Valentine’s Day Chocolate Bag of Treats

chocolate bagsHere is one of the all-time great Valentine’s Day recipes. I actually made these for the first time years ago, long before I really got into cooking, so although  it might look like it’s hard to prepare, it really isn’t…and it’s a lot of fun!

1. Get a few coffee-bean bags from your grocery store. You need bags that are lined with a plastic coating so when painted with chocolate, you can peel them off easily. Cut the coffee bags so they are about 3-5 inches tall.

2. Then, in a double boiler over low heat, melt 2-3 cups of semisweet chocolate morsels.

3. Lay the bag in its side and with a small pastry brush, starting at the bottom, paint the melted chocolate over the entire interior of the bag. Use plenty of chocolate to get a nice thick coating, which will make it less likely for the chocolate to break when peeling off the bag.

4. Stand the bags up and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. They can be left in there until you need them.

5. When the chocolate is nice and hard, starting in one corner, gently peel away the bag. Use a scissor to cut the paper off as you peel it…it just makes it easier.strawberries and bags

6. Melt some more chocolate and dip strawberries, sliced bananas and whatever else your significant other loves into the melted chocolate. As an added touch, you can also melt some white chocolate and use that to drizzle designs on the dipped treats. Lay them down on waxed paper to dry and harden.

Then just fill the bags with the treats and your favorite candies and you have an incredibly impressive presentation for your loved one on Valentine’s Day. It sure sealed the deal for me!

Caramelized Onions, Sausage and Mushroom Sourdough Whole Wheat Pizza

SMO PizzaGot a few pizza questions recently, so I just wanted to re-post a pizza story I did a while back. This was, of course, made from scratch (here’s the recipe) and it really tasted just as good as it looks. One of the most important tricks to making a great pizza is using a pizza stone (or even better, a pizza baking steel, which is what I use exclusively now)…it’s hard to bake a great crust without it. Both the stone and the steel have a greater thermal mass then either a glass or metal pan and therefore hold and distribute heat much more efficiently. The stone is also porous, so it absorbs moisture from the dough as it cooks, all of which contributes to an amazing crisp, uniformly browned crust. Also, definitely get yourself a pizza peel…they’re inexpensive and make putting the pizza in and taking the pizza out of the oven a breeze.

Pizza stones and steels are available just about everywhere, and come in a variety of sizes and shapes (and prices). They should be put in a cold oven, then preheated for at least 30 minutes after the desired oven temperature (I recommend 500°) is reached before using. Because the stones are porous and absorb liquid, the stone should never be washed with soap…just a dry brush or some plain, warm water if needed. Both the stone and the baking steel are ideal for baking bread.

t stone or piece of ceramic or earthenware used to evenly distribute oven heat to pizzas or other baked goods, more or less mimicking the effects of cooking a pizza in a masonry oven. Such bakeware has more thermal mass than metal or glass pans. The porous nature of the stone used also helps absorb moisture, resulting in a crisp crust.
Suasage, Mushroom, Caramelized Onion Pizza ready for oven
Ready for the Oven

Nothing better then homemade pizza and this crust is simple and delicious. If you need sourdough starter, check out my bread post from last week. I prefer thin crust pizzas (being from the New York area…where we make REAL pizza), but if you prefer a thicker crust, it’s all here in the printable recipe. This is one of those recipes that appears to be a little vague at first, but once you try it and get the feel for how the dough should come together, it’s simple and quick to replicate whenever you get the urge…which for me, seems to happen about 3-4 times a week lately. And since the recipe makes 3 crusts which freeze incredibly well, you actually don’t have it make it that often. Just take one out of the freezer, and in about 3 hours, it’s ready to roll. The crust is also vary versatile and can be used in dozens of different ways. Just the other day, I topped one with just caramelized onions, crumbled goat cheese and drizzled some olive oil on it and it was amazing. It also makes a great calzone!

Please click here for the printable recipe.

Tip of the Day – Never Refrigerate Bread…Freeze It!

Sourdough Whole Wheat BreadThe best way to keep bread is at room temperature. After 2-3 days, you should wrap the bread well, put it in a freezer bag and freeze it.  Never store any bread in the refrigerator, because the cold temperature (38º-40º) accelerates the crystallization of the starches, causing the bread to stale much faster. When I bake a bread, as soon as it cools completely, I cut it, freeze half immediately and keep the other half cut-side down on a cutting board covered with a clean cloth. When that’s consumed, I take out the frozen half, defrost it at room temperature or wrap it in foil and bake in a 450º oven for 10 minutes and it tastes just as good as the day it was baked.

Tip of the Day – The Best Way to Gain Weight ;-)

Awhile back I wrote about how important it is to have a great scale, like the OXO Good Grips Scale, and to weigh ingredients for consistent results. As you’ve probably experienced, Americans seldom give weights in recipes, but in the UK, they almost always do. Well, over at Lifehacker, someone named Jesseg came up with an amazingly simple, yet inciteful, idea…when looking for recipes, search using google.co.uk, rather than google.com and the recipes you find will almost always have weights…just make sure you remember to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, or your stuff may never get done!

Oven Baked Spicy Crispy French Fries

crispy spicy oven friesEveryone loves french fries, but deep frying at home is messy and the clean up sucks. These oven baked fries are just as tasty, a little bit healthier and way easier to make and clean up after than the deep-fried variety. The secret is the pre-soak that removes some of the starch and helps the fries to crisp up on the outside while staying tender and moist on the inside. Pair these with my Oven Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings and you have a great finger-licking good, faux deep-fried, quasi-healthy meal that everyone will love. If you prefer thinner, crispier garlicky oven baked fries, please click here.

Please click here for the printable recipe.

Cooking Weights and Measurements Conversion Charts

Kitchen measurements When a recipe calls for a cup of flour, most people just scoop out a “cup” and then level it off with a knife…easy and fast but, unfortunately, not very accurate or consistent. A little too much flour here or sugar there, and instead of a delicious chewy cookie you could end up with rockhard paperweight better suited for self-defense then dessert.  That’s why weighing ingredients, especially when baking, is essential. A great scale, like the OXO Good Grips Scale, is an important tool for success in the kitchen. I try to give ingredients in my recipes by both weight and volume, but if you encounter a recipe that doesn’t, King Arthur Flour has a really helpful Master weight chart for just about every commonly used ingredient in baking. If you need to convert to metric or vice-versa, just click here for some charts to help with converting metric equivalents or try this interactive Online Cooking Converter that converts cooking units instantly…it’s amazing! Once you start weighing ingredients, you’ll see an incredible improvement in outcomes and consistency.

Thanks to Good Housekeeping for the photo.

Everyone Loves Mom’s Amazing Pinwheel Cookies

Pinwheel cookiesEveryone loves these cookies…that’s because they can be made to everyone’s taste. The basic recipe is really simple, but the beauty of it is that you can add any filling you like, so everyone gets what they want. From raspberry jam to cinnamon and sugar to chocolatey goodness, no one goes away disappointed…and they not only taste great, but they look incredible. The secret to slicing them into neat, perfectly round cookies before baking is to use dental floss (unwaxed and unflavored…although I guess you could go for a minty floss to accent the chocolate cookies…or not!). Just wrap it around the cookie logs and tighten it as if tying a knot to make a perfect, round cookie.

Please click here for the printable recipe.

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer…Best in Class

The Super-Fast Thermapen is, without a doubt, the best food thermometer available and an essential really cool kitchen tool.  Sure, it’s way expensive, but sometimes it makes sense to just buy the best.  The thing that sets this apart from all other kitchen thermometers (and there are some pretty good ones out there) is its speed, accuracy and ease of use…it takes just 3 seconds to register an amazingly accurate reading. Another great feature is that the Thermapen is splash-proof, with molded-in seals that protect the thermometer from wet hands and kitchen splashes. I also love the way it operates…just open it and it turns on and close it and it turns off…no buttons, cables, slides or switches (and it comes in some really great colors!). When buying things for the kitchen, I always take pricing into account, but I believe that in this case, because a great thermometer invariably leads to great results when cooking, if you can afford it, it pays to go with the best. This also is absolutely one of the coolest gifts you can buy for someone who cooks…they’ll use it and love you forever!

OXO Good Grips Scale – An Essential Kitchen Tool

OXO food scaleThis is one of the kitchen tools that I really can’t live without…the OXO Good Grips Food Scale. It has large, backlit, easy to read numbers and, with one click, switches from metric to U.S. (avoirdupois) weight. When adding each ingredient to a recipe, just press the zero button (tare weight) to set the scale back to zero, add your next each ingredient, repeat for each additional ingredient, and all your mixing and measuring is done in one bowl, making for much easier cleanup. One of the best features is that the display can be separated from the base (it’s attached by a long, sturdy wire) so even if you’re weighing your ingredients in huge bowl that would normally hide the readout on a lesser scale, on this one, just slide it out and you can easily see the weight. If you bake, you know how important weights and proportions are to achieve a great result. I never bake without it, and I guarantee once you try it, you won’t either…this is the real deal!