Sunday, December 21, 2014

M&M Pretzel Cookies

Ah, we're in the home stretch.  The last day for free shipping is upon us.  Our presents are wrapped, our holiday baking is done, all that is left is to relax and enjoy the holidays...

Unless your me.  Then, none of those things have happened and you are still scrambling to come up with something to make for your mom's Christmas and then something else to make for your aunt's Christmas.  All this while still wrapping gifts and attending parties and ignoring how sticky your kitchen is.

These cookies are for you.  They are easy and festive and everyone likes a chocolate chip cookie.

M&M Pretzel Cookies

  • 2/3 c. shortening
  • 2/3 c. margarine
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-12 ounce bag M&Ms
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pretzels
Beat together shortening and margarine.  Add in sugars.  Beat to combine.  Add in eggs and vanilla.  Beat to combine.  Add in whole wheat flour and all purpose flour and mix slowly to combine.  Fold in M&Ms and pretzels.

Scoop tablespoons onto a cookie sheet. If you used butter instead of margarine, leave a lot of room between cookies. They will spread like crazy.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes or until the bottoms are just starting to turn brown. My family prefers cookies on the gooier side, so I tend to try and err on the side of caution by pulling them out a bit early. However, if you like crunchy cookies, leave them in.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Food Gift Idea-Chocolate Pretzel Bites

When I first saw these at a friend's party, like 4 years ago, I was intrigued.  Chocolate covered pretzels are one of my favorite sweet/salty snacks but I only make them during the holidays because they are a bit tedious.

Then I ate one.  It was kind of like that old Pringles commercial, once you pop you can't stop.  They were just the right combination of sweet/salty/crunchy that one looks for in a snack.  I managed to make my way past the table for just one more, about every 3 minutes.

Fast forward to now, I finally got around to making them.  And I realized what a cute little holiday food gift they would make.  Pile a bunch in a jar, stick a ribbon and a tag, and bam, food gift conducive to mass production.  Also super easy.

Chocolate Pretzel Bites

The amount it makes depends on you.  You need 1 pretzel, to 1 Candy Melt, to 1 M&M.

  • Pretzel "Snaps" (the square lattice pretzels)
  • Candy Melts (I've also seen it done with Hershey's Kisses, but they will take longer to melt.  I used white chocolate peppermint candy melts for more holiday flare)
  • Holiday M&Ms

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  I first tried doing this on broil and burt them to a crisp.  Don't be like me.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Line up pretzels on parchment.  Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you could get 30-40 pretzels on a sheet.  Place one candy melt on top of each pretzel.

Bake for like 1 minute.  Watch these babies like a hawk.  Seriously.

Don't be like me, burnt chocolate stinks-literally!

When the Candy Melts are shiny all over pull them out of the oven.  Press one M&M into a soft Candy Melt.  If the M&M doesn't sink in, return the pan to the oven for another 30 seconds to a minute.

Place 1 M&M on top of each Candy Melt.  Allow to cool completely.  Slide off pan and into a jar.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Food Gift Idea: Candied Grapefruit

We all have those people on our Christmas gift list.  You know the people.  The ones you want to give something special but it's not in the budget to spend a lot of cash.

You could pick up yet another tin of half stale caramel corn at the store.  Or, you could make your own homemade food gift.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to share different ideas that can be made in bulk and packaged up pretty and sweet for everyone on your list.

First up, candied grapefruit.  Candied citrus is a long time traditional treat at Christmastime.  I love it because you can make it well in advance (weeks and weeks) and it will keep just fine in a jar in the fridge until you are ready.

Candied Grapefruit

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-3 large grapefruits

In a large saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil.  While the water and sugar are boiling, cut the grapefruits in half.  Juice the grapefruits (or eat them).  With a spoon, dig out all of the fruits membrane and as much pith as possible.  Slice the skin thinly.  Cut out any extra pith.  Toss the grapefruit skins into the boiling sugar/water mixture.  Boil the grapefruit peel until they become translucent, about 30 minutes or so.  Pour peel and syrup into a clean jar.

When you are ready, pull the grapefruit peel pieces out of the syrup.  Pat dry on a paper towel.  Roll in granulated sugar and allow to dry for a few hours.  Bag up and gift away.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Cookie Roundup

So obviously I have taken some time away from the blog in order to get moved and to get our new place together, but I am back and ready to get started celebrating the holiday season.  Here are some past ideas to get the party started:

Classic Sugar Cookies
Grandma Goodell's Butter Cookies
White Chocolate Pomegranate Cookies 
Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles
Peppermint Bark

Friday, November 7, 2014

Apple Bread

apple, bread, yeasted bread, yeast bread, cinnamon,

So here is what I am supposed to be doing: packing, cleaning, sorting.  Here is what I did: bake some bread.  Made some honey cinnamon butter to go on top.  Took some rather crummy photos of said bread and honey butter.

Queen of procrastination.  Awesome.  Well, at least we had breakfast for a few days...even if the packing isn't done.

Apple Bread

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 3 small apples
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2  tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons instant yeast
  • 1/2-3/4 cup water

In your food processor, puree 2 of the 2 apples.  You can peel them first, you don't have to.  Dice the third apple.  If you already packed your food processor, dice all the apples.

In a medium bowl, stir together flours, spices, and yeast.  Add in eggs, pureed apples, and honey.  Stir to combine.  Slowly add in water until dough comes together and is tacky but not too sticky.

Turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic.  Incorporate apple chunks when kneading dough.  Cover with a clean, lint free towel and allow to raise for about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and knead for about 2 minutes.  Divide dough in half and shape as desired.  I shaped my dough into 2 round loaves.  Place shaped dough onto baking stone covered in cornmeal or parchment.  Cover with a clean, lint free towel and allow to raise for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  If desired, beat an additional egg in a small bowl until frothy.  Brush egg wash over dough.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-45 minutes.  Cool and enjoy with honey cinnamon butter.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Honey Cinnamon Butter

We're packing fools this week.  We hope to be moving this weekend.  Thusly, much of my kitchen is packed and my time is limited.  This honey cinnamon butter, though it looks simple, really rocks some toast.  Also, it's easy, takes less than 2 minutes and makes breakfast feel fancy.  Side note, make sure your butter is at room temp.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Avocado Truffles

vegan, truffles, chocolate, candy, vegan candy

Happy Halloween!  Hope everyone big and small has some fun today!

True story: until my trip to Peru this past May, I did not want anything to do with avocados.  I thought they were slimy tasteless fruits that were incredibly difficult to cut.  Then, in Peru, I was able to eat really fresh avocados with a squirt of lemon juice and salt.  I was in heaven.

When we got home, I started eating everything avocado.  One of my favorite ways is to sub out meat or mayo in a sandwich and use avocado instead.  Which got me thinking...if avocado is a savory fat substitute, why can't it be a sweet fat substitute.  After all, we've seen it done before.  Enter the avocado truffle.  Surprisingly, the avocado (with a little help from some lemon juice) makes the truffle taste fruity.

Avocado Truffles

makes about 12 truffles

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips, 60%)
  • sprinkles, cocoa powder, crushed nuts, or powdered sugar for rolling the truffles

In a microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips in the microwave.  While you are melting the chocolate chips, beat together avocado, lemon juice, and salt until smooth.  Once the chocolate chips are melted, fold chocolate into the avocado mixture.  Cover and allow to cool.  I waited about 4 hours.

Using a teaspoon or small cookie scoop, scoop out a portion of the truffle mixture.  Roll it in your hands to make a nice smooth ball.  Then roll the ball in a small bowl of sprinkles (or cocoa powder or powdered sugar, or crushed nuts).  Continue with the same rolling process until all of the truffle mixture is gone.

Alternatively, you can dip the truffles in more melted chocolate instead of rolling them.  Personally, I like the ease and color pop I get from rolling them in sprinkles.

Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Tips For New Bread Bakers-What I Wish I'd Known

bread, baking bread, tips, homemade bread,

My mom taught me how to make bread when I was a little girl.  It was a really fun activity for a kid, kneading dough, watching it rise, slathering it with butter warm out of the oven (actually, also fun for a grown up).

So when I was first married, I thought nothing of cracking open my fresh copy of Joy of Cooking
and going to town on one of their bread recipes.  Imagine my dismay when the loaf turned out to be pure garbage.  But I knew how to bake bread!  I'd done it a million times!

Turns out, I didn't really understand the nuances involved.  The little things my mom took care of that I didn't fully understand.  Over the next few years (and lots of phone calls to my mom) here are seven things that I learned about baking bread:

No Knead Bread
The Second Rise Is Always Necessary-I love to tinker with recipes.  When I made that first loaf as a newlywed, I decided that waiting for that second rise was just too much of a pain.  Turns out, that second rise is extremely important.  It creates air pockets in the dough and shapes your bread into the loaf.  Without it, your loaf is very very heavy.

Whole Wheat Challah
The Amount Of Flour/Water In A Recipe Is Fluid-It depends who you ask as to which ingredient is supposed to be fluid.  My mom always says the amount of flour you put in depends on how dry your dough is.  Peter Reinhart says that the amount of water you put in the recipe is fluid depending on how dry your dough is.  I've done it both ways.  It works pretty well both ways.

The most important thing is to let your dough speak to you.  I know, that sounds crazy, but trust me, it works.  If the dough is sticky, add a LITTLE bit more flour.  If the dough is dry to the touch, a little more water.  Your dough should be tacky like that blue sticky tack your teacher used to hang stuff on the wall when you were a kid.  If you are going to err on one side or another, make the dough more wet at first because you always add more flour in on the second knead.  We tend not to like to get bread dough on our hands and so we make it too dry and then have a heavy loaf.

Monkey Muffins
Overproofing The Dough Tastes Bad-If you let your bread dough rise (proof) too long the yeast run out of food to eat.  Your dough becomes flaccid and smells like skunky beer.  When you are making a sourdough culture this is not a bad thing.  When you are making direct method (single day, 2 rise) bread, the flavor profile can get intense.  You only want to let it rise to about double the size of your starting dough.  Depending on the temperature of your house, this usually takes about 1-1 1/2 hours.  If your house is unusually warm, this might go faster.  Pay attention.  

Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread
Bread Is Pretty Forgiving- I know I have told you all the things that can go wrong, but really, you can fix the flour/water problem pretty easily.  If you let your dough rise too long, punch it down and let it go again, you will just have a little more flavor than you expected.

Homemade Naan
People Really Love Homemade Bread-I know that I love homemade bread, but I grew up with it.  I assumed it was one of those weird things that only my family enjoyed like Dite Rite or excessively sweet desserts.  Turns out though, almost everyone I have run into loves homemade bread.  And more than that, they love it when you bake bread just for them, shows you're willing to put out a little effort to say I love you.  Luckily, many bread recipes make two loaves.  One for you to keep and one to give to someone you care about.

French Bread
Instant Yeast Is A Lot Easier To Use Than Active Dry Yeast-I grew up using active dry yeast.  To make active dry yeast work, you have to add it to a little bit of warm water for 15 minutes at the start of your recipe to "activate" the yeast.  Instant yeast or bread machine yeast needs no warm up.  You just add it directly to the dough.  This is nice because you don't have to worry about what that extra bit of water will do to your dough.  If your recipe calls for active dry yeast and you only have instant yeast, just remember to add in that extra bit of water because it is usually accounted for in recipes calling for active dry yeast.

Apple Cider Doughnuts
Bread Machines Aren't Necessary-Some people love their bread machines.  I am not one of those people.   To me, it is a big heavy machine that took up cabinet space and really limits the kinds of bread I can make.  One of the best things about baking bread is its simplicity.  All you really need is a bowl, a spoon, some bread pans and time.  And most of your bread baking time is really passive time you could be doing something else like laundry or watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Age Old Question: Baking Powder Vs. Baking Soda-Which One and Why?

baking soda, baking powder, infographic

Life Beyond Silicon wrote:Hi H! Technical question: how come some of your recent cookies don't have baking powder or baking soda? These are ingredients I almost always find in cookies. Cookies don't really "rise", but what do these ingredients do? Or, written another way, what would happen if I made this recipe and added one or the other one in?

Baking Soda: Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.  It is a base.  When added together with an acid, it creates a reaction and the byproduct is carbon dioxide.  Maybe you remember from when you were a kid and mixed baking soda and vinegar together to make volcanos.  Same idea.  Consequently, you want to add baking soda to baked goods where there in another acidic ingredient.  Buttermilk, lemon juice, and some cocoa powders are all examples of acidic ingredients.

One of the reasons that baking soda is regularly used in cookies is that it makes your baked goods spread so you get a flatter, crispier cookie.

Baking Powder: Sodium bicarbonate plus cream of tarter.  What is cream of tarter you ask?  It is potassium bitartrate and is an acidic byproduct of winemaking.  It is added to the sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) in order to activate it.  That way you do not have to have any acidic ingredients in the recipe, you can use regular milk and flour, etc.  Baking powder makes your baked goods puff up, which is once of the reasons it is used in many cake recipes. 

Can you swap one for the other?  Not really.  Even though baking powder is comprised to baking soda, you would have to add in a lot more baking powder to get the same effect.  I mixed the two up when baking stout cake once and had a big flat mess on my hands.

The other part of the question was why have some of my cookie recipes not called for either one?  Well, in the case of the caramel apple cookies-butter makes the cookies spread quite a bit already and the eggs in the batter provide enough puff.  Also any of the cake mix cookies will already have one or the other in the mix so no additional is needed.

Personally, I have always wondered why some recipes, like butternut squash bread, required both.  Looks like the answer to that is you may may have a bit of acid in the recipe but not enough to make the product raise on just baking soda alone.  So you use baking soda to neutralize the acid and baking powder to puff up the baked good.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder by Brian Geiger
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder by Kimberly Holland
Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder by Joy The Baker

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wicked Easy Garlic Toast

Ok, this is too too easy.  However, there is nothing like garlic bread to jazz up your weeknight dinner.  Simply take some bread, any bread will do, and toast it.  Then rub the warm toast with a peeled raw clove of garlic and then slather with salted butter.  Perfect weeknight garlic toast.  Basically zero effort.

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