Monday, January 24, 2011

Chocolate Pecan Biscotti

Biscotti is Italian for "twice baked," which is exactly why these hard cookies are easy to store long term or ship as gifts and are perfect for dunking in a hot cup of coffee in the mornings. This recipe has more of a shortbread texture than the pre-packaged biscotti you get at most coffee shops.

  • For smaller biscotti, use two cookie sheets and form the dough into three or four smaller logs. Adjust bake time accordingly. I prefer big, meaty biscotti like these, so I bake as two logs. 
  • I sometimes bake the logs the night before, let them sit out on the counter to harden overnight, then slice and bake the second time the next day if I have time.
  • Try all kinds of different variations for this recipe. One of my favorites is slivered almonds with 3 Tb aniseed and almond flavoring. Another is to add 1/2 cup cocoa  powder and reduce the flour to 3 cups for a chocolate biscotti. Add dried cranberries or cherries. 
  • For an extra yummy touch, dip half of each biscotti in melted chocolate and let set on wax paper. The possibilities are endless.  
Chocolate Pecan Biscotti
 Adapted from the Aniseed Biscotti recipe in the 2005 Taste of Home Annual Recipes cookbook.
When baking as two large logs, this recipe makes about 16 large biscotti.

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup roughly chopped and toasted pecans
1 cup (6 oz) good quality chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325'.
1.) Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla.
2.) Combine flour and baking powder. Beat into wet ingredients.
3.) Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in pecans and chocolate.
4.) Divide dough into two large "logs" on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and sounds hollow when you tap lightly on the top. Let cool completely.
5.) Transfer to cutting board and cut into 1" slices with a long, thin serrated knife or butcher knife.
6.) Places slices cut side down on baking sheet and bake an additional 10 minutes. Turn over and bake another 10 minutes until both sides are lightly browned and cookies are hard.
7.) Let cool on wire racks. Cookies will continue to harden as they cool.
8.) Store for one to two weeks.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year's Food Resolution: More Veg, Less Meat

One of my New Year's resolutions is to eat less meat and make the meat we do use go farther. I want us to eat healthier; and I want to spend less money on groceries. So this week I spent $10 on bone-in chicken breasts at Lowes Foods ($.97/lb) and in about an hour (not including cook time) turned 12 bone-in breasts into 24 medium boneless chicken breasts, 12 chicken strips, 1 gallon of chicken broth and 4 cups of cooked, shredded chicken. Here's how I did it:

Each bone-in breast will give you one large boneless breast and one chicken strip or two medium breasts and a strip. Start by pulling back the skin. Use your knife to separate any membrane from the meat that you can't loosen with your fingers.

You'll need a sharp, thin knife to knock these out quickly. Turn the breast so the skin is flopped over the left-hand side and the meat is on top. You'll feel a hard, flexible line of cartilage on the right. If the breast isn't already pulled away from the cartilage use your knife to cut it away.  You should be able to see where the breast is now separating from the bone and there's a small, separate strip of meat underneath. Cut away the breast. It will be oblong and tear shaped, thicker at the top and thin at the bottom.

 Now that the breast is gone you'll see a small, long strip of meat separately underneath the breast. Use your knife to gently cut the strip away from the bone/cartilage. Cut away any ligament or bone.
 You should now have one large breast, a strip, and the remaining bone/skin/meat. Using a mallet gently pound the thickest part of the chicken breast to an even thickness. Cut the breast into two pieces and set aside. Cut the skin from the remaining bone and discard the skin; save the bones for making broth.
Place the remaining bones with meat in a 6-quart pot. I use a pot that comes with a built-in strainer. Fill the pot with cold water just so the bones are covered. Add three stalks of celery, washed and snapped into three-inch pieces. Peel a yellow onion,cut it into four chunks and add to the water. Add 4 or 5 Tbs of sea salt and 8 to 10 black peppercorns. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer another hour. Remove from heat, lifting the straining pot with all the vegetables and meat, leaving only the broth in the pan. Place the broth in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to use it. I skim any of the fat off the top before freezing. Discard the vegetables and using your fingers, pluck any remaining cooked meat from the bone and set aside the meat. Discard the bones.

Cutting back on meat will take some dedication. Stretching $10 of chicken is one part of the process. We'll also need to actually eat less meat and replace it with healthier proteins, fruits, veg, grains etc. My goal is not to deprive us by any means, but to make more conscious decisions about what we're eating and where we're spending our money in 2011. In some future posts I'll update you on how we're doing and share meal recipes that either 1.) stretch a little bit of meat to feed four heartily or 2.) skip the meat altogether. I'll also be posting lots of baking recipes. I love to bake when it's cold like this, and what's life without balance?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Make me cookies you will!

More than anything, my five-year-old wants one of those T-shirts that says, "Come to the Dark Side...We have cookies!"  Well, now we really do have cookies on the dark side. One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was from all my boys--the Star Wars Heroes & Villains cookie press set from William's Sonoma. Once I looked at the beautifully frosted cookies on the box I knew I would have to work out some other way to decorate them. I mean you have to have just the right green for yoda and it isn't the same green as Boba Fett. And how unappetizing is Darth Vader in all that black frosting? So after doing a little research online, I decided to doctor the recipe that came with the kit by adding 1/2 cup cocoa powder and 1 Tb instant coffee granules (to enhance the chocolate flavor) for an Oreo-type cookie. Then I whipped up a buttercream frosting for the filling. OMGosh! Fabulous. Of course, you don't have to use this cookie press. Any cookie cutter will do. Just be sure the image is symmetrical (I think that's the word I'm looking for), so the top and bottom cookies match up. For example, Boba Fett has a little pipe on the left-hand side of his helmet that was on the right-hand side on the bottom cookie, but Vader, the stormtrooper and Yoda worked perfect.

REVIEW: So if you're thinking about buying this set from Williams Sonoma, here's my two cents. I like them. They're $20, but if you have a little Star Wars fan (or a big Star Wars fan) in the house they're fun to have around. I can't wait for his birthday party this year. I feel a Star Wars theme coming on. Lincoln had a great time using them with me. I had to help a little because the dough is pretty stiff. They clean up well and although they don't come with a container, they fit easily in a quart-sized freezer bag for storage. I also kept the recipe info and cut out the small picture of the frosted cookies on the back of the box to keep with the presses for future reference if I decide to tackle actually frosting them.

The Dark Side Filled Cookies
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 Tb instant coffee granules
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 Tbs), room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1.) Preheat oven to 350'. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2.) In an electric beater, beat the butter until smooth, 2 mins. Slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 2 mins more. Add the egg and vanilla, scraping the sides to thoroughly combine.
3.) Combine the flour, salt, cocoa powder and coffee granules in a separate bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in batches until a stiff dough forms.
4.) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into two balls. Wrap each ball in Saran Wrap and refrigerate 2 hours to 2 days.
5.) Remove the dough from the refrigerator one ball at a time and let stand 5 minutes. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (Try using powdered sugar instead of flour) until 1/4-inch thick.
6.) Using the SW press or a cookie cutter, cut out the shapes as desired and transfer to the pans. Be sure to cut out two of each shape so you can make a sandwich with the same images. For the SW presses, I lifted the dough into my hand while still inside the press and pushed the plunger again to get an extra clear imprint of the faces.
7.) Place the cookie sheets with the dough in the freezer for 5 minutes to avoid spreading and puffy cookies.
8.) Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks while you make the frosting.

Buttercream Filling
1 stick of butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
milk or cream, 1 Tb at a time

1.) Beat the first three ingredients until well combined.
2.) Add the milk or cream 1 tablespoon at a time until you get a smooth but thick consistency to your frosting, just thin enough to be spreadable but not so thin it will run off the edges of the cookie when you press them together. Transfer the frosting to a quart-sized freezer bag and cut off one small corner of the bag to use for piping.
3.) When your cookies have cooled, pipe a nice big blob of frosting on the blank side of the cookie and press the other cookie together. Let sit a few minutes to firm up before eating. 

For Christmas, Lincoln got the LEGO Darth Vader Tie Fighter with Vader mini-fig. Just had to include. He's very proud of his handiwork.I also found this great Star Wars snowflake for my background this month.
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