Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Id pass along a recipe, but my mouth is full … Okay, if you insist … (Mmmfff! Mmmfff!), check out the post below ...

Grandma T’s Crumb Cookies

Grandma T wasn’t much of a baker. In fact, she wasn’t much of a cook. She preferred to drape full-length furs over an arm or shoulder as she made her grand entrance in a full-length evening gown and sparkly high-heeled shoes. Always the life of the party, Grandma T played boogie woogie on the piano one minute and Debussey the next. She was what you might call a “character.”

Grandma T had a hidden - if rarely exercised - talent. She made great Crumb Cookies. I suspect she made the name up, but it was apt, because the cookies crumbled away in your fingers as you ate them. Sure, they were too sweet and sure, they might have benefitted from je ne sais quoi, but Grandma T threw them together while lustily singing Knees Up Mother Brown or Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)

When the cookies emerged from the oven, that was it. Her duty done, Grandma T happily returned to her boogie woogie.
Grandma T left the party nearly 30 years ago, but every bite of these cookies brings fond memories. I may be biased, but all these years later, my siblings and I still rate our mother’s Crumb Cookies as excellent.

Grandma T’s Crumb Cookies:

To Prepare the Cookie Base:

⅓ c. shortening
½ c. light brown sugar
1-½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Using a pastry blender or clean hands, combine shortening and brown sugar until well mixed. Measure flour, baking powder, and salt into second bowl, combining well. Work into shortening mixture. When thoroughly combined, add egg yolks, mixing until crumbly. Press into ungreased 8x8-in. pan. Set aside.

To Prepare the Topping:

2 egg whites
1 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ c. chopped walnuts

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add sugar and then vanilla, blending well. Using back of a spoon, spread over cookie base. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake 20 min. Cool at room temperature on wire rack. Slice into 12 pieces.

Note: These cookies dont store well, but thats never been a problem.

Begin at the beginning: A lump of shortening.

Thoroughly combine shortening, sugar, and dry ingredients.

Mix in two egg yolks.

Press flat into ungreased 8x8-in. pan.

Beat egg whites until stiff.

Gradually add brown sugar.

Pour over cookie dough in pan.

Spread with the back of a spoon.

Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and bake.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tiger Butter

This deliciously creamy fudge is an easy-to-make concoction of chocolate and peanut butter. Halloween is the time of year to splurge, and this is a great, occasional treat. 
This fudge lasts a long time - as long as you don’t eat it. What’s wrong with that logic?

Tiger Butter:

8 oz. (225 g) white chocolate chips 

½ c. smooth peanut butter
8 oz. (225 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Read this recipe over and have all ingredients measured and ready to go before starting. Line bottom of 9-in. round or 10-in. square glass dish or metal pan with sheet of parchment paper trimmed to fit (Because this dish will be going into the freezer, I also made a parchment “sling to help extract the parchment from the dish I used). Set aside. 

Melt chocolate, starting with white chips, using one of the two methods described: (1) Add chocolate to top of a double boiler or metal bowl set over simmering (not boiling) water. Partially melt chocolate, stirring to melt completely. Or (2) Place chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl, heating about 2 min. on medium-low microwave setting. Stir to complete melting. See my Note on this, below.

Spoon melted white chips into mixing bowl (or the bowl in which they were melted), stirring in peanut butter until well combined. 

Pour white chocolate-peanut butter mixture into prepared dish or pan, spreading evenly and smoothing top. 

As you did with the white chocolate chips, partially melt semi-sweet chocolate, stirring to melt completely. Pour semi-sweet chocolate over white chocolate-peanut butter mixture, spreading evenly and smoothing top. Draw spatula or dull knife through layers of warm chocolate, creating swirls for a marbled effect. Freeze mixture in pan, uncovered, at least 30 min. Remove from dish or pan using “slings,” peeling away parchment. Bring barely to room temperature before cutting into 16 wedges or squares. Store in covered, airtight container in fridge or freezer.

Note: Because the top of the double boiler needs thorough washing and drying between melting the white and dark chocolates, and because I had two identical microwave-safe bowls handy, I used the microwave method. If you use the double boiler method, using two metal bowls on top also works very well, the point being that washing and drying the top of the double boiler for this recipe is a hassle. Avoid doing that if you can, because even a few drops of water left in the pan will 
seize the chocolate, ruining it.

White chocolate chips ...

Semi-sweet chocolate chips ...

Peanut butter ...

Parchment-lined pan and sling. Ready to start!

Partially melt chocolate; stir to melt fully.

Add peanut butter ...

Combining well. 

Pour into prepared pan, smoothing top and setting aside.

Repeat melting method with semi-sweet chocolate. 
Pour over white chocolate-peanut butter mixture

Use dull knife to create marbled effect. Smooth top. Freeze.
Peel away parchment.

Cut into 16 pieces - and just try to stay away!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

World Series Popcorn

A reader has just reminded me that popcorn is the ultimate World Series’ snack. Although I love Sister Mabel’s Caramel Corn - a recipe you’ll find indexed under Candy and Confections - this excellent popcorn also ranks high, whether
you’re watching the Cards wallop the Sox, the Sox slam the Cards, or whether you’re just getting into the mood for Halloween.

World Series Popcorn:

3 qt. (12 c.) freshly popped popcorn (see Note)
1 c. granulated sugar
⅔ c. light corn syrup
⅔ c. chunk-style peanut butter 
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 275 deg. F. Place popped corn in large roasting pan. In large, heavy saucepan, stir sugar and syrup together over medium-low heat. Cook until mixture boils, stirring constantly. Stir in peanut butter. Cook without stirring 5 min. longer. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Mixture will foam and rise in pot. Immediately pour over popcorn, stirring gently with 2 nonstick spoons or spatulas until popcorn is well coated.

Bake, uncovered, 45 min., stirring every 10 min. to coat popcorn. At end of baking time, transfer to one or two parchment-lined baking sheets, using a spoon to spread popcorn out to cool. 

Note: This recipe requires 6 tbsp. popcorn kernels (2 tbsp. kernels yields 4 c. popped corn). 

Got a hot air popper? Get one!

Watch it pump out fat-free corn in minutes!

Transfer popcorn to roasting pan. Set aside.

Let sugar and corn syrup come to the boil on medium-low, 
stirring constantly. Add peanut butter and ...

… Continue boiling 5 min. without stirring.

Quickly stir in vanilla extract ...

… Before stirring in baking soda.

Mixture will foam and rise.

Stir every 10 min. during baking to distribute syrup

Cool on baking sheet. Mixture will be glossy and crunchy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Alphabet Cookies with Decorator’s Frosting

You may not use them often, but if you enjoy baking cookies, you’ll never go wrong with a set of alphabet cut-outs. (Actually, I did once go wrong, presenting a 90-year-old with a Cookie-Gram that read: “HAPPY BIRTDAY.”) Just be sure you remember to cut every necessary letter from your ball of cookie dough!

Today’s post features a very good, if slightly fiddly, recipe for a basic rolled dough that works well in making Alphabet Cookies and other cut cookies of various shapes.
The dough is soft, so it’s essential that it be chilled after you’ve cut a few cookies. I find that working with just a few alphabet shapes at a time and chilling the dough periodically works very well, rather than trying to print out the letters of a very long word all at once. 

Today’s post also features a very good recipe for a Decorator’s Frosting that very nicely hardens to a sheen, allowing you to stack and pack the finished cookies. I’ve used a Halloween theme because that much-anticipated day is approaching in North America. I’ve never been much of a cookie decorator, but I’ve done my best to give these cookies a touch of Kid Appeal. 

With Halloween on its way, I’ll have a couple of simple-to-make confections over the next couple of days … Ron can hardly wait!

Alphabet Cookies:

1-½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
⅛ tsp. salt
½ c. butter or margarine, softened
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1-½ tsp. vanilla extract, preferably white

Add flour, baking powder, and salt to small bowl, mixing well. Set aside. Using an electric mixer at medium-high speed, combine butter and sugar until no grainy feeling remains when you rub a small amount between thumb and forefinger. Add egg and vanilla, continuing to beat until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture until thoroughly combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Remove dough from bowl, dividing into two portions. Pat into a circle about ½-in. thick, separately wrapping each portion in waxed paper or cello wrap. Refrigerate both portions of wrapped dough at least 1 hr. 

Have required alphabet cookie-cutters on hand to speed cutting process of chosen message. Transfer one portion of chilled, flattened dough to well-floured work surface or pastry sheet. Using floured rolling pin, work in a circle from centre of dough to outer edges until dough is about ⅛-in. thick (see Note). If rolled dough becomes too warm, refrigerate before cutting cookie letters or shapes, alternating dough portions to ensure one is always chilled). 

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Cut alphabet letters from rolled dough, carefully transferring to parchment-lined baking sheet with thin, broad metal lifter. Refrigerate cookies at least 10 min. before baking. Bake 10 min., just until edges of cookies begin turning pale brown. Dough yields about 2 doz. cookies approximately 1-½ in. high.

Note: Because dough is thinly rolled, cookies will be delicate and brittle, but will soften when frosted.

Combine all ingredients, adding flour mixture just at the end.

Flatten dough with palm of hand. Wrap and refrigerate.

Roll well-chilled dough to ⅛-in. thickness

Unbaked alphabet letters. 

Baked alphabet letters. My oven has a hot spots - nothing
liberal application of Decorator
’s Frosting can’t hide!

Decorator’s Frosting:

3 c. sifted icing sugar (“powdered” or “confectioners” sugar)
1-½ tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1-½ tsp. light corn syrup
Water, as needed
Gel food coloring/s, if desired
Decorative candy sprinkles, as needed
Gel food writers, if desired

Spoon sifted frosting sugar into medium bowl. Combine lemon juice and corn syrup in a small bowl, stirring in. Add enough water, teaspoonful by teaspoonful, to produce a firm but shiny frosting. Divide frosting into three or four portions, tinting with food gel colors. Cover and set aside.

Working with one color at a time, spoon frosting onto cookie, spreading carefully with a knife and randomizing colors among letters that spell words. Set on rack to dry, with waxed paper underneath to catch any drips. Immediately apply candy sprinkles before frosting hardens. 

Refrigerate cookies until frosting has fully hardened, at least 1 hr. Store between sheets of waxed or parchment paper in airtight container at room temperature. Frosting can be made and covered up to 3 days ahead.

Note: You’ll find a second version of Decorator’s Frosting in the Index.
Sift icing sugar for lump-free frosting
Four basic colors … Plenty of combinations!

Add color to sugar, combining throughly ...

… Until frosting is shiny and smooth
If you find baking sprinkles fun, add them!
What you do is up to you! 

The medium is the message … In this case, cookie dough!

Be sure to make extra … These wont last!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ron’s Cream of Onion Soup

The Northern Hemisphere’s cool, Autumn days call for comfort foods by the warmth of the fire, radiator, or TV set. When Ron and I had a craving for Cream of Onion Soup a few days ago, I prepared to make it the way I always do - with thinly sliced onions and a white-sauce base. I’ve never blogged that recipe because it’s so well known by that method. My Cream of Onion Soup is good - but not extraordinary. Ron has never complained about my way of making this soup - but nor has he ever raved over it.

And so it was, the other day, that Ron muscled me out of the kitchen to take command. I never mind taking off my apron: Name someone who does and I’ll suggest that person have a full psychiatric work-up. Please note: The photos that illustrate this recipe are Ron’s “man hands” - not mine!  

The relevance of that will become clear shortly, but first ... the recipe’s preamble!

What Ron invented in place of same-old, same-old, is the single best soup I’ve ever tasted. Worthy of a top chef, his soup isn’t even difficult to make! I feel certain that when I publish his recipe, restaurants will add it to their menus. That’s how outstanding this soup is! Ron’s recipe contains no added salt because the beef and chicken concentrates and Parmesan are salty enough. Nor is his recipe thickened with flour. The butter and cream do an excellent job of thickening soup + waistline on their own.

Ron’s Cream of Onion Soup:

½ c. butter (salted or unsalted, but not margarine)
2 very large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped 
1 scant tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. beef bouillon base (Ron used the “Better Than Bouillon” brand, but any quality product will do)
2 tbsp. powdered chicken stock base
¾ c. heavy cream (“whipping” cream)
2-to-3 tbsp. dry sherry, to taste
4 tbsp. commercial, shake-on Parmesan cheese

In a medium pan with a heavy bottom, melt butter at medium-low heat. Raise heat to high. Immediately add onions, stirring, uncovered, until partially cooked and well-coated with butter (see Note). Add garlic powder, pepper, bouillon base, and chicken base, continuing to stir after each addition for a total cooking time of 10 min. Slowly add cream, heating through and reducing heat to medium-low. Cover and cook a further 25 min., lowering heat if necessary. Stir occasionally, cooking until onions are tender. Add sherry shortly before serving. Ladle into bowls, sprinkling Parmesan over each. Yields 4 generous servings.

Note: Onions will not burn or caramelize because of the substantial amount of butter and because onions will begin to release their juices as they cook down and tenderize.

Here’s Ron at work! Ill let his big ol’ man hands tell the story: 

Onions! Two! Large! Capisce?

Chop coarsely.

Add to pot containing melted butter.

Stir. Then stir some more. And more, still.

Add beef base and other ingredients. Stir, stir, stir!

Mixture will be pleasantly golden.

Slowly add heavy cream.

Ladle into bowls ...

And finish with a flourish of Parmesan cheese.

As for those “man hands”? Jerry Seinfeld, we miss you!

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