Monday, January 30, 2012

"Vintage" Crumb Cake

I always enjoy it when Wednesdays roll around because this means Let’s Eat, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s food section will accompany the morning paper.  I’m like a kid in a candy store perusing all of the new recipes, reading the articles, and marveling at the new culinary items about to hit the market.  This past Wednesday I found myself laughing out loud when I read a title that referred to Vintage Crumb Cakes.  How old, I asked myself, would a crumb cake have to be to be considered vintage?  Of course I knew they were talking about vintage recipes and not vintage crumb cakes, but it still gave me a laugh with my morning coffee.

Two recipes were contained in the article (a reprint is below), and you know how I like crumb cakes (Check out New York Style Crumb Cake, Starbuck's Crumb-Topped Coffee Cake, New Jersey Coffee Cake, and of course my own Forget the Cake Crumb Cake Cookies.), so I decided to go with the second recipe because of the addition of all of the spices.  It turned out to be a good choice.  It differed from almost every other crumb cake I've ever had in both texture and topping.  The texture of the cake was dense and rich, the topping lightly crumbly, rather than the big mounds of crumbs that I personally prefer, but it was good, and a nice addition to my ever-growing collection of crumb cake recipes.  If you’re a crumb cake aficionado like I am, you’ll want to give this recipe a try.  I made mine in a 9 spring form pan because I wanted a round rather than square cake.  I needed to extend the baking time by about 7-10 minutes.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Crock Pot Italian Beef

I try to get the family involved in selecting photos for the blog.  I sent both of these pictures to everyone and asked them to vote.  Results were mixed.  Some people liked this one with the entire plate in view, others liked the picture at the bottom of this post.  My dad didn't like either saying that the huge glob of congealed fat in the middle of the sandwich was off-putting.  "But, dad," I told him, "that's cheese!"  He still thought it looked like fat.  Ew!  It's cheese, people!  CHEESE! 
Football fan or not, you can’t deny the fun that surrounds Super Bowl.  I absolutely love having a Super Bowl party because I enjoy making all of the food.  This delicious, spicy, and deliciously easy beef sandwich can be made the day ahead.

Crock Pot Italian Beef

3- 4 lb. chuck, trimmed of fat
1 package Good Seasons Zesty Italian salad dressing mix
1-2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, to taste
1/2 (16 oz.) jar pepperoncini peppers, including juice
1 can beef broth, or more if needed
Ground pepper, garlic powder, etc., optional
Favorite cheese
Sautéed mushrooms, optional
Kaiser buns

Mix all ingredients together in a Crockpot.  Cook for 6-8 hours on low setting. When meat is done, remove pieces of fat, shred, and return to juices. Serve on toasted Kaiser rolls, topped with provolone and sautéed mushrooms. Warm in the microwave if the cheese needs to be melted.  These can also be topped with sautéed onions or green peppers, if desired.

NOTE: This is a very forgiving recipe. If roast is large add another pkg. of Italian salad dressing mix and more beef broth. Using more broth will leave you with more juices in which to dip your sandwich. You can use fewer pepperoncinis to make it a bit less spicy.  Experiment and have fun.  A friend of mine uses a packet of dry Lipton onion soup mix and water instead of the dressing mix and beef broth.  It’s good both ways.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Help me Choose a Rug!

I consider Olla-Podrida to be a Lifestyle blog, but do realize that, for the most part, it is all about food.  So, this is going to be a blog post of a different feather, as I’m in the very early stages of decorating and, since decision-making is not my strong suit, I turn to the wise and wonderful of blogland for thoughts and advice.  I’ll take you on a step-by-step photographic journey once each week as things get seriously into motion, but for now, I’m shopping, and one of the first things I’m going to need is a rug for beneath the dining table.
Here are two that I’m considering.  I’m not going for a particular theme per se, but am trying to evoke the feeling of Hemingway, travel, exotic, with a dash of Old Hollywoodget the picture? (Pun intended.)

To give you a better idea of the logistics of things, here is the Floor Plan for the area in question.  The dining area to the extreme left is where the rug will go, on top of a hardwood floor.  The table on top of it will have black legs and apron, with a light-medium pine wood top and four black Windsor chairs.  The sofa in chocolate brown will be on a pale neutral carpeted area to the left of the fireplace and perpendicular to the back wall.
Here is a picture of Rug #2 against the fabric of the sofa.  It's not a good one, as I couldn't manage to capture the depth or richness of the colors, and the background is black not the navy blue it would appear to be here.  But, trust me when I tell you that the brown in the rug is an exact match for the brown fabric of the sofa.
Okay, now see these lamps and side tables?  I have them as well. No, this is not my sofa, nor does the rest of the furniture visible in this picture belong to me.  These were the decorator's pieces, I just liked the look of the lamps and tables and had them made part of the deal.  (I am nothing if not resourceful!) I’ll be swapping out the existing shades with these Calligraphy lamp shades from Pottery Barn.
Now, all things considered, which rug should I choose:  Rug #1 with the black background and fan-shaped palm fronds, or Rug #2, with the variety of leaves in green, browns, and gold?
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Koi Fish Shortbread Cookies

Happy Chinese New Year!  While 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, I hope you won’t mind if I make use of my Chinese Fish Moon Cookie Mold to celebrate the day. Yes, it’s more cookie fun at the O-P abode, and again, with great results.
There is nothing easier than working with these wonderful little wooden cookie molds.  They are amazingly inexpensive, and if you spritz each one with cooking spray before filling, press the dough evenly into the mold, trim off the top, and give it a few good raps on a hard surface, a beautifully detailed, molded cookie will pop right out.  I used a favorite shortbread recipe from the Barefoot Contessa to make these cookies and, for the sake of convenience, have reprinted the recipe below.  I did not, however, find that I needed quite as much time to bake these as the recipe indicates.  Watch these cookies carefully.  They need to set rather than brown.  If you let them go too long you have cute little buttery-tasting fish rocks!
Ina Garten’s Shortbread Cookies

3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped cutter. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges barely begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Homemade" Cookies

I consider myself to be more of a cook than a baker, but when I do bake something I want the world to know about it.  What better way to strut your stuff than with this fantastic Homemade Cookie Stamper.

As you may recall, being a rubber-stamper, I had a keen interest in trying to stamp an image onto a cookie with not so great results, that I bravely shared with you here. Today, however, I had fantastic results thanks to this fun little cookie stamp.  A recipe is included, but since I had been dying to try the sugar cookie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.  What fun, and so easy. Stamping into flour before pressing the image into each cookie guarantees success.  I also pressed images into the rolled out dough, and then cut them out with a two-inch round biscuit cutter.

Hummingbird Bakery’s Sugar Cookies

1 stick + 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (14 Tablespoons total)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the flour, salt and cream of tartar and mix well, but don’t over mix. It’ll go from crumbs to large clumps.  Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface and press the dough together and roll out. Cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutters.  Place on the prepared baking sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, checking regularly to make sure they aren’t burning. They are done when they are very light golden on the outer edges and paler in the center. Remove from the wire rack and cool completely.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Toffee Bars

As do many people who enjoy food, I collect a lot of recipes.  We have a three-inch, three-ring binder that we refer to as our Agenda Book full of these recipes.  Yesterday I decided that it was time to actually try one, and as I hadn’t made cookies in a while, chose to give the Toffee Bar recipe that I found on the Chef's Catalog website a try.  These were easy to make, and since I was watching Team Tebow lose in dramatic fashion – sigh -, I appreciated that it could be made in stages, and then enjoyed at the end of the game.

A shortbread base, topped with gooey toffee that is easy to make, and then crowned with melted chocolate makes these a real crowd pleaser.

Toffee Bars
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

To Make the Shortbread:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 9-inch square pan with a thin layer of butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar. Add the flour and stir until well mixed. Press the batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Set aside to cool.

To Make the Toffee:
In a small, heavy-bottom sauce pan, melt the 1/2 cup of butter. Add the brown sugar, condensed milk, and corn syrup, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring continually. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour toffee mixture over the cooled shortbread.

To Make the Topping:
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Stir until smooth. Pour over the cooled toffee and sprinkle toasted almonds across the top. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Makes approximately 16 squares.
I love the layer of gooey toffee deliciousness.

Topped with chocolate and toasted almonds makes these cookie bars a real winner!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

It’s National Soup Month, and I’m doing my part by making a big pot of soup as often as I can.  A sale on mushrooms at the local market came just at the right time, giving me an opportunity to try a recipe for Hungarian Mushroom Soup, just one of the many luscious recipes in The Moosewood Cookbook.  It gets its rich color and smoky taste from a good dousing of Hungarian paprika, something that we should all try to increase in our diets as it is high in antioxidants and contains more vitamin C by weight than lemon juice.

This soup is rich and hearty, so a little goes a long way. It does warm up both body and soul, something much needed during the month of January.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 cups onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons fresh dill weed
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup sour cream (optional – I skipped it)

Sauté onions in 2 Tbsp. stock until transparent; salt lightly. Add mushrooms, 1 tsp. dill, 1/2 cup stock or water, soy sauce, and paprika. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Melt butter in large saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add milk and cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until thickened, 5-8 minutes. Stir in mushroom mixture and remaining stock. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes. Just before serving, add salt, pepper, lemon juice, sour cream, and, if desired, extra dill (1 tsp.). Serve garnished with parsley.

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