Monday, April 27, 2015

Homemade Pop Tarts

 If you know me, you know I like to cook for my friends. (Have I ever cooked for you?) It usually starts with a simple idea, or maybe a specific kind of food or ingredient brought up in a random conversation, and then I'll take that ball and run with it when choosing the menu. (Sports reference?? Whaaaat?) Anyway, the most recent dinner event was a Breakfast for Dinner theme. I did Eggs Benedict Casserole, Biscuits with Sausage Gravy, and Apple Cinnamon French Toast Casserole, among other things. I had originally planned to just have a light fruit salad for dessert, (with Marie's Fruit Salad Dressing, of course), but then my friend AJ asked "Could you MAKE a Pop Tart? My first thought, was "Well, I've never made it before, but how hard can it be?" So I said SURE! Why not??  I googled it, found a few different recipes, and decided that THIS was the version I'd try. I found it on a blog called
 It was a HUGE hit!!!  They were gone in no time! To be quite honest, they did take a little longer to make than I had originally anticipated, but they were clearly worth the wait. Make them ahead of time and then store them in your freezer until you're ready for them. They're kinda delicate, so I don't think you could actually toast them in a toaster, as with the name brand. So does that technically still make them POP tarts???? Absolutely! You can POP them into the oven and enjoy them any time you like! Drizzle with the icing, add a few sprinkles, and you'll never buy the name brand again. They're delish! Oh, btw, I didn't take a picture with the icing on top because I like the way they look with the little holes on the top. But go ahead and slather with the icing after they're cool.
Serious yum.

2 cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 - 5 Tbsp ice water
3/4 cup strawberry preserves, divided (or other preserve of choice)

1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp half and half, plus more as needed
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

 In a food processor pulse together flour, salt and granulated sugar. Add butter and pulse mixture until resembles coarse meal (it won't really come together in pieces much at this point, so don't over-process, just pulse until butter is no longer in large pieces). Add 4 Tbsp water and pulse several times, if it doesn't come together in clumps add remaining 1 Tbsp water. Drop mixture onto a clean surface, gather dough into a ball then divide into two portions. Shape each portion into about a 5-inch disk. Cover each with plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.
Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with 1 disk at a time (keep other in fridge to chill), roll dough out onto a floured surface to about 13 by 11-inch rectangle (when edges start to crack a little when rolling, seal them and continue rolling), then trim edges to get a 12 by 10-inch rectangle (to even the edges). Then cut into eight 5 by 3-inch rectangles (cut in half through the longness then three cuts through the opposite).
Arrange 4 of the rectangles, spaced evenly apart on prepared baking sheet. Spread 1 1/2 Tbsp of jam evenly down the center of each rectangle, leaving about a 3/4-inch rim on all sides uncoated. Top each with another rectangle, then seal edges with your fingertips, then reseal with a fork (I didn't seal with the fork, I just did a double seal with my fingertips because I wanted them to look more like the real thing, but mine might have seeped out a little less had I sealed with a fork also). Poke the top center of each tart about 4 times with a toothpick. Cover and transfer to freezer to chill at least 2 hours or up to one week. Repeat process with remaining disk of dough.Position one oven rack near top third of the oven and a second oven rack near bottom third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake frozen tarts until golden, rotating racks once halfway through baking, about 25 - 30 minutes (some of the preserves may leak out, which is fine, just peel it off once it cools). Allow to cool on baking sheet several minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing:
 In a mixing bowl whisk together all icing ingredients well then add more half and half about 1/2 tsp at a time to reach desired consistency. Spread over tops of cooled pop tarts, leaving a small rim uncoated around all sides. Sprinkle tops with sprinkles if desired and allow glaze to set at room temperature. Store in an airtight container. 

After assembling the tarts, you're supposed to chill them in the freezer before baking. I didn't. I just assembled them, then popped them right into the oven. I'm not sure how different the final result would be, but they were pretty darn good when baked straight away. Just sayin'!
I didn't use preserves, I made an apple filling. I chopped a couple apples to a fine dice, cooked them with a little butter, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and a slurry made of corn starch and water to thicken it. Oh, and quite a lot of cinnamon. If you don't want to make your own filling, just use pie filling from a jar. Or add some diced fresh fruit to your purchased pie filling. It will all work!
If you don't have a food processor, just use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour, or use two knifes. It will take longer, but it'll all be worth the effort!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

 Here's an easy one that even a novice baker can handle. The ingredients are simple, and everything is pretty straight forward. You basically just mix everything in the order listed, pour it into a prepared pan, and boom, into the oven it goes! How easy is that??? The cake is wonderfully rich and moist by itself, but then you pour the cream cheese glaze over it and it's absolutely SINFUL. I don't even remember where I got the recipe, but I do remember everyone loving it when I made it for a group get together. Serve it with any kind of fresh berries, slices of fresh pineapple or peaches, or just by itself. You could even top it with a little sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. No matter how you serve it, I promise you it'll be a hit!

1 cup butter, softened at room temp
1/2 cup shortening
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened at room temp
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300ºF.  Lightly grease and flour a 10 inch bundt cake pan.
Beat butter, shortening, and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; add sugar gradually beating well until fully incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low-speed until mixed in. Sift together flour and salt and gradually beat in, also at low-speed until just blended. Stir in vanilla.
Pour/scoop into bundt pan.  Smooth top with a spatula.  Bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.
Let cool on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool completely on rack.

Drizzle with cream cheese glaze:

 4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 to 4 tbs milk 

Beat cream cheese until very creamy. Beat in powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla. Add 3 tablespoons milk or enough to make it the right drizzling consistency.

Instead of greasing and flouring the pan, I often use a baking spray. Not just regular cooking spray, but one that has flour in it and is meant specifically for baking.
Be sure to let it cool in the pan for a good 15 minutes before turning onto a serving plate. It needs that cooling time to help it set up.
For a yummy variation, add a little freshly grated orange or lemon zest to the cream cheese glaze.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Joey's Chicken and Mushroom Pasta with Red Wine Sauce

Ok, so, if you're one of my faithful readers, you know by now that I like to just throw a bunch of things into a pan and see where it goes. Very often, I forget what I did and then can't recreate the dish, or else it's gone in no time, and then I realize I've forgotten to take a picture of it. Well, this time I remembered to write down the ingredients, remembered to take a picture of it, but forgot to write down how to make it. All I found was the picture and the list of ingredients. Oops. lol Oh well, what can you do. I'm confident, however, that this is what I did. Just by the list of ingredients and knowing  how I would usually cook, I'm pretty sure this is how I did it. Of course, I could make it again just to see if I'm right, but then I'd have an entire pasta dinner, which would go against my current low-carbness. I suppose I could make it again and then invite some people over. Hmm... LOL
 Well, anyway, give it a try and let me know how you like it!

1 lb cut pasta, any kind
4 or 5 boneless chicken breasts
flour, salt and pepper
1 lb assorted mushroom, shitake, button, cremini, portobella
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken broth
crushed red pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh or dried oregano
fresh basil

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple handfuls of salt. Boil pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, cut chicken into small bite sized pieces. In a shallow bowl, combine about a cup of flour, and S&P to taste. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour then shake off the excess.
 Add a few glugs of olive oil to a large heavy pot. Saute the chicken, working in batches, until the chicken is lightly browned and nearly cooked through. Remove chicken and set aside.
 Add a little more olive oil to the pot. Add sliced mushrooms and onions. Saute for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add chopped garlic. Saute for another minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes, red wine, chicken broth, and a pinch or two of salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Let it simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens a little. Add the chicken and cooked pasta to the sauce. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Adjust seasoning if needed. Toss with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, dried oregano, and chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Use any kind of cut pasta you like, penne, ziti, rigatoni, all good!
Use any kind of mushrooms. Any combination or just one kind, all good!
The amounts are just guidelines. If you like a lot of garlic, add a lot! so forth.
Be sure to use fresh mozzarella. This is the kind you'll find in a container of water, not the kind that is shrink wrapped. It's much softer and melts much more easily when you toss it with the pasta.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

 When you think of a strawberry shortcake, you might think of a basic pound or sponge cake, layered with strawberries and whipped cream, am I right? It always makes me think of the dessert case at a diner. (honestly, I think I could eat the whole thing) But here's the thing... Actually, a real strawberry shortcake is not really a cake at all. It's more like a biscuit, sort of bumpy and craggy and not so sweet. Often times, you'll see individual servings, sliced horizontally, stuffed with strawberries and then topped with whipped cream. Well, I wanted to make something as big as the cake in the diner case, but with the biscuit recipe. Then I saw Trisha Yearwood do exactly that on her cooking show. I can't remember exactly whose recipe it was, maybe her grandmother, I think. Anyway, this was exactly what I wanted.
 Now, when I looked at her recipe, I noticed that there wasn't very much sugar in it at all. Like I said, it's usually not very sweet. It really was just a giant biscuit. So I kind of tweaked it a little and made it a little bit sweeter. I made it for my friend Kathleen and she said it was AMAZING. (I told her she could keep it all to herself if she wanted....Hmm... I wonder if she ever gave her husband, Tony, a slice. LOL) Anyway, I think this is now my go-to strawberry shortcake recipe. It's really very simple to make , simple to assemble, and I guarantee everyone will be impressed. And when you top it with whipped cream, use a piping bag. Some people might even think you bought it from a bakery! Gotta love that.
So give this one a try. It's definitely a keeper!

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 cup butter (11 tablespoons), cold and cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 pints fresh strawberries
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
 Grease the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup of the sugar. Add the cold butter and cut in with 2 knives or a pastry blender to coarse-crumb consistency. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk until fully combined. Gradually stir the egg and milk mixture into the flour mixture. Knead the dough for no more than a minute on a lightly floured board. Pat half the dough into each cake pan. Brush the surfaces with the melted butter. Sprinkle the top of each layer with a couple tbs sugar. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Turn the shortcake layers out onto cooling racks. While the layers are cooling, wash the strawberries and remove the hulls. Reserve a few berries for garnish. Cut the large berries in half and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup sugar. Let stand for about 30 minutes. Spoon half of the berries with their juice over one shortcake layer. Place the second layer on top and spoon the remaining berries and juice over it. Top with whipped cream.
After baking the layers, I looked at the top of each one to see which one was more even, then made that the top layer. The more uneven one would then become the bottom layer. Using a serrated knife, I sliced off the top of the uneven layer, and then assembled the cake as directed. This serves two purposes: It gives you a flat surface on which to layer the strawberries, and it also makes it easier for the syrup from the strawberries to absorb into the cake. Smart, huh????
Not a fan of strawberries? Use whatever kind of fruit you like!
 Btw, I didn't top it with a lot of whipped cream because I was making it for Kathleen and she prefers it that way, but if you like a lot of whipped cream, go for it!!