Sunday, November 30, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving Deliciousness

My mom made a very orangey cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner: along with the cranberries (I'm not clear whether she used one bag or two) she put in the rind of two oranges, and made the sauce with orange juice instead of water. She also sweetened it with brown sugar, which I never personally do but really enjoy. I served as her taste-tester, but didn't actually get to eat the cranberry sauce at dinner, since I was up in New Jersey having Thanksgiving with my dad, his brothers and my grandpa.

So last night after a dinner of leftover bacon-and-onion quiche, I wanted a little something sweet, and went for the cranberry sauce. I put about half a cup of plain yogurt in a custard cup, topped it with a few tablespoons of cranberry sauce, and sprinkled on some chopped walnuts. It was one of the most delicious desserts I've ever had. I'm thinking about variations on it: I bet it'd be delicious with lingonberry preserves instead of cranberry sauce, and as I have some on hand, I can find out. This would even make a good breakfast: yogurt, nuts, fruit, not too much sugar.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lime Bars and Quesadillas

I made a batch of lime bars today, using the lemon bar recipe I posted back in April, and they came out amazing. I just used lime juice instead of lemon juice, the finely grated zest of one lime instead of the lemon extract, and powdered sugar in the filling instead of granulated sugar. This last change was born of necessity, because I didn't have any regular sugar in the house, but I think I'm keeping it. Because the two sugars don't substitute freely (supposedly 1 3/4 c of powdered sugar is equivalent to 1 c granulated), this version was less sweet. I think the cornstarch in the powdered sugar may also have helped the filling jell, as it was done in exactly 20 minutes without being at all browned on top. Deliciously sweet and tart and summery. The bars (except the one I swiped for quality control) are chilling in the fridge, waiting for dinner.

Dinner is chicken quesadillas. The chicken breasts are thawing now, and then I'm going to marinate them for a couple of hours with lime juice, salt, pepper and Penzeys chili con carne seasoning. I'd probably do something more elaborate if I had my whole spice collection here, but I'm sure this will do fine. And to go in the quesadillas along with them, I'm frying up some onions and jalapeños. Who would have thought it: pickled jalapeños, right out of the jar and into the skillet with some onions and canola oil, cooked till they brown and shrivel up, are incredibly delicious. The sweet, vinegary, vegetal and hot flavors all meld together. It's irresistible. But it's also somewhat toxic: the peppers release capsaicin as they fry. So do this under a really good stove hood, with the window open, and/or get yourself a face mask. The fumes are pretty intense. That's why I'm doing it hours before my dinner guest arrives, and why I'm spending most of the cooking time in another part of the house, going in every few minutes (holding my breath!) to stir them up.

When we're about ready to eat, I'll pan-fry the chicken breasts, probably in canola oil after dredging them with flour mixed with more of the chili seasoning. Then I'll chop them and layer them on a flour tortilla with shredded sharp cheddar and the peppers and onions, and cook the tortilla slowly in a cast iron skillet until the cheese melts, when I'll fold the tortilla in half and slide the whole thing onto a plate. We'll eat the quesadillas with chipotle salsa, beer to drink, and have the chilled lime bars for dessert.

Though at this rate we're going to be eating in the backyard. It's July, and the house is hot. Having the oven on can't have helped, either, but the results are worth it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tart Lemon Tart

I went back and tweaked my brownie recipe, so you can now follow it knowing that it will create some really amazing brownies.

I also made my first attempt at lemon bars this weekend, and they came out fantastic, so I thought I'd share the recipe. These come out significantly more tart then lemon bars usually are, so you could reduce the amount of lemon juice if you like.
Tart Lemon Tart

1/2 stick (1/4 c) salted butter, softened
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 1/4 c flour
3 eggs
1 3/4 c sugar
1/2 c lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat oven to 325°. Line an 8x8 Pyrex cake pan with nonstick aluminum foil. In a bowl, combine butter, powdered sugar and 1 cup of flour with your fingers until crumbly, then press it into the pan as evenly as possible. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until dry but not browned. Meanwhile, using the same bowl if you like, beat the eggs until foamy, then mix in the sugar, remaining flour and lemon juice and extract. Pour this mixture over the crust and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the lemon custard is set in the center. While the bars are still warm, sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. Let cool for at least an hour before cutting.
I was actually really surprised how easy it is to make these and how delicious they come out. I'm sure they would also be delicious with key lime juice rather than lemon. You could also make this in a round cake pan and cut it into slices, to make it more like a tart.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Best Brownies Ever, Take... Several

I've tweaked my brownie recipe again, in response to Aaron's suggestion. I asked him how I could make my brownies better, and he said, "More kinds of chocolate." So I added two more kinds of chocolate, and I'm extremely pleased with the results. The texture is moist, fudgy, almost gooey, but without being dry.
Triple Chocolate Brownies

1 stick salted butter
1/2 c Dutch process cocoa
1 1/3 c sugar
2 eggs
4 tbsp Hershey's syrup
2 tsp Mexican vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c flour
1/2 c Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate morsels

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9x9 square pan (I use Pyrex) with nonstick aluminum foil. Put the butter in a metal mixing bowl and stick it in the oven just long enough to melt. Whisk in the cocoa, sugar, and eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Then switch to a wooden spoon and gently stir in the flour and salt. Pour the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the chocolate morsels evenly over the top, then press them slightly into the batter using the wooden spoon. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife in the middle of the pan comes out almost clean.
I think I've finally achieved the perfect (according to my taste anyway) brownie. It's all I can do not to bake another batch tonight.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Best Darn Yellow Cake Period

Maybe I should have titled this blog "The Intuitive Baker." I really do cook; I just have been leaning toward baking recently because I don't have many occasions to make non-desserts for a crowd. Today is an exception, though, being Easter. My friends are having a potluck, and I'm excited. There will be paczki, which I've heard of but never tried (I've actually never even had a regular old jelly doughnut, to be honest), and maraschino cherry cupcakes, and other than that I know not what. But the dessert spots were quickly claimed, so I decided to bring potatoes au gratin, keeping up my streak of cooking things for large groups of people that I've never made before.

If they come out great, I'll post the recipe, of course. But for now, here's one I promised a while ago. I adapted this recipe from an edition of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from the early 1940s.
Best Darn Yellow Cake Period

½ c butter (I use salted), at room temperature
1 c sugar
3 eggs
½ c milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond or orange extract (optional but delicious)
1½ c flour, plus a little
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy (much longer than you'd beat them for most cakes), then add the milk and vanilla, as well as the almond or orange extract if you're using it. Whisk to combine, then add the wet ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, whisking until most of the lumps are gone. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and gently stir (spoon will probably work better than whisk at this point) until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Pour into a 9x9 square pan (you can line it with nonstick foil if you like, but I've never had this cake stick) and bake until golden brown on top, about 40 minutes.

Quick Buttercream

In a medium bowl, start with ¼ c softened butter and about 1 c powdered sugar. Whisk until combined. Now you have to decide what flavor buttercream you want. For chocolate, get some cocoa; for mocha, cocoa and coffee; for orange or lemon or lime, that flavor juice; and so on. The possibilities are basically endless. Add more dry ingredient—cocoa or powdered sugar, most likely—until the mixture feels stiff when you stir it, and then dribble in the wet (you can use milk or water if you aren't trying to add flavor with the liquid) until the mixture is a little more liquid than you want it. Taste it and see if the flavor is strong enough; if not, add more flavoring of whatever sort, making sure that your ending consistency is a little more liquid than you want your final product to be. Finally, whisk in more powdered sugar until your frosting is soft, but spreadable. Starting with this amount of butter should produce about enough frosting for the above cake, unless you get fancy and cut it into layers, in which case you'll either need more frosting, or else some kind of filling.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Use the above recipe for yellow cake, but replace the milk with pineapple juice (one can of rings will provide enough) and add 1½ teaspoons of amaretto to the batter if you have it. Before you make the batter, melt 1 stick of butter in the pan (just stick it in the preheating oven for a minute or two), stir in 1½ cups brown sugar, and lay down 1 can of pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the holes. Make the cake batter and bake the cake as in the above recipe. Make sure to let the cake cool for at least half an hour before turning it out onto a cookie sheet or platter.
This cake is what made James tell me that I'm officially his house baker. I might still let him make cookies, but when it comes to cakes, I'll happily do the work if I get to eat this cake as my reward.

I have a good chocolate cake recipe to share, too, but it's not the rich, über-chocolatey cake that many people think of, and I'm searching for a recipe for that so I can present the two together as delicious alternatives. Feel free to let me know if you have a good recipe for moist, dark chocolate cake: the sort you can imagine filling with raspberry preserves and covering in chocolate ganache.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Raisin Scones

I don't know why I never tried making scones before. I guess I haven't really been into baking for long, and I generally bake for events rather than for myself, and really, what would people think if I showed up to a potluck dinner with a basket of scones? But I might have to do just that sometime soon, because these scones are too good and too easy not to make often.

I started with Alton Brown's recipe and tweaked a few things: butter for the shortening (vegetable shortening grosses me out) and milk for the cream (just because I didn't have any cream), a bit of extra salt for that great salt/sugar balance, and there's no way I'm rolling out dough this wet, so I did them like drop biscuits and they were awesome. Unfortunately, I forgot to preheat the oven, so mine turned out rather flat because the egg and baking powder reacted too long before they went in the oven. Don't be like me.
Raisin Scones

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (less if using iodized salt)
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into small bits
3/4 cup 2% milk
1 egg
Generous handful golden raisins
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, mix together the first four ingredients. Add butter and combine with your fingers until the mixture (as recipe authors always say) resembles coarse meal. This means smooshing all the butter pieces as you mix. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg and milk, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Throw in the raisins and mix again. Drop onto a cookie sheet or two (I used nonstick foil on mine, but the batter is buttery enough that they probably didn't need it) in roughly 10-12 biscuit-sized pieces. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 15 minutes.
I'm sure there are plenty of awesome variations on this recipe, but I have such a weakness for raisin scones that I may never try them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Smoked Sausage Thingamadoo

I've been eating the same thing for dinner pretty often recently, and as it's delicious, healthy and easy as pie, I figured I should mention it. I have no idea what to call it, but here it is. Core and thinly slice one apple (I used Fuji apples) and 1/4 of a large sweet onion. Throw them in a nonstick skillet with about a teaspoon of butter and cook over medium-low heat for about five minutes. Toss or stir occasionally so that nothing sticks, but keep a lid on the pan most of the time so the apples soften faster. While the apple and onion are cooking, slice two Johnsonville Smoked Turkey Sausages on the diagonal into bite-size pieces. Add them to the pan, turn up the heat to medium, and cook everything together, stirring every minute or so, for about five more minutes.

That's it. No seasoning except what's in the sausage. Takes ten minutes and very little thought, and since it's so easy to make in individual portions, no leftovers. (I hate leftovers.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Perfect Brownie?

I'm on a quest for the perfect brownie, so I've been trying out a few recipes. So far, my favorite is a variation on one I invented myself a few years ago. I'm not 100% sure its perfect, but I thought I'd post it here in case anyone needs a good brownie recipe (I can promise you, it's very good).
The Perfect Brownie?

1 1/3 sticks salted butter
1/2 c cocoa powder (I used Dutch process this time, although normally I don't)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (I prefer Mexican)
1/4 tsp almond extract
dash salt
2/3 c flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a medium-size microwaveable bowl, or over medium-low heat in a medium-size saucepan. Turn off heat and whisk in the other ingredients in order, making sure that the batter is smooth after each addition. Don't overmix once you've added the flour.

Pour into an 8x8 square pan lined with nonstick aluminum foil (Reynolds Release Wrap is the sine qua non of baking in my kitchen), or parchment would probably work too. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan comes out almost clean.

These need to cool for an unusually long time before being cut, or they will fall apart into mush (sweet, delicious mush). Allow at least an hour for cooling, and cut carefully. Makes 16 very rich brownies.
I also think I've cobbled together the perfect pineapple upside down cake recipe, but that'll have to wait.