Monday, December 28, 2009

"Over The Rainbow" Macaroni and Cheese

I have been wanting to blog about this dish for a very long time. This is my go-to mac-n-cheese, and it comes from Patti LaBelle, a popular R&B singer from the 60s to the 80s. The recipe calls for 5 different cheeses, lots of butter, and half-n-half. Also, there's no need to make a roux for the cheese sauce.

On a similar note, here is the Christmas dinner my mother and I had. Since it was just the two of us, we didn't have to make loads of food, but it still turned out to be much more than we could handle because we still have leftovers of everything but the gravy.

My mom made potato salad and green beans. (Notice out traditional, holiday drink: Welch's Sparkling Red Grape juice cocktail! YUM! I can drink a whole bottle w/o the use of a glass!)
I brined and roasted a whole chicken (the only way to roast chicken and turkey in my opinion). I also made yeast rolls (not pictured), the "famous" crockpot dressing, "Over the Rainbow" Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below), and chicken gravy (chicken drippings + roux + salt to taste). (Do you see the standing globe in the background? That is the present I gave my mom for Christmas. She was so excited about it that she wanted it in almost all of my photos haha.)

For dessert, I made chocolate peanut butter tarts, which I will blog about next.

I hope you try out this macaroni and cheese dish. It is fabulous. Please grate your own cheese instead of buying the already grated kind for a cheesier, creamier result, and don't be afraid of the Velveeta. :D

"Over the Rainbow" Macaroni and Cheese
adapted by LaBelle's cuisine: Recipes to Sing About.
Recipe posted on (here is a video of her making it with Oprah Winfrey)

1 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 lb elbow macaroni (454 grams) or any other small-shaped pasta
8 Tbsp (1 stick) plus 1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Muenster cheese (Use more of the other cheeses in place of this if you don't have it)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded mild Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup (8 ounces) Velveeta , cut into small cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp seasoned salt (I use Lawry's)
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a deep 2 1/2-quart casserole.

Bring the large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the oil, then the elbow macaroni, and cook until the macaroni is just tender, about 6-7 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain well. Return to the cooking pot.

In a small saucepan, melt eight tablespoons (one stick) of the butter. Stir into the macaroni. In a large bowl, mix the Muenster, mild and sharp Cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheeses. To the macaroni, add the half-and-half, 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese, the cubed Velveeta (all of it), and the eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the buttered casserole. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and dot with the remaining one tablespoon of butter.

Bake until it's bubbling around the edges for approximately 30-35 minutes.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bagels: Plain & Cinnamon Raisin

I didn't complete the Daring Baker's challenge this month. This is my first time skipping a challenge, so I feel really bad about it. I did, however, make the gingerbread dough and took process photos. The dough is now sitting in the freezer in Texas while I'm in Arkansas with my mother. So, there's no chance I'll be making a fresh batch of dough especially considering how much flour is required for an almost inedible creation.

Also, I'm not a creative person; thus, I didn't get excited about this challenge nearly as much as many other DBers did. I did enjoy looking at their work, though. They did a lovely job and worked very hard. I highly suggest going to the Daring Baker's blogroll to see their beautiful work.

Instead of making a gingerbread house, I made bagels for the first time! I've been wanting to make these chewy circles of bread for the longest time. However, since I'm not that crazy about eating them, I had to put the making of them on hold till the right moment arrived.

Well, the moment arrived when my mother said that she needed to go to the store to buy more bagels. I asked her if she would prefer to have homemade bagels made by her loving daughter or the store-bought variety. Fortunately, she quickly stated that she wanted the former.

I used the Peter Reinhart recipe because 1) he is one of the masters of bread-making; 2) I love his pizza dough recipe; and 3) most other bloggers prefer his recipe for bagels. Not surprisingly, making bagels the Reinhart way was a two-day affair, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Sure, you could go to the store and buy some bagels in under 10-20 minutes, but making homemade bagels is definitely a fun labor of love that yields bagels that are a million times better than the store version. Based on my mother's preferences, I split the dough into two and made plain and cinnamon raisin bagels.

Again, I made some process photos. Remember that the majority of these photos were made at night, so they don't look great, but they clearly illustrate what I did. Enjoy!

I am submitting this post to Yeastspotting, a great site for makers and lovers of homemade bread.

Plain and Cinnamon Raisin Bagels (printable version)
found on Smitten Kitchen from Peter Reinhart's The Baking Apprentice
Yield: 12 extremely large, 16 regularly large or 24 miniature bagels

1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (see note below)
2 1/2 cups water, room temperature

Plain Dough
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (I used 1 tsp b/c of the cinnamon raisin dough recipe below)
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (see note below)

Cinnamon Raisin Dough
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar
2 cups loosely packed raisins, rinsed with warm water to remove surfact sugar, acid, and natural wild yeast

To Finish
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting.

Optional topping for Cinnamon-Raisin bagels: melted butter with cinnamon and sugar on top. (YUM! This was a great topping)

1. Day one: To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl.

Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter).

My sponge didn't look like pancake batter with the required amount of water...
So, I had to add more water until it looked like pancake batter. Add little amounts at a time if this happens to you.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly.

After 2 hours...

It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt, honey, or brown sugar. (I split the dough at this point and added the cinnamon, sugar, and rinsed-off raisins to one half of the dough). [For cinnamon raisin bagels, increase the yeast in the final dough to 1 teaspoon, and add 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the final dough. Rinse 2 cups of loosely packed raisins with warm water to wash off surface sugar, acid, and natural wild yeast. Add the raisins during the final 2 minutes of mixing.]

I didn't have malt powder, so I used brown sugar, and it came out perfectly.
Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients for a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough. Can you see how the sponge has deflated?

I had to knead the dough in the mixer and by hand. It was a tough dough. I don't suggest putting all of the dough in the machine once all the flour has been added. I read horror stories about the mixer not being able to handle it well. Good thing I had divided this dough out for two different flavors!
The plain dough waiting to be, I mean kneaded.
Cin-Raisin dough has been beaten to death!
I had to keep adding flour or water to get the right consistency...
Plain dough has been kneaded...
3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all ingredients should be hydrated. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 71 degrees F. If the dough seems to dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

Yeah, my dough was not satiny, but it was pliable. Look at all that flour on the cin-raisin dough!

4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 1/2 ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired (my bagels were 3 ounces each and yielded 9 plain and 9 cinnamon-raisins). Form the pieces into rolls.

5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment or Silpat and mist lightly with spray oil. Proceed with shaping the dough balls into bagels.

SHAPING: Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough, and...

...gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel).
The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)

7. Place each of the shaped pieces 1-2 inches apart on the pans.

Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.

8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water.

The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it.

If it floats (YEAAAA!),...
...immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float. Return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

9. DAY TWO (or when you are ready to bake the bagels): Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda.

Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.

10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds) for 2 minutes.

After 2 minutes, flip them over and boil them for another 2 minutes. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined or Silpat-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.)

If you want to top the savory bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water (top the cinnamon-raisin bagels after baking them!). You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.

11. When all the bagels have been boiled,... the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5-10 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown (I baked mine for 5 at 500 and then 10 minutes at 450). You may bake them darker if you prefer.

12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels: When they come out of the oven and are still hot, brush the tops with melted butter and dip them in cinnamon sugar to create a cinnamon-sugar crust, if desired.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Molasses Spice Cookies


These. cookies. are. so. good. I'm serious. When my mom saw that I was going to make cookies made with molasses and no chocolate or nuts, she quickly said, "I'm not going to want any of them," to which I quickly responded, "Well, they are going to be all for me then!"

However, after I made them and took one bite of a fresh, warm cookie, I knew that she would change her mind. I broke off a small, warm piece and meandered towards her stealthily. Then, while holding the tempting piece close in front of her face, I asked her, "Want to try a piece?" She looked up at me and reluctantly said, "Okay." After one bite, she wanted more. They are that good.
You can taste the molasses, brown sugar, butter, ginger, and other common winter flavors. They are soft, chewy cookies and are best eaten when warm. They lasted and tasted fantastic for 3-4 days and that is with homemade fudge, oatmeal cookies, and other sweets lurking around the kitchen.

Because I felt like playing around with my new camera even though I knew the lighting would be bad since I made these at night, I took process photos of the making of the cookies below. If you'd like the regular, printed version of the recipe with my adjustments, click on the link next to the title of the recipe. Enjoy!

Molasses Spice Cookies (printed version)
adapted from Simply Recipes
Yield: 2.5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4-1/3 cup for rolling cookies (Use 1/4 to not waste sugar)
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsulphered molasses (I used Grandma's Molasses in the dark yellow jar)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice together in a bowl and set aside.

Use an electric mixer (I used the new mixer that I won from Pioneer Woman!), and beat the butter for 2 minutes (Oops! I put the sugar in first because I left the butter defrosting on the oven top). Add the brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar...

and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes at medium speed).

Add egg, vanilla extract, and...
I sprayed in cooking spray so that most of the molasses would glide out easily...
Beat until combined, about 30 seconds. If you are not blessed with a beater blade (like me boohoo), then make sure you stir this mixture well at this point. See the unmixed batter below?

Add dry ingredients, and beat at low speed until just combined (~30 seconds).

Once you add the dry ingredients, don't beat the mixture too much so that the cookies do not come out too tough. See the bits of flour left in the dough? That's just enough. The mixture will integrate a bit more once you start making the dough balls.
Place the remaining 1/4-1/3 cup of granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. I had quite a bit of sugar left after making the balls, so in order to avoid wasting sugar, I suggest starting with 1/4 cup of sugar.

Working with 2 Tbsp of dough each time, roll dough into 1 3/4 inch balls.

[Check out my new cookie scooper! It is called a "Chip Clip", and I got it from Bed, Bath, and Beyond for about 3 dollars. This scooper is unique because the back of the scoop is made of a special type of rubber that allows easy removal of cookie dough. So, in order to demonstrate how it works, I will be presenting to you all my lovely finger below (aside from the profile photo, this is probably all you'll ever see of me on this blog b/c I abhor taking pictures haha).]

The back of the spoon...
My finger and unmanicured nail! Woohoo!
Further demonstration of how it works. Scoop up the dough...
Push the silicon part of the spoon to remove the dough. If it's sticky, as this dough is, you may need to help it out a bit by scraping out the sides of the scoop.
Roll the dough in a ball.
Roll balls in sugar and... on ungreased cookie sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. I tried flattening out half of the dough balls to see if the flattened shape made a difference, and it didn't make much of a difference. So, just leave it in a ball.

Bake until the outer edges of the cookies begin to set and centers are soft and puffy, about 11 to 12 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.

EAT THEM WHILE THEY'RE WARM! Store in an airtight container; they last more than 3 days, if you have any left after that.

Note: Do not overcook. The centers of the cookies should be somewhat soft and spongy when you take them out of the oven, otherwise they will end up hard and dry.

Glaze (optional): When cookies have cooled, lay out over a sheet of wax paper. Sift 1 1/4 cups of confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) and then whisk with 2 Tbsp of milk until smooth. Dip spoon into glaze and dribble over cookies. (I put some of this glaze on a few of the cookies, and they don't enhance the cookies that much or make them look any prettier.)