Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nordicware Baking Sheet Review, Mostaccioli Cookies, & Giveaway

I've been wanting to get new baking pans for some time now. So when the nice people at CSNstores asked me to review one of their products I thought what a perfect opportunity.

I'm not a huge fan of online shopping but the nice thing about CSN is that they carry a wide variety of brands at reasonable prices. So instead of going from store to store with CSN it's one stop shopping.
That being said the amount of products they have to offer can be somewhat overwhelming. In baking sheets alone there were almost 100. After much deliberation I decided on the Nordicware Natural Commercial Baker's Half Sheet.
The pans arrived late last week and although I see many possible uses for them; I've only had the chance to bake cookies (see recipe below). I do think they will be perfect for roasting large amounts of vegetables and for making sheet cakes.

I can attest that they are great for cookies. They are durable and distribute heat evenly; which means no burnt edges. They are all aluminum and very easy to clean. The quality seems to be top notch and I can see these pans lasting me a long time.

One of the cookies I made  were Mostaccioli from Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma.  These are a very interesting cookie; cake like and fragrant.  I couldn't find Vincotto so I substituted Marsala.  I also left out the currants and dried citron.

Mostaccioli(Makes about 3 dozen cookies)
recipe courtesy of Gina DePalma

For the Cookies

1 heaping cup whole blanched almonds
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cup (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 heaping cup whole blanched almonds
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups cake flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vincotto
3/4 cup finely chopped candied citron, candied orange peel, or dried currants

For the Icing

1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

To make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until they are light golden brown and fragrant, 14 to 16 minutes. Remove the almonds from the oven and turn off the oven until you are ready to form the cookies. Allow the almonds to cool completely, then chop them into medium-sized pieces with a sharp knife.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisking to combine them. Set the mixture aside in a warm spot.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spices, and cocoa powder on low speed for 10 seconds to mix thoroughly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, eggs, and vincotto. Add the wet ingredients to the mixer and beat on medium speed until the two mixtures are thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture and beat well on low speed. Add the almonds and the candied fruit and beat just to incorporate them into the dough. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic wrap, and chill the dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or butter or line them with parchment.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. To shape each cookie, roll a heaping teaspoonful of the dough into a ball with floured fingers and place it on the baking sheet, flattening it slightly with your fingers. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies 1/2 inch apart. Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes, or until they are puffed and cracking, rotating the sheets 180 degrees halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Allow the cookies to cool for 1 or 2 minutes on the baking sheets, then use a spatula to transfer them gently onto a rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, make the icing: In a medium bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar with the milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Whisk in the almond extract.

Keep the icing covered with plastic wrap until you are ready to use it.
To decorate the cookies, drizzle a small amount of icing in a zigzag pattern over the top of each cookie, or glaze the top of each cookie with a pastry brush.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper for up to 1 week.

Now for the giveaway: 

CSN has agreed to give one lucky reader a Nordicware 9x9  Natural Commercial Square Cake pan.
The deadline to enter is Monday,  May 31st, 2010, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

How to enter (each option will give you an extra chance):

1. Leave a comment on this post.
2. Follow me on Twitter, or Tweet this giveaway. Make sure you come back here and let me know.
3. Subscribe to my blog using email or your favorite RSS. Then leave a comment letting me know you did.
4. Post about this giveaway on your own site with a link to this post. Also let me know.
5. Share this on Facebook, and leave me a comment letting me know.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Philadelphia...Food, Friends and Turning 40

I’m back from another whirlwind trip to my favorite city and hometown: Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my previous blog this was sort of a “celebration” trip. All of our friends are turning 40…most of us this summer…so I decided it was the perfect time to gather everyone together and celebrate. For some of us it’s been years since we’ve seen each other and for all of us it’s been a long time since we’ve had so much fun together.

I arrived in Philly last Wednesday; devoured a soft pretzel in the airport, rented a car and headed to Atlantic City; where my husband was working at the Borgata Casino. We had dinner that first night at Fornelletto in the hotel. Whipped ricotta and garlic topped with a delicate olive oil and served with crusty Italian bread for spreading was the highlight of the appetizers. I enjoyed the veal osso bucco ravioli equally as well and the bambolini with three dipping sauces was so good we ordered two.

I spent Thursday afternoon enjoying the Jersey shore…something I hadn’t done in a long time. I rented a bike on the boardwalk, ate salt water taffy and visited Steel Pier.

That night we met some friends at a place called Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I wasn’t expected much from this place…fortunately I was wrong.

Every meal at Angelo’s includes a house salad which is served family style. A very nice touch if you ask me. I decided to try that night’s fish special. Sea Bass topped with lump crab meat and served with lobster ravioli. Portions were large; prices were moderate and the food was delicious. I could not have been happier.

Friday ended up being a wash out day. I headed to Philly late morning only to realize I had my husband’s rental car keys. Back to Atlantic City I went. $20 in tolls later I was finally back in Philly again.

Our Friday night ritual when we’re in town is drinks at the Irish Pub followed by dinner at L’Angelo’s and late night coffee at dessert at a friend’s house. I’m not sure why but it always works out that way. As usual L’Angelo’s did not disappoint. And also as usual we shared the grilled calamari and I had the orecchiette with duck. There’s some things I just can’t resist.

We lucked out on Saturday. The 9th st. Italian Market was holding their annual Italian festival. I remember attending this as a little girl. The big event back then was the climbing of the “greased” pole. Money and other prizes were attached to the top and whoever made it up there got to keep whatever they could reach. Sadly they don’t do that anymore but they still did the Catholic saint procession and they did have lots of great food vendors.

My husband and I shared a roasted pork sandwich from Cannuli’s. They roasted an entire pig for this event. Topped with melted provolone cheese and hot cherry peppers the pork was delicious. It was late afternoon and hot so we decided to head indoors for dessert.

I had heard that Termini Brother’s Bakery had opened a small café across from their 8th street shop. Mr. Joe’s is a small luncheonette that serves pasta and various other Italian specialties. Diners are offered free dessert provided by Termini’s. If you are just interested in espresso; which we were; you are encouraged to grab the pastry of your choice from across the street and enjoy it at Mr. Joe’s. I hope to have time on my next trip to actually sample the food as everything looked and smelled really good.

After months of planning our big night finally arrived. I made us dinner reservations at D’Angelo’s in Center City; more because they had a lounge area than because of the food. I really knew nothing about the food. I just knew we wanted to be able to hang out, drink and dance after dinner.

As with Angelo’s Tavern a few nights earlier we lucked out with decent food at D’Angelo’s. I think we ordered one of every appetizer…we’re crazy that way…and they were all pretty good. In particular I enjoyed the broccoli rabe with sausage and the fried calamari. Again, like at Angelo’s, I went with the fish special for dinner. It was grilled Dover Sole filleted tableside and it was fabulous.

With the weather being on the warmer side this trip would not have been complete…at least in my mind…without a lemon water ice and Italiano’s is the only place to get one. So goes our Sunday afternoon…licking water ice on the street corner in South Philly.

Enjoying a Philly pretzel on the plane ride home yesterday I realized how lucky I am to have roots in such a great food city and to have such awesome friends there to enjoy it with. And maybe 40’s not going to be so bad after all…..I'll let you know next month.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Heading Out of Town

I'll be gone for a few days...heading to my hometown, Philadelphia, for a bit of a celebration (more on that later).  I'll have some exciting things to share with you when I get back one of which is a product review and contest sponsored by CSN. 

In case you don’t know CSN Stores, is an online retailer that sells everything from corner tv stands to cookware items.  I'll be reviewing some bakeware items and will be able to offer a similar item to one lucky reader.

So stay tuned...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Southern Living Cookbook Reviews

About a month ago I received copies of three different themed “Southern Living” cookbooks. Since that time I’ve prepared several recipes from them with much success. Below is a quick review of each book.

Farmers Market Cookbook: A Fresh Look at Local Flavor. This is more than a cookbook it’s a guide to farmer’s market’s and their products. It’s filled not only with easy to follow recipes but also tips on how to shop a farmer’s market and how to pick produce. There are full page photos of most recipes; which I thoroughly enjoy when browsing a cookbook.
The Farmer’s Market Cookbook is divided into seasonal sections. Allowing you to make the most of each session’s bounty. With such an abundance of new recipes to try I found myself cooking more fresh vegetables than ever. A few of the recipes I tried include: Yukon Gold Mash with Morel Suace, Grilled Fresh Artichokes with dipping sauce and Green Peas with Crispy Bacon.  All were delicious.

The Big Book of BBQ: Recipes and Revelations from the Barbecue Belt is also more than just a cookbook. Not only are there “finger-lickin” good recipes, but also discussions on BBQ competitions, techniques and traditions. This book would make a great addition to any BBQ cookbook collection. Recipes span several cooking methods including slow-cooking, grilling and even indoor.

We’re not just talking your standard BBQ dishes either…there are recipes for drinks, side dishes, and even desserts.  I made the Smoky Pecans...what a great idea to add pecans to the grill while smoking meats.  I also cooked the "Championship" Pork Butt with an injection marinade and dry rub and made some Sweet Mustard Barbecue Sauce.

Classic Southern Desserts: All-Time Favorite Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Puddings, Cobblers, Ice Cream and More. The name says it all. This book includes over 200 dessert recipes; full color photos and lots of baking tips. The one fault I had was that some of the recipes start with a “box” cake mix. To me if you’re baking, your baking….it’s not that hard to make the cake from scratch first. But that is a pet peeve of mine.  I baked the Caramel Cake (recipe below) and the Dark Chocolate Bundt cake.

I think all three of these books are worthy of a spot on just about anyone's cookbook shelf.  With their track record I'd be interested to see what other cookbooks Southern Living has out there.

Carmel Cake
adapted from Classic Southern Desserts

8 oz sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine sour cream and milk. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixture until creamy.  Gradually add sugar, beating well.  Add eggs,  1 at a time, beating after each addition.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Beat at medium-low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick  inserted int he center comes out clean.  Let cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.  remove from pans and cool completely (1 hour) before spreading with caramel frosting.

Caramel Frosting

1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
3/4 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla

Sprinkle 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow, heavy 3 1/2 quart Dutch oven; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 3 minutes or until sugar is melted and syrup is light golden brown (sugar will clump). Remove from heat.

Stir together 1 Tbsp flour and 2 1/2 cups sugar in a large saucepan; add milk and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.

Gradually pour about 1/4 hot milk mixture into caramelized sugar, stirring constantly; gradually stir in remaining hot milk mixture until smooth.  (mixture will lump, but continue stirring until smooth).

cover and cook over low heat 2 minutes.  Increase heat to medium; uncover and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reaches 238 (soft ball stage, about 10 minutes)  Add butter, stirring until blended. Remove from heat and let stand, withuot stirring, until temperature drops to 110 (about 1 hour)

Pour into a bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer.  Add vanilla, and beat at medium speed with whisk attachment until spreading consistency (about 20 minutes)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Zucchini & Basil Soup

I was browsing through recipes on Epicurious this past weekend, not sure what I was even in the mood for, when I came across this recipe for zucchini soup. To me it sounded healthy and delicious and I was smitten. This was probably one of the easiest soups I've ever made and yet it presented very elegantly. I would highly recommend this soup especially if you are trying to impress someone.

Zucchini-Basil Soup

July 2008

2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups water, divided
1/3 cup packed basil leaves

Julienne skin (only) from half of zucchini with slicer; toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and drain in a sieve until wilted, at least 20 minutes.

Coarsely chop remaining zucchini.

Cook onion and garlic in oil in a 3- to 4-quarts heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add chopped zucchini and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Purée soup with basil in 2 batches in a blender

Bring remaining cup water to a boil in a small saucepan and blanch julienned zucchini 1 minute.

Drain in a sieve set over a bowl (use liquid to thin soup if necessary).

Season soup with salt and pepper.
Serve in shallow bowls with julienned zucchini mounded on top.