Friday, November 28, 2008

Chocolate 101

I hope that everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving! Now, we're on to Christmas, and to me, that means candy making! I have made chocolate goodies for many years now, and have taught several classes on how to work with chocolate. If you're unsure about working with chocolate, please read through these notes so that you can have fun creating some wonderful and easy chocolate treats for your friends and family!!

I haven't mastered tempering chocolate, so I mostly use chocolate that doesn't need to be tempered. You can find this type of chocolate in any cake and candy supply store, and they come in large chips or buttons. It is often called coating chocolate, molding chocolate or compound coating. You can buy the Wilton brand coating chocolate at many craft stores, but I wouldn't reccomend these just because I don't think that they taste as good as other coatings. I usually purchase Guittard Appeals, Nestle brand coating chocolate, or Merkens coating chocolates. If you live in Utah Valley, you can buy coatings at the Bosch Kitchen Store ($4.75 for a 2 lb. bag) or Funfinity ($3.99 per pound). In Salt Lake County, I would reccomend Gygi's ($10 per 5 lb bag).

There are several different ways to safely melt chocolate without scorching it or causing the chocolate to seize. If your chocolate has changed from a shiny liquid to a dull thick paste, the chocolate has seized. This can happen if the chocolate is burned, or if moisture gets into your chocolate. Chocolate melts at a very low temperature. Temperatures that feel comfortable for your finger can be too hot for chocolate. Chocolate does not mix well with moisture of any kind. The moisture from a damp spoon can contaminate a batch of melting chocolate. Once the chocolate has seized, it can not be un-seized, and must be discarded. So, keep these points in mind as you work with your chocolate!

Methods of melting chocolate:

1. Microwave: Place one or two pounds of coating chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Take out of the microwave and stir well. Keep in mind that the container you're heating the chocolate in will hold enough heat to cause the chocolate to continue to melt. Put chocolate back in the microwave for 20 seconds. Take out and stir. If the chocolate is still not completely melted, put it back in the microwave for 20 second intervals, stirring well after each, until chocolate is completely melted.

2. Heating Pad: Place one or two pounds of coating chocolate in a flat bottomed bowl. Turn your heating pad to medium heat and place bowl on pad. Chocolate will be melted and at a good dipping temperature in about two hours.

Note: Remember, never add water, milk or any other liquid to “thin” your chocolate! This will make the chocolate seize, and you will not be able to use the chocolate. If you need to thin your chocolate, you may purchase Paramount Crystals to add to your chocolate that will help thin the chocolate.

Coloring Chocolate:

White coating chocolate may be colored by adding Powdered Food Coloring. Powdered food coloring will not thicken the coating and should not change the flavor. Pastel colors such as pink, green blue or lavender only require a small amount of food coloring. If you are trying to achieve a darker color such as red or dark blue, use about 1 tsp of color to ½ cup melted coating. To achieve black colored chocolate, use milk or semi-sweet chocolate and add black powder until you get the desired shade.

Flavoring Chocolate:

Chocolate may be flavored with a Pure Oil Flavoring. Never use an extract flavoring, it may cause the chocolate to seize. Many extracts contain water. Also keep in mind that chocolate easily takes on the flavor of other things. It is best to store chocolate in an air tight container so that it doesn’t take on the flavor of other foods in your pantry.

Storing Chocolate:

It is best to store chocolate at about 68-72 degrees, the temperature of a cool pantry or dark cabinet. Kept at this temperature, chocolate (assuming it isn't covering fruit or other perishables) has a shelf life of about a year. It is best not to store your chocolate in the freezer. Chocolate that is frozen and then thawed, could bloom (or develop what looks to be a filmy white residue). But if you must freeze your chocolate, let it warm gradually to room temperature before you try cooking with it.

Peppermint Bark

I love making Christmas candy, especially anything having to do with Chocolate! So, today I made my first round of candy and I wanted to share it with YOU!! Peppermint bark is one of the easiest and yummiest Christmas candies to make. This is what you will need...

1 lb White Coating Chocolate
1 lb Milk or Dark Coating Chocolate
8-9 Candy Canes, crushed

Easy right? The answer to that is...YES!

First, read my post "Chocolate 101", so that you know how to melt your chocolate. Next, line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Either one will do. I use wax paper because it's cheaper. Melt a pound of milk or dark chocolate and then pour the chocolate directly onto your wax paper. Spread the chocolate as thin as you can without it being transparent. I used my offset spatula, which worked brilliantly.

Then, pop the whole thing into the freezer for 2-3 minutes or until the chocolate is set. Pull it out of the freezer, and let your chocolate come back to room temperature.

While your dark layer is coming back to room temperature, crush your candy canes and start melting your white chocolate. (Note about crushing candy canes... I just put mine in a couple of zip lock bags and hit them with a hammer. I have tried putting them into the blender before, but it crushed them up way too tiny. I like this best with small chucks of candy cane, not candy powder. Figure out how you like it best!) If you really like the taste of this point you can add a few drops of oil mint flavoring to make it more minty. I think that the candy cane adds enough mint, but it's up to you! You can purchase oil flavorings at candy supply stores, or sometimes you can find them at Walmart.

Once your white chocolate is melted, add the candy cane to your white chocolate and stir until well mixed. If desired, reserve about 1/8th of a cup of the tiny crumbs to sprinkle over the top. That just makes it pretty.

Spread the white layer over your set-up dark layer. This layer is a little harder to spread because it has chunks of candy cane in it. But, do your best to make it as thin as possible. Then, sprinkle your white layer with reserved candy pieces. Pop it back into the freezer to set up for 2-3 more minutes.

Next, just break your creation into pieces. They can be as big or small as you wish. I like to break them into a combination of both large and small.

Then, package them as you wish! I have a fetish for cellophane bags, so I put almost everything in a shiny cellophane bag. I think it makes everything prettier!

Note: You can make this bark without the darker chocolate layer. Simply skip the steps regarding the darker chocolate all together.

Also, it's cute to do this inside a cookie cutter, like a cool copper or stainless steel one. Just lay the cookie cutter flat on the wax paper, then pour the different chocolate layers into it, following the same steps outlined. Just make sure not to fill it too full. Let it set inside the cookie cutter, and wrap up the whole cookie cutter in cellophane.

Let your imagination run wild! There are so many possibilities when it comes to bark. You can omit the candy cane and add nuts and dried fruits. One year at Easter time, I made this without the dark chocolate layer, and then used lemon heads instead of candy canes. It was really yummy! There are so many things you can do! Get creative!
P.S. I just received a William's Sonoma Catalog today. They sell peppermint bark in a cute tin for$26 per pound. Go on...make it for $2.50 a pound!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Beef Fajita Soup

Okay, it's late at my house, and I'm tired. But, I just noticed that it's winter time, and I have hardly any soup recipes posted! Oops! So, here is one for you, and BONUS, it's a crock pot recipe! Yeah! This is seriously one of my favorite soups. It's just nice to have a soup that isn't chicken (even though I love chicken). Anyway, it's just different. I have adapted this from a recipe that I saw in "The Best Slowcooker Cookbook Ever" cookbook. You can leave out the onions and peppers in the beginning, and then add them in when you have about 4 hours left to go. This just makes the onions and peppers a little more firm in the end. But, it's great both ways. Make it tonight!

1 Pound Top Round Beef (or top sirloin), sliced into strips
14 ½ oz Beef Broth
2 Cups Water
1 Green Pepper, cleaned and sliced in strips
1 Onion, cut into strips
½ T Chili Powder
16 oz Tomato Sauce
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
½ tsp black pepper
2 tsp Cumin
15 oz Pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15 oz) cans Black Beans, drained and rinsed

In a 3 ½-4 quart electric slow cooker, combine the beef, broth, water, vegetables, tomato sauce, pinto beans, cumin, pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook on low 8 hours, or until beef is tender. Stir in the black beans and heat, covered, for 10-30 minutes longer. Serve topped with sour cream, avocado, cheese, and corn tortillas or tortilla chips. (Weight Watcher's points: makes 6 servings, which is about 4 ladle scoops per serving and is 5.6 pts each without toppings)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yeast Bread 101

My friend Nicole left me a comment about the Pizza Roll post that got me thinking... But, instead of answering her questions in the comment section, I'm going to do a brief (can I do brief? I think I like to talk too much to label anything "brief". :) ) and very basic little lesson on bread making. Now, keep in mind that this is Yeast Bread Making 101 according to Aubri. I'm just telling you what I've learned over the years as I have made bread. So, feel free to take it with a grain of salt, or leave me a comment and let me know if I left something out!

First things first... You want to make sure that your yeast is alive. I make bread at least once a week, so I buy a Costco sized bag of yeast and put it in the freezer so that it lasts longer. Then, I have a small container in my fridge that I add to from the freezer. I will get the small container out of the fridge a few hours before I start making bread so that it can warm to room temperature. I always combine the yeast with the water (or milk), along with the sugar or honey or whatever sweetener the recipe calls for. This way, you can see your yeast bubble, and know that it's alive before you go through the trouble of putting everything together. If you think that your yeast might be old and dead, then add 1 Tbs. of yeast to 1/4 cup of warm water, and wait 5-10 minutes. If the yeast bubbles up, then it's still good to use.

Second...liquid temperature. Lots of recipes tell you what the exact temperature of the water should be. I haven't ever actually used a thermometer to take the temperature of my water. I just know that it needs to feel warm to my hand, and not hot. If the water is too hot, it will kill your yeast. The sugary/honey stuff that you add is to feed the yeast (yeast has a sweet tooth, just like me!!) so that it can bubble up nicely. If your recipe lists milk as an ingredient, it will usually instruct you to heat it up, but just make sure that you cool it down enough before adding any yeast to it.

Next...flour. I have found that bread making is all about finding a happy balance between sticky dough and heavy, hard as a rock dough. It all has to do with the amount of flour that you add to your bread. I have found that bread turns out best when you add just enough flour to make the dough manageable. What I mean is that it's one step past sticky, just so that it doesn't stick to absolutely everything it touches. Make sense?

So, I usually (gradually) add the minimum amount of flour called for in the recipe, knead it for a few minutes (actually, I let my Kitchen Aid do that part) and then check the stickiness of the dough. Then, I will add flour about 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup at a time until it gets to be the right consistency. It's okay for the dough to be a bit sticky before the first raising. Sometimes after the first raising, the dough is a bit more manageable. I usually leave out about 1/4 cup of flour, and set it aside to use while working with my dough while shaping it. So, if the recipe calls for 5-5 1/2 cups of flour total, I will add 5 cups to the dough, and leave my other 1/2 cup to use when I roll out the dough, or whatever. Get it?

Wheat vs. White.... Wheat flour doesn't have as much gluten in it as white flour does. This is why you see a lot of recipes that call for whole wheat flour AND white flour. The white flour helps in the gluten development. If you want to make a truly whole wheat bread, with all wheat flour, then add some wheat gluten or some kind dough enhancer to your recipe to get a softer, less crumbly bread. Another thing to remember when making wheat bread is that it takes quite a bit more kneading. Wheat bread dough needs more kneading to develop the gluten, so make sure to knead your wheat bread for 7-10 minutes in a Kitchen Aid type mixer, and up to 15 minutes by hand. If you have an awesome tough machine like a Bosch, you can get away with only kneading it for 5-7 minutes. Since learning about the whole kneading thing, I have started kneading my white breads for a bit longer, and I can tell a difference in my dough. I would suggest kneading your white breads for 5-8 minutes to get a nice smooth dough.

An egg wash almost always makes your bread look a little prettier. You can use an egg white whisked together with a little bit of water, or milk (maybe like a tablespoon of liquid), and just brush it over your bread dough to help it have a nice golden crust. This is optional. I don't ever do this with my wheat bread unless I'm making it into buns or something, but it looks really nice on white bread. Keep in mind that if you find a bread recipe that you really like, you can use it to make rolls or buns, pizza dough, or whatever. It's all about how you shape it!

The first bread recipe that I ever made is the recipe that I have posted for french bread. It's really easy, and hard to mess up. So, give it a try! I really do think that making good bread takes practice. So, don't be frustrated if you have never made bread and your first batch turns out badly. Just keep trying!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oatmeal Scotchies

I love the website, which is where I found this recipe. My mom used to make these all the time when we were kids, but she always made them into pan cookies and cut them into bars, which is why I always cut them into bars. If you've never made cookies like this, try it. You just spread the cookie batter onto a greased cookie sheet, bake them, then cut them into bars. They're not quite as pretty, but the take a fraction of the time to bake, and they taste just as good. I don't think that butterscotch chips are as popular as they should be...

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 2/3 cups (11-ounce package) Butterscotch Flavored Morsels

Preheat oven to 375° F. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixing bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies or 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Pan Cookie Variation: Grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Curried Butternut Apple Soup

I woke up to snow this morning. Snow on the ground equals soup in my house. This is a simple and yummy squash soup. It is good as a main dish, or would be great as an appetizer/side dish as well.

Last year, I made this soup and chopped up two medium sized butternut squash (which is a pain, by the way). I then washed my hands and realized that the skin was peeling off of my fingers, and they were all itchy. I had a bad reaction to the squash. Who would have guessed? So, this year, I baked the squash and scooped it out of it's shell. If you haven't done this, it's so easy. Just cut the top stem off of your squash, and then cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds. Line a cookie sheet with foil (do this please...squash leaves a yucky film on things when you bake it) and place your squash cut-side down. Pour about a cup of water in the pan, and bake it at 350 for about an hour or until it's soft. You can scoop the squash out and use it in this soup, or just as a side dish with some butter, salt and pepper. Easy. can buy a bag of pre-chopped, skinned and cleaned butternut squash at Costco. Easiest!

Okay, now get your other ingredients ready:

¼ C butter
2 C chopped onion (about 2 medium onions)
1 rib celery, chopped
2 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 – 3 lbs) peeled, seeded and cubed
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup apple cider or apple juice

In a heavy sauce pan, combine onion, celery, butter and curry powder. Cook over low heat until veggies are tender (10-15 minutes), stirring often. Add squash, apples and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until squash and apples are cooked thoroughly.

You need to strain a little bit of liquid off of the mixture once it's cooked. I do this by getting a big ladle or spoon and just skimming liquid off of the top, while trying to keep most of the ingredients still in the pot. Take off as much liquid as you can. Next, puree the apple-squash mixture with one cup of the strained liquid. You will probably need to do this in 3-4 batches in a blender. Don't over-stuff a blender with hot soup or it will pop the top off of your blender. Don't ask me how I know that. If you have a hand mixer, excellent. Stick that puppy into your pan and just blend. Add cider or juice to reach desired consistency. Garnish with grated apple, or chopped pear, yogurt or sour cream.

This is, of course, excellent in bread bowls. I'll post the bread bowl recipe soon!!

Sour Cream Waffles

I love waffles. Blueberry, strawberry topped, green for St. Patty's day. You name it...I love it. I used to try not to make waffles very often because they usually have quite a bit of oil in them, and let's face it...they're not that healthy.

So, when I found this recipe, (I can't remember where, and I'm sure that I've changed it enough to call it my own recipe) I was excited. They don't have any oil, and they taste great. We have these for dinner quite often. They are so filling and yummy! I love breakfast for dinner! Keep in mind, these are not light and fluffy waffles. They are more dense and kinda chewey...but a good chewey, don't worry.

I use Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, which has the same health benefits as other whole wheat flour, but it's light and fluffy. You can purchase this gem at some supermarkets, and probably any health food type store. I get mine and Sunflower market (I heart Sunflower) and it looks just like regular all purpose flour. You can buy it in bulk, or in a 5 lb bag. If you don't have any WW pastry flour, just use all AP Flour. Do spray your waffle iron generously with non-stick cooking spray because they tend to stick more than other waffles. Last time I made these, I put the batter into my waffle iron, then threw in a few half frozen bluberries, and it was SO good!

1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten

In a bowl, mix together milk, sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla. Sift flour into a separate, large bowl; stir in baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add sour cream mixture and eggs to flour mixture; blend until smooth. Cook on a greased waffle iron until golden brown; lift off with a fork.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pizza Rolls

I don't know about you, but I love pizza in pretty much any shape or form. I first had these pizza rolls at my husband's grandmother's (Nana) house. His mom started making them for the family to have during Conference time, and they're so yummy. I haven't ever actually had a written recipe, so I just got creative with it this time. I thought that they turned out great...and so did my husband :) I usually make these as a main dish, but they could also be made as a side dish, a fun appetizer, or in the place of a breadstick/roll. This time, I made ham and pineapple rolls, as well as pesto and cheese. I haven't ever had pizza rolls with pesto before, and was unsure about which toppings would go well with the pesto, so I just used it with cheese. It was REALLY good, and would probably be excellent served in the place of a breadstick. I think that it would also be excellent with pepperoni or salami (I LOVE salami...if you haven't ever had it on pizza, seriously, try it. It's so much better than pepperoni!).

I'm going to post the recipe that I used for the dough, but feel free to use whatever recipe you usually use for pizza. I think that this would be good with the "Amazing Whole Wheat Pizza Dough" that I posted previously. This recipe probably feeds 3-4 adults, so you might want to consider doubling it if you have more people.

Pizza Dough

1 ¼ C Warm Water
1 tsp. Sugar
1 pkg. Yeast
¼ C Vegetable Oil
1 tsp Salt
3 ½ C Flour

Mix water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add yeast mixture to 1 ½ cups flour, oil and salt. Gradually mix in the rest of the flour. Knead until thoroughly mixed. Let dough raise once until doubled in size. Punch down and roll out. Top with your favorite sauce, pizza toppings, and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until desired doneness (about 20-30 minutes). Makes one large pizza, or two smaller thin-crusted pizzas.

Pizza Rolls

1 recipe of pizza dough (see above)
6 oz cream cheese, softened (lite will work fine, just make sure it's soft!)
1 ½ C shredded cheese (I used 1/2 Mozzarella and 1/2 cheddar for more flavor)
pizza sauce or marinara
pesto sauce (optional)
pizza toppings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the pizza dough according to recipe directions. Let the dough raise once and then punch down. Roll the pizza dough into a rectangular shape, (just like cinnamon rolls) about an 11x15 inch rectangle. Spread the softened cream cheese over the dough. If you are planning to use pesto, then spread a small amount of pesto thinly over the cream cheese, and top with the shredded cheese. If you're not using pesto, just sprinkle the shredded cheese over the cream cheese. Add all desired toppings (I used lunch meat style ham, just because I thought that it would be less bulky to roll up, and it worked great.) Then, roll up the dough so that you have a nice long roll. Place the roll (or just a part of the roll, depending on what will fit) onto a cutting board and cut into 1-1/2 inch wide slices. Place pieces on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Serve with pizza sauce for dipping!