Monday, December 27, 2010

English Muffins

There is a blizzard raging outside and my house is shaking. The weatherman just called it a "Wintercane", with up to 80 mph winds along the coast of Massachusetts. I just opened up the door and took a few pics...the first one on the left is my driveway. Anybody have an extra shovel? I think if they named this storm, they'd call it Cruella de Vil, The Wicked Witch of the East or Captain Hook. Where is Tinkerbell to come and take me away before it is time to shovel? Alas, since I am Earthbound I'll crank up the heat and fire up the stove. I'll make some slow food and experiment a little. My son, Zac has been making a lot of bread lately. He has been making rye bread, French bread, and pizza dough. He mixes and flours and kneads and rises. When he bakes it, the house is filled with a warm, yeasty and comforting aroma that lingers for hours. You can almost feel the butter melting on the freshly sliced bread and you can certainly feel the love and patience involved. I've wanted to make English muffins for a while, but hadn't had the time to research recipes and techniques. I put together a recipe from a few sources. The general consensus was that the dough had to be loose and sticky to form the nooks and crannies. I don't have a dream machine Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook yet, but I do have my trusty Cuisinart food processor. I use it to make my sugar cookie dough, and it makes it so easy. I thought I'd give it a try with the English muffin dough. As with any bread mixing in the food processor, the yeast mixture has to start cooler and the machine can't labor and heat up or it will kill the yeast. I felt a little like I was in uncharted territories as I began, but since I have a basic understanding of bread making, I felt comfortable experimenting. I'm glad I did. Almost like magic, they turned out beautifully.

Homemade English Muffins

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm, but not hot water (about 105℉)
2 1/3 cups bread flour
2/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2-3/4 cup warm, but not hot water (about 105℉.)
finely ground cornmeal

In a food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade (don't use the dough attachment), pulse together the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes to proof. It should be frothy with bubbles on top. Add flour and salt and pulse a few times to just mix. Add 1/2 cup of the water and the milk through the feeder tube, while pulsing. The dough should be loose and sticky, so add more water if needed. Pulse until just blended. Don't let the food processor motor labor or heat up. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes while covered. This allows the wet ingredients to combine with the flour. Pulse about 20 times to knead the dough. Again, don't let the machine labor and heat up. Using a rubber spatula, turn the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl. The dough should be soft, slightly loose and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and a slightly damp kitchen towel. Set in a warm place and let double in size. (If you don't have a warm place to let it rise, place a cup filled with water in a microwave and heat it about 3-4 minutes. Carefully take out the hot cup of water and put the covered bowl of dough in. Close the microwave door. This gives you a small, warm and moist place for the dough to rise. Just don't forget it is in there and turn it on!!)This will take 1 1/2-2 hours, depending on how warm your room is. Lightly flour a pastry board or work surface; sprinkle with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto this surface and sprinkle lightly with flour and cornmeal. Using a bench scraper, work flour underneath the dough. Pat the dough to a thickness of about 1-1 1/2 inches, making sure it is lightly covered with flour. You want the flour to stay on the surface and not get worked into the dough. Remember, loose and sticky dough helps form the nooks and crannies. Using the bench scraper, cut into 8-10 evenly sized pieces. Eight will make larger muffins and 10 pieces makes medium sized. Sprinkle cornmeal on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Take each piece of dough and fold the edges under to make a ball. They will be 3-4 inches round. Sprinkle with cornmeal.Let rest uncovered while you lightly grease a cast iron griddle or skillet and preheat it over medium high heat.Place the English muffins on the griddle or skillet and let cook until medium brown. Using a spatula, turn over and brown on the other side. If the muffins are on the larger side they will probably need more cooking in the oven. Just check the inside to make sure they are not still doughy. If they need more cooking, bake in a preheated oven at 375℉ for about 5-10 minutes.

Fork split and toast. Serve warm with butter and jam and a nice cup of tea.Ahhh, now it is time to go out and see The Beauty and the Beast of this storm. I think I better take that shovel!

Peter Pan photos are from Harrod's 2010 Christmas windows.
China is Spode, Edwardian Childhood.
Blizzard is courtesy of Mother Nature.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Warm Heart in Hand

There is an old saying, "Cold hands, warm heart." I say, "Cold hands? Hold a warm heart " There is something very comforting about holding a warm heart that goes beyond the physical warmth. I got the idea when I was putting together a package to send to my daughter Sam, who lives in South Korea. I took this pic while she was home for a few days in August.How do you send love and warmth in a box that you want to be more than just treats and necessities? Add fluffy white gloves and a soft red heart To make it, I cut out 6 inch red polar fleece hearts (2 per hand warmer), added a yarn loop to pick it up or hang it by, and stitched it together. Leaving a 1 1/2 inch opening, I turned it inside out and filled it with ordinary white, long-cooking rice. The opening is then blind stitched very securely and your heart is done. I warmed it in the microwave for 45 seconds (you may need less time, I have a low wattage microwave) and took it out by holding the yarn loop. It has a warm moist heat, so you don't want it to get too hot. And it shouldn't be used for young children. It stays warm long enough to tuck into your pocket to melt the chill of the first blast of winter air.

I had also planned on making Heart in Hand Sugar Cookies, but I had to get her package in the mail and didn't get them made until a few days ago :-( The kids and I used to make them together during our holiday cookie baking. Maybe next year Sam will be home for the holidays so we can all make them together :-) I have a hand shaped cookie cutter, but you can always trace your favorite little hands and use that as a pattern to cut out on the dough. You could also use a mitten shaped cutter. Then use a small heart cookie cutter to cut out the heart center. I took the small end of a chopstick and pressed it twice into the dough along the bottom, to make 2 small holes so I could put a thin ribbon through them.
Before baking I sprinkled white jimmies on the hands to make them look like gloves and red sanding sugar on the hearts. After baking and cooling on a rack, the cookie hands were doused with a good shower of powdered sugar. They were then ready for the final touch of a red satin ribbon to be threaded through. And for real hands to hold
Happy Holidays

Sugar Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract

In large bowl or food processor, cream sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add egg, and almond extract until well blended. Add the flour and salt and mix until it begins to form a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of water. It should hold together without being dry or sticky. Scrape dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press together to form a thick flat disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking sheet.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick, or
desired thickness. The dough needs to be just the right temperature to roll and cut properly. If it is too cold, it is hard to roll, and if it is too soft it becomes difficult to cut and pick up. Roll any scraps back into a ball and chill again. Use as little flour as possible to roll out, so they don't get tough. After cutting, place on a baking sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes or until just lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. I use an insulated baking sheet to prevent the edges from getting too brown.*

Makes 4 dozen, 3 inch (1/8 inch thick) cookies.

*My tips: Keep dough chilled just enough so it is easy to roll and cut, but not so cold that it is hard and cracks. I like to roll between 2 layers of plastic wrap. This keeps the dough from sticking without extra flour that makes the dough tough. I even roll it to desired thickness, between 2 layers of plastic wrap before chilling. Then when it comes out of the refrigerator, you won't have to roll and you'll be ready to cut. If the dough warms up too much while working with it, you can slide the whole layer onto a cookie sheet and chill, without disturbing what you've already done. Also, bake sugar cookies on insulated pans for even browning.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

This is almost as easy as it gets. And if you use jarred roasted red peppers, you could almost make it blindfolded. My friend and fellow stew, Dee, gave the recipe to me along with her Tapanade recipe. This red pepper dip is a little sweet, a little hot and sour and a lot good! It's bright red color is like a smile, and served with crunchy veggies it is a healthy snack. Dee's recipe calls for more sugar than I added, but I like the balance of less sugar. As I was reaching for the red pepper flakes in the cupboard, I first saw chili pepper olive oil, and so added a dash of that instead. I made this for a get together and wished I'd made more. It's just as delicious as it is easy.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers (without the skin)
1/8 teaspoon distilled cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until almost smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool and serve.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White....Homemade Marshmallow

Bear with me...I have been under the influence of white. I look, I touch, I taste. I like white. It is pure and plays with light, shadow and subtleties. It looks good with any color, and there is inspiration in it everywhere. Four years ago my daughter and I went to the Tate Modern Museum in London. She had recently graduated from college as an art major when I brought her on a long layover of mine in London. We spent an entire afternoon at the museum, where one of the more memorable exhibits was a temporary installation of Rachel Whiteread's "Embankment" of 14,000 white polyethylene boxes. It beckoned us from the beginning as it overwhelmed the museum's large Turbine Hall. During my fascination with all of this white, I was reminded of a play I saw years ago entitled "Art". It revolved around 3 friends, a solid white painting and the issues it brought to the surface. Then there was the photo that my daughter sent to me from Osaka, Japan of a restaurant interior constructed of white Legos. I like white on white quilts, white china, white linen, and who doesn't like snow angels....again, inspiration is everywhere. So was it any surprise when I made these pure white marshmallows, I had to play a little first? I looked, I touched, I tasted, I played. This is where I parted from the abstract. They ended up in my Hot Chocolate, dipped in dark bittersweet chocolate,then coated with toasted coconut. They are tasty half-dipped in plain chocolate, or just simply topped with coconut (OK, that is a variation on white!)I cut out hearts and stars and squares. The shapes were cut from a blank canvas of marshmallow and were works of art in their simple unadorned state. Add some chocolate and they looked and tasted like a cloud from chocolate heaven. A dream come true.

Dreamy Homemade Marshmallows

1 1/2 envelopes (3 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup water, divided in half
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 large egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract*
powdered sugar for dusting
*Alternatively you may use another flavoring of your choice such as mint or almond. Substitute the vanilla for 1/2 teaspoon of mint or almond extract.

Oil the bottoms and sides of a 8 1/2 X 4 1/2 inch glass loaf pan. Line with parchment paper by using 2 strips of parchment. Cut one for the lengthwise side and one for the width with a 2 inch overhang. Oil the bottom and sides of the parchment and dust with powdered sugar.

In a medium mixing bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water to soften. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg white until it forms stiff, but not dry peaks. Stir in vanilla.

In a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, pinch of salt and remaining 1/4 cup water.
Turn up the heat to medium high and boil without stirring, until the temperature reaches 238 ℉ on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and using a whisk attachment, beat into the gelatin mixture. Whisk on high until the mixture triples in volume or starts to become thick and harder to beat. Stir in beaten egg whites until thoroughly mixed and light and fluffy. Using an oiled spatula, turn the mixture out into the prepared pan. You won't be able to scrape the bowl clean, as the mixture is too sticky. Give the pan a quick tap to get out air bubbles and sift a light coating of powdered sugar on top. Let sit uncovered at room temperature for 3 hours or until firm.

Using the sides of the parchment paper, lift out of the pan. Dust with sifted powdered sugar. Place on a cutting board or mat and
using an oiled knife cut into 32-1 inch squares, by cutting the shorter side into 4 slices and the longer side into 8 slices. To make other shapes, cut out using oiled cookie cutters or ones dipped in powdered sugar.

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Makes 32-1 inch marshmallows.

Notes: Keep a close eye on the temperature of the boiling sugar mixture so it doesn't go beyond soft ball stage. Oil and powdered sugar are your friends when making marshmallows. They keep things from sticking to each other. Using a whisk attachment can be the difference between success and a mess. When I used my beaters and mixed it a little too long, the sticky mixture worked its way up beyond the beaters and created a mess where the beaters are inserted into the mixer. Each day they are stored, the texture of the marshmallows change. Fresher is better.

To dip in chocolate:
Melt chocolate (bittersweet, semi or milk--your choice) in a bowl and dip in half way, using a skewer or your fingers. If dipping the top into toasted coconut or any other topping, dip into it while the chocolate is still soft and melted.
To toast coconut:Evenly spread desired amount of shredded, sweetened coconut on a baking sheet and bake at 350℉ a few minutes until just golden. Keep an eye on it since it only takes a few minutes, and stir to make sure it browns evenly. It should be light with a crunch and not at all chewy.

To top marshmallows with toasted coconut, moisten the marshmallow with water where the coconut will be put and lightly press on the coconut. Let dry.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Winner! and Some Holiday Recipes

It's always so fun to announce a winner and especially now during holiday time. Again, I thank CSN for giving me this opportunity through their generosity. Soooo...the winner is....Domestic Diva...!! Since she liked the World Traveler wrapping, I've put a fresh red bow on it :-) Congratulations, I hope you enjoy this gift, CSN has everything! Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping! Thanks for all of the comments. I loved hearing what wrapping appealed to everyone. I have to say that gift bags are one of my favorites for their ease, and also since they can be reused. But I think I have to agree with Meredith that, "Let's see...ribbons? Well I'd say I am Martha looking for berries & bells on a lovely French coastline." I guess I'd just have a gift bag in my hand to collect it all ;-)

If you are looking for some ideas for holiday entertaining or for homemade gifts, here are a few things from my archives and I'll have more to follow in the coming weeks.

Chocolate Cherry Martini

Mascarpone and Chive Dip


Figs and Proscuitto with Comte and Port Wine Glaze

Millefeuille d'Aubergine and Chevre Frais

Baked Brie with Sweetened Almonds and Honey

Jams To Go With Cheese

Spicy Nuts

Twist and Shout Pretzels

Roasted Pumpkin Chestnut Soup

Grilled Shrimp with Ginger Citrus Viniagrette

Crab Cakes With Piment D'espelette Alioli

Goat Cheese Mini Souffles

Rolled Christmas Cookies

David Lebovitz's Fresh Ginger Cake

Turkish Delight


Penguin Truffles

Snowman Truffles

Lavender Sugar

Fleur de Sel Caramels
Miniature Lemon Poppy Seed Loaves

Hot Chocolate

Danish Ebelskiver Pancakes
Cherry Oat Scones with Almond Glaze


Cherry Almond Low Fat Granola

And remember....the best gift is the time spent with family and friends!

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