Archive for March, 2011

Mango =

Posted in Fruit, Mango, Soup on March 30th, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

Last summer I was craving some lazy, pre-sliced mango from Whole Foods. When they didn’t have any lazy mango for me, I told myself it’s not the end of the world, I can buy a whole mango and slice it myself. But when they didn’t have mangos… at least not what I knew of mangos – those red/green roundish fruit – I was nearly defeated. I had to buy one of these yellow things they called some sort of mango I’ve never heard of and…

I’ve never looked back. I hunted these things down, at Whole Foods, at Uwajimaya, since they don’t seem to be sold in everyday grocery stores. I made my own “pre-sliced” mango to eat at work. If I was to convert this to a recipe it would look like:

  • Peel mango
  • Slice

I even found out what that weird curved knife in the knife block was for, other than ‘that knife you use when all the others are dirty’.


Well mango season must be back because I was excited to see these on display at Whole Foods and immediately grabbed up a couple. But just a couple days before I also bought an everyday old mango at Safeway because they were on sale and I thought ‘why not?’

Well Everyday Old Mango was starting to look kind of shriveled and even less appealing than Yummy Yellow Mango so tonight’s dinner started out as a ‘how can I use this stuff up before it goes bad?’ search and ended with an amazing discovery – Curried Mango Chicken Soup.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 mangos, peeled, flesh cut away from the pits, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche, plus extra for garnish
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

One of the biggest cooking tragedies is to plan a meal around a certain item, build yourself up to the idea, and after you’re showered and pajama’ed with no intentions of going back out, to find out you don’t have it. (This is surpassed mostly by the experience of pouring yourself a nice bowl of cereal and finding out the milk’s gone bad.)

I was sure I had a can of chicken broth, as well as the leftovers in the fridge, instead of leftovers being that can I was thinking of. I ended up trying to do a vague thirding of the recipe, since I only had one mango anyway, and figured I’d end up with more of a mango curry chicken stew than soup (which is assuming that stew is just a less soupy kind of soup.) Actually what I did came out perfectly, with only one cup of chicken broth, to make a single serving bowl.

This then became known as the recipe where I used every cutting board in the kitchen. Because first I peeled the mango to make sure it was still good before going any further.

Mango peeled but not yet chopped.

Then the chicken… I keep saying I hate working with raw chicken and it’s still true. I was about to compliment the chicken pieces I had for being small and easy to work with until I realized I had accidentally bought breast tenders. They always have this strip of tendon or something going through the middle (I assume that’s the ‘tend’ in ‘tender’). Do people actually eat this or is it just my aversion to “icky bits” that has an issue with it? After some careful chopping this is what I came up with.

All icky bits removed.

Instead of a large onion I used a very small onion, which required a third cutting board that was neither contaminated by chicken or mango juice.

With more careful planning this could have been all one cutting board, but then again that’s why we have a dishwasher.

I also have no creme fraiche, but I decided, before seeing their own suggestion to do so, to use coconut milk in its place.

Directions:

  • In a large saucepan over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the curry powder and cinnamon, then heat for 30 seconds.

Thirding teaspoons is too complicated so I went with 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon in a drizzle of oil. This smelled amazing when it started to cook.

  • Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onion as well as any oil and seasonings in the pan to a blender. Add the mango and 1 cup of the broth to the blender, then purée until smooth. Set aside.

I used 1/4 cup of broth, just enough to add some liquid. We don’t actually own a real blender so the immersion blender gets used for everything these days.

It excels at turning things into a goopy mess.

  • Return the empty saucepan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and saute until browned and cooked through. Add the remaining broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any stuck bits and seasonings. Bring to a simmer.

It didn’t look like it would be a lot, until seeing how much soup the liquid mango goop would add.

  • Pour the mango purée back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.

For the record, a “gentle simmer” shouldn’t bubble out of the pan and hurt you. The soup and I needed to have a discussion about what “gentle” means, before I turned down the heat.

  • Stir in the creme fraiche and lime juice, then season with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving with cilantro and an extra dollop of creme fraiche (if desired).

I added 1/4 of (lite) coconut milk… and then another 1/4 cup for the “garnish”, because coconut milk is good, and “lite” coconut milk is just watered down normal coconut milk. In fact you can save money by buying coconut milk and watering it down yourself, but we can never even use up a whole can in time once it’s been opened. I now need coconut milk recipes in the next few days or the rest of the can is being wasted.

I was really, really impressed at what came out of a throw-together meal. The only issue with my variations is it was light on the chicken, the actual chunky bits that make soup feel like a meal. Then I realized I could just cook up the rest of the chicken I had. I rescued the tenders from their fate in the freezer – to sit frozen until too old to remember if they’re too old to eat and be thrown out (it feels less wasteful than to admit this and throw them out at the start) – extra cold but not frozen. I cooked the chicken in the pan the same as before, adding some cinnamon for flavor, and then just dumped it all in the bowl.

Questionable Cod

Posted in Cod, Fish on March 29th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

This cod is actually questionable for two reasons.

First, when I was cleaning out the fridge at work to bring home the groceries I bought at lunch, I realized my cod wasn’t in there… my cod had in fact been sitting in my car for the last three hours. However it was at (or below) refrigeration temperature outside, the fish was still completely cold to the touch, so I decided to keep it and give it the smell test when it was time.

During a phase of what I used to call my “mystery illness” (and now know is Ulcerative Colitis) I was extremely paranoid about old or questionable food, thinking I must have a very sensitive stomach. Now I’ll find myself thinking things like, ‘What can happen, it’ll make me sick? How will I know the difference?’ For the record, I’m the least paranoid about fish – I think (although I could be wrong) that it’ll be already be inedible by the time it’ll make you sick, and I eat fish raw under the right circumstances. I still hate working with raw chicken the most, and hate how my experiences with salmonella tasted so good to give no warning.

So if I live to make this posting it was all good. [Actually I’ve lived about three weeks already, since back when the temperature was cold enough to pull this off.]

The second reason is that the recipe I used, Cilantro Lime Cod, got such a mixed bag of reviews.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds cod or flounder fillets
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat margarine, melted

The first commenter said, “Do not substitute a thing and this will be a fantastic taste explosion when you eat it!!!” (Note the three exclamation points – it must be good.) However why would I go out of my way to find dried onion when I have fresh at home? This is the only dried onion I know of to buy, and it’s a pretty recent addition to their collection as far as I’ve seen. So I “substituted” a slice off the onion that’s been in my fridge a few days, figuring that counts as a little “dry” by now.

Directions:

  • Place each fillet on a 15-in. x 12-in. piece of heavy-duty foil. Sprinkle with pepper.

Totally forgot about the pepper… I guess I substituted the pepper with no pepper.

  • In a small saucepan, saute onion and garlic in oil; stir in cumin. Spoon over fillets; sprinkle with cilantro.

I wrapped it up nicely, forgetting the next step that I did go out of my way to buy a fresh lime for:

  • Place lime slices over each.

Since the negative comments seemed to complain that cooking the lime came out bitter, and I had two pieces, I decided it was a good opportunity for a side-by-side comparison. One piece I layered with lime slices as instructed.

The other piece I just squeezed some lime juice onto. I mean, I would like to say I juiced the other half of lime instead of grabbing the squeezy bottle of juice since that would have made much more sense than leaving half a lime unused, but my mind seems to be elsewhere tonight. At least it made the experiment more authentic to what I’d normally do in the kitchen.

  • Drizzle with margarine.

I was actually going to go ahead and use the margarine, despite being a butter person, but Andrew had his own dinner mishap and had a pan of melted butter that needed to be put to use. It was even browned slightly by the time it was mine so extra fancy.

The recipe said to cook for 35-40 minutes but that seems like an excessively long time for a thin fish. I cooked until I started smelling fish, I’m guessing 20 minutes.

The commenters were right – the piece with just juice was perfect, nice and cumin-y. The other did have a bitter taste where the limes touched, not so much to keep me from eating it but I wouldn’t cook it that way again.

Vodka Pie Crust

Posted in Dessert, Pie on March 27th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Similar to how we’ve built a respectable spice rack, Andrew and I are working on building an adult-level liquor cabinet… well a liquor under-the-sink at the moment. The cabinet will happen when we’re adult enough to own a house as well. The surprising thing is it’s how much we’ve built up just through cooking – various wines and sherry, sake, mirin, brandy, and some bourbon I have reserved for a future recipe. Even the leftover Guinness from the flavor-tripping party I plan to use to try to recreate the Beef and Guinness soup I had on St. Patrick’s Day.

For the party, Andrew made a couple pies for real food, and to try out some experimental pie crusts. The first was a strawberry rhubarb pie with an olive oil crust. The olive oil is frozen into solid before working with it.

The second was my discovery, vodka pie crust. The vodka replaces part of the water causing less gluten formation, making the dough easier to work with while still staying flaky.

I’ve made a couple chicken pot pies in the past, and maybe I’ll do it again for the sake of blogging about it in the future, but after the last time I’ve decided that if I’m going to make someone a chicken pot pie then I have to really like them. The chopping vegetables, cutting raw chicken, cooking and making two workable crusts leads to an exhausting pie-shaped meal.

Well Andrew went and showed me up with his own found recipe that used a whole chicken (which has the bonus of not having to cut up raw chicken.) The recipe also made too much for a regular sized pie pan so there was some leftover filling. So I used it the next day, with my silicone pan, to make a mini pie and try out the vodka crust for myself.

Pie crust is such a fickle thing that I’ve been afraid to experiment after finding my own simple version that works (flour, shortening, water). Being out of shortening I had to follow Andrew’s butter recipe completely which he had modified to use the vodka.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • ice water
  • freezer-temperature vodka

I’ve always blended my pie crusts by hand with a pastry blender but again following Andrew’s recipe, I used the food processor. I wasn’t sure if it was worth having the extra equipment to wash, until I realized that doing it by hand still leaves a dirty bowl and utensils in its place.

The food processor is definitely worth it if you have one.

Directions:

  • Blend the butter and flour together first
  • Add water and vodka, a tablespoon of each at a time

It took two tablespoons of each for me. The strange thing is it won’t look ready until you touch it and find it sticks together.

The picture above turned into this.

Rolling it out is where the difference really showed. It was somewhat stretchy, instead of tearing on a whim, which made it especially easier to stuff into my not-exactly-pie-shaped silicone pan.

This

went into this.

Then while that was in the oven I had to do the true test of pie crust – my tradition of rolling out the leftovers and baking with cinnamon and sugar. Vodka pie crust is a winner, both to work with and to eat, but it does change the taste slightly even though it’s said that the alcohol bakes out. So for passing on the tradition, I’ll probably have to stick with the old recipe when we someday have our own kids involved.

“I feel strange…” Flavor-tripping party and strawberry lemonaid

Posted in Drinks on March 20th, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

For Andrew’s birthday today he hosted a flavor-tripping party, a party based around eating miracle fruit (ours came from tablets found on thinkgeek.com instead of the fresh berry) and eating strange foods. The miracle fruit temporarily changes your tastebuds to make sour and bitter taste sweet.

One of my contributions to the party was sparkling strawberry lemonaid, one batch made normal and one without any sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 6 lemons
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups simple syrup
  • 1 (16 ounce) container strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1 quart sparkling water
  • ice cubes
  • mint for garnish

It was actually the mint garnish that made this recipe stand out, since with the AeroGarden now we have an excess of mint to use up, as well as getting to play with the immersion blender. However, I had to go out of my way to make sure we had ice in the freezer.

Directions:

  • Roll the lemons back and forth a couple of times on the counter to release the juices. Cut the lemons in half juice into a bowl. Remove any seeds that may have fallen into the juice. You should get about 1 cup of lemon juice.

For last year’s Pi Party I made some lime tarts. Squeezing a lime by hand isn’t a big deal, or two or three, but after a whole bag of limes I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to first buy one of these nifty little items that are in most people’s kitchens, the juicer. I was in serious pain the next day. Today my arm was a just a little tired after going through the whole bag.

I was working at my desk to leave kitchen space for Andrew’s pre-party preperations.

  • Using an immersion blender or regular blender, blend the strawberries with the 1/2 cup of the simple syrup, until smooth.

Immersion blenders are fun!

  • Pour lemon juice, strawberry puree, 1/2 cup simple syrup and sparkling water into a pitcher. Add more simple syrup if you want a little more sweetness

I blended directly in the pitcher so no extra pouring. Immersion blenders are fun!

  • Place more ice cubes in a glass, pour in chilled lemonade, garnish with mint sprig. Enjoy!

Oops, no ice.

I’m going to admit that picture was staged with leftovers after the party. Too many people and chaos for posing and garnishing and taking pictures during. You can’t tell from the picture if it’s sweetened or not, or even actually a mix of the remains of the two revived with a bit more club soda.


Now my experience with the actual miracle fruit:

First it made the unsweetened lemonade taste like the normal version. It was a good test of when it was wearing off.

Grapefruit was the winner overall. Bitter white grapefruit tasted sweet and perfect. I would eat grapefruit every day if it tasted like this.

I didn’t try the lime myself but Andrew said it tasted like limeade.

Lemon was actually ruined for me – I love sour food and I’ll eat lemons plain, so the miracle fruit made it taste like bad artificially sweetened lemonade.

Kiwi fruit, radishes, bleu cheese, none of these changed in taste for me except for slightly less bite on the radish. Andrew said similar about the cheese.

Guinness, Andrew had read, was supposed to come out tasting like liquid chocolate cake so that was a disappointment. It came out tasting not necessarily bad but not something I’d want to drink intentionally. Same reaction to coffee concentrate.

Salt and vinegar chips turned into salt and something-that’s-not-vinegar-and-doesn’t-belong-on-chips.

Tabasco sauce was a bad experience – I had mistakenly thought it also took away the hotness. I had to eat more cupcakes to make up for it.

Sour cupcakes, cupcakes explicitly made for miracle fruit, were the most interesting because while under its influence they tasted like regular cupcakes and without it tasted like someone had accidentally messed up the recipe and left out something important.

While they weren’t the most amazing cupcakes ever even with the miracle fruit, I felt sorry for the couple leftovers and popped one of the tablets to eat another cupcake while we were cleaning up. There was still something quite pleasant about them, especially the frosting, which I haven’t been able to place that makes me we want to keep eating them.

I guess a lot of the reactions were a ‘can’t quite place this’ feeling. What do you call vinegar that doesn’t taste like vinegar, drunk out of a wine glass? The tastes change but the smells don’t.

Strangely people said the miracle fruit made my (real, sugared) brownies come out bland instead of sweeter. The raspberry brownies, they said, they only tasted like raspberry and not chocolate.

Near the end of the party I started feeling strange in a way that makes my Alice In Wonderland stickers feel appropriate. My mind was anticipating a sugar crash but I hadn’t actually consumed that much sugar! I just hope I didn’t eat anything today that I’m going to regret tomorrow.

Guacamole recipes are all the same… sort of

Posted in Spreads/Dips on March 18th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Avocados are kind of like herbs I realized – I always want them on hand for cooking, both spontaneous and planned, but always have to worry about using them up before they go bad. What would be ideal for me, I’ve decided, is a little avocado tree right next to the AeroGarden (as soon as someone invents one of those for me, that is.)

I’ve both been promised a family guacamole recipe from a friend and want to ask a coworker for his that was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, but neither of those were happening quickly enough to deal with the large avocado I had sitting at home which had to be used that night or risk losing it.

On top of that I had left my phone at home that day! I can’t believe how lost I am without that thing. It’s not only my connection to the outside world (while I’m in the outside world, yes you can call my redundancy on that) but I don’t know how I lived before pocket Google. How do you look up what you might be missing for a recipe when you’re already at the store?

Well I started by trying to find some actual guacamole to look at the ingredients list but unfortunately Safeway only sells “guacamole dip”, which is essentially green-flavored sour cream with corn syrup. Finally I was able to find a packet of powdered mix next to the avocados which didn’t seem to include anything special that I didn’t already have.

I did look online once I got home but no recipe really stood out over another. If had to pick one, I’d say I was most inspired by Alton Brown’s guacamole, because of the cumin.

Directions:

  • Throw stuff in immersion blender cup and blend

Stuff:

  • Avocado(s)
  • Chopped onion
  • Cilantro
  • Minced garlic
  • Cumin
  • Lime juice
  • Kosher salt

My guacamole still came out on the goopy side. I think I’m using either too much lime juice or not enough avocado. I tried to bulk it up by throwing in the rest of the onion (I didn’t put in the full amount originally afraid of it being too oniony) and more cilantro.

The Alton Brown recipe said to leave it at room temperature for an hour but said nothing about fancy bowls, so I left it to sit, as is.

Ultimately I was too impatient to wait a whole hour. The end result, “Oh hey, guacamole tastes a lot better on tortilla chips than rice cakes.” I think it’s the salt, both on the chips and in the guac.

Blue Cheese Asparagus

Posted in Asparagus, Vegetables on March 16th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

My simple dinner plans were some pre-seasoned pork chops from QFC, Mexicano flavored. I love these but can’t recreate the seasoning on my own so I’m stuck buying them whenever I see them for sale. I just throw them under the broiler, so to use up the leftover asparagus from the Pi Day quiche I went looking for an asparagus recipe I could broil at the same time.

My end recipe was very loosely based off of California Asparagus with Blue Cheese
and Pine Nuts
which looked to be a a restaurant menu item but actually is some kind of official asparagus web site’s menu suggestion. When I saw ’24 servings’ I though I’d have to cut this thing way back, but the ‘Per order’ starts “arrange 3 asparagus spears on a serving plate.” Three!

Ingredients:

  • Asparagus, trimmed and blanched
  • Finely chopped shallot
  • Red or white wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Firm blue cheese
  • Pine nuts, toasted
  • Salt
  • Pepper

I do have a bad habit of overcooking my vegetables, but since mine were being double cooked I was able to limit myself to blanching for 30 seconds, about the time the asparagus started to smell green.

I had a high shallot to asparagus ratio because I tend to mistakenly hold back on them, afraid of overdoing it.

I used the red wine vinegar option, mostly because between the two that’s the one that gets the least used in our kitchen. I cut back 1/3 cup of each the vinegar and olive oil to 1/4, and then cut that back slightly to under the lip of the measuring cup. I mixed all that together and spooned over the asparagus which fit perfectly on my little broiler pan.

I was hoping we still had pine nuts left over from the pesto because there was no way I was paying over $7 for that itty bitty bag. We didn’t, so I chopped some walnuts since they’re supposed to be a pine nut replacement in pesto itself, and sprinkled on top.

It was looking pretty at this point so I took a picture prematurely, afraid that adding the blue cheese would ruin the look. It didn’t.

I threw this into the oven with the pork chops and cooked until the chops were done.

I added some more cheese at the end as well. Yummy.


…until Andrew ruined it by asking if I had anything I wanted to fry. He’s been playing with his own beer batter for fish and had leftovers. I had more raw asparagus left and thought, wouldn’t that be tempura? My first tempura. Beer batter tempura.

Tell yourself you want the light oilve-oil drizzled, fancy vegetables all you want but once you have them deep-fried in batter you’re ruined for life… or at least the rest of the evening. In the end I threw in another handful of asparagus, some broccoli, and a single brussel sprout just to see if you could. I’ve managed to find a new favorite way to eat vegetables that’s even unhealthier than covering them in cheese.

Happy Pi Day

Posted in Dessert, Eggs, Pasta, Pie on March 14th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

For any non-math-geeks, March 14 = 3/14 = 3.14 = Pi! A day to be celebrated by eating pie and other foods that come in the shape of round.

Andrew and I host a yearly Pi Day pie party, but being on a Monday and during his finals week we planned this year’s to be small and low-key. So for a mini-party I decided to make mini pies. My lesson this weekend, between the cupcakes and the pies and quiches, is that making things smaller isn’t necessarily easier than making them normal sized. More trouble than it’s worth, you might even say.

First, I used the silicone bakeware my mom sent as a gift to try out small raspberry pies, since I happened to have a large bag of raspberries in the freezer already.

Of course the recipe is given for a full-sized pie so I had to guess and cut it to 3/4, thinking that would fill two. I used:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups raspberries
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

I upped the tapioca slightly since the three-quartering came out to an awkward almost two tablespoons and I read that people tended to add more to keep the pie from getting runny to begin with.

These are actually meant to giant muffin pans so stuffing a pie crust in there wasn’t easy. Pie pans are shaped like pie pans for a reason I guess.

Directions:

  • Mix together the raspberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt until raspberries are well covered.
  • Pour into 9 or 10-inch pastry shell. Dot with butter, top with crust.

Turns out that 3/4 of a recipe fills exactly one cup, so I mixed up another batch exactly the same.

I totally forgot about the butter until it was too late, and realized later that lattice crusts are for cherry pies not raspberry. Well it saved me from rolling out another crust because I could just use the scraps left over.

  • Bake in a preheated 425 degrees F oven for 15 minutes, then at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes.

The worst part was not being able to taste-test ahead of time, although the lattice crust let me sneak a knife in and taste the filling.

Not pretty, but yes it tasted better than it looks.


Next I attempted to make some mini-quiches using these adorable little tart pans I picked up at Bed Bath & Beyond a while back, right after Andrew and I went to Pie in Fremont and were obsessing over the idea of making mini pies ourselves. I used the pans themselves to cut out the crust circles so the crust didn’t go all the way up, but i didn’t think that would matter for something so small.

I used my original quiche recipe for the base (3 eggs, milk, margarine and flour) and planned to add different ingredients to each set of two. After making the first two, the traditional broccoli and cheese, I noticed a problem…

My pans had pop-out bottoms and were leaking.

I added aluminum foil under the crusts, and was even able to salvage the filling from the first two, but they were determined to leak foil or not. I threw it all in the oven and hoped for the best.

It’s like flat quiche with a side of omelet… Left to right that is smoked salmon with onion and parsley, bleu cheese and asparagus, and broccoli and cheese. I had high hopes for making single-serving sized freezable qiuches for work lunches but I’ll have to find a better pan. Maybe that one above with the raspberry pies will do!


Finally I planned to recreate Pie’s macaroni and cheese pie. I originally intended to use the other two cups in the silicone set but I didn’t know how to get the already-cooked pies out without making a mess. So I gave up on the mini theme and brought out the regular pie pan.

I basically used the baked macaroni and cheese recipe I wrote about recently, and baked it in a pie crust. I poured the pasta into the empty pie pan first to get an estimate (around half a box), used one egg and a large handful of cheese from each bag. Then I topped with Panko which also served as a “top crust”.

Again we had to wait to try the finished product.


Now for the best part of making pie… I had all kinds of leftover crust bits to make my favorite part of pie… more crust! Tradition as a kid was always to roll out the leftovers, top with cinnamon and sugar, and bake on a cookie sheet.

The other great part is you no longer have to worry about making it look pretty or stick together, as long as you can get it on the sheet. Andrew didn’t grow up with this tradition but he doesn’t seem to have a problem helping himself either.

Mmmm… pie (crust)

Mini Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Posted in Cupcakes, Dessert on March 13th, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

The best cookie ever invented, in cupcake form – this is something I had to try.

Since my homemade snickerdoodles cookies are small compared to the ones you’d buy, I imagined the cupcakes in mini form as well. Going by the cute little Easter motif, I must have impulse bought these mini cupcake cups around a year ago, despite not owning a mini cupcake pan to use them in. I solved that problem at the grocery store while stocking up on baking supplies this week.

The recipe I followed says it was adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. Without going through a full side-by-side comparison I don’t see the difference other than the frosting, but I agree that the blogger’s cinnamon cream cheese frosting is a much better choice than Martha’s which uses corn syrup and warns to use right away because it hardens quickly. That’s frosting for photos, not for eating.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted

I don’t know why I had to go out of my way to buy cake flour, or what the difference is, but since the recipe explicitly states both I thought I’d better comply. This was the only not-self-rising cake flour I saw and the ingredients look pretty standard for flour.

  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon, plus 1/2 teaspoon for dusting
  • 1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Real cooks, I know, read their recipes all the way through and plan ahead. For the rest of us, I sometimes wish there was a warning that popped up a couple hours before we decide to start baking, “by the way, you’re going to need to take your butter out of the fridge.” I think I should start marking my personal cookbook that way.

  • 1 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for dusting
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cups milk

Of course I don’t see the room temperature eggs either until the butter is ready… oh well, they got to sit out until needed.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon.

Well when I opened that box of cake flour, it smelled like… a pastry kitchen. There must be something to this special flour after all, I decided. The box said it was pre-sifted so I skipped that step at least.

  • With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low.

I feel guilty saying that it took this long to use a gift, but it was waiting for the perfect time… well this was the time. I made cupcakes in our new KitchenAid mixer and I’m in love. I’ve been doing most of my mixing by hand, and have only used electric hand-held mixers in the past. This thing really does the work for you. The manual warned that the mixing time will be shorter than most recipes give, and I haven’t yet turned the speed higher than 2 (the one higher than ‘stir’).

  • Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.

Our mixer came with this plastic shield that looks like it was meant exactly for this kind of thing.

  • Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.

    The last time I made cupcakes I was told I filled them too full and came out with more muffin-cupcakes. I don’t see what’s wrong with muffin-cupcakes to begin with, but with the mini ones you really need to fill them close to the top or you’ll have practically nothing when they’re cooked.

    This was my first set so I was still learning. Some of these should have been filled higher. There also must be a secret to getting cupcake batter into the pan without making a mess… I’d like to learn it.

    • Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

    Again because of the size I started the timer on 10 minutes. My toothpick.. er… “cake tester” came out clean but I wanted to be sure I was cooking them long enough so I kept putting them back in the oven until I hit the full 20 minutes. They seemed to be a little gooey no matter how long they were cooked, wanting to stick to the paper when peeled (something that was partially resolved by not being so impatient and waiting for them to cool overnight first.)

    They were being especially weird by my last batch. These aren’t toothpick holes but how they baked.

    In the end this is mishmash of cupcakes I came out with. I put them in airtight containers overnight before making the frosting since they are intended to go to work for my coworker’s birthday (and some semi-biased taste-testing).

    She gives the frosting recipe on the page as well. Again note the ‘softened’ parts ahead of time. I made this in the KitchenAid as well and then had to put the bowl in the fridge to frost later because I think I let my cream cheese and butter get too softened.

    • To finish, combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar. Pipe frosting on each cupcake. Using a small, fine sieve, dust peaks with cinnamon-sugar.

    I had to make due with a plain old knife for frosting, and my cinnamon-sugar shaker to dust with. Someday I’ll invest in piping bags and the like but I’m still not bothered by the homemade look on cupcakes. Ultimately I decided it would be a better idea to take them out of the paper before frosting so they could be grabbed and eaten instead of making a mess at that size.

    I think I’m waiting on some other opinions before I can say for sure what I think of this one. The snickerdoodley-ness and that frosting are both amazing, but they are strangely textured for cupcakes. I probably should have stuck to the original before changing things because I don’t know if that’s a side effect of mini size or just how they were meant to be.

    Pesto mashed potatoes

    Posted in Garden, Pesto, Potatoes, Vegetables on March 3rd, 2011 by admin – 3 Comments

    Pesto night came upon us again and this time I was able to take a picture of the aftermath.

    For some reason when I get an idea, I have to Google it to validate it… and then become disappointed that I’m not the first to think of it. Things like ‘I wonder if you can make pesto mashed potatoes.’

    Yes you can, and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect, doesn’t need a recipe. I certainly didn’t follow Rachel Ray’s recipe, which explicitly says “1 cup prepared store bought pesto”. (Andrew says she doesn’t cook, she assembles things.)

    Coincidentally I did use the red potatoes in her recipe.

    I almost feel like this should be saved for a token St. Patrick’s Day post because this looks like such the typical “let’s take a normal food and turn it green for the holiday”.

    I didn’t do anything special except add a bit of milk to make it mash easier so it tastes… exactly like pesto and mashed potatoes would taste, if they happened to be mixed together, instead of sitting next to each other. Nothing special, but not bad if you really need a new idea for all that pesto.

    The harvest: Tri-basil Pesto

    Posted in Garden, Pesto, Spreads/Dips on March 2nd, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

    The basil in the AeroGarden went crazy despite our best efforts to throw basil into practically everything we cooked. Macaroni and basil? Sure. Tuna salad and basil? Why not? That meant it was time to make pesto. In fact Andrew’s theory was that pesto was invented just to use up the insane amount of basil that grows on a plant. I think he is right.

    I thought I took an “after” picture for comparison but it’s too late now since the garden looks pretty much the same again. More pesto coming this week.

    Andrew gets full credit for actually making the pesto, using this recipe:

    Ingredients:

    • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
    • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    This was a “tri-basil pesto” because we used leaves off of our three plants – genovese, globe, and lemon basils. Genovese is the traditional pesto-making basil. Next time I’m planning one type of basil, since pesto is still good, but more other herbs we actually want to use. Cilantro please!

    I don’t remember off the top of my head, but knowing Andrew he wasn’t content to stick to one kind of cheese either and must have used his three-cheese Italian blend. The little bag of pine nuts seems more authentic than walnuts, but was pretty expensive for what you get.

    Directions:

    • Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

    • Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

    Watching Andrew do the “to taste” part, I realized that phrase never really caught on in my head except for making cheese sauce. I have to remember how that works… or let the husband cook for us more.

    Served with some fancy bread… and finished on pasta the next day.