Sunday, September 30, 2012

ChocoFlan (Impossible Cake)

Today marks the end of a six month period of cooking with my (unwitting) mentor over at IHCC.  The man who has taught me so much for so many years.  He taught me the basics of Mexican cuisine: the beautiful differences of earthy, dried chiles...the subtleties of using native herbs and spices...vast uses for masa harina...and the importance of building flavor.  Time is your friend when you want a good, authentic Mexican dish.

He's been a source of inspiration and knowledge to me for so long now, so while I'll not be cooking with him in an "official" capacity any longer, there's no way I'll be saying Adios.  Nope.  Instead I will be saying Gracias, Rick.  Thank you for sharing your passion for Mexican cuisine and culture.  And I'll be seeing you soon.
An really, there's no better thank you gesture than something made from the heart.  Rick taught me to make ChocoFlan a long time ago and I've been making people happy with it ever since.  So this one's for you, Rick!

ChocoFlan (Impossible Cake)

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert chocolate cake Mexican

Ingredients (serves 12-16)
    For the mold:
    • a pat of softened butter
    • all-purpose flour
    • 1 c. cajeta (goats milk caramel), store-bought or homemade
    For the cake:
    • 5 oz. (10 Tbs.) butter, slightly softened
    • 1 c. sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 2 Tbs. espresso powder dissolved in 1½ Tbs. hot water (or 3 Tbs. espresso)
    • ¾ c. all-purpose flour
    • 1 c. cake flour
    • ¾ tsp. baking powder
    • ¾ tsp.baking soda
    • ⅓ c. + 1 Tbs. cocoa powder
    • 9 floz. buttermilk
    For the flan:
    • 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
    • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    Instructions
    Getting started:
    Turn on the oven to 350° F. Position oven rack in middle of oven. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round cake pan (you need one that's 3 inches deep), sprinkle with flour, tip the pan, tapping on the side of the counter several times, to evenly distribute the flour over the bottom and sides, then shake out the excess.

    Microwave the cajeta for 30 seconds to soften it, then pour over the bottom of the pan, tilting the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Bring a pot or kettle of water to a boil and hold at a simmer. Set out a deep pan that's larger than your cake pan (like a roasting pan) that can serve as a water bath during baking.

    Dissolve your espresso powder in the water.

    Make the cake layer:
    Beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light in color and texture. Scrape the bowl. Beat in the egg and espresso.

    Sift together the all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder. Beat in about half of the flour mixture, at medium-low speed, followed by half of the buttermilk. Repeat, scraping bowl as needed. Once everything is well combined, raise the speed to medium-high and beat for another minute or so.

    Scrape the cake batter into the prepared cake pan and spread level.

    Make the flan layer:
    In a blender, combine the two milks, the eggs and the vanilla. Blend until smooth.

    Hold a large ladle a few inches above the pan with the cake batter in it. Slowly, pour the flan mixture into the ladle and let it fall gently over the edges of the ladle and onto the cake batter. Using the ladle keeps the batter from getting "dented".
    Set the cake pan into the larger pan and then set on oven rack. Pour the simmering water into the larger pan, around the cake pan to a depth of at least 1-inch.

    Close the oven door and bake for ~60 minutes, or until the surface of the cake is almost firm to the touch, except for the very center (which will seem wobbly) .

    Remove from the water bath and cool to room temperature, ~1 hour. Slide into the refrigerator and allow to sit for at least 12 hours. This allows the two layers to meld together and not slide apart when unmolding.
    When ready, carefully run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the pan to free the edges. If the cake does not slide around freely when you turn the pan (like turning a steering wheel), fill the bottom of your sink with hot water and set the pan in for 30 seconds. It should now move freely.

    Choose a serving platter that is large enough and has a rim (to stop the extra cajeta from flowing off the plate) and invert it over the top of your pan. Grasp the two tightly and in one quick motion, flip over so that the serving plate is on the bottom. Gently jiggle the pan back and forth several times to insure that the chocoflan has dropped, then lift the pan off. Scrape any remaining cajeta from the mold onto the cake.

    Enjoy!

    slightly adapted from Rick Bayless
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    This was another recipe revisit ...see, the good ones really are worth coming back to.

    Oh, and I wanted to tell you that if you do not have cake flour, you can make your own.  For every 1 cup of cake flour that you need, measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour and then remove 2 tablespoons of it and replace it with 2 tablespoons of corn starch.  Sift the whole lot 3 times and then it's ready to go - "homemade" cake flour!

    p.s...in case you're wondering who our next featured chef at IHCC will be- it's Madhur Jaffrey.  So please join us as we switch gears from Mexico to India (and beyond) starting tomorrow (and continuing for the next six months).

    I am sharing this post with:
    IHCC theme: Adios y Gracias, Rick
    Rick Bayless @IHCC button rounded Tasty Tuesdays 33 shades of green hearthnsoul150


    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    Tacos de Chicharrón y Salsa Casera {#MuyBuenoCookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off}

    The slow smile.  The simple phrase.  You take me back.  It's what I live for.  And this time, it was a humble taco filling that elicited the reaction.

    If you know me...even a little...you know my deep-rooted love for Mexican cuisine and culture.  Maybe you also know that food memory plays a starring role in why I cook and why I write.  And not just conjuring up my own memories, but memories of those around me.  They always make for the best stories.  The best responses.

    Tacos de chicharrón are something that mi esposo grew up with.  Just one bite can unearth buried tales of weekends in his small hometown colored with people and places that shaped who he is today.  It makes me wish I'd made them sooner.
    It's true.  We've been married for almost ten years and this is the first time I've actually made some for him at home.  And oddly enough, our taqueria's don't often have them on the menu.  Sometimes, but not on a regular basis.  He's talked about them before.  We eat chicharrón now and again when the craving strikes.  But I've never made him tacos.

    I blame it on texture.  I love the crunchy, porky taste of the just-fried pork rinds.  But once they turn somewhat soggy from the warm salsa-based sauce, they don't look as appealing.  In fact, they remind me of tripe.  Which I cook occasionally, try a little more often, and still can't stand.  I eat around it, if it's on my plate.  So I blame tripe for my dismissal of pork rind tacos.

    So when I was flipping through the soon to be realeased Muy Bueno Cookbook, and came across a recipe for Tacos de Chicharrón, I decided it was high-time that I make some for the hubby that is always there for me...encouraging me...and supporting me.  I mean, they even started sounding good to me.  So I went in for the kill.
    And I loved them.

    They were perfectly flavorful and wonderfully soft...without being soggy.  And nothing like the rubber-bandy tripe that I imagined.  I fell hard for something my hubby had been longing for for so many  years.  And my oldest son loved them, too.  But it was that slow smile.  It was that simple phrase.  That was what made my first (of many to come) go at making Tacos de Chicharrón so rewarding.

    You take me back.

    Tacos de Chicharrón (Pork Rind Tacos) & Salsa Casera (House Salsa)

    by Heather Schmitt-González
    Prep Time: 50 minutes (largely unattended
    Cook Time: 10 minutes
    Keywords: simmer condiment entree chiles tortillas pork rinds tomatoes Mexican

    Ingredients (serves 4)
      Salsa Casera:
      • 4 Guerrito Chiles
      • 2 Poblano Chiles
      • 1 Jalapeño Chile
      • 3 fat cloves garlic, minced
      • ¼ c. tomato sauce
      • ½ tsp. salt
      • 1 (14.5 oz.) can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes w/ juices
      Chicharrón filling for tacos:
      • 1 Tbs. olive oil
      • 1 very small yellow onion, chopped fine (~⅓ c.)
      • 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
      • 1 c. Salsa Casera
      • 1 c. water
      • ~3 oz. Chicharrónes (pork rinds), plain
      to finish:
      • corn tortillas
      • chopped onions
      • chopped cilantro
      • lime wedges
      Instructions
      make the Salsa Casera (House Salsa / yield: 3 cups):
      Roast all of the chiles over an open flame or under the broiler until the skin is black and blistered. Transfer them to a large zippered baggie or wrap in a kitchen towel and allow to steam for 10 minutes or more. Slide the skin from all of the chiles, and then pull out the stems and most of the seeds. Line the chiles up in a pile and run your knife through them a few times, just to get some wide, thick strips.

      Transfer the prepared chiles to the jar of a blender (or food processor) along with the garlic, tomato sauce, and salt. Pulse a few times, just to achieve large chunks. Dump in the fire-roasted tomatoes with their juices and pulse 2 or 3 more times. You should have a very chunky salsa.

      make the Chicharrón filling (yield: ~2½ cups):
      Heat oil in a medium-large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, ~2 minutes. Add flour and cook for another two minutes, stirring often. Add the salsa casera and let it come to a boil.

      Break up the chicharrón into bite-sized pieces (~2" chunks) and add them to the pan along with the water. Bring back the boil and stir everything around to coat. Remove from heat and allow the chicharrón to absorb the liquid before serving, 15-30 minutes.

      to serve:
      Heat your corn tortillas (comal, open-flame, microwave) and pile the warm filling into them. Pass the onions, cilantro, and lime wedges for sprinkling on top. Enjoy!

      notes:
      The original Muy Bueno recipe uses all 6-7 Anaheim chiles in place of the Guerritos and Poblanos, but it's rare for me to be able to locate Anaheim's locally, so I substituted. It also calls for one can (same size) whole tomatoes...which you should add to the blender/processor at the same time as the chiles and pulse everything together. This is actually one of the best salsas I've ever had and I will be making it for years to come. It's fantastic in recipes or just scooped up with tortilla chips for snacking.

      Please don't use "fake" pork rinds in this application (the kind you find in snack bags by the chips). Look for the large sheets of real pork rinds. If you have a local butcher or Mexican Market, it's a good bet you'll find some there.

      adapted from Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Mexican Flavor
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      *This post is part of the Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off sponsored by Hippocrene and hosted at girlichef*
      Muy Bueno Cookbook Cook-Off and Spotlight (small)

      I am also sharing this post with:
      weekend cooking gallery of favorites


      Friday, September 28, 2012

      On the Brain: Ballymaloe, Heather, Whisky, and Whiskey

      Yes.  I said Whisky and Whiskey.  Do you know the difference?  Because after spending a week touring distilleries in Ireland and Scotland, I can say with confidence that I do.  But it's no secret.  And it's nothing complex.  The Scots spell it without an 'e', the Irish spell it with an 'e'.

      Ta-da!

      And while I had an amazing time getting very familiar with Whisk(e)y, I was also fortunate enough to get a visit to Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland.  And not only did I get to visit, I actually met and spoke with both Darina Allen and Rachel Allen.
      Ballymaloe is a magical place.  Welcoming, inviting, and beautiful.  That's all my brain can transfer to my fingers right now, but I have so much to tell.

      Oh yeah, and another life-long dream realized - I (Heather) saw Heather (the plant) in Scotland.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Unless you count sitting in a bar on an island in the most Southern of the Hebridean Islands of the west coast of Scotland listening to a live rendition of Loch Lomond.  Yeah.  That was pretty stellar all in and of itself.
      Also, seafood.  Seafood caught mere hours...maybe even moments...before making its way into my mouth and into my waiting belly.  It was glorious.  So tell me, have you ever drizzled a little smoky, peaty Scotch Whisky into your oyster before throwing it back?  If you haven't, you should remedy that.  Soon.

      Okay all, I just wanted to put up a little update...a little how-dee-doo...to let you know that even though I haven't posted anything in close to a week and a half (that's a long time for me), I'm still here.  My brain and my body are just otherwise occupies.  With thoughts of Ireland and Scotland.  Of Whisk(e)y and barley and pot stills.  Of oysters and lobster and crab and fish and mussels and salmon.  Of brown bread.  Of Heather and Highland Cattle.

      And of how in the heck I'm going to wrangle all of those things up and make them into cohesive thoughts and sentences.  Because while it may sound like a vacation, I was working.  More updates to come...


      Monday, September 17, 2012

      Salsa de Hongos y Jalapeños {#MuyBuenoCookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off}

      I am a lover of salsa.  Chunky or smooth.  Mild or spicy.  Red or green.  Blender Salsa or Pico de Gallo.  Heck, I'm even throw fruit salsa into the mix.  I mean, grilled chicken breast or fish with tucked under a small blanket of natural sweetness from the fruit mixed with onion and heat.  Mmm-hmm.  And, of course, mushroom salsa.

      Wait!  What?  You've never tried Mushroom Salsa before?  Never even heard of it, you say?

      Okay, neither had I before last month.
      But when I saw it sitting all pretty on the pages of the soon-to-be-released cookbook from the gals at Muy Bueno, I just knew that I had to try it.  I mean, it sounded kind of strange at first, but the more I paged back to look at it, the more the thought of it grew on me.  I'm a fan of mushrooms.  I'm a fan of jalapeños and red onion and lime juice and cilantro.  So why wouldn't I be a fan of it all chopped pretty and tossed and served as a salsa?  No reason I could muster.

      Let me tell you, I found it every bit as hard to resist as I did "regular" salsa.  I scooped 'em up with crunchy, salty tortilla chips and munched on 'em while watching the game.  The salsa was nice and earthy and pungent with a welcome tang from the lime juice.  The longer you let it sit, the more liquid the mushrooms will soak up and then release.  I had some later on in the day over simple sautéed Tilapia and the combination was perfect for a light meal.

      I like raw mushrooms, so I enjoyed eating it immediately after I made it, but the tastes develop a more complex flavor once you've let it sit and marinate for at least one hour.  It's even good the next day (refrigerate if you're saving it that long).
      This is the first thing I've made from a long list of things that I want to make in the Muy Bueno cookbook.  Please visit the Spotlight announcement page for more information and to see how everybody else's salsa (or Capirotada) turned out this week.  And then follow along for more delicious goodies over the next three weeks.  Plus, I mentioned that everybody will be giving away one copy of this book and I happen to know that somebody has already announced their giveaway - so you're not going to want to miss a single post in this Spotlight!

      Salsa de Hongos y Jalapeños (Mushroom, Jalapeño, & Cilantro Salsa)

      by Heather Schmitt-González
      Prep Time: 10 minutes
      Cook Time: n/a
      Keywords: appetizer condiment sauce vegetarian mushrooms chiles onions limes Mexican

      Ingredients (~3 cups)
      • 1 lb. mushrooms, stemmed & finely chopped
      • 1 very small red onion, finely chopped
      • 2-3 jalapeños, stemmed & finely chopped
      • handful cilantro, chopped
      • ½ c. freshly squeezed lime juice
      • 1½ Tbs. olive oil
      • salt
      • black pepper
      Instructions
      Combine mushrooms, onions, jalapeño, and cilantro in a bowl. Add lime juice and olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

      Eat soon or let sit a couple of hours at room temperature (this will allow the mushrooms to absorb all of the flavors further) before eating.

      Use this salsa as you would any salsa: scoop it up with tortilla chips or use it as a topping for fish, chicken, or steak.

      notes:
      For the mushrooms, I used half white button mushrooms and half crimini mushrooms.

      I reduced the lime juice called for in the original recipe by ¼ cup.

      slightly adapted from Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Mexican Flavor
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      *This post is part of the Muy Bueno Cookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off sponsored by Hippocrene and hosted at girlichef*
      Muy Bueno Cookbook Cook-Off and Spotlight (small)


      Sunday, September 16, 2012

      Puerco Pibil (or Cochinita Pibil) #SundaySupper

      So the other day I mentioned that I was going to go back into my archives and revisit a number of the recipes that I talked about during my first year of blogging.  Recipes that I still love and still make on a regular basis.  Well, a fairly regular basis.

      Skip back a few weeks to when I asked my hubby what he wanted me to make to eat on Día de Independencía.  He said Barbacoa.  Yes, I realize this is not Barbacoa.  Though you can make variations of Barbacoa with pork, beef, chicken, or even fish, the type he was talking about is the type he grew up eating.  And that was made from goat.  I knew I'd have trouble finding goat.  And I did.  So I thought maybe I would just go with lamb.  But I needed the shoulder, and for some reason I absolutely could not find any lamb should anywhere, either.  Chops?  Yes.  Rack?  Mm-hmm.  Leg?  You got it.  But shoulder?  Aaahhh, no.

      So, on to plan B.  I told hubs that the Barbacoa was a no-go right now, but that the next time I found either goat or lamb shoulder, it was so on.  What was his second choice, I asked.  I bet you can guess what he said.  Cuz you're good like that.  His second choice was Puerco Pibil.
      Now, I was happy with that choice for two reasons.  Reason numero uno - I LOVE Puerco Pibil and haven't made it in quite a while.  Reason numero dos - another recipe revisit!  Oh yeah.  I first talked about Puerco Pibil and how I fell for it after watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  The Robert Rodriguez film.  Do you know it?  Typical Robert Rodriguez- there's plenty of great actors with lots of guns and violence and humor all crescendoing to a righteous conclusion.  Plus, Johnny (Depp, thank you) plays a man obsessed with finding the best Puerco Pibil in Mexico.  He found it.  But it pushed him over the edge.

      Well, if you're familiar with Rodriguez, you may know that he puts fun bits in the "special features" sections of his dvd's like 10-minute film school or 10-minute cooking school.  There's another one he mentions that's not so nice, but I'll go ahead and leave that out since this is #SundaySupper, afterall.  This recipe is one that he makes and shares in the special features on Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  When I first shared Puerco Pibil back in May of 2009, I put the video into my post.  I'm a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez, so of course I recommend checking it out.  But only if the kids are out of the room.  Although, he does do a fun 10-minute cooking school with his daughter on the special features of Shorts, if you're interested - they make cookies.  And it's way cute. Maybe you'll find yourself smiling all silly at Rodriguez like I do (yeah, he's dreamy).  Well, there's another 10-minute cooking school at the end of this post if you just can't get enough.
      So this was the main dish in our little Mexican Independence Day celebrations.  Tender, fall-apart and juicy, and perfectly spiced...it's something that I crave often.  Did you cook or bake any good Mexican food this weekend?  Maybe you went out to eat?  Feel free to share your favorite Mexican dishes in the comments below.  I'm always looking for new favorites!

      Puerco Pibil (or Cochinita Pibil)

      by Heather Schmitt-González
      Prep Time: 15 minutes + time to marinate
      Cook Time: ~4 hours
      Keywords: bake roast entree nut-free chiles pork spice Mexican

      Ingredients (serves 8-10)
      • 5 Tbs. (~2 oz.) annatto (achiote) seeds
      • 2 tsp. cumin seeds (scant 2 tsp. ground)
      • 1 Tbs. whole black peppercorns (scant 1 Tbs. ground)
      • 8 whole allspice (½ tsp. ground)
      • ½ tsp. whole cloves (scant ½ ground)
      • 2 habanero chiles
      • ½ c. freshly squeezed orange juice
      • ½ c. white vinegar
      • 2 Tbs. salt
      • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
      • freshly squeezed juice of 5 lemons
      • splash of good Tequila
      • 5 lb. pork butt (shoulder), cut into 2" chunks
      • banana leaves
      Instructions
      Place first 5 ingredients into a spice grinder and grind until you have a very fine dust. Annatto seeds are extremely hard, so be sure they are ground very finely so that you don't crack a tooth on them later. If you're using pre-ground spices, grind the annatto first, then pulse in the remaining spices. Set aside.
      Next up, you need to stem the habañeros and slice them in half vertically. Working carefully since they are extremely hot (use gloves or gently hold the outside skin (the unexposed, uncut part), cut out the ribs and seeds from each half. You could leave a few seeds or ribs in if you want a little kick (because once the dish is finished, it's not extremely spicy).

      Place the habañeros, orange juice, vinegar, salt, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and the splash of tequila in the jar of a blender. Add the reserved spice blend. Blend to combine and puree chiles and garlic.

      Place the pork chunks into a gallon-sized zippered baggie and pour the mixture into the blender over it. Seal baggie tightly and massage it a few times to be sure all of the meat is covered with the marinade. You can either place your pork into the fridge to marinate for up to 6 hours, or you can get it in the oven shortly. It's up to you. Be sure to preheat your oven to 325° F for 15-20 minutes before you're ready to put the pork in, though.
      Line a large, deep pan with a couple of banana leaves (I use a lasagna pan for this). Pour the pork, marinade and all, into the lined pan. Cover with another banana leaf, tucking it in all around. Now cover the whole thing tightly with foil. Cook in preheated oven for ~4 hours. Meat should be fall-apart, fork tender and smell tantalizing.

      Remove from oven and very carefully remove the foil and either pull back the banana leaves or slash the center of the leaves (releasing the steam). Puerco Pibil goes perfectly with a side of white rice (but of course, use any type you prefer) and some corn tortillas.

      slightly adapted from Robert Rodriguez
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      Join us around the family table this week for our #SundaySupper Mexican Fiesta - it's a party that you won't want to miss.  We hope to inspire you with these mouthwatering recipes from our talented contributors.  We will be sharing them all day long and would love for you to share your favorite Mexican and Mexican-inspired recipes during our #SundaySupper live chat at 7pm (Eastern).
      Sopas (Soups), Ensaladas (Salads), and Entremeses (Starters)
      La Comida (the food)
      Postres (desserts)
      Bebidas (beverages)

        Please be sure you join us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper. We’ll be meeting up at 7:00 pm (Eastern) for our weekly #SundaySupper  live chat where we’ll talk about our favorite recipes for a Mexican Fiesta! All you have to do is follow the#SundaySupper hashtag, or you can follow us through TweetChat!  We’d also love to feature your Mexican Fiesta recipes on our #SundaySupper Pinterest board and share them with all of our followers!  And feel free to leave links to your favorite Mexican or Mexican-inspired recipes in the comment section of this post - I'd love to see them!
        Sundaysupper-clear


        Saturday, September 15, 2012

        Smiley Cookies - Game Day or any day Fun! {product review}

        Today is the biggest (college football) game of the year in our house!  Yes, we are a house divided.  Michigan State vs. Notre Dame.  It will be a day of good-natured (basically) jabs and yelling at the tv and cheering at the top of our lungs and of course, showing support for our favorite team by wearing (and eating) team colors.

        Though on this day it's mostly about the football, you've got to know that food is always running through my mind, so there's no way it wouldn't play a major supporting roll.  This year I was excited to learn about Smiley Cookies.  I know I've seen them before.  Or maybe they were knock-off's.  But now that I've actually had the pleasure of being able to order personalized (team!) colors and put them to the test, they will become a permanent fixture at our yearly match-ups.  And that's just to start with.  I can see myself ordering them for all sorts of occasions.  Or when the mood strikes.
        product:  Smiley Cookies

        category:  food / cookies / desserts

        packaging:  These cookies were shipped in their packaging inside of a very sturdy (and adorable) box decorated with layers of Smiley Cookies.  This box was wrapped in packing material and fit snuggly inside a shipping box.  They were well-packed and I received them in perfect condition.  It was a joy to open the brown packing box to pull out the bright and colorful box nestled within.  And it only got better when I opened that box to pull out the cookies that were tiled into their plastic sleeves vertically.

        appearance:  These cookies are utterly irresistible.  Not a person, young or old was able to walk by them without reaching out to grab one.  Plus, with their customizable color schemes, you're guaranteed to please your guests and/or match any theme you hope to convey.

        taste/texture:  These taste like classic sugar cookies - not too soft, not too crunchy, they fit comfortably in between the two with a pleasantly crumbly texture.  The icing is not a soft icing, it is "set" like a thin, perfect shell that coats the top.  Overall, the cookie is sweet, but not overly so.  It's a pretty big cookie, and I think the sweet level is just right.  Have a glass of cold milk nearby and you may not even want to stop after one.
        about:  Smiley Cookies got their start at the Eat 'n Park restaurant more than 20 years ago as a way for the restaurant to share their spirit with the community around them.  It signified a commitment to community and charitable giving, as well as a "delightful family dining experience".  They even have a six-foot walking sugar cookie (with signature smiley face) as their mascot.  Each child who dines at the Eat 'n Park receives  one of these now-famous sugar cookies (totaling over 1 million free cookies every year).  Plus, over 200,000 smiley cookies are donated to local non-profit organizations yearly.

        And now, those of us who live in the US, but not anywhere near the Eat 'n Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are able to have these smiles delivered right to our doors by ordering (and customizing) them online.  You can order the traditional cookies (circle with a smile), but you can also get special holiday shapes like hearts, shamrocks, bunnies, and jack-o-lanters, not to mention flowers and more! Plus, the colors are customizable to match weddings, school colors, corporate logos, sports teams - or whatever you can think of.

        allergen information:  Smiley Cookies are made in a peanut-free and tree-nut free facility, and none are ever allowed in their bakery.  They also ensure that their ingredients are not produced in facilities that process nuts.  The cookies are also Wheat-free, Egg-free, Soy-free, and Dairy-free.  (I never would have guessed.)

        further info:  website | facebook | twitter | blog

        my thoughts/review:  I love them!  As did everyone else in the family and the friends we had over.  The sugar cookie taste, the soft, yet slightly crunchy and crumbly texture, the fact that I can personalize them however I like - perfect.  I can see myself ordering all sort of colors and shapes in the future.  Parties, school events, holidays, Tuesdays - it's happenin'.
        Oh yeah, by the way...
         GO STATE!!

        *I received two free packages of Smiley Cookies to taste and review.  All opinions stated in this post are 100% my own.


        Thursday, September 13, 2012

        Ham, Cheese, & Broccoli Pretzel Pockets {#BakeYourOwnBread #TwelveLoaves}

        I'm a teeeeny-tiny-leeetle-bit obsessed with soft pretzels at this moment in time.  Really.  I can't get enough.  I blame it on the bursts of life, or should I call them teasers, of crisp Autumn air.  And football.

        It's all football season's fault.  Yeah, that's it.  Football season made me do it.

        I've been crawling around Pinterest just to find more variations on what is basically the same thing.  The same insanely soft, delicious, addictive thing.  I've got plans people.  Big ones.
        Oh sure, I started things off all traditional-like with some classic soft pretzels.  But don't forget that ridiculous Spicy Beer Cheese sauce that I had for dipping them in.  And I plan on making Pretzel Dogs for more than one game this season.  But I'll be switching up the dogs.  Brats one week.  Italian Sausage and Marinara another.  Heck, I may even try to encase a little chorizo one of these days.  Although, I'm thinking chorizo is a better option for my next go-round with these babies - the pretzel pocket.  I mean, can you imagine biting into a pretzel filled with that spicy red sausage and maybe some melty cheese of some sort - chihuahua, quesadilla, even mozzarella.

         Excuse me, I was distracting myself...

        Let's go ahead and talk about these here pockets-o-pretzel.  They were not one of the things I found while searching Pinterest.  I was actually over at Girl versus Dough.  I was browsing her recipes since she is our #BakeYourOwnBread Featured Bread Blog this month.  Now, I had already bookmarked plenty of goodies from her site that I wanted to make, but when I saw the word pretzel, you could fill in the old cliché - yup, that was all she wrote.  Now Stephanie (the blogger behind Girl versus Dough) made these Ham and Cheddar Stuffed Pretzel Calzones.  I decided I wanted them to be "pockets" instead of calzones.  You know, sort of like Hot Pockets.  Stephanie roasted her broccoli.  I was far too lazy to do that, so I just steamed it quickly and seasoned it.  You could cook it any way you like.  I also made nine instead of eight.  All minor adaptations...and ultimately I'm guessing they probably tasted basically the same (amazing).
        I also realized that since these are stuffed with cheese, that means that I can finally (been meaning to do it for months) join in the #TwelveLoaves Challenge this month; the theme is cheese.  Can a theme get much better?  I mean, come on.

        So, soft pretzels lovers out there - make these.  Stat!  They're perfection in a pocket.  The combination of the ham with the sharp cheddar and the broccoli is so riduculously good that I have no words for it.  Other than those.  The ones I just said.  And the pretzel dough is a dream to work with.

        Ham, Cheese, & Broccoli Pretzel Pockets

        by Heather Schmitt-González
        Prep Time: ~1½ hours (largely unattended
        Cook Time: 20-25 minutes
        Keywords: bake bread entree snack broccoli cheese ham American

        Ingredients (9 pretzel pockets)
          dough:
          • 1½ c. lukewarm water (110-115° F)
          • 1 Tbs. sugar
          • 2¼ tsp. active dry yeast
          • 4½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
          • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
          • 2 tsp. salt
          filling:
          • 1-1½ c. small broccoli florets, cooked & seasoned as you wish (from ~3 oz. raw)
          • ~8 oz. (2 c.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
          • ~4 oz. ham, thinly sliced or chopped (~1½ c.)
          to finish:
          • ~2½ qts. water
          • ⅔ c. baking soda
          • 1 egg yolk beaten
          • drizzle of water
          • coarse salt
          Instructions
          Making the dough:
          Combine lukewarm water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Let sit until the yeast starts to look creamy, ~5 minutes. Add flour, salt, and melted butter and mix until combined, then turn speed up to medium and let knead until dough is just tacky and has cleaned the sides of the bowls, another 5 minutes or so.

          Form dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, ~1 hour.

          When there is about 15 minutes of rise-time remaining:
          Preheat oven to 400° F.

          Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. I managed to fit all of mine on one sheet, since I only have one oven rack...but if you have two racks, you may as well spread 'em out.

          Bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the baking soda a little bit at a time (this keeps it from overflowing).

          Beat together the egg yolk and water for the egg wash. Set aside.

          Finishing the Pretzel Pockets:
          Once the oven is preheating and the water is coming to a boil, turn your dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. It will be beautiful, soft as a pillow, and basically a dream to work with. Just sayin'. I love a good pretzel dough (and this IS one).

          Using a bench scraper, divide your dough into 9 fairly equal portions (each will weigh ~4 ounces), and roll them into balls. Set to one side of your work surface.

          One at a time, flatten and roll each ball into a disc that is ~8-inches wide. Using about one-ninth of each ingredient, pile the cheese, ham, and seasoned broccoli into the center of the disc. Fold on side of the dough over to just cover the filling. Dip your finger into the egg wash and run it along the edge of the dough that has not been folded yet, then fold over the opposite edge. Fold the other two smaller edges over, as well. Pinch all seams together to seal (really pinch 'em...you don't want to lose your filling in the water bath). Set aside and repeat with remaining dough and filling until you have nine "pretzel pockets".
          Using a slotted skimmer or flat, slotted spatula, gently lower one pocket at a time into the boiling baking soda bath. Let each one stay in the water for 30 seconds, flipping gently halfway through. Carefully lift out and let water drain through the slots in your spoon before setting onto prepared baking sheets. Dough will be slightly puffed and very slippery.

          Once all of your pretzels have taken their mandatory baking soda bath (don't skip this...it's what gives you that pretzel taste and sheen) and are laid out on the baking trays, brush them lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt.
          Slide trays into preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pockets are a deep, golden brown. Let cool a little bit before eating, but I know you won't be able to resist for too long. They are great warm or at room temperature.

          notes:
          I do not know if dividing your pockets amongst two trays would result in a reduced baking time, but it is possible. As I said, I only have one rack in my oven, so I adjusted to suit. If you're using two sheets, you may want to start checking after 15 minutes or so. Remember, you're looking for that deep, golden brown...plus, you they will smell amazing and you may see a little cheese seeping out of the pockets here and there.

          I had two of these pockets left-over the day that I made them. Once completely cool, I sealed them in a zippered baggie and left them at room temperature overnight. Heated for 30 seconds in the microwave the next day, they were just as good as they were initially. It's up to you if you want to refrigerate them, but I figure I eat lots of bread with fillings and I never refrigerate, so why do so with these. They shouldn't last so long that they would "go bad". I mean, if they do, you're not doing something right. They are too hard to resist devouring as quickly as possible.

          adapted from Girl Versus Dough
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          As if these weren't enough, you can bet you'll be seeing more soft pretzel-based recipes here over the course of Autumn.  And maybe Winter.  Depends on how long this obsession lasts.

          I am sharing this post with:
          #TwelveLoaves challenge: Cheese (hosts: Cake Duchess, Creative Culinary, Life's a Feast)
          Yeastspotting
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