Creamy Baked Asiago Thyme Pasta

Last week at one of my MOPS meeting (I totally double dip and go to two different meetings, but hey, I need all the socialization I can get!) we made a cute craft. It's a tiny little book, perfect for tucking in your purse or onto your nightstand. On the cover is stamped "One Line A Day". The purpose, if you haven't already guessed, is to write one line a day, everyday. Your one line can be anything from "AHHHHH", to "Must drink more coffee", or something a little more sophisticated. Then at the end of the year you can look back through and see everything you wrote.

I think this is a cute idea, but, honestly, I will never ever use it. I am the worst journal keeper ever. Ever. I used to try and keep diaries when I was younger. I'd start out really good, reflecting on my day every evening (or just transcribing my entire day, if I got to see that cute boy I liked that had no idea I was alive, what I ate, etc). Then I would forget to write for a few days. Then the next entry would be a few weeks later. Soon it was months and months in between each entry. Then I would get a new journal and swear I would do better this time, only to repeat the whole thing over again. Finally I just learned. I'm not a journal keeper. What about you, can you keep a journal, or are you more like me?

This is a delicious, slightly adult version of macaroni and cheese. The flavors are a bit more refined, but not so much that the kiddos won't like it, either. It is really creamy, and I love the combination of Asiago and Thyme here. It is also very quick to throw together, making it a great meal for during the week!

Creamy Baked Asiago Thyme Pasta (slightly adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)

1 pound pasta of your choice
2 1/4 cups grated Asiago cheese
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces sour cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 TBSP freshly chopped thyme leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter a 9x13 baking dish.
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.
Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
In a large bowl combine 2 cups of the Asiago cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, Parmesan, thyme, salt pepper, cooked pasta and the pasta cooking liquid.
Gently toss to combine all the ingredients.
Place the pasta in the buttered baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Asiago cheese.
Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes.
Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Apple Cranberry Stuffing

You might think the time for stuffing has long since passed us. You might think that any stuffing not from a box is just too fancy for everyday use, but I beg to differ. Why can't homemade stuffing be a weekend thing, too? Why do we reserve making something so delicious for twice a year? This stuffing is easy to prepare and it tastes amazing. It is too delicious to keep until next Thanksgiving, it really does deserve to be eaten more often. I made mine on a Wednesday, and I think you should make it on a "normal" day, too. Don't wait a whole year to enjoy it!
I made a half batch for my little family, and it worked perfectly for dinner and leftover lunch the next day. I think it was even tastier at lunch. Stuffing is one of my favorite side dishes, and this one is perhaps my absolute favorite I have ever had (Sorry, Grandma...). It's special, but not so special and complicated that it can't be enjoyed all throughout the cold months!

Apple Cranberry Stuffing (Sweet Basil)

6 TBSP Unsalted Butter, plus more for baking dish
1 medium onion, minced
2 TBSP minced, fresh parsley
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp Marjoram
1 small apple, peeled and diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 loaf white bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups chicken broth
1/4-1/2 cup apple juice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp pepper

Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 300 F.
Spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet and place in the oven to 30 minutes to an hour to dry them out (do not let them get brown).
Let the bread cool completely. Alternatively, you could let your bread dry out the night before and skip this step.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Heat the butter in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the parsley, sage, thyme, and marjoram, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the apple and cranberries and cook until the cranberries plump slightly and apple is slightly softn.
Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the bread crumbs, stock, eggs, and pepper to the onion/apple mixture.
Toss gently to distribute the dry and wet ingredients evenly.
Put the mixture in a buttered 9x13 baking dish, cover with foil and bake 25 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes longer, until golden.
Cool 10 minutes before serving.

The Daring Bakers Make Biscuits!

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

Yes!!! I've been really needing to master the biscuit! I've tried a few times, but honestly, I can't produce anything great without Bisquick. Without it all I can manage are probably the world's best interpretation of Lembus Bread (you know, from Lord of the Rings?) So when I saw this months challenge I was really excited! I was not going to let this one get by me!

The first biscuit I tried was a herbed biscuit, and it was really straightforward to put together. They baked up really well, but they never got that beautiful golden like I wanted. They were nice and flaky inside, though, and tasted great. The second biscuits I tried were freaking amazing. Brown Sugared Bacon Biscuits. OH YEAH! They turned out perfectly and tasted amazing. We made fried egg sandwiches out of them, and we had to go back for seconds (and Joel even went back for a THIRD). Make these. Now.

 I know this is going to sound crazy, but to us, Hardees has the best biscuits ever, and so we used that as our "gold standard" for testing. I tried out a few different recipes, and learned SO MUCH! I'll give you the recipes first, and if you want further reading on what makes a good biscuit, scroll down to below the recipes for some great info! I am so glad that we did this challenge this month, I now LOVE baking light and fluffy biscuits!

Brown Sugar Bacon Biscuits  (Joy the Baker)
For the Bacon:
6 slices bacon
1 TBSP brown sugar
black pepper

For the Biscuits:
3 cups flour
2 TBSP brown sugar
2 TBSP granulated sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and frozen
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk

  • Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  
  • Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and spread bacon across baking sheet in a single layer.  
  • Sprinkle with brown sugar and black pepper.  
  • Bake until crisp and cooked through, about 13 to 15 minutes.  
  • Remove from the oven and carefully use tongs to place the hot bacon on a cutting board.  Don’t put the bacon on paper towels or they might stick.  
  • Allow to cool until you’re able to handle the slices and chop into medium chunks.  Set aside.
  • Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F.  Line another baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, and set aside.
  • In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and black pepper.  
  • Add cold butter and use your hands to quickly break the butter into the flour until mixture resembles coarse meal.  
  • In another bowl, combine egg and buttermilk and beat lightly with a fork.  
  • Add the milk/egg to the flour mixture all at once, stirring to incorporate.  
  • Once batter is nearly incorporated, add bacon and just barely mix in.
  • Dump the shaggy biscuit mixture onto a lightly floured board to knead together a few times.  Don’t overwork the dough and melt the butter, just make sure it comes together.
  • Roll or pat dough into a 1-inch thickness.  Cut into 2-inch rounds using a biscuit cutter or cut into 2×2-inch squares.  Reshape and roll dough to create more biscuits with excess scraps.    
  • Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.  
  • Serve biscuits warm with jam or a fried egg.
  • I love these biscuits the day they are made.  They can be kept in the fridge and will last for two days.  The shaped, uncooked biscuit can also be frozen.  Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake up in the morning.

Herbed Biscuits
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones
3 TBSP finely chopped herbs of choice (I used 3 tsp of dried herbs, in a combination of thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley)
1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)
3. Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.
Notes on how to make an awesome biscuit:
The Ingredients –
Flour – lower gluten (i.e. soft) flours (about 9% or less protein) produce taller and lighter scones than normal plain (all-purpose) flour (about 10%+ protein). But to be honest it wasn't that great a difference so long you sifted the dry ingredients thoroughly at least three times. That is always triple sift the dry ingredients this will ensure that the flour is well aerated and the raising agents are evenly distributed so resulting in light scones. I found that finely milled soft “OO” flour gave the best results but don't worry you can get excellent results with sifted plain (all-purpose) flour. You can use self-raising flour if you wish (remember to leave out the raising agents and salt) in the recipe below it is important to triple sift the self-raising flour as well I like to add about ½ teaspoon of extra fresh baking powder per cup of self-raising flour to ensure a good lift in my scones.
Fat – unsalted butter gives the best flavour while lard gives the flakiest texture since it has a much higher melting point than butter so promoting a flaky texture in the final scones. The best compromise is to use a combination of the two in equal measure. I usually use all (unsalted) butter for flavour and health reasons. In most recipes the fat is rubbed into the flour using fingers or a pastry cutter (don't use two knives or forks since it takes too long to cut in the fat using this method). It is best to grate the butter using the coarse side of a box-grater and then freeze it until you need it. Freezing the butter prevents the fat from melting into the flour. The idea is to coat the fat particles with the flour. You are looking for a fat/flour combination that looks like very coarse bread crumbs with a few pieces of butter about the size of peas, the finer you make your fat pieces the more tender the crumb of your final scones. If you want very flaky scones then make the fat pieces large like Lima beans and only lightly coat them in the flour. If your kitchen is very hot you can refrigerate your flour so helping to keep the fat from melting. Don't freeze your flour as this will make it too difficult to rub the fat into the flour. (Typical usage about 1 to 8 tablespoons of fat per cup of flour).
Chemical raising agents – always use fresh raising agents, baking powder deteriorates within two months once the jar is opened, the recommended dose is about 2 teaspoons per cup of flour. Baking powder nowadays is double action – there is an initial release of gas once the dry and wet ingredients are combined and there is another release of gas from the high heat of the oven. If you are using acidic ingredients (such as buttermilk, soured milk, cream, honey, cheese, tomato sauce etc) then use an additional ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per cup of liquid to help neutralise the acid and make the final baked product raise correctly. Baking soda is four times stronger in raising power than baking powder. You can make you own single action baking powder by triple sifting together one part baking soda and two parts cream of tartar store in an airtight container.
Liquid – you can use milk, buttermilk, soured milk, half-and-half, cream, soda water, even lemon-flavoured soda pop (soft drink) or a combination of these as the liquid in your scones. You can sour regular milk with a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice for every cup. Just stir it in and let it sit for 10 minutes or so to curdle. Use about ½ cup of liquid per cup of flour.
Salt – a small amount of salt (about ¼ teaspoon per cup of flour) helps improve the action of the raising agents and enhances the flavour of the scones.
The Equipment
Baking pans – use dark coloured heavy weight baking pans as these have the best heat distribution and really give a great raise to your baked goods. Many people like to use cast iron skillets for best results.
Measuring cups and spoons – try to accurately measure all ingredients especially if this is your first attempt at making scones (biscuits) remember to scoop the ingredient into the measure and level with a knife. If you can weigh the flour using scales even better.
Scone (biscuit) cutters – use a cutter that is made of sharp thin metal with straight sides and is open at both ends this ensures that the scone will raise straight and evenly and ensures the cut scone is easy to remove from the cutter without compressing the dough. Try to avoid using cutters with wavy sides, thick walled cups, glasses, metal lids, small jars or any cutter with only one opening since it is difficult to remove the cut scones from these without compressing the dough therefore leading to 'tougher' scones. If you cannot get a good cutter you can cut out squares or wedges etc using a sharp knife if you wish.
Rolling pins – most scone doughs are very soft (and wet) so can be easily patted out using your fingers. For a large amount of dough you can use a rolling pin remember to use light pressure from the centre outwards to form an even thickness of dough ready to be cut into scones. Avoid rolling back and forth over the same area as this can overwork the dough.
The Techniques
Triple sift the dry ingredients – sift your dry ingredients from a height this permits plenty of air to be incorporated into the mixture which allows for maximum lightness in your scones and ensures even distribution of all the raising agents and other ingredients.
Rubbing in the fat – this is the stage where you can control how tender or flaky your final scone crumb will be. The more you coat your fat with flour and the smaller the particles of the final mixture, the more tender the end product because you’re retarding gluten formation in the flour (unfortunately the price you pay for this tenderness is that the final dough will be soft and might not raise very well since the gluten isn't developed enough to form a stable structure to trap the gases that are released when the dough is baked). Conversely the larger you leave the pieces of fat (the infamous "pea-sized" direction you always see in scone/biscuit recipes), the flakier the final scones will be (that is the gluten in this case is more developed but you might find that the final baked product is dry and the mouth feel of crumb could be too firm i.e. tough). So summarising the tenderness/flakiness of your scone is achieved in this stage by manipulating the size of the fat particles and how much of the flour is used to coat the fat (the more flour used to coat the fat promotes more tenderness while larger fat pieces promote more flakiness). Either way quickly rub in the grated frozen fat into the dry ingredients using
1)your finger tips – as you lightly rub and pinch the fat into the flour, lift it up high and let it fall back down into the bowl, this means that air is being incorporated all the time, and air is what makes scones light, continue this until you have the desired sized flour/fat particles in the mixture, or
2)a cold pastry cutter – begin by rocking the pastry cutter into the fat and flour mixture continue rocking until all the fat is coated in flour and the desired sized flour/fat particles are obtained.
Moistening and bringing the dough together - add nearly all of the liquid at once to the rubbed-in dry ingredients. When mixing the dough (I use a soft plastic spatula), stir with some vigour from the bottom to the top and mix just until the dough is well-moistened and begins to just come together it will be wet (and sticky). And remember the old saying – the wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits)! Then turn the dough onto a lightly floured board.
Handling the dough – as most people know it is important not to overwork the dough but what isn't appreciated is that under-working is almost as common a mistake as overworking. Look at my first attempt (the first photo in this article) at making the challenge recipe it is crumbly and a bit leaden and the crumb isn't flaky at all this is due to under-working the dough and making the flour/fat particles too small, it took me about six batches to understand this and not be afraid to handle the dough so the scone (biscuit) would raise correctly. Under-working causes as many problems as overworking. Overworking leads to tough, dry and heavy scones while under-working leads to crumbly leaden ones. If you are not happy with your baked goods look carefully at your final scones (biscuits) and decide if you have under- or over-worked your dough.
Kneading or folding/turning the dough – this is the stage where you can control whether or not your scone has distinct layers by 1) only kneading the dough (for no layering effect) or 2) only turning and folding the dough (for a layering effect). As mentioned above given the same amounts of flour and fat, leaving larger pieces of fat equals more gluten formation and, therefore, flakiness. Leaving smaller pieces of fat equals less gluten formation and, therefore, tenderness. Your dough at this stage of the recipe will be a mixture of different gluten strengths since it is almost impossible to make a totally homogeneous dough at home. The major idea at this stage of the process is to exploit these gluten differences to achieve a desired degree of lamination (layering) in the final baked good. That is at this stage your dough (after you have added the liquid and mixed it until it just holds together), will have different layers of relatively gluten-rich (tougher) dough (the more floury parts of the dough), and layers of relatively gluten-free (tender-er) dough with small pieces of fat (the more fatty parts of the dough). So at this point if we only lightly knead the dough these layers will become less distinct which means the dough will become more homogeneous so producing a more even and more tender crumb when baked. But if at this stage you only fold and turn the dough (as shown below in pictures) over itself, these different layers will remain intact but will get thinner and thinner with each fold and turn, so when the fat melts and the liquid turns to steam in the oven, this steam pushes the tougher layers apart, leading to an overall flakiness and a layering effect in the scone crumb (see picture of the buttermilk biscuit above). So if you want an even more tender crumb just lightly knead (much like you would knead bread but with a very very light touch) the turned-out dough a few times until it looks smooth. If you want to form layers (laminations) in your final baked goods do a few folds and turns until it looks smooth. Always do at least one light knead to make the final dough structurally strong enough to raise and hold its shape whether you are aiming for a smooth tender crumb or a flaky layered crumb.
Pat or roll out the dough – since most scone (biscuit) doughs are soft (and sticky) it is best to use your fingers to gently pat out the dough once it has been kneaded or folded and turned. Use a very light touch with little pressure while forming the dough rectangle to be cut into rounds for the scones. If you want tall scones then pat out the dough tall, about 3/4 inch to 1 inch (2 cm to 2½ cm) thick is about right.
Cutting out your scones – use a well-floured scone (biscuit) cutter for each round that you stamp out from the dough. That is dip your cleaned cutter into fresh plain flour before each separate cut. Do not twist the cutter while stamping out the scone, push down firmly until you can feel the board then lift the cutter the round should stay inside the cutter then gently remove it from the cutter and place the round onto the baking dish. You can use a sharp knife to cut out other shapes if you wish from the dough, also the knife should be floured before each cut as well.
Baking your scones – always preheat your oven when baking scones. Place each scone almost touching onto the baking dish this encourages the scones to raise and also keeps the sides soft and moist. If you want crisp sides widely space your scones on the baking dish.
Extra comments about resting the dough – I found in my researches that a number of respected sources mentioned resting the dough in various stages in the recipe. Surprisingly this advice is sound. I found that if you rested the just mixed dough (in the fridge) for 20 minutes there was a huge improvement in the dough's handling qualities and the final scones height, lightness and crumb were outstanding. Also I found that if you rest your patted out dough covered in plastic for 10 minutes in the fridge that the rounds are easier to stamp out and the final baked goods raise higher and have a better crumb. Also you can rest your stamped out rounds in the fridge for a couple of hours without harm so you can make your scones place them into the fridge and then at your leisure bake them later great for dinner parties etc. This is possible because modern baking powder is double action, i.e. there is another release of gas when you bake the rounds in the heat of the oven.

The Daring Bakers Make Tamales!

Better extremely ridiculously late than ever!

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

Geez, Jenni, what a way to start the new year! But, to be honest, this month has been something of a tidal wave. What with spending every waking moment I could getting the Recipe Index up and going (have you looked at it yet? What do you think?), both of our cars went to the mechanic this past week (that was super fun, let me tell you!) and things have been just all around crazy here.

Add to that the I tried, really tried to do this challenge early! But I couldn't find corn husks or masa harina anywhere, there aren't any Mexican specialty shops in the area. I even went to the one Mexican restaurant that we have and begged them to let me buy some ingredients off of them - they just pretended like they didn't speak English.

I was all set to have to toss in the towel and not complete this challenge, but luckily my good friend Shelley from C Mom Cook came to my rescue!! She bought way more ingredients than she needed and was sooooo nice to mail me her extras! (Everyone go over to her blog and tell her how awesome and wonderful she is!!!). I then had to wait for a day when I could get some extra help in the kitchen, and when my friend Rachael came over, we put on some Rodrigo Y Gabriela and spent the afternoon rolling and steaming.
This is what a photo shoot looks like at my house. Plus a dog nose on each elbow.

There was only one minor set-back when the steam created too much moisture in the crazy steaming contraption that we built. The colander we had precariously positioned above a pot of boiling water FELL into the pot, splashing my entire kitchen in corn-husky scented boiling water. Luckily we were all playing in the living room when it happened and no one got hurt. A few extra minutes were needed to clean everything up, re-position our contraption and steam our tamales just a tiny bit more and we were good to go! I had never had a tamale before now, but I really liked it! They were fun to make and very tasty!

Preparation time:
Soaking the corn husks: 3 hours or up to 1 day
Green Chile Chicken Tamales:
For the filling: 1 ½ hours
For the masa: 10 minutes
Preparation and cooking: 2 hours (depending on how quickly you become at pressing and rolling the dough)

Green Chile Chicken Tamales:

Servings: About 24 tamales
1 – 8 ounce (225 gram) package dried corn husks (If you cannot find corn husks, you can use parchment paper or plastic wrap.)
For filling:
1 pound (455 gram) tomatillos (can sub mild green chilies – canned or fresh)
4 – 3 inch (7½ cm) serrano chiles, stemmed and chopped (can sub jalapeno)
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons (22½ ml) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups (480 ml) low sodium chicken broth
4 cups (960 ml) (400 gm/14 oz) cooked and shredded chicken
2/3 cup (160 ml) (30 gm/1 oz) roughly chopped fresh cilantro (also known as coriander)
For the masa dough:
1 1/3 cups (320 ml) (265 gm/9⅓ oz) lard or vegetable shortening
1 ½ teaspoons (7½ ml) (10 gm/1/3 oz) salt (omit if already in masa mixture)
1 ½ teaspoons (7½ ml) (8 gm/¼ oz) baking powder (omit if already in masa mixture)
4 cups (960 ml) (480 gm/17 oz) masa harina (corn tortilla mix), I used instant masa mix
1 ½-2 cups (360 ml – 480 ml) low sodium chicken broth
1. Place the dried corn husks in a large pot and cover with water.
2. Place a heavy plate or a smaller pot full of water on top of husks to keep them in the water. Let soak for 3 hours or up to 1 day, flipping occasionally until husks are softened.
3. Once husks are softened, boil chicken about 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
4. Immediately place hot chicken into the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn mixer on high to shred chicken (this takes about 3-5 seconds).
5. Place an oven rack on the top setting. Turn the oven on broil. Peel and rinse the tomatillos.
6. Line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Place tomatillos on baking sheet and place under broiler.
7. Broil (grill) until black spots form on tomatillos, then flip and broil (grill) other side. This takes about 5-10 minutes per side depending on the strength of the broiler.
8. Place roasted tomatillos and juices from the pan into a food processor and allow to cool about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chopped Serrano chiles and process until smooth.
9. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.
10. Add the tomatillo puree and boil, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes (it should turn thick like a paste).
11. Add in the chicken broth, stir to mix well. Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is reduced to about a cup (240 ml).
12. Stir in the chicken and cilantro. Salt to taste.
13. Prepare the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium high heat, cream together the lard or vegetable shortening, baking powder and salt.
Mix in the masa harina, one cup (240 ml) at a time.
14. Reduce the mixer speed to low, gradually add in 1 ½ cups (360 ml) of the chicken broth.
15. If the mixture seems too thick (you can taste it for moistness) add up to ½ cup (120 ml) more of the broth 2 tablespoons (30 ml) at a time. (The dough should be a cookie dough like texture).
16. Take 3 large corn husks and tear them into ¼ inch (6 mm) strips. (I would suggest you put these back in the water until use because they dry out and start breaking when you try to work with them.
17. Take a large pot with a steamer attachment. Pour about 2 inches (5 cm) of water into the bottom of the pot, or enough to touch the bottom of the steamer. Line the bottom of the steamer with corn husks.
18. Unfold 2 corn husks onto a work surface. Take ¼ cup (60 ml) of dough and, starting near the top of the husk, press it out into a 4 inch (10 cm) square, leaving 2-3 inches (5 -7½ cm) at the bottom of the husk. Place a heaping tablespoon (15 ml) of the filling in a line down the center of the dough square.
19. Fold the dough into the corn husk.
20. And wrap the husk around the dough.
21. Fold up the skinny bottom part of the husk.
22. And secure it with one of the corn husk ties.
23. Stand them up in the steamer. If there aren’t enough tamales to tightly pack the steamer, place crumpled aluminum foil in the excess space.
24. Steam the tamales for about 40 minutes or until the dough deepens in color and easily pulls away from the husk.

Sourdough Challah

I've been wanting to try a challah recipe for a while now. I'd never actually eaten a challah before, but I honestly think it is one of the most beautiful loaves of bread I have ever seen. But I have heard they were difficult and complicated to do, and so I always kept it on the "someday I'll make this but not quite yet" list.

This loaf was beautiful, too, and totally erased my "challah fear". This bread is no more complicated than any other bread I've made, it was not hard at all! The most difficult part for me was my momentary freak out when I couldn't remember how to do a four stranded braid, haha. The finished loaf is a gorgeous thing, I almost didn't want to cut into it. When I finally persuaded myself to break out the bread knife, I was rewarded with a super soft and rich slice. I will definitely be making this again, and again!

Sourdough Challah (Maggie Glezer, A Blessing of Bread, recipe found via The Fresh Loaf)
2 TBSP (35 grams) very active, fully fermented sourdough starter, 50% hydration
1/3 cup (80 grams) warm water
1 cup (135 grams) bread flour

Final Dough:
1/4 cup (60 grams) warm water
3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
1 1/2 tsp (8 grams) salt
1/4 cup (55 grams) vegetable oil
3 TBSP (65 grams) mild honey OR 1/3 cup (60 grams) sugar
about 3 cups (400 grams) bread flour
fully fermented sourdough starter

The night before baking:
Mix the starter into the water until it is partially dissolved, then stir in the flour.
Knead this firm dough until it is smooth.
Remove 1 cup (200 grams) of the starter to use in the final dough and place in a sealed container at least four times its volume. Let the starter ferment until it has tripled in size, about 8-12 hours.

Baking Day:
In a large bowl, beat together the water, 3 eggs, salt, oil, and honey (or sugar) until the salt had dissolved and the mixture if fairly well combined.
With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the bread flour in all at once.
When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface, add the starter, and knead until the dough is smooth (no more than ten minutes). The dough will be very firm and should feel almost like modeling clay. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a TBSP or two of water to it, if it seems too wet, add a few TBSP of flour.
Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.
Let the dough ferment for about 2 hours - it will probably rise not much, if at all.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into four even balls.
Roll each ball out into a long thin strip (the dough is very elastic, I found it best to roll it out, fold in half, roll it out, and repeat until I got the length I wanted).

Place the strips on the baking sheet and braid as desired.

Cover well with plastic wrap and let it proof until tripled in size, about 5 hours.
Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking time, arrange the oven racks in the upper third position and remove any racks above it.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for glazing the bread.
Brush the loaf with the egg glaze.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until well browned.
After the first 20 minutes of baking, rotate the loaf around so it bakes evenly. IF the loaf is browning too fast, tent with foil.
When bread is done, remove from pan and let it cool on a rack.

It's Here!!!! An All New Recipe Box!

I feel like a kid Christmas morning! I am so excited to share with you guys something that I have been working on for a while now. The Gingered Whisk now has a totally sweet new Recipe Box! You can now find all my recipes in one easy place. And not only that, you can search, print, email, and share them, too! Want a tour? Good, cuz you are so getting one!

The first thing you will see when you click on the new "Recipe Box" tab is this:

It will show you a slideshow of featured recipes. Right now, to celebrate, I am showcasing my absolute favorite recipes that I have made. I can change this feature however often I want, say if I want to feature soups and stews on a cold day, or cookies for Christmas, that kind of thing.

The next thing you will see are thumbnails to the last four recipes that I have posted.
There is also a new handy-dandy search feature, where you can type in any ingredient or keyword that you want and search through all the recipes I have posted. 

You can also browse by category, if you aren't sure what you want. Browse by course, dietary considerations, ingredients, seasons, or special occasions. 

Or, if you want to take the scenic route, you can browse through all the recipes alphabetically.
And lastly, (this is totally my favorite part!!) when you decide to check out a particular recipe, a cool new page will open up that gives you a nice print out of the recipe, including a picture, and the ability to email, text it, pin it, tweet it, or share it on facebook! 

I hope you guys love this as much as I do!! Please let me know if you find any glaring mistakes (like if I wrote a recipe makes 1200 dozen cookies, or if I couldn't even spell my name right, haha. 

And for all you bloggers out there, I highly recommend you check out Recipages! It's totally free, and totally awesome!! 

Soft Gingersnap Cookies with White Chocolate Chips

I swear I had a better photo of these, but I cannot for the life of me find it! 

I know, I'm posting a cookie recipe in the middle of January. Most of you probably don't think you are ready for another batch of cookies, what with your diets, light meals, and super healthy smoothie breakfasts. But I hope you are remembering to diet and exercise with a little bit of moderation, and that means indulging just a little bit. And I think these cookies are special enough for you to make right now. They are super soft, with just the right amount of spice, and the white chocolate chips are the perfect addition.
Cooking with toddlers can be messy! Lesson learned:
Keep an eye on all ingredients, and maybe push them back a little further!

These cookies are also fairly easy to make. Which is important since I have decided that Ladybug is old enough to start helping me just a tiny bit in the kitchen. She's been making the sign for cookie non-stop since Christmas (I still can't get her to actually say cookie, she just shakes her head "no" when I ask her to use her words. brat.), and its so cute that I have to indulge her just a tiny bit. We have been using our Learning Tower a ton  these days, and Ladybug's new favorite thing is to help cook. These cookies were the first ever that she has helped me bake. She got to help measure, pour, mix, roll, and of course eat! It was totally a messy experience, but it was so full of smiles, laughter, joy and proudness (on both our parts) that it was entirely worth the clean-up. And you can see the all the cookies are lumpy and mis-shappen and odd sizes, but I love them and the chubby little fingers that made them!

Soft Gingersnap Cookies with White Chocolate Chips (Two Peas and their Pod)

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 TBSP canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup sugar for rolling the balls

Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a Sil-Pat and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy.
Beat in the molasses, canola oil, vanilla, baking soda, salt, and the spices, mixing until well combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until smooth.
Slowly add in the flour.
Stir in the white chocolate chunks.
Scoop the dough into balls and roll in the sugar to coat.
Place on the lined baking sheets, about two inches apart.
Bake for 10 minutes (the cookies will still be soft).
Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for five minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Stovetop Chicken Lasagna Stew

If it were up to me, I would never ever watch what I ate. Not that I would sit in front of the TV all night and consume an entire container of cheesy puffs, but I just don't want to think about what I am eating. I want to eat fresh, healthy, delicious meals without having to worry about calories, fat content, carbohydrates and sodium levels. I just want to eat and enjoy it.

And now-a-days its hard to know what to eat. One minute eggs are bad for you, the next they are good for you. Dark chocolate is good for you, but only if you eat one tiny piece every day. Over-processed foods are bad and full of chemicals, but raw foods can be tainted with germs! Whole milk clogs your arteries and skim milk actually makes you fat. And worst of all, think about how many sticks of butter you actually ate over the holiday season!!!

AHH!! Just stop already! I've decided what my New Years Resolution is going to be. It isn't going to be to diet, and it isn't going to be to not-diet, either. From now on, I am going to eat what I want, when I want. If I go to a party and snack all night, I'm not going to feel bad about it. And I'm not going to eat salads the whole next day, either. I'm going to eat as many fresh and unprocessed foods as I can and not worry about the rest of it. And I'll take a second cupcake, thank you very much.

This meal is perfect for me, and I think you will like it, too. It comes from the American Heart Association Low-Calorie Cookbook, and its filled with fresh vegetables and guess what? Not only is it low calorie, low sodium, low-fat, and only 9 Weight Watchers Plus Points, but it has cheese! Like, lots of cheese! You honestly cannot tell that this creamy, cheesy, pasta-y bowl of deliciousness is actually good for you!

Stovetop Chicken Lasagna Stew (American Heart Association Low- Calorie Cookbook, 2003. page 122.)

Yield: 4 servings - 1.5 cups per serving. Each serving is 9 Weight Watchers Points Plus

1 lb Boneless, skinless chicken breast or turkey breast
1 tsp vegetable oil
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 cups water
14.5 ounce can of no-salt added tomatoes, undrained
8-ounce can of no-salt added tomato sauce
1 tsp salt free Italian seasoning
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp black pepper
4 dried lasagna noodes or 6 dried no-boil lasagna noodles, broken into 1" pieces
3/4 cu[ fat free ricotta cheese
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1 TBSP + 1 tsp grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the chicken into 3/4" cubes.
Heat a non-stick dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom.
Cook the chicken 3-4 minutes, or until browned and almost cooked through, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the mushrooms, carrots, onion, and garlic.
Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, basil, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper.
Simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir in the pasta.
Simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered, or until the noodles are tender, stirring occasionally.
To serve, spoon the stew into a shallow bowl. Top each portion with 3 TBSP ricotta, 2 TBSP mozzarella, and 1 tsp Parmesan.

Cheesy Potato Casserole

Has the New Year's Cleaning/Organizing bug bit you as bad as it bit me? I can't seem to stop! All I want to do is move stuff around, re-decorate, re-shift, and down-size. It doesn't help that in addition to wanting to make things both look and feel cleaner, I am really ready to move already!

Isn't that horrible? I mean, we have been here only 7 months and I am already wanting to look for someplace new. Yes, where we live is beautiful, and it has tons of natural lighting (when the sun is out!) and we have good friends who live in the same building/complex as us. But walking the dogs in the winter SUCKS! It's really cold out there. And I am not a fan of bundling not only myself up, but Ladybug as well just to take Peanut outside so he can sniff the air for five minutes and then decide he doesn't really have to go after-all. Please insert backyard here!!

We still have 4 months left on this lease before we can move out, but I am definitely going to start looking around. Especially since finding a place to rent the first time was such a debacle. So for now I'm entertaining myself with reorganizing every room and cabinet that I can. Don't tell Joel, but I already spent the better part of this morning completely rearranging the kitchen! He hates when I do that (it might happen more often than you think...) because he can never find anything! But I didn't move anything he uses! The forks, plates, and cups are exactly where he left them. It's all the other stuff - the pie plates, the covered baking dishes, the cookie cutters. All that stuff, all my stuff, is in a new area! I have a lot more counter space now!

Speaking of New Year's bugs, I hope you weren't really planning on sticking to that diet. I have a whole slew of awesome things that I should have posted before Christmas - cookies and casseroles and awesome dishes that you probably would have enjoyed for Christmas. It just didn't happen that way, so you get all of this deliciousness now! This is my Aunt Sharon's Cheesy Potato Casserole, and it is a staple at holiday meals. Easter, Christmas, or any fancy dinner in between, we always feature this dish whenever we can. It is creamy, cheesy, and so delicious!

Cheesy Potato Casserole (Aunt Sharon)
2 lb. frozen hashbrowns (the square kind)
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
1 can cream of chicken soup
2+ cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 ounces sour cream
4 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients (except butter) together until well combined.
Pour the casserole into the dish and spread evenly in the pan.
Dot the top of the casserole with pads of butter.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

Mega Chocolate Sourdough Brownies

I hope you haven't noticed that I haven't been as active as I usually am. I've been hoping that you haven't really noticed, but I've become obsessed with something lately, and it seems to have taken up every second of my free time lately. I wasn't going to say anything and just surprise you with it (yeah, its just for you!) but I realized its going to take quite a bit more time than I thought it would. So things might slow down a little bit here. Not for lack of recipes, because truthfully they are piling up over here. But I can only do so much work at a computer each day, and I'm sooo excited for what's coming!!! (Two weeks. I think it might take me two weeks. Unless I had an intern, who would be willing to do some mundane data entry for a batch of these brownies. Any takers? :) ) And I totally just gave you a clue!

These brownies hit me like a tidal wave. They have been in the background of my mind since I first saw them a few months ago, but suddenly I had to make them this very second. And oooooh buddy, you need to make them this very second, too. First of all, they are probably the best brownies I have ever eaten. In fact, it might not be a good idea for me to be home alone with this whole pan tonight... Joel took one bite and backed away, waving a white flag. He said if he ate any more he would eat the whole pan right there.

These brownies are rich, super fudgey, and melt in your mouth delicious. They are also made with your sourdough starter, which in my mind instantly makes anything that much cooler. The sourdough doesn't lend its typical sour tang here, but instead helps to cut the sweetness while upping the richness. If you have been debating whether to get off your but and make a starter, let this be your inspiration!

Mega Chocolate Sourdough Brownies (Wild Yeast)

300 g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
226 grams unsalted butter, cut into pieces (that's pretty much 2 sticks)
200 grams sugar
6 grams (1 tsp) salt
8.4 grams (2 tsp) vanilla extract
3 whole eggs, room temperature
40 grams cocoa powder
220 grams mature 100% hydration sourdough starter

Preheat oven to 325 F
Line a metal 9x13 pan with parchment paper and coat the paper in butter (if you leave some hanging over the long 13" edges, it makes it really easy to lift the brownies out of the pan!).
In a double broiler, saucepan, or the microwave, melt the chocolate and butter. Stir it often so it does not burn.
Pour the melted chocolate/butter into a large bowl.
Whisk in the sugar, salt and vanilla.
Add the eggs one at a time, whisking to combine each addition.
Sift the cocoa powder over the chocolate and stir to combine.
Add the starter and stir gently until it is completely incorporated.
Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan 20 minutes (this is the hardest part), lift the parchment paper out and allow to cool the rest of the way on a wire rack.
When cool completely, cut into squares and enjoy!

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