Sunday, February 27, 2011

February Daring Bakers Challenge: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

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               The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

     I love being a part of the Daring Kitchen challenges because I am given the opportunity to make so many new things.  I had never had either of the challenge recipes this month. While both are a bit too sweet for my preference, that doesn't mean they weren't delicious!   Even better was that both recipes were super easy to make!
Chocolate Panna Cotta
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 cups (480 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
½ cup (115 gm) (4 oz) sugar
¾ cup (145 gm)(5 oz) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) vanilla extract

1.Pour milk into a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the top, set aside for 2-5 minutes.
2.Place a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir in cream, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a low boil.
3.Add chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk the milk/gelatin mixture into chocolate cream mixture. Whisk until gelatin has dissolved.
4.Transfer to ramekins, or nice glasses for serving.
5.Cover and chill at least 8 hours, or overnight

Florentine cookies
Recipe from the cookbook “Nestle Classic Recipes”, and their website.
2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate

Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.
1.Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.
2.To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula. These cookies are intended to spread thin so it is very important not to leave room on the cookie sheet.  I baked six cookies at a time.
3.Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.
4.While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave (1 1/2 minutes), or stovetop (in a double boiler, or a bowl that fits atop a saucepan filled with a bit of water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl).
5.Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).
6.Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.
This recipe will make about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen sandwiched Florentine cookies. You can also choose not to sandwich yours, in which case, drizzle the tops with chocolate (over your wax paper).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

roasted cauliflower

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      I am not a huge vegetable fan.  I can eat them when they are covered in sauces and some of them I'll eat raw, but to be honest with you, vegetables have not been my highest priority.  In fact, the only reason vegetables get served every day is because my mother lives with us and she loves her vegies!  
     One reason I decided to take on food challenges is to enrich my palate and try things I might not have ever tried.  Traveling to other countries has also helped increase my digestive adventures!  Slowly my toleration of vegetables is expanding and one recipe I have recently tried was a huge hit; roasted cauliflower.  Cauliflower just is icky not very tasty.... well, that has always been my opinion anyway!
      I researched several recipes and combined what I thought would be most appealing to my family. Most recipes just called for either olive oil only or butter.  I combined a bit of both, since I knew the butter would help crisp up the cauliflower, as well as adding a bit of finely grated Parmesan cheese.  This recipe will definitely be served again!

Roasted Cauliflower
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons butter, melted
olive oil ( I mixed the butter with about 3 tablespoons and had plenty of the mixture left over)
Salt and pepper 
finely ground Parmesan cheese ( I used 1/4 cup)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  
Cut the Cauliflower into florets, I cut them into half so that I had a flat side to lay flat against the baking sheet. I gently rinsed off the florets in a colander so that the cauliflower didn't get soggy.  I went with the method of lining the baking sheet with tinfoil then I lightly coated the tinfoil with the olive oil and butter mixture. Next, in a single layer, place the florets flat side down.  Using a pastry brush, coat the florets with the remaining butter/oil mixture using as little or much as you desire.  Sprinkle the florets with some salt and freshly ground pepper (again, to taste).
Place baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and cook for 15 minutes.  Transfer baking sheet to the top rack of the oven and bake for another 5 minutes (or until the tops get the carmelization that you desire.  Remove from oven and Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Best if served warm.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Homemade Gnocchi Bake with Red Onions and Pancetta

This months Monthly Challenge was to make "red" foods for the month of February. Right off I swore I wouldn't do the obvious choices of red velvet cake or tomato based dishes..... But I was sooooooo wrong. When I did a Google search of "red foods" (seriously, look it up and you will see quite a listing!) and I came across this recipe for Gnocchi with Red Onions and Pancetta it just screamed out at me. Gnocchi has been on my list of things to make for ages now and hey, red onion count as red, right?? Ok, don't go getting all technical on me. I know that they are not really "red" but lets not get picky about things :-) 
3 large baking potatoes (Idaho, about 1 3/4 pounds)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups all purpose flour (as needed)

Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are easily pierced with a skewer but the skins are not split, about 3
5 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and let them stand just until cool enough to handle. (The hotter the potatoes are when they are peeled and riced, the lighter the gnocchi will be.) Working quickly and protecting the hand that holds the potatoes with a folded kitchen towel or oven mitt, scrape the skin from the potato with a paring knife. Press the peeled potatoes through a potato ricer. Alternatively, the potatoes can be passed through a food mill fitted with the fine disc, but a ricer makes fluffier potatoes and therefore lighter gnocchi.
 Spread the riced potatoes into a thin, even layer on the work surface, without pressing them or compacting them. Let them cool completely.

In a small bowl, beat the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together. Gather the cold potatoes into a mound and form a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well. Knead the potato and egg mixtures together with both hands, gradually adding the grated cheese and enough of the flour, about 1 1/2 cups, to form a smooth but slightly sticky dough. It should take no longer than 3 minutes to work the flour into the potato mixture; remember, the longer the dough is kneaded, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become. As you knead the dough, it will stick to your hands and to the work surface: Repeatedly rub this rough dough from your hands and scrape it with a knife or dough scraper from the work surface back into the dough as you knead.          

      Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with some of the remaining flour. Cut the dough into six equal pieces and set off to one side of the work surface. Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong
Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and exerting light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, until your hands get the feel of the dough, you may find it easier to cut each piece of dough in half to roll it.). Slice the ropes into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle the rounds lightly with flour and roll each piece to prevent sticking. Repeat the whole process with the remaining pieces of dough. At this point the gnocchi must be cooked immediately or frozen.
To cook gnocchi:Bring six quarts of salted water to a vigorous boil in a large pot over high heat. Drop about half the gnocchi into the boiling water a few at a time, stirring gently, until tender, about 1 minute after they rise to the surface.
To freeze gnocchi:It is best to freeze gnocchi uncooked as soon as they are shaped. Arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on a baking pan and place the pan in a level position in the freezer. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Gather the frozen gnocchi into resealable freezer bags. Frozen gnocchi can be stored in the freezer for 4 to 6 weeks.
To cook frozen gnocchi:Frozen gnocchi must be cooked directly from the freezer in plenty of boiling water, or they will stick together. Bring 6 quarts salted water to a boil in each of two large pots. Shake any excess flour from the frozen gnocchi and split them between the two pots, stirring gently as you add them to the boiling water. It is important that the water return to a boil as soon as possible; cover the pots if necessary. Drain the gnocchi as described above and sauce and serve according to the specific recipe.
                                                         Gnocchi Bake with red onions and pancetta
adapted from here
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces Pancetta, cubed
1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped tomato (I used one cup of canned diced tomato)
3 tablespoons sun dried tomato paste (sadly, this is unheard of in my area so I used regular tomato paste)
1 cup Mascarpone cheese
1 pound fresh gnocchi
8-10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
2 cups grated mozarella cheese (which I thought was way overkill so I used maybe 3/4 cup
1/3 cup white breadcrumbs (again, I thought this was a bit much so just used a couple tablespoons)

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the pancetta. Cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.
Add the red onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes, or until the pancetta is cooked and the onion softened.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes, sun-dried tomato paste, and mascarpone cheese. Simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi for 1-2 minutes, until they rise to the surface. Do not overcook.
Drain the gnocchi thoroughly and place in a large ovenproof dish (My 9-inch square pyrex worked perfectly).
Add the chopped basil to the pancetta sauce mixture and stir. Pour the sauce over the gnocchi and toss gently to coat it.
Combine the grated cheese with the breadcrumbs and scatter over the gnocchi.
Cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Have the Cake challenge 2/2011 : Romeo and Juliet Cake

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This month's Have the Cake Challenge was to make a Romeo and Juliet cake.  What's that??? You've never heard of it?  That's ok, it was a new one to me as well. Sugar Plum Fairy found this recipe on the Chocorango blog and asked that we make this as festive for Valentine's day as possible.  As luck would have it, I have two birthdays in February; one on Valentine's day and the other on the 15th. I made this cake for my mother in-law's birthday.... actually, I made little individual cakes using the heart shape cupcake pan I have. I had to reduce the cooking time to 16 minutes (rotating the pans after 8 minutes) and the directions were a bit confusing so I ended up winging a few things. There's milk in the recipe, but the directions here or on the site this was taken from said when to add it. I decided that I would combine the milk and oil and where the directions stated to add the oil that's when I put it in. Also, I didn't know what to do with the guava jelly... that probably sounds stupid since the obvious answer is to put it on the cake. However, the jelly is.. well, its jelled. So to make it spreadable I added some water into a small pan and then added the jelly to warm it together and liquefy it. While it was still quite hot, I dipped the little cake tops into it. Having the paste would have been better, I'm sure of it. But I was lucky to find the jelly in our area so jelly it was.

Romeo and Juliet Cake3 large eggs
200g sugar
200g flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp baking powder
20g grated parmesan cheese
200ml milk
40ml oil
300g goiabada cubed (guava paste)

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease a 22cm round pan. Sift the flour, cornstarch and baking powder. Set aside.
Beat the eggs with sugar for 10 minutes in high speed. Beat for more 2 minutes in slow speed. Fold in the sifted ingredients. (It was at this stage that I combine the milk and oil together) Mix in 1/4 of batter the oil. Fold in the remaining batter and mix the grated parmesan.
Spoon into the pan and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cover with goiabada.
Melt the goiabada with water. Let boil, stirring until reduce. Let cool slightly and cover the cake.
  I added a bit of water to the jelly in a small saucepan... thinned it out and then topped the cake with it.
Serve: 8 portions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MS Cupcake Club - Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

This month, on the Martha Stewart Cupcake Club, we were challenged to make chocolate chip cupcakes. Now does that sound yummy or what!  Being so close to Valentine's day I wanted to make these little cakes for my Sunday school class. I found the cutest little Wilton heart shaped cupcake pans and then topped them off with a bit of chocolate ganash and some sprinkles.

Here's a little tip for when making any kind of cake using chocolate chips; add a bit of flour to the chocolate chips and toss to coat them with the flour.  Some will still sink towards the bottom but the majority will be throughout the cake.  

You can find the recipe for Martha Stewart's cupcakes here 

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Daring Cooks February 2011 Challenge: Cold Soba Salad & Tempura

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broccoli and mushrooms
This was an exciting and fun challenge for me. While the recipes are not at all complicated, you will find it a bit time consuming.  We invited some family over and enjoyed our food as each variety of tempura was made.  It reminded me of the way food was served to us in China... each dish was brought out one after another.  We had a great time and the food was delicious!

Blog-checking lines: The February 2011 Daring Cooks' challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl.  She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura.  She has various sources for her challenge including, and

Soba is a type of thin Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour. It is served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup. It takes three months for buckwheat to be ready for harvest, so it can be harvested four times a year, mainly in spring, summer, and autumn.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find buckwheat noodles or flour in our area.  We were allowed to substitute any type of thin noodle so I used Somen Japanese style noodles.

Hiyashi Soba is a popular dish in summer. It's like a noodle salad. Restaurants in Japan serve Hiyashi Soba only in summer. Even if you don't have much appetite because of the heat, Hiyashi Soba can be appetizing. Common Hiyashi Soba toppings are omelet strips, ham, cucumber and grated Daikon. You can also have the noodles just with the dipping sauce.

Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. A light batter is made of cold water (sometimes sparkling water is used to keep the batter light and soft wheat flour (cake, pastry or all-purpose flour). Eggs, baking soda or baking powder, starch, oil, and/or spices may also be added.Hiyashi Soba:

Oops... made a mistake and added the dipping sauce to the noodles.
Recipes courtesy of Globetrotter Diaries and Food
Soba Noodles:
2 quarts (2 Liters) water + 1 cup cold water, separate
12 oz (340 g) dried soba (buckwheat) noodles (or any Asian thin noodle)

Cooking the noodles:
Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the noodles a small bundle at a time, stirring gently to separate. When the water returns to a full boil, add 1 cup of cold water. Repeat this twice. When the water returns to a full boil, check the noodles for doneness. You want to cook them until they are firm-tender. Do not overcook them.
Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse well under cold running water until the noodles are cool. This not only stops the cooking process, but also removes the starch from the noodles. This is an essential part of soba noodle making. Once the noodles are cool, drain them and cover them with a damp kitchen towel and set them aside allowing them to cool completely.
Mentsuyu - Traditional dipping sauce:
2 cups (480ml) Kombu and Katsuobushi dashi (This can be bought in many forms from most Asian stores and you can make your own. Recipe is HERE.) Or a basic vegetable stock.    I used a basic vegetable stock.
1/3 cup (80 ml) soy sauce or a low sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup (80 ml) mirin (sweet rice wine)
      *Note: If you can’t find Mirin, a substitute recipe can be found HERE

Put mirin in a sauce pan and heat gently. Add soy sauce and dashi soup stock in the pan and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Spicy Dipping Sauce:
¾ cup 70gm/2½ oz spring onions/green onions/scallions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons (45 ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) rice vinegar
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (4 ⅔ gm) (0.16 oz) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1/8 gm) (0.005 oz) English mustard powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) grape-seed oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) sesame oil (if you can’t find this just omit from recipe.)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste - roughly 1/3 a teaspoon of each

Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, add and shake in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.

Serving notes:Traditionally soba is served on a bamboo basket tray, but if you don’t have these, you can simply serve them on a plate or in a bowl. Divide up the noodles, laying them on your serving dishes. Sprinkle each one with nori. In small side bowl or cup, place 1/2 cup (120 ml) of dipping sauce into each. In separate small side dishes, serve each person a small amount of wasabi, grated daikon, and green onions.
The noodles are eaten by sprinkling the desired garnishes into the dipping sauce and eating the noodles by first dipping them into the sauce. Feel free to slurp away! Oishii!
green beans
Recipes courtesy of pink bites and itsy bitsy foodies
Serves 4
1 egg yolk from a large egg
1 cup (240 ml) iced water
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) plain (all purpose) flour, plus extra for dredging
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) cornflour (also called cornstarch)
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (2½ gm) (0.09 oz) baking powder
oil, for deep frying preferably vegetable
ice water bath, for the tempura batter (a larger bowl than what will be used for the tempura should be used. Fill the large bowl with ice and some water, set aside)
Very cold vegetables and seafood of your choice ie:
      Sweet potato, peeled, thinly sliced, blanched
      Carrot, peeled, thinly sliced diagonally
      Pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed, thinly sliced blanched
      Green beans, trimmed
      Green bell pepper/capsicum, seeds removed, cut into 2cm (¾ inch)-wide strips
      Assorted fresh mushrooms
      Eggplant cut into strips (traditionally it’s fanned)
      Onions sliced

Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well. Add flours and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables and seafood have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies help create a crispy tempura.

Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be 320°F/160°C; for seafood it should be 340°F/170°C. It is more difficult to maintain a steady temperature and produce consistent tempura if you don’t have a thermometer, but it can be done. You can test the oil by dropping a piece of batter into the hot oil. If it sinks a little bit and then immediately rises to the top, the oil is ready.

Start with the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, that won’t leave a strong odor in the oil. Dip them in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.

Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off. Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean and prevent the oil (and the remaining tempura) from getting a burned flavor.
yellow bell peppers
sweet potatoes

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cookie Carnival: Two Tone Cookie Crinkles

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This month we once again had two options and I went for the one with..... chocolate of course!!!
These cookies are actually very similar to another cookie I wanted to make for Christmas, but time got away from me.  There is a bit of work involved, with these cookies, but the end result is well worth it.  Come join us at the cookie carnival here
This is a Better homes and garden recipe and can be also be found at their website.
Two tone Cookie Crinkles
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1  teaspoon baking powder
1/4  teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon  vanilla
2-1/4  cups  all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Chocolate Ganache
 1/2 cup whipping cream
4 ounces high quality bitter sweet chocolate

Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Stir cocoa powder into one portion of dough. Cover and chill dough halves in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours or until dough is easy to handle.Preheat oven to 375F. Roll each dough half to 1/8-inch-thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out dough with a floured 2-1/2-inch fluted square cookie cutter, or cut dough into 2-1/2-inch squares using a fluted pastry wheel. Use an hors d'oeuvre cutter to cut a 1-inch square, diamond, circle, or flower shape from the centers of half of cutouts of each color.
Place cutouts 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake in preheated oven about 8 minutes or until edges are set. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. 
 Spoon about 1 teaspoon Chocolate Ganache in centers of bottom side of each cookie without a cutout. Top each white cookies with a chocolate cookie with cutout, bottom sides down; top each chocolate cookie with a white cookie with a cutout, bottom sides down. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 30 cookies. To store: Place unfilled cookies in layers separated by pieces of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw cookies, if frozen. Assemble cookies with ganache, as directed. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  Chocolate Ganache: Heat 1/2 cup whipping cream in a small saucepan just until bubbles begin to form around edge. Stir in 4 ounces chopped high-quality bittersweet chocolate using a wire whisk until mixture is smooth. Cover and chill in the refrigerator about 30 minutes or until mixture mounds slightly. Makes about 3/4 cup
Tip: For mini sandwich cookies, bake the center cutouts in the preheated 375F oven for 5 to 6 minutes. Cool cookies, then assemble by spreading ganache on half of the cookies and topping with remaining cookies to make sandwiches.