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!

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.

“Chocolate Covered Cherry” Sorbet

DISCLAIMER: The following blog entry involves discussion of non-REAL food. 😉

When I was a little girl, growing up in Iowa, I would sometimes be lucky enough to spend a few days at a friend’s house who lived “in the country”. We’d stay up late playing barbies in her basement, and the next day, grab some bikes and ride down to the DQ for drippy ice cream cones that melted faster than we could lick in the hot, humid, midwestern air.

Every once in a while, on family night, my family would drive down to the local DQ and get “belly-buttons” as a treat. Dilly bars no longer have the curlicue in the middle that made them look like an “outie” belly-button. Now they’re just a circle on a stick. Sad, really.

Now, I live in a semi-rural suburb, where one of the only “fast-food” places nearby is a DQ. Many traditions now revolve around the DQ: first day of school, last day of school, birthdays, etc. typically involve a trip to the DQ for drippy ice cream cones that melt faster than we can lick in the hot, dry, southwestern air. I still love a “crunch” covered cone, and occasionally a butterscotch dipped. But, when it comes to blizzards, my favorite is the “chocolate covered cherry” blizzard. Vanilla soft-serve mixed with cherries and chocolate coating. It’s just darn tasty!

A week ago, we had an exciting delivery: AN ICE CREAM MAKER. We actually have one already, it’s one of those huge old fashioned types that require ice and rock salt. I have to admit, the old clunkers do a much better job making tasty rich ice cream. But, I wanted one of the new-fangled speedy ones that make a batch in 20 minutes (of course, that’s not accounting for the time to freeze the bowl, make the mix and chill the mix…it’s still a half-day affair, but still beats having to watch and add rock salt every little while).

This recipe I devised after seeing fresh cherries on sale and reminiscing about DQ. It’s a sorbet made from fresh cherries, with chocolate flakes throughout. It’s very tasty and a perfect summer treat.

CHOCOLATE COVERED CHERRY SORBET

2 pounds fresh cherries
2/3 cups sugar (you may want less if your cherries are really sweet)
1 cup water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp real almond extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBS coconut oil (you can use butter if you don’t have coconut oil)

Rinse and remove stems and pits from cherries. Place in a pot with the sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor and puree. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, use a rubber scraper to push as much juice out as possible. At this point, you can add some of the pulp back in, depending if you want a smooth sorbet, or small bits of cherry pulp in it. I scooped two spoonfuls of pulp back into the juice and discarded the rest. You can skip the straining altogether (just watch out for hiding pits), or just use the juice for your sorbet. Add the almond extract to the juice. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before putting into your ice cream maker.

When the mixture is chilled, turn on your ice cream maker and pour in the cherry mixture. Make according to the directions for your ice cream maker. I have found that sorbet takes a little longer than ice cream. While the ice cream is churning, melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a small bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth. When the sorbet is nice and thick and about done, use a spoon and drizzle the chocolate into the churning ice cream. Every once in a while, it may build up, and you may have to use the rubber scraper to stir it in. It just depends on the design of your ice cream maker. The idea is to pour in a thin stream, which will harden and break into flakes in your sorbet. You can accomplish this however it works best with your ice cream maker. You may or may not use all of the chocolate. Add as much as you would like. When finished, remove into a freezer-safe bowl, cover it and freeze until hard. Overnight is best, if you want it really hard. My kids didn’t mind the soft texture of ours one bit. 😉 (Ours chilled about 4 hours).

REAL food alert: check for artificial flavors in your chocolate chips.
ALLERGY alert: the only thing with dairy here is the chocolate. You can just make the cherry sorbet without the chocolate flakes, or use dairy-free chocolate.
VEGGIE alert: to make this vegan: see above.

Nanny’s Oatmeal Cake

Cake. It’s used to celebrate, to comfort, as a door stop around Christmastime. I’m not much of a cake fan, and for birthdays at our house, the celebrant gets to choose their favorite dessert in lieu of a cake. Pies are very popular for celebrations around here, as well as brownies and ice cream sundaes. There are a couple of exceptions to my aversion to cake. This recipe is one of them. My mom would make it when I was a little girl, it eventually was replaced by texas sheet cake, which is another of my exceptions. This recipe actually comes from my grandma who we called Nanny. It is simply the best cake I’ve ever had. It’s super moist with a carmelly pecan coconut topping. It melts in your mouth. Combine it with a tall glass of cold milk and you are instantly transported to simpler happy days. Just editing the pictures for this post made me start drooling…I think I may have to make it again tonight.

NANNY’S OATMEAL CAKE

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a small pot. Add the oatmeal. Stir it to combine and let sit for 20 minutes. In a mixing bowl, Mix butter, sugars and eggs until fluffy. Add oatmeal mixture and mix well. Add flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, and mix on low just until flour is incorporated. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake for 30 minutes.

For the topping, combine the butter, sugar and cream in a pot. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Mix in coconut and pecans. Pour over the hot cake and return to the oven. Broil the cake for 1-3 minutes, until topping starts to slightly bubble. Remove from oven and allow to slightly cool before serving warm. It also tastes great cool, but I can never wait.

printable version

Strawberry Mango Trifle

“Trifle” means something of little value. To me, “A Trifle” is of great value. Traditionally, this European dessert is layers of cake soaked in an alcohol of some kind, jam, custard and whipped cream. Of course, here in The States we’ve bastardized it. Anything that is layered cake (or even brownies or cookie chunks) with a pudding or whipped cream is called a “trifle”. We also tend to use fresh fruit in our “trifles” here in the U.S. But, hey, who cares if it’s traditional or not, whatever you call it (Capulet or Montague), it’s dang tasty, and the perfect dessert for warmer weather.

In this trifle, I avoided the alcohol, and instead use the natural juices from the strawberries and mangoes to drench the cake. Instead of custard I used a sweet lime cream cheese folded with whipped cream for a light filling that perfectly compliments the mangoes.

STRAWBERRY MANGO TRIFLE

4 large mangoes, chunked
2 cups strawberries, halved
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese
4 TBS fresh squeezed lime juice
1 angel food cake

In a large bowl, combine mangoes, strawberries and 2/3 cup sugar. Let sit for at least 20 minutes to create juices. Meanwhile, whip the cream until very thick. See this post if you need help on this part. Scrape whipped cream in to a separate bowl. In your mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, lime juice and 1/3 cup sugar. Whip until smooth and fluffy. Fold the whipping cream into the cream cheese mixture. Folding is a method where you softly and slowly cut through the mixture, and “fold” it over, until it is mixed. It allows the whipped cream to stay as fluffy as possible. If you stir it in, it will turn liquidy. Here is a good video that shows the method.

Cut or break your angel food cake into chunks. In a trifle dish or large bowl, lay down a layer of cake. Top that with fruit, then the cream mixture. Repeat. Be sure to include the juices with the fruit so it can soak down into the cake. Finish it off with the whipped cream mixture, and garnish with fresh fruit.

REAL food alert: A store bought angel food cake will be full of all sorts of additives, including chemical preservatives and artificial flavors. You may be able to buy a more natural one at a store like Trader Joes or Whole Foods. Making one yourself does take a special pan, and a bit of work, but they are SOOOO much better tasting. Eventually I’ll post a recipe. Meanwhile, try this one. Whipping Cream: check for additives and artificial flavors in your whipping cream. For more info, check out this post.

check out all that nice juice…mmm…

Real-Food Remake: Celebration Potatoes (Funeral Potatoes)

There’s a recipe that has been used for generations in my family and the families of many that I know. They are called “Funeral Potatoes”. What a morose name.

They are called that presumably because they are a tradition dish made for luncheons served to the family at funerals. They are the ultimate comfort side dish, easy to make in bulk, filling and satisfying. Every family you know who makes this dish has their own twist. Some people add green onions, some people like bread crumbs or corn flakes on top. In our family, we not huge fans of green onions, and we like a simple cheese topping. The dish itself is basically grated potatoes and onions in a scalloped-potato style cream sauce and baked. Traditionally, the recipe calls for cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Simple.

However, some of us can’t (or won’t) have cream soups, which are absolutely horrible for you. When planning my Easter dinner, I really wanted funeral potatoes, which we typically only eat at my in-laws house, and decided I’d do a Real-Food Remake.

The first step in the tradition recipe is to use frozen hash browns. Frozen hash browns don’t turn color, thanks to an additive called disodium dihydorgen pyrophosphate. It is a chemical additive. Because we avoid chemicals, and because potatoes are dirt cheap (a little pun for your Monday Morning), I make hash browns from scratch. The trick to keeping them from turning colors is getting the excess starch off. After shredding them, put them in a colander and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. If you are grating them by hand, grate them straight into a colander under running cold water. You’ll see in the pictures that my hash browns are white as white can be, no brown or gray to be seen!

To replace the cream of chicken soup, I made my basic cream of chicken substitute sauce. You can use this sauce in absolutely any recipe that calls for a cream soup. I opted for sweet onion instead of the green, ’cause that’s how we roll. Then, I topped it off with cheese. You can use bread crumbs and dot it with butter if you’d like. This recipe is still full of dairy and definitely high on the fat content, but it’s still a step up from a chemical-filled traditional funeral potato recipe. Because of that, I changed the name to “Celebration Potatoes”. It kinda has a nice ring to it.  Forgive the non-professional looking pictures. My family was VERY patient to sit while I took quick pics of our Easter feast, and I left them in a tad too long, your cheese doesn’t have to be this brown. 🙂

CELEBRATION POTATOES

1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt (like season-all…a salt-free, msg free seasoning)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp pepper
4 TBS butter
6 TBS flour
2/3 cup sour cream
5-7 potatoes
1/2 sweet onion
1 cup cheddar or colby-jack cheese, grated

Mix the chicken stock, milk and seasonings in a bowl. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk quickly. It will be very thick. Cook the flour for one minute. Slowly add in the chicken stock mixture 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Make sure you whisk out the lumps. Cook, stirring frequently, until thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add in the sour cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare your potatoes, rinse, peel and grate them. Rinse them under cold water until the water runs clear. Lay them in a 9×13 pan. Grate the 1/2 sweet onion and mix together with the potatoes. Pour the sauce over and mix into the potato mixture. Top with a layer of cheese. Cover with tin foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

REAL FOOD ALERT: Check your grated cheese for additives, it’s better to grate your own. Check your sour cream. Always use a “natural” sour cream. Next time you’re at the store, compare the ingredients of the store brand sour cream and Daisy brand, or another natural version. The ingredients should be “Cream” and that’s all. Hash browns: frozen hash browns have chemical additives.

ALLERGY ALERT: to make gluten-free, eliminate the butter/flour step. Instead, put the broth mixture into the saucepan, bring to a boil. Mix 2 TBS cornstarch with 2 TBS cold water and add to boiling liquid. Stir until thick.

 

Sugar Cookies with Sweet Honey Icing

Easter is almost upon us. Maybe this year will be the year that I dig through boxes and find all of the Easter-egg dying kits I’ve bought over years on clearance after Easter.

I always have good intentions.

But, then the holiday is a few days away and I look around my messy house and I think, “Do I REALLY want to gather the kids all in one place allowing them to get creative with DYE? Do I want to take deep breaths through all the arguing: “I wanted the yellow!!!!!!” “But I want a really dark egg, you have to leave it in a long time!” “But I’m making a tye-dyed egg, I need yellow or it will mess up my pattern!” Sigh. Yes. It’s important. Because we’re making memories. Conflict-ridden, hair-pulling, someone-ends-up-grounded-and-something-ends-up-irreparably-damaged memories.

I believe in traditions. But, sometimes, I dislike them. Anything creative I have a hard time with, maybe because want the yellow first. Pumpkin carving is the same way. I want to sit by myself for 2 hours and create a masterpiece, a pumpkin that will have everyone in the neighborhood talking. My kids have the same penchant for creating and perfection that I do. Get three or four of us in the same room creating and things can get complicated.

So, I’ve figured out some ways to make creative traditions fun. First, I throw all expectations out the window: expectations of behavior and of creative outcome. Second, I put anything of sentimental value AWAY and prep well, to minimize destruction. Third, I decide if my creation is important to me. If it is, I allot myself separate time to create, and make sure I remember that the time is to be spent helping the kids create.

I also like to change up traditions. Easter egg dying has been our most conflict-driven tradition, for some reason. Plus, you can only eat so many deviled eggs. So, this year, we stole a Christmas tradition for Easter. Decorating sugar cookies. Every year before Christmas, my mom gets all of the grandkids and has a cookie decorating party at her house. She uses the same recipe she’s been using since we were kids. The original recipe was called “Peanuts Sugar Cookies” because it came with a set of Peanuts Characters cookie cutters (you know, Charlie Brown, Snoopy…). In my opinion, it is the best sugar cookie recipe. I have never found one I liked better. The flavor is pure, the cookies hold their shape well, and they are crispy without being hard (if you are a soft-sugar-cookie person, this is not the recipe for you).

Now…what to do about the Easter egg hunt…

SUGAR COOKIES

1 1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, mix well. Add in the flour and baking powder. Mix just until flour is incorporated. Over mixing will make tough cookies. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours, up to overnight. If you refrigerate it overnight, allow it to thaw a bit before trying to work with it.

preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and cut out as desired. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until the edges barely start to brown. Frost and decorate.

SWEET HONEY ICING

2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 TBS milk
1 1/2- 2 TBS raw honey
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Slowly drizzle in 1 1/2 TBS of the honey while mixing. Add the vanilla and whisk until smooth and glossy. If it is too thick, add additional honey.

printable version

Peanut Butter Brownie Torte

Have you seen that post floating around pinterest? It’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake…it looks exactly like a humongous peanut butter cup. Well, I thought it was pretty awesome and my soon-to-be-nine-year-old decided he wanted it for his birthday cake. So, I clicked on it, planning to make it.

It wasn’t a recipe.

It was a cake.

To order.

From Williams-Sonoma.

For $80.00.

Seriously.

Okay, so maybe some of you don’t mind spending 80 bones on a birthday cake, but that is WAAAAYYYY outta my budget. (Yeah, I’m married to a teacher, after all. He has two masters degrees. Don’t get me started.) So, the next best thing is to recreate it. Not too hard: chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, milk chocolate frosting. But, (I thought in my devious-non-calorie-counting-inner-mind) maybe I could IMPROVE on the concept…switch out the cake for brownies (we’re not much of cake people, we tend to have pie for birthdays), keep the peanut butter filling, then cover it in a milk chocolate ganache. Mmmmmmm…I’m sold.

So, I HAD to do a trial run during spring break, so I could take pictures (otherwise my poor birthday boy would have to wait to indulge on his birthday until after my 30 minute staging and photographing fiasco. I figured that wasn’t fair). I learned a lot, and I’ll be making this again before the birthday to take more pictures, as I discovered that it really does need to be refrigerated before cutting into it, although it tastes divine without it, it’s very messy. The kids didn’t mind. So, enjoy the “messy version” pictures. I’ll post with nicer ones in a few weeks. And, as I discovered when I had a piece for breakfast the next day, it actually tastes better chilled. So, plan to make this a day ahead. It’s a little labor-intensive, but ooooooohhhhhhhhhh-so-worth it.

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIE TORTE

Brownies:

1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two 9″ round cake pans with cooking spray. Line the bottom of each with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Respray over the paper. This will ensure no problems getting the brownie out of the pan. In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, sugar and eggs until well mixed. Slowly pour in the melted butter and mix well (be careful not to cook your eggs by pouring hot butter in all at once). Add the flour and mix just until blended. Divide equally between the two pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Do not over bake. Cool in the pans on a rack.

Filling:

1 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine ingredients and beat with a mixer (whisk attachment if you have one) for about 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very smooth. Set aside until brownies are cool.

Ganache Topping:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups milk chocolate chips

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat the cream until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat. Dump in the chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes. Stir well, until well combined and chocolate is completely incorporated.

TO ASSEMBLE:

When brownies are cool, run a knife or metal spatula along the edge of each brownie, loosening it from the pan, then gently turn each over onto a cooling rack. They should come right out. Remove and discard the parchment. Generously cover the bottom layer with filling. Align second brownie on top. Pour some of the ganache on top, until it starts to pour over the sides. At this point, refrigerate the cake and the remaining ganache. About 30 minutes later, remove the cake from the fridge and “frost” the sides with the ganache. Smooth over any bumps and garnish with Peanut Butter Cups as desired. Return cake to refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

REAL food alert: Thanks to this recipe, I discovered that our beloved Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups contain TBHQ, a preservative linked to stomach cancer. I almost cried. Okay, not really…but I was sad…and annoyed. I assume natural food stores have PB cups that are TBHQ free. Speaking of peanut butter, I use all-natural pb…meaning the ingredients are peanuts and salt. If you use conventional peanut butter, you may want to cut down the sugar a bit. aaand, last but not least: chocolate chips. Check for artificial flavoring in your chocolate chips.

ALLERGY alert: This can easily be made gluten free by subbing brownies with a gluten-free brownie recipe. Be sure to use soy-free chocolate chips if you have soy allergies.

HEALTH alert: are you kidding me? This is unhealthy…it’s a waste of time to health-it-up. Just eat a small piece and then go hike up a beautiful mountain.

printable version

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.

printable version

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.

printable version