Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Festive Nut and Berry Biscotti

Biscotti is one of my favorite types of cookies to make...mostly because the recipe makes a lot, looks quite impressive, but really requires little of my time and attention.  And this particular biscotti recipe combines the red of dried cranberries and the green of pistachios to make a very festive cookie for Christmas.

Here is what you will need to make these delicious treats:
  • 7 eggs
  • 1 cup SUCANAT
  • 1 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 cups pistachios
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Then for the frosting:
  • 1 cup powdered SUCANAT (just run 1 cup of regular SUCANAT through a coffee grinder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
  • 2 Tablespoons milk

Mix together the peanut butter and SUCANAT.

Add in the eggs, flour, salt and baking powder.

Finally mix in the cranberries and nuts.  (You may have to do the final mixing by kneading the mixture with your hands unless you have a really powerful mixer...a newer Kitchen Aid mixer will not be able to handle this dough.  Mine is a Hobart Kitchen Aid from the 1950s and it barely does the job.)

Roll the dough into two logs.

Press the dough out into a long cookie...

...and then slice the dough into thin individual cookies.

Bake the cookies this way at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, then re-slice and seperate.

Bake again at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes or until the cookies are hardened.

When cookies have cooled, mix together the frosting ingredients...

...and then drizzle the frosting on top of the cookies.

Molasses Popcorn Balls

Making popcorn balls is a Christmas tradition in my husband's family and so this molasses popcorn ball recipe has now become a way our family has been able to carry on that tradition without adding the more popular corn syrup to the traditional treat.

Here is what you need to make this recipe:
  • 1 1/2 cups unpopped yellow popcorn (about 24 cups when it is popped) 
  • 2 cups peanuts (optional)
  • 2 cups molasses
  • 3 Tablespoons butter and extra to coat hands

If using peanuts, place them in a large oven-proof bowl and place in the oven on warm.  If you skip this step you will not get popcorn balls, but rather candied nuts and plain popcorn as the nuts act like a heat sink and harden the molasses candy on contact.

Pop the popcorn and place the popped corn into a bowl in a warm oven (with the peanuts if you are using them).  Again, don't skip this step because the bowl will act like a heat sink too.

Next, in a pan, warm the molasses and butter and heat the entire mixture until it reaches 250 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer.

Take the popcorn mixture out of the oven and pour the molasses mixture on top.  Mix well to coat all the popcorn and evenly mix the ingredients.

Then with generously buttered hands, gently grab a handful of the mixture, press it hard together, and then let cool on a non-stick surface.

Staying Awake When It Matters the Most

Last week I was working on chapter 26 in the book of Matthew and a couple of verses within that text pressed on me the need to share a past lesson the Lord taught me about staying awake when it matters the most...when I am praying. 

"Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'What?  Could you not watch with Me one hour?  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'"  Matthew 26: 40 and 41

I have to admit, for the longest time I could never stay awake or focus when I prayed.  Not that I did not understand the great privilege I had in conversing face to face with my Lord and Savior.  Nor, that I found this time boring or dull.  It just seemed to me that my human nature was very weak and vulnerable during my dedicated time with the Lord and the enemy was hard at work to make sure I did not succeed in my pursuit.

Praying for the Lord to protect that time and to protect my mind from straying, did help a bit, but I still found myself more frustrated than not as I pursued to know Jesus during my prayer time.  But this all changed when I started keeping a prayer journal.  My first journal marked the turning point in my daily walk with the Lord and in my relationship with Him.  

And even thought the journal was a turning point, even to this day there are still times when my prayer resistant nature fights against me...still struggling with nodding off when writing...and still dealing with a weak mind that wanders off onto many rabbit trails...but at least I can read back in my journal to where my writing left off and pick up and keep going.

Keeping a prayer journal for me is a way to combat my flesh and I am thankful the Lord led me to that discovery.  But even so, I look forward to the day when no one will struggle against human flesh to worship perfectly in spirit and truth.  At that appointed time we will be able to fellowship with Jesus from within a perfected spirit because He came to this earth as a baby and then obediently lived so He could die on a cross to save mankind.

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"  2 Corinthians 9:15
Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Add-in Your Own Ingredients...Creole Beef Stew

Earlier this fall I decided to take a new approach in how I serve stew and soup this winter season in our house.  In the past I have met much opposition when putting a soup (or casserole) on the table that contained ingredients the whole family didn't find appetizing...and boy can they be opinionated!  And since making different meals for everyone is not something I will not concede to, I had to find another way to get my family eating a good soup each week...and thus the "Add-in Your Own Ingredients" idea was born.

Here is what I did to make this week's stew...Creole Beef:
  • 2 pounds of stew meat (still frozen is fine)
  • 8 cups homemade broth (still frozen is fine)
  • 1 cup spaghetti sauce, homemade is best
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • Sweet corn to add at the table
  • Beans to add at the table - I cooked up some black beans for this

Put everything, minus the corn and beans, in a crock pot and cook on low for at least 8 hours.

Before you serve, heat up the sweet corn and beans to serve with the stewed meat and broth and allow everyone at the table to assemble their own stew.

For some added kick for those who like it hot, also make available chili powder and chili pepper sauce to add in.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gingerbread Houses - Dough & Construction

As a family tradition, we take an evening during the Christmas season to hold a friendly competition making gingerbread houses.  This year it was decided that the guys would get one house and the girls would get the other.  But before we get into the decorating details I will share the recipe I have used year after year to make the structure of this sturdy houses.  Please note:  If you are looking for a gingerbread recipe to eat, this is not it.  The cookies get as hard as rocks...which is a good thing when you are using them for construction.

Here is what you will need to make enough dough for 2 houses, some extra house pieces (just in case any break in the building process) and extra complementary cutouts (people, trees, animals, etc.) PLUS 2 large bags of construction frosting:
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup SUCANAT
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 8 cups hard wheat flour
  • 4 pounds (approximately) powdered sugar
  • 8 egg whites
Start by warming up the yogurt and butter, over medium low heat, until the butter is just melted.

Remove the yogurt mixture from the stove and add, in the following order, the SUCANAT and molasses.

Finally add the eggs and the spices to the pan, as the other ingredients will sufficiently cool the mixture so the eggs will not cook when added.

Then transfer the liquid mixture to a mixer, add the baking powder, and slowly add the flour, one cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough.

Quickly cover the dough, in order to keep it warm...

...and roll out a bit at a time on sheets of parchment. 
Note:  If the dough is sufficiently warm you will not need to add extra flour when rolling it out.  If your dough should happen to cool down, you can either put the bowl into a warm water bath, place it on top of the warm stove (where you are baking your cookies below), or you can microwave it for a few seconds.

Next, using a pre-made set of gingerbread house cookie cutters, cut two full sets for the houses and all of the extra pieces you desire.

Then remove the extra dough between the cut cookies, making sure not to move the houses pieces.  This is very important since moving the pieces will cause them to change shape and you may end up with walls or a roof that is not square.

Finally, bake each batch at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes.

After the cookies have completely cooled, then you can go on to constructing the houses.

Here is where all my rules for "no candy in the house" flies out the window...and those who choose to eat from the construction materials usually pay for it with awful consequences soon thereafter...but, for a once a year tradition I feel it is worth the price paid.  So, load up on candies that will add color and interest to your structures.

Now, using the final two ingredients in the list above, mix 4 egg whites with about 1 3/4 pounds of powdered sugar to make the construction glue.  And then put the whole mixture into a gallon baggie and seal.  Warning:  You do not want to expose this frosting to air for very long since it hardens quickly and is not recoverable.  REPEAT with the second half of the egg white and powdered sugar to make the second bag of frosting.  When you are ready to use the frosting, just cut a small amount off one of the bottom tips of the baggie and use it to pipe out your frosting.

In doing the actual house building we have learned some key lessons over the years and so I thought I would highlight some of them:
  • A pieces of cardboard covered with foil makes a great base for building a house and a yard.
  • Stick two pieces together at a time, making sure to also adhere the pieces to the board you are constructing upon as you go along
  • Make sure to add any interior decorations to your house BEFORE putting on your roof
  • Do not add the roof until all of your house sides are COMPLETELY dry and able to support the weight
  • Keep the frosting pushed down from the baggie zipper, otherwise your frosting may get squeezed out the wrong end...and all over you
Now you just need to be as creative as you can and enjoy building.  We make a whole evening of it...as these houses took us about 3 hours to just construct and decorate.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Festive Baked Cheese

Last night the ladies from our church held their annual Christmas party.  And, as tradition, each woman was to bring an appetizer to share with the group.  As this is the 5th year of my attendance, so I was certain this was the event to showcase my newest cheese in all its glory.  Thus, I made a sweet nut and fruit topping to offset the pungent warm cheese that was to be baked underneath...and it was a huge hit.

To make this wonderful cheese, first you need to make one recipe of the French Neufchatel from my previous post and have the following ingredients on hand:
  •  One, room temperature, large French Neufchatel cheese
  • 3/4 cup SUCANAT
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios, after measured chopped roughly
  • 1 1/4 cups sweetened cranberries
Next, you need to put 3/4 cup SUCANAT and 3/4 cup water into a pan and whisk while heating over medium heat until it comes to a boil.  Boil then for 2 more minutes, while continuing to stir.

Next, add the pistachios and cook them in the sugar sauce for another minute.

Then remove the mixture from the stove and let cool to room temperature.  If you are in a hurry you could transfer the mixture to a cooler container or even pop the entire pan in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

When the mixture is cool, add in the cranberries.

Then place the cheese into a large pie plate...

...top it with the nut and fruit mixture...

...then bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Homemade French Neufchatel Cheese

Using the last gallons of milk I got out of my cow before selling her, I decided to make one more cheese I could add to the recipe index on this site.  (If you want to catch up on the reasoning behind my cow sale and this being my last batch of cheese for a while, you can read my post entitled Focusing On Heaven While Still Here on Earth)  This cheese I must start out by saying, if made with raw milk, is rather pungent.  And so, if you don't like a cheese that punches you back when you eat it, this may not be a recipe to try.  But if you are looking for an easy way to get into the mold variety of cheese, this is a simple recipe that won't steer you wrong..it is basically a soft mold ripened cheese you can make completely at refrigerator temperatures.

To start out you need 2 gallons of partially skimmed milk.

Then in a sterilized pot, heat the milk to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon on mesophilic culture on top of the heated milk as well as 1/16 teaspoon of Penicillium candidum mold powder.  Wait a few minutes for the culture to rehydrate, and then thoroughly stir the culture into the milk using up and down motions.

Immediately add a mixture of 1/2 cup water with 1/8 teaspoon of liquid rennet.

Now just cover the pot and let it sit for 24 hours.  (I put a sticky note on my pot to remind me of when I need to deal with it next.)

The next day, ladle off all the whey that has separated from the cheese, trying not to break up the curds.  Then ladle the cheese into a large colander that is lined with sheets of plastic cheese cloth.  (You can use regular cheese cloth, but I find these plastic ones wash up so much better.)

Let the cheese drain for 12 hours at room temperature...

...and then further drain, in the refrigerator, for 24 to 36 more hours.

After all that draining, then mix 1 teaspoon of sea salt into the cheese and then press the cheese into a large brie mould over the top of a draining rack and draining mat which are both situated in the bottom half of a ripening container.  Also, to help the cheese take shape, place two 1-pound weights on top of the cheese mould follower. 

Now, let the cheese sit in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 days.  (This will continue to drain the cheese and set it into the shape of the mould.)

Next, remove the mould and put a cheese cloth over the ripening container and let sit for another 4 to 6 day as to dry all excess moisture out of the cheese.

Now, wipe out any excess moisture that built up on the bottom and place the cover on the ripening container and put the container back in the refrigerator. 

Now is the time that will test your patience, but you need to let the mold do its work.  During this waiting time, wipe any built up moisture that collects on the top or bottom of the container and keep watching the cheese until a nice white fuzz covers the outside of the cheese.

The last step is then to flip the cheese every few days onto a clean draining mat, wipe moisture out of the ripening container, and reseal the container.

In the end you will have a beautiful cheese that can be served as is, or made into the festive melted cheese recipe I will share with you in the next post.