ENGLISH TOFFEE BARS – Sweet Indulgence!

english toffee textWhen I harken back to Christmases past, one thing that stands out is the English Toffee Bars my best friend’s mother made every year. Besides my mom’s fudge, English Toffee Bars were a favorite.

Not only are they very easy to make, but they freeze well. As Queen of Freeze – this is a major bonus for me! And, while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to freeze the unused egg white that comes with the used egg yolk.

ENGLISH TOFFEE BARS

  • 1 cup butter, soft
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed (I use dark brown)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • about 7 oz milk chocolate candy bar, broken into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped well & lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar for 3 minutes. englishtoffee8Add the yolk, vanilla, and salt. Beat 1 minute. english toffee9Add the flour and mix on low speed, just until flour is incorporated. english toffee10Place dough on a piece of parchment paper, and pat it out to 11.5″ x 11.5″, trying your best to keep it of even height.english toffee2 Slide parchment on onto a rimless cookie sheet. Place in preheated 375º F oven. Bake 11-14 minutes, rotating once, until browned. Remove from oven. english toffee3Immediately, top hot dough with chocolate bar pieces and let sit for 2-3 minutes , until chocolate softens.english toffee5Spread chocolate. english toffee6Sprinkle with toasted nuts, pressing very lightly so nuts adhere to chocolate.english toffee1 Cool bar on cookie sheet about 20 minutes so it sets. Slide parchment onto counter. Slice off uncoated edges, then cut slab into squares while still soft (if you wait until they’re hard, they’ll break when cut). Once bars are completely cool, refrigerate to firm up.

NOTE: The cut-away edges still make good eating – they’re just not very pretty.

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PORTOBELLO CHEESE SOUFFLE – Savory & Easy!

souffle topped porto textSometimes advice passed on through the ages is wise and true. BUT, sometimes one needs to re-examine it, thus finding it no longer (if ever) viable.

Which brings me to the SOUFFLE TOPPED PORTOBELLO – a cheese soufflé baked directly on a portobello mushroom. Many people refuse attempting to make a soufflé, having heard they’ll collapse from loud noises or that they need kid-gloves whilst gently folding in the egg whites.

American’s Test Kitchen put those rumors to the test….and debunked them. (I actually screamed “NOOOO!” at the screen when the beaten egg whites were poured into the mixer with the batter.) To my shock and delight, the soufflé rose beautifully.

Yet I was still skeptical when I tried it for myself. I’ve made this recipe 3 times now, and they’ve come out beautifully each time.

Do not be afraid!!! This is a very easy and quick recipe to make.

SOUFFLE TOPPED PORTOBELLO – makes 4

  • 4 large Portobello mushrooms
  • 5 T butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated, divided
  • 2 T shallots, minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, pressed
  • 3 T flour
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup milk, preferably whole milk
  • 5 oz Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 4 eggs,
  • pinch cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. This is important!

Thoroughly clean mushrooms, discard stems, and dry gills up. skillet 1In a saucepan, melt 3 T butter. Sauté shallots over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, just to bloom the garlic. Remove pan from heat. strata13In a small bowl, mix together the flour, paprika, salt, cayenne, white pepper, and nutmeg. Blend into the butter mixture, smashing out any lumps – this is your only chance to do so! porto souff1Return pan to heat and cook roux (that’s what this paste is called) for 2 minutes over medium/low heat. (This will get rid of the flour taste.) porto souff2Pour in the milk and cook over medium/low until thickened, stirring constantly. Turn off burner but leave pot in place in order to use residual heat. porto souff3Stir in Gruyère and 1/4 cup Parmesan until melted. porto souff4Remove pot from warm burner and let cool 5 minutes.  porto souff5Meanwhile, build a foil cylinder around each mushroom – heavy or regular aluminum foil will work. Cut 4 pieces of foil – 8″ long if using  heavy foil, and 12″ long if using regular. porto souff13For the heavy foil, fold in half lengthwise; for the regular, fold in thirds lengthwise. The goal is to make a 4″ high strip that will surround the Portobello. Grease one side of the strips with the remaining butter (You may not need all of it, but don’t be stingy – this will prevent the soufflé from sticking.) Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on the greased strips, lightly patting down to make it adhere to the butter. porto souff14Surround each Portobello snuggly with a foil strip, coated side facing the mushroom. Secure it with a paperclip at the top. porto souff7Place mushrooms on a parchment lined cookie sheet and set aside.

Make sure the oven is preheated by now! 

Separate eggs. Stir the yolks together in a small bowl, then mix into the cheese sauce, stirring as you pour. porto souff6Let cool.

Place egg whites in the large bowl of your electric mixer. Begin mixing the whites on medium speed, adding the cream of tartar once they’re foamy. Continue beating on high until stiff peaks form. porto souff9Deep breath! Pour the cheese sauce into the beaten whites. Turn the mixer on low and mix until just combined. porto souff10Pour mixture on top of Portobellos, dividing as equally as you can – don’t get crazy about it, though. porto souff11Bake at 350º F for 25 minutes – don’t open the oven door to check before that time. The soufflé should be golden and jiggly. porto souff12Remove paper clip (take care – it’ll be hot!) and foil collar. Serve immediately.

HOT & SOUR SOUP – Super Duper!!!

hot & sour soup textOne of my family’s favorite soups is HOT & SOUR. Not only does it have an appealing kick, but I love that you can eat a lot of it with almost no calories. Yay! When I start my meal with a big bowl, it takes the edge off my hunger so I don’t inhale half a dozen eggrolls.

Added bonus:  HOT & SOUR SOUP is fast and easy!  Who doesn’t love that?!

HOT & SOUR SOUP – makes about 7 cups

  • 6 cups vegetable stock (homemade or purchased)
  • 9 oz (1 cup) fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 8 oz canned bamboo shoots
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1¼ fresh grated ginger, or 1/2 tsp powdered
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 4 T soy sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 3 T + 1/2 tsp cornstarch, divided
  • 3 T + 1 tsp water, divided
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin

Thoroughly wash shiitakes, discard stems, then cut into 1″-ish pieces. hot & sour6Cut bamboo shoots in half widthwise, then into slivers lengthwise. hot & sour9Press out excess liquid from tofu, then cut into 1/2″ cubes. hot & sour7Bring vegetable stock to a boil.  Add in mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Simmer for 5 minutes. hot & sour1In a small bowl stir together 3 T cornstarch and 3 T water. flour-pasteStirring stock, pour in slurry (cornstarch/water mix). Add in tofu, white pepper, tomato paste, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and scallions.hot & sour4Simmer 5-10 minutes. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, 1/2 tsp cornstarch, and 1 tsp water. Turn off heat. VERY SLOWLY drizzle in the egg in a thin stream, going in all directions. hot & sour2Turn the heat on again and whisk gently to break up egg strands. Serve.hot & sour3

MULLED APPLE CIDER – A Hot Drink For A Cold Night!

apple cider textWhat could be better on a chilly evening than sipping a nice mug of MULLED APPLE CIDER?! (You could even add in a dash of an adult beverage, if you like.)

This is very easy to put together…if you don’t make your own cider (Yes, I actually used to make cider from 400 lbs of organic apples every year.)

MULLED APPLE CIDER – makes 32 oz

  • 32 oz apple cider
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 3 allspice balls
  • 3 whole cloves
  • about 4 thin slices of an unpeeled orange

Into a saucepan combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil. apple cider2Cover and decrease heat enought to maintain a low simmer. (Make sure you cover the pot while cooking the cider. The first time I made it, I left it uncovered and most of the liquid evaporated.) Cook 30 minutes. Done.

 

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO: Full Of Fall Flavor!

butternut risotto textWinter squash comes in many varieties and colors – very tempting to buy as a Fall decoration. Of course, cooking them may seem a bit daunting… what with the potential for slicing off a finger or two.

Never fear! A quick par-cook in the microwave to the rescue!!! It softens the squash just enough to ensure all body parts remain intact.

This risotto recipe cooks faster than the traditional method because it’s given a jump start of a large amount of liquid at the beginning.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO – makes about 4 cups

  • 1 lb butternut squash – whole, washed & dried
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2½ cups vegetable stock – purchased or homemade (VEGETABLE STOCK)
  • 2 T butter, divided
  • 3/4 cups onions, chopped finely
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 cup Arborio rice, unrinsed
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 oz (1/3 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 T fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 T lemon juice

Place whole squash in microwave without piercing or slicing it. (It won’t explode.) Zap for 3 minutes only. Turn it over and zap another 30 seconds. This softens the squash enough to slice through it.

Note: Save all the skin, fibers, and seeds to use in broth. 

Cut off top and bottom to give a firm foundation for peeling. With a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, remove the peel down to the deep orange part (just past the yellow part).butternut risotto3 Remove neck (yikes!), slice into rounds, then cut into 1/2″ cubes. Cut the body (this is getting creepy) in half and scrape out seeds and fibers. (Remember to save the seeds, fibers, and skin for the broth!) Slice into 1/2″ thick pieces, then cut those into 1/2″ cubes.butternut risotto10 Measure out 1¾ cup of cubes (put any remaining cubes with the skins and seeds for the broth.) Into a 12″ nonstick skillet heat the olive oil over medium/high until shimmering. Add the 1¾ cup of cubed squash, spreading out into a single layer. butternut risotto11Cook about 5 minutes without stirring, until bottoms are browned. Continue cooking another 4-5 minutes, stirring now and then, trying not to turn them over – you want only one side browned. Remove to a bowl and set aside. butternut risotto12Into the now empty skillet put the seeds and skins, cooking over medium heat about 4 minutes to brown. (Beware of popping seeds as they cook.)butternut risotto13Remove to a small saucepan. Add in the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 10-15 minutes.butternut risotto6 Into the empty skillet melt 1½ T butter. Add in the onions, salt, and black pepper. Sauté over medium heat until onions start to brown. butternut risotto7Add in nutmeg, cinnamon, and garlic. Cook another 30 seconds to bloom the spices. Pour the Arborio into the onions and sauté over medium until edges of rice become translucent. butternut risotto4Add the wine to the rice and cook uncovered over medium high until it evaporates.  butternut risotto8As the wine is cooking, strain the broth made with seeds. Discard strained solids and set broth aside.

When wine has evaporated, pour in 1½ cups of the broth and 1/2 of the reserved cooked squash cubes. Cook over medium heat uncovered until most of liquid has been absorbed, stirring now and then. In 1/2 cup increments, continue adding broth to the rice as it’s been absorbed. Add broth (you may need all of it) until the rice is softened. Total cooking time is about 12 minutes. butternut risotto2Stir in Parmesan, sage, remaining 1/2 T butter, and lemon juice. Adjust salt and lemon juice, if needed.

STUFFED POTATOES – Hot Stuff!

twice baked pot1I can’t deny it – I’m a huge potato lover. Mashed, French fried, hash browned, scalloped, and baked: I love them all! (It must be a trait inherited from my Irish mother.)

But, as a product of the microwave generation, preparing the perfect baked potato has always eluded me. Although many have claimed excellent results from the zapper, mine seem to continuously sport an underdone center (yuk!), with a flabby skin.

The answer seems to be in returning to my roots and, like my mama before me, bake these beauties in the oven. To ensure a tender center, I skewered the potatoes with a metal rod to promote even baking. Yes, they take an hour to cook, but it’s worth it.

As a fan of make-ahead recipes, I love STUFFED POTATOES because these can be prepared earlier in the day and then broiled during the last 10 minutes of meal-prep. Also, pototes retain their heat for quite some time afterward. Thus, a perfect side dish for company when the goal is to have all dishes on the table at their peak of flavor at the same time. (In my family, there’s the added challenge of getting everyone seated at that moment.)

NOTE: Unless I have buttermilk on hand (almost never), I always make my own, especially for the small amount called for in this recipe. Just combine milk and apple cider vinegar (see amounts below).

STUFFED POTATOES – serves 4

  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 1T butter, preferably room temperature
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (OR, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup milk or cream)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 scallions, sliced – both green & white parts

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.

Wash potato, then poke a metal skewer through the center, lengthwise. This adds heat to the middle of the potato so it cooks from the inside, too. (If you don’t have a metal skewer, don’t worry – they’ll still cook through without it.) Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, until easily pierced with a fork all the way to the center (center should be 106º Fahrenheit). twice baked pot2Remove skewer and slice in half, lengthwise, along narrow side of potato so they lay flat.twice baked pot4Carefully, scrap out insides, leaving 1/8″ border to support the skin. (If you scrap a bit too much in a section, just take some of the potato and smash it down to form a patch.) Place potato pulp in a bowl.twice baked pot5With a fork, mash the potato, breaking down lumps – you don’t need to make it as creamy as you would with mashed potatoes…unless, you want. twice baked pot6Add in the butter and stir until melted. Then add the buttermilk, sour cream, salt, pepper, cheese, and scallions. Mix gently, but thoroughly. twice baked pot3Divide equally and fill potato skins. At this point, you can cover them and complete preparation later.twiced baked pot8Just before serving time, broil potatoes about 4″ from heating element 10-15 minutes, until spotty brown on top. Serve hot.twice baked pot9

 

 

CARAMEL FILLED CUPCAKES – A Tasty Development!

caramel filled cupcakes text2Every now and then I get an idea for a recipe that I think will be a piece of cake (pun intended!) to develop. It never is.

The saga of my CARAMEL FILLED CUPCAKES began with an inspiration from Hostess Cupcakes and Cadbury Caramel Eggs. I envisioned biting into a firm cupcake filled with, not white fluff, but with creamy caramel. The recipes I found called for baking a chocolate cupcake, digging out divots from the tops, and filling with caramel sauce.

First of all, cutting out the divots seemed like a lot of messy work. Second of all, what to do with all the divots? (I hate waste!) So, I figured I’d just pour batter into the tins and drop in homemade caramel. FAIL! All that happened was the caramel blended with the batter during baking. Tasty, but not what I wanted.

I tried freezing the caramel into balls and adding it to the batter. Same result as before since it turns out caramel doesn’t freeze. (Who knew?) I tried dropping in the caramel at different times during baking. Same. Finally, I decided I needed to encase the caramel – like the Cadbury Eggs. It couldn’t actually be Cadbury Eggs, though, since not only are they seasonal, but they’re huge.

After scouring the candy departments of various stores (what I won’t do for my blog!), I had a eureka moment when I found Lindt’s chocolate covered caramels. They were just the right size and shape! Getting closer. I dropped them into the batter. They sank to the bottom, leaking caramel. I wanted the caramel in the middle – like Hostess Cupcakes’ fluff. How could I keep the balls suspended?

It finally hit me to bake a wee bit of batter in order to form a solid base for the balls, then add the balls, surrounding them with batter, and complete the bake. Yes!!! The last tweak was freezing the balls first so they remained intact.

NOTE: Just so you know, the many cupcakes that bombed were still eaten. I HATE WASTE!

CARAMEL FILLED CUPCAKES – makes 18 cupcakes

  • 18 caramel filled chocolate 1″ balls (I use Lindt), frozencaramel filled cupcakes 15
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli 60% bar – not chips)
  • 1/3 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee
  • 3/4 cup (4-1/8 oz) bread flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp distilled white vinegar
  • 6 T vegetable oil
  • 1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% chips)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt

The first thing to do is freeze the chocolate-caramel balls. (I store them in the freezer immediately when I buy them.) They need to be solid to prevent melting during baking.

Break up the bittersweet chocolate bar into small pieces (so they melt quicker) and put into a bowl (or better yet, a 6 cup or more spouted measuring cup – the spout makes pouring the batter into the cupcake tin much easier). Sift the cocoa powder (cocoa powder tends to get lumpy in storage) into the bowl. caramel filled cupcakes4Pour in the HOT coffee. Immediately cover bowl with a plate to retain heat in order to melt the chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften, then stir until all chocolate is melted and mixture is well blended. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.caramel filled cupcakes5 Into another bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.bundt2 Line your muffin tins with 18 regular-sized cupcake papers.

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. 

Into yet another bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, vinegar, and oil. caramel filled cupcakes6Pour egg mixture into cooled melted chocolate and stir. (You don’t want the chocolate to be too hot or it could could cook the eggs.)caramel filled cupcakes7Add in flour mixture and mix well – this is one instance where you want a little toughness to the cake so it holds up to the caramel. caramel filled cupcakes8Pour 1 tablespoon into the bottom of each liner. Don’t put in more or the caramel ball will sit too high. This small bit of batter is going to form a barrier against the caramel, preventing it from seeping into the paper. caramel filled cupcakes9Bake for 6 minutes (SET A TIMER!!!) in the preheated 350º F oven. Remove from oven. Set a frozen caramel ball on top of each baked cake bit, dead center (do your best).caramel filled cupcakes12 Then pour batter around and on top of ball, 1/3″ from top of paper. (This is where a spouted measuring cup comes in handy! Use a spoon to catch the drips.) caramel filled cupcakes13Return to oven and bake at 350º F for another 11 minutes. Remove from oven and keep cupcakes in hot muffin tin 10 minutes to set. Remove cupcakes – with papers – to a wire rack to completely cool.caramel filled cupcakes14 To make ganache frosting, place chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. ganache1Heat cream until bubbles form along sides – don’t let it boil.ganache2 Immediately pour over chips, cover with a plate, and let melt for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. If the chips don’t completely melt, pour mixture into a small saucepan and, over a very low heat, stir until melted. Allow to cool completely so it thickens, stirring now and then. Pipe ganache on cupcakes, or just frost with a knife.