Monday, July 8, 2013

Creamy Watermelon Squares

  Watermelon is a summer-time staple, and a treat that almost everyone enjoys.  Though not much is really done with it, other than wedging, cubing or balling it!   Sure, there's the fancy watermelon boats, but who wants to do all that work?

  I consider this simple dessert a "cousin" to the Lemon Square. Enjoy these after a meal, or make a couple batches for the next big BBQ!

Ingredients that you'll need for 12 bars:

1 package (11 oz) of vanilla wafers, crushed into fine crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 cups watermelon juice (see note)
1/2 teas. lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 oz (4 pkts) unflavored gelatin
Confectioners sugar or whipped cream, for garnish (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray a 13" x 9" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray, then line with a sheet of parchment paper leaving a 2" overhang on each of the long sides of the pan. Lightly spray parchment with cooking spray.
  In a bowl, combine the vanilla wafer crumbs, melted butter and 2 tablespoons of water.  Mix well and press mixture, evenly, onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake crust for 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

  2.  In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of the watermelon juice, lemon zest, lemon juice and milk. Set this aside. 
  In a small pan, combine the remaining 2 cups of watermelon juice and sprinkle the gelatin over the juice. Allow to sit for 2 minutes to allow the gelatin to absorb or "bloom".  After the gelatin "blooms", gently heat the pan over low heat until the gelatin has completely melted and the liquid is smooth.  

3.  Combine the two watermelon juice mixtures, stir together well.  Gently pour over the prepared, cooled crust and place in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or until firm.

   4.  To serve, remove from the refrigerator and slowly run a knife completely around the edge to loosen.  Gently and carefully remove from pan using the parchment paper overhang and place on a cutting board.  Cut into 12 bars.  
  If desired, you can lightly sprinkle the bars with confectioner's sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Note:  To make watermelon juice, place cubes of watermelon in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.  I got 5 cups of juice from about 9 lbs of watermelon!
  For another tasty and unique way to enjoy watermelon, try this Watermelon Gazpacho!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Savory Chicken Hand Pies

  If you're always finding yourself with an abundance of leftovers from a previous nights meal, here's a fun and tasty idea to use up leftover chicken.  This delicious "portable" version of a chicken pot pie, similar to a pasty, is very simple to make and also versatile.  They freeze very well, either baked or unbaked, so make up several of them, and have them on hand for a tasty snack or a quick meal.  Turkey or ground beef can also be used, and experiment with different veggie combos, or make an all veggie one!

  You want to start by making the filling first, because it needs to chill, in the refrigerator, before making the actual pies.  

For the filling, you'll need:

1 heaping cup of cooked shredded chicken meat (this can be leftovers or from a store-bought rotissiere chicken)

2 Tbs unsalted butter

½ cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped carrot
½ teas coarse salt
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1½ cups chicken broth (low-sodium store bought or homemade)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese  

   To make the filling, melt the butter in a 10" skillet, on medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, and carrot and saute for 3 minutes.  Stir in the salt and flour and cook for 1 minute more.

   Add the chicken broth and stir until it thickens, about 2-5 minutes.

  Stir in the chicken and the Parmesan cheese.  Cool and chill the filling in the refrigerator.

  Now make the pastry dough.  For the novice baker, this has been deemed the most forgiving dough to work with.  Easily rolls out and doesn't tear.  The cream cheese allows this dough some elasticity and the results are tender and flaky.
  If you don't have a food processor, this can all be done by hand.

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup heavy cream
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teas coarse salt

  In a food processor, process the butter, cream cheese, and cream until smooth.
  Add the flour and salt.  Process just until combined and the dough holds together in a ball.

    Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface.  Divide into 2 equal pieces.  Flatten into disks and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.  Can also chill the dough overnight, but be sure to take the dough out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before rolling out.

  Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.  Butter or line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.

  Working with one dough disk at a time, roll dough out onto a floured surface to about 1/8" thick.  Using a 5" round cutter or an overturned bowl (about 5" in diameter) cut out circles, 3 at a time.  Re-roll dough scraps and cut out more circles.  You should have a total of 10 circles, 5 from each piece of dough.

Place ¼ cup of the chilled filling on one side of a dough circle.  Wet the edges of the dough with a little water.  Fold the dough over to form a half circle.  Pinch the edges closed and crimp with a fork.  Repeat this with the remaining dough circles.  At this point, the hand pies can be frozen.

  Place the hand pies on the prepared baking sheets and chill for about 15 minutes.  Prick each hand pie on top, twice, with a fork.  Whisk together 1 large egg with 1 Tbs water.  Brush this egg wash over each hand pie.  Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

   Make plenty, because these hand pies will disappear quickly.  

   Baked hand pies can be cooled and then frozen, and reheated in the microwave.
  To bake the frozen unbaked pies, simple place the desired number of hand pies on a prepared baking sheet, as directed above, brush with the egg wash and bake as directed above, adding about 5 minutes more to the baking time.
  For a great party appetizer, try cutting 3" circles and using about a Tbs of the filling, and continue as directed!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Classic Ice Cream Truck Treats: Fudge Pops!

 Summer time always brings back memories of the ice cream truck coming down our street, playing those familiar tunes through the loud speaker mounted on the top of the truck.  We would run in the house begging mom for some change to get one of our favorite treats, moving fast because the truck would be up your street and gone to the next block in the blink of an eye.

  One of my favorite treats, was the simple fudge pop.  Here, I've recreated that classic fudge pop with just a few simple ingredients, and the taste will really bring you back!

To make 10 fudge pops you'll need:

2 teas. cornstarch
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teas. fine salt
2 teas. pure vanilla extract

  In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons milk until smooth; whisk in remaining milk, cream, sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, and cook 1 minute.
  Transfer to a large liquid measuring cup and stir in vanilla.

  Pour into ten 3-ounce ice-pop molds and insert wooden ice-pop sticks.  Freeze until pops are solid, about 6 hours (o up to one week).

  Just before serving, briefly run mold under hot water to release pops.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese!

Now we all love macaroni and cheese, and I've done a recipe or two on macaroni and cheese in the past, but this has to be, by far, my favorite recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese. I've been making it for years, and it's always a crowd pleaser!

I made this special treat for my birthday, since it fell on Good Friday this year, and being the good Catholic boy that I am, was barred from eating meat that day. I also added a special addition to this version, just for my birthday!

This is a dish that will appeal more towards the adult crowd, but kids should love it just as well, and the leftovers are even better!


8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter plus more for dish
6 slices good white bread crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese (about 18 ounces)(I used a mix of Vermont White, and extra sharp cheddar cheese)
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 ounces)

1 pound elbow macaroni
8 oz cooked lobster meat (imitation lobster meat is perfectly fine too!), torn into chunks (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish (or two 1.5-quart casserole dishes); set aside. Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into bowl with bread, and toss. Set breadcrumbs aside.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat.

When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute. While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups of the cheddar cheeses, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere.

Set cheese sauce aside while you prepare the macaroni.

Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.

Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce, and if using, gently fold in the lobster chunks. Because I would be serving this to my mother, as well, who suffers from a severe seafood allergy, I divided the macaroni and cheese in two halves, and only added the lobster to one half of the macaroni and cheese.

Pour mixture into prepared dish. I'm using two 1-1/2 qt baking dishes since I divided in half. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheeses, 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and breadcrumbs over top.

Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes.

Serve hot as a delicious lunch, first or main course or just whenever you're craving the ultimate in comfort food!

The leftovers are just as good and if you're looking for a unique twist on leftover macaroni and cheese, why not fry it!

Leftover macaroni and cheese, refrigerated at least overnight.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 egg beaten with 2 ounces water
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Oil for deep frying, preheated to 375 degrees

Cut refrigerated macaroni and cheese into slices or bite size pieces.
Season the flour with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Dredge each piece through the flour and gently tap off excess.

Dip in the egg wash and then coat with the bread crumbs.

Allow them to rest for 5 minutes so the crust can set. Very carefully drop into the oil and fry until golden brown.

Remove to a baking sheet fitted with a rack and rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Three Amazing Cakes for ANY Occasion!

Company coming? Invited over to a get together and need a special dessert to bring? Anyone will enjoy one of these delicious cakes that are simple to whip up for any occasion!

Banana-Coconut Crumb Cake

This cake comes from Nick Malgieri's book, "BAKE!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking." It pairs too favorites from the tropics, banana and coconut.

Ingredients for one 9-inch cake:

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teas baking powder
1/4 teas salt
8 Tbls (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 teas pure vanilla extract
1 lb (about 3 medium) bananas, peeled and sliced about 1/2" thick
Coconut Crumb Topping (recipe follows)

1. Set oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan, line with a round of parchment paper, cut to fit. Butter the parchment paper, as well.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed for 30 seconds

3. Add the butter, and continue mixing on the lowest speed until no visible pieces of butter remain. Stop the mixer and with a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and beater.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, yolk, and vanilla together. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add about 1/3 of this egg mixture. Beat for 1 minute on medium speed; stop and scrape the bowl and beater. Repeat this two more times, then beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the banana slices on top of the batter, leaving a clear 1/4" margin near the side of the pan. Evenly scatter on the crumb topping.

To make the crumb topping, in a bowl, stir together 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 teas baking powder, 1/4 teas cinnamon, 1/8 teas salt. Then stir in 1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut. Using a rubber spatula, stir in 8 tbls (one stick) of melted unsalted butter. Let stand for a few minutes, then use your fingers to break mixture up into 1/4" to 1/2" crumbs.

6. Bake until the cake is well risen and deep golden and the point of a paring knife, inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes.

7. Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the side ring of the pan and let the cake cool, on the pan base, completely.

8. Once the cake has cooled completely, slice and serve. This cake can be kept under a cake dome or wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature or double wrap and freeze for longer storage. Defrost and bring to room temperature before serving.

Sweet Potato-Bourbon Bundt Cake

This next cake is one of my favorites! This cake comes from the book, "Bundt Classics" by Dorothy Dalquist, who with her husband created the Bundt cake pan:

"The Bundt Pan" - In 1950, the landmark pan was introduced, after the Minneapolis Chapter of the Hadassah Society asked Dave and Dotty to produce a kuglehof pan, similar to the one the society's president had received from her grandmother in Germany.

Dave produced the pan from cast aluminum for the Hadassah Society and a few for the Nordic Ware trademark, which he sold to department stores using the name, bund pan. (The word bund means a gathering-thus a bund cake, with its characteristic fluting, was a cake suitable for a gathering or party.) Nordic Ware created the pan and filed for a trademark to protect its creation, renaming the pan the Bundt pan.
Ella Helfrich, in 1966, used a Bundt pan for her winning recipe of Tunnel of Fudge Cake, in the 17th Pillsbury Bake-off. Following the contest, Pillsbury was overwhelmed with more than 200,000 requests from people that wanted to purchase a winning Bundt pan. In 1971, Pillsbury launched a line of Bundt cake mixes, licensing the name from Nordic Ware that continued the nationwide quest for Bundt pans.

Now, Nordic Ware markets its own line of Gourmet Bundt® Cake Mixes.
"Today, there are nearly 60 million Bundt pans in kitchen's across America," Nordic Ware President David (Dave & Dotty's son). said. "Almost a Bundt pan in every pantry." The Bundt pan has continued its growth in popularity. It has been a guest on TV cooking shows, featured in an array of magazines and also used by some of the world's famous bakers. It is likely the most popular baking mold in the world." -- Nordic Ware Website

The ingredients are not that uncommon, and most should be right in your kitchen!

1-1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
2 large eggs
1 cup cooked sweet potato
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup bourbon or apple juice
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3/4 teaspoon salt
Nonstick cooking spray with flour
3 tablespoons chopped pecans
Bourbon Syrup (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 325°

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together brown sugar, butter, and eggs until very light and fluffy. Add sweet potato and vanilla; beat to combine. Add flour, milk, bourbon, baking powder, pie spice, and salt; mix until just incorporated. Lightly spray a 10 or 12 cup Bundt pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle bottom and up sides of the pan with pecans. Pour in cake batter.

3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

While the cake cools, make the Bourbon Syrup: In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil, cook 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbls unsalted butter, 1/2 teas pure vanilla extract, and 2 Tbls bourbon, cook until syrupy, about 5 minutes.

4. Brush cake with bourbon syrup. Serve cake slices with any remaining syrup.

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

This next cake is sure to be every chocolate lovers absolute favorite! It's a sinfully delicious chocolate cake, covered in a fudgy chocolate frosting that is perfect for those special occasions or just to satisfy those "Chocoholics" in your life!

For best results, I do recommend using Valrhona Cocoa, but any good quality cocoa will do, just be sure to get the best quality you can find.

To make the cake you'll need:

1 cup Valrhona cocoa, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup strong coffee, boiling
1 cup milk, room temperature
2 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature

1. Place rack in middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, and dust with cocoa powder; tap out excess. Sift cocoa; whisk in boiling coffee and milk. Let cool. Sift together cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

2. Using a rubber spatula, mix the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Pour in the cooled cocoa mixture. Mix until fully incorporated.

3. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 4 cups in each pan). Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center.

4. Remove the cakes from the oven, and allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes on a cooling rack. Carefully run a small offset spatula around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pan. Remove cakes from pans, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.

To make the fudgy chocolate frosting for the cake, you'll need the following:

3-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup Valrhona cocoa powder
12 Tbls (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
2 teas. pure vanilla extract.

In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder. Add butter, milk, and vanilla; stir until smooth and free of lumps.

To assemble the cake, using a serrated knife, level the top surface of each cake layer. Place four strips of parchment paper around the perimeter of the cake stand. Spread with 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with the remaining layer, bottom side up. Using a swirling motion, cover the outside of cake with the remaining frosting. Remove parchment-paper strips.

This cake can be kept, under a cake dome, at room temperature, for up to 5 days. To transport this cake, it's best to use a cake carrier, and secure the cake by insterting a wooden skewer down the center of the cake to prevent the cake layers from shifting. You can snip off the top of the skewer so it's not seen.