Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jelly Donuts At Last

The Quiet Man and I were ambling the streets of London last year when we spotted this pastry shop. I'm not a big fan of fussy desserts. I prefer straightforward American style treats, like brownies, chocolate chip cookies, lemon meringue pie, strawberry short cake, and donuts. At the edges of the case, almost wedged out by opera cakes dripping with ganache and flaky squares of millefeuille, was a plump and pillowy jelly donut. I plunked down my pounds and nibbled my way around Picadilly Circus with a dusting of powdered sugar as lipstick. It was phenomenal. We met up with my siblings in front of a theatre to see 39 steps and I shared what I could of my jelly donut. My brother raced back to the pastry shop to buy his own jelly donut, but they were all gone. Mine was the last. (Ha, ha, Roy. That serves you right for all the chocolate chip cookies you have snatched out of my hands in our childhood. ) After our trip, I thought a lot about the food we ate in Europe: the crackly loaves of French bread, the creamy soft fresh mozzarella, the chocolate chip gelato, the dandelion-yellow butter from the Isle of Guernsey. But most especially, I thought about that London jelly donut and I knew I had to make them mine. All mine.
I scouted out a few jelly donut recipes, but most of them called for a shocking amount of butter. Blame it on our modern fear of fats, but somehow it just seems wrong to fry up blocks of butter in hot oil. My friend Mary Anne over at Meet me in the Kitchen made some reasonably fattening buttermilk donuts recently so I thought I'd use her recipe and tinker around. I shaped the dough into holes with the top of and old perscription pill bottle. After the donut holes were fried, I used a medicine dropper to inject some warmed jelly into the center. Why, just look at all the multi-tasking you can do with your leftover medicinal supplies! Prudy's penny pinching pharmaceuticals!
A light snowing of powdered sugar over the tops and they were ready to share. Yummy, yummy, yummy. I had loads to share with the Memorial Day visitors at my house and the visitors over at my mom's also. And they didn't even have to head all the way to London to get one. Although I wouldn't mind heading back just for another jelly donut on Picadilly Circus. It'd be worth it. Especially if I could get the last one again.
Money Saving Tips:
If you don't have buttermilk on hand, measure 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar into the bottom of a 1 cup measure. Pour in milk to the top. The most expensive part of making the donuts is the frying oil, so be sure to get it on sale in a large quantity. You can reuse the oil to make french fries the next day, to ge the most for your money. But then again, it might be better just to save frying for a once in a while treat. You decide.
Jelly Donut Holes
Estimated Cost: $4.00
1 cup buttermilk
1 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
2 and 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon (baking) soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch nutmeg
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup strawberry or raspberry jelly, warmed
Combine buttermilk, eggs and sugar and blend well.
Beat in sifted dry ingredients.
Then stir in melted butter.
Roll or pat dough on floured board about 1/4 inch thick and cut with 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter. Fry in hot fat (canola oil) (375° F) till golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Use a medicine dropper of pastry bag fitted with a tip to inject jelly deep inside the donut. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes dozens of doughnut holes.
Coming First Light of Tuesday:
Dorie's Cinnamon Cake and Premature Labor
and then let's get some dinner going around here, for Pete's sake!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Across the Street....

Every summer day, at some point, we head across the street to Grandma and Grandpa's house. We ride bikes along their bike path, swim in their pool, dive off their waterfall, jump on their trampoline, dig in their sandbox, swing on their play set, play croquet on their grass, and cavort with the approximately 95.3 cousins that are vising from out of town at any given time. Sounds like a wonderful life, right?
Everything was going swimmingly, until he showed up. Right in the wood chips. Slithered his way through my parent's little grove of fruit trees too. And even though the posse of neighborhood men threw him over the fence into the great beyond, I still imagine he is there. Even when I dive into the swimming pool. Or when I run alone down to the sandbox to retrieve a charge's pair of missing flipflops. Or when I'm sitting in a lounge chair, reading a novel, I can imagine him slithering silently up my leg. Ssssss........
Just out of curiosity, how long do you think it would take a 10 foot snake to shimmy up a wall and cross the street? Just wondering.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chipster Topped Brownies

This week's assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie's weekly baking club is a base layer brownie topped with a chocolate chip bar cookie. It's a naughty treat leapfrogging on top of another naughty treat, and it's no simpler than making the two on their own. To work fast, you will need two able bodied men. If none are available, seek out two pint size charges, preferably with clean hands and bored expressions. Have them mix up the batter side by side, while you dump in the ingredients; no sense in getting out the sugar twice. There, now that's done. After we had just poured the batters into the pan, my mother convinced us to run down to the high school and see the grad night decorations. The charges were game (as usual) even though I didn't really want to go (as usual), but my mother is awfully good at convincing me to come along (as usual).
The entire gym was decorated in a Night at the Museum theme.

It was so fun and fabulous that we had to call my Dad and the neighbor and the Quiet Man and convince them to come up and take a look too. (My mom did the convincing; she's much better at it than I am.) When we raced home to pick them up, our weekend guests (3 of my sister's families with a combined total of 10 kids under the age of 10) had already begun to arrive, so my mom convinced them to come up and see it too. Some of them even stayed for the kick off fireworks, but I went home to work on my chipster topped brownies. And then we very nearly gobbled them all up before I could snap a picture. This was all I got:They were declared extremely yummy by all. (Click here for the recipe.) I thought they were a wee bit much, myself. I'd rather take each element separately, in its classic form. Also, I made a half sized batch but I baked it in a full size baking pan, which was plenty thick enough and helped stretch the recipe enough to serve the multitude that I call my family. And speaking of that multitude, there were finally enough people around for me to justify making jelly donuts. That's next....
Hope you all had a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Super Easy Hot and Cheesy Potatoes and Smoky Orange and Honey Barbecue Sauce

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! We have lots of family coming to soak up some sun, sit by my parent's pool (across the street from my house), and watch our little human tadpoles splash around. I'm planning on joining in the poolside revelry, which means food prep has to be kept to a lazy minimum. I'm happy spending the whole day in the kitchen on cold holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but on warm holidays it feels like indentured servitude to be slaving over a hot stove. So save yourself some work and some pennies and follow my lead to a delicious Memorial Day feast.
Here's what we're having:
Smoky Orange and Honey Barbecued Chicken
Hot and Cheesy Potatoes
Corn on the Cob
From our Garden Spinach Salad with Homemade Ranch
Ice Cream Cones

It might seem counter intuitive to serve hot potatoes at the official summer kick off weekend, but they are always a huge hit. I kid you not, I've made these AND potato salad AND put out potato chips for barbecues, and these hot potatoes always go first. (And then there are people like me, who take a heaping scoop of all three, and then go back for seconds.) They couldn't be simpler to put together; no peeling, no pre-cooking, and they always come out perfect.
I'm also including a recipe for my Smoky Orange and Honey Barbecue Sauce that you can throw together and slather on some chicken. It's heavenly and miles above any bottled sauce. It's got tang, sweetness, spice, smoke, and overall fabulous balance. Have barrels of fun and be safe. Put on your sunscreen and eat your veggies and call your mother. See you after the weekend!
Super Easy Hot and Cheesy Potatoes
Estimated Cost: $4.00 to serve 6
Notes: Don't make these ahead of time or the potatoes will turn brown. Sometimes I make a double batch by using the same size of pan but making four layers of potatoes, then increasing the cooking time by 30 minutes.
about 6 medium potatoes, unpeeled, scubbed
1 onion
about 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
about 3/4 cup -1 cup half and half
Coat a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with no stick cooking spray. Thinly slice 3 of the potatoes and layer on the bottom of dish. Sprinkle with half of the onion and season generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining potatoes, onions, and cheese. Pour in half and half at the corners to cover the bottom. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 for about 1 hour or a little longer until potatoes are tender. Sprinkle with green onions for garnish, if desired.
Smoky Orange and Honey Barbecue Sauce
Estimated Cost: $2.00
Notes: Set aside half of the sauce to pass at the table. Always be careful to not dip any utensils in the sauce that have been in contact with raw meat juices. Just a little public service announcement. If you don't have a grill, you can dump all the sauce and a few chicken breasts into a crockpot. Yum!
3/4 ketchup
1/4 cup dijon
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
2 tablesooons worcestershire
juice and zest of one orange
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon-1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Combine all ingredients in medium skillet. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Store in refrigerator for up to one month.
Up Next:
Chipster Topped Brownies

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ruby's Raspberry Fluff Cake

This is my birthday girl. I don't like to admit it to myself, but she is now eight years old. That means I have roughly one decade left to tuck her into bed at night and listen to her practice violin and to make sure she at least tries the vegetables on her plate. It's like trying to hold tight to a handful of water; you can feel it slipping through your fingers before you get a solid grasp. I like to tell her that I will smash the clocks and throw away the calendars so she won't get any older, but she just rolls her eyes. She's old enough to know how ridiculous that is, even if her mother is silly enough to try it. (It almost worked for Frog and Toad.) Besides she was born old. And smart, too. It's tough to be in charge around here.
Three of my sisters have little May birthday girls too, and so it was decided to have a quadruple cousins birthday party with a Max and Ruby theme. Do you know Max and Ruby? It's the story of a bossy, yet caring, older bunny sister with an unpredictable and very silly little brother bunny. The only clear difference between Max and Ruby and my two charges is that Max and Ruby are rabbits. Other than that, the distinction is fuzzy.
In one story, Max and Ruby both decide to create something special for Grandma, so Ruby bakes a beautiful Raspberry Fluff Cake...while Max fashions a crude mud and worm cake. So for our quadruple cousins birthday party, we had Ruby's lovely cake...
And Max's yuckamucka cake.

Was I wrong to include that photo? Egads, it is unsightly. It didn't bother the under-12 year old party goers. They actually preferred Max's cake and specifically requested their own gummy worm. We won't dwell on that one. Let's dwell on this cake instead:This one is worth your time and attention. It's a fabulously light and fluffy buttermilk cake, filled with raspberries and cream and frosted with some pink tinted whipped cream. I wish I had a piece right now for breakfast. It so festive and purdy, just perfect for a special celebration. Make a wish, birthday girls! And don't bother wishing for time to slow down, because it doesn't work. Better just have another piece of cake and enjoy it all while you can!
Money Saving Tips: Cheat and use a cake mix here, pepped up with buttermilk and real butter. A cake mix on sale will cost roughly a dollar. Get your raspberries on sale or from Costco, or use frozen.
Raspberry Fluff Cake
1 white cake mix
eggs, at room temp
buttermilk, at room temp
butter, softened
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups raspberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
pastel sprinkles
Prepare cake mix according to package directions, substituting softened butter for the oil, and buttermilk for the water. Bake in 2 nine inch cake pans. Cool completely. Whip cream in mixer until just fluffy and gently add in powdered sugar and vanilla. (Put in a few drops of red food coloring for pink frosting.) Place one cake layer on stand. Frost with whipped cream and top with berries. Sprinkle berries with granulated sugar. Top with remaining layer cake. Frost entire cake with pink whipped cream. Add sprinkles if desired.
Up Next:
Super Easy Hot Cheesy Potatoes for Memorial Day

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Miniature Mango Snack Cakes

Welcome to Tuesday, the appointed day of my weekly baking club, wherein we create one of Dorie Greenspan's stellar recipes and report back. Today's assignment: Mango Bread.
I know I like zuchinni bread, pumpkin bread, carrot bread, and banana bread, so even though I hadn't tried mango bread, I was pretty sure it would be cute and loveable. Except, I have one little gripe with these moist quick breads: they seem like health food and yet they call for vast amounts of fat. Now, I'll make donuts and cookies and not bat an eye, but in those cases you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. But doggone it, if something seems good for you, then it ought to be. Since this week's mango bread called for 3/4 cup of oil, I thought I'd shake things up a little. I made a 1/3 batch into little miniature "snack cakes," since portion control is vital with my eat-it-till-it's gone MO. Plus, I swapped a little of the oil for buttermilk to trim some of the fat. I also used dried mangos, because my parents had some in their cupboard across the street. I borrowed them last night when they were out to dinner wiwth friends. By the way Mom, can I borrow your dried mangoes? OK, thanks. And now that I have them, I think I want some in a salad, so you may not get them back right away. Thanks again. These snack cakes were really yummy. The mango flavor wasn't pronounced, but present. They tasted like little gingerbread spice cakes with a touch of the tropics. They'd be lovely for breakfast, an afterschool snack, or for a casual dessert like we had last night. Come on back tomorrow for a Max and Ruby raspberry fluff birthday cake.
Money Saving Tips: Keep a big bag of dried mangoes on hand from Costco. They're great for snacking and baking. It's especially cheap if you can take them for free out of your parent's cupboard. Ahem, thanks again, Mom.
Miniature Mango Snack Cakes
Estimated Cost: $1.50 for 24
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup dried mangoes, chopped
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons buttermilk or milk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour (I used half whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small microwaveable boil, bring orange juice to a boil. Add mangoes and let sit for ten minutes. Line a mini muffin pan with paper liners and spray the top with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine flour, powder, soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, sugar, and brown sugar; mix until well combined. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients; batter will be thick. Stir in mangoes and orange juice. Pour mixture into prepared muffin cups and bake for 12-18 minutes, or until puffed and brown. They may rise up and fall back down, and that's OK. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.
Coming Tomorrow:
Raspberry Fluff Cake

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

There are so many events worth celebrating this time of year: weddings, baby showers, mom and dad's day, recitals, end of year parties, and of course graduations. And even though my little ones are learning at home, I've never been one to turn away an opportunity for a potential party. My sister Heidi suggested that we come for a weekend visit and have a mini homeschool graduation together for our pint-sized scholars. Decked out in black construction paper graduation hats with yarn tassels, the students solemnly marched forward to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. My Westy-boy gave a report on ancient civilizations focusing particularly on Ancient Egypt and China, followed by my Sailor-girl's study on World War II and post war communism. Heidi's little girl explained the importance of the -at family for reading words like cat, rat, bat, and even that, which is always good to remember so you won't get stuck when plowing through Dr. Seuss. And for a little comic relief, Heidi's little boy shared a collection of his favorite riddles. He has a strand of hilarity woven into his DNA from his dead-on witty dad, so it's good to know he is honing his skills to entertain us for the rest of our lives. After receiving their diplomas, rolled into a tube and tied with yellow ribbon which led West to falsely believe it was a pirate map, we gathered the group into the car and headed to an indoor bouncy warehouse. We saved treats for last, because speaking from experience, it is always better for everyone to bounce before eating treats. Because I said so, that's why.
And now, these treats will see you through all of your important events. They require less active prep time then a batch of cookies, but they have all the chewy appeal of a gooey chocolate chipper, plus a caramel- like richness from the brown sugar. They pack up perfectly, without any messy melted chocolate chips, and if you don't slice into them you can even make them a day ahead. Best of all, kids from one to 92, will find them inexpressably delicious. And that makes any kind of party a success.
Money Saving Tips:
This is one recipe that doesn't bake well in a half batch, so don't be tempted to halve it. You can freeze any extras, or better yet, wrap them up and take them to a neighbor or co-worker that could use a little pick me up. Leave out nuts on this one to make it more universally appealing at a party, plus it's cheaper that way. Look for butter on sale (or buy in bulk from a warehouse store) and be sure to stock up when you find it.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Estimated Cost: $4.00
1 cup butter, softened
1 and 3/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup granulate sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with no stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, cream butters and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring well. Stir in powder, soda, and salt. Add flour and gently stir until just incorporated. Add chips and scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 38-42 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool before slicing...if you can wait.
Coming Tomorrow:
Miniature Mango Snack Cakes

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Southwestern Tossed Salad

Among the pleasures of having a garden is watching your children plant seeds, monitor their progress, and marvel at their growth. But harvest is best of all because fussy young charges take a suprisingly active interest in what they are bringing in for dinner. I'm not quite ready to rename them Peter Cottontail or Mopsy, but they are surely beginning to appreciate the sweetness of soft baby spinaches and the zing of candy colored radishes. (And another big step is my Sailor girl is wearing her jeans! Only to garden, but still.) Not that they wouldn't prefer Mesquite Barbecue Chips or a cone of Baskin Robbin's mint chip, but I think we are taking a step in the right direction. And while, I'm a fan of chips and ice cream myself, I like this salad so much better. It's so fantastic that if I don't get off my current kick of eating it nightly, I'll soon have nothing else to post about. It could be Southwestern Tossed Salad all summer long. Then again, that mint chip ice cream cone sounded pretty good. Maybe I should plant some mint... Have a great weekend everyone!
Money Saving Tips:
Get some lettuce planted and you'll save yourself bundles and probably have loads to share with neighbors too. I love having spinach since I can pick enough for a few days at a time and it will stay nice and fresh in the fridge. It'll only cost you pennies! You may want to double the dressing recipe because it is terrifyingly addictive.
Southwest Tossed Salad
Estimated Cost: About $6.00
For the Dressing:
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon honey
For Tortilla Strips
8-10 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
For Salad
Spinach or other lettuce
radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
chopped tomatoes
rinsed and drained black beans
corn kernels, thawed if frozen
diced avocado
Blend dressing ingredients in blender until smooth; season to taste with salt and pepper. Fry tortilla strips in hot oil until crisp; drain on paper towels. Combine remaining ingredients in the bowl and toss.
Up Next:
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars