Thursday, December 31, 2009

CEiMB - Half Baked Lemon Bars

I'll admit, I've been a baaad Ellie-ista. It's been weeks since I've participated in Craving Ellie in My Belly, and judging by how my jeans are fitting, that's not a good thing.

So when Amy of Playing House selected Ellie's No-Bake Lemon Bars for this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly post, I resolved to make the recipe. I even intended to make it as written. Then something went terribly wrong. Trader Joe's didn't have plain graham crackers. And I was determined not to go to Safeway. So I bought a container of TJ's low-fat Ginger Cat Cookies. They're like crunchy gingersnaps. I thought they'd go well with the lemon.

I had the other supplies: Cream cheese (not light), sweetened condensed milk (ditto), eggs (not Egg Beaters) and (Meyer) lemons were all ready for the recipe. I had recently made this cheesecake in the food processor, and I liked how easy it was, so I used the FP for this recipe. I just wiped it out after crushing the cookies for the crust. Speaking of the crust, I baked it for 8 minutes and let it cool before pouring the filling in. I just think a pre-baked crust is so much tastier than one that isn't.

The resulting bars were more of a dessert you eat with a spoon than pick up with your hand (unless if you froze it for, say, 20 minutes before serving). But it was tart and creamy, and the ginger crust  was perfect with the tangy lemon cream. My only problem was with the crust. Since Ellie's recipe called for 7 sheets of graham crackers, it was hard for me to figure out how many cookies to use. I used WAY too many cookies, had to add extra butter, and ended up with a bit too much crust, some of which was a little crumbly. Not to worry. Those lovely crumbs pair well with the creamy lemon to make an easy dessert. Thanks, Amy, for a fabulous find from the new cookbook!

Here's my take on the original recipe:

Half Baked Lemon Bars - adapted from So Easy by Ellie Krieger
1 cup cookie crumbs (gingersnaps, Lorna Doones, etc.)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8 pan with cooking spray. Combine the crust ingredients in a bowl and stir until well combined. Pat into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool on a rack while making the filling.

8 ounces of light cream cheese
14 ounce can fat free sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice (I used 2 Meyer lemons)
2 teaspoons gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water

Place gelatin and 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl; stir until combined and set aside.

Place cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor and process for two minutes. Scrape down bowl and add condensed milk and egg. Process for another minute, then add the lemon zest, juice and gelatin. Process for 30 seconds. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Chill for 8 hours (or overnight) before serving.

NOTE: Ellie's recipe calls for using hot water to bloom the gelatin, but hot water always gives me lumps.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TWD - Low and Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake

Margaret of Tea and Scones chose this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Low and Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake. I was excited about this one because a.) it's chocolate, and b.) it's cheesecake.

I didn't used to like cheesecake (the same could be said about burgers, and I now love them, too), but that was before Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake. It won me over (and most everyone at work--they love that cheesecake so much that when I ask what they'd like me to make, it's always the cheesecake).

This chocolate cheesecake is so easy to make, and so low maintenance it doesn't even require a water bath. I made it as written, and baking it was completely uneventful. Yay for the absence of trauma!

I discovered that although I love chocolate and I love cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake doesn't make my heart beat faster. I like my chocolate chocolatier and my cheesecake cheesecakier (is that even a word?) And though my coworkers liked it, and ate it, they much prefer the Tall and Creamy.

Can you believe that the photo at the top of the post is the only one I have of this cheesecake?? But I have dozens of pictures like this one...

Thanks for an easy, tasty pick, Margaret!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TWD - My Favorite Pecan Pie

There are pecan pies, and there are transcendent, life changing, mood lifting, swoon-worthy pecan pies.

This one is one of the latter. Universally LLLLOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVEEEEDDDD by the gang at Thanksgiving dinner. Not all of them are pecan pie lovers (or even likers), but virtually all 15 people present had some and proclaimed it the sleeper hit of Pie Day Thanksgiving 2009. And that's not surprising as this one, with its notes of cinnamon, coffee and secret sweet pockets of chocolate, is sublime on a plate.

Me? I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I've been making the same pecan pie for over 20 years (yes, I started making pies when I was 6...not). So my pecan pie is obviously the best.

Uh, no. Dorie's is. By miles. So much so that I can't bring myself to consider cheating on it by making another pecan pie.

This pie was SO popular that the only piece left was a crumpled up sliver that I couldn't bring myself to show at the top of this post. So I made it again for yesterday's potluck for our last day in the office until January 5th. Since I was also bringing Dorie's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, after much angst, I broke down and bought a pre-made pie crust from Trader Joe's. Butter was listed before palm oil, but it was just OK. Since I used a smallish pie plate, I had extra filling left over, which I poured in a buttered ramekin and baked along side the pie.

We have Beth at Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina to thank for picking this one. She went through Dorie Greenspan's book Baking from My Home to Yours and picked out this recipe for us to make this week.

The woman is brilliant. And Dorie? I already *heart* Dorie. Now only more so.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Bread Pudding

Eek! I'm late with this post! I bailed on the last Barefoot Bloggers pick (Company Pot Roast) since I can't stomach large cuts of meat and am not a big fan of beef in general. Or wine.

For this one, I couldn't picture myself buying croissants to make a bread pudding I wasn't going to eat. After all, aren't there enough cookies, pastries and other delicacies floating around? But after I made Portuguese sweet bread this weekend, I eyed the stale loaf and thought its sweet notes of orange and lemon would be perfect for this recipe.

It was very fast to assemble (not counting the time I spent picking shards of egg shell out of the bowl) and baked in much less time than specified since I made a quarter of the recipe. I didn't have half and half, so I mixed whipping cream with 1% milk, but that made it a trifle oily. I also substituted dried cranberries for the raisins as I felt they would be nice with the citrus flavors of the bread.

I'm so glad I made this one with the Portuguese sweet bread. It added so much flavor to a dish I think would have been overly rich and bland. While it was still overly rich, the warmth of the citrus flavors was a nice touch.

Many thanks to Peggy of Pantry Revisited, who hosted this week. I love Peggy's blog and her sense of humor. Be sure you visit her...her bread pudding looks amazing! Peggy has the recipe, or you can find it here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD - Cafe Volcano Cookies

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was chosen by one of my favorite bloggers, MacDuff of Lonely Sidecar. I have to be honest with you. When I saw the name of this recipe I said "what?!?"

Cafe. Volcano. Cookies. All interesting in their own ways, but together? How does that work?

It works pretty well. This is flat out the easiest cookie you'll ever make...even easier than a no-bake cookie. The hardest part is separating the eggs, but that's not a big deal. You use one pan. A bowl for the egg whites. And something to stir the mixture in the pan. The P&Q proved that this one is a blank canvas, with Nancy suggesting maple sugar, and Caitlin swapping cocoa for the espresso powder. After toasting the nuts (I used the suggested almonds and walnuts), you combine all of the ingredients in a pan (I used espresso powder and cinnamon for flavoring) and heat until it's warm. Then scoop out to a prepared cookie sheet. After baking, I could hear the cookies crackling as they cooled. Their texture was crisp and the flavor deliciously nutty due to the concentration of the browned nuts.

This may have been the most fun I had making a Dorie recipe. Stop by MacDuff's if you'd like the recipe, or, even better, buy the book, Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. You'll discover more improbable hits like this one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

BBA - Italian Bread

I am officially a bread snob. Even though I felt like making a sandwich the other day, I couldn't do it. See, we didn't have any bread in the house. I don't buy bread anymore. It just doesn't measure up, even to my pathetic loaves, and certainly not to the loaves that fill me with pride and disbelief.

So I jumped ahead of our Bread Bakers' Apprentice posting schedule and made this several weeks ago. We needed bread. The preparation was similar to the French bread we recently made. I had heard rumblings that this bread wasn't as good as the French, but I thought it was pretty great, especially in a sandwich. Even though this was a hearth bread (like the dismal ciabatta fail a while back), I didn't freak out.

I used my Italian olive oil and let it rest in the fridge for a couple of days to build flavor. Right after I made this one, I bought a lame (for slashing the loaves) and a peel (for transferring the loaves to the oven). I still naively believe that the right tools will solve all my baking problems.

This bread comes from the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. Next up: Kaiser rolls!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD - Sables, and what's REALLY been keeping me busy

Do you have any idea how hard it is to do anything, like bake cookies, when you have two uber adorable kittens in the house? I want to cuddle them part of the time and make sure they aren't killing each other the rest of the time.

Say hello to Pearl (top) and Joy (bottom). Joy is 5 1/2 months old and Pearl is 3 1/2 months old. I adopted them both from the Humane Society within a week of losing Allie. It was the first time in over 20 years that I didn't have a cat, and I couldn't take it. M. travels a lot and I get lonely.

Oh, did you come here looking for sables? Sables from Baking From My Home to Yours? For Tuesdays with Dorie? Of course you did. And I did make them, but how cute is this...

Moving on to the sables...

It was Bungalow Barbara's turn to pick. These sables were easy to make, though hard to roll into round logs and mine ended up looking more like flat tires than perfect circles. I opted to make mine cinnamon, and with almost 2 teaspoons of my favorite Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon, they were redolent with bold, spicy cinnamon flavor. They had a lovely, sandy texture and delicate crumb which was highlighted by the crunchy Turbinado sugar along the edge. They are perfect with a steaming cup of chai on a cold day.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I hear a commotion in the bedroom...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ad Hoc Book Signing

Yesterday, my friend Susan and I waited in line in 41 degree weather for almost two hours (OK, we were indoors half of the time) to buy Ad Hoc At Home and have it autographed by Thomas Keller. Even though we were told he wouldn't do personal photos, yadda yadda, he was delightful in person and insisted on personal photos. If you bought Ad Hoc at Williams-Sonoma, he would sign it and any of his other cookbooks, regardless of where they were purchased. As you can see above, his signature is a beautiful addition to a fantastic cookbook. He was gracious and kind, and as down to earth as his food is ethereal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

CEiMB - Confetti Chili

I'm enjoying yet another bowl of this wonderful chili as I write this post. This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly was chosen by Lauren of I'll Eat You. Lauren also selected this week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick. What are the odds of that happening?

I love a good chili when the weather turns chilly. I live in California, so my idea of cold is much different than others who live in truly cold climates, but I was happy to see that Lauren had picked a chili. I'm not a fan of beef, unless we're talking burgers, so I used lean ground turkey. The recipe in the book is slightly different from the one on the Food Network website, calling for corn and only two kinds of beans. I didn't have frozen corn, so I used three beans (pinto, kidney and garbanzo). I added some chipotle chili powder for extra kick, and I used diced tomatoes instead of crushed. All of the above worked fine except the last one. I think using crushed tomatoes would give this a chili-er consistency.

We were very happy with this one and I'll definitely make it again. And again. And again. So thanks, Lauren!

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CEiMB Rewind - Pulled Barbecue Chicken

Last week, the Craving Ellie in My Belly cooks each did their own thing. Our fearless leader is Sara of imafoodblog. Sara suggested we each make our own Ellie recipe and preferably serve it on Thanksgiving. I opted to do a rewind of a recipe I missed while on vacation earlier this year. Pamela of Cookies With Boys chose Ellie's pulled barbecue chicken. I made this the week of Thanksgiving, but served it in the busy days leading up to the holiday.

The barbecue sauce is what makes this dish. It was sooo good, and it gave us many healthy and delicious meals when things were pretty hairy around here. Thanks, Pamela, and I'm sorry it took me so long to make your pick!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Creme Brulee

Ack! This Barefoot Bloggers post is so late I'm barely posting it in the correct MONTH!

Ina' s creme brulee was picked by Suzie at Munch+Nibble. I have a creme brulee recipe I've been making since, well, a long time ago. It came from an old (not then) Jim Dodge cookbook and it was perfect every time. So I was pretty skeptical I would like this one because, well, it's not the one I usually make. It uses whole eggs, and I was conflicted about whole eggs in a custard.

I decided to make 1/4 of the recipe, since M. was traveling. Since Ina's recipe calls for using 8 ounce ramekins and I use 4 ounce, I figured I'd still have plenty to enjoy.

The recipe was super easy. I used vanilla bean paste instead of extract because I love the vanilla speckles. I ate one of them slightly warm and it was delicious. The others were enjoyed chilled, and I do mean enjoyed. I was glad I didn't have to share this one!
If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Cheesecake Streusel Brownies

When the nice folks at C&H Sugar contacted me and asked if I'd like to make a recipe from their website and blog about it, I only thought about it for a minute or two. Even though I have never accepted an offer before to blog about a product, I use C&H. In return, they gave me a $20 gift card to use for my baking habit. Sweet! (no pun intended!)

The hard part of this was choosing a recipe. I printed off six recipes in about 5 minutes of looking, and settled on Cheesecake Streusel Brownies. They had two things going for them: they looked easy and they had chocolate in them. I vowed to remain true to the recipe, and I was mostly successful, though I chickened out at the last minute and subbed bittersweet chocolate chips for the topping.

The recipe starts with the streusel/brownie layers. You make the streusel, set some of it aside and use the rest to make the brownie layer. The recipe was very easy, and because the cheesecake layer gets covered in streusel and then chocolate chips, I didn't have to stress about little bits of the brownie layer that got stirred up when spreading the cheesecake. Not that I had a problem with that. No, not me.

The part that perplexed me was the layering: brownies on the bottom (sure), then cheesecake, (fine), streusel (makes sense), then chocolate chips. What? Chocolate chips on the top?? I kept muttering "I don't see how this is going to work" as I sprinkled the chocolate chips on top. As it baked, the chocolate chips melted slightly and formed soft little chocolate spots on the top.

These smelled fantastic as they baked so I didn't let them cool entirely before cutting one to sample. You definitely want to wait until they're cool before slicing them because they are a little crumbly when warm but slice cleanly when cooled. The cheesecake and brownie layers were delicious together, but the streusel really made them better. Next time, I'd add a little salt to the streusel and brownie, change the chocolate in the brownie to bittersweet and use semi-sweet for the topping. These would also be terrific with toffee bits in the brownies or walnuts in the streusel.

Thanks to the folks at C&H for including me in their holiday blogging event!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TWD - All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake

The All-In-One Holiday Bundt cake, selected by Britin of The Nitty Britty for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe with apple, pumpkin, cranberry, pecan, all in one cake could be a train wreck or really delicious; fortunately it was lovely with the maple glaze.

Monday, November 23, 2009

BBA Rewind - Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

I mean, bagels aren't made at home. They're made at the eponymous bagel shop. Usually they're big and doughy, and after eating one, you feel like you ate your pillow.

Peter Reinhart's bagels from The Bread Baker's Apprentice do not fall in this category. You make them in your own kitchen, no magic or special equipment needed. Nor do you feel like you swallowed a rock.

I know it sounds like science fiction, but it's true.

I made these the day after we lost Allie, and I made them because I thought it would give me something to occupy myself with, something I had looked forward to doing. See, it was the bagels I saw on some of my favorite blogs that made me consider doing something as crazy as buying a book about bread and making the recipes.

I tried to screw up. I was quasi-successful the first time, except I threw in the towel when I realized I had under-hydrated the soaker, tried mixing more water into the dough, and quickly saw it wasn't going to work. The dough went in the trash and I started again.

Even the second time, my brain wasn't completely engaged and I mixed the yeast in with the flour, salt etc. to add to the soaker. I put the soaker in the fridge while we ate a late lunch, but rescued it after a half an hour and proceeded with the recipe, even though the soaker was chilled. I then rested the portioned dough in the barely warm oven for over an hour, enough for the little balls of dough to swell up considerably, making it hard to peel them off the parchment for shaping. I used the rope method, not the hole punch after seeing so many comments about flat bagels when using the hole punching method. But they floated immediately, and off to the fridge to sleep they went.

While drinking my coffee the next morning, I brought a pot of water to a boil, tossed in the baking soda, and boiled the little darlings a few at a time. They looked pathetically scrawny, and I worried that they wouldn't turn out.

After baking, they looked like this:

But I still worried. What if they weren't fully baked?? 10 minutes in the oven doesn't seem like enough time. I needn't have worried. When I cut into one, this is what I saw:

Toasted and spread with butter, it was divine.

I wish I thought to take a beauty shot, but I was too intent on eating it while it was hot. I knew you'd understand.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CEiMB Catch Up - Peach French Toast Bake AND Carrot, Green Apple and Mint Salad

Where has the month gone???

I had the horrifying realization yesterday that Thanksgiving is next week. Next week! I thought I still had two weeks left. When I was at Trader Joe's this weekend, I noticed the interest around the turkey case, and wondered what the rush was. Now I understand.

For Craving Ellie in My Belly this week, Liz of The Not So Skinny Kitchen chose Ellie's Peach French Toast Bake. I read the discussion about this recipe and noted that the egg mixture needed some doctoring since it was bland. Did I remember to do that? No. I read the recipe, which said to use cooking spray on your baking dish. Did I do that? No. It said to serve it with maple syrup and non-fat yogurt. Did I remember that? No. So what I ended up with was a bland, glued-to-the-dish breakfast that left a lot to be desired. But I could tell this one could be really great IF I followed the recipe, spiced up the eggs, and maybe grated in some orange zest. And the clean up would be easier if I sprayed the pan.

I had never made baked french toast before, and Ellie's recipe was so ridiculously easy that I'll definitely make it again with the changes noted. Thanks, Liz, for picking a recipe I never would have thought of trying!


Last week, Jessica of A Singleton in the Kitchen chose Ellie's Carrot, Green Apple and Mint Salad. Now, if you aren't already a follower of Jessica's blog, you really need to be. She is funny and real, and has a creative way with the recipes she makes. She participates in a number of cooking groups while pursuing her masters degree and working as a teaching assistant.

When I saw Jessica had chosen this recipe, I tried to wrap my head around it and couldn't. I wasn't sure how it would taste, but I trust Jessica and her palate, so I went for it. I used the food processor to shred the carrots and apple, mixed the dressing (mayo, non-fat Greek yogurt, cider vinegar, lemon juice and honey) in a bowl, did a quick chiffonade of fresh mint, and threw it all together. It took 5 minutes. OK, maybe 8. And it was DELISH. I tossed on some roasted salted peanuts, and it added a nice salty note. We had this with adobo chicken and brown rice, and it made a nice flavor profile. I will definitely make it again, but as Jessica suggested, I would increase the apple and decrease the carrot...I wasn't getting enough of the apple flavor, and I would use the julienne blade to get larger pieces of apple and carrot. In my opinion, the two elements that make this dish are the mint and the cider vinegar. Don't even think of using white vinegar in this one.

Thanks, Jessica, for picking a recipe that might have never been picked. We loved it! It lasted for several days, and was just as good on day 3 as it was the night I made it.

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownies

When the going gets tough, I make brownies. These deliver huge flavor with minimal preparation, use ingredients you likely have in your pantry and are a great one bowl, spur-of-the-moment offering. So when we needed cheering up after having to let go of our kitty last week, I made these brownies. They're easy and delicious, though not quite as delicious as these. You can prepare them in advance, refrigerate them in the baking pan and bake them off the next day.

Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownies - adapted from Gourmet

6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 (10.2 oz) cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds (optional)

Butter and flour a 13" x 9" pan and set aside. In a metal bowl, combine the butter, bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates and set it over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolates and butter are melted and combined, then remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm, then stir in the sugar and the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until incorporated. add the flour and the salt, stirring until just combined (a few flecks of flour are OK), then mix in the semi-sweet chips. spread in the prepared pan, smooth the top and scatter the nuts over the top, pressing very lightly. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering to it. Cool completely before cutting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TWD - Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

During the month of November Laurie, our Tuesdays with Dorie fearless leader, has given us the option of posting out of order. These cookies are scheduled for this week and were picked by Pamela of Cookies with Boys. Pamela is one of my all-time favorite people. You know she's a really cool, sweet, caring person just from reading her blog. So I was excited to make her pick, even though I'm not a fan of molasses, nor of spice cookies.

Imagine my surprise when I loved them! Absolutely loved them! They're easy (which never hurts) and adaptable (I nixed the pepper and allspice and added nutmeg instead) and you can keep the dough in your fridge and bake them off as needed. That's the perfect kind of cookie in my book. If you'd like the recipe, check out Pamela's post or better yet, buy the book everybody is raving about: Baking From My Home to Yours and join us in baking through it.

I sprinkled on extra sugar before baking some of them, and though I like how it made them look, it didn't add anything to the flavor so I'll skip that step next time. I'll also bake them for a minute or two less since I like a chewier cookie. And next time might be tonight since I still have some dough in the fridge. Sweet!

Thanks, Pamela, for a pick that was surprisingly good.

Monday, November 16, 2009

BBA - French Bread

This week's Bread Baker's Apprentice was a marathon, not a sprint, and a hearth bread, too. I wasn't smart enough to be filled with angst over it, given the miserable fail of my last attempt at a hearth bread. In fact, I interrupted the preparation of this bread so many times, with the dough going in and out of the fridge over a period of days that I wouldn't have been surprised if it failed.

It didn't. It was the ugly duckling of French breads, but it was crisp, deeply flavorful and yes, had holes inside. (imagine me skipping to work the day I made it!) My slashing left a lot to be desired and I mangled it getting it from the cloche on to the baking stone, so it wasn't the most beautiful looking bread, but it was delicious and, yes, authentic. My coworkers loved having fresh French bread for breakfast. Peter Reinhart's steam technique gave it an amazingly crunchy crust. I wish I could speak coherently about this bread, but I'm so blown away by its success that I can't!

The victims after the slashing

Make sure you check out the other members of the Slow & Steady subgroup of the Bread Baker's Apprentice event (and they are Nancy (of Corner Loaf), Cathy (of The Tortefeasor), Audrey (of Food From Books), Jessica (A Singleton in the Kitchen), Melissa (of From Laptop to Stovetop), Kayte (of Grandma's Kitchen Table), Sarah (of Blue Ridge Baker), Di (of Di's Kitchen Notebook), Margaret (of Tea and Scones) and Natalia (of Gatti Fili e Farina). I know they will be able to hold themselves together and describe their breads more eloquently than I am able to.