Saturday, September 15, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 36 - Apples - Apple Spent-Grain Muffins

Bad muffins don't get pretty pictures.  They're not worth the trouble.

The husband and I brewed up a new batch of beer last weekend, so I had a big tub of spent grain to play with.  I've done bread and pizza crust, so this time I thought I'd tackle muffins.

I started with my favorite oat bran muffin recipe, figuring that I could sub out the oat bran for the grain, which worked pretty well.  I threw a chopped Red Delicious apple into the batter to give it more sweetness and some texture.

Oops!  Red Delicious apples bake away to squishy blobs of nothing.  I gave it texture, alright--bad texture.

The consistency of the muffin itself is fine: moist and dense without being heavy.  The flavor is a little bland--I can't decide if it needs more sugar, salt, or both.  But the blobs of squishy apple just ruin it.

The cooking challenge #36 is apples too, but I have a foolproof plan there, my favorite savory apple application that has never, ever failed me.  I will redeem myself!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 35 - Marinating - Bulgogi and Thai Cucumber Salad

It's a Neglected Cookbook Project double feature!  Both recipes are (slightly) adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection: Asian, which my brother and his wife gave to me for Christmas years ago.  It's a well-written, beautifully-photographed book, and yet somehow I never found myself cooking from it.

So a few weekends ago I picked it out of the NCP pile and starting leafing through.  Knowing the marinating challenge was coming up, these two just jumped right out at me.

I know the ingredient list for the bulgogi looks long, but the marinade and the sauce use mostly the same ingredients in different quantities, so it's really not that bad.

Bulgogi (Korean BBQ)

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 4 green onions, minced
  • 1 tsp ginger paste (or finely chopped ginger)
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp water
  •  1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sriracha chile sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 lbs beef tenderloin
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
Make the marinade: Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic with the sugar to form a rough paste.  (Alternately, if you don't have one, use a cutting board and the flat of a heavy knife to mash them together.)  Transfer the paste to a small bowl and add the remaining marinade ingredients, whisking well to combine.  Set aside.

Make the sauce just as you made the marinade, combining everything in another small bowl.  Refrigerate until needed.

Cut the beef across the grain as thin as you can manage (1/8" or less is ideal).   Placing the beef in the freezer for 30-45 minutes before slicing can help firm it up and make it easier to get thin slices.  (Mine actually weren't so good, I need to get my knives sharpened.)

Add the beef slices to the marinade and toss to mix.  Cover and refrigerate 1-3 hours.

Prepare a hot fire on a charcoal grill, or preheat a grill pan on the stove on high.  Brush the grill rack/pan with the canola oil.

Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry, discarding the marinade.  (I tried to get most of the sesame seeds off, afraid they'd burn, but really they didn't, so there's no need to be too fussy.)  Working in batches, arrange the beef in a single layer on the hot pan.  Sear, turning once, until crisp and browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.  Wipe down and re-oil the pan between batches if necessary.

Here, I served it over rice, drizzled with the sauce, with a side of...

Thai Cucumber Salad

  • 2 lbs. cucumbers
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 red jalapeno or other fresh red chile, seeded and julienned
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
Peel the cucumbers, halve lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds.  Cut crosswise into 1/4" thick slices.  Place in a colander, sprinkle with 1 tsp of the salt, and toss to mix.  Set aside to drain for 1 hour, then pat the cucumbers dry.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, the remaining 1 tsp salt, and the rice vinegar.  Heat until the sugar and salt dissolve, about two minutes.   Set aside to cool.

To assemble the salad, in a large bowl combine the cucumbers, shallots, and chile.  Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over and toss well.  Garnish with the cilantro leaves, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 35 - Bread - Orange Nutmeg Beer Bread

Made with our latest homebrew!  We turned out a lovely wheat beer earlier this summer, and plentiful beer means there's no reason not to make beer bread.

Before I've always used the Good Eats beer bread recipe with excellent results, but this time, I wanted something new.  A little Google-fu research later, I turned up this basic recipe with three variations and knew I had to try at least one of them.  The orange nutmeg bread seemed best suited to our homebrew, so I went with that, but I'm anxious to try both of the other variations as well.

So how well did it turn out?  It didn't last 24 hours.  Warm from the oven, or at room temperature, or toasted the next morning for breakfast and spread with generous dollops of butter, this stuff was fantastic.  I'm making it again this weekend before we're out of our homebrew!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 34 - Bread - Pizza Pretzel Bites

I discovered this recipe around Super Bowl time when I was looking for something else entirely and stumbled across it on a things-to-make-for-the-Super-Bowl list.  Sadly, I already had my SB menu planned, so it had to wait.

My husband loved them, saying they were "like Combos, but much, much better."  I tried one and thought, they're okay, but not worth the trouble.

What trouble?  Well.  Rolling out tiny pieces of dough and stuffing them with tiny pieces of pepperoni and tiny pinches of shredded cheese was tedious, to say the least.  I knew it wasn't going to be a fast process, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how slow it really was.

Also, I seem to suffer a crippling inability to seal stuffed things properly.  My empanadas ooze, my pasties crack, one of my calzones exploded once, and my char siu bao always seem to leak delicious sauce out the bottom.  What you see in the picture above is all the bites that didn't suffer seal breakage the instant they hit the water bath--less than half of them.  (I only made a half batch to begin with, thankfully.)

It was positively demoralizing to spend all that time making them only to have them fall apart in the water.

So I'd call this one a half-failure.  The ones that worked out were delicious, but I highly doubt I'd be making this again.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 34 - Carving - Cardamom Tea Cupcakes with Caramel Filling

Cardamom is my favorite spice, I know I've said that before.  So it's no surprise that when I was out of town and happened to wander into a Middle Eastern grocery to check for hard-to-get-here spices, I passed through the tea aisle and grabbed this off the shelf as soon as I saw it.  (Didn't hurt that it was $9 for 500g of loose tea.  That's a steal!)

I wanted to do a simple carved cupcake for this challenge, because, as I've said before, it's hard to feel motivated to do cakes when they'll spoil before my husband and I can eat them all.  Cupcakes are much easier to give away if staleness threatens!

Also, I've never carved cake before and didn't want to get in over my head.

I found an Earl Grey cupcake recipe and simply substituted my cardamom tea.  The cupcakes themselves came out beautifully, and were very easy to carve.

 I just pretended I was hulling some extremely large strawberries.

And of course, I ate the pieces I carved out.  The cake is positively scrumptious--I'm going to try this recipe with other teas in the future, I'm sure.

I had plans to make a caramel frosting I'd run across while looking for the cupcake recipe, and I tried it....and it's not frosting.  I won't link the recipe, but I followed it exactly, both proportions and procedure, and it's just not frosting.  It's a glaze, at best.  It would not thicken.

So instead of piping a nice dollop of frosting into my hulled cupcakes, I spooned the glaze in, and am waiting for it to harden enough to risk eating a cupcake without oozing everywhere.  Fingers crossed!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 33 - Turn Something Boring into Something Great - Chipotle Mac 'n' Cheese

I think this might be the worst picture in the history of my blog, but, I realized, just as I was about to reheat the last chunk of leftovers for breakfast, that I hadn't gotten a picture.  If I were a pretentious artist, this would be titled "Spicy, 4:30 am."  So yeah, very little effort went into this awful picture.

But the dish? Not awful in the slightest.  In fact, it's the best non-standard mac 'n' cheese I've ever had.  Which is why it immediately came to mind for this challenge.

Here's the recipe, which, of course, I highly recommend you try.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 33 (Almost Caught Up!) - Vegetables - Carrot Muffins

So good, they get a real beauty shot.  I'm serious.  These muffins are amazing.

It took me twenty minutes to grate the carrots for this on my crappy little hand grater, and the whole time, I was trying not to skin my knuckles and thinking, "These better be worth it."

They are.  I would make them again in a heartbeat, even at the risk of knuckle damage.

And next time, I think I'll put streusel on top.  Or add walnuts.  Or both!

Carrot Muffins
(adapted from Complete Baking)
  • 3/4 cup margarine, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or use liners.

Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and water and blend well.

Stir in the carrots.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.  Gradually blend into the carrot mixture.

Spoon into the prepared tray, filling cups almost to the top.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until tops spring back when touched lightly (or when a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.)  Let stand ten minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.