Archive for January, 2009

Inauguration day shortbread

January 20, 2009

Family Circle magazine had a Presidential cookie bake-off during the campaign for President. Michelle Obama’s entry was for shortbread, and her entry is the inspiration for the cookies I made today.  I’m sure that Mrs. Obama’s cookies are excellent, but to celebrate the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, I made a simpler shortbread cookie. I’m thinking a shortbread cookie with a glass of champagne this evening will be a very nice way to celebrate the inauguration. May the next four years bring the changes that our new President envisions. 

This recipe comes from a dear Canadian friend whose grandmother is Scottish. The recipe has been handed down for generations and I’m pleased that my friend shared the recipe with me. Shortbread cookies have been on the list to try for too long. With only three ingredients they couldn’t be any simpler, and yet they have some elegance to them as well. This is my first time making shortbread. The end result is a simple, pure cookie.

Scottish Shortbread

Scottish Shortbread

Scottish Shortbread Cookies

4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 pound softened butter

Place the flour and sugar on the counter. Place the butter in the center and mix with your hands until you have a buttery ball. Divide the buttery ball into four pieces. Pat it into a 3 1/2 inch wide rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into rectangles about 1 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches. Place on a cookie sheet and with the tines of a fork pierce the cookies three times. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Repeat with remaining sections of dough.

Send off Sweets

January 19, 2009
Chocolate Caramel Bars

Chocolate Caramel Bars

We sent these bars off with our son yesterday, had enough to pack some up for his sister, and kept just a few to have here at home. These are of course another kid favorite. With a little salt from the crackers and a lot of sweet from the caramel center and chocolate tops, they have a lot to offer kids of any age.

These are known by many names. We call them Chocolate Caramel Bars, but some people call them Twix Bars. I’m sure they go by other names as well. We prefer them chilled.

This is one of those recipes that went around like wildfire during the early 90’s, so I have no idea who gets the credit for it. Enjoy!

Chocolate Caramel Bars

1 box rectangular crackers (such as Keebler Club crackers)

1/2 c. butter

1/3 c. milk

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1 c. graham cracker crumbs

2/3 c. creamy peanut butter

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line a 9″x13″ pan with rectangular crackers edge to edge. Set aside

In a medium saucepan combine butter, milk, white sugar, brown sugar and graham crackers. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, and boil for 5 minutes. Pour this mixture over the crackers in the pan. Place another layer of crackers edge to edge over the caramel layer.

In a double boiler melt together the peanut butter and the chocolate chips.  Spread this mixture over the top layer of crackers. Chill until firm and then cut into bars.

Homemade bread

January 18, 2009
King Arthur White Sandwich Bread and Pain d' Epi

King Arthur White Sandwich Bread and Pain d' Epi

We’ve owned a Hitachi breadmaker for the better part of twenty years. In the eighties bread machines were “the” hot kitchen appliance. Over the course of the past twenty years we have purchased very few loaves of store bought bread, so you can imagine how sad we are that our breadmaker is at least temporarily disabled. We’re actually on our second bread machine and fortunately my husband saved the first one. He will try to get the part he needs to fix the current machine with one from the old machine.

In the meantime to fulfill my son’s request with a loaf of bread to take back with him, I made this recipe from the King Arthur site. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook, and it was quite simple. My loaf pans are not the size called for in the recipe. I had my choice of too small or too big. I chose too big, and I’m very glad I did. This bread rose beautifully and baked beautifully.

Pain d' Epi and King Arthur Sandwich Bread

Pain d' Epi and King Arthur Sandwich Bread

For dinner last evening I baked up the rest of the Pain d’ Epi from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This time we ate some of it warm from the oven and I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed it. I made straight stalks this time and unfortunately we ate the prettier one, but you get the idea from the picture. While we love the No Knead Bread, and The Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, we won’t be giving up bread machine bread. We have recipes we that we’ve come to rely on, and it can’t be beat for great tasting bread with a minimum of mess and time. You don’t get that artisan crust, but we don’t need that on a day to day basis.

Criss Cross Peanut Butter Cookies

January 16, 2009
Anna's Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

Anna's Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

When I saw Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips on sale in November I picked up a couple of bags. I knew that at some point I would make these cookies before my son goes back to college. Today was the day. We had a favorite peanut butter cookie recipe before discovering these at Cookie Madness, but we quickly decided that these are even better. If you make them, wait until they’re completely cool before sampling. We think this is the rare cookie that isn’t best warm from the oven.

The baking spree will slow down in a major way next week when we no longer have our son around to help make the baked goods disappear. In the meantime we’ll be enjoying his last few days at home.

Our son criss crossing the cookies.

Our son criss crossing the cookies.

For the recipe click here. If you love peanut butter cookies be sure to give these a try. They really do take peanut butter cookies up a notch.

Top Ten Recipes for Inauguration Day?

January 16, 2009

Early this morning while I was searching the Internet for a particular salad recipe I stumbled upon this. It’s an article that lists President Elect Barack Obama’s favorite foods. What I find interesting is this is from an online British publication. Who knew that the rest of the world cared a whip about what our President Elect likes to eat, and do those articles really have anything to do with what Mr. Obama likes to eat?

The recipe the article links to for Sweet Potato Pie is a case in point. When Mr. Obama announced to his Ohio audience that he loves Sweet Potato Pie, I don’t imagine that the recipe on The Times Online comes even close to what he was referring to. Granted, it could be exactly what he meant, but I’m thinking he had the dessert version in mind when he made that reference.

So is the article just an effort to grab attention? Probably, but it’s interesting that what an American leader eats would grab the attention of people across the ocean.

To celebrate Mr. Obama’s inauguration I plan to make shortbread. Mrs. Obama shared her recipe with the world, but I plan to make a different recipe.  A dear friend has an incredible Scottish Shortbread recipe, and I hope to make that. I’m sure that Mrs. Obama’s recipe is good, but I’m going with a sure thing. I might even pop some bubbly to celebrate the event.

Pain d’ Epi and Red Velvet Cake

January 14, 2009

Pain d' Epe

Pain d’ Epi

The guests are gone and the food was a success!

Yesterday I wrote about my preparation for lunch guests today. I made Wild Rice Soup, Pain d’ Epi, and Red Velvet Cake. The food was a hit. I think everyone was a little surprised that I had made the bread. It was pretty enough that they assumed it was store bought. I think at least half the people here will be going out to purchase their own copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. They were certainly smitten with the bread and when I told them there wasn’t any kneading involved they were hooked. To find out more about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, click here.


The Red Velvet Cake was a hit too. When asked what flavor Red Velvet is, I was hard pressed to answer. With just a hint of chocolate, the buttermilk and vanilla it’s hard to put your finger on the flavor, so I explained that Red Velvet is it’s own unique flavor. I won’t wait another 25+ years to make this recipe. You will find the recipe here.

The remains of the Red Velvet Cake
The remains of the Red Velvet Cake

See how red it is?

See how red it is? Both photos are unedited, but are taken with different lighting. The second photo was taken with the White balance preset option and a digital gray card.

Prepping for guests

January 13, 2009

Red Velvet Cake
Red Velvet Cake


Update: The cake is made and frosted, the bread dough is in the fridge waiting for morning, and the soup is waiting to be reheated.

Tomorrow I will be having guests for lunch. That is unless it’s too cold for them to consider leaving their warm, cozy homes to come to mine. This morning when I got up it was 28 degrees below zero. I don’t think the daytime high will get out of the negative numbers, and tomorrow doesn’t look much better, so who could blame anyone if they decide to stay home.
In preparation for my guests I’m making Red Velvet Cake. I haven’t made Red Velvet Cake in 25 years. At least not that I remember. The batter was a bit scary because it was so RED! I hope we don’t end up with neon red tongues, haha! The cakes are cooling now, and I’ll frost them later and post a picture. Until then here is a link to the recipe.
The other item I’ve mixed up is a half batch of the bread dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This is my first recipe from the book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. I know I should have started with the Boulé but I decided to go for the Pain d’ Epi. I want to bake it on a stone, and the only stone I own is a round pizza stone which gives me less surface area to bake on than if I had a rectangular stone. My plan is to make the Pain d’ Epi circular thereby making the most of my circular pizza stone, and only having to bake one batch to serve my guests. I’m mixing up the dry ingredients for my cornbread recipe just in case the Pain d’ Epi is a disaster and I need to do something different at the last minute. Check out this link to see what I’m aiming for with the Pain d’ Epi. I may shape it like a circular stalk of wheat, or I might make the Holiday Wreath version. I’ll be aiming for circular with lots of surface area for good crust, so wish me luck.
The other item I’m working on today is Wild Rice Soup with Smoked Turkey. This is a wonderful soup that will hit the spot no matter how cold it is tomorrow. I’ll make it up to the point where the cream is to be added. Tomorrow when I’m ready I can reheat it, add the cream and serve.
Back to cooking and cleaning!

Breakfast treats

January 11, 2009
Sugar and Spice Mini Muffins

Sugar and Spice Mini Muffins

When our children were little, and my Dad came for a visit he would buy them “Breakfast Treats” at least once during his visit. The “Breakfast Treats” were donuts. He is an early riser so he would be up before anyone else and he would take off to choose the treats, making sure that he got all the favorites. As long as there were glazed donuts and donuts with sprinkles for the kids, I don’t think anyone really cared what he brought back.

In between visits we make do with homemade breakfast treats. Breakfast treats of any kind are not regular items here, so when they appear they are very much appreciated. The following muffin recipe is among the favorites, especially for my son. They make me think of donut holes only better. When they’re hot out of the oven you dip them in butter and then roll them in a cinnamon sugar mixture. It’s hard not to pop them in your mouth as your doing this.

When I woke up this morning I realized that we would be taking our son back to college a week from today. This week I’ll try to make as many of his favorites as possible. He says the University dining service just isn’t the same. Imagine that!

This muffin recipe has been around even longer than I have been. It goes by many different names. The two that I’ve heard most often are French Breakfast Puffs, and Sugar and Spice muffins. While I don’t know this for sure I doubt the French eat anything like this, so I call mine Sugar and Spice Mini Muffins. They can be made as 36 mini muffins or 12 standard size muffins.

Sugar and Spice Mini Muffins

1 3/4 c. flour

1 1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/3 c. vegetable oil

3/4 c. sugar

1 egg

3/4 c. milk


2/3 c. melted butter

3/4 c. sugar

1 t. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin cups with cooking spray.

Whisk together the first five ingredients in a mixing bowl. With a whisk beat together the sugar, oil, egg, and milk in a seperate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients blending well.

Divide the mixture evenly between 36 mini muffin wells, or 12 standard size muffin wells.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes.

While the muffins are baking melt the butter for the topping in one bowl and set aside. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar mixture and set aside. When the muffins are baked remove from the pans while they’re still hot and dip each one in the butter, and then roll in the sugar.

Baking Powder Biscuits

January 11, 2009
Baking Powder Biscuits

Baking Powder Biscuits

Does that picture make you want to eat a biscuit? I sometimes hesitate to post about a recipe because I have to take the picture at night with the artificial light in my kitchen. Food photography after dark is challenging and not always appetizing so if you have an opinon or suggestion regarding the photo, I’d love to read your feedback.

The biscuits were made with buttermilk, butter, all purpose flour and an egg! For many years I’ve made buttermilk biscuits with shortening and no egg, so these were different in a good way. The flavor was far better and the texture and moisture content were better as well. They are the best biscuits I’ve ever made, and they smelled terrific. My husband and son both gave them thumbs up.

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 c. all purpose flour

2 t. sugar

1/4 t. salt

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

5 T. cold butter

1 egg

2/3 c. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk together the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl lightly whisk the buttermilk and egg. Cut the cold butter into smaller pieces. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. The mixture should have little clumps about the size of peas. Stir in the buttermilk and egg mixture just until everything in the bowl is evenly moistened. Lightly flour your countertop and hands and pat the dough to an even 1 1/2 thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Pat the dough back together and continue cutting. Brush the biscuit tops with buttermilk and dust with flour if desired.

Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes.

Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Biscotti di Prato

January 9, 2009
Biscotti di Prato

Biscotti di Prato

Biscotti are good cookies. I rarely make them, and I’m not sure why. They lack the rich buttery taste of many American style cookies due to their lack of butter, but that isn’t a bad thing. These have some fat in them from the eggs and almonds, but overall they seem much less fatty than most cookies, and are perfect with some hot tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. The American style biscotti I’ve made in the past with butter or oil are a little softer, but these seem more like the “real deal”. I really like the sample I had and I have a hot cup of tea waiting for me so that I can sit down and enjoy one for real.

Much of the inspiration for this blog comes directly from Cookie Madness, so I will refer there often. Anna bakes something nearly every day and shares her knowledge and recipes freely. When I need a little pick me up I can get a no calorie perk just from clicking on her site and reading about what she has baked that day. When Anna made these she said these were the best biscotti. She rarely makes declarations like that, so when she does I pay attention.

The recipe for Biscotti di Prato can be found on Cookie Madness. I made the half batch as she posted it. The only change I made was to use Sucanat instead of the evaporated cane juice sugar that she used. The Sucanat is darker and therefore my biscotti turned out quite dark. The Sucanat may have overpowered the almonds, but it lends a nice full bodied flavor that processed white sugar wouldn’t deliver.

Thank you Anna for another great recipe! Biscotti may this weekend’s obsession.