Posts Tagged 'Make Ahead'

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

My cousin has a daughter who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, in addition to the nut allergy the family has been aware of for years. She’s adjusting well, and there are lots of great gluten-free products these days, but it’s still not easy for a kid to have to be so careful about the things that she eats.

Easter sugar cookies were our tradition previously, but this year, I wanted to make a dessert that everyone could enjoy. After carefully checking my list of potential ingredients to make sure there wasn’t any risk of gluten cross-contamination, I decided to pull out a marshmallow recipe I’ve used previously and then dip the marshmallows in chocolate and toasted coconut. They were a great hit with the children and the adults (and would have been with the family dog, had he succeeded in his quest) – a perfect mix of sweet, chewy, and crunchy.

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut
Makes about 60 (depending on how you cut them)

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 packages unflavored gelatin (or 3 tablespoons)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (use unsweetened, if desired)
6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate

To make marshmallows:
Brush a 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom of the dish and to overhang the longer sides. Place the parchment in the dish, brush with oil, and set dish aside.

Pour 3/4 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let stand 5 minutes.

Place granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Set saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer, and cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238° at sea level, 228° at my house at 5900 feet, about 9 minutes).

Using the whisk attachment, beat hot syrup into gelatin on low speed. Gradually increasing speed to high, beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Set dish aside, uncovered, until marshmallow becomes firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Place 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar in a fine strainer, and sift onto a clean work surface. Invert large marshmallow onto the sugar-coated surface, and peel off the parchment paper. Lightly brush a sharp knife with vegetable oil, and cut marshmallow into 1-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, and roll marshmallows in sugar to coat. Set aside.

To dip marshmallows:
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake coconut until toasted and golden brown, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully because coconut will burn quickly!) Place toasted coconut in a bowl and set aside.

Melt chocolate in a small bowl in microwave according to package instructions. (You could also melt chocolate using a double boiler, if desired.)

Dip one side of each marshmallow first in chocolate and then in toasted coconut. Place chocolate-side up on a rimmed baking sheet.

Once all the marshmallows are dipped, place baking sheet in refrigerator for 15 minutes to allow chocolate to set. Cover loosely with foil until ready to serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to one week.

Marshmallow adapted from MarthaStewart.com

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

Holy cow, are these ever good. What really makes them awesome is the combination of the soft marshmallow with the crunchy, sweet coconut – it’s textural heaven. I love chocolate, so that certainly doesn’t hurt things either. They’re the perfect little size – just a bite, which is great for kids or adults who struggle with dessert guilt.  (I am not one of those adults.)

The dipped marshmallows are definitely best day they’re made, before they’ve spent any time in an airtight container. As we discovered in the backyard fire pit, they’re good toasted, too, though you have to be careful about the coconut catching fire. Never fear if you have leftovers… Even though the coconut lost its crunch in airtight storage, Dr. O still couldn’t stop eating them.

Moroccan Meatball Soup with Sweet Potato

When you make a recipe that’s a bit of a letdown, do you ever give it a second chance? Today’s recipe – Moroccan Meatball Soup with Sweet Potato – is one that I practically live on these days, but it almost didn’t make it to the “repeat recipe” pile after my first try.

When I first made this soup, I used a medium pot as the recipe suggested; in my opinion, at least, a “medium” pot has about a 3- or 4-quart capacity. Once I got to the second half of the recipe, though, and saw the mound of sliced sweet potatoes and carrots that I needed to add to the pot, I knew I was in trouble. Since there wasn’t much else to do, I pulled my 5.5-quart enameled cast iron pot out of the cabinet and forged ahead.

We had the soup for dinner that night. While Dr. O said he enjoyed it, I was less than impressed. Still, there was plenty left over for lunch, so we both dug in again the next day.

Overnight, something magical happened. The previously bland soup seemed so rich and flavorful. I think the seasoning in the meatballs – the majority of which I had lost when I had to switch pots – had a chance to seep into the broth, completely transforming the soup.

Since I was able to see the recipe’s true potential, I decided to give it another chance. Using the 5.5-quart enameled cast iron pot from the beginning this time, I was able to develop a gorgeous fond while cooking the onions and spices. I deglazed the pan with a bit of chicken broth later in the recipe so those delicious browned bits wouldn’t go to waste. In terms of flavor, it made all the difference in the world.

Moroccan Meatball Soup with Sweet Potato
Serves 4 – 6
Prep: 20 min. | Total time: 50 min.

Ingredients:
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, diced small
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 pounds 90% lean ground beef
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into thin half-moons
4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
7 cups chicken broth
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

Method:
In a medium pot, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium. Add onion and cook until softened, 8 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add garlic, cumin, and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and add beef. Using your hands, gently combine (do not overmix), then form beef mixture into 1-inch balls.

Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pot and heat over medium-high. Add sweet potatoes and carrots and cook until bright orange, 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Add broth and bring to a simmer; cook until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add meatballs and simmer until cooked through, 12 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro to serve.

Source: MarthaStewart.com

My notes:

  • I used a large pot instead of a medium pot. (Lesson learned!)
  • I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil.
  • I used a 1.5-pound package of organic 85% lean ground beef from Costco for the meatballs. Since my meat had a higher fat content, I skimmed the fat from the soup at the end.  The easiest way to do this (once you’ve had your initial serving of soup, if you’re hungry), is to chill the soup in the refrigerator.  The fat will rise to the top and harden, and you can remove it with a spoon.
  • I used a mandoline to make quick work of slicing the sweet potatoes and the carrots.
  • In addition to seasoning the onion mixture in the first step, I seasoned the meatball mixture as well.

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This is such a great recipe! The meatballs and starchy vegetables make the soup so hearty and filling, and I love the Moroccan spice. Don’t skip the sprinkle of cilantro (unless you hate cilantro, of course); it adds a fantastic layer of flavor to the dish.

Since Dr. O and I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible, I make a batch of this every week (along with another dish, to keep things interesting). I freeze individual portions, and we put them in the refrigerator to thaw overnight for lunch the next day. It beats the heck out of a Lean Cuisine!

Recipe link: Moroccan Meatball Soup with Sweet Potato

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

We’ve been undergoing a bit of a food revolution in our house over the past few months, trying to eat as cleanly as possible (when we’re home and can control it, at least!) in the interest of being our best and healthiest selves. We eat lots of organic meat and eggs, lots of fruit and veggies (keeping the Dirty Dozen organic, at least), and a little organic dairy, and we’ve majorly reduced our beer and wine consumption. It’s been tough, but worth it. Lest you think we’re going crazy, I did bring a caramel apple pie to my friend Christopher’s amazing Thanksgiving dinner and enjoyed every single bite. (Life without any indulgence hardly seems worth living, am I right?) Still, we’re doing the best we can as often as we can.

Changing our lunch habits has been a major challenge throughout this process. I used to alternate between Lean Cuisine and turkey sandwiches; Dr. O was eating the previous night’s leftovers, or (horror of horrors!) Lean Pockets, in the event of an emergency. Since I really wanted to get away from processed food, I bought a bunch of glass Snapware at Costco and committed to stocking my freezer with homemade frozen lunches. I’ve made lots of delicious recipes (I’ll share them, promise!), but today’s recipe – Moroccan Vegetable Stew from Peace Meals – is one of my favorites. There’s a lot of prep work with the veggies, but the stew is really simple and tasty. Plus, the ingredients fill my five-quart slow cooker to the brim, which means I have plenty of lunches to freeze.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew
Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups vegetable broth (I use organic chicken broth, since that’s what I keep on hand)
2 1/2 cups diced eggplant, about 2 medium
2 cups peeled and sliced carrots, about 5 small
2 cups cauliflower florets, about 1 small head
2 cups sliced zucchini, about 2 medium
1 cup chopped onion, about 1 medium
29 ounces canned stewed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
15 ounces canned garbanzo beans
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
3/4 cup currants
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt (optional)

Method:
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-low. Add the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes; be careful not to burn the garlic. Scrape the garlic and spices into a slow cooker. Add the broth and the remaining ingredients (except the yogurt) and stir. Cook on high for 6 to 7 hours. Allow to cool slightly. Purée 3 cups of the stew in a blender or food processor and return to the slow cooker, stirring to combine. Serve warm with a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

Source: Peace Meals

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

This is such warm, delicious, comforting food. You probably have to like eggplant in order to enjoy this one, but I just adore the way all the vegetables in this dish come together. I also love, love, love the hint of sweetness from the currants and the slight heat from the cayenne pepper.

The first time I made this stew, I was in a huge hurry, rushing to get out the door for some reason. I nearly skipped the almonds since I didn’t want to take the time to toast and chop them. It would have been a huge mistake! I thought it was so strange to put nuts in a slow-cooker stew (surely they would get spongy, right?), but they add such a wonderful texture and flavor to the dish.

TIPS: When I first made this stew, I cut my vegetables into fairly large pieces since I assumed they would cook down quite a bit (especially the eggplant and the zucchini). It didn’t really happen. Now, I use a small dice for the onion, a small-medium dice for the eggplant, and half-moons for the zucchini (and larger carrots). Also, I just put my hand blender right into the slow cooker for a few seconds at the end, rather than dirty my regular blender or food processor.

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

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I had a feeling this challenge was going to end up being an all-day thing for me (it was!), and the temptation to skip it was strong.  I’m glad I forged ahead, though, because I’m pretty proud of my final result.  I made the cocoa variation of the biscuit joconde and brushed it with homemade vanilla syrup to keep the sponge moist.  (I learned my lesson when my Dobos Torta looked much better than it tasted.)  Then, I filled it with white chocolate ganache, Nutella mousse, and raspberry gelée (all homemade).  If I made the dessert again, I might fill the center with something firmer (like no-bake cheesecake, maybe), but I really enjoyed the way my flavors came together.

Biscuit Joconde Detail

Dessert Interior

My only heartbreak is that I was so looking forward to using my cake comb to pattern the joconde decor paste and I couldn’t find it.  I turned my entire kitchen upside down with no luck.  Since I wanted a clean design, I just used a 1/4-inch dowel to drag straight lines through the paste.  If I had known how much they would narrow in the baking process, I would have made them even thicker.

This project was a lot of work, but it was worth the sense of accomplishment. Thanks for a great challenge, Astheroshe!

Recipe link: Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

Barrington Mints

Who says cream cheese mints are only for weddings?

I came across the recipe for Barrington Mints as I was paging through my copy of The Rocky Mountain Sweet Shoppe Cookbook a few weeks ago.  I’ve only ever sampled cream cheese mints on Midwestern wedding dessert tables, but they seemed easy and festive enough to fit the Christmas bill.  Despite a mild misadventure (I’ll tell you after the recipe!) and an extreme piping strength requirement, I was pretty pleased with the results.

Barrington Mints
Makes 150 mints

Ingredients:
8 ounces soft cream cheese (I used Philadelphia regular)
6 tablespoons soft butter (I used unsalted)
3/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract (NOT mint extract)
2 pounds sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 drops red food coloring (Mine is pretty strong, so I used only one)

Method:
Melt the cream cheese with the butter in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Turn off the heat, leaving the pan on the burner, and stir in about 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, food coloring, and vanilla. (My note: Add peppermint here as well.)  Stir in the rest of the sugar until well blended.

Line a large baking sheet with wax paper.  Push mint mixture into a pastry bag, icing syringe or squeeze bottle with a decorative tip.  Create desired shapes for mints.  Let set 1 hour.

Store between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer up to 4 months.  Do not store at room temperature.

Barrington Mints

Aren’t they pretty?  They taste just like other cream cheese mints I’ve tried: sweet, minty, and melt-in-your-mouth creamy.  Despite Dr. O’s raging sweet tooth, we are never going to get through this many mints; thankfully, we have a few dinner guests coming later this month who might be willing to help.

As for the misadventure, I had piped 20 or 30 mints when I realized that I hadn’t added the peppermint extract.  I just realized (as I was typing this post), that what seemed like a spacey mistake was probably actually the result of the fact that they don’t specifically mention adding the peppermint in the recipe instructions. Whoops.  Anyway, I just tossed my mixture back in the pot, turned the heat on medium-low, added the peppermint extract, and then stirred the mixture for a minute or two until I was confident that it was pretty evenly incorporated.  Problem solved.

It’s also worth noting that I had to let these set in the refrigerator (not on the counter) so they would firm up enough to hold their shape when I pulled them off of the wax paper.  Since they get softer the longer they sit at room temperature, I would probably put a plate of these out when I serve dessert rather than have them sit on a buffet for hours.

Pecan Bars

My mom and I have been working on our Thanksgiving menu for the past week or so.  Choosing our dishes for the main meal was a snap, but we got stuck on dessert.  I could think of at least five or six things I would love to serve, but we would have ridiculous amounts of leftovers.  (Leftover turkey?  Yes, please.  Two weeks’ worth of leftover pie?  Trouble.)  We finally agreed that we should have something pumpkin (Muirhead Pecan Pumpkin Butter Dessert Squares), something apple (the Caramel Apple Pie I made last year), and something pecan (my dad’s favorite!).  As much as I enjoyed it the first time I made it, I knew I didn’t want to make Martha’s Maple-Nut Tart again after the struggle I had getting it out of the tart pan.  I found a basic recipe for Pecan Bars on her site, though, and thought they could be a fun, easy-to-serve option.

To make the crust, I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer to beat together 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 1/2 cup of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt until light.  On low speed, I beat in 2 cups of all-purpose flour until the mixture formed a mass.  I transferred the dough to a 9 x 13-inch pan and used a sheet of plastic wrap to press it evenly into the bottom of the pan.  I discarded the plastic wrap and baked the crust at 375°F until golden (25 minutes).

While the crust baked, I made the filling.  In a small bowl, I whisked together 2 more tablespoons of all-purpose flour, another teaspoon of salt, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.  Using an electric mixer, I beat 2 large, room-temperature eggs with 1 1/2 cups of packed light brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of dark corn syrup until light.  I folded the flour mixture into the egg mixture, followed by 2 cups of pecans (coarsely chopped) and 1 cup of sweetened flaked coconut.

When the crust had finished baking, I gently spread the filling over it and baked until the filling was set (20 minutes).  Immediately after the pan came out of the oven, I ran a metal spatula around the edges and then set the pan on a wire rack to cool.  Once cool, I cut the bars into 24 servings.

Pecan Bars

First things first: If you’re into salty-sweet things (I am!), these bars are absolutely delicious.  You get a buttery, flaky, tender crust on the bottom, a chewy center, and oodles of coconut-pecan flavor.  If you don’t like sweet things, these may be too much for you; substituting unsweetened coconut for the sweetened coconut would dial things back a bit.

My only beef with this recipe is that it extolled the virtues of serving something that guests could hold in their hands.  Unless you’re into crumbs everywhere, there’s just no way.  I tried using several different kitchen tools (spatulas, bench scrapers, knives) to get a nice, clean edge when cutting the bars; as you can probably tell from my photo, things didn’t work out very well.  For better or for worse, crumbly deliciousness apparently equals mess.  If you served these on a plate, though, you’d be fine.  If you served them warm on a plate with ice cream, your guests might try to move in.  Choose your serving method wisely. 😉

Recipe link: Pecan Bars

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins

I get so incredibly excited each time I find a recipe that is so fantastic I know I’ll make it, quite literally, for life.  Today’s recipe – Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins from the November 2010 issue of Everyday Food – is one of those recipes.

The recipe isn’t on the Everyday Food site yet, so here it is:

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins
Makes 12
Active time: 20 min. | Total time: 1 hr.

Batter Ingredients:
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups pure pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs

Sugar Coating Ingredients:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Method:
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups.  Make batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and allspice.  In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin purée. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed.  With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon.  Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack.  Working with one at a time, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture.  Let muffins cool completely on wire rack.  (Store in an airtight container, up to 1 day.)

Note: Freeze muffins up to 3 months.  Reheat in a 350°F oven, then coat in butter and sugar.

High-altitude adjustments: I’m not sure I actually needed to make these changes since this was the first time I made this recipe, but I went with my high-altitude baker’s intuition.  I’m so pleased with the results that I will make these changes again next time.

  • I added 1 tablespoon of flour to the batter (3 cups plus 1 tablespoon total).
  • I cut the baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon (2 1/4 teaspoons total).
  • I used a scant 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda instead of a full 1/4 teaspoon.

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins Interior

The interior of the muffin had a mild pumpkin flavor and wasn’t overly sweet.  The texture was light, airy, and moist with a beautiful crumb.  They were a bit more cake-like than a traditional muffin, I think.  The cinnamon-sugar coating was absolutely divine, and the amount of sugar and spice on the outside was a perfect complement to the inside of the muffin.  In short, they were amazing.  I have visions of feeding these to houseguests, lounging with them on Sunday mornings, and bringing them to brunches year after year.

I swear, these are the best muffins I’ve ever made.  In support of this theory, another doctor at my husband’s office lightheartedly suggested he might marry me after sampling them.  They’re THAT good.  Give them a try!

TIPS:  When I need to bring an amount of butter to room temperature quickly and I don’t want to risk overdoing it in the microwave, I thinly slice the butter and let it sit on a cutting board.  In five minutes or so, it’s ready to go.  Also, I always use room-temperature eggs when I bake.  To bring eggs to room temperature quickly, I put them in a container of lukewarm water for three to five minutes.

Dinner Party Menus: Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

I spend a ridiculous amount of time on food.  Between searching recipes, reading food magazines, planning menus, shopping, cooking, and cleaning it all up, food is certainly a central element in my life.  (My husband and I keep joking about all the things I could accomplish if I gave up cooking for just one week…  Stay tuned to see if that ever actually happens!)

It occurred to me today that I might be able to save time for some of you by posting the menus I’ve put together for dinner parties at my house.  I try to plan things that go together nicely and that will allow me to do as much work as possible before my guests arrive.  (We usually have cocktails and apps around my kitchen island, so the last thing I want my guests to see is me frantically trying to put a meal on the table.)  Saving time and lessening stress is always a good thing, right?

Last night, Dr. O and I hosted a typical fall dinner party with one exception: we had a vegetarian guest.  Now, vegetarians certainly aren’t unusual and I’ve worked with more challenging diets, but I came to realize that I didn’t have many recipes in my entertaining arsenal that didn’t include meat.  I first experimented with Hearty Root Vegetable and Mushroom Stew from my copy of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010.  While it certainly wasn’t bad, it wasn’t dinner party food; my friend Christopher suggested that I was expecting a miracle out of a vegetable stew.  After some discussion, we came up with the menu below for six guests.

Appetizers:
Spinach dip and lemon artichoke dip from Whole Foods (I’ll take help where I can get it!)
Crackers
Cucumber slices (as a dipping alternative)
Mixed olives
Roasted, salted almonds (from Whole Foods bulk section – fantastic!)

Meal:
Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots
Simple Roasted Tomatoes (Just toss any quantity of cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast for 15 to 20 minutes towards the end of the macaroni and cheese baking time.)

Dessert:
Pear and Berry Crisp

Here’s the preparation schedule I followed for a 7 p.m. dinner party.  (Yes, I am one of those people.  Having a schedule totally reduces stress and the likelihood that I’ll forget something, though.)

Anytime Friday:
Chill wine
Wash and iron napkins
Make and store crisp topping

Saturday morning or afternoon (work takes approximately 1 hour):
Slice and store shallots for green beans (refrigerator)
Rinse, trim, and store green beans (refrigerator)
Wash and dry cherry tomatoes, place them in roasting pan, and store (counter)
Wash, slice, and store cucumbers (refrigerator)
Thaw berries for crisp
Wash and slice pears for crisp
Assemble fruit portion of crisp and store (refrigerator)
Set table

5:45 p.m.: Make macaroni and cheese (hold at room temperature until baking time)

6:30 p.m.:
Put out appetizers
Put pot of water for green beans on stove (no heat yet)
Put pot for cooking shallots on stove with shallot butter inside (no heat yet)
Preheat oven for macaroni and cheese

7:00 p.m.: Guests arrive!

7:15 p.m.:
Put macaroni and cheese in oven
Start boiling bean water

7:30 p.m.:
Put tomatoes in oven (beneath macaroni)
Start cooking shallots

7:45 p.m.:
Remove macaroni from oven
Add green beans to boiling water

7:50 p.m.:
Remove tomatoes from oven
Drain green beans and toss with butter, salt, and pepper
Combine green beans with caramelized shallots
Change oven temperature to 400°F for crisp
Serve dinner

8:30 p.m.: Put crisp in oven

9:15 p.m.: Remove crisp from oven

9:35 p.m.: Serve warm crisp with vanilla ice cream

It seems like a lot of steps, but since I did things like put the bean water and shallot butter on the stove ahead of time, I’d say the actual amount of hands-on work that needs to be done while guests are standing around takes fewer than 10 minutes. Consequently, I can actually interact with and enjoy my guests (the point) instead of working myself into a frenzy (so not the point!).

The food turned out really well.  I’ve made Perfect Macaroni and Cheese (here’s a link to my post) and Pear and Berry Crisp (my post) before; both are absolutely to die for.  The tomatoes and the green beans were perfect complements to the macaroni.  I would normally serve a buttery chardonnay (like La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay) with this dinner, but my friend brought a red (2005 La Baronne Alaric) with the dish in mind; it paired beautifully.

So that’s my dinner party…  What do you think?  Do you consider this type of post helpful, or not so much?  I’d love to hear from you!

Ginger Pumpkin Tart

The requirement of last week’s gourmet club meeting was to cook with five ingredients or fewer.  Although I ultimately settled on another recipe for the dinner party, this Ginger Pumpkin Tart from Claire Robinson is super easy and very seasonally appropriate.

To make the crust, I ground two 5.25-ounce packages of Anna’s Ginger Thins in my food processor to yield 2 1/2 cups of crumbs.  (I think any gingersnap-type cookie will do.)  I combined the crumbs with 6 tablespoons of melted butter, transferred the mixture to my 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, and pressed the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pan with the bottom of a clean measuring cup.  I put the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and baked the crust at 350°F until it darkened a bit (11 minutes).  Next, I set it aside to cool.  (Make sure it gets reasonably close to room temperature before adding the filling; stick it in the refrigerator if you want to speed this up.)

For the filling, I whisked together one 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling!), 3/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk, 2 large egg yolks, and a pinch of salt (salt, pepper, and water are considered “freebie” ingredients) in a medium bowl.  I poured the filling into the cooled crust, returned the pan to the oven (still on a rimmed baking sheet, still at 350°F), and baked the tart until it was set (30 minutes).  I removed the tart from the oven, cooled it to room temperature, and then chilled it for several hours in the refrigerator before serving.

Ginger Pumpkin Tart

For being so simple, this is pretty darn tasty.  It’s essentially like eating pumpkin pie, except with a ginger cookie crust.  Like any good pumpkin dessert, though, it really isn’t complete without a bit of sweetened whipped cream…  I know this takes the recipe over the five-ingredient limit, but it’s essential.

Want to try something a bit more gourmet with homemade pumpkin purée and chocolate?  Check out last year’s Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart post.

TIPS:  Apparently, the canned pumpkin supply is back to good after last year’s shortage.  Yay!  Also, the one “mistake” I made with this recipe was to push too much of the crust up the sides instead of leaving more on the bottom.  That thick crust looks absolutely gorgeous, but it was pretty difficult to cut once I got to the edge.  Sticking a fork through it?  Impossible.  We had to pick up the crust and eat it like a cookie.  (Still delicious!)  Next time, I’ll even things out a bit.

Recipe link: Ginger Pumpkin Tart

Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

I make an awful lot of sugar cookies.  (I swear, I could make them in my sleep!)  I make so many, in fact, that I rarely even think about making any other kind of cut-out cookie.  When the recipe for these Chocolate-Ginger Cookies came through my inbox the other day, though, I just had to make them.  The chocolate-ginger flavor combination really feels like fall, and I already had the adorable fall cookie cutters used in the photo on the Martha Stewart Web site.

I went into this thinking that I’d be able to mimic my sugar cookie routine with a different dough, but I had to change plans quickly; the dough is pretty soft.  The downside of this is that I had to flour the heck out of my counter, the surface of the dough, and the rolling pin to make cutting and transferring the cookies possible.  The upside, though (and it’s a big one!), is that the dough produces a very tender cookie.  Here’s the recipe if you’d like to give it a try:

Chocolate-Ginger Cookies
Makes 4 dozen

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (I left this out)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup dark unsulfured molasses
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Method:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk together flour, cocoa, spices, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, molasses, and grated ginger; mix until combined. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until just combined.

Halve dough; flatten into two disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour. Transfer disks, one at a time, to a lightly floured surface; roll out to 1/4 inch thick. (If dough gets soft, freeze until firm.) Use 3-inch acorn or leaf cookie cutters to make shapes; place 1 inch apart on sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.

Score designs with a knife; sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are firm, 11 to 13 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2004

My notes:

  • As you can see from the ingredient list, I left out the leavening agents.  I find that cutout cookies tend to hold their shape better (especially at altitude) when I omit them.
  • I was tempted to squeeze the moisture out of my grated ginger because it was pretty wet, but I didn’t.  Baked goods usually benefit from a little extra moisture at altitude anyway.
  • The recipe said to refrigerate the cookies for 20 minutes before baking, but I froze them for 20 minutes instead.
  • I tried scoring the cookies with the designs both before and after freezing (I’m a rebel like that!).  Scoring them after freezing definitely resulted in cleaner lines.
  • My cookies were done in about 11 1/2 minutes per batch.

Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

I still love sugar cookies the best, but these were pretty tasty.  I liked the balance of ginger and chocolate, and I really enjoyed the light crunch of the sanding sugar. I’m not sure if the cookies were supposed to be tender (the Martha Stewart site indicated they’d be crisp), but mine certainly were.  They weren’t soft in a flexible way – they held their shape perfectly – but they had such a delicate crumb.  I’ll try this one again in December as gingerbread men.

Recipe link: Chocolate-Ginger Cookies




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