Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cheese Straws

This morning I woke up early, peeked at the outdoor thermometer and immediately headed for the kitchen. It was cool enough to bake, so I was going to take advantage of it! Last week I finished moving into the new Melt kitchen and I have been itching to bake, but temps have been in the 90's and have deterred me from breaking in my new "old" oven. My husband and I have been busily painting and unpacking, pounding nails to hang pictures and rearranging furniture to fit into our new space. Finally we are starting to feel settled. Louisiana is our new home. For now.

Since we are currently "southerners" I pulled out a southern cookbook and flipped to a bookmarked recipe. This cheese straw recipe caught my eye over Christmas and I have had it bookmarked ever since. It was a great choice.

Dede's Cheese Straws
Source: Bon App├ętit, Y'all by Virginia Willis
Prep: 10 minutes   Rest: 15 minutes   Bake: 20 minutes   Oven: 375 degrees F
Yield: 6 dozen

1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1/2     teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste
1/2     pound sharp Cheddar cheese, at room temperature, freshly grated
1/2     cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

Position the oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter 2 baking sheets.

To make the dough, in a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and cayenne. Set aside. In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth and well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

To shape the dough, work it in your hands; it should be soft and pliable (like Play-Doh). Shape the dough into a cylinder and pack it into a cookie press fitted with the serrated ribbon disk.

Holding the cookie press at an angle to one of the prepared baking sheets, press the trigger twice, dragging the press away to make a long straw the length of the baking sheet. Repeat until you've covered the sheet, spacing the ribbons of dough 1 inch apart. Using a butter knife, cut each ribbon into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Repeat with the remaining dough and the other baking sheet. (If your cookie press extrudes the dough in fits and spurts, simply pick up the dough and reuse.)

Bake the cheese straws, rotating the baking sheets once, until lightly browned on the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheets to a rack to cool slightly. Using an offset spatula, remove the individual cheese straws to cool completely.

Store the cheese straws at room temperature in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper. They will keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

Harmony's Thoughts
I used a hand mixture to mix this recipe together and it worked fine for me. Just make sure your ingredients are at room temperature.
When using the cookie press, I pressed the trigger a whole lot more than twice to fit the length of the cookie sheet. Start playing with it and you will get the hang of it!
One of the best things about this recipe is the storage time. You can make these way ahead of time and store them for more than one use. Great served as croutons with a salad!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coconut Celebration Cake

Last week, for my mother's birthday, I made a coconut celebration cake, served with vanilla coconut tea. Searching for inspiration for the perfect coconut cake, I quickly realized that I was going to have to combine some of my favorite recipes from different sources. This cake became the perfect celebration of a lightly coconut-flavored white cake, filled with a coconut pastry cream and frosted with a fluffy seven-minute frosting, all finished with toasted coconut pressed onto it's sides. 

If you have never made a pastry cream or seven-minute frosting before, this is the ideal recipe to practice on! Although it is a good amount of work, don't get discouraged. You could easily make the cake and pastry cream a day ahead to spread out the amount of work involved. This is a great spring-time cake that could be featured at an Easter dinner, a baby or wedding shower, or any other celebration.

Coconut Celebration Cake
Sources: Adapted from:
              White Cake - http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/tender-white-cake-recipe
              Pastry Cream - Great Pies and Tarts - Carole Walter
              Seven Minute Frosting - Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
Bake: 350 degrees F

2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 2/3 cups sugar (superfine sugar is best)
1       tablespoon baking powder
3/4    teaspoon salt
3/4    cup unsalted butter, softened
4       large eggs whites plus 1 whole large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4    cup cream of coconut

Pastry Cream:
1 1/4 cup whole milk
2        tablespoons sugar
3        large egg yolks
1        heaping tablespoon all purpose flour
1        tablespoon cornstarch
1/8     teaspoon salt
1        cup shredded sweetened coconut
1        cup cream of coconut

Seven Minute Frosting:
2        egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1        teaspoon light corn syrup
          pinch of cream of tartar
1/3    cup cold water
          dash salt
1/2    teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease, line with parchment and flour two 8 or 9 inch cake pans. Set aside. Mix all of the dry ingredients on slow speed to blend. Add the soft butter and mix until crumbly, like fine damp sand. It may form a paste, depending on the temperature of the butter, how much it's mixed, and granulation of the sugar used.

Add the egg whites one at a time, then the whole egg, beating well after each addition to begin building the structure of the cake. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk the coconut milk with the cream of coconut. Add this mixture, 1/3 at a time, to the batter. Beat 1 to 2 minutes after each addition, until fluffy. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes for 8" or 9" rounds. A toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean when done. Remove from the oven, remove from the pan, and cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

While the cake is baking, begin pastry cream. Place milk and 1 tablespoon of  sugar in a small saucepan. Stir to combine. Cook over low heat, without stirring, until the milk forms a skin on the surface. Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Whisk until smooth and thick. Whisk 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg yolks to temper them. Then pour the yolk mixture into the remaining milk, stirring constantly. Over low heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk until thickened, about 3-4 minutes. (You want the pastry cream very thick) Remove from heat and empty into a medium bowl. Stir in the cream of coconut and shredded coconut. Cover with plastic wrap and cool in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.

To assemble the cake: place one of the cake rounds (or hearts, squares, etc.) on your platter. Brush with any remaining cream of coconut and spread the pastry cream over the top of the cake. Top with the other cake round. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

To make the frosting, place all ingredients except coconut extract in the top of a double boiler or into a metal bowl over a saucepan of water (do not let the water touch the bowl). Beat for 30 seconds at a low speed to blend. Set at a medium high heat and begin to beat on high with a mixer. Cook, beating constantly, until frosting forms stiff peaks, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add coconut extract, beating about 1 more minute.

Frost the sides and top of cake. Toast 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut in a 425 degree F oven, for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press onto sides of cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Harmony's Thoughts
I used 2 tablespoons King Arthur cake enhancer in my white cake.
You can find cream of coconut in the drink mixer section of your grocery store. It is sold in a 12-15 oz. can.
Refrigerate leftovers.

Melt Update

There are seasons in our lives that are reflective and quiet, whether we are focused on a goal or trying to process a recent event. The past few months have been such a time in the Melt kitchen. I appreciate your patience with me in such a transitional time. My husband is just finishing his training, we are heading soon to Denver to begin out-processing  from our base and moving onto a new base and into a new adventure!

Currently, I am finishing the time well spent with my family and community of friends here in Pennsylvania and savoring last moments with them. I am incredibly blessed to have such dear parents and a best friend for a sister. The genuine friendships I share with those in this community have soothed my heart as I have missed my husband. These past few months are etched into the pages of my heart and I am grateful to have shared so much with so many.

More changes are coming in the next few months...my husband and I will be living in temporary housing (with no oven for baking) as we finish our time in Denver, we will be moving and looking for a new place to live, and then settling into a new community. Hopefully, I'll be able to share some recipes along the journey!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lobster Cakes

Many of you are asking for the Lobster Cake recipe that I made for the Christmas Tea Party.  I made a few changes to make these smaller than the original recipe stated by using a mini muffin pan instead of a mini cheesecake pan. Use either pan, they are wonderful both ways!

Lobster Cheesecakes
Source: Tea Time Magazine ~ November/December 2011
Prep: 30 minutes   Cook: 5 minutes   Bake: 24 minutes   Oven: 350 degrees F
Yield: 2 dozen mini cheesecakes (or 40 mini muffin size cakes)

2     cups finely crumbled round buttery crackers
1     cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
6     tablespoons butter, melted
1     large egg white
2     tablespoons butter
1/2  cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4  cup finely chopped green onion
3    (6 oz.) lobster tails, cooked, meat removed and finely chopped
2     tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/4  teaspoon ground black pepper
2     (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
2     large egg yolks
Garnish: fresh dill

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine cracker crumbs, Parmesan cheese, melted butter, and egg white, stirring to mix well. Press into bottom and halfway up sides of wells of 2 (12-well) mini cheesecake pans. Bake for 6 minutes.

In a medium skillet, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add bell pepper and green onion. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add lobster, dill, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl combine cream cheese and egg yolks. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add lobster mixture to cream cheese mixture, stirring to combine. Divide mixture evenly among baked crusts.

Bake until set, 16-18 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from pans. Garnish with fresh dill, if desired.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Tea Party ~ Christmas Cheeseball

The most rewarding part of cooking and baking for me is sharing food with others. I love the looks of anticipation, raised eyebrows, savor of a first bite and smile as my friends and family try some new or repeat recipe out of the Melt kitchen. The past few weeks I had the opportunity to cater a Christmas Tea hosted by my mother for her church friends...in total about 60 ladies over two different weekends.

My perspective from the kitchen allowed me to visit with just about everyone, but simultaneously watch beautiful expressions of shared friendship, warm embraces and holiday joy on familiar dear faces. More than once, my eyes filled with tears and heart overflowed with the beauty of friends gathering and enjoying shared time together.

Lobster Cakes

I am sharing the menu, a few photo's of the food and a quick Christmas cheese ball recipe. The cheese ball recipe is one my mom has made for years...I just added some diced pimentos, water chestnuts and changed the nut from almonds to walnuts.

Christmas Tea Party Menu
3 Layer Sandwiches (Egg Salad, Ham Pate and Vegetable Cream Cheese)
Cucumber Christmas Tree Sandwiches
Cucumber Christmas Tree Sandwiches
Chicken Salad Puffs
Lobster Cakes
Christmas Cheeseballs and Assorted Crackers
Stuffed Tomatoes
Carrots and Celery with Ranch
Gingerbread Scones with Spiced Cream
Pistachio Cranberry Scones with Orange Cream

Fruitcake Tea Bread
Pineapple Carrot Cake
Spritz Cookies
Millionaire Shortbread
Red Velvet Cake Pops
Peppermint Bark

Orange Spice Tea
Vanilla Tea
Tea-based Christmas Wassail

Christmas Cheeseball 
Source: adapted from my Mom

1    pkg Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Dry Powder (milk recipe)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
8    ounces cream cheese, softened
8    ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4    ounces diced pimentos
8    ounces sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped finely
5    ounces walnuts, toasted and finely chopped

Mix dressing, mayonnaise, milk and cream cheese until well blended. Add cheddar cheese, pimentos and water chestnuts. Cover and freeze for 30 minutes. Shape into a ball and roll in the toasted walnuts. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Harmony's Thoughts
I rolled these into individual cheese balls using the same method. 

Red Velvet Cake Pops

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pumpkin Cheese Bread

Today was a beautiful winter day here in central Pennsylvania. Cold and crisp with lots of sunshine. I trudged the hills with my dog Max and my sisters dog Bailey. It was a welcome break from baking and prepping ingredients the rest of the day (I am catering a Christmas tea this weekend for about 40 ladies). 

As I explored and refreshed my mind with a walk, I was struck by how busy our lifestyles are this time of year. I know it is important to send Christmas cards, buy gifts, bake those Christmas cookies and entertain friends, but often we miss out on the enjoyment of these things because we scurry to the next task on our list. In the midst of "making your list and checking it twice," take one step back to soak in the moment and cherish those around you.

Now that I shared my thoughts, I want to share an amazing recipe from a new cookbook I recently purchased. This pumpkin cheese bread intrigued me as soon as I turned to its page. I knew it was either going to be terrible or terrific, and I took a risk, mixed up a batch and served it along side the soup and salad course for Thanksgiving dinner. The "big" risk equaled big reward! It was the highlight of our meal! 

If you have a can of pumpkin and some sharp cheddar cheese in your kitchen...go make this! If you don't have the ingredients, pull on your old sweats and go get them.......now that your back.....make this bread! Get the point?? Make this bread!!! :) The dough does have to be refrigerated overnight, but the recipe is incredibly simple. I ate this warm out of the oven, toasted for breakfast and (shhhh...) as a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Pumpkin Cheese Bread
Source: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Prep: 15 minutes    Let Stand: Overnight    Rise: 1 hour   Bake: 50 minutes   Oven: 375 degrees F

3 1/2   cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1         tablespoon light brown sugar
2 1/4   teaspoons rapid rise yeast (1 envelope)
1 1/4   teaspoons salt
1/8      teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4      cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1         cup shredded medium or sharp cheddar cheese
1         tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1         large egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt and cayenne. Add 1 cup water, the pumpkin and cheese and mix until well combined. The dough will be slightly sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it forms a smooth ball. (Add flour as needed) Sprinkle a large bowl with flour and add the ball of dough, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day take the dough out of the refrigerator, transfer to a lightly floured work surface and flatten the dough to a rough rectangle with your hands. Use the butter to coat a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Roll the dough up into a cylindrical shape and place seam-side down in the loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let rise at room temperature for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until almost doubled in volume.

Meanwhile, when the dough has risen for 35 minutes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Slash the loaf down the center with a sharp knife. Brush the loaf with the egg-water wash. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Turn the bread out of the pan and onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Harmony's Thoughts
I used about 1 1/2 cups of extra sharp cheddar cheese.
I did not bother with the egg wash and just used regular yeast, not rapid rise.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Apple Dumplings

We all struggle with showing our true selves to each other. I believe it is a very human trait to attempt to project an image of ourselves that we want others to believe is who we are. And although sometimes the censorship is appreciated, I believe that we typically take ourselves too seriously. Working towards complete honesty while continuing to protect my privacy on this blog is a delicate balance. I do not feel the need to share each detail of my life, or even everything that I eat and cook. Where I strive to be very honest is in the passion I have for cooking and the person I am when I step into my kitchen (or any kitchen). My desire is to be helpful, to inspire and learn while sharing with you. 

So I have a confession to make :) Saturday I made home made puff pastry. At the risk of my readers not being interested in making their own puff pastry and considering me to be a food snob, I quickly decided that I would not share my experience through the process and began making apple dumplings to feature on the blog instead. But as I considered my decision I came to the realization above. I was making a choice to hide my first experiment with puff pastry when I had such an excitement and passion to explore a laminated dough. It might make me a bit of a food snob to want to make my own, but that is who I am. 

Currently I do not have the photos of the process and am not sure if I will share the recipe, but I at least wanted to share my excitement as I tackled the huge undertaking of creating a laminated dough like puff pastry and the pride I felt when the whole project (that took all day to complete) was finished successfully!

Although the apple dumplings made for dessert are much more homey and basic then a puff pastry, they were a huge hit with my family and me. Taking inspiration from a baked apple, I chose to fill the cores of the apples with a mixture of currants, walnuts and spices. Hopefully you will take the time to try this delicious recipe and be reminded to open yourself up and be honest with others when sharing who you are.

Apple Dumplings
Source: Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (published 1976)
Prep: 20 minutes   Bake: 40 minutes   Oven: 375 degrees F   Servings: Makes 6

2       cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4    teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4    teaspoon ground nutmeg
8       drops red food coloring
1/4    cup butter
2       cups flour
2       teaspoons baking powder
1       teaspoon salt
3/4    cup shortening
1/2    cup milk
6       small, whole apples pared and cored

For syrup, mix first 5 ingredients; cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add butter.

Sift together dry ingredients; cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once; stir just till flour is moistened. On lightly floured surface, roll to 18x12-inch rectangle.

Cut in six 6-inch squares. Place apple on each. Sprinkle apples generously with additional sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; dot with additional butter. Moisten edges of pastry. Bring corners to center and pinch edges together. Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Pour syrup over dumplings. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

Harmony's Thoughts
I omitted the red food coloring.
I filled the cores of the apples with a mixture of 1/3 cup currants (you could use chopped raisins as well), 1/3 cup walnuts, 1/2 teaspoon rum flavoring, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Divide evenly among the 6 apple cores.
The recipe was vague on how much additional sugar, so I measured about 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg for each apple. Along with 1 small dot of butter.