Monday, December 20, 2010

Consider Contract Employees in 2011

As a technical recruiter at HRU, Technical Resources, and a cooking/baking obsessed lady in Lansing, Michigan, I wanted to create a blog that reflects all of my passions.  Please check out my first HR related blog entry in this blog!

Recently at ERE, Dr. John Sullivan wrote an extensive article focused on “What’s Wrong with Reference Checking?” that had a side note on the benefits of hiring employees first on a temporary basis.  Dr. Sullivan argues that reference checks are not a solid indicator of current and future performance due to a wide range of variables.  The questions reference checks ask are not always good indicators of performance (job title, dates of employment, personality traits).  Work environments will not be the same from one department to another, much less from one company to another.  Hiring employees on a temporary basis as contractors can provide a more complete view of how an employee will function in your company’s unique environment.  

As we finish out 2010 and begin to enter Q1 of 2011, most companies are winding down for the season.  While the entire company is wrapping things up and shutting down, the corporate HR team is frantically ironing out the last bits of a staffing plan for 2011. 
Not only is choosing to add headcount a concern, but so too is recruiting top talent to the organization.  The economy in Michigan is beginning to pick up – slowly but surely – as we have companies like Chrysler hiring 1,000 additional workers in 2011.  While the unemployment rate across the nation is still high, we are beginning to see organizations add employees.  The market is about to become more competitive.  People are receiving offers from multiple organizations – how will you stay competitive this year, while ensuring that you find the top performing candidates for your company?

One solution to both of these issues; attracting top talent and ensuring that you have hired high performing individuals, is to work with a staffing company to hire contract workers.  Corporate recruiters do not always have the time and resources to dedicate to lengthy sourcing and hunting efforts.  Many companies simply cannot afford to purchase access to resume databases, take time to post to college websites, or develop their networks to find the right person for the job.  You're working on keeping your current employees happy and ensuring all of the other parts of the HR world are kept in balance!  

Working with a staffing firm can help to streamline the very best candidates directly to your try and find and less to review and screen out, as the staffing agency has already done that part for you.

An outstanding technical recruiting team will work with you to really understand the cultural fit at your company, how you would like the interview process to be run, and fully comprehend your time frame and on-boarding process.  You should be able to treat an agency recruiter as your dedicated recruiter/hunter.  If you are not getting this level of service from your current agency, consider exploring your options!

When you have identified a candidate that you would like to bring on board to your company you can do so on a contract basis.  This allows you a unique opportunity to discover whether or not this individual is the perfect person for the job with as little risk to your company as possible.  Hiring someone directly does not allow you this freedom!  With a good staffing agency, this person is still receiving benefits and a good pay wage, it is simply a chance for both of you to test each other out and ensure a good fit.  

Would you propose to marry someone you had never taken out for coffee or to your favorite local restaurant?  Not very likely – hiring contractors is a great way to “date” an employee before you decide to fully invest and offer that “engagement ring” of a direct position.  Staffing companies can provide a wide range of options include six month contract to direct positions, long term contract (with the potential to hire that individual directly at any time), and they can also assist with direct-hire opportunities.

Companies are adding to their headcount, but they are doing so after taking the time to ensure the person is needed.  It is critical that positions are absolutely necessary before a requisition is created.  With all of the time, effort, and money that go into ensuring a person is needed for a job, shouldn’t the same amount of care be taken to ensure the individual is a solid fit and an outstanding performer?  Working with a staffing agency can help you to meet these goals.

What are your staffing expectations for 2011?  How will you ensure that your company finds and retains the very best employees?   

Friday, November 5, 2010

Skinny Monster Cookies

Sometimes, you just get a craving for a simple home baked cookie.  One without fuss and that will please your friends and family that are coming to visit for the weekend.  Monster Cookies fit the bill exactly.  The traditional Monster Cookie recipe calls for peanut butter, no flour, and an insane amount of refined sugar and butter.  I dug around on the blogosphere and through Google trying to find a recipe I could modify.  Although I was willing to buy M&M's and make a delicious American cookie...I was not willing to consume extra calories unnecessarily!

I have tried altering cookie recipes and I have found my limit on what I'm willing to compromise while still keeping the integrity of the cookie intact.  I believe cookies are a treat (it took a lot of experimenting with really bad healthy cookies to realize that...).  Cookies should not contain applesauce...they turn out with a weird texture...they should not contain water...again with the weird texture.  They need enough fat so that they are not big blobs of unappetizing puffy dough!

They don't have to be laden with butter, eggs, and sugar, in fact I really enjoy making vegan cookies, but they must be held to a high cookie standard!  I like my cookies to spread in the oven.  I like them a bit fluffy and a bit chewy.  I have modified a chocolate chip pecan cookie recipe that turns out quite well and the secret ended up being in using milk.  I also like using flaxseed + water to replace an egg or all eggs.  It is a great egg replacer in cookies because it is very hard to taste.  I knew I wanted a delicious authentic cookie, but one that I wouldn't feel guilty eating.  Cookies are an important part of life!

My husband's grandmother and mother used to make a Kitchen Sink/Monster Cookie recipe.  He's a huge fan of the "fresh out of the oven" chocolate chip pecan cookies.  Recipes vary from across the nation.  The undisputed must-have ingredients include M&Ms, peanut butter, and oats.  I jazzed it up a bit, reduced some sugar and fat, utilized what I had on hand...and wallah, instant satisfaction.

Meet the Skinny Monster Cookie!  This recipe is based off of a combination of the recipe from The Pioneer Woman and from Diet Recipes Blog.  It will most assuredly satisfy your chewy, gooey, chocolatey - and yet fiber filled and semi-healthy (I'm fairly certain flax seed and whole wheat flour automatically cancel out butter and sugar), craving!  It will also win you friends and influence people, especially if those people are of the male college student variety, which is precisely the category my weekend visitors fall into.  Enjoy!

(makes about 27 cookies)

1 cup of M&Ms (Sunspire Drops are a great alternative, but too expensive for those who don't care!)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar (I used crystallized cane sugar)
1/2 cup of brown sugar (scant)
1/2 cup of almond butter (peanut butter is more traditional!)
4 T butter, room temperature (let it set for at least 30 mins prior to mixing)
1 cup of rolled oats
1/4 cup dried coconut (I use unsweetened)
1 egg
1 T ground flaxseed mixed with 3 T water (let stand 5 mins)
1 t Karo corn syrup (I have a bottle left over from last year's candy making, you could easily use agave syrup instead!)
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 c whole wheat flour (traditional Monster cookies do not have flour, but I think that's just a sugar overload waiting to happen).

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Cream the butter and sugars.  Add in the egg and flaxseed/water mixture.  Add in the almond butter, oats, corn syrup, M&Ms, coconut, baking soda, and salt.  Combine using a low speed mixer or some heavy duty spoon work!  Mix in the flour.  Drop by tablespoonful onto a baking sheet - leave about 1/2" between cookies to allow for spread.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Take the sheet out of the oven and let it sit for 2-5 minutes before you remove the cookies to your drying rack!  If you try to remove them immediately, they will crumble.  This is important with a lot of soft and chewy cookie varieties.  Bake all of the batter until finished.  Be sure to lick the spoon and perhaps the bowl.  After all, it is almond butter and must be good for you with all that fiber and beneficial protein and omega-3's!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weeknight Meal: Rainbow Trout, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, and Steamed Kale

I think that women get the raw end of the deal in terms of relationship responsibilities.  Not only do we work our long hour jobs, but, we also magically become responsible for all household tasks.  In addition to working 40+ hours at an amazing job, I get to be responsible for putting solid healthy food on the table, cleaning and straightening the apartment, keeping track of our familial obligations and schedules, and doing other major cleaning tasks such as vacuuming and doing laundry.  Now, granted, my husband DOES pitch in when I ask him to, and he does do laundry when he "has time."  This does not mean, however, that I am no longer seen as responsible for these items.  I feel guilty when I don't meet them all!

Is that mostly my fault?  Yes, maybe it is.  I'll admit that!  I thoroughly enjoy cooking.  I love preparing meals, coming up with new things, and putting really tasty and healthy food into my body and the bodies of those I care about.  It is amazing to realize that people are being nourished, mind/body/soul, by your food.

To keep everything in balance and to ensure that I don't burn out, I need quick week night meals.  Quick meals that don't involve pasta every night.  I really do not like boxed dry pasta.  I wish I did.  It makes fast meals much, much easier.  But, I don't.  I would rather do quick baked potatoes, 5 minute cous cous (any type can be done this quickly - boil water, add cous cous, let sit 5 mins with the lid on, fluff with fork - ta da!), bread, or cook rice in advance.

I'm also trying to plan my meals out over the weekend.  This way, I can ensure that I have everything on hand for cooking this week.  It also means I make less trips to the grocery store, which helps stop me from running out to pick something up...and spend more it is a very thrifty endeavor as well!

Tonight's quick meal, brought to you courtesy of 7:30 am - 4:30 pm work shift, 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm yoga class, and picking the husband up from law school at 7:15 pm, was fish.

Fish is my go to quick protein.  That, and a can of low sodium black beans or chick peas!  Fish cooks in a matter of minutes and you can use your typical pantry staples to make it taste delicious.  Try any type of vinegar - red wine, cider, or balsamic - a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and you're good to go.

Tonight's fish was 2 rainbow trout fillets (on sale, of course), farm fresh from Canada...mashed sweet potatoes...and steamed kale.

I boiled the sliced sweet potatoes before I picked him up.  I cut up the kale and put it in the pot.  I cut up some onion and put it in my cast iron pan.  Once I got home, I simply put the heat on the kale.  The water from washing it made a sort of steamed kale.  I added a bit of s and p and called it good.  While the kale cooked down, I heated up some sesame seed oil in the case iron pan, and then added the two fillets (skin side down).  While these were going, I made a quick blueberry grunt on the stove top!

Blueberry Grunt
Take about 1 cup of blueberries, add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 tablespoon of honey.  While this cooks for 2-5 mins, make standard sweet dumplings.  I made up a recipe:

1/2 cup buckwheat flour (milled and grown in Massachusetts!)
1/8 t salt
1 T sugar
1 T butter
1 t baking powder

Mix the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter in with your fingers until you have small crumbs.  Then, add just enough milk to make it a moist batter (roughly 1/3 cup).  Drop the dumplings onto the top of the blueberry mix.  Cover with the pan's lid and cook on low/warm for 15 mins.  Serve with a bit of vanilla ice cream!

To the fish, I added black pepper and a few splashes of soy sauce.  Once the kale was mostly done, I flipped the fish (about 5 mins each side).  Then I drained the sweet potatoes and mashed them with a bit of sour cream.  And ta da!  Dinner is served, plus, dessert!

The dessert was added because I had delicious farmer's market blueberries.  I wasn't about to turn on the stove in this heat and humidity.  It was delicious.  The buckwheat flour by itself gave it a nutty texture that was fantastic with the smooshed blueberries and the melting ice cream.  Yum.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lansing and Fish Cakes

At the end of July, we moved from Sunderland, Massachusetts to Lansing, Michigan!

My husband is attending law school at Michigan State University.  He started orientation this week.  I am absolutely loving Lansing and East Lansing.  I started taking yoga classes with Hilltop Yoga and have been hunting for a job.

I'm looking for something where I work directly with people on a daily basis.  I enjoy recruiting and human resources functions.  I also like working in education environments.  I've been submitting my application to positions that meet these specifications.

In between application submissions, I'm working to get my "back to Michigan" life straightened out!  There is so much to do when you move from one state to another.  I finally obtained Michigan car insurance last week.  Now, I just need to get my Michigan registration and license plates, and the move will finally be complete.  

I have not had the energy to blog, although, I have been experimenting in the kitchen!  Plan to see blog entries coming soon!  Yesterday, I used left over pan fried lake trout to make baked fish cakes.  They were pretty good for a recipe made from scratch based on approximately 15 recipes I researched online! 

3 lake trout "steaks" - cooked and shredded
1 ear of fresh corn, cut from the cob
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1 T Worcestershire sauce  
2 t stone ground mustard
a dash or three of Tabasco sauce
1 t pepper, 1 t salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 t grated fresh ginger

Coat with 2 cups cornbread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients.  Shape into patties (make a ball, as if for meatballs, and then carefully flatten it).  Dredge in cornbread crumbs.  Place on a greased baking sheet.  Bake 10 - 20 minutes.  Serve with homemade tartar sauce (1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1 T relish)

Not bad for reusing leftovers.  They were actually better than the pan fried fish steaks were.  I plan on baking some loaves of bread on Thursday to take up north this weekend.  Now that we're home in Michigan, it is time to catch some fish and sun by Houghton Lake!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mexican Style Feast

I recently bought a 1960's Western American/Mexican cookbook.  It fit my "should I buy this" criteria of being old, unique, and containing recipes I didn't already own in another form such as a more comprehensive cookbook or a church cookbook.  Weather here in the Pioneer Valley has been quite hot lately.  Perfect weather for cooking on the stove top.  Perfect weather for Mexican style food!

At my friend Kate's house a few years ago, we made a huge Mexican style feast of slow cooked pork and homemade corn tortillas with all the fixings (including a stellar mole sauce of her own creation).  The corn tortillas require a tortilla press.  I do not have a tortilla press.  I don't want to buy another piece of kitchen equipment right instead of corn tortillas, I decided to make 50/50 (white/wheat) flour tortillas.  The recipe was much more simple than I anticipated.  I went to my trusted search website, and looked for a recipe.  I settled on one and modified it.

50/50 Tortillas

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3/4 cups of warm milk

Combine the flours, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in the vegetable oil.  Heat the milk in a microwave safe container (I use a glass measuring cup) in the microwave approximately 15 seconds at a time until it is warm to the touch.  Stir the milk into the flour mix.

Knead the mixture for 2 minutes.  Roll it into a tight ball and let rest in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a wet cloth, for 20 minutes.  This gives the flour's gluten strands time to relax.

Knead the dough briefly and separate into 10 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball.  Set the balls on a plate, cover, and let rest 10 minutes.

Roll out each piece of dough into a large circle.  If you find the dough springs back, simply set that particular piece aside and go to work on the next piece of dough.  This allows the gluten to relax and when you come back to the "trouble" piece, you will be able to roll it out more easily!  Dust them with a tiny bit of flour if you must, but, they stretch much better if you roll them slightly sticky.  I use a marble rolling pin and I absolutely love it for this type of task.  Roll out each piece and set them aside - do not let them touch each other or they will stick.  Setting them on a cookie sheet and on the counter top should work.

Heat a large skillet to medium high.  Place one rolled out tortilla on the dry, hot skillet.  Count to 30-40.  Flip the tortilla (I use a fork to pry up the edge and then use my fingers - be careful!).  Let it cook for another 30 seconds.  You should have light brown spots on both sides.  Set the tortilla to rest on a plate.  Do this with each tortilla until you are done.  You can stack them on top of each other.  You can also place them in a warm oven to keep hot.

- I rolled out 2-3 tortillas at a time, and then cooked them, so that my arms did not get so tired with the rolling.  It is work...but just think of all the glorious calories you're burning off while making your delicious dinner!

- Do not cook up the tortillas until your dinner is almost done!  You want the bread to be as fresh as possible.  It is okay to let the rolled out tortillas wait on the counter top - just be sure to cover them if you let them sit for longer than 15 minutes as they may dry out.

I served the tortillas with a recipe from the same old cookbook - Mexican Potted Steak - which is much more appetizing than it sounds!  It's a simple concoction of stewing beef with canned tomatoes (in my case, my husband cannot handle tomato chunks in his food), a chopped carrot, a chopped onion, diced green chiles, salt, pepper, and a bit of flour, with some frozen peas added in at the end.  I also took a stab at making refried beans...but that did not work out so well.  Oh well!  Just the first attempt! 

Now we have tortillas...dinner...but we were still missing something on a hot, steamy day in Western Massachusetts.  We were missing the beer!  I picked up a 22 oz. bottle of Berkshire Brewing Company's Hefeweizen.  They are hands down my favorite brewery.  Now, dinner is complete.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Homemade Healthy Granola

I adore making my own granola.  It is cheaper and healthier than buying it in the store - even buying it from the bulk bins!  The best part is that you can put anything you want in it.  Instead of simply using rolled oats, I like to use the rolled 5 grain cereal.  I also add puffed cereals to add bulk without adding many calories.  The density of the oats, honey/other sugars, and nuts and dried fruits are what makes most granola so high in calories.  The recipe below is one I whipped up this morning for breakfast.

3 cups of rolled 5 grain cereal (rye, wheat, oats, triticale)
3 cups of 7 grain honey puffed cereal (can use unsweetened or simply 1 kind of puff such as kamut)
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup oat bran
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup diced dates mixed with 1 T flour
1.5 T of light brown sugar
2 t olive oil
1/4 c - 1/2 c water

Mix the first ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine the light brown sugar, olive oil, and water.  Combine the two mixtures.  Add more water if necessary to make the mixture damp all over.  Bake on a cookie sheet for 30 mins at 300 degrees.

If you want clumpy granola - don't stir!  Watch it very carefully to ensure it does not burn.  If you do not want clumps, stir every 10 mins.

Take it out of the oven.  Stir it lightly and add in the diced dates.  Let cool completely before storing.  Will last 2-3 weeks in a cupboard.  Freezes very well!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Venison Steaks with Red Wine and Mushroom Reduction, Sauteed Kale, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Tonight's dinner utilized the last of my dad's venison steaks.  There's nothing better than home "grown" food.  I love knowing that my father, with nature's help, provided something I'm going to eat.  He even harvested the deer on the land that we own and nurture.  Whenever I tell friends that I've killed my own deer, they look at me funny.  You...killed...something?  Yes, yes I did.  I took steps to ensure that I would kill an animal in a humane way.  I connected with the nutrients I ingest in order to survive.  

I feel that people should reconnect with their food.  What a lot of people are now consuming is some food-like product in the form of a neatly packaged pink fleshy thing without fat, bone, or blood.  What you are consuming once belonged to a living animal.  We should be cognizant of this fact.  Living things die so that you may continue to live.  Even vegetables and fruits!

I believe that a person should be okay with that in order to eat something.  Or, if you aren't okay with consuming an animal, you should be a vegetarian or vegan.  Both lifestyles are perfectly fine and can easily be done in today's American society!

Personally, I would rather be an informed and caring meat eater.  Here in the Valley we have access to many amazing meat producers such as Piekarski's, Austin Brothers Farm, Chase Hill Farm, and Barnum and Buckley.  I feel fortunate to know where my meat is coming from.  I also buy meat from Atkins Farm and the local Whole Foods.  With all of this in mind, let me present to you my dinner on the fly.

Venison Steaks
Red Wine and Mushroom Reduction
Sauteed Kale
Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients (serves 2 with leftovers for 1 lunch)
3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
4 venison steaks
2 cups of red wine (merlot or cabernet sauvignon - $4 bottle from Whole Foods~)
1 bunch of lacinto kale (aka dinosaur kale)
1 T sour cream
4 white mushrooms
3 sprigs of chives (dried chives would work in a pinch!)
1 clove of garlic
herbs de provence
olive oil

(Note - I like to keep my seasonings simple when I'm using quality ingredients.  It's best to let them shine through!)

Peel, chop, and boil the sweet potatoes.  While they are cooking, work on the rest of the food.

Bring 2 cups of red wine to a boil.  Add a splash of dry sweet vermouth.  Reduce.
Saute 2 T chopped onion and 4 chopped mushrooms in 1 T butter until soft.  Add to red wine reduction.  Set on low heat and reduce while you prep the rest of the food.

Clean and chop the kale.  Using the same pan that you cooked the onion and mushrooms in, add 1 clove of chopped garlic and 1 T olive oil (I typically buy EVOO, but any fat will work!).  

Meanwhile, heat your cast iron skillet (you could absolutely use a regular skillet...but my in-laws bought us a wonderful cast iron skillet and I try to use it whenever I can.  Steaks are a great use for it!).  Season the venison steaks with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence (sprinkle a bit on each side).

Heat up the cast iron skillet.  Add a pat of butter and let it melt and bubble.

Heat your mushroom and onion - now kale - pan.  Add the lacinto kale.  Cook on medium heat until it yields some water.  Reduce and let cook 10 to 15 mins while the cast iron heats up.  

After 10 mins, add the steaks to the cast iron skillet.  Cook 3 mins each side - be careful not to over cook them!  Venison is extremely lean.  I actually over cooked my steaks a bit.  Over cooking venison will make it tough.  Better to under cook a little bit! 

While the venison cooks, drain your sweet potatoes.  Mash with an electric mixer (I use my Kitchen Aid!) and the sour cream and chives.  Set aside.

Turn off the red wine reduction.  Set aside.

Judge the kale depending on how soft you like it.  Turn off or turn the heat up as necessary.

Turn your steaks!

Shut off the cast iron pan.  Plate your steaks and let them rest a few minutes. 

Clean what dishes you can while these items are resting - the best tip my mother ever gave me about cooking (and she's given me many good tips!) is to clean as you go.  It saves a lot of time, energy, and grumbling after dinner.

And there you have it - Venison Steaks with Red Wine and Mushroom Reduction, Sauteed Kale, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  And on a work night, no less.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake with Strawberries

I'm really not a fan of cheesecake.  As a general rule, I don't think the calorie consumption that comes from eating blocks of cheesecake, is worth the fat intake and therefore the exercise after.  I'm willing to make full fat cheesecakes for my husband's birthday...but that's about it.  Other than that, I try to reduce the calorie content in all ways possible.

Another thing I am not a fan of is using eggs in dairy based desserts.  I love French cooking.  I should, therefore, love butter and eggs.  I am a butter convert.  I'm not an egg convert.  Don't get me wrong - eggs have their place.  Nothing beats eggs for making a fantastic cake or a show stopping yeast bread or coffee cake.  When it comes to desserts...I want to "have my cake and eat it too" by reducing the calorie and fat content.

This perspective makes me turn to egg substitutes such as mashed banana, ground flaxseed mixed with water, Ener-G egg replaces, and in the case of dairy based desserts, gelatin.  The gelatin I use is Knox's plain gelatin.  It contains something like 5 calories a packet!  It takes a little bit of time to get used to working with gelatin.  Gelatin is what enables me to make homemade marshmallows that stun the folks up at my parents' cabin on the lake!  "Gee, these taste just like the real thing!"  The real thing being Jiffy marshmallows.  Oye.  Anyhow, back to the cheesecake...

I buy 16 ounce containers of ricotta to make gnocchi, lasagna, or calzones.  I always have leftover ricotta.  I'm constantly searching for ways to use it up.  This recipe is a combination of researched recipes plus my own unique twists.  I hope that you enjoy it.

Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake with Strawberries
Original Recipe by Emily

1 graham cracker crust
8 to 10 graham crackers
2 T melted butter

Procedure for Crust:
Crush the graham crackers in a heavy duty plastic bag that is slight open.  I have found that rolling the crackers with my marble rolling pin works best.  Crush them to a fine crumb - the finer the crumb, the better the crust holds together!

Melt 2 T of butter in a microwave safe container in the microwave (heat 20 seconds, stir, heat for additional time as necessary).

Stir the butter and graham cracker crumbs together.  Press into the bottom of a 8 or 9 inch springform pan.

Bake the crust at 375 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

1/2 envelope gelatin
1/2 c cold water
2 oz milk chocolate
2 oz dark chocolate
1/4 c white sugar 
2 T agave syrup
4 ounces fat free cream cheese
6 ounces full fat cream cheese
1 c ricotta cheese
2 - 3 T cocoa powder
2 T flour

Pour the water into a small  pan.  Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in pan.  Let bloom 5 mins.  I'm not sure why it is called letting gelatin bloom...but there we have it!  Heat the pan over low heat until the gelatin dissolves.  Add the chocolate.  Continue cooking over low heat until all of the chocolate melts into the gelatin and water mixture.

Beat the cream cheeses and ricotta cheese.  Beat hard so that air works into the mix and it becomes fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until smooth (-ish - it is ricotta after all!).  Slowly mix in chocolate/gelatin/water mix and cocoa powder and flour.  The flour was added because of the amount of liquid in the mix.

Pour cheesecake batter into the graham cracker crust in the springform pan.  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours until set.  Decorate with fresh sliced strawberries!

Tip - when you go to release the cheesecake from the springform pan, run a butter knife under hot water.  Then, run the knife around the inside rim of the pan between the cake and pan.  This should allow you to release the cheesecake with ease!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cornmeal Bread

I'm heading out of town this week and I wanted bread to make a sandwich to take on the plane, as well as to leave the husband with enough bread to make sandwiches while I'm gone.  James Beard's Cornmeal Bread fit the bill.  I love this bread because of it's texture.  The cornmeal adds a great toothsome texture and makes it easy to slice for sandwiches and toast.

I never use solely all purpose white flour in my breads.  I find the quality is not nearly as good and filling as when I use whole wheat bread flour.  There is a co-op grocery store called Greenfields Market up in Greenfield, MA that has absolutely wonderful whole wheat flour in their bulk bins.  It's almost a red color.  I stock up on it whenever I can!

The recipe below is based on James Beard's recipe.  It contains my own variations.  Do not be afraid of the amount of salt!  It is necessary in order to control the rising of the bread.

 The finished loaf

1/2 cup cornmeal
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup "warm to the touch" water (use this level of heat for all water mixed with yeast)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1.5 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup of all purpose white bread flour (I used Gold Medal)
1.5 - 2 cups of all purpose white flour 

Procedure (more to come later!)

sliced loaf and free form loaf

I'm submitting this post to YeastSpotting!  First submission after 2 faithful years of reading!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Coconut Rum Rice Pudding

Last night the husband and I decided that we would spend our evening making a magnificent dinner - complete with appetizer, main course, and dessert.  He wanted me to make a rich custard or perhaps a flan.  I couldn't bring myself to do it.  When I'm already eating a fantastic meal, the last thing I want is a few hundred calories worth of eggs.  I can't handle the amount of eggs that most pudding and custard families call for.  So, I took my dilemma to the internet!  

I was out of milk.  However, I had a can of lite coconut milk!  Thus, I searched the food blogs for a coconut milk recipe.  I settled on a basic coconut milk rice pudding.  I had never made rice pudding until yesterday.  Can you believe it?  It is a very simple and homey recipe.  I had never made it!  Of course, I used a basic recipe and added some variations, and it turned out to be delicious.

Mix in saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes:
1 - 14 ounce can of lite coconut milk
1/2 cup of arborio rice
1/8 teaspoon of salt
2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg 

simmering the mixture
Remove from heat and stir in:
1 - 2 Tablespoons of rum
Let cool and then add 1 can of mandarin oranges.  Chill and serve!

Wallah - finished product!

  •  Stir with a whisk to prevent scalding the milk.
  • Cook a little under the amount of time requested, as rice continues to absorb liquid.
  • Try using pineapple or mango puree instead of the mandarin oranges.
  • Could substitute the rum for vanilla extract and water...but who would want to?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls

Last week I baked 50 cinnamon rolls as my contribution to the Sunderland Public Library book, bake, and plant sale.  Last week also happened to be my husband's birthday and I was short on time...  I ended up going to bed early on Thursday and getting up at 4:00 a.m. on Friday in order to prep the yeast dough and bake them off before work.  My time estimate was dead on - it took me roughly 3 hours from start to finish. 

I used my Aunt Carol's sweet roll dough recipe with a few variations.  I substituted some of the white flour for whole wheat flour and I used Gold Medal's bread flour instead of the all purpose flour. 

The cinnamon sugar combo was also of my own invention.  So are all of the times.  I finished the rolls off with a sumptuous cream cheese frosting.  I brought the extras in to work.  I ended up typing the recipe up from memory because a coworker wanted it!  I consider that a success.

Emily’s Cinnamon Rolls (makes 12-14)

Prep and resting time = 3 hours
Baking time = 20 minutes at 350 degrees

1 c milk
2 T butter
1 t salt
1 T active dry yeast dissolved in ¼ c “warm to touch” water
½ c white sugar
1 egg
3.5 c flour (I usually use half whole wheat and half unbleached white)
1 T melted butter
1 T cinnamon
½ t nutmeg
Pinch of cloves
2-3 T white sugar
1 T brown sugar

Combine milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a sauce pan. Heat until butter melts. Meanwhile, dissolve active dry yeast in warm water. Let stand 5 minutes.
Remove from milk mixture from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Combine milk mixture with yeast mixture.
In a large bowl, mix the flours. Add the milk/yeast mixture. Beat the egg and add it to the flour and wet mix. Combine well with a large wooden spoon (if available – it does work a bit better than a metal spoon!). Add flour as necessary to make bread dough.
Knead for 5 – 10 minutes until the dough springs back when poked with a finger (do not knead in too much flour; keep it tacky but not too wet or dry). Lightly oil (canola, olive, or PAM) the mixing bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and moisten the top with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set to rise until double (about 1 – 2 hours).
Knead the dough briefly. Roll out into a rectangle, with the long end facing you and the short ends to your right and left. Spread the melted butter onto the dough. Combine sugars and spices. Liberally dust the dough with the sugar/spice mix. Roll up (from end closest to you) – not too tightly, not too loose! To seal, pinch the dough together (end of the roll + rolled portion).
Slice with a large knife or a dough cutter into 1 inch portions. Place in a buttered dish, leaving approximately ½ inch between rolls. Press down lightly. Spray tops with a bit of oil spray (PAM or olive oil, canola oil, etc.). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until “double”, approximately 30 – 40 mins.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Let cool.

When cool, frost with whatever mixture you like! I typically use powdered sugar + vanilla + coffee. Try cream cheese + powdered sugar + milk, or simply powdered sugar + milk. Enjoy!