Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grilled Honey Peaches with Soft, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

I wish summer could last forever.  I've been sitting at my desk all morning listening to the birds chirp outside the open window, not to mention the snores coming from down at my feet.  My four legged friends are exhausted still from the long walk my daughter took them on yesterday.  I ate a whole basket of blackberries all by my lonesome yesterday without remorse.  I polished off quite a few strawberries and raspberries too, but let's just keep that under our hat.  Despite my schedule being turned upside down by all the extra bodies and activities in the house, I'm enjoying a sense of peace that seems to come over me when the sun amps up around here.

I find myself wandering across town every chance I get to see what new fruits are coming out of the local orchards.  Something about summer that makes everyday feel like a new one.  Summer just feels more hopeful, more time to realign goals, and plan for the future.  I'm hoping to see jars of fresh jam on my counter any day now, I'm hoping my daughter is ready to drive me to the farm stand every chance we get since she has her permit now and all, I'm hoping these days filled with hours and hours of daylight last a good long time, I'm hoping the flip-flop tan mark on my feet will get more and more pronounced, I'm hoping we get a chance to go on at least one adventure before the summer draws to a close.

Grilled Peach & Oatmeal Cookie

I'm hoping that I enjoy more desserts such as this one and summer goes on.

Grilled Honey Peaches and Soft, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

Bake cookies and set aside.

Oatmeal Cookies:
1 stick (1/2 cup) + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup light brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 large egg 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 

Add butter and sugars to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a mixer and mix until butter looks light and fluffy. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, egg, and vanilla and mix until combined. Add oatmeal and mix until combined. Place dough in fridge for 2 hours or so until cold. (Don't skip this step or your cookies will come out flat and crispy.)

Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to scoop out 1 1/2" balls of cookie dough, place the balls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Press the balls down slightly leaving them at least 1/2" thick. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 12 to 14 minutes. 

Makes about 24 cookies.

Several ripe peaches split and kernel removed
Small amount of honey
Flake sea salt

Drizzle cut side of peach halves with honey and place skin side down on medium grill for 2 minutes and turn to honey side and grill for 2-3 more minutes.  Just want to warm the peaches and soften them and caramelize them a bit.  Sprinkle the grilled peaches with a pinch of sea salt.  Serve in a bowl with cookies and a squirt of whip cream if you so desire.

I'm hoping that summer is being as good to you as this bowl of warm honey peaches with soft, chewy oatmeal cookies was to me.

Enjoy,

Gina

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lover's Coffee Cake and the horror of not being "best mom ever"


Does bringing a cake to a party negate the fact you have been absent in the hostesses life for what seems like ages?  I'm hoping it does, I really am.  I have been feeling bad that I haven't had time these days for anything extra.  I've been missing idle moments to pick up the phone and check in on a friend, or better yet stop by just because.  I've been longing for days involving sitting around in pajamas till noon, tossing something presentable on and schlepping off for a long lunch, heading home to take a nap exhausted from lunch.  Dinner is a no-brainer, ring the delivery man and say, "surprise me".  Slinking to the couch and spending the rest of my waking moments watching junk t.v.  Does anyone know what planet this life exists on, because I want to fashion a rocket ship out of used popsicle sticks and go visit said planet.

I'm still replaying the fond memories of the 50th anniversary party my 4 siblings and myself had the pleasure of hosting for our parents.  All the extra trips getting supplies, phone calls, and e-mails were worth parting with my free time.  Even the hectic pace of finishing the cake up until the 11th hour, washing dishes for the seventh time in one day, or scraping colored icing off the walls was worth it.

  
I feel fortunate I was able to witness such an epic milestone, I know it is a privilege and something I will always look back on lovingly.



I only had a few moments after the party to reflect and deal with the flood of emotions I was feeling about my daughter graduating from college.  I had a glorious daydream before heading up that my daughter prepared a speech in which she profusely thanked her mother for all the sacrifices made over the last few years, all the cookies sent for no reason, for wrenching her back moving her 5 times, for depositing funds to make sure she was able to have enough food that week.


I watched with tears in my eyes as they commenced by, many had personalized their caps; some even had loving messages for their parents (awe).  Wouldn't that be something if my angel paid some sort of homage to her devoted, self-sacrificing (did I mention broke from paying for college) mother, I couldn't help but think to myself.

A sea of black robes went by and out of the corner of my eye I saw her, my little girl all grown up on the way towards the rest of her life.  I held my breath looking for the "I have the best mom ever" sign to pass, but no such sight, apparently she not only received her degree with honors, but she also got a honorary doctorate in the arts of distilled spirits.  Sigh.  It only took me half a second to realize, she was just having fun and being herself, just the way I want her to be. I couldn't be prouder of my daughter and the last 4 years and all the tears (at least on my part) were totally worth it.

I received a request to review "Beach House Baking Delicious Desserts" by Lei Shishak.  I wasn't sure if I could find the time, but I read a little about Lei and liked what I saw and I thought, perhaps this would be a good book to bake with over the summer and ponder the future.  The book has lots of easy recipes, a great selection of cupcake recipes, but her fun ice cream sandwich variations are something I'm really looking forward to trying. I couldn't wait to try her Lover's Coffee Cake recipe to take advantage of the fresh cherries grown here, it did not disappoint.

Lover's Coffee Cake

Streusel
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Cake
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup sour cream
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Liberally grease a 10-inch tube pan with non-stick spray.

2)  Make the streusel:  Combine the brown sugar, almonds, flour, cinnamon, and butter in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

3)  Make the cake:  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add in the eggs and extracts and mix until combined.  Scrape down the bowl.  Add in half of the dry ingredients followed by half of the sour cream.  Mix well on low speed. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients and sour cream.

Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Arrange the cherries evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle with half of the streusel.  Top with the remaining batter followed by the streusel.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool completely in pan before inverting cake.  Place right-side up onto serving plate.  Garnish with powdered sugar.

*The only changes to the recipe I made were; used light brown sugar (didn't have dark on hand), creamed butter and sugar and then added rest of the ingredients at once (what can I say, except I'm lazy), and I used a bundt pan since I don't own a tube pan (I know, I'm equally ashamed of myself) which was inverted after only 10 minutes, because bundt pans are notorious for sticking.  The cake was quite popular around here and consumed in record time, so it will get baked again for sure.

Can we be friends again now?  Pretty please, with cherry streusel coffee cake on top.


Gina

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A one pot meal is always a good thing in my book.


Things have been shaping up nicely around here and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary party preparations are in full swing.  I still have the cake and a few last minute things to handle, but I'm started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I really enjoyed working on all the decorations, especially the cake stand; a tire rim in honor of my dad the car guy.  I have to keep all the party talk hush-hush around my dad because he was scoffing about us not doing too much.  As if I would do such a thing, crazy talk I tell you.


Between work, trying to get in some exercise, and working on the party decorations I haven't had much time for anything else, especially cooking complicated meals.  Several nights last week I was lucky if I had a hot meal at all.  So tonight I went with a perennial favorite; the one pot meal.


This was so quick and easy to make it actually left me with a few minutes left to write the recipe down.

2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin (use 1/2 teaspoon if you don't like a lot of spice)
2-4 pork chops (depending on how many you want to feed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup basmati rice
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
3 baby bok choy bunches, cut in large pieces
2 1/2 - 3 cups vegetable stock

In a large deep-sided skillet add the olive oil, onion, carrots, and celery and cook on medium heat for a few minutes until the veggies are starting to become translucent.  Add the garlic and stir for a few minutes.  Add the cumin and stir.  Push the veggies to the sides of the pan and add the pork chops. Salt and pepper the chops and add more salt and pepper to the pan.  Add the rice to the sides of the chops.  Place the tomatoes and bok choy on top of the rice and pork chops, cover the whole thing with vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to medium and cook with the lid on for 25-30 minutes, until the rice is tender.

You could easily sub out chicken or whatever protein you'd like.  I like how spicy the cumin makes the rice, if you don't like spice at all; sub in some Italian seasoning.  

Enjoy,

Gina

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Monkey Bread - Just be sure and put out Monkey-ranha repellent



I have been making this particular monkey bread for the last few years and have to say it is my absolute favorite. I've tried many different variations over the years, including the short-cut ones that use canned biscuit dough.  All the different varieties I tried had their own merits, but sometimes you want something that tips you over the edge into gone-bananas territory.  Once you've had a huge chunk of this monkey bread warm out of the oven, glaze barely set-up; all other versions will become a distant memory.

Monkey Bread - adapted from Cook's Country

2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
1 cup milk, lukewarm 110 degrees F
1/3 cup water, 110 degrees F
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar

In the bowl of a mixer combine yeast, milk, water, and melted butter and let sit for 5 minutes until mixture starts to foam a little. Add flour, salt, and sugar and mix with dough hook on low-speed until combined. Knead for an additional 3-4 minutes on low-speed until the dough is looking smooth. Remove dough hook and cover bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise on the counter until doubled (about 1 hour).

Turn dough out onto a floured cutting board and cut the dough in half and then cut each half into about 10 equal-sized pieces.

In a small bowl combine:
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In another small bowl:
6 tablespoons melted butter 

Dip each piece into the butter and then in the sugar mixture. Place the pieces in a greased bundt pan, cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.

Bake in 350 degree F oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then invert the warm bread onto a plate. (If you wait too long to remove the bread it will stick to the pan.)  

In another small bowl combine:
1 cup powdered sugar 
2 tablespoons milk

Mix the powdered sugar and milk together and spoon the glaze over the warm bread.

 

I brought a monkey bread with me to my brother's to help watch the kids after he had surgery on his wrist and my very adorable precocious niece asked me, "Do they call it monkey bread because monkeys really love it?"  I couldn't stop giggling over her genius.  I'm telling you that kid knows things.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how many times I've made this monkey bread and never seem to be able to capture a photograph of it.  Then it hit me, there must be some crazed creature with a voracious appetite getting to this bread before I get a chance to photograph it.  So I set out a warm monkey bread on the table, set up my camera on auto-snap, and headed back to the kitchen for some milk.  Imagine my shock and horror when I came back to find an empty plate and these photos of a monkey with a crazy piranha smile on my camera.  Apparently this creature uses sonar to locate freshly baked monkey bread and then uses its oversized grill to consume the bread in one fell swoop and leaves the scene before anyone is the wiser.

You've been warned my friends:  If you plan on bringing this bread with you to an event or even saving it for later; be sure and put out ample Monkey-ranha repellent.



I was under the weather for a few and then I had a custom order to fill for my niece's sister so she could ask a special someone "Will you go to prom with me?  The cookies worked their magic and I can't wait to see photos of the happy couple.  The talented Arty McGoo made the originals that she saw and I made them for her in the colors of her dress.  I need to get my cookies skills back up to speed since I will be making a ton of them soon for the 50th anniversary party I'm working on.

What I really need is some cookie sleeping pills and a warm glass of milk, hmm.

Gina

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pistachio, Lemon-Meringue Cupcakes for my Dad and Brother-in-law



Happy St. Patrick's Day!  While I may not be Irish, I never pass up a reason to celebrate.  I haven't gotten a corned beef on the stove yet, I'm sure it will be happening soon.  As the years have gone by and I have seen so many plans change, lives cut short; I realize there really is no time like the present.  No time to hesitate and put off acknowledging someone today, because you just may not get the chance to do so tomorrow.

Sometimes the wheels are spinning at full-tilt and life seems wobbly, sometimes we just need to tug on the brakes a bit and put everything on hold.  I had other plans for Saturday, but I tossed them aside and buried myself in cupcake making to share with my Dad and Brother-in-law.


Pistachio Cake 
110 grams roasted, salted pistachios (I started with 8 ounces shelled) (reserve leftovers to sprinkle on top of the finished cupcakes) 
7 ounces (200 grams or 14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed 
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (or variety of your choice) 
Zest from one Meyer lemon 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
5 large eggs, at room temperature 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

In the bowl of a food processor, grind the pistachios until finely ground.

Add the butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract and pulse until combined.

Add the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse a few times.  Add the eggs and pulse until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl and pulse more if necessary.

Divide batter evenly between 12 muffin cups lined with liners, making each one about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake for 14-16 minutes. Until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cool completely on a rack. 

Meyer Lemon Curd 
2 large eggs 
2 large egg yolks 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice 
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces 

Fill a small pot with a couple inches of water and place a heat-proof bowl on top of that and bring the water to a boil. You don't want the bowl touching the water.

Place the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar into the top of the double boiler and whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and mix well. Reduce the heat until the water is at a gentle boil. Whisk the mixture constantly for seven minutes or until the mixture is thick. Don't let the curd boil.

Immediately strain the curd through a fine sieve set over a medium bowl. Use a spatula to push the curd through and discard any bits. Add the cold butter to the curd and whisk until melted. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Store in the fridge until needed.

This makes about 1 cup of curd, so you will have plenty to use in another recipe if you'd like.

Lemon Meringue Buttercream 
1 cup sugar 
4 large egg whites 
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature, cut in pieces 
1/2 cup powdered sugar 
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice 

Heat sugar and egg whites in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water until 140 degrees F, whisking constantly.

Pour whites into a mixer bowl and beat on medium speed a few minutes until getting fluffy, then turn mixer up to full speed and whisk until the mixture is cool to the touch of the bowl and resembles marshmallow fluff.

Add butter a little bit at a time while the mixer is running on low speed. Add until all the butter is incorporated. Add the lemon zest, juice, and powdered sugar and mix until the mixture is light and fluffy. 

I combined the Swiss and American buttercream methods to make this icing a little more workable.

*If your icing is too soft, place the bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes and then whisk more. 

*If your icing is too firm (resembling cottage cheese) the bowl can be heated from underneath slightly with a torch or you can place the bowl over warm water for a few minutes. The butter was too cold and once it warms the icing will get nice and fluffy.

To finish the cupcakes, remove a small amount of the center of the cupcake with a small spoon (I used the small side of a melon baller and that worked great also).  Fill the indent with a spoonful of the lemon curd.  Place the buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a tip if you wish and pipe on top of the cupcakes.  Sprinkle the cupcakes with chopped pistachios.  Serve at room temperature.  



Even if you are a big kid you are never too old for a birthday bowling party.  Or cupcakes!  Actually instead of making leprechaun traps, maybe that energy would have been better spent inventing a better cupcake trap.  Just a thought...

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Gina

Monday, March 10, 2014

Carrot-Leek, Baked Appetizers and 50 years to deal with...


I loathe Daylight Saving Time, yesterday was a complete blur.  I really needed to curl up in a ball and crash out somewhere about 5, but instead downed excess caffeine and stayed up till after midnight working on my parents 50+ year photo hoard.  When my head finally hit the pillow I yearned to pass out into a coma like state, but of course why would anything happen the way I want it to?  Hot Dog Dude came to bed at the same time as me and started talking and then just lapsed into a snore induced coma with no warning, leaving me lying there wide awake.  (For the love of God I have no idea how my parents' stayed married 50 years sleeping in the same room?)  Then again I'm still unsure if I actually fell asleep when I was awoken by a dream of me trying to help deliver Azmina's baby in a Target store.  

In my dream I told her I had done this plenty of times before and that everything would be fine, they had all the supplies we needed for the job in the baby isle and that she needed to make herself comfy on a blow-up mattress in the camping isle.  Just to clarify here Azmina I have absolutely zero baby delivery skills and if you are in my company and you suddenly feel compelled to give birth, for goodness sakes call 911.  CALL 911!  Also, I think we should stay at least 100 feet from any Target until we know the coast is clear.


Much less stressful than dream delivering a baby in Target was making these tasty carrot, leek, and goat cheese appetizers the other day.  I was thinking back to Christmas when the lovely Lisa invited a group of us to her home for a cookie swap.  I made a carrot, leek, and goat cheese tart to share with the group and while I was craving another one, I decided to lighten the recipe.  Looking over all those old photos was incentive enough to never eat again, but I have a better chance of actually delivering a baby than that happening.  

Carrot, Leek, and Goat Cheese Baked Appetizers
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces 
2 teaspoons olive oil 
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt
Pepper 
2 ounces leek, white part only 
2 teaspoons olive oil 
1 clove finely minced garlic 
3 tablespoons water 
1/4 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped 
2 ounces soft chevre goat cheese 
1 package square won-ton wrappers 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. 

Combine carrots, olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper in a bowl and toss to combine. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment and cook for 25-30 minutes until carrots are tender. 

Add leeks, oil, and garlic to a pan and sauté on medium heat for 3-5 minutes until limp. Add water and cover and cook on low for 10 minutes until the leeks are soft. Set aside.

In a bowl combine, cooked carrots, leeks, and olives and toss to combine. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 

Spray a mini-muffin pan with olive-oil spray or brush it with olive oil. Fill cups with won-ton wrappers and fill with the carrot mixture.  Top each one with a little crumbled goat cheese.

Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Serve warm or room temperature.


I almost forgot to give you the update on my brother's Volkswagen Bus; he wasn't able to make a deal with Rick.  I'm sure he will find the right buyer for the car eventually.  I am also leaving the offer on the table to broker the deal with you myself for a small commission.

Hope your week goes much better than my feeble attempt at sleep did.

Gina




Monday, February 24, 2014

Turkey Meatball Subs and our Pawn Star...


I'm so excited to share with you the exciting news that my brother Tony is going to be on the show Pawn Stars this Thursday Feb 27 trying to make a deal to sell his vintage Volkswagen bus.  You can catch the show on t.v. or possibly here on the History Channel-Pawn Stars, also if he doesn't sell it; I'd be more than happy to broker a transaction with you for a small brokers fee.  (Way, way less than the huge cut they try and get!  Sorry Rick, this is strictly business, a Cookie Queen has to eat too you know.) 

The cutie in the VW is my nephew Lil Anthony rolling just like his daddy did back in high school when he first fell in love with V-dubs and restoring old cars.


Even though last week was a short week it sure was a long one in the work department.  I had several late nights in which I only entertained the idea of what to make for dinner upon entering the kitchen completely famished. You see I'm the easy one in the house, if there is a leftover dessert sitting on the counter I have no problem inhaling it, walking away and calling it good.  While having dessert for dinner seems like cake to me, the other two I live with just aren't that easy.   

Hot Dog Dude comes home from work acting like he hasn't eaten in a month.  He will mow anyone down to get to the food and will complain if one of the items isn't ready and we have to delay plating. Probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact he has cleared his plate before I even get mine served up and make it to the table.  I always feel like I lost a competition that I didn't even know I was in. 

Then there is the kid, who one day eats something, the next day doesn't.  Actually I'm beginning to believe what she eats is completely dependent on what phase the moon is in.  That has to be it; there really is no other rational explanation for this phenomenon.  One day after school she will ask if she can have some chicken nuggets and when I make chicken at home I get, "I don't eat chicken."  I think she is just messing with me,  but I had to give her a pass this week when she ratted out her Dad for complaining I didn't make dinner before leaving for night school. 

I made some meatballs earlier in the week, I was even thinking of said complainer when I made them in turkey instead of beef as to not upset his delicate system. If these complaints keep rolling in, who knows what may end up in the meatballs?  I'm not saying recipes are in the works, but there is just so far you can push people before they snap. 

I tried squelching the peanut gallery with some leftover meatballs transformed into subs; it worked so I'm calling it a win.  If your hoard is equally unruly, may I suggest the humble Turkey Meatball Sub, I used this Beef Meatball recipe but subbed the beef with ground turkey.  I located a jar of Marinara from my stash, toasted a roll with a little butter.  Loaded it up with 3 meatballs, covered with a slice of mozzarella cheese and threw it under the broiler for a minute till the cheese melted.  Added a little extra sauce, and some sort of peace deal managed to be worked out even if it will be short lived.

Gina

p.s. In the random chance I start over with some other family down the road; I'm playing clueless in the kitchen.  I will know how to boil ramen only and trust me I will commit myself to the role.



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