Baking for my Buddies: A Duo of Dog Treats

20 Jun

It occurred to me recently that I don’t always bake for people, and some of you might have furry friends at home as well. I make a lot of different kinds of dog treats for Dioji and Zero, but I like these two recipes because all you need is a food processor to put the doughs together. No other mixing required, though you can certainly make them by hand if you do not have a food processor. It just takes a little elbow grease.

Apple and Carrot Dog Treats

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • ½ cup carrots, chopped
  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • 1 egg

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the apple and carrot until fine.

Add the egg and peanut butter and process until well combined.

Add the flour and oats and process until a soft dough is formed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to ¼ in. thickness. Cut into desired shapes.

Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on size. The bottoms of the treats will be a light golden brown when finished. Cool completely on parchment paper or a wire rack.

 

Peanut Butter and Banana Dog Treats

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 banana
  • ½ cup peanut butter

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together all ingredients until a soft dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to ¼ in. thickness. Cut into desired shapes.

Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on size. The bottoms of the treats will be a light golden brown when finished. Cool completely on parchment paper or a wire rack.

Healthy treats with simple ingredients for your pups, what could be better? Zero is obsessed with bananas, so he goes especially crazy for the second kind. Hope your dogs are just as excited to get these!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Easy Decisions: Vanilla and Milk Chocolate Striped Cakes

19 Jun

While thinking recently about what to bake, I came across that age-old question: Vanilla or chocolate? And it occurred to me that sometimes, you should not have to make such a decision and can, in fact, have everything you want. These little cakes are proof of that.

And they look pretty, too!

Vanilla and Milk Chocolate Striped Cakes

  • 1 ½ cups + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup yogurt mixed with ¼ cup milk
  • 4 oz. milk chocolate, chopped small
  • 2 tbsp. coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a muffin tin or mini bundt pan.

Combine the chocolate and coffee in a small pot and melt over low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until thick.

Add the flour and milk/yogurt mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour, and beat until just combined.

Put half the batter in a separate bowl and stir in the melted chocolate.

Using a spoon or a small disher, drop alternate spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla batter into the pan. It will look something like this:

Bake the cakes for 23 minutes, or until they spring back when touched gently.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.

These are pretty sweet cakes because of the milk chocolate, so I omitted frosting and opted for a little bit of whipped cream instead. Delicious!

Sometimes you do get to have everything you want in one perfect little package. Pretty great, isn’t it?

Ciao for now,

Neen

Back to Bread Baking: Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

7 Jun

So, it’s been a very strange two months.

The first week of April, I woke up suddenly with back pain so excruciating, Joe and I had to cancel our annual trip to Boston for PAX East. Things deteriorated from there. My joints swelled randomly and massively, there were weeks at a time when I could not walk, and I was in constant, excruciating pain. After a long two months of MRIs, x-rays, labs, and doctor appointments, I was finally diagnosed last week with rheumatoid arthritis. While things haven’t improved greatly (yet), I am much more comfortable and have a treatment plan to move forward.

Needless to say, I wasn’t doing much cooking. The last couple of weeks I’ve had a little more energy, my hands hurt a little less, and I have started to cook some meals and get back to baking. I’ve been going for a lot of comfort foods like meatloaf, soups, and homemade pasta. But what really feels like home to me is baking bread. So when my rosemary plant decided to offer this…

I knew a really good focaccia was on the way.

Let’s get back in the kitchen together!

Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

Bread:
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2 tbsp. sugar
3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1.5 oz. finely grated asiago cheese

Toppings:
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 oz. coarsely grated asiago cheese

Dissolve the salt in 2 tbsp. of water and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and water, and let stand until foamy, 5-10 min.

Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly add 3 1/2 cups of flour to the bowl. Add the salt water and olive oil, and once incorporated, add the chopped rosemary and finely grated asiago cheese.

Once the dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (You can also knead this in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, I just enjoy doing it by hand.) Add flour as needed if the dough is sticky.

Form the dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl, tossing to coat in the oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and adjust a rack to the lower third of the oven.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and turn the risen dough out onto it. Gently stretch the dough into an oblong shape about ½ in. thick.

Let rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Gently dimple the dough with your fingertips. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil, and then sprinkle on the coarsely grated asiago cheese and chopped rosemary.

Bake the focaccia for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown all over. Allow it to rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

This bread reheats especially well in the toaster or conventional oven (if you don’t finish it all in one day!)

While I often find the road ahead daunting and uncertain, I am lucky to be surrounded by supportive people, and have hobbies like cooking and yoga that ground me and offer me a meditative space. And I’ll keep writing to you here as often as I can, because food is meant to be shared and I will always be happy to share with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

The King’s Crispy Treats

26 Mar

I went on a granola bar making binge recently. First I had a friend who was traveling who I thought could use a snack, and then I was in a show with a lot of long hours and heavy lifting, so I made tons of bars for the whole cast.

Then Joe spoke up. He doesn’t like oats, or the texture of most dried fruit. What kind of bar could I make for him? I remembered a Kashi bar that he used to eat that had chocolate covered pretzels in it and a sort of crispy cereal base. I considered that banana chips weren’t chewy and so I added those to the equation, and that’s when it hit me. Add some peanuts and peanut butter and you have something approximating Elvis’ beloved fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches in breakfast bar form. With a little added chocolate because yes, please!

Elvis Bars

  • 3 ½ cups crispy rice cereal or puffed rice cereal
  • ½ cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup banana chips, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup chocolate covered pretzels, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt

Line an 8×8 in. square pan with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cereal, banana chips, and peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, honey, vanilla, and salt. Cook until the mixture just starts to bubble.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until smooth.

Add the peanut butter mixture to the cereal mixture and stir well to combine.

Wait 15 minutes for the mixture to cool slightly, and then add the chocolate covered pretzel pieces.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer. Chill in the refrigerator for two hour before cutting into squares.

I wrap them individually in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Crispy, chewy, sweet, and salty. Delicious! Hope you enjoy these royal treats soon.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Pressed Perfection: Gram’s Pizzelles

6 Dec

I have introduced you to my Gram before, and shared with you her delicious stracciatella (you’re welcome). But there was in fact, a second recipe card she gave me at my bridal shower five years ago. A particular offering that appears on every Italian Christmas and wedding cookie tray, but seemingly only on those occasions, the pizzelle.

After my Gram passed away a few years ago, they stopped being a special occasion cookie only for me. They became a thing I made when I missed her and wanted to share her with people.  I pull out the pizzelle iron more than a few times a year, and most recently I brought it out right before Thanksgiving to share these with my students.

You’ll need one piece of special equipment, and that is the aforementioned pizzelle iron. There are many varieties, but this is the one I have. It bakes two cookies at a time.

Pizzelles

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted and cooled*
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla or anise oil**
  • 1 ¾ cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

    *Gram’s recipe actually calls for margarine, I just never have it around
    **I use a combination of vanilla and almond extracts

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, and then beat in the sugar until smooth.

Add the melted butter and extracts and mix well.

Finally, whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture until a batter is formed.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls (I use a 1 ½ tbsp. disher) onto a preheated pizzelle iron and bake for 30 seconds, or until just golden.

Move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 24 5-in. cookies.

I know that as the holidays approach, I’ll definitely make more pizzelles to add to cookie trays and gifts for people. There’s always a moment of delight when someone receives these so beautifully pressed, crisp, sweet little treasures. And for me it means my Gram is still right here baking and sharing with me.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Un-puzzling Apple Pie

30 Nov

I’ve been after the perfect apple pie for a while. There are so many variables: What kind of fat in the crust? Cooked or uncooked filling? Cornstarch or flour? What kind of apples?

And I’ve encountered all of the usual problems too: Under-baked crust, melted or broken crust, mushy apples, watery filling. With every pie I’ve baked, I’ve had a chance to learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn’t.

The good news is that I’ve combined several methods that turn out a pie with a flavorful, flaky crust, and a filling that’s sweet-but-not-too-sweet and that holds together when sliced.

Here we use a pretty traditional all butter pastry, but stay mostly hands-off and also chill it several times throughout the process to keep it workable and stable. For the inside, I wanted to avoid a watery filling, but pre-cooked ones make the apples too mushy by the time the pie is baked, so we’ll instead take time to extract some juice from the apples, make it into a syrup, then toss the apples with that and cornstarch to create a filling with the perfect consistency.

Let’s do it to it!

Apple Pie

Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled in the freezer for 10-15 minutes)
  • ¼ – ½ cup ice water

Filling:

  • 3 lbs. apples (Good varieties that will not break down are Honeycrisp, Fuji, Granny Smith, Macintosh, or Cortland). I used 3 large Honeycrisp and 3 Granny Smith for a balance of tart and sweet.
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch

Prepare the crust by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and mixing.

Add the butter in chunks, pulsing between additions, until the mixture is a sandy, pebbly texture.

Slowly add ice water while pulsing, until the dough holds together when pressed between fingers. Do not overmix.

Turn the mixture out onto a countertop and gather into a ball. Divide the dough in two pieces and flatten into discs. These weighed about 12.5 oz. each. Wrap these in plastic wrap and chill for 30 min – 1 hour.

To make the filling, peel, core, and slice the apples. I also quarter my slices.

Toss the apple slices with the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and allow this to sit for at least 30 minutes, but up to an hour is fine.

Meanwhile, roll out one pie dough disc into a 12 in. circle, fit it into a pie pan, and trim the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Roll the other dough disc into a 12 in. circle, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Then place a strainer over a bowl and pour in the apples. Allow them to drain for 30 minutes, or until ½-3/4 cup of juice has accumulated.

Take the pie dough circle on the baking sheet out of the refrigerator before you begin the next step to allow it to get slightly pliable.

Put the juice and the 2 tbsp. of butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and boil until it reduces to about 1/3 cup and is syrupy, about 7-10 minutes.

In a bowl, toss the apples with the cornstarch and then toss with the reduced syrup.

Fill the pie crust with the apple mixture.

Gently wet the edges of the crust and place the top crust over the filling. Trim the edges and then crimp with a fork. Cut 5 slits in the top. Wrap the pie in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F and place an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet on an oven rack placed on the lowest setting.

Once the oven is preheated, unwrap the pie and cover the edges with an aluminum foil ring to prevent the crust from overbrowning. Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and tender when poked through one of the slits. Remove the foil ring during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Allow the pie to cool for at least 4 hours before slicing.

Hope you have a chance to try this one during the holidays. It’s sure to make them merrier!

Ciao for now,

Neen