Tuesday, October 19, 2010

'Tis the season for pumpkin

Last year I heard that a pumpkin shortage was coming in the I stocked up and I'm really glad I did because the price of pumpkin this year is double what I paid last year.  Sure, there's pumpkin out there, I'm just not sure I'd be willing to pay almost $3 a can for it!  Now I'm really glad I have it because I've been craving pumpkin goodies and after my cookie disaster of a couple weeks ago I am feeling the need to redeem myself in the cookie making department.
I don't care so much for the store bought pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (although my family loves them) but the homemade kind are heavenly.  They are especially good slathered with cream cheese frosting (hey, you're eating cookies...who's counting calories?)  This recipe is really a good one and it makes about 7 dozen cookies.  I suppose you could cut the recipe in half, but then you'd blink and the cookies would be gone. I prefer these cookies cold so the chocolate chips are crunchy.

3 cups canned pumpkin (this is just shy of a 29 oz. can so you need to measure)
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon milk
2 Tablespoons vanilla
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (that's 2 full bags--and yes, it's a lot but you're going to have to trust me that if you cut it in half you'll be sorry)

Combine pumpkin, sugar, butter and eggs and mix well (for some reason, the butter sometimes goes chunky in this mixture but it all works out in the end so just mix it the best you can and move on)  In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add to the wet mixture, along with the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and mix well.  Add the chocolate chips (you can also add a cup of chopped nuts if you want, but I'm not a fan).
Using a paper towel, rub a baking sheet with butter to grease it. (I tried cooking spray but it doesn't work as well and gives the cookies a flavor)  Drop batter onto the greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-16 minutes or until FIRM (poke them with your finger to check for doneness-if they're jiggly they aren't done.  Mine took 16 minutes exactly)  Let them cool on the pan for about 10 minutes before removing. Re-grease your cookie sheet between batches to ensure that the cookies don't stick.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Cookie Boo Boo

I never professed to be a professional baker, but I do tend to do okay most of the time.  Unfortunately today was one of those "doh!" moments when I was making mistake after mistake.  I think someone was telling me I wasn't supposed to be making or eating cookies.

Here's the dough...

Here's the balls of dough waiting to be baked...
To look at them, you might not guess there is anything wrong, but you're just going to have to trust me that this is NOT the way they are supposed to be.  First of all, these are NOT chocolate chip cookies, even though it looks that way.  Secondly, that dough is supposed to be dark in, chocolate.  So what did I do wrong, you ask?
Well... it all started innocently with me wanting to make some of my FAVORITE COOKIES EVER...cookies that I haven't made in a long time.  The recipe calls for a whole cup of cocoa, which I didn't have...but I did have baker's chocolate.  So I substituted it.  It was a great idea until I added the melted chocolate to the nice, cold, dough and it all set up before getting mixed in properly.  Hence the look of chocolate chips... But by then the dough was made so I figured I might as well continue and see how they turned out. By the way, after all was said and done I realized I left out the HOT water completely...which might have made all the difference... *sigh*
The cookies seemed to bake okay, but they weren't fluffy like they were supposed to be.  Then, when I tried to remove them from the pan they were all sticking.  That's when I looked back at my measurements and realized I had only put in half as much shortening and baking soda as I was supposed to.  Oops.  So for the next batch I sprayed the pan.  Not a good that batch spread all over the baking sheet and turned into thin, crispy biscuits.  Ugh.  But the fun was still not over...
Next came the filling....and SURPRISE!  I didn't have enough butter OR shortening to make a full batch, so I had to cut it in half.  I guess this was just as well, since the cookies had become thin little disks anyway.
So, when all was said and done, they are still good.  They look weird, but they taste okay.  They should be poofy little cakes filled with delicious creamy goodness. (Technically, they are supposed to look and taste a little like a Suzy Q (only a TON better) and instead they look a little more like bakery rejects.)  I'm putting the actual correct recipe on here... and you're just going to have to trust me that they're delicious because normally they are.  I'm including the picture of my finished cookies...just ignore it and know if they look like this then you, too, have screwed them up! Someday when I make them again I will come back and add a better picture.

2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup cocoa
1 cup HOT water
2 eggs
1 cup milk
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

Cream sugar and shortening.  Add eggs, milk and vanilla and mix well.  Stir together flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.  Add to mixture.  Mix in hot water.  Drop by heaping teaspoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup shortening
6 cups powdered sugar
6-7 Tablespoons milk

Cream butter and shortening, then add vanilla and sugar and beat vigorously.  Add milk one tablespoon at a time until frosting has a creamy consistency.  Frost cookies generously and sandwich them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bring on the Soup!

So now that we have dessert, I guess I should post the soup!  There is nothing better than hot soup on a rainy day...

4 cups chicken broth (or reserved liquid from cooking the chicken)
2 cups water
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 package Uncle Ben's long grain and wild rice with seasoning packet
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chicken broth (or butter--depending how fattening you want your soup to be)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups milk

(If your chicken is not already cooked, you can cook it now and use the cooking liquid as your broth.  Place it in a large pan and cover with water.  Add sliced onion, green bell pepper, a couple stalks of celery and 2 bullion cubes.  Cover and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.  Remove chicken and strain the liquid, reserving for the soup.  If you don't want to do this, just use canned broth--they taste about the same)
In a large pot over medium heat, combine the 4 cups of broth and 2 cups of water.  Bring just to boiling, then stir in the rice but keep the seasoning packet for later.  If you're using the quick cooking rice, add the chicken now and cover and remove from heat.  If you're using the original rice, continue to cook according to package directions (25 minutes boiling) and add chicken five minutes before the time is up.  
In a separate sauce pan, heat 1/4 cup chicken broth and stir in contents of seasoning packet, salt and pepper.  Cook until mixture is bubbly.  Reduce heat and add flour to form a roux.  Whisk in cream and milk slowly, keeping the mixture smooth as you go.  Cook until thickened, approximately 5 minutes, but don't boil.  Stir the cream mixture into the broth and rice.  Cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring often, allowing the liquids to blend together.  If the soup seems too thick, add water to thin to desired thickness.

NOTE:  When I made this I didn't have enough whipping cream so I had to improvise.  I used 1/2 pint of whipping cream and added an 8 oz. block of fat free cream cheese. I used skim milk and increased the amount to 3 cups.  The flavor was fabulous, but the soup was really thick so I added another 1 1/2 cups water.  The original recipe is still better, but if you need to improvise, the soup is still doable!

Fall Food

One of the best things about living where the seasons change is getting to change what kind of food you cook.  I love fall the best, because by the time summer is over I am really ready for warm soups and stews... homemade breads and rolls... and just about anything that comes out of the oven.  I've been craving yesterday seemed like the perfect day to start!  And of course, soup is no good without some kind of bread or roll to go with it.


1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup butter
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup evaporated milk
4 cups flour
1 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Put yeast in the warm water and sit it aside.  Meanwhile, mix the 1/4 cup butter, 3 Tbsp. sugar, egg and salt.  Heat the milk in the microwave until it's just barely warm (about 30 seconds) and add to the butter mixture and mix well.  Add one cup of flour and mix thoroughly, then add the yeast and water mixture.  Add the flour one cup at a time until mixed well.  The dough doesn't really need to be kneaded, but mix it until the flour is thoroughly incorporated and the dough is soft and smooth.  Spray a large bowl with cooking spray.  Put the dough in the bowl, turning it once so the top is coated with cooking spray too.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size.
Once the dough is doubled, roll it out on a floured surface into a rectangle to about 1/2 inch thickness. It doesn't have to be perfect.
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, slice the dough into strips about 1/4 inch wide.
Using three strips at a time, braid the strips of dough.  The dough will stretch as you work with it, so when I'm done braiding I usually cut them in half so each braid was about 5 inches long.  
Place the braids on a greased baking sheet about 1/2-1 inch apart.
Pour or brush the melted butter over all the braids--be very liberal with the butter!  Mix the brown sugar, sugar, and cinnamon and sprinkle on top.  Allow to rise for about an hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  The twists should be good and brown (not lightly golden brown) or they won't be cooked in the middle.  You may want to check the middles before deciding that they're finished.  Pour on the glaze while the twists are still hot.

1 lb. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon real vanilla (add another 1/2 tsp. in you're using imitation)
1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons melted butter
pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients together.  The glaze should be thick but you should still be able to pour it.