I love family. I love learning. I love food. This is simply a collection of thoughts, memories, and recipes that are a piece of me!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dip-ity Doing

I just wanted to put up a very quick, delicious dip recipe my family has been making and loving for years.  It's super yummy and so very simple that I hate to even call it a recipe.

What you'll need:
2 blocks of cream cheese
a package of sliced ham
a few green onions

Let your cream cheese get to room temperature so it's easy to mix.  Dice up about half of a package of the ham into pretty small pieces.  Chop up the green parts of the green onions.  I actually make it easy on myself and just snip them up with kitchen scissors.  Mix it all together, let it chill overnight so the flavors will marry, and serve with Ritz!  So good...so simple.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bagels, baby!

 Few things in life make me as genuinely happy as the smell of yeast.  If there were a yeast scented candle, I'd burn it.  If there were a yeast scented perfume, I wouldn't wear it, but I would spray it around my house every morning.  I love it.  Something about it warms my soul.  I think it just reminds me of being a little kid and my mom and grandma making cinnamon rolls right before a big family reunion.  Regardless of what it is, if there's a bread product I can make with yeast, I want to learn how to do it.  For years after I got married, I tried to keep bagels in the house.  The hubs is a big fan.  It occurred to me one day, however, that bagels had yeast in them...and that equals deliciousness.  Hence, this bagel recipe has become quite a staple in my house.  I will admit, when I first saw this technique, I was skeptical.  Trust me, though.  It works, and it's so yummy!

What you'll need:
4 1/2 cups of flour
2 packages (or 4 tsp) of yeast
1 1/2 cups of warm water 
1 tbsp of salt
3 tbsp of sugar

And whatever else (if anything) you want to add!

You will also need a gallon of water and another tbsp of sugar later.

This yeast recipe is a bit different than most.  Generally speaking, you're going to mix your yeast and water, let the yeast "bloom" (like with cinnamon rolls) and then add it to the flour.  Not this time.  This time, you're going to add your yeast to 1 1/12 cups of flour in a nice big bowl.  Mix the two together and set aside.

Mix your water, salt, and 3 tbsp of sugar together and mix it up until the sugar and salt dissolve.  Once dissolved, add the salty sugar water to your flour and yeast.  Combine, then mix on high for three minutes.  It's going to be really runny- not like a dough at all.

Now by hand, mix in 2 1/2 cups of flour.  This is very important.  Do NOT add all the flour right now.  This took me several fails to figure out why my bagels were really tough.  You have to knead your dough on a floured surface, so I reserve that last 1/2 cup to flour my counter top.  If I don't, I will end up with too much in the dough, and we will all be eating bagel flavored rocks.

Knead for 8 minutes or so- just until the dough is like elastic.

Toward the end of your kneading, you can add any little additions you'd like.  Some great examples would be dried cranberries, cinnamon, or pecans.  (If you're going to add cheese, do it before baking instead of now.)  

Once kneaded, cover your dough ball with a damp cloth and let rest for 15 minutes.  After they rest, you're going to cut it into 8 equal pieces and form your bagels.  Don't fret.  They are going to be tiny little things.  They grow.  Cover again, and let rise for 20 minutes.  While they are rising, get a great big pot, pour in a gallon of water, and get 'er a boiling.

When your bagels have risen a bit and your water is boiling all nice and big, add your last tbsp of sugar to your water, and start dropping in your dough just a few bagels at a time!  Seriously.  You're going to boil your dough.  Gross, right?  It was so nasty sounding to me, too.  Something about the boiling stage makes the outside super chewy and amazingly delicious though.

Boil them for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Flip, and boil another 3 minutes.  Take them out to drain a bit on a towel.

This is a bit of a tedious process.  Find something productive to do between flips....like work on your blog.  

Once they've all been boiled, bake on a greased baking dish (I used a big 9x13 glass dish and two glass pie plates.  I tried cookie sheets, but they burned every single time.  Glass just works better.) at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.  When they are browned on the bottom, flip them and cook another 15 minutes or so, just until browned on both sides. 

These are so yummy, especially fresh from the oven with some cream cheese.  These can also be formed into just balls and used as bread bowls!  Enjoy this delicious warmness and the unbelievable scent of yeast as it fills your home!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best Hot Chocolate In the World.

I don't know about you, but I'm a hot chocolate snob.  I'm pretty much a chocolate snob in general, but hot chocolate is something I'm especially picky about.  All my life, I thought I hated it.  I knew hot cocoa as a packet you mix with hot water.  (Sorry, mom) Gross.  I've never found a packet I liked.  One day when I was dating my husband, I was at work, quite sick. Being the sweety he is, he thought he would do me a favor and bring me a hot chocolate from the Starbucks across the street.  I had no choice but to drink it. And drink it down, I did.  I was in love.  I made it a point to go to starbucks every time I could, but I was still so bummed that I couldn't have this beautiful concoction anytime I pleased, until one day I found Todd Wilbur's website and the very first recipe I looked for?  Starbucks hot chocolate.  Later, I realized a simple google search also led me to several websites with this recipe.  But here it is....the world's best hot chocolate.

What you'll need:
1/4 cup of water
2 tbsp suger
2 tbsp cocoa powder (this is NOT hot chocolate mix.  It's baking cocoa)
1 and a 1/2 cups of milk
1 tsp  of vanilla

This is such a simple recipe.  Start with your water in a 2 cup measure that is microwave safe.  Add in the sugar and cocoa powder.  Wisk  until it looks like this.  You just made a chocolate sauce.  Microwave for 45 seconds.

See how it measures to be 1/2 cup?  Filler 'er all the way up to the 2 cup line with milk.  Stir, and microwave for another minute.  Take it out, stir it again, and microwave for another minute and a half.  Pour it into two mugs, and enjoy...and share...or enjoy one cup after another.  So yummy!  There's a million delicious things you could add to this to really make it your own.  Caramel sauce, peppermint extract instead of vanilla, or cayenne pepper would be just to name a few!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cinnamon Rolling

I will admit it.  I love Christmas.  There's just nothing quite like it.  Every sense is constantly on overload.  Look at those lights.  Listen to the music.  Feel the fire.  Taste that delicious spread.  And smell.  Smell the amazingly sweet aroma that screams "It's the holiday season!"  I don't know what does it for you, but cinnamon is my Christmas scent.  If it's the forth of July and someone is baking cinnamon rolls, I immediately want to roll up in my Snuggie and flip on Charlie Brown.  Every since I've had kids, I've tried to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.  Usually I succeed, but they are always at least a day or two old.  Still amazing, but it never gave me that smell that I was really craving.  I almost pictured the Foldgers commercials.  You know, that smell that wakes the whole house... I was afraid that this year, it wouldn't happen because Christmas just happens to fall on Sunday, which is always a rush for my sleepy family, and we are having the big family celebration at my house.  No one wants that mess with company.  But I'm doing it.  I'm making them and freezing them so I can bake them that morning.  Oh how excited I am!  I have tried to come up with my own special cinnamon roll recipe, and though I'm far from giving up, I will stick with Paula Deen's rock solid recipe this year.  You can find her recipe here. The main change I will make is to double everything to make twice as much.  If I'm going through all this trouble, I'm going to enjoy my accolades for a long long time. Here is what I do.

What you'll need:
2 1/4 oz packages of yeast (this is roughly 4 tsps if you buy in bulk like I do...I make a lot of breads.)
1 cup of warm water
1 cup of scalded milk
1/2 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of melted butter (use REAL butter, people)
2 tsp of salt
2 eggs
7 to 8 cups of all purpose flour

butter for spreading
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 tbsp cinnamon

First, start by gently heating your milk, I add my butter directly to the milk.  This saves me the step of melting the butter in another dish.  If I can avoid washing dishes, I will.  Might as well kill two birds with one stone here.  When I first started cooking, I called my mom because I had no idea what "scalding" milk meant.  It's right before it boils.  If you get down even with the pan, it will steam when it is scalding.  You should also see little bubbles around the edge.

Once your milk is scalded and your butter is melted, pour it into a big bowl.  You want to do everything you can to cool this mixture off so as to avoid scrambled eggs in your cinnamon rolls.  From here, add your sugar, salt, and eggs.  In the words of Paula, be sure to add your eggs "one at the time" so they incorporate fully.  Mix it up.

You're also going to want to add your yeast to your water now.  I just get water as hot as I can from the faucet and mix in the yeast.  It works every time for me.  The yeast needs time to "bloom."

Add two to three cups of flour now, just to make it sticky and to start to incorporate.  Mix it with your electric mixer.  (Oh, Kitchenaid, you shall be mine someday...)

Once you get your flour mixed in, don't freak out if it looks like peanut butter.  That's what it reminds me of.  It's going to be super sticky and kinda hard to mix if you're using a little hand held mixer like me.  Don't fret.  That's what it's supposed to be like.

Remember that yeast you put in the water?  It should look like this.

It reminds me of....maybe chocolate milk that needs more chocolate and is foamy on top.  Don't ask me why you need it to do this.  I have no idea.  I just know if you don't do it, the recipe is a fail.

Pour in your yeasty water and mix it in.  Just a tip: if you make sure the front of beaters are as close to the edge as possible, it won't splatter near as much.

Now add the rest of your flour, just until it's pretty easy to handle.  If you add too much flour, your cinnamon rolls will be tough and hard and not as delicious.  Turn it out on a floured surface and knead for about 5 to 10 minutes.

And please, do yourself a favor and remove rings.

Once it has been kneaded enough, you can poke it with your finger and the hole will remain.

Now add to a well greased bowl, cover with a towel that is slightly damp (that keeps the dough from drying out) and hide it.  Okay, don't really hide it, but you do want your bowl-o-dough to be in a place that doesn't get a draft and is warm-ish.  This ensures it will rise.  You want it to double in size...so we wait...for an hour to an hour and a half.

While you're waiting on your dough to rise, you can go ahead and mix up your filling mixture.  I use a very simply mix of cinnamon and sugar.  Of course, you can add anything you'd like.  Pumpkin pie spice would be lovely or cloves or nutmeg.  Heck, you can add candy sprinkles if that suits your fancy.  (Note: I do NOT promote candy sprinkles in cinnamon rolls.)

Once your dough has doubled in size, it's time to punch it.  Literally.  Make a fist and shove it into the dough.  Give 'er a good punchin'.  Okay, so once really will suffice.  Next, plop it out on a floured surface, and cut your dough in half, putting half back into the bowl.  (Remember?  We doubled the recipe..)

Now roll out half of your dough until you can't handle rolling anymore.  Try to keep it in a rectangular-ish shape if at all possible.  I don't really know how thin I get it.  A quarter of an inch, perhaps...?

Next, this is where Paula Deen (actually, most recipes) and I differ.  She says use melted butter.  I say spread margarine (what?  seriously??  Not BUTTER?)  No, and here's why: I like to avoid cleaning when I can, and the spreadable margarine helps me in that.  It doesn't drip all over, and it holds the cinnamon/sugar much better while still retaining the flavor I want.  Obviously, if you're a melted butter lover, go for that.

Now sprinkle on (well, completely cover) your buttered dough.  This is where I always need the most help.  Once it's covered in the cinnamon and sugar, if you'd like to add nuts or raisins (oh, the humanity!) go ahead.

Starting from the back, (it's easier for me to roll towards me) roll the dough so that it makes a log.  Once it's all rolled up, cut it up.  You can cut them as big or as small as you want, really.  Just keep in mind that the thicker the slices, the taller the bun will be.

Spray your dish.  You can butter it, but why go to all that trouble when Pam makes it so easy?  Drop in some sugar, and roll it all around in your pan so that your pan is coated all on the bottom and sides with sugar.  It will stick very well to the cooking spray.

Place your cut rolls into your baking pans, but be sure and leave some room.  They are going to rise again, and then rise again in the oven when they bake.  Don't crowd the sweet little guys already.  From here, I am wrapping some up in plastic wrap and foil to freeze for gifts (shh! Don't tell!)

If you want to go ahead and bake them, cover them again with your damp cloth and put them back into hiding.  Let them rise again for half an hour to an hour or so, and they will double in size.  Once risen, put them in a preheated 350 degree oven for half an hour or until they are a nice light brown.  You'll smell them.

If you're making icing, do it now while they are baking.  I like using powdered sugar and milk.  I use a couple of cups of powdered sugar and a couple of tablespoons of milk.  Add a teaspoon or so of vanilla and mix.  If it's not wet enough, add a tiny bit of milk.  If it's too wet, add a touch of powdered sugar.  You just want it pourable.

Finally, once they are baked, pull them out, drench them in icing, and use as much self control as you can to abstain from gluttony.

Don't be too shocked if you have some sneaky little fingers... These are delicious!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ode to Olvera Street

Every time I go to Los Angeles, one of my must stops is Olvera street.  It's just lovely, and it's so full of Mexican culture.  There are shops and architecture and, of course, amazing food.  The freshly made churros are to die for, but my first stop is always always the taquito stand right in the front, Cielito Lindo.  Parking is always tough to find, but I love this place so much, I've actually jumped out of the car, had my husband drive around the block until I get my taquitos, and jump back in...  I will say, though, the taquitos themselves aren't exactly what keeps me going.  It's the amazingly delicious liquid gold they serve with them that makes my mouth water.  This avocado sauce was a craving during my pregnancy with my daughter, but being in Oklahoma, I couldn't exactly send my husband out at midnight to get it.  What's a girl to do, then, but make it herself?  (I actually found the basic recipe of this online, but I can't find the link now for the life of me.  I've made a few changes...)  Now I'll say, to those who do have access to the real thing, get off the computer, get in your car, and drive to downtown Los Angeles. If not, here's my take.

What you'll need:
3 cans Herdez salsa verde (It really needs to be this brand...)
a bunch of cilantro
1 and a half avocados
3 to 4 serrano peppers
a can of chicken broth

Start by pouring the salsa verde into a blender.  The blender is going to do most of our chopping for us.  Next, Coursely chop the cilantro leaves off the stems.  A few stems are fine because everything is getting chopped anyway, but you don't want a ton.  Add those leaves to the blender, too.

Next, cut your avocados in half, remove the seeds, and spoon them out.  Make sure to pick the three biggest halves!!

Cut the tops off of the serrano peppers, (It's important to note here that these are super hot.  Don't touch them then touch your eyes.  It HURTS!) cut them lengthwise into quarters, and remove the seeds and the veins.  That's the hottest part, and few people are going to be able to eat them.  Add seeded peppers to the blender and blend blend blend!  Make sure everything is chopped up as finely as possible.

Now comes the part where you're going to use your muscle.  This sauce is very smooth, so we are going to have to strain out all the little tomatillo seeds from the salsa verde and any bits of cilantro leaves.  Use a fine mesh strainer over a bowl pushing the juice through with a rubber scraper.  Do this in small batches, and you're going to end up with a lovely paste.

Once everything has been strained, you're going to end up with a smooth sauce that is the consistence of a tomato sauce.  We want it thinner so it pours super easy.  Move your sauce to a medium sauce pan, and add the can of chicken broth.  Stir it together very well, and on medium heat, heat it through for about 5 minutes.  This will slightly cook it to create the taste and consistency we are looking for!

I pour mine into jars to keep in the fridge for whenever I'm ready for it, but you can pour it directly onto your food from here.  I love it best on taquitos, but my husband eats it on any Mexican food.  It's a bit of a process, but this stuff is amazing and lasts quite a while.  I so hope you give it a try and fall in love with it, too!

Oh, and Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Caramel Pecan Candies

I can't take credit for this recipe.  I wish I could, but I got this idea from a lovely little lady who owns the most amazing chocolate shop ever, Nouveau.  I saw them in her store, and I immediately became addicted. Being so kind, she told me how to make them, and I couldn't believe how little effort they took.  She also sells candy molds and chocolate wafers to make your own chocolates at home...totally worth the time!


Pecan halves
Caramel squares (she recommended Nestle, but I actually just used the ones from the dollar store.  They worked wonderfully, too!)

First, unwrap all of your caramel squares.  (This is the most tedious part of the whole recipe but necessary.  Do yourself a favor and turn on your ipod.) Then, cute your caramel squares into thirds lengthways.  You'll want a pretty sharp knife, or if you're like me, kitchen scissors.  These are a lifesaver!

Next, take your newly cut caramel slices and smoosh them between two pecan halves.  Place them on a plate and microwave for about 15 seconds.  This is just to soften the caramel, not to melt it.

Once they are out of the microwave, give them another little smoosh just to make sure they hold together, let cool, and throw them into a bowl and watch them disappear!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cheddar Crackers

If you're like me, you like to know exactly what is going into your tummy or the tummies of those around you.  I always prefer my kids eat things that I know what they are.  In other words, Blue Dye #4 isn't exactly my favorite ingredient for my kids to munch on.  That being said, I find myself loving to make snacks from scratch for them.  Here is a new favorite of mine and Isaiahs!

1 stick of softened butter (you want REAL butter, and I use salted)
1 1/4 cups flour (try 1/2 white and 1/2 wheat flour for an even healthier snack!)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp water

Put the softened butter and cheddar cheese in a blender, and blend until the cheese is broken up and the butter is mixed in well.  Add flour, salt, and pepper and blend again.  It should be pretty crumbly looking.  Add the water ad blend until it forms a ball.  Remove the dough and place it on a piece of plastic wrap.  Usng the plastic wrap, form the dough into a log about a foot long.  Freeze for half an hour.  Remove the frozen dough from the freezer and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Place on a greased cookie sheet (they won't rise, so yo can put them pretty close together) and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Flip them, and bake for another 5 minutes.  They will come out beautiful, crunchy, and delicious!!

I love this recipe because you can really add anything.  Try different cheeses or herbs, and you can really make this recipe your own.  If you like them saltier, press some salt into the tops right before you bake!  Best of all, though, this is a great snack recipe that allows you to keep track of exactly what goes into all the precious tummies you care so much about!!