Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pecan Rum Balls

Happy Leap Day!

In honor of this very special "bonus" day, I'm bringing you a very special recipe--one of Mr. K's top secret recipes he makes annually to give out during the Christmas season.  He's been making rum balls for his family for years, and they're hit with everyone who tries them.  His standard recipe calls for regular cocoa and spiced rum (like Captain Morgan's), but this year he experimented and used dark cocoa and dark rum (Meyers) for one of the batches.  The dark rum definitely adds a stronger boozy yummy rummy flavor to the mix! 

Pecan Rum Balls
Yield: 3-4 dozen, depending on size

12 oz. package vanilla wafers
1 cup pecan bits
1 1/2 Tbl. cocoa powder
2 Tbl. Steen's Cane Syrup (can use corn syrup, but it's not quite the same)
3 oz. spiced rum or dark rum
powdered sugar for rolling

Crush vanilla wafers in a food processor.  Add pecan bits and process again to a fine crumb texture.  Mix in cocoa powder.  Transfer to a 1 gallon zip top bag.  Stir together syrup and rum, then add to crumb mixture in bag.  Seal bag and use your hands to work the liquid into the crumbs.  You will end up with a mixture that is similar to damp sand--it will hold together if you squeeze some in your hand, but it will fall apart if you try to roll a ball with your hands.  Mixture may be used now, or allowed to rest overnight.

Using your fingers, pinch off a small portion of the mixture and press it into a ball shape.  Aim for a 1 or 2-bite size ball, about 1" across.  Once all the mixture is used, return the rum balls to the zip top bag and add a bit of powdered sugar.  Seal bag and gently work the bag to coat the rum balls in powdered sugar.  Depending on the humidity and how moist the rum balls are, they may absorb all the sugar.  If that's the case, just add more sugar and continue coating the rum balls.  (The ones pictured above have 2 or 3 coats of sugar on them.)


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies

Our choir is heading to Rome later this year to sing for the Holy Father.  It's one of those opportunities that arises "once in a lifetime", but in my case it's I suppose it's twice in a lifetime!  My senior year of high school, the choir made a trip to Italy for the same reason.  Sadly, I could not go on the trip that year...and I can't go on the trip this year either!  So that's not one, but TWO missed chances to sing for the Pope!  Oh well.  Here's hoping that there will be a third chance to go sometime in the future :)

To help defray some of the expenses, we held a bake sale a few weekends back.  I decided to offer giant version of our favorites for the cause.  I made some big chocolate chip cookies, giant Valentine sprinkled rice crispy treats, and these peanut butter cookies.  Everything was individually wrapped and priced at $1.00.  I thought the chocolate chip cookies would be the first to go, but it was these guys that were flying off the table!

Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Favorite Brand Name All-New Bake Sale Cookbook

Yield: 18 five-inch cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
18 peanut butter cups

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then blend in peanut butter.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in peanut butter.  Stir flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, then add to creamed mixture until blended. 

Scoop out 1/4 cup balls of dough onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving plenty of room for spreading (I put 6 cookies on a each 13x18" half sheet pan).  Cut each peanut butter cup into 9 pieces and press pieces into cookie dough, flattening slightly.  Bake at 350°F for 15-17 minutes, or until edges are light golden brown.  Centers will be pale and slightly soft.  Allow to cool 1 minute on baking sheet before removing to cool completely.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Veggie Ventures: Lettuce

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I want to grow but have never really eaten!

This is the last post of the Veggie Ventures series, as we'll soon be getting our spring garden up and going.  I suppose "Lettuce" as a Veggie Ventures topic is a bit misleading, since we have actually eaten lettuce before.  They're included here because we grew some varieties in our fall/winter garden that we're not used to eating (Iceberg and Romaine are as far as we usually go for our salads!).  Here are some pictures of the four varieties of lettuce we planted in October (pictures taken in January--we're lucky enough to have mild enough winters to grow veggies):

You wouldn't believe how excited I was to see the Butter Beauty actually forming little heads like it was supposed to!  We harvested one head and gave it to my grandmother, who was equally as excited.


Grand Rapids is a loose leaf lettuce--the benefit of which is you can continually harvest the leaves over the growing season.  We enjoyed this lettuce for quite a while, though the flavor is more pronounced (bitter vs. mild) as the plant ages.  We also had an unexpected result with this lettuce: instead of growing bigger and spreading out horizontally as the months passed, it started growing upwards.  By mid-February we had a 2 1/2 foot Tower of Lettuce.  No kidding!  I only wish we had snapped a photo before it got hacked down in preparation for spring planting.

I really can't explain what happened with our Iceberg Lettuce.  For some inexplicable reason it never formed heads.  We still harvested and ate the loose leaves, of course, but it left us scratching our heads for an explanation.  Any tips from you veteran gardeners out there?

This lettuce was advertised as a romaine-type lettuce, but as you can clearly see from the photo above, it formed little heads.  Not that we were complaining of course, since the Iceberg failed in that department.  We enjoyed the Little Gem Lettuce but did not find that it was very Romaine-y.

Veggie Verdict:
Yes!  We WILL be growing lettuce again in our garden.  It is a cooler weather crop, so we'll have to plant some NOW in order to get a good harvest in before the heat of a Louisiana summer sets in.  The Grand Rapids Lettuce was our best performer, so that variety definitely wins a spot in the spring garden.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Big Ole' Chocolate Chip Cookies

The famous New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe.  You can find it pretty much anywhere you look on the web these days, owing to the masses of bloggers who have made and posted about this particular cookie.  This is probably my third or fourth time making them, but somehow they've never made it onto Kitchen Koala.  The only reason I can think of is that we ate them all before I could get any pictures!

Why all the hype?  What's the big deal about these cookies?  Well for starters, the prep time.  This recipe requires a full 36 hour chill time to optimize the flavor and texture of the cookies.  Can't wait that long?  24 hours is fine too.  Another big reason these are so beloved is their size.  Measuring in at a generous 5 inches, these cookies aren't for the faint of heart.  They've got a pretty substantial height too; paper thin cookies these are not!  They look almost too big for one person to eat at a sitting, but believe me--once you start chowing down on one of these, you just might eat it all without realizing it!

I made a few changes to the recipe now that I've made it a few times.  The sea salt sprinkle at the end?  Gone.  The sweet-salty thing is good, but I really prefer these without that extra salt on top.  I also reduced the amount of chocolate.  The original 1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces) was just...too much chocolate (though this is coming form the gal who would prefer her chocolate chip cookies to be "chipless.")  The Ghiradelli® 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips work well if you can't find/refuse to splurge on the pricey chocolate feves called for in the original recipe.  You could use regular chocolate chips if you like; I just like the bigger chip size of the Ghiradelli® bittersweet in a cookie of this size.

I've changed up the procedure a bit by scooping out the dough before chilling.  Freshly made dough is softer and a whole lot easier to scoop out than dough that's been chilling for a day and a half.  All that butter makes it a really firm dough!  Sure, it takes up more space than a bowl of dough sitting in your fridge for 36 hours--but if you have the room I think it's worth it. 

These cookies freeze really well if you package them up tightly.  Make and freeze a batch or two ahead of time for a bake sale and watch them fly off the table!  Individually wrapped and priced at $1 each, they're pretty much irresistable.  While they don't seem like a big money maker, I've found that people will often pick up one or two of these and leave a $5 donation.  Try it and see!

Big Ole' Chocolate Chip Cookies
Slightly adapted from The New York Times
Yield: 18 five-inch cookies

**Note:  Dry ingredient amounts are listed by weight in ounces.**

8 1/2 oz. cake flour
8 1/2 oz. bread flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
10 oz. light brown sugar
8 oz. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
18 oz. Ghiradelli® bittersweet chocolate chips

Sift cake flour, bread flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Mix in vanilla extract.  Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and mix just until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips (I like to do this by hand). 

Handy tip:  When making cookies containing chocolate chips or other chunky goodies, save a tablespoon or so of said goodies and set aside.  You can add them to the last cookies that get scooped out of the bowl, which almost inevitably will have fewer chips than the cookies scooped out at the beginning. 
Line a baking sheet (that will fit in your fridge) with plastic wrap.  Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop out 18 mounds of dough onto plastic-lined baking sheet.  Quickly and gently roll dough mounds into balls, using flour-dusted hands if necessary.  Cover dough balls with additional plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours, or up to 72 hours max.

36 hours later...
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place 6 dough balls onto each baking sheet.  Bake cookies at 350°F for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown but still soft. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Veggie Ventures: Turnips

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I want to grow but have never really eaten!

Turnips.  Now before you go running for the hills, hear me out.  If you think you hate turnips, chances are you've never had a good one.  Believe me, I know--because I was almost turned away from this under appreciated veggie by a couple of really bad specimens!  See the big one on the left in the above picture?  Nasty.  Yuck.  Unbearably bitter and nose-burningly pungent.  Cooking could not tame it, so into the trash it went.  The three little cuties next to it though?  Tender, mild, and faintly sweet.  It turns out that when it comes to turnips (at least ones you can buy at the market), bigger is NOT always better. 

Turnip Lesson #1: Turnips are at their best when harvested young and small.

I prepared the turnips by cubing them, steaming them in a little water, and finishing them up with a bit of butter and parsley.  They kind of look like potatoes, and texture-wise they were pretty close as well.  In the taste department, there's no foolin' though.  Turnips taste like...turnips, I suppose.  But in a good way.

High off my victory in my first turnip venture, I armed myself with Turnip Lesson #1 (buy them small) and decided to seek out more specimens for kitchen experimentation.  What I came home with though, was a far cry from what I had previously experienced.  Though small, the second set of turnips I bought were just as pungent and bitter as the giant one I previously tried.  What went wrong?  Further reading led me to...

Turnip Lesson #2: Bitter increases with storage time.  Buy the freshest you can find.

The first set of small turnips came from Fresh Pickin's--so pretty much straight from the farm.  The second set?  Cello-bagged from Wal-Mart.  Age?  questionable.  Lesson learned.

Veggie Verdict:
Turnips could definitely have a place in our garden.  They're a "two-fer" veggie, because the tops as well as the bulbs are edible.  In fact, some people grow turnips specifically for the turnip greens!

Garden Update:
We planted some turnips back in October to see how they'd fare during the winter.  (Cold weather is supposed to improve their flavor).  As you can see in the picture below (taken in January), the turnips started pushing themselves out of the ground.  We don't know why this happened, but it happened to the other root veggies we were growing as well (beets & radishes).  They're supposed to grow underground!  In terms of size, we were a little disappointed in how things turned out...but this was our fault for not fertilizing the garden regularly.  Our turnips ended up being slightly bigger than golf ball size :(  They were tasty, but considering the 3 month wait we would've liked to have had a bigger harvest to show for it!

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

King Cake 2012

Mardi Gras is coming up on Tuesday, so you still have time to pick up a king cake for the celebration.  Better yet, why not make one?  My first venture into king cake baking was two years ago; you can read about it HERE.  The resulting cakes were quite good, but this year I wanted to try something a little different.  Whereas my previous attempt used a cinnamon roll dough as the base of the pastry, this time I wanted to try out a recipe I'd been eyeing in one of my Cook's Country magazines.  Their recipe for Pecan Kringle turns out a tender, slightly tangy (from all that sour cream) dough...kind of like a Danish pastry.  It was very good and got rave reviews from my parents, but I think I might stick to the old recipe for next time.  This recipe is a bit fussy and the dough was sort of a pain to work with because it was so sticky!

Pecan Kringle King Cake  (makes 2 cakes)
Cook's Country December/January 2010

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans, toasted
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (I used 2 tsp.)
1/8 tsp. salt
4 Tbl. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl. confectioner's sugar
1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
3/4 tsp. salt
16 Tbl. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
4 Tbl. vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups sour cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 Tbl. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. MAKE FILLING  Process sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and salt in food processor until pecans are coarsely ground.  Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Transfer to bowl.

2. MIX DOUGH  Add flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and shortening to empty food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Transfer to bowl and stir in sour cream until dough forms.  Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and divide in half.  Pat each half into a 7- by 3-inch rectangle and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes, then freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

3. ROLL DOUGH  Roll one dough half into 28- by 5-inch rectangle, cover bottom half of strip with half of filling, fold dough over filling, and pinch seams closed.  Shape into oval, tuck one end inside of other, and pinch to seal.  Transfer to parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 4 or up to 12 hours.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

4. BAKE KRINGLE  Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Discard plastic, brush kringles with egg, and bake until golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.  Transfer kringle to wire rack and cool 30 minutes.

5. MAKE GLAZE  Whisk sugar, milk and vanilla in bowl until smooth.  Drizzle glaze over kringles.  If you plan on adding sprinkles, now's the time!  Let glaze set 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (Kringle can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.)


Friday, February 17, 2012

Hashbrown Casserole

We started noticing "it" in our cartons of orange juice and ice cream.  "It" being package-shrink.  Our half-gallons of juice and ice cream are, sadly, very rarely half-gallons anymore.  In an effort to keep prices low, manufacturers are slowly but surely knocking off a few ounces here and there from our beloved products in hopes that we don't notice.  (Most of the time we don't.)  On the other hand, restaurant portions are steadily growing to gargantuan proportions, and we don't bat an eye at the higher price tag that comes along with it!  Curious.

Now I haven't bought frozen shredded hashbrowns in quite some time, but last time I checked they were 30 ounces, down from the "original" 32 ounces--which is what many of my older cookbooks call for.  Imagine my surprise recently when I spied my package of hashbrowns has been whittled down 26 ounces! Now that's getting a little ridiculous, don't you think?  Where's my extra 6 ounces of tater goodness?  I'd rather pay a few more cents than be tricked into thinking I'm buying the same amount of product that I've been used to.  In this hashbrown casserole recipe the size difference doesn't really matter, but you can imagine how package shrink could really mess up a more structured recipe! 

There are tons of hashbrown casserole recipes floating around; some of you may know it as "funeral potatoes" or the like.  I made this casserole more of a meal-in-one deal with the addition of some ham I had stashed away in the freezer.  Mr. K doesn't care for the taste of sour cream (crazy, I know), but he sure loves him some homemade ranch dip (made with sour cream!) so I added it just to be sure he wouldn't turn it down because of the sour cream!  This would be an excellent addition to your stash of freezer meals--just divide between two 8" square pans and freeze (don't bake yet).  When you're ready for them, just thaw overnight and bake for a few extra minutes!

Hashbrown Casserole 

2 lb. hash browns, thawed (anywhere from 26-32 oz. would work)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. sour cream
1/2 cup melted butter
1 oz. pkg ranch dressing mix
2 cups diced cooked ham
8 oz. cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray a 9x13" baking dish or two 8x8" dishes with non-stick spray.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Transfer to baking dish(es).  If you're planning on freezing this dish, now's the time.  Otherwise, bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool before serving. 


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Veggie Ventures: Kohlrabi

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I want to grow but have never really eaten!

Ok.  We are admittedly guilty of falling into the trap of growing something in our garden because "it looks so gosh darn cool."  That's what happened with kohlrabi, a member of the Brassica family.  The name "kohlrabi" comes from the German words for "cabbage" and "turnip," but its flavor and cooked texture resemble a very mild broccoli stem.  Even though it looks like a root vegetable, the bulbous part grows above ground--so cool! 

Anyway, did you know that in south Louisiana kohlrabi is terribly difficult to find in grocery stores/farmers markets/produce stands?  We searched high and low for a specimen to sample before taking the plunge and planting the seeds, but to no avail.  Luckily our gamble paid off because they ended up being pretty tasty!  We ended up planting two varieties, the purple and white:

Isn't the purple kohlrabi just stunning?  It's almost unreal how brilliant the color is!  I enjoyed admiring the purple kohlrabi growing in our garden from our kitchen window!

To prepare the kohlrabi harvest, we peeled them (a task which proved more difficult than anticipated), diced them, and steamed them in the microwave until tender.  Then we threw them into a rice and cheese casserole instead of broccoli.  Yumm!  As a sidenote, we were a little nervous after harvesting the kohlrabi.  The aroma that came from the kitchen sink where they were waiting to be washed was...pungent.  Very, very pungent.  Like cabbage times 1,000.  Luckily none of that carried over after cooking.  The cooked flesh was mild and sweet, as promised!

Veggie Verdict:
We liked this one and would probably grow it again with a couple of changes.  The kohlrabi plants had massive leaves that shaded out everything growing near it.  This will definitely be taken into consideration during the next planting.  Also, the kohlrabi is a heavy feeder.  I knew this.  It was right on the seed pack.  Did I fertilize?  No, not really.  The garden got a bit of plant food at the beginning, but other than some water we didn't feed the kohlrabi.  Some veggie food would've definitely helped some of the scrawnier bulbs fatten up. 

Explore the Series:
Winter Squash
Acorn Squash
Butternut Squash
Spaghetti Squash
Swiss Chard


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Veggie Ventures: Rutabaga

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I want to grow but have never really eaten!

Rutabaga.  Are you a fan? 

While thumbing through seed catalogs last spring, we came across the rutabaga.  It looked like an overgrown turnip--purple on top with a whitish bottom part, and in fact I've often seen them in stores right next to the turnips.  Feeling adventuresome, I picked one up during a grocery run (yes, just ONE...I wasn't feeling that adventurous!) to see what it would taste like. 

The descriptions I read online were pretty much spot-on.  The flesh was deeply golden, sweet, and could be served mashed like potatoes.  The only "warning" I've seen about rutabagas is that they can be pretty darned tough to cut open.  So be extra careful when cutting into one, or follow the suggestion I did:  prick it with a fork and microwave it for about 5 minutes to slightly soften if before trying to peel and cut it.  Once I extracted the rutabaga cubes, I put them back in the microwave to finish cooking.  Then I simply mashed them up a bit and served them with a little butter and salt.  Delicious!

Veggie Verdict
Yes!  This one definitely could be grown in our garden.  We planned for it last fall, but we got a late start on our planting and missed out on the proper planting dates for rutabaga. (It's a cold season veggie, but requires about about 90 days to mature.  We planted in October, which was too late!)

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Chocolate Cake

I came across the Crazy Cooking Challenge group during my Interweb travels last month, and since February's theme was "Chocolate Cake" I decided it would be a mighty fine time to join in on the fun!  The Crazy Cooking Challenge is headed up by Tina over at Moms Crazy Cooking.  The premise is simple:  every month a theme recipe is selected, and everyone who wants to participate must scour the web looking for a version of that recipe to make.  The catch:  the recipe must be new to the blogger and must come from another blog...but NOT from a famous person's blog (i.e., Pioneer Woman, Paula Deen, etc.).  Then everyone sets their posts to publish at the same time on the same day!  Pretty neat, huh?  The goal of the Crazy Cooking Challenge is sharing--hopefully getting others to visit the blog you got the recipe from as well as your blog.  What a fun way to get new visitors!  For more info on how it works or to join up for next month, please visit Moms Crazy Cooking HERE.

Photobucket on to the cake!

This recipe comes from the lovely Amanda of Kevin & Amanda.  It's got lots of rave reviews, and for good reason.  This is one tasty cake--the perfect partner for that tall glass of cold milk!  When you go visit Amanda's blog, be sure to check out her main page as well as the recipes section.  As of this writing, it seems that the "Recipes" section is not getting updated regularly, but Amanda is still posting recipes within the main page of her blog.  While you're there be sure to check out her Free Fonts page!   

Recipe Notes:
  • My cake isn't as photogenic as Amanda's or others I've seen online.  I think I over beat my cake batter.  The recipe doesn't really state how long to mix the batter, so I followed the instructions on the box (30 seconds on low followed by 2 minutes on medium).  This probably lightened the batter too much, causing its structure to collapse upon cooling.  Underbaking was not the culprit here; the cake was clearly "done" when removed from the oven.  We didn't mind the denser texture though--we just called it brownie cake!
  • You can make the frosting with butter instead of shortening if you wish, but Amanda says she's tried it with all butter and half butter/half shortening...and still prefers the version made with all shortening!

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever
Recipe by Amanda, found HERE

1 box (18.25 oz) Devil's Food Cake Mix 
1 box (3.3 oz) instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups (12 oz. pkg) mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans or coat with nonstick spray.  In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except chocolate chips.  Batter will be thick.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Divide batter between cake pans and spread in an even layer.  Bake at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes.  Cool completely before frosting with buttercream frosting (recipe follows).

Buttercream Frosting
Recipe by Amanda, found HERE

1 cup Crisco® shortening
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup heavy cream

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening until fluffy.  Add sugar and continue creaming until well blended.  Add salt, vanilla, and whipping cream.  Blend on low speed until moistened.  Beat at high speed until frosting is fluffy.

Hungry for more?  Be sure to check out all the other entries in this month's Crazy Cooking Challenge!  You're sure to find that perfect chocolate cake recipe to make for your sweetie this Valentine's Day!