Thursday, February 26, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Meringues Chantilly

Appearances can be deceiving.

As I looked at this Barefoot Bloggers recipe, chosen for us by BMK of Reservations Not Required, I thought it was complicated and I couldn't quite imagine how it would all taste. That, plus whipped cream isn't one of the healthier foods I've been coaxing myself to in order to lose some weight. I figured I would make it and take it to work, and that would be that.

The meringues were actually quite easy (the hardest part of a meringue is separating all the eggs and without getting even a speck of egg yolk in the whites).  Let's just say an almost-egg white omelette is on the menu for today. The meringues baked as I was watching the finale of Top Chef (anyone else disappointed that Carla followed Casey's suggestions, which ultimately caused her to sacrifice the authenticity that has been her strength?) and rested in the oven all night. When I woke up this morning, I had an idea to make the recipe more diet-friendly...

Fat free Greek yogurt. Yes, I made one of these babies with fat free Greek yogurt in place of the whipped cream. I added a touch of sugar and vanilla to it (I don't do alcohol, so it needed a bit more flavor). I liked the idea of the meringue and the freshness of the berries with the tangy yogurt. In fact, I liked the yogurt substitute so much I think it would be hard to beat it with whipped cream! I loved the sweet crispness of the meringue with the hint of orange in the berries and the creaminess of the yogurt. (excuse me while I get another bite). 

A note about meringues. If your only experience with them is eating those big white things that resemble styrofoam from your local bakery, you really haven't experienced meringues. They are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. My first meringue experience was when I did the pastry boot camp at the CIA, and my second was last week with these cupcakes. It's an easy technique and one that is very versatile. 

I urge you to make this's very easy and so impressive on a plate. Check out what the other Barefoot Bloggers did here. If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

CEiMB - Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe is Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta. I adore shrimp and tomatoes and am learning to appreciate feta, so I was excited to make this one. I stopped by Whole Foods after work to pick up the shrimp and fresh herbs, and in a moment of inspiration/laziness, asked the fish guy to peel and devein the shrimp. He was happy to do it (they weren't busy) AND didn't charge extra. Love it!

The most labor intensive part of the dish was chopping the onion. It was that easy. I doubled up on the garlic since we like garlic. After I added the canned tomatoes, I simmered it before adding the fresh herbs, shrimp and feta. Then I fiddled with the oven rack trying to fit the skillet handle in with the oven door closed. That may have let, oh, most of the heat out of the oven. The skillet sat in there basically doing nothing for quite a while, and I think the heat loss affected how the dish cooked.

After 15 minutes, the shrimp were cooked and the feta looked nice and toasty, but it had a puddle of what looked like water in the middle. I spooned around the puddle and served it over brown rice, though I think it would be great over soft polenta (to soak up the juices). Although the toasty feta rocked, the flavors weren't as pronounced as I thought they would be. I think it's really due to a couple of mistakes:

1.  I didn't cook the tomatoes down enough before adding the shrimp.

2.  I messed around when adding the herbs and shrimp, and I think the pan lost some heat, which I made worse by

3.  Messing around with the oven racks AFTER I preheated the oven (a duh, I know).

I think this can be a great dish (it was tastier the following day), so I do plan to make it again, but next time I'll add some red pepper flakes or maybe even smoked Spanish paprika for some heat. I'll also reserve some of the fresh herbs to add right before serving, which should brighten the dish. Speaking of brightening the dish, a squeeze of lemon juice would help considerably.

This week's recipe was chosen by Pamela at Cookies with Boys. Love Pamela and love her blog, so I feel bad that I didn't do my best with her pick. Check out what Pamela and the other CEiMB cooks did here. They are MUCH better at following directions than I am. Truly.

If you'd like the recipe, you'll find it here. But I really do recommend you buy the book, The Foods You Crave, by Ellie Krieger. It has a wonderful range of tasty and healthy recipes. CEiMB is a group of bloggers who cook one recipe from Ellie's book each week and then blog about it. It's been a blast, so if you'd like to join us, here's how you do it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TWD - Caramel Crunch Bars

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick was Caramel Crunch Bars, selected just for us by Whitney of What's Left on the Table? These delightful treats have a base that's shortbread amped up with the addition of espresso powder and chopped chocolate.

Dorie warned that it would be a little sticky and hard to ease into an even layer for the crust. I found it easiest to use a knife to do this step.

The base is baked for 20-22 minutes (mine went the full 22, and I think it could have benefitted from another minute or two). 

You pull it out of the oven, turn off the oven and scatter 6 ounces 7 1/2 ounces (hey, I chopped too much!) of chopped bittersweet chocolate on the top and put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes to let the residual heat melt the chocolate. 

The chocolate is then spread evenly (in a perfect world, which isn't where I live) over the base. Heath bits are then scattered over the top and lightly pressed into the chocolate so they don't fall off when picked up. Foolproof, right?

Umm, not for me. I went to a couple of stores to find Heath bits, and I must have gotten a package that travelled to California on horseback, because it was basically a bag of dust with some pieces of toffee. Caitlin of Engineer Baker suggested making Paula Deen's English Toffee recipe in the P&Q, and I wished I had done that. Unfortunately, I was finishing this up at 9:30 on a Sunday night, and that's not my golden hour so I was rushing to get the #%@#* thing done so I could GO TO BED. So instead of dumping out the whole bag of Heath bits on a plate and picking through to get the usable pieces, handfuls of the contents of the bag, dust and all, were thrown on the melted chocolate. I then resolved to make the recipe again and use the toffee recipe and produce a beautiful result I could be proud of.

Was I dreaming?!? In what parallel universe would I have time to redo this dessert this week, nay, on Monday? I do work and Monday night I had my P.E.O. meeting, from which I would likely get home at 10:00, the hour at which I turn into a pumpkin. So, inspired by Carol Blymire (who is cooking through the Alinea cookbook and blogging about it; Alinea's chef, Grant Achatz creates odd sounding but tasty combinations that sometimes use powders of foods in combination with other ingredients), I decided I would embrace my powder-topped creation.

In that spirit, I present to you...

Caramel Crunch Bars, Powdered

They were pretty yummy, aesthetics aside. I didn't want to risk having even a pint of ice cream around to test drive Dorie's playing around suggestion of ice cream sandwiches, so I'll leave that one for my TWD buddies.

If you're not aching to create something suitable for people to travel from long distances to taste and pay hundreds of dollars for (and I certainly wasn't, because I have nowhere for them to sit), I suggest you either a) pick through your bag of toffee bits, or b) follow Caitlin's suggestion and make your own toffee. It would take these bars to the next level. That's what I call raising the bar, ha ha! If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CEiMB - Nutty Granola aka Hide the Milk

This week's recipe for Craving Ellie in My Belly is Nutty Granola. Amazingly, I had everything I needed in my pantry for this one. This is all you need...

I chopped the nuts and dried cherries (which I subbed for the raisins). I dumped everything in a glass bowl (I like to be able to peek at the bottom to see if I thoroughly mixed everything together). Then I poured on the maple syrup...

Stir, stir, stir.

Ellie says to spray a baking sheet with cooking spray before spreading the granola evenly on the baking sheet. This had me very conflicted. I still have some post traumatic stress from spending two days cleaning my broiler pan after the sesame-teriyaki chicken thighs. I pondered using a silicone mat to ease clean up, but I was worried that the granola wouldn't brown properly. I ended up using cooking spray, which worked fine.

The granola baked for 30 minutes, filling the house with a wonderful aroma. When it came out of the oven it looked amazing...

I waited (impatiently) for it to cool enough to have it for breakfast. Finally, I spooned some in a bowl and anointed it with milk. Mmm...delicious! It's not overly sweet like most commercial granolas, nor is it so hard my jaw hurt after eating it. The maple and cinnamon are subtle and don't overpower the nuts. Yum. This is so good...have another small bowl. I mean, I do plan to work out today. No, really.

This week was my turn to pick the recipe. I found it to be a humbling experience. I wanted to pick something that didn't have expensive ingredients, wouldn't take a lot of time or be overly complicated, and was family friendly. I enjoyed making this, and I hope you will, too! Here's the recipe:

Nutty Granola - Serves 9

You can't buy granola this good, and it couldn't be simpler to make. All the flavors come through crisp and clear: crunchy toasted nuts, chewy oats, and caramelized raisins perfectly sweetened with the unmistakable flavor of real maple syrup and humming with cinnamon.

Cooking spray
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins (optional, I used dried cherries instead)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients, mixing well to coat everything with the maple syrup. Spread on the baking sheet and bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the sheet to the wire rack and let cool completely. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

I will definitely make this one again. I would like to try it with some pumpkin seeds, dried apple, orange zest, vanilla caviar, but not all at the same time. Check out what the other CEiMB cooks did here. If you like this recipe, I urge you to check out the book The Foods You Crave, by Ellie Krieger.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWD - Devil's Food White-Out (cup)Cake

The Tuesdays with Dorie bakers are making the Cover Cake!

We've been lusting after this cake for months, with its billowy white frosting and dusting of devil's food crumbs. Fortunately for us, Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater selected it for this week's recipe.

The timing of this created somewhat of a dilemma for me. My boss, whom I adore, has a birthday Weds. I wanted to make it for her birthday but that wouldn't enable me to post on time. I missed the floating islands so I was determined to make this cake. Suddenly, it hit me...

Cupcakes. Devil's food white-out cupcakes. No layer splitting. No trying to sneak a cake into work and having people think I was wrecking their diets. No leftovers. Perfect.

I made a half recipe of both the cake and the frosting. I used mini chocolate chips and 2% milk (at 6 PM Sunday, Safeway had either a quart of whole milk or a half gallon of buttermilk, and I only needed 1/4 cup for half a recipe) so I went for the pint of 2% milk. The cake batter was easy peasy (and yummy, too). The cupcakes baked for about 20 minutes until they tested done. I made the frosting in the morning before going to work. The P&Q had me prepared to hover over the thermometer and be ready for it to shoot up to 242 degrees after taking forever to get to 235. This indeed happened, but I had no trouble at all incorporating the sugar syrup into the beaten egg whites. I whipped it like crazy for about 3 minutes until it cooled to room temperature. It was glossy, puffy and magical looking. It tasted...OK. I crumbled one of the muffins for the crumb topping and applied a liberal dollop of frosting on the remaining 11 cupcakes. The crumb topping meant no need to make the frosting look good, but I made it kind of snow capped mountain-esque in honor of all of the snow the Sierra has gotten in the last three days.

In the interest of being able to tell all of you how they were, I ate one, like, immediately. So it was only 7:15 AM, so what? I was willing to sacrifice so you would know the outcome. You're welcome.

The verdict? These are insanely good cupcakes. You know how chocolate cupcakes can sometimes be dry? How the frosting can be too sweet, and maybe they're decorated beautifully, but the frosting flavor disappoints? Not these babies. They are so much fun to eat with the billowy meringue frosting and deep chocolate flavor. You turn them every which way to take a bite, and still have a small cloud of frosting left at the end. Not too sweet, not too firm. Just right.

I will definitely make these again. Amy Ruth suggested using peanut butter in the filling. I saw another TWDer suggested making the frosting with some coffee. Both sound amazing. I wouldn't use the mini chips again (I don't really like the flavor), so I would chop a good quality semi-sweet chocolate in their place.

You must try this! If you're a chocolate lover or have one in your life, this is the cake for you. Thanks for picking it for us, Stephanie! If you'd like the recipe, you'll find it at Stephanie's blog. Or buy yourself the book Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. It's an amazing book with so many irresistible recipes that there are approximately 400 of us cooking our way through it and blogging about our experiences.

Please stop by next week when we make the Caramel Crunch Bars. They promise to be easy and delicious!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Killer coffee cake

Hello, gorgeous!

I can't believe I haven't shared this with you yet! This is my go-to recipe if I'm having a few friends over for breakfast, and I think it would be perfect to share with your sweetie this weekend. It's a basic sour cream coffee cake, and it's so easy to make for those of us who suffer from the heartbreak of FOY.

I'm speaking of Fear of Yeast. Yeast breads are the one thing I haven't mastered. They scare me. Yeast is such a fair weather friend. If it's too warm or too cold, it gets an attitude, and that intimidates me. There, I said it. I've been meaning to try AnneStrawberry's dinner rolls. Anne says they're easy and I believe her, but still.

This coffee cake, however, is your friend. It's perfection warm out of the oven with its toastly layer of melted cinnamon sugar. I like to add about a cup of roughly chopped pecans, but you could do almonds or walnuts, or go nut-free. The original recipe appeared in Gourmet in 1990 (I think). I've made hundreds since and it has never failed me.

Before you start, make sure your butter is well softened. Mix the baking soda into the sour cream (allowing it to do its foaming over thing adds lift to the cake.)

I mix the topping in a bowl with a cover and shake it like mad. Then I cream the butter with the sugar, add the eggs one at a time, then alternately add the dry ingredients and the sour cream, ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread it in a buttered pan...

...and sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar topping (and nuts, if using) and swirl it in with a knife.

Bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes (I made three to take to a luncheon)...

Let it cool on a wire rack. Serve while still warm. It's harder to slice, but oh so worth it. You can thank me later.

You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CEiMB - Sesame-Teriyaki Chicken Thighs

So, it occurred to me around 4:30 Weds. night that I really needed to get my act together and make this recipe. I mean, I needed something to break up the chocolate truffle blockade, and some light and tasty chicken is just the ticket.

It's raining like crazy in the Bay area, and thank God it is because we really need it. It made getting a parking space at Trader Joe's easier since anyone with half a brain decided to go straight home and eat food they already owned, even if it was cereal.

Not me. I was on the hunt for chicken thighs (I needed more than chicken for the recipe, but didn't realize it till I was home). They had them but they were boneless, which will do but aren't ideal. Cooking chicken on the bone gives a more flavorful result, and when we cut back on fats, building flavors is important.

The marinade is so ridiculously easy; really, the whole dish couldn't be easier. I let it marinade in the fridge while I made, yes, ANOTHER batch of Nutella truffles. I put it under the broiler and kept watch over it, turning after 7 minutes. It smelled fantastic and got a little black around the edges. I love eating the little overcooked edges of food so this was a treat!

I'm not a huge fan of chicken thighs in general but these were great. They were tender, moist and flavorful. I had added a little sesame oil to the marinade which gave them a subtle nutty flavor (good thing since I was out of sesame seeds!)

Craving Ellie in My Belly is a group of bloggers who cook a recipe from Ellie Krieger's book The Foods You Crave. I love cooking with this talented group; they always inspire me. Check on their chicken here.

Barefoot Bloggers - Real Spaghetti and Meatballs, Sort of

I'm so excited. This is only my second time cooking along with the Barefoot Bloggers, so you would think I'd throw myself into it and follow every nuance of the recipe.

Not so much.

The meatballs call for veal, pork and beef. I don't touch the first two, and I'm not huge on beef either. The sauce requires wine (another no go) and parsley (I'm the only person on earth who hates parsley). I didn't have spaghetti. But I was determined to press on, so I made turkey meatballs instead. I cooked the sauce for a long time to build the flavor, then pureed it in the food processor to make it look classier. It turned out a little chunkier than I would have liked, but the flavor was spot on with the addition of my secret weapon, balsamic vinegar. I served the meatballs and sauce over a bed of fettucine, with a sprinkle of parmesan.

How was it? Fantastic! I slurped up much more of the large serving than I had planned, but it was so good! I think the meatballs and sauce would freeze well (in separate containers) for an easy weeknight dinner. If you'd like the real recipe, you'll find it here. Check out what the other Barefoot Bloggers did here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's truffle season

When the weather turns cold and rainy, truffle season starts in my kitchen. I'm never on top of things enough to get photos before they go off to friends and co-workers, but this time I had a few left over from a marathon truffle session this weekend.

Making truffles must be hard and tricky, right? I mean, they do cost a small fortune at boutique chocolatiers.

Surprisingly, no. I made my first truffles after reading a Mark Bittman column in the New York Times. He's the Minimalist, making everything easier while still quite delicious. His recipe is so ridiculously easy, requires only three ingredients, and can be thrown together in minutes (aside from some chilling time). The only part that requires my undivided attention is the heating of the cream (this is not a good time to check the laundry, make phone calls or check your email). Once the ganache cools and you're scooping it out, you can watch TV, talk to your spouse or daydream about ways to infuse the cream next time.

The recipe starts with the most ethereal of mixtures, the ganache. A ganache is an emulsion of chocolate and cream. Since the chocolate is the star of the truffle, I suggest using the best chocolate you can afford without raiding the kids' college funds. I use Valrhona Extra Bitter (61%). I used to use Trader Joe's cocoa powder, but I prefer Valrhona for its dark bitterness, perfect to counter the ganache. These are perfectly fine with lower cost cocoa.

The recipe (from the New York Times):

7/8 cup heavy cream

8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Unsweetened cocoa powder as needed.

1. Heat cream in a pot until it steams. Put chocolate in a bowl, pour hot cream on top, and stir until chocolate is melted and incorporated into cream.

2. Chill until solid all the way through, 1 to 2 hours. Using a chilled melon baller (I use a disher) or latex gloves to prevent the ganache from melting or sticking to your hands, scoop out about a tablespoonful and quickly roll it into a ball. Repeat, lining truffles on a plate or a baking sheet.

3. If truffles become too soft to handle, place them in refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes. Roll them in cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar or a mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon. Serve immediately or store, wrapped in plastic, in refrigerator for up to four days. (Note: I like to roll them in cocoa right before serving, if possible, because after a day or two in the refrigerator, the cocoa gets wet spots).

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups ganache, or 24 truffles.

Potential flavors? Endless. This weekend, we experimented with adding Ancho chili powder to the cream, and we made another batch with a liberal dose (I'd say about 3/4 cup) of Nutella. See, I was crushed that I had missed World Nutella Day, so I wanted to include it in my truffle making. We just mixed it into the ganache before chilling. I've been wanting to make chai truffles, cinnamon, espresso, smoked paprika, Meyer lemon, you name it.

Please try this. It's a wonderful gift for that special someone, especially when that someone is you!

No TWD this week

I'm becoming a bit of a floating island myself, what with all those World Peace Cookies and the truffle explosion I've had at my house (check back later for the most ridiculously easy truffle recipe). Check out what my more diligent TWD pals did here. I'll be back next week with the devil's food white-out cake, which we fondly call the Cover Cake.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CEiMB - Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Who doesn't love spinach and artichoke dip? It's frequently the first thing to be demolished at a potluck, and it seems like it's so healthy (spinach! artichokes!) But this tasty dip is treacherous for your waistline. Made with full-fat products, a 1/4 cup serving can have more than 200 calories.

Enter Ellie Krieger's recipe. It uses lower fat dairy products and has a fraction of the calories of the original. It's super easy to make. I subbed swiss cheese for the mozzarella since that was what I had on hand, though I used less because it was full fat. Cathy at The Tortefeasor selected this one for us, and it's a winner! I served it with baby carrots and it was wonderful. I missed the crunch of water chestnuts and I think I should have added a bit more salt. I didn't miss the creaminess of the full fat ingredients. 

Check out Craving Ellie in My Belly for what the other group members did with this week's recipe. They're a talented and inspiring group and I always learn something from them. If you'd like to give this one a try, you'll find the recipe on Cathy's blog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

TWD Redux -- Making Peace with World Peace Cookies

My first go at these cookies was not my finest hour. I expected crumbly, but not this

I was amazed at the love and support I got from my fellow bakers. It really cheered me up...I can't thank you all enough. After all of the encouragement, I decided to try WPC again. I had received a wealth of suggestions from other bakers (add an egg, reduce the flour by 2 tablespoons and increase the butter by one tablespoon, mix until it forms a ball, etc.) and I wanted to try some of them.  As I mixed the dry ingredients, the reason for my ultra crumbly cookies came to doubling the recipe, I made a mistake in weighing my flour and added quite a bit more than the recipe called for. This time, I ended up making the recipe as written, but did mix it quite a bit more, and I used chopped chocolate instead of the mini chips.

Again, I was giddy thinking about them at work today, but this time because my dough resembled that in the other bakers' photos. After dinner, I sliced some off (I just got this creepy feeling that I'm living the movie Groundhog Day!), baked them off and waited for them to cool before gingerly trying to lift one off the cookie sheet. I tasted it in all its oozy chocolate goodness...

I felt like screaming, crying, fainting, high-fiving, moaning, singing, all at once. Instead, a peaceful sigh escaped my lips before I reached for another. Sometimes, I thought, you just have to give peace a chance.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TWD - World Peace Cookies

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is World Peace Cookies. These are the cookies that my fellow bakers gush most about. I couldn't wait to make them. 

Dorie warned they would be crumbly. As I stared at the bottom of the mixing bowl, I thought I was looking at a batch of brown beach sand, not a cookie dough that engenders world peace. I soldiered on, knowing the crumbly-ness was very common. I made rolls in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator while I was at work. I daydreamed about their chocolate-y goodness. After dinner, I sliced a few off the log. Instead of little cookies of peace, they became little chocolate bombs, exploding chocolate shrapnel all over my silpat. Tasty shrapnel, but an array of tasty crumbs of varying sizes is hard to serve on a cookie tray.

Two weeks in a row I have not succeeded with our TWD recipe. What happened to my baking mojo? In order to conceal the failure I ate the evidence. Shhh! Please don't tell. Let this latest failure be our little secret.

If you'd like the recipe, please check Jessica at cookbookhabit. And check the other TWD bakers out here. I know they were much more successful than...sob...I was. Not that I'm taking it too seriously that I failed...again.