Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD: Coconut Butter Thins

After a couple weeks of outstanding cakes, this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was Coconut Butter Thins. I count on Mr. Penpen to eat the lion’s share of the desserts I bake, and he doesn’t like coconut, so I was happy the coconut was in cookie form, and therefore easy to transport. (They were really fragile, though, so I don’t think these dainty cookies could travel too far a distance.) I brought them to my book club, and as Dorie recommends, they are nice in the evening with tea.

I have to admit I goofed a little bit with the recipe. I didn’t follow the rolling instructions properly, partially because I didn’t have a gallon bag and also because I was making half a batch, and rolled the cookies a little too thin. And since they spread quite a bit when they bake, it actually kind of mattered, and it resulted in tiny, little wisps of cookies. I think the cookies looked sort of like snowflakes. The ones that didn’t burn, that is. And they tasted pretty good.

This recipe gets a 6 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2. Many thanks Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch for giving me a chance to bring a bag of coconut into the house and actually getting Mr. Penpen to admit he enjoyed a coconut treat – more coconut confections from my kitchen in the future! If you would like the recipe, you can find it on Jayne’s site. And be sure to check out the Tuesdays With Dorie site to see the other bakers’ cookies, since I don’t think mine looked quite the way they were supposed to.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bake(d) Along: Root Beer Bundt Cake

On Tuesday evening I was perusing various blogs to see how the other TWD bakers’ fared with the Blueberry Crumb Cake – lots of yummy, crumby cakes out there – and I was intrigued when I saw that Megan of My Baking Adventures and Nic from Bakeologie were doing a bake-along this weekend. I found this to be particularly delightful news for the following reasons: 1) The recipe chosen was Root Beer Bundt Cake from Baked; New Frontiers in Baking, a cookbook I recently purchased and have only made one recipe from. (It is a spectacular cookbook, full of amazing-looking concoctions, but most are too rich for everyday baking.) 2) Since the recipe was a bundt cake, I would have an opportunity to use my bundt pan; another item that’s only been used once. 3) The TWD recipe this week involves coconut, which Mr. Penpen doesn’t like, so I was going to have to bake another dessert anyway. 4) I knew I’d be running a 10K race on Saturday, and in addition to eating pasta the night before, I have a rule that I can eat whatever I fancy after running a race, so this cake would be a nice treat to look forward to. Isn’t it great when so many factors culminate into something as wonderful as chocolate cake?

Since the recipe was called Root Beer Bundt Cake, I was surprised to see that it had as much cocoa powder in it as a typical chocolate cake. But as Mr. Penpen pointed out, chocolate and root beer are both great with vanilla ice cream, so I didn’t question it. The end result was a superb chocolate bundt cake: moist but not too dense and very flavorful. It has a lot of sugar, however, the recipe calls for a generous amount of salt, so the taste balances nicely. If you ever want to bake a cake for Halloween this would be a good one, since with dark cocoa and dark brown sugar, it comes out almost black. I took it outside to photograph, and thought that it would also be an excellent cake for a summer barbeque. Maybe it was just the sunny day and I wanted to barbeque.

I give this recipe a 3 for Effort and a 9 for Deliciousness, giving it an EDR of 3. Many thanks to Megan and Nic for proffering this recipe for a bake-along and getting me to used my copy of Baked. If you would like the recipe for Root Beer Bundt Cake, you may find it on Megan’s site.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Carbing Up

Last year I set a goal to run a race a month. I managed to run eleven, and then, between the holidays and the acquisition of Ms. Ears in December, I was suddenly incapable of accomplishing anything. I actually wasn’t too bothered about not completing my goal; eleven races plus all the miles run in preparation is pretty good for someone who couldn’t run a mile two years ago. This year I do not have such lofty aspirations, as my primary focus is making sure Ms. Ears gets enough exercise. Fortunately, I still have been able to get plenty of mileage in this year, with and without my dog, so I have a good base if I decide I want to run a road race. And it finally happened today, after several attempts thwarted by rainy weather and other unnatural causes. And it felt fantastic! And not just because I beat Mr. Penpen in a race for the very first time.

One of the best parts about running races is that it gives me an excuse to carbo-load on pasta the night before. And since it’s asparagus season, I decided to make Giada De Laurentiis’s Carbonara, which is one of our favorite pasta dishes. Actually, it’s so good I’ve even bought out-of-season asparagus to make it before. Here’s the recipe, with my slight modifications and short cuts; the original can be found in here, and also in the fabulous book, Giada’s Kitchen.

For the Basil Aioli
1-2 garlic cloves (I like 2)
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons mustard (the recipe calls for Dijon, but I used Hot and Sweet last time and it was fine)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup basil leaves
salt (to taste)
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the rest of the recipe
1 bunch of asparagus (about a pound and a half)
1 pound linguine
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
eggs (1 per serving)
butter to fry eggs
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes. Remove asparagus with a set of tongs and place in a colander in the sink; rinse with cool water. When the asparagus are cool, chop them in 1-inch pieces. Add the pasta to the same pot of water and cook to your liking. (Or your boyfriend’s. I’m not picky, but I call Mr. Penpen “Mr. No Dente.”)

While the water, asparagus, and pasta are boiling, you’ll have time to make the Basil Aioli. Roughly chop the basil and garlic, then toss in the food processor and pulse until both are finely chopped. Then add the salt, pepper (black and cayenne), lemon juice, egg yolks, and, mustard to the processor and blend. While the machine is running, slowly drizzle in the oils. I have made the mistake – twice – of not drizzling slowly and ended up with a greasy mess rather than nice fluffy aioli.

When the pasta is ready, drain it in the same colander you used for the asparagus, and mix in a bowl (or the pot) with the aioli, cheese, and asparagus. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs, sprinkle with salt and pepper, reduce the heat slightly, cover the pan, and cook the eggs to you liking. Alternatively, if you want to be a little healthier, poach your eggs.

Dish out the pasta, place an egg on top of each helping, and serve.

This recipe gets a 3 for Effort and a 10 for Deliciousness, giving it an EDR of 3.33. I highly recommend it before you run a 10K race or if you’re craving a delicious and satisfying pasta dish.

Monday, March 23, 2009

TWD: Blueberry Crumb Cake

Many thanks for the sympathetic comments about my Poison Oak and all the compliments about Ms. Ears last week. I am happy to report that we are feeling much better. Mr. Penpen’s skin has gone from Stay-Puft Marshmallow to Frosted Flake, which is a huge improvement and means we’re at the very end of this plague (his case much was worse than mine). We took Ms. Ears to parks both days this weekend, and, thankfully, she occupied herself digging holes with her friend Bruce and running with other dogs, rather than rolling in poisonous brambles.

Now on to the food! This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was Blueberry Crumb Cake. A while ago I watched an episode of “America’s Test Kitchen” entitled Old-Fashioned Breakfast Cakes that featured a confection called Blueberry Boy Bait. The recipe was originally the 2nd runner up in a 1954 Pillsbury bake-off; submitted by a teenager and named for its power to lure boys. The recipe in Baking is markedly different, but I think the fantastically buttery, sugary topping could definitely get you a man. I know Mr. Penpen certainly enjoyed it.

I thought this was a lovely recipe – very straightforward and easy to put together, and I like that it can be either breakfast or dessert. I actually baked an extra quarter recipe’s worth, since I wanted to bake it in my 9 ½ inch ring pan and I was afraid there would not be enough batter in the original recipe. I was wrong: the cake was very tall. I did make a small mistake with the blueberries. I was using frozen berries, and I took them out and mixed them with flour sooner than I should have, which led to blue batter since the berries had defrosted a bit. It was one of those situations where I knew I shouldn’t have done it, hastily went ahead and did it, then immediately regretted it. Luckily, the end result didn’t look as unappetizing as the batter.

I gave this recipe an 8 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.66. Much appreciation to Sihan of Befuddlement for choosing this tasty cake for this week’s recipe. You can find the recipe for the cake on Sihan’s site and check out what the other bakers thought of it via the TWD site.

P.S. I learned my lesson last time I made a cake with a crumbly topping and this one is being stored on top of the refrigerator, out of reach from even the wiliest dog paws.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pea Shoots!

Before pea shoots, which are the leaves of the pea plant, arrived in my CSA box several weeks ago, it never would have occurred to me to cook with them. I had the same reaction to kale, though, and it grew to be one of my favorite vegetables this winter. In fact, I often crave it. The first time the pea shoots appeared, I did what I always do with strange vegetables: sautéed them with olive oil and garlic. I decided I could do a little better with the second round, so I looked for inspiration on the web. I found an article on Bay Area Bites that had some great ideas and two delicious-sounding recipes. I decided to go for the pasta recipe, Pea Shoot Pasta Sautéed with Bacon and Lemon Zest, in order to make a complete meal.

You can find the recipe (and read more about pea shoots) here. The recipe called for a pound of pasta, but I only used 12 ounces of fresh pasta, and it made two healthy dinner portions for people who had just run, plus another lunch serving. This was an incredibly quick dinner to prepare, and it was a very tasty and light-ish pasta dish. I give this recipe a 7 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.5. I definitely recommend celebrating spring with pea shoots on your plate. They quite possibly could be the new kale.

Monday, March 16, 2009

TWD: French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze. I tend to have pretty good instincts on which TWD recipes we’ll enjoy around here, and which ones I can make partial batches or pass on. I don’t like to skip though. For me, baking is sort of like exercise: you rarely say you’re sorry you did it afterwards. I anticipated that Mr. Penpen and I would both love the lemon yogurt cake. Not so much because we love yogurt, unless you count frozen yogurt, but because it’s the type of cake that you can just kind of nibble on throughout the day without feeling wholly unhealthy about eating.

How much did we love it? I baked the first one on Thursday night – totally ahead of schedule for me – and we devoured it before it could even be glazed or photographed. This is what happened: I baked it kind of late in the evening on Thursday so it didn’t have time to fully cool that evening, then we couldn’t resist having some for breakfast on Friday, at that point I just gave up glazing or photographing since I still had plenty of lemons and yogurt left to bake another. I got around to baking the second cake on Sunday evening, after the first one was obliterated. This one got glazed, but not photographed before it was sliced into. I should know better by now to leave explicit instructions for Mr. Penpen to hold off snacking until photographs have been taken. I did have fun taking photos of lemons during my lunch break on Monday, though.

This recipe rates an 8.5 for Deliciousness with the marmalade glaze and an 8 without the glaze, and it gets a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 4.25/4 – can’t get much better than that. Many thanks to Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction for selecting this recipe. Eating this cake was a highlight for us during a very uncomfortable weekend, as both humans in this household were suffering from Poison Oak transmitted from Ms. Ears, who remained oblivious to the damage she inflicted. You can find the recipe for French Yogurt Cake on Liliana’s site, and you can see what the other bakers thought of it via the Tuesdays With Dorie site.

Monday, March 9, 2009

TWD: Custard Cups

The recipe chosen for this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie baking adventure was Lemon Custard Cups. I was pleased to have a break from chocolate-based desserts and thought this sounded like a delightful treat to make on a sunny Saturday, especially since I received lemons in my most recent CSA delivery. But there was something I was even more eager to make this weekend: biscotti. I had an empty cookie jar and a free afternoon, so I decided to make the delicious-sounding Lenox Almond Biscotti from Baking, which had been selected before I was a member of TWD. I opted to make my custard cups with espresso and cinnamon, which was one of the “playing around” versions of this recipe, since I thought it would pair nicely with biscotti.

I had never made custard before, except as a base for ice cream, and found it fairly simple to put together. I may have gotten too confident, though, because I think my custard cups were a little overdone. The texture was fine, but they were not “jiggly” as the recipe advised they would be. Overall, I enjoyed making these and love the infinite possibilities for flavor combinations.

I gave this recipe a 7 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.33. Many thanks to Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles for starting off the (almost) spring weather with a nice, light dessert. You can find the recipe on Bridget’ site, and check out other versions of the custard via the TWD site.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hobo Monday: Sweet Potato Gnocchi

From Thursday Night Smackdown, the fine site that hosted First Thursdays and got me to cook duck and oysters, we have a new blog event: Hobo Mondays. First Thursdays were about cooking recipes from cookbooks or magazines; Hobo Mondays are about cooking our own recipes - with a budget of $5 for two people. Pantry staples are not factored into the meal cost, and participants are permitted to determine what constitutes a pantry staple in their household. The $5 challenge daunted me. Although I have cut back on certain expenditures in this dismal economy, food is not one of them. I have always considered myself a fairly practical grocery-shopper and I try very hard not to waste food. Also, since we’re not eating out as often these days, I figure we should eat well at home. I actually did casually mention we make a food budget once, but Mr. Penpen nixed the idea immediately and I did not give much protest.

I made some delicious ricotta gnocchi a couple months ago, and it consisted of mainly pantry staples, so I decided that I would try making gnocchi with a vegetable. I had seen butternut squash at Trader Joe’s for less than three dollars for an entire squash; I figured I would only need about half a squash for the gnocchi, use the rest another day, and stay way under budget. Sadly, Trader Joe’s did not have butternut squash (fresh, anyway – there was canned). I went across the street to Whole Foods, and again there was no butternut squash. I decided a large sweet potato would be a good substitute. And yes, I know Whole Foods is pricey, but it was a rainy day and I wanted to get home, not trek to every grocery store in the county. I used the same recipe I used last time as a guideline and started making the gnocchi on Sunday, as there are two chilling periods and time is often tight on weeknights. The first step was pureeing and chilling the sweet potato. The next was to mix the dough, which is where things started to go wrong: it was incredibly sticky. I kept adding more flour, hoping the dough would come together. Finally I gave up; as I was worried all the extra flour would render the pasta to be tasteless gummy blobs. I put the dough in the refrigerator to chill with the optimistic expectation that it would be cohesive after resting. This is what I got:

A huge glutenous mess! There was absolutely no way I would be able to form this glob into pasta. I was about ready to throw in the towel and call this “Waste of Money Monday.” However, I do not admit defeat in the kitchen that easily. I scraped the mess into a bowl and back into the refrigerator. I went straight to the kitchen when I returned home on Monday evening, and with an ample amount of flour on the cutting board and my hands, I was able to shape the pasta. I put it back in the refrigerator for the final chilling phase (one hour or up to a day) and went for a run. The gnocchi seemed firm enough when I took them out a couple hours later, so I boiled some water and cooked them. They turned out fine, but not great, you could tell there was too much flour. I served them with some butter and crumbled blue cheese, which, of course, makes any bland food taste better. Since I try to have something green on my dinner plate, I sautéed some about-to-go-bad pea shoots in garlic and olive oil.

Okay, I guess it’s time to break down the cost of this meal. The only thing I purchased for this meal was the sweet potato, which was $3.24 – I guess I should have gone with the canned squash for $2.29. The pantry staples I used were salt, pepper, butter, garlic, olive oil, flour, parmesan cheese, and nutmeg. I probably used about one dollar’s worth of blue cheese, and the pea shoots came from my CSA box. Apparently they are very inexpensive, about $1 to $2 per bunch, so I’ll say $1.50 for pea shoots, which brings my grand total to $5.74. A little over the $5 allotment, but there was a good amount of pasta left over. Unfortunately, the gnocchi doesn’t stand much of chance next to the other leftovers in our refrigerator.

This meal received a 5 for Deliciousness and a 4 for Effort, giving it and EDR of 1.25. If you would like to see how other people fared with a meal budget of $5, there will be a round-up on the Thursday Night Smackdown site on Saturday, where you can also find more detailed information about Hobo Mondays if you would like to participate next month.

Monday, March 2, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Armagnac Cake

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was Chocolate Armagnac Cake – The Cake That Got Me Fired. Dorie has a fun story on page 278 of Baking about how she was fired from a job for changing the whisky-raisin combination in the original iteration of this cake to prune-armagnac. She does say you can use Armagnac, cognac, brandy, or scotch whisky, so I used brandy, since I had some leftover from a previous baking endeavor.

I think I would be more excited about this cake if I hadn’t baked and consumed so many chocolate desserts recently. It is the perfect cake to eat if you have a serious chocolate craving, as it is almost flourless, and therefore very dense with chocolate flavor. I also think that the mild fruit and alcohol flavor in the cake would lend well to being served with a glass of port at a dinner party.

Since I don’t have a lot to say about this cake right now, I will do a short equipment review. Pictured below is a small saucepan. It kind of looks like something that would be found in a pre-schooler’s “My First Kitchen” set, but it is actually a single-serving egg poacher. My brother gave it to me for Christmas since he knows I like poached eggs, and said I could use it for other things, too. I was skeptical of the pan’s utility, but now that I make mini desserts for Tuesdays with Dorie, I use it constantly. I would say it is my current favorite kitchen gadget.

I gave this recipe an 8 for Deliciousness and a 4 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2. Many thanks to Lyb of And Then I Do The Dishes for choosing this decadent dessert and for giving me the opportunity to both flambe and use my new cake stand for the first time. You can find the recipe on Lyb’s site and you can see what the other bakers thought of this cake via the TWD blogroll.