Monday, October 29, 2012

Keeping Busy

I am trying to keep myself busy today.  There is something on my mind that has me all worried and nervous, and I have been trying to keep myself thinking about other things. This made it a perfect day to cook and bake up a storm.  It definitely helped that we are in the middle of a hurricane and thus had the day off from work!  It meant I could spent literally the entire day in the kitchen.

I started off with lunch.  I was craving some real comfort food, and immediately decided I needed to make bread bowls.  Those were the easy decision, but then I had to figure out what to put inside them!  I decided to be healthy and check out the soups on the Skinny Taste blog.  I was thrilled when I found the macaroni and cheese soup with broccoli.  Kenzie and I have been talking about the soup that we got at the Big E back in September: we got bread bowls with cheddar and broccoli soup, which in and of itself does not sound amazing, but the soup was incredible, and we think mostly it was because of the noodles!  I've never had cheddar and broccoli soup with pasta in it, and it was amazing.  I have been looking for recipes like that and haven't seen anything.  I know I could just dump some pasta into a regular soup recipe, but I figured there was more to it than that.  Then I found this recipe today.  It's a cheddar and broccoli soup, but not blended -which I like.  I want some chunks in my soup!  And it has pasta!  And it's low fat!  So I was pumped.

The bread bowls, to begin with, are truly amazing.  They are pretty quick as far as yeast breads go, and quite easy.  They make a great, soft, velvety dough, and they rise up instead of outwards, which makes them come out of the oven looking like perfect little snowballs.  They are such a great way to serve soup on a dark, wet, hurricaney day!  I cannot recommend them enough.
Then the soup!  This was pretty simple too, although you know me and being slow with chopping vegetables!  But today was a day I didn't mind taking my time, so it was a fun soup to make.  I doubled it to make sure that we would have plenty to eat even if we lost power - which thank god we didn't.  My only change was adding double the amount of pasta the recipe called for.  Mark bought me whole wheat shells that came in this fancy schmancy bag that was really not going to re-seal, so I figured I might as well toss them all in!  It made it a bit harder to fit a lot of soup into the bread bowls, but it was all okay in the end.  Both the bread bowls and the soup were well-received.  Mom told me my soup had a great flavor, and Kenzie said it helped her bronchitis feel better!  The soup does have a great flavor; I think it helped that I grated my own cheddar and Parmesan, but you know me: I am a cheese purist!  We still have a lot left for lunch tomorrow - and I did just find out that school is closed again, so we can eat it in the comfort of our own home :)

Then, finding myself with a long night ahead of me that desperately needed filling, I decided to make apple cider caramels.  I have blogged about these before, but they remain one of my family's favorite things that I have made.  Rachael specifically has been begging for them for the last couple weeks.  I knew I had all the ingredients, and I definitely had 3 hours to spare, so I made a batch.  It really does take a long time, because you have to bring the mixture up to 234 and then 248 degrees while leaving the stove on low.  Patience is a must for these babies!  But in the end, you have these soft brown pillows that burst with apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg flavor!  They are still cooling in the pan, but my mother and Rachael have already secretly sneaked into the kitchen and dug out spoonfulls for themselves!  I tell you, with these caramels, it is no easy feat to wait for them to cool, be cut into squares, and wrapped in wax paper :)  If you have a few hours to spare, you need to make these caramels.  They are not hard, and they don't require you to stand there stirring nonstop either; you kind of just need to babysit the bubbling goodness, and you definitely need a good candy thermometer.  Trust me: they're worth it in the end.

While I babysat my caramel, I also decided to use the pumpkin seeds from the carving that went on at my house Friday night.  I wasn't a part of the carving, but they knew enough to save the seeds for me!  I decided to try to make two different kinds, a sweet and a savory.  I found a recipe for candied pumpkin seeds that I did first.  It basically just calls for brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice.  They needed a lot more time than the recipe called for, and when I took them out finally, they did not look like the picture; they looked more caramelized than candied, and they hardened into one giant pumpkin seed brittle hunk that I had to crumble.  No one has tried them yet, but I don't think they turned out the way I had wanted.  Then I also made a batch of savory pumpkin seeds; this time I used a recipe that called for a secret ingredient: Worcestershire sauce.  Not to mention melted butter, salt and garlic powder.  I can honestly say that these are the best pumpkin seeds ever roasted at the Tucker house, and we do roast them every year.  The Worcestershire sauce really brings out the seeds' flavor, and they are so salty and flavorful.  These will be going fast.

Lots more cooking to come tomorrow... hopefully.

macaroni and cheese soup with broccoli
candied pumpkin seeds
toasted pumpkin seeds

Italian Bread Bowls
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Makes 6-8 bread bowls

1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
7 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal


1) In a large bowl (or bowl of an electric mixer), dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

2) Add salt, oil and 4 cups flour to the yeast mixture; beat well. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well with an electric mixer at medium speed after each addition until a soft but not sticky dough is formed (you may not need to use all 7 cups, although I did). This bread bowl dough needs to be a bit firmer than a roll/bread dough so that the bread bowls rise up instead of out.

3) When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes (or let knead in an electric mixer). Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.

4) Punch dough down, and divide into 6-8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a round ball. Place loaves on lightly greased baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal (or use silpat liners or parchment paper). If desired, slash the top surface of the bread bowl several times with a sharp knife or razor (I didn't). Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 35 minutes.

5) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake in preheated oven for 15-18 minutes until golden brown and baked through.

Apple Cider Caramels

2 cup high-quality apple cider
1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream, divided
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup real butter, cubed

1) Pour cider into a medium saucepan and boil on high for about 20 minutes or until the cider is reduced to 1/3 c. Keep an eye on might try to run away. Set aside to cool.

2)  Line an 8" square pan with parchment paper, making sure to leave about 1" hanging over the edges for easy removal. Coat with a bit of vegetable oil or cooking spray and set aside.

3) In a small bowl, combine 2/3 c. cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and reduced apple cider. Set aside.

4) In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/3 c. whipping cream + enough water to reach the 1/2 c. line on the measuring cup, and corn syrup. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Insert the candy thermometer and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees.  This takes a long time - be patient and don't turn up your heat!  It is normal when the white mixture starts to take on a caramel color... since you are making caramels after all :)

5) Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Add the cubed butter and stir until the cream and butter are fully incorporated. Return the pan to heat and re-insert the candy thermometer. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 248 degrees.

6) Remove from heat and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let the mixture cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Cut the caramels into 1/2" squares and wrap each caramel in wax paper. Store in an airtight container or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, but I can guarantee that they won't last that long. These things are delicious!

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