Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Butter Spritz Cookies

Last year I acquired my Great Aunt Geral's cookie press.  I hadn't used it all year so I was determined to give it a try for Christmas.  Looking at the assortment of dies that came along with the press, the Christmas tree was the obvious choice.

Take a look at some of these options though:  dog, camel, butterfly, clover, spade?  What would you ever use a camel for?!  Where are the Christmas dies I would have thought were included with the cookie press like the wreath and the snowflake?  At least the heart and clover give me an excuse to whip up some spritz cookies for other holidays.  I think the two oddball tips in the top left are for frosting.

I was a little nervous to try spritz cookies because of the bad experience using a different cookie press a few years ago.  I am happy to report that I didn't have any trouble this time around.  I don't know if it was the cookie press, the recipe, the temperature of the dough or having perfect conditions all around, but getting the dough out of the press and onto the baking sheet was a breeze. And there was minimal dough pushed behind the inside plate (which was the major problem I had when I tried that other cookie press).

When I was making these cookies, Kevin said he didn't like spritz cookies, but it turns out he likes these ones.  He can't keep his hands off them!  It turns out that these are my dad's favorite Christmas cookie (they remind him of his childhood).  I had no idea!  Needless to say spritz cookies will be added to my holiday must-bake list.

Butter Spritz Cookies
Adapted from Emily at Sugar Plum
Yield: Emily says 4 dozen, but I got about 6 dozen small cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (this is very important!)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
Food coloring
Colored sugar or sprinkles (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar and vanilla extract until creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg and desired amount of food coloring until combined. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Put on your die of choice, then fill the cookie press with dough.  Form* the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle your garnish on the cookies if using.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set. Cool 1-2 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

* The cookie press I have uses a method where you turn the knob at the end, other types of presses use a trigger method.  For my particular model, I had to turn the knob about a quarter turn, then lift up for smaller cookies.  It seems that most cookies presses available today are the trigger type.  Use one crank for smaller cookies and 2-3 cranks for larger cookies.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Smoky Corn Chowder

The past few months I've really started getting into soups, but this is one soup I've been making since the February 2008 issue of Real Simple magazine.  It's delicious and so darn quick and easy.  All of the ingredients are already in my kitchen except the half and half, but in a pinch you could substitute milk. 

This soup is great as an entree with some good bread and a salad.  I have also served the Smoky Corn Chowder in a shot glass (or other small vessel) as an amuse-bouche before the meal.

Smoky Corn Chowder
Yield: 2 quarts

8 oz sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp cumin 
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen corn
1 cup half and half
4 scallions (optional)
1 baguette (optional)

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 6 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings.  Return the pan to medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the garlic, paprika, red pepper, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Stir in the corn, broth, and half and half and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a blender (in small batches) and puree until smooth.  Return to the pot and taste; adjust seasoning if needed. 

Divide the soup among bowls and top with the scallions and bacon.  Serve with bread, if desired.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mushroom Risotto

This mushroom risotto is creamy, earthy and delicious.  It's the perfect side dish or entree to warm you up on these cold winter days.

Don't be scared of making risotto, it's not the huge labor of love people make it out to be.  You can either make it the more traditional way (adding small amounts of stock at a time) or the easy way (dump the stock all at once).  It does take about 20 minutes for each method, but it's not all active work.  You can prep something else, while keeping your eye on the risotto.  I definitely recommend you try this recipe. 

A word of the wise when making risotto: make sure the stock is hot.  If it's not hot, you'll slow down the cooking process and your risotto will take longer to finish.

Mushroom Risotto
Adapted from Simply Recipes

4 Tbsp (half stick) butter
2 cups mixed mushroom varieties (such as white button, shiitake, chanterelle, or portabello mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into half inch to inch pieces)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup shallots, minced (can substitute onion)
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes (if using chanterelles, dry sauté first for a minute or two and let the mushrooms cook in their own juices before adding the butter). Add white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce liquid by half, about 3-4 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add cream, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan.

In a deep, heavy, medium sized saucepan, heat oil and remaining butter on medium low. Add shallots or onions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with butter and oil. 

Adding Stock Method 1:  Add simmering stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring enough to keep the rice from sticking to the edges of the pan. Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. This process will take about 20 minutes. The rice should be just cooked and slightly chewy.

Adding Stock Method 2:  Dump all the simmering stock into the rice mixture all at once, stirring occasionally to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  This process will take about 20 minutes. The rice should be just cooked and slightly chewy.

Stir in the mushroom mixture and the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with parsley (if using). 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Casserole

This dish was all about leftovers.  I had leftover ham and rice in the fridge and I needed something that would give us leftovers for the rest of the week.  This casserole certainly did the trick, and it tasted great too.

Jacques Pepin taught me a trick about broccoli.  When you buy it fresh, don't throw away the stalk.  Just peel or cut off the rough outside skin of the stalk to expose the insides.  Once cooked, the tender stalk pieces are my favorite part of the broccoli (and Jacques')!

Broccoli Cheese Casserole
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Yield: 6 servings

1 pound fresh broccoli (about 4 cups), chopped
Salt for blanching water
2 cups cooked ham, chopped
1 cup cooked rice
1/3 cup flour
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cream
1 cup milk
2 to 3 tsp of freshly cracked black pepper (1 to 2 teaspoons if using fine ground black pepper)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Dijon mustard
8 oz cheddar cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 Tbsp salt for 2 quarts of water). Add the broccoli and boil for 3-5 minutes or until just tender enough so that a fork can easily pierce the floret, but still firm. Strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

While the water in step one is coming to a boil, cook the bacon pieces on medium heat in a frying pan until lightly browned, but not crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess fat. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425. Butter a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. In a bowl, whisk the eggs into the flour, then whisk in the cream and milk. Add the black pepper (more or less to taste), salt, and mustard. Mix in about a third of the cheese.

Place the parboiled broccoli florets in the casserole dish, sprinkling about a third of the cheese over the broccoli as you lay them down. Sprinkle the ham and rice over the broccoli. Pour the egg, cream, milk, cheese mixture over the broccoli, moving the broccoli pieces a bit so that the mixture gets into all the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle the casserole with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 25-40 minutes, or until set. Once the top has browned, you may want to tent with aluminum foil to keep from burning.