Friday, December 31, 2010

Two Easy Appetizers That you can Prepare in 10 Minutes or Less (no baking required)

Good Morning Bakers.  Tonight many of you may have New Year's parties you plan to attend and are thinking, "what can I bring?"  Below I've listed two appetizers that I adore, and require literally a few minutes to prepare (with no baking).

As always, buying high quality ingredients is the key factor here, and consider presentation.  If you don't have a small pretty dish, hit TJ Maxx and pick up a festive serving tray (ignore my old plates in some these were quicky appetizers made at home for just Mike and myself.)

The first option you have comes from our amazing culinary friends - the Italians.  Who knows better that you can combine a slice of tomato, a single piece of basil and a ball of fat, milky Buffalo Mozarella and make a bite of sheer heaven by simply drizzling it with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a light dusting of sea salt and fresh ground pepper:


3-4 Fresh Roma Tomatoes
1 large bunch fresh basil (I prefer the kind bought with the roots still in the dirt)
1 container fresh Buffallo Mozarella or 1 large ball of Mozarella*
1-2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt & Ground Pepper to taste

*Note: Fresh tomato and basil are important, but the coup de grace of this dish is the mozarella.  If you have the time and the funds, I highly suggest going to a specialized cheese store (such as The Cheese Store, with locations in Beverly Hills and Silverlake).  You can also find a nice selection of gourmet cheeses at your specialty supermarket, like Whole Foods or Bristol Farms.  The more milk in the cheese, the better this will taste.  When I was in Naples and cut into a piece of caprese the ball of cheese literally bleed milk across my plate.  The moist, fresh milky flavor combined with the nuttyness of olive oil and acidic balsamic is something to experience at least once in your life.  Yes, I feel this passionately about cheese.

If you are a busy person and have neither the time nor funds to hit a cheese store or specialty supermarket, be discerning when you are at your local Ralphs or Albertsons.  You are looking for a cheese that looks moist and doesn't have added herbs, etc.  

1. Slice tomatoes into 1/4" wide slices.  If necessary, slice mozarella into 1/4" slices.

2. Arrange all ingredients on a serving plate in an artistic fashion, using the following order: 
tomato slice, 

I like to do this in one long row (as shown above).  Some people prefer to arrange the tomato slices on the bottom of the tray, and then stack on a layer of cheese, followed by the basil.  This is your world, have fun with it!

3. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil and balsamic over the dish.  Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  Whala!
(If you are transporting this dish, wait to do this last step right before serving.)


This second item is near and dear to my heart: 
The Cheese Plate

My sincerest "thank you" to the French for inventing the cheese plate.  The cheese plate, much like chili, is a general idea that can personalized in more ways than I can describe.  For me, variety and simplicity are key.  And yes, to beat a dead horse, fresh high-quality ingredients.

Think of your cheeseplate as a venture to explore a variety of flavors and textures.  Sweet, versus salty.  Acidic versus creamy and basic.  Firm drier cheese, versus soft and spreadable.

I especially adore brie and include it on every cheese plate.  You can find some great spreadable alternatives, such as Goat Cheese rolled up with herbs or apricot preserves at Trader Joes.  
Meat selections can range from prosciutto to salami or even thin-sliced turkey, if you are trying to be a bit healthier. 
The selection I picked for this particular plate was a variety of what I already had in the house with a few add-ons:


A selection of 2-3 cheeses.  I used the following:
-Aged Irish Cheddar
-Applewood Smoked Mozarella

A selection of 1-2 thin-cured meats.  I used the following:
-Dry Coppa

A selection of 1-2 nuts and/or olives.  I used the following:
-Roasted and Salted Pecan Halves
-Manzalla Green Olives
-Kalamata Olives

A selection of 1-2 spreads.  I used the following:
-Quince Artisinal Preserve
-Fig Artisinal Preserve
(I also love to use stone ground mustard)

A selection of 1-2 fruits.  I used the following:
-Sliced apples
(Grapes, figs and dates are all wonderful alternatives)

Bread or Crackers, for spreading.  
My favorite is a good, old fashioned sliced baguette.

Arrange all ingredients on a plate, or plates in a an artful fashion (I like to roll up the slices of meat into little piles and place piles of nuts or fruit inbetween).  Slice up bread and serve in a bowl or basket lined with a cloth napkin; or arrange crackers on a plate.

Be sure to include a few cheese spreaders and tongs or small spoons for serving the added olives, spreads and other goodies.  Poor a class of champange and enjoy a wonderful New Year's party!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chocolate Ginger Brownies

Fudgy and moist with a bite of ginger and cloves.  A fun holiday twist on your standard brownie.

(Makes 16)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/ Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.  Line bottom with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches to hang over sides.  Butter parchment; set aside.  Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth.  Remove from heat, and stir in remaining ingredients.

2/ Pour batter into prepared dish.  Smooth top with a rubber spatula.  Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool in  pan on a wire rack 15 minutes.  Lift out, and let cool completely on rack.  Cut into sixteen 2-inch squares.  

Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.

Betty Crocker Apple Streusel Cheesecake Bars

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my own photo of the final bar, so this one was filched off the inter-web.  I originally found the recipe on a fellow-baker's blog:
Thanks to the Betty Crocker Oatmeal cookie mix, these whip up pretty quick and are sinfully delicious.

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker Oatmeal Cookie Mix
1/2 cup firm butter or margarine
2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 can (21 oz) apple pie filling
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/ Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray bottom and sides of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

2/ Place cookie mix in a large bowl.  With pastry blender or fork (I use two knives in a scissor motion), cut in butter until mixture is crumbly and coarse.  Reserve 1 1/2 cups crumb mixture; press remaining crumbs in bottom of pan.  Bake 10 minutes.

3/ Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, flour, vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.

4/ Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over partially baked crust.  In medium bowl, mix pie filling and cinnamon.  Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture.  Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top. Sprinkle with walnuts.

5/  Bake 35 to 40 minutes longer or until light golden brown.  Cool about 30 minutes.  Refrigerate to chill, about 2 hours.  For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows.  Store covered in refrigerator.


Cherry Almond Biscotti

Another traditional Forte-Family Holiday Treat is Biscotti.  My grandmother's recipe originally was very simple, calling for a plain, crunchy cookie with anise flavoring.  My mom would sub vanilla extract.  This version, by Martha Stewart, incorporates Dried Cherries soaked in Amaretto and chopped almonds.  A delicious treat with coffee that transports easily as a gift!

1 3/4 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup amaretto, plus more if needed
3 cups all-purpose flour; plus more for work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egges (3 whole, 1 lightly beaten)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole blanched almonds, chopped
3 tablespoons coarse sanding sugar

1/ Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Heat cherries and liquer in small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until cherries have softened, about 8 minutes.  Drain, reserving 2 tablespoon liquid.  If liquid equals less than 2 tablespoons, add enough liquer to make 2 tablespoons.

2/ Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Put butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in 3 whole eggs, one at a time.  Mix reserved cherry liquid and the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and gradually mix in flour mixture.  Stir in cherries and almonds.

3/ On a lightly floured surface, halve dough.  Shape each half into a 12 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch log.  Flatten logs to 1/2 inch thick.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a parchment paper.  Brush logs with beaten egg; sprinkle with the sanding sugar.

4/ Bake 35 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Transfer to wire racks to cool, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

5/ Cut each log on the diagonal into 16 to 18 pieces (I recommend using a very sharp, thin blade as a serrated knife seems to make the biscotti crumble).  Transfer pieces to racks, laying them on sides.  Set racks on baking sheets.  Bake 8 minutes; flip.  Let cool until crisp.  Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bratseli vs Pizzelle

I Grew Up with My Grandmother and Mother Making Traditional Italian Pizzelles every Christmas.  This Year I branched out by trying a heavier Swiss version that has more thickness and crunch: Bratseli.  Both are delicious, but Pizzelles will continue to be my favorite, as they remind me of being a little girl in my grandmother's kitchen.

Martha Stewart's Recipe for Bratseli (with a few amendments):
7 to 9 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pure lemon extract
(I added 2 drops of coconut extract oil)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (I substituted with fresh orange zest) - optional
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream, room temperature
Vegetable oil cooking spray (I use shortening)

1/ Whisk together 3 cups flour, the cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.  Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachement (I highly reccommend using a stand mixer if you have one; I do not and this dough becomes so thick that it nearly burned out the motor on my hand-held mixer); mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Add extracts, and zest (if using); mix until combined.  Add eggs; mix until combined. 

2/ Whisk cream in a medium bowl until just slightly thickened.  Fold into butter mixture.

3/ Reduce mixer speed to low.  Add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.  Add remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until incorporated after each addition, until dough is just soft enough to handle but still slightly stickt.  Roll tablespoons of dough into balls.

4/ Coat a bratseli or pizzelle iron* with cooking spray, and heat.  Place 1 ball of dough in each grid, and press handle down tightly.  Cook bratseli until golden (some machines have a green light that will illuminate when done), 1-1 1/2 minutes (mine does not; I recommend using a watch with a second hand and watching your pizzelle iron closely).  

Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

*Note: My Pizzelle iron (inherited from my mom)  is from C. Palmer Manufacturing, Inc (out of West Newton, PA)  Model No. 1000-Regular Pizzelle Iron

The traditional Pizzelle recipe that comes with the iron, and the one I make every year is as follows:

Traditional Pizzelles
(makes approx 12 doz pizzelles)
1 doz. Extra Large Eggs
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 cups shortening or margarine
7 cups flour
4 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 Tbl Lemon extract (optional) - (I substitute Vanilla Extract)
1 tsp Anise Oil (optional) - (I never use this...not a big fan of anise)

Beat eggs, add sugar and beat well.  Add margarine, which has been melted and cooled.  Add flavoring then flour and salt - mix well.  Make dough ball about 1" in diameter.  Cook on iron as described above for Bratzeli.

Serve to family and loved ones, and share a little holiday love.