Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gingerbread, Man!

I was listening to Martha Stewart Living on Sirius yesterday (because that is what you do leading up to Thanksgiving) and there were guests on the show that brought in gingerbread.  The lady chef and restaurant owner said that making gingerbread is her Thanksgiving tradition.  I had never made it so I decided to give it a go and share with my coworkers for Thanksgiving Eve.  Who knew that the secret to gingerbread is not ginger (spice) but molasses!  

This bread comes out very moist and the house smelled amazing while it baked.  I served it plain though I wish I had sprinkled some powdered sugar on top.  Also, start checking after 45 minutes... in a glass pan, mine was ready after about 50 minutes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sweet Potatoes and Snickerdoodles

I love snickerdoodles.  I think this is so because I love cinnamon.  Cinnamon would even be my code name should I become rich and famous and need to use an alias at hotel rooms.  But that is a story for a different blog.

This recipe for snickerdoodle bars promises a blondie that stays moist and soft.  And they do!  When I ate a bit while still warm I promise this was the best thing I had ever tasted.  Even when cooled they were delicious.  The baking time seems a little low so just check with a toothpick like you would with a cake.  The recipe says these are ready when the surface springs back to the touch but I say go with the toothpick method or these will be undercooked.

I am making a new sweet potatoes recipe for Thanksgiving.  I "tested" it on my coworkers at our Thanksgiving pot luck.  I wanted the potatoes to be warm without having to be microwaved so I cooked them in my slow cooker.  In my office.  It was awesome to smell the sweet potatoes and apple sauce wafting down my office hallway.  The recipe was super easy to put together the night before and then simply plug in the crockpot the next morning.  I cooked these on high for about 5 hours.  The potatoes were very tender and lightly sweetened without covering up the main flavor.  The toasted pecans, which you add at the end, were a nice crunch. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

October 21, 2012

Mary was our hostess this month and she set a beautiful, fall table.  All current Gourmet Gals were in attendance.

Appetizer:  Evelyn, Tomato, Cheese and Puffed Pastry

Salad:  Angie, Grape and Watercress Salad with Caraway and Granola

Bread:  Angie, Killer Garlic Bread

Side:  Janet, Sauteed Swiss Chard with Parmesan Cheese

Side:  Mary, Cauliflower Mash

Wine:  Janet, Taft Street Pinot Noir

Main Dish:  Mary, Osso Buco

Dessert:  Carol, Pumpkin Swirled Cream Cheese Brownies and Pumpkin Crunch Cake

Evelyn started our dinner off with puff pastry shells filled with tomato and cheeses.  She said the original recipe called for sheets of puff pastry and she bought the shells by mistake.  I LOVED the shells and thought it provided a prettier presentation than sheets as well as it was easier to eat as a finger food.  Puff pastry sheets look pretty until you slice it and then crumbs are everywhere.

 For the salad I found a recipe from Oxheart restaurant in Houston in an issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  The salad seemed "fancy" enough for our group as well as a feeling of fall with the arugula and granola.  All components were simple to put together and I made most of it the day before.  The caraway seeds in the dressing are a must and bring such a distinctive flavor to the salad.  I used my mortar and pestle to crush the seeds, something I have never done before.  I love a new cooking technique!!

We served the main meal family style with the Osso Buco on a bed of cauliflower mash.  Mary used veal chops as this is all her butcher had and it was delicious and a good choice.  The meat fell off the bone and the vegetables were so flavorful.  The cauliflower mash was insanely tasty and Mary promises it is guilt free and a great substitute for mashed potatoes.  I went for seconds and I cannot stop thinking about this dish and when I can make it again!

Cauliflower Mash
1-2 head of raw cauliflower
Evaporated milk (I normally use fat free but regular is a little richer)
Cream cheese (use the light but the FF is not so great)
Fresh parsley
Steam the cauliflower until very soft.  Put the cauliflower in the food processor and pulse a couple of times to break it down a bit.  Add some salt, just a bit at first.  Add a little bit of milk, pulse a time or two.  Add a tablespoon or two of cream cheese and a couple tablespoons of milk.  Do several longer pulses to start smoothing the cauliflower to a near mashed texture.  Do a taste test for salt and let it process until very smooth texture.  This recipe does not require much liquid so careful with the can milk, just add a bit at a time... same with cream cheese-- a little goes a long way.   At the very end, add some chopped  parsley and do one last pulse.  Ready to serve.
Super healthy, nearly guilt free side dish that everyone will love.

Our second side dish was from Janet.  She prepared Sauteed Swiss Chard with the following modifications to the recipe:

1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil (rather than 2 tbs of both)
1 shallot (rather than onion)
2 bunches of Swiss chard (rather than 1)
1/4 cup dry white wine (rather than 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (rather than 1)
4 tablespoons Parmesan (rather than 2)

I loved the chard.  It tasted fresh and healthy and the shallots and cheese gave it lots of flavor.  Janet had previously made this recipe which is how she knew to modify it.  Remember, WWTD (What Would  Teresa Do) and make the recipe as is first, and THEN modify.  That is a great lesson that I wish I had learned earlier in my home cooking career!

I fixed garlic bread as our bread component of the meal.  I did bake it a little too long (I thought the oven was off!!), which made the crust slightly tough, but the flavor was nice and garlicky without being over powering.  Rather than melt the butter I softened it and stirred in all the other ingredients.  I spread it on the bread and wrapped it up and put into the refrigerator until time to bake.  I had never used Ciabatta bread for garlic bread before but I really liked it and will use it in the future.

We concluded our meal with two desserts.  Boohoo.  I HATE IT when we have more than one dessert.  JUST KIDDING!!  Carol also brought some pumpkin ice cream.  The group then spent several minutes discussing seasonal ice cream flavors such as pumpkin and egg nog.  YUM.  Those are two reasons why I avoid the ice cream aisle of the store.

The Pumpkin Crunch Cake was my favorite of the two and I brought some home and had it for breakfast.  It is super easy to prepare and when I made it and brought it to work for a Halloween baking contest, I won first place!  Hooray!  

Pumpkin Crunch Cake

1 Yellow Cake Mix
1 15 oz Can Pumpkin Puree
1 12 oz Can Evaporated Milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup butter, melted

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottom of 9 x 13 pan.  Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Pour mixture into greased pan.  Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture and top with pecans.  Drizzle melted butter over pecans.  Use a fork to press/lightly stir any dry cake mix.  Bake 50-55 minutes.

The second dessert was very rich brownies with swirls of pumpkin and cream cheese.  The brownies looked pretty with the orange swirl and were quite decadent.

Pumpkin Swirled Cream Cheese Brownies

3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs flour, divided
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs canned pumpkin
1 tbs butter, melted
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup salted butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil, allowing edges to overhang pan to create handles.  Spray with cooking spray and set aside.

In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbs flour, cream cheese, pumpkin and melted butter.  Beat at medium speed with a mixer until smooth and creamy.  Set aside.

Melt chocolate and salted butter in double boiler or microwave and let cool slightly.  

In a large bowl, combine eggs, vanilla and remaining 1/2 cup sugar, whisking well.  Set aside.

In small bowl combine remaining 1/2 cup flour, baking powder and salt, whisking well.  Set aside.

Add 1/4 cup chocolate mixture to egg mixture, stirring vigorously to incorporate and temper.  Add remaining chocolate mixture in thirds, stirring to incorporate.  Add flour mixture, stirring to incorporate.  Spread mixture into prepared baking pan, creating a smooth and level surface.

Drop pumpkin mixture by spoonfuls onto surface of chocolate mixture.  Drag a knife through batter to create a swirled pattern.

 Bake until brownie is slightly puffed and set, 57 to 60 minutes.  Let cool completely in pan on wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, approximately 4 hours.  Remove from pan by lifting foil handles.  Peel foil from brownies and cut into 16 squares.  Keep in refrigerator up to 3 days.

Lastly, our wine was so tasty that I wanted to document it for future reference.