Minestrone Soup

So we had a bon voyage lunch for Allison (who’s moving to Florida) but we’re all so sick of food that I made a simple meal… baby arugula with lemon and parmesan, fried artichoke hearts, and Giada’s Winter Minestrone. Yum!
The minestrone was thick and excellent… I used the full 32oz. box of vegetable broth (instead of beef broth) and I didn’t use the pancetta (as this was being served to a veggie). It was excellent and with some grated pecorino romano it was perfect. Yum. Who knew Swiss Chard could be so delicious? The dark green and red in the chard leaves made it look wintry and wonderful.
Apparently true minestrone has no pasta in it… I loved it without the pasta, especially when Carolyn brought over yummy bread to dip in it.
I forgot to take a picture even though it looked so pretty in the pot. Oops. So I stole a picture from this guy’s blog since he made Giada’s recipe too.
Definitely a keeper. 🙂


White Bread

I’ve made a simple white bread from a 1970s Betty Crocker Breads book but it was super yeasty… I wanted to find a less yeasty bread for sandwiches (in the hope that I could make it weekly for our sandwiches).
I used the White Sandwich Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion (not the Guaranteed one from the website). It used special ingredients like Potato Flour and Dry Milk, but I had them in the house.
Apparently the trick to a brown top that is still soft is that once you take it out of the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes, then brush the top with butter.
It turned out just right, but I was almost a little disappointed that it tasted so much like white bread… I mean that it tasted like what I could buy in the store, not that smelly yeasty bread I made that felt home made. It was nice and smushy and I really liked it. It smells really good though.
You just can’t please some people. 🙂
We’ll see how it does with PB&J and cold cuts tomorrow.
NOTE: According to Chris, on day 2, the bread is a bit dense. I’ve stored in on the counter in tin foil.

Christmas Cookies!

Christmas is here! Two days of baking and I don’t want to see or smell another cookie, but they look great!
This Christmas I made 6 kinds of cookies and 1 almond cake (for Elaine’s for Christmas).
Giada’s Almond Cake is now a family favorite these past few years. We can’t have a Christmas at Chris’ Mom’s house without one. 🙂

Four of the recipes are our tried and true Christmas traditions:
Pignoli Cookies (from old Good Housekeeping cookie issue) – double batch
Russian Tea Cookies (Chris’ favorite and Mom’s secret recipe with pecans) – double batch

Seven Layer Cookies (Mom’s secret recipe) – double batch
Chocolate Chip Cookies (Tollhouse recipe minus nuts and with less butter) – double batch

Two others were new experiments:
Martha Stewart’s Oreo Cookies (from her cookie book) – double batch
Gale Gand’s Deep Chocolate Shortbread (with Splenda) – single batch

The Oreo cookies are a lot of work! They taste just like oreos in the end, but I have to come up with a simpler way to make them… also, the cream filling recipe made twice as much as I needed. Her recipe calls for way too much filling inside. It would just smoosh all over the place. I used the teaspon scoop (#40) but it was still too big once I flattened the cookies with a glass bottom. Maybe next time I’ll try to roll out that sticky dough and use a very small cookie cutter. NOTE: These oreos don’t last long… spoil quickly because of all of that butter and shortening.

The Deep Shortbread cookies were a good option for those who can’t have too much sugar. I cut the cookies into smallish squares (like a small post-it-note size) and it comes to 1 gram of sugar per cookie. Very deep chocolate taste, but even Chris liked them (he has an aversion to all artificial sweeteners) because the cocoa masks the usual Splenda aftertaste. No one but Pop liked these, but my family doesn’t like shortbread, so it’s a tough call.

I also found great accessories in Michael’s (I think they were Wilton products). Cookie Gift boxes and decorated parchment to line the tins… Much nicer looking than the usual waxed paper and already cut to size. One box of 50 was more than enough.

Date Bread (minus the nuts)

Nanny’s allergic to nuts and we couldn’t find a good date bread out there without them, so I found and tested a new recipe. It’s excellent; I found it on the Gourmet Magazine website.

Yum! It looked so weird and dark and rectangular when it came out of the oven, but it tasted perfect! Very moist – I made sure to make it a day ahead. Also, I took it out after 60 minutes and the toothpick came out clean and it had pulled away from the sides of the loaf pan. Once you take it out to cool, take it out of the pan after 10 min (still hot) to cool on a rack, then wrap it up in plastic wrap soon after to keep it moist.

I used dark brown sugar instead of light and one 8 oz bag of California pitted dates by Sunmaid. That was all Chris could find in the supermarket, and they worked just fine. Boy are they ugly. 🙂

Like They Serve in SoHo Date Nut Bread

3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (*of course I omitted this ingredient)

Heat oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, pour hot water over dates and butter. Stir and let the mix sit until lukewarm. In a food processor, puree 1/3 of the mix to make a paste. Stir it back into the bowl full of date mix. Add the brown sugar, molasses, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the date mixture. Mix. Pour the batter into a butter-greased loaf pan.

Bake for 60 minutes or so; loaf is done when the top has risen. Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Frittatas in muffin cups

I made Giada’s mini frittatas last year for our Christmas breakfast but was looking for something a little larger and less messy this year (they really stick to the pan).
I found a recipe online, and I made a number of changes. I made 2 dozen; one dozen with broccoli and cheddar, the other with diced ham and cheddar. It made too many for our party of 7, so next time I’ll just make 18.

Frittata Muffins

(Makes 24 muffins)

24 eggs
3/4 to 1 cup skim milk
1 cup shredded low fat cheddar
1 cup chopped broccoli, defrosted (for one batch)
1 cup diced deli ham
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F. Use regular muffin pan; spray pan with Pam, then put a paper liner into each slot, then spray liner with nonstick spray.

In the bottom of the muffin cups layer diced meat or vegetables, then cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. You want the muffin cups to be about 2/3 full, with just enough room to pour a little egg around the other ingredients. Break eggs into large measuring bowl with pour spout, add milk and beat well. Pour egg into each muffin cup until it is almost full. Stir slightly with a fork.
Put trays on cookie sheets to catch any over-spill (some egg spilled onto the bottom of the oven and burned and smelled awful!).

Bake 25-35 minutes until muffins have risen and are slightly browned and set.

Sugar Free Gingerbread Cookies

The first of the Christmas parties was today and I wanted to make some cookies for my favorite Pop!

Splenda Gingerbread Men

6 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
4 tsp. Ground Ginger
4 tsp. Cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. Ground Cloves
1 cup Unsalted Butter, softened
1 cup SPLENDA Granular
1 tsp. Salt
2 Eggs
1 cup Molasses
3 Tbsp. Water

Blend together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices in a large mixing bowl.

Cream butter, SPLENDA Granular and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the molasses and water. Stir well. Add the flour mixture and stir until well blended. Refrigerate dough 1-2 hours before rolling out and cutting into shapes.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Roll cookie dough out slightly less than 1/4 inch. Cut into desired shapes. Bake in preheated oven 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.

I cut the above recipe in half and it made about 20 large gingerbread men. I had never made gingerbread before, and it was hard to get the cut cookies off the marble board, but it was easier with a spatula covered in flour. The recipe calls for rolling them out to 1/4″ but I think the 1/8″ ones were better. I used store-bought icing, but in tiny doses it’s just fine and isn’t too much sugar.

The best part was letting Chris and the rest of our crazy bunch decorate them! I especially like the cyclops and the injured one with the bandaged head, foot and arm in a sling! 🙂