Sunday, March 30, 2008

Trial by Flour


Now that we have our Aero Garden and its fully mature I have to find ways to use an abundance of fresh herbs. I know its such a horrible problem to have. So I figured I could try out some new combinations for some biscuits. So I tried out a sundried tomato basil biscuit and a cilantro spice biscuit. I split the biscuit recipe in half and mixed in the add ins. This biscuit recipe I have changed up in alot of ways. It is really simple to change and adapt and gives you a good feeling to have something baked with in 20 minutes. So I will be enjoying these this afternoon. I think they would be a good addition to a brunch menu or appetizer party with some turkey and mozzarella cheese as a little sandwich.

Biscuits

2 ½ cups of flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup of cold unsalted butter cubed
1 ¼ cups of heavy cream


For Sundried Tomato Basil - add in 1/3 cup of basil (chopped), 6 sundried tomatoes (diced), 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (grated)

For Cilantro Spice - add in 1/3 cup of cilantro (chopped), 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add in the desired optional ingredients. Cut butter into the mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add cream until just combined. Dough can be dropped on to a parchment lined baking sheet or patted out and cut into biscuits. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. We liked the Sundried tomato ones better but I think the cilantro ones would be good as a breakfast sandwich biscuit.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Steak House Mushroom Crostini


I have always wanted to throw a proper dinner party but it seems like an awful lot of work. So what about just an appetizer party. So I have been trying to think of new and interesting appetizers and this is one of the ones I came up with. Now you may notice that some of the pictures have sauce and some do not. If you really like blue cheese by all means do the sauce its fantastic but if you want to cool it with the cheese then just do the crumbles on top. But the base of the crostini is a mushroom spread that is basically my mushroom pasta sauce. This was a nice combination of flavors with the earthy mushrooms, buttery steak, and tangy cheese. P really enjoyed it after the addition of the blue cheese sauce. So you might be seeing more appetizers from me in the future or you might not. I haven't fully decided if I can pull of an appetizer party either. I know I have issues with commitment its a wonder I'm married. But this one I will be making again for sure. Don't be daunted by the long recipe its really easy just in a lot of components that make up the final product.


Steak House Mushroom Crostini
4 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 Large Portobello Mushrooms, cubed
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 cup of white wine, I use a viognier
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 of a baguette cut into crostinis
2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1 lb of Top Sirloin steak, cut into bite size pieces
2 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese for garnish

Mushroom Component -
In a medium skillet heat the 4 tablespoons of oil over medium heat until it has a ripple on the surface. Add in all of mushrooms and saute for 5-6 minute until they are a nice brown color. Add in the 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Saute for another minute then transfer to a blender or food processor. Add in the wine and blend until it is a coarse looking spread. Add back into the pan and stir in the cheese. Set aside.
Crostini Component -
Take your cut baguette pieces and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until they are crisp but still soft in the center. Place on serving platter.
Steak Component -
In a bowl place the 2 tablespoons of oil,1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and the steak. Coat the steak in the oil and salt and pepper. In a large skillet over high heat cook the steak for 4-5 minutes, turning them so that all of the sides are browned and the center is about medium. Once cooked set on a plate to rest for a few minutes.
Blue Cheese Sauce Component -
In that same large skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted add in the heavy cream and 1/2 cup of blue cheese. Cook until the cheese has melted and the sauce and thickened slightly.

Assembly -
Take a crostini and spread a tablespoon of mushroom spread on it then top with a few pieces of steak and drizzle with the blue cheese sauce and garnish with some blue cheese crumbles.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Your presence is requested....or well your baking skills


It being Easter and all, I was requested to make something lemon to bring. Now I had already made lemon cookies for my dad and knew that if I brought those he would not be very likely to share. I had just tried my hand at curds. So I could make a lemon curd tart, but why not try a new recipe? So Lemon Bars it is. I found this recipe a few weeks ago and it sounded too easy to be true. It was really simple and made for a great choice as both P and I were sick over the weekend. So easy was good for me. Lemon bars have always been a challenge for me because I have never had a really good bar. They were always too sweet and lacked intense lemon flavor or the crust was nonexistent. These, however, rose to the occasion for all three. They were sweet but not cloyingly so. They were very lemon flavored and the crust which was reminiscent of shortbread was fantastic. These were definitely a hit. And as the original recipe says it’s great for a party because it does make a lot. Now I said they were not cloyingly sweet but they were sweet so you could really only have one, so that is great for a party.
Lemon Bars

2 cups plus ¼ cup flour divided
½ cup powdered sugar
2 sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs
Zest of one lemon
½ cup of fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350. Beat the butter and powdered sugar together until creamy. Slowly add in the flour and beat until well combined on the low setting of your mixer. Press the mixture into a 9x13 baking pan, working the dough up the sides about ½ inch all around. Bake for 20 minutes

For the filling –

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, ¼ cup of flour, eggs, lemon juice and zest. Pour over the baked crust and bake for another 20 minutes or until it is set in the center. Allow them to cool completely and then place them in the fridge to it will be easier to cut them. Dust them with powdered sugar before serving.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cuckoo for Chocolate Truffles


When ever I see a chocolate truffle finished simply in cocoa powder it reminds me of Cocoa Puffs. Now I know some people are gasping at the thought of this elegant and and decadent dessert being compared to a breakfast cereal. But to me they are very similar as they are both forbidden. I am a chocoholic there I said it. And Cocoa Puffs was one of the many cereals that I could not eat as a child as my mother did not consider it breakfast food, I mean for petes sake its made of chocolate. But I still lusted after it trying to sneak it in the cart as a child. Promising to only eat it on Sundays I tried everything just to get one box of Cocoa Puffs. I did not succeed, so later in life when I did taste Cocoa Puffs, I was disappointed with the lack of chocolate taste. I'm sure as a child it would have been plenty chocolaty but as my palette had changed by the time I had tasted the cereal it was not that deep chocolate flavor that I love. Which only truffles can supply but when I make truffles they need to leave the house immediately because I can polish off quite a few in a sitting. So what to do with left over heavy cream and not in the mood to bake. Make some truffles so that is what I did.


Chocolate Truffles
1 Cup of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of butter
16 oz of chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffenberger 62%)
2 tablespoons of Liqueur ( I used Chambord) you can use any flavored liqueur

Heat cream and butter in a saucepan until it comes to a roiling boil. Remove the cream from the heat and pour over the chocolate in a bowl and allow the chocolate to melt until smooth. Add in the liqueur and spread mixture out on a parchment lined pan or in a bowl. Leave in a cool place uncovered for 24 hours in the fridge for up to an hour. To make the truffles, pull off a quarter size piece from the tray or bowl and roll into a bowl. Roll in your coating of choice which can be cocoa powder, chopped nuts or in tempered chocolate.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Curds


I learned this curd recipe from a cooking class and since I love this bakery’s lemon curd I decided to give it a shot at home. Now let me tell you it was not easy for the first curd attempt, I now think curd is something that you need to practice in order to get the feel for how firm the curd should be when you pull it off the heat. So my first curd the tangerine one came out a little thicker more like a butter. As you can see in the picture. But the lime one came out perfectly with that nice creamy mouth feel. Now curds to most people are probably some fancy item that they never have had or maybe even heard of. But to me they remind me of my childhood and little ladies lunches with my mother. We would have finger sandwiches and it was mother daughter time that I cherished (even when my sister would come). There was always some kind of curd that was served with crackers or bread. Now I can’t lie to you I wasn’t too crazy about it at first but eventually it was one of my favorite parts. As a few of the finger sandwiches were not of my liking so I would trade with my mom. I’m sure she loved trading as she didn’t receive the whole experience of every sandwich offering but as all mothers do she happily let me eat her sandwiches. So here’s to you mom.

Tangerine and Lime Curds

105g of Juice ( I used lime for one curd and tangerine for the other)
1 tablespoon of zest from the citrus (unless you are making lemon curd then you don’t need the zest)
72g of sugar
164g of eggs
72g of sugar
206g of butter, cold unsalted, cubed

In a medium saucepan, combine juice with zest and the first amount of sugar. Bring to a simmer. Combine eggs with the second amount of sugar. Temper the eggs with about half of the hot juice mixture and then return the mixture to the pan and continue to cook on a low heat until 165 degrees or until it start to get firm but not when its actually firm. Remove it from the heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Add butter when the mixture has cooled slightly and once most of the butter has been incorporated blend with an immersion blender until smooth but make sure you keep the blender submerged so that you don’t aerate the mixture. Then place in a plastic storage container with plastic wrap pressed against the top of the curd so it does not form a skin.



These biscuits are quick and easy and I needed something to serve with the curd that I made. I can’t just send curd to P’s work. So I made these. Most people probably already have a go to biscuit recipe but if you don’t these are perfect. I learned these in a cooking class but they had orange zest and hazelnuts in them. So feel free to flavor these as you wish. I also learned that you should not twist the biscuit cutter when cutting them. It seals the edges so then the flaky layers can’t steam themselves open. So keep that in mind. But they come out perfectly light and flaky and really highlight the curd.

Biscuits
2 ½ cups of flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of sugar
½ teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup of cold unsalted butter cubed
1 ¼ cups of heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut butter into the mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add cream until just combined. Dough can be dropped on to a parchment lined baking sheet or patted out and cut into biscuits. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. I sprinkled the top of these with a little sugar so that they would be a little sweeter to serve with the curd.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Stress Relief

I know a lot of people relieve stress differently, and for me that is cooking and baking. I know for most people cooking and baking is not stress relief at all with all the clean up and work. However for me its therapeutic. Its working with my hands and it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction when it is all done. The smell of something baking reminds me of childhood which was for the most part stress free for me. Whether that was baking bread with my grandfather or baking just about anything with my mother, it was all about that moment. So I take the time that I have for baking and cooking as a time out, a moment where nothing else is happening but what I am working on. Its nice not to have to multi-task for once in my day. So even though I was baking this weekend I needed to bake tonight. So I was looking for something I had all of the ingredients for and wasn't in cupcake or muffin form. So these sounded perfect. Interesting combination to have white chocolate in brownies and I know a lot of people don't like white chocolate because its not really chocolate. I find its buttery taste and texture is fantastic when I'm in the mood for it. These took no time at all to make and would be great addition to a sweets table.

White Chocolate Brownies

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces white chocolate
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour an 8 inch square baking pan, or line with foil.
Melt butter and 4 oz of white chocolate together in top of double boiler over hot water. When melted remove from heat and add the remaining white chocolate. Stir to blend well. Set aside. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick.Add white chocolate and butter mixture, vanilla and flour. Beat just until smooth. Add chocolate chips and mix in by hand, being careful not to over mix.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Cut into squares or bars.


The Mystery that is Red Velvet


Red Velvet cake has always been somewhat of a mystery to me is it chocolate cake, is it vanilla cake and why is it red. So that is why I chose to try to tackle this beast. Well I have come to find out that it’s a buttermilk cake with a little cocoa powder mixed into the batter. There are too many possible stories about why the cake is red so we will just leave that one alone. Now since I have always been a Northerner I don’t have this expansive knowledge of what a Red Velvet cake should be but this recipe was darn good and I will try to make it again probably with a little more butter milk next time. Because mine came out a little dry and I don’t know if they were over baked I only baked them for 18 minutes but they didn’t have the nice moist crumb I was hoping for. Now normally I get someone (P) else to taste test my goods before I send them out into the world but unfortunately this time he could not as Red 40 does a number on him. So I don’t know if all of the cakes came out dry or just my little one. So hopefully I will get some reviews from the office so I know if the recipe needs to be tweaked or not.

I followed this recipe exactly and the cream cheese frosting was really good and very easy to apply.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 1/3 cups of cake flour
2 tablespoons of Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons of red food coloring
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of distilled white vinegar

Frosting
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz of cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
2 - 3 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Line muffin tins with liners. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is fully incorporated. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing. In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl whisk together the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and red food coloring. Add a fourth of the dry mixture into the butter and sugar mixture and mix, then add a third of the wet mixture. Continue adding in dry, wet, dry pattern ending with the dry mixture.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners about ½ to ¾ of the way full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Rotate the pan after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool for a minute in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting -
Cream the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add the vanilla extract and mix. Add the powdered sugar, continually taste to get to desired sweetness. Frost the cooled cupcakes.


How can a Muffin ever be like a Donut?

I know what you are thinking a muffin can never be like a donut. And for the most part you are correct. But these muffins have a donut esque taste. Plus they bake up quick and who doesn’t love cinnamon sugar. I thought these came out perfectly and the recipe was so easy to follow. The only problem I had is that I have not yet acquired asbestos hands so it was really hard to hold the piping hot muffins to do the dipping in butter and cinnamon sugar. I hope in time I can acquire those hands so that I can be like the chefs on TV who scare me by putting their bare hand almost on the bottom of a smoking hot skillet. Wouldn’t it be fun to scare you dinner guests like that! Anyway back to the muffins. These would be perfect for the last minute you were supposed to bake something because there is no butter creaming and the only thing that you might not have in your house (or well my house) would be the yogurt. And don’t forget you only need 12-15 minutes to bake these. So the next time you are in a pinch for something to bake and you don’t have all day or the dreaded, "Mom I need something tomorrow for my whole class", try making these. Don't worry, I never did that to my mom. I was way to organized!

Cinnamon Sugar Donut Muffins

2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs
1 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup of brown sugar
4 to 8 Tablespoons of oil – I used 6
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Topping
½ stick of melted butter
¼ cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 and line muffin tin with paper cups. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in to the wet mixture and combine with light strokes until all of the dry ingredients are just moistened. The batter will be really lumpy and won’t be smooth at all. Divide the batter amongst the cups and bake 12-15 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

Melt the butter in a small bowl so that just the muffin top will fit. And combine the sugar and cinnamon in another bowl. As soon as the muffins are done baking, take them out of the muffin tin and dip them one at a time in the melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture. This is where the asbestos hands come into play. Then set on the rack to cool completely. This makes 12 muffins.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Easy Bundt Carrot Cake


I love Carrot Cake its my absolute favorite cake when made correctly. If we go out to a restaurant and they have carrot cake I almost always get the cake just to see how good it is. Now the traditional cake is a layer cake with lots of cream cheese frosting. That is all well and good but its hard to devote that kind of time and energy to make that kind of cake on a Tuesday night or almost any night for that matter. I found this recipe amongst my many recipes that I have accumulated. I mean how can you go wrong one cake pan no evenly cutting layers or perfect looking cake. Don't get me wrong I strive for perfection most day (probably to a fault) but its nice every once and while to eat something that tastes fantastic but doesn't necessarily look like it should be in an art museum.

I followed this recipe almost exactly I only added 2 things some vanilla to the batter about 1 teaspoon and 1/2 a cup of raisins because to me carrot cake isn't carrot cake with out raisins. And I only took one thing away the nuts as people at P's work are allergic.

Carrot Cake
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
3 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a Bundt pan with non stick spray. Combine oil,sugar and vanilla and then add eggs one at a time and stir to combine after each one. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add to the egg mixture and stir until combined. Once combined fold in the carrots and raisins. Pour the batter in the pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool completely before turning out of the pan and frosting.

Frosting
8oz cream cheese
4 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
16 oz (1 lb.) powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add melted butter until combined completely it will look curdled but it will come back together. Add in vanilla. Add sugar in batches beating until each batch has fully incorporated. Frost cooled cake.

Now I did have a mishap the cake did not release as well as I would have wanted. Good thing frosting can hide all mistakes. So this picture is the perfect bite from the cake stuck to the pan. I know its a ton of frosting but its the only bite I'm having so I had to make it worth my while.