Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mini Onion Tarts and a Giveaway!!!

Congratulations, Shelby, on the four-year anniversary of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch!

Shelby of The Life and Loves of  Grumpy's Honeybunch is celebrating her four-year blog anniversary and when she invited me to participate in her celebration, I had to say yes.  I knew Shelby before her blogging days, knew she was a fine cook and an equally fine person and so it is my privilege and delight to join her and other bloggers in marking this special occasion.

In her true, generous Honeybunch style,  Shelby is giving away a fabulous $50 gift certificate (see her post for details) to one lucky Canadian or U.S. commenter whose name will be drawn by Phil, her beloved Grumpy.  The winner will be announced on January 8, 2012.  So please leave a comment on my post no later than 5 p.m. on January 7, and visit the other wonderful bloggers who have linked to this event to see what delicious bites they have cooked up. Leave a comment with them as well to increase your chances of winning.  Good eating and good luck!

Shelby asked us to write about someone who has made a difference in our lives, and my first thought was my sainted grandmother.  She was the one who taught me to cook in her little two room house. She also taught me about God and she taught me about love and loyalty and she taught me about friendship because she was also my best friend. Then I started thinking of all my other family members and how important they are to me, and then I started thinking about my friends.  I am not going to get all preachy here because this is a food blog, but just let me make one statement:  I know God lives because I see Him in those who have blessed my life..

It's impossible to pick the one person who has made the biggest impact or has been the great influence because each one has made me a a better person than I was before.  So I decided to go with the one friend  I shared the most food history with, and she is Jane H.  Jane and I lived next door to each other, we worked at the same offices, got into numerous harmless shenanigans together that she put me up to.  She was the sister of my heart.

When it came to holidays and celebrations of any kind, it was Jane who'd decide we'd have to have a party.  Before I knew it, our two houses  would be abuzz as we spent hours pouring over cookbooks, magazines,  and recipes, planning, making lists, discarding ideas, adopting new ones, and cooking!!  When the day came, there didn't seem to be enough ovens or time and yet somehow it all came together. We'd open the doors to dozens of friends and family members and soon our guests would be eating and laughing and talking and eating some more, oohing and aaahing over the abundance and diversity we'd spread out.  Such great fun we had. It seemed that we hardly cleared the tables and Jane would be dreaming of the next occasion. 

Even after I moved away to New Hampshire, we talked to each other almost every day, and Jane was still planning parties and get togethers.  It was like living next door to her again as we discussed recipes, food preparations and decorations.  We were each other's go-to person.

As life would have it, my cherished friend, is no longer with us.  It's only been a few short months but I still miss her as deeply as if I had only lost her yesterday.  Even now as I looked for appetizer recipes for a family get-together for the holiday, I was thinking, I should ask Jane what she'd think of these.  I'm sure she'd have something outrageous to say about making sure everyone ate one so we'd all have onion breath at the party.  Then she would consider the monochromatic color scheme of my presention, (she loved beautiful things and beautiful presentation and it was she who did all the breathtaking decorating), she'd firmly suggest that I add some color to my all white plate.

And I'd have to report back and say, "Jane, these went over a storm!  They flew off the milk glass cake plate  (you know the one I have with the ruffly edge that looks like ribbon candy....I doubled it as an appetizer plate, you'd be so proud of my creativity).  They were virtually all gone within the first 20 minutes of putting them out. One of the guests called them onion candy!"

And yes, for Jane...I did add vibrant green parsley  sprigs in between the mini tarts to give some color.  I  had to smile when I overhead someone say..."Oh, how pretty!"

Onion Tarts

These can be made up to one day ahead, and reheated just before serving.  Or if you prefer and time and oven space is at a premium, these can be served at room temperature.

2 tablespoons butter
1 to 2 large sweet onions (Vadalia or Walla-Walla), chopped small
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water

2 large eggs beaten
1 cup half and half  (or milk, or light cream, or heavy cream)
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of salt (optional)

1 package refrigerated two-crust pie crust, brought to room temperature

Preheat oven to 375*F.  Spray a mini-muffin pan or mini-tart pan with spray release.  Set aside.

I used a mini-muffin pan (24 mini muffins to the pan) plus a 12-mini muffin pan and used a 2 inch cookie cutter to cut circles of dough out of the refrigerated pastry crust.  Any leftover dough, I rerolled and cut out more circles. I have a tart presser, but couldn't find it, so just used the end of a wooden handle oyster shell opener (!) and gently pressed the dough into the muffin openings. I used my fingers to pinch the dough up the sides if it needed it. In all, I made 40 mini tarts.  You may need to adjust the size of your cookie cutter if your mini-tart pan has larger openings.

Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the onions and brown sugar.  Cook, stirring frequently, over medium high heat,  for about three minutes.  Add the 1/2 cup water and stir, for about five minutes or until the onions turn a golden brown, and water is evaporated.  Allow to cool a bit.

While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs and add the half and half, Swiss cheese and black pepper and the salt if you are using it.  Mix well.  Add the cooled onions.

Using a tablespoon, use one scant tablespoon of filling and fill the tarts.  These will puff as they cook so you don't want to overfill them.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the tart tests clean.  Let them rest for five minutes before removing, or if you're not going to serve them right away, leave them in the pan to reheat. 

To remove, I tried a slim knife, but found that a small spoon even worked better.  The spray release used before baking helped these to remove easily, and I didn't lose a single one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Danish Pastry

 I am a great admirer of beautiful pastries and cakes and have long believed that I did not possess the wherewithal to make anything so beautiful as a Danish pastry in my own tiny kitchen.  However, after seeing a post on Soap Mom's Kitchen for Danish pastry, I was encouraged.  If you have not visited Soap Mom's Kitchen, I hope you do.  She has so many delicious recipes and photographs of beautiful foods she's made that will both delight and inspire you. Take a look at some of the celebration cakes she's made...oh my!!

The recipe is going to look long and complicated, but, let me assure you, it is not!  The majority of time is resting and rising time, with the longest resting time being overnight in the refrigerator.  There's no kneading, just rolling.  A final pinching of the dough at the end, and filling and glazing and you will have pastries that will earn you big wows and oodles of aaahs. 

Roll up your sleeves.  Take a breath.  You can do this.  It's easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  Take one easy step at a time and remember to start these a day in advance.

Danish Pastry

Cheese Filling
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine and mix well.

Honey Glaze
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons water
Heat in a microwave safe bowl and use a pastry brush to glaze the baked Danish.

Confectioner's Glaze
3/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon of water (or enough to achieve desired consistency for drizzling)
Mix well.  Use to drizzle on top of cooled Danish.

Optional but nice
Jam or preserve  or curd of choice to add on top of the cheese filling
Toasted sliced almonds

Oven 350* F.
Parchment-lined or generously greased cookie sheet.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

For the yeast dough starter, put into a small bowl, like a custard cup, or one cup measuring cup, the following ingredients:
1/4 cup warm water (105*F to 115*F)
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
Wait 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast; it will be bubbly.

In a separate large bowl add and whisk together
1/2 cup milk at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
Set aside.

In a food processor add
2 3/4 cups flour
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter
Process only until butter forms large clumps.  Do not overprocess into a meal.  You want to see clumps of butter.  Have another 1/2 cup of flour in reserve to bring the dough together into a soft ball.

In the bowl with the egg, milk, sugar mixture add the yeast dough starter. Mix well.  Add flour-butter mixture, and using a spoon bring the dough together.  You can mix the dough with your impeccably clean hands as well.  Using the reserved 1/2 cup flour, bring the dough together to make a soft dough ball.  Do not overwork the dough as you do not want to melt the butter.  Grease the bow slightly with vegetable oil and gently turn the dough over in the bowl to lightly coat the dough ball with the oil. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, on a well floured surface, roll out the dough into a large 16-inch square and fold into thirds.

(Note that there are still big pieces of butter.)

Fold into thirds again.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Take the dough out and roll again into a 10 x 20 rectangle and refold as before.  Cover and refrigerate.  Do this for a total of 3 times.

After the third roll into a 10 x 20 rectangle, cut into strips. (I used a ruler and made 1-inch wide strips).  I cut the long way, but in hindsight, I think it would have been better to cut these into strips from the short side.  The long strips made the dough circles too large, and I ended up cutting them in half.

 Take two strips and twist them, forming the twisted strips into a circle and pinching the ends together. 

Pinch the inner part of the ring all the way around towards the center to make a base for the filling.  Spray the tops of the danish with spray release and cover gently with clear wrap.  Let rise for about 35 minutes in a warm spot or until proofed.  (My Danish were uneven in size, but nobody cared, smiles.)

Add filling and a tablespoon of preserves on top of the cheese if you wish.  Bake in a 350*F oven for about 18 minutes or until golden brown. 

Glaze with honey glaze, a drizzle of confectioner's glaze, and if you want to guild the lily, a few toasted sliced almonds.

One of the beauties of this recipe is that the dough can be prepared ahead of time, frozen, defrosted, and finished off at your pleasure. I did this, and it worked wonderfully.

To prepare in advance and then freeze, prepare the dough up to and including twisting the strips into a circle. Spray with the pan release, put on a tray and place in your freezer for a couple of hours. Once completely frozen, remove the pastries from the freezer and store in a plastic bag. When you are ready to bake, defrost the rings (they defrost quite quickly) and proceed with pinching the inside of the rings towards the center to make the base for the filling. Allow to rise and then bake and glaze.

I confess to cheating a little with the rising. I had packed these up to take to a family gathering, and not being in my own kitchen and being a bit underfoot, I put the Danish in the oven not fully proofed. The dough must be very forgiving as they rose beautifully and no one was the wiser.

There's quite a bit of sweetness going on with these. The next time (and there will be many next times!) I think I'll go with unsweetened jam, as I used a regular raspberry preserve. The purchased lemon curd I used was positively divine in this.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This year, for the very first time, I grew my own pumpkins from seed.  There were dozens of promise-filled blossoms from the six seeds I planted, but torrential rains and subsequent floodings of my garden took all but three of my pumpkins.  Even so, I was able to harvest them and make enough puree for 12 pumpkin pies (see footnotes on making the puree). 

We have a certain product here called "One Pie," and I believe, this pie filling is offered exclusively in New England.  They offer squash and pumpkin pie fillings, and we've probably enjoyed hundreds of pies through the years from the well-loved recipes on the back of their cans.  I tried the famous national brand, and even Ole Sweetie-Pi noticed the difference and commented that the pumpkin pie tasted "different and not as good;" it seems his own mother used the "One Pie" brand as well. 

When it came time to chose a recipe for my first from-scratch pumpkin pie, it came as no surprise that I turned to the recipe on the back of "One Pie", and it worked wonderfully.  Delicious pumpkin with molasses and a bit of spice.  This pie is an integral  and delicious part of our holiday traditions and memories. The holidays just aren't the same without it.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry crust for one deep dish, 9-inch pie plate

15 ounces pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt (scant)
1 1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
1-12 oz. can evaporated milk
dash of lemon juice, optional
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup molasses
2 eggs, beaten

Have prepared a deep dish, 9-inch pie plate.  Preheat oven to 450*F.

Sift sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together.  Mix this with the pumpkin puree.  Add eggs, eaten, melted butter, molasses and milk.  Add a dash of lemon juice (if desired).
Pour contents into the prepared pie plate.  Bake in 450*F oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350*F and continue to bake for 50 minutes or until a thin sharp blade inserted in the center of the pie tests clean.  Allow to cool before serving.

To Make Pumpkin Puree

The whole idea of making pumpkin puree intimidated me for some reason, don't ask me why.  Perhaps it's because I've never had a from-scratch pumpkin pie, and have never known anyone who made their own pumpkin puree, or perhaps it's because the directions I read seemed rather vague and uncertain. If you decide to undertake this, let me reassure you, this is easy peasy, lemon squeezy. There is no question that this takes some time, but knowing that what I am serving is fresh and organic and the fruit of my labors makes it all worth it.

The most difficult part is cutting up the pumpkin.  I washed my pumpkin under cold running water and used a vegetable brush to clean the outside.  I used a combination of several knives to cut it open.  Start by cutting around the stem and putting off the "cap," and then slicing down the sides, making long slabs of pumpkin slices.  You don't have to be particular about the size or the shape; you can always cut the larger pieces into smaller ones.  Whatever you do, exercise great caution as  your knife can easily slip and you could hurt yourself.

Grab yourself a large garbage bowl because you'll need it for the seeds and strings that will be removed from the pumpkin's insides.  I used a large soup spoon as well as a large melon baller, scraping down until all that was left was a clean, seed-free, string-free inside. Cut any large pieces of pumpkin into fist-sized pieces. 

For the next part I found my crockpot to be the perfect tool.  Put in  only two tablespoons of water (do not be tempted to put in more ~ the pumpkin has a lot of natural water) and place one layer of pumpkin, skin side down, into the crockpot.  The rest of the pumpkin slices can be placed skin side up, or however it will fit nicely.  Put the crockpot on high and let it go for five or six hours.  You can test for doneness with a sharp knife, and if it pierces easily (as testing for doneness in a boiled potato), you are done.

Chances are the cooked pumpkin is going to be quite watery.  Using your large soup spoon or other favorite implement, scrape the flesh away from the peel.  You'll probably want to put the flesh into a colander to give it an opportunity to drain while you are working on the rest of the pumpkin pieces.  You can reserve the juice for making a gorgeous soup stock or not; I leave that up to you.

Put the pumpkin flesh through a food mill, or do as I did, and use the food processor.  This will help to break down any fibers to give you a smooth puree.  The puree is going to look pretty watery, and to tell you the truth, that part troubled me.  I put the puree through a fine sieve to squeeze out as much water as I could and it still looked watery.  I was concerned that the pie would be watery as a result, even though I had found a couple of web recipes that positively said not to worry about it.  I chose to worry.

Good fortune smiled down on me, as I found an invaluable hint in one of my little 1946 pamphlets entitled Good Vermont Cooks.  The recipe submitter said she cooked down her pumpkin puree even further by putting it in a sauce pan and cooking and stirring over medium heat until the water evaporated.  A bonus in doing this is that the puree goes from a pale yellow color to the deep orange color that we are familiar with.  I pressed the puree up against the side of the sauce pan to see if any water seeped out and once it looked dry and the puree held its shape when I dragged my spoon through it, I decided it was done.

From there, the puree can be frozen or used as you would any canned pumpkin.