Amazing Monte Cristo Sandwiches

Monte Cristo Sandwiches. A cross between a sandwich and french toast. I decided to make them for dinner tonight, and was disappointed that most recipes I found just had you dip the sandwich in egg or egg+milk…that wasn’t sufficient for me…A real, true, delicious Monte Cristo has been battered, then fried. It should taste like carnie food, imo. I found this recipe, which I used as my jumping off point, and created a family-pleasing sandwich that is equally as delicious with or without jelly (I like mine with).

According to what I have found online (*cough* wikipedia), the Monte Cristo should be ham and cheese (though many recipes add turkey). It seems that traditionally, Gruyere or Swiss is used. Personally, I’m not a fan of swiss. Tonight, I used provolone, because it’s one of my favs and I don’t typically have Gruyere on hand. Many recipes claim that currant jelly on the side is most proper, though I find no historical claim for this. We used strawberry. You can use mayo or mustard on these sandwiches, if you desire. I left mine dry, because my kids are all picky and I was making them all the same. The amount of ham, cheese and bread you use will depend on the size of your bread. I used one sliced loaf of grocery store french bread, the slices were pretty small, and it made 11 smaller sandwiches, enough for almost everyone in my family to have two.

Whatever you use in your components, it’s a delicious tasty treat and a fun change for dinner…or breakfast.

Easy and Delicious Monte Cristo Sandwiches. The perfect recipe!

Easy and Delicious Monte Cristo Sandwiches. My Favorite!

MONTE CRISTO SANDWICHES

Makes 4-6 servings

SANDWICHES:

14-20 slices of french bread
7-10 large slices of uncured deli ham
4-6 slices of gruyere, swiss or provolone cheese, sliced in half
mayo or  mustard as desired

BATTER:

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

oil for deep frying (I use a combo of coconut oil and olive or palm oil)
powdered sugar
jam, jelly or preserves in any flavor

 

Form your sandwiches. Each sandwich, depending on the size of your bread, will use 1-2 slices of ham and a half-slice of cheese. Attempt to keep the meat and cheese inside the borders of your bread. If you want to, you can cut the crust off your bread, this helps the batter stick to the sides.

Make the batter: Whisk together the eggs and milk in a wide shallow container (you will use this for sandwich dipping). In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and whisk until smooth.

Heat your oil over medium-high in a deep pan until a small piece of bread dropped in starts to bubble immediately. After your first batch, you may want to turn the heat down to medium. Use enough oil that the oil comes up at least half-way up the side of each sandwich.

Flatten each sandwich with your hand, and one by one, dip into the batter, turning it over and fully covering the sides. Using tongs, hold the sandwich over the batter for a few seconds to let any excess drip off, then place in your prepared pan. Fry 1-3 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Flip each over once it is golden brown on one side and cook the other side. Remove each sandwich to a plate covered in paper towels. When all are fried, place in a single layer on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with jelly on the side, if desired.

 

REAL FOOD ALERT:

Use uncured ham. There are some great brands in the deli aisle of the grocery store, like Hormel’s Natural Choice, and many gorcery stores have their own brands of “natural foods’ which include uncured meats. you can also find uncured ham at many deli counters. I know that Boars Head has one available.

Check your french bread for additives. Make your own if you have time. Here’s my recipe.

Use a natural jam or jelly to avoid corn syrup.

FOOD ALLERGY ALERT:

This isn’t a very allergy-friendly recipe. Wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs. You can get around dairy by subbing for the milk and not adding cheese. I haven’t tried this recipe with GF bread and flour, so if you do, let me know your results!

Easy and Delicious Monte Cristo Sandwiches. My Favorite!

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Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

MEMORY MONDAYS

It was a sunny summer Arizona day. I was a bored 13-year-old who had a serious hankering for something sweet. I had all day with nothing to do, most of my family were off doing whatever fun activities they had set up for themselves. I decided to attempt to make cinnamon rolls. My mom made them occasionally, so I dug out her recipe and was off on my very first yeast baking experience!

As I measured out the flour and kneaded the dough, I thought, “This is easy! I could make these everyday!” I left the dough to rise. The recipe said “double”. Forget the fact that I am horrible at visual estimation, I figured 20 minutes or so would be a good amount of time, so I could get them finished before my sisters got home. After about 25 minutes, it looked like it had risen a lot…maybe it was about double.

I rolled them out (Hmmm…how thick? How thin?). I spread the melted butter and did what the recipe said to do: sprinkled sugar and cinnamon. I rolled them up and cut them and put them all side by side in one 9×13 pan. Wait, I have to let the rise AGAIN? Sheesh…   *Sigh* By this time I am dying to eat these things, and it has already taken FOREVER to make them up to this point (remember, I’m 13…an age not known for it’s patience).

I let them sit for about 10 minutes and am delighted that they look all puffy and risen. I preheat the oven and pop them in. I’m so excited to pull them out of the oven, and top them with a basic buttercream frosting (yeah, I think my sisters and I all learned to make a chocolate buttercream frosting before we could talk) and EAT THEM! Mmmmm, these are amaz…amazi…amazingly hard. Like hockey pucks. And flavorless.

It would be many, many, many, many years before I would attempt to bake with yeast again.

Through my cooking and baking adventures, I commonly hear from people “I can’t make anything with yeast”. I completely understand. I had more failures than just that teenaged cinnamon roll disaster, and I finally just decided, “I’m not a yeast baker”. Somehow the yeast baking gene skipped over me.

In college, one day, I wanted homemade cinnamon rolls. I said to myself, “People make homemade cinnamon rolls all.of.the.time. Why in the heck can’t I?” I set out to follow a recipe to-the-tee and see if I could pull it off. I did. They were fabulous. They weren’t perfect, but finding a recipe with precise directions that I followed exactly helped me get a feel for yeast baking. Over the years, as I overcame my fear of yeast failure, I’ve become pretty darn good at it.

The key to yeast baking is experience. That means lots and lots of failure. Lots of hockey pucks and doorstops and fallen breads. The more you experience the dough, the yeast, and how they react in your environment and your oven, the better you’ll get at it.

This is turning out to be a super long post, so thanks for sticking with me. CINNAMON ROLLS (that was for those who skipped all the above part and wanted to get to the pertinent info). Here’s the thing with cinnamon rolls: patience. Make them on a day you have a lot of time, you’re not in a hurry. You need to make sure they are rising as much as needed. Second: roll them thin. You know those cinnamon rolls you get in the mall? They have a ton of layers, and they are nice and soft and gooey. That’s from rolling it super thin so that you get lots of thin layers. Third: do not over stuff the pan. You’ll notice in my pictures that I only put eight rolls in a 9×13 pan. Yeast rolls actually get three times to rise. First, when you double the dough. Second, after shaping, you let them double in the pan. Third, when they cook, they expand again. If you have extra space around them, it gives them lots of room to expand, which results in a softer end product. You also want to frost them hot, straight out of the oven. The frosting will keep the rolls soft as it seeps into the hot roll. Make sure every exposed surface is covered.

GOOEY CINNAMON ROLLS

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

If you haven’t yet, take your eggs out of the fridge so they can warm up to room temperature. In a bowl, or your stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until it is frothy. Meanwhile, melt your butter and let it cool a bit. Stir the butter into the yeast mixture, then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Stir in 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until  the dough just comes together. Do not add too much flour, or your rolls will be tough. Knead for 5 minutes with your dough hook, or for several minutes by hand, until the dough is soft, elastic and bounces back when you touch it. If you are using a stand mixer, the dough should stay on the hook and not stick to the sides of your mixing bowl. You may need to sprinkle extra flour in every so often to keep it from sticking. Place a towel over the bowl and let sit and rise until double, about an hour.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. This is easier said than done, it takes some practice, but don’t worry too much if it has uneven edges. The key here is not the measurement given above, but that it is rolled thin. It can be bigger that 16×21. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar. Use a rubber scraper to spread the soft butter across the surface of the dough. Leave a 1/2 inch border just on the side farthest from you, where you will seal the roll of dough, free from butter. Evenly spread the cinnamon mixture on top of the butter. Starting at the long edge, start to roll the dough. You want it fairly tightly rolled. I tend to stretch it a bit as I go, pulling the roll towards me as I go. It’s normal to have to do one side, then the other. This is a nice, soft dough and will take some finessing to get it to roll evenly. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided. When you get to the end, pinch the edge shut as well as you can. Place the seam side down. Cut the jagged edge piece off each side. Don’t throw them away, those are rolls, too! Now, cut your nice, neat roll into 12 equal portions. I usually cut the log down the middle, then in quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds. You will see all sorts of tips on cutting cinnamon rolls. The only trick you really need is to use a serrated knife (the kind with a jagged edge), and “saw” the rolls, do NOT press down with the knife, or you will mash them. If you lightly saw them with a nice, sharp, serrated knife, you won’t have any problems.

Spray your pans with cooking spray, or lightly grease with some oil. I typically use one 9×13 pan and one slightly smaller oblong pan that fits six rolls (remember, you have the two edge ‘reject’ rolls). You can use a 9×9 pan and ditch the reject rolls if you want, or depending on their size, combine then into one roll and place it in the middle of the 9×9 pan. You want to only put 8 rolls in the 9×13 pan, and the remaining 4-6 rolls in whatever other pan you choose. Cover each pan with a towel and let rise again, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes, until light brown and moist, but not doughy on the inside (just use your psychic abilities, or use a fork to kind of pull the middle of one roll to one side to see the texture of it).

While the rolls are baking, or while they are rising, or whenever (you could pre-make this frosting and freeze it, if you want), whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Immediately frost after removing them from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes, so you don’t scorch the inside of your mouth (this is the hardest part of the recipe).

If you want fresh baked rolls for breakfast (we have them every Christmas morning), you can make these and freeze them after shaping (just get the disposable foil pans and put 6 in each pan). Pull them out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost and slowly rise in the fridge all night. Pull them out of the fridge when you wake up, preheat the oven and bake. for best results, bring to room temp before baking, but even if you don’t do that, they’ll still be amazing.

See? Not perfect! Still amazingly yummy!

Lots of space for these guys to rise.

Cinco de Mayo Muffins! (Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Muffins with Dulce de Leche Glaze)

I’m kind of a purist. I like my Mexican food authentic and spicy. I like my steak medium rare, and with no additions that will impede the beautiful beefy flavor (sea salt is fine, and occasionally butter…but no onions, mushrooms, bacon, bleu cheese, etc. Do NOT suggest steak sauce, you blasphemer!) I do enjoy a good themed party, but I’ll always lean towards the authentic before the theme. For instance, St. Patty’s day? I’m not going to dye our food green, instead I’ll make something that is actually Irish. However, when I was deciding what treat to make my kiddos for their arrival home from school, and I decided on muffins, I instantly thought. “How can I make muffins that fit with the Cinco de Mayo theme?” Okay, first I thought, “Dang, no blueberries, and I don’t have time to run to the store”. But, after that, I had the Cinco de Mayo thought. The fact that I decided to create something in a theme that is not authentic I blame on screen-free week, and the fact that I had been sans computer for 3 days. It caused me to thrown caution to the wind. I even cleaned some walls this week. Amazing.

So, my first thought was how much I loooooovvvvveeee Mexican chocolate, which has a touch of cinnamon. Dulce de Leche (which is sugar and milk, thickened to a caramel) is one of my other favorite flavors from my neighbors to the South, so I decided to combine them. I created a simple cinnamon chocolate chip muffin, and dipped the tops in an indulgent dulce de leche glaze. The glaze recipe makes plenty, so you can use the extra on ice cream, or on a spoon. Not that I would know anything about that. The trick to making muffins is to NOT over mix the batter. The more you mix it, the denser the muffins with be. I stir muffins by hand, I don’t use my mixer, which tends to over mix.

CINNAMON CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS with DULCE DE LECHE GLAZE

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup mini chocolate chips
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray, or lightly grease with oil. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until fluffy. Add milk, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk together until well mixed. Add to the dry ingredients, and mix only until combined. Fill each muffin cup mostly full. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

DULCE DE LECHE GLAZE

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, combine the butter and sugar. Over medium heat, stir until butter is melted. Add condensed milk. Stir well. Continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil. remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture stops bubbling. Dip the tops of the muffin in the glaze. Dip them all before the glaze cools. Don’t worry, it takes a little while to cool, you have enough time. You can make the glaze ahead, but you won’t get the smooth shiny glazed look if you let it cool and spread it on later.

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Sour Cream Blueberry Zucchini Bread

My daughter is a food hummer. Do you have one of those? My niece was one when she was little, too. These joyous kids enjoy their food so much they hum while eating. My curly-topped blondie can’t hold in her joy when eating yummy food. Yesterday I made this bread. I tried to convince her to eat a slice. She was hesitant, she’s weird about certain colors in her food, she wasn’t sure about the big blue blotches. After a while, she decided to give it a go. A few minutes latter I starting hearing a little hum. A cute little tune coming from the dining room. A few minutes later, she toddled over to me to express “Mommy! Yummmmmmm!”. Yep, she’s her mother’s daughter. She loves to express her joy over tasty food.

This tasty, moist bread is a great way to use your bumper crop of zucchini, it makes great gifts (teachers need some love!!) and freezes well.

SOUR CREAM BLUEBERRY ZUCCHINI BREAD

2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup sour cream
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups zucchini, shredded
1 pint fresh blueberries, washed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8×4 loaf pans. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Add sour cream. Mix well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix until almost flour is almost incorporated. It will be thick. Add zucchini and blueberries. Stir by hand just until mixed. Split the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a knife entered near the center comes out clean. Cool in the loaf pans on a baking rack before removing from pans.

REAL food alert: Check your sour cream for additives. The ingredients should just be cream, or cream, milk and enzymes.

HEALTH alert: Make this healthier by subbing 2 cups of the flour for whole wheat. You can also choose a healthier sugar, like raw honey or agave, or a less-processed sugar, like succanat. Keep at least one cup of sugar a “dry” sugar, so sub up to one cup for honey or agave. Subbing the sugar or flour will result in a denser, heavier bread. You can substitute fat free sour cream, but notice the increase in additives.

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Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

Breakfast.

It’s the bain of my existence.

Or it’s a stable beginning to a day of healthy eating.

Or it’s an indulgent part of a fabulous day the ends in me with chocolate stains on my shirt.

It fluctuates between those three.

I have to have protein with my breakfast, and so do my kids. If we have an easy cereal morning, within a few hours everyone is grumpy and hungry. The problem is, I’m not always in the mood to make eggs and my kids aren’t always in the mood for whole grain oatmeal. I need an easy pre-prepared breakfast option for crazy days and lazy days.

I took inspiration from frozen hot pockets, and decided to make some myself, but healthier. The crust is a super soft and flavorful honey whole wheat bread, rolled thin, so there’s no heaviness (I know what you’re thinking when you hear “whole wheat”…banish that thought). The greatest thing is how flexible the filling can be. My kids prefer eggs, sausage and cheese. You can just do eggs and cheese, or get creative with stir-fried veggies, quinoa, curried potatoes. One of our favorites is leftover sausage and gravy with scrambled eggs. The best thing? These can be frozen, then nuked in the microwave for a super simple, quick breakfast on the go, but HEALTHY!!! You’ll win the mom of the year award.

WHOLE WHEAT BREAKFAST POCKETS
makes 18 pockets

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup raw honey
1 1/2 TBS yeast
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, whisked at room temperature
3-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
4 TBS vital wheat gluten
1/3 cup dry milk
1 tsp salt

Take the egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature, whisk it in a bowl. In a mixer, with dough hook attached, stir together warm water and honey. Add yeast and let sit for 5 minutes, until frothy.  Add oil, egg, 2 cups of wheat flour, gluten, dry milk and salt. Mix on low until well combined. Add 1 additional cup of flour. With mixer on low, add more flour a little as a time, as needed, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and creates a ball. Your goal here is to add as little flour as possible. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Check on it every once in a while and add small portions of flour as needed if dough  sticks to the sides of the bowl.

When kneading is finished, cover bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise for one hour, or until double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dump dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle. Roll it as thin as you can without it ripping. Cut each rectangle into 3 pieces. Place 1/3 cup of whatever filling you are using onto one side. Fold it over and pinch the edge shut (this works best if you bring the bottom up and fold it over the top before pinching. Place them on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool before placing in freezer zipper bags and freezing. To reheat, take from freezer and microwave for 35 seconds.

FILLING:

Sausage, Egg & Cheese:
1/2 lb breakfast sausage
12 eggs
cheese of choice

Brown sausage in a skillet. Drain well. Scramble eggs and cook in a skillet until cooked through, but not brown. Mix the sausage in with the eggs. Use as a filling, topping with cheese as desired before pinching shut.

REAL food alert: check your sausage for MSG, BHA and BHT. Check your pre-shredded cheese for various additives, including some that contain popular allergens (best bet: buy it and shred it yourself).

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World Wednesday: Irish Soda Farls

World Wednesday

Have ever done genealogy? That’s where you track down your ancestors. A few years ago, I felt like giving a go and it consumed me. It’s like the most addictive puzzle ever created. My mom, who was working on her ancestors, gave me a line to work on. The Robinsons. My maternal grandmother’s grandparents. I traced it back to Charles and Catherine Robinson, my 5th great grandparents who came over around the year 1773 from Ireland. It sounds easy summed up like that, but in reality, it was hours of obsessive searching. I’d send the kids off to school, turn on a movie for the littles and the next thing I know, I’m being roused from my puzzle-solving by a dirty diaper, a demand for lunch, eventually my husband is there (Where’d he come from? Why isn’t he at work? It’s the middle of the….oh..it’s 6 p.m.) asking if we’re having PB and J for dinner again. Yeah. I stopped doing genealogy for a while. I figure, in a few years I’ll be missing my kids all day and needing a distraction, and I can pick up the addiction again. BUT, the point here is what I FOUND. At least a part of me is Irish. I was ecstatic. I have always loved all things Irish, the music, the food, the sexy accent. My husband’s main line is Irish as well, and I have a goal to some day trace both of our lineage back to Ireland and take a nice long trip there when our kids are grown and gone.

A few years back, inspired by good friends who have special family traditions marking their ethnic heritages, I decided that we needed a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. I’m not a huge fan of corned beef and cabbage, so I decided to make Irish Soda Farls and Lemon Curd every year. Disclaimer: Lemon Curd is not specifically Irish. I believe it’s more of a British tradition (can my international readers shed some light?), but my kids love it and it’s tasty.

Soda Farls are like a pan-cooked quick biscuit. The dough is very soft and the result is a very soft, tender bread. Traditionally, the dough is rolled out, cut into fourths and the browned in a skillet. I cut mine into eighths, because it’s easier to work with and the kids feel like they get more when they can have seconds or thirds. (Yeah, you moms know what I’m talking about, parental trickery rocks). This works great in an iron skillet. Unfortunately, mine was accidentally soaked and has some rust we need to scour off, so it wasn’t available for my farl-cooking this year.

IRISH SODA FARLS 

4 cups flour (I used half whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk*

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Slowly mix in buttermilk until dough starts to form. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little until dough is fully combined and smooth. Dough will be very soft and a little sticky. Reflour your surface, and divide the dough into two halves. Roll each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into fourths or eighths. Heat a thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Place your dough in the skillet and cook on each side until brown and the middle is cooked. Turn down your heat to medium after the first batch to avoid the pan over heating. If you find that they are sticking, reflour the dough before putting it in the pan. Serve hot with butter and jam or lemon curd.

*If you don’t have buttermilk, Measure 2 cups of milk into a bowl and add 2 TBS lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit 15 minutes before using.

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Technique Tuesdays: Double Boiler. Recipe: Creamy Lemon Curd

Technique Tuesday:

Double Boiler

Lemon Curd is a great companion to Irish Soda Farls that we make each St. Patrick’s Day. Curd is essential a fruit custard made with egg yolks. This recipe calls for a double boiler. I don’t know about you, I don’t know anyone who owns an actual double boiler. It isn’t even necessary as long as you have a sauce pot and metal bowl that fit together nicely. You’ll notice in the picture below the recipe my very dirty stove. You will also notice how the “double boiler” should look. You do not want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Essentially, the point of a double boiler is to heat something using indirect heat, to avoid it scorching or curdling. It’s used to melt chocolate and make custards, among other things. The custard is heated by the steam created by the boiling water underneath.

This lemon curd recipe results in a creamy curd, not the gelatinous kind many use for a lemon meringue pie. It’s perfect for a topping for breads or as a spread.

CREAMY LEMON CURD

5 eggs yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TBS lemon zest
4 TBS butter, cut into pats and chilled

Fill a small pot with about an inch of water, place on the stove over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a metal bowl that fits on top of your pot, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk well, until light and creamy. For smooth curd, pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. When the water comes to a boil, quickly reduce heat to low, to keep to a simmer. Place bowl on pot and whisk continually until thick. This takes about 10 minutes, but will vary. You know it’s ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon or reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add in the butter, one pat at a time, stirring each until it melts before adding the next pat. Pour into a container or bowl and press plastic wrap against the surface of the curd. Refrigerate until cool.

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Easy Chewy Granola Bars

My dad passed away a couple of years ago. He was a sporatic, but obsessive, cook. He spent the better part of a year one year perfecting chocolate chip cookies. He experimented with various recipes, tweaking the measurements, substituting butter, margarine and shortening in various ways. In the end he even specified the exact sized scoop you should use to scoop the cookie dough onto the sheet, before pressing each one with your thumb and refrigerating it over night. Some of my best memories of him are him in the kitchen, making the perfect fluffy omelet, or out grilling his specially basted chicken. I think most of my cooking skills come from my mom, but my analytic side definitely comes from my dad.

This last Christmas, a dear family friend gave me a Fred Batterfinger Spatula” target=”_blank”>fun finger scraper, shown in the pictures of this recipe. She chose it, knowing I loved to cook, and because the company who makes them is called “Fred” (my dad’s name is Fred), and each scraper has “Fred” on the handle. She said that way I would always think of my dad while cooking. It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. It also started me on a love affair with quirky “Fred” products. I’ll list some of my favorites after the recipe.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make chewy granola bars at home, without all of the preservatives, refined sugar and hydrogenated oils you find in the ones in the grocery store. I think I channeled my dad when I made these three different ways in one day, attempting to get them perfect.

The thing I love about homemade granola bars is that you can customize them to be as healthy as you like, also geared toward your kids’ likes and avoiding allergens. This recipe uses peanut butter. If you have allergies to peanuts in your house, substitute the gooey part with 1 cup sugar + 1 cup honey + 1 TBS butter (if they have coconut allergies as well), and cook the same.

EASY CHEWY GRANOLA BARS

3/4 cup natural peanut butter (no sugar, just roasted peanuts and salt)
2/3 cup raw honey (read here about raw vs. processed honey and dangers of store-bought honey)
1 TBS coconut oil (if you don’t have coconut oil, substitute butter)
2 cups oats (use gf oats for gluten-free granola bars)
1 cup crisped rice cereal (I have no notes for this, but didn’t want them to feel left out)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (ditto)

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal. In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the peanut butter, honey and coconut oil. Stir continuously. When the mixture barely starts to bubble, continue stirring for 2 minutes, then immediately pour over the oat mixture. Stir until well combined. Let sit for a few minutes, until it’s still warm, but won’t burn you to touch it. Add in the chocolate chips and lightly stir. They will melt a bit, so don’t over mix. Pour the mixture into an 8×8 square pan. Place a large square of wax paper over it and press down as hard as you can, compacting the entire mixture into the pan. Let cool in the fridge for 15 minutes. Cut into 8 bars.

You may want to double or triple this recipe, although it’s easiest to make in smaller batches. You can also personalize it, by adding ground flax, coconut, dried cherries, raisins, etc. have fun!! I’m sure you have noticed that coconut oil for weight loss is making waves right now, this is why I use it as much as I can get away with.

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Some of my favorite “Fred” products:

” target=”_blank”>Pastasaurus: Adorable pasta server with the head of a dinosaur. My kids love it.

” target=”_blank”>”Equal Measure” Measuring cup: a glass measuring cup that measures up to 2 1/2 cups, includes standard and metric measurements. The kicker is that it also includes measurements like “volume of half of the human brain” and “one hundred and fifty thousand poppy seeds”. Practical, yet humorous…and it appeals to the science geek in me.

” target=”_blank”>Unzipped-Bag Shaped Glass Bowl: the company has all sorts of funky-shaped stuff, and this is one of my favorites..it’s a glass bowl, but shaped like an unzipped ziploc bag full of something, sitting up. Perfect for a candy bowl, or fish bowl, or just a conversation starter. Clever.

” target=”_blank”>Cake Candelabra: For the diva, or just for an extra special birthday, this candelabra sit a top a birthday cake to hold your candles. I’m thinking I need one for my 40th birthday…which won’t be for another 20-30 years…

Mini Hootenanny Pancakes

Hootenanny…hootenanny..hoot, hoot, Hoot!

That’s what we say when eating these pancakes. I’m not sure where that came from, I think I read someone else’s story that their family did it growing up, and it kinda stuck. These are also called “German Oven Pancakes” or “Dutch Babies”. I am not biased against various European countries, so we’ve stuck with Hootenanny Pancakes.

There are also various ways to eat them. Traditionally, they are made in a pie tin, then sliced up kinda like a pizza. My husband likes it with syrup, butter and powdered sugar. I prefer it with fruit of some sort and whipped cream. One thing I love about breakfast is that it’s an easy excuse to eat dessert as a meal without feeling guilty.

This recipe uses a large muffin tin (the kind that makes six muffins, not twelve) to create cute little individual cups to be filled as your heart desires. The optimum fill portion for the best cups is about 1/3 full. if you fill it 1/2 full, they will be thick and not quite form into cups.

HOOTENANNY PANCAKES

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 TSP butter, melted

additional melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend all ingredients in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender.  You want to make sure all the flour is well incorporated and the batter is smooth. Put a tablespoon of melted butter in each of the six muffin divots. Fill each 1/3 full with the batter. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until puffed up and golden brown. Invert onto a cooling rack.

Fill with your favorite fruit, syrup, Nutella (ooh, that’s a great idea!), or whatever you please. I filled these with Easy Strawberry Topping.

EASY STRAWBERRY TOPPING

3 cups strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the strawberries and sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes. Mash with a potato masher, or puree.

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ALLERGY alert: These can easily be converted to gluten-free by using gluten-free flour. They can be made dairy-free by subbing an alternative milk, and using 100% vegetable margarine or oil in place of the butter.

Boston Cream Donuts…Baked!

Hmmm…Doughnuts…Donuts…. Either way, they are tasty balls of fried dough, made tastier when filled or frosted or dunked.

SOME people, however, have a hard time stopping with one, two, or four doughnuts, which has made BAKED raised donuts a popular trend amongst the scratch bakers.

So, I figured, if I’m going to take the time to make a yeast donut, and save calories by baking it, I have caloric wiggle room to add a cream filling and chocolate frosting, eh?

Thus is born the baked Boston Cream Donut…

BAKED BOSTON CREAM DONUTS

Donuts:

3/4 cup warm milk
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, whisked
1/2 tsp salt
2 -3 cup flour

Combine yeast and warm milk in your stand mixer bowl, or in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gently mix in butter, sugar and egg (make sure egg is well blended before adding). Add flour, 1/2 c at a time. Add salt in with the first batch of flour. Mix thoroughly after each flour addition. Stop adding flour as soon as the dough sticks together. You definitely want as little flour in your dough as possible. using your dough hook, or hands, if you’re more traditional, knead for 5 minutes. Watch the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little bit of flour as needed to coax it back into a ball. Again, use as little flour as possible. When I make this, I typically only use 2 cups of flour.

Remove bowl and place in a warm place to rise until double (about an hour, but this can drastically vary depending on all sorts of factors).

Once it has risen, dump it onto a counter that has been lightly dusted with flour. Roll it out to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a glass or round cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles. Use as much of the dough in the first cut as possible, then collect the scraps and recut. If you must, you can do it a third time, but the resulting donuts will be tougher than the first.

Place the dough circles on parchment-covered baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Let rise again until double, another 45 min- 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Remove when they are light brown on top. Immediately slide to a cooling rack.

Filling (Pastry Cream):

2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 TBS butter
1 tsp vanilla

Stir together the milk and 1/4 cup sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, mix together the egg and egg yolks. Add the cornstarch and 1/3 cup sugar to the eggs and mix until smooth. When the milk has come to a boil, slowly pour a few tablespoons of it into the egg mixture.* Mix well and pour a little more hot milk in with the eggs. Mix well. Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the milk and slowly return to a boil, whisking frequently to keep the bottom from burning. When the mixture becomes thick, remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Place in the refrigerator until chilled.

Frosting:

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Pour cream into a sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until hot, but do not bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Stir until smooth.

To assemble:

Take a donut and poke a hole in one side with a small knife or skewer. Carefully move the knife/skewer around the inside of the donut to allow room for the filling. (A clean finger does this well, if that doesn’t gross you out)

Scoop some filling into a zipper-topped bag. Cut a small portion off the corner, insert into the donut and squeeze the filling into the donut.

Dip the top of the donut into the bowl of chocolate.

Enjoy. With friends…or family…or hot chocolate.

*This is called “tempering” the eggs, slowly bringing them up in temperature so that when you add them to the milk, they don’t cook so quickly that you have scrambled eggs in your pastry cream.

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