Sunday, May 17, 2015

2016 Prom Cookies: Dark Chocolate Cutouts

My nest is almost empty.   Actually, I know this isn't really true, because as I have been told repeatedly by many and have read about the millennial generation, my nest won't really be empty for quite some time.    I guess it's more accurate to say my days of school parental involvement are almost over.   My son will be graduating from high school two weeks from last volunteer gig is only fitting; it will be my fifth and final time working the band uniform turn in at the high school after the Dexter Memorial Day Parade.   My last days as a prom volunteer are now complete.   I was a field chaperon at Michigan Stadium last night....
Eddie and Morgan
I also made cookies for this year's prom (theme: Masquerade).  My friends Lori and Julie helped me,  I wanted to try a dark chocolate cutout cookie recipe, since the prom colors were deep purple, silver and black.  

I found a Martha Stewart recipe that looked interesting, but way too big of a hassle with sifting, freezing of the dough, etc.  I decided to adapt it to make it easier.   

Dark Chocolate Cutouts
(makes about 2 dozen large 4 inch cutout cookies)

3 c all ­purpose flour
1 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 c confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat together butter and sugar with a
mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture. Divide dough in half. Form each half into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working with 1 disk of dough at a time, roll out to 1/4­inch thickness on
lightly floured parchment.  Cut into shapes with cookie cutters, rerolling scraps as needed.  Bake until
crisp, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating once Let cookies cool for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Making cookies like this is a 3 day affair: one day to bake, and two days to decorate with royal icing.  I used Wilton #4 tip for flooding and piping, and check out my post from last year's prom about the recipe and technique for royal icing.  

I really loved this recipe!  It went very well with my favorite cutout recipe for cream cheese cutouts (see last year's prom cookies recipe).   As usual, my friend Marcia did an excellent job with the dessert table....

So, this is probably my last prom volunteering gig, but I still have a graduation party to work on, so my baking days aren't quite over yet.  I had some leftover dough and icing that I have put in the freezer to see how it holds up.    Stay tuned!

Friday, May 01, 2015

Why Canning?

My moment of Zen: Pear Vanilla Jam

In these very busy times, people often ask me how I possibly have time to preserve food and the answer is simple…I make time to do it.   I have a 50+ hour week job and a husband and kids, but I take the time to preserve food every year.  Why?  First of all, canning provides me the opportunity to slow down and spend some time with family and friends.    There is no “hurrying up” the process; the time it takes is what it takes.  No shortcuts, except that many hands make the work light.   To borrow the old phrase about “making hay while the sun shines”, Mother  Nature waits for no one.    When the strawberries are ripe, you’ve got a short window to make jam.   No putting it off for a few weeks.   I can remember coming home from a long work week and spending a stormy Friday night with my friend Ellen putting up peaches and drinking wine.   Best happy hour ever!  

Preserving food grown locally requires me to make a connection with a farmer.    I have my favorite farmer’s phone numbers programmed into my phone  so a quick text is all that’s required to know whether there’s a bushel of tomatoes waiting for me to make into salsa.    The foods I preserve must be better (and often cheaper!) than what I can buy in the grocery store.    A jar of my homemade salsa is way more delicious, and costs about half, of anything you can get on the shelf.     But the most important reason why I preserve food is that when I open that jar months later, I have the memory of making it.   Currently, the jar of pear vanilla jam shown above is sitting on my desk at work, getting ready to be added to some yogurt and granola for my lunch.   But just seeing it reminds me of last fall, when I was deep in the process of making that pear vanilla jam.  

At first, I was going to pick some pears from my friend Liz’s tree, but by the time I got there, they were gone.  As usual, Mother  Nature had no time to wait for me.   Then, in late fall,  I drove out to the west side of the state to meet up with some friends and on the way back, I stopped at a farm stand in Michigan’s “Fruit Belt” to see what was left on the shelves.   Nothing but pumpkins and apples, but then I spied a bag of pears in the back!  YES! I got back and the pears languished in the fridge a few days.    I carved out some time to make the jam, adding some vanilla bean scrapings for good measure because I thought it sounded good.    The pear jam (along with other items from the canning pantry like red currant jelly and wild grape jam) were gifted to family and friends all through the holidays.   My daughter and her boyfriend came home from college for spring and had some for breakfast….they thought the label said “Pearl Jam”, which made them laugh.   They loved it so I sent them back to school with a jar.   And now a jar sits here with me in May in my office, reminding me to take some time to enjoy it, and plan what I am going to put up this summer.  

Here’s to the future!

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Ham Croquettes...or WWBKD? as in "What Would Bill Knapps Do?"

In my efforts to try to preserve as many Michigan restaurant recipes as I can, I came across ham croquettes.   Evidently, they were a very popular dish served at a famous Michigan based restaurant chain called Bill Knapp's.   I had never had the chance to Bill Knapp's in my lifetime....I am not sure if we just didn't have them on the east side of Detroit, or that my mother deemed them "too expensive" so we never went.   I had only started to hear about them in college.   My Grand Rapids friend Rob said it was his 92 year old Grandpa's favorite place to eat out, largely because on your birthday, you got that percent off your tab.    He was looking forward to surpassing his 100th birthday, so they would pay him to eat there.   Also, on your birthday, you got your own "Celebration" cake.  Not sure if Rob's Grandpa was able to collect on his 100th, but I was regaled by stories of all the old geezers that ate there.  Bill Knapp's served family style food that was as comforting as a warm blanket.

In the late 90s. the BK chain was sold to an entrepreneur who tried to update the menu to attract a younger clientele, and it flopped miserably. They tried to change back, but too late for the blue haired crowd.  The chain folded in 2002.  Many of their recipes lived on in the internet, but not the ham croquettes.  People keep asking for the recipe, but no one seems to have it.    I asked my friend Ellen who worked at BK when she was a teenager.   She remembered them, and said she thought they were "gross".  Others remembered that they were served with chicken gravy.  I joined a facebook group for ex BK employees and asked if anyone knew how they were made.  I got lots of interesting comments about them..."I believe it was breaded SPAM"...."they were nasty"...."they were probably the worst item on the menu. The folks who ate them were also the folks who ate with us four - five nights a week and had a fit when coffee went up to 30 cents"...."they were easy to gum down",.. etc.  Now I was really fascinated, because there are so many people looking for the recipe, but the staff thought otherwise. I had to figure it out.

Mind you, I am a big fan of anything breaded and deep fried, and I have a lot of ham in my freezer.  So I decided with Easter coming up, it was time to experiment.    On the internet, I found lots of recipes.  I didn't know it, but ham croquettes aka Croquetas de Jamón are a popular tapas dish.  They are also known as Cuba's national appetizer.   I found one really lame recipe that claimed to be Bill Knapp's but it used Crisco and sounded pretty bland.   I found another that was from a 1960s Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that used curry powder, which sounded interesting.   I asked Ellen if the BK version had curry powder and she said "Of course not!"  But I liked the idea of curry powder in it.  I asked Ellen if they were served with chicken gravy and she confirmed it.   "What sides were served?   Noodles? " I asked.   "No, mashed potatoes and maybe some canned corn".  So, I was off on my own again.   I looked over all the recipes and decided I'd try one like Bill Knapp's, and another one with some added curry powder.   They both came out delicious!  I had my doubts about the non curry one, but it let the onion gently flavor the ham.  I understand the "easy to gum down" comment, too.  The croquettes are made with minced ham, which is easy to chew.    I decided to go with noodles because I love chicken gravy with noodles and I was too tired from deep frying to make any mashed potatoes.

Bill Knapp's Style Ham Croquettes

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 T prepared mustard
1 lb cooked ham coarsely diced
1/4  onion coarsely diced
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
Oil for deep-fat frying

In a saucepan, melt butter; stir in curry powder and flour. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat.  In a food processor, process ham and onion until meat is chopped very fine.   Add to saucepan and cool thoroughly.  With wet hands, shape mixture into 10 balls. Roll balls in bread crumbs; shape each into a cone. Whisk together egg and water. Dip cones into egg mixture; roll again in crumbs.  Heat about an inch of oil in a dutch oven to 375°. Fry croquettes, a few at a time, for 2 to 2-1/2 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels; keep warm.  Serve with chicken gravy.