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Pistachio Dried Cherry Torrone ~ March Daring Bakers

Done 3

The March 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.

It’s been a terribly long time since I’ve been able to join in any cooking or baking events. I’ve missed it.  I am so pleased to be able to join in BOTH Daring Kitchen challenges this month.

I have had this Martha Stewart Torrone recipe on deck for a LONG time and made my own changes to it, but felt the base recipe was easy enough for me to handle!

Done 2

And you-know-who is screaming WHY? And in the same breath WHERE’S MINE??

This was a bit fiddley. I was a bit hampered by not being in my own kitchen. I used a hand mixer that’s affixed to a bowl that turns, so it was a semi-stand mixer type piece of equipment … but not really.

It needs to sit and ‘dry’ a bit more, but man oh man, this is tasty stuff!

  • 2 pieces edible rice paper, (9 by 13 inches each) wafer paper
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 3 T light corn syrup
  • 1/2 C water
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C shelled salted pistachios, (about 7 ounces)
  • 1 1/3 C unsweetened finely shredded coconut, (about 4 ounces)
  • 3/4 C dried cherries

Place 1 piece of rice paper in a 9×13-inch rimmed baking sheet; set aside.

NOTE: I lightly buttered the sides of the baking dish. You’re going to trim them off anyway so it just makes removing the Torrone easier.

Put sugar, honey, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture just begins to simmer and sugar has dissolved, about 6 minutes. Continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer.

NOTE: Aside from the no stand mixer problem, I also suffered from a no CANDY THERMOMETER problem. 300 degrees is hard ball stage. Drop a tiny amount of the boiling sugar into a cup with cold water, when it becomes a hard, crunchy mass once in the water, you’re done.

Meanwhile, put egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Raise speed to high. Pour hot honey mixture into egg-white mixture in a slow, steady stream, and beat until mixture has cooled and thickened and begins to stick to whisk, about 10 minutes.

Ingredients

Reduce speed to medium-low; beat in vanilla, pistachios, coconut, and cranberries.

Working quickly, spread mixture into prepared dish. Place another sheet of rice paper on top; press down to flatten and spread evenly. Let cool on wire rack at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Ready to cut

Cut around edges of Torrone to loosen. Remove from baking sheet; transfer to a cutting board. Trim edges to be straight. Using a long, sharp knife, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch slices.

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Homemade PopTarts

Ready

One of my guiltiest pleasures from childhood is POP-TARTS. Cherry Pop-Tarts to be exact, even better when they added the frosting to them! Don’t even need them toasted. Just right out of the package, simply inhaled.

I so related to Paula Poundstone and her thoughts on Pop-Tarts:

Inside there are three pouches of two. This is what happens to me: I open the first pouch, and I eat one tart, and I enjoy it very much, as naturally I would. And then I feel, Well, I have to eat the second one or it will go stale. Well, now I’ve eaten two, and it’s no longer just a snack, it’s a meal. I figure I may as well eat two more. And then finally I’m just like, Well hell, I don’t just want two pop tarts hangin’ out in a box. I eat the last two just to tidy up, really.

That’s exactly right! It makes absolute, perfect sense. And that’s pretty much what happened with the 9 that were baked in our house! Sadly, mostly by me … and Lisa … but not the skinny girl, who has ridiculous self control and loves to come into the kitchen to play with me!

I didn’t frost these. I have no excuses. It may have been sheer exhaustion. But they were really very good. And with a really good helper, very easy to make!

  • 2 C Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C unsalted butter, cut into pats
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T milk
  • 3/4 C raspberry jam – or flavor of your choice
  • 1 T cornstarch mixed with 1 T cold water

Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter until the mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix the egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a rough 3″ x 5″ rectangle, smoothing the edges. Roll out immediately; or wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.

Once the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes.

Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. Laying a 9″ x 13″ pan atop the dough will give you an idea if you’ve rolled it large enough. Trim off the edges; place the scraps on a baking sheet, and set them aside, along with the 9″ x 12″ rectangle of dough.

Roll the second piece of dough just as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you’ve just rolled, to gently score it in thirds lengthwise and widthwise; you’ll see nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the dough.

Filling

Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. Place the second sheet of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides.

Crimping

Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Cut the dough evenly in between the filling mounds to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with your fingers to seal, then press with a fork, to seal again.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.

Cooling

Remove the tarts from the fridge, and bake them for 25 to 35 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.

NOTE: Instead of jam you can fill the tarts with a tablespoonful of chocolate chips. Use seedless jam!

Hard Crunchy Pretzels

Done 2
So what’s your favorite snack, I ask? I know my answer already ~ hands down, potato chips. I cannot even trust myself to buy them. On the rare occasion that I do I am either (a) really upset at someone or something or (b) just really, really wanting them! And then I buy the smallest bag I can find and stuff them all in my face at once ~ naturally washing it down with a Diet Coke to negate the calories!
Not so for the Dear One. Pretzels. Those Hard Sourdough Pretzels are his absolute favorite snacking thing – well, next to Cheez-Its (and I made those again for him recently).
So here I am in Maine, and bored, and waiting for him to come home and watching flight after flight be cancelled. I know! I’ll make hard pretzels to take to the airport – if he can EVER get on a plane and if it EVER stops snowing!
Once I, I could hear Ernie shouting – BUY THEM! BUY THEM, YOU TWIT!
I was a little wary about trying this recipe. Things raising, cutting them into strips, rolling it into long tubes, FORMING pretzel shapes, dropping them into a baking soda bath … YIKES … but once started, the fear washed away … a few sips of wine didn’t hurt … this was pretty easy to do.
And they tasted great. Definitely to be done again – with a little tweaking.
  • 4 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 C lukewarm water
  • 2 pkgs active dry yeast
  • 3 T butter
  • Coarse salt for sprinkling

Soda Bath

  • 1/2 C baking soda
  • 2 quarts water

Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water.

Fkour

Mix flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Form a well in the flour mixture then add the sugar to the center of the well. Pour the yeast/water mixture into the well. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing.

Add the softened butter to the mixing bowl and knead everything to a smooth dough.

Dough

NOTE: Use the dough hook for about 6 minutes on speed #2. If it’s too dry add about a tablespoon of additional water so you can gather all the dry ingredients. Remove the dough hook and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Rolling

Cut the dough into twelve equal parts, then roll each piece on the table (don’t flour the surface, you shouldn’t need it) to about 20 inches, tapered toward the ends.

Knotting

 

Shape pretzels.

NOTE: Don’t make it smaller than 20 inches as it’s impossible to get a good shape with a short, thick rope of dough. The dough should not get too warm as you roll it out, or it might tear. The warmer it gets, the harder it is to roll. Also, my ropes were too thick. Made it harder for me to get that crunchy texture I was seeking.

Place the pretzels without covering them in the fridge for about an hour. This helps build a skin that will absorb the dipping solution better and make a beautiful shiny crust.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

NOTE: Pretzel recipes usually call for a lye solution, but baking soda is a perfectly acceptable and widely used substitute. LYE? Nope, not going there!

Ready to boil

Fill large stock or pasta pot 3/4 full and bring the water to a boil. Carefully and slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Add the baking soda a little at a time.

NOTE: There will be a bubbling up reaction when the baking soda hits the water but it’s just for a moment and then it stops. Stand back a bit just to be safe.

Boiling

Using a slotted spoon, gently drop each pretzel into the bath for 10 seconds, then turn over for another

Score the dough once like for a baguette with a razor blade or sharp knife.

NOTE: This step may have been part of my mistake. I think scoring it made them softer for a longer period of time so they had to bake for a longer period of time to get the crunch factor. Well, that and my ropes were too thick!

Ready to bake

Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake the pretzels for about 15 to 20 minutes (mine took almost 30 minutes for a nice dark crust), depending on how dark you like them.

NOTE: I ended up baking them a second time because they were too soft in spots. Don’t let them touch when baking, those spots will be soft.

Done

Cranberry Juice

Ready to drink

I have COLD!

I have SNOW!

I have ICE!

I have freshly picked cranberries in my freezer, thanks to my friend Lisa! So there’s been breads, and cookies, and thrown in with pork and stuffing, and, of course, cranberry sauce. But I want to try something different and this was just the ticket!

I wanted healthy, virtuous even. It seems a lot of cranberries for not a lot of juice, makes about 1 quart and a half, but if you add vodka … or gin … a healthy squeeze of lime and some seltzer it stretches a long way!

  • 600 g (20 ozs) fresh cranberries (you can use frozen)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar

Cranberries

Place the cranberries and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and cover loosely. Simmer 10 min. until the cranberries have burst.

Straining

Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth.

Draning berries

Resist the urge to press on the fruit to extract more juices.

Pour the strained juice back into the pot and add sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

NOTE: I added the sugar a bit at a time, starting with a 1/2 cup. I didn’t want this to be too sweet.

Let cool to room temperature before cooling in the fridge.

Homemade Cheez-It Crackers

Ready to serve

This post is pretty much part two of … So You Had a Bad Day …

When the chips are down, the loves in my life reach for chocolatey things. Me? I reach for Cheez-Its. And I reach for them. And I reach for them. And I reach for them. And suddenly the box is empty. My mood is not necessarily better, still have the stink of a bad day, but now I have Cheez-It guilt in the mix. I have simply filled myself with faux cheesey goodness. however, if you pair those Cheez-Its with a big ole glass of bourbon on the rocks, whatever bad day I have had melts away, even with the Cheez-It guilt. Either that or I am in a cheesy, bourbon fog and it doesn’t seem to matter.

But, let’s face it, as delicious as store-bought Cheez-Its are, they can’t possibly be good for you, and really, isn’t that practically the point? So, an entire BOX of them has to be super bad for you. And after having lost 70 pounds, I simply cannot justify the caloric intake. Not that I have ever dared to look at the nutrition label on the box. I shudder at the mere thought of that.

Now, in comes my love of making homemade versions of things so easily purchased in a supermarket … ketchup,  tater tots, magic shell, to name a few. I’m not quite sure if it’s my childlike (notice I said childLIKE and not childISH) sense of curiosity, the fits of giggles this seems to bring to my lovies, or getting Ernie to lower and shake her head in disbelief.

Actually, her reaction when I told her about the Cheez-It project was … “Why? Why? Why? I’ll buy you a big box of Cheez-Its! Why are you doing this to yourself AGAIN?” My response was, and always is, “Oh, come on, it will be a snap. What could go wrong?” “Did you learn nothing from the jellies disaster?” So I had one, maybe two of these homemade adventures that went pear-shaped. Most of them were great, certainly I would do most of them again and again.

Whichever of those reasons it is, when America’s Test Kitchen made Cheez-Its, I knew this was a recipe whose time had come to my kitchen. I expected this to be a gigantic project and a gigantic pain in my tushy, and perhaps a gigantic flop, but surprisingly it came together quite nicely and easily. The hardest part was not eating EVERY.SINGLE.ONE before they could be shared over a Drink, watching the sun set! Share-schmare! let’s be honest here, the hardest part was not eating them all as they were cooling on the baking sheets!

  • 3 T boiling water
  • 1 T annatto seeds, coarsely ground
  • 6 oz (1 1/2 C) finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1/2 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 T cornstarch

NOTE: The first go round I grated the cheese myself. this was fine. But the second time, I had a lot of baking to do in a very short period of time and went with grated cheese in a bag. Stop booing out there, I can hear you, ya know. I ran a knife trough it to make it finer and this actually worked out better than my grating it.

Annato seeds

In a heatproof bowl, stir together the water and annatto seeds. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the seeds and save the (now orange) liquid. Let the liquid cool to room temperature.

Seeds draining

NOTE: I had to make these twice. SIGH. The first time, 3 tablespoons of water did not produce 2 tablespoons of annatto water. The second time, I used 4 tablespoons of water and ended up with enough for 2 tablespoons.

NOTE: The annatto seeds are what make the crackers orange. If you cannot find annatto seeds in your local market, Amazon carries them.

In mixer

Add the cheese, butter, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture comes together and starts to stick to the sides of the bowl, about 30 seconds.

Add the flour and cornstarch, beating until incorporated – the mixture should look like coarse sand. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid the annatto seeds steeped in and mix just until the dough starts to come together. (If the dough seems too dry, you can add up to 1 tablespoon of additional plain water to bring it together.)

Dough

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

rolling

 

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle with a thickness of 1/16-inch.

NOTE: I am not a very good dough roller outer type person. I’m sure it’s just fear and loathing in New York, but this was easy to roll out, although how you get to 1/16″ is beyond me. No tape measures, just guess. Though I did look at a ruler to get an idea, so the guessing was a bit easier.

Cutting

Using a pastry cutter (or if you don’t have one, a pizza cutter or sharp knife will work) cut the dough into 1-inch wide strips, then cut 1-inch squares from those strips.

NOTE: The pastry cutter will give you the ruffled edge Cheez-It’s have.

Cut

Transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheets – you can pack them in pretty tightly, they don’t spread very much at all.

Poking holes

Now for the most boring and tedious part, using a wooden skewer, and using the flat end, poke a hole in the center of each dough square. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

NOTE: I used a fine sea salt, and probably a wee bit more than 1/2 a teaspoon.

Bake the crackers until the edges just begin to turn gold brown, about 18-20 minutes. Allow the crackers to cool completely on the baking sheets. I thought these were best on the day I made them and 1 day later, but they’ll keep in an airtight container for 3 days (like they’ll last that long!).

NOTE: And now for the reason they had to be done twice. 18-20 minutes was far too long. I set the timer for 18 and one tray was cinders, the other WAY too dark and un-Cheez-It looking. Might have been the size I cut them, might have been the thickness I rolled them out to, whatever it was I had to do them again. So watch! The second batch took les time. I started watching at 13 minutes, and they probably took about 15 or 16 minutes.

Baked Tater Tots

Okay. So first it was ketchup. And now I have this slammin’, simple, delicious, eat it from the spoon ketchup, it really needs something equal … fingers in ears, folks, Ernie is about to start shrieking again … I know! I’ll make TATER TOTS! The Tot is truly one of the world’s most perfect foods.

I have been told that perhaps I have gone round the proverbial bend  … too much time on my hands … the best I can tell you is that I was, perhaps, dropped on my head as a child.

But Tater Tots! Come on! Why wouldn’t you make them from scratch if you possibly could!? And they’re baked! And, much to the chagrin of he-who-won’t-be-mentioned the shaping of the Tot is not a tightly-held industrial secret.

These were fabulously simple and yummy beyond belief.  You may never buy a frozen Tater Tot again. This is a mishmash of a bunch of different recipe I found. One said to roll them in panko crumbs. I may try that next time, but don’t think it’s necessary. Would like a more even brown on them. But, hey, this was the first time out of the gate and they were inhaled in seconds!

  • 4 russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Ketchup, for serving

NOTE: Adjust the cayenne, smoked paprika and garlic powder to taste. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with oven rack in center position. Place a rimmed baking sheet in oven.

Peel and grate potatoes and transfer to a large bowl.

NOTE: I started off using a box grater. UGH! Suddenly my Cuisinart started beckoning to me and the shredding disk started waving at me. Hello? Remember us? Well, that turned this into something even easier!

Cover the grated potatoes with boiling water, by about 2 inches. Steep for 10 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Squeeze potatoes with hands to remove excess moisture and transfer back to large bowl.

NOTE: I put the potatoes in a clean, white kitchen towel and squeezed them. The drier they are the better off you are.

Add flour, salt, pepper, spices and beaten egg to bowl and fold into potatoes.

Shape into Tots.

Carefully remove hot baking sheet from oven and coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Quickly transfer Tots to baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes, flipping once, until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with ketchup.

NOTE: Next time I think I’ll add some grated onion. Maybe a little bit of fresh garlic instead of powder.

Ketchup

Yes, Ernie. Yes, I know Ernie. Yes, I understand there are companies that have been making ketchup and putting it glass containers and placing those glass containers on supermarket shelves for over 100 years. And, yes, dear, I am well aware that there is an aisle filled with almost nothing other than ketchup at my local supermarket. But aren’t either of you even just the tiniest bit curious to experiment and learn how to do it, or what it would taste like out of your own kitchen?

Can you all hear Ernie SHRIEKING …. NO, NO, NO!

I can’t either. It helps that I stick my fingers in my ears whilst singing “la,la,la,la, I can’t hear you”

I had to do this. Just had to. Quite frankly, it has been sitting on my to-do list for quite some time.  I would look, and sigh, and turn the page. But things have been pretty quiet in my end of the world and something was needed to occupy my time to not miss people so much.

KETCHUP to the rescue!

  • 1  28-oz. can tomato puree
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeño, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 T dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1 C water
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Pinch celery salt
  • Pinch dry mustard
  • Pinch ground allspice
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch ground ginger
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

NOTE: It’s all those spices that make the difference. It seems a little spicy as it’s bubbling away, but once it cools and sets up and then chills, it’s very mild.

Yields about 4 cups of ketchup (that’s about 3 1/2 pint jars)

Put tomato purée, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and brown sugar into a blender or food processor and pulse until just blended. Add in the vinegar and water and purée until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan; add cayenne, celery salt, mustard, allspice, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour, testing the consistency after an hour. ** 

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store in refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 month.

** To test the consistency of  how thick the ketchup will be when it’s cold, place a small plate in the freezer for about 15 minutes. When you think the ketchup is done, put about a teaspoon of the ketchup on the cold plate. Stick the plate back in the freezer until the ketchup is cold, about 5 minutes. Then taste it, see if you’re happy with the taste and the consistency. The consistency of the ketchup on your plate will be about how thick the ketchup will be once it’s chilled.

If you like the flavor and consistency, take the pot off the heat, let chill and jar. If you want it a bit thicker, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and do the cold plate test again.