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 24, 2014

“Why does my pee smells so weird?” and other serious stuff.

My daughter has been out of school for the last week on spring break and I have to say I’m really enjoying the little bit of extra time I’ve had to spend on some critical deep thinking that needed to occur.

I have to admit though I did get a little lost in my thoughts.  I somehow always want to go back and revisit real life drama that has been vexing me for years.  “Why does your pee smell so weird after eating asparagus?” While the majority probably wouldn’t squander any of their precious time contemplating such complexities there are some of us who just can’t sleep at night until the truth is revealed to us. Just because I am so disciplined in my purist craft of food writing I decided to invoke the spirits of my native food writing ancestors and ask for their assistance with the matter. I lay down on the earthen floor and perform a chant to the porcelain faced gods after consuming ample amounts of the green stalks, chased down with two bottles of the forbidden grapes and after hours; still nada. Will have to repeat the ceremony in the near future with three bottles of grapes and report back to you soon. 

“Would heroin be more popular if it was blue-raspberry flavor?” Probably not because it would still produce terrible side-effects like, um, death. On the other hand, Otter Pop flavored condoms could be real crowd pleasers. I should add to this line of questioning, “Why am I contemplating the flavor of heroin?” and “Why do I let Jenny drag me into that rabbit hole every time?” 

“Are they ever going to make a woman’s bra that is truly comfortable?” I was in the middle of constructing models on this very spectacle when Hot Dog Dude entered the room and asked me what the “Hell” I was doing in the living room with the dogs in underwear with a couple of cantaloupes, a bunch of grapes, a watermelon, and some fireworks. I told him it’s my 4 year blog-o-versary in May and well let’s just put it this way, “I don’t think they are going to forget this one anytime soon.” 

How do pictures like this get on my phone?


Let's just leave it at this; not all questions need answers.

How come people keep finding my blog? I get a nervous twitch every time I see someone has found my well hidden website when they are searching for the elusive “Unicorn that poops cookies”.  H-e-l-l-o, I’ve been searching for that damn unicorn for years to no avail. I have this grand vision of him on display in my bakery in a glass cage and one of my employees pulls his tail and a cookie poops out and the kids line up for miles to get one, you know exactly how they do it at Chevy’s with their “El Machino” tortilla maker. Honestly, I really can’t see any negatives here. It’s a well thought out idea I even have some numbers ready to go when I finally get that ban lifted for the Shark Tank folks and they let me go on the show and pitch my idea. I‘m smelling franchise here and it smells like well fermented cookie dough. 

 
How come despite having all this extra free time this week the hardest thing I accomplished in the kitchen was whipping up my favorite 3-minute lunch?


If you have 3 extra minutes at lunch, some frozen rice from Trader Joe's or leftover rice, a few baby tomatoes, baby spinach, a small skillet with olive oil, an egg, sesame seeds, and salt and pepper, then we are kindred lunch spirits. 

I had big plans at the beginning of spring break, you know real people plans, get out enjoy the fresh air, go on a real vacation, clean the attic, but with all these serious life questions to ponder coupled with the fact I don’t have an attic, well that just shot all my plans to hell. Here is my advice to all of you; get out there and enjoy spring break and don’t turn down any free shots, because duh; everyone loves free and unicorns whose pee smells like asparagus.

Catch all of you on the rebound!

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.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Bruleed Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Apple Compote


I know it is a great morning when I have breakfast waiting for me in the fridge.  I didn't even have to jump out of bed this morning and get my daughter off to school.  Nope, all I had to do was heat my breakfast up, pour myself a cup of tea and crawl back into bed.

Yep, it's gonna be that kind of day, easy street all the way.  Not only did I make breakfast in advance but I am sharing it with all of you over at the lovely Mangiabella.

You are gonna want to hurry up and make yourself a batch of this Bruleed Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Apple Compote so you can get back in bed and spend the day under the covers ignoring the world.  I know I will be here as long as humanly possible or at least till I can't stand the lunch hunger pangs anymore.

Hope you all have a lovely carefree day today!

Gina 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chocolate Pecan Chess Bars and Valentine's Crafts



It has been brought to my attention that I have been neglecting this space again.  While that may be true, I've been neglecting my homework also if that makes you feel any better.  I may have gotten a little carried away with all the craft preparations for the Valentine's party I had for the kids this weekend.  When glitter and gem stones are involved I somehow lose all track of time.

I sometimes wonder who the bigger kid is at these affairs.  I was setting everything up, getting all the packages open and before I knew it I was knee deep in decoupage and sequins.  I bought some vases at the dollar store and with a few tissue paper squares; sequins, mod podge (glue), and a little ribbon had quite the cute project ready for my little guests to make for themselves.


I had all the supplies necessary for the kids to make their own crowns.  I made a sample one for myself with no intention what so ever of sharing.  Imagine the horror when I saw my nephew running around with it manhandling it, hence the glitter all over it.  Let's just put it this way, he is lucky he is 1 and adorable or I may have to of had a little talk with him.  Crowns of this caliber don't just grow on trees you know. Wait a second; these were made of paper, so scratch that last statement.


Did I have fun with the desserts; let's just say there was homemade marshmallow fluff involved.  In my usual neglectful fashion though, photos were neglected to be taken.  So as an apology I'm offering you some decadent Chocolate Pecan Chess Bars that would be perfect for your Valentines.


Chocolate Pecan Chess Bars

Crust: 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt 

Filling: 
1 cup granulated sugar 
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted 
3 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup milk 

Topping: 
56 pecan halves, (3 1/2 ounces) or more if you’d like 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Combine butter, sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is barely stating to come together. Press the crumbs into a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan and bake for 17 minutes. (If you don’t have a food processor, you could melt the butter and just mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and press in the pan.) Let cool for 10 minutes or so. 

Mix sugar, chocolate, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, salt, and milk together and pour over the baked crust. Place pecan halves evenly over the top of the chocolate batter. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes. 

Let cool and cut into squares for serving.


In the off chance I neglect you on Valentine's Day, let me just say how much I love having you stop by here.

Happy Valentine's Day,

Gina
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