Monday, May 23, 2016

Pretzel Stuffed Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Salty and sweet is a combination I have loved since high school.  A friend introduced me to the joy of dipping french fries into a chocolate shake.  Now that friend also regularly ate peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.  I'll have to pass on that one.  This recipe is a complete rework of one I had previously posted as pretzel crusted cookies.  When I went back to it, I decided I didn't really like the way the cookies turned out as much as I thought I had.  They were pretty, but more like candy, and not tooth friendly.  I completely reworked the ratios and tweaked ingredients.  It's a whole new cookie and after a few tries, I absolutely love it.  If you wanted to bump it up and add some peanut butter chips, it would be like a Take 5 Candy Bar cookie!  They were quite popular at a recent homework club meeting for dessert.

Pretzel Stuffed Chocolate Chunk Cookies
make 2½ dozen large cookies

2¼ cups light spelt flour
1 cup rolled oats, finely ground
2 tbsp arrowroot starch
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups light brown muscovado sugar
¼ cup evaporated cane sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup (heaping) white chocolate chunks
1½ cups pretzels, chopped

Combine melted butter and sugars in a mixer until completely incorporated.  Beat in eggs one at a time, then mix in vanilla.  Mix in the ground oatmeal.  (Oatmeal may be ground with a blender, food processor, or coffee/spice grinder.)  Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder, starch and salt, and add to the creamed mixture gradually until incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips, white chocolate chunks, and pretzels by hand.  Let the dough stand for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line baking sheets with parchment and place 2 tbsp scoops of dough on paper, 3 inches apart.  Press a mini pretzel on top of each scoop if desired.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are lightly golden. Allow to cool on the sheet for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container when cool.  These cookies also freeze well.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Spring Focaccias with the BBB

When I first saw the beautiful picture of a spring herbed focaccia with fresh garden greens and pansies, I still knew I was going to look for spring fruits and not vegetables.  I'll never get rid of my sweet tooth so I might as well make the best of it.  I looked up seasonal fruits for April and May.  Some of these may be a bit early in some areas, but here they are starting to be seen in the farmer's market.  I quickly narrowed my choices down to nectarines, blackberries, and goat cheese with honey.  I was thinking of some complementary flavors as well and confirmed them along with some extras, in my hitherto unused Flavor Bible.  Such a cool resource, check your local library!  The original recipe used a sourdough focaccia, which is cool and would probably last well.  I was going to do that, but then found my recipe for Dan Lepard's focaccia and I love his breads!  So I went with that.  I did end up having to add a tbsp more water to my American flour because the original recipe I was using called for tipo 00 flour which has a lower water absorption.  The King Arthur flour I used made a very strong dough.  I could have done one less stretch and fold because I was doing double folds where you do the thirds both lengthwise and width wise.  So really I ended up with six folds instead of three.  But it made a fabulously chewy focaccia with plenty of holes, wonderful texture and crispy crust.  I love how the whole thing turned out and would make it again in a heartbeat.  We had it for dessert.

While I hadn't planned on doing another flavor variation, I was inspired by the contents of our CSA bag that morning and stuck the other foot in.  The Flavor Bible helped me out there too.  I had lovely little spring onions and asparagus to use.  Add a leek, garlic, potatoes, and some fontina cheese and we had dinner, further topped with basil and shaved Parmesan.  Almost didn't need the Parmesan, the fontina was great on its own.

This made a great light, but filling dinner.  I recommend making sure it comes out of the oven at dinner time, or is reheated right before dinner.  It is at its best when it is nice and hot.

Youngest daughter wasn't convinced by the nectarines in the sweeter focaccia, but she was obviously delirious.  The whole thing was phenomenal.  I might bump up the candied ginger because it mellowed wonderfully in the oven.  It really was one of those things that practically makes you swoon when you taste it.  Hubby even said it could replace coffee cake for breakfast.  He prefers less sweet anyway.  The lime zest gave a perfect balance of bitter and a subtle hint of flavor, beautifully rounded out by the lime thyme.  That thyme goes so well with the fruit, I could cry.  Tempted to try it in an ice cream.  If you can get your hands on some lime or even lemon thyme, I highly recommend it.  I love the brightness of it, and that hint of citrus flavor it adds is just subtle enough.

If you'd like to try out your own idea for a spring focaccia, check out the host kitchen's post at Bread Experience.  Bake it and submit your picture and/or blog post to her by the 29th and you will get a Buddy Badge to display and be included in a buddy round up.  She used a fabulous sourdough based focaccia recipe, but your favorite focaccia will be just fine.  I was thrilled with Dan Lepard's recipe.  No surprise there, I had high expectations for it.  I think I did use almost all (like 75-80%) if not all regular all purpose flour instead of my usual spelt.  Maybe I will try it with spelt next time and see if I can coax that wonderful chewiness and thin crispy crust out of it.  This time I wanted insurance!  Here is the recipe I used, it takes a while but is mostly hands off time so it can be started in the morning and be ready for dinner.

Dan Lepard's Focaccia with a Spring Topping
makes 2 9x13" flat breads or one half sheet flat bread

200g water, room temp
150g flour
2.5g instant yeast (That's about ¾ tsp, or a generous 1 tsp active dry yeast)

150g water, room temp (I needed one more tbsp than this)
15 ml olive oil plus more for folding
375g flour
10 g fine sea salt

In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the preferment.  Cover and leave in a warm spot for an hour.  Give it a stir, then cover for another hour.  It should be bubbly and increased in size by almost double.  It may take more time in a cool kitchen.

Mix in the water and oil for the dough, then add the salt and flour until roughly combined.  Cover and rest for 10 minutes.

Oil your hands and the work surface with a little olive oil.  Work the dough by holding with one hand and gently stretching out with the other hand.  Fold it back on itself and then rotate the dough.  Do this folding knead about 10 times.  Re-oil the surface if it starts to stick.  Cover and rest for 10 minutes.

Repeat the kneading process twice more with 10 minute breaks.  The dough should now me smooth and elastic.  Cover and rest for 40 minutes.  (Divide dough now if making two smaller flat breads.)

Now the dough will go through some stretch and folds to promote the big holes in the finished bread.  Stretch and press the dough out into a rectangle.  Then fold into thirds, one end in first and then the other.  Try not to degas the dough too much as you do this.  Cover and let rest for 40 minutes.

Stretch and fold the dough twice more, waiting 40 minutes between folds.  When the dough has been folded 3 times, cover and rest for 30 minutes before final shaping. 

Line baking tray(s) with parchment and rub the paper with olive oil.  Place the dough in the center and lightly flatten with the tips of your fingers.  It's okay if it springs back.  Cover and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425º F.

Gently pull the dough out by the corners toward the edges of the tray, lifting and stretching.  Press out from the middle with fingertips if needed, just don't deflate the dough.  To make a plain flat bread, sprinkle with a little water and oil.  Otherwise, drizzle with a little oil and arrange desired toppings before baking.  Bake for 15 minutes, (I added a bit of steam initially), then reduce heat to about 390ºF and bake for another 15 minutes or until done.  Cool on a wire rack.  The topped focaccias are delicious when eaten warm, like pizza.

What I used for my toppings:

Spring Fruit Focaccia:

Drizzle of olive oil
1-2 tbsp candied ginger, minced
zest of half a lime
1 medium nectarine, sliced
1 small pkg blackberries
Goat cheese
1 tbsp fresh lime thyme, chopped

Mix the ginger and lime zest together and sprinkle over the dough.

Arrange the nectarines on top of the dough.  If the blackberries are the huge, cultivated ones, they may need to be cut in half before adding them.  Mine were that type.

Break small chunks of goat cheese and sprinkle them evenly over the top of the fruit.  Drizzle a small amount of honey (like a teaspoon or less) lightly over the top of everything, avoiding the edges.  (It will burn on the pan if it drips over.)

Bake the bread.  Remove from the oven and drizzle all over with a good teaspoon or so of wildflower or blackberry honey.  Then sprinkle evenly with the lime thyme.  Enjoy warm.  It reheats wonderfully as well.

Potato Asparagus Leek Focaccia:

Plan ahead and cook the potatoes while the dough is resting.

2 small yellow potatoes, thinly sliced
4-5 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1 inch chunks
4 spring onions, sliced
1 small leek, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
fontina cheese
fresh basil, chiffonade
Parmesan cheese, shaved (optional)

Put the minced garlic in a little dish with enough olive oil to cover and set aside.  Put the sliced potatoes in a small pot of lightly salted water and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 8 minutes, just until al dente.  Add the asparagus the last minute or so to blanch.  Drain and set aside in a pot of cold water to hold until ready to use.  The leeks and onions can go in the cold water pot as well and drain all before topping the bread.

Spread the garlic and olive oil over the dough.  Arrange the potato slices evenly over the dough.  Repeat with the asparagus, onions and leeks.  (I ended up with a little too much topping and overloaded my bread a bit.  Still tasted good though!)

Arrange thinly sliced fontina over the top and bake the bread.  When bread has cooled slightly, top with basil chiffonade and shaved Parmesan if desired.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Chicken Noodle Soup in Under an Hour

This updated chicken soup is one of our all time favorites.  We've always loved it and it was the first recipe my eldest learned to make almost all by herself.  But sometimes when we used store bought stock, it just seemed to be missing something in the way of flavor.  I finally found what that missing element was and can't believe I didn't figure it out before.  A simple bay leaf makes all the difference in the world.  Turmeric is another addition to the old standby that we have been using for a year or so.  The turmeric adds warmth and color, and bay leaf adds supporting notes that range from a hint of balancing bitterness (the uegenol compound)  to a round, subtle, tea-like quality.  They both make it taste rich and long simmered and we wouldn't go without them again!  Using rotisserie chicken makes this dinner even more quick and easy. You can pick up a rotisserie chicken and pick it yourself, or get the pre-picked meat in a nice big package worth three dinners if you happen to have a Costco close by.

Another way to make this soup and still have it be quick and convenient is to just drop in a few frozen chicken tenders with the broth. By the time the soup has simmered for 15 minutes, they are perfectly done and can be fished out and chopped quickly.

Recipe first posted March 17, 2010.  Updated ingredients and pictures.  We usually like to DOUBLE this recipe!

Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup
About 4 servings

2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken meat
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups water
1 Qt chicken broth or stock (32 oz. pkg)
2 medium celery stalks, chopped
4 small carrots, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
¼-½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
¼ tsp lemon pepper
1 dash tabasco
1 cup fusilli or farfalle

In a 4 qt saucepan, saute the carrots, celery and onions in the olive for a few minutes until they start to soften.  Sprinkle with turmeric and cook for another minute.  Add the broth, water, parsley, salt, pepper, lemon pepper, and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.  Add chicken and return to a boil.  Add noodles and cook for the time listed on the pasta package or until noodles and vegetables are tender.  Taste and adjust your seasonings if desired. 
The tabasco brightens up any soup, but you could add a splash of lemon or vinegar of your choice if you don't want that extra heat.  This is a simple soup with basic veggies.  Feel free to customize and add your favorites.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Thai Chicken Soup

This is one of our favorite soups from a well loved magazine of soups and stews by Better Homes and Gardens.  I have made it many times and it's always eaten with happy noises and taken in thermos containers for lunch the next day.  I finally availed myself of the option of getting some of the big packages of cooked roasted chicken meat that Costco makes from its unsold whole rotisserie chickens.  I never even knew about that until last year, but it sure makes throwing together a last minute meal that much easier.  Easy enough to dispel the possibility of falling back on fast food.  If you pre-portion the chicken pieces and freeze them, you can thaw them fairly quickly for a meal, or even just dump the frozen chunk into a soup to thaw and heat through in about 10 minutes.  I made another favorite soup from the previous page last night with the first chicken portion and avocados that I had also picked up at Costco.  Those, I had prepared ahead for that soup by mashing with lime juice and freezing.  So yummy, I'll have to share that one next time I make it since there is still one more pack of avocado in the freezer.

The first time I made this soup, my youngest wasn't so sure about the mushrooms.  That was over two years ago though and now she loves them, I think in no small part due to this recipe.  It has nice color from the carrots and peppers, and even more if you garnish it with some fresh cilantro or parsley.  A great soup for any time of year.

Thai Chicken Soup
Serves 6
From Soups and Stews by BHG

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about a cup)
1 32 oz. carton chicken broth (or 1 Qt home made)
2 cups carrots, sliced on the diagonal (4 medium carrots)
1 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 cups cubed or shredded roasted chicken
3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (8 oz)
1 14 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ½" pieces
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts (optional)
¼ cup snipped fresh cilantro (or freeze dried, 2 tbsp)
Lime wedges (optional)

In a large soup pot, cook and stir ginger  and garlic in hot oil over medium heat for about 30 seconds.  Add the onion and cook and stir for 4-6 minutes until the onion is tender.
Add broth and bring to a boil.
Stir in carrots, lemon peel, and red pepper flakes.  Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes until the carrots are tender.
Add the chicken, mushrooms, coconut milk, and red bell pepper and heat through.  Add dried cilantro at this time if using.
To serve, top each bowl with a sprinkle of peanuts and cilantro.  Serve with lime wedges on the side if desired.