Monday, October 31, 2011

Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread

So what do you do when it's your day off, you feel like baking, but you only have 1 egg and half a stick of butter? Oh, and it's Halloween, of course.

I'll tell you what; you make something vegan. Preferably something that includes pumpkin. And chocolate. And something that will make your chilly house smell all warm and festive.

Now listen, I'm not vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. But this bread seriously hit the spot. The pumpkin and vegetable oil add moisture and all those spices add depth and warmth. And the texture is amazing- so light and fluffy! Don't think of it as vegan. Just think of it as baking with fewer ingredients.

If you need me I'll be sitting against my oven door because it's 60 degrees inside and I refuse to turn on the heat, having a staring contest with the ginourmous spider cricket that refuses to leave my kitchen and that I refuse to kill.

Happy Halloween!

Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread
Yield: 2 small (9x5x3), or 1 large (11x5x3) loaf

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
2 cups light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup water
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups chocolate chunks

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 small or 1 large loaf pan(s) and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, and all spices. Set aside.
3. In another large bowl (or using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment), whisk together both sugars. Add vegetable oil, maple syrup, water, and pumpkin puree, whisking to combine.
4. Add all the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined (or fold in with a rubber spatula). Be sure to stop and scrape the bowl to ensure all ingredients get incorporated evenly. Fold in chocolate chips by hand with a rubber spatula.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake 60-75 minutes for small loafs, 75-85 minutes for large loafs, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool 15 minutes, then turn out and continue to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, room temperature, or cool completely, wrap well, and freeze.

Recipe Notes: 
  • You can substitute walnuts or pecans for the chocolate, or do a combo of 3/4 cup chocolate chunks and 3/4 cup nuts.
  • My "large" loaf pan is 11x5x3'' and my "small" loaf pan is 9x5x3''
  • This batter would also make delicious muffins. Because I didn't bake them, I'm not sure of the baking time, but I would start testing with a toothpick at about 25 minutes.
Recipe slightly adapted from Joy the Baker

Friday, October 28, 2011

Morning Fruit Smoothie

Are you wondering why you're looking at a bowl of ice cream in a post about a smoothie? Well, two reasons: 1) the leftovers of this smoothie can totally be frozen and eaten for dessert. Hello tropical fruit sorbet; and 2) I completely forgot I was supposed to photograph the smoothie this morning until I was about halfway finished with it. Whoops. But now you get two recipes in one! Exciting, I know.

Now, I know I don't need to tell you how to make a smoothie. I mean, put things in blender. Blend. Not complicated. And I'm not trying to tell you that this is the perfect combo. Maybe you like 3 bananas instead of one. Maybe you're into pineapple juice. Ooh, or a pineapple orange blend, mmm. This is just the current combination that I'm into. It's also the only way I will allow a banana to get past my gums. We all make allowances.

Morning Fruit Smoothie
Yield: 2 servings

2-3 ice cubes
1 banana
1/3 cup plain yogurt (nonfat, greek, frozen, etc.)
1 cup Frozen fruit (I used about 1/3 raspberries and 2/3 mango)
1/2- 1 cup orange juice
1 squeeze honey
1 scoop vanilla protein powder (optional)

1. Place all ingredients into a blender. I piled in the frozen things on the bottom, topping them with (frozen) yogurt, honey, and lastly half the juice.
2. Blend on high, stopping to stir occasionally. Add more juice as necessary to reach desired consistency.
3. Serve immediately or freeze in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Smokey Spiced Cashews

My mom and her friends are taking a mini roadtrip this weekend, driving from Virginia Beach to Charlottesville on Friday, and then to Richmond on Saturday. My mother not-so-subtly suggested I have them over for drinks Saturday night before we all go out to dinner. I think it went something like this-
Her: "We should come to your house for drinks on Saturday night."
Me: "Oh...Ok."

It's not that I don't want to host them here for pre-dinner cocktails; on the contrary, I'm really looking forward to it. But the way my mother phrased it was less of a suggestion and more of a commandment. I think it's making her a little anxious that I've been living in this house for five months and she's yet to see the inside. Up until now she's only gotten a glimpse of the outside when she visited for Mother's Day and my whole family insisted we do a drive-by, which included driving down the alley that's behind our back yard. Of course the home owners (and my landlords) who were still here at the time, out on the back deck, but thankfully they didn't notice the suspicious SUV moving at a glacial pace past their property.

Of course, she may have insisted because I had thoughtlessly forgotten to invite them, even though they're generously including me in their Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch plans. I honestly can't remember how much time had passed between her telling me about the trip and us firming up plans for the weekend, but in case it was my faux pas, I've been busily preparing my house for their visit. This means scrubbing it from top to bottom (quite a feat since I hardly ever clean. Quick tangent: I hate to clean but love, love, love having a clean house. The answer to this would be to hire someone else to clean my house, but Dan doesn't think it's "appropriate" for people in their twenties to have maids. Damn him and his upper-middle class guilt.), and cooking up some yummy hors d'oeuvres for our own personal happy hour. First up- these jazzed up sassy nuts.

Cashews are one of the only kinds of nuts I actually love. Other kinds I can tolerate- peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sometimes pecans, but never walnuts. I really hate walnuts, especially when I unexpectedly find one lurking in the middle of a chocolatey fudgy brownie. Talk about a buzz kill. Roasted salted cashews are perfectly delicious on their own, but when I came across this idea months ago, I bookmarked it thinking it would be perfect for the holidays.

Whether you're hosting a holiday dinner party, invited to a cocktail party, or want to include something savory in your annual cookie baskets, these are it. Easy and quick to make, pack them up in a simple mason jar or pour them into a pretty bowl for pre-Thanksgiving cocktail hour.

And don't worry, these may look like spicy enough to singe your eyebrows off, but they're very mild. Remember they're spiced not spicy.

Smokey Spiced Cashews
Yield: Approx. 4 cups

3/4 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
20 oz salted whole cashews
1 Tbsp olive oil

1. In a small bowl, combine all spices and mix together with a fork or small whisk.
2. Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the cashews and reduce heat to low.
3. Drizzle olive oil over nuts and toss to coat. Add spice mixture and toss to coat nuts evenly.
4. Continue to heat nuts just until warm. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Remove from heat and serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Recipe Notes:
  • If you buy unsalted nuts, be sure to add at least 1/2 tsp salt to the spice mixture.
  • Yes, it's important to use smoked paprika instead of regular. It's what gives these nuts their great smokey flavor.
  • You can definitely sub in different nuts- I think peanuts or almonds would be great, or you can do a mixture of different kinds.
  • Be sure to taste as you go. Older spices won't have as much flavor, so you might need to compensate by adding a few more dashes of this or that.
Adapted from Ina Garten via How Sweet it Is

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coconut Pecan Pie Bars

I was so prepared to not like these. I don't like pecans. I don't like pecan pie. There was no way I was going to want to eat these. Which is why I thought it was safe to make them even though Dan is out of town.

But when they came out of the oven they smelled so good. I thought, I'll just take one little bite out of the corner, just to see if they're good. And then I needed a piece- just a small piece. And then I had two more pieces after dinner.

What is happening?? I don't even like pecans! Seriously, forget the pecan pie this year. These are so much easier. You don't even need a mixer. And the crust is like one huge amazing shortbread cookie. O.M.G. Thank goodness I have hungry neighbors.

Coconut Pecan Pie Bars
Yield: 16 bars

For the crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp (half stick) unsalted butter, softened

For the filling:
2 eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp corn syrup
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x9'' square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. For the crust, in a medium bowl, mix together the flour and brown sugar. Add butter and use a fork and then your hands to combine. The dough should be crumbly but will hold together when pressed.
3. Press the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake 12-15 minutes or until light golden. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the corn syrup, butter, and vanilla extract. With a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate, nuts, and coconut. Pour evenly over baked crust.
5. Bake bars 25-30 minutes or until filling is set. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cool completely and cut into 16 bars. Store in a cool place.

Recipe Notes
  • The crust may look cracked after it is baked, but that's ok. It will stay together with the filling inside.
  • Grease the pan very generously! 
  • If my house was warmer or I was making these in the middle of summer, I might store them in the fridge, but they can be left, wrapped well, at a cool room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Monday, October 24, 2011

Braised Short Ribs

I've heard it's bad manners to "mmm" at the table so it's a good thing I wasn't eating this with Emily Post because I mmm-ed and ahhh-ed my way through this dinner.

Look at all those veggies. This dish is totally healthy

I think this is my favorite meal. To eat for dinner, anyway. It even outranks macaroni and cheese. It is just completely satisfying. The meat is packed with flavor and so tender it literally falls off the bone, the sauce is rich and velvety, even the vegetables taste incredible thanks to their beef stock sauna. And the garlic. Don't even get me started on the garlic. Make sure you get at least one whole clove. After hours soaking up all those juices, it will be so tender you could spread it on a piece of toast.

 Why am I even showing you these sad poorly lit photos? 
They don't even come close to doing this dish justice

Not to mention that the three hour jaunt in the oven will make your house smell irresistible. Yes, another recipe that will make you want to gnaw on your counter. I was actually dissapointed at the candle selection at Target today because they didn't have a "Braised Short Rib" variety. Can someone please get on this? I would... but I'm too busy eating.

Braised Short Ribs
Yield: 3-4 Servings

3 lb short ribs
Salt & freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 dried bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh oregano
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 1/2 cups red wine (I used cabernet)
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
3 1/2 cups beef stock

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs, and trim away some of the fat. Season generously with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a dutch oven or casserole over medium heat. Add the vegetable oil and heat until very hot, almost smoking. Add the ribs (in batches if necessary) and brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft, about 7-10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cut a square of cheesecloth and place the bay leaf and fresh herbs in the center. Bring the corners of the cheesecloth together and tie with kitchen twine to form a bouquet garni. Set aside.

5. To the cooked vegetables, add flour and tomato paste and stir to combine. Add about half the red wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining red wine and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the wine is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
6. Add garlic, beef stock, and bouquet garni. Return browned ribs to the pot and bring liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and place in preheated oven. Cook until meat is very tender, 3 hours.
7. Remove cooked meat from the dutch oven. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Set the pot on the stove over medium heat, and simmer to thicken sauce slightly. Skim any fat that rises to the top. Spoon sauce over short ribs and serve warm with mashed potatoes or creamy cheddar grits.

Recipe Notes
  • You can add the herbs directly to the pot if you don't have cheesecloth. Just remove and discard them before thickening the sauce.
  • You can sub chicken stock for beef if you really want to, but there's really no substitute for the red wine. But trust me, even if you don't like red wine (like me!) you will still love this dish.
Recipe adapted from Bobby Flay

Friday, October 21, 2011

Crockpot BBQ Pulled Chicken

It felt a little strange to be opening one of these first thing in the morning.

Mostly because if you know me at all then you know I'm really not a beer drinker. But when you're plugging in the ol' crockpot, you need to get started bright and early.

Does anyone else expect to come home to a smoldering pile of ash when you leave your crockpot on and then go to work? I mean, I would never leave my hair straightener on for 8 hours. It just seems irresponsible.

And yet so worth the risk. I could actually smell this cooking before I even turned my key in the lock. I think my dogs probably want to do some serious damage to my shoe collection after leaving them alone all day with a potentially dangerous electric appliance AND such an amazing scent growing steadily stronger throughout the day.

We never ate pork or ham growing up, but I've come to foster a serious love affair with pulled pork barbeque (and bacon, of course). It's rare that I ever order the chicken equivalent because I think it can be a little flavorless, but this is anything but. Dan even proclaimed it the best chicken barbeque he'd ever had. And that means a lot coming from a true New Yorker Southerner.

Crockpot BBQ Pulled Chicken
Yield: Enough meat for 5-6 sandwiches

1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 oz beer
18 oz barbeque sauce, divided
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2.5 lb)
Rolls, coleslaw, and hot sauce for serving

1. To the bowl of a crockpot add all the spices and beer. Add the chicken breasts and then 16 ounces of barbeque sauce. Turn the chicken to coat and try to submerge as much of it as possible.
2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Remove chicken from crockpot to a large bowl and discard cooking liquid.
3. Shred chicken with two forks. Add remaining barbeque sauce and toss to coat. Serve warm, on toasted rolls, with optional coleslaw and hot sauce to garnish.

Recipe Notes
  • Feel free to replace the beer with different cooking liquid- chicken stock, water, apple cider, etc.
  • If you like less sauce, serve the remaining barbeque sauce on the side instead of tossing it with the shredded chicken.
  • I used Stubb's Mild Bar-B-Q Sauce. It's one of my favorite store-bought varieties.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fluffernutter Cupcakes

Would you believe me if I told you that up until a few days ago I had never bought marshmallow fluff before?

Well, would you believe me if I told you that yesterday I stood 6 inches away from the president?

Because I hadn't and I DID.

It's hard to decide which was more exciting.

Ok fine, it's not that hard. Seeing President Obama speak for the first time in such a small setting was pretty unreal. Not to mention seeing the back of my head in news footage and photos since we were front and center. My hair is like, sooo famous you guys.

But on to more important things, like cupcakes.

I have to admit, I've never actually had a fluffernutter sandwich. In case your name is Dan you were deprived as a child and don't even know what the heck I'm talking about, a fluffernutter sandwich is made up of three components: white bread, smooth peanut butter, and marshmallow fluff. It's like a PB&J on crack.

And since we don't have any white bread, what better way to experience this flavor combination than in cupcake form?

I think my addiction to peanut butter has been well documented, so can I just ask, why has it taken me this long to make peanut butter cupcakes?? I'm trying to come up with all the different flavor combinations to try, but honestly, all I can think about is chocolate. Wait- peanut butter, marshmallow, and chocolate? I think I've just had a crazy brilliant idea.

Fluffernutter Cupcakes
Yield: 12 cupcakes

For the Peanut Butter Cupcakes
1/4 unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup milk
2/3 cups peanut butter chips

For the Marshmallow Frosting
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
7 Tbsp vegetable shortening
2 cups marshmallow fluff
2 cups powdered sugar
Melted peanut butter to garnish (I microwaved mine for 30 sec)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and peanut butter until smooth and incorporated. There should be no visible pieces of butter.
3. Add the sugar and cream. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla extract.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add half the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix on low until almost incorporated. Add the milk, continuing to mix. Add the remaining dry ingredients. Mix until almost incorporated.
5. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the peanut butter chips and fully incorporate the flour. Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.
6. While the cupcakes cool, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and vegetable shortening on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, 3-4 minutes. Add the marshmallow fluff and mix just to combine. Add the powdered sugar and continue to mix on medium to med-high speed until very light and fluffy, another 5-7 minutes.
7. When cupcakes are completely cool, fit a piping bag with a coupler and a small star tip and fill with icing. Push the tip through the top of the cupcake until it's about halfway into the cupcake and fill with frosting. Be careful not to overfill or the cupcake may break. Once all the cupcakes are filled, switch to a larger piping tip (I used just a plain tip) and frost cupcakes as desired. Drizzle with melted peanut butter, if desired. Store in the refrigerator but serve at room temperature.

Recipe Notes
  • If you don't want to use a piping bag to fill the cupcakes, use a small knife to cut out some of the center of the cupcake from the top (don't worry, the hole will be hidden with frosting). Spoon some frosting into the hole and frost the top.
  • You can choose to just frost the cupcakes without filling them. They will still be delicious!

Peanut Butter Cupcakes Recipe from How Sweet Eats

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

I was extra productive today. I got up at 8:00 and worked until about 1:00. I came home and gave our front steps a makeover. By which I mean I threw away the long dead plants that were flanking our front door and moved the still alive (for now) mums from the back deck to the front steps so they can live happily with the pumpkins we got from Ashland Berry Farm last weekend.

THEN I went to the grocery store and bought things I've never bought before cough*marshmallow fluff*cough, after which I came home, ate lunch, and made bread.

No, I didn't use my sourdough starter. But I did use cinnamon-sugar. And butter. Plenty of butter.

Lest you think everything I did today was productive, I also watched the Real Housewives of NJ reunion, Part I. Who would have thought Theresa would become the new Danielle?! I also video chatted with my sister's new puppy. Hi Buffy!

So, here's the thing. This Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread? Well, it didn't look so pretty. But it tasted so so good. I probably shouldn't have jammed so many of the square of dough in there because as they expanded they sort of snaked around the loaf pan instead of staying in a nice neat line.

See? What a mess. But here's the lesson- just because something doesn't come out perfectly, doesn't mean it's a complete failure (something it's taken me my whole life to learn). I mean, how can this much yeasty, buttery, cinnamon-sugary dough be bad?

Let me tell you, it's not. It is dangerously, addictively good. The kind of good where you find yourself standing at the kitchen counter peeling off just one more layer. No, just one more. One more!

I don't know what was better, the crunchy sugary top, or the gooey sweet bottom. Wait! I have it. It's dipping the crunchy top in the leftover gooey caramel in the loaf pan. Ugh, genius.

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
Yield: one loaf

For the dough:
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one envelope)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten

For the filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1. In a small sauce pot, combine the butter and milk over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the water and vanilla extract. Let cool to 115-125 degrees F.
2. In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Add the warm milk mixture and mix just until the dough starts to come together. Add the eggs and 3/4 cup flour. With the dough hook, mix the dough on low speed until it is cohesive and a bit sticky, about 2 minutes.
3. Transfer the dough to a large well oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Place in a warm spot and let rise for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Punch down the dough and turn onto a floured board. Add the last remaining 2 Tbsp of flour and knead into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest while you prepare the filling. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and melt the butter in a small bowl (I microwaved it for 30 seconds). Grease a 9x5'' loaf pan with butter and flour or non-stick cooking spray.
5. Roll out your dough into a large rectangle, approximately 12x20''. Brush the melted butter over dough so it is covered completely. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the dough. Use all of it!
6. Cut the dough width-wise into 6 equal strips (so you'll have short strips instead of long ones).

Stack all the strips on top of one another.

Cut into 6 equal slices again.

Pick up each little dough square package and place them in the prepared loaf pan, cut side up.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the loaf pan in a warm place and cover with a greased piece of plastic wrap. Let the dough rise another 30-40 minutes.
8. Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes, until the top edges are medium brown and the butter bubbles around the slices. Allow to cool 20-30 minutes and then unmold. Serve warm or room temperature.

Recipe Notes:
  • I chose to use bread flour because I have an abundance of it, but you can use all-purpose instead.
  • Discard any squares of dough that don't fit comfortably in the loaf pan to avoid it expanding and mis-shaping (I probably should have left out at least 4).
  • The top of the bread will cook much faster than the center so don't be afraid to allow it to get a nice deep brown. You can cover it in foil and continue to bake even longer if the center still seems raw.
Recipe from Joy the Baker

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Caramel Cream Cheese Filling

Do you know what the best thing is about sandwich cookies is? You get to eat two cookies and pretend it's just one. But these cookies? These cookies are the type of treat that needed to get out of my house.

Why? you might ask. Well, as I was making the frosting, I sandwiched it between two cookies to test it. Did it need more caramel? more sugar? etc.
After one bite- Whoa, these are really good.
After two bites- Ok, I think that's enough.
And then I ate the whole thing. And immediately wanted another one. Dangerous. There is also leftover caramel cream cheese icing in my fridge right now. Also dangerous.

I can't remember exactly when I dreamed up this cookie combo, but it's been on my baking list for a while now. Maybe it's the slightly cooler weather, or the pumpkin picking trip last weekend. Or it could be the jar of ready-made Trader Joe's caramel sauce in the fridge. But it finally felt like time to give these a whirl.

The first thing I had to do was pick an oatmeal cookie recipe. I wanted something soft and chewy, but not too thick since I'd be using them as sandwich cookies. I trolled around the internet for a while looking for the right recipe. Finally I came across a recipe on Jessica's blog that reminded me of one I'd already made. It's a great cookie base so I thought, why not leave out the chocolate chips and replace them with oats? Yes? Yes.

So that's what I did. Since these cookies usually bake up to be on the thicker side, I just flattened the dough before baking it and ended up with what I thought was a nice size. 

The filling might squeeze out a little when you bite into them but so what? We're all friends here. And what's a little finger licking between friends? Ok, that sounded gross. Pretend I never said that. But you know what I mean! Most importantly, just enjoy these.

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Caramel Cream Cheese Filling
Yield: 17 sandwich cookies

For the cookies:
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

For the filling:
4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup caramel sauce
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional, like for when you forget the cinnamon in the cookies like I did)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. 
2. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or, by hand, in a large bowl with a whisk), beat together the butter and both sugars. Add the egg and egg yolk with the vanilla extract. Mix until well combined.
4. With the mixer off, add half the dry ingredients. Mix on low until almost incorporated. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until not quite incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add oats. Fold in by hand with a rubber spatula.
5. Roll dough into balls the size of ping pong balls. Place on baking sheets and flatten with your fingers. Bake at 325 for 10-14 minutes or until cookies are just set. They will remain a pale golden color. Allow to cool completely. 
6. Make the icing. In the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Allow to beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the powdered sugar half a cup at a time, mixing on medium until each addition is fully incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, caramel sauce, and cinnamon, if using. Transfer the icing to a fridge to chill.
7. Once cookies are completely chilled, match them up by size. Pipe or spoon the caramel icing onto one cookie and sandwich it with its match, pressing down lightly until you can see the filling from the side. Repeat until all cookies are filled. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.

Recipe Notes:
  • I just happened to have store-bought caramel sauce in my fridge, but you can definitely make your own! There's a good recipe in this post.
  • The cookies only need about 5-7 minutes at room temperature before you serve them.

Cookie recipe adapted from the Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thursday, October 13, 2011

S'mores Croissant Bread Pudding

When I heard we were serving a version of this at work for Sunday brunch, I started to sweat a little. For someone who doesn't like bread pudding, even I thought this sounded amazing. So I was not looking forward to Sunday when I had a feeling we'd be faced with a hungry crowd of guests and no more s'mores bread pudding to serve them. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and I came away with another great idea for Break Fast for Yom Kippur.

This was definitely the show stopper on our buffet. The marshmallows sort of melt leaving their great sugary flavor behind, but adding just that slight chew that comes from an ooey gooey marshmallow. But what really makes this bread pudding so great (and something I actually like) is the croissants. They add a buttery richness and decadence to the pudding that is seriously magical. Plus, the texture is so different than your typical bread pudding. No soggy bread here!

Bread pudding is very versatile. It's great to serve to a group, and can be served as dessert after dinner or as the main course at a special brunch. There are endless flavor and add-in combinations so you're sure to find something that everyone will like. Even if they think they don't like bread pudding.

S'mores Croissant Bread Pudding
Yield: 10-12 servings

4 eggs
12 egg yolks
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
5 cups half-and-half
2 tsp vanilla extract
10 croissants, stale or toasted
2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Add the half-and-half and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside.
2. Cut the croissants into about 8 pieces each and put into a large bowl. Pour the custard over the croissants and add the marshmallows and chocolate chips, mixing so everything is well combined. Allow to soak for at least four hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large casserole dish or 9x13'' baking dish. Pour the croissant mixture into the baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe Notes
  • Watch the bread pudding toward the end of the cooking process. If the top or edges start to get too brown before the custard is set, cover with foil and continue to cook.
  • You can use the custard recipe as a base and sub in different garnishes: 1 cup raisins or dried fruit, toasted nuts, fresh berries, etc.
  • For chocolate bread pudding, add a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to the custard. Other additions: nutella, peanut butter, butterscotch chips and caramel sauce, cinnamon and apples. The options are endless!
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spinach Quiche

Given my hatred for all things eggy, you'd think quiche would be an obvious No. But something about the flaky, crunchy crust and all the just works. I have a feeling the same could be said for someone who hates spinach. Serve them a slice of this pie and really, who could resist? I actually think what absolutely makes this is the smoked gouda. The smokiness isn't overwhelming, it just adds a little more depth to the whole thing. This is also my go-to pie crust for everything, sweet or savory. It's really easy to make and always comes out buttery and flaky. If you don't have a food processor, don't panic! You can cut in the butter for the crust by hand using a pastry cutter or a fork. Then just add the water little by little, kneading as you go. And as for the filling, just mix it up by hand.

This is what's considered a two-step pie, meaning the first step is to bake the crust by itself, and the second step is to bake the filling. If you've never blind-baked a pie crust before, it's really simple. Just follow these steps:

Start with a chilled, unbaked pie shell.

Tear off a piece of parchment paper a little larger than the size of your pie dish. Fold it in half and in half again. Identify the corner all the folds center around.

Fold the paper again bringing the corner on the right to meet the corner on the left, forming a triangle. Repeat.

Place that point (the one I've had my finger on) over the middle of your unbaked pie shell.

Cut off any excess paper, with the point in the middle, so the edge of the paper is just about at the edge of the pie shell.

Now unfold our parchment. You should be left with a pleated circle big enough to fit into your pie shell with some excess overhang. Fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake!

Spinach Quiche
Yield: 12 servings

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, very cold, diced in to small pieces
1/4 cup ice water

For the Filling:
1 cup (8 oz) smoked gouda, cut into pieces
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 eggs
2 yolks
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Grated parmesan cheese

1. First, make the dough for the crust. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Through the feed tube, slowly pour the ice water with the processor running. Pulse intermittently until the dough starts to hold together. If it seems to dry, add additional ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Onto a floured surface, dump the dough and form into a flattened disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 375. Roll dough to 1/4'' thick and fit into a 9-10'' pie plate. Line pastry with parchment and fill with pie weights. Bake until crust is set, about 12  minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment and bake an additional 5 minutes or until the bottom is dry and the crust's edge is lightly golden. Remove from oven and set aside. Keep oven on.
3. In the food processor, pulse gouda until finely chopped. Add spinach, eggs and yolks, half-and-half, and spices. Process until well combined, about 30 seconds.
4. Pour quiche filling into the prepared crust. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top.
5. Bake quiche for 40-45 minutes until custard is golden, puffed, and set. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes
  • I forgot the Parmesan cheese and it was still great.
  • To make this even more hearty, add some cooked, crumbled bacon to the bottom of the pie shell before pouring in the filling.
  • It is very important to let this rest before serving! Cutting it too soon could result in runny slices.
 Crust recipe from Martha Stewart. Quiche recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse 

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