Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Donuts

I know that I am a lucky gal to have a husband who loves to bake.  A few weeks ago (I've been waiting until it was closer to Christmas and thus more appropriate) Brett cracked open his trusty Taste of Home Baking Book and found a recipe for no-fry donuts.  Brett loves donuts.  He comes from the land of Dunkin' Donuts (which I think means anywhere other than Southern California) and always looks forward to visiting Chicago so he can get his fill of them.  I can appreciate a good donut, but for some reason they always make me sick to my stomach so I tend to stay away.  Anyway, I watched TV almost the entire time Brett was in the kitchen working.  Hey, sometimes I just don't feel like cooking!

As many of you know, Brett is the yeast specialist in our household so, not surprisingly, these were yeast donuts.  He made the dough, let it rise, rolled it out, and instead of going for a traditional donut shape, he used cookie cutters to make snowmen and Christmas trees.

The shapes had to rise again and then were finally ready to bake- not fry.

After baking, they smelled amazing, but they were not quite done yet.  This is where I got interested because my nose was telling me it was almost time to eat.  I watched as Brett made the glaze and used tongs to dunk the tops of the donuts.  (The suggestion of using tongs was my only contribution to this project.)  He used plain glaze for the snowmen and then dyed it green for the trees.  His hope was that the glaze would dry white on the snowmen, but he was disappointed to find out that it did not.  When it came time to do the trees the glaze kept stiffening so he kept adding water.  That is why some of the trees are a lighter green than others.  

Finally!  Time to eat!  While these donuts were not as light as those of Dunkin', they were still delicious.  They were not cake-like either so I'll put them somewhere in between.  The best parts were that they had a hint of nutmeg which is one of my favorite Christmas flavors, and they did not give me a stomachache.

By the time they were finished it was quite late, so I limited myself to three and just crossed my fingers that they would still be tasty the next day.  (We always seem to have issues with storing our yeast products.)  However, the next day I put one in the microwave for about 10 seconds and it was just as delicious as the first day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elva Lena's Sugar Cookies

Throughout my childhood, my family would receive a very special package near Christmastime.  Inside the package there were always four wrapped coffee cans with homemade sugar cookies inside.  Each of us would get our own personal can of cookies!  This always brought everyone who received the cookies lots of Christmas joy.  Elva Lena, a good friend of my grandma's, was the mastermind behind this simple but ingenious idea.  Everyone loved her sugar cookies and looked forward to their can every year.

Although Elva Lena is no longer with us, her legacy lives on.  My cousin Paul has become the new giver of cookies and for the past few years has come down to San Diego to bake them with me.

The first year we did it I tried to actually sift 4 cups of flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar together all in one go and ended up getting more on the counter than in the bowl, so now I know to sift it little by little.  Paul has also learned from his past mistakes and now has some cooking clothes that are ok to get messy.  We are practically seasoned veterans now.

I do the dry ingredients, while Paul does the wet ones.  We combine the two and Paul pretty much does the rest.  The dough chills (and so do we.)  For the baking, Paul forms the perfect little balls and I mash them down with the bottom of a glass covered in sugar.  They bake and turn out beautifully.  They are delicate, crumbly, and delicious- almost as good as Elva Lena's but not quite.

There are great perks to being the baker's assistant; I always get a few extra cookies before they get wrapped up.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Homemade Salsa

We went out for Mexican food recently with Brett's parents who were in town visiting.  The conversation predictably turned to my love of chips and salsa, and then on to my severe salsa craving while we were on our road trip this past summer, and then Brett's mom asked, "Have you ever made your own salsa?"  Of all the things we've made, salsa has never been one of them.  Since then I have been determined to make my own.

As luck would have it, when I was up at my parent's house, my grandma was making homemade salsa, so I watched.  I took mental notes of all the ingredients and watched her method carefully (put everything in the blender.)  My grandma was not pleased with the way it turned out, but I thought it was pretty good.  It just needed some extra oooomph.  It was too tomatoey.  Needless to say, her salsa was gone in a matter of days.

So last night I got out my trusty mini food processor and set to making my own salsa.  It felt strange to start making something without a recipe and with only a general idea of what I'm doing, but I managed.  I started with pureeing a big can of whole peeled tomatoes and then I pureed some garlic, green onions, and a red jalapeno (can you believe the store was out of regular jalapenos?)  I chopped up some fresh cilantro sprinkled some garlic salt and stirred everything together in a large bowl.  At my first taste it was too tomatoey.  For someone who does not like tomatoes, this is bad.

My remedy was to add more of everything else.  More garlic, more jalapeno, some regular white onion.  I was getting closer, but my palette is not sophisticated enough to know exactly what I needed.  I went with more garlic, onion and salt.  By this point I could tell I was close and had Brett in there tasting and giving his two cents.  He thought it needed to be spicier but I was out of jalapeno so I did a couple of shakes of Tapatio and called it quits.  It is not the perfect salsa (in fact I may have gone overboard on the onions and garlic) but I like it.

This experiment made me realize that I need to cook by instinct rather than recipes every once in a while.  I need to develop my palette and learn when I need more salt (I hate when the recipe says "season to taste," I can't tell!)  I know I have a long way to go in the culinary world, but I think taking this step out of the (recipe) box was a good exercise for me, and I look forward to more cooking by taste experiences.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Pie Lady

Happy Belated Thanksgiving Everyone!

Brett and I went up to stay with my parents for Thanksgiving and visited with grandparents, cousins, and of course my immediate family.  We had a great time and Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful as usual.  My dad handles the turkey out on the grill, my grandma makes the cornbread dressing and giblet gravy and my mom makes the strawberry salad, green beans, and sweet potato casserole (I'm probably forgetting something else.)  My duty is the pumpkin pie.

I have been making the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie since I was probably 9 or 10 years old.  It has just always been my job.  I will say that I think my pumpkin pie is the best in the world because whenever I get it at a restaurant I am disappointed.  I would love to say that my recipe has all kinds of secret ingredients and a method that I've been perfecting for more than 15 years, but quite frankly, my recipe is anything but secret; you'll find it on the back of the can of Libby's pumpkin puree.  Those people at Libby's know what they're doing.  It is absolutely delicious!

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving I had the honor of making a pecan pie for my grandpa's 80th birthday celebration.  He still has a few days to go before he is actually 80, but we always like to celebrate together.  Happy Birthday Doc!  My mom actually suggested going to buy a pie and since I am on a big "why buy it if you can make it at home" kick I quickly volunteered to do the baking.  Pecan pie is extremely easy (and oooey gooey delicious) so I highly recommend making it.  Here is my grandma's recipe:

Pecan Pie
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white Karo corn syrup
3 eggs, well beaten
1 unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, butter, and syrup.  Add beaten eggs and pecans.  Mix thoroughly.  Pour into pie crust.  Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes.  Cool.

I guess the next step in the pie lady's career is making her own crusts... I'll get there eventually. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Orange Yogurt

In our household, I am usually the one who buys something with the sincere hope of finding a new favorite food and instead almost always finds something new to add to my list of foods to never put in my mouth again.  For once, Brett gets that honor.

Brett loves Yoplait's non-fat yogurt.  He eats it every night for dessert and sometimes takes it in his lunch.  He will eat most flavors, but his favorite is cherry.  Lately the cherry yogurt has had little seeds that certainly didn't come from cherries nor any other fruit listed in the ingredients.  This weirded him out a little bit.  We have also turned into recycling/reducing/reusing  freaks and Brett felt bad about all the little plastic yogurt containers that he was using up.  His solution was to buy a big container of yogurt.  Unfortunately bulk yogurt does not come in delicious cherry and he came home with plain.  One bite of plain yogurt is all it takes...YUCK!

He went to the kitchen to get some dessert and came back to the couch empty handed.  Soon I heard the familiar words that are usually coming out of my mouth, escape his, "I don't think I can eat any more of that.  It's bad."  So I immediately started looking up recipes online for ways to doctor up plain yogurt and I found one for Orange Yogurt from The Barefoot Contessa.

It involved adding honey, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla to plain yogurt.  Sounded good to us.  It also involved adding raisins and walnuts but we ignored that part.  Unfortunately, we also ignored the part about straining the yogurt for 3 hours to thicken it up.  Consequently, our finished product turned out extremely liquidy.  It certainly tasted better (it couldn't have tasted worse) but the thin texture is weird for me.  I don't think I will be eating any more of it, but, as always, I hope that Brett will.

Our other idea for improving it even more is to put it in the ice cream maker and make frozen yogurt.  I have no idea if that will work though.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spiced Squash and Apple Soup

It is incredibly funny (to me at least) that I am willing to try so many new recipes even though I am an extremely picky eater.  I'm quite sure that this blog has something to do with it, and that is a good thing.  With my 100th post approaching I was hoping that whatever I made would be something fabulous, but now that we are here, Spiced Squash and Apple Soup will have to suffice.

This recipe, from Williams-Sonoma's Complete Entertaining Cookbook, serves 12, but thank goodness I had the foresight to quarter the recipe.  I don't think I've ever quartered a recipe before.  Luckily all the measurements worked out easily.  The only mistake I made was putting a whole apple instead of half of one.  When I get to chopping, there's no stopping me!

The chopped onion and apple sauteed in some butter and at first had an odd smell.  But after a few minutes I either got used to it, or it actually started to smell good, I'm not sure which.  While that was cooking I chopped up the butternut squash (which was hard work!) and Brett measured out the nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon and then added the chicken stock. 
Once I was finally done chopping up that squash, we let it simmer for 30 minutes and got to work on the cornbread
I love any excuse to use my immersion blender.  I was worried about the hot liquid splashing out so I wore an oven mitt.  It did splash a little bit once but it was away from me.  When the soup was smooth, we finally got to eat.

Brett and I both agreed that the soup was ok, but we won't make it again.  In fact, there are leftovers in the fridge that I'm hoping Brett will eat because I know that I'm not going to.  We'll probably have to throw it out.  I'm so glad we made cornbread with this soup because otherwise I would have been starving.  I ate as much as I could, but I think I have a problem with pureed soups.  It's a texture thing, or maybe it's an just an unfamiliar vegetable thing.  I don't know what my problem is.  It certainly looks yummy though.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Soft Pretzels

The first yeast bread we ever made was soft pretzels so it has a special place in our hearts. We use the recipe in the Taste of Home Baking Book that has instructional pictures and is really quite easy to follow.  The pretzels turned out so wonderfully the first time that we've been brave enough to try lots of different yeast breads and pretzels multiple times.  Brett got a hankerin' for soft pretzels recently and already had the dough rising when I arrived home.

When it came time to roll the dough out into logs and form them into pretzels I jumped in there because I had only ever watched.  It looked like fun.   I had seen something on T.V. about noodle making where the guy takes the dough and swings it around and it stretches out perfectly, so I decided to try that.  My first one swung and stretched pretty well so I thought I would try it with my next one.  Well, as I was swinging I must have gotten a little overzealous because the long end that had just stretched out broke off and went flying across the kitchen and landed in the sink right in a dirty enchilada pan.  Oops!  Of course I was left with a handful of dough so I made a baby pretzel and fired myself.  Here is some of Brett's handiwork:

With the pretzels formed, Brett poached them in boiling baking soda water for a short time and then I got to salt them before they went in the oven.  My mini pretzel came out cute and soft.  I thought it might have a different texture than its larger counterparts, but it was equally delicious.
We must have a knack for pretzel making because they turn out as good as the kind you buy at sporting events or fairs.  I'm not kidding.  When we see soft pretzels out in public we are able to resist because, "What's the big deal?  We can make them at home!"  We saw some Mickey Mouse shaped pretzels at Disneyland recently and thought that maybe we could try that next time.

The only problem is that they have to be eaten fresh.  They do not store well at all.  We tried the empty cereal bag trick that helps with other breads, but it just does not work with pretzels.  They taste ok the next day but they look wrinkly and have a different texture.  So we just gorge ourselves when they're fresh so that we have as few leftovers as possible.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Spiced Tea

At the first hint of fall I start getting thirsty for what I believe is the best spiced tea on the planet.  I made sure to have the ingredients on hand for when the perfect moment struck.  This past Tuesday it was drizzly outside and definitely had that "it's not summer anymore" feeling.  Of course I jumped on the chance to make spiced tea.

Here is Mamma's Spiced Tea recipe:
8 cups of water
3 tea bags (I use Lipton)
48 oz of orange/pineapple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
18 whole cloves
juice from 2 lemons
1 cup of sugar (I use less maybe 3/4 of a cup)

Just combine all the ingredients in a large pot and simmer over low heat for two hours.  When it's done, strain and drink it.

It always fills our apartment with the wonderful aroma of Christmas (no matter how far from Christmas it is.)  And when you're done smelling it simmer for 2 hours, it tastes like Christmas too.  So sweet and delicious.  I personally can't even taste the tea.  It just tastes like cinnamony, clovey juice to me.  Brett (a very stubborn non-tea person) claims that he can indeed taste the tea.  I'll just let you decide for yourself.   Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night Dinner

When I was menu planning over the weekend I told Brett that I wanted to make something special for Election Night.  I just had the overwhelming feeling that history would be made and I wanted to remember everything about what I was doing when it happened including what I was eating.  I also desperately hoped that it would turn into a celebration dinner... which it did!

For our Election Night dinner Brett and I chose a recipe for Greek Chicken Strudel out of Williams Sonoma's Complete Entertaining Cookbook.  We had never worked with phyllo dough, you all know how much I love working with chicken, and the recipe called for, as Brett put it, about a thousand ingredients, but it certainly fit the profile of a special dinner.

We cut out a chicken related meltdown by buying a pre-roasted one from the grocery store (on sale for $5!)  We ate chicken Monday and then Brett picked the carcass clean and saved the leftovers for Tuesday.  We also left out the fresh herbs because I hate dill and am indifferent to parsley.

We got the filling ready to go first because I knew that as soon as the phyllo dough is out of the package things have to move fast and it's best to have everything ready.  I sauteed some spinach and had the lovely task of squeezing it dry.  (For all you Harry Potter fans out there it was like holding a handful of gillyweed.  It was hard to resist the urge to shove the whole slimy thing in my mouth and wait for flippers and gills to grow!)  Brett crumbled a block of feta and claimed before bed that his hands still smelled like cheese.  Everything got combined in a big mixing bowl.  "Everything" consisted of jack cheese, toasted chopped walnuts, eggs, sauteed green onions, nutmeg, coriander, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. 

Once the filling was thoroughly mixed, I got a place ready for the phyllo.  When I had a difficult time getting the first sheet off the roll, Brett took charge of dismantling the phyllo (and keeping it covered) while I conquered the melted butter.  Four sheets of phyllo with melted butter brushed between every layer...mmmmmmm.

I let Brett do the filling and rolling because he is very good at that sort of thing.  Soon we had two gigantic rolls coming out of the oven.

In addition to having a special meal, I got out our fancy china platter to eat off of.  In the picture in the cookbook, they have the strudel slices so nicely laid out on a platter.  There was no way it was all going to fit on one platter.  Brett said he didn't really care, so he ate off of a regular old plate.  The picture turned out a bit rosy in hue, but I should tell those of you who don't know that there is beautiful cobalt blue running around the edge of the plate.  It looked very presidential!  They should get our pattern in the White House!

At this point I was starving (what's new?) and couldn't wait to sit down and eat.  This is what went through my head after the first bite, "MMMMM, oh my gosh this is soooooo rich!."  After the second bite, "Oh my gosh I don't think I can eat any more!"  I am not joking.  It was that rich.  I did manage to make it through 3 slices before actually calling it quits (Brett made it through 4.)  It was delicious, but definitely for special occasions only.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tuscan Bean Dip

It's amazing how we forget about about some of the cookbooks we have.  Lately I have been getting out cookbooks that I haven't opened in a long while and taking a gander.  This recipe for Tuscan Bean Dip was found was in my Food Network's Making it Easy cookbook.

Brett and I eat Nacho French Bread Pizza quite regularly but we are always left with half a loaf of french bread that sometimes goes to waste.  We are always looking for new ways to use the other half.  This bean dip seemed like a good way.  It calls for a baguette to be thinly sliced, rubbed with garlic, and toasted, but I figured it would work with french bread.  Of course Brett had different ideas about how we would be using the bread.  He imagined just cubing it up and dipping it in the bean mixture.  We went with his idea because it was less fussy (and boy am I glad because we certainly did not need any more garlic!)

The bean dip was incredibly easy.  I heated some olive oil in a small saucepan and cooked 4 cloves of chopped garlic until it started to brown.  When I took it off the heat it cooked for a while longer and I was worried that it would burn, but it didn't.  Then I put in some rosemary and a shake of red pepper flakes.  The recipe called for a tablespoon and a half of rosemary, but I knew this would be a disaster so I put a teaspoon and even this seemed like too much.  We let that sit and infuse the oil for a few minutes.

Then we put a can of white beans in my mini food processor with some salt and the oil mixture and let 'er rip.  Easy!  

It was good, but it was just too strong!  There was too much of everything.  Too much rosemary.  Too much garlic.  Too much salt.  I should have strained the oil before adding it to the beans.  Next time I will just put less of everything.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Something Scary

I love shrimp.  I had no idea that they are loaded with cholesterol!  My mom clued me into this fact and so I looked it up online and indeed 3oz of shrimp contains 43% of your cholesterol for the day!  This, of course, was learned after I made the wonderful "Cajun Shrimp and Rice" recipe found in the latest Simple and Delicious Magazine.

I sauteed shrimp and garlic in a T of olive oil and a T of butter.  To that I added 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning that Brett's mom got me for Christmas.  I hadn't used it before, but I'm so glad I've tried it now because it's delicious!  I'm going to look for more recipes with Cajun seasoning.  Then I tossed in some snow peas which is a veggie that we've grown to tolerate almost to the point of enjoyment (but not quite.)  The last step was adding some cooked rice and stirring it around.  So easy!

We loved it.  We ate the whole thing (6oz of shrimp each) and were raving about how we'd found something new to add to our rotation.

Now that I know how terrible shrimp is for you, it definitely won't be on our rotation.  But I know that it's ok to eat anything in moderation, so I'm sure we'll see this again at some point in the future when we feel like eating 86% of our cholesterol for the day.  AAAAAAAHHHHH!   Happy Halloween!  

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Cookies!

About once a year rolled cookies find a way into our home.  Sometimes it's Easter (I love decorating egg cookies,) but usually it's Halloween.  We've had some really cute Halloween cookies in the past, and this year was no exception.

Brett did all of the hard work.  He made the dough, rolled and cut the cookies out, and baked them.  He even made the icing.  The rule in our house is whoever makes the cookies gets to use their mom's recipe because, of course, everyone thinks their mom's cookies are the best.  So this year it was Brett's mom's recipe, which has a hint of lemon in it.

I jumped in for the decorating.  We frosted all of our white cookies first which included all the ghosts and one owl.  Then we dyed the frosting and got to work on the rest.  Brett is fine with just spreading frosting on, but I love to embellish.  So I got some decorator bags out and got creative.  Even Brett put a few faces on his pumpkins.  Halloween cookies aren't quite as fun as Christmas cookies, but I still love them.

We also have the rule that you can only eat cookies that you decorated...I'm down to 8!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pumpkin Waffles

Brett and I are both very set in our ways as far as breakfast goes.  He has a giant bowl of cereal and I have an Instant Breakfast.  We do however enjoy other breakfast foods, so we usually end up having breakfast foods at dinnertime.  This past Sunday was one of those times.

We still had a good portion of the giant can of pumpkin in our fridge, so I scoured the internet for a pumpkin waffle recipe that sounded yummy.  The one I found said that it works best with a Belgian waffle-maker but it also said that it would work fine with a regular waffle-iron.  So I got out my regular waffle iron and got to work.

When the first waffle was done, I lifted the lid and it completely split down the middle; one half was stuck to the top and the other to the bottom.  This is when I enlisted Brett's help.  He was able to neatly coax the waffle off with a fork without burning himself.  He said, "That was a test waffle."  But it turned out that every waffle stuck.  However, we were prepared for that and Brett pried each one off without pulling it apart.  They did get better and better with each consecutive waffle but by the time we got a near perfect one, it was also the last one.

The waffles were good.  Some bites had a distinct nutmeg flavor, others had a ginger flavor.  Maybe I didn't stir the batter enough, or maybe my taste buds could only handle one spice at a time.  My favorite bites were the crunchy pieces near the edge.  The first couple of waffles were not crunchy and had the texture of pancakes.  (If I wanted pancakes I would have made pancakes!)  When I took my first crunchy bite I got this overwhelming sense of, "ooooh,  yum that flavor is familiar.  Where have I tasted that before?"  Of course it didn't take me long to figure out that it tasted like an ice cream cone, duh!  Then I got this brilliant idea that ice cream shops could make seasonal waffle-cones to go with their seasonal ice cream flavors.  Just think: Pumpkin Waffle cone with Apple Pie ice cream.  Sounds delicious right?!  I'm a genius : )

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Julie & Julia

The book Julie & Julia by Julie Powell has been on my reading list for a very long time.  I'd been looking for it at the library every time I went, and this past week it was finally on the shelf!  (Yes, I've heard of putting a book on hold, but I prefer to leave things to fate:))  I came home and started reading immediately and finished it in a couple of days.

I could not have picked a more perfect book for me to read.  Not only is it about Julie's adventures (and misadventures) of working her way through every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, but she blogged about it too!  She started her project in 2002, so this was way before I had even heard of a blog.  I view her as a pioneer in cooking blogs.  Her determination to complete her project is inspiring and proof that goal setting, no matter what your goal, can work wonders.  Read the book (if you haven't already!)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pumpkin Oat Muffins

Like I said, we've gone a little pumpkin crazy now that fall is here (although the weather has gotten hot again and is not cooperating at all!)  The latest issue of Simple and Delicious Magazine was the jackpot!  I found four or five recipes that I wanted to try and that is rare!  Usually I'm pleased if I find one that sounds good.  The first one I tried was Pumpkin Oat Muffins.

Besides spilling brown sugar all over the counter, this was a pretty uneventful baking endeavor.  There were lots of ingredients so it took a good amount of careful reading.  One of those ingredients was pumpkin pie spice of which I had none, so I got out our handy-dandy Taste of Home Baking Book and made my own, which added a few more ingredients to the list.  But I certainly liked the idea of putting together my own pumpkin pie spice rather than buying another spice bottle.  My cabinet can hardly fit any more and plus they are very expensive.

The batter was thick, orange, and smelled like autumn.  I took some extra care spooning the batter into the muffin cups and I was doing such a fantastic job until the very last muffin when I spilled some on the tin.  Oh well, I'm still proud of myself.  The muffins got a brown sugar/butter/more pumpkin pie spice topping and went in the oven.

They looked and smelled wonderful, but neither Brett nor I want to have them again for two different reasons.  I thought they were bland despite all the spices, and Brett thought there were too many flavors going on (spices, pumpkin, oats, raisins.)  I will admit that the next day they tasted better to me.  Maybe the ingredients just needed time to get acquainted with each other :)

The giant can of pumpkin is almost used up...hmmmmm.  I've got a few ideas :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pumpkin Roll

I've lived in Southern California for the majority of my life and I've never experienced a true fall season.  Southern California does have 4 seasons, they are just very subtle.   Every fall there are a few species of trees with changing leaves that are always a joy to see (if you know where to find them), the temperature does dip down to the low 60's, and of course the pumpkins start popping up in the grocery store.

A giant can of Libby's pumpkin mysteriously ;) found its way into our pantry and Brett and I have been going a little pumpkin crazy.  Brett found a recipe for Pumpkin Roll online and got to work with me as his faithful sous chef.

The cake smelled amazing!  It took some restraint to not eat the cake immediately.  Brett prepared a kitchen towel covered in powdered sugar for rolling the cake up in.  It proved fairly difficult to roll the cake up carefully without it cracking, but we managed it.  It cooled in the towel.

Then came the even the trickier part of unrolling it, spreading the cream cheese filling, and rolling it back up.  Unrolling was slow work because even though the towel was covered in powdered sugar, the cake had absorbed it all and was now firmly stuck to the towel.  We had to peel the cake off as we unrolled.  The cream cheese filling spread nicely, but when we were re-rolling, the cake cracked a little bit and a lot of filling oozed dramatically out the side.
Difficulties aside, the log turned out beautifully.  We loved seeing the cream cheese swirl inside.  It tasted delicious (almost like pumpkin pie, which I am impatiently waiting until Thanksgiving to eat.)  There was only one thing we would have changed and that is the filling.  We used low fat cream cheese and it wasn't as smooth as the full fat would have been.  Oh well.  It was still good.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Homemade Candies

This was one of those ambitious projects that seemed destined for trouble, but Brett likes to try ambitious things, and I'm always willing to go along for the ride.  We have a candymaking cookbook that we recently rediscovered when we were reorganizing the apartment and Brett's interest was sparked.

I got home from work the other day and Brett was sitting on the couch stirring homemade fondant (filling for candy.)  Turns out he had been stirring for almost an hour!  It was not easy work either.  That stuff was very thick.  When it finally set up, half was dyed yellow and flavored with lemon extract, and the other half was dyed green and flavored with peppermint extract.  He formed them into balls, wrapped them in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for a couple of weeks until we felt the urge to make candy.

T.V. was terrible Saturday night so we decided, what better time to get out that fondant and start dipping!  Well, Brett got out one ball of fondant, unwrapped it, and quickly realized that it was not the correct consistency.  It stuck very badly to his hands and of course made rolling it into a long snake difficult.  Even more challenging was cutting it into half inch sections.  We did our best, but it was messy work.  Nothing was uniform or pretty.

Even though you are supposed to dip room temperature fondant we put it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up and it seemed to work just fine.  Hand dipping is supposed to be messy business and believe or not Brett stayed relatively clean compared to the picture in the book.  Guess who got to lick his fingers :P (and guess who got sticky fondant on the camera...oops!)

Brett even tried to put a signature L (for lemon) on one them!

They weren't pretty, but they actually tasted pretty good.  The mint ones tasted pretty much like York Peppermint Patties (one of my favorite candies!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Black Bean Soup

After the recent success of Red Beans and Rice Soup, I went back to the same Veggie Meals cookbook and found another soup that sounded pretty good.  Brett and I eat a lot of black beans, so naturally Black Bean Soup sounded like something we would enjoy.  Another bonus was that this recipe did not call for hot sauce, although it did call for 2 jalapenos.  I only put one.  The recipe made Brett a little skeptical because it came from Rachael Ray, whom he can't stand for 5 seconds, and, even more concerning, it was tomato based.   The recipe called for crushed tomatoes, and I knew Brett would not go for that, so I substituted tomato sauce for a smoother texture.

I thought the soup turned out pretty good.  However, I ended up eating all of the leftovers, so I think that Brett was not a big fan.  It was a bit oniony, but I think the tomato base was too much for him.  Finding a new meal for our dinner rotation is rare, so I'll just keep trying new things and hoping they're at least edible.  Bye-bye black bean soup.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bread Idea?

Most of you know that Brett loves to bake bread, but is growing tired of traditional shapes.  He's talked about trying to make an animal shaped loaf at some point in the future, but we are open to new ideas.  I was up in L.A. at a farmer's market last weekend when my brother and I spotted a strangely shaped loaf of bread in a stall window.

It literally looked like a pile of poop.  Do people actually buy poop shaped bread?  It seems rather unappetizing to me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Candied Walnuts

Lately I have been eating spinach, raspberry, and walnut salads for lunch. It's my attempt to eat healthier. I have never really appreciated walnuts before. Maybe it's the fact that spinach is so bad that I can't help but think the walnut and raspberry bites are delicious. Anyway, of course eating such a healthy lunch makes me think of unhealthy things, mainly, " Wow I bet these walnuts would taste even better if I candied them!" And so I did, and they were better:)

I found three different recipes for candied walnuts and decided to start with the most simple one which happened to come from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I may yet try the other two, just for comparison purposes (and snacking purposes) but for now I've only tried one.

I heated water, sugar, and a splash of lemon juice in a little saucepan until it turned "golden amber." Of course the edges turned golden amber first, so I wasn't sure if I should wait for the whole thing to change color or not. I waited a little but decided it was time to add the walnuts.

I stirred it up got everything nicely coated and then decided to add some more walnuts.

Martha's recipe said to take each walnut half out individually with a fork and lay them out on parchment. I can just imagine her lining everything up perfectly. Well, obviously this didn't work out for me. I tried using tongs (at least I had the foresight to know a fork wouldn't work for me) but the nuts got soooo sticky that they wouldn't come off. So I made a snap decision to just dump the whole pot out onto the silpat and then try to spread them out. This worked for a little bit, but as you can see, some sections were walnut brittle. I let it cool and then broke it all apart. It was all gone in 2 days. Yum!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Red Beans and Rice Soup

I'm always looking for a new main course to try (I'm never at a loss for desserts) and I came across this recipe in my Veggie Meals cookbook written, of course, by Rachael Ray.  At least this cookbook does not have a giant awkward looking picture of her, it is very subtly RR.  

I didn't leave anything out of this recipe even though Brett hates celery.  He admits that he couldn't even taste it!  Maybe that's the trick to making things taste good.  I did substitute red pepper for green pepper because I had some leftover, but that's not a big deal.  I also didn't measure the hot sauce.  The recipe called for two ounces, but it was only a five ounce bottle!  That sounded like way too much hot sauce so I shook until I thought it looked like enough which was way less than two ounces.

It was delicious, but not really a soup, and SPICY SPICY SPICY!  This was just below my spicy threshold (thank goodness) so I was able to eat it, but my tongue was on fire all night!  We've found another winner to add to our main course rotation, just next time less Tapatio!  

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lemon Sugar Snaps

Considering my love of cookies, I really don't make them very often.  This past week I finally made some cookies, but it was by complete fluke.  I was planning on making a strawberry rhubarb crumble after my mom had raved about a pie she had just eaten.  But when I got to the store, the strawberries looked terrible, and there was no fresh rhubarb.  However, once I had scrapped that idea, I forgot to put back the lemon that the recipe called for.  I got home, realized I had a lemon, and quickly thought of something to make: Lemon Sugar Snaps!  I've made these cookies before from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook but I didn't remember much about them at all except that they were good.

I only had enough lemon for half of the recipe, which is a good thing (as Martha would say) because two people don't need to eat a whole gob of cookies.  As you know from previous posts, paying attention is sometimes my downfall and so halving recipes is dangerous.

When I got done making the "dough" I was worried because it had the consistency of icing: very soft and fluffy.  It was like the ratio of butter to flour was off.  I was absolutely positive that I had halved everything correctly, so I was confused as to why the dough was not dough-like.  It chilled in the fridge overnight and I was kept up late thinking about what I could have possibly done wrong.  I thought I had figured it out.  Maybe instead of grabbing the 1/2 measuring cup, I grabbed the 1/3, and that's why it seemed like there wasn't enough flour!  I went in the kitchen and checked (did you think I had cleaned up my mess?) but I had used the correct measuring cup.  I was baffled.  I must've done everything right, so maybe there was something wrong with the recipe.

The next day the dough had solidified and was basically the texture of a stick of butter.  I scooped it out and grossly underestimated the amount of space these cookies needed to bake.  When I pulled the first batch out of the oven, four of the cookies had spread into each other!  I wasn't trying to win a beauty contest though so I learned from my mistake and spaced the next batch better.

They turned out delicious (greasy but delicious.)  Why did I ever doubt Martha Stewart?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Trans Fat Oops

When food companies were first required to disclose the amount of trans fat in their products I was shocked to see that some things I had been eating my whole life had quite a bit.  Just about every Pillsbury bread dough product is full of trans fat, in particular the crescent rolls and biscuits.  So I started buying the reduced fat crescent rolls ( no trans fat and still quite tasty) and just stopped buying biscuits all together.

The other night I was starting to make taco-ring (one of our stand-by dinners) and I pulled the crescents out of the fridge only to see that they were not reduced fat, but rather "Big and Buttery."  Of course they were loaded with trans-fat.  I had a dilemma: throw them away and waste food and money, or eat them and cry about my arteries.  I decided to eat them.  When I opened the package they smelled like a stick of butter, when it was cooking they smelled like a melting stick of butter, and when I ate it, well obviously they tasted like crescent rolls drenched in a stick of butter.

I know that grabbing the wrong thing at the store happens to everyone, but it still didn't make me feel any better. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pizza Dough From Scratch

Even though yeast breads get made in our home quite frequently thanks to Brett, this is the first one that I've actually done.  I've been wanting to make pizza dough for a while now.  Pizza is most definitely my favorite food, but when I eat it, I always feel so guilty and unhealthy.  I felt like making my own pizza, with my own toppings, would quell some of those guilty feeling.  Brett was not sold on the idea because he thinks that Boboli crusts are just fine and that making dough is too time consuming.  But I say if you've got the time, at least try it!

Making the dough went well.  I did ask Brett for his expert advice a couple of times.  I kept adding flour beyond what the recipe called for because it was not forming a "firm dough."  I don't think it ever did, rather I just gave up and said, "Firm enough!"  This was not a rising dough recipe, so I just let it rest for 10 minutes and then rolled it out.
I love my rolling mat and tool!  No measuring necessary!

The trickiest part was transferring the rolled out dough to the cookie sheet (we used to have a really nice pizza pan but we have no idea where it went.)  I was able to pick it up despite it sticking just a little to the mat, and after suppressing the strong urge to toss it in the air, I got it onto the silpat in more or less the same shape.  It baked by itself for a little while and then it was time for the toppings.
I got so excited about the toppings that I forgot to put the cheese on first!  It doesn't really matter as far as taste goes...I think.  We put thinly slice red onion (thank you mandoline,) pineapple,  turkey pepperoni, and for those of you eagle eyes, yes the last of our bacon is on there too.  (The bacon was the best part!)
We didn't use the best quality of mozzarella for pizza (part skim low moisture) so it melted funny.  But it tasted fine and I'm sure its more healthy than usual pizza mozzarella.  
The crust was a little bit crunchy for me, but Brett gladly ate mine.  I prefer soft crust like a breadstick.  Maybe next time I will cook it slightly less.  I think it was better than Boboli and less expensive too if you don't mind spending some extra time making it.  Most importantly, I satisfied my need for pizza and said goodbye to pizza guilt!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Corn Bacon Muffins

I found this recipe ages ago in Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine (I know...I know...that's two in a row and believe me I am embarassed!) and it sounded so good that I actually cut it out.  Usually I just say, "that sounds good," and turn the page and forget about it.  Not this one.  The only problem was that there was bacon in it and, like I said in the previous post, we never buy bacon.  Clearly we have had bacon in the house lately because it has been featured in almost every meal.

I did alter the recipe a little bit.  Instead of regular chopped onions, I used green onions that we already had on hand.  Also, when I measured out the frozen corn, we had just a tiny bit left in the bag so I dumped all of it in.  Maybe the biggest change I made was using sour cream mixed with regular milk in place of buttermilk.  I already had a little bit of sour cream that probably wasn't going to get used and I certainly didn't want to buy a carton of buttermilk that would definitely not get used.  This was a well justified switch for me that I don't think made a huge difference.  I also halved the recipe (which I know is not changing the recipe) but you try adding half an egg!  It is not easy!  I shouldn't talk... I assigned Brett that duty.  So who knows if I had exactly the right amount of egg, but it looked close enough to us.
Brett thought that I filled the cups up too much, but it turns out that I didn't.
These muffins were extremely moist.  In fact too moist for me.  I think maybe the extra frozen corn added some extra water to the batter.  Brett thought they were fine so that made me feel good.  The flavors were great and of course the bacon stole the show.

Here is the link to the original recipe.