Monday, February 20, 2017

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

We are saturated in California.  I think it's safe to say that our five-year drought is over!  When the weather is lousy outside I like to bake. The activity warms the house and creates wonderful scents. And what could be better than curling up on the couch, fireplace going, rain falling on the rooftop, with a plate of warm-from-the oven cookies? I think this is my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe.  The toasted pecans give the cookies a nice nutty flavor. I am not a fan of cinnamon in oatmeal cookies so don't add the spice, there is no loss in flavor by doing so.



Raisin Pecan Oatmeal CookiesMakes 30 to 35 cookies

1-1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1-1/2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

Note: For larger cookies, drop 3-inch mounds and bake for 20 minutes.

Note: For chewier cookies, allow them to cool on the pan.


Recipe source:  Ina Garten

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Orange Crescent Rolls

These little crescent-shaped rolls are a great morning coffee break treat.  They aren't as sweet and gooey as a cinnamon roll but pack a lot of orange flavor. The glaze is especially good; sour cream isn't a normal glaze ingredient but it adds a lot of richness to the glaze. One of my food board friends makes these every year for her family's Christmas brunch.  She got the recipe years ago from a neighbor.  They call it orange coffee cake, I'm not sure why as the rolls don't resemble any coffee cake I've ever had. Nonetheless, they are fabulous!


Whenever I make a yeast breakfast dough I always try to make the dough the night before.  I like my sleep and getting up 2-3 hours early to get dough rising isn't my idea of a fun time. Instead I make the dough the night before.  I do all the steps until the final rise, at that point I put the yeast dough in the refrigerator.  Even though the fridge is cool, the yeast dough will do a slow rise.  In the morning I take it out and let it come to room temp, usually a half hour to 45 minutes, and the dough continues to rise.  There is no compromise in the dough and it's definitely a time saver.

After the first rise, the dough is rolled out into a circle and spread with melted butter and a sugar-orange rind-coconut mixture.  The dough is cut into triangles and each one rolled into a crescent shape. They are very easy to do!



My two pans of orange rolls went to the office.  I took one in my car and my husband took the other. We both laughed at the fact that we each had two rolls missing by the time we got to the office.  The smell was too intoxicating and we couldn't resist eating a few on our trip! They disappear fast!

 Orange Crescent Rolls

I package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 3/4 cups flour
1 cup coconut, toasted **
2 tablespoons grated orange rind


In large mixing bowl, combine yeast and warm water, until starting to soften and bubble, about 5 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup of the sugar, salt, eggs, sour cream, and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter.  At medium speed, gradually add flour to form a stiff dough, beating well. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled, about 2 hours.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup toasted coconut, and orange rind.  

Knead dough on well-floured surface 15-20 times.  Roll out one-half the dough to a 12-inch circle.  Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with one-half of the sugar mixture. Cut the circle into 12 wedges.  Roll up, starting with the wide end.  Place rolls, point side down, in a buttered 9x13-inch pan, forming 3 rows.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). (Or refrigerate overnight and let come to room temperature).

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.  Leave rolls in pan and pour glaze over hot rolls.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

Glaze:

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup butter

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, over medium heat, for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

** To toast coconut, spread coconut evenly on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees, stirring frequently, until lightly golden.  Be careful, as it burns easily!





Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentines' Tags

My Hubbers and I aren't big on Valentines Day celebrations.  We both are working long hours and with Valentines Day falling on a Tuesday we will be lucky if we get dinner together, much less anything romantic!  Ah, well!  I do like to remember our grandchildren, though.  This year I bought them ice cream bowls and filled them with candy, a jar of heart sprinkles, and a Baskin Robbins gift card.  Not a lot, but they will know that Nana and Papa thought of them!


My relaxation activity for the week has been making tags for their gift bags. I recently bought some new supplies so it was fun to mix 'n match and come up with ideas for the tags.  Of course, I could buy tags much cheaper than what I spent for supplies but this keeps me out of trouble (for the time being, that is!)






Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Winter Minestrone

During our crazy tax season, the hours are long and we're working 7 days a week.  What little lunch break we get is mostly spent answering phone calls and e-mails, addressing questions from our staff, and trying to catch up on projects. We usually eat at our desks. There are no long lunch breaks at our favorite downtown spots!  Consequently, I try to make dinner meals that will provide enough leftovers for lunch or another dinner. A big pot of soup works for both!

This soup is very thick and hearty, it's almost a stew.  It is full of chunky vegetables, beans, pasta, and spinach.  The broth's flavor is enhanced by browned pancetta.   The pesto and white wine added at the end adds a multitude of flavors. Serve it with some garlic bread and you have a filling and nutritious meal.


For fair disclosure I must admit my Hubbers isn't a fan of this soup.  He dislikes squash, (though he loves pumpkin pie). I keep trying to hide squash in his meals as it is so good for us. He ate it but his bowl was full of uneaten squash pieces. I took the leftover minestrone to work the next day and he went out to lunch. Don't let his picky ways deter you, this is a great soup!


Once all the veggies are diced, making the soup is easy!

I make pesto from my basil crop each summer and freeze in mini muffin pans. Pesto can also be found in the grocer's frozen food section.

Winter Minestrone

Good olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, 1/2-inch diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Discard the bay leaf.  Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through.  The soup should be quite thick but if it's too thick, add more chicken stock.  Just before serving, add the spinach and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad).  Cook just until the leaves are wilted.  Stir in the white wine and pesto.  Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add salt to taste. Serve in large shallow bowls.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Recipe source: Ina Garten

Monday, February 6, 2017

Spicy Hermit Bars

I seem to be on a Barefoot Contessa kick lately, most of the new recipes I've tried are from her. She's, by far, my favorite cookbook author so I suppose it makes sense that I turn to her cookbooks when I want to try something new.  As she has a Food Network show, I get inspiration from watching her, too.  These bars come from her new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey.  When I first perused the book I saw the recipe but pretty much passed over it.  Then I saw her make them on one of her shows.  They looked so good! I had to wait a while to make them as I couldn't find crystallized ginger at any of my favorite grocery stores.  I ordered some online from Penzeys and made these the next day!


If you like gingerbread, you will like these bars.  They are spicier than a traditional gingerbread cookie.  They are very flavorful and the addition of the rum glaze adds even more flavor. The texture of them reminds me of a soft biscotti. I served them to my book club, took the leftovers to work ,and they were gone in a flash!

My only disappointment in the recipe is that my bars spread a lot more than the picture in her cookbook shows. The recipe calls for refrigerating the dough before forming them into bars.  The next time I bake them I will refrigerate them a second time, after the bars are formed.  I refrigerate my cut-out sugar cookies before baking and it helps them not to spread and lose their shape. That should work for these bars, too. 


Spicy Hermit Bars

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light or dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger (not in syrup)
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
Dark rum (I used Myers)
Grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the egg, scrape down the bowl, then mix in the molasses.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.  Mix in the raisins and crystallized ginger.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board, form it into a disk with lightly floured hands, and cut it in half.  Roll each half into a log 12 inches long and place them 3 inches apart on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes; the logs will still be soft in the center.

Meanwhile, whisk the confectioners' sugar with 5 to 6 teaspoons rum to make a pourable glaze.  While the logs are still warm, drizzle the glaze back and forth across the logs with a teaspoon and sprinkle them with lemon zest.

Allow to cool.  Cut each log crosswise into  1 1/2-inch wide bars.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sweetie Pie Quilt Sew-Along

Last year I joined an online sew-along and made a quilt.  Each week we got new instructions, along with videos and pictures, to help us along in the process.  It started mid-January and finished mid-June.  It was a nice, easy pace and, even though a big part of it was during tax season, I managed to finish my quilt top on time.  It actually ended up being a good de-stresser for me; something to concentrate on other than numbers.

Since then I've made two more quilts with not too many disasters. My quilting confidence fairly high, I signed up for the same instructor's sew-along for this year. We are making a Dresden block quilt, she calls the blocks in this quilt "pies".  Each one has an appliqued fruit center (i.e. cherry pie, apple pie, etc.) I bought all the fabric and supplies, cut everything out (which was a huge undertaking as there are 144 little pieces just for the Dresdens, not to mention all the other pieces of the quilt!) Week one began and the first week's tasks were monumental!  We had to sew each Dresden piece into its pointed shape, then sew 16 together to get our circle, and applique those onto a 17x17-inch piece of fabric. Multiply that work by 12 blocks! Yikes!  Not only that, but I discovered that the sew-along will finish mid-March. (Obviously the instructor doesn't know this is corporation tax deadline time!) Based on what remains to be done, I now know that each week's list of tasks will be a lot.  I know I won't be able to keep up while working 7 days a week!  At first I felt pressured that I would have to make it work.  After a few days I told myself that this isn't a race; the goal is to enjoy the process, learn new skills, and have a beautiful quilt in the end!  My quilt top probably won't be done in March but I'll keep working on it until it is done!

I have the first two Dresdens ("pies") completed.  The remaining 10 Dresdens are awaiting their appliqued centers.  I have started sewing the petals for the 20 flower blocks that will also be in the quilt. So far, I am keeping up but I know that will change soon!

2 out of 12 blocks done!  The apples are for another quilt which is on the back burner for now!

All the quilt pieces are cut and waiting!

Chain-piecing 144 Dresden/pie pieces.


Getting the placement the way I want it before sewing the 16 pieces to make a circle.

Each fruit appliqued center also has some embroidery work in it.

Hopefully, my finished quilt will look like this!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Banana Nut Bread

My Hubbers and I are big banana eaters; there are always some in the house.  Though we eat a lot of them, inevitably we will have some that get too ripe to eat.  Like most bakers, when that happens, I usually make a loaf of banana nut bread.  It's easy, everyone enjoys it, and a loaf is easy to freeze for later use. My go-to recipe comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  It's got both butter and buttermilk so it's very rich and moist. Nuts are optional, but we like them in our banana bread.  We have clients who gift us some of their walnut crop each year so I always have Ziploc bags of walnuts in my freezer. Pecans are good, also.


Buttermilk and I have a love-hate relationship in my kitchen.  I will buy some for a baked good recipe then won't plan properly for other baked goods and it languishes in my refrigerator until I throw it out.  Or I will want to bake something that has buttermilk in it and, alas, there is none in my fridge!  But, there is a cure for that!  It is very easy to make buttermilk at home.  Combine milk and some vinegar, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, and you get a buttermilk substitute.  It is not as thick as regular buttermilk but it's good enough for baking.  Whenever you see buttermilk in a recipe, it's there to act as the acid in the recipe.  When the acid in the buttermilk interacts with the baking soda it leavens the batter, allowing it to rise without yeast, and making the baked goods light and fluffy. So use this buttermilk substitute, no one will know, it's our secret!


Buttermilk Substitute

Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes, so the milk has the chance to thicken and curdle.


Banana Nut Bread

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Move oven rack to low position so that the top of the pan will be in the center of the oven.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottom of 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Mix sugar and butter in a large bowl.  Stir in eggs until well blended.  Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt just until moistened.  Stir in nuts. Pour into pan.

Bake about 75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Loosen sides of loaf from pan; remove from pan and place top side up on a wire rack.  Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing.



Buttermilk

Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes, so the milk has the chance to thicken and curdle.