Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall Sugar Cookies

Last week was the "Fall Festival" at Emma's preschool and we signed up to bring cookies for her class party. We had seen this cute idea on Follow Me on Pinterest and I just KNEW we needed to make these cookies. So, using my very favorite sugar cookie dough recipe, we did. I made a double batch of the dough and divided each batch into two parts and colored each a different color so we ended up with yellow, orange, red and brown. We let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight and the next day Emma and I set to work making the cookies. We broke the dough up into small pieces and "sprinkled" them over a sheet of parchment paper. We then topped it with another sheet of parchment and rolled the colors all together. Once the colors were joined together, we cut out fall leaves and acorns and baked them as directed. They were a big hit at school!

"Lumps" of dough, stuck together and ready for rolling

Cutting out the dough after rolling

Cookies ready for baking!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Making Pasta!

Continuing on with the pasta and dumplings chapter for this month's

My three year old and I decided to tackle plain old "egg" pasta and try out both my new King Arthur Perfect Pasta Blend and my "new-to-me" pasta maker (this one: Imperia Pasta Machine Deluxe Set ) It was a lot of fun! We used the recipe on the back of the pasta flour bag, which is very close to the one in The Professional Chef. In addition to the basic recipe below, I added about 1/2 tsp of freshly ground "Italian Herb Seasoning" from McCormick's grinder.

Here's the recipe:

King Arthur Flour's Perfect Pasta

3 cups Perfect Pasta Flour Blend
4 large eggs
2 to 4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup flour (use this to flour your work surface and dough)

Place the Perfect Pasta Blend into a food processor, bread machine or bowl. Mix in the 4 large eggs all at once. Once mixed, knead adding only enough water to form a smooth dough. Form the dough into a rectangle, about 1" thick, wrap well and set aside for 30 minutes or so,  allowing it to rest. Once it has rested, flour both sides of the dough rectangle and run it  through your pasta machine on the thickest setting. Repeat the process, flouring as necessary and gradually reducing the thickness setting until the desired thickness is reached. To do this by hand simply use a rolling pin and roll out to the desired thickness, being sure to keep both sides of the dough well floured. Cut into shapes by hand or by machine and toss with flour to prevent sticking. Hang in individual strands or arrange into small nests and allow to dry.

To cook: Boil 4 quarts of water with 1 tablespoon salt. Drop the pasta in to cook. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until the pasta has cooked but is still slightly firm. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so keep an eye on it. Remove from the water and toss with a bit of oil or sauce.

Yield: 1.5 lbs dough (approx. 4 servings).

Just 4 ingredients: Perfect Pasta flour, eggs, water and Italian Seasoning

Pour the beaten eggs into a well in the middle of the flour
Enlist the help of a 3 year old! Since they don't make small enough food gloves, we put plastic bags over her hands...
A little dancing always makes cooking more fun!

Use a fork to incorporate the eggs into the flour
When it gets thick enough, use your hands to get all that flour into the dough
Make sure to let your helper in on the action
Pat it out to about an inch thick
Ready to rest
Feed it through the machine on the thickest setting
Continue feeding through, reducing width on machine to desired thickness. I went to the 3rd stop for the fettuccine and the 2nd stop for the spaghetti
Fettuccine drying on the rack

Spaghetti "nests"
So, what did I learn while making pasta this round? First, cut the pasta sheets to a manageable size when feeding through the machine! It's hard to try and keep it all separated and neat when the sheets are too long.  Second, if you're going to make "spaghetti" which is thin, cook it fresh. Dried, it crumbled too much and ended up in small "chicken noodle soup" noodles. Next time I'll make and cook it the same day. Third, don't use too heavy a sauce with spaghetti as it is delicate. I haven't cooked the fettuccine yet, but will use a heavier sauce with it since it's hardier.  All in all this was a good test and tasted fabulous! I'd forgotten how easy it is to make fresh pasta and now that I remember may do it more often!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Butterhorns from a master sweet dough recipe

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Yesterday I saw a post on the wonderful blog Life As Mom for a master sweet dough recipe with several awesome looking sweet bread results and I just KNEW I needed to make it! So, I did! I made one batch of dough yesterday and made 2 round braided loaves (placing one in the freezer for later) and 16 chocolate butterhorns (freezing 8 of those). I let one loaf and 8 crescents rise and then baked them. They were beautiful AND delicious! After that success, I knew I needed to try it with one of our favorite combinations... Nutella and toffee chips! So, check out the original bread machine recipe on 

and then see below for my changes and adaptations!

Dough ingredients
To the basic ingredients I added 1 tsp vanilla extract and also used sea salt instead of regular. I also "preheated" the milk for 30 seconds in the microwave to keep it from being too cold for the yeast...

The dough after bread machine dough cycle

Divide the dough into quarters

Roll out to a 12" round (yes, mine's more of a square...)

Cut the "circle" into 8 "triangles"

For my "Nutella" version, I used Nutella spread and Heath Bits O' Brickle toffee

Spread the Nutella onto the wedges and then sprinkle with toffee bits

Roll into crescent shapes and place on parchment paper to rise for 45 minutes.

Here is the "chocolate chip" version

Out of the oven and ready to eat!

Yum! The inside of one of the chocolate chip ones

Now that I've tried the nutella version, I think I'm gonna give them a try with some of my maple almond butter (from Justin's Nut Butters)  and drizzle with maple glaze...The possibilities are really endless!

Oh, and here is a picture of the braided loaf from yesterday!!!

Round braided cinnamon sugar bread

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce

So I recently decided to join a monthly blog challenge for food bloggers called Kitchen Bootcamp.

Each month the hostess chooses a topic for bloggers to try their hand at. She bases her challenges on The Professional Chef , but entrants are welcome to use their own recipes and resources as well. This month the challenge is Cooking Pasta and Dumplings.  Well, I've made regular egg noodles as well as plain and flavored fettuccine in the past but have always wanted to try my hand at making gnocchi, so I decided that this would be the prime opportunity to do so! 

For those unfamiliar with gnocchi, it's kind of like a pillowy pasta shape, sometimes made of ricotta but more commonly made with potato. One of my favorite dishes that a local restaurant used to make was Gnocchi with Fresh Mozzarella and Vodka sauce. It was divine! The restaurant no longer has it on the menu, so mastering gnocchi might allow me to recreate it in my own kitchen! Tuesday morning, armed with some leftover mashed potatoes and my copy of The Professional Chef I set out to make some "Gnocchi Piedmontese", a basic potato gnocchi.  What a mess! The "dough" was a sticky, gluey, heavy mess...not at all the soft pillowy bites of dough I was looking for! I think because I started with already mashed potatoes, which had milk and butter in them, there was too much moisture and then because it was so "sticky" I tried adding a bit more flour and beating a little longer which resulted in a tough, gluey mess.

Undeterred, I decided I would try again on Thursday after a run to the grocery for more potatoes.  I decided on Thursday because Tuesdays & Thursdays are the two days of the week that one of my two kiddos is in preschool, so I had half the distraction of other days. My mother brought me some potatoes Tuesday evening (after I told her about the mess in the morning) so I was all set. However, when sorting some things out in the pantry, I realized I had an extra butternut squash lying around. I decided to search my recipe database for ways to use it when I came across a recipe for Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce.

This recipe, from Lidia Bastianich's cookbook La Cucina Di Lidia: Recipes and Memories from Italy's Adriatic Coast, called for roasting the butternut squash they day before use and allowing them to drain in a colander over a bowl overnight in the refrigerator so that most of the liquid would be removed. The first problem I ran into was the length of time the recipe called for roasting the squash. My butternut squash took THREE TIMES as long to roast to "tender" as the recipe directed. Other than that small problem (which was easily overcome by continuing to cook it until done!), the recipe worked very well. Here is what the roasted squash looked like just before I put it in the refrigerator for the night.


The next morning I took the squash from the refrigerator and gathered the remaining ingredients for the pasta: 2 eggs, some salt and some flour. 

Puree the squash in the food processor until smooth. I then added the salt and eggs directly to the food processor and combined them in there. I scooped the mixture into the bowl (from which I had drained the "liquid" from the squash) and then folded in the flour. The recipe says this dough will be soft and sticky, but I think that is an understatement! This dough was more like a thick muffin or cake batter (or perhaps a "loose" cookie dough) than like a typical pasta dough. This is a "dropped" gnocchi (rather than rolled as many others are) so the looseness and stickiness of the dough didn't worry me as much.

At this point, the recipe has you bring water to a boil to "poach" the gnocchi. I salted the water and when it came to a boil began the process. The directions tell you to scoop the dough using a teaspoon and rolling it into the water with your finger. Not wanting to get the sticky dough all over my fingers, I decided to go with my smallest cookie dough scoop instead. This worked extremely well although it did make larger gnocchi than I would have preferred. One thing to keep in mind is that the gnocchi will swell and puff in the hot water so they will end up LARGER than when raw. So make your dough balls SMALLER than you want the final product to be so you don't have this problem. I did have a little bit of "breakage" from the dropped dough, but other than not being as "pretty" as I might have liked, my method worked pretty well. The suggestion is for 10-15 gnocchi in the pot at a time. I did 10 and found that pretty crowded. Once the gnocchi float to the top of the water, you poach them for 2 minutes before removing and draining.

I removed my gnocchi to a lightly greased mini sheet pan to cool and then layered them into a seal-able refrigerator container lightly spraying each layer with oil to keep them from sticking together too badly.

After about 4 hours in the refrigerator (from the time I finished poaching until "dinner" time), I removed the chilled gnocchi and gathered the ingredients for the rest of the dish. Namely butter, fresh sage leaves and Parmesan cheese.

Now, the directions do not call for browning the butter, but I prefer browned to unbrowned butter, so I allowed the butter to just start to brown before adding the sliced sage and gnocchi. I sauteed this until the gnocchi got a light browning on it.

The final step is to add shredded Parmesan and serve!

This photo shows a cross-section of the gnocchi (while cutting it up for my 1 year old). You can see some of the air pockets in the interior. These were light, fluffy and very very tasty! I will DEFINITELY be making this recipe again!

If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know how it works out for you! I will be trying "traditional" gnocchi this weekend (or maybe next week) and hope to also have some time to play with some standard pasta as well since I have not yet been able to try my "new-to-me" pasta maker for which I purchased some of King Arthur Flour's Perfect Pasta flour! My 3 year old has said she wants to help with that this weekend :)  Should be an adventure! In the meantime, enjoy this recipe!

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce

Servings: 4

For the gnocchi:
1 butternut squash -- about 1 1/2 pounds
2 eggs -- beaten
3 1/4 teaspoons sea salt -- divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
10 sage leaves -- cut into strips
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350øF. At least 6 hours before making the gnocchi dough (up to 1 day in advance), halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Loosely wrap in aluminum foil. Bake for 1.5 hours or until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork.  Allow to cool until able to handle and then scoop the pulp from the skin into a colander set over over a bowl.  Cover, set in the refrigerator and allow the squash to drain at least 5 hours and up to 24 hours.

After it has drained, puree the squash in a food processor.  Add the eggs and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and pulse to combine. Pour into a large bowl and fold in the flour until well blended.  The dough will be quite sticky and soft.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add 2 teaspoons salt to the boiling water.  Using a teaspoon, scoop up some of the dough (about a walnut size piece) and slide it into the water with your finger.  The gnocchi will drop to the bottom of the pot.  Repeat until you have 10-15 gnocchi in the water (don't crowd).  Poach them for 2 minutes after they rise to the surface.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.  Repeat until all the dough is used.  At this point, you can store the gnocchi in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before continuing with the rest of the recipe.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large skillet. Allow to just begin to brown before adding the gnocchi and sage.  Stir gently until the sauce coats the gnocchi and it starts to lightly brown.  Sprinkle with the cheese and serve hot.  

Source:  adapted from La Cucina Di Lidia: Recipes and Memories from Italy's Adriatic Coastby  Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Jay Jacobs

Pink Peppermint Princess Meringues

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Over the weekend we had family in town so I did a lot of cooking, and one of the things I made was a banana cream pie. Well, it takes 4 eggs yolks but no whites, so not wanting to waste the whites, I saved them, not sure what I was going to make. Then it came to me! Meringues! But not just ANY meringues will do in a house with two small princesses! These had to be PINK meringues. And not just PINK meringues, but PINK PEPPERMINT meringues! So, without further ado, here is my recipe for Pink Peppermint Princess Meringues


Pink Peppermint Princess Meringues

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
red food coloring, optional

Preheat your oven to 225F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, or with foil sprayed with non-stick spray. In the bowl of a stand mixer, begin to whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks form (should form  peak that curls down when lifted with a spatula). Add the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time until all incorporated. Whip on high speed until stiff peaks form.  This will take several (10 or so) minutes but don't give up! When stiff peaks form, add extract and food color and whip until just incorporated. If you want "fancy" cookies, get out a piping bag with a star tip and pipe cookies onto cookie sheets, leaving about 1.5" between each (I got about 20 on a sheet). Or, you can do what I did and put the mixture into a disposable plastic bag, snip off one corner and squeeze it from there. Less mess but not as "fancy". Place both sheets (racks at 1/3  from top and 1/3 from bottom) into the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then, turn off the oven and allow cookies to stay in and cool for about an hour or until completely cool. Store in an airtight container separated with wax (or parchment) paper. If you want to get REALLY fancy, you can dip the bottoms of these cookies into melted chocolate or dip the tops in and sprinkle with crushed peppermints!