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Friday, February 29, 2008

Loafing Around With Julia

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Well, here I am for my third Daring Baker Challenge and no plague, infestation or other calamity has befallen me yet! Unless, that is, you count the big chunk of my living room ceiling that fell in a few weeks ago, during an particularly strong thunderstorm. But, you know what? I'm not even going to go there. It's a beautiful day and I have some gorgeous fresh bread loafing around on my kitchen counter, the heady aroma of which is still wafting through the house, making me swoon. Life is good.

The theme for this month's DB challenge is Julia Child's French Bread from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2. Mary (the Breadchick) from The Sour Dough and Sara from I Like to Cook are our hosts this month. I have to start off by giving them both a BIG THANK YOU for hosting this month's challenge. It is obvious that they put an enormous amount of time and effort into selecting and fine tuning the recipe, so that even a doughaphobic bread baker like me, could follow it.

When I first took a look at the recipe, I almost died! It was about 18 pages long! I just knew that at the end of the day, instead of tasting delicious french bread, I would be tasting defeat. I tried not to get discouraged and sat down to see if I could disect the recipe a little. I'm so glad I did. While the recipe itself is pretty darn long, there was a substantial number of very important and helpful editorial comments by Mary and Sara, which probably made up a good portion of the total page count. (Thank God for those comments!) Once I extrapolated the actual recipe from the commentary, it seemed much more manageable to me. I was ready to plunge right in.

I decided that since I was already committed to making this bread, I should make twice as much. I was afraid to double the recipe, so I went ahead and made two separate batches. I began the process at around 10:00 a.m. and took the last loaf out of the oven at around at around 1:00 a.m. the next day. It was a very loooooong process!


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Much to my surprise, I had no trouble whatsoever making the dough. I did have to add a little extra flour, but other than that, it went very smoothly. The dough was smooth and pliant, a little tacky, but not at all sticky. Whew! Good. I left it buried under plastic wrap and a towel for the first rise. I also set the thermostat to 70 degrees. Then, I went to get my hair done. (All that white stuff in my hair isn't just flour, you know. A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do!)
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The first rise came off without a hitch. My dough had tripled in size and looked as smooth as a baby's bottom. Next came the second rise. While that was happening, I went to my office to do some paperwork. (Those highlights don't pay for themselves, you know!) When I returned, about two and a half hours later, the dough was again, just as it was supposed to be. By that time, I was really pumped up!

Here's where things started to get, well...sticky. I had a hell of a time forming the dough into the shapes I wanted. I'd planned to make at a couple of long baguettes, one regular French loaf and one boule. My first attempt at forming the baguettes didn't go as smoothly as I had planned. Actually, I made such a mess of it that I had to throw it out. I.Was.Not.Happy! It was a good thing that I made that extra batch of dough!

In the midst of me having a little temper tantrum, I got a call from my mother. She has this uncanny knack of always calling me when I am in the throes of one crisis or another. This time, her timing was just right. Apparently, she has Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2, AND has made this particular recipe on numerous occasions. Sooooo, I did the only thing I could do. I packed up my little lumps of dough and hightailed it over to her house. These are the things that a Daring Baker must occasionally do!

Thankfully, Mom only lives a few blocks away. Upon my solemn promise to share the finished product with her, she agreed to help me. It was a good thing too. From the remainder of my dough, we were able to get two long baguettes, one big fat loaf and one mini boule. After the third rise, she carved those slices in the loaves like a pro. I never knew she had such wicked knife skills. (Remind me never to piss her off!)

Since I had my simulated baker's oven all set to go at home, I verrrrrry carefully transported my doughy little babies home to bake. I loaded a 9-inch cast iron skilled with some water, plopped a brick in it, and tossed a few ice cubes in for luck. Then I gently rolled my dough onto an extremely hot stone baking sheet and baked some bread!

When time was up, I opened the oven door and what I saw took my breath away. I not only had freshly baked French bread, but I had GORGEOUS freshly baked French bread! It was brown and crusty and shiny. Unfortunately, I forgot that it was one o'clock in the morning and my squeals of delight woke up Mr. SGCC, who was not quite as excited about my accomplishment as I was. Oh well, he certainly didn't mind too much when he was scarfing down that bread the next day.

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Now, for the million dollar questions: Am I glad I did it ? Absolutely! The rush I got from seeing those beautiful loaves come out of the oven was priceless. Would I do it again? Probably not. As thrilled as I was with the end result, the whole process took way too long, from start to finish, to work with my schedule. The important thing for me is that, even though I probably won't do it again, I now know that I CAN do it.
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I had a ball taking the pictures for this challenge. You'll notice that my big French loaf is also a big ham! She couldn't resist dressing up a little for her photo op. I also finally got the chance to take my beautiful Hermes scarves from Paris out of their boxes. I used them for the backdrops.
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As I noted earlier, this is the mother of long recipes. For that reason, and to prevent me from getting carpal tunnel syndrome, I am not going to type it all out for you. If you would like to see the recipe, you can click here.

Sincere thanks again go to Mary and Sara for this excellent challenge, as well as Ivonne and Lisa, who created this fierce and fearless group, the Daring Bakers! I urge you to take some time this weekend and visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see some of the other awesome French bread creations that this terrific group of bakers has come up with.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Celebrating Excellence

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I feel like celebrating! Last week, I received a very lovely surprise. My good friend, Cakelaw of Laws of the Kitchen has bestowed an Excellent Blog Award upon me. The Excellent Blog Award is given to one blogger by another who believes that his or her blog exemplifies the qualities that make up a great blog. I am truly honored to receive this award, as well as to be included in such an illustrious group of bloggers, like Cakelaw! She is a smart, talented, and a genuinely nice person. I always enjoy visiting her blog to see what delicious concoctions she has come up with. If I could, I'd give this award right back to her.
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When I first started blogging, I merely looked at it as a creative outlet for myself. I never expected it to become such an important part of my life. Nor did I ever expect to meet so many talented and interesting people from every corner of the world. I am constantly impressed and inspired by all of the wonderful culinary creations of my fellow food bloggers. I am also inspired by the true sense of caring and community among them. I really consider myself lucky to be a part of it.
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I've put a lot of thought into this. There are so many excellent blogs out there, each with their own charm and appeal. It was very hard to narrow it down to just five. But, I did what I had to do.
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So, grab a glass of champagne and get comfortable while I take this opportunity to spread a little of the food blog love around. It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to give an Excellent Blog Award to the five following food bloggers:
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To Helene of Tartelette, for her pure, unadulturated talent. She blows me away with her gorgeous cakes, tarts, pastries and all things dessert. I don't know where she gets the energy for all that baking! She is also one of the sweetest people I know, always willing to help others. She is my cheerleader!
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To Jen of Use Real Butter, for her feisty spirit, no bullshit attitude and grace under pressure. I laugh out loud everytime I read one of her highly entertaining posts. Jen's step by step recipe guides are indispensible to me. I actually print them out to keep in my files. Her photography is absolutely brilliant, whether of her food or her gorgeous surroundings. She is also one of the most supportive and encouraging bloggers I know. She has class. I want to be Jen when I grow up!
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To Melissa of The Traveler's Lunchbox, for her beautifully crafted posts, lovely photos and inspired recipes. Clicking on Melissa's site is like walking into a sweet dream. Her pictures remind me of Impressionist paintings. Her artful words draw you in and hold you there. Her blog reads like a good book you can't put down.
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To Jessie of Cakespy, for her clever, informative and articulate writing, and her wonderful, whimsical artwork. I love going on Jessie's Cakewalks and reading her terrific interviews in Batter Chatter. But most of all, I love her adorable little cupcakes! What a talent!
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To Michelle of Bleeding Espresso for....well....everything. I love her eclectic syle. I love her courage to leave everything safe and familiar and go off to start a new adventure halfway around the world. I love that she does so much to support other bloggers, with her 1st of the Month Features and her Guest Blogger program, just to name a few. And, I really love that she writes for writing's sake, not only about food, but about all things that are important to her.
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Congratulations to all of you Excellent Bloggers. You deserve it!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It's Raining Memes!

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There's an old saying that goes: "When it rains, it pours". Most of you have probably heard it before and even used it yourself. It means that when you wait a long time for something to happen, and it finally does, it usually happens over and over again. Well, this phrase seems very appropriate for me this week. Why, you may ask? Well, sit tight and read on. All will become clear.
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Last weekend, I was finally tagged for my first meme by Gabi from The Feast Within. I was pretty excited. After almost of six months of blogging, I was finally tagged for a meme. It felt like a kind of rite of passage. I confidently thought, "Five interesting facts about myself? I can do that."

A few days later, I was also tagged by Lori from The Recipe Girl. I'm a big fan of Lori's popular site, so I was really flattered to be tagged by her. I felt like one of the popular girls in school; one of the "In Crowd". Then I thought, "Uh oh. Does this mean that I have to come up with ten interesting facts?" The "I can do that." quickly became "Can I do that?". I started to get a little nervous. I suspected that I was going to have to dig really deep to keep this SGCC fact fest from becoming a great, big YAWN!

Are you still with me? Good, because there's more.

The day after that, while I was still fretting about my first two tags, I heard from one of my very favorite people, Jen of Use Real Butter. She was tagging me too! What! Again? Holy Crap! Fifteen interesting, little-known facts about myself! Not even my own mother could find that much to say about me! Tiny beads of sweat began to form on my brow, and I felt just the slightest bit queasy. But, Jen has always been there for me. She encouraged me when I doubted myself. If she tagged me, then tagged I would be.

Not more than a few hours went by when I heard from my good friend, Cakelaw from Laws of the Kitchen. Do I have to even say it? Yup. Tagged again. By this time, I was hyperventilating and had begun to lose all feeling in my left arm. Just when I was about to call 911, I noticed that this was a different meme from the others. It was a Food for Gossip meme. I didn't actually have to think up my own facts. I just had to answer some preordained questions. Thank goodness for small miracles!

So, now do you understand why I say "When it rains, it pours."? In a good way, of course.

All right, then. Let's get started. If you need a break half-way through, feel free to go make yourself a sandwich or something. I'll understand. Oh yes, and please be kind. I'm flying without a net here!

The rules for the first three memes are as follows:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.

2. Share 5 facts about yourself.

3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post, and list their names- linking to them.

4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

So here goes:

1. I was born in Westchester Square Hospital in Bronx, New York. My early years were spent on Morris Park Avenue and at St. Clare's of Assisi Catholic School. I loved it there.

2. I'm a first generation Italian-American. My dad was born in a little town in the Lazio region of Italy called Esperia. When he came to the United States in 1956, he originally had tickets to sail on the Andrea Doria. He traded his tickets with another guy because he wanted to sail three weeks earlier with some friends. He got here just fine. The Andrea Doria sank!

3. I have one husband, one daughter, one brother, a mom and two adorable nephews.

4. My parents moved us to Florida in 1972. I was the only black-haired, brown-eyed girl in a sea of blue-eyed blondes! I hated it!

5. I was always "performing" as a child. As a preschooler, I used to memorize television commercials and recreate them for all of my parents' family and friends. These "one woman shows" were the talk of the town. (Hey, where's my Tony?)

6. I've always loved to write, especially poetry. In elementary school, other kids would pay me to do their creative writing assignments for them. I had a great little business going. (I probably shouldn't admit that, though. Oooh, I hope Sister Stabile isn't reading this!)

7. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine, which won 1st prize that year from the Florida Scholastic Press Association. I also won 1st prize that year for my original poetry.

8. When I was in high school, I won a national jingle contest sponsored by McDonalds. My arrangement of "You Deserve a Break Today" in 3-part harmony, was played all over the airwaves. I didn't get to keep the prize money, though. I was guilted into donating it to the school chorus fund.

10. When I was a child, I had a fabulous collection of Barbie dolls. I actually had one of the original Barbies, given to me by an older cousin. (Do you know how much that is worth?!) My mother hand made dozens of gorgeous Barbie clothes for me, including a beaded satin wedding gown and a real mink coat. When I went off to college, she gave the whole collection, clothes and all, to the little girl down the street, without even asking me. I was absolutely heartbroken! I'm still bitter about it.

9. I am a classically trained lyric soprano. I've worked in every musical genre from opera to vocal jazz. I perform mostly in my local area now, but I have toured in Western Canada, Scotland and Ireland.

10. Barbra Streisand is my idol. I was supposed to see her during her 1993 concert tour, but I couldn't make it because I was busy giving birth that day. I finally got to see her in concert in October, 2006. It was one of the highlights of my life. I cried through almost the whole program!

11. I am a licensed attorney. My husband and I have had our own law firm for twenty years. I hated being a lawyer! I practiced marital and family law for 10 years before I pretty much retired to focus on my music and being a mom. Actually, Mr. SGCC made me quit, because I got too many death threats from irate ex-husbands! He said it wasn't good for business.

12. I met my husband in college, while I was engaged to somebody else. We'll just call him "Asshole". Asshole was the one who introduced us. He and Mr. SGCC were buddies. They're not friends anymore.

13. In addition to being a foodie, I am also a hopeless make-up junkie. I hardly ever wear most of it, but just having it makes me feel prettier. I probably own over 100 lipsticks.

14. The happiest day of my life was December 31, 1993. That was the day my beautiful daughter was born.

15. The saddest day of my life was on November 16, 2006. That was the day my wonderful, sweet father passed away. I miss him terribly.

Whew! That wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Shall I give you one more for good luck? Go ahead, twist my arm!

16. Even though I live in Florida, I hate the hot weather. I never planned to stay here, but Mr. SGCC got a great job in the area right out of law school, so I was stuck!

Okay, now for these three memes, I am tagging the following bloggers:

First, my Florida Girls:

Aran of Canelle et Vanille

Judy of No Fear Entertaining

Jaden of Steamy Kitchen

Jenn of The Left Over Queen

And also these fine bloggers, just because I think they'll have something great to say:

Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice

Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

Sarah of What Smells So Good?

Amy of Nook & Pantry

Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen

Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy

Michelle of Bleeding Espresso

Jessie of Cakespy

Peter of Kalofagas

Kevin of Closet Cooking

Gretchen of Canela y Comino

Do you need a snack, yet? I've been kind of busy writing this post, but I can offer you some cookies, a doughnut, or maybe a cupcake.

Now, for the Food for Gossip Meme:

What were you doing 10 years ago?

I was singing, cooking and running around after a 4-year old cyclone.....and that's pretty much it!

What were you doing 1 year ago?

One year ago, I was still in grief mode after the death of my father. I also inherited much of the responsibility for taking care of my mother. I didn't have much time or energy for anything else.


Five snacks you enjoy:

1. Wise Lightly Salted Potato Chips

2. Dove Ice Cream Bars (milk chocolate)

3. freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies

4. raw cauliflower with ranch dressing (I had to include something healthy!)

5. brie with ginger snaps

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:

1. Pay off my mortgage.

2. Remodel my house and build my dream kitchen.

3. Buy a Mercedes convertable roadster.

4. Buy a flat in the St. Germain area of Paris, live there for half the year and hopefully, become best friends with Dorie Greenspan.

5. Travel the world for the other half of the year with my new best friend, Dorie Greenspan.

Five bad habits:

1. Eating too many Wise Lightly Salted Potato Chips.

2. Eating too many Dove Bars.

3. Being too much of a control freak.

4. Procrastinating

5. Apologizing all the time, even when I haven't done anything.

Five things you like doing:

1. Singing

2. Playing tennis

3. Writing

4. Cooking and baking

5. Eating

Five things you would never wear again:

1. Shoulder pads

2. Stirrup pants (Ew!)

3. Horizontal stripes

4. Anything bubble gum pink

5. Bright blue eyeshadow

Five favorite toys:

1. My teeny tiny 12-inch laptop (It fits in my purse!)

2. My new Rebel Xti

3. Photoshop

4. My Bose Accoustic Wave

5. My Shun chef's knife

For this meme, I am tagging the following bloggers:

CookiePie at
CookiePie

Nikki at Canary Girl

Patricia at Technicolor Kitchen

Manggy at No Special Effects

Karen at Mad Baker

Well, that's all there is and there ain't no more. Thanks to Gabi, Lori, Jen and Cakelaw for finding me interesting enough to tag!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fate, Coconut Shrimp and Four Memes

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Do you believe in fate? That everything happens for a reason? That some things are just meant to be? If so, then read on.
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I was out to dinner with my family last weekend, enjoying a nice meal, when one of the servers brought out a plate of lovely, sizzling hot coconut shrimp and set it down right in front of me. I love coconut shrimp, and my husband and I marvelled at what gorgeous shrimp it was. It made my mouth water. The thing of it was, neither of us had ordered coconut shrimp. I wanted to keep it anyway, but my better half pointed out that it wouldn't be right. That some hungry diner had actually ordered that coconut shrimp and was most likely sitting nearby, anxiously waiting for it. Oh POOH! I hate it when he plays the ethics and fairness cards on me! Of course, he was right and I reported the mistake to our server, who took the shrimp away and delivered it to its rightful owner.
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I thought about that shrimp many times over the next few days. How beautiful and succulent it looked! How heavenly it smelled! I could have just made some for myself, but as I've already disclosed here, fried foods are not my forte. As a matter of fact, I have attempted coconut shrimp several times before, with pretty dismal results. I've ended up with burned shrimp, soggy shrimp, and shrimp where the coconut wouldn't stick and ended up in the bottom of the frying pan. I've never been able to achieve that crispy, golden brown, coconutty crust, and I finally gave up trying.
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The other day, I popped into my local supermarket to pick up a few things, and I was greeted by a wonderful and familiar smell. The Publix Aprons lady was in her demo kitchen and she was making...are you ready for this...coconut shrimp! (Insert Twilight Zone theme here.) I hightailed it over there to get my sample! Mmmm! It really hit the spot!
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I've posted about Publix's Aprons program before. Each week, they feature a different recipe and have all of the ingredients conveniently laid out in one handy place with printed recipe cards. I've gotten some great recipes there. This coconut shrimp recipe definitely had some greatness potential, but given my history, I wistfully moved on.
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When I got home, I flipped on the Food Network. As I was putting my groceries away, I could hear Paula Deen's thick Savannah drawl as she talked about "sreeyump". I looked over at the TV screen and sure enough, Paula was making...can you guess...COCONUT SHRIMP!!!
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This was just too much! I can be a little dense at times, but you didn't have to hit me over the head with a brick for me to realize that someone was trying to tell me something.
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"MAKE COCONUT SHRIMP!!!"
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I turned around, got in my car, drove back to Publix and bought the ingredients to make some coconut shrimp.
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Both Apron's and Paula's recipes were very different. I couldn't decide which to use, so I took parts of both and improvised a little on my own. Since I had recently overcome my fear of frying, I filled a deep pot with about two inches of peanut oil and began heating it up. (By the way, I did find that candy thermometer) Then, I set up my assembly line of flour, beaten eggs, panko and coconut and went to work.
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I don't know. Maybe practice makes perfect, or maybe the coconut shrimp gods were smiling down on me, but this time, my coconut shrimp were OUTSTANDING! Seriously, every single one turned out perfectly. There wasn't one burnt, soggy or naked shrimp in the lot. I served them with a spicy pineapple/apricot sauce and watched them diasappear. Even my daughter, who doesn't care for shrimp, ate them.
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It was a miracle. It was fate. It was meant to be.
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On another topic, things have been a little busy here in SGCC land this week. I have been tagged with not one, not two or three, but FOUR memes! Amazing! All these months, I waited to get noticed and...nada. Now, four memes in the span of a week. I'm very flattered and excited to share a little about myself with all of you. Since coming up with some interesting information about myself will take a good, long while, I will do a meme post this weekend. I just want to let my "taggers" know that it's coming, and thank them for thinking of me. Stay tuned!
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Coconut Shrimp with Spicy Pineapple-Apricot Dipping Sauce

For the dipping sauce:
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1/2 cup pineapple preserves
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup pineapple-apricot horseradish sauce (Silver Spring brand) or honey mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sambal oelek (Thai chili sauce)(more if you really like it spicy)
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Mix all ingredients together in a small heatproof bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir and set aside.
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For the shrimp:
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1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lb jumbo peeled and deveined shrimp
canola or peanut oil for frying
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Put about 2 inches of oil in a large, deep pot. Begin heating oil to 325 degrees F. While oil is heating, prepare the shrimp as follows.
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Place flour in a wide, shallow plate or baking dish.
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Place eggs in a wide, shallow bowl.
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Combine panko, coconut, allspice and salt in another wide, shallow plate or baking dish. Dip each shrimp in flour, coating both sides. Shake off any excess. Dip into egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Then, dip shrimp into panko/coconut mixture, patting it into the shrimp to stick.
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Carefully, drop the shrimp into the oil, 5-6 at a time, and fry until golden brown, no more than 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all shrimp are cooked.
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Serve shrimp with Spicy Pineapple-Apricot Dipping Sauce.
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Enjoy!
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If you like this recipe, you might also enjoy:
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thank Heaven for Little Girl(Scout)s

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It's cookie time, folks! Girl Scout Cookies, that is. Thin Mints, Do Si Dos, Trefoils and my most favorite GS cookie of them all....Samoas They're everywhere. You couldn't escape them, even if you wanted to. But, why would you want to? Who doesn't love Girl Scout Cookies.....or Girl Scouts, for that matter?
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Right now, there are about six little Brownies and Girl Scouts who live on my street. Some years, there have been more, some less. One by one, they ring my doorbell, in their cute little uniforms, with their hopeful little faces... I buy cookies from all of them. I can't help it. My own daughter was in the program for several years. I mean, you'd have to have a heart carved out of stone to resist them!
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So, the other day, there I sat with about 20 boxes of Girl Scout cookies sitting in front of me, wondering what the heck to do with all of them! Yes, I know that you can freeze them. But, they're never quite as good defrosted. I did a quick inventory in my fridge. I had cream cheese. I had mascarpone (my magic ingredient!). I even had some homemade dulce de leche left over from another recipe. An idea began to take shape in my head. I took the basic concept for my Chocolate Mascarpone Cheese Pie, made a few twists and turns, and came up with what is quite possibly the most fabulous sticky, gooey, creamy, chewy dessert I have ever made!

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For this recipe, I used a box of Samoas to make a cookie crust. Samoas are the cookies that are dipped in caramel and toasted coconut and then smothered in chocolate. I ground the cookies into crumbs in my food processor and mixed them with about one third of a stick of melted butter. I pressed the mixture into a tart pan and chilled it. Then, I blended cream cheese, mascarpone, sugar and some dulce de leche together with my electric mixer for the tart filling. I wanted the tart to look like a great big, giant Samoa, so I topped it with a layer of dulce de leche and toasted coconut. To finish it off, I drizzled melted bittersweet chocolate all over it.

Since I had homemade dulce de leche, I used it. However, I've used the canned product, La Lechera, before for many things and it is excellent too. So, please don't let that stop you from trying this recipe.

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Let me tell you, this tart was Out. Of. This. World! Seriously, it was amazing! It reminded me of a super rich, caramelly, coconutty, chocolatey, cream cheesy flan. If you never try any of my other recipes, please try this one. You will love it. The only other thing I can say is Thank Heaven for Girl Scouts!

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Thank Heaven for Little Girl(Scout)s Samoa Cheese Tart
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1 box Samoa cookies
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cold cream cheese
1 8-ounce container cold mascarpone
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups dulce de leche, divided
1 cup flaked coconut
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
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Process the cookies into crumbs in the food processor. If you don't have a food processor, put them in a plastic zipper bag and beat the hell out of them until they turn into crumbs. Mix the crumbs with the butter in a bowl. Press the crumbs into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan, preferably one with a removable bottom. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
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In another bowl, combine the cream cheese, mascarpone, sugar and dulce de leche. Beat on medium speed until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Pour filling into tart shell and chill for at least 2 hours.
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Meanwhile, toast the coconut by heating it in a small skillet over medium to medium-high heat, tossing it often so it doesn't burn. When the coconut is golden brown remove from heat and set aside to cool.
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When tart is thoroughly chilled, spread the remaining cup of dulce de leche over the filling, gently spreading it to cover. Be careful not to mush the filling. Spread the toasted coconut over the dulce de leche and drizzle with the melted chocolate.
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Hang on to your socks while eating, so as not to knock them off!
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Enjoy!
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If you liked this recipe, you might also enjoy:
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Easy Peasy Meatball Ziti and My Blog Intervention

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Something interesting happened to me after I joined this wonderful world of food blogging. Something I'm not particularly proud of. Something that I didn't even notice until it was pointed out to me by the people I'm supposed to be cooking for - my family. It appears that in my quest to create jaw-dropping content and eye-popping photos in my posts, I stopped cooking regular, well-rounded meals for them. No more grilled steaks and baked potatoes. No more simple roasted chickens. Not even a lousy bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. Nope. Uh uh! I stopped making the basic, comfortable foods that they had grown to love, because I thought they were too boring; not exciting enough to elicit the awestruck reactions that I was dreaming of. And not only that. I barely let them touch the things that I did make - at least not until after I had plated, propped and staged each dish for its photo shoot to glory.
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As I looked deeply into their sad and hungry eyes, I felt like dirt! I vowed to them that I would put my thirst for fame and adulation aside, at least a little bit, and FEED THEM SOME REAL FOOD! I mean, here I was making pies and cookies and doughnuts for a guy that doesn't even eat sweets! And my poor, sweet, calorie-conscious teenager was walking around in a butter-induced stupor terrified that she was gaining weight by osmosis!
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The first order of business was to decide what to make for dinner the next night. I put it to a vote and everyone agreed on a pasta dish. They were even kind enough to let me decide which one. I chose my baked ziti because it has a little of each of their favorite foods in it. Pasta, tomato sauce, three different kinds of cheese and my famous (at least around here) meatballs make up this dish. It is a hearty, homey and delicious Italian comfort food, and it's not difficult to make.
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The first thing you need to do to make this dish is prepare and bake a batch of meatballs. I've also included my meatball recipe below. You can do this ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer until you need them. You will also need some marinara sauce, either homemade or a good quality one from a jar. The sauce is not the star of this dish, so you can get away with a good jar sauce. This will save you a significant amount of time.
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It warmed my heart to see how much my family enjoyed this meal. I didn't even make them wait to eat it. I baked a separate batch of it for pictures, which then went straight into the freezer for another day.
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Now, I want to ask you this: Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever fallen into this trap of cooking for the blog instead of your nearest and dearest? Were you ever the subject of a "blog intervention"? Are you a "blogoholic"? I'd love to hear from you!
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Easy Peasy Meatball Ziti
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1 batch meatballs (recipe below)
1 pound ziti
6 cups fresh marinara sauce or 2 jars good quality tomato sauce
1 2 lb tub whole milk ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into thin pieces
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
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Bring a large pot, filled with water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. You want the pasta to be a little firm because you will be baking it later. Drain pasta and set aside.
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Break up the meatballs into bite sized pieces and set aside.
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In a large bowl, combine the tomato sauce, ricotta and 1/2 of each of the cheeses and mix well. Add the cooked ziti and meatballs and toss it all together.
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In a large greased baking dish, pour in pasta mixture. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses all over the top. Dot with the butter. Place baking dish on top of baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until top is golden brown and bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.
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My Almost-Famous Meatballs
Makes about 15 meatballs
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1 lb. ground chuck
1 lb. ground veal
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet onion, coarsely grated
1/2 c. flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp salt
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
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Mix all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl until combined. Do not overhandle or the meatballs will be tough. The mixture should be moist, but hold together. If the mixture appears too wet, add more bread crumbs, a little at a time. If it is too dry, add a little more milk.
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Form into balls, about 2 inches in diameter. You should get about 15 meatballs out of this recipe.
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Place meatballs in a shallow baking sheet, lined with foil, and bake until they start to get browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to add to the ziti.
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Enjoy!

Here's what some other bloggers are doing with baked pasta:

Baked Pasta with Tons of Vegetables from The Foodie Fashionista

Fontina and Mascarpone Baked Pasta from Tales from a Veggie Kitchen

Jamie Oliver's Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella from More Than Burnt Toast

Pastitsio, Deconstructed from Kalofagas

Talerine Beef Casserole from Simply Recipes



Thursday, February 14, 2008

Easy Almond Brioche for a Special Valentine's Day Breakfast

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Today is Valentine's Day - a special day set aside each year honoring love and lovers. A heart pierced by Cupid's arrow is a traditional symbol of Valentine's Day. The heart symbolizes love, and giving someone a heart symbolizes bestowing your love to that person. A heart pierced by a Cupid's arrow signifies the fragility of love and the risk that one takes of being rejected. Some also believe that the heart and arrow symbolizes the uniting of a man and woman.
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Centuries ago, people didn't know that the heart was what pumped blood through the body's circulatory system. However, they did know that the heart beats faster when a person is excited or upset. For this reason, it was believed that the heart was the center of our feelings. Thus, the heart become the quintessential symbol of love.

In commemoration of Valentine's Day, Zorra of Kochtopf is hosting a special blogging event, A Heart for Your Valentine. She has challenged all of us to romance the special person in our lives with a homemade "edible heart". Deciding what to make was tough. Valentine's Day is all about chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. I'm married to a man who doesn't like chocolate. Not only that, he doesn't really care much for sweets at all, so coming up with an "edible heart" that he would enjoy was a challenge all on its own. What would be the point of making a special edible Valentine for someone if they won't eat it?
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I still had a huge hunk of brioche dough leftover from my attempt at making doughnuts, taking up space in the fridge, so I thought I would do something with that. I consulted the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook again and found a recipe for Almond Brioche. Mr. SGCC loves bread, and brioche is a form of bread. That sounded great to me. I have a heart-shaped cake pan insert, so I thought I would try to bake the brioche inside the heart and see what happened.
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Things got a little scary for a while, when the brioche was baking. The dough kept getting higher and higher, bursting out over the top of the pan. I also had to bake it about 10-15 minutes longer than the recipe specified to get it cooked all the way through. I unmolded it and, lo and behold, it looked like a heart. It worked! I had a beautiful, crusty, buttery, almondy heart-shaped brioche! And let me tell you, It. Was. Fabulous! Honestly, it was one of the most delicious things I ever baked. The brioche was soft and moist on the inside, while the sugar and almonds on the top crust had gotten all crunchy and carmelized. It reminded me of those heavenly almond croissants that I've had in Paris. Really! You must try this one. Even though it looks and tastes like it took all day, it is very easy to make and was ready in just a few hours.
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Needless to say, Mr. SGCC loved it when I served it with his coffee this morning. And now, he has all day to pick me up a sparkly little something to thank me!
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Happy Valentines Day!

Almond Brioche
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
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1 1/2 pounds Brioche dough (recipe here)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup of almond paste
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 egg
1/4 tsp. orange-flower water
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for dusting the pan
Zest from half an orange
1/2 cup sliced natural almonds
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Making the almond cream:
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Cream together the butter, almond paste, flour, egg, orange-flower water and almond extract in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.
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Assembling the brioche:
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Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a cantaloupe-sized piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
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Roll the dough into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Use just enough flour to prevent it from sticking.
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Spread the almond cream evenly all over the rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Roll up the dough, jellroll-style starting at the long end, and being sure to seal the bare edges. Chill the roll in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
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Generously grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter. Sprinkle the pan with a dusting of granulated sugar.
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**I used a heart-shaped insert, which I also greased and sugared and placed it inside of the cake pan.
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Cut the chilled dough into 8 equal pieces. Place them in the prepared pan with the swirled egde facing up. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
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Preheat the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
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Mix the sugar, orange zest and almonds together and sprinkle over the brioche. Bake without steam until golden brown and set in the center, about 40 minutes.
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Run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the brioche and invert it into a serving dish. Eat warm.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who Needs No-Knead Doughnuts?

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One of the things I love most about blogging, is that it has forced me to go outside of my comfort zone in the kitchen and to try things that I've never tried before. One of the things that I don't love so much about blogging, is that it has also shown me how much I don't know. Before I created this site, I considered myself pretty hot stuff in the kitchen. I regularly amazed both family and friends with my culinary wizardry. When guests "oohed" and "aahed" over my latest creations, I'd nod and smugly smile, secure in the fact that my status as a kitchen goddess was unshakable. I rocked!
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Today was one of those days I didn't love. Today was the day that I attempted to master a skill that I am completely unskilled at. Today was the day that I tried to replicate something in my kitchen that would normally send me running out, screaming into the night. Today was the day that I made doughnuts for the first time.
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Now, let me first start off by saying that I adore doughnuts. I have been known to swoon at the mere sight of one of those soft and tender, sweet little pillows of deep fried dough. Whether glazed, chocolate-dipped or jelly-filled, a fresh warm doughnut can always make me weak in the knees! But, making them myself? Well, I've always believed that was one thing that should be left to the experts.
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First of all, I've never been good with dough. It intimidates me. Have I added enough flour? Have I added too much flour? Have I kneaded enough or have I kneaded too much? Is the water too hot? Too cold? I'm never really sure if I've done it right. What stress!!! One of the happiest days of my life was the day I first heard about No-Knead Bread. Finally, a simple recipe that eliminated all of the guesswork.
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Second, I hate to deep fry anything. I don't know, something about standing over a cauldron of boiling hot oil just makes me cringe. My mother says it's post traumatic stress from when I was badly burned by boiling water as a toddler. I don't remember the incident, but maybe she's right. All I know is that deep frying scares the crap out of me!
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Why then, would I subject myself to this unpleasantness? Because two of my favorite bloggers are hosting an event dedicated to.....doughnuts, and there's no way I would miss it. You've got to support your buddies, right? Time to Make the Doughnuts is the brainchild of Helene and Peabody. Any kind of doughnuts are okay, as long as they're sweet ones and are made especially for this event.
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Ready to face my fears head on, I searched for a recipe that wouldn't hurt me too badly. I found it in the new, white hot, bestselling baking book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. They actually have a recipe for doughnuts in there! Well, actually, they call them beignets, but we all know that it's practically the same thing. This was perfect! No-Knead Doughnuts. I was psyched!
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To make the beignets/doughnuts, you begin with the authors' recipe for a challah or brioche dough. I went with the brioche. It was pretty easy to make. Any idiot could do it, except that this idiot messed it up. I was moving right along, blithely measuring out the ingredients, when my husband came in and started chatting. Engaged in conversation, I mixed up the dough and put it in its container. When I grabbed it up off the counter to put it in the fridge, guess what was hiding there. The water. I FORGOT TO ADD THE %*&#ING WATER TO THE DOUGH! I wasn't about to write off eight eggs, so I dumped it all back in the mixing bowl and churned like crazy! Then, I made the sign of the cross over it and hoped for the best.
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This morning, I took out the container and peeked inside. It looked like.....dough! Very wet, sticky, lumpy dough, but dough nonetheless. Hmm. So far, so good. I scooped out a big hunk and rolled it out. Man oh man, that really was some sticky dough! It got all over EVERYTHING, including my laptop! The recipe says to cut the dough into two inch squares and then fill each square with chocolate of jam. I decided on raspberry jam. Frankly, after my last several posts, I was getting a little sick of chocolate. I am still finding bits of ganache from my Rose-Kissed Chocolate Truffles in the darndest places. I filled my doughnuts-in-waiting and let them rest while I heated up the dreaded oil in the tallest pot I could find. Of course, my candy thermometer was missing in action, so I had no way to tell just how hot my oil was getting.
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With a long sleeved shirt, goggles and oven mitts on both hands, I proceeded to fry my little lumps of dough into doughnuts. That oil must have been molten lava hot, because they immediately began to turn brown. Not a pretty, golden brown, mind you, but a dark, ugly, burnt brown. Uh oh. Turn down the heat a bit. Wait a few seconds and...S**T! Still ugly brown. By that time, I was already late for work, so I had to press on.
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After a while, the doughnuts started frying up to a more acceptable caramel color. Still not what I wanted, but not too bad. At least the filling didn't leak out. After they were cooled and tossed with sugar, I had to try one. Mmmm. They tasted great! Some of the bigger ones still had some doughy bits inside, but frying them any longer would have really burned the outsides. I don't think that Krispy Kreme needs to be be concerned or anything, but all in all, not bad for my first attempt at doughnut making.
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If I were to do it over again, I think that I would fry the doughnuts first and inject them with the jam later. It was a real pain trying to stuff the squares of raw dough. That just seems more logical to me. Would I do it again? I don't know. Maybe. I definitely reached out of my comfort zone and learned a few things. But first, I have got to find that thermometer.

Raspberry Filled No Knead Doughnuts

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
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For the Brioche Dough:
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1½ cups lukewarm water
1½ tablespoons granulated yeast (1½ packets)
1½ tablespoons salt
8 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup honey
7½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
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Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and 1½ cups melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl or lidded (not airtight) food container.
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Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon. You can also use a 14-cup capacity food processor or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled. Don’t try to work with it before chilling. You may notice lumps in the dough but they will disappear in the finished product.
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Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
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The dough can be used as soon as it’s chilled after the initial rise. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze the dough in 1-pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks. When using frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using, then allow the usual rise and rest times.

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For the Doughnuts:
(makes 5 or 6)
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1 pound (grapefruit-sized portion) of refrigerated, pre-mixed brioche dough
1 small jar of raspberry jam
Canola oil for deep frying
granulated and/or powdered sugar for coating
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Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit-sized piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
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Roll the dough into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 2 inch squares, then spoon a teaspoon of jam in the center of each square. Gather the edges of the dough around the filling, pinching at the center to form a seal. If needed, use a small amount of water to help stick them together.
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Allow the doughnuts to rest for 15-20 minutes while the oil is heating up to 360-375 degrees as determined by a candy thermometer.
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Carefully drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, 2 or 3 at a time. Do not overcrowd them. After 2 minutes, flip the doughnuts over with a slotted spoon and fry another minute or until golden brown on both sides.
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Using the slotted spoon, remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all doughnuts are fried.
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Dust with sugar and eat with a fresh cup of cafe au lait.
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Enjoy!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rose-Kissed Chocolate Truffles for Your Valentine

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O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune!
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As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry—
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Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
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And fare thee weel, my only Luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.
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--Robert Burns
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Roses are one of the most popular symbols of love and affection between two people, especially on Valentine's Day. Ever wonder why? There is an interesting legend in Roman mythology of how this came to be. It is said that in Roman times, there was an exceptionally beautiful young woman named Rodanthe. Her beauty attracted many ardent suitors who pursued her relentlessly. Exhausted by their pursuit, Rodanthe was forced to take refuge in the temple of the goddess Diana. In their desperate attempts to win Rodanthe's favor, these suitors broke down the doors of the temple. This enraged Diana. In her fury, she turned Rodanthe into a flower and her suitors into thorns. Bummer!
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According to another popular legend, Cupid was once carrying a vase of sweet nectar to the Gods on Mount Olympus, and some of the nectar spilled on the ground. From the spot where the nectar fell grew the first rose. In Roman mythology, Cupid is known as the god of erotic love and sex.
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Another interesting tidbit to note is, that if you rearrange the letters of the word rose, you get Eros. Eros is the Greek counterpart of Cupid, again, the god of erotic love and sex. With all that symbolism for erotic love and sex going on, it's no wonder that roses are one of the most popular gifts between lovers on Valentine's Day!
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The color of the roses one chooses to give to his or her beloved is also important. While the red rose is considered to be the universal symbol of love and passion, different colored blooms have different meanings. Pink roses are given to a friend or sweetheart. White roses signify true love and purity of the mind. Yellow roses are for friendship and black roses mean farewell or death. So be very careful when selecting what color roses to give your Valentine. If you pick the wrong one, you could get yourself in a whole heap of trouble!
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Since Valentine's Day is just a few days away, I wanted to create a romantic little treat for you to share with the one (or ones) you love. (Who am I to judge!) In my mind, there is nothing so luxurious, so sensual, so gloriously and sinfully decadent as a silky, smooth, and rich dark chocolate truffle. Except, that is, a silky, smooth and rich dark chocolate truffle imbued with the essense of roses.
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The foundation for this recipe comes from Sherry Yard's, The Secrets of Baking. I used her basic recipe for Chocolate Truffles and tweaked it by adding rose flower water. The result was a marvelous little chocolate truffle with just the subtlest kiss of roses. Is that not genius? I mean, what could be more perfect for Valentine's Day than chocolate and roses all rolled into one neat little package?
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I would like to take an opportunity to thank all of you who voted for me in Culinate's Death by Chocolate contest. Even though I didn't win, I am really glad that I participated. I'd like to congratulate everyone who submitted such creative and inspired desserts, especially the winning blogger, Cathy, from Not Eating Out in New York, who is probably packing her bags for Napa as I write this.
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Rose-Kissed Chocolate Truffles
Adapted from The Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard
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Ingredients:
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8 oz good quality bitterweet chocolate, chopped and divided
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp light corn syrup
2 tbsp rose flower water
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For the coating:
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8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
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Method:
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Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set aside.
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Combine cream and corn syrup in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Heat until it comes to a full boil. Remove from heat and immediately pour over hot chocolate and butter. Let is sit for 1 minute. With a rubber spatula, gently stir in small circular motions until chocolate mixture is fully melted, aboput 2 minutes. Add the rose flower water and stir to combine.
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Allow the ganache to cool at room temperature until firm, at least 4 hours. You could also put it in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. (This worked for me.)
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Once firm, form the ganache into small 1-inch balls. The easiest way to do this is to use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop. You may have to roll them a bit with your hands. It will be very messy. If the balls get too soft, put them back in the fridge for a while, until they firm up again.
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To coat the truffles:
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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
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Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Wait a few seconds and stir. If it isn't completely melted, microwave it again for 10 seconds. Repeat until the chocolate is all melted. Yard's recipe says to melt the chocolate in a bouble boiler, but I have always had good results by using the microwave. Just be careful not to overdo it. Put the cocoa powder into a small bowl.
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Drop each ganache ball into the melted chocolate, one at a time, and roll until fully coated. I used a toothpick for this. Tap off the excess and toss into the cocoa powder to coat. Transfer each truffle to the baking sheet to harden. I put my ganache balls in the freezer for about 30 minutes before I coated them to discourage melting. This seemed to help.
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Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch truffles.
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Enjoy!
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Want more? Here are some other great truffle recipes:
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For more great ideas for Valentine treats, check out the Frantic Home Cook's list of 50 Incredible Chocolate Desserts for Your Valentine.