29 November 2008

Sweet and Salty Bacon Carmel Cupcakes

When I saw the Shuna Fish Lydon recipe that Dolores, Alex and Jenny picked out for this month's challenge I wasn't that excited. Carmel Cake with Brown Butter Icing just didn't sound like my thing and as my fellow Daring Bakers kept talking about how overwhelmingly sweet the cake turned out, I realized I would have to try to get creative on this one. It's not that I don't like carmel or browned butter but sweet has never been my preferred flavor and that seemed to be what this cake was about. I like my chocolate dark, fruits tart and sugary icing kept to a minimum. I was trying to decide what I could do to keep to the original recipe yet provide a counterbalance to the sweet carmel and icing when I hit upon bacon. Now I am not the first one to put bacon into a dessert or even a cupcake but I will admit I felt pretty daring doing it.

I decided to mix crumbled bacon directly into the cupcake batter so Zach cooked up a pile of bacon on baking day then it was time for me to get to work. First off, I made the carmel. A lot of bakers posted about the problems they had with this step, so I read over some helpful instructions and got to work. I stood over the boiling sugar keeping a close watch (and had bucket'o ice water handy in case of emergency) but brought the carmel to the smoking point without problem. It was sort of scary to pour the water into the boiling carmel, but a strainer perched on top of the pot prevented any spillover or splashing.

Next I put together the batter which was relatively simple compared to past challenges- cream butter and sugar, add dry wet dry and done. I spooned some plain batter into the prepared tins and then crumbled in the bacon. I did have some last minute hesitation, worried that I was going to wreck a whole recipe but went ahead with it anyway. As the cupcakes baked, I browned the butter and made the frosting. I had a little taste of the frosting before I iced the cupcakes and I'm very glad I did. It had a nice consistency but I couldn't really get over the browned butter flavor. It was so strong I found it almost offensive and just piped a tiny bit onto each cake and topped each with a sliver of bacon.

For the moment of truth I invited M&S over (you remember M--, he gave me the romanesco). They were a bit leery of the bacon in the cupcakes but we all pulled off the wrappers and had a bite. Success. Everyone liked the bacon cupcakes. The smoky, salty flavor of the bacon balanced out the overwhelming sweetness of the carmel cake. The cake itself turned out a beautiful golden texture and was really moist, thanks to all of the sugar. S-- and Zach liked the frosting much more than I did and piped some extra onto their cakes.

Will I make this one again? No, I don't think so but I will be trying bacon in other desserts in the future.

25 November 2008

Another Perfect Party Cake

I ended up baking a birthday cake on short notice this weekend and returned to what is now and old favorite, Dorie Greenspan's perfect party cake, the one that I made as my first Daring Bakers Challenge. This time I made the full four layers and it came out so well that I thought I'd share the picture with you. 

If you're looking for a cake to make for a group- this one is it. Lemon, berries and coconut look beautiful and are a great alternative to the typical vanilla and chocolate combos plus the cake is pretty easy to make and the full cake serves about 20.

One quick tip-- less is really more when it comes to the jam filling.  I sort of overdid it on this one.

24 November 2008

Cranberry Prosecco Cocktail

This recipe was on the back of a Cuisine at Home magazine a few years ago. It seemed like just the kind of drink to start Thanksgiving off with-- bubbly and festive but not too sweet and actually rather sophisticated. It's delicious and I will give you the recipe as written with only two further thoughts:

1) This only makes enough for about 6 drinks- I'd advise on a double recipe.
2) Don't discard the fruit pulp after you've squeezed the juice out of it. As my dad and I discovered it's delicious and can be served with your meal as a relish.

One last thing- the photo is part of the image that appeared in the magazine as I didn't have any photos of my own. Recipe after the jump.

Cranberry Prosecco Cocktail
Serves 6, easily doubled
From Cuisine at Home

1.5 C. fresh or frozen cranberries (reserve 6 berries)
1 C. cranberry juice cocktail
1 C. sugar
juice and peel of one orange
1 bottle Prosecco or your favorite sparking white wine

- Pulse cranberries and juice in a food processor or blender until the berries are roughly chopped.

- Add berry mix, sugar and juice and peel of the orange to a small saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until syrupy. Strain syrup and cool to room temperature.

- When ready to serve add 1-2T. syrup to your glasses than top with the sparking wine. Add a reserved berry and serve.

Two tips- use a fine mesh strainer to strain the syrup and don't chill the syrup, leave it at room temperature or it will thicken.

What is it?

I apologize for the lack of posting lately. I actually have been cooking but I haven't quite figured out how to shoot in the light in the new house and all of my photos are turning out to be blurry, discolored messes. In addition, my computer has a bad cold and refuses to upload anything at the moment so I have to find alternate sources for pictures uploading.

My friend M-- offered to pick me up a romanesco at the farmers market this past weekend and since I'm never one to turn away food, I happily took him up on the offer. I'd heard of it and seen a few pictures online but nothing prepared me for my first encounter. It was sitting there in M--'s kitchen, perched on a rather nice looking cutting board. The fractal nature of the romanesco looks even stranger in person and 3-D than in a picture. I was actually afraid to touch it as it sort of looks like it should have hidden spines or something...

M-- assured me that it wouldn't bite and I very gingerly picked it up and couldn't stop staring at it. I was really acting sort of rude as M-- and I were talking and I just kept staring at the romanesco like a crazy person. I was listening to M-- though and got from him both some cooking tips and the factoid that romanesco is not some genetically engineered super plant, but an old variety from Italy.

I followed M--'s advice and cut the romanesco up into florets and steamed it for a few minutes until just tender. Zach and I dipped it in olive oil and grapefruit juice (I didn't have a lemon on hand). Though I was a little nervous about taking the first bite, the romanesco was really good. It had more of the texture of cauliflower but with a nuttier, fuller taste. I would definitley make it again but I might take M--'s other suggestion and get a head of romanesco to use as a centerpiece next time I have people over for dinner.

17 November 2008

Potato and Onion Tortilla (Spanish Omelette)

Third in the brunch series.

Aside from the muffins and the laban, I thought I needed something a little more substantial for the brunch. I wasn't expecting anyone to come starving because of the time-frame, but I didn't want anyone to leave hungry. A Spanish omlette seemed like the perfect solution, but given my
history with them I was a little nervous trying it out for company. The Joy of Cooking book that I'd been using had a recipe for one and I decided to give it a try, with a few modifications along the way...

The recipe called for a substantial amount of olive oil (step number one according to a friend who lived in Spain) and a fairly low egg to potato ratio. It also called for cooking first caramelizing the onions onions, then cooking the potatoes in a skillet on the stove. As I had other things to do in the kitchen that night and as I was making a double recipe and felt like getting to bed before 2am, I decided to tempt fate by cooking the potatoes and onions in the oven. I finely sliced the onion, then peeled and sliced the potatoes as thinly as I possibly could. I spread them out over 2 baking sheets (since I did a double recipe) and liberally poured on the olive oil, salt and pepper. I roasted it for about 35 minutes at 400F, stirring every 10 minutes or so for even browning.

Then I beat the eggs in a large bowl and mixed the potato onion mixture with the eggs. I think this was a key step and once I was definitely missing the last time around. This ensures an even coating and that you won't have a really dry section of the tortilla. I heated up my cast iron skillet and trying to silence my inner monologue about trying to reduce fat, poured about a quarter of an inch of olive oil into the pan. I've had disasters in the past combining eggs and cast iron and really did not want to have one at 10pm that night. Once the pan was nearly smoking, I poured in the egg mixture and then turned the heat down. I could see the oil come up around the sides and was duly horrified but the tortilla slid right out of the pan when it was done.

The next morning I warmed the tortilla in the oven, then cut it into wedges and set it out. Judging
from the fact that there were no leftovers, I think everyone liked it.

Potato and Onion Tortilla (Spanish Omelette)
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking: Party Foods

1lb. (450g) potatoes, peeled
1/2 lb. (225g) onion, cut in half and sliced
2 T. (45ml). olive oil (plus more for frying the tortilla)
salt and pepper
5 eggs

- Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the onion in half and slice it into thin half moons. Peel the potatoes and slice them as thinly and evenly as you possibly can. Spread the potatoes and onions out on a large pan, pour on 2 T. of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix until everything is evenly coated. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the onion is soft and golden, and the potatoes are beginning to brown. Remove from oven.

- Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Carefully add the potatoes and onions to the eggs and stir to coat.

- Put an oven safe skillet over medium high heat with about 1/4 in. (1/2cm) of olive oil in the bottom. When the oil just started to smoke, pour in the onion mixture. Use a spoon to even out the mixture in the skillet and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the tortilla begins to set. Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes or until cooked through (no jiggling eggs when you shake the pan. Carefully slide the tortilla out of the skillet and serve, or cool and refrigerate for the future.

13 November 2008


Second in the brunch series.

I went to the library to study last week and one of the books on display caught my attention. It was a Joy of Cooking book about party foods and since I knew we were going to have people over, I grabbed it on the way out. A lot of the recipes were a little too fussy for what I was looking for but the Laban, homemade yogurt cheese rolled in paprika and mint, kept catching my attention every time I flipped through the book.

My grandma, who was perpetually watching her cholesterol, used to make yogurt cheese but I hadn't had it in years. It's really simple to make, just take plain yogurt and let it strain for a day on the counter, then transfer it to the fridge to firm up overnight. Then it's ready to use. Laban (at least my version of it) has the consistency of softer cream cheese with a creamy, tangy taste. It's yogurt, but it's not yogurt at the same time, as the flavor has deepened. The sweet paprika and mint coating made the laban look great on the plate and added an unusual but delicious flavor. The laban went over really well- I will be making another batch in the near future.

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 18 grape sized balls

2 C. plain, lowfat yogurt
1.5 t. salt
1 T. sweet paprika
1 t. crushed dried mint
Equipment: bowl, mesh strainer, cheesecloth (or coffee filters)

- Line the mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or two layers of coffee filters. Place the strainer over the bowl. Mix the yogurt and salt and pour into the strainer. Fold the cheesecloth over the top, or place a coffee filter on top. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

- Place a few coffee filters or paper towels on a plate. Turn the cheese out onto the plate and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. The cheese will be slightly dry on the outside.

- Mix the paprika and mint. Form balls of the cheese (I did mine grape sized) and roll in the spice mix. Serve immediately.

12 November 2008

Apple Cinnamon Muffins and an Occasion

What's the occasion? Well my 102nd post on the blog and the first time (besides moving in) that we've had more than 4 people over to the new house. I'm really proud to have gotten up to 102 posts and I have to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read my blog. Everyone who has emailed or posted a comment- thank you, I really do love hearing from you. I started this blog as a way to force myself to write down recipes instead of just making something once and really wishing I could recreate it. In the past 8 months I have made some old favorites and found some new one thanks to all the great food bloggers out there. There is so much out there to cook I really have no excuse to ever say 'I don't know what to make for dinner'. I'd also to thank my fellow Daring Bakers for coming up with challenges that always push my baking abilities to the limit. So- thank you everyone.

Besides the blog milestone the other occasion was a sort of drop by to see the house brunch we had on Saturday. With everyone schedule's starting to get crazy at the end of the year Zach and I decided to have an early open house that friends could drop in for. I wasn't exactly sure how many people would come by or when, so I wanted to make some light brunch food that could sit at room temperature for a few hours. Since I am not a morning person (understatement of the year) I also wanted to make and prep as much as I could on Friday night, so I would have as little to do on Saturday morning as possible. Muffins were a natural choice as I could make the batter the night before and bake them in the morning. I made a few other things, which I'll be posting about later in the week.

These muffins are based on the basic recipe in Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food. I substituted milk and vinegar for the yogurt the recipe called for and added the apples and spices. This recipe will make 24-30 muffins, depending on how big you like them but you could easily split it in half or double it. It's perfectly fine to mix up the batter at night and store in the fridge (well covered) till morning. When it's time to bake the batter up, scoop it directly from the bowl to your greased muffin tins and do not stir the batter!. Stirring will cause it to deflate and leave you with leaden muffins.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins
Makes 24
Adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown

Wet Ingredients:
1.5 C. lowfat milk
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 C. vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 C. (205g) sugar (yes the sugar is a wet ingredient here)

Dry Ingredients:
4.5 C. (606g) all purpose flour
4 t. (20g) baking powder
2 t. (6g) baking soda
fat pinch of salt
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. ground ginger
10 grates nutmeg

1 lb (450g) apples, chopped into small pieces (I did mine in 1/4 in. cubes)

- Baking prep (the day you will bake the muffins). Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a muffin tin or two.

- Put the first 7 dry ingredient in a bowl and mix with a wisk till well combined. Add the apples and stir to coat them with flour.

- In another bowl mix the wet ingredients till well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wisk until just combined. The batter will be slightly lump and may have a few dry spots but this is ok.

- Fill you muffin tins, filling each up about 3/4 or all of the way. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

- Carefully remove the tins from the oven and flip each muffin onto its side in the tin by inserting a butter knife on the side of the muffin and using it to gently turn the muffin. This will allow steam to escape and prevent soggy muffins. Serve immediately.

11 November 2008

Pumpkin Spice Mousse

Ever since K* got a pumpkin spice cupcake at Baked and Wired a few weeks ago and let me try a piece, I have been completely obsessed with pumpkin desserts. This is a totally new phenomenon for me, as I've never really liked pumpkin pie so I've been on the lookout for recipes. I found one for baked pumpkin custard in an Argentinian cookbook I have that I really wanted to make for some friends but life intervened and I knew I just wouldn't have the time to do it right.

I started searching for faster pumpkin dessert recipes and came across one for a pumpkin mousse by Alton Brown. It was on a short video clip on the Food Network website and was the kind of recipe that I almost never make (involving canned pumpkin and instant pudding mix) but since it was an Alton Brown recipe I though it would taste all right. My grocery store didn't have the pumpkin spice pudding mix he called for, so I substituted vanilla and added my own spices. To dress it up a little I made some spiced walnuts for the top too and crushed up a few gingersnap cookies for a texture contrast.

The mousse was what I always want pumpkin pie to be- light and creamy but with a distinctive pumpkin and spice flavor. No one I served it to had any idea that it was just canned pumpkin and pudding mix and everyone loved it. This recipe is so ridiculously easy I know I'll be making it again. Recipe after the jump.

Pumpkin Spice Mousse
Adapted from Alton Brown
Makes 6 servings

1 C. heavy cream
1 14 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/3 C. milk
1 package vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground allspice
5 grates fresh nutmeg*
1/4 C. spiced nuts for serving (optional)
a few crushed gingersnaps for serving (optional)

- Whip cream to soft peaks.

- In a medium bowl wisk together the pumpkin and milk, then add the pudding mix and spices and stir to combine. Fold in the whipped cream- it's ok for it to be a bit streaky, I think it gives it a homemade look.

- Spoon the mousse into custard cups, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours and then serve with the spiced nuts and gingersnaps. Keeps well in the fridge for a few days too.

*If you happen to have pumpkin pie spice in the house you could use it in place of the spices.

06 November 2008

Indian Spiced Chicken Bites

Did I really promise to post this one a week ago? Well, a few things have happened between then and now and we've got a new President elect. The entire time I've lived in the DC area has been under one President so I'm very interested to see what happens to the city when a new administration comes in. I'm picturing a mass exodus of staffers and lobbyists and an influx of new ones... But I will get back to the point of this blog, which is food.

To go with the curry I made last week I wanted to make some kind of protein. I had initially thought to make spiced tofu, but the local grocery store didn't have any and I really didn't want to bike to the grocery store as it was raining and dark and I was starving. Instead I bought a boneless, skinless chicken breast. I tend to think that this cut of meat has very little flavor so on the ride home I tried to think of what to do with it.

I wanted something with Indian flavors to go with the curry and remembered that a former Indian roommate of mine once marinated chicken in spiced yogurt and it was settled. I used another Alton Brown recipe initially intended for salmon as the base, changed it up a bit to use what I had in the spice cabinet, and stirred in some Greek yogurt. I cut the chicken into chunks and let it marinate for about half an hour while I fixed the rest of dinner, then broiled it.

It smelled delicious and the quick cooking under the broiler allowed it to brown slightly while not overcooking the meat. The yogurt spice mix gave just the right amount of flavor and tang to the chicken and it went perfectly with the curry. It would be really good on a party buffet too, instead of the usual chicken skewers.

Indian Spiced Chicken Bites
Makes about 20 bites

About a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bit sized chunks
3 T. Greek style yogurt
2 t. vegetable oil (optional)
1/2 t. salt
1/3 t. fresh ground black pepper
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. onion powder
1 clove garlic, mashed into a paste
cayenne pepper to taste

- Prep the chicken by removing any excess fat and cut it into chunks.

- Mix the remaining ingredients into a bowl. Give the mixture a taste to see if you like the spice balance before you add any chicken. Once the mixture is spiced to your liking, add the chicken and stir to coat. There won't be a lot of the spice mixture but it should just coat all the chicken pieces. Let sit for 30 minutes (if you have the time).

- Preheat your broiler to high and prep your broiling pan with foil. Arrange the chicken on the broiling tray with some room in between each piece. Broil for 4-5 minutes on each side or until cooked through and lightly browned. Serve immediately.