Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hamantashen

The Jewish holiday of Purim is less than a week away!  On Sunday I had the pleasure of baking some Hamantashen in the shul kitchen with some of my Kadima kids and a brave parent volunteer.  I LOVE this recipe for the dough; my mom used it each year when I was growing up.  I am modifying it a bit from the original though, to reduce the amount of sugar.  If you like your dough really really sweet, stick to the original amount, my modification is in red.

HAMANTASHEN- My mom's recipe

This makes about 3 dozen average size cookies with each side being about 2.5 inches in length


INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 and 1/3 sticks of butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 c and think it can be further reduced to 2/3 or even 1/2 but I have not experimented with less than 3/4c)
  • 1 egg
  • splash of Vanilla
  • 3 tbsp of water
  • 2.5 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Fillings of your choice- we did chocolate, apricot, poppy and prune.- see notes

DIRECTIONS:
Cream together softened butter with sugar until fluffy.  Add egg, vanilla, water, and baking powder and mix on medium speed.  Slowly add the flour, about 3/4-1 cup at a time to incorporate.  Once the flour is mostly incorporated, the mixture will look like little balls of dough.   With clean hands, kneed the dough together in bowl or on clean counter, you may need to add additional water (maybe 1 tsp) but prior to doing that, make sure you really work the dough for about 1 minute and try to put in ball form. Only if it does not come together should you add more water.  A tiny bit goes a long way with this dough.  Roll out dough on counter or seran wrap to approximately 1/8 inch thickness (it should be thinner than the cookie of a regular oreo!)  Using a cookie cutter (I used a water glass) cut circles from the dough.  Now, you can either fill some and go back to working with the rest of the dough, or as I like to do, I make all the circles first and then start filling.  Use about 1 tbsp of filling for each cookie. Using 2 teaspoons, one to scoop and one to push from spoon onto circle, fill each circle of dough with desired filling. Pinch the corners, folding the pieces of dough in to form triangle. Make sure your corners are well pinches and you fold over so that there is a small whole in the center but most of the filling should be covered by the dough folded over.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

For best results and to keep your cookies from bulging while baking, you want your pre-baked cookie to be closed off like  THIS:

Rather than really open THIS (as you can see, these cookies do not have crisp sides and are a bit bulgy:

NOTES: I prefer using SOLO brand filling. It can be found in your baking ingredient section of the grocery store, usually near the pie fillings and graham cracker crusts.  It is not cheap, running about $3.50-$4 a can but do NOT cheap out and purchase jams instead. Jam has a tendency to run and get soggy when baked in Hamantashen.  Each small can has 9 servings and will fill about 25 cookies, so plan accordingly!  These cookies can be baked and frozen.  I froze leftover poppyseed filling and will probably use it in a few weeks to make a poppyseed cake/bread. I will report on defrosting and using the frozen filling then.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

After enjoying a few days of my delicious carrot ginger soup, I decided it was time for a flavor change!  I made butternut squash soup much like I made the carrot soup.  Sorry, the hubby was too busy filing taxes to take a picture of this one but it looks just like the carrot soup :)

INGREDIENTS:
  • about 2 lbs of peeled and diced butternut squash (see tips)
  • 2 medium potatos, peeled, diced and cooked in pot of water to 80% doneness
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 lb carrots
  • 4 tbsp consume

DIRECTIONS:
Bring 5-6 cups of water to a boil.  Place onion, diced squash, carrots, and potatos into pot and reduce to simmer.  Cook approximately 15 minutes.  Add consume and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes.  Puree the soup with either a hand pulser, blender or food processor. DO NOT pour the hot liquid into your blender or processor, they can crack from the heat.  Instead, either use the pulser in the hot pot until you get all the chunks or use a slotted spoon to remove the veggies from the broth, transfer into a metal or heavy duty glass bowl, add 1 ladel of broth and puree until chunks are gone. Transfer the veggie puree back into broth and stir. Serve hot with optional dolup of sour cream.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My experience at the local Asian market!

There are 2 Asian markets with 20 minutes of our home.  I had gone to the bigger one a few times over the past couple of years but in late 2009, I noticed the new smaller, closer one opening!  Last weekend I stepped in hoping I could get everything I needed for 3 Thai meals without going to the bigger one thats further away.  Here is what I was able to purchase for $15.48!  Note: not pictured is a package of rice noodles for Pad Thai.... forgot to take it out of the cupboard for the photo op!)



2 HUGE carrots for carrot ginger soup (each was the size of a 3 cup poland spring sports bottle!)- not pictured
a chunk of ginger used for the Spicy Basil Chicken and for the carrot ginger soup (to be posted later today) (not pictured)
pad thai noodles (not pictured)
peanut Satay sauce packet
pad Thai sauce (in jar)
yellow Curry paste (in tub)
2 bunch of scallions (not pictured)
1 large tray of basil (1/8 of a lb, half in basil chicken recipe, remainder in freezer)-directions below
baby corn
red Bean balls (google them)
sesame seed packet
fish sauce
chili oil
dehydrated chili peppers

Yes, you read that right, ALL of that plus the unpictured package of noodles for under $16!!!

NOTE: fresh basil can be frozen in a ziplock bag. DO NOT wash it first, simply put in bag and push all of the air out. It WILL look wilted once it defrosts but will not effect your cooking, flavor or aroma!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spicy Thai Basil Chicken Stirfry

I have fallen severly behind in my blogging and have several photos + recipes to post so, rather than boring you with my random thoughts on cooking, I will cut to the chase and post a few recipes tonight!

 
This is a combination of several recipes, you should be glad I did the legwork for you to come up with the perfect combo!

 
INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 lb of chicken (I used a little less)
  • 2 tbsp chili oil (if you like it super super hot, if just medium hot, I would use 1 tbsp
  • 3 hot chili peppers (I used dehydrated ones, ONE SMALL fresh will do it!
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion (cut into quarters rather than rings so that each piece is about 1 inch squarish)
  • 1 bunch (about 2 oz) fresh basil leaves, removed from branch
  • 1 c cocunut milk (I used lite)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (I used lite; you can use 2 tbsp if you don't have fish sauce)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (normal vinegar would work if you were in a pinch but it will not have the same flavor and I would reduce to 1tbsp for that reason)
  • 5 scallions, chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
  • 2tbsp chopped FRESH ginger

 

 
DIRECTIONS:
In a bowl, mix the coconut milk, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar and fish sauce.  In a skillet or wok, heat the oil + hot pepper+SLICED (not crushed-- use fresh!) garlic over medium-high heat (my dehydrated peppers were about 1.5 inches in length and very thin, I did not cut them but if you use a fresh one, I suggest starting off with a small amount and adding additional towards the end of cooking time if you need to take the heat up a notch then.  You do not want to make your meal so spicy that you can not enjoy it; its really hard to take it down a notch once you make it, other than to add more ingredients and increase the servings so be careful!. Stir in the onion, ginger, and garlic, and cook until lightly browned. Mix in chicken strips, and cook about 3 minutes, until browned. Add mushrooms and onions, then stir in the coconut milk sauce. Continue cooking until sauce begins to reduce.  Mix in green onions and basil and cook and additional 2-3 minutes or until chicken is done.   Do not worry about the basil wilting.  Garnish with additional basil and/or green onion, if desired. Serve over the cooked rice.

 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies

All last week I was looking forward to making something outside the box.... something unexpected and different perhaps.  When browsing the Joy the Baker blog, I came across the cutest looking cookie sandwiches.  After perusing my various cookbooks and googling around, I was convinced that this simple recipe was the way to go. Nothing to screw up and I figured the simplicity of the outer cookie would make the filling that much more lucious.

 
So here you have it, my very own Alfajores.  Alfajores are traditional cookies in South, Central and Latin America as well as Mexico.  Some reading about these delectible treats revealed that these cookies are not native to the Spanish countries but rather, came from the Arab world in the mid 19th century!  Now that you have today's history lesson, I hold off no longer

 
   INGREDIENTS:
  •      1 c. butter or margarine (softened)
  •      2/3 c. sugar
  •      1 egg
  •      1 tsp vanilla
  •      2.5 c. flour
  •      1 tbsp cinnamon
  •      1 can dulce de leche (Note below)
  DIRECTIONS:
  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, beat in egg and vanilla.
  • Add flour and cinnamon and mix until well combined.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour or overnight
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Roll cookies out to about 1/8 inch thickness. (this is probably thinner than most cookies you have made, but don't fret!)Cut circles (or other shapes, I used a champagne flute for the circles and a cookie cutter for the rippled)
  • Bake on greased cookie sheet for about 12-15 minutes (keep a close eye on them after 10 minutes- if you are using a thin dark nonstick pan, 13 minutes was right on the money for me)
  • Allow cookies to cool completely and then make into sandwiches by spooning some Dolce de Leche on one half and pressing and gently pressing a second cookie on top.
MY Dulce de Leche experience and tips:
NOW- for the Dulce de Leche....  I was surprised to learn that all Dulce de Leche is, is caramelized condensed milk (there are also recipes of how to do this from scratch from milk and sugar, which is all condensed milk is anyway). After reading and reading and reading about how to make the perfect Dulce de Leche, I nervously followed the directions of many. 

 
Making Dolce de Leche:
  • Bring pot of water to a boil, remove label from can and insert entire can of condensed milk in pot.
  • Make sure that the can is submerged under water the entire time, with about 1 inch of water or more above the can at all times!
  • Bring back to boil and then reduce to simmer for about 3 hours.
  • Remove from water and allow to cool for about 1 hr. DO NOT open can while hot.
  • In theory, opening the can should reveal a thick caramel spread, so thick that if you put some on a spoon and flip upside down and shake, it won't move!

 
 I FAILED. M-I-S-E-R-A-B-L-Y.  I have a love/hate relationship with our gas range.  It just can't seem to get the flame low enough for a gentle simmer. Not for soup, or rice, or pasta. Its either simmering like crazy or nothing- with nothing in between.  So, for about 2.5 hours my can stayed in boiling hot water with NO simmer.  I guess I was so scared to turn the heat up too high and have the can explode into the air, that I never actually got the contents hot enough.  So, although my shiny silver can got scortching hot with dark brown rusty looking spots on the outside, on the inside, it was just not hot enough. (No need to worry about the rusty looking spots, its only on the outside of the can).  I let the can cool and opened it up, and all I had was warm consensed milk. It was NOT thick and gooy like caramel.  Thinking I had to run back out to the store, I was disappointed. Hours of waiting all for nothing. By alas, some more browsing of recipes and directions and I decided to place the contents of the can in a small sauce pan over medium heat and stir stir stir like crazy for about 10 minutes. DO NOT STOP STIRRING until it really thickens up--boy was it caramelized.  I then removed it from heat for a few minutes, all the while still stirring so it did not burn to the buttom of the pan.  The only way I can describe it is what a caramel candy would probably look like if you put it in the microwave for 20 seconds.  Stick to your teeth gooyness!  SUCCESS!

 
Working quickly with a knife, I plopped the condensed milk turned into Dolce de Leche into the middle of a cookie, gently pressed a second cookie on top to form a sandwich, while being careful not to smush too much as to have it ooze out.  After sitting for about an hour, the outer cookie softened up just a pinch and the filling hardened up a bit and was no longer getting stuck to DH's teach. DELICIOUS. These little cookie sandwiches are like a bucket of gold. First, they are super cute to put in a cookie tin for a gift, or on a platter for a party. Second, they were ultra easy to make, especially now that I will never boil the can again!

 
My only regret.... making only 1/2 of the recipe!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Carrot Ginger Soup

Last weekend I was really in the mood for some homemade soup without all that added ingredient junk.  I have made variations of this soup in the past and it is very easy to modify to your liking.  I will list the ingredients and quantities I used but feel free to add more carrots or potato to bulk up the soup or cream/milk to make it creamy.  I have also heard of people using a pinch of corn starch but I did not.



Ingredients:
2 medium potatos, pealed, cubed and cooked to 80% doneness
1.5 lbs of carrots
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
small piece of fresh ginger , approximately 1-2 oz (judge according to personal taste)
Chicken Soup Consome (mine is parve)- according to box directions for 4 servings (probably 4 tbsp)

Directions:
Boil about 6 cups of water.  Peal and dice carrots (you can keep baby carrots whole).  Add carrots, onion and potato to pot and reduce to a simmer.  After approximately 10 minutes, test carrots- they should be soft.  Add pealed and diced ginger and consome to put.  Boil for another 5 minutes or until carrots are very soft.  Remove pot from range and allow to cool prior to pureeing.  Use food processor or hand pulser to puree the veggies.  Serve  hot with an optional dolup of sour cream for a creamier texture.

TIPS: If you want to serve this soup immediately after making it, use a slotted spoon to remove the veggies into a separate bowl and pulse/food process and then returning back to pot of hot water/soup works best for me. You do NOT want to pour boiling hot soup into your food processor or blender.  You CAN use a hand pulser in the hot soup but you may find that getting every little chunk is hard to locate in a huge pot.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meringues!

In an effort to stop my decade long yoyo dieting, I decided to recommit to weightwatchers to ensure that I keep the 40 lbs I have lost  OFF and to keep losing.  After flipping through a few recipes looking for something sweet, light and low on points, I decided to make some easy meringues!

The recipe can't get easier than this!

Ingredients:
eggwhites (as many as you want)
sugar (1/4c per eggwhite)
1 tsp vanilla extract
mini chocolate chips or peppermint bits (optional)

Directions:
Separate eggs one at a time, into small dish or cup, discard yolk.  Transfer eggwhite into mixing bowl and proceed to separate remaining eggs one at a time.  You do not want to separate directly into your mixing bowl. The SLIGHEST drop of eggyolk can completely ruin your eggwhites which is why I do it one at a time. At worst, I get yolk into ONE eggwhite and I can just use that egg for some scrambled eggs!  It would be totally crappy to get yolk into your bowl on your third or fourth egg and have to start again from scratch.

Using hand mixer or stand mixer, beat eggs until they stiffen and START to come to peaks if you lift the beaters.  Add sugar, 1/4cup at a time and continue beating until sugar is completely dissolved.  You can test that its dissolved by using a clean spoon to remove some of the mixture and feel with your finger for grainyness. If grainy, keep beating.  When you are able to make large peaks, add vanilla and beat one more minute.  The entire beating process takes approximately 10 minutes, depending on climate, humidity, etc.

Optional: stir in mini chocolate chips or chopped up candy canes/mints.

Spoon mixture a large spoonful at a time onto cookie sheet.  You can also use a piping bag or spritzer to make for cleaner and more uniform meringues.

Place in preheated 300 degree oven for 5 minutes.  Turn off oven and keep meringues in warm oven overnight (or until the oven completely cools, probably 2-3 hours).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Alina's Apple Tart

I love apple pie.  Apple pie ala mode and I am in heaven!  Unfortunately, apple pie is frequently chock full of sugar and butter to make that warm oozy filling we all so much love with a dollop of icecream.  Inspired by my new tart pan (with removal bottom, highly recommend investing in this, I got mine for $7.99 at Marshalls. They always have great baking pans if you don't mind mismatched.  While I swear by my Martha Stewart muffin, mini muffin, brownie and loaf pans I received from my great friends Lena and Sarah (check out her foodie blog here at my bridal shower, my tart pan and cookie sheet from Marshalls were great buys!

 
So, as the title obviously reveals, my shiny new tart pan inspired me to make an apple tart.  Its light and simply delicious; not heavy like many traditional American desserts.  If you are looking for the original recipe, you can find it at Smitten Kitchen

 
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

INGREIDENTS:
Dough:
  • 1.5 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • 1 stick margarine or butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
  • 5 tablespoons chilled water

 Filling:
  • 2 pounds apples, cored, peeled and sliced (keep peels); I used a combination of Gala and Red Delicious
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

 Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • reserved peals from apples

 
DIRECTIONS:
 For dough:  Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; slowly add in butter.  The mixture should be crumbly.  Add water, 1 tbsp at a time until it just holds together.  You do not want the dough to be too dry to work with nor too sticky.  Form dough into ball and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.  When ready to bake, roll out into rough circle, to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thickness- Approximately 16 inches for a 10 inch tart.  TIP:  I do all of my dough rolling between 2 pieces of seran wrap.  Wax paper also works-- I do not usually flour the surface.  With dough between 2 pieces of seran/paper, roll into circle. When desired size is reached, peal off top piece of seran/paper and then flip dough with seran/paper, upside down onto pan.  Gently remove seran/wax paper.  Lightly spray pan with cooking spray and press dough into pan and up sides, leaving extra dough hanging over the sides to be folded over the apples later.

 
Preheat oven to 400.  While oven heats, place apples into tart.  For great how to photos, go to Smitten Kitchen.  Fold overhanging dough over the apples, crimping edges every few inches.

 
Brush melted butter over tart (optional) and sprinkle with about 3 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and apples.
BAKE for 35-45 minutes, look for tart to gently brown and then remove.

 
While tart is baking, place peels in saucepan with sugar.  Cover in just enough water to cover (approximately 1 cup) If you use a SMALL saucepan, you may need to use more water to cover the apples and will require extra sugar--- you can't really screw this step up, so make the simple syrup to taste.  Simmer for about 25 minutes.  Because I used RED apples I got a gorgeous colored syrup that looked great on the tart!  When the tart is out of the oven, brush tart and apples with the simple syrup.  I drizzled individual slices with some extra syrup on the first day we ate it and it was delicious.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Peanut Chicken Stir-Fry

A quick and easy dinner recipe... so good that DH wanted to eat leftovers the following day and I can never get him to eat the same thing 2 nights in a row!

Recipe from Chicken Easy
Serves 4, Serve over rice

Ingredients
  2 tbsp peanut oil
  1 garlic clove
  3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
  4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
  1tbsp grated fresh ginger (I omitted because I forgot to pick some up at the grocery store)
  1/2 tsp chili powder (more, to taste)
  6 oz sugar snap peas, trimmed (use fresh)
  4.5 oz  baby corn cobs (I used an entire can)
  2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
  1 tbsp light soy sauce
 
Directions:
  Heat oil in wok or large skillet.  Add garlic and scallions and stir-fry over medium-high heat for 1 minute.  Add the chicken, ginger, and chili powder and stir-fry for 4 minutes.  Add the sugar sneap peas and baby corn cobs and cook for 2 minutes.  In a bowl, mix together the peanut butter and soy sauce, then add to the wok.  Stir-fry another minute.  Remove from heat and serve over a bed of rice, or plain if you are watching your carbs :)