Sunday, October 16, 2016

Flaky Buttery Biscuits

This recipe is from Martha Stewart and it makes 9 big, fluffy biscuits that were a perfect pair with the apple pie jam I made.  I've only made these biscuits once, but the recipe is good enough to replace my old biscuit recipe.  My only changes were that I didn't need all the milk (no surprise there, since you aren't supposed to just dump in all the milk with any biscuit recipe unless it's drop biscuits), and I chose to make square biscuits.  It's just simpler and faster that way and minimizes how much the dough is handled, but you're welcome to roll the dough out and cut it into rounds if you want.
Flaky Buttery Biscuits
1 3/4 C flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter
about 3/4 C milk
Preheat oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cut the cold butter into small cubes and immediately add to the dry ingredients.  Use your fingers or a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like a very coarse cornmeal.  Pour in 1/2 C milk and stir lightly with a fork, just until the dough comes together.  If it's too dry, you can add the rest of the milk a tablespoon or two at a time.  Knead gently just until the dough looks uniform (this should only be 15 seconds or so), be careful not to over work it.  You want a dough that's just a little tacky.  
Dump the dough onto the prepared baking sheet and gently form it into a square about 3/4 inch thick.  Use a knife to cut the square into 9 biscuits.  Leave them touching on the baking sheet, and bake until golden, about 13 to 15 minutes.  Serve immediately.
Yield: 9 large biscuits

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Apple Pie Jam

My husband and I went to a you-pick apple farm last month and came home with 8 lbs of apples.  It was the very last day the farm was open, so many of the apples left were extremely tiny (some were as small as cherries) and very, very sour.  We ate the bigger ones as is, but I knew I had to do something involving a lot of sugar with the tiny ones!  So I hit Google and found Apple Pie Jam.  This is actually a combination of two recipes from Taste of Home and, plus my own inevitable twists.  The basics came from   The original says to peel the apples, but no way was I peeling cherry sized apples.  There would have been nothing left.  A hit with the immersion blender after the apples softened in the pot took care of the skins, and the rosy skins made the jam a lovely color.  
And how was the jam?  Great!  Very similar to apple butter, but definitely not the same.  It's kind of hard to describe, but if you like jam and apple butter, you will love this.  One batch of this wasn't actually enough to use all of the tiny apples, and I'm probably going to make it again later this week.
Apple Pie Jam
6 C chopped apples, with peels
1/2 T pumpkin pie spice (from my own blend)
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 C water
1 packet powdered pectin (I used Ball, this was 6 T from a larger canister)
3 C white sugar
2 C dark brown sugar
Place apples, spice, lemon juice, and water in a large pot and cook over medium until apples are tender.  Puree with immersion blender.  Stir in pectin and bring to a boil while stirring.  Stir in sugar.  Raise temperature to medium-high, or whatever temperature is needed to maintain a rolling boil.  When the jam is boiling hard enough that stirring doesn't make it stop boiling, set a timer to 1 minute and cook, stirring constantly.  
When the minute is up, immediately remove the pot from the heat and continue to stir until it stops boiling.  Fill jars with hot jam.  Allow to cool, then put the lids on.  Refrigerate until chilled, then put any jars that you won't use right away in the freezer.  Refrigerated jam stays good for a week or two.  Just thaw jars as needed in the refrigerator for a day or two.
Yield: 5 or 6 pint jars

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Secret Recipe Club: Lemon Vanilla Salad Dressing

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog Shockingly Delicious.  Shockingly Delicious is written by a woman named Dorothy who is a writer, long time cook, and mom.  Dorothy has so many amazing looking recipes on her blog!  I had such a hard time choosing one because the recipes look so interesting.  I considered Vegetarian Chard Soup, Slow Cooker Hawaiian Kalua Pork, Hot Gooey Caramel Pie, and Rustic Herbed Stuffing with Greens.  I'll probably make the stuffing recipe for Thanksgiving because it looks so good.  We don't even normally have stuffing at Thanksgiving because my family can take it or leave it, but that one looks too interesting not to try.
Anyway, I chose Lemon Vanilla Salad Dressing.  What unique ingredients, I've never seen vanilla in dressing before.  Though I was a little suspicious of how it would turn out, I'm happy to say it's quite good.  Unique and tasty, the flavors totally work!  My husband liked it, too, and he has pretty traditional tastes when it comes to salad and dressings.  I'm having flashbacks to his horror when I served a kale salad with chopped apples, walnuts, and dried cranberries topped with an avocado lemon dressing.  Usually he loves what I make, but he still talks about how bad that was.  I liked it...  Point is, even he enjoyed this dressing, unique and dare I say "girly" as it may be.

I served the dressing over plain bagged salad from the grocery store, but added some of the last of my baby tomatoes and peppers from my garden.  I meant to give the salad a sprinkle of dried cranberries, too, but forgot.  Oops!  What I can say for sure is that I'll definitely make this dressing again.  It would be great in the summer since the flavors are so light, or in the dead of winter to perk things up a bit.  Thanks for the awesomeness, Dorothy!
One last thing: I received a sad e-mail saying that November would be the last month of Secret Recipe Club because they're closing up shop.  I remember how excited I was to join 2 1/2 years ago.  The rules were that you had to have 100 recipe posts WITH pictures, and a recipe index, so I spent quite a while building up my collection of recipes with photos (it isn't second nature of me to take a picture of what I cook!) and making the index before I applied.  How disappointing for it to be over.  
I'll still lurk around some of my favorite blogs that I found through SRC, like Making Memories with your Kids, Chef in Disguise, Mother Would Know, The Pajama Chef, and BCMom's Kitchen, but it won't be the same.  All of the blogs I've been assigned to have been great though.  Many of the SRC recipes I've made are ones I still make, and I've tried a lot of recipes that I never would have tried. and I've thoroughly enjoyed the past two and a half years of Secret Recipe Club.  Does anyone know of other cooking blog groups like this?
  Lemon Vanilla Salad Dressing
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (I used Nielsen-Massey brand, yum!)
pinch salt
Place all ingredients in a bowl and blend with an immersion blender for about 30 seconds or until all ingredients are combined and the dressing has thickened slightly.  Alternatively, you can mix it up in a blender.
Yield: 1/2 C dressing

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chewy Chocolate Fudge Caramel Frosting

I know it may not sound like a good thing for frosting to be chewy, but trust me on this.  It's not chewy like gummi bears, but chewy like a homemade caramel candy, with a solid helping of chocolate.  It starts out the perfect glossy spreading consistency, then firms up into a thick, fudgy texture.  How could that not be good?  Let me note that I have no idea how well this would work with a layer cake where the frosting has to stick to the sides, but it works well on cupcakes or spread over a 9 by 13 inch cake left in the pan.

This frosting is also astonishingly easy to make and only has two ingredients: chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk.  It's the fudge frosting from Joanne Fluke's titular fudge cupcake recipe.  I was excited about trying the cupcake recipe for months because I've had a lot of luck with her recipes and love all things raspberry (the "secret" ingredient in the cupcake batter is raspberry syrup), but didn't care for the cupcakes themselves.  They weren't very chocolatey, but were both dense and dry.  Sorry, Joanne.  The frosting, on the other hand: divine!  Make it!

Chewy Chocolate Fudge Caramel Frosting

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
12 oz bag semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Pour sweetened condensed milk into a medium sauce pan and heat over medium, stirring frequently, just until it's hot and bubbly.  Remove from heat and wait for the bubbles to subside a little (about 30 seconds), then dump in the chocolate chips.  Stir mixture until chocolate chips are melted and the frosting is thick, glossy, and very smooth.  Spread immediately over cake or brownies.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Nectarine Banana Bread

This is just my regular banana bread with diced nectarines added, but it sure is good, and worthy of its own post!  Wow!  It's so moist, dense (in a good way), and sweet that it's practically cake.  One large loaf has 3 bananas and 3 nectarines in it, so it's full of fruit.  The nice thing is that you can taste both the nectarines and the bananas well.  Banana tends to cover up all other flavors, but because the nectarines are diced and not pureed, they come through great.  In the future, I'd like to try adding fresh raspberries instead of the nectarines and see how that turns out.
Nectarine Banana Bread
3/4 C softened butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
3-4 mashed overripe bananas (you want about 1 1/2 C)
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C buttermilk
3 nectarines, peeled and diced
Preheat oven to 350and grease a one large bread pan (I use this one) or two normal sized ones.
Mix butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in eggs and bananas.  Add baking soda, salt, and half of the flour to the mixing bowl and beat to combine.  Stir in 1/2 of the buttermilk, then stir in the rest of the flour.  Stir in the last of the buttermilk until everything is well combined.  Stir in diced nectarines.  Spread batter in prepared bread pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour for a large loaf, or around 40-50 minutes for two normal loaves.  You can cover the pan with foil if the bread browns too much.  Let baked bread rest for about 20 minutes, then invert it onto a plate to finish cooling. 

Yield: About 12 servings

Friday, September 9, 2016

Junk Food Fruit Salad

I love fresh fruit, and few things are better than a big bowl of fresh pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, and kiwis all chopped up and tossed together.  So why does fruit salad made with canned fruit, pudding mix, and Cool Whip still so good?  I have no idea, but it is.  I've been making this recipe a couple of times a year for a long time now (with a special version at Christmas), so I think it deserves to be on my blog.  It may be low brow, but I kind of am too, so there you go.
You can use whatever flavor instant pudding mix you like.  Pistachio is the norm, and that's what I use at Christmas, but the rest of the time, I always use cheesecake pudding mix.  Also, the exact amount of fruit you use is up to you.  This time I used only two cans in addition to the pineapple (pears and peaches), but I often use 4 or so cans, and like for at least a couple of those to be a tropical fruit mix with mango, papaya, and pineapple.  Sometimes I also add grapes or bananas, but bananas only if it will be eaten quickly.
 Junk Food Fruit Salad
20 oz can crushed pineapple, with juice
3 oz box instant cheesecake pudding mix
2-4 additional cans of fruit, drained and cut into bite sized pieces if necessary
optional: 1 1/2 C mini marshmallows
8 oz tub Cool Whip, thawed
Drain pineapple juice from can into large mixing bowl.  Add pudding mix and stir until well combined and smooth.  Stir in crushed pineapple, then remaining fruit and mini marshmallows.  Fold in Cool Whip until evenly mixed.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.  This keeps well in the refrigerator for 4 days or so.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Secret Recipe Club: Chocolate Apricot Marshmallow Crunch

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog Mother Would Know, which is written by a wonderful woman named Laura.  Laura is the mother to two grown children, but is ready and willing to be the fill-in mom for anyone who needs cooking advice!  Her blog has great recipes, lots and lots of tips, and is incredibly welcoming.  I really enjoyed poking around on the blog.
There were plenty of very appealing recipes to pick from.  I strongly considered Overnight Holiday Dinner Buns, Moist Almond Bread, and Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes, and will probably make all three very soon.  The recipe I ended up choosing was Chocolate Apricot Marshmallow Crunch: Rice Krispie treats topped with mini marshmallows and diced up dried apricots.  Why have I never thought of putting apricots on Rice Krispie Treats?  The combo just sounded amazing, and I was already looking for a dessert recipe to try, so the choice was simple.
How did they turn out?  Every bit as good as I hoped!  My husband and I were happy I made a double batch.  I'm also grateful for the trick I learned from Laura- use parchment paper to press down the cereal mixture and the topping!  It won't stick and works much better than a spoon or hands.  Why didn't I think of that before?  The funniest part is that a few hours before I made these treats, my own mom called and in the course of the conversation, she mentioned that parchment paper was awesome for pressing sticky Rice Krispie Treats into the pan.  So, thank you to both Mother Would Know and my actual mother!
My tiny changes were to not soak the apricots in juice because the chewy texture of the plain apricots appealed to me, and I added vanilla extract, because why not?  Regardless, what a fun and slightly different dessert choice for any time of year, but especially autumn/Halloween because of the colors.  I actually chose them in part because of the colors.  We live in Alaska and I love it here, but the end of summer is always sad and a tiny bit panic inducing as we gear up for another 6+ months of nonstop snow and cold.  I make a real effort to to try to get excited about autumn: wintry foods, Halloween movies, fall decorations, etc.  These Rice Krispie Treats fit in perfectly.  Thank you, Laura, both for the great recipe and for helping ease the transition into fall!
Chocolate Apricot Marshmallow Crunch
1/2 C finely diced dried apricots
1/3 C mini chocolate chips
3 Tbsp butter
8 oz mini marshmallows (by weight)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 C Rice Krispies cereal
Cut two long strips of parchment paper to fit the inside of an 8 by 8 baking dish with a few inches of overhang on each end.  Overlap the strips so they make a + sign in the dish.  Set aside.
Melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat, then add marshmallows and cook, stirring constantly, just until marshmallows are melted.  Immediately remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, then the cereal.  
Once the cereal is completely coated, dump it into the prepared baking dish and press it in evenly with the back of a spoon.  You can use the parchment paper ends to press the mixture down, too.  Sprinkle the apricot pieces and mini chocolate chips evenly over the cereal mixture.  Use the long ends of parchment paper to firmly press the topping down.  
Let set for a couple of hours until cutting into pieces to serve- you can use the parchment paper overhang to lift the Rice Krispie Treats out of the dish and then cut them into serving pieces.