The great birthday cake disaster of 2010

Oh no!!!! Say it isn’t so…you didn’t!

…I’m afraid I did. I burned my own birthday cake.

It started out as a stubborn notion that, no, I didn’t want a store bought cake. I wanted the chocolate carrot cake I made for a previous year for my boyfriend’s birthday. The cake in question was baked years ago before this stupid, stupid notion that all of the homemade baked goods in this house have to be made of unrefined sugars, preferably from a local source. I wanted to make the cake exactly the way I made it the first time. It turned out perfectly. It had real sugar. Two cups of it (in the cake before you even start to think about the cream cheese filling and the gorgeous chocolate ganache). It was my boyfriend’s idea to use honey. He takes full blame for the catastrophe that ensued.

A perfect storm of too much honey, black cake pans and too many distractions during the allotted baking time conspired to leave me with two charcoal briquettes. But, where some people would see coal, I saw diamonds. I remembered some treats on Dan Lepard’s site that used cake crumbs. Once I cut away the blackened exterior of the cakes, I struck gold. The interior was soft, rich cake. After the salvage mission, I could still have a birthday treat: rum balls. Mine are a little different than the ones I read about, they are filled with raspberry instead of apricot. Heady with the aroma of rum, they may not be beautiful, but they are just wonderful!!

Before we talk about the method of turning a ruined cake into concentrated delight, I have a couple of happy announcements! I have a job and I completed my first week there. The people are nice and the work is interesting, so life is good! In addition, my good friend Amy at Ohiofarmgirl’s Adventures in the Goodland gave me an award. It’s been a wonderful week indeed!

Chocolate Raspberry Rum Balls

5 cups crumbs from any unfrosted chocolate cake

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

5 tbsp fruit juice sweetened raspberry fruit spread

6 tbsp rum

½ – 1 cup chopped almonds

Mix cake crumbs, cocoa powder, raspberry fruit spread and rum. Form into 2” balls. Roll the tops of the balls in chopped almonds. Proceed to gobble them up!

 

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Happy belated blogoversary

I should have posted this on Saturday, but I am bad at remembering important dates. I am well known for forgetting birthdays (sorry Mom!). If Christmas and Thanksgiving didn’t have such great marketing, I would forget them too. I didn’t make a blogoversary post last year or the year before, because…I forgot! By the time I figured it out, it seemed futile to try to fix it. But, I really wanted to celebrate this year. Why? Because of you. I want to say thank you for coming here and spending time with me. It has been so important to me.

As I look at the inner workings of this blog, I see that over three years, I have written 146 posts, some of them memorable, some of them not. I have made 53 categories for these posts and my blog seems to average around 70 hits per day. But the thing that is astonishing to me is that between all of you and I, we have made 956 comments. These comments are not just comments, they have become a conversation, and I thank you for that. This conversation has gotten me through some rough patches in my life and I love you for that.

Now, let‘s stop being so mushy and talk about important things… Let’s talk about cupcakes, because cupcakes are special. My friend Jeanne made Avocado muffins the other day and she set forth her rules about why they were named muffins instead of cupcakes. I like her reasoning but want to add my spin to it:

1. If it tastes like breakfast, it is a muffin. If it tastes like cake, it is a cupcake.

2. If it has frosting it must be a cupcake. Muffins aren’t usually dressed up for special occasions.

3. Cupcakes wear clothes (a paper liner), muffins can and often do go naked.

4. Cupcakes look good wearing candles, candles make muffins feel silly.

I hate to say it, but the whole cupcake craze that has been going on for the past couple of years has been a big failure in my eyes. I have tried cupcakes from cupcakeries and they always leave me underwhelmed. The cake is obviously homemade, but often the cupcakes are dry. The frosting is often interesting but way to sweet. I even had high hopes when one day I visited a small bakery in the middle of wine country where the baker was adding wine to the cupcakes. They were okay, but not scrumptious and if I am going to spend five bucks for a single cupcake, it better be scrumptious. My advice? Keep it simple. Make your own. You won’t regret it. I made homemade cupcakes today and they were scrumptious. I substituted honey for the sugar in the cake recipe and it made for a moist, lightly sweet, spicy cake that was as light as a pillow. The frosting was lightened up with reduced fat cream cheese and the gentle sweetness was wonderful with the spiciness of the cake.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

Cupcakes:

¼ cup salted butter, softened

½ cup honey

½ cup molasses

1 large egg

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp allspice

½ tsp nutmeg

1 ¼ cups unbleached white flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ cup boiling water

Frosting:

2 tbsp salted butter, softened

2 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened

2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

¼ tsp pure lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Line two six cup muffin tins with cupcake liners

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and honey until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses.  Beat until smooth. Add the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and flour. Beat until well blended. In a separate cup, dissolve the baking soda in the hot water. Add this mixture to the batter and beat until smooth.

Ladle the batter evenly into the cupcake liners. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for five minutes or until you can safely handle them. Remove the cupcakes from the tins and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the lemon extract and beat the frosting until smooth. It was hot today and this frosting was pretty runny. If you have the same problem, put the frosting in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes or so to firm it up. Frost the cupcakes. There is just enough frosting for all twelve cupcakes, but you’ll still be able to clean the bowl, if you know what I mean….

An ode to the Frug

Look back. Go ahead and look back in time. Do you remember all of the people, the experiences you had, the books you read, the flavors you tasted. The many influences that make you into the cook you are today? Hell, the person you are today? Look back and smile. Look back and laugh. Enjoy. It’s all been good.

When I was a girl, I loved to bake. I only began to dabble in cooking when I began to stumble onto the many things that would influence what I loved to eat. One person who influenced me was a strange and silly man. A theologian, a historian, he was not a chef. He was a home cook. Endlessly fascinating, clumsy in the kitchen, but knowledgeable and quite possibly the first real foodie I had ever seen. He dubbed himself the Frugal Gourmet and I sat on floor in front of the TV each week to listen to stories, be entertained and watch a man make amazing food in a really nice kitchen with better equipment than I thought I’d ever have access to.

To tell you the truth, I think I enjoyed watching his antics more than cooking out of his books. I loved to watch him. His show made me happy. His recipes were unfortunately inconsistent and he made me into a better cook because I often had to make changes to the recipes to get them to work.

But… I miss the Frug. I was so happy to stumble onto the fact that other people loved him enough to keep recordings of his show and post them on YouTube. I have a treat for you. Here is a quintessential example of why I was mesmerized by his show. Please spend the next half hour watching the Frugal Gourmet bake with sourdough. You won’t regret it. Please keep reading after the show. I baked up one of his other loaves of bread and you won’t want to miss that!

Even after all of these years, I still use my Frugal Gourmet cookbooks. The other day, I whipped out my copy of The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors. I have to admit that out of the three books of his I own, this isn’t my favorite, and I haven’t really looked at it with fresh eyes in quite awhile. After I made some enchiladas verde con queso using the recipe from the Mexico chapter as a rough guideline (I have completely changed this recipe over the years to be much more healthy), I began to page through this book. There are so many bread recipes. I didn’t know. At the time I got these books, I wouldn’t have dared bake bread. When I got to the chapter on Germany, I became very curious about the pumpernickel bread recipe. It sounded so delicious!

I finally had the chance to bake up a loaf of this wonderful bread today. I’m happy I never tried to bake this bread years ago because I would have been frustrated. The recipe called for over half a cup more white flour than necessary and the bread needed to bake for fifteen minutes longer than the recipe called for which are errors I never would have caught before I became a seasoned bread baker. But, I have to say, I was so happy with this bread. The Frug wrote in his book about this bread: “It is simple to do and the results are better than those of most bakeries that you know” Comparing this to the sourdough rye I made awhile back, it took a third of the time, a third of the kneading and the bread was just as delicious as that much more complex loaf. My boyfriend thinks it is better than the pumpernickel bread we get at a favorite restaurant which comes from a respected bakery. I have to say this is a very close second to that bread too!

If you love pumpernickel bread and want an simple recipe, this is for you! This loaf is going to YeastSpotting, a showcase of fine bread across the Blogosphere.

Pumpernickel bread

Adapted from The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors by Jeff Smith

4 ½ tsp active yeast

1 ¼ cup tepid water (between 105 – 110 degrees, F.)

1 cup whole grain rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup molasses

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp whole caraway seeds

1 ½ tsp salt

1 cup unbleached white flour (possibly more if needed)

Cornmeal for dusting your peel

In a large bowl, combine yeast and water. Allow to proof for 10 minutes. It should be nice and frothy. Add rye flour, whole wheat flour, molasses, cocoa, caraway seeds and salt. Mix well. Add white flour and mix with a heavy spoon or spatula until well combined. Turn out onto a floured board. This makes a very dense dough. The original recipe called for over a half cup more white flour which could be added if the dough is sticky. If your dough is sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time if needed. Knead the dough for 5 – 7 minutes. It will become smooth and elastic and the outside will feel soft like your earlobe. (This dough will not be elastic enough to do a window pane test).

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with a heavy cloth and allow to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Punch the dough down. Knead for a minute and then form into a ball. Sprinkle a peel or a rimless cookie sheet with a liberal amount of cornmeal. Lay the dough ball on the cornmeal. Cover the dough with the cloth and allow to rise until doubled again, about an hour.

Put a pizza stone on the top rack in the oven. Also place a metal pan on the lower rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using the peel or a rimless baking sheet, transfer the dough to the hot stone. Pour about a cup of water into the metal pan to create steam. Bake the bread for 45 minutes. The bread is ready when it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom and/or an instant read thermometer reads an internal temperature of 190 degrees F. when poked into the bread.

Monkeying around with my bread

Ever since I started baking bread, I’ve wanted a monkey bread pan. There was this gorgeous brown ceramic pan at a luxury kitchenware store. It was $24.95. That’s not a lot of money, but I didn’t want it that bad. Why? I had never eaten monkey bread and I wasn’t sure I would like it. I couldn’t see paying a lot of money for a pan that could easily end up taking up space and collecting dust. But every time I saw that pan, I had an irrational lust for it. That lust became especially painful now that I have been pinching my pennies so hard. A couple of weeks ago, I walked into that luxury kitchenware store to kill time. They were having a huge sale and what did I see? Monkey bread pans! The tag said $14.95. Ten bucks off!! How could I resist? I scooped one up with some pretty dish towels, got home and realized that I was actually charged $9.95 instead, woohoo!!

For some time, I’ve been thinking that I wanted to do a savory instead of sweet monkey bread loaf. A local restaurant used to serve up rolls that were drenched in a thick pesto of sorts which was mostly garlic. I loved those rolls so much. Another favorite restaurant tops there black bean stew with an amazing cilantro pesto. What if I made pull apart rolls covered in cilantro pesto. Mmmmmm!! What a great idea.

The ants are winning so I still don’t have sourdough. I did however pick this up:

Who in their right mind buys 2 pounds of yeast?? I hear it freezes well….  😀

The cilantro pesto I whipped together turned out amazingly well. Earthy and spicy, I look forward to figuring out what to do with the leftovers. It also made one mean loaf of monkey bread!!

This fabulous monkey bread is being submitted to YeastSpotting.

Cilantro Pesto

4 large cloves garlic

¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds

2 packed cups cilantro, stems and leaves, chopped

1 packed cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped

½ cup sliced sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained

1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and chopped

¼ tsp salt

¾ cup grated parmesano reggiano

¾ cup olive oil

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Put garlic cloves into the container of either a blender or a food processor. Chop. Add pumpkin seeds and chop some more. Add the rest of the ingredients. Process until the sauce is a smooth paste. A food processor works better for this task. If using a blender, you may have to stop the motor of the blender and mix the ingredients a few times in between blending to get a nice smooth paste.

This pesto recipe makes way more sauce than you will use on the monkey bread. Pour a little olive oil over the surface of the pesto to keep it from browning and then store air tight in the refrigerator until ready to use. This pesto can be used as pasta sauce or as a garnish for meals like black bean stew.

Cilantro Pesto & Cheddar Monkey Bread

1 – 2 tbsp butter, softened (for greasing the pan)

¾ cup buttermilk

½ cup water

4 tbsp evaporated cane juice, divided

2 ½ tsp active yeast

2 tbsp butter, melted

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cups unbleached white flour (plus more for dusting the kneading board)

1 ¼ cups stone ground whole wheat flour

2 tsp salt

½ – 1 cup cilantro pesto (see recipe above)

1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

In a small sauce pan, combine water and buttermilk. Warm to between 95 and 110 degrees F. Mix in 2 tbsp evaporated cane juice and the yeast. Let stand ten minutes until the mixture is bubbly.

In a large bowl. Mix together white flour, whole wheat flour and salt. In another large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, butter, and the egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until well combined.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured kneading surface. Knead the dough for 5 – 7 minutes adding a little bit more flour if the dough is too tacky. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for one hour or until doubled.

Turn the dough out onto the floured kneading surface and flatten it out into an 8” square. Cut the square into six even ropes. Cut each rope into eight even pieces. Butter the monkey bread pan generously with the softened butter. This is going to get dirty… be prepared… Take each piece of dough and roll it into a little ball. With a spoon put a little cilantro pesto in the palm of your hand and roll the ball of dough in the pesto. Be generous! Transfer the dough balls as they are sauced to the prepared monkey bread pan. Each time you complete a layer of dough balls, toss a few pinches of cheddar over the dough. Keep layering until the pan is full, ending with a sprinkle of cheese.

Let the bread rise covered for 45 minutes. You want the dough to rise to near the top of the pan, try not to let it rise above the pan. While bread is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. and position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Bake the bread uncovered for 20 minutes. Cover the bread with a sheet of foil and continue baking for 25 to 35 minutes. Check the bread after 25 minutes, if the rolls near the tube spring back when touched, the loaf is ready. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert the pan over a plate (careful, it will still be hot) and turn the loaf out onto the plate. Let cool for ten more minutes and then enjoy warm!

A brief history told in food

Today the topic should have been prunes. I was going to wax poetic about inulin and be cranky about marketers subverting our minds by renaming food products with kinder gentler names (prunes became dried plums) to make us buy their products. There would have been an off color joke or two as well, I’m sure.

Instead, I found myself holding a very special book. I have made it no secret that I own way too many cookbooks, but time and time again, I go reaching for one book. This book. Battered and worn, it started life a blank waiting to be filled. Not a conventional cookbook. This book is magic. It holds a history of food we have made and loved. This book is about me as much as it is about recipes. The truth is, the book is three volumes. The volume we’ll talk about today was written between 1990 to 1995. Book two of the set was written in 1995 to 2004. The third book was never completed because of a little thing called a blog. (So in a way, Delectable Tidbits is volume four).

Some people have recipe cards. Some people keep clippings in a scrapbook. I hand wrote recipes into a composition book. It is now tattered and worn from years of use. Spattered from the days before I owned a cookbook stand with a protective shield. It’s hard to believe twenty years have gone by since I first set a pen to its pages.

In case you can’t read the label on the previous picture, here it is up close. My sense of humor hasn’t changed much, has it?

I wrote the recipes by hand. Making illustrations in the corner of each page. Notes were scribbled at the bottom of the pages as I became a more inventive cook and customized the recipes to my taste. The recipes were taken from magazines or cookbooks, borrowed from friends or the library. My only regret is not writing down the source of the recipes. Now I don’t know where they came from!

The book did not originally come with an index. I had an “index” in my brain that was a combination of remembering when in time I made the recipe and a drawing in the corner of each page that would remind me of what the recipe was as I flipped through the pages. My boyfriend, a more left brained creature than I am, could not understand my inefficient efficiency and insisted on creating an index on the computer for me. I still laugh whenever I see that “beans’ was the first section of my cookbook. I love him so much even though his brain works so differently than mine.

Let’s look at some highlights of the pictograms from the corners of the book:

Page 34 is Cranberry-Prune squares. The picture is a bunch of prunes and dried cranberries dancing. (Square dancing, get it??). I haven’t looked at this recipe in years and I was surprised to see that it fit exactly into the clean eating regimen that we are sticking to now. Just honey for sweetener and whole wheat flour. Stick with me until the end of this post – these are delicious and you’ll want to bake them!

Page 67 was Jolof Rice. I was trying to get back to eating less meat and found this recipe in Vegetarian Times. It was delicious but between the ginger, TWO jalapenos and TWO tsp of cayenne, it nearly burnt us from tongue to tail. I meant to make this again with less spices but never did. Maybe I will now. The pictogram is of an African basket (this was an African inspired dish) and the chilies and eggplant featured in the dish.

Page 77: Strawberry shortcakes, va-va-va-voom!

Page 9: Baked orange roughy with leeks and shitake. Remember when orange roughy was the “in” fish? Now it is endangered. I remember this recipe as being good, but I’ll use some other fish in the future. Do you like the fishy swimming towards the leeks and mushroom?

Page 98: Why a parakeet for Chicken, potato and green bean salad? I had a green and yellow parakeet named green bean. Why else?

Page 16: The recipe was for my boyfriend’s tamari and snow pea omelet tacos. We made these at a time when we could get snow peas every week at what was then a fledgling farmer’s market. We got them from an old lady who we affectionately dubbed “snow pea lady” because that was all she sold.

My boyfriend is going to kill me for including this one. He is way more handsome than that. This was a picture of him first thing in the morning. His hair was cut way too short at the time. It is a rendering of what he looked like first thing out of bed, hair messy, glasses instead of contacts, half asleep, clutching a breakfast taco. If I remember correctly, his reaction to being immortalized that way was “very funny!”.

Page 85: The recipe is Mimi’s enchiladas. Does this look familiar? I’m sporting a funny little sombrero, but I still look pretty much the same, don’t I?

That was fun! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Now back to what we are all here for:  yummy food. These Prune and Cranberry bars are wholesome yet delicious. They have the texture of dense little cakes and are saturated with spices. One change I made to the original recipe is to use dried cranberries which are so much more available year round than fresh or frozen. I simmer them in dessert wine to plump them back up and give them flavor but apple juice would work as well. Enjoy!

Cranberry – Prune Squares

Adapted from a recipe I think I got from Sunset magazine years ago

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup dessert wine or apple juice

2 large eggs

¾ cup honey

¼ cup salted butter, melted

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp baking powder

1 cup roasted almonds, chopped

1 cup pitted prunes, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F.

Butter an 8” square baking pan.

In a small sauce pan, simmer dried cranberries in dessert wine or apple juice for 5 to 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Let cool.

Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter. Combine flour, spices and baking powder. Beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well combined. Stir in almonds, prunes and cranberries. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. At about 35 minutes into baking, check to see if the bars are getting too brown. Honey tends to burn in baked goods. If the bars look like they will burn, cover the bars loosely with aluminum foil. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Mine were done at 40 minutes today.

Old treats updated for a healthier palate

Do you remember Rice Krispies treats? Maybe you still make them? I don’t. Not anymore, even though they are such a fond childhood memory of mine. I was crazy for them as a kid. I would have to say they were one of my favorite junk food items. I loved them so much that I didn’t leave it up to the fates to decide if I would be able to have one. Finding a Rice Krispies treat depended on a parent (not related to me, mine preferred to purchase their junk food pre-made) making them for some event and then being in the right place at the right time to have one. (I guess with that statement you’ve figured out that I am old enough to predate the advent of pre-packaged Rice Krispies Treats which are a pale shadow of the homemade kind). In order to guarantee a steady supply of these wonderful treats and make sure I had access to as many as my heart desired, I learned to make them. It turns out they are extremely kid friendly to make if you are a kid who can stand a second degree burn or two in the kitchen. I never had a problem making the actual molten goo required to make them stick together, I usually got into trouble after I mixed the cereal into the molten goo and then attempted to form them into the compact mass that would enable them to be perfect squares of crispy sweet goodness. I somehow managed to get my fingers and hands into the incendiary rice crispy mass.

So, you may wonder why I stopped indulging in something so wonderful? I don’t eat much beef or beef products anymore and when I do I choose grass fed. I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore. The main ingredient in these treats, marshmallows are loaded with gelatin and sugar. I know they make vegan friendly marshmallows now, but I don’t want to go down that slippery path. Not now that I have been doing so well at moving a lot of the processed junk and refined sugars and grains out of my diet.

Years ago, I tried to make the treats on the box of my favorite brown rice cereal. They were a disaster. I can’t remember what the ingredients were, but they were horribly sweet and would not stick together. The cereal tasted terrible in them. I gave up on the idea of having a healthier version of my childhood favorite treat until I came across a recipe on the Madcap Cupcake blog. This version used brown rice syrup for the sweetener with the addition of nut butter to cut the sweetness. This recipe looked promising so I bookmarked it and as usual forgot about it. You see, brown rice syrup isn’t an ingredient I am familiar with. I know I have eaten it in some of my favorite processed food from the health food store, but I didn’t know that you didn’t have to be a corporation to buy it. (This is why, I, an omnivore, hang out on vegan blogs. Not only are they nice folks but I learn something all the time!). Anyway, a few weeks ago, I remembered I wanted to make this recipe, so I got a box of brown rice cereal and the brown rice syrup. Today, I finally decided to dive in and give the treats a try. Were they the same as a Rice Krispies treat? Not by a long shot, but to my healthy palate, they were quite wonderful. Lightly sweet and nutty with little hidden surprises in each bite.

I really enjoyed the way these treats turned out, but since I used the bare minimum of rice syrup suggested in Marika’s recipe, the bars had structural integrity problems. They fell apart easily. I might make a little more goo in the same one to one ratio of syrup to peanut butter, or, if I keep them this way, I might form them into little balls next time instead of trying to make big thick bars. In the following recipe, I doubled the salt. I have salt free peanut butter so I knew I would need a teeny extra hit of salt. If you are using regular salted peanut butter, use the lesser amount. I also added 1½ cups total of the “add ins” (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, etc). This was a full ½ cup more than suggested, but I just love a good “add in”

Brown rice treats

Adapted from crispy rice squares from Madcap Cupcake

1-10 oz box brown rice cereal (I used Barbara’s brand)

¾ cup brown rice syrup

1/8 – ¼ tsp salt (use more if your peanut butter in unsalted)

¾ cup chunky peanut butter

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped dark chocolate

½ cup toasted almonds, chopped

Olive oil cooking spray.

Spray a 9” x 13” pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the brown rice syrup and salt. Add the peanut butter and stir until melted and well combined.

Empty the box of cereal into the biggest mixing bowl you can find. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the cereal and mix until well combined. Add the cranberries, almonds and chocolate. Mix until the goodies are well distributed. Pour the cereal mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the mixture evenly into the pan, pressing to compact it. Let cool for an hour (I missed that last instruction which would explain why my bars wouldn’t stick together. I’m impatient, I tell ya!)

Baking with friends

Baking with friends, Part 1:

I made a huge mistake. Around a year ago, I made some wonderful buns. They were absolutely the most delicious buns ever. I found these scrumptious little bits of cheesy goodness on a blog. They were supposed to be made with Cambozola which is a mixture of triple cream cheese and Gorgonzola. I set out to make them with what I hand on hand which was Blue cheese. When I ran short on Blue cheese, I made up the difference with Parmesano Reggiano. I was going to write a blog post about these wonderful buns and then I somehow forgot.

These buns, rich and delicious were so good, I never stopped thinking about them. Every time I had blue cheese I thought about these buns but the problem is Point Reyes Blue cheese. It is the most amazing cheese. Ever. When I have some in the house, I have a specific use for it and then any leftovers usually find their way onto several crackers and the cheese just disappears. The disappearance of this cheese is sorely to blame for why it has taken me so very long to make these buns again. Really, it’s true.

How did I get so incredibly lucky to find myself with a nice size wedge of Point Reyes blue just waiting for me to bake with it?  Wind. It’s the new weather pattern here in Santa Barbara.  We stop getting precipitation, then we get wind and for the past couple of unlucky years, fire. I was going to barbeque some blue cheese chicken burgers last week, but I waited until after 6 o’clock which is about when the wind starts. I didn’t dare strike a match. To me wind equals fire now, and I don’t want to have to evacuate a fourth time in three years. So I decided I was going to broil my burgers. I grabbed the ingredients and found out the hamburger buns got moldy. I just gave up. Which is good because we forgot to break out the crackers and gobble up that cheese.

Now, I had a problem. I never made notes about the buns. I didn’t even remember whose blog I got them from. I just remembered it was on YeastSpotting. So what did I do?  I went to the YeastSpotting archive and began to painfully look at each week until… I found it!! And whose blog was it? My friend Tanna’s blog (My Kitchen in Half Cups)! I had to laugh! I should have remembered.

Please make these buns and then go to YeastSpotting to see what else was baked by all of the talented bakers this week. And… keep reading after the recipe…

Blue cheese and parmesan buns

Adapted from Maytag buns found on My Kitchen in Half Cups

130 g whole wheat flour

136 g unbleached white flour

2 g salt

28 g honey

140 g sourdough starter

66 g low fat milk

66 g water

1 large egg, lightly beaten

58 g shredded parmesano reggiano

86 g crumbled blue cheese (good quality such as Point Reyes)

40 g softened butter

Olive oil cooking spray

In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, white flour and salt.

In another bowl, mix together honey, sourdough starter, milk, water, egg, parmesan and blue cheese.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Add softened butter. Mix in. Transfer dough to a floured board. Knead lightly until the butter is well combined and you don’t see bits of it in the dough. Form a ball and transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let sit for a half hour.

Using cooking spray, generously oil two six cup muffin tins. Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. Form into balls and place balls in muffin cups. Let the dough rise until puffy and it fills the cups most of the way. Since I only used starter, no yeast, this took about four hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, F. Bake the buns for 16 – 18 minutes or until browned. Cool in pans on a wire rack for about fifteen minutes. Remove buns from pans and allow to cool most of the way on wire racks. These buns are wonderful when they are still a bit warm from the oven.

Baking with Friends, Part 2:

 

There is a bread baking formula that is making the rounds on the Fresh Loaf. A lady named Flo Makanai figured out that you could make pretty great bread using the toss out from your starter.  Her formula is a 1, 2, 3 ratio of starter, liquid and flour. My friend John of the Lost World of DrFugawe made this bread over and over, getting fabulous results. Other folks on the fresh loaf are making it and getting fabulous results. I made it and I created a mutant loaf, deformed and tasting of wonder bread with a streak of raw dough in the middle and giant holes near the surface that caused the crust to burn. Horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!

I complained to my friend John, and instead of allowing me to cry on his virtual shoulder, he challenges me to bake ten loaves in a row until I get it right!!!! The nerve of my virtual friend! To be fair, he gave me instructions on how he has been turning out loaf after loaf of wonderful bread.

I started yesterday (this is a two day bread). My results were better this time, but still not good. My problem is that I hate, hate, hate the raw dough. It is sticky! I think I lost a third of the dough to the bowl, my hands, anything my hands touched and then the dough had the audacity to stick to the banneton, deflating itself before it made it to the oven.

But despite deflating itself, it did miraculously spring up in the oven. The outside crust was gorgeous. I got some big holes but they were on the surface again. I think I under salted the dough, it lacked flavor. But the worst part is it lacked flavor and texture. The crumb was springy like sandwich bread again, and there was no flavor at all. Just like sandwich bread.

I have to admit to a couple of shortcuts because this bread pisses me off, so I had no patience for it. I am going to list John’s instructions and then write down where I strayed. I know John will be back to mentor me. If anyone else wants to jump in with suggestions, please do so in the comments.

do a new loaf every day for at least 10 days – make improvements daily.

Loaf #1 down – 9 more to go!

use 100 g of starter – that’ll give you a 600 g loaf

I used 100 g of starter, 200 g water, 300 grams unbleached white flour for this loaf. I am thinking I need to use something besides water next time. Maybe sub out a little water for olive oil? Use milk instead of water? This should improve the flavor. Here is my problem. I remembered the salt, but after looking back at the kitchen mess, I could only find a ½ tsp. measuring spoon, I think I used ½ tsp of salt which is obviously too little. How much should I use??

use a tiny pinch of yeast too (tiny, tiny, tiny)

I don’t use commercial yeast. Other breads, no problem. This bread…

use minimal mixing – do fold and stretch in your mixing bowl – every 15 mins for 2 hours, then hourly.

I definitely have a short attention span. I did the stretch and fold every 15 minutes for about an hour.  Then I ate lunch.  Then I watched “The Next Food Network Star”, which I interrupted to stretch and fold at the two hour mark, I decided to keep doing the folds hourly but got bored three hours later, so I refrigerated the dough after around 5 hours at room temp.

you’ll need to heavily oil your bowl, and let it proof for 6/7 hours at room temp

The dough probably got some oil in it because I had to heavily oil the bowl each time I got the dough hermetically sealed to my hand.

Now form loaf, cover in plastic, and put in fridge, or I use BBQ grill on patio (works great!)

I formed it into as much of a ball as possible and put it in my banneton. Covered it in plastic and put it in the fridge for 16 hours.

in morn, heat oven to 475F for an hour

I heated the oven for as long as it would take to get my stone to 475F. My oven actually freaked out and got to more like 500F.

when oven is ready, pull cold but risen loaf from fridge or BBQ, score and bake immed. After 15 mins, lower temp to 450F, and bake for 20-30 mins more.

I baked even though the oven temp was 500F. The bread puffed up from it’s flattened state after I had to peel it off of the banneton. I actually put a pan with water in the oven for steam, which helped the crust formation. I lowered the heat after 15 minutes but only needed another 16 minutes before the internal temperature was way over 210F.

Now that I completed the exercise, here are my questions:

How much salt to use?

What sort of liquid should I use?

Should I use just white flour or add some whole grains?

How do I keep the dough from sticking to everything??

How do I shape this bread, the banneton is fighting with the dough!

So… At this point, I’m still not loving this bread but it seems to have potential so I’ll try it again. I’ll wait to see if anyone has any good ideas and then I’ll try your suggestions out next time. Thanks in advance everyone, and thank you John for making me get out of my comfort zone.

I just want my frozen yogurt treat. Grrr.

Okay. I need to time travel back in history to about 2 ½ weeks ago. I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I am about to tell you. If you have a weak constitution, you may want to visit one of the blogs on my sidebar instead of reading on. I got sick. Make your acquaintance with the porcelain altar for it will become your best friend for days sort of sick. After I was feeling a little better, I felt sure that I needed to eat some food that would help the good guys in the battle raging for my GI tract. I could tell they were losing the battle big time.

I felt better enough to risk leaving the house. I went to our gourmet/health food store to buy some relief. I immediately thought Kefir would be a good thing to have. I could drink it like a shake instead of having to actually eat something like yogurt. I went to grab some Kefir but my favorite, Nancy’s, was nowhere to be found. In it’s place were commercial looking brands with labels that screamed “now with NutraFlora!”. WTF?! I don’t know what this stuff is and I am in no mood to figure it out. From what I can tell, it is some sort of fiber and the last thing I need is kefir that has been fortified with fiber. After the previous few days, the last thing I need to think about is being regular. I completed the shopping trip of desperation with a shopping cart full of yogurt, kombucha tea, amazake and a big bottle of acidophilus. I got better and life went on. For the time being, I completely forgot about NutraFlora.

                                            

I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods but there are certain things I don’t make from scratch that I enjoy a lot. Frozen desserts are part of that category. I went to Costco last week and saw that they were selling huge boxes of Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. I passed on them last week because they weren’t blackberry flavor. They were strawberry. Julie’s makes the most delicious blackberry ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and these blackberry ice cream bars covered in dark, dark chocolate. Ohhhhhh. If those bars had been blackberry, I wouldn’t have made it to the check stand without eating them. But… they were strawberry. I left them where they sat. I went back to Costco today and saw the Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. They said “Hi Mimi. We are twelve delicious bars for $8.49. Please take us home”. I said, “Okay, please come home with me”. They were in my hand, on their way to my shopping cart when what did my eyes see? “Now with NutraFlora!” I turned the box over and didn’t see NutraFlora on the ingredients list. Just an item called fructin. Grrr. I put them back in the freezer.

I came home and started looking for information on this new ingredient that seemed to be making it’s way into all of the healthy seeming organic food. It turns out that NutraFlora is a prebiotic, meaning that it is a carbohydrate that is indestructible enough to make it to where your intestinal flora (fauna?) live. It feeds them and makes them healthy. According to the makers of NutriFlora, it is present in fruits and veggies but if you didn’t have “one serving of NutriFlora-enriched yogurt, you would have to eat about 22 bananas, 15 onions, 16 tomatoes, or 383 cloves of garlic“. Maybe this stuff is good for us, but I tend to be skeptical when they remove something from food and then enrich food that doesn’t contain it naturally with said nutrient. I am more of a whole foods gal, and I would rather eat the bananas, onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is my reasoning that if I do, I’ll get so much more nutrition than from my cup of yogurt, glass of kefir or frozen yogurt bar.

So, I made my own frozen yogurt bars and they were good. I could identify all three ingredients in the recipe.

Blueberry frozen yogurt bars

1 1/3 cups nonfat plain yogurt

1 1/3 cups frozen wild blueberries*

2 2/3 tbsp honey

Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour smoothie into ¼ cup capacity popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.

* I used frozen wild blueberries which are a small variety of blueberry. This recipe has not been tested using a larger berry. If you use a larger berry, taste the mixture before you freeze it (this is a good idea anyway since my idea of sweet may not be yours). Adjust to add more fruit and/or honey to taste. If making a change to the recipe creates more yogurt mixture than will fit in your molds, just drink it, this is essentially a thin berry smoothie.

…and now for something completely different

Avocado. Mmmmm. Silky. Luscious. Cooling. Cake… Huh??? If the words avocado and cake make you want to have a Corona with lime to help soften the blow of having those two words appear in the same sentence, then this cake is probably not for you. You can leave now. There is a nice sunny beach somewhere with fish tacos and beer and guacamole. You are excused. If avocado and cake made you perk up and be curious, stick around with me for a minute, you won’t be disappointed.

I first became intrigued with the idea of avocado in a baked good after stumbling onto the recipe for avocado bread on the avocado.org site a couple of years ago. People use zucchini, carrots and bananas in baked goods. With it’s high fat content and creamy flesh, why not avocado too? My only problem: although I live in the middle of avocado country and I can get huge Hass avocados for a buck a piece, I am very miserly with them. I didn’t want to waste a good avocado or two on something that might suck.

This week, we managed to buy too many of these wonderful fruits, and like bananas, the window of yummy goodness is very short indeed. I had two avocados that were quickly heading past their prime. Today was the day to experiment.

The experiment went well. I have to admit that I was a little too bold with my experiment and the addition of chocolate chips, while well intentioned was possibly a mistake. They made the cake a little too rich. We tried a nibble of cake that somehow didn’t get polluted with chocolate and the dates and walnuts alone were just perfect. If you just have to have chocolate, it was pretty tasty but the cake would have been somehow more pure and elegant without the chocolate.

Why is this cake a surprise you ask? It surprised me with it’s super moist texture. Avocados are high in oil. If you look at the recipe, there is no added fat besides the flesh of the avocado. I used whole wheat pastry flour and yet, this cake was as moist as a cake made from cake mix. Just fabulous and yet another reason to drop the chocolate from the recipe so that you can enjoy the texture with just a little fruit and nuts to compliment it.

Avocado surprise cake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Zest from 1 large orange, chopped

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped (optional)

½ cup fresh dates, chopped

½ cup walnuts

½ cup honey

¼ cup orange juice (about 1 large orange, juiced)

1 cup avocado (2 large), mashed until smooth

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Oil and flour a bundt pan.

In a large bowl mix together, pastry flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, chocolate chips (if using), dates and walnuts.

In another large bowl combine honey, orange juice, avocado, egg and yogurt. Mix until well combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

How to season a wok

I’m very good at destroying things. It’s true. I’ve had two woks in the past. I followed the directions that came with these inexpensive carbon steel pans. Both times, no matter how well I cared for them, the seasoning came off and I rusted them most of the way through.

I love a good wok. A wok is so deep that you can pile the veggies into it and then crank up the heat and get a good sear on them. I’ve been wok-less for years and it’s been a major frustration.

A few years back, Gourmet did an article on the classic $15 wok. I saved the issue because the owner of the store that was profiled had instructions on how to season a wok and the instructions made so much more sense than the usual stove top method. I bought a wok and then forgot about it. Until today. Today was the day that a wok came back into my life.

I went hunting around the Gourmet website thinking that the instructions would be there, but of course I couldn’t find them so I’ll let you know what I did:

First, gather up what you will need:

A carbon steel wok

Steel wool

Dish soap

Vegetable oil

Paper towels

An old dish towel or wash cloth that you don’t mind damaging

Aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Your wok will have some sort of coating on the inside to keep it from rusting. Using some steel wool and dish soap, scrub the inside of the wok thoroughly to clean off this coating. Dry the wok with a dish cloth.

Now look at your wok. Does it have a wood or plastic handle? Plastic? Sorry, these instructions aren’t for you unless you can remove the handle. If you can remove the handle please do so now. If it is a wooden handle and the handle cannot be removed, wrap the handle in a wet dish cloth and wrap the cloth completely in aluminum foil.

Using a paper towel and some vegetable oil. Wipe oil all over the inside and outside of the wok. (If you like the look of the steel you can leave the outside surface unseasoned but I don’t recommend it, an unseasoned bottom was the source of my rust problems with the other woks). Put the wok in the hot oven and allow it to bake for 20 minutes. Make sure your room is well ventilated and run the range fan. This will cause smoke! After 20 minutes, remove the wok and let it cool for at least five minutes or until cool enough to handle. Using an oven mitt, grab the wok by the handle (the wok will be cool, but the handle will still be warm, be careful!) and take it to the sink. Scrub the inside of the wok with the steel wool, using hot water only, no soap. Don’t scrub enough to remove the layer of seasoning, you just want to scratch the surface up a little.

Repeat the oiling, baking cooling and scrubbing three or four more times until the wok is bronze colored. It’s now fully seasoned.

So what did I make with my newly seasoned wok? Tofu and Broccoli Stir fry from the June issue of Eating Well Magazine. Click here for the recipe, the only thing I changed was to double the garlic (I so love garlic!) and substitute honey for the sugar which I recommend. The honey made the sauce sweet but also so very flavorful. This was a delicious and easy recipe that used a lot of pantry items.

If you don’t already have a carbon steel wok, go out and get one! They are very cheap and a great addition to your kitchen. And…now you know how to properly season it! Oh and by the way… never use soap on your wok. A little kosher salt and a sponge are all you need to clean it up and keep it’s non-stick surface in great shape!

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