Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chai Tea

I can't believe that 2013 is almost over. Overall, this has been a pretty good year.  But right now, during these last couple of weeks of the year, it's the perfect time to settle in, enjoy some time with family, and snuggle up with a nice, hot drink.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I posted these chai spiced scones? I ground up way more cardamom than I needed. On purpose. because I knew that once I tasted those scones, I'd want more chai.

So the first thing I did was make a chai spice mix, called chai masala, using a delicious, spicy and tangy combination of spices.

The best part about the chai masala is that, even though that doesn't look like a lot in that jar, that is enough to last quite a while, because a little goes quite a long way.

Oh, and I'll take this oppotunity to say that both the chai masala recipe and the tea recipe using it come from the amazing Manu's Menu. If you haven't checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and head over there now. I mean... after reading this... or open it in another tab... but it's well worth reading. And adding to your blogroll. And reading again. Aside from being an amazingly talented and inspired cook and baker, Manu happens to also be a super sweet, very nice and beautiful person, inside and out.

So back to the chai...

Once I saw the chai recipe, I knew I had to try it.  Chai actually has a special place in my heart. When I was young and unsure about the direction of my life, I worked for one of those big bookstores. You know, the kind with a coffee shop right inside.  My favorite treat while I was there was the chai latte. The people who ran the cafe knew this. And when training new cafe employees, the always called me up to "test" how well the newbies made their chai. Ah, the perks of being the manager overseeing the training in a big bookstore...

Back to the point. Again.  Once I saw this recipe, I was very excited. Because it would be very nice to be able to make chai with ingredients I always have on hand, rather than needing to buy the pre-made powder or liquid concentrate.

And this was actually really easy to make!  Simply bring milk, water, sugar and a bit of the chai masala to a boil...

...then add a couple of tea bags (loose-leaf tea highly encouraged here... I just don't have any...) and let it boil for a few minutes more.

And, seriously, that's it.  Strain (if using loose tea) and serve and you have a delicious, sweet, spicy mug of warm goodness.

No joke, this puts the powder and concentrates to shame.  I will not be going back to those.  This drink definitely has a kick to it, but in a good way.  And the best part is that I have comoplete control over the ingredients and thus the flavor. So if you like yours a little sweeter or with a  bit more spice, you can totally make it work for you.

This is a fantastic treat to warm you on a cool winter night, and is the perfect beverage to keep you toasty while thinking back on a fun, delicious year.

Chai Tea
(from Manu's Menu)

Chai Masala:
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Place all ingredients into a small bowl or jar. Mix until well combined.
Store in an airtight container or glass jar.

Chai Tea:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk (I used coconut milk)
4 to 5 teaspoons sugar (I like mine sweeter, so I use 5 teaspoons)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chai masala
2 teaspoons tea leaves (I used two tea bags)

Put the water, milk, chai masala and sugar into a medium saucepan. Stir together and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the tea leaves (or tea bags) and stir again. Let it simmer over low heat for a couple of minutes.
Turn the burner off, cover and let it steep for a couple of minutes.
Strain the mixture (especially if you used tea leaves) and serve hot.
(note: no specific times for how long to boil, simmer and steep this tea - you will find what works best for how strong you like your flavors)


Friday, December 27, 2013

December Daring Bakers' Challenge - Whoopie Pies

Happy holidays and HOLY COW can you believe that it's the end of another year??

The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

I was so excited to see this month's challenge. Despite living not so far away from Amish country, where whoopie pies are everywhere to be found, I have never had one, much less made them. But I have always wanted to. So this challenge was the perfect push I needed to finally make some whoopie! Pies. Ahem.

A whoopie pie, for anyone unfamiliar, is essentially a sandwich cookie, but the "cookies" are more cake-like than cookie like, and the filling is usually a soft, fluffy cream. The "traditional" whoopie pie is made with chocolate cakes and a marshmallow cream filling.

For my whoopie pies, I only went half traditional.  With the chocolate cakes.

The batter comes together super easily.

And is scooped pretty free-form onto a parchment covered cookie sheet.

The recipe calls for these to be pretty big, with each scoop consisting of 1/4 cup of batter. That just sounded huge to me, so I went with a smaller option, making single tablespoon sized scoops.

Perfect cakey goodness. (Seriously - they feel and taste like cupcake tops. You know, if you just cut the rounded top off of a chocolate cupcake.)

For the filling, I went non-traditional. Because of little man's egg and dair allergies, traditional cream fillings are a no-no. So instead I made a vegan (aka: allergen free) chocolate chip cookie dough filling. Yup. Chocolate-choclate chip cookie dough whoopie pies.

I didn't get too many pictures of making the filling of assembling the finished pies because I had a few people clamoring for a taste.

Oh. My. Gosh. These were outstanding. And very rich. I am super glad that I went with the smaller sized cookies, because these are decadently rich and filling. Little miss and I actually had to share one for dessert. And that should tell you something!

The next day, however, they made the perfect after school snack.

I have so many other flavor combinations I want to try now, with different flavor cakes and fillings - you can make themed whoopie pies for every season and never repeat yourself! 

Bourbonnatrix, thank you so much for th epush I needed to make these amazing little treats.

To see the full challenge as presented to us this month, you can check it out here.

And to see the other delicious whoopie pies baked up in the kitchen this month, you can check those out here.

Whoopie Pies

For the cakes:
(from the challenge)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon espresso coffee powder, optional (I omitted, but added a sprinkling of cinnamon instead)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, espresso coffee powder (if using - I added the cinnamon here), baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Add the egg, again beating until smooth.
Add the cocoa, stirring to combine.
Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.
Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they'll spread. A muffin scoop works well here. Alternately, you can make smaller ones, as I did, using a 1 tablespoon measure to scoop and shape your cakes.
Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, until they're set and firm to the touch. For the smaller sized cakes, check them at about 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

For the filling:
(from dieTTaste)

1 cup flour
1/4 cup butter or suitable substitute (I used coconut oil)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/4 cup milk of choice (I used coconut milk)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Place flour in a non-stick pan and heat, stirring constantly, until it starts changing color. Immediately transfer to another bowl because, if you live it in the pan, the flour will continue cooking and it could easily burn.
Add butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and salt and mix to combine. 
Let cool to room temperature. 
Gradually add milk until you get the consistency that you like. 
Stir in chocolate chips. 

To assemble the whoopie pies:
Spread or pipe the prepared filling onto the flat side of half the cakes. Top with the remaining cakes, flat side towards the filling. Wrap individually, in plastic wrap, until ready to serve.

Friday, December 20, 2013

December Sourdough Surprises - Sourdough Popovers

Over the last year and a half, Sourdough Surprises has had some pretty cool challenges. Some have been difficult, most have been delicious, and all of them have completely opened my eyes to quite how versitile sourdough can be.

This month's Sourdough Surprises had us making something that I have never made before, sourdough or not. Popovers. I remember eating popvers as a child, but back then, we had a popover pan.  And I kinda thought you needed one. I mean, it's called a popover pan. 

I lerned over the years that you don't actually need the pan, but, somehow, I still never made popovers.

Until now.

And now I can't stop making them.

The batter comes together so quickly that I don't have photos.  A few ingredients. a quick stir, then into a preheated muffin tin. Or popover pan, if you are so inclined.

And then, magic happens.

They really popped!

And they were delicious!

Light and airy, these are the perfect little rolls for anything... breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack - any time.  My favorite way to eat them was with jam.

I think the family approved.

So how were your popovers? Link up and share!

Sourdough Popovers
(from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sourdough starter, fed or unfed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. While the oven is preheating, place a muffin pan in the oven to heat as well.
In the microwave or in a small saucepan, warm the milk until it feels just slightly warm to the touch.
Combine the warm milk with the eggs, sourdough starter and salt, then mix in the flour. Don't over-mix; a few small lumps are OK. The batter should be thinner than a pancake batter.
Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray, or brush it generously with oil or melted butter. Quickly pour the batter into the cups, filling them almost to the top. If you're using a muffin tin, fill cups all the way to the top. Space the popovers around so there are empty cups among the full ones; this leaves more room for expansion.
Bake the popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until popovers are golden brown.
Remove the popovers from the oven and serve immediately.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Chai Spiced Scones

I was so excited to receive my Secret Recipe Club assignment this month.  I was assigned to The Bitchin' Kitchen, a blog that I drool over every single month on our groups posting day.  Needless to say, I went right over and started going through all of the awesome recipes that have been tempting me for months.

I actually kind of wanted to make... oh... everything she has made. But I quickly found one recipe that just begged me to be made right away - Chai Spiced Scones.  I love the warm, sweet, spicy flavor of chai, and it has always been a big treat for me. And even just reading the recipes, I knew that these would be delicious.

The hardest part of the process was the spice mix. Which was only hard because I don't have ground cardamom. All I have is whole cardamom pods.  It's not actually difficult to prepare the ground spice, but it is pretty time consuming.

Little man helped me with this. I cracked each pod, he helped me remove the seeds from inside the green pods...

...and once we had a good amount, I ground it all in my mini-blender.

As I said, not actually hard, just time consuming. But our hands smelled delicious afterwards.

Anyway, once that was done, making the scones was a snap. Even though the recipe didn't call for it, I decided to make the scone dough in my new food processor. Because I can.

The spices looked so cool all lined up.  And within a couple of minutes, the dough was ready!

I then carefully shaped the dough into a big circle, dusted the top with sugar and cut it into wedges.

And they baked up beautifully. And smelled even better than our cardamom hands.

Little man and I loved these. Little miss... well... she doesn't seem to be a cardamom fan, and claimed that these were "too cardamom-y" for her.

These really do pack all of the spicy, delicious goodness of a chai latte, and make a perfect breakfast or afternoon treat.

And, Ellie, thank you for your awesome blog. I will definitely be trying many more of your delicious recipes!!

Chai Spiced Scones
(from The Bitchin' Kitchen)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar plus extra for topping the scones
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
5 tablespoons cold butter
1/4 cup milk (I used coconut milk beverage)
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom. Whisk together until all the dry ingredients are incorporated evenly. I did this in my food processor, just pulsing a couple of times to incorporate the dry ingredients.
Cut the cold butter into chunks and add it to the dry ingredients.  Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until the flour has a grainy appearance. Again, this just took a few pulses of the food processor.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture.  Stir everything together until it forms one lump of very moist dough.  If the dough is still crumbly and flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, add a small amount of water (about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon) to make the dough come together. A few more pulses of the food processor brought the dough together no problem, though I did need to add about half a tablespoon of extra water.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and shape it into one flat disc, about 1-inch thick.  (Shape the dough into two flat discs if you are making mini scones.)
Sprinkle the top of the dough with the extra sugar.
Cut the disc(s) into 8 wedge-shaped pieces.
Place the wedges on the baking sheet.  Bake the scones for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

December Daring Cooks' Challenge - Cabbage Rolls

December’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling!

Would you believe that I'd never made cabbage rolls before?

Actually, I'd never even eaten one before. For some reason, I thought I wouldn't like them.

Enter this month's challenge and let me tell you, I was totally wrong!

Our hostess provided us with several recipes, but I decided to go for the classic meat version.  They were pretty easy to make, but it did require a little bit of time and planning.

I started out preparing the filling. While I set some rice to par-cook in a pot, I sauteed some onions and carrots in a pan.

Once the veggies cooles, I added them to a combination of ground beef and ground pork, along with some more chopped onion.

Then I added in the half-cooked (and cooled!) rice...

...and mixed it all together.

I covered the filling mix with plastic wrap, set it in the fridge, washed all of the dishes, then picked little miss up from school.

And then came the interesting part - putting them together!

Olga provided us with an interesting way of breaking down the cabbage for its leaves. Rather than separating the leaves and then blanching them (to soften them for easier rolling), she had us blanch the whole cabbage first.

Then, once the whole things was a bit softened up, the leaves are easier to pull off!

Then it's just a matter of putting a good scoop of filling at the bottom of each leaf...

...and rolling them up!

Once my tray was all filled up...

I was ready for the final element - a quick tomato sauce.

And after a little more than an hour covered in the oven, I was delighted by the sight and smell of these little beauties.

I have never been happier to have been wrong in my entire life. These were so delicious, I have no idea what I must have been thinking to never have tried these before.

And the whole family enjoyed them, too.

These are perfect comfort food, and I know I'll be making them many more times in the future.

Olga, thank you so much for this challenge and for being such a wonderful hostess.

To see the full challenge as it was presented this month, check it out here.

And to see the deliciousness cooked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.

Cabbage Rolls
(only very slightly adapted the December Daring Cooks' Challenge)

1 green cabbage
4 cups of ground pork (I used one pound)
4 cups of ground beef (I used a pound and a half)
1 cups dry rice
2 yellow onions, medium size
2 carrots, medium size
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 garlic cloves
4 cups tomato puree
1½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)
3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 bay leaves (I omitted)

Pre-cook rice:
In a large pot, bring about 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil.
Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes.
Drain the rice using a colander and set aside.

Making Stuffing:
Finely chop one onion. Using a coarse grater, grate the carrots. With 3 tablespoons of olive oil, in a skillet, cook the chopped onion and grated carrots for about 5 minutes, just until soft. Allow to cool.
Chop the other onion.
In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, the cooked onion and carrots, the raw onion and the cooled par-cooked rice. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper and combine everything (by hand) until you have a uniform mixture.

Pre-cook cabbage and prepare cabbage leaves:
Using a large chef’s knife, remove core of the cabbage. Please be careful doing this. You don't have to cut out too much.
To determine how much water exactly you will need to cook the whole cabbage, place your cabbage in a large pot and pour in enough cold water to cover the whole cabbage entirely. Remove cabbage from the water now place the pot with the water in it on the stove top.
Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Stick grill fork firmly into the cored center part of the cabbage and carefully place your cabbage into the boiling water, cored-side up. Be cautious not to splash the hot water!
Let the cabbage cook for about 5 minutes. During the entire process of cooking the cabbage and separating leaves keep heat on its lowest setting so as to have the water barely boiling or near the boiling point.
To separate the leaves, you can keep the cabbage in the pot at all times and use a long-handled grilling fork, sticking it into the core of the cabbage and using a regular fork or tongs to separate and remove the leaves, one by one, then transferring them onto a large plate. To separate the leaves right in the pot, pick a leaf at its thickest end and lift cabbage with your grill fork just a little bit, so as to release the bottom part of the leaf. While the whole process seems intimidating, it’s actually easy and even fun to do. Just be careful and keep the water barely simmering (or just below boiling point). After the first couple of leaves, you'll find your rhythm and it works really nicely.
When leaves are cool enough to handle, cut off the tough ribs on each leaf. Now, the leaves are ready for filling.

Rolling Cabbage Leaves:
Place about one heaping tablespoon of stuffing on a cabbage leave, closer to the tough edge. Roll leaf, envelop-style, tucking sides inside. (I folded the  bottom up, then folded each of the sides in, then rolled it up. It really does follow the shape of the leaf, and goes quite quickly.)
Place rolls, seam side down, into a oven proof dish.
Continue stuffing until you run out of leaves or stuffing. I had about twice as much stuffing as I needed for the number of leaves I had, so I rolled the extra stuffing into regular meatballs and cooked them (in a separate baking dish) the same way as the wrapped ones.

Making sauce and finishing cooking cabbage rolls:
Finely mince garlic. Take a large pan and, using the remaining olive oil, cook garlic for one minute, stirring.
Add tomato puree. Cook, stirring for another minute and then add enough water to have about 8 cups of sauce. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.
Season sauce with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, bay leaves (if using) and about 3 tablespoons of sugar (adjust sugar depending on acidity of your tomato puree). Taste and adjust seasoning. Sauce shouldn’t be bland – remember that the cabbage leaves are not salted.
Pour sauce on top of the cabbage rolls. It should almost completely cover the rolls. If there is not enough sauce, add water right into the pot with the cabbage rolls.

Tightly cover baking dish with foil and cook in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 1½ hours.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Easy Brioche

Last week, a package was delivered to my door.

I was not expecting a package, so this was quite a surprise.

I was even more surprised when I opened it. My friend  had sent me a present. A culmination of birthdays and Christmases and any other occasion you can think of, I think. 

I am now the (very) proud owner of a beautiful food processor.

This is a very good friend who knows me very well. And is very thoughtful. And is truly appreciated.

After thanking my friend profusely, I immediately started to search for what recipes I could now make! Holy smokes, there is so much that you can do in a food processor. Seriously, I have so many recipes bookmarked and pinned right now...

But the recipe that caught my eye as a must try was for brioche. Because... brioche? In a food processor? And the recipe says it's easy?? How in the world can that not be tried as soon as possible??

And, believe it or not, it really is easy to make!!

Aside from dissolving the yeast into some warm milk, absolutely everything about this dough is prepared right in the food processor.

And the resulting dough is beautifully soft, smooth and very sticky.

You don't even have to move the dough to let it rise! Just keep the lid on the machine and let it sit!! I couldn't believe that worked!

Now, you may remember that little miss's favorite part about baking bread is punching down the dough after it's risen. She even loves doing that with the food processor version of bread dough.

Yup! Just give it a quick pulse and it's ready to go!  Just turn the dough out onto a floured work surface (but be careful of the dough blade that gets stuck in there!! See it??)...

...and start shaping balls of dough.

The dough balls are placed into prepared loaf pans, where they rise once more...

...and that's it! Pop them into the oven for a mere 15 minutes, and you have...

...absolutely beautiful, golden, wonderful-smelling brioche bread!

And it really feels and tastes like brioche, too - a deliciously rich, smooth crumb that practically melts in your mouth with each bite.

Now I totally want to try this dough for cinnamon buns. I bet those would be delicious!!

And, in case you're wondering, I've used the food processor probably a dozen times already. In a week. I have plenty more food processor recipes to share. Because I'm totally addicted to using it.

I am a very lucky girl. 

As for this amazing friend of mine? You know who you are. You know I love you!

Easy Brioche
(from sophistimom)

1/4 cup warm milk (about 100-110 degrees)
1 package (or 1 tablespoon) instant dry yeast (I used active-dry)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
4 eggs, cold from the refrigerator, plus one for egg wash

Dissolve yeast in the milk. Fit the food processor with the dough blade (This is usually the one with shorter, blunter blades). Place 1 cup of the flour, the yeast and milk mixture, salt, sugar, and butter into the food processor. Pulse a few times until it looks mostly incorporated - it will look like a crumble topping for a pie.
With the processor on, use the feed tube to add the remaining flour and each of the eggs, one at a time. Process the mixture until the dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the power off, and let the dough rise in the food processor for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size. 
Pulse the dough a time or two to “punch it down.”
Grease two 9×5″ loaf pans. 
Take the dough and divide it into 16 equal parts. Roll each section of dough into a small ball and line the bottom of each loaf pan with 8 balls of dough. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush lightly with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water), if desired. Bake for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven. Place pan on its side on a cooling rack for cooling, then remove when you feel like you’ve waited long enough, about 3-4 minutes. Serve warm.
* To make individual brioches, butter 16-20 brioche molds, or line a muffin tin with paper liners. Follow the same baking instructions as above, but reduce cooking time to 12-14 minutes.

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