Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fruitcake Drops

Around Thanksgiving I learned something disturbing about Michael….he likes Fruitcake and Mincemeat Pie. I can’t believe I’ve known him for over two years and didn’t know this. Did he tell me this and I forgot, or did he omit this information? If I had known these were two of his favorite foods would I have continued to date him…would it have been a deal breaker? Too late to do anything about it now…….Ha, ha, ha. Seriously, I didn’t know that anyone under the age of 80 liked Mincemeat Pie….the last time I even saw one was when I was 10 years old and one mincemeat pie would be made at Thanksgiving and Christmas because my grandmother loved it. As for Fruitcake…well, I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about that so I don’t need to repeat them here. Enough about Mincemeat pie, I’ll save that for another post. Today it’s all about Fruitcake, or rather Fruitcake Cookies.

Most of the time I try to cook and bake things that I know Michael will like so when he told me that he liked Fruitcake, I had no idea what to do…I’ve never made it before and only tasted it a few times. So I asked around for fruitcake recipes….all I heard was the sound of silence….guess no one else likes Fruitcake either, or maybe they do but just buy it rather than make it. Or maybe no one wants to admit that they like it. I had always heard and read that it took weeks or even months to make a fruitcake…first you bake the cake then you spend the remaining time soaking it in alcohol. If that was the case, that was out…I didn’t have the time and wasn’t sure, since neither of us care for alcohol, that we would like that. Not long after I began my search I received an email newsletter from the King Arthur Flour Company that had a link to a recipe for Fruitcake Drops…they looked interesting, wouldn’t take months to make and I do like making cookies, so I decided to try it.

Their recipe includes a lot of the products that they sell, which I didn’t order; I just used what I could find locally. The next time I make these, I may order some of their products to see it makes any difference in the taste and texture of this cookie. I’ve posted the recipe the way I made it and am also including a link to the original recipe.

Fruitcake Drops
Print Recipe
King Arthur Flour Fruitcake Drops

1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup cherry concentrate
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
9 cups chopped dried/candied fruit...I used candied cherries, candied pineapple, dried dates and  dried apricots.

1) Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or better yet, line with parchment) a couple of baking sheets.

2) In a large bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, salt, and baking powder till smooth.

3) Add the eggs, and beat till smooth and creamy.

4) Add the rum and cherry concentrate and mix, scraping the sides of the bowl. The batter will appear curdled; that's OK.

5) Add the spices and the flour. Mix till smooth.

6) Stir in the fruit. The batter will be heavy and sticky; this is best done in a stand mixer, or using a heavy spoon and lots of muscle power.

7) Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, or a spoon, scoop out balls of dough about the size of a ping pong ball. Space them on the baking sheets, leaving about 1" to 1 1/2" between them; they won't spread much.

8) Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes. They'll appear fairly set, but may still be very slightly shiny/wet looking when you remove them from the oven. The bottoms will be lightly browned.

9) Let the cookies cool, then loosen them from the parchment or pan using a spatula.

10) Store at room temperature up to several weeks, in an airtight canister in layers, with parchment or waxed paper between the layers to keep the cookies from sticking to one another. For longer storage, freeze.

Yield: about 5 1/2 dozen cookies.

 Mix butter, brown sugar, salt and baking powder until smooth. How do you like the pretty blue bowl? I had to use our plastc chip bowl because I wasn't sure our large mixing bowl would be large enough.

 Add eggs and beat until smooth and creamy.

  1/4 cup rum...can use bourbon, brandy or apple juice.
  1/4 cup cherry concentrate....can use boiled cider, or apple juice concentrate.  

Add liquor and cherry concentrate and mix, scraping sides of the bowl.
 Ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon.  

 Add the spices and flour to the liquid mixture......

 mix until smooth.
Nine cups of candied and dried fruit. I used mostly candied fruit but think next time I'll use a little less candied and more dried....I'm sure it would be a little better for us. To keep the fruit from sticking to your kitchen shears and measuring cup, spray with cooking spray.
 Stir in the fruit. The directions said it was best to mix using a stand mixer because the batter would be heavy and sticky. I used a wooden spoon and didn't have any trouble...I've had a more difficult time hand mixing dough for chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies.

I lined my cookie sheets with parchment paper, I love parchment paper..... the only thing better than this are my Silpat liners but I left them at home. Using a tablespoon cookie scoop or spoon, scoop out dough. Place about 1 inch apart on cookie sheet....I use half sheet baking pans and could get 12 on each sheet.
Bake for 20-22 minutes.

The finished product. By the time I got the cookies baked and cooled I had lost a lot of my natural light so I put a plastic container over in front of the patio door and placed the cookies there. The lighting wasn't the best but was better than it would have been in the kitchen.

The verdict....I liked these cookies and that's saying a lot considering I'm not a fruitcake fan. Michael liked them too....not only did he tell me that he did but proved it by sitting down with a glass of cold milk and eating at least six before they had time to get completely cool. Looks like I'll be making these again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin Chip Muffins

This time of year I’m all about all things pumpkin…I love pumpkin and have many recipes that include pumpkin in the ingredients. This happens to be one of my favorite recipes because #1 it contains pumpkin, lots of cinnamon and it’s a muffin recipe. Muffins are easy to make and are great for breakfast, brunch, coffee or tea breaks or simply a snack. I discovered this recipe several years ago while searching for recipes on the King Arthur Flour site and if you like to bake as much as I do, you really should take a look at this site. Not only do they have a lot of recipes, there is also a store where you can purchase ingredients, bake ware, etc.….there is also a friendly online community where you can share recipes, discuss baking and get loads of help if you need it.

So, let’s move on to the recipe……..

Pumpkin Chip Muffins
Print Recipe

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chocolate chips or cinnamon chips
1/4 cup toffee flavored chips (optional)
1/2 cup diced walnuts or pecans - I sometimes omit the nuts.
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup melted butter, melted vegetable shortening or 1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) (half of a 15-ounce can)
1/3 cup water

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (1/8 to 1/4)

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Stir in the chips of your choice. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted fat, eggs, pumpkin and water. Make a well in the dry ingredients, fill it with the liquid ingredients, and mix vigorously until everything is well blended, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as you go.

Spoon the batter into the lightly greased or paper-lined cups of a 12-cup muffin pan. The muffin cups should be filled quite full, using a generously rounded 1/4-cup of batter for each muffin. Bake the muffins in a preheated 350°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven; let them cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them from the pan to a rack to cool completely. Just before serving, stir together the glaze ingredients, and drizzle over the muffins.

Yield: 12 muffins.

*Although these muffins are wonderful with the glaze, I've made them without and they are still delicious.

I usually use just the cinnamon chips, toffee chips and omit the nuts.
I use 1/4 tsp. cinnamon in the glaze.
If the glaze is too stiff, add more milk. If it's too runny add a little more confectioners' sugar.

I like to buy the whole nutmeg and grate it myself....the whole nutmeg has a longer shelf life than the grated.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

Cinnamon chips.....these may be a little difficult to find. Hershey's makes cinnamon chips and they can be found in some supermarkets but I prefer to either buy mine at the local bulk food store or online at King Arthur Flour....the chips from these two places are mini and seem to melt into the batter a little better than the regular sized chips. Another online source for cinnamon chips is The Prepared Pantry, although I've never ordered from there yet.

There are two different types of toffee chips, You can either get the plain toffee chips, I can't remember who makes them, or the Heath Bar Toffee Bits. I think I like the Heath Bar Bits best because they are covered in milk get two different flavors in this one.

Add chips to the dry ingredients.

Stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted fat, eggs, pumpkin and water. If you are wondering why my pumpkin is such a light color, it's because I used fresh pumpkin puree instead of canned.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, fill it with the liquid ingredients, and mix vigorously until everything is well blended.
Since I'm making these for Thanksgiving, I wanted to use some fall themed cupcake liners. Aren't they cute?
Spoon the batter into the lightly greased or paper-lined cups of a 12-cup muffin pan. The muffin cups should be filled quite full, using a generously rounded 1/4-cup of batter for each muffin.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. Now you can stop here and these muffins will be delicious but to take them over the top, make the glaze.

I had these on the cooling rack and caught Michael trying to sneek one....I told him he couldn't have one yet because they needed to cool, have glaze put on them and I needed to take photos of the finished product.

Mix together; butter, confectioners sugar, milk and cinnamon.

And here is the finished product. These are moist and light textured and full of flavor and they go great with a glass of cold milk....ask Michael, he knows, he's had three already.

Sheryle on Foodista

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jungle Jim's International Market on the History Channel

Just a quick post today.......Back in July I posted that one of my favorite stores, Jungle Jim’s International Market, was going to be on the History Channel’s, Modern Marvels. I just found out that the show will be aired on Friday, October 29 at 9:00 PM. To get an idea of what this store has is like, click here to see some pictures and videos, Pictures/videos. You’ve really got to check it out!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Popcorn Balls for Halloween

My mom was the creator of our holiday traditions. The way I, my sisters, brothers and even many of my nieces and nephews celebrate have a lot to do with the traditions that my mom set in motion many years ago….I’m sure soon after she and dad got married. I imagine that some of the ways that we celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas got their start during her childhood but I’m sure, since mom grew up during the depression and considering her family was poor, she never celebrated in quite the style that we did when I was young.

The making of Popcorn Balls, to give out for Trick or Treat, was one of our Halloween traditions that started around the time my sisters we little, sometime during the 40’s, and ended in the 70’s. Even though Mom stopped making them, my brother Don continued this tradition with his daughters many years after.

My sister Jean contacted me the other day asking if I had Mom’s Popcorn Ball recipe and if so, would I like to help her make popcorn balls some weekend before Halloween….she wanted to make some to give to her children and grandchildren. I emailed the recipe to my sister and today, with the help of our niece Pam, made popcorn balls for the first time, for me at least, in about 25 or 30 years.

While getting this post ready, I remembered a story that I had written a few years ago while putting together a cookbook for work. I was writing an explanation about the Popcorn Ball recipe I was including in the cookbook and got started and just went on and on….a lot like the post that I’m working on now. I ended up cutting it down a lot for the cookbook but saved the original. I was going to edit it and use if for my blog but then decided to post it in its entirety. I’m sure many of you won’t be interested in the story, so feel free to pass it by but I thought members of my family who read this blog might find it interesting. I wrote this about a year and a half before my mother passed away.

This story is my memory of what would have taken place around 1967 or 1968 when I would have been 10 or 11….my siblings may remember something completely different. :-)

This is Mom taken around 2001 or 2002

 Making Popcorn Balls for Halloween

Every Halloween, for approximately 30 years, my family made popcorn balls. My mother started this tradition with my sisters, brothers and me and continued down to the eldest of my nieces and nephews. Making popcorn balls was quite a production and always a fun family project. Every year we would make over one hundred popcorn balls, one time we made 149. I remember rushing home from school, excited and anxious to have dinner over with so we could begin making them. I thought this was almost as much fun as going out for Trick or Treat.

Before the popcorn balls could be made, the ingredients had to be purchased along with waxed paper, Halloween napkins and rubber bands. One or two days before the night of Trick or Treat, we would begin the process of making popcorn balls. First the waxed paper had to be cut into squares large enough to wrap around a popcorn ball. Long sheets of waxed paper would be placed on the kitchen table, the popcorn balls were placed on these after they were formed. Mom would get out the popcorn popper, put oil and popcorn in the pan and place it on the stove to pop; soon the warm kitchen was filled with sounds and aroma of popping corn. Mom would pop several quarts of popcorn until she had enough to make popcorn balls for the neighborhood Trick or Treaters and some left over for our family to eat. Next she would make the syrup. I remember standing by her side watching as she placed all the ingredients in the saucepan and stirred until the sugar melted and the syrup was the right consistency. At that point she would remove a small portion of the syrup from the pan, place it in a cup of cold water, and swirl the syrup around until it hardened and formed a small ball. She sometimes had to do this a few times before the syrup was at the right stage. It felt like it took forever! I didn’t think it would ever be ready so that we could start shaping the popcorn balls, but finally it was. When the syrup was just right, it was stirred into the popcorn and was now ready for us to shape into balls. We’d rub butter all over our hands so we could grab handfuls of the hot syrup and popcorn mixture and not burn our hands while shaping it into balls. No matter how much butter I slathered onto my hands, I inevitably missed a tiny spot between my fingers and the hot syrup would stick to my skin and sting a little. Once all the popcorn was shaped into balls they were wrapped in the waxed paper squares, and then wrapped in paper napkins that were imprinted with Jack-o-Lanterns, Witches and Ghosts, then secured with rubber bands.

On Trick or Treat night the neighborhood children would head straight for our house, hoping to get there before we ran out of popcorn balls, but were sometimes disappointed because they were too late and ended up with candy instead. In later years as our neighborhood changed, all the families who had lived there for many generations were gone, the children grown and moved away, the elders passed on and rumors of tainted treats filled the news, we made fewer and fewer popcorn balls until we stopped completely and just handed out candy.

My sisters, brothers and I are much older now; my nieces’ and nephews’ are grown with children of their own. My mother has Alzheimer’s type dementia and has been in a nursing home since November of 2002 and her memories of our Halloween preparations may be cloudy or non-existent. Even though more than 30 years have gone by, I still remember the excitement, laughter, warmth and scents of our popcorn ball making days.

Mom’s Popcorn Balls
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups light corn syrup
Food coloring – we used red which gave them a pinkish tint
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
4 quarts popped corn*

Melt butter. Add sugar, corn syrup, food coloring, vanilla and salt. Boil on medium heat until very hard ball stage (260°F).

Pour over corn. Stir corn thoroughly while pouring syrup over it.

Butter hands lightly. Shape into balls. Makes 12 to 14 balls.

* We actually ended up using closer to 5 quarts in each batch....there seemed to be too much syrup in the pan for only 4.

This is the best way to make popcorn.....on the stove. The taste and the texture of the popcorn is much better than air popped or microwaved. You don't need a special popcorn popper like can use a large pan with a lid, put it on the burner and shake, shake, shake...the pan, not your body.

Make popcorn according to the directions on your popcorn maker or the package of popcorn.

The popcorn is ready and waiting...time to make the syrup. We actually used more than the 4 quarts of popcorn in each batch....there seemed to be an awful lot of syrup in the bottom of the pan.

Melt butter. Add sugar, corn syrup, food coloring, vanilla and salt.

Boil on medium heat until very hard ball stage (260 F).

Pour over corn. Stir corn thoroughly while pouring syrup over it.

Butter hands lightly...make sure you cover your whole hand because this stuff is hot and sticky. Shape into balls.

And here they are....popcorn balls. When we first started, we just added red food coloring then Pam decided she wanted orange so she added a little yellow to the red.

And here they are wrapped up and ready to go. Our first batch was almost like a test batch....we didn't let the syrup get to the right temperature so we had a difficult time getting the popcorn to stick together. After that we made two more batches and they worked out much better. Jean sent Pam and me home with a few popcorn balls and she had plenty to send to her grandchildren in Washington and California and to share with the rest who live near by.

Sheryle on Foodista
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