Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TWD: Thanksgiving Twofer

I am curious to know how many weeks it has taken for all the other TWD bakers to question whether or not joining a baking group was a good idea. It’s taken four for me. It’s great fun getting to try a myriad of recipes that I may not have attempted and see what all the other bakers do. However, I am a little concerned about all the sugar and butter I have been consuming. I am not a dieter by any stretch of the imagination, but the combination of each week’s Dorie recipe and all the other recipes I cannot resist could easily lead to trouble. (Although I am happy to say Mr. Penpen picks up a lot of the slack on finishing treats around here.)

This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was a Thanksgiving Twofer Pie (pecan and pumpkin), which would be perfect to serve at Thanksgiving. We were even given permission to post late for that very reason, and I could have even skipped TWD this week, as participation is only required two out of every four weeks. Instead, I managed to convince myself that it might be better to test out the Twofer recipe the weekend before in case it didn’t work out or people would be upset that I wasn’t serving a classic pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

Luckily, the recipe did work out just fine. I’m sure no one would have been disappointed to eat it on Thanksgiving, either. If I make it again, I will probably not pre-bake the crust: the inside could have used about ten more minutes while the crust was shy of burning. I thought the pie was excellent; the pumpkin filling was flavorful and creamy—I’m sold on using cream instead of condensed milk, and the pecan part was nice and crunchy. I didn’t make any changes to the recipe, except for adding a bit more spice to the pumpkin part and not using all of the pecan mixture (I didn’t want the dish to flow over). I also used my favorite pie dough recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. Until recently I was terrified of making pie dough from scratch, so I figured I might as well stick with one I’ve had success with. I gave the recipe a 9 for D and a 4 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.25, very good.

This week’s recipe was chosen by Vibi of La Casserole Carrée, and you can find the recipe on her site. To check out all the other Twofer pies, go to the Tuesdays With Dorie blogroll.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TWD: Arborio Rice Puddding, White, Black (Or Both)

I was pleased to see this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Arborio Rice Pudding for two reasons: 1) I think rice pudding is a very delicious and comforting food; and 2) Making rice pudding is a great way to whittle away my supply of Arborio rice. I bought a jar of it last December to make Giada’s fabulous Champagne Risotto for New Year's Eve, and have used it only one other time.

I was fortunate enough to read the P&Qs on the TWD site right after Dorie herself posted the correction to the recipe (55 minutes cooking time instead of 35!). Mine actually took closer to 90 minutes; I don’t think I had the heat up high enough in fear of scalding the milk. Even after 90 minutes, I thought my pudding still looked a bit thin, but it turned out just fine. I made the half chocolate (though I don’t think I added as much as the recipe called for) and half vanilla, and my boyfriend and I both preferred the chocolate. Mr. Penpen liked the chocolate one so much that I actually almost didn’t get a picture of the finished product; luckily I caught him before he gobbled up the entire bowl.

This recipe was chosen by Isabelle of Les gourmandises d’Isa, and you can find the recipe on her site. To check out everyone else’s ricy creations, go to the TWD blogroll.

Monday, November 10, 2008

TWD: Kugelhopf

The recipe for this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie was kugelhopf, a yeast cake originating from Alsace or Austria, depending on who you ask. I had never heard of kugelhopf, but I was certainly up for the challenge. Kugelhopf is traditionally baked in a special swirly pan, similar to a bundt cake pan. I was oh-so-tempted to buy one for this occasion, but the only one I found was $36, which I found a bit expensive for such a superfluous kitchen item. I had the good sense to ask one of my co-workers if she owned a kugelhopf pan. She did, and she kindly lent it to me, along with a fantastic article by David Lebovitz about kugelhopf and Thanksgiving. In return, she was the recipient of some kugelhopf on Monday morning.

I had good intentions to start my kugelhopf dough on Saturday and bake it Sunday morning. Mr. Penpen was a bit taken aback when I told him at 3:30 PM on Saturday that I would not have time to both run and prepare the kugelhopf dough before we had to leave for a 7:30 movie. Somehow exercising (well, and a bit of television) won and I didn’t start the dough until Sunday morning. It was quite the process: I started around 9:00 AM Sunday morning, and we sliced into it around 5 PM. I don’t have a lot of experience working with yeast dough, so I was a bit nervous about the dough rising properly, but I actually didn’t have any problems—yay! I am glad I left the house to run errands for the final three-hour rise; otherwise I might have been tempted to constantly check the progress of the dough.

I would say the kugelhopf was well worth the wait, though. My cake turned out very fluffy and moist, and I loved the rich flavor the butter and sugar soak added. The recipe receives a 10 for D and a 5 for E (all it really required was patience), giving it a solid EDR of 2.

This week’s recipe was chosen by Yolanda of The All-Purpose Girl. You can find the recipe on her site. Thanks for choosing such a great recipe! You can check out all the other bakers' blogs to see what they did here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Betting the Farm

Kale and pumpkins are two items you would not typically find in my grocery cart. Neither are potatoes, for that matter. However, Farm Fresh to You delivered these items, plus a bunch more, to my house. Each delivery of produce contains a different assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, but you don’t know what the contents will be until the box arrives, so paying for unknown produce in advance is a bit of a risk. I enjoy cooking, Mr. Penpen likes to gamble, and we both love to get things in the mail, so I figured getting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box would be ideal for us. In addition to the excitement of getting a bi-weekly produce delivery full of surprise fruits and vegetables, I also like the idea of supporting local organic farms and eating seasonally. I try to do this anyway, but there are certain vegetables that make it into my repertoire far more often than others.

The CSA box is giving me the opportunity to experiment with otherwise-ignored vegetables and appreciate simple, healthful food. I did not know what to do with kale or
rapini (also known as broccoli raab) until I consulted my copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables. I extracted tips from a couple recipes in the book to turn the two greens into a fast weeknight dinner. Basically it just consisted of sautéing the greens with onions and garlic, adding a little water and vinegar, and tossing them with pasta. This meal rated 7 for D and 2 for E, giving it an EDR of 3.5—excellent marks!

After serving as a cute fall decoration for over a week, I decided to turn the two mini sugar pumpkins into pie. I had only used canned pumpkin pie filling before, and I found it was very satisfying--and not that much more difficult--to make the entire pie from scratch. I gave the pie a 7 for D and a 4 for E, giving it an EDR of roughly 1.7. Okay, but definitely room for improvement. Perhaps by Thanksgiving?

I haven’t yet figured out if this is the most cost-effective way for me to purchase produce. (I do have to supplement it with other purchases.) I think I will take it box by box for now, and enjoy the challenge of finding recipes for the contents

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Rugelach

I am delighted to announce that I have joined a baking group. I will be joining hundreds of other fabulous bakers each week with the group, Tuesdays with Dorie. Each week the group bakes a different recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours. I purchased my copy of Baking two months ago, and have been averaging about one recipe per week on my own. I figured I may as well join in on the fun and camaraderie a group offers. I think joining the group will give me the opportunity to bake a lot of recipes I normally wouldn’t try, and hopefully meet some fellow food bloggers. This week’s TWD was hosted by Piggy of Piggy’s Cooking Journal. The recipe Piggy chose was Rugelach and you can find the recipe on her site. I never would have attempted to make rugelach, as I have never been much of a fan, but making it turned out to be a lovely way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

I followed the recipe almost precisely, though I used cranberries rather than the suggested currants and a bit less chocolate than the recipe called for. I also didn’t press the goodies on top into the dough ‘cos I didn’t have any wax paper and I was afraid of making a huge, sticky mess by trying saran wrap or parchment paper. Luckily it didn’t seem to make much of a difference; my rugelach rolled just fine. My first batch turned out a little crunchy on the bottom, due to my temperamental oven; they still tasted great, though. I gave this recipe an 8 for D and a 6 for E, giving it an EDR of 1.33. I am kind of sad I gave most of them away. I guess I’ll have to make them again soon.

I look forward to next week’s TWD!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mad Men and Casseroles

I enjoy cooking theme dinners and treats when the occasion arises. Some of the best ones have been muffin tops for the DVD release of “Seinfeld” and baked ziti for the series finale of “The Sopranos.” Mr. Penpen and I started watching the first season of “Mad Men” On Demand this summer, and it immediately became our new favorite show. Even though Season Two premiered just a couple weeks after our viewing of the first season, I decided it definitely merited a theme dinner. And what is more sixties than a casserole? We were over at Mr. Penpen’s parents’ house the Friday before “Mad Men” started, and, luckily for me, his mother had a Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book published in 1962! I borrowed it and made a classic tuna noodle casserole. Mr. Penpen enjoyed it and it was super-easy, but unfortunately, a recipe containing mayonnaise, cheese, and potato chips cannot be made on a regular basis. This recipe rated a 7 for D (deliciousness) and 3 for E (effort), giving it a pretty good EDR of 2.3.

Since we enjoyed the gooey, unhealthy casserole so much, I decided that I should find another occasion to make one. AMC had the nerve to take a one week break from “Mad Men” for the Emmys, so we had to wait a whole two weeks for a new epi. I happened to go running twice on the Sunday it returned, so I figured it was a good time for a hearty casserole. I didn’t go retro this time, instead I made a Creamy Chicken Biscuit Bake from America’s Test Kitchen’s Fast & Fresh issue. The recipe is available with a (paid) subscription via the Cook’s Country web site. I did make some modifications to the recipe (I kept all the cheese and cream, though) but I’ve read that the people at ATK/Cook’s Illustrated/Cook’s Country get testy about their recipes being printed without permission. I apologize as I do cook quite a few recipes from their magazines (which are usually available with a paid subscription online as well), therefore my blog will contain a lot of recipes that I cannot provide links to. The casserole was tasty and fed us for many meals, which is certainly another consideration when rating the effort. This rated a solid 8 for D and 3 for E, giving it a very impressive EDR of 3.33.

Speaking of which: the third casserole, made in celebration of the “Mad Men” season finale, was from my beloved copy of Cook’s Illustrated’s “Fall Entertaining” issue. This was an updated, homemade version of the classic Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole. Campbell’s recipe originated in the fifties, so I was not being entirely period specific (again). It was certainly more work than dumping a can of soup and green beans together and baking it; however, the flavor of the homemade sauce and the texture of the topping mixture made it well worth it. Cook’s Illustrated does not give free access to this recipe on their site, and I feel uncomfortable breaking their rules and putting the recipe on my blog, but I did find the same one on Recipezaar. This was certainly my favorite of the troika of casseroles. This dish gets a 10 for D and 5 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.

Now that “Mad Men” has ended its second season and we are mad for casseroles, I must start thinking of other fun theme dinners and excuses to make casseroles.