MAKE EASY CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

 

  

  “Camera two, action!” There is always extra energy in the air at the Minneapolis/St. Paul KSTP-TV/ABC studio when weekday “Twin Cities Live” begins. The hosts chat about the current day’s events and promote what’s coming up on the show in front of an enthusiastic audience while I scurry around on the sidelines of the set to finalize prep for the recipe and activities from this column I’ll be demoing. There’s no time for distractions until, well, I admit, I spot an array of chocolate truffles on the demo table behind me. “Go ahead and taste one,” says award-winning baker and candy-making instructor Nancy Burgeson, another regular on the show. A quick bite and I was smitten. “And, they’re simple to make,” she adds. 

  Truffles are often made with high-quality baking chocolate and heavy cream, but Nancy’s basic recipe, ideally suited for first timers, uses unsalted butter with the chocolate instead of cream.

  Once the chocolate and melted butter are combined and the mixture is chilled, kids can form the round truffle shapes with a melon baller tool, drop and roll in cocoa powder and arrange the impressive sweets in cute tins or small boxes for gifts.

  Here’s the basic recipe: 

  EASY CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES 

  Makes 25-30 truffles. 

  — 8 ounces good-quality baking chocolate, such as Ghirardelli or Guittard brands (aim for 60% cacao content or more) 

  — 8 ounces unsalted butter, preferably a European-style butter such as Kerrygold brand 

  — cocoa powder for rolling, or other dry toppings such as crushed toasted nuts, cookies or cereal

  Break chocolate in small pieces and melt in a microwave at half power. Or, using a double boiler, heat water to very warm. Remove from the burner and set the chocolate on top only long enough to melt it. 

  Melt butter in a saucepan or microwave until just melted. 

  Add chocolate to butter and gently stir until well combined and glossy. Pour mixture into a baking dish, about 8 inches by 8 inches, or use a loaf pan. Refrigerate 1-3 hours uncovered. 

  With a melon baller, scoop the chocolate in a ball. If chocolate mixture is too hard, let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. If too soft, return to the refrigerator until firm. Remove it from the melon baller with a tiny spoon, such as a baby spoon, and drop it into a small bowl of cocoa powder or other chosen dry topping. Roll lightly in topping, remove and roll in your hands slightly. Drop back in the bowl until covered. Set on a parchment-lined pan. 

  Chill the truffles until firm. 

  Resource: classesbytoptiermn.com. 

BAKING FUN WITH KIDS

 

 

Jeannie Klint bakes traditional family yeast bread with her granddaughters when they visit.

  “Rules for Little Cooks

  Wash your hands.

  Put on your apron.

  Read your recipe carefully.

  Place everything you need on the kitchen table.

  Have Mother teach you how to heat the oven.

  Measure everything very carefully.

  Wash your baking dishes.

  Sweep the kitchen and leave it in order.”

  So begins the inside cover page of “KITCHEN FUN: A Cook Book for Children” (copyright 1932), a 28-page collection my mom used as a child. From Bran Muffins and Fairy Gingerbread to Cinderella Cake, the baking section caught my eye. Both the “rules” and recipes haven’t changed significantly over the past 88 years and are easy to replicate in any kitchen. 

  The book got me thinking about how baking something delicious is a wonderful way to entice kids to learn cooking basics as they assist and learn from you. The benefits go beyond the mixing bowl. The memories of being shoulder to shoulder, talking, laughing and preparing something amazing out of basic and sometimes exotic ingredients is what it’s really all about. 

  I recall the magic of dough rising in a large bowl in front of my eyes in my grandma Ruth’s kitchen as she intuitively made traditional Swedish cardamom bread. The connection between just the two of us lives on in my memory, and the effort we put into the making was justly rewarded when we opened the oven and took it out.

  Baking with kids this month is a great way to spend time together when weather keeps you indoors. Thumb through family recipe cards and cookbooks. Or go online for a how-to video that captures your and your child’s imagination, then bake it your own way. Here are more ideas:

  Cookies

  Make sugar cookies in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. Purchasing heart cookie cutters can be the start of a collection of holiday designs you pull from throughout the year.

  If you have preschoolers, make a “Jam Thumbprint” recipe, another ideal “first.” Toddlers can stick their thumbs in the dough balls, then fill the indentation with a bit of jam. 

  Quick breads 

  Baking powder and baking soda don’t require kneading or the time to let dough rise. Let seasons of the year inspire you and the recipes you choose. Start with lemon bread with poppy seeds this spring, and by fall you’ll be a pro at making pumpkin and cranberry breads. 

  Yeast breads

  Watch it rise, punch it down and enjoy the bonus of the taste of aromatic homemade breads. Once your kids get their hands on the “living” dough, they’ll be motivated to bake again and again. 

EASY ENTERTAINING WITH OVEN-BAKED GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES

   

 

  Is there such a thing as easy entertaining? When reviewing our busy December days, I admit that in spite of my intentions, parties became a bit of a production with my long to-do lists and shoutouts to kids to run last-minute trips to the store to pick up mushrooms for the gravy or to our Scandinavian market for lingonberries and herring. By the time I lit ice candles on our porch to welcome guests, I had to ask myself, “Could I have simplified this?”

  In this new year, I want to keep our welcome candles burning for all, but skip a bit of the fancy and go for the easy-prep practical. After all, it’s the get-together that matters, right? Spending time around the table eating, laughing and connecting with family and friends matters most. 

  That’s where making and serving oven-baked grilled cheese sandwiches for a crowd the easy way saves the day. Bake them in the oven all at once instead of the traditional way of grilling in batches on your stovetop in a frying pan. They’ll be evenly browned and done at the same time, ready to be paired with a bowl of piping hot soup, such as fragrant basil tomato. 

  Slice the sandwiches in half diagonally and watch your guests enjoy dipping the pointed ends into the soup. Crispy, gooey and tasty, you’ll be creating fond food memories in 2020.

  Here is my basic oven-baked grilled cheese sandwich recipe. Feel free to embellish with spicy mustard or mayo sauce spread inside, and add additional varieties of cheese. Sometimes I include a pinch of kale or other fresh greens I have on hand. 

  EASY-PREP OVEN-BAKED GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES 

  Makes 6 sandwiches.

  — 12 slices white bread a half-inch thick, such as pre-sliced Texas toast 

  — butter, softened for spreading

  — 6 thick slices cheddar cheese

  Preheat oven to 450 F. Set parchment paper on a large baking sheet.

  Ask your child to count and place six slices of bread on the parchment lined sheet. Butter each piece and flip over.

  Lay a slice of cheese on the unbuttered side. Top with another slice of bread. Butter top side.

  Bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes until bread is toasted on exposed side. 

  Flip with a spatula and bake an additional 5 minutes until golden brown and cheese is just melted. 

  Cool for two minutes. Slice in half diagonally and arrange on a platter. Serve with hot bowls of your favorite tomato soup. 

PERSONAL PITA PIZZAS

I took an informal poll in my neighborhood with the question, “What do kids like to eat most?” I noted responses from both adults and kids, like mac and cheese, burgers, tacos and chicken fingers. But, to no surprise, pizza dominated. Maybe it’s because it offers something for all tastes.

  If pizza reigns in your house, throw an informal Halloween pizza party, or another get-together with family and friends this school year. Planning and hosting can be creative and easy to cater for all tastes when you keep it simple. 

  Instead of preparing and shaping pizza dough in advance, here’s the shortcut: Make personal pizzas together using pita bread available at a bakery or grocery store. Provide the toppings so guests can enjoy putting their pita pizzas together assembly-line fashion, letting everyone choose their favorites as they go for unique combos. It’s an ideal set-up for picky pizza eaters who prefer their favorite toppings.

  FAMILY-STYLE PERSONAL PITA PIZZAS 

  TOMATO SAUCE

  The pizza-making begins with a good tomato sauce. Purchase your favorite sauce, or make this homemade recipe that goes together in minutes. Enlist your school-age child to measure and stir the chunky sauce.

  For 2 1/2 cups, mix together in a bowl: a 14-ounce can diced tomatoes and a 6-ounce can tomato paste, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. (For a smooth sauce, whirl in a blender). 

  TOPPINGS

  Classic kid-pleasing toppings include bowls of shredded mozzarella cheese, sliced pepperoni, red onion thinly sliced into rings, sliced mushrooms, chopped bell pepper and pitted olives. For variety, and to accommodate adult tastes, you might include marinated artichoke hearts and drained oil-packed sun-dried tomato slices. 

  For a seasonal option, skip the tomato sauce and layer your pita pizza with Italian shredded cheeses, sauteed onion and slices of an apple or pear. Sprinkle with crumbled gorgonzola and fresh thyme.

  SET-UP 

  At one end of a counter or table, stack pita bread and small plates. Continue assembly-line fashion with the bowls of sauce, toppings and ending with baking sheets. 

  ASSEMBLE

  Invite guests to place a pita bread on a plate. Spread with sauce, if using, then add toppings according to taste. When complete, remove from plate and set on baking sheet. 

  BAKE

  Bake in a 400 F preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and pita is crisp. 

BOW-OH-WOW! VALENTINE TREATS FOR YOUR PET


Middle-school English teacher Alex Eckroth calls herself the “queen of takeout.” It’s rare to find her scrolling through online recipes or thumbing through tattered pages of a cookbook. Unless, as she readily admits, she’s baking treats for her adorable pug, Bomba.
“Dogs have a sweet tooth, like me,” she says, “but when it comes to shopping for treats, it’s tricky to find dog biscuits with ingredients I want to feed Bomba. I like to bake treats for him using heart-healthy ingredients like whole wheat, rolled oats and peanut butter. It’s relaxing and fun to do, plus I enjoy sharing them with our neighborhood canine friends.”
If you’re fond of your fido, bake a batch of these crunchy dog biscuits with your kids for Valentine’s Day pet treats and gifts. This simple recipe comes together in minutes — no mixer needed, just a big wooden spoon and your kids’ energy to stir everything together.
Create shapes with heart-shaped cookie cutters. Small hearts, big hearts, and how about a few X’s and O’s?

DOG BISCUITS
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup peanut butter                                                                                                                                                     1 cup evaporated milk or evaporated goat’s milk
1 tablespoon molasses
All-purpose flour for rolling dough
Makes about 5 dozen 2-inch heart-shaped biscuits.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two cookie sheets, or line them with parchment paper. Set aside.
To make dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, combine peanut butter, milk and molasses. Slowly pour peanut butter mixture into dry ingredients. Stir until well-combined.

To shape biscuits: Sprinkle all-
purpose flour on the counter. Knead dough a few times, until it is easy to roll out into a rectangle that’s 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick with rolling pin. Using cookie cutters, cut dough into shapes. Transfer to prepared cookie sheets.

To bake biscuits: Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Place on cooling rack. Cool completely.

To wrap: Divide your pretty “doggone cool” biscuits into gift bags or heart-shaped paper pockets. Attach valentine tag and deliver to neighborhood dog friends on Valentine’s Day.

TASTY SLOW-COOKER GRANOLA

We’re a granola-eating family. When the tall jar in our pantry reads almost empty, it’s time to stir up and bake a new batch. It’s never a chore, because the fresh homemade taste of heart healthy oats with nuts and dried fruit always satisfies, whether combined with yogurt and berries at breakfast, or sprinkled over a scoop of ice cream for an evening dessert.

No wonder I was curious when a friend suggested I make granola in my slow cooker instead of baking it in the oven. Skeptical, I gave it a try and loved the results. In fact, it’s a game-changer.

I stick with my basic recipe that never disappoints. The hand-crafted, economical blend is open to variations, like substituting cashews for the almonds or pecans. When I buy a jug of fresh local maple syrup, I leave out the brown sugar entirely. For variety, I’ll cut up something unusual, like dried persimmons, to toss in at the end with the raisins.

Tasty Slow-Cooker Granola
Yield: About 6 cups.
Ingredients:
— Cooking spray or olive oil
— 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
— 1/2 cup brown sugar
— 1 teaspoon cinnamon
— 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
— 1/2 teaspoon salt
— 1/2 cup coarsely chopped whole almonds
— 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
— 1/2 cup canola oil
— 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
— 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
— 1/2 cup raisins

Prepare the slow cooker: Spray the cooking spray on the bottom and sides of a 3-quart or larger slow cooker or lightly coat with oil.
Combine the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nuts in a slow cooker.
Stir together the oil, vanilla and egg whites in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and toss well until fully coated.
Turn slow cooker to high. Set a wooden spoon under one side of the lid to hold the lid open, slightly ajar. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until toasted, stirring mixture well every 30 minutes.
Stir in raisins and spread mixture on a baking sheet to cool. Store in jars or in an airtight container.

Note: Substitute brown sugar with 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or agave syrup, and combine with liquid ingredients before tossing with dry ingredients.
In addition to (or instead of) raisins, use your favorite dried fruit, chopped.

Gift-giving tip: Let kids draw a label to glue to a mason jar. It might say “The Johnsons’ World’s Best Granola.” For a Valentine’s Day gift, tie a pink ribbon around the jar with a paper Valentine card.

MAKE FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE IN YOUR KITCHEN

When I hear “I made it from scratch!” at a gathering, my first instinct is to assume it must have taken a lot of time to prepare the tasty-looking dish coming my way down the table. But I also think, “Oh, it must be extra good!”
Here’s where I’m going. Do you love ricotta cheese in lasagna, or spread on crostini toasts and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and savory delights for a quick appetizer? Make ricotta yourself! You can prepare it in your kitchen from start to finish in less than an hour “from scratch.” And, it IS extra good!
This isn’t a true Italian-made ricotta, but it’s an easy, delicious version. Just heat milk, cream and salt to boiling, add lemon juice or vinegar, then gather ’round the pot with your kids and watch it curdle. Within a half-hour of draining away the whey in a separate bowl, you’ll have a lovely ricotta with a light consistency and mild, sweet flavor for using in a favorite Italian recipe like lasagna, or for spreading on crackers and toast sliced from a baguette — a sure winner at a Superbowl party.

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
4 cups whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To prepare sieve for draining:
Set a fine sieve or colander lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth over a deep bowl.

To prepare ricotta mixture:
Combine milk, cream and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Watch carefully. Just as the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the heat, remove from burner and stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will separate and curdle. Let it set about a minute.
Pour into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and let the watery whey drain into the bowl.
Discard the liquid that drips through. Let the curds continue to drain for about 25 minutes, until cool. The longer it drains, the thicker the ricotta.
Spoon the ricotta out of the cheesecloth and use immediately, or refrigerate in a covered storage container until ready to use within five days.

ROSEMARY CASHEWS-GREAT FOR GIFTS AND FOR SNACKING


I’m nuts about nuts. All year round. I try to keep a bowl of fresh, shelled California almonds replenished and within easy reach on the kitchen counter for a grab and go snack. And thanks to my Georgia-raised friend, I have a stash of tasty pecans for tossing on salads and desserts.

For special occasions, our tastes shift to cashews, and this easy recipe that makes them, well, more festive. The addition of fresh rosemary and cayenne pepper is unexpected and always gets raves.

Here’s our family version, which calls for your kids’ assistance. Let them take charge of pulling the fresh rosemary leaves off the stems before you mince the fragrant herb with a sharp knife. Heat up the nuts in the oven and the remaining steps come together in minutes.

Double the recipe for gift-giving. Instead of filling cellophane food bags, use recycled clear-glass jars. Your kids might want to make it whimsical and reminiscent of a snow globe scene by layering the seasoned cashews in the bottom third and adding a cute foil covered chocolate snowman or ornament on top of the cashews. Anchor sprigs of rosemary upright to mimic pine trees, screw on the lid and add a tag. For an extra gift, tie a spoon to the jar for scooping up the flavorful treat.

Let’s get cooking…
ROSEMARY CASHEWS
3 cups roasted, unsalted cashews
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the cashews in one layer on a cookie sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, or until warm and lightly toasted.
Combine the rosemary, brown sugar, salt, melted butter and cayenne pepper (if you wish an extra kick) in a large bowl. When the cashews are heated, immediately pour them into the bowl with the spice butter mixture. Toss thoroughly.
Cool and serve. Store in an airtight container up to two weeks.
Note: If you prefer, substitute 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup for 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

MAKE “WORLDS BEST GRANOLA”


Homemade granola is tasty to eat any time of day, but in our family it’s a staple for  breakfasts with nonfat plain yogurt and fresh fruit. Not only is granola a nutritious start to the day, with its wholesome blend of heart-healthy oats and chopped nuts, but a handful makes a satisfying after-school treat with a glass of milk, and a few spoonfuls add crunch to a scoop of ice cream for an evening dessert.
Granola is so easy to prepare that you and your kids can make this recipe in a jiffy — just under an hour. While one child measures and stirs together the dry ingredients in a big bowl, another can measure, pour and stir the liquids in another. Combine all of the ingredients in the big bowl, and voila! The just-sweet-enough mixture is ready for you to spread on a baking sheet and place in the oven.
Give it a try and see why the fresh taste of this homemade granola rivals any packaged mixture.

“World’s Best Granola”
Yield: About 5 cups
Ingredients:
–3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
–1/2 cup brown sugar
–1 teaspoon cinnamon
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/2 teaspoon salt
–1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
–1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
–1/4 cup canola oil
–1/2 teaspoon vanilla
–2 egg whites, slightly beaten
–1/2 cup raisins

Here’s the fun:
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Step 1: Combine the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nuts in a large mixing bowl.
Step 2: Stir together the oil, vanilla and egg whites in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and toss well.
Step 3: Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely; stir in raisins and store in an airtight container.
Note: If you wish, substitute 1/4 cup pure maple syrup and 1/4 cup honey for the brown sugar, and combine with liquid ingredients before tossing with dry ingredients.
Creative tip: Let kids draw a label to tape or glue to the outside of a plastic storage container or glass jar. It might say “The Johnsons’ World’s Best Granola.”

MAKE BROWNIE MIX IN A JAR



It’s a handmade and homemade kind of holiday season this year.
If there are still some people on your gift list you wish to remember with a little something, or you need some grab-and-go hostess gifts on hand for parties and get-togethers, create this “from your kitchen” gift idea in an afternoon this week.
Be sure to get your kids involved in making this creative go-to stash of gift jars filled with the dried ingredients for making super chocolaty, chewy and moist brownies. A throwback kitchen craft, this updated version is fun to assemble with even your preschooler. What 4-year-old doesn’t like to scoop and pour? That’s what building the layers of brownie ingredients in a jar is all about as they work to create an artful gift of yummy ingredients.


Here’s how to make a “Brownie Mix in a Jar”:
1. Assembly-line fashion, set out the ingredients, including clean, wide-mouth quart-size jars and lids, on the kitchen counter or a large table. Place a measuring spoon or measuring cup by each ingredient, along with a card stating the name of the ingredient and the correct quantity to scoop into each jar.
2. Layer the following ingredients, in the following order, for one recipe. Pack firmly before adding the next layer. (Use a narrow drinking glass to tamp down ingredients.)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup baking cocoa powder
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup small, unwrapped candy, such as M&M’s (optional)
3. Secure lid, add a gift tag and a card with these baking instructions:

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Makes 6 large brownies
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease or line the bottom of an 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
Pour contents of the jar into a large mixing bowl, and add:
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Stir lightly until blended, then pour into pan and bake for 25 minutes.
Cool in pan, cut into squares and serve.