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Monday, September 21, 2009

Spinach & Fruit Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

I wanted to share one more summery recipe before Fall began. It's a refreshing spinach salad, and the balsamic vinaigrette is really delicious paired with the fruit and almonds. I've made it several times this summer. Even though fresh strawberries aren't available year-round, this vinaigrette would be great at any time.

Spinach & Fruit Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

~10 oz. fresh spinach (baby spinach probably works better here)
~ 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled & sliced (I use my egg slicer for this)
1 large can mandarin oranges, drained
~1 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
dash dry mustard

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar; shake until well blended. When ready to serve, drizzle dressing over the salad and toss lightly.

Recipe adapted from Southern Food at About.com

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mango-Strawberry Sorbet Torte

Before it gets too cool outside, I wanted to share this recipe. It is a great summertime dessert. And, it's simple. I'm sure any flavored sorbet would do, but the strawberry & mango made a great tropical combination. The original directions included lime juice in the whipped cream 'frosting', but I opted to just zest part of a lime over the top before serving instead. I'm glad I did because the lime would have been too overpowering. There's a picture with the original recipe (see link below); my version disappeared before I could get a snapshot. So, give this one a try. You can even make it up to 3 weeks ahead of time and keep it in the freezer until needed.

Mango-Strawberry Sorbet Torte

1 box white cake mix
Water, vegetable oil and egg whites called for on cake mix box
1 pint (2 cups) mango sorbet, softened
1 pint (2 cups) strawberry sorbet, softened

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Garnish, if desired, with lime zest and/or fresh strawberries

1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Spray bottom only of 15x10x1-inch pan with baking spray with flour. Line with waxed paper; spray waxed paper.
2. In large bowl, make cake mix as directed on box, using water, oil and egg whites. Pour into pan. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack; remove waxed paper. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
3. Cut cake crosswise into 3 equal sections. On long serving platter, place 1 section, rounded side down. Spread mango sorbet evenly over top. Place another cake section onto the sorbet; press down. Spread with strawberry sorbet. Top with remaining cake section; press down. Cover lightly; freeze about 2 hours or until firm.
4. In large bowl, beat frosting ingredients with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Frost sides and top of torte. Freeze about 1 hour or until firm. Just before serving, garnish top with lime zest and strawberries.

To serve, let stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Cut torte in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise 7 times to make a total of 16 slices.

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blueberry Scones

This recipe hails from America's Test Kitchen, and it's so simple you should go immediately make some to stash in the freezer and pull out any time to bake for breakfast or brunch. They are really delicious and don't need any condiments to accompany them as normal scones do - like lemon curd, clotted cream, or jam. (However, any of these would be great with them; they're just not necessary.)

I adjusted the amount of fruit used because the dough is too yummy to be crowded out by all those berries. These would work well with any berry, but if using strawberries, be prepared for a slightly longer baking time since they have more moisture in them. If you don't have any lemons to zest, it's okay - they're still really good. Oh, and I cut them into 16 triangles instead of 8 for better portion size.

Blueberry Scones

16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), frozen whole (will only use 10 Tbsp)
~ 1 cup fresh blueberries, picked over (can use frozen, but do not thaw!)
1/2 cup whole milk (2% works just fine)
1/2 cup sour cream (low fat also works, just not fat-free)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces), plus additional for work surface
1/2 cup sugar (3 1/2 ounces), plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Score and remove half of wrapper from each stick of frozen butter. Grate unwrapped ends on large holes of box grater (you should grate total of 8 tablespoons). Place grated butter in freezer until needed. Melt 2 tablespoons of remaining ungrated butter and set aside. Save remaining 6 tablespoons butter for another use. Place blueberries in freezer until needed.

2. Whisk together milk and sour cream in medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in medium bowl. Add frozen butter to flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.

3. Add milk mixture to flour mixture; fold with spatula until just combined. With rubber spatula, transfer dough to liberally floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour; with floured hands, knead dough 6 to 8 times, until it just holds together in ragged ball, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.

4. Roll dough into approximate 12-inch square. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, using bench scraper or metal spatula to release dough if it sticks to countertop. Lift short ends of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 4-inch square. Transfer dough to plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in freezer 5 minutes.

5. Transfer dough to floured work surface and roll into approximate 12-inch square again. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over surface of dough, then press down so they are slightly embedded in dough. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Roll dough, pressing to form tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles (and then cut each triangle in half to make 16 triangles) and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

It is important to work the dough as little as possible—work quickly and knead and fold the dough only the number of times called for. The butter should be frozen solid before grating. In hot or humid environments, chill the flour mixture and workbowls before use. While the recipe calls for 2 whole sticks of butter, only 10 tablespoons are actually used (see step 1). If fresh berries are unavailable, an equal amount of frozen berries (do not defrost) can be substituted. An equal amount of raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries can be used in place of the blueberries. Cut larger berries into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces before incorporating. Refrigerate or freeze leftover scones, wrapped in foil, in an airtight container. To serve, remove foil and place scones on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven. Heat until warmed through and recrisped, 8 to 10 minutes if refrigerated, 16 to 20 minutes if frozen. See final step for information on making the scone dough in advance.

To Make Ahead:
After placing the scones on the baking sheet, either refrigerate them overnight or freeze. When ready to bake, for refrigerated scones, heat oven to 425 degrees and follow directions in step 6. For frozen scones, heat oven to 375 degrees, follow directions in step 6, and extend cooking time to 25 to 30 minutes.

Recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Samoas Bars

These bars have been bookmarked in my del.icio.us account for quite a while. I finally decided to make them last weekend to take to Sunday School. I didn't get a chance to ask what others thought of them, but I thought they were pretty tasty (and I don't even like coconut!). I ended up making a mess when I tried to dip the bottom of these in the melted chocolate, so I used my small offset spatula to spread it on the bottom instead. Next time I make these, I'll omit this step and just do a heavy drizzle on top - I thought the chocolate overpowered everything else when it was on top & bottom. Just use about half the chocolate called for in the recipe.

Oh, and toasting the coconut took a lot longer than 20 minutes for me, but I keep my coconut in the freezer. Thaw it first and it shouldn't take nearly as long to get golden.

Homemade Samoas Bars

Cookie Base:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

First, make the crust.
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly, like wet sand. The dough does not need to come together. Pour crumbly dough into prepapred pan and press into an even layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until base is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before topping.

3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk

10 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
Put dollops of the topping all over the shortbread base. Using the spatula, spread topping into an even layer. Let topping set until cooled.
When cooled, cut into 30 bars with a large knife or a pizza cutter (it’s easy to get it through the topping).
Once bars are cut, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each bar into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle bars with chocolate to finish.
Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 30 bar cookies.

Recipe adapted from Baking Bites

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Soft Pretzels

Once I saw these on Smitten Kitchen, I immediately started craving the soft, warm goodness that is soft pretzels. I finally got around to making them, and I was very pleased with the results. Eating one of these while it's still warm was amazing. I used kosher salt and oversalted them a bit, but I didn't mind because I like my pretzels salty. They aren't the prettiest things in the world (I'll have to work on that), but oh my were they tasty. And easy. Just a bit time consuming. But very worth it.

Soft Pretzels

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen