Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Root Beer Bundt Cake - made January 28, 2012 from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (book #184)

I'm not fond of root beer.  I might've liked it as a kid but when I tried it as an adult, I found it way too sweet for me.  And for someone with my sweet tooth, that's saying something.  Yet I was drawn to this recipe for a couple of reasons.  One, it's similar in concept to a cola cake which I've never made before but was always curious to try.  And two, when you've been baking as much and as long as I have, it's good to try things I might not have liked or considered in one form.  I never know when I might like it in a different form.  So it's good to expand baking horizons.  Besides, the picture of this cake in the Baked cookbook was irresistible.

I wasn't sure what I expected from this cake except I thought it would taste like root beer.  It doesn't.  Instead, it's probably one of the best chocolate cakes made from cocoa that I've ever tried.  It's even better than the Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake I made for National Chocolate Cake Day.  Cocoa imparts a rich, dark chocolate flavor to almost anything it's used in (provided you use high quality cocoa!) but it sometimes has a tendency to have a drier texture.  Not in this cake.  Must've been the root beer but this made a moist, almost velvety, cakey-dense-but-not-too-dense texture.  It's hard to describe except that both the taste and the flavor of this cake were excellent.  As always, it's important to use a dark, high quality cocoa since that is what you'll taste.

The only issue I had with this cake is, because the batter is so thin, it became a bit lumpy after the flour was added.  The recipe cautions against over mixing so I was afraid to beat out all the lumps and I didn't know if straining it would be considered over-handling/over-mixing so I didn't.  There were some flour spots/little lumps in the baked cake but nothing too embarrassing....I hope. 

2 cups root beer (do not use diet root beer)
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Root Beer Fudge Frosting
2 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao), melted and cooled slightly
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup root beer
2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

1.   Preheat the oven to 325⁰F.  Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2.   In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved.  Remove from the heat and let cool.
3.   In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.
4.   In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined.  Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.  The batter will be slightly lumpy – do not overbeat it, as it could cause the cake to be tough.
5.   Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.  Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.
6.   Make the Root Beer Fudge Frosting: Put all the ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse in short burts until the frosting is shiny and smooth.
7.   Use a spatula to spread the fudge frosting over the crown of the bundt in a thick layer.  Let the frosting set before serving, with ice cream on the side.

Cast Party Wednesday

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Red Velvet Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze

Red Velvet Pancakes - made January 21, 2012 from Allrecipes.com

 Welcome to any new followers and thanks to everyone who leaves a comment!  I may not always have time to comment back or my responses may be delayed but I read every single one and am glad to know someone's reading my blog :) - please keep them coming!

Did you blink and realize it's almost the end of January?  I love the start of a new year but it seems like I barely have time to savor it before we're actually well into the year itself.  January is almost over and I could start blogging about snacks for Super Bowl parties but since my beloved 49ers lost in the NFC Championship Game against the Giants, well, meh, I'm skipping that.  Let's just go right into Valentine's Day (although I reserve the right to change my mind later and possibly come up with some kind of snack-y Super Bowl-y dessert idea once the bitter sting has passed.  Which could be next week or in August for pre-season, haha).

If you're noticing the dates on when I've made stuff and when I've blogged about them, you'll see I'm going a little out of order.  Normally I post the stuff as I make it, depending on the time I have to bake and blog, which isn't always on the same day.  I've been going out of order lately to try and time to the different days of remembrance, lamingtons for Australia Day, chocolate cake for National Chocolate Cake Day, homemade Snickers for National Peanut Butter Day, etc.  I've held off blogging about this recipe to get us a little closer to Valentine's Day in case anyone is planning some kind of Valentine's Day-themed brunch or something.

I pretty much love red velvet anything.  Yeah, all that red dye #7 probably isn't good for me but it's not like I have it every week.  I try to keep it for special occasions.  You know, like Tuesdays.  I did go through an alarming amount of red food coloring during my holiday baking spree but that was for Christmas.  Now I've got to break out at least one red velvet item for Valentine's Day.  I've done red velvet cake, 2 different kinds of red velvet cookies and even red velvet brownies.  So why not Red Velvet Pancakes?  I had buttermilk to use up (I always seem to have buttermilk to use up) and whenever I have a particular ingredient to use or want a recipe for a particular food I want to make, I always check allrecipes.com.  That's where this recipe comes from.  I flipped through other red velvet pancake recipes from the blogs I follow and a few looked really promising but at the time, I didn't have all the required ingredients on hand.  I did for this one so it won by default.

I like the concept of these pancakes, with the cream cheese glaze as the "syrup" for them.  They turned out well although I don't know that I would consider them true red velvet.  I didn't get much of a chocolate undertone in them so they almost seemed like red-dyed pancakes rather than red velvet. There wasn't any baking soda in this recipe which means the acidity of the buttermilk wasn't neutralized so you can taste that tang.  Overall they were good but I think I would still keep looking for a "true" red velvet pancake recipe.

Cream Cheese Glaze
1 (4 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk, or as needed

Red Velvet Pancakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons red food coloring
1/4 cup melted butter
  1. Prepare the cream cheese glaze by beating the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth. Thin with 1 tablespoon milk or as needed to achieve a pourable consistency. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, white sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt together in a bowl until evenly blended; set aside. Beat the eggs in a separate mixing bowl until smooth. Whisk in 1/4 cup milk with the buttermilk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, vinegar, and food coloring. Stir in the flour mixture until moistened. Drizzle in the melted butter, and stir until the butter has incorporated and small lumps of flour remain.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled griddle over medium-high heat. Drop batter by large spoonfuls onto the griddle, and cook until bubbles form and the edges are dry. Flip, and cook until browned on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter. Drizzle with the cream cheese glaze to serve.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake

Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake - made January 22, 2012, recipe adapted from Cook’s Country Chocolate Desserts

January 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day so of course, I have to post a chocolate cake recipe.  Last year, I had posted the Mexican Chocolate Fudge Pecan Cake which is one of my favorite chocolate cake recipes.  This year, I tried out this "Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake".  True to its word, it actually is pretty simple, especially if you need a quick and easy recipe for a crowd pleaser, upcoming Super Bowl party, family picnic, classroom treat, etc.  Because it's made as a sheet cake, this is easy to make, there's no muss or fuss to cut up and serve and it tastes pretty good.

I did modify the directions a bit, mostly in how to make the frosting.  The original recipe calls for making it like a typical ganache where you chop the chocolate fine, heat the cream, pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is all melted and smooth.  Unfortunately, I find this method imprecise.  My chocolate doesn't always melt and I'm left with little bits while the cream has already cooled.  Instead, I advocate melting the chocolate first, heating the cream, then whisking the two together.  The chocolate will seem to seize at first but keep whisking and it'll smooth out.  Or, if you want to play it safe and go with the more traditional method of making ganache, if your chocolate doesn't completely melt with the addition of the hot cream, you can always strain it smooth.  But I prefer the other method and save myself the straining.

I liked the flavor and texture of this cake - it was as a good chocolate cake should be.  However, be sure to use a dark, high quality, unsweetened cocoa - the grocery store/generic brand won't cut it for flavor.  I use Pernigotti but you can also use Scharffenberger, Valrhona, etc.  You can taste the chocolate flavor from the cocoa in this cake so don't cheat yourself by using anything less than the good stuff.  As for the frosting, it came out with a really silky-smooth texture.  I myself am not a frosting lover so to me it was "okay" but I wasn't in love with it.  It's soft and spreadable when you first make it but it does cool into a firm consistency.  Not firm like a pure fudge layer but it won't be spreadable anymore after it's cooled.  Because it's a milk chocolate frosting, it makes a nice contrast to the dark chocolate cake.  And of course, use high quality milk chocolate in the frosting; you won't be sorry.

View from the top

1 ¼ cups (6 ¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (2 ¼ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups (10 ½ ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda

Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light or dark corn syrup
Pinch salt
10 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and chilled

1.   Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325°F.  Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
2.   Sift together flour, cocoa and salt in medium bowl; set aside.  Place chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler over barely simmering water and stir until melted together.  Do not let boil.
3.   Whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl.
4.   Whisk chocolate into egg mixture until combined.  Combine buttermilk and baking soda; whisk into chocolate mixture, then whisk in dry ingredients until batter is smooth and glossy.  Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until firm in center when lightly pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out barely clean, about 35-40 minutes.  Let cool on wire rack until room temperature, at least 1 hour; serve, or ice with frosting if desired.
4.   Make frosting: Combine cream, corn syrup, and salt in liquid measuring cup and microwave until simmering, about 1 minute, or bring to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.  Melt chocolate in top half of double boiler.  Add hot cream mixture, whisking constantly.  Melted chocolate might seize at first but keep whisking and it'll smooth out.  Pour into food processor,  add confectioners’ sugar and process to combine, about 30 seconds.  With processor running, add butter 1 piece at a time; process until incorporated and smooth, about 20 seconds longer.  Transfer frosting to medium bowl and let cool at room temperature, stirring frequently, until thick and spreadable, about 1 hour.

Linked to Something Swanky's Sweet Treats Thursday

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lamingtons - Happy Australia Day!

Lamingtons - made January 24, 2012 from Allrecipes.com (click on title to go to the site)

January 26 is Australia Day and a year ago almost to the day, I was in Australia for the first time at the start of a 3-week tour of Australia and New Zealand.  So it seems fitting that I make a recipe of one of the (many) foods I tried in Australia.  There were lots of choices: meat pie (love), lamingtons (yum), camel (no), kangaroo (really, no), crocodile (tastes like chicken but still "no"), pavlova and ANZAC biscuits.  There's some controversy whether pavlova was invented by the Aussies or the Kiwis so I wasn't going to go there.  At first I wanted to make ANZAC biscuits for Australia Day but it turns out there's an ANZAC Day in April.  Plus, since ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, it would still be sharing the spotlight with New Zealand.  Nothing wrong with that but since this is Australia Day, I decided to go with lamingtons which can be genuinely attributed to Baron Lamington, a governor of Queensland, Australia in the early 1900s.

I tried a lamington in Kuranda on a day trip where I held a koala, took a scenic train ride through the mountains and rode a gondola over some majestic views.  So not only was it a memorable day, but, hey, the lamington was pretty good too.  In case you missed my blog post about it last year, a lamington is a light vanilla cake covered in chocolate icing and dusted with coconut.  I went to allrecipes.com to search for a recipe.  This one got good reviews so I decided to try it out.  The only thing I changed is the pan size.  The recipe calls for an 8 x 12 pan but I don't have that size pan so I went with a 9 x 9 pan.
view from the top
One of the things I liked best about the lamington I had in Kuranda was the added texture from the coconut sprinkled over the chocolate icing.  I didn't use as much coconut as the recipe called for (at most I used 1 cup) and I toasted it golden brown first, let it cool, then crumbled them into smaller bits.  Although it's a little difficult to tell from the picture of the lamington I had in Kuranda, the coconut they used was much more fine than the flakes we can buy in the States so I thought toasting and crumbling the coconut flakes might help.

I really liked this cake.  The texture wasn't as soft and fluffy as the one I had in Australia but it was still a good vanilla cake with the taste reminiscent of a cakey Filipino bibingka.  I loved the texture of the toasted coconut as well.  The icing is runny so if you don't want it to soak into the cake but rather stay on top of it or adhere to the sides, make sure the cake is completely cool and the icing has also somewhat cooled to lukewarm or a bit warmer.  Otherwise it will have a tendency to soak into the cake itself.  But don't let it cool too much or it will thicken into a frosting.  Because you're supposed to enrobe the cake in the icing, it's best to cut these small, like a petit four size as the icing makes it pretty rich.  Use a dark cocoa in the icing to offset a bit of the sweetness.

The inside look
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
2 (8 ounce) packages flaked coconut

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 9 x 9" rectangular pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. 
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk; beat well.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Store overnight to give the cake a chance to firm up before Icing.
  5. To make the icing: In a large bowl, combine confectioners' sugar and cocoa. In a saucepan, heat milk and 2 tablespoons butter until the butter is melted. Add the milk to the sugar mixture and mix well to create a fluid, but not too runny, icing.
  6. Cut the cake into 24 squares. Place coconut in a shallow container. Using a fork, dip each square into the icing, then roll it in the coconut. Place onto rack to dry. Continue for each piece. The Icing will drip, so place a sheet of parchment paper under the rack to catch the drips.

Cast Party Wednesday

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Homemade "Snickers" & a Buckeye recipe

Homemade "Snickers" - made January 21, 2012

I've been toying with the idea of making a homemade version of a Snickers bar for awhile.  Snickers is another childhood candy favorite but I rarely eat it nowadays.  I've done a homemade Twix version and a homemade Almond Joy version.  Now it's Snickers' turn. Technically, I suppose this really isn't a Snickers bar though since it doesn't have nougat.  Instead, I used a peanut butter blondie as the base, covered it with a layer of caramel and roasted peanuts and topped that with the peanut filling from a Buckeye recipe that Lauren, one of my friends from culinary school gave me.  Lastly I enrobed it in milk chocolate.  Hey, close enough.

To make this, you need 1 recipe of Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Brownies without the milk chocolate in the middle, a cup or so of caramel melted with a little milk until just the right consistency (not too thick, not too thin, Goldilocks), sprinkled with chopped roasted peanuts (roast the peanuts first then let them cool before using), topped by a layer of Lauren's Buckeye filling (recipe below), enrobed in melted milk chocolate candy melts.

Peanut Butter Blondie base
Add a layer of caramel and chopped roasted peanuts
Pat a "cover" of buckeye filling on top
I had received this new-fangled brownie pan from my ex-BIL and his girlfriend for Christmas that made bite-sized square brownies.  While they would make "Snickers" that were a bit too big to be bite-sized, it still was a good petit four-type size that I thought would work.  Because my vision called for multiple layers, it was important that no single layer be too thick.  The layers don't have to be equal in thickness unless you want them to be but at a minimum, the bottom peanut butter blondie layer should be the thickest since it's the base, the caramel & peanut layer should be enough to "glue" the bottom and top layer together without oozing out and overflowing between the layers and the top layer should be no thicker than the bottom layer.  If you use a similar pan, fill the square cavities no more than 1/2 full for baking.  Alternatively, you can make the peanut butter blondie recipe in a 10-inch square pan without the chocolate layer called for in the original recipe and just cut the blondies into small squares for the base after it's baked.
Final step is to enrobe in milk chocolate
For the most part, this turned out, although not exactly as I had envisioned.  The peanut butter blondie base squares didn't come out very easily from the new-fangled pan as the texture of the blondies was a bit delicate.  Still, a little coaxing with a mini spatula yielded them easily enough without breaking apart.  This turned out to be more like a peanut butter bon bon than a true Snickers knockoff.  Next time I would make the caramel peanut layer a bit thicker and possible add the milk chocolate back into the peanut butter blondie base.  But if you're a peanut butter lover, this is a good one to try.

adapted from Lauren's Buckeye recipe
8 ounces confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
8 tablespoons butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1. Melt butter. Pour over graham cracker crumbs and mix.  Add confectioners' sugar and peanut butter.  Mix until smooth.
2. Use as needed for recipe.  If making traditional buckeyes, shape into balls and dip in melted chocolate.   Let cool until chocolate has set.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake - made January 14, 2012 from Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking 2011 by Christopher Kimball (book #183)

This looks deceptively done but inside lurks overly gooey filling about to flood out
This is another booklet I got for Christmas that adds to my baking book collection so it counts in my baking challenge.  I love the stuff from Cook's Illustrated because the articles leading up to the recipes are really interesting as the testers go through various trial and error to come up with the perfect recipe.  For this one, the author was trying to create a combination coffee cake and cream cheese pastry so that you don't have to necessarily choose between a coffee cake and a Danish for breakfast.  I go for coffee cake every time since I don't like the cream cheese filling in Danishes and I rarely have it for breakfast but I thought I'd give this a try anyway.  More importantly I had sour cream, lemons and cream cheese to use up and this recipe used all three so it was perfect to try out.

This is reminiscent of the Lemon Ripple Crunch Cake (take 1) I've blogged about before - it's a cake with a custard-type filling and a sugar crunch topping.  Also like the Lemon Ripple Crunch Cake (take 2), I made the same mistake as before in that I didn't bake it long enough, cut it too soon before the filling had really set and warm liquid filling came gushing out along with a bit of raw cake batter.  Not pretty.  I ended up putting it back in the oven to bake some more and while the results were not eye-catching to behold (unless you want to classify it in the cake wreck category), the taste held up really well.  The cake part wasn't overbaked like I feared it would be with a second baking and the filling remained soft but not liquid.  It was more like a firm custard.  If you like cream cheese and custard-type desserts, this is a pretty good cake to make.  Although you might want to skip my mistake and just make sure it bakes long enough the first time and to let it cool enough for the filling to set.  I ended up salvaging the cake by slicing it and only giving away the decent-looking slices.  I deliberately didn't take a picture of the cake-wreck look as that would've been too embarrassing to have documented.

Lemon-Sugar Almond Topping
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
½ cup sliced almonds (which I omitted because I don't like nuts in my cakes)

2 ¼ cups (11 ¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup plus 7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus 4 teaspoons juice (1 to 2 lemons)
4 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1. For the topping: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined and sugar is moistened. Stir in almonds; set aside.
2. For the cake: spray 10-inch tube pan with vegetable oil spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. In stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and lemon zest together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 20 seconds, and scraping down beater and sides of bowl as necessary. Add 4 teaspoons vanilla and mix to combine. Reduce speed to low and add one-third of flour mixture, followed by half of sour cream, mixing until incorporated after each addition, 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat, using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining sour cream. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix on low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.
3. Reserve 1 ¼ cups batter and set aside. Spoon remaining batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Return now-empty bowl to mixer and beat together cream cheese, remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened, about 1 minute. Add ¼ cup reserved batter and mix until incorporated. Spoon cheese filling mixture evenly over batter, keeping filling about 1 inch from edges of pan; smooth top. Spread remaining 1 cup reserved batter over filling and smooth top. With butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl filling into batter using figure-8 motion, being careful not to drag filling to bottom or edges of the pan. Firmly tap pan on counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any bubbles. Sprinkle lemon sugar-almond topping evenly over batter and gently press into batter to adhere.
4. Bake until top is golden and just firm, and long skewer inserted into cake comes out clean (skewer will be wet if inserted into cheese filling), 45 to 50 minutes. Remove pan from oven and firmly tap on counter 2 or 3 times (top of cake may sink slightly). Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 1 hour. Gently invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet (cake will be topping side down); remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and invert cake sugar side up. Cool to room temperature, about 1 ½ hours. Cut into slices and serve.

Linked to Sweet Tooth Friday

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Korean BBQ Beef

Korean BBQ Beef - made January 11, 2012 from Everyday Low Carb Cooking by Alex Haas (book #182)

The original recipe is actually Korean BBQ Chicken but lately I've been eating enough chicken to grow my own feathers so I substituted beef instead.  I sliced it thin then pounded each slice with a meat mallet to tenderize it.  Since I don't really cook, I know little to nothing about different cuts of beef other than the more expensive it is, likely the more tender it is.  I don't think chuck roast shrieks "high end" so I whacked the pieces with the meat mallet just to be on the safe side.  And this time you'll be happy to know that I used green onions/scallions as called for in the recipe instead of shallots.

Oddly, I even had all of the ingredients in my pantry so they must've been from past cooking attempts.  Although I don't think I can attest to the shelf life of some of my spices.  But at least the green onions were fresh from the produce section of the grocery store.  I ended up marinating the beef overnight since I haven't yet developed the knack of working all day, coming home, preparing dinner from scratch and eating said dinner that same night.  My usual habit is to come home, workout, eat whatever dinner food I had in the fridge from the night before then prepare what I would cook the following night.  Hence the 24-hour marinating period.

I didn't have a grill so I cooked these via stir fry in a large frying pan (since I don't own a wok either).  Despite all these modifications, the dish actually turned out to be quite tasty.  It was a little on the spicy side for me so there was some life still left in my spices after all.  Although this comes from a low carb cookbook, I couldn't help but think this is really good served with rice.  :)
Still piping hot
3-lb fryer, cut into 8 pieces (I used 1 1/2 lbs chuck roast, sliced thin)
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
3 tablespoons sugar equivalent sweetener
½ cup green onions, diced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder

1.     Mix all ingredients.  Let the chicken marinate 1 hour if possible.  Cook slowly over charcoal, basting with the marinade.  Discard any marinade that isn’t used. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Apple Crumble with Oatmeal Crunch Topping

Autumn Fruit Crumble with Oatmeal Crunch Topping - made January 8, 2012 from Great Pies and Tarts by Carole Walter (book #181)

My final baking experiment from last weekend was this apple crumble.  I had a hankering for a warm dessert I could top with ice cream and there's nothing easier than putting together a crumble for a quick dessert.  I've listed the original recipe below but, as usual, I did my own modifications.  For the topping, I only made half a recipe and I substituted pecans for walnuts, partly because I think walnuts are too bitter and partly because I only had pecans on hand.  For the filling, I only used Granny Smith apples because that's what I had and I don't really like pears anyway.  Actually, now that I look at the recipe again, I didn't follow the filling recipe at all and just made up my own: to go with half the recipe of the topping, I used 2 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and sliced), sprinkled them with a couple of tablespoons of granulated sugar, a few sprinkles of cinnamon and the juice from 1 lemon.
I used the topping mixture to also make a bottom layer of the crumble in 3 individual-sized ramekins, layered the apples on top and covered it all with the rest of the topping mixture.  Then I baked for....I don't know how long since I never time these things.  Just until "a toothpick poked into the apples shows the apples are soft enough" is about as precise as I got.  Oh and when the top was browned enough.  You decide based on your oven how long it should be in there for.

At first I didn't think I liked this recipe as much as other crumbles, cobblers and crisps that I've made.  It didn't seem to be sweet enough which made me think the oats and pecans cut the sweetness as well as I might've used too much lemon juice in the apples.  Plus the apple filling didn't seem very juicy so it seemed a little dry.  However, that was only the first taste test on the first day.  This is a dessert that seems to improve with age.  I had the second taste test the next day after refrigerating the individual crumbles - after I had warmed it up in the microwave and topped it with ice cream, it was much better, had a bit more juice and the apples were sweeter.  I don't know why that is but that's what I found.  So overall, this made a nice base for a scoop of vanilla ice cream to sit on.

¾ cup unsifted all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup quick rolled oats
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 to ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 Cortland apples (or Empire, Macoun or Granny Smith)
4 firm Red Bartlett or Anjou pears
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries, washed and dried
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated navel or Valencia orange zest

1.     Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.  Butter generously a 7 x 11 x 1 ½” ovenproof glass baking dish.
2.     Make the topping: Place the flours, oats, walnuts, sugars, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse until blended and the nuts are finely chopped.  Empty the contents into a large bowl.
3.     Pour the melted butter over the flour mixture and toss with a fork to form crumbs.  Set aside.
4.     Prepare the fruit: Cut the apples into quarters, core, peel and cut into ¾-inch thick pieces.  If using apples other than Cortlands, cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
5.     Cut the pears in half, core, peel and cut into 1-inch chunks.
6.     Place the apples, pears and cranberries in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the lemon juice.  Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and orange zest.  Sprinkle over the fruit, then shake the bowl to distribute.  Empty the mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the fruit.  Do not press.
7.     Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbly.  Serve warm with ice cream, frozen yogurt or whipped cream.



Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chicken in Creamy Orange Sauce

Chicken in Creamy Orange Sauce - made January 7, 2012 from Cook’s Encyclopedia 30-Minute Cooking (book #180)

I was housebound last weekend and had a hard time just "resting" to get over this cold.  Lying down was actually not restful since I had a harder time breathing when I'm horizontal.  Sitting on my couch in front of the TV gets old after several episodes of Criminal Minds, NCIS and Law and Order, all of which I've already seen multiple times.  So I spent time in the kitchen, not only baking but also cooking.  Anything to further my baking/cooking challenge to make at least one recipe from every cookbook I own.  I can't even remember how long I've had this book or why I bought it.  It was probably during one of my more optimistic moments when I thought I was going to learn how to cook.  Umpteenth years later, this is the first recipe I've made from this book.

While this recipe was easy to make, it also reinforced to me that I'm NOT a cook.  I bake.  I don't cook.  Any real cook will tell you that following a recipe doesn't make you a cook.  It might lead you to make something edible (or not) but that's not necessarily "cooking".  And the reason I came to this conclusion is the comedy of errors I experienced in making this dish.  It seemed straightforward enough: brown the chicken, throw the ingredients together for the sauce, let boil, serve.  Ha!  First, I apparently can't tell the difference between a scallion and a shallot.  Scallions are also known as green onions.  I call them green onions.  I know what a green onion is.  I've even cooked with green onions.  But apparently my befuddled mind mixed up the two and I used a shallot instead.  Shallots are a small, brown form of an onion.  They are not scallions.  Just so you know.

Second, I didn't have brandy in the house since I don't drink but I do have rum because I've used it in past baking recipes.  So I used rum instead of brandy.  Third, I also didn't have fromage frais and didn't even know what it was until I googled it.  Apparently you can get it in Europe.  I don't live in Europe.  And they don't sell it at Target.  Some sites said you can substitude low-fat cream cheese for fromage frais so that's what I did.  Except I didn't have the low-fat version so I used full-fat cream cheese.  So let's review this so far: I don't like the taste of rum, I don't like the tang of cream cheese and shallots aren't high on my list of things to taste or flavor food with.  Why did I make this recipe then?  Not just because it looked simple but it was also supposed to be an orange sauce.  Strike three.  Despite using 1 1/4 cups of orange juice (freshly squeezed from real oranges, mind you), I could barely taste the orange flavor in the sauce.  Probably because it was overwhelmed by the shallots, the rum and the full-fat cream cheese.  Sigh.  For the final insult to my cooking injury, I forgot to salt and pepper the darn thing "to taste". 
This is not my finest moment - "it's edible" is the kindest thing I can say about my cooking efforts.  Made properly, this might actually be a good dish.  The texture itself was sinfully rich and creamy, it was just the taste I wasn't wild about.  If I venture to make it again, I would skip the rum or brandy entirely, cut back on the cream cheese (and actually use the low-fat version), jack up the orange juice and use honest-to-goodness green onions (scallions!).  And not forget the salt and pepper. 

8 skinless chicken thighs or drumsticks
3 tablespoons brandy (I used rum)
1 ¼ cups orange juice
3 scallions, chopped
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons low-fat fromage frais (substitute low-fat cream cheese)
Salt and ground black pepper
1.    Cook the chicken pieces without fat in a nonstick or heavy pan, turning until they are evenly browned.
2.    Stir in the brandy, orange juice and scallions.  Bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and fully cooked.
3.    Blend the cornstarch with a little water, then stir the paste into the fromage frais.  Stir this into the sauce and stir over medium heat until the sauce boils and thickens.
4.    Adjust the seasoning and serve with boiled rice or pasta and green salad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chewy Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies

Chewy Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies.....with a layer of dulce de leche - made January 6, 2012 from Cook's Country Chocolate Desserts

This was the final thing that went into the care package I sent out last weekend.  It's also from Cook's Country Chocolate Desserts because I'm like a kid with a new toy when I get a new baking book.  It's all I want to play with and make recipes from.  The picture in the booklet led me to try these because the browneis looked so dark and fudgy.  I added a layer of dulce de leche in the middle to jazz it up a bit.  This was a dark chocolate brownie so I thought the dulce de leche would give it a nice sweetness contrast.  For the most part, it worked.  The brownies were dark chocolate fudgy goodness and would probably have been fine as is if you want an indulgent chocolate treat.  The dulce de leche also worked although I would probably use half the amount next time so it's more a ribbon of sweetness than a competing layer.  It made slicing a little messy.  Fortunately the dulce de leche layer was in the middle rather than on top so it was still doable to packaged them up in plastic wrap (2 squares to a package) and put them in the care package.

5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups (8 ¾ ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

1.    Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350°F.  Spray 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray.  Make foil sling by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so that they are as wide as the pan.  Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to one another, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan.  Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan.  Spray foil with vegetable oil spray.
2.    In medium heatproof bowl set over pan of almost-simmering water, melt chocolates and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth.  Whisk in cocoa until smooth.  Set aside to cool slightly.
3.    Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in medium bowl until combined, about 15 seconds.  Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture; then stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined.  Pour mixture into prepared pan, spread into corners, and level surface with rubber spatula; bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35 to 40 minutes.  Let cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan using foil handles.  Cut into 1-inch squares and serve.  Do not cut brownies until ready to serve; brownies can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 5 days.


Cast Party Wednesday

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - made January 7, 2012 from Cook’s Country Chocolate Desserts (book #179)

No matter how many different recipes for chocolate chip cookies I've tried and even though I've already found two I liked (Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookies and Ultimate Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies), a potentially good chocolate chip cookie recipe always catches my eye.  I'm usually sucked in when the picture accompanying the recipe is absolutely mouthwatering and shows a moist, thick cookie that makes me salivate.  Plus putting "thick and chewy" in the title is a baking magnet.  This was one of those recipes from this booklet/magazine.  My cousin Christine gave it to me for Christmas and although it's not as thick as a book, I already want to try nearly all of the recipes in it.  And I probably will.  The first one out of the gate is this recipe.

Because you melt the butter, this is really easy to put together in a short amount of time.  I didn't bother with using my stand mixer but mixed it all by hand.  Remember when making chocolate chip cookies, don't add the chocolate chips all at once.  Hold back a handful to add to the last scoop of dough when, almost inevitably, all the chips are gone and you're just left with the remaining (chipless) spoonful of dough.  I chilled these for an hour before I made them.  Normally I would've made these the night before I needed them but I was still sickly and didn't have anything left in me after making the honeybun cake.  But I needed these for a thank you care package so I mixed up the dough the morning before I mailed the package.

Because the recipe gave weight measurements of the ingredients, I used my food scale to measure everything out for the greatest accuracy.  I got results similar to what the write up in the booklet promised: crisp edges, moist and chewy middles and the inside looked like  the original picture that lured me into trying the recipe.  Good, right? Unfortunately though, I thought these cookies were way too sweet.  Maybe it's my sickly taste buds that lowered my sugar tolerance; perish the thought as I can usually ingest a lot of sugar without blinking.  But I think these truly were genuinely too sweet.  I prefer my chocolate chip cookies to have more of a buttery taste rather than a sugary one and for the sugar not to compete with the chocolate chips so forcefully.  Which is too bad as I like everything else about the cookie - texture, spread, ease of preparation.  But not all the sugar flavor.  So it's really unfortunate that I packed these in the care package I sent before I realized how sweet the cookies were.  Oops.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed (7 ounces) brown sugar
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1 ½ cups chocolate chips

1.     Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325°F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.    Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.  Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix butter and sugars on medium speed until thoroughly blended.  Beat in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until combined.  Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed just until combined.  Stir in chips to taste.
3.     Roll scant ¼ cup of dough into balls.  Hold dough ball with fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves.  Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join halves together at base, again forming single ball, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface.  Place formed dough balls on prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 ½ inches apart.
4.    Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft, 15 to 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking.  Let cookies cool on sheets.  Remove cooled cookies from baking sheets with wide metal spatula and serve.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Honeybun Cake

Honeybun Cake - made January 6, 2012 from Eat Cake for Dinner blog

First baking experiment of the new year!  I've been sick all week and normally I don't bake when I'm sick.  It's kind of gross to be in the kitchen, coughing and sneezing, and possibly contaminating whatever I'm baking (ewwww).  So I just don't do it.  But my cold seems to have "progressed" to the point that I can control the coughing fits and, while the dull pounding in my head hasn't abated, I miss baking enough that it's almost a manic impulse to drag myself into the kitchen and bake something just to make myself feel better.  I needed something that seemed easy though because there's only so much pounding in my skull that I can work through.  This recipe fit the bill since I had sour cream to use up and a lone box of cake mix sitting in the pantry.  I did modify it slightly by adding 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the batter and an extra teaspoon of cinnamon to the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture.  Guess I just can't help tinkering and I wanted a little more vanilla and cinnamon flavor.  Or at least I figured the additions couldn't hurt.

This was really easy to mix up.  I did worry a bit that there didn't seem to be enough batter for a 9 x 13 pan and that the cake would be too thin.  I also don't know if I did a very good job of swirling since it was a little difficult to swirl properly.  But once this went into the oven and started baking, it smelled heavenly, even through my stuffed-up nose.  It turns out my worries were unfounded because the cake rose properly to be a good thickness and there's really no wrong way to swirl cinnamon-brown sugar into anything.  I did modify the glaze from Jenn's original recipe and ended up using both more milk and vanilla to make the glaze a nice runny consistency.  In hindsight, I should've used even more milk to make the glaze more runny.  Once it cooled and set, it firmed up like royal icing but I think a little more milk would've kept it softer.

Of course I had to try the taste test piece warm.  Because that was the point of pouring the glaze over the hot cake right out of the oven, right?  I did have the decency to wait until the cake had cooled enough to still be warm but not so hot that I'd burn my taste buds.  I had that much self control.....barely.  This was a great cake. The cake portion was the perfect light, airy/cakey consistency, the brown sugar-cinnamon in the middle melted inside the cake and the brown sugar-cinnamon sprinkled on top and swirled provided a slightly crunchy contrast.  The glaze was the perfect topping and provided a nice sweetness.

My adapted version (please click on post title to go to the original recipe on Jenn's blog)

1 yellow cake mix (I used Pillsbury but you can use any standard yellow cake mix)
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling & topping
1 cup light brown sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups powdered sugar
5-6 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Combine cake mix, eggs, sour cream and oil until well blended; set aside. 
  2. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.  Spread half of the cake batter into a 9x13 cake pan.  Sprinkle with half of the brown sugar and cinnamon, covering the entire cake.  Spread the rest of the cake batter over layer and top with remaining sugar and cinnamon.  Use a knife and swirl the batter.  
  3. Bake at 325 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  
  4. Make the glaze: combine powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and pour over the hot cake right when it comes out of the oven.  Let set.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Alfajores - made December 31, 2011 from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy by Alice Medrich
The last thing I made in 2011

When my parents and later my friend Jenny went to South America, they each brought me back some alfajores, which, according to Alice Medrich, are "the fancy sandwich cookies of Spain and Latin America."  There are many variations of alfajores but they're essentially vanilla butter cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche.  Some are coated in chocolate, some are rolled in coconut, some are plain.  The alfajores given to me were individually wrapped in foil and they were soft because the dulce de leche filling softens the cookies.  So I was eager to make my own alfajores to try them as the fresh, crunchy version with the dulce de leche filling.

I don't own this cookbook but it's another one I checked out of my local library in an effort to keep my acquisitive nature under control.  I like Alice Medrich's cookbooks though so I can see owning this down the road (cough).  For now, the library copy will suffice.  Actually, I've promised myself that once I thin out my recipe books of the ones I don't really use or plan to use, then and only then can I add to it with the ones I want the most.  After my baking challenge is done.

In any case, since this is a sandwich cookie, I made them small, using a small ice cream scoop for reasonably similar-sized cookies.  I thought that would make them small enough.  The dough was a dream to work with, a bit stiff but not sticky and it was easy to shape.  For once I didn't freeze them first.  The recipe calls for flattening the cookie dough balls to a 1-inch thickness before baking.  Although I started with fairly small cookies, they did puff slightly and spread a bit so the cookies turned out a little larger than I had expected.  For the filling, I used the jar of dulce de leche from Williams Sonoma; it's good quality and tastes great.

These cookies turned out really well.  They were crunchy the day they're made and are really tasty, especially with the more high-end dulce de leche as the filling.  I had been a little apprehensive about adding the rum to the dough since I don't like alcohol but it was the perfect touch and upscaled it from "just" a butter cookie.  The rum taste isn't strong at all but gives it more flavor.  Definite thumbs up.  The cookies do soften a little the next day because of the filling but they're still quite good.  The only thing I would do differently next time I make these (and there will be a next time) is to make them even smaller and flatten them a little more to make them a little more dainty.

2 ¼ cups (10.125 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons brandy or rum
1 cup dulce de leche
1.   Preheat the oven to 325⁰F.  Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
2.   Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
3.   With a large spoon in a medium mixing bowl or with a mixer, mix the butter with the sugar until smooth and well blended but not fluffy.  Add the egg and brandy and mix until smooth.  Add the flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated.
4.   Shape heaping teaspoons of dough into 1-inch balls.  Place the cookies 2 inches apart on lined or ungreased pans and flatten to about ½" thick.  Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.  Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back, halfway through the baking time.  Transfer the cookies to racks and cool completely before storing or filling.
5.   Sandwich the cookies with a generous dab of dulce de leche.  The cookies will soften as they stand.  They are good crunchy or soft.  May be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 week.

Crazy for Crust Sweet Tuesday
Sweet Tooth Friday
Sweets for a Saturday