Archive for the ‘Difficult’ Category

Homemade Pasta

January 21, 2013

Next weekend is the Third Annual No Football Sunday Dinner.  I’ll explain that next weekend, but in short, it means that there are 10 people coming to my house for dinner so I need to start early on the planning and cooking.  The theme is Italian food this year so I spent today making pasta.  It’s kind of like playing in play-doh and way easier than making bread or pie crust.  I used to have a hand crank to flatten and cut the dough.  This was the debut of the pasta attachments for the KitchenAid.  Good stuff.

Pasta

There’s not much in the way of ingredients for pasta.  Essentially you’ve got a 2:1 ratio of eggs to cups of flour.  That’s it.  No salt, no oil, nothing.  You beat the eggs and put them in the middle of a pile a flour.  Use your hands to mix it up.  That part’s a mess.  Very sticky.  You mix in the flour a little at a time until it stops being sticky.  According to Marcella Hazan, from whom I will take any and all advice regarding Italian food, it’s the kneading and stretching that count.  She recommends that you knead the ball of pasta dough a full 8 minutes.  Gotta tell you that’s a really long time, but it’s kind of a Zen thing once you get into it.  At the end you have a beautiful, gold, perfectly smooth and silky ball of pasta dough.

When you’re ready to roll it out I really recommend a pasta crank, manual or on your mixer.  You can do it with a rolling pin, but you have to have mad skills.  You need the dough to be completely uniform.  You have flatten the dough a little at a time.  Again, according to Ms. Hazan, the rolling by degrees step (several passes on each thickness setting) is key to producing good pasta and it’s the step that is often skipped in commercially produced pasta.  I’m counting on that step being the difference between just passable pasta and really good pasta.  It certainly is the difference between pasta that takes 30 minutes to make and pasta you spend a whole afternoon on.

The good news about this is that once you’ve spent a whole afternoon on pasta making you don’t have to feel compelled to eat it all at once.  It dries perfectly well and can be stored for a few weeks.  Use an airtight container and store it in the cabinet.  I’m counting on this being a winning strategy also since the big dinner is still 6 days away.  I could have made my life easier if I’d remembered to twirl the freshly cut pasta into little nests, but I didn’t.  I’m going to have to store this in a long container or I’m going to have to break it up.  The pasta has to dry 24 hours so I can figure that out tomorrow. 

Good?  We’ll see.
Easy? Not at all.
Good for company? I can’t see why else you’d go to so much trouble.
Special shopping? Definitely not.

Homemade Pasta

Ingredients

4 eggs
2 C all-purpose flour, plus some as needed

Directions

Beat the eggs with a fork until well blended.
Make a well in the middle of the flour.
Pour the eggs into the well. Add flour into the eggs a little at a time.
Mix with a fork until the eggs aren’t runny.
Mix flour in a little at a time with your fingers, forming a dough.
Add flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticky.
Form a ball.
Knead for 8 minutes, or as long as it takes to make a silky smooth dough.
Cut the finished dough into 6-8 pieces.
Flatten the dough with a pasta press, beginning on the widest setting and rolling progressively thinner until you reach the desired thickness.
Roll at each level 2-3 times, folding the dough into thirds each time.
Cut the dough into ribbons and lay flat to dry.
Dry 24 hours if you plan to store it.

Cranberry Curd

November 25, 2012

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and many of you are probably very tired of being in the kitchen.  I spent the holiday week in the Caribbean so spending a little kitchen time was welcome on such a cold day.  Turns out that canning is much less problematic when it’s 35 degrees outside than when it’s 95 degrees outside.  It’s kind of nice to have a warm steamy kitchen in November.  Lucky for me that a recent Cooking Light magazine included a recipe for Cranberry Curd, a nice twist on the traditional Lemon Curd.

The cranberry curd is in the small jars in the front.  The other jars are the mixed berry jam I also made today.  And in the way back are the peppers I’m drying to grind and use all year.  It’s a little bit “Little House” around here today.

Making curd falls pretty squarely in the ‘intermediate’ category of difficulty, maybe even toward the high end.  It has a number of steps and a fair lot of dishes too.  My kitchen was a pretty big disaster when I was done.  I have no experience with this kind of thing so I limited the recipe adjustments to one.  I left out the Grand Marnier because I didn’t have any.  I added just a touch extra lemon juice for the added liquid. 

So here’s the basic idea.  You cook down some cranberries in lemon juice; puree them in a food processor; and mash them through a sieve.  On the side you make this custard kind of stuff with butter, sugar, eggs and corn starch.  Cook it all in a double boiler.  Then begins the canning process.  Hot curd into hot jars into a hot water bath.  Twenty minutes later – voila! – you have shelf ready cranberry curd. 

I don’t have a lot of tips to offer except to follow the instructions.  Mashing the berries through a sieve is messy and a giant pain.  I was too lazy to get out my food mill, but I don’t know that it would have saved me much time or effort.  Maybe.  In any case you have to do it.  You’ll be tempted to skip that step because the pureed berries look pretty smooth when they come out of the food processor.  They aren’t.  You’ll be surprised how much peel you end up throwing in the trash.  You may also be tempted to skip some of the mixing between egg additions.  Don’t.  In order for the curd to be creamy and to thicken properly you need to beat the curd after each addition.  And be sure to stir frequently as it cooks.  You don’t want it to burn or get grainy from being ignored.  One tip about the double boiler.  If you don’t have one, no big deal.  Use a pot with a little water and a heat resistant bowl.  Regardless be sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.

I decided to can this in a hot water bath canner.  That way folks can store it on the shelf until they open it.  For you canners out there you need 1/2 inch of headspace in the jars and they process for 20 minutes.  If you don’t can, or just don’t feel like it, you can freeze it.  I recommend using Ball’s freezer safe jars for that.  Of course if you just want to use it up you can store it in the fridge for a week or so.  Cover the top in a little plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.

I’m pretty impressed with my first batch of curd.  It’s thick and smooth and creamy just like it’s supposed to be.  It has a sweet/tart thing going on, so that’s good.  The cranberry adds a nice red color that’s very holiday festive.  Since most of this will be holiday gifts that works out well.  It’s not as red as the picture in the magazine, but maybe their cranberries were darker than mine.  If the color bothers you add just a touch of red food coloring.  That shouldn’t hurt anything.

What does one do with curd?  The magazine recommends adding it to yogurt or oatmeal.  I think traditionally it’s served with crumpets or scones at tea time.  You can also use it between cake layers or as a cupcake or cookie filling.  Make tarlets.  Serve it over ice cream.  This is really versatile stuff so if you decide to make it make a whole bunch.  I doubled the recipe you see below and still have the ingredients to make another double batch on another day.  I hope folks like it in their Christmas baskets!

Good? Good.
Easy? Not even.
Good for company? Absolutely. A lovely gift.
Special shopping? Nope. Just remember you can only get fresh cranberries in most places at certain times of the year.

Cranberry Curd

Ingredients

1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes or until cranberries pop. Place cranberry mixture in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Strain cranberry mixture through a fine sieve over a bowl; discard solids.

2. Combine sugars and butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add egg yolks and egg, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in cranberry mixture, cornstarch, and salt. Place mixture in the top of a double boiler. Cook over simmering water until a thermometer registers 160° and mixture thickens (about 10 minutes), stirring frequently. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in liqueur. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 week.

Smoked Turkey, Collard Green and Shrimp Gumbo

October 15, 2012

This post has been a while in coming.  That’s kind of fitting because this dish takes a while to make.  I ended up making it over two days.  That’s definitely a way to do it if you don’t have 4 hours to hang out fairly close to the stove. This is one of those times when reading the recipe carefully all the way through before I started would have saved me a little inconvenience.  Turns out it doesn’t work well to start this at 5:30 thinking that you’re going to have it for dinner that evening.

 This is a rich, dark, smoky, salty gumbo.  Good stuff.  It’s a traditional flour and fat roux cooked to a dark brown.  Add some Guinness and it gets darker still.  By the time you’ve let some smoked turkey cook for 3 hours you’ve got a dark and smoky gumbo that’s reduced by about half.  Because it reduces so much be careful about the salt.  Don’t add any until the very end.  It concentrates.  That’s all I got done the first night.  I had to have time to let it cool before I put it away.  The next night I heated the gumbo, added some water and made a little extra roux so it wouldn’t be runny.  Then I added some fresh chopped collards and some I’d already cooked in smoked turkey pot liquor.  It took about 40 minutes for the fresh collards to cook down.  Five more minutes for the shrimp and you’re done – a mere 1 day and 45 minutes after I started.

A few tips.  The next time you’re going to make collards make 3-4 cups more pot liquor than you need to cook the collards and save it for making this gumbo.  You can freeze it until you need it.  Then cook enough collards that you have some for this recipe.  Freeze them until you need them.  Then chop the smoked turkey legs or wings from your collard pot and freeze it until you need it. (Are you getting the idea here?  Use your freezer!)  This way you’ve got most of the components done.  You just need to make the roux, chop the vegetables and add the elements you made ahead of time plus the shrimp.  I’m guessing you could do the whole thing in about 45 minutes that way.   

The truth is that this is worth the trouble.  I love the dark and smoky flavor.  The rice keeps it from being almost too rich to eat.  But it is rich, so start with small portions.  I made a half recipe and got 6 servings out of it.  Next time I’ll make a whole recipe and, you guessed it, freeze it!

Good? So, so good.
Easy? Not at all.
Good for company? My company enjoyed dinner and the leftovers I sent home.
Special shopping? Nope.

Smoked Turkey, Collard Green and Shrimp Gumbo

Usually I give you the recipe the way I made it, but since I messed up the timing I had to make some adjustments you won’t need now that you know what the timing is. What you see below is the original recipe from foodnetwork.com.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups small diced onions
3/4 cup small diced celery
3/4 cup small diced green, red, and/or yellow bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (12-ounce) bottle stout beer (recommended: Abita Turbo Dog)
8 cups dark chicken stock, chicken stock, or water
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons Essence, recipe follows
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 pounds smoked turkey legs
1 pound collard greens, stemmed and rough chopped
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Steamed white rice, for serving

Directions

Heat a large, 6-quart, wide-mouthed Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the flour and oil to the pan and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the flour mixture is a deep chocolate brown color, about 20 minutes. Add the onions, celery and peppers to the roux and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook the garlic for 1 minute. Add the beer to the roux, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock, thyme, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons of Essence, salt, and cayenne to the pan. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the turkey legs to the pan. Cook until the turkey legs are falling-from-the-bone-tender, about 3 hours.

Remove the turkey from the pot and transfer to a plate to cool. Add the collard greens to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. When the turkey is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and tear into bite-size pieces. Discard the skin and bones. Return the turkey meat to the gumbo. Season the shrimp with the remaining 2 teaspoons of Essence and add them to the gumbo during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Taste the gumbo, re-season if necessary. Serve with steamed white rice.

Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup

October 7, 2012

This is the first real day of Fall as far as I’m concerned.  It’s the first day I’ve needed my fleece pants.  That makes it Fall.  And it’s my first chicken noodle soup of the season.  Homemade chicken noodle soup is one of the best foods on the planet.  Make no mistake about it, it also takes a lot of time to put together.  There are a lot of shortcuts you can take – some good, some not so much.  I went the long way around today.  It makes a difference and it’s a nice way to spend a cold and rainy morning.

The first step in making chicken noodle soup is making the broth. And the most important thing to remember is that it’s different than making stock in that you’re planning to use the chicken.  When you make stock you simmer it for hours to get the most concentrated flavor.  By then the chicken is completely devoid of taste and chalky dry in spite of being in water for hours.  When you make soup you’re mostly poaching the chicken just until it’s done so keep an eye on it.  Other than that it’s the same.  You add carrots, celery, onion, parsely, salt and pepper to a big pot of water with a whole chicken.  When it’s done you use a colander to separate the solids from the broth.  Set the chicken aside and throw the rest away.  Stock done.

The original recipe instructs you to simmer all the vegetables in the broth.  I like to saute the celery and onions in a heavy skillet first.  I helps them stay a little crunchy in the soup.  The carrots you’ll want to simmer.  The recipe also calls for orzo.  I like the slurpy part of eating chicken noodle soup so I used whole wheat egg noodles instead. They also add a little nuttiness to the soup.

You might be inclined to cook the pasta, whichever kind you use, in the broth.  Don’t.  Yes, it would add a nice flavor to the noodles, but it would also make the soup cloudy with starch.  Here’s what you do instead.  Once you’ve pulled the chicken off of the bones put the bones and skin in a pasta pot with some water and let it boil for 20 minutes or so.  Drain the water through a colander to get the skin and bones out and return the water to the pot.  Cook the pasta in that.  You’ll get some extra flavor in your noodles without messing up your soup.

At this point your kitchen is filled with dirty dishes:  2 pots, 2 bowls, a skillet and a colander – all large.  My only advice is to wash dishes as you go.  My kitchen is kind of small so that’s the only way I can make it work.  Of course your kitchen is also filled with the most wonderful smell of chicken soup.  So worth the extra dish duty.

Let’s talk for a second about the shortcuts.  I used a whole, free range, hormone-free chicken from Empress Farm.  Feel free to use the skin and bones of a rotisserie chicken instead to make the stock.  And of course set the chicken aside to use too.  If you do that taste it before you add any salt.  Rotisserie chickens tend to be a little salty.  You’ll find that the broth is a little dark because the chicken has been browned.  You can also get pre-chopped carrots, celery and onions.  I recommend a grocery store salad bar for that.  It will cost you extra, but save you time.  All I ask is that you don’t use canned stock for soup.  It’s fine for cooking if that’s what you have.  In soup, though, the broth is the whole deal.  Take the time to make your own.  Of course if you have a bunch in the freezer absolutely use that as a time saver.

The thing that makes this soup something special is the lemon.  Lemon zest and fresh lemon juice.  It adds something sunny to the warm comfort of chicken noodle soup.  Holding the parsley and lemon juice to the end makes the soup extra bright and cheerful.  The perfect remedy for the season’s first cold and rainy day.  Now bring on the football!

Good? Warm and yummy.
Easy? Not at all.
Good for company? Of course. Soup always feeds a crowd.
Special shopping? Nope.

Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients

1 (4-pound) whole chicken
2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and diced
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
10 cups water
2 t olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 cups chopped carrot
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons salt
6 ounces uncooked whole wheat egg noodles
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
zest and juice of 2 lemons
Coarsely cracked black pepper

Directions

Remove and discard giblets and neck from chicken. Place chicken in a large Dutch oven. Add 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery stalks, and next 5 ingredients (through bay leaves) to pan. Add 6 cups water; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan; place chicken in a bowl. Chill 15 minutes. Remove chicken from bones.  Place chicken skin and bones in a pot with 4-5 cups of water.  Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces; cover and set aside. Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a large bowl; discard solids.

Heat 2 t olive oil in a heavy skillet.  Add diced celery, onions and garlic.  Saute until the onions begin to brown.

Add enough water to broth to equal 9 cups; place broth mixture in a large Dutch oven. Add 1 1/3 cups carrot and salt to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until carrots are tender. Add reserved chicken, celery, onions and garlic and simmer 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Keep warm.

Bring reserved chicken skin, bones and water to a boil.  Strain through a colander, reserving liquid.  Return the liquid to the pot and return to a boil.  Cook pasta to al dente.  Add pasta to pan with chicken and broth mixture; stir in parsley, rind, and juice. Garnish each serving with lemon wedges and cracked black pepper, if desired.

Potato, Turnip, and Black Kale Baeckeoffe

October 5, 2012

It’s Fall! (In spite of this week’s fairly Summer-like temps in central VA).  And it’s October so we’ll say that this recipe is in honor of Oktoberfest.  It’s also in honor of the fact that I’m home and actually had time to cook.  Good thing – this takes a long time.  Here’s the ‘baeckeoffe’ explanation from Cookinglight.com for those of you who are a little rusty on your Germanic Alsatian dialects.  “Translated from the Germanic Alsatian dialect, baeckeoffe means “baker’s oven,” as it was traditionally a dish that was brought to the local baker to cook in his oven. Classic versions are loaded with meat, but our vegetarian riff is equally hearty and rich.”  I’ve never had a version loaded with meat, but I’d be willing to give that a shot.

Let’s start with the substitutions.  I try not to make many subs on dishes that are new to me and generally unfamiliar as a combination of ingredients.  The original recipe called for spinach. That seemed a little wimpy with the potatoes and turnips.  I bought some lacinato kale at the farmers’ market last weekend that I still needed to use.  That seemed like a good fit.  I also didn’t have any heavy cream.  Seemed silly to buy an 8 ounce container when I only needed 2.  I substituted 2% milk with just a little low fat cream cheese melted in.  I think both substitutions were fine, but with the kale I probably could have used more of the milk mixture.  It was just a little tough even after an hour in the oven.

Flavor wise this dish is a tiny bit on the bitter side.  Kale, turnips and Gruyere are all on the sharp side.  Clearly the idea is that they will balance with the potato, mushrooms and carmelized onions.  Not quite.  I didn’t have nearly enough mushrooms and onions.  They represent the creamy and sweet parts of this dish, respectively.  I made about 1/2 a recipe of this dish, but only had 1/4 of the mushrooms I needed.  I won’t make that mistake again.  And given how much onions cook down when they carmelize I would have been happier had I used the amount called for in the full recipe.  Ditto the milk mixture.  Of course the other way to cut down on the bitterness would be to use 2 layers of potatoes instead of one potato layer and one turnip layer.

One note about managing the time it takes to do this.  First, note that it bakes for an hour after it’s all put together so account for that before you start.  I’d guess you could put the whole thing together a day before you bake it. Also, while the recipe calls for you to do the mushrooms, wipe the pan and then start the onions.  That’s silly.  Use two pans and do them simultaneously.    Definitely you could make the onions and the mushrooms ahead of time – a day or two.  That will reduce your prep time a lot.  You’ll just want to warm the mushrooms before you try to spread them in the dish.

Overall this dish is a lot of trouble to make.  I knew that going in which is why I waited until a Friday.  Still, I’m not convinced that the trouble you have to go to is made up for by the enjoyment of the dish.  I’m not quite ready to write it off, but I’ll admit to some disappointment.  The reviews just raved about it.  No rave from me.  Just an “ok with potential.”  Maybe I’ll try to find one of those recipes with some meat in it to add a new dimension to the flavor.  That said, I’d make the mushrooms over and over again.  They’d be amazing in little gratin dishes.  You could mix them into cooked pasta.  You could stuff chicken with them.  That’s worth taking away from this even if you never try the whole thing.

Good? Ok, but has potential
Easy? Not so much
Good for company? As a side, maybe
Special shopping? Nothing exotic here

Potato, Turnip, and Black Kale Baeckeoffe

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter, divided
8 oz sliced mushroom caps
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp thyme 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, divided
2 cups vertically sliced onion (about 2 medium onions)
1 small Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into (1/4-inch-thick) slices
2 cups black kale, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 small turnip, peeled and cut into (1/8-inch-thick) slices
1/4 cup milk
1 t neufchatel cheese
1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt 1/2 T of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to pan, and sauté 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add wine; cook 2 minutes. Add parsley, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and cook 6 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Remove from heat. Add 1 T cream cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Set aside.

As you start the mushrooms, heat pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 T of butter, melt. Add onion; saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium; continue cooking for 25-30 minutes or until deep golden brown, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Heat milk and remaining tablespoon of cream cheese. Whisk until smooth. Keep warm.

Coat a lidded baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange potato slices in dish, and top with kale. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper evenly over kale. Spoon the mushroom mixture over black pepper, and arrange turnip slices over mushroom mixture. Top with caramelized onions; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Pour milk mixture over onions and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère cheese. Cover and bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and cheese begins to brown.

Chiffon Cupcakes with Chocolate Whipped Buttercream

February 13, 2012

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day when our thoughts turn to…chocolate.  It just so happens that I have a meeting in the office tomorrow too so it’s the perfect time to try out a new cupcake recipe.  I love cupcakes for eating, but I gotta tell you I’ll be glad when real cakes are back in vogue.  They’re a lot less labor intensive and a little more forgiving.  Still, these are charming and most importantly no plates or forks required.

For a while I’ve been wanting to try this Chiffon Cupcake recipe from Alton Brown, but it’s a fair amount of trouble so I’ve held off until now.   I had leftovers for dinner so that left me enough time to take this on.  I mostly steer clear of Alton Brown.  I find him to be pretty condescending and annoying on TV.  This recipe is a little annoying too.  I know it’s supposed to be better to measure dry ingredients by weight than by volume, but let’s be real – that just makes things harder. 

The bother starts right at the beginning.  You have to separate 5 eggs and beat the yolks with the sugar.  Then in a separate bowl you make a meringue with the whites.  The recipe instructs you to mix up the batter in your mixer, then transfer the batter to another bowl so you can use your mixer to whip the egg whites.  That’s a whole nother level of trouble.  If you’ve got a stand mixer and a hand mixer I’d do the batter in your stand mixer and use the hand mixer on the whites.  Oddly enough I find myself without a hand mixer at the moment.  Fortunately I do have an immersion blender with a whisk attachment.  I put the whites in a large measuring cup and used the stick blender.  Just be sure that your egg whites bowl is large enough.  When you whip all that air into them they quadruple in size.  The next bit of trouble is that this batter is so airy that it doesn’t pour out of the spoon very well.  You have to shake it out.  I used a ladle to help measure out the batter so the cupcakes would be the same size.  Don’t do that.  It’ll go faster if you use a large spoon.  You can fill the cups about 3/4 full.  There’s so much air in the batter as it is that they don’t puff up very much.

They are a beautiful golden brown when they come out and the tops are very smooth.  If you’re into fancy decorations these cupcakes will make a good surface for your frosting decor.  Honestly I think this batter baked in a cake pan and cut would probably make lovely petit fours.  They are light as air but seemingly sturdy so I think you could use about any frosting.  The batter isn’t overly sweet so they can take a fairly sugary frosting I think.  Honestly they’d be beautiful with Seven Minute Frosting on them.  Anyway, I’m kind of into whipped buttercream right now so I decided on a chocolate version of that.

I’ll just refer you to the peanut butter version of this frosting for the details, but I do want to share a few things I learned this time around.  If you leave the milk and flour mixture in the fridge to cool it more quickly you should put plastic wrap right down on it.  If you don’t it will get a skin just like pudding.  No amount of whisking will get rid of that skin.  If that happens just peel the skin off and throw it away.  Now, for the chocolate.  Use baking chocolate and not chocolate chips.  Chips have just a touch of paraffin or wax in them to help them keep their shape.  This frosting is way too light to overcome that waxy texture.  Don’t bother with a double boiler.  A glass bowl in the microwave works just fine.  Just melt your chocolate in short intervals and stir it good between intervals.  If you try to melt it all the way down at one time you’ll burn it.  It will actually be done before it looks like it’s done.  You’ll be surprised how quickly the last of the lumps disappear with a few good turns of a spoon.

I haven’t eaten one of these yet.  It seems tacky to show up with 23 cupcakes.  But they’re lovely and really, how bad can they be?  I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Good? Let’s hope so. (Not so much.  Spongy and a little dense.  Frosting rocks).
Easy? Not at all. (And not good enough to make them worth the trouble).
Good for company? Of course. (Choose another cake recipe.  Keep the frosting).
Special shopping? Nope. Standard baking components.

Chiffon Cupcakes

Ingredients

5 1/4 ounces cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large eggs, separated
6 ounces sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place paper liners into 2 (12-cup) muffin tins and set aside. If you prefer, set 12 ovenproof coffee mugs on a half sheet pan and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the egg yolks and 5 ounces of the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes pale yellow and ‘ribbons’ when lifted. Add the water, vegetable oil and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients and whisk just to combine. Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl while you whisk the egg whites.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean bowl and whisk on high using the whisk attachment, until it becomes foamy. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the remaining ounce of sugar. Increase speed to high and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, approximately 2 minutes.

Transfer 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and whisk until well combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently. Transfer batter into prepared muffin tins or coffee mugs, evenly dividing the batter between the cups. Place both muffin tins on the middle rack of the oven or, if using mugs, place all of them on a half sheet pan and set on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or the cupcakes reach an internal temperature of 205 to 210 degrees F. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Whipped Buttercream

Follow the original directions, but leave out the peanut butter.
Add 4 ounces of room temperature, melted baking chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture before whipping in the flour and milk mix.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Peanut Butter Buttercream

January 21, 2012

It’s potluck night, boys and girls, and I’m in charge of dessert.  It’s not just any potluck.  It’s the one year anniversary of the monthly potluck group!  The first anniversary is the paper anniversary, I think, so I decided that cupcakes in paper wrappers would be just the thing.  Cupcakes have been all the rage in the last couple of years so it’s easy to find new recipes, even for an old standby like chocolate.  Here’s what I’ll say about these.  They’re fantastic and a complete mess all at the same time.

I made this a little hard on myself by making just a half recipe.  I figured four people probably didn’t need 24 cupcakes.  The first thing that struck me about this recipe is that the egg yolks and whites are measured in ounces.  It occurred to me after the fact that the ounces were probably supposed to be measured in liquid ounces and not by weight.  Oops.  So, I likely had way too much egg in mine.  Then I noticed how much liquid is in here.  Even for a half recipe there’s 1 1/4 cups liquid, not even counting the egg.  This batter is nearly water thin.  That makes it a mess to spoon into the cupcake liners without dripping everywhere.  Still it’s a surprisingly rich chocolate flavored batter.

On to the baking portion of the program.  I followed the instructions to fill the liners 3/4 full.  Big mistake.  Of course you should always put your muffin pan on a cookie sheet for baking for just this reason.  Sadly, I didn’t.  I spent a good portion of today cleaning the dripped over burnt cupcake out of the bottom of the oven.  Ugh.  The other problem with cupcakes that run all over the place is that you can’t get them out of the pan.  I had to run a knife around them which meant a lot of cupcake got left stuck to the pan and the edges are really ugly.  Fortunately the potluck girls are very forgiving about presentation.  The amazing thing is that these cupcakes are feather light.  Amazingly airy.  Which bring us to the frosting.

These are so, so light that I think they might just collapse under the weight of regular buttercream.  I could have done a seven minute or meringue frosting, but I love buttercream and I wanted a peanut butter flavor which won’t work in either one of those other frostings.  Hallelujah, I found a recipe for whipped buttercream on epicurious.com!  I’ll admit it’s harder than regular buttercream, but it’s exactly the right thing for these.  I made the frosting by the recipe (only a 1/2 recipe), whipped it about half way, added about 3 tablespoons of peanut butter and finished the whipping.  Only one complaint about this frosting. It calls for regular sugar instead of powdered sugar.  I like that the flavor is less sweet, but the texture is a little grainy.  Next time I might add half the sugar to the milk and flour slurry and substitute a little powdered sugar to whip into the butter.  The peanut butter flavor is subtle and perfect.

I think these are going to be a BIG hit tonight, but just to make sure I topped each one with a peanut butter ball.  My dad makes them every Christmas and I keep a stash in my freezer and try to make them last all year.  This is a perfect way to use a few.  And the final kicker is that I get to take them in my personalized cake carrier!  Don’t you wish you had one?!

 

Good? C’mon, they’re cupcakes.  Of course they’re good.
Easy? Nope. There are much easier ways to make cupcakes.
Good for company? Definitely a way to impress your friends!
Special shopping? Nope.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Peanut Butter Buttercream

The recipe below is halved, but no other changes have been made. Consider the text above when you’re filling the pan.

Ingredients

(makes 12-15 cupcakes)
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cups cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 ounces egg yolks
1 1/2 ounces egg whites
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line regular sized cupcake pans with 12 liners.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolks, egg whites, milk, oil, water, and vanilla. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients in 3 stages, scraping down at each addition and beating for about 30 seconds.
Fill the cupcake liners three-quarters full and bake until baked through, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.

Whipped Peanut Butter Buttercream

Ingredients

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
1/8 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 T creamy peanut butter

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the milk, the flour, and the vanilla extract, and whisk until there are no lumps. Over medium heat, slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup milk, whisking constantly, and cook until the mixture comes to a low boil. Then reduce the heat to low and keep whisking for a few more minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, but keep stirring. (After you have removed the pan from the heat, the mixture will continue to cook for a minute or two on its own. If you overheat it and get small lumps, try to whisk vigorously to get them out, or pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.) If necessary, place the pan over a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and allow the mixture to cool.

Once the milk mixture has thickened, set it aside to cool to room temperature. You can stick it in the freezer to rush the cooling.

Cream the butter on medium speed, 3 to 5 minutes, in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting begins to come together, 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla and peanut butter to combine. Whip another 2-3 minutes. Pipe onto cupcakes.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

July 10, 2011

This is part two of the first canning day of the season.  Part one covered the salsas.  After the salsas were all done there were still an awful lot of tomatoes left from the big Arlington Farm box.  What to do?  I recently purchased a food mill.  A food mill is used for getting the peeling and seeds out of fruits and vegetables for making jams and sauces.  This was my first opportunity to use it.

The Oxo food mill gets a big thumbs up.  It’s easy to put together.  It’s easy to use.  It’s easy to clean.  And it works really well.  It takes some time to grind through enough tomatoes to make 12 finished cups of sauce.  To get 12 finished cups you start with 20-24 cups of juice and pulp.  You’re dealing with big bowls and pots here.  The food mill isn’t terribly large so I had to do many, many batches.  I actually pressed these through the large blade first and then through the medium blade to remove all the seeds, but get as much pulp as possible.

I know you’re thinking that I must be insane to make my own tomato sauce.  Believe me, about half way through I was thinking that too.  And maybe that’s true.  Maybe after I use it I’ll decide that there’s not enough return on this investment.  I had to try though.  I canned it in half pint jars since I rarely need much tomato sauce for a single recipe.  I didn’t season this sauce at all.  I figured the plainer it is the more versatile it is.  I can season it accordingly when it ends up in a recipe.  I’ll let you know how it is!

It was a lot of trouble, but the jars sure look pretty.  And there are few sounds quite as satisfying as the “plink” that you hear when a jar seals.  All in all this was a very successful start to the 2011 canning season.  I even managed a get through the whole day without sticking a finger laden with jalapeno residue in my eye.  I think that’s a first!

Canning Salsapalooza

July 10, 2011

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the canning season is upon us.  For the next few weeks central Virginia will be so overrun with produce that you have to can or freeze it to keep up.  I’m a big fan of both.  I have a Food Saver system for freezing fresh vegetables.  I have two large canning pots for the canning portion of the program.  I only do water bath canning because I have yet to overcome my fear of pressure canners, but you can use the water bath process for anything acidic (like tomatoes) so I’m in good shape.

Yesterday at the farmers’ market the lovely folks at Arlington Farm had a box of canning tomatoes for $5!  Canning tomatoes are generally the ones the farmers can’t sell as slicing tomatoes because they’re bruised or misshapen or blemished in some way.  They’re always cheaper than buying slicing tomatoes and using those.  Since you’re cutting them up anyway the shape doesn’t matter and you can cut out any bruised places.  Now, a whole box is a LOT of tomatoes.  This box was probably 20-25 pounds worth.  They ended up in 19 pints of salsa in four varieties and 12 cups of fresh tomato sauce.  I’ll talk about the tomato sauce in a separate post.

I decided to peel the whole box before I started on the salsas.  Partly because it’s just easier to have that step done and partly because I only have so many burners and so many pots large enough for this kind of duty.  The key to peeling tomatoes is to core them and cut out the bad parts first.  Put them a few at a time in a pot of boiling water.  Leave them there until the skins are split and blistered.  Then remove them with a sieve or slotted spoon and put them in a large bowl of ice water.  Leave them there until they’re cool enough to handle. The skins will slip right off.

Before I talk about the salsas a little explanation is in order.  I can’t print the recipes because they’re all from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving and there’s no electronic version of that.  I’ll outline the ingredients for you.  If you’re interested in making them for canning please pick up a copy of the book.  Canning can be a tricky business so in the interest of not poisoning yourself or others you’ll need to follow the recipes very closely.  In order to hot water bath can successfully you have to be sure to have the right amount of acidity.  If you just want to make them for eating the proportions are a lot less important.  In fact you can probably reduce or eliminate the vinegar and/or citrus elements as well since you don’t need that level of acidity in fresh food. 

Here’s the other thing about canning.  It’s kind of a pain in the patootie.  The canning pot is really big.  When you fill it 1/2-2/3 full with water it’s heavy. Then you bring it to a boil and your kitchen becomes a sauna pretty quickly.  If you’re going to the trouble to drag out all your canning stuff (the pot, the rack, the tongs, the jars, the lids, the bands, etc.) you might as well settle in for the long haul and do a bunch.  It took me 7 straight hours to peel all the tomatoes and make the 4 salsas.  I’m pretty efficient, but dealing with four recipes and this kind of volume just takes time.  Still, once the canner is hot it just makes sense to keep going.

(This is the smaller of my two canning pots.  I can process up to 7 quart jars at one time in this pot.  In the larger pot I can process up to 9 quart jars at once.  When I do the major tomato canning with my mom we use both pots simultaneously.  They barely fit on the stove together).

Let’s start with the salsas.  First I did the salsa verde.  There are two great things about the salsa verde.  You don’t have to peel the tomatoes and you can chop everything in the food processor.  Awesome.  It’s the quickest so it’s good to start there.  You can get this stuff in the canner and make another while it processes.  It’s a mix of green tomatoes, red onion, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.  You can use tomatillos if you like, but green tomatoes work just as well and they’re a little quicker to deal with because they’re larger and don’t have to be husked.  I’ve also made this with Vidalia onion instead of red onion and that seems to work fine.  This is the most popular of all salsas I make.  It’s good with chips of course, but it’s also terrific served over chicken or fish.  Most recently I used it in a filling for poblano peppers. Yum.

Next I did the Fiesta Salsa.  This is a mixed vegetable salsa.  This is my third year making this and I really like it.  I usually decide it’s time to make salsa when my sweet banana peppers start to come in in volumes that it’s hard to manage.  The same is true this year. This salsa is a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet banana peppers, onions, Anaheim peppers, jalapeno peppers, cider vinegar, cilantro, oregano, lime juice and salt.  This salsa is a lot more trouble than the salsa verde.  Everything has to be chopped by hand or it’s the wrong consistency for this salsa.  Also the tomatoes have to be peeled before you chop them.

The next two salsa are new this year.  I didn’t really intend to make so many, but there were just so many tomatoes!  Salsa number three is a Chipotle salsa.  These items have to be hand chopped and roasted.  I’ll admit though that I used chipotles out of the can.  Not many ingredients in this, but it packs a punch.  Chipotle peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers (I used purple), onions, garlic, salt, sugar and vinegar.  I tasted a little of this and it’s pretty hot.  The flavor is nice and smoky.  I think this would be good as a sauce for chicken or pork chops as well.

Which brings us to salsa number four.  In addition to the tomatoes I bought a bunch of peaches at the farmers’ market yesterday.  The original plan was to slice and freeze these for making cobbler over the Winter, but the tomatoes just kept coming so I kept looking for ways to use them up.  Enter the Summer Salsa.  This recipe calls for peaches and pears, but I don’t like pears so I just doubled the number of peaches.  Having a single fruit instead of two different ones shouldn’t mess up the Ph.  This is a sweet heat salsa.  It includes tomatoes, peaches, red bell pepper, red onion, jalapenos, cilantro, honey, lemon zest and juice, balsamic vinegar and mint.  It sounds great.  I hope it is!

You may be wondering why I don’t have a clearer picture of how these new salsas will taste.  They both involve boiling some of the ingredients together and then adding the rest and boiling some more. The hot salsa goes in hot jars and then into the boiling water bath in the canner.   So there’s never a point when all the ingredients are together and the salsa is cool enough to taste – at least not until after it’s all in the jars anyway.  But it’s fresh local produce put together with a recipe from the home canning geniuses at Ball.  How bad can it be?

Lasagne Bolognese

June 19, 2011

Entree number two from the Father’s Day 2011 Italian Feast.  Since the other entree, Chicken Parm, was full of tomatoes and cheese, I needed a different kind of entree.  I’m much enamored of Bolognese sauce so Iwas pleased to see a recipe for a Bolognese lasagne in my Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  I know, you’re thinking, “What?! How can you have lasagne without layers of tomatoes and cheese?!”  Trust me, this sauce more than makes up for the missing cheese.  

This is another plan ahead kind of dish.  The sauce has to cook for three or more hours.  I had this going on the stove at the same time as the Chunky Tomato Sauce and that worked out well.  Once the sauce is made this is pretty easy.  It’s just layers of noodles and sauce.  Add a little Parmesan cheese and you’re good to go.

I put this together the day before.  I cooked the whole wheat lasagne noodles about 1/2 way.  I’m not sure that was even necessary since they sat in the sauce overnight, but I was concerned about them being undercooked.  If you’re going to be serving the lasagne the day you make it you’ll want to cook the noodles to al dente before you layer them.  You’ll only have to bake the lasagne about 15 minutes that way.  Then let it stand another 10-15 minutes.  If you’re serving the lasagne a day or two after you put it together I recommend putting the noodles in raw.  You’ll bake the dish 25-30 minutes then.  Gotta love a lasagne you don’t have to bake for an hour or more.

This dish is rich and creamy and wonderful.  You’ll want to serve it with a salad to provide some balance.  You’ll be able to eat a bigger piece that way!

Good? YUM!
Easy? No. The two sauces make this a challenge.
Good for company? They’ll be very impressed.
Special shopping? No.

Lasagne Bolognese

Ingredients

1 full recipe Bolognese sauce
15-20 lasagne noodles
3 C Bechamel sauce (see below)
4 T butter, melted

Bechamel Sauce

3 C milk
6 T butter
4 1/2 T flour
1/2 T salt

Directions

Heat the milk in a sauce pan. Do not let it reach a simmer. In a small stock pot melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk until it is fully incorporated. Add heated milk a few tablespoons at a time, whisking constantly until each addition is incorporated. Once you’ve added 10-12 tablespoons of milk add the rest 1/2 C at a time. Continue whisking. Cook sauce over low heat until it becomes thick and creamy. This will take 10-15 minutes more.

Lasagne Directions

Add melted butter and 4-5 T of Bechamel to your lasagne pan.  Mix remaining Bechamel with Bolognese sauce.  Line lasagne pan with noodles.  Cover with a thin layer of sauce.  Sprinkle some parmesan over the sauce.  Repeat noodle, sauce and parmesan layers, ending with sauce.  Ideally you’ll have 5-6 layers of noodles.  Top with a little more parmesan.  Bake at 400.  15 minutes for cooked noodles and 25-30 minutes for raw noodles.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.