Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mini Corn Dog Muffins

The weather has been crazy in these parts recently. Unseasonably hot one week, then downright chilly the next. 

We've been trying to take advantage of the beautiful days, spending as much time those days outside as possible.

A couple of weeks ago, one of those beautiful days happened to coincide with Friday. So a few friends and I decided that we'd celebrate the warm start to the weekend with a picnic dinner at our neighborhood's playground. That way the kids could play and get out all of their energy and the parents could enjoy the beautiful evening... and reduce the number of dishes that would need to be done.

We each brought a little something, pot-luck style.

I baked bread, so that the kids could have sandwiches, and also decided to bring something fun.

And what could be more fun and kid friendly than a corn dog?? 

Not wanting to deep fry, I decided to adapt my usual cornbread recipe for these.

The first thing that I did was to cut up a couple of hot dogs. Actually, turkey franks are what I had, so I used those.

Then I mixed up the cornbread batter, but I did reduce the sugar a little bit.

And then it was time to put them together!  I used my mini-muffin pan, as I wanted them to be bite sized and easy for the kids to grab and eat.  I spooned a little bit of the batter into each well, sprinkled in some hot dog pieces, put in a little more batter, then a couple more pieces of hot dog.

It took a little longer that way, but I didn't want all of the hot dog pieces sinking to the bottom, and I also wanted to try to ensure that each bite would contain both corn muffin and hot dog.

And it turned out pretty well!

They were pretty cute, definitely fun, and they went over really well. With the adults and the kids!

These were the perfect thing for a pot luck, kid friendly picnic. I will definitely be making these again through the summer!

Mini Corn Dog Muffins
(adapted from my cornbread recipe)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 hot dogs (or your choice of meat franks), cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Spray or lightly grease a mini-muffin pan.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until well combined. 
Layer batter and hot dog pieces in each well of the mini muffin pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April Daring Bakers' Challenge - Armenian Desserts

I know nothing about Armenia.

At all.

But thanks to this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge, I totally want to go there. Or at least find a bakery that specializes in Armenian foods.

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

Now, the rules that Jason set forth for the challenge were that we each needed to make one of the two recipes provided.  But they both looked amazingly delicious. How in the world is one to choose

Well, right away, I started with the one that looked like it would be quickest to make - the nutmeg cake.  Jason described this as a coffee cake kind of confection, and with that, I knew I would be making it.

It started by combining flour, baking powder, brown sugar (lots of it!) and butter.

 Then, with a fork, this was combined to form a crumb-type consistency.

 Half of this mixture was pressed into a springform pan to form a crust.

The rest of the crumbly mixture was combined with an egg, a variety of spices (well, as the name of the cake implies, it actually just calls for nutmeg. I used a combination of cinnamon, vanilla chai and, of course, nutmeg.) and some milk that had been combined with baking soda. 

 This mixture was then poured on top of the crust...

 ...and baked for 30-40 minutes.

Can I just tell you how good this smelled?

And then it came out of the oven...

 I was surprised that it sunk a bit in the middle, but that didn't deter us from digging in as soon as it was cool enough.

 YUM. The flavor of this cake was so delicious, and the two different textures came together beautifully. The crust was so good, and the cake was amazing. And the combination was outstanding.

 This is such a keeper recipe.

But I wasn't done yet.

You see, the other Daring Bakers were sharing their results. And they were raving about both desserts.  So I knew I would be trying the second one, as well.

The second recipe was something called nazook. I had never heard of it before, but it looked delicious, and from the reviews on the forum, I knew it would be worth the shot.

There were two components to the nazook. 

The first is a yeasted pastry dough.

 Only, instead of water or milk as the liquid used to bring the flour and yeast together, this recipe calls for softened butter and sour cream.

  Yeah, I knew this would be good.

I kneaded the dough together by hand. At first I was worried that it would never come together. But I persevered and was soon (after about ten minutes) amazed to have a soft, beautiful, smooth ball of buttery, doughy goodness.

 I put the dough into the fridge and let it rest overnight.

The next afternoon, I prepared the second component - the filling.

The filling was a crumb-mixture of flour, sugar (I used a combination of white and brown sugar), butter and vanilla.

 Yeah. There was a lot of butter in this dessert.

That is a good thing.

 And then it was time to put everything together.

The dough is divided into quarters (to make it easier and more manageable to work with), and each quarter is rolled into a rectangle...

 ...and then sprinkled with a quarter of the topping crumb mix.

 The dough is then rolled up, brushed with egg wash and cut into pieces.

 The pieces were then laid onto a baking sheet, and were ready to go into the oven.

 I actually gave each of the pieces a second coat of egg-wash right before popping them into the oven, and the results were awesome.

 A beautiful, golden crust on the delicious flaky dough, and a delicious, lightly-vanilla-y filling all wrapped together into a perfectly sized snack.

These went so well with a cup of coffee or tea, and were slightly addictive, to boot. 

So, as I said. I am now seriously interested in learning more about Armenia. If these recipes are any indication, I could be a very happy girl eating all of those buttery delicious treats.

Jason, thank you (and your Aunt Aida!) so much for sharing these amazing recipes with us. All I can say is YUM.

To see the delicious Armenian delicacies baked in the kitchen this month, check the out here.

Armenian Nutmeg Cake(from Daring Bakers' Challenge)

1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder 
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, preferably unsalted, cubed
1/2 cup walnut pieces, may need a little more (optional)
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg (or a combination of spices, to your taste)
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350°F
Mix the baking soda (not baking powder; that's for the next step) into the milk. Set it aside.
Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. Mix in the brown sugar, then add in the cubed butter.
Mash the butter with a fork into the dry ingredients (you can also use your fingers if you want).
You'll want to achieve a more-or-less uniform, tan-colored crumbly mixture.
Take half of this resulting crumbly mixture into your springform (9”/23cm) pan. Press a crust out of it using your fingers and knuckles. Set aside.
Crack an egg into a mixer or bowl.
Toss the nutmeg (or whatever spices you are using) in with the egg.
Start mixing slowly with a whisk attachment and then increase to medium speed, or mix with a hand whisk if you're doing it manually. Once it's mixed well and frothy (about 1 minute using a standing mixer, or about 2-3 minutes of vigorous beating with a whisk), pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until uniform.
Pour in the rest of the crumbly mixture. Mix that well, with either a paddle attachment, or a spatula. Or continue to use the whisk; it won't make much of a difference, since the resulting batter is very liquidy.
Pour the batter over the base in the springform pan.
Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter (if using).
Bake in a preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes. You'll know it's done when the top is a golden brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan, and then release. Enjoy!

Nazook(from Daring Bakers' Challenge)

Pastry dough
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup sour cream
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter (room temperature)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) softened butter (room temperature)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 egg for egg wash

Make the Pastry Dough
Place the sifted flour into a large bowl.
Add the dry yeast, and mix it in.
Add the sour cream, and the softened butter.
Use your hands, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough.
If using a standing mixer, switch to a dough hook. If making manually, continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it remains very sticky, add some flour, a little at a time.
Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.

Make the filling
Mix the flour, sugar, and the softened butter in a medium bowl.
Add the vanilla extract.
Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.

Make the nazook
Preheat the oven to 350°F
Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters.
Form one of the quarters into a ball. Dust your working surface with a little flour.
Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but nottransparent.
From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed. Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf.
Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush.
Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the rolled-out dough in an even layer. Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, but keep some of pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges.
Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out a bit (just a bit).
Use your crinkle cutter (or knife) to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces. Put onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Place in a preheated moderate oven for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown.
Allow to cool and enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jam Muffins

Little miss loves to have muffins for breakfast. Seriously, most mornings, when I ask "what would you like for breakfast?" the answer is "muffins." 

Then we have to have the discussion of how hungry everyone really is... because if the answer is "REALLY hungry," then cereal or toast or something else a little more instant-gratification is what is called for. But if it's one of those mornings where the appetites have a little more patience, then out come the flour and bowls!

This morning we tried a new muffin recipe I've been wanting to try for a while, simply called "Jam Muffins."

These muffins come together very easily and are a guilt-free breakfast treat.

Little miss did a lot of the work, too, making these even better.

Dry ingredients were whisked.

Wet ingredients were mixed in.

Then jam (strawberry, of course!) was gently and briefly folded into the batter.

The best part is that this recipe makes exactly the right amount of batter to make twelve muffins. No overflowing muffin cups, no extra batter to worry about - twelve perfectly filled, beautifully jam-marbled muffins ready to go into the oven.

And 20 short minutes later, breakfast was ready.

Little miss greatly enjoyed hers.

As did little man.

These were definitely a hit. I will definitely be making them again, and have a few ideas for some tweaks I want to make to the recipe to make them a little more fun, flavorful, and possibly make them even healthier!!

But if you are looking for a pretty quick, pretty easy breakfast muffin, definitely give these a try.

Jam Muffins
(from Serious Eats)

3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup honey (I used agave nectar today)
1/2 cup jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray 12 standard-sized muffin tins with baking spray (or line them with paper liners). Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vegetable oil, vanilla, egg, and honey (agave nectar) (I actually combined all the wet ingredients right in my 2-cup liquid measuring cup - one less bowl to wash!). Whisk to combine, making sure the honey (agave nectar) is fully dissolved.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just enough to combine. It will be lumpy. Add the jam, and gently fold the mixture a few times to distribute it, but leave the mixture streaky. 
Portion the mixture evenly into the muffin tins.
Bake  about 20 minutes, until the muffins are browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean.
Remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely on a rack.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Sourdough Surprises #2 - Sourdough Pretzels

I am so excited for today's post. Not only is it the second reveal post for Sourdough Surprises, but it is a recipe so delicious that I really hope that it convinces anyone who hasn't tried working with sourdough to give it a shot.

These pretzels were, in a word, fantastic. 

And it all starts with the starter.

The dough comes together pretty easily. 

I mixed together all of the ingredients, other than the flour, in the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer.

I then slowly added in the flour, starting with one cup of whole wheat flour and continuing with  the bread flour.  The original recipe called for four cups of flour (total), but my dough only required three cups, and I soon had a soft, smooth ball of dough.

The recipe then calls for the dough to rise for several hours, until doubled. I allowed my dough to rest at room temperature for a few hours, then transferred the whole bowl (covered with plastic wrap) to the refrigerator for a long, cold, overnight rise.

And rise it did - wow!

I let the dough come back up to room temperature, then got down to the business of shaping my pretzels.

I started by rolling the dough into a rectangle.

And then, using my pizza cutter, I cut the rectangle into strips.

I then rolled each strip into a long snake and twisted them into, well, pretzel knots.  I tried to make them as uniform as possible... hey, at least they all looked pretzel-y.

And then I let them rise again.

Like most sourdough recipes, the key ingredient here was time. But trust me. All the waiting is totally worth it.

I actually rolled and shaped the pretzels after dropping little miss off at school (while little man napped), then let them rest for the afternoon until I came home from picking her up. So the timing worked out pretty conveniently. A little planning ahead was a wonderful tool for making these.

Anyway, once we were ready to go, I began the two-step cooking process. Like any really good pretzel recipe, this recipe called for the pretzels to be boiled before being baked.  So I boiled up a big pot of water, into which I dissolved some baking soda to add some acidity to the boil.

And then the pretzels took a nice, boiling bath.

I was amazed by how much these pretzels puffed up in the water.

For half of my pretzels, I brushed them with egg wash and sprinkled them with coarse salt prior to baking.


The other half, I baked "naked" - without the egg wash or salt.

And as soon as they came out of the oven, I gave them the Auntie Anne's treatment - a generous brushing of melted butter...

And a delicious sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.

Double yum.

So, yeah - I had pretzels with dinner and for dessert that night. There's nothing wrong with that. Right?

And check out the crumb on these babies:

I'll say it again.


I can't wait to make these again.  And I really can't wait to see everyone else's results! So link up!!

D's Sourdough Pretzels
(from Sourdough Monkey Wrangler)

2/3 cup sourdough starter

1 cup warm water
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt
Topping(s) of choice (coarse salt, cinnamon sugar - whatever you want!)
(and an egg for egg wash for shine/to adhere toppings)

Mix starter, water, oil, sugar and salt. 

Mix in flours until you have a nice ball of dough (keep it soft though) (you might not need all four cups of flour).
Knead the dough until smooth and set aside to rise in a warm place (at least a few hours). You can refrigerate the dough overnight if you would like.
Punch dough down and roll it out into a big rectangle. Begin cutting off strips to work with as individual pretzels. Roll each strip into a "snake" and shape the pretzels your version of a knot (or whatever shape you want) and place them on parchment/waxed paper to rise. 
When fully risen (more or less doubled), lower each pretzel carefully into a large pot of boiling water with baking soda dissolved in it (at least 1/2 a cup per 4 quarts of water). Turn over after about a minute and boil for another minute. Remove with the biggest slotted spoon-like thing you have and place on a rack to drain. 
As the pretzels are boiling, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Brush each pretzel with egg-white wash and immediately sprinkle them generously with coarse salt. 
Bake for about 12-13 minutes.

(I left some of my pretzels without the egg wash prior to baking, then, hot out of the oven, I brushed those with melted butter and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar.)

These taste best fresh. You can store them in a zip top bag or other air-tight container for a couple of days.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

White Bean and Ham Soup

Once upon a time, like, before I had kids, I went to a party at a friend's house. It might have been a bridal shower... I can't remember... Anyway, it was a pot luck thing, where we all brought sides or desserts, and the hostess and her family provided a couple of main dish things. One of which was a ham. At the end of the event, my friend's mom came out with the ham bone and asked if anyone wanted it for soup.

Now, at that time, I had never had ham. Don't ask.

Also at that point, I didn't know how to make soup. Not from scratch, anyway.

So, needless to say, I had no idea what my friend's mom was talking about.

If I could rewind time and go back to that day, though, I'd throw my hand up and say "Right here!!" and make this simple, delicious soup.

Just take your leftover ham. Perhaps from Easter. Perhaps not.

Put it in your stock pot with lots of water and a beautiful sprinkling of Herbes de Provence.

Turn up the heat and let all of that simmer.

While that is doing its thing, prepare some mirepoix. The recipe called for carrot, celery, onion and garlic. In a weird twist of weirdness, I was out of garlic (I know! So weird!), so I substituted leek.

Oh, and plan ahead - soak some white beans. I set mine to soak the night before, but a couple of hours is plenty. 

Once the ham and herbs have simmered for an hour, add the beans and all those veggies to the pot and cook the whole thing for another hour or so.

The last step is to shred up the meat and discard the bone. But after that much simmering, that's a pretty easy task.

The result was a very hearty, very delicious soup that is a nice change of pace from the chicken-based soups we usually make.

So next time you're offered a ham bone, I hope you'll say yes - I know I will!!

White Bean and Ham Soup
(slightly adapted Simply Recipes)

1 lb of white beans - Cannellini or Great Northern - about 2 1/2 cups 
2 quarts of water
2-3 lbs of ham hocks or shanks, or leftover ham bone with meat still on it
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence (or Italian seasoning)
1 cup of diced onions (about 1 small onion)
1 cup chopped celery (about 2-3 ribs)
2/3 cup chopped carrots (about 1 medium carrot)
1 large leek, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley (for garnish, optional)

Place the beans in a pot and cover with clean, fresh water. Water should cover beans by at least 2 inches. Allow to soak overnight. Alternately, if you don't have as much time, fill a pot large enough to hold the beans with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the beans and soak the beans for about 2 hours. Drain the water.
Meanwhile, put the ham hocks or shanks in a large pot and cover with 2 quarts of water. Add the Herbes de Provence (or Italian seasoning). Bring to a simmer and simmer for about an hour. Add the chopped vegetables and beans. Cook for another hour, until the vegetables are soft and the ham meat easily pulls away from the bone. Pull the meat off the bone and discard the bones.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a pinch of chopped fresh parsley for garnish, if desired.


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