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PEANUT BLOSSOM COOKIES

The Free Press WV

Peanut blossom cookies first gained notoriety at the 1957 Pillsbury Bake-Off. They’re simply a peanut butter cookie topped with a Hershey’s Kiss. We started with the original recipe and made tweaks to it with the goal of achieving a more robust peanut flavor.

Adding more peanut butter didn’t do the trick. We tried swapping chunky peanut butter for the creamy, but tasters disliked the craggy texture it gave these cookies. We got the best peanut flavor when we replaced a portion of the flour with roasted peanuts, which we ground finely in the food processor so they wouldn’t compromise the cookie’s texture.

Most recipes recommend pressing the kisses into the cookies immediately after baking, but the warm cookies softened the kisses too much, and they took 4 hours to firm up again_longer than we were willing to wait to indulge.

Strangely enough, we found that placing the chocolates on the cookies during the last 2 minutes of baking helped them firm up more quickly. Why? It turns out that a little direct heat stabilizes and sets the exterior of the chocolate, and the kisses were firm enough to eat after the cookies had cooled for just 2 hours. Any Hershey’s Kiss_dark, milk, white, or “Hugs”_works in this recipe.


PEANUT BLOSSOM COOKIES

Servings: Makes 48 cookies

Start to finish: 1 hour

1 1/3 cups (6 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup salted dry-roasted peanuts

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup packed (2 1/3 ounces) dark brown sugar

1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 large egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

48-50 Hershey’s Kisses, unwrapped

Process 2/3 cup flour and peanuts in food processor until peanuts are finely ground, about 15 seconds; transfer to bowl and whisk in baking powder, baking soda, salt, and remaining 2/3 cup flour.

Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add peanut butter and beat until combined. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in 2 additions, and mix until just combined. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and space them 2 inches apart on prepared sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are just set and beginning to crack, 9 to 11 minutes. Working quickly, remove sheet from oven and place 1 candy in center of each cookie, pressing down firmly. Return sheet to oven and bake until cookies are light golden, about 2 minutes longer. Let cookies cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Let cookies cool completely before serving.

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Nutrition information per serving: 94 calories; 53 calories from fat; 6 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 11 mg cholesterol; 48 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 2 g protein.

CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND APPLE SOUP

The Free Press WV

Butternut squash soup is a fall staple, but many recipes fail to live up to their potential, ending up too sweet or with too little squash flavor_plus, prepping the squash can be time-consuming and unwieldy. We found the solution to these problems in our Dutch oven.

We sauteed a shallot in butter with the reserved squash seeds and fibers before adding water for a flavorful, squash-enhanced liquid that we then used for steaming the squash.

The Dutch oven’s ample size provided plenty of room for steaming, and we could drop the squash in unpeeled and quartered, which cut out lots of prep time. To complete our soup, we scooped out the cooked squash from its skin and then pureed it with some of the strained steaming liquid for a perfectly smooth texture.

Some heavy cream added richness, and a little brown sugar and curry powder balanced the squash’s earthy flavor. A tart apple, such as a Granny Smith, adds a nice contrast to the sweet squash, but any type of apple may be used.


CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND APPLE SOUP

Servings: 4-6

Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes

6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (3 cups)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and pepper

1 large shallot, chopped

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, quartered and seeded, fibers and seeds reserved

6 cups water

1 large apple, peeled, cored, and quartered

1/2cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Toss bread with melted butter, season with salt and pepper, and spread onto rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring halfway through baking. Set aside to cool. (Croutons can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in squash seeds and fibers and cook until butter turns orange, about 4 minutes.

Stir in water and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Place squash, cut side down, and apple in steamer basket and lower basket into pot. Cover and steam until completely tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer squash to rimmed baking sheet. Let squash cool slightly, then scrape flesh from skin using soupspoon; discard skin.

Strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh strainer into bowl. Working in batches, process squash and 3 cups strained cooking liquid in blender until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, then return to clean pot. Stir in cream, curry powder, sugar, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter and bring to brief simmer over medium-low heat. Adjust consistency as needed with remaining strained cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top individual portions with croutons before serving.

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Nutrition information per serving: 556 calories; 284 calories from fat; 32 g fat (19 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 91 mg cholesterol; mg sodium; 66 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 17 g sugar; 8 g protein.

STOVETOP MACARONI AND CHEESE

The Free Press WV

Macaroni and cheese has always been on my “must-explore” list. It’s just eaten too often in this country for us to ignore it. Kids in particular say yes to macaroni and cheese when they turn up their noses at everything else. Unfortunately, it’s the boxed version, complete with orange cheese powder, that’s made most often.

There are two distinct styles of macaroni and cheese: bechamel-based, in which macaroni is blanketed with a cheesy white sauce, usually topped with crumbs, and baked. The other variety, the kind my mother always made, is custard-based. In this style, a mixture of egg and milk is poured over layers of grated cheese and noodles. As the dish bakes, the eggs, milk and cheese set into a custard. It can also be topped with bread crumbs, although my mom always sprinkled crushed saltine crackers over hers.

We preferred the cheesier-flavored custard version and decided to experiment. To our surprise, highly processed cheeses such as American performed quite well in this dish. Much like evaporated milk, the more processing, the more stable the cheese and the more creamy the dish. For flavor, use cheddar; for texture, buy American. You can skip the bread crumbs and sprinkle the dish with crumbled common crackers or saltines, if desired.


STOVETOP MACARONI AND CHEESE

Servings: 4

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Bread Crumbs:

3 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Salt

Macaroni and Cheese:

2 large eggs

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon dry mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

Salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

8 ounces elbow macaroni (2 cups)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 ounces sharp cheddar, American, or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (3 cups)

For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread in food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Season with salt to taste; set aside.

For the macaroni and cheese: Mix eggs, 1 cup evaporated milk, mustard mixture, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and hot sauce in bowl.

Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot over low heat. Add butter and toss to melt.

Add egg mixture and three-quarters of cheese to pasta and toss until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Gradually add remaining evaporated milk and remaining cheese, stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, sprinkling individual portions with toasted bread crumbs.

Variation:

“Baked” Macaroni and Cheese: Add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese to toasted bread crumbs. Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Transfer macaroni and cheese mixture to a 13-by-9-inch broiler-safe baking dish and sprinkle with bread-crumb mixture. Broil until topping turns deep golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Let casserole cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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Nutrition information per serving: 880 calories; 463 calories from fat; 52 g fat (32 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 249 mg cholesterol; 1063 mg sodium; 65 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 11 g sugar; 36 g protein.

CHICKEN FLORENTINE

The Free Press WV

Chicken Florentine is a buffet-line favorite featuring chicken breast and spinach in a mild cream-and-Parmesan sauce_sometimes stuffed inside, sometimes stacked on top. All of these components are good, but this dish can often be stodgy (think old-fashioned casserole) or fussy (involving dredging chicken in flour and sauteeing).

We wanted a simplified recipe for an elegant dish with clearer, brighter flavors. Braising was the perfect technique to achieve this: For flavor, we seared the chicken breasts first, cooked aromatics and added our cooking liquid (a balanced mix of water and chicken broth enriched with a modest amount of cream), and then simmered the chicken in the reducing sauce until perfectly cooked.

After we topped the tender chicken with some sauteed spinach and the cream sauce, it needed just a quick run under the broiler to become appealingly golden on top. We like tender, quick-cooking bagged baby spinach here; if using curly-leaf spinach, chop it before cooking.


CHICKEN FLORENTINE

Servings: 4-6

Start to finish: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

12 ounces (12 cups) baby spinach

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless

chicken breasts, trimmed

Salt and pepper

1 shallot, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup heavy cream

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus

1 teaspoon juice

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer spinach to colander set over bowl and press with spoon to release excess liquid; discard liquid.

Pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Wipe out pan with paper towels and heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook chicken on both sides until golden, about 4 minutes. Add shallot and garlic to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, water, and cream and bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes; transfer chicken to large plate and tent with aluminum foil. Continue to simmer sauce until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan and lemon zest and juice.

Cut breasts crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices and arrange on broiler-safe platter. Scatter spinach over chicken and pour sauce over spinach. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan and broil until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve.

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Nutrition information per serving: 334 calories; 208 calories from fat; 23 g fat (11 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 128 mg cholesterol; 400 mg sodium; 5 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 25 g protein.

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