If you are one of the scores of independent voters yet to decide how you will cast your vote come November, here's a taste test that could tip your ballot: the great Presidential Cookie Bake-Off. A recipe for success is what this country needs, after all.
For the past 20 years, Family Circle's Presidential Cookie Bake-Off has squared-off the mixing bowls of the candidates' spouses and asked their readers to decide: Who has the better cookie recipe? The editors at Family Circle claim their contest, in which readers test the dueling recipes and vote for their favorite, has resulted in correctly calling the actual elections outcome since 1992 – except once.
In 2008, Cindy McCain's Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies beat out Michelle Obama's Shortbread Cookies, only to have John McCain lose to Barack Obama in the general election. It's just the way the cookie crumbled. (Bill Clinton even got in the act that year with a healthy Oatmeal Cookie recipe when Hillary Rodham Clinton was dueling for the Democratic nomination.)
After four years in the White House, Michelle Obama is leading a nationwide campaign centered on cooking healthy food at home. Has she departed from her war on obesity to dole out cookies? We wonder about these things and if they may just give the upper oven mitt to Ann Romney's M&M Cookies over Michelle's inclusive-sounding White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies.
The future can only declare if cookie history will repeat itself. Family Circle readers have already decided that it is Michelle Obama who will be heading back to the White House with more than 9,000 readers weighing in. "Just 287 votes separated the two women, our smallest margin ever," say the editors at Family Circle.
The voting continues a few blocks from the White House at the Occidental Grill & Seafood, where diners are given a sample of each cookie and asked to vote on their preferred choice. Weekly tallies are shared through the restaurant's social networks. The most recent results as of Sept. 29: 56 percent for Michelle; 41 percent for Ann; 3 percent are undecided.
Other retailers are getting into the election spirit with their own spin on things: Participating 7-Eleven chain stores are running the fourth "7-Election" voting campaign by having customers select either a red (Romney) or blue (Obama) coffee cup. The chain claims that their previous results have not only closely mimicked those of the past two elections, they have accurately predicted the winners. At the moment, the blue coffee cups are carrying most of the country on the campaign's results page. (We don't know how many of those coffees were decaf.)
With such a close election, here in the newsroom we held our own cookie ballot to gain an edge on election night coverage. Since all journalists like to hide their political stripes, party affiliations were left off the ballots, er, cookies, so the votes were based on taste alone (and also size). An election monitor made sure it was one person, two cookies; and any remaining uncast ballots were eaten immediately. A few broken cookies were tossed out for not having proper IDs.
Michelle's recipe has a surprising amount of butter and vegetable shortening but also an unexpected mint finish. She packed a lot in with three kinds of chips. The cookies seemed to spread thin in the oven, however, even though there were a lot of them. There were fewer of Ann's cookies although they were rich, colorful, hefty, and a little dry. They also called for the use of corn syrup, which could be problematic with the rising cost of corn. Voters were either drawn to or repulsed by mint and/or peanut butter flavors. Absentee ballots for the bureaus were not counted due to a mess-up at headquarters. Exit polls were too close to call.
Our newsroom results:
M&M Cookies: 55 percent
White and Dark Chocolate Chip: 45 percent
Ann Romney's M&M Cookies carried the newsroom! Now, anyone got milk?
Cast your vote!
The following recipes are reprinted with permission from Family Circle.
Michelle Obama's Mama Kaye's White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 5 dozen cookies
Prep: 15 mins
Bake: 12 minutes 375 degrees F.
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 stick Crisco butter-flavored solid vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup each white chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips and mint chocolate chips (or Andes mint pieces)
2 cups chopped walnuts
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter, vegetable shortening, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.
2. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, beat in flour mixture. By hand, stir in white and milk chocolate chips, mint chips and walnuts.
3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Ann Romney's M&M's cookies
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
Prep: 15 mins
Bake: 18 minutes 325 degrees F.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (such as Karo)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 ounces chocolate chips
2/3 cup M&M's candies
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream sugars, butter, peanut butter and corn syrup on high speed until well combined. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla extract.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together oats and baking soda. Stir into peanut butter mixture until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and M&M's.
3. Using a standard-size ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets (about 9 per sheet). Bake at 325 degrees F for 18 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
When the reality of the new school year and the end of summer hit, having a quick, portable breakfast on hand can be a serious boon. And these muffins fit the bill. I often find muffins labeled “healthy” to be leaden gut bombs, but these are light and tender, thanks to the magic of buttermilk. Oats provide a nice, sustained energy level and soaking them in the buttermilk prevents that chewy, gritty texture you sometimes find in baked goods with oatmeal. These are not excessively sweet muffins, so no sugar crash, and the applesauce keeps the flavor up and the fat content down.
But the real beauty of these muffins is their versatility. While delicious straight up, the recipe below is really the blueprint for your own creativity. When you stir in the applesauce, add your favorite dried fruit and/or nut combo, and any spice that tickles your fancy.
Try 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Or make that 1/4 cup cranberries and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Or raisins and cinnamon. Blueberries and nutmeg. Pecans and apple pie spice. I often scoop half a batch of plain batter to the tin, then add my additions to the second half.
These muffins are delicious fresh, but will last for three days in an airtight container. When they are completely cooled, wrap each one individually in plastic wrap and pop into the freezer in a zipper bag. Just pull one out the night before and you are ready to go.
And one note on the yield. I have been fiddling with this recipe for years, and I simply lack the mathematical skills to make it an even dozen. If the anomaly truly bothers you, divide the batter between all 12 cups and you’ll get smaller muffins.
Oatmeal get-up-and-go muffins
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
Place the oats in a large bowl and pour over the buttermilk. Stir gently with a spoon to cover the oats, then leave to sit for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10 cups of a muffin pan.
Stir the egg and brown sugar into the oat mixture until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until just barely mixed. Add the applesauce (and any add-ins*) and stir until just combined. Don’t stir too hard or too long or the muffins will be tough.
Scoop the batter into the muffin cups (I use a large cookie scoop). Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Yields 10 – 11 muffins
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Zucchini lemon muffin gems
As with most classic recipes, there are countless versions out there. Even the official United States Senate website has two takes on it, to match the two most popular stories of which senator requested the bean soup be added to the dining room’s menu.
The recipe attributed to Sen. Fred Dubois of Idaho contains mashed potatoes (I know you’re as surprised as I am). Minnesota Sen. Knute Nelson’s recipe does not. Whoever started the tradition, bean soup has been served daily in the Senate Dining Room since about 1903.
Senate bean soup is not a complex soup. It is the homey, homely, sturdy soup of our childhood, cooked for hours on a wintry day, steaming kitchen windows and filling the house with the smoky fragrance of ham hocks. "Frommer’s" goes so far as to say, “The Senate Bean Soup may be famous, but it’s tasteless goo.” I disagree. This is elemental comfort food that speaks to something written deep in our genetic code.
The first recipe on the Senate site is among the most stripped down, using only beans, ham hocks, butter, an onion, salt, pepper and water. Some include mashed potatoes (and some even substitute instant mashed potato flakes). Others get overly busy, I think, with multiple herbs and spices and even wine.
I stayed closer to tradition, adding only some aromatics – carrots, celery and garlic – and bay leaves. I didn’t want to do a modern homage to the soup. I wanted to keep it steadfastly old school.
It starts with the beans. Navy beans, to be exact. You can substitute great northern beans, but the Senate kitchen uses navy beans. More often than not, we use canned beans at Blue Kitchen. They’re quick and convenient and, for most recipes, work just fine. This recipe requires dried beans. The long cooking time they demand lets the ham hock’s smoky flavor permeate everything. Dried beans also generally require soaking to soften them up before cooking. You can soak the beans overnight, the time honored approach that, unfortunately for me, requires planning ahead. I used a quick soaking method I’ll describe in the Kitchen Notes that had the beans ready to cook in little more than an hour.
Even though the cooking time is long – 2-1/2 to 3 hours, give or take – it’s something that can go on mostly unattended. On a recent Saturday, I started soaking the beans in the afternoon. By early evening, we were sitting down to a hearty supper.
Senate Bean Soup
1 pound dried navy beans, soaked (see Kitchen Notes)
1 smoked ham hock, about 3/4 pound (see Kitchen Notes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
freshly ground black pepper
Combine beans, ham hock, garlic, 8 cups of water and bay leaves in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 1-1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add onion, carrots and celery and toss to coat with butter, until just softening, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. (A note on chopping and dicing these vegetables: Navy beans are small. Cut the vegetables to match that scale – no big carrot coins or chunks of celery.)
Transfer the ham hock to a shallow bowl and let it cool slightly. Transfer a ladleful of the beans to a small bowl, along with a little of the liquid. Using a hand masher or a fork, mash the beans thoroughly and return to the pot. Do this with two more ladlesful of beans. This will thicken the liquid a bit. I did this instead of adding mashed potatoes, not wanting to introduce their starchy flavor to the mix. Stir in the vegetable mix and season generously with pepper. Do not add salt at this time.
When the ham hock is cooled enough to handle, remove the skin, fat and bones and chop the meat into small pieces. Again, remember the scale of the navy beans. Return the meat to the pot and simmer uncovered for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until beans are completely tender and the liquid has reduced somewhat, creating a slightly thick broth.
Taste carefully and add salt only if needed. The ham hock will add plenty of salt, so you may not need any. I didn’t. Discard the bay leaves. Ladle soup into bowls, giving the pot a good stir with the ladle each time – the beans, vegetables and meat tend to settle to the bottom, and this will give each serving a good, hearty mix of everything. Serve with a crusty bread, rolls or cornbread.
Soaking beans, slow and fast. Whichever method you choose, pick through the beans first to remove any pebbles and shriveled looking beans and then give them a quick rinse.
Slow: Soaking beans overnight is simplicity itself. Just place them in a large pot or bowl and cover with water by at least three inches. Soak them overnight, drain and rinse. They are now ready to cook.
Fast: Place picked over and rinsed beans in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover with cold tap water by at least 3 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 2 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot and let beans soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse. They’re now ready to cook.
Ham hocks. Strictly smoked, please. The smokiness adds immeasurably to the flavor of the soup. Ham hocks are one of those nose-to-tail ingredients that have been around since long before that term was invented. You’ll find them in most supermarkets. We got beautiful smoked ham hocks from our favorite local (and locavore) butcher shop, The Butcher & Larder. I bought two (I’ve wrapped and frozen one for further adventures later this year). When I unwrapped the butcher paper package in our kitchen, the whole apartment filled with the hocks’ smoky aroma. I was immediately transported back to a relative’s kitchen somewhere in the country long ago.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Turkish style red lentil soup with chard
I just adore orange chicken and its sticky sweet and slightly spicy sauce coating chunks of crispy chicken. As I planned the menu for this little ninja birthday party, it seemed like the perfect fit for a big group of adults and young children. It’s a dish I’ve eaten often and made never.
So, I did a bit of researching. The big surprise for me was that some of the recipes contained not a bit of orange – no juice, no extract, no peel. Many recipes contained more sugar than anything else. And though those recipes may be successful at reproducing the familiar orange chicken flavor from your favorite Chinese takeout restaurant, I just can’t come to grips with an orange chicken recipe made without orange.
So, I played around a bit and came up with the following recipe. It’s pleasingly sweet, just a bit spicy, and packed with a good dose of authentic orange flavor. Prior to frying, the chicken is marinated in a soy-ginger-orange marinade, then dipped in egg, and coated with cornstarch. A simple sauce, made with orange juice and fresh zest is accented with Asian flavors then thickened to the consistency of a glaze with a bit of cornstarch. Definitely a crowd-pleaser!
Cornstarch is an effective (and gluten-free) thickener which can be used in a variety of recipes, including sauces, gravy, pudding, and fruit pie filling. It adds no flavor of its own and produces a clear glaze, as compared with the cloudy effect of a butter/flour roux.
In general, about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch can be used to thicken 1 cup of liquid. To effectively blend the cornstarch into the liquid to be thickened, you should start by making a slurry, which is simply a mixture of the cornstarch with a bit of cold liquid (usually water). This step prevents the cornstarch from clumping when added to the hot liquid. Add the slurry to the liquid you wish to thicken, then bring to a simmer for a minute or two until the liquid thickens.
For the Chicken:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the Sauce:
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
Zest from 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons sambal oelek (crushed chile paste)*
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
2 green onions, sliced
*You can substitute crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper powder to add a bit of spiciness. If using cayenne powder, reduce the quantity.
For the Chicken
Stir together the soy sauce, orange juice, and ginger. Submerge the chicken in the mixture. Allow the chicken to marinade for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
Combine the cornstarch and salt on a plate. Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high/high heat to approximately 375 degrees F. (You can use an instant read meat thermometer to estimate the temperature. If you do not have a thermometer, just heat the oil for several minutes until it’s sizzling hot.)
Remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the chicken in a bowl with the lightly beaten eggs. Remove the chicken from the eggs, then dredge in the cornstarch until well coated. Fry the chicken in small batches until crispy, golden, and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Turn the chicken once or twice during cooking. Remove the chicken from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
For the Sauce
Combine the brown sugar, water, orange juice, orange zest, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and sambal oelek in a saucepan over medium heat until well combined. In a small ramekin or bowl, stir together the cornstarch with the cold water. Pour the mixture into the sauce and whisk to combine. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for a couple minutes until the sauce is thickened.
Just before serving, pour the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with sliced green onions and additional orange zest, if desired. Serve over white jasmine rice.
To maintain the chicken’s crispiness, wait until just before serving to toss the chicken in the sauce.
To make ahead of time, fry the chicken and refrigerate until using. Prepare the sauce and refrigerate until using. Reheat the chicken on a baking sheet in a 375 degrees oven for about 10-15 minutes until heated through and crispy. Heat the sauce and pour it over the reheated chicken.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Grilled chicken tikka masala pizza
Texas, the state that swaggers with bigness, has a new record to boast: The world's largest Fritos Chili Pie in celebration of the corn chip's 80th anniversary.
At the State Fair of Texas in Dallas on Oct. 1, thousands sampled the world's largest pie that weighed in at 1,325 lb., and was made using 635 10.5-ounce bags of Fritos chips, 660 15-ounce cans of Hormel Chili without Beans, and 580 8-ounce bags of shredded cheddar cheese. The Guinness World Records officials were on hand to record the title for the biggest-ever Fritos Chili Pie, which yielded approximately 5,000 single-serve samples for fair attendees.
"For 80 years, Fritos corn chips have been a beloved American snack," said Tony Matta, vice president, marketing, Frito-Lay. "The Guinness World Records title adds a new milestone to our proud history, and we are thrilled to be celebrating alongside Fritos corn chips fans today at the State Fair of Texas."
According to Frito-Lay, Inc., the Fritos brand was born in 1932 when Elmer Doolin purchased a corn chips recipe from a local businessman and began making the first Fritos chips right from his mother's kitchen with a converted potato ricer. The popularity of the snack catapulted in 1961 when he joined forces with H.W. Lay & Company to create Frito-Lay, Inc. Doolin's mother, Daisy Dean Doolin, created recipes to help market Fritos corn chips by using them as an ingredient in a wide range of dishes, including her now-famous Fritos Chili Pie.
For a little corn chip, that's a history with a lot of crunch.
Oh, hallo there, fall. You bittersweet time of year with your clear blue skies, brisk breezes, dancing sunshine, leaves of crimson, amber, and gold. So beautiful, crisp, and cozy – and so undeniably the last gasp before winter sets in. Have I mentioned that I do not care for the cold?
But autumn does bring the most delectable apples, and my feelings about them, at least, are entirely positive.
Here's a super simple, easy way of enjoying the season's apples that is a sure crowd pleaser and picky-eater teaser and looks really fancy and involved.
The secret is to use frozen puff pastry dough. Of course, you can make your own pastry dough if you've got time to kill and two hands free at the same time (not so here these days) and it's possible that it might taste even better but I can't offer you any guarantees on that.
I've had great results with DuFour's puff pastry and apparently their dough is one of the best money can buy. But I think this tart would be tasty with any puff pastry because of all the butter, no matter what brand you use. Just don't forget to factor in time for the store bought pastry to defrost.
Use a crisp, sweet-tart apple such as Macoun, Mutsu, Cortland, Northern Spy, or Granny Smith. There are dozens of good varieties available at this time of year, at least here in New York – the apple bin of the country. Do not skimp on the onions as they provide such delicious sweet flavor. Plus, I am always amazed by how much they reduce during the caramelization. Lots of fresh herbs give the tart a pleasant hint of freshness amid all that wonderfully melty cheese and buttery pastry.
Pine nuts provide some hearty crunch and a lovely toasted flavor while you chew. Salt and pepper do their part by adding another layer of flavor and spice.
Easy apple cheddar tart with caramelized onions & pine nuts
Makes one tart
Serves 4 to six 6 an appetizer or 2 to 3 as a main course
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
2 medium or 1 large apple, cored and sliced (not too thick, you want to avoid too much weight or liquid as it will make the pastry soggy)
2-3 branches fresh thyme, chopped
Handful of fresh basil and/or oregano, chopped
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (you could also use goat or gruyère cheese)
1 large onion, sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful of toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. While you're waiting for the pastry to defrost, sautée the onions in a frying pan in olive oil until translucent.
Lay the sheet of puff pastry out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Prick the dough inside the border all over with the tines of a fork to prevent it from puffing up too much during baking.
Spread a layer of cheddar (or whichever cheese you choose) on the pastry. Top with the onions, then arrange the apple slices on the pastry in a single layer (crowding or overlapping them could make the puff pastry soggy). Scatter the fresh herbs over the apples. Drizzle the tart with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If using gruyère, reserve a little cheese to sprinkle over the top.
Bake the tart until the pastry is crisp and deeply browned on the bottom and around the edges, 30-40 minutes.
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Have you tried a cake ball yet? According to Robin Ankeny and Charlotte Lyon, the founders and owners of the Cake Ball Company and cookbook authors of Cake Balls: Amazingly Delicious Bite-Size Treats, cake balls are “crumbled bits of moist cake blended with rich icing, rolled into a ball, and then dipped in a deliciously wonderful chocolate coating."
Think of them as a truffle-looking confection with endless flavor combinations. A cake pop is similar but has a lollipop stick stuck through it or, if you use a cake pop pan, it can also be a small ball of cake enrobed in chocolate. Cake balls seem to have become the latest craze in the confection world with the lofty possibility of replacing the cupcake craze. Small, versatile and sweet, they’re portion-controlled treats that lend themselves to a variety of flavors and occasions.
While I have jumped on the cupcake bandwagon with enthusiasm, I admit I had never tried a cake ball (or cake pop) before. But with an eye toward becoming more educated, I made my first foray using the "Cake Balls" cookbook. It gives a really nice introduction as to what cake balls are then has a basic chapter that most cookbooks have in talking about baking basics and equipment. The key chapter to read is about making cake balls, from baking the cake and making the icing to crumbling the cake, mixing cake crumbles with icing, rolling into balls and dipping, drizzling and decorating with chocolate.
Don’t skip this chapter as it also has tips and troubleshooting tricks should you flounder in cake ball-making.
There are three basic cake recipes in the book: chocolate, vanilla, and yellow cake; as well as three basic frosting recipes: chocolate, vanilla, and cream cheese. Once you get past the basics, the real fun of the cookbook begins. The recipes are chaptered somewhat by flavors: "Classics" such as Birthday Cake; "Chocolate Lovers" features Chocolate Salty Pretzel; "Fresh and Fruity" includes Strawberries and Cream; festive "Jingle Balls" boasts Creamy Eggnog; and "Fun with Cake Balls" concludes with Tres Leches Cake Balls.
Reading the recipe titles alone made my mouth water and reach for a mixing bowl. Beyond the basic recipes, the rest of the recipes are reminiscent of “semi-homemade” type of baking in that they start with a base cake mix and rely on add-ons for the flavor combinations of the finished product. But the beauty of the recipes is you always have the option of making your own cake from scratch rather than a mix. The recipes merely suggest what type of cake you should start with to make the cake balls.
I tried the basic chocolate cake recipe and the basic chocolate frosting recipe. The cake was very easy to make and came out with a chocolatey, fluffy, cakey texture. Likewise, the frosting came out well. It was a bit sweet but I thought that would be a good complement to the dark chocolate flavor of the cake.
Then it came time to mix the two. I followed the instructions religiously on how to make cake balls: crumble, mix, roll, freeze, dip in chocolate, let set. Thanks to clear directions in the cookbook, I think I made credible cake balls. Unfortunately, however, much as I liked the cake and the frosting separately, it turns out I didn’t like them mushed together, even when enrobed in my favorite milk chocolate couverture. It was too cloyingly sweet and the texture, while looking trufflelike, lacked the creaminess I associate with truffles. Instead, it was like eating raw cake batter that had too much sugar. It’s possible I didn’t bake the cake enough, a common trap the book warns against, although for once I baked until the toothpick came out clean from the center. But, more than likely, cake balls are just not for me. I’m not a frosting person to start with and mixing it with cake lent it too much sweetness with not enough cake to offset. I also wanted and expected more cake than frosting in a cake ball and that wasn’t what I got.
However, if you are a frosting person, then cake balls might be for you and you would do well to try out this book to make your own. Beyond showing you how to make cake balls, "Cake Balls" provides a fantastic list of flavor combinations and ideas of how to use and decorate with cake balls. Candy Bar Overload with chopped up Snickers Bars inside and decorated on top would be perfect for a Halloween party. Pumpkin Spice might become a new Thanksgiving favorite. Southern Red Velvet Cake Balls can be dressed up for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or a bridal shower. If you like pictures, there are so many mouthwatering ones in here I might convince myself to try again with another flavor combination.
But for now, it looks like the cake ball craze might pass me by.
There’s everyday food and then there’s special occasion food. Homemade ravioli are not the sort of thing most of us are going to whip up on a weeknight. Or – let’s be realistic, here – even an average weekend.
But a while ago, I started daydreaming about making a very small batch of ravioli. Something manageable and fun and even a little zen rather than a marathon all-day affair with flour everywhere and pasta drying on every flat surface. I imagined tender little pasta pillows with a really savory filling and a simple sauce. I pictured myself rolling out a small sheet of pasta dough with my rolling pin. No pasta maker required was a must in this fantasy, since I gave my pasta maker away years ago to a friend – may she get more use out of it than I ever did!
I continued the scenario in my mind with two artfully arranged plates, music in the background, and candles on the table.
In support of this fantasy, I ordered a ravioli cutter from Amazon.
Then I made a batch of rich homemade ricotta cheese.
It was go-time.
Ricotta and wild mushroom ravioli
1-1/2 cups flour (plus more as needed)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh, whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup chopped wild mushrooms (reconstituted dried mushrooms work fine)
To make the dough:
Mound the flour on a work surface and sprinkle with the salt. Make a deep well in center of flour. Pour oil into well and crack the egg into it. Use a fork to gently mix the egg and oil together, then gradually incorporate surrounding flour a little at a time. As egg mixture absorbs flour, add water one tablespoon at a time, just until the dough becomes wet and sticky. Generously sprinkle the dough and work surface with additional flour. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until it’s elastic and smooth, about five minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside to let rest for half an hour.
To make the ravioli:
If you have a pasta maker, use it for this step. If not: divide dough in half and work with one half at a time. On a well-floured piece of parchment paper, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large oval, as thin as you can get it (about 1/16 inch thick).
Spread a generous layer of ricotta cheese over half of the pasta oval, leaving about a 1/4 inch margin. Sprinkle with wild mushrooms. Fold dough over filling.
Pressing firmly, run ravioli cutter around outside edge of entire half oval of dough. This will crimp edges together and cut off a narrow strip of dough. Run ravioli cutter the length of the dough packet, in about 1 inch strips, then repeat in the other direction. This will crimp and cut your ravioli into squares.
Repeat with second half of dough.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully add ravioli, then cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer for about 8 minutes. Pull out a ravioli and test. If it tastes tender, cooked, and not doughy, the ravioli are done. Turn off heat and remove ravioli with a slotted spoon, rather than dumping into a colander.
Top with sauce (this pesto is a great choice) and eat. Leftovers will keep well for lunch the next day.
Related post on The Rowdy Chowgirl: Beet green pesto
Juicy, tasty, healthy, and – best of all – quick, tuna steak kabobs don’t require an outdoor grill. Just stir together some olive oil, lime juice, and Dijon mustard for a tangy-spicy marinade and load up some kabob skewers for a few minutes under the broiler.
Tuna steak kabobs, or use your favorite fish, is a fast go-to dinner for a busy weekday night.
Serve along side rice, pasta, or some butternut squash flavored with butter and brown sugar. (Tip: If you don’t have time to roast the squash simply halve a butternut squash, scoop out the seeds, cover in plastic and cook in the microwave for 8 minutes. By the time the kabobs are finished you can scoop out the tender squash and serve.)
Tuna steak kabobs
For the marinade:
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
For the kabobs:
1 lb. tuna steak cut into 1-inch cubes (or use halibut, scrod, swordfish, salmon, or scrod)
1/2 green pepper, cut into wedges
1/2 red pepper, cut into wedges
1/2 red onion, cut into quarters
4-8 cherry tomatoes
Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade. Pour over the tuna cubes in a nonreactive (glass) dish, cover, and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Turn to coat cubes and refrigerate for an additional 5-10 minutes. (Tip: If you are using bamboo skewers, soak these in water while the fish is marinading so they don’t burn in the oven!)
Preheat the boiler.
Assemble the kabobs by threading a cherry tomato, tuna cube, green pepper, red pepper, and onion layer. Repeat until the kabob is full, finishing with a cherry tomato. Brush the kabob with any remaining marinade and place on a foil covered baking pan under the broiler for about 3 minutes.
Turn the kabobs, brush with marinade, and broil an additional few minutes until the fish is no longer translucent and the vegetables are crisp-tender.
This post has been a long time coming. Between a few freelance writing projects and my curatorial debut, I have had very little free time left to finish this post. Plus I have managed to forget butter the last three times I went grocery shopping. Without it, these pretty madeleines would have been very sad tasting. A madeleine is a small sponge cake that hails from the northeast of France – the Lorraine region to be exact. The cakes are distinctive for their shell-like appearance and are made with a dedicated pan especially for madeleines, available at most home-ware shops.
Vincent van Gogh composed "Still Life with Basket and Six Oranges" in 1888 while he was in Arles-sur-tech, France. At this time he adopted a brighter palette and his paintings were saturated with yellow, ultramarine and mauve. The still life above epitomizes the natural vibrant light of the landscapes in the region. The sun-drenched fields and azure water of the Mediterranean are echoed in the background of the painting.
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Yield: 16 madeleines
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
5 tablespoons butter, melted
In a bowl, add the flour, baking powder and salt – mix well. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together for around 4 minutes. Add the honey, vanilla and orange zest to the egg mixture and mix well. Slowly fold in the flour mixture and once incorporated, add the melted butter and gently mix.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F., and position a rack in the center. Prepare the madeleine molds by rubbing a bit of butter in each one. Drop around 1 tablespoon of batter in each mold and slide into the oven for around 7-10 minutes. Once they appear golden, test to see if they are done by poking a toothpick in the centre of the madeleines, when it comes out clean they are done.
When removing the madeleines from the oven, quickly remove them from the pan, do not let them sit and continue to cook. Serve either warm or at room-temperature.
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