Thursday, January 14, 2010

End of the break bakestravaganza!

For today, we have some delicious carrot-walnut cookies that are a little more healthful than most of the desserts I've been making. They're made with whole wheat flour, oil, no eggs unless you want to throw one in to help with moisture, and any general sweetener that isn't white sugar. I used a blend of honey, agave nectar, and molasses, and then promptly destroyed the health benefits by rolling them in cinnamon sugar before baking. It just makes them so pretty!

These don't look much different baked than unbaked, and because they're vegan, you could really just eat the dough without worrying about salmonella (of course, if your eggs are pasteurized, it's silly to worry anyway.). Believe me, I was tempted, because although the cookies aren't rich and gooey like most of the things I've mad this winter, but they're hearty and satisfyingly carroty. If you want to make them more indulgent, add a cream cheese glaze on the top.

Extra bonus: Aside from the carrot-grating, these take virtually no time and very little equipment. You could really make them with a bowl, a spoon, and a subdivided cup measure, and of course a baking pan for the actual cooking the cookies part.

Here is the recipe! The site has some other things that I'd like to try, specifically the lentil stew.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gumbo night!

Here's what my house does:

Dad decides he wants a gumbo night. We invite between 2 and 20 people. Mom makes a gumbo of appropriate size. I make salad and rice and bake dessert, which is usually bread pudding, but tonight was the aforementioned apple tart. Guests bring wine.

There was a camera, so here's a picture!

Before I continue, a word about my mother's gumbo: Mom's gumbo is unmatched. I have had restaurant gumbo that is supposedly The Real Stuff that didn't even come close to matching up. She could cook her way to Iron Chef status with just this gumbo. She made a mistake this time around and oversalted it after using bouillon--she usually uses broth--but I taught her the potato trick (peel a couple potatoes and throw them in, whole or halved, and they'll absorb the excess salt), and that fixed it right up.

Anyway, tart! These French-style tarts are time-consuming, but I think they're worth it. I used my trusty ol' Good Housekeeping recipe for the apple parts and Mark Bittman's flaky pie crust recipe, doubled and with one egg yolk added, for the crust. While I like this Good Housekeeping book because it's so comprehensive, I find that its recipes often need adjustment. I haven't made this in ages, so I forgot that in this case, the amount of lemon juice for the apple puree was too high; I compensated by adding a little brown sugar on top of the white sugar, which made it a little sweeter than I usually make it but also took care of the lemony overload. I also took the immersion blender to the puree, since the Granny Smith apples impart lovely flavor but don't break down when cooked as easily as the recipe would have you believe; the Golden Delicious (well, the GDs looked gross so I got Braeburn in this case; I'm not always too strict about apple selection and hey, look, a semicolon within a parenthetical insertion into a post-semicolon sentence!) break down just fine. Other than that, it's all about having a steady hand when slicing the Granny Smiths to go on top! And also about making the crust absolutely perfect. And about having good ingredients; there's only a smidgen of nutmeg in the puree, so the ingredients, especially the apples, have to hold up without spice.

We also had the rest of the St. Louis cake, which one of the guests in particular demolished, and a guest-provided cranberry Nantucket pie, which is sort of an upside-down cake baked in a springiform pan.

The salad dressing I also have to mention. My Aunt Helen is famous for this, because it's so simple and so extraordinarily good: Take some romaine with chopped cucumbers and maybe tomatoes or onions if you like, squeeze in some lemon juice, glop in some olive oil, shake in some salt and pepper, and sprinkle in some chopped mint if you have it. Toss. Eat. Sometimes I use sage instead of mint (dried, but I guess fresh would be tasty, too!).

All in all, it was an excellent food night, and an excellent company night! We had some lovely people over (including one who had great things to tell me about art, which is always a joy), and I am pleasantly full.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis

A Facebook quasi-poll led to my decision to make St. Louis gooey butter cake tonight and apple tarte tatin tomorrow, since we're having a gumbo party tomorrow and the tarte tatin fits better with the Creole theme. I'll make raisin bread at Brandeis and carrot walnut cookies to bring to Winter (or at least to the excellent person who is driving me to Winter).

Now, a few words on the cake:
1. I want a paddle attachment. Every single recipe I've made (well, not really, but almost) has called for one, and I've just had to go without.
2. The author of the New York Times article about the confection from which I drew the recipe included an anecdote about buying the last slice of butter cake from the man in front of her in line at the bakery for a brownie and two coconut bars. There is a reason that she went to such lengths. This is sweet and yeasty and indulgent. If faced with never eating this again or committing a minor crime, I'd probably go with the crime. Holding myself to one tiny square for health purposes was really, really difficult.
3. You should make this. But unless you like staying up late, don't start making it at 8 p.m.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Outlaws of the Marshmallows

The homemade marshmallows, which weren't really a baked good per se but too bad, came out really well. They came out well despite me dropping the candy thermometer in the boiling sugar solution and almost overheating said sugar solution, perhaps because I was too busy rocking out to my "U Can't Touch This" Pandora station***.

In any case, these are definitely superior in taste to the store-bought Jet Puff kind, although those will always be in the portion of my heart reserved for certain inalienable processed foods (Kraft mac and ersatz cheese takes up most of the rest of it). Dipping them in dark chocolate is a great choice, but I'd also just as happily flavor them with lemon or orange or peppermint extract.

Only four days or so left in which to bake! Not that it's making me despondent; on the contrary, I am on tenterhooks waiting to go play ACF Winter and return to Boston to see certain people. And finish undergrad. But four days of cooking left! If there's anything you are particularly interested in tasting (family) or having me test for you (tragically absent friends), post and let me know.

***A note on bad music: Some music is bad in a really, really great way; for instance, I am convinced that O-Zone would have had a following outside Moldova even without this guy. (By the way, I apologize to the couple who had the misfortune of watching me rock out to "Faith," by George Michael, as I was driving to meet some friends for dinner this evening at a truly tasty Thai restaurant called Siam Orchid that you Floridians should all patronize. I was listening to NPR not two minutes before you saw me, which would have spared you.) But some music is just bad (see: song from the most recent film version of Romeo and Juliet that my sister is doing a circus routine to, song she is currently playing that might be called "Don't Stop" in which the singer declares that she revels waking up in the morning looking like P. Diddy). This music should be expunged in favor of additional repetitions of everything on the radio during the 1980s.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

And now for something completely different...

So, I might make some marshmallows at like 1 a.m., depending on the rate at which I finish my half of a quizbowl packet, but I did eat some wonderful tarte tatin today.

That occurred at a memorial service for a woman named Joanne Perrot. My dad took some ceramics classes at the local community college in whose studio Joanne worked, and he quickly realized and showed the rest of my family what a lovely person she was. She and her husband Paul, the most dapper of erudite older French gentlemen, were consummate world travelers, artists and art connoisseurs, and just generally good people. We stayed way too long at the service (from 2 to 7:30) because it was impossible to tire of talking to their wonderful children and other friends and relatives who are doctors, scientists, teachers, artists, and so on. Joanne was a spectacular woman who will be missed and who left her mark in her extraordinary family in friends.

Who, to draw it back to the purpose of this blog, have great taste in desserts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cupcake explosion

In my defense, the recipe said to fill the muffin cups 3/4 of the way.

If you make these (Martha Stewart's gingerbread cupcakes), for the love of all that is good and holy, only fill them halfway. Because halfway through the baking, when I noticed a burning smell, I opened the oven to discover batter burbling out of the pans and dropping onto the oven floor below.

But they're worth making; I topped them with a very light lemon-ricotta icing, but cream cheese or some sort of glaze or nothing at all, really, would have worked just as well.

Also, I finally found out where our missing cooling racks are: on the roof. This is apparently what my sister told my mother. I don't even want to know why they're up there (Satanic ritual, perhaps?), but this means that tomorrow, when it's light out, I'll grab the ladder and retrieve them.

Made that good ol' warhorse penne alla vodka for my brother's extremely belated birthday dinner tonight. Not exactly a classic accompaniment to a gingery dessert, but tasty nonetheless! My mom had to run out last-minute for emergency heavy cream because my dad put an empty container of heavy cream back in the fridge. What is it with my family and an inability to place cooking implements and ingredients where they should be placed?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Crunchy, happy people laughing

Today's recipe comes complete with an entertaining story along with the deliciousness!

I had a little bit of a hard time getting all the oaty bits to clump, which presented a worrisome burn risk (along with the fact that I accidentally dumped in the dried fruit before the baking), but with the 15-minute stir intervals, it turned out fine. I used pine nuts, almonds, both slivered and roughly chopped, chopped dried apple, and dried cranberries; crystallized ginger would have worked just fine as well, and I'd like to try this with pecans and currants. Although the Traveler's Lunchbox author prefers light and crispy granola, I think using rolled oats for this (and perhaps increasing the sit time before it goes into the oven) would make for a nice, hearty granola. If you're into that kind of thing.

And since I like really spicy granolas and spice cakes and cookies and such, I would have jacked up the cinnamon and cardamom levels, but I'm afflicted with a cold right now that's rendering me unable to taste much, and I didn't want to accidentally inflict a spice overload on people. I did add a little nutmeg, though, and a little dried ginger.

The upshot of it all is that despite the rather large lunch I had courtesy of a friend's very kind grandmother (who also gave us a tour of an exhibit on Venetian painting at the Ringling, the local art museum where she is a docent), I've got a nice bowl of granola goodness with Feya yogurt. And more quizbowl questions to write*.

*This has been the most sedentary break ever. Serious activity is going to happen when I'm back at 'deis.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tuile Time girl

In a book I read at Barnes and Noble this evening (ahem), two characters enjoy cookies with coffee that they do not drink, but merely allow to waft around the room as they eat. I have decided to do this tonight for three reasons:

1. I'm making tuiles, which are these curved, almond-flavored French confections that are as gustatorily delicate as they are physically and would thus most likely be overwhelmed by all but the most subtle of coffees.
2. I took a massive nap in the middle of yet another day that mostly entailed sitting on my rear (bleargh), and thus I don't need any help staying up much later than I should.
3. The smell of coffee is often better than the taste of it.

Tuiles are a lot of fun. They can be sweet or savory, topped with a dollop of something or dolloped onto something or rolled into cylinders and filled with something or just eaten plain. I like that last option. The trick is to get the baking time just right such that the edges are caramelized and the tuile will harden nicely while not overbaking them so that they're virtually glued to the pan. Since that takes about 5 minutes, I usually don't even hit the oven timer: I crouch in front of the oven with my face glued to the front panel and the oven light on, waiting for the perfect moment.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Unique forms of continuity in cake

I really want a copy of The Futurist Cookbook.

Unfortunately, the cheapest one I can find costs about $80, so I will have to wait for it to be in (re)print. But until the young and strong again want no part of the past, I will content myself with my unique forms of continuity in cake.

Inspired by "The Futurist Cooking Manifesto" (here with a Wikipedia summary here), I shall eat this cake with neither knife nor fork. Perhaps I'll just smell it for awhile and then not eat it at all, or perhaps I'll violently smear it everywhere. Marinetti would be proud.

Here's a picture! Unfortunately, as I was decorating it, it suddenly cracked down the middle. This makes it look much worse than it did when I was about halfway through. Prowess fail. Anyway, he's a little too squat, but on the whole, I am not disappointed.

/*The cake is Mark Bittman's chocolate cake recipe, with buttermilk instead of regular milk and a little cocoa thrown in for good measure; the frosting is my favorite silky chocolate icing from a back edition of the Good Housekeeping baking cookbook; the top is a confectioner's sugar/milk slurry with semisweet chocolate drawn on with flat-ended toothpicks. Dinner tonight is going to be a simple tofu-and-vegetable stir fry, so perhaps an Asian dessert would have been better, but I had no coconut milk and no car with which to fetch it.

Also, I can only find one beater for each of the two electric mixers we have. I have no idea how this happened. */

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's dinnertime, y'all

It sort of accidentally became Southern food night.

1. Fried okra: Mark Bittman has a much simpler fried okra process than my mom's Talk About Good Junior League cookbook. Take fresh or defrosted frozen okra, roll in flour, dip in egg, and roll in salted/peppered cornmeal. Fry in very hot oil that's a couple inches deep. Drain. Eat.
2. Chili: Yeah, I just threw beans and onions and carrots and tomatoes and spices and stuff like that in a pot and boiled it for awhile. Didn't have any beer, but there was Worcestershire sauce!
3. Mustard greens: spicy substitute-for-collard goodness.
4. Cornbread: The real reason for this blog is the baking, and this is what I baked. I used a combination of buttermilk and yogurt in the dough (you can just substitute a quarter cup of milk in whatever recipe for yogurt), and I baked it in a skillet coated in browned butter. I very lightly sweetened it with some honey; super-sweet cornbread is not my thing.

Shortly, it will be Barnes and Noble tea and baked good time in order to see a dear friend off to her own final semester at college, but I never did make those scones. More midnight baking, perhaps?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Baby got back.

Yes, I've got some big, squishy buns. Cinnamon buns, that is. I've made overnight sticky buns before, and they were really good, but since these are three times as quick and nearly as good, I'd rather make them.

I follow the recipe for the dough exactly, but the butter spreading and the spice/sugar mix vary. I used cloves and nutmeg in the spice/sugar mix the first time I made this, but my mother isn't a big fan of nutmeg and straight-up dislikes cloves, so I've eschewed those and gone with the straight cinnamon this time around.

I also used the caramel recipe from the sea salt caramel ganache brownies (Oh, oops. I forgot to post that. I made a couple pans of those for New Year's Eve, and they were awesome. I also made sophisticatedly spiced collards and some simple rosemary crispy potatoes to go with my dad's ducks that he always makes.) to top them rather than the cream cheese recipe stated. I substituted honey for the corn syrup (especially since someone gave my mom a little jar of the good stuff for Thanksgiving) and then drizzled it on top after the buns had baked, while they were still hot so that it would soak into the buns. I wish I'd had raisins and/or pecans to put in the buns as well, but alas! sometimes we can't have everything as decadent as we'd like it.

Because I halved the cinnamon bun and caramel recipes, there's also some leftover heavy cream. This means that my next baking endeavor will probably involve scones.

And now I'm watching Sin City and drinking decaf chai, black, and eating a bun. Flabby in body, flabby in mind. Go, winter break? Yeah, I don't think so, either.