Baked Mozzarella Sticks

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Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner. And whether you are a Baltimore or a San Francisco fan, you’ll most likely be watching the big game. According to an article in the Washington Post, Super Bowl Sunday snacking is hazardous to your waistline (gasp)! Apparently, all the wings, chips, dips, beverages and snacking that goes along with the big game is second only to Thanksgiving in the United States with most food consumed in a 24-hour period.

For those of us with healthy eating New Years resolutions, navigating the snacks at your Super Bowl party might feel like somewhat of a minefield. In an attempt to lighten up one of my favorite appetizers, I went in search of a recipe for “healthy” mozzarella sticks. I was surprised to stumble upon several recipes that had great suggestions on how to slim down these deep fried treats. The recipe I’m sharing manages to do that simply by using reduced fat cheese and baking instead of deep frying. The taste is just as good, if not better, in my opinion. So if you’re looking for a healthier option for munching this Sunday, be sure to give these a try!

Baked Mozzarella Sticks
Adapted from Hungry Girl
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Ingredients
12 sticks part-skim, reduced sodium mozzarella string cheese
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp flour
5 tbsp Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
5 tbsp panko crumbs
1 tbsp dried thyme
olive oil cooking spray

Directions
Cut cheese in half to give you 24 pieces. In small bowl, whisk the egg. Place the flour on another small dish. In separate bowl, combine bread crumbs, panko, and dried thyme. Dip the sticks in flour, shaking off excess, then into the egg, then coat with the crumbs. Repeat this process with the remaining cheese placing them on a tray with wax paper.

When ready to bake preheat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly spray with oil. Place cheese sticks on baking sheet. Spray the tops of the mozzarella sticks with a little more oil and bake in the bottom third of your oven until crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and bake an additional 4 – 5 minutes watching them closely so they don’t melt.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
When baking your mozzarella sticks, it’s easy for them to melt before the crumbs get golden. To solve this problem, place your cheese in the freezer beforehand. Then, after coating the cheese with flour, egg, and bread crumbs—place the cheese back in the freezer until you are ready to bake.
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Angel Food Cake

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This past week there was a cold snap and even in DC temperatures were plunging into the teens. Being from Minnesota, the weather wasn’t exactly the catastrophe the newscasters made it out to be— but I will admit I was a little chilly. Growing up in a climate where 10 degrees wasn’t cold unless there was an accompanying wind chill, I’ve had fun watching people react to the snow in a more southern climate. Since moving to DC I’ve noticed two funny things that happen when it snows. First, people use umbrellas to cover themselves when it’s snowing and second, people use brooms to sweep their sidewalks free of the snow.

But enough about the cold weather and onto my baking adventures over the weekend. Since I was tucked inside when it was snowing on Friday night, I decided to try a new recipe that was a little more time intensive. I baked my first angel food cake. I’ve always been somewhat dubious when it comes to making a dessert that has no fat, little flour, and only egg whites. But I figured I would give it a shot. It didn’t turn out perfect (it takes some work to maintain the soft peaks of the egg whites while mixing in the flour) but it tasted absolutely delicious. The added bonus of this dessert is that it’s a little healthier than your average cake and can be paired with fresh fruit for an added nutritious boost.

Angel Food Cake
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
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Ingredients
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cake flour, sifted
12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon orange extract, or extract of your choice
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a food processor spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, orange extract, and cream of tartar. After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry).

Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
It’s essential that you’re careful separating your egg whites to ensure even the tiniest speck of yolk doesn’t sneak into your batter. When they’re cold, the yolks and eggs seem to hold their shape better and separate more easily. Since the recipe calls for room temperature eggs, just separate them first and let them warm in separate bowls. In addition, be sure to use the freshest eggs you can get, as they’re easier to separate.
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Caramel Corn

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Last weekend I saw my first Quentin Tarantino film—Django Unchained. I spent several parts of the movie peeking through my partially closed eyes as I tried to ignore exploding gunshot wounds and splattering blood. This Oscar nominated film tells the story of how a freed slave (Jamie Fox) sets out to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a brutal Mississippi plantation with the help of a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz). Although I wouldn’t consider this my top pick for Best Picture, I’d still give it 3 out of 4 stars. I’d recommend catching it in the theaters, and wouldn’t wait until it hits the Redbox.

To get you ready for some movie viewing in the upcoming weeks, I decided to post a caramel corn recipe. I didn’t realize just how simple this recipe would be. If you have popcorn and some corn syrup on hand, you’re basically ready to start eating some caramel corn. But beware… this stuff is addictive so be sure to have some friends around to help you eat it!

Caramel Corn
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Ingredients
7 quarts plain popped popcorn
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Place the popped popcorn into two shallow greased baking pans. You may use roasting pans, jelly roll pans, or disposable roasting pans. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat, and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will be light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the pans, and stir to coat. Don’t worry too much at this point about getting all of the corn coated.

Bake for 1 hour, removing the pans, and giving them each a good stir every 15 minutes. Line the counter top with waxed paper. Dump the corn out onto the waxed paper and separate the pieces. Allow to cool completely.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
When popcorn isn’t stored correctly it can lose its flavor and crispness. Keep your caramel corn fresh by storing it away from heat, moisture, and humidity. Try using an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag stored in a cool, dry place.
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Red, White and Blue Stained Glass Jell-O

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Being in our nation’s capitol during the presidential inauguration is a pretty magical time. There are several festivities including the presidential swearing-in ceremony, inaugural address, inaugural parade, and numerous inaugural balls and galas honoring the elected President of the United States—Barack Obama.

I was down walking around on the National Mall yesterday looking at all of the preparations being put into place. Today, hundreds of thousands of people will flock to the U.S. Capitol hoping to catch a glimpse of the swearing-in ceremony. It’s a powerful feeling to be a part of the festivities in the town. Although I won’t be on the west lawn of the capitol and I won’t be attending the inaugural ball at the convention center—I will be glued to my television for the better portion of the day.

In light of the inauguration, I decided to make a special red, white, and blue themed dessert for this special day. This recipe includes Jell-O and although it’s still the middle of winter, I thought it would be fun to spice things up a little bit. You don’t need your oven for this recipe—in fact, you only need three ingredients! If you’ve got time for the Jell-O to firm up (preferably overnight) this recipe is a breeze to quickly pull together for a party.

Red, White and Blue Stained Glass Jell-O
Adapted from Laura Clark
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Ingredients
2 boxes (6 ounces each) Jell-O in red and blue colors
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Water

Directions
For each color, dissolve one box of Jell-O in 2 cups of boiling water. Pour each color into an 8×8-inch square pan, and chill least 3 hours or overnight. After chilling the two pans of Jell-O, cut them into small blocks. Carefully mix the blocks in a 9×13-inch pan.

In a separate bowl, pour 2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin into 1/2 cup cold water. After the gelatin blooms, add 1 1/2 cups boiling water and dissolve. Add the can of condensed milk. Stir and let cool. Pour cooled milk mixture over Jell-O blocks in the 9×13-inch pan. Skim off any small bubbles that are created when you pour the condensed milk on the Jell-O pieces. Chill overnight or at least 3 hours until firm. Cut into blocks or shapes and serve.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
The tricky part of working with Jell-O can be simply removing it from the pan. Here’s a trick that’s sure to work every time. Grab a knife or rubber spatula, and work it around the edge of your pan to separate the edges from the pan. Next, fill your sink with hot tap water, and gently lower the pan into the water. Count slowly to 10. Now, put the pan on the counter, and place a cutting board on top of it. Hold the pan and cutting board together, and flip them over. The heat will have mostly detached the Jell-O from the pan, so wiggle or tap it gently to break the seal and let the Jell-O slide out.

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Choux Buns

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There is definitely an art to making pastries. Ask any seasoned pâtissière and she will tell you the tricks of the trade designed to make the perfect pie crust, croissant, etc. Yet somehow the process of making pastries has always seemed to be a skill that I have lacked. However, in an attempt to expand my baking repertoire, you can expect to see several new pastry recipes popping up in 2013.

For my first recipe I tried making mini choux buns, something I’d admittedly never heard of before. Yet they looked like one of the simpler recipes in my cookbook, so I decided it would be a winner. Choux pastry is a light pastry dough used to make several familiar desserts. Most popularly, it is used for the tasty éclairs and cream puffs that you see behind the glass doors of your bakery. It can also be fried to create mouthwatering beignets. The dough is quite simple containing only butter, water, flour, and eggs. There is no leavening agent, and instead the high moisture content creates steam during the baking process to puff the pastry.

Once you’ve cooked your buns, options are abundant for what you want to do next. You can slice them and pair with meat and cheese for a mini sandwich. You could present them plain, showing off the light and flaky crust. If you want to fill them with something, the sky is the limit—think whipped cream, custard, pudding, jam, or even something savory like a tuna or crab salad. Finally, don’t forget to garnish the top with a chocolate glaze, powdered sugar, caramel, or perhaps paprika to spice things up. These little buns truly are a versatile addition to your baking repertoire.

Mini Choux Buns
Adapted from Pastry Cookbook by Michel Roux
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Ingredients
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons butter, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 medium eggs
Egg-wash (1 medium egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)

Directions
Combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan and set over low heat. Bring to a boil and immediately take the pan off the heat. Shower in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Return the pan to medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute to dry out the paste, and then tip it into a bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon. Once the eggs are all incorporated, the paste should be smooth and shiny with a thick ribbon consistency. It is now ready to use.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. For small choux buns, put the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe small mounds in staggered rows onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or directly onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the choux with egg-wash and lightly mark the tops with the back of a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the outside of the buns is dry and crisp but the inside is still soft. Cool on a wire rack.

Once buns are cooled use a pastry bag to fill the choux buns with your filling of choice. Feel free to be creative. Pudding, custard, whipped cream, and jam are all viable option depending on the flavor you want to achieve. If you’d like a chocolate topping, melt chocolate over a double boiler and dip buns in the chocolate to coat. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Once cooked, it’s important to prick the base of each bun to release the steam that has helped it to rise. If left to go cold un-punctured, the steam turns back to water resulting in soft or soggy buns.
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