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Category Archives: Cooking & Other Domestic Pursuits

Chocolate Eclair Cake

It’s been a while. In fact, quite a while! Life happens, sometime. So, I’m here to come back by plunging right in! Here is a recipe from our family recipe book by my sister-in-law. Simple to make, and with a major WOW! Factor.

Light, fluffy, and great for a crowd:

chocolate-eclair-cake

Chocolate Eclair Cake

Chocolate Eclair Cake

2 small pkgs. instant vanilla pudding
3-1/2 c. milk
1 (9 oz) container of Cool Whip
1 lb. pkg. graham crackers.

Frosting:

2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tsp. light corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. margarine, softened
1-1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
3 Tbsp. milk

Butter bottom of a 9 x 13 in. pan and line with whole graham crackers.

Prepare pudding with milk. Beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add thawed Cool Whip and gently fold in.

Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over graham crackers.

Add another layer of crackers.

Pour remaining pudding.

Cover with crackers and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Prepare Frosting:

Melt chocolate and butter together over double boiler. Mix in rest of ingredients and beat until smooth.

Pour over cake and smooth it until it covers the entire cake.

Refrigerate until served.
16-24 servings

Easy Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

Easy Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

These are my husband’s favorite, and it’s easy to see why!

These are made with a no-cook fondant–much easier than the made-from-scratch, cooked kind and far better than the store-bought fondant one finds in craft or baking shop supplies.

Scrumptious Chocolate Covered Cherries

Scrumptious Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries!

Ingredients:

For the No-Cook Fondant:

3 TBSP unsalted butter at room temperature (don’t use margarine!)
2 to 2-1/2 cups of powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 TBSP of light corn syrup
1/4 tsp of almond extract

Number of Cherries:

About 60 maraschino cherries. If you can find them with the stems, fine; if not, that’s OK, too.

For Dipping:

Dark (or Milk) Chocolate candy coating—use a good brand on these!

Directions:

Drain the cherries well and place them between layers of paper towels for about two hours to dry. They can’t be moist for the coating to stick well.

Mix the butter, corn syrup, extract, and sugar together until blended. Knead with a little additional powdered sugar until smooth and pliable.

Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Wrap about a teaspoon of the fondant around each cherry. Place on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer for about 5 to 10 minutes while preparing the chocolate coating.

Melt the chocolate coating according to directions. If using cherries with a stem, dip each coated cherry into the melted chocolate coating and place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. If the cherries don’t have a stem, use a toothpick to dip the cherries into the chocolate coating, place on wax paper and immediately add a dot of melted chocolate coating over the hole where the toothpick was.

After they set up, check for any uncovered spots on the cherries–bottoms in particular–and seal them with a little more melted chocolate coating.

After these set up, place them in containers in layers separated by wax paper or in paper candy cups of the appropriate size–they will be quite big by the time the fondant and coating are applied. Again, separate the layers with wax paper.

Set aside in a cool, dry place for two to four weeks before eating–the longer they mellow, the better they get. The liquid center takes a few weeks to form.

Cornell Chicken Updated

Cornell Chicken Updated

Cornell Chicken

Long a staple and tradition at fairs and festivals in Western New York, Cornell Chicken is simply one of the most flavorful ways to prepare grilled chicken. Even if you do not live in New York State, I’m sure you may have eaten that wonderful grilled chicken at fundraisers or festivals in your area, not knowing that it is Cornell Chicken.

This uses a non-tomato based barbecue sauce, but you won’t miss it a bit! And while the original uses 3 Tbsp. of salt, none of the flavor is lost with this reduced sodium version.


Cornell Chicken

1 egg
1 c. cider vinegar
2 tsp. poultry seasoning–store bought or homemade (recipe follows)
up to 5 lb. chicken pieces, or 2 to 4 large fryers, cut in half or quartered
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 – 1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly-ground pepper

Adjust the quantity of salt to meet individual health needs and taste. Barbecued chicken basted frequently during cooking will be saltier than chicken that has been lightly basted.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Add the oil and whisk until the mixture gets thick, homogenous, and a bright yellow, approximately 2 minutes. Whisk in the cider vinegar, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper. At this point, you can save the marinade in a jar and refrigerate. Will keep for a week.

In a large resealable plastic bag, place the chicken pieces of your choice, pierce the skin. Pour the prepared sauce over the chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours (the longer you marinate, the better).

Place chicken over indirect heat–hot coals with an aluminum disposable pan with water to the side or hot gas grill and water pan with vents open. Turn frequently (about every ten to 12 minutes) and baste with additional leftover basting sauce, each turn. Cooking for about 30 to 45 minutes or until the internal temperature of each part is 150F or the juices run clear. Stop basting. Move the pieces over to the hot direct heat side of the grill, and be sure to place the pieces skin side down. Crisp the chicken for about ten minutes–watch carefully to keep it from burning, you only want to crisp the skin. Turn and heat for five minutes more.

Don’t forget to do that last step to crisp the chicken. It is important to finish the cooking and crisp the skins. Discard leftover used marinade.

Homemade Poultry Seasoning–Much better than store blends!

If you want to try your hand at a homemade poultry seasoning blend, try this one:

Poultry Seasoning

4 Tbsp. ground sage
2-1/2 Tbsp. ground thyme
1-1/2 Tbsp. ground marjoram
1-1/2 Tbsp. ground rosemary
3 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground black pepper

Place in blender and blend to mix. Store in a jar in a dark, cool place.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Honey Whole Wheat Bread


Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Winter  is a time when we turn inwards for comfort: A good book and a cup of hot cocoa on a cold and blustery day,  crackling fire in the hearth, curled up on the sofa, cat in lap.

Winter is also a time when we turn to comfort foods. To me, one of the ultimate comfort foods is a good loaf of homemade bread. Heaven to all the senses, it is a pleasure to to work with the dough, feel its texture becoming smooth and pliable, watching it come to life as the yeast works its magic, and the heavenly aroma as it fills the house with its wonderful scent.  And the first bite into a warm loaf brushed with butter and jam-indescribable!

That said, here is my recipe for one of the best whole wheat breads you will ever bake and eat:

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

(Makes 3 Loaves)

3 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
5 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

1. In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until raising and bubbly.

2. Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour.

3. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until barely sticky – just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. I use the Kitchenaid Stand Mixer for this part.

4. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.

5. Punch down, and divide into 3 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch.

6. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not over bake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely

Chicken & Stuffing Casserole

Chicken & Stuffing Casserole

chicken & stuffing casserole

chicken & stuffing casserole

My mother-in-law made this with a loaf of day-old bread, torn to small pieces. You can do that, or substitute a bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix or another stuffing mix for convenience.

Don’t be put off by the Miracle Whip. It really adds to the flavor blend and sets it apart from other chicken & stuffing casseroles.

Try it, I think you will like it!

Chicken & Stuffing Casserole

1 pkg. Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix
1/2 stick melted butter or margarine
1 c. chicken broth
1-1/2 c. cooked, cut up chicken (1/2 whole chicken or 2 breasts)
1/4 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. chopped celery
1/4 c. Miracle Whip
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 c. milk
1 can cream of celery or mushroom soup
Optional: 1 cup of cooked chopped broccoli
1-1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Mix stuffing mix, butter, chicken broth, chicken, onion, celery, Miracle Whip and salt. (Add broccoli if desired)

Spread  in a buttered square pan.  Beat the egg and mix with milk. Pour over top of mixture and let stand in refrigerator overnight or at least 6 hours.

Take out and let stand 1 hour at room temperature. Spread on 1 can of cream of celery or mushroom soup.

Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes in preheated oven. Remove and sprinkle cheese over top. Return to oven until cheese melts (10 minutes).

Marilyn’s Lasagna

Lasagna

Mmmm Good! Lasagna

Ah, Lasagna! Pasta, yet not quite. It is in a class all by itself: Layers of cheese, sauce, and noodles all fused together to make one beautiful culinary delight!

There are those who make their lasagna with cottage cheese and those who prefer ricotta. Personally, I like the smooth and creamy taste and texture of ricotta. It isn’t as wet as cottage cheese and spreads a little easier and doesn’t leave lumps like cottage cheese does. But, in a pinch, cottage cheese will do. Just drain it very well and run it through the blender to smooth it out, and it will work nearly as well as ricotta.

The ingredients are fairly flexible. The main thing is the sauce, the cheeses, and the noodles. Add meat, spinach, and mushrooms or not. It makes a great lasagna either way.

This makes quite a bit of lasagna. If you are expecting more guests, double the amounts.

Marilyn’s Lasagna

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. good quality sweet Italian sausage in bulk
1 lb. of ricotta cheese (16 ounce container)
2-1/2 to 3 cups of GOOD QUALITY “fresh” Parmesan cheese shreds–My rant: Don’t ruin it and don’t even bother trying to make this with that stuff in the green container that passes for Parmesan. Don’t go cheap on this particular cheese!!
3 cups of shredded Provolone cheese
3 cups of shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 lb. box of lasagna noodles
4 to 5 cups of your favorite homemade or good-quality spaghetti sauce
a splash of wine for the sauce (optional)
mushrooms (optional)
3 TBSP Italian broadleaf parsley, finely chopped (can substitute regular parsley–try for fresh if you can find it)
2 cloves finely minced garlic cloves
1 egg

1. Start browning the Italian sausage until no longer pink–don’t allow it to crisp. Drain well. Follow with the ground beef and brown but don’t allow it to crisp.

2. Add the spaghetti sauce at this point and maybe 1/4 cup of wine (optional). Also add clean and chopped mushrooms (optional)

3. Add 1/4 cup GOOD quality Parmesan cheese shreds. Allow to simmer for flavors to blend.

4. In the meantime, get a big pot of water on to boil. Add about 1 tsp of salt and a splash of olive oil.

5. Once boiling, add the lasagna noodles carefully. Gently push them into the water without breaking and allow space between them. Occasionally stir the pot to keep them from clumping together. Cook until just barely done–to the “very chewy, firm” stage. Just enough to be pliable. Trust me. They will finish cooking during the bake time.

6. Drain well–rinse under cold water, gently separate the noodles if necessary. Set aside.

7. Mix the ricotta, egg, parsley, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of that good quality Parmesan shreds, garlic and blend well.

Now here is the fun part:

In a large baking dish, add some of the sauce on the bottom of the pan–about 1-1/2 cups of it. Spread it around to coat

We will be building 3 layers:

Add the first layer of noodles–you may have to cut them to fit.

Now, add a layer of ricotta mixture, 1/3 of it. “Butter” the noodle layers with it.

Sprinkle generously with 1/2 cup of Provolone shreds add 1/2 cup of Mozzarella shreds.

Add 1/3 of the remaining sauce, spread evenly.

top with 1/2 cup or more of Parmesan shreds

Add the second layer of noodles in the opposite direction. Again, you may need to trim the noodles to fit. Repeat with the ricotta, Provolone & Mozzarella, sauce and Parmesan cheese layers.

The last layer is where we get a little more wicked. After adding the noodles in the same direction as the first layer, the ricotta, cheeses,and sauce, add about 3/4 cup of Parmesan shreds, 1 cup of Provolone shreds, 1 cup of Mozzarella shreds as the final topping. You want to cover the top very thoroughly.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil

Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes and remove the foil and bake until the top has a nice golden brown crust.

Now, the secret to help this slice into squares without turning into a sloppy mess: Let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

This year, I’ve promised myself to cut back on meat and make more vegetable-based meals. Not that we are turning vegetarian, but I do think we need to put more emphasis on fruits, grains and vegetables and less on meat.

The challenge is to come up with tasty ideas that will go over well.

Here is an easy homemade ravioli recipe to try:

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Easy Homemade Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli

Using Wonton wrappers makes this a breeze. You can find them in most grocery stores in the specialty section of the produce section or in the international food aisles:

24 wonton wrappers
1 cup low fat or fat free ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup fresh grated or Parmesan cheese shreds (Please don’t use that nasty stuff in the green cylindrical container!)
1 cup fresh spinach leaves–buy the already washed leaves, pat dry if you do rinse them again.
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

Egg Wash:

1 beaten egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of water

1. Mix the ricotta, egg, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan together.

2. Chop the leaf portion of the spinach. Discard stems and add the chopped leaves to the ricotta mixture.

3. Saute the chopped mushrooms in a little heated olive oil until softened. Remove with slotted spoon, draining well.

4. Mix into the ricotta mixture

5. Separate the wonton wrappers. Cut each one in half. Brush each half with the egg wash. Set one half of the divided wrapper aside.

6. On the first half, lightly mark across (not through) to mark the half wrapper into 2 squares.

7. Place the prepared filling–a small teaspoon in the center of each marked square.

8. Now, place the other half of the wrapper, egg wash side down, over the top of the first wrapper. Before pinching together, make sure all air pockets are pressed out.

9. Pinch to seal. Cut between the two ravioli and if you have a pastry wheel, cut all edges.  Or after cutting with a knife, use a fork and on all sides, press down to mark the edges.

10. Set aside on a non-stick baking sheet. When all are finished, you should have about 48 average sized ravioli. Refrigerate about the time it takes to set a large pot of salted water to a brisk boil.

11. Remove the ravioli and cook. They are done when they float to the top of the water. Be sure not to crowd them!

13. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.

Serve with your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce, and be sure to sprinkle some extra FRESH parmesan shreds on top!

–Note: If you don’t need to cook all 48 of these ravioli for dinner, use what you need and freeze the rest on the non-stick baking sheet and then pop them into freezer bags. You can add them directly from the freezer to a pot of boiling water for a quick dinner.

If you aren’t “in” to spinach or mushrooms, you can make these with fried and drained, seasoned ground beef or Italian sausage. You can also make plain cheese ravioli. Simply omit the spinach and mushrooms from the ricotta blend.

Marilyn’s Killer Cinnamon Rolls

Marilyn’s Killer Cinnamon Rolls

Marilyn's Killer Cinnamon Rolls

Marilyn's Killer Cinnamon Rolls

I think these are better than Cinnabons, no joke! The secret is the addition of cinnamon, vanilla, and lemon zest to the dough.  Sweet enough that a simple glaze is the best:

Marilyn’s Killer Cinnamon Rolls

2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
2/3 cup sugar, and
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warmed milk
2/3 cup butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 to 7 cups flour, or more if needed

Dough prep:

1/2 cup melted butter to spread over the dough before spreading the filling

Filling:

1/2 cup melted butter for filling
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1 1/2 cup raisins, optional

Pan preparation:

Melt 3 Tbsp melted butter, generously brush pans using all of the butter
Mix 1/4 cup sugar with 2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle over bottom of pans

Glaze:

2/3 cup melted butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 tablespoons hot milk, more as needed

Directions:

In a small bowl mix together warm water, yeast and 1 tsp sugar and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix milk, remaining 2/3 Cup sugar, melted butter, salt and eggs; stir well and add yeast mixture. Add 1 cup flour, cinnamon, lemon zest, and vanilla. Blend thoroughly.

Add half the remaining flour and beat until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour until dough is slightly sticky and holds its form when gathered into a ball. Turn out onto a well-floured board; knead 5-10 minutes until smooth. Dough should be firm, but form into a soft ball that “gives” and is smooth and elastic, like a baby’s bottom.

Place in well-buttered glass or plastic bowl, cover and let rise in warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 1-1 1/2 hours. When doubled, punch down dough and let rest 5 min. Roll out on floured surface into a 15×20″ rectangle.

Filling the rolls:

Prepare the filling.

Spread dough with the remaining 1/2 Cup melted butter. Spread the filling over over buttered dough, edge to edge. Sprinkle with walnuts and raisins, if desired.

Roll up jellyroll-fashion and pinch edge together to seal. Cut into 12-15 slices. Prepare the pans.

Place cinnamon roll slices close together in prepared pans. Let rise in warm place until dough is doubled in bulk, about 45 min. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until rolls are nicely browned. Cool rolls slightly.

Invert rolls onto cooling racks which have waxed paper beneath. Allow syrup from bottom of the pan to run over the bottom of the rolls. Cool slightly until the syrup firms up, return to the pans. (It might seem like a pain, but it will help keep the rolls from “welding” to the pan and tearing when removing them).

Creamy Glaze:

Mix melted butter, powdered sugar and vanilla.

Add hot milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until glaze reaches desired spreading or pouring consistency. Spread over slightly cooled rolls.

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Spritz Cookies

A Christmas Tradition: Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom made these every Christmas and they were always a hit:

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

1 lb butter (can use 1/2 butter, 1/2 stick margarine for these–don’t use vegetable oil spread!) at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 TBSP warm water

6 cups of flour

Cream the butter and extracts. Add the eggs and beat until smooth

Add the dissolved baking soda and blend.

Gradually add the flour until a stiff, moldable dough forms. Do not add too much flour; it should hold its shape and stick together without crumbling

The dough can be put through a cookie press as-is, or you can divide the dough into three portions. Leave one untinted, tint one portion green, the other portion red and form 3 ropes together to put through the cookie press

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until just set and bottoms are starting to JUST brown.

Yield: About 5 to 6 dozen press cookies, depending upon shapes used.

You can add maraschino cherry bits, colored sugars and other decos to these just before baking.

A minty kind of day

So, I thought it would be fun to post some minty recipes  for this holiday season. Or, for any time for that matter. Chocolate and mint are an unbeatable combination. So, here are a few recipes to share:

Copycat Andes Mints

Copycat Mints

Andes Mints: Make Your Own!!

1 pound dark chocolate coating
1/2 pound white chocolate coating
*10-15 drops peppermint oil (not extract. Most drug stores do sell the oil and it is also available through candy and cake baking suppliers)
2-3 drops green gel coloring

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and set aside.

Pour half of dark chocolate coating into a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each until nearly melted. Stir until smooth and creamy.

Pour onto waxed paper and smooth. Place in refrigerator to firm up.

Add white chocolate coating to a second bowl and melt in the same manner as the dark. When smooth and creamy, add peppermint oil and gel coloring. Stir until flavor and color are well mixed.

Layer on top of the dark chocolate and return to refrigerator. Melt remaining dark chocolate and layer over top of the green mint layer. Allow candy to harden completely before breaking into bite size pieces.

*Start with 10 drops of peppermint oil and more if you feel the candy needs more flavor.

If you have candy molds, you can make these in two layers instead of three.

You can make these as thick or thin as you like.

While we are talking about Andes, here’s a recipe using them in cookies. Fantastic!

Andes Mints Cookies

Andes Mints Cookies

Andes Mints Cookies

3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 ounces chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
Andes mints (about 2 boxes)

Servings: 48

Cook Time: 10 minutes

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and water, stirring occasionally.

Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Let stand 10 minutes to cool. Add the remaining ingredients and combine to form a dough.

Chill the dough at least 1 hour.

Roll the dough into balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving ample space between the dough balls.

Bake at 350°F for 8 to 9 minutes.

Move to wire racks and work quickly (it helps to have the mints already unwrapped so they can be put on top of the cookies while they are still hot for quicker melting):

On top of each cookie, place half to one whole Andes mint, depending on the size of the cookie. Allow the mint to melt and then swirl the mint over the cookie with the back of a spoon or a knife.

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

1 Egg white
3-1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon Peppermint oil or extract (start with less if using oil, and remember these will get stronger as they ripen)
Cornstarch for dusting
1 16-oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium metal or glass (not plastic) bowl, beat the egg white until it is stiff and forms peaks.

Add the powdered sugar while blending with an electric mixer set on medium speed.

Add the corn syrup and peppermint oil or extract and knead the mixture with your hands until it has the smooth consistency of dough.

Using a flat surface and a rolling pin lightly dusted with cornstarch, roll out the peppermint dough 1/4-inch thick.

Punch out circles of peppermint dough with a biscuit or cookie cutter with a diameter of about 2 1/2- inches. Make approximately 20, place them on plates or cookie sheets, and let them firm up in the refrigerator, about 45 minutes. Alternatively, place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave set on high for 2 minutes. Stir halfway through the heating time. Melt thoroughly, but do not overheat. Melting the chocolate chips can also be done using a double-boiler over low heat.

Drop each patty into the chocolate and coat completely. Using 2 forks, one in each hand, lift the coated patty from the chocolate. Gently tap the forks against the bowl to knock of the excess chocolate and place each patty on waxed paper.

Chill the peppermint patties until firm. Makes 20 peppermint patties.