Sunday, February 27, 2011

February Daring Baker's Challenge: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Lemon Tangelo and Strawberry Panna Cottas with Cherry Gelee Stripes and Curled Florentine Cookies

When I read this month's challenge, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. My hope had been that the challenge would not eat an entire weekend for preparation. I am very much a fan of learning new things without having the element of a time challenge to get them to work. Last month when I made the Daring challenge, I filled my entrement (special sponge cake) with panna cotta and Bavarian Cream. The panna cotta was the easier to prepare of the two fillings so I entered the challenge with confidence. The cookies looked like a thin, simplified chocolate chip cookie. Nice.

Now for the real challenge....what could I do to make my results look different from everyone else's? I thought of what I had in my fridge and kitchen. I also thought about the lemon panna cotta I had made last month. My mind rolled to Valentine's Day and the inevitable presence of pink and red this month.

Idea 1: Make the cookies with strawberry panna cotta and maybe a raspberry gelee. (Gelee is rather a hybrid between jelly and jello.) Place the strawberry panna cotta on top of the cookies like an icing and use the raspberry gelee to make a heart shape in the center of the cookie.

Idea 2: I have cherry juice in the fridge. I could make a strawberry or lemon panna cotta and use cherry gelee as a striped flavor in the middle.

Idea 3: Cone shaped cookies filled with panna cotta and a dot of gelee on top.

Reality check: I need to use the panna cotta recipe provided. This means I can't exclusively use the lemon panna cotta recipe I used last month.

Sometimes after lots of thinking the best plans come at the moment of preparation. I woke up the other morning to pouring rain and a pair of very playful kitties. Despite my efforts, sleep would not return so I got up at 5:30 am and decided, hey, I could go ahead and make my challenge.

I stepped in the kitchen and started the cookies first. The "dough" was much stickier than I imagined. It was closer to a thick batter than cookie dough. The recipe said to use a 1 Tbsp measure to scoop the dough and then to pat it out on the baking mat. I used 1 tsp and 1 Tbsp so that I had tiny baby cookies and larger cookies too. My goal was to roll some up into tubes and maybe a cone shape. I didn't quite know what I'd do with it but I wanted to show myself I could do it.

When the first cookies came out of the oven, I realized they had to sit a bit to be cool enough to roll. Yes, I learned this by first trying to make them comply and watching one  crumble to sticky bits clinging together. I waited a few more minutes and was able to roll the sides but the middle was still too warm to manipulate. Final method: Wait 7-8 minutes, then roll them up as desired. For the smaller cookies, it was important to roll them after around 5-6 minutes of cooling as they set up a bit more quickly. Using this method I was able to keep baking and rolling while starting the panna cotta.

Rolled Florentines

Cone Shaped Florentine with Round Florentines around it

For the panna cotta, I decided I'd make 2 flavors. Why not? I knew the lemon flavor had come out well before so I decided to go with it and since I needed to use provided recipe I chose to take the vanilla recipe and modify it. I didn't want to be overnrun with panna cotta though. I halved each recipe and to the vanilla panna cotta recipe provided I added 1/2 c. of pureed strawberries. (I just dropped about 12-15 berries in the mini food processor and went to town. The cats weren't fans but it only took a minute or so.)

I started the strawberry first, then shifted to the lemon. As I started the lemon recipe, I realized I had already grated the peels off my lemons in the fridge. Ooops. While it was now 6 am and I could go to the grocery, I didn't want to leave. I decided to work with what I had. Surely there was something here that would work. Then I noticed the bag of tangelos on top of the fridge. Yes, that'd be different and tasty, rather like an extra flavorful version of a meyer lemon. I added 1/4 of a lemon worth of juice, 1/4 of a tangelo worth of juice and all the gratings off a tangelo to my half recipe of the "lemon" panna cotta. After about 15 minutes, both were done. I set them off their respective stove eyes to cool.

The only clear containers I had that would work well were some white wine glasses a friend had given me. Perfect. I poured lemon tangelo and strawberry panna cotta halfway into each glass. Then I set the glasses at an angle in the fridge. As I shut the fridge door, I heard a clatter! My heart fell. Upon opening the door, I found a mess! No problem, only 2 had spilled. I quickly cleaned up the spill, wiped out the glasses and started again. This time, I decided to use an 8x4" Pyrex pan to hold the glasses in place. This worked pretty well....except, the strawberry was taking forever to set up and the lemon tangelo was setting up very quickly.

Solution? The freezer! I stuck the strawberry pana cotta's in the freezer and turned back to the stove to make the cherry gelee. I added 2 tsp of gelatin to 1 c. of cherry juice (which had already been combined with 1/3 c. sugar)  and let the gelatin sit about 10 minutes while I dealt with cookies. Then I turned the heat to low and heated the cherry sauce until it thickened to a very thick syrup. I let the cherry gelee cool and checked on the panna cotta. Fabulous! The strawberry had firmed in the freezer.

I added the cherry gelee and followed it with a layer of panna cotta. To get good edges, I wiped with dampened napkins. The process was a little frustrating but worth it when I looked at the finished product. I set the panna cottas in the fridge and got ready for work. Once ready to go, I grabbed my camera for a few pictures. The strawberry was still pretty soft but the lemon had set up quite a bit. I popped a cornucopia cookie in the top. Success.

Lemon Tangelo Panna Cotta with a stripe of Sour Cherry Gelee and a cone shaped Floretine on top!

Lemon Tangelo Panna Cotta on the left, Strawberry Panna Cotta with Lemon Tangelo Panna Cotta on the right, each with a cherry gelee stripe and a rolled Florentine

Tasting: I loved the flavor and texture of the lemon tangelo panna cotta in the morning. The warm strawberry one tasted a bit like gelatin to me. By evening, the lemon tangelo was a bit too thick for my liking but the strawberry was delicious and had a fabulous texture. Next time, maybe I'll make the lemon tangelo using the Giada de Laurentiis recipe. I had two flavor testers who really like the strawberry but wanted to try the lemon tangelo with a bit less thickness. That will have to wait for another day! The cookies were super. They start out tasting lightly sweet and then you taste the surprising sweetness of the honey. At once they are crunchy and a little chewy. They're such a tasty treat, I'm surprised not to have had one before now.

If you don't try anything else from this challenge, try the cookie. The recipe is easy enough to make with small kids and they're tasty enough to satisfy. Some folks dipped them in chocolate for extra sweetness. They were sweet enough for me but I'm sure they'd be great that way too.

Thanks for a great challenge!


Lemon Panna Cotta:

Vanilla Panna Cotta and Florentines:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Double Take: Savory Galette from Made with a Twist


What looks like a pizza and acts like a pizza but doesn't get prepared like, taste like, or happen to be a pizza? 

Answer: A savory galette.

Savory Herbed Tomato and Spinach Galette
Today's random recipe started out as a selection from Cake Duchess. However, on further inspection, the explanation for the crust got fairly confusing. Mel found that Made with a Twist was using the same recipe, same original book but had a clearer explanation of what to do with the crust. 

Since I'm prone to change recipes, there wasn't much chance of my maintaining the filling here. I did use the recipe stated on Made with a Twist to prepare my dough, with only one exception. I didn't have plain cornmeal. Every southern girl keeps self rising cornmeal! (Well, probably not every one but this one sure does.) I didn't add any extra flour, but I wanted to do that quite badly. The dough tasted great. There was a hint of the cornmeal with a texture somewhere between pizza dough and pie crust but without the yeast from the pizza dough and without the stiffness of pie dough. I liked it. I do think it would've been easier to manipulate with another 1/3 c. of flour. I would encourage adding a little flour in the future, just to make it less of a gooey mixture. 

On to the filling, I liked the idea of tomatoes and cheese but I wanted to amp it up a bit. I'm in the process of trying to cook things to clear out freezer space and I happen to really like spinach. As a result, I added spinach and a few spices to jazz this to my palate. 

I'd encourage anyone else to change the filling to suit their tastes. I liked this version but to each her own! 

Tab's Filling for Savory Galette

1 medium tomato sliced into rounds
8 oz spinach, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1 c. mozzarella
1 Tbsp parmesan
1/2 Tbsp rosemary (fresh is best)
1/2 Tbsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ( I prefer Greek)
salt and pepper to taste

How To:

In a saucepan or frying pan, heat the olive oil.

When the olive oil is hot, add spinach, onions, salt and pepper to taste, garlic, and garlic powder. 

Cook until the spinach is dry and the onions are lightly browned. 

Sprinkle rosemary and basil on the bottom of the galette. (Leave a 2 -3 inch border.) 

Add 1/4 c. Parmesan in the center of your galette. 

Top the cheese with the spinach mixture. 

Add the rest of the Parmesan. Layer the tomatoes on top and sprinkle with oregano, parsley and coarse salt. 

Roll up the sides of the galette, adding folds as you wrap up the sides. 

The dough was pretty sticky! 

Bake at 375 F for 30 min or until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is melted. 


It looked great when done though!

Let me taste it for you...Its a flavor party with each taste exposing  rosemary, basil, oregano...mmmm!

Everyone at work thought it was a pizza that smelled really delicious. I thought it was good straight out of the oven and good reheated in a toaster oven. I would definitely about 1/3 c. more flour to the dough mixture in the future to make it easier to manipulate. I really enjoyed the distribution of herbs that gave each taste something a little bit different. Thanks to Made with Twist and Cake Duchess for making this appetizing enough to try ourselves!

Hop over to Mel's blog to see what she thought!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Double Take: Chimichangas from Krista's Kitchen

This blog post was delayed by a terrible reaction to giving blood and a graduate student's tendency to make to do lists that would exhaust superman. Maybe one day I'll get ahead on the lists. Exciting note: I was only missing one item on my to do list for Saturday so that's a start.

Today (Thursday if you checked Mel's blog) marks an important moment for our weekly double takes. We've been posting recipes from the All new Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook for about a year now. While some recipes we've liked, we've found several we didn't. For future selections from Southern Living, read as many reviews as possible from and keep a backup plan. As for us, we feel that the book might be best used as cat scratching device. Starting today, double takes will instead be featuring recipes from our favorite blogs. Its kind of funny to me, because when Mel and I first started cooking together (then at the same place, same time), we cooked recipes from the internet. We were almost always pleased so I'm excited about this change. Is there a recipe you've seen that looks delicious on a blog but you hesitate to make it? If so, send it our way, and we might test it to improve your confidence. :)

Our featured blog of the week is Krista's Kitchen. She made a healthier version of chimichangas. How?....She substituted a few lower fat ingredients and baked them instead of frying them. Spoiler alert!!!! I liked them better baked!

How To:

(I'm giving the rundown here but at the bottom, I'll post the link for Krista's recipe so you can get the measures. I'm clarifying a few things in my how to that will save you some time and hopefully help make these even easier to prepare.)

1. Decide how many you want--the full recipe makes 6 chimichangas suitable for a single serving each. (I made half a recipe.)

2. Boil some water, then add your chicken. For half a recipe, 2 small chicken thighs yield the perfect amount of chicken.

2b. Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350 F.

3. Chop up onions and toss all ingredients to be cooked with chicken in a small saucepan or skillet.

4. Remove chicken from water. DON"T PITCH THE BROTH!!! When it is completely cooked, shred with a fork and toss in the sauce pan on medium heat.

5. Heat your tortillas briefly. (30 s in the microwave worked well.) I kept mine in a plastic container to prevent tortilla dehydration. A lightly dampened lent free towel would work well too.

6. Fill tortillas. I like to place the filling in central stripe. I sprinkled liberally with cheese. Krista recommended 2 Tbsp but I look at that as more guidelines than rules. I was probably using about 3 Tbsp of cheese but you could certainly use more and they'd be even more lovely. Then I fold the upper and lower ends inward. Then I fold the left and right sides inward. Do this any way you like but if you fold the shorter ends in first, I think it holds closed a little better.

7. Place filled tortillas seam side down in a casserole pan. (An 8x8 works well for 6. I used a 4x8 for 3 but you could use and 8x8 if you want.) Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes or until you get a lightly browned crispy crust.

8. While your tortillas bake, its sauce time! If you keep half and half at home, good for you. (Are you a coffee addict?) if you don't, (What's up? Don't you like coffee? What do you mean heavy cream is more common in your fridge? [Um yeah the latter is definitely me though.]) If you're in the no half and half category, you can sub 1/2 cream, 1/2 milk to make 1/2 and 1/2. No, it won't be fat free. However, you won't have an extra container of heavy cream with no clue what to do with it either. I used 1/2 portion of cream and 1/2 portion of 2% milk. Mix the homemade or store bought half and half with flour until smooth.

9. I repeat, make sure you mix the half and half with flour until smooth before heating. Otherwise it will clump in the hot fluid and it will never truly be smooth. This is also true for cornstarch in recipes. The goal here is that the flour with milk is going to thicken your sauce.

10. Snag a cup of broth from the chicken you boiled earlier and boil it with 2 tsp. of chicken boillion granules and a little pepper. (I have come to like Better than Boillion. Use what you like.) What's that? You dumped the broth from the chicken? Its ok. Use 1 c. from a can of chicken broth or use water with 1 Tbsp of chicken bouillion granules.

11. Stir in your half and half /flour slurry. Cook on medium heat and stir/whisk until thickened.

12. Add 2 Tbsp (or more depending on your heat preferences) of chopped green chilies to your sauce.

13. Pull out those light browned, crispy chimichangas and serve a little sauce on top. Feel free to add a dollop of salsa too! Yum!

Mmm. Look at that cheesy goodness!

My thoughts:

I really liked the baked chimichangas. The sauce was ok, but I'm a cheesy sauce kind of gal. I thought the chimichangas were great with just salsa on top. If reheating the sauce, add some water or it will get a little clumpy for you. I'd definitely make this again. Its a tasty meal and fairly quick. I might try a different sauce in the future or just not bother with the sauce altogether. My salsa of choice this time was Pineapple Peach Chipotle. Mmmm.

Check out Krista's blog for the full recipe and maybe look around  - who knows what else you'll find there.

Also, pop over to Mel's blog to see what she thought of Krista's Baked Chimichangas.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Double Take: Baked Potato Soup

While thinking about how to write up this soup, I couldn't get the following song out of my head.

"Won't yoooouuuu bring back? Won't you bring back?...Mrs. Muuuurphy's chowder!"

Its a song about a soup that had a little bit of everything in it and is very silly. If you've never heard it before, here's a pretty good version of it. The video is a little jumpy but the sound quality is good.

Its just a silly song which is probably why I like it so much. This soup isn't Mrs. Murphy's chowder. However it could easily be adapted to have many more elements to make it more fun to eat. When I cook, I tend to adapt things to my taste anyway. This recipe is no exception but I did try to minimize my changes so that I was pretty well evaluating their recipe. One thing that couldn't be helped was the addition of 4 cloves of garlic. Clearly, they must have ACCIDENTALLY forgotten to list it, right? Right? Oh well, garlic was in there and I'll go ahead and tell you that my friend Lauren and I really enjoyed it. It was great on a chilly day. As a Southern girl, it didn't feel right to eat "tater soup" without cornbread so I stirred up some homemade cornbread and popped it in the oven while the soup simmered on the stove. I'll list out how I made it and you can judge for yourself.

Baked Potato Soup (adapted from Southern Living)  (This version makes 4-5 servings)

3 - 4 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 c. 2% milk
1/2 tsp salt
a pinch of black pepper (seriously, if you want to measure 1/16 tsp go for it)
1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
4 slices of bacon, cooked

How To:

1. Wash potatoes with soap and water. (If you need to know why, consider that this is root vegetable and the skin can have exposure to manure when fertilized. Need I say more?)

2. Pierce the potatoes with 2 to 3 lines along one side to give them "room to breathe" (a.k.a. airholes for steam to escape). Place the potatoes in the microwave for about 10 minutes.

3. Cook your bacon. Go ahead and cook it in the pot you plan to make the soup in if you like. When the bacon is done, leave the bacon grease in the pot. You'll be glad you did later. Bacon grease gives good flavor.

4. Add 1-2 Tbsp of butter to the pot along with your bacon grease. (If your bacon made over 1 Tbsp of grease, just use one Tbsp if you like. If you don't prefer bacon, just use 2 Tbsp of butter, no problem.) While the butter heats to a medium heat setting, chop up your onion and garlic. Check your butter/grease temp by wetting your finger tips with water and flicking your fingers. Don't stand to close. If you get a nice popping, toss in your onions and garlic.

5. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions are tender, taking on a yellowing color. Add 1/3 c. all purpose flour and stir around until you have a paste. (This is pretty much making a gravy base.)

5.5. While the onions are cooking and the potatoes are cooling is a good time to stir up your cornbread.

6. Peel the skins off your potatoes and mash them up with a fork or potato masher. (You can even use a pastry cutter if it makes you happy.)

7. When your flour mixture is smoothly incorporated (no dobs of dry flour), add the cream, milk, potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook at a simmer until you're ready to eat. I simmered this mixture for at least 20 minutes because was waiting on the cornbread to get done. I think simmering 20-30 minutes is a good plan to let the flavors come together but its up to you. Most soups taste better after they sit a bit.

8. Top with cheddar and crumbled bacon. Don't forget some butter for your hot cornbread.


Lauren and I both liked this soup. I realize my preparation changes may have enhanced the flavor some but in general the changes were slight (using bacon grease and adding garlic). I also used black pepper instead of white pepper. It kept the recipe a little simpler. If you want to make this more festive you could also add green onions and even steam some broccoli and throw it in the soup. I would not substitute one onion for the other. The base has to have something to give it body and flavor. Note: My mom doesn't cook with onions or garlic. Growing up we ate potato soup though. She always sliced the potatoes and boiled them before making a broth. When she cooked her broth she added a lot of chives. The chives are not as flavorful as making a soup base with onion. If you have no other option, use chives but don't expect your soup to have as much body or flavor.

Check out Mel's reaction and see her version of this recipe at Fabulously Fun Food.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Double Take: Mississippi Mud Cake

Mel and I have not made many desserts from this book for multiple reasons. 1) Limited supply options for Mel in Germany. 2) Limited desire to make certain things that were actually options to prepare. 3) I make a fair amount of desserts already. (Although this blog doesn't accurately reflect this fact, I'm working on that. Prepare yourself for drooling coming soon.) Either way, this cake sounded tasty. It also had a pretty short time committment and Mel could get the ingredients. I decided to make it for my friend Jon's birthday. Mel planned to make it for some dinner party guests. Sometimes the best laid plans don't work out as planned though. Mel had a major shift to her plans so the post was delayed. I did make the cake for Jon's birthday though.


  • 1  cup  butter, melted
  • 2  cups  sugar
  • 1/2  cup  unsweetened cocoa
  • 4  large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 1 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2  cups  coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1  (10.5-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
  • Chocolate Frosting


Whisk together melted butter and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in flour and chopped pecans. Pour batter into a greased and floured 15- x 10-inch jellyroll pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; top warm cake evenly with marshmallows. Return to oven, and bake 5 minutes. Drizzle Chocolate Frosting over warm cake. Cool completely.
Note: 2 (19.5-ounce) packages brownie mix, prepared according to package directions, may be substituted for first 7 ingredients. Stir in chopped pecans. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Proceed with marshmallows and frosting as directed.

Yield: Makes 2 cups


  • 1  (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2  cup  milk
  • 1/4  cup  butter, softened
  • 1/3  cup  unsweetened cocoa


Beat all ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Comments on the recipe: There's no way this chocolate frosting will drizzle. While the marshmallows are hot, drop blobs around the top of the cake. Gently smooth the chocolate frosting to cover the top of the cake. Don't panic, it will smooth out and taste good. Total time commitment for this cake is about 1 hour.

Reaction: Jon: I hate marshmallows. Me: Oh no, I had no idea. Jon: Huh, doesn't taste like marshmallows but a bit too rich for my taste. Others: Wow, this is super rich, like eating fudge. Only a couple of us that night really enjoyed it and the others felt it was quite rich. I was admittedly a bit bummed by this. However, I knew who would like it. Mary, my coworker, loves rich desserts. She was certainly underwhelmed by the entremet but was sure to be pleased with this cake made the same week. (I told you I made a lot of desserts. This was more than normal though.) I thought others in the lab would like it too. 

I placed it in a humble wrapping of aluminum foil and set it out on the breakroom table. The responses were in line with what I'd hoped to hear the night before, Yay! It was devoured. Mary came to let me know that "this was more like it Tabs". Folks went back for multiple pieces and a daugher of one co-worker asked if I'd teach her how to make it. She's in 7th grade and her mom doesn't make desserts very often. Its not part of their culture. I was pleased. I told her sure and when people were asking the next day if any was left, I knew this was an unquestionable winner of a recipe. Warning: This is not for crowds which don't enjoy eating pieces of fudgelike richness. In other words, this is great for most groups and would be a major hit for a family reunion. Jon said he preferred my blueberry pie. I'll try to get that one up soon.

Final assessment: At least 15 people thought this was fabulous and went back for more. 5 people felt it was a bit rich. I thought it was delicious but best eaten in small quantities. Enjoy!

Make sure to stop by Mel's blog to see what she thought of it.