Sunday, December 28, 2008
Eighteen pages. EIGHTEEN pages. That's how long the Word .doc of this recipe was. Of course, most of those pages were filled with variations and specific layering directions... This challenge definitely pushed me to try things I'd never done before. There were only 2 elements that I didn't make numerous times. lol
This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. From what I understand, the recipe was originally written in French and had to be translated to English.
My only issue with this was the measurement conversions. Being a novice baker, I'm used to volume measurements of 1 cup or 3 teaspoons. Weight measurements are not part of my knowledge base. In making the recipe, I found that certain elements would list a weight and a volume for an ingredient, and the next element would list the same weight but a different volume or vice versa. Since I don't own a kitchen scale, I was forced to use the volume measurements.
I think if I were to make this again, I'd use a different glaze for the outside, and I'd probably venture away from the standard dark chocolate mousse and ganache, and vanilla creme brulee. I think this recipe would work really nicely with cherry, raspberry or orange flavors mixed in with the chocolate.
Sorry for not getting any pictures of the inner layers, but between peeling off the rubbery glaze and fighting with my lighting issues, I cannot manage to get a decent picture of anything lately. Hopefully, once Christmas has been paid off lol, I'll be building a lightbox and playing around with my camera some more. :)
Check out the Daring Bakers' Blogroll for some much nicer-looking, more artistic yule logs!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
So now that the craziness of Christmas is over, there's tons of leftovers... in our house, there's not usually leftovers of Christmas dinner or anything like that. Our leftovers? Cookies, cookies and more cookies.
Like I said before, I'm not a Christmas person. I try really hard to stay cheery, but really I'm not a fan. After I made the chocolate chip cookies a couple of weeks ago, I started to feel a bit more chipper, and decided my neighbours could use a bit of a sugar rush. There are a couple of neighbours that I'm particularly friendly with, so I decided to make a small box of cookies for each family.
All of them got the same cookies, but the boxes were somewhat different. One family has an adorable little boy, who's maybe 2 1/2 years old, so I gave them extra chocolate chip cookies. Another family has a golden labrador that my pup loves to sniff through the fence, so I gave them a baggy with some of the homemade doggy treats that my pup loves. The last neighbour couple got extra of each kind of cookie, because they share fresh-picked fruit with us and I share my fresh-picked tomatoes with them. Being the youngest couple in our neighbourhood, I look up to some of the other couples and feel grateful for the good neighbours we have.
So I did some fairly standard cookies this year, and only 2 of the recipes were family recipes. (Most of my family's recipes would have taken me the whole week to make, and I only decided on Christmas Eve to give cookies. That's the procrastinator coming out again.) Aside from the chocolate chip cookies, I also made my grandmother's recipe snickerdoodles, which was supposed to be made with all vegetable shortening. Despite trying to stay true to my grandmother, I had to deviate and use butter for half of the fat. These cookies are perfectly soft and tasty, but do NOT overcook them or they turn crispy. Snickerdoodles shouldn't be crispy!
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3-4 Tbsp. sugar
3-4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cream together butter, shortening and first amount of sugar. Scrape down bowl and add eggs one at a time, scraping in between each addition. Add vanilla, mix in well.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking powder, and salt. Add slowly to butter-shortening mixture.
4. In a small baggie, mix together 3-4 Tbsp. sugar and 3-4 tsp. cinnamon. Roll rounded tablespoons of cookie dough in mixture. Place on baking sheet, 2 in. apart.
5. Bake 8 minutes exactly. Remove from pan and place on wire cooling rack immediately.
Another fairly standard Christmas cookie in my house whipped shortbread. I make it every year and try a different method every year, because this recipe makes such a soft cookie, I can't pick it up without it literally melting in my fingertips. If that softness alone doesn't sell you, just try these subtly sweet little gems with a cup of hot tea. They are absolute heaven!
Whipped Shortbread (adapted from Chow Times):
1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. icing sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or 1/2 of a scraped vanilla bean)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix together butter, sugar, salt, cornstarch and flour. Pulse your mixer or handmixer, to keep from being covered in flour (aka "the flour monster"). Mix until smooth. Add extract and vanilla and mix well.
3. Whip batter for 10 minutes, until it looks like fresh whipped cream.
4. Place batter in either a pastry bag or a plastic baggie with the corner snipped off. Pipe batter into 2 inch disks, 2 in. apart. (Chow Times has an excellent visual of how these look when piped.)
5. Wet your finger and gently press down the points of the cookie (if these are left sticking up, they'll burn). OR you can place a piece of candy over the point before baking.
6. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until very lightly golden brown. Remove and let cool on the sheet. (I have a hard time getting these to cool on a wire rack without falling apart.)
And last but not least, I had to make the ever popular gingerbread cookie. I've used a different version every year, and I'm still on the fence about this particular recipe. It's tasty, but it doesn't taste quite the same as others I've had. I'm wondering if it's the type of molasses I used... wasn't blackstrap but the acidity is a bit much.
One part of these cookies I loved was that I got to use Royal Icing for the first time! I have so much Royal Icing left over, I've been tempted to just eat it by the spoonful. *shifty eyes* Yes... only tempted...
I got the RecipeZaar.com link to this recipe from Em, The Repressed Pastry Chef. Her little people are obviously much nicer, but I happen to like my psychadelic coloured man, the abstract tree and my version of a 70's gingerbread man. :-D The Royal Icing recipe is from Williams Sonoma, and the only deviation I made was to use Wilton Clear Vanilla Extract and Gel colors.
Sorry for being so late with jumping on the Christmas cookie bandwagon, but at least it happened! lol Hope everyone had a great holiday season!
Click here if you're hungry!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Since it's getting closer to Christmas, I've been thinking of what to do for my pup. Hubs is easy to buy for, in-laws are a bit harder, but the pup? He's pickier than a teenage girl on a budget! He won't eat certain foods if they're not chicken-flavored... he refuses to chew things if they're "too" hard.
Well, I stumbled upon Sugarlaws' blog a couple of months ago. Lo and behold, she's also a dog owner... after reading her entry about homemade dog treats , I knew exactly what I wanted to do for my little guy.
Homemade Peanut Butter and Cheddar Puppy Treats! (adapted from Sugarlaws)
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. peanut butter
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 c. skim milk
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In one bowl, mix together peanut butter and milk until blended. Mix in cheese.
3. Mix in flour and baking powder. Pulse slowly, or you'll have flour all over your face, your arms and your kitchen cabinets.
4. On a floured smooth, clean surface, pull together dough and roll out to 1/4"-1/3" thickness (I made mine a litle thicker so they wouldn't be too hard). Cut out with cookie cutters or a small glass, or even just cut into cute shapes with a sharp knife.
5. Place treats on parchment lined baking sheet (or greased cookie sheet).
6. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
The recipe is so insanely easy, and I'll say it- I wanted to try them. And I did. I mean, come on! The ingredients are things most people devour in heinous amounts anyway.
Besides, if I think they're ok, then obviously the pup will snarfle them down. If you don't believe me, just try a half batch and tell me they aren't a decent little snack for your pup... or yourself. And hey, if your little guy sees you eating it and then you share, he'll feel extra special, right? :)
Friday, December 19, 2008
So I recently joined the Foodie Blogroll, which is an amazing network of tons of food bloggers from around the world. If you peek at my sidebar, you'll see the cute red and orange box with all sorts of fun Foodie links. :)
Can I tell you how excited I was to find out that the forum associated with the Blogroll does a monthly cooking challenge? I love The Daring Bakers, but I love cooking too, so finding the "Royal Foodie Joust" had me hopping like a crazed bunny! The winner from the previous month picks three ingredients, then the people cooking have to come up with (or re-make) a recipe using those items. However, this month was pre-picked, to honour a "My Caribbean Cookbook: Tastes Like Home" from Cynthia at Tastes Like Home.
What did I have to work with, you ask? Coconut (or coconut milk), rice, and bananas! Simple enough right? HA! While my recipe turned out wildly delicious, it was not the prettiest dish in the world. You've been warned... lol
Coconut milk risotto with candied brown sugar bananas
2/3 c. arborio rice
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1 can coconut milk + 2/3 can of water (heated together in a small saucepan)
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
1 banana, peeled and sliced diagonally
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
For the risotto:
1. Melt butter in skillet. Toast arborio rice in the butter for about 2 minutes.
2. Add coconut milk+water 1 ladle full at a time. Stir after each addition, until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid and a line remains when a spoon is drawn through it. Never ever ever ever leave the stove or stop stirring. Not only is risotto tempermental to begin with, coconut milk adds the extra concern of scorching.
3. Once all of the liquid is added, add in the sugar and vanilla.
4. Take off heat and let cool. You can add in another 1/2 Tbsp. of butter if you want to.
For the bananas:
1. Melt butter in a small skillet. Stir in brown sugar, and let bubble slightly.
2. Toss in banana coins and toss lightly until coated. Cook over low for 1-2 minutes.
3. Let cool, until the sugar has rehardened slightly.
4. Top risotto with sugared bananas.
I know he's not the most attractive thing to look at, but he's got personality, right?! That's what my mom always said mattered most... :)
Thursday, December 18, 2008
So I'm not really a health nut. Sure, I don't typically have chips or store-bought cookies or soda/pop hanging around my house. I'd just rather eat an apple, pomegranate or tortilla chips instead. I've already gotten enough grief from my girlfriends for being a "healthy eater". :-P You know who you are. *points menacingly*
Little do they know, breakfast in our house consists of some pretty fattening, but oh-so-delicious baked goods. From homemade cookies to cupcakes to leftover cheesecake to my current obsession- sour cream coffee cake. I'd had this tasty cake in several coffee shops before, and my grandmother used to make a fantastic lemon blueberry version. (Sadly, that was one recipe she failed to write down and no one can remember her measurements, so it went with her to the big kitchen in the sky.)
While the recipe I used this time around resulted in a magnificent cake, it will never measure up to my Maw-Maw's. But dang if it doesn't try...
This particular attempt is using a recipe from AllRecipes.com. Most of the coffee cake recipes I've looked at seem to follow a trend, so if you have one you love, I'd love for you to share it! :)
Because I can never leave well enough alone, I tweaked the recipe slightly. In the batter, I used 1 1/4 c. of low-fat sour cream. Low-fat sour cream is a little sour for me to eat, so it's perfect in a baked recipe like this one!
For the middle layer and topping, I was feeling too lazy to chop up the walnuts (because I never buy chopped walnuts- I always buy whole since we just eat them as snacks anyway). Instead, I used 3 Tbsp. brown sugar mixed with 2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon- half was sprinkled in the center, the other half was spread out over top.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened (I have a tip for you at the end!)
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. sour cream
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
For middle layer and topping:
6 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350%deg;F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9" x 9" cake pan (I use a square Pyrex dish that gets used more than it probably should.)
2. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until "fluffy". It'll look like a very light creamy, grainy paste.
3. Add eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition. Add vanilla extract.
4. Add sour cream, again scraping down sides and bottom of the bowl.
5. Dump the flour, baking powder and baking soda on top of the liquid mixture. Stir the dry ingredients lightly with a fork before letting the mixer incorporate it into the liquid.
6. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon with a fork to completely incorporate.
7. Spread half of the cake batter into the bottom of the prepped dish. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon-sugar mix over the batter. Spread the other half of the batter on top, and sprinkle the remaining mix all over. If you don't use nuts, it will cover the entire middle and top in a pretty even, thick layer.
8. Bake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a long toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (no batter on the bottom).
9. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a dish/cake plate.
If you wanted to use chopped nuts in the cinnamon-sugar mix, I would highly recommend either walnuts (high in Omega-3 remember!) or pecans. And so help me, if you say "pee-can", I'll reach through the monitor and smack ya. This Southern girl insists you call them "pi-kahns". Thank you.
Now I said I had a tip for you about the butter. If you're like me, and you get bitten by the baking bug with no warning, that means your butter is cold as heck. The way I've gotten around this is by cutting the butter into fairly small cubes before placing into my mixing bowl and then beating it for a minute or so. Since the majority of recipes call for you to cream the butter and sugar together first, you're getting a headstart by creaming the butter on its own, before adding the sugar.
And as a side note, today is Hubs's and my 4th anniversary! Hard to grasp how quickly time flies... we've had our share of good and bad times, but who hasn't, right? So, here's to you and putting up with my craziness for this long, Hubs. This post is for you. :)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Well, twist on a classic salad recipe that is. Everyone knows the Caesar salad. Courtesy of Wikipedia, a "true" Caesar salad:
A) was created for Julius Caesar.
B) always has some form of protein (i.e. grilled chicken or shrimp).
C) was created by Caesar Cardini, a Mexican man born in Italy.
(You can't tell I've got multiple choice tests on the brain, right? I finally finished my exams for the semester, and it's been rough getting out of the routine of reading like a mad person every night.) But I digress...
Feeling inspired by all of my new-found spare time, I decided to play with the idea of a caesar salad with chicken. I'm a rabid crouton eater, and could easily polish off a bag of sourdough croutons on my own, sans salad. Then a light bulb went on over my head- what about a chicken caesar salad meatball?!
Now, I have no idea if anyone else has ever done this, but I felt pretty pleased with how they turned out. And when Hubs inhales 5 of them, you know they must be pretty tasty, considering how picky he is.
As if the glowing review from Hubs wasn't enough, these came together super fast. Depending on the size you make your meatballs, you could have a relatively healthy dinner on the table in less than an hour! And if you shaped the meat into patties, you could slice them up and have a ground chicken strip caesar salad.
Besides... smashing the daylights out of the delicious little croutons is mighty cathartic when you're PMSing or had a rough day at work. Or if you just have an inner 15-year-old boy that likes to smash things (like me). :-D
Chicken Caesar Meatballs
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground chicken
1 1/3 c. sourdough croutons, smashed up finely (you can whiz them in a food processor if you really want a fine crumb, but larger chunks give a better crunch)-- reserve 1 c. for coating
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 green onions, chopped (white & green parts)- will roughly be 1/8 c.?
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt (you don't need much- the croutons and the Parm are plenty salty)
1/4 tsp. pepper
1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil, and spray the tin foil lightly with the cooking spray.
2. Mix ground chicken, the 1/3 c. of crushed croutons, Parmesan, onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. Don't overmix, but mix thoroughly.
3. Roll slightly less than 1/4 c. of meat mixture into ball shapes. Roll meatballs in the reserved 1 c. of croutons. Place on greased cookie sheet. Drizzle with tiny bit of olive oil (optional).
4. Bake for 15-18 minutes, then flip meatballs. Bake for another 15-18 minutes.
5. While the meatballs are baking, clean and prep your Romaine lettuce and Parmesan cheese. (If you're like me, you have a bottle of Caesar salad dressing in your fridge at all times. No worries if you want to make your own!)
6. Remove meatballs from oven. Let them cool for at least 6-8 minutes before placing on top of the lettuce.
This made roughly 12 meatballs for me (one was slightly smaller than the rest, but I'm sure you could get much more precise, even meatballs if you were to weigh each one).
Maybe I won't post the answer to my little quiz just yet. I want to know what everyone else thinks! Add a comment with what you think the answer is. :)
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Although I'm not quite finished with my finals yet, I'm trying to get myself into the Christmas spirit. This time of year is always quite hard for me- I've never been much of a "Christmas" person, but getting homesick makes this season that much harder. I love my Hubs, my in-laws and my incredible friends, and I'm grateful that they've kept me sane (or insane, depending on who you ask...), but I miss my mom, dad, stepmom, siblings, etc.
So my attempt at getting in the Christmas mood is by following a tradition that my grandmother did, although not entirely unique. I have most of her cookie recipes (that I had to hand-copy from her handwritten notes 2 years ago after her funeral), and I try to make some of her recipes, with my own twist on a few. My neighbours and friends usually have to loosen their belts a notch this time of year. :-D My first Christmas cookie for the year? The old reliable chocolate chip cookie...
The recipe for these beauties gives you a crisp edge, soft center, and darn tasty cookie, if I do say so myself. :) There are 2 keys to getting a perfectly soft cookie:
1) An extra egg yolk. The added fat keeps the cookies "hydrated" (I absolutely hate the word "moist", so I say "hydrated" instead lol).
2) A low oven temp. Most cookie recipes call for 350°F, and some call for 325°F. However, this particular recipe calls for a 300°F oven. It helps. Really. Trust me!
Soft-Center Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from grandmother's recipe- which she said was her adaptation from a Mrs. Field's recipe)
1 c. salted butter, softened (yes, salted. Seriously, trust me!)
1 c. (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. molasses
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (optional, depending on how salty your butter is)
1 bag (300-350 g.) of chocolate chips (roughly 2 c.??)
1. Preheat your oven to 300°F. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
3. In a stand mixer (or large bowl, if you're going to do it by hand), cream together the butter, molasses and sugars to form a grainy paste.
4. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl, then add eggs one at a time. Mix well between each addition, and scrape down the bowl after mixing. Mix in vanilla.
5. Add flour and chocolate chips to butter mixture. If you're doing this in a stand mixer, pulse the beater to keep the flour from flying all over your kitchen... unless you like looking like the Abominable Snowman. Whatever Double-Stufs your Oreo. :-D
6. Place rounded tablespoons of dough 2 in. apart on the parchment-lined baking sheets.
7. Bake for 18 minutes, if you have a single sheet in the oven, 20 minutes for 2 sheets. The cookies will look slightly undercooked, but very lightly browned at the edges. Transfer from the cookie sheet as soon as they come out of the oven, or they'll overcook.
If these cookies aren't soft, then I'm... well... the Abominable Snowman! :-P Hopefully, once my finals are over, I'll be baking and cooking like crazy, so I'll have tons to post about soon!
Sunday, December 7, 2008
**Please bear with me, as I'm trying out a new html code for expandable links! :)
I had one of the hardest finals I've ever had in my entire college career yesterday. I studied so hard for it, my brain felt like it was ready to just quit, and let me live the rest of my life in a padded room with a coloring book and crayons.
So, naturally, the morning after such a huge exam, there's no rest. There's still work to be done, in the form of a paper and 2 more exams. I decided a good, Christmas-y themed breakfast was in order. First I have to introduce you to one of my favorite fruits in the world, the wee little sugar mandarin. They're so small and miniature, and have such a concentrated mandarin-orange flavor, but they're insanely sweet at the same time. Note, the sugar mandarin has wondered out of its native habitat of my local Persian store and found its way to my pale, always-cold hand.
Isn't that the cutest little fruit you've ever seen?! I almost can't eat it... Almost...
But this poor lost fellow went quite well with my Christmas-themed french toast and a handful of walnuts for breakfast. The french toast is a recipe that my mother has always used, and I know it's not exactly original but I love to do my own twists on it sometimes. This morning I decided I wanted to use mostly eggnog instead of milk! I don't usually use syrup or powdered sugar on my french toast, and you'll see why when you read the recipe. :)
French Toast: Christmas season-style
9 slices of whole wheat bread (Texas toast size thickness- or you can use whatever your favorite bread for french toast is)
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. milk
1/3 c. eggnog
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
dash of salt
1. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.
2. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in the bottom of a wide, shallow bowl. Add the eggs, and whisk together with cinnamon and sugar
3. Whisk in the vanilla, eggnog, milk and salt.
4. Dredge each slice of bread in the batter- I tend to like the middle of my french toast soft with the outside crisp, so I let each side soak the batter in for about 10-15 seconds.
5. Place coated bread in skillet and cook on each side for roughly 2 minutes.
6. Remove from skillet and inhale like the hungry morning monster you know you are. Or maybe that's just me.
You might be thinking, why sugar mandarins and walnuts with a Christmas-y type french toast? Well, mandarins always seem to be in abundance in December, and I'm always lucky enough to find these wee little sugar mandarins in my local Persian stores at the same time. And really, I can't be the only one who used to get a gigantic mandarin in the bottom of my Christmas stocking (aka my dad's clean tube sock because our stockings were only for decoration).
And walnuts... well protein is how you stay full longer, right? And what better way than with walnuts, that also have a wildly high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids? I can use all the Omega-3's I can get, considering the amount of information I have to try to cram into my brain for this week. Besides, Hubs is not a fan of fish at all, and walnuts are the only way I can get him to have protein in the morning, and Omega-3's at all. :)