Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD: Nope! I'm on vacation!

Sorry, folks, if you were looking for coconut butter thins. First of all, my dislike of coconut is well documented. But more importantly, I'm on vacation in lovely South Carolina. Sorry all you Chicago people who got six inches of snow over the weekend!

Now that I told the people with whom I'm vacationing that I was supposed to make these cookies, I may end up making them anyway.

I'll be back next week with a delicious banana cream pie. Yum!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD: Blueberry Crumb Cake

I was very happy to see another cake. Especially coffee cake. Especially coffee cake with a streusel topping. I'm not generally a big fan of blueberries, but between Dorie's blueberry pie and this cake, I could be a convert.

Medium-low fuss factor this week. It was pretty easy with few components. First, the streusel gets made and put in the fridge. The recipe calls for walnuts, but I really don't like them, so I used almonds instead. I tried to do it in my Cuisinart mini-prep. It did not work well. I ended up finishing it by hand. Had I started it that way, I could have had fewer dishes. Ah well.

The cake came together in a snap. I love the way fresh lemon zest smells. Dorie put in a notation to use 2 tsp. of flour to mix with the berries. It's an important step. When the berries are coated in flour, they tend to sink less. I went with frozen berries this time around. I just find that the frozen berries from Trader Joe's are really good and fresh tasting.

Decent mix of berries to cake ratio. No sinking here!
You do have to be careful when mixing in blueberries. The batter can take on a really odd purple tinge. I kept my berries frozen until just before they were mixed in. I think it minimized the purple. The streusel got crumbled on top, and the cake went into the oven. Again, no sheet pan underneath. Mine cooked for 60 minutes.

The house smelled lovely. I brought it to a friend's for an open house. It received rave reviews there. And the pieces that I brought home were very quickly eaten by the husband and his two friends. This is definitely a keeper recipe. I may have to make it again next week for a vacation breakfast. The streusel topping alone was fabulous. Mixed with the cake it was scrumptious.

Mmmmmm. Streusel.
Dorie suggests that this should make nine servings. I cut mine into 16 pieces, and they were just right. Well, except for the husband and his friends. I think they would have preferred that I cut it into three pieces.

Golden brown and delicious.
You can find the recipe at Sihan's blog, Fundamentally Flawed. Good thing, too. You'll want to make this one.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Adventures in Cookbooking -- Week 5

And here we are with another cookbook that I'm surprised I haven't used before. It's 500 Five-Ingredient Recipes. Truthfully, it looks like a great springboard for meals. I can see adding fresh herbs or vegetables to some of these. It's not five ingredients any more, but I can live with that. By the way -- salt and pepper -- not included on the list of five ingredients. Is that cheating?

The recipe we chose was for orange molasses chicken. I would say that I used the essence of the idea and the ingredients, but I kind of changed it.

The idea is to make a glaze out of frozen concentrated oj, molasses, and onion powder. You broil some chicken and brush the glaze on it.

I needed to get the chicken cooked quickly, so I sliced it and sauteed it in some butter and olive oil. The boy helped me turn the chicken on the stove. Not bad for an almost-six-year-old! I made a sauce from regular oj, pomegranate molasses, and onion powder. We used it to deglaze the pan. I let it thicken a minute, added the collected chicken juices back in, and let it thicken some more. Then we poured it over the sliced chicken.

It was really good! It was simple and tasty, and everyone voted this on our "Let's make it again" list. I could see adding a few fresh herbs to make it even better. I served it with brown rice, and the nutty flavor of the rice blended very well with the sweet tang of the chicken sauce.
There's not much recipe to post. This one is pretty easily faked.
I'm off next week. We'll be on vacation. I'll continue my challenge after we return.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TWD: French Yogurt Cake

Mm mmm mmmm. Cake. I like cake. I've been looking forward to this cake for a while. It just sounded so simple and delicious.

And you know what? It is.

As far as Dorie's fuss factor goes. This was very low. I did it by hand. And I only used *gasp* ONE bowl. Ok, only one that needed washing. I wiped out the bowl with the dry ingredients in it and put it right back in the cabinet.

The boy helped me make this cake. He liked doing the pouring and zesting the lemon. I read that a few people had a problem with the cake sticking. I used a generous amount of Baker's Joy and had no problems at all. I made it a day ahead of when I was serving it. I didn't glaze it because I didn't want the glaze to stick.

And then I never ended up glazing it. Instead, I spooned some orange marmalade (Homemade! By me!) over each slice and topped it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. It was divine. The slight bitterness of the marmalade was a great contrast to the gentle sweetness of the cake. The whipped cream brought the whole thing together. I did use the almond meal, and I'm glad for it. It added another little flavor dimension.

This is definitely on my "make again. soon" list. It wasn't heavy as pound cakes can be. We only have one photo. We were too busy eating to care much about photography.

Makes me want to go down to the kitchen and have another slice.

Thank you Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction for choosing such a wonderful recipe. Go to her blog to get it for yourself. And then invite me over for some after you bake it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Adventures in Cookbooking -- Week 4

Again I'm surprised that I own a book this popular, and I've never used it before. This week was How to Bake: Complete Guide to Perfect Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Tarts, Breads, Pizzas, Muffins by Nick Malgieri.
It's a great read. And I know I've looked through it a number of times. But somehow, for some reason, this was the first time I cooked from it.
I chose a recipe called Soft Rolls. Pretty basic, hard to mess up, right? Ok, except I did. I'm not a novice with yeast. I am very comfortable with it. I make bread once or twice a month. Yet I could not get this recipe to work. I have to think it's user error, but I'm not sure where I went wrong.
The recipe gave options for a stand mixer, food processor, bread machine, and by hand. I have a Cuisinart that has a dough setting and a special dough blade. Easy! I follow the instructions. I mix the (maybe) seven ingredients. I put it in a greased bowl in a warm-ish place. I cover with plastic wrap. And nothing. Not a bit of a rise. Not even three hours later.
Ah well. I shaped it into rolls regardless. Maybe now they'll rise! Nope. In the oven with the heat? Yeah! Now they'll rise.
Nope. They were dense little nuggets of dough. I'll put the blame on my shoulders for now. Perhaps I'll test another recipe and see what happens.
So far, it's one keeper recipe as is, one keeper with modifications, one keeper for adults only, and one not-so-keeper. I'm on the look out for an easy roll recipe. We'll see what next week brings!
See, not soft in any way, shape, or form.
Hard, sad little rolls.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not a TWD. Instead, we celebrate Purim

Purim is a fun Jewish holiday. It's a celebration of a triumph. To help celebrate, the Jews are commanded to eat, drink, and share what we have with gifts of food and drink. I'm sharing our hamentaschen fest.

Here's a nutshell version of the Purim story. By the way, this is stolen word for word from Yael of Yael's Yummies. Her version is succinct and explains it well.

Tuesday is the Jewish holiday of Purim. "Pur" in Hebrew, means "lots" or "lottery". The holiday celebrates the bravery of Queen Esther and how she saved the Jewish people from the evil Haman (an advisor to the king) in Persia in the city of Shushan. He decided to do away with the Jews and drew "lots" to decide which day would be their doomsday. Queen Esther found out about his plan and basically ratted on him to the king (who up until that time didn't even know she was Jewish). Long, complicated story, but in short, she saved the day. The date that was originally chosen for the Jews to be destroyed , now became a day of celebration. It is a joyful, fun holiday , especially for children, who dress in costumes and parade around the city . The story of Queen Esther is read in synagogues throughout the world. It is a tradition that every time the name of Haman is mentioned, children and adults alike, shake noisemakers in the air, yell and shout, so as to drown out his evil name.

Side note: The story of Purim is called the Megillah. So if you've ever heard anyone talk about "the whole Megillah", it comes from reading the whole Purim story.

Anyway, on to the hamentaschen. Hamentaschen are filled sugar cookies that are traditionally served on Purim. The cookies are three cornered and meant to mimic Hamen's hat. At least that's what I was taught in Sunday School. There are other stories out there.

For the past four years, we've had hamentaschen baking parties. This year we had four five-year-olds and five eight-year-olds come to help us form the cookies. Traditionally, the cookies are filled with poppy or prune fillings. At our house we use chocolate chips, swirled chocolate chips, apricot jam, and raspberry jam. Any and all combinations of said ingredients can be used. One of the girl's friends has an egg allergy, so this is the recipe that I used.

It's a fun afternoon. I'm pretty sure that the kids ate as many chips as they put into the cookies. There was lots of giggling and messes, and it was just as it should be.

Here's a representative sampling of our goodies. The cookies turned out well this year. This just might be the recipe that I keep using, even if we no longer have an egg allergy.

The other TWD bakers made a lovely Lemon Cup Custard chosen by Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles. Check out her blog for the recipe. I'll be back next week with a yummy looking cake.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Adventures in Cookbooking -- Week 4

This week the girl "picked out" the recipe. Really, she wasn't all that interested. So many things to do in her almost-eight-year-old life. I was looking for a side dish this week.

Now that I'm really looking at my cookbooks, I wonder why I have some that I have. This week's book is called A Passion for Potatoes. It's a book where all of the recipes have potatoes of one form or another in them. Including desserts.

Back to the side dish. The recipe this week was Potatoes Gratin with Onions and Beer. See how perhaps the girl was led to this one. It's a pretty straight-forward gratin. Only the liquid is beer instead of cream or milk. I used a mandoline for the potatoes. (Indispensable kitchen item) The potatoes rest in the beer while the onions are caramelized. Then the onion, potato, and cheese are layered in a dish. The beer and potato starch are poured over the top. The whole thing gets baked for 1 1/2 hours.

It smelled great while it was baking. The verdict: good for the adults, not so good for the kids. The beer flavor was just too pronounced. I think it would be great for an adult barbeque. I'm not rushing out to make it again. Ah well.

Side note: I have a convection oven that I hate. Every time I try to use it, it takes longer than the stated cooking time. That isn't supposed to happen! I started this recipe in the oven and had to switch it to the convection. The top started burning almost right away. Anyone use one of these ovens with more success?

Here's the full pan.

A close up of the burnt top.

A serving of the potatoes.

Not the best choice this week. Ah well. There's always another cookbook and another week.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Armagnac Cake

Or, as Dorie also calls it, "The Cake That Got Me Fired." It's a good story. Go buy the cookbook and find out how it happened.

This is a (mostly) flourless chocolate cake with a rather adult edge to it. The original recipe called for whisky soaked raisins and almond meal. Dorie's version calls for Armagnac soaked prunes and pecan meal. Ok, she changed the recipe at the restaurant where she was working. That's why she got fired. Buy the book anyway.

I went with the original recipe. Remember this:

Whisky I had. Raisins I had. Ground almonds, yup, in the cabinet.

As I said before, flourless chocolate cake. I used many many dishes.

My last count was six cooking vessels. It's not a complicated recipe, but you need to know what you are doing. It's a medium-high fuss factor. I was a little confused with the instructions for the whisky soaked raisins. The prunes were boiled in water, steeped in the Armagnac, and then flamed a little. The raisins, as far as I could tell, were just supposed to steep for at least three hours. I decided to flame them before I added them to try to take a little boozy edge off of them. It didn't work.

I didn't follow the "put it on a sheet pan" instruction. I've found that the bottom of things don't cook as well when I do that. I also didn't bother taking it off the bottom of the springform before serving.

This is the finished, fairly unattractive cake.

Here's where I also veered away from the recipe. I chose not to frost it. I thought that it was rich enough without another layer of chocolate. I think it was a good choice.

What I did do was dust the cake slices with powdered sugar. It came out looking just lovely.

The verdict was mixed. The girl did not care for it. The boy ate up his entire piece. The husband, who is the whisky fan, really liked it. The husband's friends finished the rest of the cake. In one night. They liked it. I thought it was good, but the raisins were a little much for me. Ok, raisins would have been fine, it was the serious shot of whisky that came with each raisin that raised my eyebrows. Apparently, the prunes tend to melt into the cake, the raisins stay intact. The chocolate flavor was lovely. The texture was silky with the barest hint of crunch to the crust. I could see this adapting very nicely for Passover.

I'm glad to have tried it. Thanks to LyB of And Then I do the Dishes for choosing this recipe. Next week is my chosen "skip week." I'll have something else sweet up. Perhaps I'll do a two-fer and make it from a cookbook I've never used!