Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Fun - Making Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

We’ve been feeling a bit devilish these past couple of weeks, and when friends Erin and Jeff arrived at the cottage decked out in their fabulous 50’s costumes, we went right into the vintage kitchen and got baking! And they brought along a wonderful Cavalcade chef’s hat and clap-board so we could really make this video legitimate! Cooking with friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our precious time together.

Here’s an old recipe that is a variation on a standard oatmeal cookie which includes cocoa in the batter. These are easy to make – don’t even need to haul out your mixer. These bake well on a parchment lined cookie sheet, but if you don’t have any parchment paper just give your sheets a spray with Pam.
Serve these chocolaty treats at your Halloween party or anytime! Hope you scare up a lot of fun – Happy Halloween!

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
1 ¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 egg
¼ cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup butter, melted
3 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned or quick)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, combine egg, milk and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well until combined.

Add melted butter and oats. Stir to combine – batter will be thick. Prepare baking sheets and line them with parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray. Drop batter by the tablespoon onto prepared sheets – you should get a dozen on a standard size baking sheet. Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes. 

Remove from oven and immediately transfer cookie to cooling rack. Makes about three dozen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Double Chocolate Devil's Food Cake

In a world full of cakes, the chocolate cake seems to eternally reign supreme. All Devil’s Food cakes are chocolate, but not all chocolate cakes are Devil’s Food.  And in the family that composes chocolate cakes, I think that Devil’s Food is the best of them all. It’s a moist, rich cake that is deep in chocolate flavor, yet has a delicate crumb and texture. 

Since we are on the subject of devils and devilish things, now is the perfect time of year to bake up one of these dark and luscious cakes. It seems over the last 20 years, Halloween has become a very big deal. Stores are chock full of candy, costumes and decorations as early as Labor Day. Right now, in the middle of October, many stores are simultaneously selling Halloween and Christmas merchandise, which I find really interesting given the focus of the two holidays. And somewhere in between we have to squeeze in Thanksgiving!

So, in this season of celebrating the dark and scary, here’s a ghoulishly good cake that is sure to tame the evilest of spirits. It’s also a cake recipe that does not require eggs, butter or milk. Some have said that this type of cake evolved out of the food rationing days of World War II, when dairy products were scarce. And the cake rises by a combination of baking soda and white vinegar. It comes together quickly and easily – no need for a mixer, just use your whisk.  The recipe makes on 8” layer cake or one 9”x13” sheet cake, but I think the layer cake is the most impressive. A little instant coffee in the cake and frosting serve to boost the chocolaty goodness! Happy Halloween!


Double Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake
3 cups   flour (all purpose)
2 cups   sugar
½ cup    unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp     salt
2 tsp     baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put all dry ingredients in a large bowl and gently whisk together making sure that everything is thoroughly mixed. Set your dry ingredients aside. 

In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine wet ingredients:

¾ cup    vegetable oil
2 cups   hot water
1 TBSP   instant coffee granules (I use de-caf, but you can use whatever you   prefer)
1 TBSP   vanilla
2 TBSP   white vinegar

Whisk wet ingredients together until combined and coffee granules are dissolved. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and gently mix until totally incorporated. 

Lightly grease (I use a non-stick spray) two round 8” inch cake pans or one 9”x13” baking dish. If using round cake pans, divide batter into the two pans. Put pans on the center rack of a 350 degree oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the center of the cake springs back when gently pushed.  Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cake cool for 15 minutes in pans and then invert cakes out of pans onto cooling rack (you don’t need to do this if you baked it in a 9”x13” baking dish). Allow cake to cool completely.
While cake is cooling, prepare the frosting. 

1 stick    butter (unsalted)
1 ½ cup  sugar
1 ¼ cup  unsweetened cocoa
1/8 tsp   salt
1 ¼ cup  heavy cream
¼ cup    sour cream
1 ½ tsp  instant coffee granules
2 tsp      vanilla

In a large pot over low heat, melt butter. Then add sugar, cocoa and salt. This will be a very thick and clumpy mixture. In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine heavy cream, sour cream and instant coffee. Add cream mixture to pot, whisking in until mixture is completely smooth. Remove frosting from heat and add vanilla. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature (it will thicken). When frosting has cooled and is of spreading consistency, proceed to frost cooled cake. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bread & Butter Jalapeno Peppers

It’s a long-standing tradition in my family to “put up” a few dozen jars of bread and butter pickles every August. When the Michigan pickle crop comes in we go to work washing and slicing, boiling and filling jars, and stocking up for the year ahead. But this pickle season came and went before I could get my pickling on. I was still in a cast and recovering from surgery and there were a couple of consecutive weeks of brutally high temperatures. Next thing I knew, we were into September.

While the bread and butter pickles are a joy to make and eat, by the time I was ready to start canning I couldn’t find the kind of pickles I like to use. So I took a look at what was in full harvest and saw bushels and bushels of jalapeno peppers. Not only were they abundant, inexpensive and beautiful, but I thought their heat would mate well with the sweet and tangy brine of the bread and butter pickle recipe. A little research revealed that a lot have made a sweet pickled variation of the jalapeno. I already had a good brine recipe, so why not try it? 

For a little extra color, texture and flavor, I included some red bell peppers and onions. The bread and butter pickle recipe calls for green bell peppers and onions, so I figured help with the consistency of flavors. I chose to put these in pint and half-pint jars, but now I’m sorry I didn’t make up a few quart jars! These are wonderful on hot dogs, sausages, burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, ham sandwiches, or thrown into potato salad or a meatloaf. It brings a wonderful sweet heat to the party!

Bread & Butter Pickled Jalapeno Peppers

8 lbs jalapeno peppers – washed and sliced crosswise
4 large red bell peppers – washed and chopped
4 large white or yellow onions – chopped
1 ½ cups pickling salt
7 lb bag of ice

I recommend that you wear gloves when cutting up the jalapenos. Slice the washed jalapeno peppers into rings about a half inch wide. You have the option of “knocking out” the center of the rings, which contain the seeds and some of the membranes. This is where much of the heat comes from. If you want them to be milder, push the center out of the rings with your thumb. I did this to about half of them.  When the jalapenos are sliced, chop your red peppers and onions. Evenly divide the vegetables into three large bowls. Salt each batch with one half cup of pickling salt and then put one third of the bag of ice over each batch. Push some of the ice cubes into the vegetables and let batches sit for at least an hour.

In the meantime, wash and sterilize your jars, rings and lids. I used pints and half pints, but you can use whatever size you like. After my jars are washed and sterilized, I like to keep them in a 250 degree oven until I am ready to fill them. Now you can make your brine.

I needed to make two separate batches of the brine for the amount of vegetables I had to preserve.

5 cups vinegar (either white or apple cider – make sure it is 5% acidity)
4 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp celery seed
1 ½ TBSP mustard seed
½ tsp ground cloves

Put all contents in a large pot and slowly bring up to almost a boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved.

Remove vegetables from their ice bath using a slotted spoon and put in large colander. Give them a good rinse – you want to flush away any access salt or loose seeds. Add half of your vegetables (one and a half batches) to your first pot of brine. Stir vegetables gently and increase heat so brine JUST COMES TO A BOIL and then remove pot from heat. 

Fill your hot jars with vegetables and brine, leaving a half inch of head space at the top. You will need a canning funnel. After jars are filled, use something non-metal (I use the handle of a plastic spoon) to work any air bubbles out of the jars. Then wipe the top rim of each jar with a clean damp cloth to remove any brine that may have splashed on it. Place the lid on each jar and secure with a band – hand tighten. Jars are now ready to be processed in a water bath.

Lower jars into your canner and process for 10 minutes in boiling water. Jars should be covered by at least an inch or two of water. After 10 minutes, remove jars and set in a safe place where they can rest and cool. A vacuum will be created and each lid should seal as the jars cool. After the jars have cooled completely, move jars to a cool and dark place. Let them alone for two weeks before opening so that the full flavors can develop.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tomato Soup a la Dinah Shore!

As the season of summer came to a close, I found myself in possession of an abundance of fresh tomatoes. A neighbor, who grows them every year, seemed to have tomatoes everywhere when it came to the final harvest. The plants had been steadily producing since July, and were still going strong into September. Some of the tomatoes were picture-perfect, while others showed signs of distress. Regardless of how they looked, they all tasted great!

I kept the blemished tomatoes aside for a cooking project and started looking through my cookbooks. I happened to pull a cookbook by Dinah Shore from the shelf, and discovered a wonderful recipe for tomato soup! I recalled watching Dinah Shore’s talk show as a child and seeing her cook with her Hollywood celebrity friends. She loved cooking, and authored a couple of cookbooks over the years. 

This provided a great opportunity to dig out some of our Dinah Shore albums and put those tomatoes to good use! We enjoyed both the soup and wonderfully warm sound of Dinah’s voice!

Tomato Soup a la Dinah Shore
6-8 large tomatoes
3 small potatoes – sliced thin
1 medium onion - finely diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP flour
3 cups half & half (or whole milk)
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper - to taste

In a large pot of simmering water, gently lower tomatoes and leave them in the water until you see a split in the skins. If you have thick skinned tomatoes, cut a small “x” shaped slit in the bottom of the tomato before putting it in the water. It should take a couple of minutes in the hot water for the skins to get loose. In the meantime, prepare a large bowl with ice water. When the tomatoes are ready, transfer them to the ice water and let them cool for a couple of minutes. You should be able to slip the skins off the tomatoes by hand, or you may choose to scrape them off with a paring knife. Be sure to cut the stem core out of the tomatoes when peeling.

Place peeled and cored tomatoes in a large empty pot and mash (I use a potato masher for this job). The tomatoes will release a lot of liquid. Add potatoes, onions, basil, salt, pepper and bay leaves and cover pot. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes become soft (25-30 minutes).

Remove from heat and remove bay leaves. Transfer mixture to blender in small batches. NEVER fill a blender to the top with hot contents! Puree all of the mixture until smooth and transfer to a bowl. 

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat and then add flour. Stir well until the flour is incorporated into butter and a roux is formed. Cook for just a minute until lightly golden in color. Slowly add in two cups of half & half, stirring with a whisk until all lumps are dissolved. Keep whisking until mixture comes up to a boil and then reduce heat. It will thicken as it begins to boil. Add tomato mixture to the thickened half & half mixture. Gently stir to combine. Add one more cup of half & half to thin the soup out a little bit. Add sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Enjoy!