Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD - Chocolate - Crunched Caramel Tart

This one will be short and sweet. Carla of Chocolate Moosey chose Dorie's Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick. Chocolate, caramel, honey roasted peanuts, what's not to love?

This tart is easy to put together and is as impressive as it is delicious.

Thanks, Carla, we really enjoyed your pick.

Monday, September 28, 2009

One year - What I've learned

In honor of my one year blogiversary, I'm taking a moment to reflect on the past year and think about the year ahead.

When I started this blog, it was solely to participate in Tuesdays with Dorie. I hardly knew what a blog was.

I figured I would post about my baking and cooking, share a few photos, make a few witty observations, and the world (which had been waiting impatiently to hear my views on cupcakes and pie crust), would flock adoringly to hang on my every word.

Not so much.

After my first post, the world indulged in a collective yawn and got on with its day. I was struck with a few weeks of panic. Nobody was reading my blog. How do I change that?

The few visitors who stumbled on me and commented made my day/week. I had no idea how they got here, or why. It took me weeks to realize that my mantra wasn't "If you build it, they will come;" rather, it was "If you visit, they will too." And that, in a nutshell, is the biggest change that happened in the past year. I learned that I miss out on so much if I'm not focused on you, visiting you, seeing what you're up to, getting inspired by what you're making.

If you're reading this, you're probably a blogger, so you could have told me that blogging isn't about me sharing my (rather boring) insights about making truffles, it's about community. And without that community, I'm alone in my kitchen. Thank you for sticking with me.

You gave me the confidence to conquer my fears. You inspired me to take on things I didn't know I could handle. Making bread. Pizza. Meringues. Sticky buns.

As I look ahead, I have three goals: To get a healthier meal on the table more nights than not. Between a prolonged attack of plantar fasciitis and a back injury, I gained 20 pounds this year, and I don't like them. Second, to work on my photography. And third, to explore the many cookbooks I own and rely less on impromptu meals thrown together at the last minute.

A new home for Lethally Delicious is in the works. Never being one to take on small, manageable goals, I decided to move from Blogger to WordPress and migrate to my own domain. This has presented technological challenges that are beyond my capabilities. Sooner or later, we'll get there. It may be better looking and more fun, but I'll probably still make a mess in the kitchen and forget to read the instructions carefully. Some things never change.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One year - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

In honor of my one year blogiversary, I've taken a look back at the over 140 posts (who knew I had so much to say!) There have been a lot of fantastic recipes, some duds and some really ugly photos.

The good:
Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream

The bad:
Ciabatta (blame the baker!)
Ina Garten's Chinese Chicken Salad

The ugly...Practically anything I make, but these were the ugliest photos of the year:

Ina Garten's Easy Sticky Buns, taken with my cell phone in my office, with the sticky bun on the lid of my cereal bowl.

World Peace Cookies, the first time around. A doubling error.

Ciabatta - Not sure what I did wrong, but it sure was an ugly "loaf" of bread.

A very ugly photo of my first participation in Tuesdays with Dorie, the Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake.

These Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts were one of our favorites, but the photos...UGLY! Taken with the light under the stove hood. Note to self: never again.

Ack! It's an amoeba attacking my Blanc-Manger! Oh, it's only the raspberry coulis.

Chocolate Cream Tart, utterly delicious, too bad this photo makes it look so sad and droopy.

And finally, the photos that make me happy (or just make me feel less embarrassed):

Allie checking out the Brownie Buttons

My first successful foray into yeast breads, Anne's quick rolls.

I love the billowy frosting and the texture of the crumbs on the Baking From My Home to Yours cover cake, which I did as cupcakes.

And finally, Peter Reinhart's cinnamon rolls. I loved the way the unbaked rolls looked in this shot. They were pretty tasty, too!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Raspberry buttermilk cake with chocolate chips AND my 1 year blogiversary

Sometimes, I need to be reminded repeatedly of something important. It may take two, three or four times before I go "Oh yeah, this is something I need to do today."

This cake is a perfect example.

First, there was Deb at Smitten Kitchen. I read her post on this cake and thought "I should make this." Just as quickly, the idea vanished.

Then, my friend Jody brought this to a potluck at work. I again thought "I have to make this." Just as quickly, the idea vanished.

Then, my bloggy friend Pamela posted this cake. I thought "I really do have to make this." Just as quickly, the idea vanished.

It took looking in my fridge this morning and seeing a pint of raspberries nearing the end of their useful life and the last of a half gallon of buttermilk (a size I never buy, but it's made me make a bunch of recipes just so I could use it up). That combination of events made me say "I have to make that raspberry cake RIGHT NOW."

You know by now that I can never leave well enough alone. So I took Deb's spin on the original recipe from Gourmet and I added 1/4 cup of chocolate chips. Because, hey, chocolate and raspberry, need I say more?

Today was one of those days that I rebelled against my mixer. They're rare, but I mixed bread dough last night for Peter Reinhart's cranberry walnut celebration bread, and I was feeling like not using it. So I used my hand mixer, and it was fine. The batter for this cake reminds me a lot of this coffee cake. Since three people I respect mentioned how dangerous this cake is, I decided to make two 6" cakes and give one away. That was a wise choice, because this thing is dangerous, doubly dangerous in the 6" size. Cutting off a tiny wedge at a time seems so harmless until you realize you've consumed 1/4 of the recipe.

Don't be like me. Realize immediately that you have to make this cake today. You can use raspberries, blueberries (as Pamela did), peaches, plums, blackberries, cherries (if you have any in your freezer or they're still available where you live). I bet mango and strawberry would also work, but hot strawberries give me the willies.

In my other piece of news, today is my one year blogiversary. I had hoped to have a big announcement for you but we're experiencing technical difficulties. In any event, when I started this blog a year ago, I had no idea how much it would change my life. It has expanded my cooking and baking horizons and added another dimension to how I define who I am. Without knowing it, blogging has taken unexplored interests and given me a format to indulge them. I still haven't told friends that I do this, but I think that will come this year.

Over the next few days, I'll weigh in on the good, the bad and the ugly, how I've grown (both in knowledge and poundage), my philosophy and what inspires me. Please come back, for without you, it's pretty lonely here!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

CEiMB - Sweet and Spicy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

When I make grilled cheese, this is how I start:

Then I add a whole mess of shredded cheese (usually Ementhaller) to some whole wheat bread. I cook the sandwich until the bread is crisp and the cheese melts over the sides and onto the pan.

I always knew this wasn't an optimal meal for my cholesterol, but that didn't stop me from eating grilled cheese sandwiches a lot. And when they're made with butter in a screaming hot cast iron pan, something magical happens.

Well, unless you have a heart attack and don't get to savor your sandwich. Which is why, when it was my turn to pick the recipe for Craving Ellie in My Belly, I jumped for this one. I LOVE grilled cheese, but I have to find a way to make it healthier so I can continue to enjoy it without feeling like I'm gambling with my health. Ellie is one step ahead of me.

Ellie's recipe includes caramelized red onions (the sweet) and Cheddar and pepper Jack cheese (the spicy).

I learned (again) a lesson with this one. Read the recipe completely before starting. Don't think "I've made a zillion (actual number) grilled cheese sandwiches and I know how they go so I'm going to bypass the instructions." No. Ellie gives key pieces of information (turn the heat to LOW) that will keep you from burning the bread and not melting the cheese.

I like a little more sweet and spicy in mine, so I added some jalapeno jelly. You could also add spicy mustard or honey mustard. If I had any in the house, I would have tucked in a few cilantro leaves as a nod to my favorite grilled cheese sandwich at Big Sky Cafe. It's no longer on the menu but that used to be the quintessential grilled cheese for me. Ellie's comes close, very close. In fact, it is way better than my butter laden go-to version. Give it a try...your arteries will thank you!

Sweet and Spicy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (serves 4)

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 large red onion, finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces sharp Cheddar, thinly sliced, divided
8 slices whole-wheat bread
3 ounces pepper Jack cheese, thinly sliced, divided
1 large or 2 medium beefsteak or hothouse tomatoes, sliced
Cooking spray

Heat oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium. Add onions and saute, stirring, until edges are browned, about 10-12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place 3/4 ounce Cheddar on one slice of bread. Spread 1 tablespoon caramelized onions on top of cheese and top with 3/4 ounce of pepper Jack. Top with 1 large or 2 medium tomato slices and other slice of bread. Repeat with 3 other sandwiches.

Spray a non-stick skillet or griddle with cooking spray and heat until hot. Place sandwich on griddle and weigh down with a heavy skillet or plate. Lower heat to medium-low and grill until underside is a deep brown but not burnt, and cheese is partially melted, about 5-6 minutes. Flip sandwich and grill other side an additional 4-5 minutes. Slice in half and serve hot.

Barefoot Bloggers - Birthday Sheet Cake & Beatty's Chocolate Cake

Welcome to chocolate overload zone!

I made these cakes on the same day during my Ramadan blogging hiatus. The making of both is somewhat of a blur (which you are no doubt thankful for). I was so geared up to make these, especially the sheet cake because who wouldn't want a humongous chocolate cake with fudgy icing (well, except Kayte). See, in my mind, I had turned this into a chocolate sheet cake and was euphoric about the Barefoot Bloggers selections for September. Two cakes! Both chocolate! That is, until I realized this wasn't a chocolate cake at all. Ultimate bummer.

We aren't huge fans of white or yellow cake, so I doctored the cake batter with a healthy dose of Vietnamese cinnamon. The end result was a subtly cinnamon cake with chocolate icing that was delicious. It's a very sturdy cake, not a tender crumb but perfect for a child's birthday party. Since there were no available children having birthdays, I took this to the mosque to serve after iftar (the meal we have after breaking our fast in the evening) and it was very popular.

But Beatty's chocolate cake was a transcendent chocolate experience. I pulled out all the stops and used the "good" chocolate as Ina always suggests. It was moist, and oh the frosting, the frosting, the frosting. I iced the cake in record time (hence the awful appearance and specks of butter, which melted right in and didn't affect the texture or flavor) before I had to leave for the evening, and left the kitchen looking like it had been used for a kindergarten cooking class. Since I was fasting when I made and iced the cake, I didn't taste any of it until I got home around midnight. Oh my. I licked the offset spatula, mixing bowl, paddle from the mixer and the plate on which I set the paddle. Too much information? Sorry. So much for losing weight during Ramadan.

This cake is The One. My new go-to chocolate cake recipe. As in go to this website and get the recipe. Make it tonight or this weekend. Just don't deprive yourself (or the chocolate lover in your life) of it any longer than the weekend. I told M. I was making it for his birthday (which was last month, but he was on a business trip), and then I ate more of it than he did.

If you'd like to check out what the other Barefoot Bloggers did, you can find them all here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD - Cottage Cheese Pufflets

First of all, I want to apologize for missing so many great Tuesdays with Dorie picks this month...espresso cheesecake brownies...chocolate souffle...apple turnovers...they all are things I would love and do plan to make. Just not right now.

Instead, I'm jumping back in with Jacque (of Daisy Lane Cakes--I LOVE her blog!) She chose the cottage cheese pufflets for us to make, and she proved to me that she is a much better baker and all-around more patient person than I am (although we have some of the same feelings about garage sale early birds!)

Like many of the TWD bakers, I found this dough to be like trying to roll out and cut a batter, it just didn't cooperate for me. At a certain point, I threw up my sticky hands and decided to bake a half dozen of them, take photos and go to work. Mine are filled with Christine Ferber strawberry jam (from our trip to Paris) and/or jalapeno jelly (from Safeway; thanks to Kayte for the inspiration).

I was so frustrated with these that I was prepared to hate them. Imagine my surprise when I loved them! They were crispy and chewy at the same time. The one in which I mixed the strawberry jam and jalapeno jelly was the best...I love that sweet/spicy flavor profile. I will definitely freeze the rest and plan to make this one again. But not until it's winter. Cooler weather can only help this one stay together better.

If you'd like the recipe, stop by and visit Jacque.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Maple Walnut Ice Cream (with bonus scrambled eggs!)

During Ramadan, I got the wild idea that I would like to make ice cream for our entire office. All 60 of them. I have the kind of ice cream maker that you freeze the core, which means I had to make batches of the flavors I chose over several days. I made Dorie's vanilla ice cream (the very best vanilla ice cream), and her chocolate ganache ice cream (my favorite chocolate ice cream). And this recipe from The Perfect Scoop jumped out at me, mostly because I love maple and walnuts are good for you, so this is practically health food!

The recipe has you start out by making the wet walnuts, which are walnuts toasted in the oven and then boiled in maple syrup. Then you build the custard. And that is where my little world fell apart. The recipe calls for heating the custard over medium heat until it thickens. Medium heat on my cooktop is pretty hot, and against my better judgment, I didn't reduce the heat and the custard went from thickened to scrambled eggs in the amount of time it took me to reach for the strainer. I panicked and furiously shook and stirred the congealed mass in the strainer until enough came through the strainer to stabilize and thicken the cream and maple syrup mixture.

It froze up nicely, softer than some other ice creams I've made recently, probably due to the high maple syrup content. Still, the maple flavor couldn't compete with the walnut flavor, which dominated in a not so pleasant way. I like my maple walnut a little more maple-y, so if I make this one again, I'll cut back on the walnuts.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

BBA - Cornbread

I'm baa-aack.

While I was away from the blog, I made this week's recipe from the Slow and Steady Sub-Group of the Bread Baker's Apprentice. This week, we're straying from yeast to cornbread, which is technically a quick bread. Just not when Peter Reinhart is making it. He has us make a soaker of coarse cornmeal and buttermilk. Instead of just letting mine sit overnight, I stuck it in the fridge the next day and kept it a couple of days before making the cornbread.

A central ingredient of this recipe is bacon, which I don't eat. I ran through a variety of variations in my mind (caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers...) but in the end, time caught up with me and I simply omitted the bacon without substituting another flavor agent.

This was an uneventful preparation. I used a 9x13 pan (well, two of them since I doubled the recipe) and found myself wishing I made it in a cast iron skillet to get the deeply crisp crust I love on cornbread. Although this was good with the addition of fresh corn, I'm southern by birth and I prefer southern cornbread (that is, without the addition of sugar). This recipe is for northern cornbread, even though the sugar is minimal, I think it affects the flavor and interferes with the corn flavor.

Even though I appreciated the simplicity of this recipe, I found myself missing yeast and the contemplative nature of making a yeast bread. So please come back in two weeks, for we'll be making cranberry walnut celebration bread. I'm already starting to have braiding angst...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hitting the Sauce

Cathy, this one's for you.

OK, let's get started. Start with a cup of sugar (or two cups or 3/4 of a cup, or ten cups). Totally up to you how much you want to make. Smaller quantities burn easily, so don't take it below 1/2 cup of sugar.

This is your tool of choice

Heat the cup of sugar in a medium saucepan (I used a small one, here, but as you will see later, that makes it a little exciting). If you're going with ten cups, size up on the pan. Before you begin, have an equal amount of heavy cream near the stove.

Melting oh-so-slightly around the edges

Can you tell what I'm making?

Use medium-low heat at first, and as the sugar starts melting around the edges, stir it up. You don't need to stir constantly at first, but definitely don't leave the kitchen. After all, you're cooking sugar. It demands respect.

The sugar will get chunky, then melt into a light caramel chunky liquid. Oops, I said "caramel," ruining the surprise.

Stir more frequently as the melting is progressing (which will happen quickly depending on how hot your stove is).

The chunks will melt away. Keep stirring, and wait until the sugar gets deep brown.

It may foam on the surface, but use your stirring to peek into the caramel to determine its color.

Once it's deep brown, remove the pan from the heat and CAREFULLY pour in the whipping cream.

The mixture will fiercely bubble up and may seize.

This boiled up dangerously close to the top of the (too small) pan, so I put the camera down to make sure I didn't need to grab the fire extinguisher.

No worries! Return it to the heat, and stir (with your fork or with a heat proof spatula) until the caramel is completely smooth.

Pour into a heatproof container (like a measuring cup or this milk bottle). Cool on the counter for a bit before refrigerating.

That's it, you've made caramel! It's an aggressive, bitter caramel, so if you like a mellower caramel, don't take the sugar to the edge of burning like I do. When you're trying it for the first time, don't worry if you don't let it get brown enough. With time, your sugar confidence will grow and you'll learn how to take it to the edge to get that wonderful bitter flavor. This is an easy recipe, and doesn't require brushing the sides of the pan with water as sugar crystals don't form. The possibilities are endless, but we love it on vanilla ice cream. It's equally good served with cheesecake, profiteroles, or if put in a squeeze bottle, you can use it to decorate dessert plates (not that I do that).

And clean up? A breeze. Let your screaming hot pan cool off, then let it sit with water in it for a bit. The caramel melts away and the pan is easily cleaned with no sticky mess.