Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Baking Tips No. 2 and 3

2. Always use butter for the best flavor in your holiday baking. If you prefer to use margarine make sure to select products with 70-80% fat. Do not use reduced-fat spreads for cookies as they will spread too much and tend to stick to the cookie sheet. Butter makes cookie dough easier to roll out after refrigerating because it becomes firm when chilled so I always recommend using it for cut-out cookies.

3. When butter is too soft, cookies will spread too much. Soften butter by allowing it to sit at room temperature about 30-45 minutes before needed. I often soften it in the microwave using DEFROST and microwaving in 10-15 second increments. Go slowly the first few times so that butter doesn't melt. Once melted, use the butter for vegetables or other foods but not for baking.

Check back for more tips later this week!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Holiday Baking Tips

The holiday baking season has begun. Between now and December 25 I'll be posting helpful tips for successful baking.

Tip 1: Follow your recipe closely the first time you prepare it- you can make changes next time. Always use high quality ingredients like pure vanilla extract, unsalted butter and real chocolate. Measure accurately using stacking measuring cups for dry ingredients and clear measuring cups for liquid.

Let me know what your favorite cookies are.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Buttery Croissants

Whenever I'm in Phoenix there's always a new restaurant to visit. Yesterday I went to P. Croissant in Tempe and bought a dozen croissants. But not just any croissants, I selected a unique assortment.

When I entered the store I expected to find bakery cases full of a variety of buttery crescents but the cases were empty! Fortunately there were croissants just coming out of the oven. I got two each of their most popular, Bavarian custard, almond and chocolate. The remaining six were assorted and we are still decoding to see what we have.

P. Croissant makes 21 kinds of filled croissants and places a code in frosting on top of each. The box has a sheet that shows the different flavors. So far we've tried cinnamon apple, raspberry, and cinnamon apple. All were delicious.

The croissants are very light and delicate with a buttery flavor that isn't overly rich. We'll go back but next time we'll preorder!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Help!

Here are some toll free numbers when you need last minute help!

Butterball Turkey Talk-Line 800-288-8372

Crisco Pie Hotline 877-367-7438

Fleischmann's Yeast Baker's Hotline 800- 777-4959

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 888-674-6854

And a new recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner:

Cornbread Stuffing with Dried Fruit

Serves 6 to 8

4 cups cubed (3/4 inch) cornbread
¼ cup butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped Granny Smith apple
½ cup chopped dried plums (prunes)
½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
½ tsp. coarse salt
¼ tsp. poultry seasoning
¾ cup chicken broth

Bake cornbread and cool to room temperature. Cut into cubes about ¾ inch. Let stand several hours to dry out.

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x9 inch baking dish.

Melt butter in a 10-inch skillet and add onion. Cook over medium high heat until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Combine cornbread, apple, prunes, apricots, thyme, salt and poultry seasoning in a large bowl. Add onions and toss to mix. Stir in chicken broth. Spoon into the prepared dish.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until browned and heated through.

There's a good recipe for Cornbread in Baking Basics and Beyond or you can buy a box of Jiffy Cornbread and bake it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Traditional or Updated Thanksgiving

Because we have had a sunny and warm November, Thanksgiving seems to be early. But I know it is just over a week away.

Our family dinner is always very traditional but this year I have some new ideas. For dessert I'm making a Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake from 125 Best Cheesecake Recipes by George Geary. Most of my family are Apple Pie fans and won't miss Pumpkin Pie. Later this week I'll post a recipe for Cornbread Stuffing with Dried Fruit that is one of my favorites.

Here is a recipe for Cranberry Chutney that I got recently from a friend.

Anne's Cranberry Chutney

Makes 2 cups

1 (12 oz.) jar mango chutney
1 (12 oz.) bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan an bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat the low and simmer 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator.

Freeze some cranberries while they are available fresh and you can make chutney or cranberry scones throughout the year.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Simple Seafood Choices

Much has been written about pollution in the oceans and contaminants such as PCB's and mercury in fish. But fish high in omega 3 fatty acids provide enormous health benefits so it's worth learning more.

I'm aware of charts available online from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium on how to buy sustainable fish but it's complicated and takes time to work through. Recently I've read two articles that simplify the process.

The October/November edition of Fine Cooking chooses 5 fish that are plentiful, sustainably caught and have low levels of contaminants. Their choices: Arctic char, black cod, striped bass, Pacific halibut and Atlantic mackerel.

Cooking Light recommends albacore tuna, catfish, Pacific cod, Pacific halibut, wild Alaskan salmon, striped bass and tilapia.

Only purchase fish that has been kept on ice and has no fishy odor and plan to serve it today or tomorrow. If you don't see the kind you're looking for ask at the fish counter for their suggestions.

I serve a lot of shrimp and look for wild American shrimp or farmed shrimp for the U.S.

By selecting sustainable fish and eating it at least once a week, it's a win, win. It's good for the environment and good for your health.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cranberry Season is Here

As soon as I see fresh cranberries in the fall, I can’t wait to start baking. Because they are easy to freeze, you can bake with them year round but they always seem a herald of autumn. I always buy several bags to freeze so I have cranberries when they are no longer available fresh. I also make Cranberry Chutney to serve with poultry and pork.

Cranberry Walnut Bars

These cranberry jewels are easy to make because the crust is pressed into the pan. Don’t forget the Crème Fraiche.

Makes 15 squares or 24 bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter

2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups chopped fresh cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
Crème Fraiche

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. and place the oven rack in the center. Place a piece of aluminum foil across the bottom and up the long sides of a 13x9 inch baking pan. Lightly spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the flour, powdered and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form and butter is coated with flour. Press into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until the crust is slightly browned.

Combine the brown sugar and 1/4 cup flour in a medium bowl. Add corn syrup, eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Stir in the butter, cranberries and walnuts. Pour into the browned crust. Gently even out the surface to distribute the cranberries and walnuts.

Bake 38 to 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean in the center. It will be wet. Center will no longer jiggle when the pan is shaken. Cool to room temperature on a wire cooling rack. Carefully loosen the bars from the short end of the pan. Gently lift bars from the pan using the foil. Cut into squares or bars. Serve with crème fraiche. Be sure there is no foil on the bars.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

After Halloween Pumpkin Soup

Witches and goblins are gone, at least for another year. As the days turn colder, a warm bowl of soup is always welcome. If you want to use fresh pumpkin instead of canned, be sure to start with a sugar or pie pumpkin, not jack-o-lantern pumpkin! I developed this soup to use up the rest of a can of pumpkin after I used 1/2 cup for Pumpkin Custards. You can also use 1 1/2 to 2 cups of pureed butternut squash. In addition to topping a serving with yogurt, I like the crunch added with sunflower nuts or popcorn.

Pumpkin Soup

Besides being a favorite for pie, pumpkin is loaded with antioxidants and fiber and a healthy addition to any diet. If you have more pumpkin just add it to the soup. When I have leftover cooked wild rice or brown rice, I add it too.

Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin or 1 (15 ounce) can
2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons low-fat yogurt

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and the onion. Cook until the onion is tender about 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the broth, pumpkin, brown sugar and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes to blend the flavors.

Garnish each serving with 1 tablespoon yogurt.