Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pastry Blunder

For Christmas two years ago, Brett's mom got me a pastry blender (pictured above cutting in the butter and cream cheese for biscuits.) I remember opening it, looking at it, and saying, “I’ve seen one of these before, but what is it?” Oops! Little did I know that it is a great kitchen tool and I have used it quite a few times since then. It takes a little elbow grease, but you are able to get the cold butter to the exact size you like.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cream Cheese and Chive Biscuits

This was the first recipe I tried out of my Martha Stewart Baking Handbook a couple of years ago, and I wanted to do a second take because the first time was a bit of a fiasco.

Let’s flashback to that afternoon so long ago…the recipe calls for cream cheese and buttermilk. I didn’t have those things on hand, so I used low fat spreadable cream cheese (that I had for bagels) and regular 1% milk. The recipe states that once the dough is all mixed up it will be “slightly sticky” and to turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. I followed those directions to the letter and found my hands amassed in a sticky gooey blob that was impossible to “knead four times.” I felt like a dinosaur trapped in a tar pit and sincerely hoped that my wedding ring wouldn’t be lost forever (or until someone ate it!) Once I finally extracted my hands from the dough, it was time to roll. With a little flour sprinkled on the dough and the roller, I managed to roll through with much difficulty battling the dough as it desperately clung to anything it encountered.

The recipe says to fold the dough like a business letter into thirds. Ha! Nearly impossible! The lightly floured surface provided little help with this monster.

Once I repeated the folding a few times, it chilled in the refrigerator and was much easier to deal with from then on. They did taste fabulous once baked.

Ok…flash forward to present day (that's where the pictures came from.) I used exactly what the recipe called for, used WAY more flour on the mat, my hands, and the roller, and encountered almost as much trouble. I think these are just temperamental biscuits! Of course they turned out delicious…but I don’t think they are worth the mess and trouble. Perhaps I could make them drop biscuits instead, that would eliminate all of the problems. Maybe next time :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day, my dad and brother travel across the country for the Indianapolis 500, so Brett and I come up to hang out with my mom in Orange County and do something fun. That “something fun” always involves food.

This year, our special night out was spent at The Melting Pot in Brea. As you might have guessed, The Melting Pot is a fondue restaurant. It was a little on the pricey side, but totally worth it. (They are located all over Southern California and throughout the country.) The atmosphere was quiet and very intimate. I don’t think we saw or heard another customer the entire night! We opted for what they call “The Big Night Out,” which includes a cheese course, salad, lots of meat, and a dessert course. It is a TON of food. 

We got some kind of Caribbean cheese that had gouda cheese, pineapple juice, garlic, and some sweet peppers. It was a little sweet, but delicious. There were various bread cubes to dip, along with veggies and apples. Mom and Brett got a mango coconut salad, while I was boring and got a Caesar. The interesting thing about the Caesar salad was the parmesan crusted pine nuts. They actually tasted a little sweet, not salty. 

For the entrée cooking liquid we got Mojo style, which had lime, cilantro, and garlic among other things. It was so fun to do fondue! At first we were very quiet, trying to time our cooking perfectly, but that didn’t last very long. Our vegetables ended up getting over-cooked, but everything else was fantastic. There was Jamaican jerk beef, filet mignon, chicken, pork, shrimp, and butternut squash ravioli. I’m probably leaving something out, but as you can see it was a gut-busting amount of food! 

Our dessert was called “The Flaming Turtle.” It was milk chocolate (Brett actually approved!) with caramel and chopped pecans. For dipping we got various marshmallows, Rice Krispy treats, strawberries, bananas, pound cake, brownies, and cheesecake. The dessert was incredible, but after an already gut-busting entrée, they almost had to roll us out of the restaurant! Mom was warned not to hit any bumps on the drive home, or our guts might actually bust.

The next night, mom made a special drink called Pink Palaces, which is basically a virgin pina colada. It was very tasty and pretty easy to make.

Pink Palaces

2 ½ cups pineapple juice

¾ cup cream of coconut

2/3 cup half and half

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 tsp grenadine (we added a little more to make it pinker)

cherries for garnish

Just combine in a blender and pour over ice if you like. I preferred mine without ice. Our cherries sunk down to the bottom, but made a nice surprise at the end.

Here’s to our fun weekend!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Southern Style

I am not a Southern girl, but that’s where my roots are, so sometimes I pretend that I am. This was one of those nights where I wanted to be a proper Southern cook and make some good ol’ cornbread and baked beans. I’ve been making cornbread ever since I was a little girl. It’s probably one of the first things I ever made by myself. My mom’s recipe is a little sweet and always moist and delicious. I usually do everything according to the recipe, but this time I used Pam to grease the pie plate instead of shortening, and I had buttermilk on hand for something else (I’ll post on that later) so rather than let a whole gob of buttermilk go to waste I used it instead of “sweet” milk. Now I have never used buttermilk before so the smell was off-putting for me, but the finished product was delicious. I could have let it cook for just a tad longer (a little too moist in the middle) but all in all it was good. It didn’t have the same sweet flavor that it usually has, but it was still yummy. The original wins out, but if I ever need to use up some buttermilk, I know a good strategy. Here’s the recipe:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
2 eggs
1 cup milk

¼ cup vegetable oil

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add cornmeal and mix well. Add eggs, milk, and oil. Stir well. Pour batter into a greased 9 inch baking pan (a pie plate works great!) Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-24 minutes.

To accompany the cornbread, I got out my mom’s baked beans recipe, which hardly counts as cooking at all. It’s a can of Pork and Beans mixed with half a cup of brown sugar and half a cup of ketchup. It could not be easier. She usually tosses a couple slices of bacon on top for the baking, but I didn’t have any, and it was fine without it. It bakes for an hour at 350 degrees.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Birthday Food

In addition to his cake, Brett got all kinds of special food for his birthday weekend. As his gift (and sort of a gift for myself) I ordered a Lou Malnati's deep dish Chicago style pizza all the way from Chicago. They shipped it overnight packed in dry ice and it arrived at our doorstep still solidly frozen. We ate it for lunch on Saturday and that was really the only meal we needed all day. We were stuffed!

On Sunday I made Brett a special breakfast of Eggs Benedict. I actually never cook eggs (I leave that to Brett) so poaching eggs is always an adventure for me. I had done it once before on Brett's birthday last year. When I thought they were done, I tried to slide the first egg onto the English muffin and totally broke the yolk. Oops! I think that egg was undercooked, so I let the second egg go for about a minute longer. That extra minute made all the difference. I was able to slide the second egg perfectly onto the muffin and it was not overcooked. When I was making the Hollandaise sauce it curdled a little when I removed it from the heat, but the recipe said if that happened to stir in some hot water and that trick worked wonderfully.

For lunch on Sunday, Brett wanted to get Arby's Beef 'n Cheddar sandwiches and curly fries, so we stuffed ourselves on those and snacked for dinner. I refuse to eat Arby's on any other day, so Brett always takes advantage on his birthday. It's becoming a bit of a tradition. What a great birthday week!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Brett's Birthday Cake

Brett loves coins. He can sit for hours on end looking at coins whether in hand or in pictures online. So for his birthday cake I thought I would do a replica of one of the coins he admires.

It is called a Fugio Cent and Ben Franklin helped come up with the sayings for the coin. Anyway, it says fugio, which means “I fly” in Latin and is accompanied by a sundial. Get it? Time flies! This also seemed appropriate for a birthday cake. Now I was not about to try and draw a sundial with icing so I opted for the other side of the coin that has 13 rings to symbolize the 13 colonies. When I was conceptualizing this I knew it would come down to getting the right color, and being able to execute the rings well. Neither of which is a guarantee.

Yesterday was one of those, “Where is my brain?!” days. The first thing related to cooking (there were a few unrelated moments throughout the day) was when we were leaving for the store and I almost forgot to put powdered sugar on the list, then when I was making my frosting I realized that I didn’t have enough vanilla for the recipe. To compensate for the lack of vanilla I wrongly went a little shy on the milk at the end when I should have gone a little heavy. Oops. The icing was very thick and hard to make smooth. It also took a lot of elbow grease to attain the right color. I mixed brown, orange, and a tiny bit of red. I was going for a copper color and am pretty pleased with the result.

I tried a new tool out to make the ridges on the edge of the coin/cake. The frosting was way to thick for this to look nice, but you get the general idea. Next time I use it, I will make sure that the frosting is thinner. I then darkened the remaining frosting and got to work on piping. I made the rings around the cake using a 1/8 cup measuring cup and the circle in the middle was made with the rim of a drinking glass. I just traced over the lines with the smooth side of my basket weave tip. It was not going smoothly and was impossible to do in one continuous stream and it didn’t look how I wanted it to. About halfway through the rings I took all of the icing out of the bag and tried to thin it out with a splash of milk which did help slightly, but it still didn’t go how I envisioned.

Then as I was doing the writing in a very confined space I was amazed that birthday was going to fit better than I had imagined. Then I realized that I had written “Birtday.” Oops! Luckily the first layer of frosting had dried up a little and I was able to scrape the last couple of letters off without ruining anything. I still got birthday to fit although it was quite tight.

For finishing touches I did a large shell pattern around the bottom edge, and a small shell pattern around the top edge. Then I called it a night. Brett was pleased with the effort and happy to get a Fugio coin in any form. Not the prettiest cake I’ve ever done, but I’m still happy with it. It’s certainly unique!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

I got a wonderful gift this morning in the form of an award. My blogging inspiration from Adventures of an Amateur Foodie has given me an

Thank you so much! I started blogging as a fun little hobby, just to let family and friends know what's going on with me (or at least what's going on in my kitchen) and hopefully give them a good laugh every once in a while. But my audience has grown and now I'm a part of an international blogging community. It's crazy, and I'm loving it!

I'm passing this award across the ocean to Lisa in Ireland who writes the blog What We Eat. She features beautiful pictures of food, her family, and her community. I also always chuckle at how different the English language is over there (mince= ground meat, afters= dessert, conkers=???.) She probably laughs at my English too. Check out her blog for a mini-vacation :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gluten-Free Birthday

Welcome to birthday week in our household! At various days this week our good friend, my husband, and I will all be celebrating birthdays! This is always one of the busiest weeks of the year, and one of the most fun. Last year we even had a wedding to throw into this week (Happy Anniversary Mike and Kelly!) which made it even busier and even more fun.

I wanted to make our good friend something delicious for her birthday, but she has a lot of allergies and food sensitivities that make baking difficult. My challenge was to find a recipe that is gluten-free, has no nuts (except strangely peanuts are ok,) and no dairy (also no meat, but that’s not a concern for baking.) My first thought was Rice Krispy Treats, but I think I remember our friend mentioning that marshmallows are weird, so I turned to the internet for help. I searched for “gluten-free desserts” and this recipe for Garbanzo Bean Chocolate Cake popped right up. Sounds weird, I know, but the reviews were all very positive. Plus vegetarians need all the protein they can get, and I know she likes garbanzo beans.

The recipe starts by pulsing garbanzo beans and eggs in a food processor. I don’t have a full sized one, so I just used my mini food processor. I love it and I rarely get to use it. I got that mixture pretty smooth, but I could still see very small chunks of the beans so I kept going and going and going. It never did get completely smooth, so I just decided that there are supposed to be small chunks in the batter. I transferred that into a bowl and used a hand mixer from here on.

I melted chocolate and poured it into the bowl along with sugar and baking powder and mixed it as well as I could. Then it went in a greased and floured pan (I thought this was supposed to be gluten-free!) and into the oven to bake. It smelled just like a chocolate cake baking, not beany or anything:) It came out a little cracked on top, which made me worry that it was too dry, but after it cooled and I flipped it, it looked fine.

I then got out my handy dandy Pampered Chef powdered sugar shaker to dust the top of the cake. It was like one of those silly Jr. High pranks unfolding before me. I’m shaking away, and the whole top falls off and dumps everything onto the cake. Oops! I tried to dump the excess (I’m talking like ½ a cup of powdered sugar just sitting in a mound on my cake) onto a piece of wax paper, but the damage was already done. It’s not like gobs of powdered sugar ruined the taste of the cake, it’s just that I wanted it to look prettier. During that small disaster I neglected to take a picture as I always do when I’m flustered in the kitchen. Of course I was upset afterwards and Brett said, “Things like that just happen to you.” Funny, but not comforting. I guess that’s partially why this blog even exists. We were grateful that this happened on a cake rather than on our French toast last week. That would have been much harder to clean up.

The cake went away to work with Brett (our friend works with him) and I hope that everyone there enjoyed it today. Brett just got home as I was publishing this and he had a sliver for me to taste. It was good! Not beany at all, just like a moist chocolate cake.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

This weekend Brett and I went up to Orange County to hang out with my Mom. Not only were we celebrating Mother’s Day, but we were also having a birthday celebration for Brett and me (our birthdays are this coming week!) So it was a great weekend of celebrating. I wanted to make my mom some scones for Mother’s Day breakfast, because she’s talked about them before and I know that she likes them. However, I have never had them or made them. I looked in my Martha Stewart Baking Handbook and there were a couple of recipes for scones, but nothing that really appealed to me. So I had almost scratched the idea of scones when fate intervened in the form of Ina Garten. I turned on The Barefoot Contessa on a whim and of course she was making Cranberry Orange Scones. It was perfect! What was even better was that my mom had all of the ingredients on hand and we didn’t have to run to the store.

I mixed everything in the stand mixer but when it came time for the dried cranberries, they kind of all clumped in the bottom. I got out a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and the dough was so thick and gooey that the handle just snapped right off in the bowl. Oops! I’ve never done that before! Thank goodness it was an old cheap plastic one and not a nice one! Anyway, I got the dough onto a heavily floured surface (with some difficulty due to the stickiness) and started rolling. I cut little 3 inch rounds, brushed a quick egg wash on, and let them bake.

They turned out beautifully! In our family, we always eat off the red plate on our birthdays or on any day when someone is extra special. So Brett and I took turns using it on Saturday and Mom used it today. The red plate certainly got a workout this weekend. The scones tasted good. I especially liked the bites with lots of cranberries. They were a little on the dry side, but I’m not sure what scones are supposed to be like since I have never had them before. All I know is that Mom seemed to like them, and that’s all that matters on Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Messy Kitchen!

I love to cook but hate to clean, therefore our kitchen is a disaster. Neither of us have done dishes all week and it's getting out of hand in there. Of course when the kitchen is messy (which happens often around here) I don't feel like cooking and adding to the current situation. I apologize for the lack of posting, but you should be grateful that I didn't take a picture of the mess, and doubly grateful that there is no smell-o-vision (it's getting funky.) I guess I'll buck up and get to washing :(

Also, later today I will be trying Indian food for the first time. I'm nervous!!! Brett was not very encouraging, but people on T.V. seem to like it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Strawberry Pillows

Our weekend project looked impressive in the cookbook picture, but was actually very easy. It was so easy, in fact, that Brett barely needed my help (it was his turn to take the lead.) He had chosen a recipe from his Taste of Home Baking Book entitled “Walnut Filled Pillows” but since we aren’t big fans of nuts in our desserts, he decided to use strawberry jam as a filling instead. Brett started by creaming butter, cream cheese and flour together. These were the only ingredients in the dough. I began to become leery when the dough smelled strongly of butter. I’m not the kind of girl to just eat butter, there’s gotta be sugar in there for me. Once the dough was all mixed up (still no sugar) we let it chill for an hour. Brett rolled out the dough with some difficulty and finally got it to the desired thickness. I love the Tupperware rolling mat that my mom got for me because it has the grid on there to help with measuring. Brett used the grid to carefully form the squares of dough.

This whole time I just watched. The next step was forming the pillows. All we did was put the dough square on the silpat, put a teaspoon of strawberry jam in the middle, wet the edges, fold it over, and crimp the open edges with a fork.

Brett was really going to town, but I was getting antsy just standing there wanting to help, so finally he let me do the filling and crimping, while he measured and cut squares. I could tell that he wanted to do it all himself, but it’s supposed to be OUR baking project not his! The crimping was pretty fun, and I took my time so that they turned out nice. During baking, some of the pillows oozed and exploded a little bit, and I would have liked them to get a little more golden. But all in all, they were cute.

After baking we sprinkled them with powdered sugar and Brett arranged them beautifully on the plate. They tasted good, but not like a cookie like I was expecting. The dough was very much like pie crust, so it was more like a little bite of strawberry pie, which is a good thing! Of course I would have preferred a sweeter treat, but these were certainly fun and easy.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pizza Noodle Bake

This week I tried a recipe from Simple and Delicious magazine called “Pizza Noodle Bake.” It is a casserole with all the makings of a pizza, but with noodles instead of crust. We had recently ordered a pizza that I highly recommend. The Rustic Italian Meats pizza from Papa John’s was delicious! So I was aiming to make this noodle bake take on some of those flavors. The recipe calls for ground beef, but I chose to use hot Italian turkey sausage instead. I sautéed the sausages with some red onion and green peppers.

Then, I sliced the sausages up and returned them to the pan with a whole jar of Prego sauce.

Next, I layered cooked egg noodles, meat mixture, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese twice. It baked for a very short time. I thought that the sausage was not spicy enough, and that there was too much fennel. If my palette can identify fennel, then it must be too strong. The overall results…it was fine…but give me a pizza any day. There is just no comparison to an actual pizza.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Creme Brulee

Last weekend’s project was Crème Brulee. We received one of those sets with the ramekins and the little torch a while back and just hadn’t gotten around to using it yet. Making the cream was very easy. Cream, an egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla. That’s it. On the stove, I heated the cream and sugar together, and while that was going I separated an egg and mixed it with vanilla. Because of my tendency to drop things (see Thai Veggie Pizza), I had Brett gradually add the hot cream to the egg while I stirred. It was teamwork at its best, and we ended up with absolutely no clumps. We did however strain it anyway, because the recipe said so, and I’m such a rule follower. I also supervised while Brett poured the cream mixture into the ramekins, and I let Brett pour the boiling water for the water bath (again with the pouring/dropping problems.) Brett is an extremely good pourer. We covered it with foil and Brett did all the transferring in and out of the oven. We came across the problem of removing the ramekins from the water bath when it was finished baking and we ended up using a turkey baster to remove the water. We let them chill for a couple of hours and then got to work on the brulee portion.

Now you may think that because I’m such a wuss with the pouring of hot things, that I would also be a wuss about using the torch, but I’m not. It was actually quite fun!

We had heard that brown sugar goes a lot faster than white, so we tried both. I guess you could say that brown sugar does go faster, because it immediately catches on fire! It smelled like burned marshmallows (which is a good thing) but frankly looked pretty black and unappetizing. It also didn’t make the super crunchy crust that everyone loves to break through. The white sugar did take a very long time (we probably almost used up all the butane- which Brett used as a Scrabble word in an incredibly embarrassing defeat for me- let’s never speak of it again.) But it was worth the wait. It got golden and perfectly crusty and was delicious! I may never need to order it in a restaurant again, that’s how good it was!