Sunday, October 26, 2008

Buttery Toffee Cookies

(Don’t bother reading my review. Just scroll down to the recipe and make the cookies. Yes, they’re that good!)

If you want to buy toffee bits, don’t look for them in New Jersey. I have, literally for years, with no success. In the meantime, I’ve been accumulating recipes that use them in hopes of either locating my elusive prey or asking A to pick some up for me when she visits her family in the Midwest. There are plenty of toffee bits there, I understand.

A few weeks ago, I dashed into my local Acme to pick up a few things and stopped dead in my tracks. There they were. An entire shelf of Heath toffee bits in a holiday baking display. I grabbed a couple of bags to throw into my freezer. Those bags looked awfully forlorn, so I stopped by the Acme a few days later to grab a couple more bags. It’s a good thing I did. I haven’t seen any since.

I wasn’t able to do any cooking or baking over the summer, so I used the time to reorganize my recipes. That’s an exaggeration. What I really did was take all the clippings, photo copies and printouts from my computer and throw them into a large basket so that I no longer have to turn my entire house upside down searching for a particular recipe.

So I knew exactly where to find the cookie recipe that started the Great Toffee Bit Hunt years ago. It’s one of those recipes from the inside of the butter packaging. It’s an extremely simple recipe but so is the recipe for chocolate chip cookies! I only strayed once from the directions and instead of stirring in the toffee bits by hand, I used my mixer. Just laziness on my part. The cookies took exactly 12 minutes to bake and the batter yielded exactly 48 cookies.

These cookies are so good that I would make them without the toffee bits. They are the best butter cookies I have ever tasted.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Buttery Toffee Cookies
(source: Land O Lakes Butter Package)

1 cup Land O Lakes Butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) package milk chocolate toffee bits

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowel often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour, baking soda and salt. Beat until well mixed. Stir in toffee bits by hand.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet.

4 dozen cookies

Recycle: vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chicken & Sage-Mushroom Gravy

It’s only October, but already I am thinking about the scents and flavors of Thanksgiving. One of those flavors is sage so it’s no surprise that this recipe caught my eye. And it has mushrooms! Oh, wait. That’s right. I am no longer cooking for a fussy eater so I don’t have to put mushrooms in everything as an inducement to try a new dish. But, hey, I like mushrooms too. And I had noodles left over from the Chicken Noodle Soup. This was a perfect opportunity to use them up.

I wasn’t sure how one goes about seasoning 1 ½ pounds of chicken with only ⅛ of teaspoon of salt and ⅛ of teaspoon of pepper, so I placed the chicken in the pan and sprinkled it with the salt and pepper, turned it over and did the same on the reverse side. I’m sure that the total amount exceeded ⅛ teaspoon of each but I happen to like my food well-seasoned.

Kudos to the person who wrote this recipe. Mushrooms do take five minutes to cook rather than the usual 2 to 3 minutes that most recipes say. I did have a small quibble with the recommended “simmer for 2 minutes” when adding the broth and seasonings to the mushroom roux. For the correct texture, it should be brought to a boil and then cooked for at least 2 minutes, usually more while stirring constantly.

My initial impression of this dish was that the nutmeg was too dominant despite the small amount (⅛ teaspoon) but by the second day, the flavor had mellowed to a delicious blend of mushrooms, sage and nutmeg. Quick, easy and delicious! This dish is definitely being added to my regular rotation.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper.

Chicken & Sage-Mushroom Gravy

(source: Family Circle magazine, 10/18/08)

1 ½ pounds thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can (14 ½ ounces) chicken broth
¼ teaspoon dried sage
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Noodles and green beans, optional

Season chicken on both sides with ⅛ teaspoon each of the salt and black pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add chicken and sauté for 3 minutes. Turn and sauté for an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove to a plate.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the mushrooms to the skillet. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until softened and lightly browned. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms; cook 1 minute. Gradually stir in broth. Add dried sage, nutmet and remaining ⅛ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add chicken; simmer for 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through.

Serve with noodles and steamed green beans, if desired.

Donate: Campbell’s Soup labels to your local school

Recycle: vegetable oil bottle, chicken broth can

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Caramel Swirl Hunks

I’m always on the lookout for recipes that contain ingredients that I’ve never used before. I’ve never even heard of dulce de leche so when I saw this recipe featured as part of the come-on to buy “A Passion For Baking” by Marcy Goldman, I was eager to try it and see how it is used.

Everything was going great until I got to the last step and opened the can of dulce de leche. The batter was a perfect consistency, like that of brownies, looking and tasting just like the promised caramel. From reading the recipe which instructed you to swirl or smear the dulce de leche into the batter, I was under the impression that it was a liquid. Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the can and discovered that it is, instead, the consistency of peanut butter. I could dollop it as instructed with no problem, but swirling or smearing was out of the question.

After baking for 35 minutes, the edges were definitely done on their way to overdone and the middle was not at all wobbly, liquid or jiggly as the recipe had said was possible. It had a nice “crust” on it. Unfortunately, after I removed it from the oven and refrigerated it, I discovered that underneath that crust, was uncooked batter. I don’t believe that if I had lowered the oven temperature and cooked it 10 to 15 minutes longer as recommended, it would have helped. Indeed, I’m certain that it would have made a bad situation worse. The cooked part of this was dry already. If I had continued cooking it, it probably would have burned and the center would have dried out leaving me with an unpalatable mess.

Cooked as directed, the edges, other than being a bit dry, were delicious. The center was good if you like cookie dough, which I do.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Caramel Swirl Hunks

(source: A Passion for Baking)

2 cups unsalted butter, melted
3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
⅓ cup white sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup quick oats
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped up chocolate
1 (14-ounce) can dulce de leche*

*Find dulce de leche on the baking aisle or with Mexican foods.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously spray a 13 x 9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and place it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. In a mixer bowl, blend butter and both sugars. Add eggs, vanilla, and oats and blend well. Fold in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter in prepared pan. Top with dollops of dulce de leche and then swirl or smear dulce de leche somewhat into batter.

Bake 35 to 38 minutes until batter is set (not wobbly and liquid). If it seems browned around the edges but jiggly in the center, lower the temperature to 325°F and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes longer until set. Refrigerate or freeze 1 hour. Cut into large hunks or blocks.

Recycle: dulce de leche can, vanilla extract bottle

Compost: eggshells