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Oh, bread. Why are you so scrumptious? I have a serious weakness for 3 things: bread, cheese, and potatoes. Maybe these are my top 3 because they can be devoured in so many different forms. But of the three, bread is especially fascinating for a baker like me. And fresh bread is just incredible.

Yesterday, I was really craving something fresh yet substantial. Immediately, I thought of a Caprese salad. Afterall, what’s not to love? Mozzarella.. Good. Tomato.. Good. Basil.. Good. Put them all together.. GOOOOOOOD. But when I stopped by the bakery, I felt the urge to grab a fresh loaf of French bread. So I decided to build a Caprese French Bread instead.

I sliced the loaf in half to give myself two flat platforms. Next, in a small saucepan, I infused a couple cloves of minced garlic into melted butter at medium heat. That mixture was liberally brushed onto the open bread. I placed the garlic bread on a large sheet tray and baked at 425 degrees until the bread started to get slightly crispy– when edges begin to turn a golden color and the soft middle is just toasted. Then I piled sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella (crumbled into large chunky pieces) all over the garlic bread and popped it back into the oven until the cheese was completely melted. The final touch was a chiffonade of fresh basil sprinkled generously over the top with a little salt and pepper. I chopped the Caprese French bread up into individual serving sizes and they were ready to gobble up! Fresh. Crunchy. Satisfying!

Today, particularly inspired to use my cast iron skillet, I was determined to make these Rapid Rolls I saw on Kelsey’s Essentials on The Cooking Channel. I’ve made many doughs requiring yeast, but this is by far the easiest recipe I’ve come across to date. Anyone can achieve equally as impressive results with just 2 essential tools– a stand mixer and a cast iron skillet.

Rapid Rolls (Courtesy of Kelsey Nixon)

INGREDIENTS

3 (.25- oz) packets active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup melted butter, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs, beaten
4 to 6 cups flour, plus more if needed

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the instant yeast, and warm water. Let it activate for 5 minutes until bubbly. Stir in the honey.

On low speed, add 1/2 cup melted butter, 2 teaspoons salt, and eggs. Slowly add the flour cup-by-cup until fully incorporated and the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Add more flour if it is too sticky.

Portion the dough into 24 even servings. Form the rolls into desired shape and place in a cast iron skillet or on a baking sheet spaced evenly apart. Set aside and allow to rise approximately 20 minutes, or until doubled in size. Brush the rolls with melted butter.

Bake for 25 minutes until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with more melted butter, and sprinkle with a little salt.

Notes: Rapid Rolls

When making the dough, I only used 1/4 cup of honey versus the 1/2 cup stated in the recipe. I opted out of making the dough too sweet, because I don’t like sweet dinner rolls. I only used half of the dough to make 12 rolls in my cast iron skillet. With the other half of the dough, I will probably use it to make cinnamon rolls tomorrow morning. When using the rest of the dough, I can then control the sweetness and taste by adding a trusty combination of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.

Other than the amount of honey, I followed the recipe as it is.. Even the melted butter before and after baking and a final sprinkling of Kosher salt at the end. The butter and salt at the very end really bring out the flavor of the rolls, so do it!

This is what the rolls looked like before popping them into the oven (with the tops brushed with melted butter)…

And then, straight out of the oven..

When I broke into the perfectly-pieced puzzle of rolls, I fell in love. The rolls pull apart effortlessly. They are light, fluffy, and wonderful. These rolls will surely be at my Thanksgiving table! I suggest you bring them to yours, as well. Super for soaking up all the gravy!

But what did I decide to do with these rolls? I made sliders! I seasoned some ground beef and cooked the patties with my cast iron skillet on the stovetop.

Thanksgiving will be even better this year now that I’ve discovered this recipe. After the big Thanksgiving feast, I can’t wait to make little mini Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches with these!! I can already imagine the turkey, dressing, and gravy goodness stuffed into these yummy rolls!

Bread is most often represented as something we munch on before the meal or as a side to compliment a dish. However, once in a while, highlight the beauty of freshly baked bread. Break that bread apart and decorate it with the food you love most.

nom nom nom,

B

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An idea came to me, I experimented, and I think I’ve stumbled upon something truly extraordinary. I’ve never been a big fan of thumbprint cookies, because I don’t have an affinity for crunchy sugar cookies. But there is one thumbprint exception that seriously changed my life. It was so long ago, but I can still remember how the cookie melted in my mouth, the chocolate fudge in the center was rich and decadent, and the sprinkles on top made the cookie look extra special.

For years, I’ve dreamt about that cookie.. I have just never seen anything like it anywhere else (or maybe I just don’t get out enough). But finally, I made it my mission to recreate this delightful memory from my childhood and reclaim that feeling of oh so happy bite-sized bliss.

I hardly ever make sugar cookies. They get stale quickly and they really just taste like plain white granulated sugar. Conversely, I absolutely love making shortbreads. A plain shortbread is like a blank canvas. It’s so much fun to experiment with different add-ins like nuts, citrus zest, shredded coconut, nuts, dried fruit.. And I’ve even made chocolate Nutella shortbread, too!

Jam is a popular filling for thumbprint cookies. I usually like to make my own jam now, because it makes a huge difference and it’s surprisingly very easy. But since I didn’t have any fresh berries on hand and I wanted to stay true to the cookie I remember, I decided to stick with a chocolate filling.

Chocolate Filled Thumbprint Cookies– yields about 17 cookies

Essential Tools: stand mixer (hand mixer will work too!), small ice cream scoop, decorating tip

Basic Shortbread Dough Recipe

INGREDIENTS
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C. All purpose flour
1/2 C. cornstarch
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Beat butter in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed for 1 minute or until it has an even consistency.
2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla to the butter. Start on low speed and then bring up medium speed for 3 minutes, mixing until light and smooth.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Set this mixture aside.
4. Use a spatula to scrape down the mixing bowl and paddle. Mix again for 30 seconds on medium speed.
5. Add the dry mixture to mixing bowl. Mix on the lowest speed until everything comes together and completely incorporated. Avoid over mixing!
6. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap the dough up tightly and then flatten into an even disc shape about 1″ thick. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hr before using.
7. Use a small ice cream scoop to dish out even proportions of the cold dough onto a parchment lined sheet tray. Place a thumbprint in the center of each rounded portion.
8. Bake for 16 minutes at 350 degrees (300 degrees in a convection oven) rotating the tray half way through.
9. Leave the cookies on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

NOTES: for shortbread
Since this is a basic shortbread recipe, it is quite versatile and not exclusive to making thumbprints. Refrigerating the dough is necessary because the dough is very sticky from all that butter! It’s much easier to work with once it has chilled. I also love using this dough to make fun shapes with cookie cutters. If I’m rolling out the shortbread, I like keep the dough at about 1/2″ thick, so the shortbreads have a nice depth to them and they will bake at the same time consistent to what is stated in this recipe.

When baking cookies, it’s easy to look for a golden brown color or how much the cookie spreads to measure doneness. However, shortbreads need to be baked very carefully because you shouldn’t look for either of these qualities. If you notice they are turning golden, then they are overcooked. Although the cookie will still taste good, it will have a crispier and drier consistency. That’s not quite what we’re shooting for with these! But if that’s how you like your cookies, then go for it. I like these to be light and somewhat flaky so they melt in my mouth– really maximizing the purpose of the butter!

Once the shortbread thumbprints come out of the oven, the thumbprint impression won’t be as deep as initially punctured. So immediately once they come out of the oven, while they are still hot, I do a second gentle thumbprint. It will crackle slightly when doing so, but that’s okay because it’ll be covered up anyway. I like to keep the “thumbprint” deep so there is more room to fill with chocolate!

Chocolate Ganache Recipe

INGREDIENTS
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
3/4 C. whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (*or substitute with your favorite flavored liquor)

DIRECTIONS
1. Shave or grate the chocolate and place into a medium sized mixing bowl.
2. Heat the whipping cream in a small saucepan on medium high heat.
3. When the cream just starts to come to a boil, immediately remove from the heat and add to the mixing bowl of chocolate.
4. Stir gently with a heat-proof spatula until everything is incorporated together. Then add vanilla and continue stirring until even consistency.
5. Let the ganache cool just until it is no longer runny. About 20 min at room temperature.
6. Fill a piping bag fitted with a decorating tip with the ganache.
7. Pipe the ganache into the center of the cookies.

NOTES: for chocolate ganache
I’ve used a great, flawless recipe for chocolate ganache by Pioneer Woman in the past to make chocolate truffles. However, this is a much simpler, and equally as satisfying, way to make ganache. Ideally, I prefer to use good quality chocolate baking bars since chocolate is the star ingredient here. Semisweet is very familiar for most people, but a combination of semisweet and bittersweet (60% cacao) is also fabulous. Or plain old chocolate chips work, too.. I know I always have a bag laying around!

Shaving or grating the chocolate bars will allow the ganache to come together in less than one minute. If the chocolate is chopped up into pieces or if you are working with chocolate chips, constant stirring is very important once the hot cream is added. You definitely do not want a clumpy ganache! It should be silky smooth!

The first time I made these cookies, I made the mistake of popping the bowl of ganache into the refrigerator to cool faster. I forgot I wasn’t trying to make chocolate truffles. For this recipe, be patient when it comes to the ganache. Chocolate can be very temperamental.. The consistency can change very quickly with temperature. It will look runny and liquid-like at first, but it will thicken as it continues to cool and set. Speed up the process by placing a cool towel underneath the bowl. Stir the ganache every once in a while to keep smooth and to check the consistency. When the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm to the touch and the ganache is thick (but also still soft) enough to scoop into a piping bag, it is ready to use. Make sure the cookies have already cooled and try to pipe the ganache into the cookies as quickly as possible. The ganache will continue to set and it can harden suddenly.

Using a piping bag and decorating tip (round or star) will give these cookies a aesthetically neat and clean look. If you don’t have a piping bag and decorating tip, you can fill a plastic ziplock bag with the ganache. Cut one of the bottom corners of the bag and carefully squeeze to “pipe” out the ganache.

If you happen to have extra ganache, make a few truffles! Roll little balls of the ganache into some cocoa powder or chopped almonds. Treat yourself for all that hard work!

Want to know what you can do with chocolate ganache? Here are some ideas!
1. Use immediately when it is liquid-like to cover a cake or to dip cookies.
2. Refrigerate and let it set completely. Then use a small ice cream scoop (or tablespoon) to make chocolate truffles. Dip these into melted chocolate wafers/buttons for a chocolate hardshell.
3. Whip the ganache while it is in liquid form in a stand mixer. As it cools and whips it will incorporate air, creating a fluffier consistency. Use this to decorate cupcakes!

These cookies are now one of my all-time favorites! The best part about these cookies is their shelf life; they won’t “go bad” after a couple days like most other cookies. Both shortbread and chocolate ganache will taste fresh for quite a while as long as they are stored in an airtight container. But really, don’t let these sit around for more than a week. These cookies are so easy to make.. I just made them twice in 2 days!

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! Make these cookies for people you love.. Or people you want to love you!

nom nom nom,
B

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Sadly, my camera has been idly uncharged for quite a few months now. However, my new Blackberry is equipped with a WordPress application and a flash camera that will hopefully help me chronicle more of my food adventures.

One of my co-workers recently went on a low-carb diet, omitting heavy starches and sticking to whole grains. Eh.. That is way too extreme for me because I depend on starch to maintain daily sanity. I could never give up potatoes, a fresh baguette, pasta or white rice. You might be expecting a post depicting some food ideas for someone pursuing the same feat as my co-worker. Sorry, wrong. Instead, I would like to celebrate my love for starchy goodness.

I have grown up eating rice with pretty much everything. However, when it comes to dishes over rice, I’ve never really explored outside of my comfort zone. Lately, I have become a big.. HUGE fan of arborio rice. I had the sudden urge one day to make risotto because I hear it is one of those dishes that can easily go wrong. But, I bought a jar of arborio rice and went for it. On the back of the label, the brand (RiceSelect) even included a simple “cooking arborio rice” recipe. If you can believe it, you only need 5 ingredients that are most likely already stocked in your kitchen.

I feel like they should just tell you the key to arborio rice ahead of time: stirring. And you’ll see why. Here’s the recipe that RiceSelect offers:

Cooking Arborio Rice

INGREDIENTS

1 cup uncooked rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, salt and pepper optional

DIRECTIONS

1. Saute onion in oil and butter for 3 minutes
2. Add rice, stirring for about 2 minutes
3. Stir in 1 cup of broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed.
4. Gradually stir in remaining broth 1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup.

Yields approximately 3 cups cooked rice.

Just like any rice you will make the rice soaked up the liquid you cook it in. That’s why, a little bit of arborio rice will go a long way. It will soak up the 3 cups of broth you use and fluff up into 3 cups of flavorful, decadent starch.

For my first risotto meal, I made zucchini risotto with brown-buttered chicken tenders. I followed the instructions on how to cook the arborio rice, except I also tossed in a whole zucchini (thickly sliced and quartered) about a minute after adding the rice. By the time the rice was fully cooked and ready to serve, the zucchini was also very tender.

A day later, in my risotto frenzy, I put another dish together: mushroom risotto with lemon peppered salmon. Mushrooms can be a bit tricky.. Mushrooms retain water, so when you heat them up, they will not only shrink but expel a great deal of liquid as well. I questioned whether or not I should satuee the mushrooms first, drain, and add them at the very end. However, I decided that by doing so, my mushroom risotto might not be as mushroomy as I would like it to be. I added the mushrooms in the same time I added the zucchini previously– about a minute after adding the rice. From there, “cooking arborio rice” became more of a guessing game. I added lots of somewhat thickly sliced mushrooms (knowing that they would cook down a lot before serving). The “mushroom liquid” adds extra moisture; thus, I accounted for this while adding the portions of broth. I ended up using just enough broth that will cook down and also fully cook the rice. With the mushroom risotto, I prepared a lemon peppered salmon.

To reiterate once more, keep stirring. If your arm gets tired, try switching off between the two. At least by the time you eat, you know you’ve squeezed in a light workout. Always keep an eye on your rice, which shouldn’t be hard since you will be standing there stirring the whole time. But after you add the final cup of broth and the risotto is really coming together, pay extra attention to the doneness. You do not want mushy risotto! If you aren’t sure, find yourself a small spoon and take a taste. And finally, make sure you plan your meal accordingly. Risotto is to be served piping hot hot hot. So, if you don’t have a sous chef in the kitchen to help out, prepare your meat/fish/vegetables ahead of time before you begin cooking the rice. Keep in mind that you want everything to be finished at about the same time! Otherwise you will be waiting on something and that will be no bueno.

Wishing you the best on your risotto adventures. Long live starch!

nom nom nom,

B

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