Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD: Coconut Butter Thins

I tried with this recipe.  I really did.  I have to admit, it had some strange directions.  "put dough in a gallon size plastic bag, roll 1/4 inch thick, chill in bag."  I know there are many TWD-ers out there who loved the way these cookies tasted, and got some beautiful results.  I, however, am not one of them.   My cookies filled the bag all the way and still, apparently, were not thin enough. And they just didn't look pretty. The taste was okay, just not as buttery and delicate as I expected.  Oh well, you live and you learn.

This week's recipe was chose by Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch.  Head on over to check out the recipe.  

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gai Pad Kaprow- Thai Basil Chicken

On my own again for dinner last week, I had myself another asian cooking adventure.  You see, I love all foods asian-style.  I could eat Asian food (chinese, thai, japanese, vietnamese) every day. Paul, not so much.  He enjoys a good sushi dinner or bahn mi as much as the next guy, but he isn't a subscriber to my all-asian, all the time philosophy.  Since he wasn't a factor in this dinner, I got to have my own way, which is how I like it. 

I saw this dish on Serious Eats.  It's fast, simple, and cheap, which was good since I got home late as it was. I switched on the rice cooker, got out my wok, and did some simple prep and was ready to go.  From door to table in 30 minutes or less (call me rachael ray).  

The finished dish had a the lovely saltyness of fish sauce balanced with some sugar.  I love using shallots in this dish and vow to do so more often.  This would probably be good with ground pork as well, but the chicken keeps it nice and lean.  The basil is nice and fragrant- use it in abundance to really get the true flavor of the dish. 

Gai Pad Krapow

- serves 2 -

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Chilis, finely chopped (use 2-3 serrano peppers for a very mild heat; 2-3 bird's eye chilis for a medium heat)
1 large shallot, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 pound green beans, trimmed, chopped in 1¼-inch lengths
1/2 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 bunch basil, leaves only

1. Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or large frying pan. When you can see waves forming in the hot oil, add the chilis, shallots, and garlic and stir-fry until golden, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the green beans and stir-fry until cooked but still crunchy, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the ground chicken, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into small pieces. Stir-fry until chicken is cooked through.

4. Add the fish sauce and sugar to the pan, and stir to distribute. Taste, and add more fish sauce or sugar if desired.

5. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the basil leaves and stir-fry until completely wilted. Remove from heat.

6. Serve with lime wedges

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Lasagne

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a bit different-  we were going WAY savory, and re-interpreting my definition of baking, but in a great way.  

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I was psyched to get this challenge because I have been dying to 1) make a REAL ragu, and 2) make a lasagna with white sauce.  This kills 2 birds with one stone, and I couldn't be happier.

Making pasta is kinda old hat to Paul and I, but we had never incorporated spinach into the dough, so it was interesting to see how that worked.  It was simple and tasty.  Our sheets may not have been as thin as was optimal, but who cares?

The ragu required a little more tending to then my typical tomato sauce, but was well worth it.  I bought ground bison, pork, and lamb rather then grind my own, and it worked out well.  The most interesting thing about this sauce is that you simmer the meat in milk, which makes it tender and lovely.  Really, it tasted like what I wish every meat sauce I've ever made tasted like but didn't.  I hear that chicken liver is the secret to a real ragu, so I might throw some in next time I try this.

The béchamel was simple and standard- I recommend being extra generous with the pepper and nutmeg to make it really interesting. 

If you are used to regular pasta-cheese-sauce lasagna, change it up a bit, and give this a try!

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:


A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Zahav

This review is a bit overdue, as I ate at Zahav during restaurant week in January.  So, a lot overdue.  Paul, our restaurant reviewer extraordinare, has a "policy" against restaurant week, so I went out with some ladies from work for a civilized, affordable meal.  

Briefly, the highlights:  The service was excellent.  We had a nice, chatty waiter who shared some nice stories with us about the origin of some of the more unfamilliar menu items, including a egg that is cooked in coffee. (Unfortunately for him, one of my fellow diners spent a few years living in Israel, and she claimed his story was incorrect.  But at least he tried.)   The menu was extremely generous for a Restaurant week offering: hummus or a salad salatim, or sampler, 2 mezze per person, a main, and a dessert.  4 courses over the usual 3.  

Because there were 3 of us, we got to sample a wide selection of the offered menu.  The Hummus was excellent and came with lovely house made bread called laffa.  The salad sampler had tiny portions of 8 different salads, which gave us a small but tasty bite of each. 

 After the appetizers, the meal fell flat.  The restaurant highlighted it's mezze selection: the portions were generous and they were executed competetly.  The haloumi was good, as were the borekas. The fried kibbeh was a bit over-fried. When my entree, a lamb skewer, arrived, it looked tiny. The accompanying "israeli couscous" was a joke. Overall, things were mildly seasoned, which was unexpected.  

When dessert came, I got a lemon poppyseed cake that was slightly burned on top.  It was served with lemon curd and cucumber sorbet.  I love cucumber in all forms- rum, gelato, plain, but this sorbet was too tart and didn't taste essentially of cucumber- something was off.  I had to push it aside.  

The food was solid, and better than most I have had at restaurant week, but nothing spectacular. If this is a real measure of the place, (which is seems to be based on what I have read), it disappoints.  With all the hype surrounding Zahav, I'm glad I tried it, and I don't regret spending the $35.  However, I won't be returning soon to pay full price.

Zahav on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD: Raspberry Crumb Cake

This week's recipe came at the right time- I was going to visit my friend's new baby (beautiful, adorable, Gracie!) and couldn't show up empty-handed.  Had already sent flowers, so that wouldn't do.  Bridget was bring booze, so that was out.  Too lazy to go shopping for stuff to make a casserole.  Dorie to the rescue with her crumb cake!  I swapped the blueberries for raspberries cause that's what I had, and walnuts for almonds since it goes better with raspberries.  A dash of almond extract will punch up that flavor, too.   Of course, I need to taste it, so upped the recipe and made 6 muffins for myself as well.

The muffins, which I have tasted, came out moist and tender, with a lovely crumb on top.  I would like some bigger chunks in the crumb, but it baked up golden and delicious and stayed on the cake, which is all I can ask for.  I think the recipe is a bit butter heavy, at least for muffins.  Some leached out of the bottom of my muffins and left residue on the tin- yucky.  I'd probably swap the butter our for oil if I make muffins again.

This week's recipe is brought to you by Sihan of Befuddlement.  Check out the recipe there, or on page 192 of Baking, From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: Chifa

As a devout Jose Garces fanboy and believer that Amada is the best restaurant in the city, we had little choice but to try out his latest venture, Chifa. The idea of Peruvian-Cantonese fusion is a bit of a head-scratcher to everyone I've mentioned it to, but it is historically and culturally accurate, not just the product of a fevered mind looking to fuse any old two cuisines together. Still, reviewing the menu prior to our visit, I was concerned by the absence of things leaping out at me, begging me to eat them (in either Peruvian or Chinese accents). Would my fears be unfounded, or was I setting myself up for heartbreak at the hands of Mr. Garces and the unreasonably high expectations he has saddled me with?

The restaurant inside is pleasant enough. A wall near the entry is decorated with dozens of Priceless Ming Vases on rows of shelving, and some very cool industrial-style ceiling fans hang from the ceiling of the front room where we were seated. A lounge-ier area downstairs featured a snaking row of cushioned bench seating along the wall, and when I went down to use the restroom, an extremely loud man at one of the tables. Observation, not a complaint per se: seems like the hosts were checking coats for some parties but not others; we weren't offered a coat check but saw them rushing around with exiting folks' coats while we ate.

L ordered a Lima Bean Fizz, a vodka-based concoction that was more cucumbery than Lima-y, which is probably a good thing. I went for a glass of a fairly decent Malbec, keeping with the South American theme. We skipped the tasting menu, because I have heard that at $65 it does not represent nearly the value of Amada's $45 extravaganza. Instead, we ordered a cross-section of dishes, one from almost each section of the menu, but neither of the pricey "specialties" like the $55 salt-baked fish or New York strip.

First to arrive at our table were some quite amazing warm buns, whose aroma and moist interior suggested that they had perhaps been dunked in butter after baking. They were served with a side of spiced guava butter, which L said was quite good. The texture of the buns' dough was delightful; dense, chewy, but in no way leaden, and the crisp outsides made them all the more fun to eat. If they sold sacks of them at breakfast (maybe dusted with a little cinnamon sugar?) they'd probably give any donut joint in a five-block radius a run for their money.

Our first two dishes to arrive were the shellfish ceviche and the pork belly buns. The menu's description of the ceviche as "paella ceviche" was accurate, as the chorizo and other seasonings lent a very paella-esque flavor to the silky mixture of shrimp, mussels, surf clam and peas. A side of toasted corn nuts and fava beans lent a nice textural contrast. This was the kind of thing we were expecting from a Garces enterprise.

The pork buns were a bit of a change from the dim sum standby in that the bun itself is in two pieces, a top and a bottom, unlike the usual stuffed buns. The slices of pork belly that made up the filling were an interesting departure from the usual neon-red pork amalgam that makes up the common pork bun, and the glaze was just on the cusp of being a bit too sweet. The buns themselves were nice and airy, and a very spicy mayo on the side rounded everything out nicely.

And then ... well, maybe we ordered the wrong things, but it was a steep and sudden dive into mediocrity. The anticuchos in the "bocatas" section, a trio of skewered chicken, pork belly, and shrimp, was, and I wish I could be more articulate here, lame. The chicken and pork seemed to be sous-vided to the point of textural oblivion, and the shrimp was remarkable only in its lack of remarkability. I hate to say it, but the sauces barely exceeded a bottled Trader Joe's level.

Alongside that, a beef noodle bowl, which at least was thoughtfully divided into two portions for us to share. But ... the broth was ... weird, not beefy, not soy-ish, but rather lacking in any boldness of flavor; the beef, again, braised to the point of over-tenderness. And where was the flat-bottomed Chinese restaurant spoon?

The first of our final two savory dishes was a bowl of Chinese broccoli, which was chopped into very tiny pieces and lacking in any kind of interest. Things picked up a little bit with a grilled octopus that I liked (but L did not) - a tentacular spectacular of charred octo-limbs served with a few olive-based sauces. Still, nowhere near as good as the smokey goodness of Amada's pulpo a la gallega.

On to dessert. I went for the "passion fruit and coconut", a multi-component dessert that is equal parts of those two tropical fruits, in sorbet, meringue, curd and noodle form. Other than the meringue being a little sweet for my tastes, it was quite successful. L got the "root beer float", which featured home-made root beer and a rice-studded ice cream. The nuggets of rice made for an interesting texture in the ice cream, but the root beer fell flat – literally, as it lacked the requisite carbonation that makes a root beer float so magical. The flavor of the root beer leaned in a very gingery direction that was a little unusual, but it did make sense in an Asian context. However, the real problem with this dessert was that it was served in a large brandy snifter. The tapering at the top of the glass made getting a decent spoonful out of it next to impossible.

Does it give me any sort of pleasure to be less than thrilled with this experience? Of course not. Perhaps it is the impossibly high standards that Garces continues to set with Amada that color my perceptions: nothing was bad, per se, just not as good as it could have been. The Peruvian-Chinese concept is no doubt a difficult one to address, but though I don't doubt the sincerity of the effort, I did not feel that mastery of the format was in evidence. Too many dishes were on either one side or the other – fusion seems to have eluded this menu as it has eluded nuclear physicists to date.

Maybe the kinks are still being worked out; maybe we could have ordered better; maybe it was an off night. I just wanted more, and better. I'm not sorry to have tried it, but I don't see myself going back anytime soon – why should I, when I can eat twice as well for the same price at Amada? It's a bit of a no-win situation, like the singer who debuts with a big number one hit who gets booed off the stage when they play their "newer material". But the lesson is that part of maintaining a good reputation is that you can't let yourself coast on it. If you are curious, I don't dissuade you from giving it a try. It just didn't work out for us.

Chifa on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Kitchen, My World- IRELAND

Close followers of the travels of My Kitchen, My World, might point out that we have already been to Ireland. True. But with St. Patrick's Day this week, Andrea and I (my co-host, from Nummy Kitchen), couldn't resist getting in the spirit and returning. I was knocked out by the flu this week, so plans of a big meal were stymied. However, I did whip up some Irish Soda Bread muffins to put us in the spirit at breakfast time. These turned out light and fluffy, which is not how I remember the soda bread I was given in elementary school along with irish flag jello. I made them with raisins, which is what I had, rather then the more traditional currants and caraway seeds. These are a easy, simple muffin that is at home on the breakfast table any day of the year.

I am aware of how crap-tastic my photos have been lately. 
 Fancy camera being fixed.  Back tomorrow.  Sorry to offend the eyes.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbs granulated sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ cup butter
1 cup buttermilk (lowfat is fine)
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup currants or raisins
½ tsp caraway seeds (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease small muffin tins or large muffin tins.

2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With pastry cutter or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together buttermilk and egg until blended. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in currants/raisins and caraway seeds (if using).

3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake 20 to 25 minutes (longer for the larger muffins), or until cake tester inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.

4. Remove muffin tin or tins to wire rack. Cool 5 minutes before removing muffins from cups; finish cooling on rack. Serve warm or cool completely and store muffins in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: 12 regular- sized muffins or 5 large

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lemony Baby Shower Cake- Welcome Baby Grace!!

Yesterday, my dear friends Emily and Jeff had their first child, an 8 lb, 4 oz baby girl named Grace Roseann. I am very proud to be a new auntie and as soon as my cold goes away I am going to visit her!  I hosted a small, intimate shower for Emily at the end of February, and I made this deliciously bright pink and purple cake to celebrate the occasion.  I saved posting about it until she arrived, so that I could welcome her to the world in true blogger style.  

What to write on the cake was a bit problematic.  Since her name was a secret, I couldn't put it on the cake.  My friend Marni suggested I write "Welcome to the world."  But I wrote "welcome" too big.  So I left it at "Welcome Baby!"  Apparently my friend Salim liked that so much he has been walking around randomly saying "Welcome Baby" ever since.  (You have to know him to truly comprehend that).

Lemony Baby Shower Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 1 eight-inch-round layer cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 jar of your favorite jam (I used American Spoon Blueberry Lime)


Heat oven to 350 degrees.arrange two racks in center of oven. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides of pans with flour; tap out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium speed until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating on medium speed until lightened, 3 to 4 minutes; scrape down sides once or twice. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating after each addition until batter is no longer slick, about 5 minutes; stop once or twice to scrape down sides.

On low speed, alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, a little of each at a time, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat in vanilla, lemon extract and lemon zest.

Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake 25 minutes, then rotate the pans in the oven for even browning. Continue baking until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, 10 to 20 minutes more. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool, 15 minutes. 

Turn out cakes; set on racks, tops up, until completely cool.

Remove the parchment from bottom of each cake. Using a serrated knife, slice each layer in half horizontally. Set aside the prettiest domed layer for the top of cake. Place another domed layer, dome-side down, on a serving platter. Spread 1 cup of your favorite jam in between both layers. Stack cake and frost with:

Lemony Buttercream Frosing
adapted from Martha Stewart

3/4 cups sugar
3 large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Continue boiling until syrup reaches 238 degrees.on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).

Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry; do not overbeat.

With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream, beating on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes. Add butter bit by bit, beating until spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes; beat in vanilla, lemon extract, and lemon juice. 

If icing curdles, keep beating until smooth. If this does not work, remove 1/4 of the mixture and warm in a microwave. Add gradually back into the rest of the mixture and beat until incorporated.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Aki

Back in the days when I was a-courtin' L and she was still in college, a spot she introduced me to was the sushi joint Aoi (ah-OH-ee, not A-O-I, as I'd tell her over and over) on Walnut Street. The primary draw here was the $20 all-you-can-eat-sushi. Part of the fun of this was the tension caused by the all-you-can-eat policy: no sharing, no doggy-bags, and finish everything on your plate, or you pay for the uneaten pieces. I understand this led to some comical incidents of things getting stuffed in napkins and handbags, and I only pray these stray items were found before they became catastrophically stinky. Anyway, despite the low price, the sushi could best be described as "workmanlike", and the interior was quite accurately described by one of my co-workers as "Filipino strip club". (Not that I would know - but he has been to several.) 

After a slow descent from even this barely-respectable level of quality, cheap sushi fans finally said sayonara to Aoi. Now new owners have come in, traded the "O" for a "K" in the restaurant-name Scrabble-letter sack, and emerged with the sparkling new Aki. And wouldn't you know it, it was another all-you-can-eat-deal that brought us back to try it out.

Now $25, the extra five bucks goes towards a modern atmosphere, with pleasant red and brown tones on the wall, fountains, paper lamps hanging from the ceiling, and no front end of a rusted-out car sticking out above the restrooms like Aoi had. Another catch - the AYCE is only on Wednesdays and Sundays. For less gluttonous diners and people stopping by on the other days of the week, the menu looks quite inviting, with several decent-looking sushi combos and a nice variety of cooked dishes for any raw fish-o-phobes you might be eating with.

So, the sushi. The selection for the AYCE is quite wide, with at least a dozen options for maki, nigiri, and hand rolls. Also remarkable is the size of the pieces. Aficionados of Japanese daintiness will be taken aback by the girthsome rolls and almost Twinkie-sized pieces of nigiri. It certainly changes the AYCE equation when each thing you order is 10 to 25% larger than you were expecting - so order wisely, lest you be stuck with still-forbidden leftover pieces.

As enticing as the value proposition is on the quantity of the sushi, I'm afraid quality fell into the less-than-stellar category. Nothing was outright bad, but the flavor of the fish was not as clean as it is in other spots like Raw and Izumi. Fried items, like the shrimp in the tempura rolls, had a time-to-change-the-fryer-oil note to them. The nori wrapper on my eel-and-avocado hand roll was somewhat tough and gummy. Still, again, not a bad value for the money and a definite improvement on the space's former inhabitants.

To do it proper justice, I'd like to do a return visit and try some of the intriguing-sounding special rolls, though I'll be skipping the one that's topped with pineapple salsa.

Is it worth the trip? If you're into sushi and lots of it, definitely. If you're more quality-oriented and don't mind paying a bit more, head to Shiroi Hana a few blocks away. If you want a fantastic lunch deal, go to Raw nearby for one of the bento boxes. But for raising the sushi property values on its block compared to its former tenant, this newcomer deserves praise and thanks.

Aki on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Coconut Balls

Last week, when this cookie hit our inboxes from Martha Stewart's Cookie of the Day email, my co-worker and fellow blogger (Abby of Big East Baker) and I turned to each other and nearly simultaneously said "these look so good!" Let me tell you friends, they are better then they look.  These are little puffs of sweet coconutty perfection with a bit of chewy depth from the coconut flakes that caramelize on the outside during baking.  They are reminiscent of Mexican Wedding Cakes, my favorite christmas cookie, in that they are also coated with powdered sugar while hot.  These balls of goodness don't contain nut flour, so they have a much fluffier texture.  

The recipe is simple: cream butter and confectionsers sugar, add flour, salt, and shredded sweetened coconut.  When incorporating the flour, the dough will seem too dry, but adding the coconut will make it moist and rollable.  

I read a comment on the website that these are good with chocolate- I added mini chocolate chips to half the batter- it really does taste a lot like an almond joy!

Make these.  Make them now. 

Coconut Balls
from Martha Stewart

Makes 36
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar, plus more for dusting
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter with 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Mix in flour and salt until they're just combined. Stir in coconut.
Roll dough into 1-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake until just starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Roll the warm cookies in confectioners' sugar; let cool completely.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TWD: French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze

I was really happy to see that this week's TWD pick was a nice simple quickbread that I could eat for breakfast or as a simple dessert.  I love things made with yogurt, but I am not such a fan of marmalade.  So I decided to make my own, marmalade-y glaze with grapefruit and meyer lemon.  I overcooked it a bit, so it was super sticky, and my cake was a bit underdone despite a tester coming out clean!  Bother!  But all in all, this is a tasty cake I would make again, with a delicate flavor from the almonds and citrus zest.
I have this great new fozen yogurt from Trader Joes, which is plain yogurt flavored.  A scoop of it was lovely with the cake!

This week's pick was from Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction.  Check out the recipe on her blog, or on page 224 of Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spicy Asian Noodles

I saw this dish in the "quick dinners" section of the current Cooking Light.  I was going to be on my own for dinner, so I decided to give it a try.  It comes together quickly and satisfies the craving for "asian style" I have so often.  I especially loved the simple sauce made from soy, hoisin, and rice vinegar.  I bolstered the veggie content by adding a diced carrot and diced red pepper we had sitting in the fridge.  I made it with tofu, but it is also delicious with grilled chicken breast.  Next time I will up the measurements of soy, hoisin and rice vinegar in the tofu version, as my favorite soy protein absorbs a lot of the sauce's flavor. 

Spicy Asian Noodles
adapted from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, diced small
1 red pepper, diced small
1 lb firm tofu, drained and diced
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
1 (6.75-ounce) package thin rice sticks (rice-flour noodles)
2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; cook 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Place in a large bowl. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon oil, tofu, and next 6 ingredients (through sambal).

2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain. Cut noodles into smaller pieces. Add noodles to bowl; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


These cookies are a favorite of one of my co-workers.  I realized I had never made and perhaps never even eaten a snickerdoodle, and decided that this needed to be remedied right away. These are big chewy cookies with just a little bit of spice.  Simple like a sugar cookie, but with way more character.

from Cookies by Martha Stewart
Makes 4 dozen

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line baking sheets with Silpat baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.
Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, shortening, and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine.
In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon. Use a small (1 1/4-ounce) ice-cream scoop to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after 5 minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Goat Cheese and Asparagus Tart with Herbs de Provence

Happy PIE Day!  3.14, get it??

You Want Pies with That challenged us to a herbs and spices pie.  This is one of Paul's signature creations, made earthy and herby by the addition of herbes de provence.  The lavender in the herb mix comes through in this and complements the goat cheese well. 

1 9" pie crust, your favorite recipe
1 bunch asparagus
8 oz goat cheese
1 egg
Herbes de Provence

Prepare the crust.

Cook the asparagus. Your choice: either steam for 5 or 6 minutes until tender but still crisp, then shock in cold water, or toss with olive oil and salt and roast at 425° for 15 minutes or so.

Roll the pie crust out and mold into a tart shell. Dock the bottom of the crust well and blind-bake for about 15 minutes at 350°.

While the crust is baking, beat the goat cheese, egg, pinch of herbes de Provence, and salt and pepper to taste with a hand mixer. Add a splash of milk to thin out the mixture and continue to beat until smooth.

Trim the asparagus so each piece is half the diameter of the tart shell. Chop up the trimmings and add to the goat cheese mixture. Remove the crust from the oven and add the goat cheese mixture. Top with the asparagus spears in a spoke-like fashion. Bake for 30-45 minutes until filling is set and crust is lightly golden. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tea and Pear Muffins

I've been big on muffins lately for breakfast- I have a slew of recipes in waiting that I can't wait to bake up and grab when I'm on the go.  These muffins were inspired by a recipe a while back on Apartment Therapy.  Muffins infused with aromatic tea and studded with dried fruit. I used dried bartlett pears and Russian Gold black tea.  

I also experimentec with flaxseed meal- you can use it to replace oil in recipies.  I replaced half the oil in the original recipe; as a result the muffins were halthier, but perhaps a bit gummy and dry in the long run, since oil is the secret to a moist muffin.  A nice sprinkling of turbinado sugar over the unbaked muffins added nice sweetness and crunch to the top. 

Tea and Pear Muffins
adapted from Apartment Therapy
about 18 muffins
1 heaping tablespoon loose leaf tea
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped dried pears
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons loose leaf tea, crushed fine in a processor or with a mortar and pestle (optional)
1/2 cup oil (or 1/4 c oil, 3/4 c flaxseed meal)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Heat the oven to 400°F. Prepare two muffin pans with liners or just set out 18 souffle cups like we did.
Boil a kettle of water. Pour 1/4 cup of boiling water over the tea leaves in a small saucepan. Let them steep for three minutes, then add the milk and simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour more boiling water over the dried pear and let them soften while the tea is steeping.
Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients, including the crushed tea leaves. In a separate bowl beat the oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla and lemon zest. (if using flaxseed, add it to the dry ingredients) Take the tea milk off the heat and strain. Mix the milk in with the other wet ingredients. Then drain off all the water from the pear;  they should be very soft and spongy. Mix them into the wet ingredients.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together just until combined. Using a big tablespoon (the utensil, not the measuring spoon) drop heaping spoonfuls into the muffin cups. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes then lower the heat to 325°F and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
Let cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before eating.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Tre Scalini

There will always be room for the Italian-American "red gravy" restaurant in South Philly, but what of Italian-Italian food? Well, it's been around for a while now, but there's a case to be made that the Passyunk Avenue BYOB Tre Scalini is South Philly's standard-bearer for a taste of the old country.

Housed in the spot that once was home to the sadly gone and lamented Trattoria Lucca, Tre Scalini is a little less adventurous in its cuisine than its predecessor (no pork chop with blueberry sauce here), but the virtues of simplicity, freshness and quality show through. The space is nothing fancy, and we were seated on the second floor which feels a little more like a catering hall than a restaurant, but the food sets a high mark.

Our shared appetizers included polenta topped with broccoli rabe and a plate of burrata with speck, each simple but flavorful. Our charming and loquacious waiter talked us into a pasta course - a "specialty of the house" consisting of home-made black squid ink tagliatelle with crab meat. The pasta was really excellent and appropriately portioned, so that we all got a taste but didn't get loaded down with starch before our entrees.

The focus of the entree course at Tre Scalini is undoubtedly veal. From a large bone-in chop to a filet served with mushrooms, the baby cow gets much love and respect with straightforward, impeccable preparations. Of course, I got the branzino, served with capers that gave the fish a smokey undertone. L's eggplant, breaded and topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, was a lighter rejoinder to the typical red-gravy eggplant parmigiana.

My dessert was an ultra-light tiramisu (and a near-perfect espresso) - other standouts were an affogato prepared tableside, tartufo, and a cupcake topped with chocolate gelato.

The menu is not huge, but prices are very reasonable, and if you like Italian food at all (who doesn't?) you'll be sure to find something you like. Tre Scalini does things The Right Way, and that's the highest praise I can give them.

Tre Scalini on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TWD: Lemony Custard Cups

To call this dessert "lemony" is a bit misleading.  Lemon-scented, or lemon-kissed, maybe, but not lemony.  It does taste good, but more of a simple custard with a hint of lemony goodness, no the full on citrus assault one might hope for. 

On the TWD website, a lot of people were complaining about the eggy taste, although these people also claim to not like flan.  I didn't have a problem with it.  In fact, it was nice and light, with a cool, smooth flavor.  I think it would be awesome to try it with a lemony sugar bruléed on top, or a lemon syrup, poured over flan-style. 

This week's recipe was chosen by Bridget of The Way The Cookie Crumbles.  Check out the recipe on her blog, or on page 387 of Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spinach Calzones and Festa Italiana

Given our recent (relative) success with pizzamaking, we decided to give pizza's cousin the calzone a try. These spinach, ricotta and romano-filled beauties couldn't be any simpler. Baked on a pizza stone, they come out crispy and baked through in less then 10 minutes.  One area that needs some improvement is the seam where the folded-over dough meets itself – it's hard to get the edge of the dough circle thin enough to prevent an excessively thick and doughy seam area. Something to work on for next time.

Pizza dough (we used the recipe from the Silver Spoon - 1 1/4 C flour, 1/2 C water, salt, 1/4 oz yeast - knead them all together with a dough hook for 10-12 minutes and let rise for 3-4 hours)
Spinach (we used "adult", i.e. not baby spinach)
Crushed red pepper (optional)
Olive oil
Parmesan/Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 475° with a pizza stone in the oven, if you have one. Saute spinach in olive oil over high heat until wilted. Remove from heat and add thinly sliced garlic, salt and red pepper.

Stretch out a round of pizza dough as thin as possible. On one half, spread a few tablespoons of ricotta and top with some spinach. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of grated cheese. Fold over to form the calzone and press the seam to seal. Make a few steam vent slits in the top and slide into the oven for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

We're submitting our Calzones to Festa Italiana, run by Maryanne of Finding La Dolce Vita and Marie of Proud Italian Cook. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review: Butcher & Singer

Anyone who's been living in Philadelphia for the past few years has no doubt noticed that the city is quickly being colonized by steakhouses. From chain outposts like Del Frisco's to the indie but über-luxe Union Trust, there is no shortage of people looking to trade you half a C-note for a thick piece of beef. Why, it's not hard to imagine a tanker truck of creamed spinach overturning on the Schuylkill, or an iceberg lettuce wedge shortage afflicting the region.

Once again, Stephen Starr to the rescue! Clearly the way to address this situation is to ... open another steakhouse. Even though he already has Barclay Prime. On behalf of all of our colons, thanks, Steve. So how does the Butcher stack up?

Like most Starr endeavors, B&S is organized around a central gimmick. In this case, it's "old-timey steakhouse". Any doubt in our minds that they were serious about this theme was erased when we saw our waiter's outstanding mustache. Aside from such facial hair considerations, there is a distinct old-fashioned vibe to the place, in contrast to Starr's other steak joint, Barclay Prime, which is more like some kind of library from the set of 2001.

Anyway, down to business. Appetizers: something they call "salads" are available, and L had one of these; an asparagus-themed plate of vegetation ringed with chopped eggs and capers. Since these salads sounded suspiciously vegetable-y, I opted for a half dozen oysters, which I must say were the finest briny specimens I've ever slurped down.

So, the steak: mine was a New York strip, served as simply as possible on a plate with a sprig of parsley for garnish. The crust was exquisite, not too salty, but a great complement to the medium-rare, well-marbled beef within. For $40, not too bad, especially when there's leftovers to take home for steak and eggs the next day. L, being the dainty feminine type, went for the filet mignon, which was also good despite being a wholly inferior cut. If we wanted to have it both ways, we could have sprung for the $74 Porterhouse for two, which in retrospect would have been a fine idea.

The requisite creamed spinach was delicious, if a rather small portion, and the stuffed hash browns were addictively crispy and Parmesany. For dessert, we split a fine apple crumble.

Complaints? Well, we did feel a little rushed through our meal by our mustachioed friend -there just wasn't a lot of time between courses. A relatively minor problem, but hey, these guys have little room for error when we can take our carno-dollars to Del Frisco's, or Capital Grille, or Union Trust, or Table 31, or any of the other joints willing to broil us up a slab o' meat. So maybe this steakhouse explosion will have a useful effect by separating the meat from the gristle and letting market forces decide the ultimate winners. Blood, whiskey and competition - does capitalism get any better than this?

Butcher and Singer on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Kitchen, My World- SPAIN

My Kitchen, My World is back- and this week we're going to Spain!  I'm pretty excited, because after eating some amazing food there over Christmas, I'm finally ready to recreate some of it myself!

P and I made two dishes we had on the tapas trail in Madrid.

The first is crispy, crispy potatoes made with smoked paprika and topped with a fried egg.  I was kind of suprised to see it on the menu in Madrid, but I sure was glad it was there because it was awesome!  A heart attack on a plate, but awesome none the less.

A truly classic tapas dish is Garlic Shrimp.  It's as simple as making a flavorful, garliky olive oil and giving the shrimp a quick cook.  They are imbued with delicious flavor, and the leftover oil is great for dipping bread, too. 

Huevos Estrellados
Olive oil
Smoked paprika

Chop potatoes into medium-sized dice. Heat 3-4 tbs olive oil over medium-low and add potatoes and a sprinkling of salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to keep potatoes from sticking. When potatoes are golden brown and crisp on the outside, sprinkle with smoked paprika and toss to coat. Remove potatoes from pan, draining excess oil. Break desired number of eggs into pan and cook until whites are set. Top potatoes with eggs and enjoy!

Tapas shrimp
Olive oil
Crushed red pepper

Shell and devein shrimp. Heat olive oil and minced garlic together over low heat for 5 minutes to infuse oil. Turn heat up to high and add remaining ingredients. Toss frequently until shrimp are opaque and serve!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Tasty Bits, March 6th

Here's what I've been drooling over this week . . . 

An ingenious idea for muffins about to go stale from Baking Bites

Serious Eats brings us a quick and easy thai inspired dinner.  Can't wait to make it!

I'm a huge fan of Trader Joe's.  The Kitchn posted this fan's fake commercial about the place.  Love it!! When I played the song for P (without the video) he could tell immediately what it was about. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, Big East Baker!

Yesterday was the birthday of my friend and co-worker, Abby of Big East Baker.  If you follow her blog, you know she is a big fan of PITT basketball, so for her birthday she got basketball cupcakes.  I'm pretty proud of my recreation, although I realized it would be even more fun t just draw lines on an orange.  Not as unhealthy though. 

These cupcakes were delightfully vanilla-y.  Using a vanilla bean makes a big difference, although i snuck some extract in there too.  I used a standard buttercream, colored orange and black for the icing. 

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
from chow.com
makes 24 cupcakes

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, seeds reserved (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
Salted Caramel Frosting


Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 (12-well) muffin pans with paper liners. Alternatively, coat the wells with butter; set aside.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until very light in color, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla seeds (if you’re using vanilla extract instead, you’ll add it later), and continue beating until mixture is airy, about 3 minutes.
Scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer to medium speed, and add egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add milk (and vanilla extract, if you’re using it in place of seeds), and mix until combined (the mixture will look curdled, but it’s not). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, and mix until just combined, about 15 seconds.
Fill the muffin wells about halfway, and bake cupcakes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Set the pans on a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from the pans and let cool completely before frosting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snow Ice Cream

Sunday night and Monday brought the biggest snowstorm of the season.  6-8 inches of snow falling all night and all day only means one thing around here: SNOW DAY!!  Having grown up in California, snow is still a novelty, and all things snow related still trigger the 8 year old in me, at least for a while.  (Ok, a lot of things trigger the 8 year old in me, but whatever.) During the last big snow, I had read about snow ice cream, but all our snow was too dirty at that point for consumption.  This time I remembered, and filled a nice size bowl with clean stuff. 

P was skeptical, but I made up quite a tasty batch while he shoveled the sidewalk.  It was simple and tastier then either of us expected.  

Below is the recipe I based mine off of, although I didn't have exact measurements of anything. I used half and half which we had in the house, it made it extra creamy.

Snow Ice Cream
from allrecipes.com

1 gallon snow
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups milk

When it starts to snow, place a large, clean bowl outside to collect the flakes. When full, stir in sugar and vanilla to taste, then stir in just enough milk for the desired consistency. Serve at once.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Armangac Cake

This is a cake with a great story behind it.  When working in a restaurant, Dorie changed the recipe of a chocolate whisky raisin cake unbeknownst to everyone else in the kitchen.  People loved the cake, but she got fired for being creative.  I made the original version of the cake, with almond flour, raisins and scotch, because I had those ingredients around. 

This cake is simple and sophisticated, rich and fudgy, and just plain good.  Those of you who are skeptical of raisins and chocolate (I personally hate raisinettes), eat this cake to be proven wrong. 
Yet another reason why I love TWD- I would never make this cake on my own, but I now see it as a great end for a fancy dinner party. 

This weeks' recipe was chosen by Lyb of And Then I Do the Dishes.  Check out her blog for the recipe, or pg 281 of Dorie's book,  Baking, from My Home to Yours.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

R2R: Ricotta!

This month's Recipes to Rival challenge is super special- because I got to host!!

I decided to challenge my fellow bloggers to think outside the box a bit and make their own cheese!  Regular readers may know that I dabble in cheesemaking, and I find that soft cheeses are super-approachable and turn out delicious!  

After making the cheese, I asked everyone to make someth
ing of their choice- I went with a simple zucchini involtini that makes a q
uick and delicious weeknight supper.  I had plenty left over, so I added it to a simple arugula salad and dressed it with meyer lemon juice and olive oil.  
Fresh Ricotta
you'll need:1 gallon milk (you can use 1 percent on up, remember that the more fat in the milk, the more cheese it will yield.)
1 quart buttermilk

-cheesecloth (a good, tightly woven one, not the kind you buy at the supermarket)- If you don't have one of these, you can get by with a slotted spoon, but you may lose some of the cheese.

-a thermometer (mine is for oil and candy)

Place buttermilk and milk in a pot, heat on med-low heat until it reaches 185 degrees.

It will begin to separate into curds and whey. Be sure to stir occasionally to make sure no curds stick to the bottom and burn. You will see that as the temperature approaches 185, the whey becomes clearer as the curds coagulate more.

Pour the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang for 10-15 minutes. Remove from cheesecloth and place in an airtight container.

Voila! Cheese!

Some tips:

use can use milk that has been pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra pasteurization heats the milk too much, and de natures the proteins that form curds. You will not get cheese from ultra pasteurized milk. Sorry.

make sure your pots and other equipment are very clean before starting

you can make any amount as long as you stick to a 4 parts milk to 1 part buttermilk ratio.

The involtini was made by grilling slices of zucchini and rolling it up filled with ricotta mixed with a little salt and fresh choped parsely.  Dust with breadcrumbs and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.