Thursday, January 29, 2009

Monster Cuisine: Weimaraners Bake Bread

In addition to being very stunning, Ms. Ears is also incredibly friendly and wants to meet nearly every person or dog whose path we cross – whether they like it or not. When we are out with her, we often get comments on her beauty, or hear stories about other nice Weimaraners people have known, or get asked if we are familiar with William Wegman. The other day, Mr. Penpen got a new one: a woman informed him there are Weimaraner sketches on “Sesame Street.” We were intrigued, and since everything is on YouTube, we were soon watching William Wegman Weimaraners engage in human activities. Such as bake bread! I only wish my Weimaraner was this helpful in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was Chocolate Gingerbread Cake. I decided that this week would be a good week for making a mini version. Mr. Penpen and I ate almost an entire Berry Surprise Cake between the two of us last week and I also made a splendid apple tart/cake last weekend (which was shared), so we were a bit caked out. I am also a bit of a purist when it comes to gingerbread (I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about chocolate infringing on the spice flavor), and I’d made what I’ve found to be the superlative gingerbread cake just last month, which meant this cake had a lot to live up to. But I still wanted to make it!

I found this great recipe conversion website, so I no longer have to do math when I make minis – yay! I quartered the recipe, which made one 3” springform pan and one ramekin’s worth. I didn’t use the optional stem ginger, but I did put in one of my new favorite ingredients, crystallized ginger chunks from the Ginger People, for some extra ginger flavor. I did like the warmth the chocolate gave the recipe and I’m definitely glad I tried it, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed that I made a smaller portion this week. I think I will stick with the Bold and Spicy Gingerbread from Cook’s Country’s December 2008 issue when I have a ginger craving. I gave this recipe a 7 for D and a 3 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.33. Many thanks to Heather of Sherry Trifle for picking a recipe I probably never would have tried. You can find the recipe on Heather’s website and you can check out what the other TWD bakers thought of it via the TWD blogroll.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWD: Berry Surprise Cake

A couple weeks ago when we baked the French Pear Tart for Tuesdays With Dorie, I lamented the fact that we weren’t baking the Perfect Party Cake, as it was my birthday that week. This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie choice, Berry Surprise Cake, would have done nicely too, so I consider this a late birthday treat for myself. I didn’t care that berries are out of season or that this cake has a ton of rich cream; I was excited to bake a cake since there hasn’t been a single cake (except cheesecake, which I skipped) chosen since I joined TWD in November and I love white/yellow cakes.

I read the P&Q on the TWD site and was well aware that a lot of bakers were getting sunken cakes. I followed the instructions in the book and tips from others very carefully, and ended up with a pretty short cake. I actually bought a new cake pan for this recipe, since I did not have an 8x3” cake pan. However, my cake came nowhere near three inches; I may have well just used the pan I had. I ended up making a second cake the next morning – again short – and put the two of them together for the finished product.

I used Neufchâtel rather than cream cheese for the filling, and also added some extra sugar and a bit of meyer lemon juice. Raspberries were rather expensive (and from Mexico) at Whole Foods, but I bought them anyway since the cake sounded delightful as described in the book. I do wish I had bought some blueberries, as it would have made a festive Inauguration Day photo.

And now for the Monster Cuisine section of this blog. Since I can’t resist writing about my adorable dog Eloise (aka “Ms. Ears”or, when in one of her hyperactive moods, “Monster”), I have decided to introduce this new feature. It’s tenuously related, as she loves food and is increasingly spending more time in the kitchen with me. We had identified her favorite foods as chicken and bread (especially baguettes), but after this baking experience, I would add cream to the list. She even managed to sneak some of Mr. Penpen’s cake last night when we irresponsibly had our backs turned for an entire minute. Luckily he was almost done, not to mention it was his second piece of the day.

I gave this recipe a 9 for D and a 4 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.25. Thank you to Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen for choosing a laborious but very delicious recipe. You can find the recipe for Berry Surprise Cake on Mary Ann’s site, and you can see all the other bakers’ “surprises” via the TWD blogroll.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi and Pear Sorbet

The January issue of Bon Appetit featured ricotta cheese as the “ingredient of the year” in the “Cooking Class” section of the magazine. The article included this recipe, entitled Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Marjoram. I’d had this recipe in the back of my mind for a while, but was not inspired to make it until I invited vegetarians over for dinner last week. I felt a little sheepish cooking a cheesy pasta dish, since that, at least in my opinion, is always the easiest solution to vegetarian cooking. I think I get a pass for making my own pasta, though.

This was an excellent recipe to make for company since the gnocchi can be made up to a day ahead of time (and must be made at least an hour ahead of time to chill) and the mushroom sauce cooks up very quickly – seriously, less than ten minutes. I knew from past experiences making gnocchi that the dough can be very sticky, but I did not have a problem with this recipe. I attribute this success to using nice, firm ricotta - from Whole Foods, I didn’t go as far as to make it myself; the maximum amount of flour the recipe recommended (3/4 cup); and a generous amount of extra flour when shaping the dough. I give this recipe an 8 for D and a 3 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.66.

I had some ripe pears and homemade ice cream seems to be back in the dessert rotation at our house, so I decided to make pear sorbet for dessert. I also made ginger cookies, ‘cos pear and ginger are nice together and I just never know when to stop! I used the pear sorbet recipe from David Lebovitz’s fabulous ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop. David generously puts a lot of his awesome dessert recipes on his website; I checked to see if this particular one was there so I could link it. The pear sorbet recipe was not on his site, but he had just posted this recipe for ginger cookies, which was inspired by Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies, which was the recipe I used! The ginger cookie recipe I used was from Barefoot Contessa at Home, and I found it a little disappointing. It is possible that I may have been trying to do too many things at once and not concentrating enough on the cookies, but they weren’t nice and soft like I was expecting. I think next time I will make them smaller and call them gingersnaps, or try the recipe on David’s site.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD: Corn Muffins

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins. The recipe called for chili powder, cilantro, and two kinds of peppers. I didn’t have any of those ingredients on hand, but I did have the rest of the ingredients and soup in my refrigerator. I opted for the “playing around” section of the recipe, which was a plain corn muffin – well, plain but very good corn muffin.

I only made half a batch since the recipe said they are best consumed the day of or the day after baking, and there are only two of us. Two that are allowed to eat muffins, that is. The third member of our household will enthusiastically devour any baked good that happens to fall her way. Today at the beach she invited herself to a picnic. As hilarious as it was seeing her scavenging for tidbits in the middle of a circle of picnickers, we resisted taking a picture. We are trying to be good dog owners, and it was more important to whisk her away from the tempting area as quickly as possible.

Oh, right; this is a food blog. I served the corn muffins with the aforementioned soup, which made an excellent lunch. This recipe rated a 6 for D and a 2 for E, giving it a very high EDR of 3. Thanks to Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake for giving us a reprieve from sweets and a very quick recipe this week. If you would like a great corn muffin recipe, with or without peppers, you can find the recipe on Rebecca’s site. Tuesdays With Dorie welcomed some new members this week, so be sure to check the TWD blogroll to see some new blogs and what other people thought of Savory Corn Muffins.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Talking Smackdown

I started reading the very entertaining Thursday Night Smackdown blog a while ago, and somehow I did not notice the “First Thursdays” portion of the blog until recently. The first Thursday of each month, a theme is chosen and participants cook a recipe from a cookbook or magazine in their collection. I adore food events, either real or virtual, and I have stacks of cookbooks and magazines, so I figured this would be right up my alley. The theme for January was to challenge yourself.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I would attempt cooking duck. Mr. Penpen enjoys ordering duck in restaurants and has asked why I never make it. There really wasn’t any excuse for why not; I just assumed it was more difficult to deal with than other types of poultry, not to mention higher in fat. Oh, and the expense: when I saw the price of Muscovy duck breasts, I was grateful this recipe called for legs. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of The Zuni Café Cookbook for Christmas (this gift is fortunate for the rest of my town as well, since now I won’t keep checking it out of the library), where I found a recipe titled Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes.

As instructed, the duck browned up quickly, and then went in the oven, along with the aromatics, wine reduction (I wish I had noticed that the recipe called for reducing the four cups of wine to one before I started making it), and broth. One of the great things about braising is that once the initial prep is done, you can basically leave the kitchen for a couple hours.

The book suggested serving the duck with roasted polenta, which I never make but thought sounded delicious. I did notice this suggestion ahead of time, so I was able to cook the polenta the night before and roast it on Thursday. The light, fluffy polenta was an excellent complement to the rich duck. I did not pair it with the fancy-sounding French wine suggested, but a nice glass of Pinot Noir did fine. I give this recipe a 10 for D and a 5 for E, giving it an EDR of 2. Duck was a little bit of a challenge, but no longer intimidating. Mr. Penpen thought it was one of the best things ever to come out of our kitchen, particularly on a weeknight.

There will be a round-up of all the recipes contributed to January’s First Thursday posted on the Thursday Night Smackdown site on Monday, so you can see how other people challenged themselves. And if you would like to participate next month, you can find the rules here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD: French Pear Tart

My birthday was yesterday and I had secretly hoped that, by coincidence, the first Tuesdays With Dorie recipe of 2009 would be the Perfect Party Cake. That would have been a lovely birthday dessert.* Instead this week’s recipe involved pears, which are not my favorite fruit. But Dorie herself picked the recipe this week in celebration of TWD’s one-year anniversary, so I decided I must try it. Actually, I vacillated a few times before finally deciding to quarter the recipe and make a tartlet.

Despite what the name of my blog may indicate, I am not so fond of math, so it took a few minutes to figure out the proportions for the tartlet. I guess I got them right, because it turned out delicious! I used a combination of almond extract and rum for the filling, so you could really taste more almond than pear. I did like having some fresh fruit involved in the dessert, though. I would have to say my first foray into mini-desserts was quite a success. I would give this recipe an 8 for D and a 4 for E, giving it an EDR of 2. I may even make a whole tart with the inevitable barrage of pears destined to arrive on my doorstep.

Many thanks to Dorie Greenspan for helping us kick off the second year of Tuesdays With Dorie in style. You may find the recipe for French Pear Tart on Dorie's site, and be sure to check the Tuesdays With Dorie site to see everyone else’s take on pear tart and to read Dorie’s answers to the TWD bakers’ OSI questions.

*My birthday dessert ended up being a fabulous blood orange sherbet with champagne at the Chez Panisse Cafe. What a perfect ending to a great birthday!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Fleur De Sel Caramels

Often times when I return home from work on Wednesdays, I see the New York Times Dining Section on my side of the coffee table. Mr. Penpen thoughtfully saves articles and recipes he thinks I may be interested in. This week the Times was sitting there with an article titled, “How Caramel Developed A Taste for Salt,” including a recipe. The article had interesting information not only about caramels, but also about food trends. Apparently salted caramels are in phase five of their trendiness, which basically means they are now so ubiquitous that you can find them at places like Wal-Mart. Whether or not the idea is past its prime, I knew I had to make salted caramels – immediately. In fact, the very first phone call I made in 2009 was to Whole Foods to see if they were open for the necessary ingredients. (They were, which was great for me, but disappointing for their employees, I’m sure. I think there should be a few days a year when everything is closed.)

Once duly equipped with Fleur de Sel and vanilla beans, I got to work in the kitchen. My first batch didn’t turn out so well, which seems to be a recurring theme for me when making candy (I had a Peppermint Bark disaster last week - I won’t subject you to witness the carnage]). I let the sugar cook too long and it burned, just like the recipe warns you not to do.

My second attempt was much better: I left my burner on medium-low rather than medium and carefully monitored the mixture to make sure it didn’t burn. Also, once the cream was added into the mixture, my candy thermometer did not take five to seven minutes to register 252 degrees as instructed, so I pulled off the caramel after about three minutes. I’m very happy I did, because this batch turned out fabulous. I would give this recipe a 9 for D and a 4 for E, giving it a great EDR of 2.25.

Mr. Penpen liked the caramels so much that he couldn’t resist combining them with the homemade peppermint ice cream and gingerbread cake for dessert last night – true holiday (or post-holiday) decadence.

If you would like to read more about the provenance of salted caramel and get the recipe for Fleur De Sel Caramels, here are the links to the New York Times article and recipe. Enjoy!