Sunday, December 7, 2014

Minty Brownies

Minty Brownies
Mmm... another tasty recipe compliments of a parent at the school I teach at. These brownies were one of the sweet offerings with our PTO-provided dinner at parent-teacher conferences. After my first bite, I knew I had to get the recipe. The brownies were dense and moist, chocolaty, with a thin chocolate frosting on top. It wasn't a typical frosting, though, it was just like a think layer of chocolate. It took me two weeks to get the "recipe" from her, and when she sent it to me, I was surprised at what gave it the minty flavor. It was just Hershey's Mint Chocolate Chips. She baked a box brownie mix and then sprinkled the minty chips on top and spread them out after they'd melted. That's it. I added the Andes Mints to the top to avoid confusion and potential waste by non-mint lovers.
Since I enjoy making brownies from scratch, I just adapted my regular recipe and put the mint chocolate chips on top. As I ate the first one from this batch, I was reminded of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. Only this was thick and soft chocolate minty-ness, not thin and crisp. Mmm. They're so good. I'm going to have to take some to friends to make sure I don't eat them all myself.
Now, if you're like me, enjoying minty chocolate things, but avoiding it in baking because of the odd, unpleasant graininess that quickly sets in with minty baked goods, this recipe is for you. I think because all of the mint flavor is in the chocolate topping, rather than the brownie itself, the brownie stays soft and fresh. Good, good stuff.

Minty Brownies

Ingredients:
Instructions:Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a spoon, stir eggs with sugar and vanilla. Add melted butter. In a separate bowl, mix the ground chocolate with flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture. Spread evenly into a buttered 8” pan (or a pan lined with parchment paper or non-stick foil).  Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out relatively clean. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with the mint chocolate chips. Cover with a plate or pan and allow to sit for a few minutes. Remove plate/pan and spread melted chocolate evenly over the top. Now you have a choice: either sprinkle the chopped Andes mints now and let them melt in (at which point you can run a toothpick around the top to make an abstract design on top) or you can wait until brownies and chocolate have cooled for about 15 minutes, and then sprinkle with the chopped Andes mints that will hopefully keep their shape but still stick to the top. Allow brownies to cool completely, and then cut into squares (I like to use a pizza cutter for this--as long as I've used parchment to line the pan). 
Makes 16-20 brownies.




Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Baked Oatmeal

Sweet and satisfying baked oatmeal
Oatmeal is one of those comfort foods that has always eluded me. Those who love oatmeal sing its praises about how it's so filling and cozy on a cold winter's morning. Every time I'd tried oatmeal, though, it just didn't taste, well, good. It was pasty and bland. "Add some brown sugar!" people would encourage me. That did something for the taste, but the texture was still off-putting: either drippy pasty or stiff and gummy. Not at all tasty.
The crockpot recipe I have here on the blog is pretty good, but still not worth singing about.
Then a month or so ago, at a women's group for church, my friend Becky made some baked oatmeal. I'd already had breakfast before leaving my house (I very rarely skip breakfast in the morning, even if there is the possibility of breakfast at my destination), but I thought I'd give this oatmeal a try, since I'd never tried oatmeal baked. And oh my goodness. THIS oatmeal I like. It's not pasty at all--just moist enough to make the oats al dente tender. It is sweet--like an oatmeal cookie. And it's warm and delicious. Mmm. A winning oatmeal indeed. 
So now that we're in the depths of winter, I'm blogging about this new discovery. Whether you're an experienced fan of oatmeal, or you're like me, never really getting what the big deal is about oatmeal, give this recipe a try. I think you might just like it.

Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk (buttermilk is good, too)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups old fashioned oats (or 1 1/2 c. steel cut oats)
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9x9 inch pan and set aside.

Mix together oil, sugar, honey, eggs, milk and vanilla. 

Add oatmeal, flax meal, baking powder, and salt. 

Pour into the prepared pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. (Note: I baked my half recipe for 30 minutes and it was perfect. When I baked a full recipe, the center still moved like a water bed when I tried to remove it from the oven after 30 minutes, so I left it in there for 6 more minutes. Another time I accidentally over baked it by I don't know how long, but I liked how it got all brown and crusty on top.)  Remove from the oven. 


Serve with milk, nuts, fruit, or whatever sounds good with oatmeal.

Leftovers can be refrigerated and warmed up in the microwave easily. 


Makes 8 servings (I halved the recipe today)


I misunderstood about when to sprinkle the cinnamon
sugar the first time and did it after baking. Since this first
attempt, I've put the cinnamon sugar on before baking,
and I like it better that way.



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mini Glazed Orange Scones

Mini Glazed Orange Scones
These Mini Glazed Orange Scones sort of happened by accident. I'd intended to make some Mini Cranberry Orange Scones, but I forgot to add the cranberries. The first batch of these got a vanilla glaze, but I didn't enjoy those so much. The orange flavor in the scone didn't stand up well to the strong vanilla flavor in the glaze. I'd frozen a few of the unbaked scones to see how that would work out, which it did, very well (Thank you, Martha Stewart). I made a simple orange glaze and voila! They turned out fabulous. Buttery, sweet, and crisp on the outside; tender sweet orange flavored in the middle. I still think I prefer the version with cranberries, but these are a close second.

Mini Glazed Orange Scones


Ingredients:
  • 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar (rounded)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon orange extract
  • 1 cup half & half
Glaze Ingredients*:
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • tiny amount of orange food coloring (or yellow and red mixed)
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. (Parchment isn’t necessary, but it helps.)  
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into large bowl. (By "sift" I mean put the ingredients in a large bowl and stir well with a whisk.) Mix in orange peel. 
Add butter and rub in with fingertips, or cut in with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. 
Measure half & half into glass measuring cup and add orange extract.   Add half & half, tossing with fork until moist clumps form. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns. 
Cut ball of dough in half.  Form dough into 2, 1-inch-thick rounds. Cut into 6 wedges each. Then cut each of those wedges into four wedges. Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. (Or you can place unbaked scone wedges onto a wax paper lined sheet pan and freeze until hard. Once frozen, transfer scones to zip-top freezer bags until ready to bake. Then bake as directed below.) 
You should be able to fit 16 on each sheet. Place two sheets in the refrigerator while you work with the first. 
Bake at 400°F until tops of scones are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. 
While scones bake, mix the glaze ingredients until smooth, cover, and set aside.
When scones are cool enough to pick up, dip the top of each one into the glaze, and then place bottom down on a serving plate. If you want to make sure they don't stick, you can place glazed scones on the cooling rack until glaze is set, and then transfer to a serving plate.


Makes 48 mini scones

*I suppose you could switch orange juice for the milk and skip the food color for the glaze, but I didn't have any orange juice to give it a try.


Hopefully you get the gist of how to cut these mini sized.



Gluten Free Egg Roll Wrappers

Gluten Free Egg Roll Wrappers
I'm not sure why the egg roll wrappers didn't get as
bubbly in egg roll form as they did when fried as scraps.
Delicious either way.

I used my trusty quilting ruler to measure and cut the dough.

I love my chicken egg rolls. I've had to avoid them, though, because of my gluten-limited son. I finally decided to go to the trouble of trying out this recipe for gluten free won ton wrappers that I found at BetterBatter.org. They were surprisingly simple to make, and they tasted like regular egg roll wrappers. My son enjoyed three egg rolls, and said they tasted great. I only tasted the fried wrapper, which tasted just like the regular wheat wrappers when fried. Since I had guests over, I didn't take the time to experiment with the scraps as I would have if they weren't there, but I will definitely be making these again.
These wrappers are not quite as sturdy as a regular egg roll wrapper, so be careful when rolling egg rolls with them. I wouldn't call them fragile, exactly, but my first one tore open. Just be careful.
If you are just starting out on a gluten free lifestyle and have not yet tried Better Batter, now it s a good time to try it. If you already have some Better Batter in your house, make these! 

Gluten Free Egg Roll Wrappers
     --Adapted from BetterBatter.org

Ingredients:
Instructions:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, egg, and 2 tablespoons water. If the dough does not come together once the ingredients are incorporated, add up to 2 more tablespoons of water. The dough should be the consistency of PlayDoh. Form the dough into a cohesive ball, and cut into four equal pieces. Place dough pieces back in bowl and cover with plastic wrap while you prepare your work surface.
On a large flat surface, place one rectangular piece of wax paper. Liberally dust the wax paper with corn starch. Take one piece of dough and form it into a thick log, about 3-4 inches long. Then smash it a little to get it flat. Place dough log onto the corn starch and dust with more corn starch. Place another piece of wax paper on top of that and then roll dough out into a very, very thin rectangle (or as close to a rectangle as you can get). About halfway through rolling, lift dough and redistribute the corn starch. Turn dough over and dust with more corn starch. Continue rolling until the dough is super thin and you can cut two 6 x 6 inch squares out of it. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter (along with a ruler if you have it), cut rolled dough into two 6 x 6 inch squares. Place cut squares on a wax paper lined plate or sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat rolling and cutting process for the 3 remaining pieces of dough. You will end up with a lot of scraps. Let me know if you come up with a clever way to use them.
Use the egg roll wrappers immediately to roll some egg rolls and then fry them up. The scraps taste great fried as well.
Makes 8 egg roll wrappers

You need to use a LOT of corn starch when rolling.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fried Ice Cream

Fried Ice Cream

After two recent disappointing encounters with fried ice cream at two different local Mexican restaurants, I decided the other day to take matters into my own hands. I've been meaning to do this for some time, and my craving for fried ice cream finally reached a fever pitch. I was compelled to do this, and today I am thankful that I both have the time and resources to do this for fun. 
I wouldn't say I've perfected this dish at all, but what you see above was infinitely more satisfying than the sad excuses I had at the restaurants--those tasted like they'd been fried days before I even got there. At any rate, this fried ice cream here is crisp on the outside, and very cold and vanilla-y on the inside. I used a vanilla bean ice cream, and I kind of think it might have been a mistake. I think I needed to go for a plain old vanilla ice cream to really get the taste I have in my mind of the perfect fried ice cream. I'll just have to try again sometime.
I'm glad I took a few minutes to make the whipped cream to go with this too. For some reason, it balanced the flavors of the coating and the sweetness of the vanilla ice cream. I don't know why exactly, but it completed the dish for me. For my first attempt at frying these yesterday, I made a little chocolate ganache to go on top, but it ended up soaking into the corn flake exterior and just didn't look appetizing. It tasted good, but it was not very attractive for the pics here.
So, there you go. My first (well, second) attempt at frying ice cream. Now when I get a craving for it, I know exactly what I need to do.

Fried Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream
  • 2 1/2 cups corn flakes cereal
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • canola oil for frying
  • 2 flour tortillas
  • cinnamon sugar
  • whipped cream

Instructions:
The day before, scoop ice cream into balls, place on a wax-paper lined baking sheet, and freeze 2-6 hours, or until very firm. (Note: I used a large cookie scoop for this. Each scoop measured about 1/4 cup. I ended up with 8 ice cream balls.)
When ice cream balls are firm, start prepping the coating. Place beaten eggs in a shallow bowl/dish. Crush corn flakes cereal until you have smallish pieces, but not pulverized. Mix in the 5 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 to 1 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on your preference for cinnamon). Prepare another baking sheet by lining it with wax paper.
Working with one ice cream ball at a time, roll and press it into the corn flake mixture. Then roll it in the eggs to coat completely. Roll in the corn flake mixture again, making sure to press the coating into the sides to get a nice solid coating. Place coated balls on prepared baking sheet and freeze overnight, until hard--like rock hard. Repeat with remaining ice cream balls.
When coated ice cream balls are hard, leave in the freezer until ready to fry, and get the oil heated and cinnamon crispas made.
Place about 3 inches of canola oil in a medium pot (not any kind of shallow pan--a cooking pot). Heat oil on a burner set to medium-high heat. Prepare a plate by lining it with paper towels (this is for the crispas).
While oil heats, cut the tortillas for the crispas. I cut cute flower shapes today, but you can cut strips, or triangles--whatever works for you. Place a small tortilla scrap in the oil while it heats. When it starts to sizzle and brown, place another small piece in the oil. If it starts to sizzle right away, your oil is ready. Place a few tortillas in there to fry up golden-brown and crispy. Turn when edges are browned, and fry until deep golden brown. Remove to the paper towel lined plate and sprinkle immediately with cinnamon sugar, preferably on both sides. Repeat with remaining crispas.
Once crispas are fried, set them aside and start frying the ice cream, one ball at a time. Leave remaining ice cream balls in the freezer while they wait their turn.
Carefully place a frozen coated ice cream ball into the hot oil and fry for only about 12-15 seconds, turning with a slotted spoon to fry all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain momentarily before putting in a bowl to serve. Top with whipped cream and cinnamon crispa.
Repeat with remaining ice cream balls. 
(Note: I've left most in the freezer and fried a couple a day--the only problem with that is that some of the sugar and corn flakes have stuck to the bottom of the pan and have made ugly black flecks on my fried ice cream. I think my oil was only really okay for two different frying sessions. I'll have to figure this out.)

Makes 8 smallish servings










Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mini Cranberry Orange Scones


Mini Cranberry Orange Scones
I'm making scones today for a women's tea deal at church this afternoon. I already have a post with the full-sized version of these, but I thought it would be more fun to give them a post all their own since there's a little more to the process, and you bake them at a higher temperature. It's taken me a couple of years to realize this, but when you're making a smaller version of a scone like this, it's better to bake it faster at a higher temperature so that they don't dry out. These came out perfectly browned and crisp on the outside, moist and tender on the inside. Just the way I like my cranberry orange scones. They have a definite orange flavor, thanks to both the orange zest and the orange extract; and they are buttery, sweet and fluffy. Mmm. I'm so glad my friend Sherri asked me to bring something today.
These scones are perfect for taking to group events where there will be other baked goods to choose from. They're big enough to enjoy all the flavor--about four or five bites, but they're small enough that people will be able to sample other small goodies as well. 

Cranberry Orange Scones
      --adapted from Epicurous.com

Ingredients:
  • 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar (rounded)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon orange extract
  • 1 cup half & half
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. (Parchment isn’t necessary, but it helps.)  
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into large bowl. (By "sift" I mean put the ingredients in a large bowl and stir well with a whisk.) Mix in orange peel. 
Add butter and rub in with fingertips, or cut in with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in dried cranberries. 
Measure half & half into glass measuring cup and add orange extract.   Add half & half, tossing with fork until moist clumps form. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns. 
Cut ball of dough in half.  Form dough into 2 1-inch-thick rounds. Cut into 6 wedges each. Then cut each of those wedges into four wedges (sorry I didn't take a pic of this process--but you can see it at the bottom of my Mini Cake Mix Scones post). Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. You should be able to fit 16 on each sheet. Place two sheets in the refrigerator while you work with the first. Brush tops of scones with a little half and half and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.  
Bake at 400°F until tops of scones are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet 10 minutes. Serve scones warm or at room temperature.


Makes 48 mini scones

Note: If you are not baking for a crowd, you can freeze these and enjoy one or two at a time for a while. Place cooled scones on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for a couple of hours. When they are frozen solid, place in a zip top freezer bag. Reheat them at about 325 degrees Fahrenheit, wrapped loosely in aluminum foil, for about 10-15 minutes. 
Alternately, I've seen that Martha Stewart will freeze the unbaked scones. Click here and see how Martha does it. I have not tried that, but I trust Martha that it works.









Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pizza Sauce

Pizza Sauce
I've gotten a little tired of using jarred pizza sauce lately. I wanted something that I could tweak and make different, AND that didn't make me think my homemade pizza was not as awesome as it could be. I mean, I'm not opposed to jarred sauces and such, but I figured that since I was going to the trouble of making homemade crust, I probably should at least attempt to make a homemade sauce.
So I went to my trusty allrecipes.com and found this no-cook "Exquisite Pizza Sauce." It is so super easy, and it tastes great too. I may have to do a little more tweaking, but it's a fantastic start--and so easy. doubled the recipe because one of the reviews said it made so little, but I really didn't need to double it. I made two large pizzas and had enough leftover to freeze for our next pizza night. One recipe is enough for probably three large pizzas, I'd say, unless you like tons of sauce on your pizza. What you see below is the original size recipe.
We'll see how this recipe fares over time, but for now, I think it's a thumbs up.

Pizza Sauce
    --Adapted from allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
  • 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste
  • 6 oz warm water
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Instructions:
In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients until combined.
Allow to sit for at least half an hour before using on pizza.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of sauce.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pumpkin Bars

Pumpkin Bars



Full disclosure first off: When I baked these bars, I baked them in a quarter sheet pan and then another baking dish (I did not have a 10 x 15 inch pan called for). The bars baked in the other dish came out cake thickness, and these are slightly thicker than I perceive pumpkin bars to be, so in the recipe that follows, I call for a half sheet pan. I think that will create the right thickness in this bar, but honestly, now that I'm writing this, I'm wondering if it will bake through to the center. I'll just have to try this again soon.
That being said, here's a mini story of how these bars came to be here on my blog.
I don't even think I knew pumpkin bars existed until I started working at Clive Elementary School here in Iowa. I haven't researched it, but I suspect it's another one of those Midwestern things, like Dutch letters. Connie J., our library associate, makes these about once a year, and although they look harmless, these bars are dangerously addicting. I don't know if it's the tender spice cake or the cool cream cheese icing, but they are awesome. Sorry to say, this is not Connie's recipe. I keep meaning to get it from her, but have not done so yet. This one comes from allrecipes.com, and by the pics on allrecipes.com, I could see it was close to Connie's recipe.
If you've never had a pumpkin bar before, just imagine a light pumpkin bread, tender and lightly spiced, with a nice just-thick-enough layer of sweet, cool cream cheese icing. It's just a perfect fall sweet treat, and great to bring to pot lucks. Really. When Connie makes these for a pot luck, they are always one of the first things to go.
So there you go. Pumpkin bars. Give 'em a try.

Pumpkin Bars
    --Adapted from Paul's Pumpkin Bars on allrecipes.com

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Icing:

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened, but cool
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened, but cool
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 3/4 cups powdered sugar

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a half sheet pan (13 x 18 inches) with non-stick cooking spray & set aside. (Note: original recipe calls for a 10 x 15 inch jelly roll pan.)
In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Mix into the wet ingredients until combined.
Spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the prepared sheet pan. 
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely before icing it.
While the baked bars cool, prepare the icing... Cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Add the powdered sugar. Mix on low until sugar is incorporated, and then mix on medium to medium-high until creamy.
Once the bars are completely cooled, spread the frosting evenly over the top. Cut into bars and serve. Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes one half sheet pan of bars that can be cut into 24 to 48 bars, depending on the size you like.

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