Friday, February 28, 2014

Cookies & Cream Scones

We were hit with a huge rainstorm last-night/this morning. It got so bad that I barely made it down our steep dirt road to get the older kids to school this morning; only to pick them up an hour later because I was worried if I waited until after-school the road would be so washed out there would be no way to pick them up, or make it back home. So, needless to say, we are home bound until the weather clears up and we can fix the road. I say "we" because it's a private road so we don't have the luxury of having the city or county maintenance people come out and fix it for us, like those people who don't live on the top of a hill in the middle of the country. :)
   Well, we are making the best of things. And, for me, one of the best things to do on a rainy and stormy day is to make scones. If you follow my blog, then you already know this about me (as evidenced by my multiple scone posts: Strawberry Scones with a Vanilla Glaze; Maple Oat Scones with a Maple Glaze; Blueberry Chocolate Chip Scones with an Almond Drizzle; Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze). Why do I love scones so much? Because they are the perfect compliment to a warm drink on a cold and cloudy day. They bring comfort to me just as much as a blanket and a good book. So, it was pretty much a given that I was going to make scones today. The question was, what kind?
    I have a lot of Oreo cookies that I bought because they were on sale, so I decided to create a new flavor that never seems to go wrong: Cookies & Cream. There's just something about adding chocolate sandwich cookies to things that make them so interesting and appealing. Think of Cookies & Cream  Ice-cream, or my Chewy Cookies and Cream Cookies. So, why not put them into scones? Well, I did and the scones are delightful! Crisp and light on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside with just a little sweetness. I cut back the amount of sugar from my usual scone recipe and they turned out perfectly. These scones really are something special.

Here's how I made them:

I put a bunch of chocolate sandwich cookies into a zip-top bag, and sealed it up.

Then I crushed them with my rolling pin. I didn't want to pulverize them, but I wanted the pieces to be small enough that I could get a little in each bite. I set my crushed cookies aside and started on the base for my scones.

3 cups flour, 1/2 cup of sugar and 5 tsp baking powder went into a mixing bowl:

I "whisked" them together using my pastry cutter. (I have to use this later anyway, why dirty as whisk too?)

Then I added 2 sticks of COLD butter, cut into small cubes.

I cut the butter cubes into the flour until most of the butter pieces were the size of peas.

It's ok to have some bigger pieces and some smaller pieces. It's actually to be expected. The butter is what makes the scones flaky, so don't cut them down too much.

The next thing to go in are the cookie pieces. I added 1 1/2 cups. I'm guessing it's about 15 or 16 cookies (I crushed 20 cookies, but didn't need all the pieces). Just mix the cookie pieces into the flour mixture thoroughly.

 Then I added 3/4 cups cream (they are cookies and cream scones after all),

and 1 beaten extra large egg (that is the size that was on sale, so that is what I bought at the store this week. If you use a large egg you will want to add a splash more cream to compensate).

I mixed everything together lightly with a fork (because that is the way my dad taught me, and so I always mix my scones with a fork).

When the mixture is all wet and starting to clump together, like this

then they are ready to turn out onto a clean work surface. If you are unsure that the seemingly dry batter will stick together, take a handful and squeeze. If it sticks together like this, then it's ready.

Just dump everything onto a clean work surface. I know it doesn't look like much right now, but it will.

(Remember to take off your rings first. I actually did today - that's highly unusual for me. I usually forget and my rings get all gooped up.) Just press the dough down . . .

and fold it over onto itself. It will be a big mess initially, but it will come together after just a few folds,

Just keep pressing . . .

and folding. These folds are helping to make the buttery layers in the scones, and also make the dough form a solid mass that you can cut. (This was my last fold. See how the dough is one solid mass now?)

When the dough comes together, press it out into a square. (Flour the work surface under the dough to make sure that it doesn't stick while you're cutting.)

Using a pizza cutter (which I think is the easiest knife to use for this), cut the square into thirds. (You can actually cut the scones into any shape you like. This is just what I did.)

Then cut the dough into thirds again the opposite way, creating 9 squares.

Finally, cut each square in half diagonally, creating 18 triangles. The main idea is to get all the scones the same size so that they cook at the same time. So, any shape you choose to make your scones, just make them similar in size. To me, a triangle will always be the perfect shape for a scone.

Place the cut scones onto a parchment lined baking sheet, at least 1 inch apart. They grow when they are cooking so spacing them 2 inches apart would be even better. You don't want them touching. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes so the butter can firm up again. (It warmed up when you were kneading it with your hands.) The colder the butter, the flakier the scones.

I always brush the tops of my scones with something to help them brown. Today I used cream, but I have used both egg wash and melted butter (separately) with success.If you so choose, at this point you can sprinkle the tops with some sugar for a crunchier topping but it is not mandatory.

See how the butter pieces are interwoven into the scone with the cookie pieces? This will ensure nice light and flaky scones.

Bake @ 350F for 15-20 minutes (depending on your oven and the size/shape you made your scones). They should be golden brown on the bottom and around the edges. Aren't they pretty?

When they have cooled for about 10 minutes you can make your glaze/drizzle. Of course, you can forgo the glaze if you want, but it makes them so much more attractive and lends stripes of vanilla sweetness to the outside of the scones.
Just mix together 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract and 2 tsp milk with a fork. Then drizzle it over each scone.

I usually do this on parchment paper, so that I don't make a mess with the extra glaze that inevitable falls from the fork and drips off the warm scones.

Now they are finished.

They are so visually interesting, with the pops of black cookie mixed in.
I really see no way that they could be improved.

The tender insides leave nothing to be desired either. Mmm. So good! (This is probably my favorite picture of all of them.)

So, if you find yourself in need of comfort, or wanting to find a new way to use those cookies in your cupboard, then I highly recommend these scones. I'm so glad I did! Llet me know what you think. :)

Here's the recipe:

Cookies & Cream Scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar (plus more for topping if desired)
5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Oreo cookie pieces (about 16 cookies, crushed)
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cups cold cream (plus more for brushing on top)
1 extra large egg, beaten (if using a large egg, just add about 1 Tbsp more cream to compensate)

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter (or two knives) until the butter pieces are the size of peas. Stir in the cookie pieces. Add the cream and egg. Stir lightly with a fork until all the flour mixture is wet and the dough starts to clump together. Dump out onto a clean work surface and knead until the dough comes together. Lightly flour the surface under the dough and then press the dough into a square about 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into desired shapes (I made 18 triangles), and place onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Brush the top of each scone with a little cream and sprinkle with a little sugar (optional). Bake @ 350F for 15-20 minutes (depending on your oven and the size/shape of your scones) until the scones are golden brown around the edges and on the bottom. Let cool 10 minutes before glazing/drizzling.

Vanilla Drizzle:

1/2 cup  powdered sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp milk

Combine all ingredients with a fork and drizzle over cooled scones. (The warmer the scones, the thinner the glaze will turn out.) Let set before eating.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ham and Lentil Soup

With most of the country buried in snow, and so sign of winter letting up it's a good time for hearty soups. This Ham and Lentil Soup is something that I tried out a couple years ago as an alternative to my usual ham and white beans. Every time I roast a ham, he eat the left-overs in various forms (e.g. Ham and Cheese Scallop Potatoes, or Broccoli Ham and Cheese Casserole) and then I'm left with the bone and the remaining meat that is still clinging to it. I usually put the bone in a pressure cooker along with some onion, garlic, water and dry beans and then cook it for a couple hours. I'm left with a deliciously thick and creamy ham and bean soup/stew that I serve with homemade bread. Well, one time I decided that I wanted to do something different.
   I had recently bought some brown lentils that were on sale, and I didn't have anything in mind to use them. So, I figured I would make a lentil soup. I had a ham bone in the freezer (because I freeze them when I don't have time to use them right away). I covered the ham bone (and remaining meat) with water; added in some onion and garlic and let it boil away for a few hours - until the meat fell off the bone and the bone itself separated easily at the joint. I made a simple ham stock. After removing the bone and meat I was left with about 4 quarts of stock, so that is what I used to make my lentil soup. Of course, you could use less and make a smaller pot of soup (if you don't have a small sports team to feed like I do).
   This soup is not your typical lentil soup. It's not pureed at all, and the lentils still hold their integrity. As you can see in the photo above, each component is easily recognizable but they all work together so harmoniously that there is no one flavor that over-powers the others. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can easily make this soup using vegetable stock and omit the ham all together. I have been crazy for avocados lately, so I like to top my soup with some diced avocado. It's SO good!
   Ok, back to the soup. It is seriously so simple to make. Like I mentioned before, I made a big pot of it so that my family and I could have a few meals out of it, but it can easily be cut down to size.

Here's how it starts:

Chopped onions, carrots and celery go into the soup pot with just a little bit of butter. (If you are vegan, just substitute oil).

Then I added some garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper, dry thyme, and a dry bay leaf. I saute the veggies over medium heat for just a minute or two.

Then I rinse off the lentils (after I have picked through them for any pebbles that can sometime creep into the bag of lentils)

and add the lentils to the veggies.

Next comes the ham stock (or veggie stock if you prefer). After the mixture comes to a boil, I turn it down to a simmer and let it go, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes I check the lentils to see if they are tender. If not, I let it go for another 10 minutes or so, but usually they are done at this point. You want them to be like good pasta. Tender but still a little bite to them. This is when I add in my ham pieces that I got from the bone. (Of course you can omit if you are an animal lover and not an animal eater. . . I happen to be both.)

Stir the ham in to warm through and remove the bay leaf. Taste it for seasoning (see if it needs more salt and pepper), and it's done!

Nothing else left to do but serve and eat. I really enjoy it this way, but if you are a more traditional lentil soup person and like it to be creamier and a little less chunky then you can always blend part of it (before adding the ham). Leaving everything whole really is the way to go, though.
   And if you happen to have some avocado laying around, a few dices on top send this soup over the top!
Here's the recipe: As with most of my recipes, feel free to change it up to your tastes. If you want to add more or less of any veggie than feel free to do that. Same goes for the ham and lentils. I think the soup is perfect as is, but everyone's tastes are different and that's o.k. Make food that you want to eat and that will bring you and your family the most joy. That's what cooking is all about anyway. Sharing the love. :)

Ham and Lentil Soup

1 Tbsp butter (or oil) (this could be optional, of you are looking to cut a few calories)
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1 dry bay leaf
1 tsp dry thyme
1 1/2 cups dry lentils
4 quarts ham stock
1 1/2 cups chopped ham

In a large soup pot, add the butter (or oil), veggies, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme. Stir and cook over medium heat for 1 minute while you rinse the lentils. Add the lentils, and stock to the pot. Bring it up to a boil and then down to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Taste for seasoning. Add the ham to heat through and remove the bay leaf. Serve warm, topped with avocado (optional).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hot Corn Dip

I made this dip as part of my menu for book club last month (where it was received very well), and my husband took the left-overs to the fire station. Well, it got such rave reviews that it was requested for today - the Super Bowl.  I just threw it together last time. Inspired by Trisha's Hot Corn Dip that I saw on the Food Network months ago, but not following any recipe - just throwing together what I thought would taste good. It was an experiment of sorts, and it turned out really well.
   My Corn Dip is a warm dip that is savory and slightly sweet, cheesy and creamy with pops of corn kernals throughout. I served it with fresh corn tortilla chips, but it would be good with bread, veggies or any other savory dippers you can come up with.
   While I did not take step by step photos this time, there really is no thinking or technique involved. Just dump, stir and bake. I hope you make this for your next party or get together and you get as many high-fives and pats on the back that I got. It really is a crowd pleaser!
Here's the recipe:

Hot Corn Dip

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp minced garlic (1 clove minced)
1/4 cup diced onion, sauteed until soft (you can substitute dehydrated onion or 1 tsp granulated onion)
1 4oz can diced green chiles (can substitute diced jalapeno if you want it spicier)
1 7 oz can whole green chiles, drained and diced
1 15.25 oz can whole corn kernels, drained
1 14.75 oz can creamed corn
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
hot sauce (optional - to taste)
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (can substitute Mozzarella or Pepper Jack)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chiles, corn, creamed corn, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and hot sauce (if using) until thoroughly combined. Stir in the cheeses and pour mixture into a casserole dish (or 9x13 baking dish). Bake @350F for 20 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve hot.