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.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 32 (Late!) - Corn - Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage and Pasta

Since I'm trying desperately to catch up to the current challenge, I'm going to keep this one short and sweet.  It's not the most attractive soup to try to photograph (pale yellow and fleshy pink?) but it's soooo tasty.

Let's get to that recipe, shall we?

Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage and Pasta
(adapted from The Cook's Encyclopaedia of Soup)
  • 1 small green bell pepper
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups canned or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup small pasta shapes (I used penne because I had it, but I'd recommend something smaller)
  • 4 oz smoked sausage, sliced
  • oil
Seed and finely dice the green pepper.  In a small bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse.

Put the potatoes in a saucepan with the corn, onion, celery, green pepper, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.

Add the milk, and season with salt and pepper.  Carefully puree half the soup in a blender and return to the pan, stirring to mix well with the remaining soup.  (Alternately, do what I did and use a hand blender to whiz the soup in the pan until it's partially pureed.  It's a lot safer, and it means fewer dishes to wash.)

Add the pasta and simmer for 10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente.  (Adjust this to the cook time of your specific pasta, if necessary.)

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a small saucepan and fry the smoked sausage quickly until warmed through and lightly browned, 2-3 minutes.  Stir into the soup, and serve.

Baking Challenge Week 32 (Late!) - Color - Lemon Pinwheels Fail

I've mentioned before that icebox cookies are hit or miss with me, I think.  At least I feel like I've said that.  I've certainly thought it.

Inspired by my success with yesterday's Thin Mint-alikes, I decided to try another icebox cookie, lemon pinwheels.  In theory, they were supposed to be a jelly-roll assembly of yellow (lemon-flavored) and plain (vanilla-flavored) dough, sliced into beautiful spirals.

Well, first of all, the dough seemed to be entirely the wrong consistency, all sticky and unmanageable.  I double-checked that I'd followed the recipe accurately (and I had), so when I started kneading the lemon extract and yellow food coloring into the first half of the dough, I just added more flour as I kneaded to make it firmer.  It worked, up to a point.

Then I looked at my yellow and plain doughs, and realized that there was very little contrast.  Since color is the point of the challenge, I decided to add red coloring to my "plain" dough, which needed to be kneaded (ha!) anyway, since I had to get more flour worked into it to match the yellow dough.

Then I started rolling them out.  Major fail.  All that stickiness reasserted itself the second I started rolling.  Nowhere in the recipe did it mention chilling the dough before assembly (only after), but it seriously would have helped.  I might have even been able to save the dough by chilling it at this point, but I was so frustrated with it that into the trash it went.

I am back on the fence about the usefulness of icebox cookies.  While it's fantastic that I still have half my Thin Mint dough in my freezer to slice and bake as desired, more than half of the recipes I've tried have been utterly wasted by the intransigence of the dough.  It seems like I should have better success with them than I do....

Baking Challenge Week 31 (Late!) - Frozen - Faux Thin Mints

Several people did cookie-ice-cream sandwiches for the frozen challenge, and that's a great idea, but I didn't particularly want to.  Neither did I want to go to all the effort again to make an ice cream cake, delicious as it was.

So I said to myself, what baked good do I regularly eat frozen?

Thin Mints.

If you've never stuck your Thin Mints in the freezer and eaten them straight out of it, do it next year.  I swear, they taste so much mintier!

So I found a recipe and went to it.  I made two changes:  one, I used a few drops of peppermint oil instead of the mint extract, because that's what I had on hand.  And two, I skipped the chocolate coating, since I lacked chocolate squares, and many of the reviewers seemed to have issues with it.  Plus, I'm not exactly great in the coating-something department.

While they're not exactly like Thin Mints, they're certainly close enough--I'm having no problems eating them, straight out of the freezer.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 31 (Late!) - Broiling - Molettes

Tasty and easy!

Time for a procedural recipe, this doesn't need things like measurements and quantities.

Start with crusty finger rolls, or, in my case, hot dog buns.  The buns were really a little too delicate for this treatment, but my bakery hadn't made any hoagie rolls that day, which would have been better.

Brush them with a little bit of softened butter and broil until lightly browned and crispy--don't let them go too far at this point, since they'll be going back under.

Spread some refried beans on there...

...and then top with some shredded cheese.  I had sharp cheddar, but mild cheddar or any Mexican-style blend would also be good.

Pop them back under the broiler until the cheese is melted and the beans are warmed through.

This is the salsa I made for the molettes.  You certainly don't have to make homemade salsa, though, just use your favorite jarred stuff if you like.

Top with generous amounts of salsa and eat!  Setting aside the time that making the salsa took, I had these done in less than ten minutes, making them a great quick meal.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 30 (Late!) - Sweet Breads - Lemon Walnut Bread

I'm no stranger to sweet breads--I adore cinnamon rolls, for starters, and make them as often as I can find an excuse.  Muffins of all descriptions, fruit loaves, sticky buns, I love them so.

But as usual, when faced with a theme I'm very familiar with, I said to myself, "Find a new recipe."

I leafed through my go-to baking books and found Lemon Walnut Tea Bread, looked at the ingredient list, added a lemon to my grocery list (can you believe I had walnuts lying around, begging for a purpose?) and, later in the day, started baking.

Notice how I said I didn't actually read the recipe?  Because I didn't.

Despite being in the "Buns and Tea Breads" section of the cookbook, despite being loaf-shaped from baking in a loaf tin, it's a sponge cake.  After all the struggle I went through with my failed petit fours I don't think I'm going to forget learning to make sponge cake.

My cookbook tricked me!

Lemon Walnut "Bread"
(adapted from Complete Baking)
  • 4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 3.5 oz sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 7.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 fl oz (1/2 cup) milk
  • 2 oz chopped walnuts
  • 1/8 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and mix well, then add the lemon rind and juice.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour and the baking powder.

Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk (ie, flour, milk, flour, milk, flour.)  Fold in the walnuts.

In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form.  Using a spatula (not the mixer!) fold the egg whites into the batter until the mixture is just uniformly blended.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool 5 minutes in the pan before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 30 (Late!) - Burgers - Burger Trio

Yes, I'm aware there's four burgers, not three, but two of them are made the same way.

All the burgers have Spicy Montreal Steak Seasoning worked into the meat before cooking.  This, in my husband's family, has become a verb:  "Do you want me to Montreal your burgers?"  (Hint:  "No" is never the right answer.)  Also, all four got sharp cheddar cheese on top after flipping.

My burger, on the right, is topped with diced red onions and green peppers.  When I saw how they went all over the place, I put them on the bottom bun of one of my husband's burgers, instead of on top, which made for easier eating.

Hubby's burger #2 was sprinkled liberally with cherry hot sauce.

Burger #3 has stone-ground mustard on the bottom bun and got a sunny-side-up egg on top.

And yes, we ate them with top buns.  But how would you see all the lovely variety if I'd taken the picture that way?

Cooking Challenge Week 29 (Late!) - Inspired by a Color - Burritos Blanco

They were supposed to be Burritos Verde, really, but both of my green elements turned out not-so-green.

They're made from chopped cooked chicken tossed with this fantastic tomatillo sauce, and cilantro-lime rice.  And they're delcious, even if they're not very green!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 29 (Late!) - Summer - Nectarine Almond Tart

I was never much of a pie lover growing up.  The texture of most cooked fruits really put me off--to this day, I still can't abide applesauce.  Chocolate cream pie?  Sure.  Blueberry or cherry or peach?  No, thank you.

But tastes change, and I'm making up for lost time.  What says "summer" as much as a seasonal fruit pie?

I looked at a lot of recipes in my favorite baking books, and one stood out above the rest as unusual (and knowing that nectarines were on sale this week, timely.)  It's an almond cream base with sliced nectarines arrayed on top.

But I'm not sharing the recipe...because it turned out a little weird.

The almond "cream" had a very strange, grainy texture.  The blanched almonds got ground finely with flour (to keep it from becoming almond butter, I'd wager) and added to a creamed butter/sugar/egg mix.  But creaming butter and sugar together incorporates a lot of air pockets (usually that's the point!) so the whole thing is grainy and fluffy at the same time.  Very, very strange.

I will say this, though.  We're eating it anyway, because nectarine + almond = awesome.  I had no idea!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 28 (Late!) - South American - Marraquetas

From this recipe.  There's nothing wrong with them, but aside from the shape, they're incredibly basic, and a little boring.

Though my husband did walk into the kitchen and say, "Why are the rolls undergoing mitosis?"

We had them with some broccoli cheese soup, and all was well, but I doubt I'll be making these again.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 28 (Late!) - Citrus - Jalapeno Sorbet

Best. Sorbet. Ever.

I'm no stranger to heat in my food, and my husband revels in it.  So when I found a chilli sorbet recipe in The Ice Cream Book, I knew I would try it someday.  Lemon-lime sorbet studded with bits of red chilli?  Sign me up!

Of course, the week I wanted to, there were none of the specified red chillis to be found at my grocery.  So I came home with a jalapeno instead.  Not that I minded.

Lots and lots of the flavor of the jalapeno came through, but basically none of the heat--not surprising, since I deseeded it.  Who wants seeds in their sorbet?  But that makes me curious to try this again with a habanero, which has a lovely fruity flavor but more heat than I can really deal with in most other forms.  (My husband's favorite commercial salsa is Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa, which I think smells lovely, but tastes like I licked brimstone.)

Jalapeno Sorbet
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and chopped fine
  • finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • finely grated zest and juice of 2 limes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
Combine the jalapeno, lemon and lime zest, sugar, and water in a small saucepan.  Heat gently and stir while the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil, then simmer 2 minutes without stirring.  Allow to cool.

Stir in the lemon and lime juices.

If using an ice cream maker:  Refrigerate the mixture for one to two hours before freezing, following the general directions given for your model.  (I churned mine for about 25 minutes to soft-serve consistency before transferring it to the freezer, but of course your mileage may vary.)

To make by hand:  Pour the mixture into the large shallow pan and freeze until partially frozen, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Beat with a hand mixer to break up chunks and work in some air.  Return to freezer for another hour.  Beat again, freeze another hour, then beat one final time.  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

In both cases, soften in the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before serving.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 27 (Late!) - Tarts - Blueberry Galette

My parents are having us over to dinner this week--they're providing the steaks and the beer, and I'm responsible for the potato salad.  Because I needed to cross the W27 challenge off my list, I'm bringing a dessert too!

I even managed to take pictures during the process so I could do a pictorial recipe.  Haven't seen one of those here in a while, have you?  (/pats self on back)

Blueberry Galette
  • 1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe or buy one!)
  • 6 lemon creme sandwich cookies
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg
 First thing's first--wash your blueberries and allow them to dry on paper towels while getting everything else ready.  Not pictured:  Preheat your oven to 375 F; line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper; roll out your pie crust to at least 11" in diameter.

These are the cookies I opted to use.  Doing my research for this challenge, some (but certainly not all) galette recipes use frangipane or crushed cookies on the bottom to absorb the juices of the fruit.  Because blueberries are gooey in the extreme, I thought this was a good plan, and I had these around.  Vanilla creme would be good too, I'd expect.

Take your six cookies and chop them roughly...

...then scatter them on your pie crust that you'd already laid out on your baking sheet even though I didn't specifically tell you to!  It's hard to see in the photo, but I lightly pressed the rim of my 9" pie tin into the dough as a guide--strictly optional for a neater tart.

Combine the blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl and toss to coat the berries.

Spread that over the cookie bits.  You can see there's a bit of loose sugar, and that's okay, the juices from the blueberries as they cook down will take care of it nicely.

Fold up the edges to cover the filling.  You can be as neat-and-fancy or as rough-and-rustic as you like here.  I went super-basic.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and brush over the top of the crust.  Bake 30-40 minutes, until the filling is nice and juicy, and the crust is golden brown.

I'm so pleased that I only had one tiny leak!

Cooking Challenge Week 27 (Late!) - BBQ - Slow-Cooker Pulled Chicken

Not going to set the culinary world on fire with this one, am I.  But something that's both tasty and easy has its place!

All I did was throw four chicken thighs in my slow cooker with about 3/4 cup bottled bbq sauce--in this case, Sweet Baby Ray's Hickory & Brown Sugar.  Cook all day, de-bone and shred, serve on buns from your favorite local bakery (I love mine so much!) and add a little tater salad to your plate, and that's it, the lazy woman's barbeque.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 26 (Late!) - Gluten Free - Three-Ingredient Cookies

'Tis the saddest cookie picture ever, I know.  But the recipe only makes twelve, and we did actually get all the way down to the last one before I realized there was no evidence I'd ever made them at all.

I've heard rave reviews about three-ingredient cookies in the past, how tasty and simple they are--and it's all true.

Three-Ingredient Cookies
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter (smooth is okay too, but I like crunchy better)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg 
Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients until smooth.  Drop heaping teaspoons of dough onto a baking sheet, two inches apart.*  Flatten the cookies slightly.

Bake 8-10 minutes, until dry on top and nearly set.  Allow to cool on the sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

*My recipe specifies an ungreased sheet, but I found they stuck very badly.  They also sagged into the spaces in my wire rack, leaving dimpled bottoms.  Next time I intend to bake these on foil-lined sheets so I can lift the foil off to cool them all at once and avoid the misshapen bottoms.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 26 (Late!) - Pizza - Bacon and Portobello Mushrooms on a Spent-Grain Crust


The general how-to is easy.  Be a homebrewer, have spent grain from your last batch of beer, and mix some in your favorite pizza crust recipe.

The actual how-to is a little more complicated.  I like this recipe, but a single batch isn't enough to cover my baking sheet, so I've taken to making a quadruple batch but only dividing the dough into thirds to get the right coverage.  (I freeze the other two for later.)  Judging by other spent-grain pizza crust recipes, they mostly use less than half as much grain by volume as flour, so I added 2/3 cup per 'batch', for a total of 2 2/3 cups grain.  The texture seemed good, I don't think it really needs more.

Top with sauce, cheese, and fixin's, and bake at 450 F for 16-18 minutes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 25 (Late!) - Coffee Cake - Cardamom-Pecan Coffee Cake

It's hard to bake when you don't have a working oven.

I went to put something in the oven, and I saw a spark and heard an awful hissing/buzzing noise.  Then there was an incredibly tiny fire in the back of my oven, which actually put itself out, it was so small.

I thought I had just gotten lazy and let my oven get too dirty, and something had built up on the bottom and caught on fire.

As I discovered the next day when I went to clean it, that is not, in fact, what the problem was.  The spark had come from the lower heating element when it snapped clean through.

My landlady is a lovely woman, who promptly ordered a replacement, which didn't get here until our resident handyman was on vacation....of course.  Hence, the delay.

Not that I missed baking much in that heat wave, so I suppose that was the best time of year to have the oven break!

Time to catch up, though.  Here's my coffee cake, based on the yabluchnyk I made for the Russian week of the cooking challenge.  I liked it enough to play with some variations...

Cardamom-Pecan Coffee Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tbsp cold butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans 
Preheat the oven to 375 F, and lightly grease an 8x8" baking pan.

Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.  In a separate bowl, stir together the egg and milk, then add to the flour mixture and combine thoroughly.

In another bowl, combine all the streusel ingredients except the butter and pecans.  Cut in the butter until crumbly, then stir in the pecans.

Press half the cake dough into the prepared pan.  Sprinkled half the struesel mixture on top, then repeat with the rest of both.  (As the dough is quite sticky, getting even layers is challenging, so don't worry too much if the top is a bit rough.)

Bake 25 minutes, or until the struesel is crisp and brown, and a cake tester stuck in the middle comes out clean.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 25 - Regional - Pasties

They're huge, and they're delicious.  I'd never had one before, but who could turn down a giant butter pie crust filled with meat, potato, and onion?

I browsed through quite a few traditional recipes, both "originals" from Cornwall and the UP versions (that's Upper Peninsula to you non-Michiganders), and--surprise, surprise--none of them agreed on what was the true pasty.

So having absorbed all this pasty knowledge, I winged it based on what I like.

Avrienne's Pasties from the Thumb
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • half of a large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 pie crusts (I recommend this recipe, it's my favorite)
  • milk
Make your pie crusts.  Most recipes call for the dough to chill before rolling out--that would be the time to chop the veggies and make the filling.

Also, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Crumble the ground beef into a large bowl, then add the onion and potatoes.  Season well with salt and pepper, then mix thoroughly with your hands.  Pat the mixture down firmly in the bowl, and divide in half with a knife.  (This will make sense in a minute here, I promise.)

(Wash your beefy hands!)

Roll out one of the pie crusts in a circle.  You're shooting for about 1/4" thick and hopefully at least 10" in diameter.  Take half of the beef mixture (which should mostly come out in one piece if you packed it well!) and place it on one side of the pie crust.  Fold the other side over to cover and seal well around the edge.  Transfer to a lightly-greased baking sheet.

Repeat with the other crust and the rest of the beef mixture.  Slash a few vents in the top of each, then brush the tops with a little milk.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the crusts are golden brown and the filling cooked through.  Cut in half to serve, unless you're actually a coal miner and need a whole one to yourself!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 24 - Alcohol - Rum Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Okay, so I'm very late posting this.  I made the cookies last Saturday and meant to post them Sunday, then forgot.  And then there was the massive heat wave that sapped my will to do anything, no matter how minor.

They look unimpressive, I'll admit.  And I'm not going to share this recipe, because I'm not happy with it. Why?

A few years back we tried the Good Eats Oatiest Oatmeal Cookies Ever, and sadly, were mostly unimpressed.  I love GE, and 95% or more of my recipe attempts have turned out anywhere from fine to fantastic.  But it turns out that replacing your standard gluten-forming wheat flour with home-ground oat flour gives you the thinnest, crispiest, crumbliest rendition of an oatmeal cookie that ever there was.  We were disappointed.

The one thing the recipe got right--soak your raisins in rum!!!

Remembering that, I tried a different oatmeal cookie recipe and just tweaked it with the soaking.  However, where in the first recipe there wasn't enough flour for the oats (having none at all), this one has way too much.  Can you even see the oats in those cookies?  Only barely.

My ideal oatmeal cookie is moist, chewy, and packed full of oats to just short of the point where there wouldn't be enough gluten to bind the cookie together and make it stable.  Neither recipe gave me this.

But if you have a favorite recipe?  Just use that but soak your raisins in rum for half an hour or so first!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 24 - Berries - Raspberry Sausage and Cheese Grits

Having no fresh berries of any kind on sale last week, I resorted to raspberry preserves to make this wonderful recipe, which sounds a little strange but tastes fantastic.  My only change is to leave out the mushrooms, and only because I generally like mushroom flavor but not texture--I think this is fine with just the onion.  Also, I've made this with before with kielbasa, smoked pork sausage, and this time smoked turkey, and they're all just fine; anything with a good strong flavor that will balance the sweet preserves.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Neglected Cookbook Project: Gingery Chickpea Curry

This is from the very first cookbook on Indian cuisine that I ever got, the day after my first Indian meal.  I was in England, visiting my husband while he was doing his Master's over there, and he took me out to this charming curry house down the street from his flat.  The next day, I found Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail at a used bookstore two streets over.  I browsed through while I was there, but we had a lot going on, so it was on the flight home that I read most of it.

It's an odd and fascinating blend of travelogue and cookbook, being a companion piece to a BBC radio series.  Being a sort of journey-through-food, the recipes are divided by region and often subdivided further by ingredient, focusing on the handful of predominant flavors of the area.  This means I usually start hunting in the index when I want to make something with a specific ingredient (like this week, when red bell peppers were on sale and I really wanted to use them in a curry), which is not my normal method of finding recipes, so that may be, in part, why I don't use this book nearly as often as it deserves.  Until now, I really had only made one recipe from it, a cinnamon-scented caramelized rice that can be tricky to pull off without burning, but goes so, so well with super-spicy curries.  I haven't made it for a while, I should really make it again soon....

This recipe starts out as a side dish without any red pepper in it at all, but one of the variations recommends stuffing the chickpeas inside peppers and baking them.  From there it wasn't much of a stretch to simply include it in the curry to begin with, very similar to my bean and broccoli curry, which was so good I made a second batch that same week just to freeze for later.

One note: while I cook most of my own beans from dry, I don't have an inexpensive source for dried chickpeas, which is why I use canned here.  If you're cooking them yourself (which I highly recommend you do, if you can) the steps remain basically the same, you just leave out the bell pepper and dramatically lengthen the cook time from twenty minutes to whatever your brand of dried chickpeas recommends.  The original recipe assumed dried and says 1-3 hours, depending on brand, and suggests canned as a time-saver. Throw in the bell pepper for the last 20-30 minutes and you're good to go!

Gingery Chickpea Curry
  • 3 15-oz cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 to 3 inch piece ginger, skinned and minced finely, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced finely, divided
  • 2-4 thin green chillies, half left whole but slit, half seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • salt to taste
Combine the chickpeas and bell pepper in a large saucepan, and add just enough water to cover.  Stir in half of the minced ginger, half the minced garlic, and the slit chillies.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the ghee or butter in a skillet and fry the onion until soft and golden (which should take just as long as the simmer, I won't lie and say you can caramelize onions in 5 minutes like so many recipes do.)  Add the rest of the ginger and garlic, and the cumin seeds.  Fry another minute or so until the garlic is fragrant and the cumin seeds start to pop.  Stir this mixture into the chickpeas.

If a lot of water is left, remove some of it now; then mash some of the chickpeas against the side of the pan to thicken what's left.  Stir in the undrained tomatoes and heat through.  Season to taste, and serve with plain boiled rice.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Baking Challenge - Week 23 - Copycat - Faux Lofthouse Sugar Cookies

My apologies for the sub-par picture, it's the only one I have.  I made these right before we went away for the weekend, and getting the blog post up properly didn't happen, with all the packing and cleaning and getting out of work late on Friday.

But you can see everything I wanted to discuss in this one picture, at least.  In the introduction thread for the week's theme, someone posted this recipe and I knew I had to do it.  The secret ingredient compared to a more standard sugar cookie seems to be sour cream, which I had, though only enough for a half batch--but that's fine, since the full recipe makes 5 1/2 dozen!  My half batch got me 3 dozen easily.

However, when I read through the recipe, the baking time and temperature seemed suspect.  I've never seen a sugar cookie of any sort baked at 425 F, especially trying to imitate the soft, pale Lofthouse cookies.  So I baked my first batch at 400 F instead, for 7 minutes, and those are the ones on the upper left--quite golden.  I dialed back to 375 F (which is the same temperature as my family's secret sugar cookie recipe, so I was fine with that) and reduced the time to 6 1/2 minutes, just to be safe...and those came out perfect.

The frosting seemed just right, and of course you have to douse them in sprinkles.  I found multicolored flower sprinkles, so I went with green frosting for a garden theme.

I will definitely be making these again.