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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coconut Torte Day

   March 13 was Coconut Torte Day. Oh, yum, I do love coconut! But, what, you may ask, is a torte? I found two rather different variations of tortes: one is a cake made with many eggs and very little flour; the other is a rich, multilayer cake usually covered with cream and fruit or nuts. Either way sounds just perfect to me.
   I am going to make a Pina Colada torte in celebration, which uses shredded coconut as the crust. Of course, not everyone here is very fond of coconut, the number one son is not a big fan, but he is a sweets fan, so I might be able to pull this off. 

 Pina Colada Torte

2 2/3 cups of flaked coconut, separated, toasted
4 tablespoons melted butter

Mix 2 cups of the coconut with the melted butter and press into the bottom of a springform pan. Chill.

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)   
2/3 cup Cream of Coconut which actually weighed 15 ounces
 1/4 cup light rum or 1/8 teaspoon rum flavoring  
 1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well drained   
2 cups (1 pint) whipping Cream, whipped      
Maraschino cherries, optional 

In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, cream of coconut and rum; stir in 1 cup pineapple. Fold in whipped cream. Pour half the cream mixture into prepared pan; sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut. Top with remaining cream mixture. Freeze for 6 hours or until firm. Gently remove outside ring. Garnish with remaining pineapple, coconut and maraschino cherries if desired.  
   Of course to bump this up a few notches, you can use maraschino cherries marinated in moonshine--they are both legal and available in liquor stores in New York State; thanks to  number two son for that little contribution.
  The mixing was very easy. I learned that 2/3 cup cream of coconut measures out exactly one 15 ounce can--perfect, what would I do with a smidgen of cream of coconut, anyway? Of course, knowing me the way you do, do you really believe I followed the instructions to the "T"? Of course not! I just added the 1/2 cup of coconut right into the mix instead of doing the layer technique, not a big variation, but I try to tell you exactly what I do to get my results.  I also did not purchase crushed pineapple, but ran a 20 ounce can of pineapple chunks through the food processor and let it drain over a pot for about 2 hours. I have never had a problem with this substitution, and I buy the chunks by the case at the local warehouse club; they do not sell crushed pineapple, so I make do with what I can get.
   The torte is now in the freezer, I will garnish it with the very little pineapple and coconut that is left, and put on a maraschino cherry, or two, for anyone who is daring.
   I did contemplate sweetening the whipped cream, but thinking about it, it was going to be combined with sweetened condensed milk, so I let it ride--in other words I used straight whipped cream, no sugar, no vanilla. Tasting the mixture from the drop that was left in the bowl after I poured it into the crust, I am glad I did not sweeten the cream.
   I have made this early enough to enjoy for dessert tonight. And I have a full house, as number three is home for spring break, plus one. The more the merrier when it comes to the dinner table.
    The torte came out awesome, even without the cherries in the photo. They ate the whole thing...okay, not in one sitting, this time.  The husband's recommendation was to not lose the recipe, and it would be awesome in the summer. Both number one and number two asked if it was made of ice cream. I guess, technically, yes it was--although it was whipped cream, frozen. Number one was happy it was not primarily coconut, he likes the addition of pineapple for the pina colada taste much better. Number three asked if I would make that again when he was home over the summer. Of course, being, as his brothers call him, the "Wonder Child" I will certainly honor his request--just to add fodder to his brothers' illusions.
   They all commented that the toasted coconut crust was really good, and a nice change from the standard pie crust or Graham cracker crust, so in the spirit of March madness, I guess I landed a three-pointer! Woo who!
   Let me know how yours turns out.  Until next time--enjoy!

Pina Colada Torte for National Coconut Day.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New (?) Direction.

   Hello, all! The next 15 weeks I will be embarking on a new direction--not only in life, but also in my blog.  As part of a class I am taking at ESC, I have to make periodic entries into this blog. Talk about being right up my alley! Imagine, having to jabber away about something I am passionate about; or rather being encouraged to post my stories of how the foods I prepare are woven into my family's life. I have entered the first stage of heaven.
Writing about cooking: that's me wrapped up in a nice little gift package.
   In celebration of my good fortune, I am embarking on a quest to make good meals for the family, as you all know, we eat dinner together most nights, but with classes starting, I need to find easy preparations that don't skimp on taste. The husband will be the first to notice if I get too careless and start serving packaged foods. And my ankles will show it, as well, as they start to swell from all the preservatives and sodium that makes pre-packaged foods so unhealthy. Both alternatives are to be avoided.
   So where do I start? 
   I think a crock-pot full of meatballs with homemade Italian bread are in order. Meatball heroes will serve both as a dinner and a lunch, or two, for the guys at the shop during the week. Yes, they are the extended family of guinea pigs for my escapades in the kitchen. (Insert evil laugh).
   Just so we are clear: I will not just serve meatball heroes for dinner, but will also serve at least a tossed salad, and possibly some fried artichoke hearts or cauliflower with a dipping sauce, followed an hour, or so, later, by some dessert fare. That, to me is a dinner; where just a hero is fine for lunch, or a Sunday evening supper after a dinner was served at two or three o'clock, although, we seem to have gotten away from the early Sunday dinners and evening suppers, as of late.
    The Italian bread recipe I use is so easy, especially for those who don't like to knead, or in my case, have trouble kneading--my hands cramp up after a few minutes, so I often did not get the dough fully kneaded, which resulted in less than fully risen bread-stuff. However, my darling spouse bought me a Kitchen Aid® stand mixer a few years back and now I do not have to worry about under-kneading. I use this recipe anyway, and it always comes out perfect. I have to give a shout-out to my friend, Donna, for this recipe, and technique, as since I got this recipe a year ago, I generally use only this recipe for all my loaf and round breads, as well as cinnamon buns and monkey bread. I use it so often, I don't even have to refer to the written instructions anymore.

                   Easy Bread Dough 
1/2 cup warm water--up to 117°F. Too hot and you will kill the yeast
1 package instant dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
Add the yeast to the water. Stir and set aside.

In a 2 cup measuring cup add:
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (aids in rising)
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted) melted
Mix together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add yeast mixture (which should be a little foamy on the top). Stir.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of your Kitchen Aid® and add 3 cups of unbleached white flour. You can use 1 cup of whole wheat in place of 1 cup of the all purpose flour, if you wish. I have done so several times, but you might have to "tweak" the amount of water or flour as you proceed. Turn the mixer on to stir in the flour. You will notice it looks like doing this by hand, as you make a well in the center of the mound of flour, add the liquid and slowly work the flour into the liquid until you have a soft dough. If you are doing this by hand, turn out onto floured surface and gradually add more flour, kneading in after each addition, until you have a nice firm, but not stiff dough, that is not sticky. If your dough is sticky, knead in more flour; if it is too stiff, you will have to add some more warm water, but if you knead in the flour slowly this rarely happens. The recipe says you will use between 4 and 5 cups of flour--we all know this depends on the humidity of the day, and the room. Flour can be very thirsty one day, and the next, not so much.I have never used more than 4 1/2 cups of flour, and most of the time I only use 4 cups. .
   Once you have the right consistency, knead dough (if by hand) for one minute, let rest 10 minutes, covered. Knead another one minute, rest another 10 minutes, again covered. Divide into two parts, and shape into your desired shape. Place on greased sheet pan, cover with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, let rise in warm place until double. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack. After completely cooled you can wrap tightly in plastic, but do plan to use it within the next day or two. There are no preservatives in homemade bread, so it will mold sooner rather than later. Hey, there is the lesson within a lesson for the day--if it takes a long time for your store-bought bread to mold--there are plenty of preservatives in it and therefore should be avoided in the future.
    Now, I do a slightly different procedure with the kneading as I use the stand mixer. I knead in the flour gradually, and once I get the consistency I am looking for I let the mixer knead the dough for about five minutes, then put it in a greased bowl and let it rise for about an hour and half, until double, then I shape it and let it rise again until double. I use either an egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) or swab the loaves with olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seed, and sometimes granulated garlic and bake as directed.
  The shaping is where you can get inventive. I found the best thing to do is to roll out the dough into a rectangle and roll up from the short edge very tightly, sealing the edge and ends. It comes out exactly like Italian bread from the Italian bakeries I remember as a kid when I visited relatives in downtown Brooklyn. Who knew? I certainly didn't but now that I do, I almost always use that method and between the recipe and shaping method I have never been disappointed.
    Rolling the dough out is how you make the cinnamon rolls, also, slathering butter, and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar over the dough before rolling and slicing into individual rolls. Place in a greased round cake pans. Use butter, cinnamon & sugar across the top and bake away. The aroma, whether it be Italian bread or the cinnamon rolls is absolutely divine. You can top the cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven, with icing made of 1 cup powdered sugar, about 1 tablespoon of milk, and a drop of vanilla. Add the milk by 1/2 teaspoons til you get a consistency of while glue--you know the stuff that you used in school in the squeeze bottle. The icing will melt and cover the top. Let it cool a bit before you attempt to bite in--hot sugar is about the same temperature as the surface of the Sun. Trust me on that one.
   Of course, I digress, yet again. 
  Here are a couple of photos; one of the risen dough; and one of the formed loaves waiting to rise. Of course, I got caught up again in life and failed to get photos of the risen dough, and the cooked bread. Naturally, because I served it for dinner before continuing this entry there is less than half a loaf left, so I will not tease you with that but will post my next results, if I can keep life from distracting me.

    Love when dough does what it is supposed to do!
  I forgot to mention that you also slash the top of the dough every two inches or so across the top.

   You should give this recipe a try if you want to try some homemade bread, it is by far the easiest recipe ever! Feel free to post your results too, as I would love to hear how yours come out.
   Until next time--enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Time...forever moving too fast.

  I know I said I would check in a few times in February, and looking at the calendar, I see it is already March--my bad. Hopefully you will accept my explanation that my remiss on checking in here was due to having two research papers due for my classes. I do tend to get intensely involved in my research these days, as a way to make up for my lack of effort I put forth when I would have been a traditional college student. And so far, my efforts have indeed been paying off. 
  Back to the matters at hand, however; it is March already. Do I have to go into the rant about where does time go? Let's not waste the precious cyberspace and get on with this month's  food celebrations.
   March is National Celery Month; National Flour Month; National Frozen Foods Month; National Nutrition Month; National Noodle Month; National Peanut Month; National Sauce Month; National Caffeine Awareness Month and; in the United Kingdom, National Veggie Month. I can safely day that March is another month filled with diversity, and that is a good thing, in my opinion--who likes to eat the same thing day after day? Certainly not me, and if I have never mentioned this before, my husband abhors repeats--especially when it comes to his meals. He used to, however, like to make a HUGE pot of pasta fagiole, but don't try to serve it to him for consecutive dinners, he not only gets testy, he gets downright ugly. I finally convinced him how we could make a smaller portion and have it twice within a week, then freeze the rest for another dinner during the winter months, or when the food budget is short. That plan works much better.
   There are a few weekly celebrations during March, as well. The second week of March is both Chocolate Chip Cookie week and National School Breakfast Week, but I am sure the schools don't use chocolate chip cookies for their breakfast fare, more's the pity, if you ask this cookie-monster. The third week of March is American Chocolate Week, the third Saturday is Maple Syrup Saturday, and when either Lent begins or ends in March, which it does some years, you might also have Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)--which is International Pancake Day, Good Friday--which is Hot Cross Bun Day, or Easter which is National Baked Ham with Pineapple Day. Alas! None of those fall in March this year, but I felt I would have been remiss, had I not at least told you about them.
   The daily food celebrations are just as varied this month as they have been all the previous months I have so far reported. A few notables for March are: the 1st is National Peanut Butter Lover's day; the 4th is National Pound Cake Day; March 17th is Saint Patty's Day, and with that National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day; March 20th is National Ravioli Day; March 21st is California Strawberry Day; March 25th is Waffle Day; March 28th is Something on a Stick Day, they seem to always have one of those questionable celebrations every month, have you ever noticed? March 30th is Turkey Neck Soup Day; and we wind up the month with Clams on the Half Shell Day, Tater Day and Orange and Lemons Day on the 31st.
   Seems that this month has just as many celebrations that interest me as any previous month, so maybe I can motivate myself into some cooking marathons. Or not. Maybe we'll just talk about the celebrations if I don't have time to do the cooking experiments and take the photos of the dishes step by step. Does that grab anyone? Well...I think it grabs me, so whether I do a cooking lesson or just a commentary on a celebration, I hope to get back on a regular posting schedule again. 
   Hope to see you and hear from you soon!

Homemade Ricotta Cavatelli

   Oh, yeah, I love cavatelli, even the kind you buy in the freezer section of a grocery store, but boy, do I remember my little old Italian grandma making these by hand and having trays of them sitting on kitchen towels drying all around her house when we'd come for a visit. Funny, but until now it never dawned on me that after dinner those trays were nowhere to be found, yet I never actually saw anyone go around the house and collect them. I guess Italian grandmas are magicians, after all!
   After my recent foray into homemade pasta I started telling my husband that I wanted to try my hand at ricotta cavatelli--I already make the ricotta--it was just a natural progression, if you ask me.
   The recipe is quite basic--flour,eggs, ricotta, salt, and the kneading part can be handled by my trusty old KitchenAid® stand mixer.
   The most difficult part is with the shaping of the cavatelli. You know the drill, you have to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes; cavatelli needs to be wrapped in plastic wrap,and the rest period takes place in the refrigerator. After the dough has rested you split it into  quarters, using one quarter at a time, keeping the rest of the dough covered with the plastic wrap and a damp towel; all the standard rules for working with dough.
   You then split the quarter into half so you are working with 1/8 of the dough at a time. Roll the dough into a rope about 1/4 inch in diameter. Cannot tell you how long the rope should be, as it will vary on the accuracy your split, but you want the width go be close to 1/4 inch (some of mine were thicker, but it did not cause a problem.) Then cut the rope into 1 inch pieces, they will look like little pillows. Here's the part that really takes practice: using a putty knife or other flat tool (I switched to a kitchen scraper which worked fabulously), gently drag the tool across the dough from the long edge furthest away from you towards yourself. You only need a drop of pressure, the dough will curl up over the edge of the tool and end up looking like a tiny hot dog roll. Perfect. Toss the pasta onto a sheet pan that has been lightly sprinkled with flour. And continue with all the dough---oh, yes, you are literally making the pasta piece by piece, although I was able to line up about three next to each other and do three at a time, with only minor adjustments at the end. Pretty impressive for my first try. Here's what they looked like:

And here's a closer look:

   Beautiful, don't cha think?
   Home made spaghetti sauce, home made Italian bread, mixed green salad, and maybe a bottle of Chianti to finish this off. Perfect, perfect perfect.
   Talk soon!