Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara - made November 28, 2010

We interrupt this baking blog to post a recipe for “real” food.  Sort of real anyway.  I got this recipe from the coupon section of the Sunday newspaper a couple of weeks ago.  I clipped out just the recipe so I don’t remember the ad but I assume it was for Classico pasta sauce since that’s what’s specified in the recipe.  I love carbonara and simple pasta dishes are one of the few things I can make so this seemed like a good recipe to try.  I did my usual substitutions and modifications though – for one thing, I omitted the shallots because I didn’t know what they were and didn’t want to hunt for them in the produce section.  I assume they’re an onion-like thing so I was fine skipping them since I’m not fond of onions.  I also swapped in turkey bacon for the pancetta.  I like pancetta but bacon is easier to find and I like turkey bacon better than bacon bacon – less fat.  Instead of Parmesan cheese, I substituted a mix of 6 grated cheeses.  For no other reason than the bag of that was cheaper by 50% than the parmesan and cheese is cheese once you melt it into the pasta sauce (I can picture foodies shuddering at my heresy – sorry).  I also used whole wheat thin spaghetti noodles to add a little more fiber in.  Clearly I’m more comfortable making wild substitutions when I’m cooking real food than I am when I’m baking.

Despite all my machinations, the recipe turned out okay.  The trick with carbonara is you have to keep the pasta noodles hot since tossing it with the egg mixture is what cooks the eggs.  But you don’t want to cook the eggs as in scrambled eggs so much as you want to thicken them into a sauce and heat them enough to kill any bacteria.  The eggs/alfredo pasta sauce mixture didn’t have a lot of flavor.  I don’t know whether it was because the jar of pasta sauce didn’t have much flavor to start with or if that’s what I missed out on by not adding the shallots.  For my bland taste buds, this was okay but I have to admit I prefer Donna Hay’s carbonara recipe for real carbonara, even in all its full-fat glory.

1 package (16 ozs) spaghetti pasta
1 jar (15 ozs) Classico Light Cream Alfredo Pasta Sauce, or about 2 cups
4 eggs, beaten
½ lb thinly sliced pancetta, or about 24 slices (I used turkey bacon)
2 large shallots, chopped or about 1 cup
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions and drain, reserving about ¼ cup of pasta water.  Return pasta to pot and cover to keep warm.  In a medium bowl, whisk together pasta sauce and eggs, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, brown pancetta for 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp, turning occasionally.  Place pancetta on paper towels and coarsely crumble or chop, reserving drippings.
  3. In the same skillet with reserved dripping, over medium high heat, cook shallots and garlic for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in wine and cook for another minute.  Remove skillet from heat.
  4. Return pasta pot to stovetop over low heat.  Add shallot mixture to warm pasta and lightly toss with tongs.  Slowly add pasta sauce mixture, a little at a time, tossing pasta frequently to prevent eggs from scrambling.  Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until sauce is cooked through and thickened.  Add reserved hot pasta water if needed to thin sauce to desired consistency.  Add cheese, parsley and pancetta crumbles, and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.  Season with salt and pepper to taste if desired.  Serve immediately.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Double Fudge Brownies

Double Fudge Brownies - made November 18, 2010 from The Family Baker by Susan G. Purdy (book #14)

Since 1 batch of brownies isn't likely enough to feed 12 teenagers, not to mention my nieces' other aunt, a certified chocoholic (yes, Coreen, I mean you), I tried another brownie recipe to add to the birthday goodie bags.  I made them the same way as the Gold Bar Brownies in that I kept it a plain chocolate brownie with a layer of dulce de leche in the middle.  The main difference with this recipe is it uses unsweetened chocolate instead of semisweet.  Although they came out very similar, I think I prefer this one.  It had the same fudgy texture (always a must in brownies) but I like the "deeper" chocolate taste.  It's hard to explain what I mean unless you're eating the same thing. Chocolate, to me, isn't about sweetness.  It's about richness.  And the darker your chocolate, the richer it can be without being overly sweet.  I still love the dulce de leche for the sweetness contrast and the dark fudginess of this brownie sets it off nicely.  As always, no nuts.  No point ruining a good brownie.

8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut up, plus extra for preparing pan
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips or chopped solid chocolate
1 cup (6 ounces) chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

1.      Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350˚F.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2.     In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, melt the unsweetened chocolate together with the butter.  Stir until smooth, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
3.     In a large mixing bowl, with a sturdy spoon, beat together the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla, then add the melted chocolate mixture.  Slowly stir in the flour, cocoa, and chocolate chips and beat until no streaks of flour or cocoa are visible.  The batter will be quite thick.
4.     Spread the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle on the nuts, if using.  Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached; don’t overbake or the brownies will be dry.  Cool the brownies in the pan on a wire rack, then cut into 2-inch squares. 

ETA: after the birthday dinner party, we passed out the goodie bags to my nieces' friends.  One of them told them the next day that the brownies were "heavenly" - can't ask for a better endorsement than that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving desserts 2010

While I enjoy trying new recipes, holidays and get togethers aren't the time when I experiment.  There are too many people to feed and desserts to bring to gatherings for me to risk a new recipe that might potentially fail.  I fall back on my tried and true recipes, not only because I know how they'll turn out but often people have had them before and that's what they request I make.

For Thanksgiving every year, I prefer to make a variety of desserts but not too much of each one.  I serve them in individual-sized portions so people can sample what they want but not overeat themselves sick.  Moderation is key, after all.  Plus you want to leave them wanting more, not wishing they hadn't eaten themselves to gluttony :).

I don't necessarily have a typical dessert I make every year but I do rotate amongst a select few crowd pleasers.  For those who don't want to search through my blog, here are the links to this year's dessert offerings:

Pumpkin Upside-Down Cake with caramelized pecans and cranberries (I never liked pumpkin or cranberries until I made this cake)

Apple Cobbler, aka Apple Crumble Bars that I made recently and that trumped my long-standing apple cobbler recipe.  Every time we have a family get-together, I have to make cobbler as that's a family favorite.

Red Velvet Cupcakes - requested by my nieces, especially this particular recipe.  Although I originally made it as a cake the first time, any cake adapts easily to the cupcake version.  Just watch the baking time carefully as cupcakes will bake much faster than cakes since they're smaller.  We're going to make the mini cupcake version which can bake/dry out very quickly so I'll be hovering over the oven while these are in there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Noah's Chocolate Chocolatey Chocolate Chips

Noah's Chocolate Chocolatey Chocolate Chips - made November 17, 2010 from All-Butter, Fresh-Cream, Sugar-Packed Baking Book from Rosie's Bakery by Judy Rosenberg (book #13)

If you're a chocoholic, you've got to be favorably predisposed to any recipe that's got a rendition of chocolate three times in its title.  I've had good luck with recipes from both of the Rosie's Bakery books I have so I figured this was a safe bet.  I needed cookies for a couple of meetings this week so I made the cookie dough for this last weekend and kept them in the freezer until I needed them.  Which was a good thing so I put in a long day at work the day before I needed them and didn't have much energy beyond throwing the dough balls into the oven.  I put my oven on the convection setting and only baked one pan at a time in the hopes that that would help keep them from spreading too much.  That worked and while they weren't thick, they weren't thin either.  I also deliberately made the dough balls smaller than usual.  Next time I want to make them bigger and see if they'll still spread less and make a thicker cookie.

This is a good chocolate chocolate chip cookie.  You do have to time this since it's sometimes hard to tell when chocolate cookies are done since you can't always go by appearance or how soft the dough looks in the middle.  You want to bake long enough that it doesn't look raw in the middle but take it out before they're fully cooked.  Since it's a chocolate cookie, the chocolate will help the cookie set and, when underbaked just right, you'll have a fudgy interior with crisp or chewy edges.

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
8 ounces (1 ¼ cups) semisweet chocolate chips (I used 12 ounces of milk chocolate chips)

1.        Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.       Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water (don’t let the bottom of the top half touch the boiling water). Then remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.  (You want it cool enough that it doesn’t melt the butter-sugar mixture you’ll be adding it to but not so cool that it’s difficult to add into the mixture.)
3.       Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.
4.       Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and both sugars together in a medium-size bowl until light and fluffy, 1 ½ to 2 minutes.  Stop the mixer twice during the process to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
5.       Add the eggs and egg yolk and beat on medium speed until they are blended, about 30 seconds.  Scrape the bowl.  Add the (cooled) melted chocolate and blend until mixed, about 10 seconds, stopping the mixer once to scrape the bowl.
6.       Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed for 15 seconds.  (I add the flour ½ cup at a time and mix very briefly until most of it is incorporated before I add another ½ cup.)
7.       Add the chocolate chips and blend until they are mixed in, 5 to 8 seconds.  (I added all of a 12-ounce bag and reserved a handful for the last of the dough once I scooped out the cookie dough balls.)
8.       Drop the dough by generously rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart.
9.       Bake the cookies until the centers are puffed up and lightly cracked, but still soft, 12 to 13 minutes.  Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the sheets.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gold Bar Brownies

Gold Bar Brownies - made November 17, 2010 from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow (book #12)

Last year, for my nieces' birthday, I baked up a bunch of brownies and portioned them out into goodie bags for them to give to their friends at their birthday dinner as party favors (hey, those are my idea of party favors).  This year I suggested to my nieces that we set up a chocolate fountain and I'd prepare stuff like rice krispie treats, sliced bananas and strawberries, pretzel sticks, pound cake, etc and we'd have chocolate fondue for dessert after their birthday dinner.  They liked that idea so I'm packing up the chocolate fountain my sister had given me for Christmas a few years ago.  However, one of my nieces also asked if I would do brownies again as their party favors for their friends to take home.  Never one to turn down a chance to bake brownies for voracious appetites, I was happy to agree.

The request gave me an excuse to try new brownie recipes, always one of my favorite baking endeavors.  This one is from book #12, Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow.  The original recipe calls for almonds so (of course), I substituted with more chocolate chips.  I also substituted dulce de leche for the caramel sauce.  However, instead of swirling the caramel through the batter, I spread 2/3 of the brownie batter evenly in the pan, dropped dollops of the dulce de leche on top then covered that completely with the remaining brownie batter.  The reason I recommend this way is when caramel (or dulce de leche) is baked uncovered, it tends to get hard and chewy after the brownie cools.  The point of caramel (to me) is having that soft, sweet texture.  If I wanted hard and chewy, I'd eat a Tootsie Roll.  Some of the dulce de leche leaked through the top layer in the last minute of baking - that's okay as that doesn't happen until towards the end of the baking time and the brownie is probably done, the dulce de leche is overheating and that's why it's bubbling over.  As long as it's not baked uncovered for too long, the texture will still remain soft.

Note the relatively high amount of semisweet chocolate the recipe calls for.  Always use a high quality chocolate.  Trust me, it makes a difference in how your finished product turns out and tastes.  I used a combination of Valrhona and Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate.  Also, because of the high proportion of chocolate, don't be afraid to underbake this slightly.  The chocolate will set once the brownie cools.  For the toothpick test, make sure there are still moist crumbs clinging to the toothpick when you insert it close to the center.  Raw batter means it's still not done, "clean" means take it out right now.  This brownie is rich and fudgy.  The dulce de leche provides a nice contrast of sweetness to the chocolatey richness.  I cut these into squares, packaged them 2 squares to a pack wrapped in saran wrap and placed them in ziploc freezer bags in the freezer, ready for the trip to So Cal for my nieces and their friends.

1 cup caramel sauce (use your own recipe or storebought – I used dulce de leche)
8 ounces (1 2/3 cups) whole almonds (I left out the nuts and used more chocolate chips)
1 pound (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate
1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon instant espresso powder
3 large eggs
1 ¾ cups cake flour, sifted then measured

(Directions slightly modified from the original recipe)
1.        Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325˚F.
2.       Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
3.       Place the almonds on another baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes or until fragrant.  Let cool then roughly chop into ¼” pieces.  Set aside.
4.       Finely chop 12 ounces of the semisweet chocolate for melting.  Chop the remaining 4 ounces of semisweet into ¼” chunks for chips.
5.       Melt the finely chopped semisweet and unsweetened chocolates in a double boiler over low heat.  Remove when nearly melted and continue stirring until smooth.
6.       In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and two sugars until light and very fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.  In a small bowl, stir together the vanilla and the espresso powder.
7.       Add to the butter mixture and beat to combine. (I added to the melted chocolate instead to make it easier to combine to something more liquid.)  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions and scraping the bowl several times.  Pour in the melted chocolate and beat to combine.
8.       Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the sifted flour by hand until no traces of white remain.  Fold in the toasted almonds and the 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks.  The batter will be quite thick.  Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.  (I reserved 1/3 of the batter and spread 2/3 evenly in the pan.)
9.       Spoon the caramel sauce (dulce de leche) in tablespoon-side dollops over the top.  Cover completely with the remaining 1/3 batter.  Try to make sure all the dulce de leche or caramel is covered by the brownie batter.  Bake for 45 minutes.  When tested with a toothpick in the brownie portion (not the caramel), it will have moist crumbs.
10.    Let cool in the pan 1 hour.  Cut into squares and remove with a spatula.  Store brownies in a sealed plastic container up to a week or freeze.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Apple Crumble Bars

Apple Crumble Bars - made November 13, 2010 from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans (Book #11)

During holiday family gatherings, apple cobbler is a perennial favorite and requested by various family members.  For Thanksgiving this year, my aunt and her family are joining us from Canada and one of my uncle's favorite desserts is apple cobbler.  I have a recipe I normally use for cobbler so I wasn't really looking for a new one.  However, when I tried this recipe for Apple Crumble Bars, although it's meant to be a "bar dessert", I saw the potential for cobbler so I made it in a serving dish and a ramekin.  The ramekin was for the taste test so I wouldn't have to cut into it before I served it to some of my family.  (Always a nice trick if you want to err on the side of caution and have a taste test before serving but can't cut into the serving dish itself.)

I have to say this recipe trumped my usual cobbler recipe.  I used Granny Smith apples like I always do and this had the crumb topping similar to my cobbler.  But what set this above the other one was the crumb topping also doubled as the bottom crust.  Delicious.  The sweetness of the crust and the crumb topping is a perfect foil for the tartness of the apples.  Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream and you have a winner.  I would also recommend this recipe for baking novices.  The crust and topping are simple to put together - just cut the butter into the dry ingredients with 2 knives, reserve 2 cups for the topping and spread the rest in the bottom of your baking pan for the crust.  There's no rolling of dough - you just pat the mixture evenly into the pan, top with the apple mixture and then scatter the crumb topping.  Really very simple.  The "hardest part" is really peeling and cutting the apples and even that's not hard.

I served this to my parents and our family members, my uncle Allan and my cousin Stephanie, from Missouri and they seemed to enjoy it.  It's always a nice compliment when people not only have seconds but take the rest home with them :).  In the pictures above, you'll notice there's still a little flour clinging to the sides - that's the part of the topping that didn't cook down over the apples.  If you want something a bit more presentable, just brush those off before or after baking and before serving.

Crust and Topping
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup powdered sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces

Apple Filling
3 cups peeled and cored apples chopping into ½” pieces (about 3 large apples) (I ended up using 4 apples just to make sure there was enough)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (I used 1 1/2 tbps)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I used 1 1/2 tbps)
1 cup golden raisins, optional (I omitted the raisins)

1.        Preheat the oven to 325˚F.  Line a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with heavy aluminum foil that extends over 2 ends of the pan.  Butter the foil that will touch the bars.  (If you're not going to cut as bars, bake in a nice serving dish and omit the foil but lightly spray the bottom with nonstick cooking spray.)
2.       Mix the flour, powdered sugar and brown sugar together in a medium bowl.  Add the butter pieces, cutting them into the dry ingredients until they’re the size of peas and well-coated in the flour mixture.  Remove 2 cups of the mixture and set aside.  Transfer the remaining mixture to the prepared pan and press it evenly over the bottom.
3.       Mix the filling: Stir the apples, sugar and lemon juice together in a large bowl.  Stir in the raisins, if using.  Spoon the filling over the prepared crust, distributing it evenly.  Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the apple filling.
4.       Bake until the crumb topping is golden and the apples are soft when tested with a toothpick, about 55 minutes.  Carefully lift the aluminum foil and bars from the baking pan.  Loosen the foil from the sides of the bars.  Cut into 12 to 16 pieces.  Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oven-fried (Herbed) Potatoes

Oven-fried (Herbed) Potatoes - made November 14, 2010 from Cookwise by Shirley Corriher (Book #10)

Many years ago, I read Fast Food Nation and watched Supersize Me in the same timeframe.  Needless to say, it put me off fast food almost permanently.  I went from having it once or twice every couple of weeks to once or twice a year, if that.  It's not that I really enjoyed fast food itself but the convenience couldn't be beat, especially since you can't turn the corner without tripping over a MacDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr, Jack in the Box - well, you get the picture.  One thing I do miss from having given up fast food though are french fries.  You know the kind I mean: crisp on the outside, mealy inside.  Yes, they're bad for you.  Yes, they're good. 

My coworkers at my first job after college used to make fun of me for blotting each individual fry with a napkin to absorb some of the grease.  I liked the crunch.  But I didn't like the grease.So oven-fried potatoes seem like a good way to go.  This recipe is from Cookwise by Shirley Corriher.  In the section with this recipe, Shirley explains the benefits of chilling the potatoes ahead of time because it helps the starch turn into sugars which help with the crunchiness in baking.  I was just glad this recipe both forced me to use my steamer that I've had for a couple of years and never used and gave me a chance to have "french fries" again.

I put the "herbed" part in parentheses in the title because I didn't follow the recipe exactly.  I had gotten the potatoes last week and have had them in my refrigerator for 7 days instead of overnight like I had originally planned because I kept forgetting to buy rosemary and Parmesan cheese.  I gave up on remembering and decided to make these as plain home fries without the herb and cheese.  They turned out pretty well that way.  Because I tossed the potato sticks with the olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper, they're already pretty well-flavored/salty so I didn't need to add additional salt when I was eating them.  The main thing I did wrong though was not to spray the foil-lined baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.  I figured because the potato sticks were tossed with olive oil, that would be enough to prevent sticking.  Wrong.  Every single one of them stuck to the foil.  I had to pry some of them loose, hence the very amaterish appearance.  Didn't stop me from eating them though.  The potato sticks were crunchy on the outside and some of the bigger pieces had that nice mealy texture inside.  My knife skills are deplorable so I ended up cutting different sizes of potato sticks and some baked into crisp little sticks while others were the size and texture of steak fries.  Clearly, my standards for cooking "real food" are lower than my standards for baking.  Nevertheless, I liked this recipe and would make it again, preferably next time with a nice juicy teriyaki burger.

2 large (1 ½ to 2 pounds) Russet Burbank (Idaho) baking potatoes
Nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1.        Place the potatoes, unpeeled, in the refrigerator for a day or two.  When ready to cook, scrub but do not peel, and cut into fat French fry sticks.  Rinse well under running water.
2.       Preheat the oven to 450˚F.  Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. (Don't skip this part and make a mess like I did.)
3.       Steam the potato sticks for 8 minutes.  Pat dry.  Stir together the olive oil, salt, cayenne, and rosemary in a medium bowl.  Add the potato sticks and toss well to coat.  Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour.
4.       Sprinkle the Parmesan over the potatoes and return to the oven just long enough to melt the cheese, about 4 minutes.  Taste and add salt as needed.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stovetop Double Chocolate Pudding

Stovetop Double Chocolate Pudding - made November 7, 2010 from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Dodge (Book #9)

Pudding has never been one of my comfort foods.  That spot goes to spaghetti and meatballs, potato cheese soup, warm homemade bread with butter and warm chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream.  But the early nightfall combined with cold and rainy weather made me feel like warm chocolate pudding was an appropriate and comforting dessert.  I’ve actually never really made pudding before, probably because I’m not much of a pudding eater.  If I’m going to eat something with that consistency, I’d rather eat ice cream.  But I’m trying to vary my baking repertoire so I did get out of my comfort (haha) zone and give this recipe a whirl.  It didn’t hurt that I also had some milk to use up.  I think half my baking experiments are driven by using up ingredients before their expiration date.

As with anything else, the quality of your ingredients is the biggest factor in how well something tastes or turns out.  I used Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate for this one and also Pernigotti cocoa.  Past experience has taught me that using that much Pernigotti would make for a very rich, chocolaty product so I actually combined the Pernigotti with an almost-equal amount of Hershey’s cocoa.  Yes, the bland Hershey’s cocoa I’ve dissed in the past.  Why?  Because it would temper some of the rich chocolatey-ness from the Pernigotti while still meeting the cocoa requirement.  It worked too as while the end result was definitely chocolatey, it wasn’t too chocolatey.  It’s all about personal preference though so if you have a high tolerance for chocolate, then go all the way with the good cocoa.  This version was enough for me to be satisfied after a few spoonfuls.

One important step in the directions – make sure you follow the directions to start with a small amount of milk to make the paste with the dry ingredients before you add the rest of the milk.  If you don’t, it’ll be too difficult to combine the dry and liquid ingredients together to make a smooth, lump-free pudding.  I may shortchange the frying time of the chicken but I take the combining of pudding ingredients seriously.  Also, keep whisking as the directions say as that’ll help avoid lumps from forming in the pudding too.  This is just like making pastry cream where it’s important to have smooth consistency and no lumps.

¾ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
¼ teaspoon table salt
3 ½ cups whole milk
4 ounces semisweet, bittersweet, or milk chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.        In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt.  Whisk until well blended.  Pour in about ½ cup of the milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth.  (Don't cheat this step or else you'll end up with a lumpy mixture.) Whisk is the remaining milk.
2.       Set the pan over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a full boil.  Boil for 1 minute and then remove from the heat.  Add the chocolate and vanilla and whisk until the chocolate is melted and the pudding is smooth.  Pour into serving bowls.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Let cool slightly and serve warm, or refrigerate until room temperature or cold.  

Storage: Cover and refrigerate the cooled pudding for up to 4 days.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pound Cake

Pound Cake - made November 6, 2010 from Little Cakes by Susan Waggoner (Book #8)

This is a nice, basic vanilla pound cake recipe.  If you need to use up some milk or need a quick cake for a tea or snack, this is a good recipe to use.  As mentioned, I whipped up this pound cake while I had the crispy fried chicken in the oven.  This is from Little Cakes so I felt it was appropriate to make them in little loaf pans.  When I moved, I retired my old mini loaf pans as their nonstick coating was wearing off and my cakes were sticking inside and coming apart when I tried taking them out.  I treated myself to a new set of mini loaf pans from my shopping lifeblood – I mean Amazon – made by Chicago Metallic and tried them out with this cake.  Wow, when they say nonstick, they mean nonstick.  I didn’t even have to run a spatula around these cakes when they came out of the oven.  I just turned the pan over and the pound cake came sliding out, intact.  Gotta love that.

Because this is a pound cake, the texture is dense.  If you’re looking for light, this isn’t it.  But it’s got a good vanilla flavor.  Whenever I make vanilla pound cakes, I usually double the amount of vanilla extract by adding an equal amount of vanilla bean paste as vanilla extract.  Just a personal preference.  While this cake is good, I have to give the nod still to the Best Vanilla Pound Cake recipe by Lisa Yockelson.  That’s still my favorite vanilla pound cake – it’s got more butter flavor.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder, slightly rounded
Pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Two 5 ¾ x 3 ¼” loaf pans or one standard 9 x 5 “ or 8 ¼ x 4 ¼” loaf pan, greased and floured

1.        Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.  Stir to combine and set aside.
2.       Add the vanilla to the milk and set aside.
3.       Cream the butter until very light.  Add the sugar gradually, beating continuously.  (I creamed the butter in my Kitchen Aid mixer until it was soft, about 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times.)
4.       Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just until completely blended.
5.       Add one-third of the dry ingredients to the butter-egg mixture, then half the milk, beating after each addition just until combined.  Repeat with the next third of dry ingredients, the rest of the milk and the remainder of the dry ingredients, beating after each.
6.       Pour into prepared pans and bake at 325˚F, about 35 minutes for small loaves, 45 to 55 minutes for larger loaf.  Don’t be alarmed if your golden brown crust splits to reveal a strip of yellow cake – this is desirable in pound cakes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crispy Fried Chicken

Crispy Fried Chicken - made November 6, 2010 from Modern Classic Book 1 by Donna Hay (Book #7)

Of the 200+ cookbooks I own, maybe less than 10 are non-dessert books.  This is one of them.  I like Donna Hay’s cookbooks as they’re pretty simple and streamlined.  Not a lot of fuss and the few recipes I’ve tried from her cookbooks have pretty much all turned out.  When you’re cooking-impaired like me, that’s a big deal.   Despite my efforts, I can’t live on cookies and brownies and leftovers from Mom all the time.  Once in awhile I do the adult thing and cook my own food.
Fried chicken is one of those things I enjoy eating but it seems easier to get a bucket of chicken from the Colonel or Popeye’s and let someone else do the work instead of making it from scratch myself.  But, thanks to my baking (or cooking) challenge to use all of my cookbooks at least once, I decided to try this recipe from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book 1.  The recipe was simple enough – soak chicken in buttermilk overnight, bread it, fry it, bake it.  I could do that.  Two things I varied from the recipe: 1) I couldn’t find Chinese five-spice powder at the grocery store but I did have allspice from previous cooking attempts so I made the substitution.  And 2) for the life of me, I also couldn’t find whole cut-up chicken and actually starting with a whole chicken and cutting it up myself was WAY too advanced for me.  Fortunately, Costco caters to people like me and sell packages of chicken drumsticks so that’s what I used because drumsticks are the best when it comes to fried chicken. 
This was pretty easy to make.  I didn’t fry the drumsticks for very long for no other reason than I got impatient hovering over the stove, frying the darn things.  Plus I figured I was going to bake them anyway and that should finish cooking them, right?  I ended up baking them for 30 minutes which is the time it took me to put together a pound cake (next post) and I took them out because I didn’t want my pound cake batter to sit, unbaked, for too long.  The drumsticks turned out fairly well – they were juicy and the coating, while not as crisp as I imagined, was still pretty good.  The nice thing about making oven-fried chicken this way is the oil from the frying dripped off into the baking pan so it was good to think I wasn’t eating as much oil as I normally would had I gone the KFC route.  However, do spray the wire rack you bake the chicken on as they did stick a bit and left some of the coating on them.  I did line the baking pan itself with foil so that helped immensely with cleanup.  The breading/batter didn’t have a lot of flavor and I ended up putting some of the bigger pieces of chicken back into the oven after the pound cake came out as they were still a little pink but overall, this was good enough.  I wouldn’t quite rate it company-ready and would just chalk it up to one of the foods I can make without poisoning myself.

3 ¼ lb whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups buttermilk
Peanut oil for deep frying

Flour coating
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground chili
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder

1.        Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and pour over the buttermilk.  Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. (I left it overnight.)
2.       To make the flour coating, mix the flour, salt, chili, pepper and Chinese five-spice in a bowl (allspice can be substituted).  Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and shake off any excess.  Toss each chicken piece in the flour coating and set aside.
3.       Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Heat the oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the chicken pieces a few at a time and cook for 6-8 minutes or until a deep golden color.  As they are cooked, place the chicken pieces on a wire rack in a baking tray.
4.       When all the chicken is fried, place the tray in the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  I left mine in for 30 minutes to cook the chicken well.  Otherwise, fry it longer and bake it less.

Serves 4

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mocha Chocolate Chips

Mocha Chocolate Chips - made November 3, 2010 from Baking with Julia by Julia Child (book #6)

I have high expectations of any recipe from Julia Child.  I'm sorry to say this recipe didn't live up to them.  I omitted the apricots because a) I don't believe in fruit in cookies, b) I don't like apricots and c) I wanted to make these as a coffee-flavored chocolate chip cookie.

When you strip this recipe down to its core, it's another version of the chocolate chip cookie with the addition of coffee for the "mocha" flavor.  So I made it like I do any chocolate chip cookie: mix up the dough, portion into dough balls, and put in the freezer overnight.  Then I baked them, this time using the convection setting on my new oven.  I was so excited for that convection oven, envisioning the demise of flat, thin cookies.  Because I'm baking with a convec, right?  Well, maybe not.  Turns out even a convection oven won't counter the spread of a cookie if the ingredients are such that the cookies are going to spread regardless of what you do.  Freezing the dough beforehand and baking in a convection oven didn't prevent these from spreading as thin as if I'd baked them without chilling and in a normal oven.  Disappointing.

Despite their appearance, their taste is pretty good, especially if you like coffee or mocha flavors.  One of my coworkers raved about these, loved them and went back for seconds (or thirds).  Another one, not knowing I had made them when I put the cookies out in our communal kitchen, wasn't so complementary.  While I was in the kitchen, she peered at the plate of flat cookies, made a somewhat derogatory comment about their appearance and wondered aloud if someone had tried "microwaving" the cookies.  Sigh.  You have to have a thick skin here.  I could make a comment about not judging a book by its cover (she hadn't eaten any but other people who had liked them) but in reality, appearance does matter when it comes to the food we eat.  We want things to look appetizing - that's part of the dining experience.  I'm more about taste than appearance when it comes to food but I also know presentation and appearance matters.  I may or may not try to tinker with these cookies to make them look better next time.  Although, for the record, I didn't think they looked that bad.  Just flat.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 to 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder (according to your taste)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound chocolate (bittersweet, milk, or white, or a combination), cut into larger than chocolate chip sized chunks
½ pound plump, moist apricots, coarsely chopped (optional)

1.        Whisk the flour, coffee powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl to blend; set aside.
2.       Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitting with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until the butter lightens in color.  Add the granulated sugar and beat for about 30 seconds, just to blend.  Add the brown sugar and beat for another 30 seconds.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition.  The mixture should be light and fluffy; if necessary, beat 1 more minute.  Add the vanilla and beat until blended.
3.       Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and clean the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the chocolate chunks and the apricots, if you are using them, and stir them with the spatula to distribute equally.
4.       Chilling the dough: Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for several hours or overnight, to firm.  I portioned into dough balls and put in ziploc freezer bags to freeze overnight.
5.       Baking the cookies: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line two heavy-duty baking sheets with parchment paper.
6.       Drop the dough balls onto the lined sheets, leaving at least 2 inches of space between each dough ball so that the cookies have room to spread.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking period, until the center is just baked – they’ll still be soft to the touch.  Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.  Repeat with the remaining dough.
7.       Storing: Wrapped in plastic bags or in tins, the cookies will keep at room temperature for 2 days.  They can be frozen for up to a month and should be thawed at room temperature.  Note: I never freeze baked cookies.  Just bake only as much as you need and keep the cookie dough in the freezer until you need to bake more.

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi - made November 1, 2010 from The Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten (book #5)

I love shrimp scampi although I don't have it that often because of the high fat and caloric content.  Most scampis have way too much butter for me.  I'm too used to thinking of butter on bread or in baked goods to really enjoy it as a savory.  I don't dip lobster in butter either.  However, I did end up liking this recipe from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.  This recipe was easy to make, a boon for someone like me who doesn't cook often or well.  Just make sure you have your mise en place ready as it puts together very quickly.  I substituted a lb of angel hair pasta for the 1 1/2 lbs of linguine and I'm glad I did.  This doesn't make a lot of "sauce", even for 1 lb of pasta so I can imagine it'd be more dry for 1 1/2 lbs.  However, what sauce there was tasted great.  More lemon and garlic than butter.  It's not so much a traditional sauce like an alfredo or a marinara sauce but it's just enough to flavor the noodles.  The lemon/garlic flavor combination was excellent. 

Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 ½ pounds linguine (I used 1 lb of angel hair pasta)
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
2 pounds large shrimp (about 32 shrimp), peeled and deveined
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
½ lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1.        Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.
2.       Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic.  Saute for 1 minute.  Be careful, the garlic burns easily!  (I didn't saute until brown, just soft.)  Add the shrimp, 1 tablespoon of salt and the pepper and sauté until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. (You can also use pre-cooked shrimp, just heat through but don't keep on the heat for too long as they're already cooked.)  Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices and red pepper flakes.  Toss to combine.
3.       When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot.  Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.

Serves 6

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes

Spiced Pumpkin Cookies Cakes - made October 31, 2010 from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy (book #4)

I was so busy with moving that I barely noticed October was ending and Halloween was upon me before I knew it.  I moved to a new development that isn’t completely built out or even fully occupied yet so there was a distinct lack of trick or treaters in my neighborhood.  Which was just as well since I only had time to buy one bag of chocolate and even that I forgot at my parents’ house.  But my concession to Halloween was to try out this recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes.  I was a little skeptical when I read the directions about piping the batter because that automatically means it’s going to be a soft batter.  And sure enough it was, almost the consistency of cake batter.  Which worried me that the cookies would spread into lakes of flat, thin cookies.  Fortunately, my new kitchen has a convection oven so I gambled that they would bake in the convection setting before they spread too much.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised that the cookies didn’t really spread and instead baked in almost the same size and shape I dropped them into (using two spoons as I didn’t want to bother with piping anything).  They did flatten a bit but only enough to round out into more even shapes than my plopping of cookie dough/batter onto the cookie sheet.  These have the texture of little pumpkin cakes, rather than “cookies”.  Think whoopie pies but the pumpkin cake version.  Someday I’ll have to make the traditional whoopie pies of chocolate cake cookies with vanilla filling.  In the meantime, these were a great substitute.  I loved the pumpkin cakes, the molasses was just the right touch and the cream cheese filling complemented the cookies very well.  And this is from someone who normally doesn’t like cream cheese.  

The only thing I would caution is to not underbake these.  I had them in the convection setting for 10-12 minutes but another minute or two wouldn’t have hurt.  Once they cool, they’re really moist and the tops get a little sticky, especially if they’re not baked long enough.  I wouldn’t advocate overbaking them either but these won’t set like traditional cookies when underbaked.  Instead they’ll just be mushy cakes if you don’t bake them long enough.  These make for an awesome fall dessert or afternoon snack.  One recipe made for a little more than 18 sandwich cookies with a (to me) generous amount of filling.  Another winning recipe from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book.

For the cookie cakes
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup molasses
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup whole milk
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

For the cream cheese filling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
¾ teaspoons freshly grated orange zest (about ½ orange)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.        Position a rack in the center of your oven.  Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2.       To make the cookie cakes: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the brown and white sugars on low speed to get rid of any lumps.  Add the butter, and beat together until light and fluffy, 1 to 1 ½ minutes.  Add the molasses and egg, and mix to combine.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the pumpkin puree and mix to combine.
3.       In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
4.       Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk. Mix well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Blend thoroughly, but do not overbeat.
5.      Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cookies comes out clean.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.  Do not underbake.
6.       To make the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, zest and vanilla.  Start mixing on low speed and then continue on medium speed until just fluffy and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.  Do not overbeat.
7.       To complete the cookie cakes: Turn half of the cookies upside down onto a freshly lined cookie sheet.
8.       Using a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch round pastry tip (Ateco #801 or use a resealable plastic bag with a corner cut off or a teaspoon), pipe or place about 1 teaspoon of filling onto each upside-down cookie cake.  Place the remaining cookie cake halves (right side up!) on top.  I skipped the pastry bag and just spread with a small spatula.  Be careful though as the cookies have the texture of cake and might fall apart if not handled gently.
9.       Refrigerate briefly until set, 15 to 20 minutes.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Keep the cookie cakes refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Lark's Country Heart