Monday, October 31, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

You want it! You need it! You crave it! Not that, silly: I’m talking about unlocking the secret to making Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups the simple, stress-free way! These are every bit as good as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, except that you get to make them! You’ll find similar knock-off recipes for this product elsewhere on the Internet - but trust me, Dollinks, my recipe’s far easier than the rest. Because this was my first time, I was nervous (I’ve already told you - not that!). But then I thought … if I did this instead of that, the recipe would be faster and less complicated. 
Regular readers already know I like kitchen gadgets that make jobs faster and simpler. I’d planned to make these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups in a small, heritage, metal mini-tart pan my late mother-in-law gave me decades ago. I’ve extracted - and broken - many tart shells from that pan. so it was time to try something new. That’s why I treated myself to a flexible silicone mini-tart pan - about $15 in most cooking stores. That small move made a big difference to the success of this recipe. Because silicone safely withstands extreme heat and cold, my new “pan” (technically, a silicone “form”) went directly from the microwave to the fridge to the dishwasher. 
Silicone is flexible and metal pans aren’t: My Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups popped out without breaking. I know my mini-tarts will do the same, from now on. But that wasn’t the only step I took to simplify this recipe. Rather than tell you how other cooks make this treat, let me tell you how I made it - and how utterly delicious it was! To use my method, a silicone mini-tart pan is a must.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups:
30 mini-tart paper liners (optional)
90 milk chocolate melting wafers (about 1-¼ c.), divided
¾ c. creamy-style peanut butter (not the “natural” kind)
¼ c. + 2 tbsp. icing sugar (“confectioners” sugar)
Dash of salt
How to Prepare the Exterior of the Chocolate Cups: 
Trim paper liners to about ⅜-in. from the bottom, so the tops of the trimmed liners are flush with the top of the mini-tart indentations in your silicone mini-tart form. 
Trim paper liners to fit silicone mini-tart pan
Place a couple of milk chocolate melting wafers in each of six mini-paper liners in pan indentation (see two Notes). 

These are the milk chocolate
melting wafers or "discs"

Melt a couple of wafers for
base and sides of each cup

Flatten base and coat sides with small ladle

If needed, remove paper from silicone form to coat thoroughly

Microwave chocolate-coated liners inside silicone sheet at half-power for 45 sec. to 1 min., until partially melted. Using a small ladle with a rounded bottom, work the chocolate up (but not over) the sides of each paper cup, ensuring that you leave room for the peanut butter filling and chocolate topping. Be thorough as you coat each of the liner’s ridges with melted chocolate: When you eventually peel the liner off, only the chocolate form will remain. With the six chocolate-coated liners inside, refrigerate the silicone form 10 min., allowing the chocolate forms to harden. Remove chocolate forms from silicone. Store in fridge as you repeat the process, working with six more liners at a time, until you’ve coated 30 paper liners and used 60 of the melting wafers. Refrigerate all for 10 min. 
How to Prepare the Peanut Butter Filling:
In a 1 c. microwave-safe glass measuring cup, combine peanut butter, icing sugar, and salt. Microwave on full power about 45 sec. Stir to remove any lumps. Carefully pour about 2 tsp. of sweetened peanut butter into each chocolate form, leaving room for the top layer of chocolate. Refrigerate peanut butter-filled cup 45 min., until peanut butter firms up. When centers have hardened, peel away paper. Return peanut butter cups to fridge to maintain their firmness.

Measure and sweeten
peanut butter
Pour sweetened peanut
butter into chocolate cups

How to Prepare the Chocolate Topping:

With microwave oven on half-power, partially melt remaining milk chocolate melting wafers for 40 to 45 sec. in microwave-proof glass measuring cup. Stir until completely melted. Pour ½ to 1 tsp. over hardened peanut butter inside each of five or six peanut butter cups. Smooth and spread with the back of a teaspoon, continuing until all the peanut butter cups are topped with chocolate. Refrigerate Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups 10 min. to ensure chocolate topping firms up before serving.

Top each cup with chocolate ...

... before firming in refrigerator

Note: The chocolate should be warm when you spread it over the paper. For this reason, don’t work with any more than six chocolate-filled paper liners at a time. When you use a silicone mini-tart pan, you may be tempted to eliminate the paper liners. With no liners to trim or peel away, you’ll cut 15 minutes from the time this recipe requires. Resist that temptation. It’s far easier to spread the warm chocolate evenly on a paper liner than in a silicone indentation. Paper liners also replicate the ridges on Reese’s delicious peanut butter cups. Makes 30.
Note: These cups are shallower than the commercial type, allowing a treat with fewer calories. To make deeper cups, cut the paper 3/8-in. above the silicone form, making 15 to 20 cups, rather than 30.
I must dash! Here come the adorable trick-or-treaters ... no chocolate for these little guys!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Harvest Stew

In the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live, autumn feels magical. As the days become colder and darker and mist settles in, the trees in the square just outside our home are brightly aglow with tiny white lights that shimmer like diamonds. Classical music is playing softly as I write these words sitting beside the hearth, where a warm fire illuminates the old copper ladle hanging from the mantel. I love this time of year! The autumn meals I serve reflect the warmth and comfort we instinctively seek from food that is satisfying and nutritious. Please ... join Ron and me as we sup!

When I came up with this dish last night, I named it for the season: Harvest Stew. To prepare it, I used what I had on hand. I suggest you do the same: Consider these measurements and ingredients approximate. 
Harvest Stew:
16 - 20 commercially prepared meatballs, cooked frozen (see Note)
1 tbsp. bacon fat
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced in ½-in. chunks 
2 c. stock
2 tsp. beef extract
½ butternut squash, sliced in ½-in. chunks
2 red-jacket potatoes (this variety tends to keep its shape), unpeeled and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, sliced in ½-in. chunks 
1 tbsp. Cajun spice mix (or use my Creole Seasoning Mix blogged January 14, 2012)
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 can niblets, drained and water used in stew
Handful of parsley with stems, coarsely chopped
Bake or fry meatballs as recipe or package directs. Drain or blot fat and set cooked meatballs aside. While meatballs are cooking, melt bacon fat over medium heat. Add onion and celery, stirring until onion is translucent and celery is slightly softened. Gradually add stock, extract, and water from niblet corn, slowly bringing to a boil. Add squash, potatoes, carrot, and meatballs, reducing heat to simmer. In a small bowl, combine spice mix and flour, gradually stirring a little hot broth into the mixture to make a thin paste. Stir floured broth into stew. Cover and simmer 10 min. Add corn, simmering a further 5 min. Stir in parsley and serve at once. Makes 2 generous servings, with a little extra left over for lunch the next day.
Note: Be my guest if you want to make your own meatballs (My June 14, 2011, meatball recipe is one of the most popular blogs I’ve written). To save time, I usually keep a bag of ready-made meatballs in the freezer. I buy the unseasoned kind, increasing their versatility in several different uses.

Bake meatballs as package directs

Prepare vegetables while meatballs bake

Start stew with coarsely chopped onion, stirring until soft

Gradually add stock with beef extract

Just before serving, toss in fresh parsley

Ready for the table in just over 30 min.!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gingered Beets

What I enjoy so much about cooking is the creativity it affords. When you have a well-stocked pantry, you’re only as limited as your imagination. These tangy beets are a good example of that, my sweet Dollinks! This is a microwave recipe, so things move along faster than if you boiled these beets on the stove.
Gingered Beets:
2 lb. fresh beets, stems removed
¼ c. butter or margarine
¼ c. sugar
¼ c. apple cider vinegar
¼ c. candied ginger
Wash and quarter beets. Fill an 8-cup heat-proof measuring cup three-quarters full of hot water, and in pop beets. Cover with microwave-safe cello wrap, leaving a small vent so steam can escape. Microwave on high 20 to 25 min. Drain. Beets should be tender when pierced with a sharp knife. While beets are still hot, rub lightly to remove skins (I wear gloves to keep my hands from becoming stained and to protect myself from the beets’ heat). Cut beets into ½-in. slices and return to large measuring cup. Microwave remaining ingredients 15 sec. in small, heat-proof measuring cup. Pour hot ginger solution over beets. Cover and microwave a further 8 min., stirring once. Serves 4.

Start with fresh beets

Microwave in large, heat-proof measuring cup

Sliver in a handful of candied ginger for pucker power

Peel while still hot. Gloves save hands!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Baba Ganoush

I like the name of this Middle Eastern appetizer, and I like its faintly exotic taste. Variously written in English as Baba Ganoush, Baba Ghannouj or Baba Ghannoug, it’s hard to spell but easy to eat. Spoon it onto triangles of pita bread, or spread it generously over dark, heavily seeded breads. Whenever I have Baba Ganoush, my mind’s eye sees Turkish carpets, wall sconces, and fat, flickering candles; I can almost feel the camel swaying under my body! Baba Ganoush usually has a slightly smoky flavor. You can achieve that by charring the unpeeled eggplant over the open flame of a gas stove. I tried for the same effect by slipping the eggplants under the broiler (more or less hoping they’d spontaneously combust), but their skins bubbled and burbled and never did char. I’m getting ahead of myself! Here’s the recipe:

Baba Ganoush:
3 or 4 baby eggplants
¾ c. tahini (roasted sesame paste) in oil
1-½ tsp. coarse salt
3 tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced 
1/8 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 drop liquid smoke (optional … I didn’t use it)
½ bunch cilantro leaves (about 1 c.), coarsely chopped

Prick the skin of each eggplant, roasting each over an open flame until the skin chars. Lacking an open flame, broil them 20 min. with the oven rack at its highest position. Turn once and broil a further 10 min. (Alternately, bake them. Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. With the oven rack at its middle setting, bake eggplants on a parchment-covered baking sheet for 20 to 30 min., or until soft) Cool eggplants 10 min. before slicing off the stem and cutting each in half. Scoop out the innards. If the seeds are large, remove them; if theyre small and soft, dont bother. I use my hands to separate the meat from the skin and any charred bits, but you can also use a curved grapefruit knife. Don't wait too long to do any of these little jobs ... the eggplant will be less pliable (and harder to work with) as it cools.
Using a food processor or mini-prep, pulse-purée eggplant with all remaining ingredients except cilantro. Add cilantro a few seconds before finishing, to allow leaves some definition in the dish. Season to taste with additional lemon or salt. Some people refrigerate Baba Ganoush several hours before serving it to allow the flavors to blend; I don't think it makes a lick of difference. It’s also delicious served at once, with crackers, a baguette, or pita bread triangles. Can be made three or four days in advance.

Use fresh, firm eggplants with a nice, shiny skin
Transfer from hot oven. Cool 10 min.
Strip eggplant innards from skins
There'll be quite a pile of skins! Pop eggplants into mini-prep ...

Add garlic ...
A little olive oil ... and more!

Slice pita bread into triangles ...
Serve Baba Ganoush as an appetizer or alongside soup or salad

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nuts and Bolts

Just in time for Halloween and the holidays, here comes my all-time favorite recipe for Nuts and Bolts! Frankly, Dollinks, these are the best I’ve ever tasted, so I’ve never prepared another N&B recipe. These make a vast quantity, but store well for weeks in an airtight container. With its large quantity of nuts and cereal, this recipe may seem expensive - but on a per-serving basis, it’s actually quite economical. 

This makes such a huge amount that you can probably rent the spare bedroom to the ingredients and make a profit. I tried to do that once, but got confused and instead rented the spare room to a whole bunch of Nuts and Dolts. I had a terrible time trying to evict them. These are easy to prepare when you feel like entertaining, or if you decide to make something simple and delicious to serve at a Halloween party. My dear friend Blanche gave me the recipe 30-plus years ago: These are greatly superior to the commercially packaged variety.

Nuts and Bolts:

17 cups traditional, unflavored Cheerios cereal
9 c. traditional, un-iced Shreddies cereal 
1 - 8 oz. (225 g) pkg. pretzel sticks
2-½ lb. (1 kg) mixed nuts
1 c. butter or margarine 
2 tbsp. seasoning salt 
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. marjoram
½ tsp. paprika
2 tsp. savory

Combine Cheerios, Shreddies, pretzel sticks, and mixed nuts in large roasting pan. Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Sprinkle seasonings over cereal-nut mixture and toss. Cut butter or margarine into small chunks, dotting over mixture in roasting pan. Bake at 250 deg. F. for 45 to 60 min., stirring frequently. Store in tightly covered containers. Makes about 30 cups.

Assemble everything you need, including spices
Add spices and dot margarine over entire mixture
Stir on low oven heat every 10 min. for an hour.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Frenzied Fish

Welcome to my world, Dollinks. It is busy; it is rushed; it is demanding. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like your world, too. This blog is my little oasis - a chance to catch my breath, put my feet on the coffee table, put my laptop on my lap, and chat with you and with Ron about something that deeply interests me … sex!
Erk! I didn't mean sex! I meant X, as in The X Factor! Truly, X!
Ron??? Fellas??? Where are you going??? What’s wrong with you? Ron seems to have lost interest and wandered away. I guess that leaves us girls. Let’s kvetch! There are times when I absolutely do not want to cook. Hands up, those of you who sometimes have popcorn for dinner! Don’t all raise your hands at once! I can’t count that high! My guilty secret? Sometimes, I’m just too busy and too tired to cook. That's when I have popcorn for dinner, too. But not often.
It’s at such times that I haul out the heavy artillery - my electric steamer and my electric rice cooker. I’ve talked about these gadgets before. They're worth every inch of storage space they use. Take last night, for example. I’d been working flat-out on a project, and I was dog-tired. When I say dog-tired, I mean tongue-lolling dog tired. 

I could barely keep awake, let alone prepare a nutritious dinner. So these small appliances did a big job. Into the rice cooker, I threw a couple of handfuls of well-rinsed brown rice. Over that, I poured some stock - no salt needed - covered the cooker, and flicked it on. This is literally “set it and forget it” stuff. White rice takes 20 minutes in the rice cooker; brown rice takes 45. My choice of brown rice gave me a good half-hour until I needed to stir from the couch, where I was glued to the X Factor on TV (I'm rooting for Melissa! Or maybe Drew. Lakoda Rayne is also great, but the name is too hard to remember).
I had a chunk of white fish - basa, if you must know, but any white fish would have done. It was a pretty big chunk, so I sliced it in half (one for Ron, a little less for me), knowing that a grown adult requires only three ounces of protein each day - a piece of fish, poultry, meat, or a meat alternative roughly the size of a deck of cards. Most of us eat far more, and it shows. Guilty as charged, Dollinks! 
Enter the electric steamer, which I filled with water. Lightly brushing both sides of each piece of fish with a mixture of soy and hoisin sauces, I cut an oval of parchment paper to the approximate size of the bottom steamer tray, placed both pieces of fish on it, slivered a little sweetened ginger over the fish (the kind bottled in sugar syrup), and set the steamer for 12 minutes. The rice and fish more or less finished at the same time, but not before I’d slipped into the kitchen during a commercial break to throw some spinach into a second steamer tray, placing it on top of the bottom tray with the fish. During the next commercial break, I chopped a small head of romaine, added some sliced radish and celery, and tossed it with a couple of tablespoons of homemade dressing left over from one of my blogs. I decorated the fish with a little green onion cut on the diagonal.
We ate dinner in front of the TV. Melissa, Drew, and the talented but badly named Lakoda Rayne made it to the next round of the X Factor. I called this improvised recipe Frenzied Fish. Ron called it delicious.

Slice large fish into two smaller pieces

Brush on soy and hoisin sauces and cover with sweet ginger

Steam fish 12 min., adding spinach a
couple of minutes before fish is done

A quick simple meal, salad on the side, popcorn not included

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunomono Salad

Question: Have you ever strolled down the pasta aisle of your favorite supermarket to see packages of what appear to be bundles of white hay? These are mung bean noodles - also known as harusame, vermicelli noodles, bean thread noodles, cellophane noodles, or glass noodles. They’re inexpensive and can be coaxed to do wonderful things! 
Deep fry them in hot oil and they’ll expand and explode in less than three seconds! Emerging crisp, they need only a fast blot with a paper towel to be served on the spot with cooked meat, a little hoisin sauce, and a pinch of Chinese five-spice seasoning. Heap the mixture onto an iceberg lettuce leaf, fold up the bottom, tuck in the sides, and youll have yourself a tasty Chinese Lettuce Wrap (for the recipe, see my blog of June 22, 2012). Easy-peasy! 

Uncooked cellophane noodles

Boiled cellophane noodles
... look familiar?

Take another look at these noodles. They’re the basis of an easy, refreshing Japanese salad that’s the perennial favorite of many: Sunomono. Chances are, you’ve enjoyed a small bowlful after a first course of Miso Soup. Here’s how to make it! (You’re on your own with the Miso Soup: Buy a package of miso from your supermarket freezer. Add boiling water. Soup's on! Some “recipes” aren’t really recipes at all!)
Sunomono Salad:
4 tbsp. sugar
3-½ tbsp. rice vinegar
3-½ tbsp. white vinegar
2 tbsp. light soy sauce
¼ tsp. salt
8 oz. (225 g) pkg vermicelli or cellophane noodles
½ English cucumber, unpeeled and sliced very thinly
¼ medium carrot, shredded fine
In small saucepan, bring sugar, vinegars, soy sauce, and salt to a boil without stirring. Once the solution starts to boil, remove from heat, give a quick stir, and cool to room temperature before chilling in fridge. Fill a second saucepan with unsalted water and bring to a boil. Add noodles. Boil 3 to 4 min. until noodles appear clear. Drain and immediately soak noodles in cold water. Lay cucumber slices on plate, salting each layer. Set aside 10 min. before rinsing under cold water. Blot dry. When sugar-vinegar solution is well-chilled, add drained noodles, cucumber, and carrot. Serves 6-to-8 in small Japanese bowls.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bride’s Pastry

The late, great advice columnist Ann Landers once published a reader's tip about pastry-making: Do it in the nude, using your entire body to roll it out. No, Dollinks, I did not write that letter and do not use that method - but it certainly is memorable, wot?

Here, at last, is the pastry recipe I promised you Oct. 23, 2011 when I blogged my delicious Macadamia Nut Cream Pie. I normally make pastry using all-vegetable shortening (the healthiest choice). I occasionally and reluctantly use lard, which without a doubt makes the flakiest and best pie crusts. All-butter crusts burn too easily and usually need combining with shortening, so I rarely make them. 

Pie crusts can be fiddly and failure is not uncommon: If you’re new at it, don’t give up! 
Unlike so many other pie crust recipes, this one’s reasonably foolproof. I’ve been making a slightly different version of the recipe below since I was 24 years old, and that’s a long, long time. My former sister-in-law, Katie, passed it to me from her own recipe collection. Although Katie died many years ago, I think of her each time I work this pastry, keeping my memories of her alive. When you share your recipes, you share part of yourselves, Dollinks! 
This particular recipe (slightly superior to Katie’s, I think) comes from the people who make Tenderflake lard. I’ve used the ingredients Tenderflake recommends, but have reduced the amount of water for which their recipe calls and slightly modified their instructions to reflect the method I use. Certain commercial products such as lard (or ketchup, or butter, for example) are made to a basic standard. For that reason, I suspect it doesn’t make much difference which brand of lard you use:
Bride’s Pastry:
5-½ c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt (do not reduce this amount)
1 lb. lard
1 egg
1 tbsp. white vinegar
Cold water, as required
In large bowl, combine flour with salt. Cut lard into ¼-inch cubes, scattering throughout flour. Using a pastry blender (that multi-bladed cutter taking up space in the kitchen drawer), cut in the lard until flour and lard are combined as pea-size pieces (see Note). Break egg into glass measuring cup, combining white and yolk with a fork. Add vinegar and just enough cold water to make ¾ cup of liquid. Stir liquid into flour mixture, quickly combining with hands until mixture clings together to form a ball. Over-mixing toughens pastry, so be quick! 

Divide dough into six portions, wrapping each portion in cello wrap. Chill pastry at least 1 hr. before use, leaving at room temperature 15 min. before rolling out. Roll out crust as photos direct, paying close attention to directions about pricking pie crust and using parchment paper and pie weights. Freeze formed, pricked, weighted crust at least 20 min. before baking. Transfer frozen single-crust pie to preheated oven, proceeding as instructions below direct. 

This pastry freezes well for up to three months. Makes six single-crust or three double-crust 9-inch pies. To make any single or double-crust pie, follow the baking temperature, time, and instructions for the recipe you're preparing. Double- and single-shell pies that are filled before baking do not requires pricking or pie weights. 
Note: It’s important not to work the pastry too much with your fingers. Pie pastry is at its flaky best when it's cold; you don’t want it to absorb too much warmth from your hands.
To Prepare the Pastry for Baked Shell (as used in yesterday's recipe for Macadamia Nut Cream Pie):

Place chilled lump of dough on floured pastry mat
or counter, using lightly floured rolling pin
I roll pastry dough onto a silicone pie mat made by
Tupperware. Roll pastry to the size of the circles
to approximate the size of your pie pan. The circles
also approximate the size of your expanding tummy after
 you've sampled my Macadamia Nut Cream Pie!

Working from the center out,
 roll dough thinly for pies and
slightly thicker for tarts. Take  

care to avoid stretching pastry

When dough is sufficiently thin, pick up one edge and loosely
fold and roll over rolling pin, unfurling to drape over pie pan

Slice overhang of pastry evenly all around

Fold pastry edge over 
itself to strengthen 
and reinforce it

Using thumb of one hand and first two fingers of the second,
crimp reinforced edge of pastry to form high, decorative ridge
Prick pie shell to prevent air bubbles in crust

Trim parchment paper to
fit inside shell 

Pour dried beans or clay pie weights into parchment paper in pie shell - another means of preventing air bubbles in crust. Freeze raw pie shell at least 20 min. Preheat oven to 425 deg. F. Take shell directly from freezer and bake 10 - 12 min. until lightly browned. Remove weights and paper. Cool crust before filling.

Place pie weights on top of parchment circle

Freeze pie shell 20 min.; bake 10 min. at 425 deg. F.
Remove from oven, cooling thoroughly

Fill pie shell

Chill finished pie until ready to serve
Because this pie is so rich, I opted not to pipe the surface with whipping cream rosettes, slightly reducing the calorie count. This is my very favorite pie! I avoid temptation by serving it just once every five years - seriously!