Chocolate Chips & Pecans
10 T (1 stick + 2T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 large, ripe banana, mashed
3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup Pecans (or Walnuts) chopped
1 cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Cinnamon/Vanilla Sugar  

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated, on medium speed.  Add the vanilla extract and mashed banana and mix again.

Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix only until combined on low or medium/low speed.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Technique Tip Tuesday!

The batter is somewhat sticky, so the best way to create the "logs" of dough, use a large scoop.
Next, wet your fingers under the faucet and smooth the dough to a 3" wide x 12-15" length".  Sprinkle with the Cinnamon Vanilla Sugar (yes, you can make your own!)
  Place in the preheated oven and bake 25 - 30 minutes.  These took only 25 in my convection oven.
I let the logs cool about 10 minutes before transferring them to a large cutting board.  With a serrated knife, cut across the logs in 3/4"-1" slices.  Place down on the parchment lined baking and bake for 8 minutes.  Remove the sheet and turn the cookies over.  Place back in the oven and bake an additional 6 minutes. 

Cool the biscotti 5 minutes and then, transfer to a rack and cool completely.

My family are about You? Enjoy!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sunday Supper ~ Spinach & Cheese Manicotti

Sunday supper at my Mom's was always special and what I missed the most when we moved across the country in the 80s.  It was like having Thanksgiving every week because of the preparation she put into it.  Everything homemade and sitting around the table with conversation of what had gone on during the week was something to look forward to.  I like to keep that day special too, even if it's with just me my hubby; an honor to my mother and the love she had for her family. Yesterday, I made homemade Manicotti, which is easy to do and with my recipe, if you just have a small gathering, will have extra to freeze for later.

I start with a crepe batter to make my Manicotti, although, I know you can buy "pasta tubes" in the grocery store, this version just melts in your mouth and has been a favorite of my family for over 30 years when I came up with the method.  I will admit however, my homemade marinara sauce has been replaced by Raos, which I discovered while living in Connecticut.  It's made by a family in a New York restaurant (by the same name) that Frank Sinatra had a table at when he came to town. However, it reminds me the most of the North End of Boston and the wonderful Italian restaurants we have eaten in. This sauce is a little pricey, but so worth it.  (I actually buy it by the case when they notify me of "free-shipping" because it's cheaper than buying it in the grocery store.)

Spinach & Cheese Manicotti
Crepe batter:
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose four
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 tsp. Kosher salt

In a large bowl (I like to use my 8 quart pyrex measure to have a spout), whisk the 6 eggs together. Add the salt and whisk once more.
Add the flour and water, alternatively, whisking after each addition until the ingredients are incorporated.
 Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

2 lb. container of whole-milk Ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Emmental cheese (you can also use Fontina or Gruyer)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly grated Nutmeg
1-10oz. pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of it's moisture.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.
This recipe will make 18-24 crepes, I only used 8 for our dinner and froze the rest; which I will show you how to do.

In a 9" x 13" glass or enamel baking dish, pour about 1/2 of a 32 oz. jar of sauce.  If you have made your own sauce (God Bless You!) then, it's about 2 cups.
Begin making the crepes (cut 24 6" squares of wax paper to place the crepes on, stacking them):
1. Preheat an 8" non-stick pan on medium heat for a few minutes.
2. Lightly brush the surface with olive oil.

3. Pour (or ladle) about 1/4 cup of batter in the pan and swirl to cover the bottom.

 4. Cook just a few minutes--the edges will look dry, then, flip it over using a small spatula.
5. Cook about 1 minute more, then, transfer to a rack with a square of wax paper on it.
6. Continue making the crepes before starting to fill them.

Preparing the Manicotti: Preheat oven to 375F-degrees
On a clean surface, place one of the crepes in front of you and measure about 1/4 cup of the filling.  Place it down the center of the crepe, then start at the end closest to you to fold and roll up.  Place seam down into the baking dish with the marinara sauce.

 Once all the Manicotti has been made, spoon a little additional sauce over them and sprinkle with additional Mozzarella and Parmesan Cheese.
Cover the Manicotti with aluminum foil or a silicon lid like the one I found at Sur La Table for large baking dishes.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes, until brown and bubbly.
 While the Manicotti was baking, I made up the remaining crepes--which was another 13, to freeze for later.  Here's how:
Place the Manicotti on an aluminum-foil lined baking sheet (that will fit in your freezer) which has been lightly sprayed with a baking oil.
Place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes; until frozen by touch.  Remove the baking sheet and place the frozen Manicotti into freezer bags and label the date.
They will keep up to 6 months in your freezer--that's a lot of Sunday Suppers!  Do you make a special Sunday Supper?  Enjoy!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Simple Shortbread Biscuits and January's Give-Away Apron

Downton Abbey has begun its 4th season and although I was sad that Matthew passed away at the end of season 3, I was also intrigued how Mary would handle his death.  As usual, it hasn't disappointed as the stories of the Crawley family and their trusted servants evolve.

It's one of those unique shows where we can easily get attached to the characters; upstairs and downstairs.  I adore Mrs. Hughes for her compassion, sensibility, and take control manner; she never disappoints me.  Likewise, Mrs. Pattmore is just as likeable in a more hectic way and being a baker, I can so appreciate the modern conveniences I've come to rely on that she did not have.  In honor of her and Mrs. Hughes, I made these Shortbread Biscuits and would gladly love to have tea with them and discuss their views of the culture and customs of England during this time period.

Simple Shortbread Biscuits
1 1/4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (plain flour)
1/4 cup + 1T granulated (caster) sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, measure the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.  Add the butter and using a pastry blender, cut it into the flour mixture.
When the mixture resembles "sand," use your hand to continue to rub it into the flour and form the dough.
Place dough on a lightly floured board and roll to 1/4-inch thick.
Use a cookie cutter to cut rounds and place on the lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle tops with more granulated sugar, or as I have done, use flavored sugars--Lemon, Chocolate, and Cinnamon/Vanilla.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool a few minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Now, I know Mrs. Pattmore would not have this colorful apron, but considering the harsh weather some of the country has endured, I think she'd approve.
To be eligible, simply comment on one of the posts for this month and you may be the lucky winner.  I can assure you...I ship these aprons anywhere!  Enjoy!