Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lemon Cranberry Scones

I always hated scones. I never understood why people would pay good money for what I considered a muffin wannabe that seemed more like a hard biscuit. Every one I'd tried had a certain I-was-overbaked-and-then-left-out-on-a-counter-uncovered-for-five-days thing about it, so I became a scone cynic. Then things changed. In a frantic search for a white chocolate macadamia blondie recipe, I stumbled on the first food blog I ever followed, Baked Perfection. It's hard for me to exaggerate what became an obsession for me. Late nights scouring the entire site for things I wanted to try began to interfere with my former 8-hour sleep pattern, but it was worth it. (Oh, don't judge me! How much time do you waste playing Angry Birds?) Risa, the awesome girl who runs things, is largely to thank for my newfound baking hobby. To all those friends who who have benefited from a batch of something-or-other that I had to get out of my house before eating too much, thank Risa. By the way, I was attracted to her scone recipe because she had the same beef with them I used to have! Yes, I said beef...

Lemon Cranberry Scones

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, salt, and cranberries. Add heavy cream, and stir just until combined. (Mixture will be sticky, so don't think you're an idiot just yet.) Flour a surface, and pat the dough out; cut into shapes. Place scones on a pan, and bake 9-11 minutes. Let cool five minutes before glazing.

For glaze, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice until you reach a thin consistency. Pour over warm scones.

Recipe adapted from Baked Perfection

Anyone else think prep work is important? Sugar is measured into a Pinch Bowl while salt and baking powder are in Measuring Spoons. Have I mentioned how much I love these new measuring spoons? They're awesome! Ok, moving on... Cranberries are in a 1-Cup Prep Bowl, and I've got my Microplane Zester ready to zest rind into the the Mini Scoop & Measure. All of this is hanging out on the Large Cutting Board.

Do as I say, not as I do. The directions say you're supposed to mix everything besides the cream and then add it, but I got crazy. Fortunately, these still came together beautifully, and tragedy was averted. My mixture is in the 4-Qt. Stainless Mixing Bowl, and I'm pouring cream from an Easy Read Measuring Cup. Do NOT substitute half-and-half, whole milk, or any other substance for the cream in this recipe. If you can't handle the thickness, go find another recipe. Heavy whipping cream is what makes this come together, and you'll become a scone cynic if you make these without it.

I floured my Cutting Board a bit and got out my Biscuit Cutter. The flour in the Pinch Bowl helps keep the cutter from sticking to the dough because trust me, this dough takes sticky to another level. Doesn't this look fun?

My scones are lined up on the Rectangle Stone, ready to go in the oven. If you think these look good now, wait about 9-11 minutes.

While the scones bake, prepare the glaze. You don't have to use another lemon - just grab the one you already zested for the dough. I'm cutting this with the 3 1/2-inch Paring Knife from the Forged Cutlery Collection, and you can see how it cuts the lemon rind like butter. My Citrus Press, one of my favorite tools of all time, is ready for action.

I used the large Easy Read Measuring Cup to make my glaze because it kept me from dirtying a measuring cup plus another bowl. Again, that's the Microplane Zester for lemon rind, and then I'm going to stir things up with a Small Bamboo Spoon.

See how easily the Citrus Press handles the lemon? Since a standard lemon will yield about 2 tablespoons of juice, I didn't bother measuring. Yes, I live on the edge.

This picture makes me happy. Such a simple recipe that makes for beautiful results, and this is the point when you see it all come together. Glaze the scones after they've set about five minutes, and then move them to a Cooling Rack to cool a bit. I'm transferring my scones from the Rectangle Stone with the Large Serving Spatula.

You know what I said about hard biscuits? Does this look like a hard biscuit to you? I didn't think so. Thanks again to Risa at Baked Perfection for an excellent recipe that has become a regular in my rotation! (These are on the Cake Pedestal)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Asparagus Tart

If you read some of my past posts, you may remember that I recently butchered a cookbook my grandmother gave me. I cut out the stuff I could see myself making and threw out the rest, about half the book. This tart is my version of one of those recipes, and it's a keeper. Trust me, this thing is melt-in-your-mouth fabulous, and it's super easy! If you're looking for an appetizer that's a bit outside the box, try this. My friend Forest made it with me, and we both agreed that, yes, this is awesomely good and able to change lives if given the chance.

Asparagus Tart

15 asparagus spears, trimmed
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/2 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 400

In a large skillet, bring 1 inch of water to a boil; add asparagus. Cover and cook 3-5 minutes or just until crisp-tender; drain.

Roll out puff pastry on stoneware, and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups cheese over pastry. Arrange the asparagus on top, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, lemon peel, salt, and pepper, and sprinkle over the top.

Bake 10-15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender, and the cheese is melted. Slice, and serve warm.

Forest was the main pastry artist, and he began by rolling the dough on the Rectangle Stone using the Baker's Roller. Notice the beautiful seasoning around the edges of the Stone!
(If you've never worked with puff pastry, it's in the freezer section around pie crusts.)

This is my stuff-to-go-on-top-of-the-pastry station. It's also where I cut my pinky finger for the first time ever. Note: Never reach across your body to get something when you're holding a sharp knife that happens to be in the path of your reach. You might run into it with your finger. The good news is that mine was a clean cut requiring no more more than a quick wash and small band-aid.

Ok, enough about that... I shredded the cheddar with the new Microplane Adjustable Coarse Grater, one of my favorite products. This thing is so efficient, and it stores easily. I'm using the 5" Utility Knife from the Forged Cutlery Collection for the lemon and the Easy Read Mini Measuring Cup for measuring juice. All of this is on the Cutting Board, a perfect work surface.

Forest is demonstrating the proper technique for snapping asparagus. Bend towards the bottom, and break it where it snaps easily. When you're shopping for asparagus, look for bunches with mostly green bottoms. If they're white most of the way up, you're paying by the pound for a lot of waste. Notice how the Large Cutting Board is resting over the sink to create extra space.

Ah, so pleased with this easy method for veggie prep!

What's fun after getting a tiny cut on your finger? Working with lemons, that's what! Fortunately, I have the Citrus Press, and that means I don't have to get juice all over myself. you can see exactly two tablespoons in the Easy Read Mini Measuring Cup, and that's what the original recipe called for. Once we put everything together, Forest and I decided there was too much lemon mixture, so this version of the recipe cuts it down. Tip: A standard lemon will yield right at two tablespoons of juice if squeezed properly, like with a Pampered Chef Citrus Press or Juicer.

My lemon juice, rind, and olive oil are in a Prep Bowl, and now I'm adding a dash of Salt with the Bamboo Grinder. I'm in love with the entire Bamboo Collection, but these Grinders are my favorite pieces.

It's time for a confession: I thought the Scoop 'N Drain was the lamest thing the Pampered Chef had ever released when I first saw it. A friend of mine quickly pointed out that it looked like a litter scoop, and that's all I could think from that point on. Until I used it. Then I was sold on the fact that this thing is awesome! It's perfect for lifting pasta, etc. out of boiling water, but it's also ideal for lowering it in. Forest is putting the asparagus in the 10" Executive Skillet, and he doesn't have to worry about scalding water splashing him since he has this handy tool. I'm sure he was thankful, but I forgot to ask. If I'd thought of it, the conversation would have gone something like this: "Forest, are you thankful for the Scoop 'N Drain and its ability to keep you from harm's way?" "You don't even know, Jenny... You don't even know!"

The V-Shaped Cutter isn't just for cutting up a fancy-pants watermelon or cantaloupe. No, it's also great for drizzling liquids... chocolate... glaze... lemon juice mixed with olive oil... At this point, Forest and I knew we had a winner on our hands, but I can't quite describe what happened when we pulled out of the oven, sliced it up, and tried it for the first time. Ridiculously good! P.S. That's the Microplane Zester in the background.

Dear Puff Pastry,
I think you and I have a future together. A long, buttery future. I love you.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Chicken Parmesan

My friend Shea at Dixie Chik Cooks recently posted chicken parmesan that looked good enough to make me cry. I mean, it looked AMAZING! You know what happened after that? I looked around, realized I had the needed ingredients on hand, and decided it was time to get my fry on. Yes, I said fry. This recipe is the real deal, so Google low-fat chicken parmesan if you can't take the heat... or grease... or sheer deliciousness. For the rest of you, make this. It's fast, easy, and so worth the judgment of those who think frying is out of style.

Chicken Parmesan

2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 eggs, whisked
2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup canola oil
8 oz. whole milk mozzarella, sliced
12 oz. pasta
Pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash chicken, and pat dry. Heat oil over medium-high heat.
Dip chicken in egg, then breadcrumbs, and set aside.

Add chicken to hot oil, cooking 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown.

Place chicken on baking pan, and top with sauce and cheese. Bake 15 minutes or until cheese is melted, and chicken is done.

Serve with pasta.

Note: I followed this recipe exactly the first time I made this, and it went perfectly. The second time, the one I photographed, I flattened and cut the chicken to make smaller portions. Conclusion? Smaller portions are for losers, and I'm going back to the original. Anyway, this explains why you'll see some crazy flattening/slicing steps that aren't in the recipe.

Whole milk mozzarella produces endorphins. I don't have any "official" research to back my conclusion, but I've done some real life testing over the years, and trust me: whole milk mozzarella produces endorphins. I sliced the cheese on the Large Grooved Cutting Board with the Cheese Knife, measured the bread crumbs into an Easy Read Measuring Cup, and whisked the eggs in the Small Batter Bowl using the Stainless Mini Whisk.

Ah, the Large Grooved Cutting Board, the Meat Tenderizer, and a sheet of plastic wrap. These three combine to make a mean chicken-flattening station, a place where no thick breast stands a chance. The Meat Tenderizer is one of those things I don't use every day, but when I need it, I can't imagine anything working better. The little thing on the bottom has two sides, the flat one for, well, flattening... and the pointy one for tenderizing. This is a perfect example of why I love the skid-resistant sides of the Large Cutting Board! P.S. Watch your fingers 'cause this thing is like a hammer!

I wanted even more Italian in my breadcrumbs, so I added some Italian Seasoning Mix from the Pampered Pantry. I also added some Salt and Pepper using the Bamboo Grinder Stand Set.

Raw chicken breasts started my love affair with the Forged Cutlery Collection. When I got the 5" Utility in the Consultant Kit, I cut chicken with it and realized it was possible to cut meat without sawing. Raw meat. Then I immediately ordered the 5" Santoku, shown here, and it became my favorite knife ever. Notice the clean cut in the last chicken breast. One slice, people! The Cake Pans are awesome for dipping things in bread crumb mixtures, and you can also use them to bake cakes.

Fry, baby, fry! Sometimes there's no better feeling than watching breading turn golden brown while listening to the pop, sizzle, sizzle of canola. To keep myself out of harm's way, I'm using my Chef's Tongs. These are perfect for frying because they're long enough to keep you from popping grease, and they prevent potential breading loss disasters sometimes caused by spatulas. Chicken is in the 10-Inch Skillet, and my sauce is in the 1.5-Qt. Saucepan. Yes, I have the Classic Scraper soaking in tomato-based sauce. No, it's not going to turn red forever.

I cooked my linguine in the 8-Qt. Stockpot from the Executive Cookware Collection, and I drained it in the large colander from the Colander & Bowl Set. Action shot. Hey, take a look at the Chef's Tongs on the Spoon Rest. See how they clip shut so you don't have open tongs all over the place?

Test the chicken to make sure it's 165 degrees, and then eat it! The Digital Pocket Thermometer will keep you from drying meat out while making sure it's safe to consume. I used the Large Bar Pan for the oven step of this recipe, and of course I put in on a Cooling Rack when it came out.

This meal is one of my new favorites, and I'm looking for an excuse to make it again soon. Anyone want to come over for dinner?

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

I can't believe how long it's taken me to post this recipe! I made biscotti for a group of friends a couple of months ago, and the reviews were unanimously positive. Biscotti and I have always been friends, so I was pretty excited when I learned how to make it myself... especially when I realized it was so much cheaper than buying it in stores, coffee shops, flea markets, etc. By the way, if you're buying biscotti at flea markets, I don't want to hear any whining about its lackluster flavor or texture. Make this recipe sometime, but make sure you have a dump plan (as in a place to get rid of these). If you don't have people with whom you can share, prepare to buy new pants because yours won't fit anymore.

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. water
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 3/4 cups flour
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and water, then eggs, beating after each addition. Mix in flour and baking powder. Stir in chocolate chips.

Shape dough in one long loaf on stone.
Bake 20 minutes.
COOL. Turn oven to 350 degrees.
Cut into diagonal 1-inch slices.
Bake again at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

I say it all the time, but Measuring Cup Set, Measuring Cup Set, Measuring Cup Set. I absolutely love these cups, and I can't get over the handy leveler tool that's included. My flour is going in the 2-Qt. Stainless Mixing Bowl where it will hang out until being added to the butter/sugar mixture.

My butter is melted in the 1.5-Qt. Saucepan from the Executive Cookware Collection. Then I've got flour in the Stainless Mixing Bowl, eggs in a 2-Cup Prep Bowl, sugar in a Measuring Cup, baking powder in an Adjustable Measuring Spoon, vanilla in the Easy Read Mini Measuring Cup, and chocolate chips in a 1-Cup Prep Bowl. My ingredients are on the Large Cutting Board, a perfect surface for keeping my stove top clean. Yes, I use the stove as counter space because my kitchen is small. But it's mine!

Isn't it fun to see things come together? The thing I love about prep work is that I can add ingredients to my recipe without having to stop what I'm doing, look for something, and start again. Besides, have you ever realized you were out of vanilla when you already had a batter started? Measuring ahead of time prevents lots of potential disasters. You know what I'm doing here? I'm beating butter, sugar, vanilla, water, and eggs with one hand while taking a picture with the other. How is it even possible??? The handy silicone bottom on my Stainless Mixing Bowl keeps it from sliding, so I can one-hand it all day long.

Mix 'n Scraper, I love you! This is a good, thick batter, and stirring the chocolate chips would be annoying if I didn't have the right tool for the job. All of the Scrapers are among my favorite tools, and I have a hard time keeping them handy because I use them constantly. Just a few features... heat safe to 650 degrees, stain resistant, silicone to prevent hardening, one piece design so the tops don't come off in biscotti batter. There's more, but you get the point. P.S. The one I'm using is ten years old. Surprised?

The Rectangle Stone is perfect for a big batch of biscotti dough! Just spread it out, and get ready for awesomeness to ensue!

After baking the biscotti twenty minutes and cooling it a while, cut it into strips. The Bread Knife is perfect for the job because its blade is long enough to keep your knuckles away from the hot Stone. There's nothing like losing knuckle skin in the name of pastry...

Bake again for fifteen minutes (don't forget to lower the temp), and scoop it onto the Cooling Rack. I promise every kitchen needs two of these! One for the hot Stone, pan, etc. and one for the cooling treaties. Yes, I said treaties. Then there's the famous Mini-Serving Spatula, the tool most people tell me about when they find out I'm a Pampered Chef consultant. "Oh, I love my brownie spatula!... Oh, my cookie spatula is from Pampered Chef!" Maybe one day I'll hear someone calling it a biscotti spatula, but we'll see.

Appetizing? Be someone's hero, and make a batch of biscotti. This picture doesn't really show how great the display was, but I put the finished product in the Trifle Bowl, and it looked really pretty! Love, love, love the Trifle Bowl with its ability to come off the base for easy storage and dishwasher clean-up. Then there's the lid... fabulous. Man, I love Pampered Chef products!

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Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Patrick's Wedding Shower

I hit a real homerun with this job. I make cool stuff, meet awesome people, get free kitchen tools, and earn a great income. Can we say blessed? Sometimes there are special somethings that make you want to pinch yourself, and wedding showers for friends would fall into that category. Last night I did a party for my friends Nathan and Julie, and I'll just let you see for yourself that it was a blast. In this picture, Julie is sporting her new Pampered Chef apron, signed by all of the guests. Aren't these two cute? Love this couple!

This was a co-ed shower, and you can tell the guys had just as much fun as their ladies. We're learning so much about life and kitchen tools!

We had a Whoopie Pie contest, and I'm sad to say it was almost a tie. Nathan and Julie were given one minute to sandwich as many whoopie pies as they could, but Julie won because hers were more attractive. Nathan was given the Kitchen Brush and assigned permanent dish duty. (The Cake Pedestal is displaying their pies as they race to finish.)

Just a little practice for cutting the cake in a few weeks! If you want the recipe for these treats, they're under Red Velvet Whoopie Pies. Don't let the green fool you... just a little St. Patrick's Day action!

Julie and Nathan received an assortment of great Pampered Chef gifts from their registry, and their guests didn't have to wrap anything. I'd say that's a win all the way around.

Large Rectangle Platter with Handles from the Simple Additions Collection
Reversible Bamboo Cheese Board from the Bamboo Collection

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Medium Bamboo Platter from the Bamboo Collection

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Greek Cheese Torta

Hello, I'm the easiest, most impressive appetizer you can make to feed several people.

This is seriously one of my favorite appetizers, and the recipe is ridiculously simple. Can we say big win? The only win that can be any bigger is the Reversible Bamboo Cheese Board combined with the Beaded Spreader.

Greek Cheese Torta

10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and pressed dry
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. Greek Rub
8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and patted dry
3 tbsp. nuts
1 loaf French baquette
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut baquette into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on pan. Spray with olive oil, and bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Microwave cream cheese 30 seconds or heat over low heat on stove. Stir in spinach and rub; mix well. Add feta cheese, and stir until well blended.

Finely dice tomatoes (optional), and set aside. Line Small Batter Bowl with plastic wrap. Spoon 1/3 cheese mixture into the bottom of the bowl, and spread smooth. Top with tomatoes, forming an even layer. Spread remaining cheese mixture over tomatoes.

To serve, invert torta onto serving platter, and remove plastic wrap. Smooth marks from plastic, and press nuts onto top of torta. Serve with toasted baguette slices.

Like that baseball-sized wad of spinach? Thought so. My feta cheese is in an Easy Read Measuring Cup, and I've got roasted red peppers in a Prep Bowl. I know the recipe says sun-dried tomatoes, but after two grocery stores being out of them, I gave up and used peppers. Still good, but sun-dried tomatoes are better. Sorry to be such a loser! Moving on... Greek Rub, my favorite in the entire Pampered Pantry, is measured into the Mini Scoop & Measure, and everything is on the Cutting Board.

You know how I said I like the Greek Rub? I meant it, and that's why I'm giving it a close-up. The Mini Scoop & Measure is new, and I'm pretty excited about it. All of those small measurements of chopped goods (ex: 3 tbsp. of chopped nuts) will be easily scoooped in here... and then measured.

My cream cheese, spinach, and rub are looking good, but they'll look even better with some feta married in there. I heated the cream cheese in the 4-Qt. Stockpot, and the Mix 'n Scraper, as always, made stirring the easiest thing ever. Plus, notice how I can scrape the sides to get all my cheese into the mix.

This method is fabulous! Line the Small Batter Bowl with plastic wrap, layer the cheese mixture with tomatoes (or red peppers if you're lame), and boom - Greek Cheese Torta! You should have seen the pot after I scraped everything out - talk about wiped clean. By the way, this is the old 4-Qt., but it's been upgraded to the Executive Cookware Collection.

Thank you, Pampered Chef, for including lids with all of the bowls! This is ready to serve, but I went ahead and popped the lid on the Small Batter Bowl to refrigerate until I was ready. This recipe was on its way to a party, and I wanted maximum freshness.

Pop it out, remove the plastic, and smooth the sides with the Skinny Scraper. I served my torta on the Reversible Bamboo Cheese Board, and I thought the presentation turned out perfectly. The entire Bamboo Collection is amazing, and every piece makes food look good.

I could deal with this being my plate. Seriously. Doesn't the Beaded Spreader add the finishing touch? I love all of the Beaded Pieces, and it never hurts when something involves crimson and white... at least not in Alabama.  This will be a go-to recipe for me to use with large crowds. It's simple, staight-forward, and makes people say, "Oh, can I have that recipe?"

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