Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tessa Thai Tea Cookies and Iced Coffee, or The Caffeinated Special, or I'm going to pretend like it hasn't been three months since I've updated this thing!

     We really have so much to catch up on. And I'm hoping this won't take TOO long, because our computer room is the hottest room in the house. And we do have the air on. However, I have been doing nothing but consume caffeine all day, so actually this might be the longest post ever. I mean it IS the Caffeinated Special! (My first special edition! Isn't it so exciting? Should there be a sweepstakes? What did I win?)
     First of all, let me apologize. I have gotten several hundred angry emails that I never let you guys know how the Cookiesperiment ended up. Well, shame on me. I don't even know why I still have friends. Basically, this guy Jacques Torres (that's a French ass name) has come up with arguably the best chocolate chip cookie recipe there is. It is indeed very tasty, and it's pretty much due to four things:
     1. The dough sits in the fridge for up to 36 hours before baking.
     2. They're topped with a liberal amount of sea salt.
     3. They use high-quality dark chocolate DISKS (feves- what?)
         instead of chips, resulting in puddles of molten goodness.
     4. They're huge, resulting in freakin' ZONES of cookie. The rims
         are crunchy and golden, and the centers are chewy and
     So now you know. To catch us up the rest of the way, I will bless you with two artfully prepared photo collages. Number one:
Clockwise from top-left:
1. Spaghetti with home-made pasta sauce, and Ina Garten's glorious meatballs. Seriously, look them up.
2. Hot-cross buns made for my momma, as per request on Easter Sunday.
3. Probably less than half of the cherries picked on a recent trip to Charlottesville.
4. Michael getting in touch with his feminine side.
5. Cherry clafoutis made with aforementioned cherries. Julia Child recipe. Very tasty.
6. Joy the Baker's yummy yummy brownies that I made the night before I had a scary phone interview that turned out to be not scary at all.
7. Michael taking over the whipped-cream whipping (for the cherry shortcakes. with the same cherries.) because my arms were getting tired. Why didn't I just use a mixer? Because Martha says it's too easy to over-whip, and it should always be hand-whipped. Well. You know what, Martha? Screw you. The mixer works fine. I've done it before and it tastes NO DIFFERENT. Also- if you want my favorite fancy shortcake recipe (I love it so much) look no further than on the back of a box of Bisquick.
8. That stuff in the middle? I can't really remember. Chili made by Michael, maybe?

     Montage numero B is Michael building our raised beds that we turned into a cute little veggie gargen in the back yard. I'm missing a few steps in between, but we now have a jungle of tomato plants that give us several yummy tomatoes a day, and some Simpson lettuce. And one beet that's doing quite well. Everything else is taking it's time. I planted approximately sixteen (three) types of carrots, so I hope those turn up soon because we are LEAVING at the end of July and our landlord wants us to DESTROY our veggie garden. Really. If he had told us in the first place (when we asked him for permission) that we were to take them down when we left, would we have even bothered? NO! I'm pretty pissed about it. Also, a dumbass robin built a nest under our front porch roof. I was initially very excited about this, but after having to clean (ok, ok, Michael did it) two dead baby birds off the porch, I no longer support fauna procreating on my property. I hate nature.
     Why are we leaving, you ask? I got a new job near Richmond! I start July 5th, so I'll be staying with family in Midlothian during the week, and coming back on weekends to pack up our cute little house.
     I think that brings us to today. I chose not to go to work due to an unfortunate incident involving my nose deciding to exsanguinate whilst putting in my contacts. I never get nosebleeds. It was terrifying. I made myself feel better by cleaning the kitchen, brewing a batch of iced tea (which is LOVELY with orange mint in it, which I also happen to be growing) and a batch of coffee, and baking some cookies with Tessa (!!!) Thai tea drink mix. I made up my own recipe before realizing that there was one on the back of the damn box. Such is my life.
     First, I will share with you my recipe for ASTOUNGING iced coffee.

Iced Coffee
You will need:
Ground coffee in an amount that you deem necessary
Water in an amount that you deem necessary
Whole milk (don't be a pussy)
Sweetening agent of your choosing

With which you will:
1. Brew a really strong pot of coffee.
2. Chill it unless you like watery ice-melt coffee.
3. Pour over ice and top with WHOLE milk and mix in sweetener.

     I know. Revolutionary, right? Really this whole thing was just a way for me to let you know that when it comes to cold coffee beverages, just use the damn whole milk. Plus, the handle on my spoon is fancy, no?
     Without further ado: more cookies. Tessa Thai Tea is something that came into my life thanks to my friend Andrella, who found a box of it somewhere and brought it to me at work one day. She had no idea that I actually LOVE Thai iced tea, she just thought it was awesome because it had my name on it. Which is clearly also true. So I went through that box pretty quickly. About two years later, I found a box at T.J. Maxx- of all places! So tonight I was trying to come up with something new to make, and decided to make these. I mixed up a basic cookie recipe batch, subbing most of the sugar with tea mix and throwing in some vanilla for good measure. They weren't quite sweet enough, but then I came across the damn recipe on the back of the box- which calls for almost the SAME ingredients and proportions, with the exception of more sugar. And shredded coconut. So I decided for the second batch to go in the oven that I would top them with a coconut macaroon-y mixture. They turned out much better.

Tessa Thai Tea Cookies
You will need:
4 oz butter
1 oz sugar
1.5 oz tea mix (if not thai tea mix, any instant mix that has sugar listed as first ingredient)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
.5 tsp baking powder
6 oz flour
.5 cup sweetened coconut
1 egg white
1 tbsp confectioners sugar

With which you will:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Cream tea mix, sugar, and butter until light and fluffy.
3. Add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated.
4. Add flour and beat until dough forms.
5. Roll dough in wax paper in a log and chill until slice-able.
6. Meanwhile, combine sugar, coconut, and JUST enough egg white to make it stick together.
7. Slice cookies 1/4 inch thick and top with a little coconut mixture.
8. Bake about 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.

     And The End.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kitchen Awesomeness (Buttermilk Panna Cotta Round Two, Perfect French Toast, Hoisin Glazed Shrimp, Mushroom and Caraway Soup, and the Cookiesperiment!)

     Prepare thyselves. This will be an epic posting. And not because I've been up to a lot in the kitchen in the two weeks or so since I last wrote, but because I've done a lot in the past two DAYS. It really has been a mini-marathon.
     First thing's first. I know you all have pretty much been sitting on the edge of your respective sitting machines just WAITING for me to tell you how the Buttermilk Panna Cotta turned out using real buttermilk instead of the reconstituted powdered variety that I used with great success before. Well, exhale, my friends because I am about to tell you. It tasted remarkably similar. The real stuff turned out a custard slightly lighter in color and a bit lighter in flavor, perhaps, but all in all about the same. Now that that is out of the way, I will share the first of several recipes.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
You will need:
2 cups of buttermilk, fresh or otherwise
1.5 tsp unflavored gelatin
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar

With which you will:
1. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1 cup of buttermilk and set aside to soften.
2. Bring cream and sugar to a boil, turn heat to low.
3. Stir in gelatin mixture, whisk for 3-4 minutes until dissolved. Remove from heat.
4. Stir in remaining cup of buttermilk.
5. Pour into serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

So easy, right? SO delicious! Has a nice tangy quality to it. It's great with sweetened strawberries on top, or by its lonesome.
     That happened a week or so ago, but it didn't really make for an entire blog post, so I waited until the urge to get cooking hit me again, and it did a few days ago. And again, our story starts in Harris Teeter. After I ceremoniously spread some sample Irish Butter on a piece of sample Pecan Raisin Oval loaf (which was very tasty, and when I found the loaf, it was tiny and more than five bucks! CRAZY!), I stumbled upon a loaf of challah bread. I'd been toying with the idea of making french toast with something other than supermarket sandwich bread for a while, and here was a lovely loaf of challah! For an outrageous price. Eff that. So I moved on. But the next day I was back to pick up some lunch, and lo and behold! My challah loaf was now a day old and less than two bucks! Cha-ching! Sold! And day old bread is perfect for french toast!
     This recipe is from good old Alton Brown, with a minor tweak, and it was very tasty. Apparently he's lost a good bit of weight recently, and good for him. But it probably was not by eating this every day for breakfast. Yeah, I know you want in on that bacon action.

Perfect French Toast
 You will need:
6 thick-ish slices of slightly stale bread (brioche and challah are great choices)
2/3 cup of milk or half and half
2 large eggs
1.5 tbsp honey, heated in microwave for 20 seconds
Pinch of salt
Splash of vanilla
Butter for cooking

With which you will:
1. Preheat oven to 375. Whisk milk, eggs, honey, salt, and vanilla together. Pour into a dish good for dipping bread into.
2. Dip bread into mixture, allowing each side to soak for 30 seconds. Let slices rest on a baking sheet for 1 or two minute before cooking.
3. Melt butter in pan over medium-low heat. Working in batches, cook slices for 3-4 minutes on each side until nicely browned.
4. Slide slices directly onto oven rack and bake for 5 minutes. Serve with topping of your desiring.

     It's a really great recipe. I know it's a little more high maintenance than most french toast recipes, but the baking really makes the insides fluffy and decadent. I topped mine with sugared strawberries and it was perfect. Michael stuck with maple syrup.
     That was yesterday's brunch. But that wasn't the end of the day. We still had to have dinner. It was a doozy of a dinner, too! We decided to go lighter since we had already had an insane amount of french toast, so we went the shrimp and rice route with a side of homemade quick pickles (another batch, made with my mandoline this time!). Remember those? From my second post? My, how time flies.

     The shrimp was kind of insane. Three ingredients: Shrimp, hoisin sauce, sesame seeds. I'm not even going to type out a whole recipe for this. Just stick some peeled and deveined shrimp on some skewers, baste it in hoisin sauce while grilling, and then top with sesame seeds. Kind of stupid easy, and totally stupid delicious.
     Which brings us to today. Another light-ish but super good dinner consisting of garlic bread (the rest of the challah) and Mushroom and Caraway Soup. If you like mushrooms and/or rye bread, you have got to try this soup. It came from Food Network magazine, but I tweaked it a tiny bit, too. I can't help it.

Mushroom and Caraway Soup
You will need:
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
10 oz sliced mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste
3 carrots, sliced thinly and chopped into soup-sized bits
4 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
Sour cream for garnish

With which you will:
1. Melt butter over medium-low heat. Add caraway seeds and cook for about a minute, until it starts to smell awesome.
2. Add mushrooms and cook until they wilt a bit, season with salt and pepper.
3. Add carrots and broth, bring to a simmer. Cook for 10-12 minutes until carrots are tender.
4. Ladle it out and garnish with sour cream.

     Food Network mag also adds a garnish of red onion, but I hate raw onion. So it did not even slightly happen. The soup was broth-sippingly delicious, and I will probably make this over and over again.
     That's pretty much it for tonight, but I feel a Cookiesperiment blog coming on Thursday, and I will leave you fine people with this to think about: This chocolate chip cookie is inappropriate. Look at that slut showing off it's redonk chocolate filled interior to God and everyone. For shame, cookie. For shame.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Lazy, Beautiful Sunday! (Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Lemon and Artichoke Pesto, and Classic Chess Pie)

     Methinks I got tired of typing the last time I wrote a blog. I was just uploading pictures of my bakingventures from today and came across pictures of Buttermilk Panna Cotta that I made almost a month ago and NEVER blogged about it. Well. Shame on me, because it was DELISH. I'm thinking maybe it's all for the best, though. I made that recipe with powdered buttermilk because there was only one container of real buttermilk left at the store and it looked like it had seen better days. So I will post a picture to tease you all, and when I make it with the real deal (which will probably just make it that much more delicious), I'll share the recipe.
     Also, I made homemade chocolate pudding the other day, and I will say that it's better than the instant stuff in a box, but not outstanding enough that I wanted to take pictures of it and write more than a few sentences about it. However, if anyone wants to go to the trouble, I'd be more than happy to tell you how to do it. It's pretty simple. But not throw-some-milk-in-with-a-box-of-instant-pudding-mix simple. Moving on.
     Michael and I love to shop at Harris Teeter. Everyone is very friendly there, they have good stuff, and MOST importantly- they put samples out. Usually, they put out three types of bread with three condiments, one of which is always some ridiculously good kind of European butter. MMMmmmm. I don't usually care a whole lot what the other two condiments are, being perfectly happy just to spread European butter on three different types of bread. However, the other day there was a very very yummy Lemon and Artichoke Pesto put out, and boy did they have me sold on that one. It wasn't easy to hunt down, as for some reason they don't put the product for sale near the damn sample, but I finally found it in a tub in the refrigerated section attached to a redonk six dollar price tag. Needless to say, the challenge was accepted. And mine is better. Here it is!

Lemon and Artichoke Pesto
You will need:
1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts or sunflower seed kernels (I used sunflower seeds)
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
Lemon juice to taste
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of fresh cracked pepper

With which you will:
Put everything in a food processor and process until you're happy with the texture. Eat with crackers and stuff. You know the drill.

     Quick shout-out to my new peppermill! It was a wonderful birthday present handmade by Michael's dad, and it's gorgeous, and it cracks a mean peppercorn! I would also like to use the rest of the space next to the picture of the peppermill to make an equally awesome shout-out to my new (FINALLY! YAY!) mandolin from my momma! I am super stoked to use it, and bought two cucumbers just to slice. So I need another pickle-type recipe. I also bought a jar of pistachios to make a beautiful batch of pistachio cupcakes from my new cupcake cookbook from Joyce! Man, birthdays are awesome. I'd say this paragraph took up the space nicely. I believe I will start a new one, now.
     Another thing Michael and I like to do is watch The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network. WELL. Last night was the guilty pleasure episode, which, to be honest, we really should not have watched. I mean that had bad idea written all over it. Well, what's done is done, and now I have a chess pie working in the oven. Duff Goldman's guilty pleasure was Baltimore Bomb Pie (with a name like that, how could anyone say no?) from Dangerously Delicious Pies. It's basically a chess pie with Berger Cookies crumbled into it. Well, I don't have Berger cookies at my disposal. I really wish I did. So I'm working on my first attempt at a classic chess pie that hopefully sometime in the future I can crumble some other delicious cookie into. I'm thinking Girl Scout cookies? Yes. Yes I am.

  I'm guessing the goop in the picture of the bowl is "Chess"? I hope so, because that amuses me. To your left is a picture of the pie going into the oven. Below that is a picture of the pie just out of the oven. It is delightful.Custardy, and pretty sweet, which is surprising, because i cut way back on the sugar from the recipe because 2 cups sounded like a lot of sugar for one pie. It has a nice kind of crispy sugar layer on top. The pie has received very positive reviews from my mom, Michael, and Charlotte. I think it's a winner


Classic Chess Pie
You will need:
1 piecrust
1.5 cups sugar
2 tbsp cornmeal
1 tbsp flour
1 stick of butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 or 4 large eggs, depending on how egg-y you like your custard

With which you will:
1. Arrange piecrust in a pieplate to your liking. Weight on foil with pie-weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake for five minutes at 425. Remove weights and foil and bake for another two minutes. Remove, let cool, reduce oven heat to 350.
2. Mix everything else up in a big bowl. Add crumbled cookies if you wanna try that before me (I'll hurt you). Pour into cooled piecrust.
3. Stick it in the oven for ten minutes. Take it out again. Cover the edges of the pie with foil or a pie shield (who has one of those??) and stick it back in the oven. Leave it there for another 40 minutes. Take it out. Let it cool.
4. Eat it!


Monday, February 15, 2010

Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce and Very Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

     I recently gave up my Farmville obsession on Facebook, deciding I was wasting precious moments of my life clicking thousands of tiny plots of land that comprised my Utopian farm where crops rarely fail (only whither when you don't harvest them in time), chickens laid golden eggs that hatched into scarecrows, and I always received a fair price for my goods. Yeah, right. Instead, I now waste precious moments of my life reading food blog after food blog after food blog. Better, right?
     One of my favorites is called One Perfect Bite, and it's updated daily and has beautiful pictures and lots of great recipes. Last week there was a recipe for gingerbread with lemon sauce recipe that sounded so delicious. Whenever I visit my dad in Charlottesville and go to their local Whole Foods Market I like to pick up a square of their fresh-baked gingerbread. It's great....but gingerbread with LEMON SAUCE?! I had no idea that was a traditional combination. So yeah. Of course I had to try it. Her recipe is adapted from a Maine hunting camp recipe that used bacon fat (which she omitted), and my recipe is even slightlier (yep. new word.) adapted from hers, due to some ingredients I didn't have and was too lazy to drive a mile down the street and get. So shoot me.

You will need:
2 cups of Flour
1.5 tsp Baking Soda
.5 tsp Salt
.5 tsp each Ground Cloves, Dry Mustard, and Ground Pepper (trust me)
1 tsp each Ginger and Cinnamon
.5 cup Butter
.5 cup Brown sugar
2 Eggs
3/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup Boiling Coffee

Yes. That is a lot of ingredients.
And this is what you will do with them:
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour your baking vessel of choice. Make it a good choice.
2. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and spices.
3. Beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time.
4. Add molasses and beat until smooth.
5. Starting with dry ingredients, add to egg mixture alternately with coffee and mix only until combined.
6. Bake until set and toothpick comes out clean.

Lemon Sauce
You will need:
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
.5 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 tbsp Cornstarch
2/3 cup Water
1 tbsp Butter
1 Egg Yolk (optional, for creaminess and nice yellow color)

That is fewer ingredients.
And this is what you will do with them:
1. Put everything in a saucepan.
2. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly.
3. Cook for about a minute more, until thickened. Remove from heat.
4. Add egg yolk while whisking so you don't end up with lemony scrambled bits. Yum.

     So that's that. It's really good. I don't have a picture for this one, but the gingerbread on the One Perfect Bite blog looks about the same as mine did, just mentally add some yellow lemon sauce on top and subtract the lemon garnish because I am not that fancy.
     Ever notice how at the end of lots of recipes, it tells you how long your finished product will last for? It usually says something to the effect of, "Will keep in an airtight container for up to two days." Yeah, I'm calling bullshit on like 90% of those little blurbs. I love Martha Stewart and all (she always has these blurbs), but PLEASE! Why I am going to bake four dozen chocolate wafer whatevers if they're only going to be good for two days? No. Those cookies are going to last me a week, and I bet they are going to taste just fine. Thank you for indulging me in that rant. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
     I cleaned out one of the kitchen cabinets today because a.) it was not logically organized and was therefore driving me crazy and b.) I had no idea what was in there and thought it would be like a treasure hunt. Now that it's done I would hardly call it a treasure hunt, but whatever. I did find a box of oatmeal pancake mix that I purchased thinking it would be a healthy, tasty alternative to normal pancake mix. As it turns out, when the instructions posted on the back are followed, it makes really shitty pancakes. Therefore, Aunt Jemima has been reinstated in our kitchen, and this box has sat undisturbed for some time now. So I decided today that something had to be done with it. And seeing as the major ingredients are flour, sugar, and leavening, I'm guessing you can do a lot more with pancake mix than just make so-so pancakes. So I made super oatmealy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies! I followed the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies recipe, just omitting the flour, baking soda, and salt, and subbing in the pancake mix. They turned out perfectly! I would cut back on the sugar a little next time, I neglected to factor in that there was sugar in the mix already, so these cookies are a little on the sweet side. But I'm not complaining.

     The last thought I have for right now is this: For someone who goes nuts when her cabinets don't make sense, I am a ridiculously disorganized baker. I am not a "mis en place" kind of girl. I just measure the ingredients out right before I throw them in the bowl. I think I just get so excited when I decide to bake something, that I can't put it off by carefully measuring every ingredient out into its own little bowl beforehand. Eff that. Occasionally I will gather the ingredients into one place before I start, but that's rare.

The end.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snow Cream, Crackers, and Boston Cream Pie Cookies

Yeah, I'm a terrible blogger and it's been over two weeks and blah blah blaaah. Get over it, I bake when I want. And today, I wanted to bake. And since I had an epic baking day, I'll go ahead and fill you in on all the other random things that have been created in my kitchen since January 18th.

1. Yogurt cheese. Yep. I bought a big tub of plain yogurt and let it drain, rigged like this, overnight. And it's surprisingly yummy. And a whole lot better for me than cream cheese, that's for sure. Mostly I just wanted to include this picture because it's ridiculous.

2. The twelve cookie experiment. One night, I really wanted to make a batch of chocolate cookies. For some reason, I made twelve differently flavored cookies instead and make Michael split every single one of them with me in a sitting so we could pick some favorites. That Ratio book I went on about in blog numero uno has a basic BASIC cookie recipe, so I made a batch of that and then took chunks out and flavored each one. I think there was a plain, a vanilla, a rosewater, a rosewater and sugar, a plain orange, an orange blossom water, cocoa, cocoa vanilla, cocoa orange, oat, and two others that apparently weren't good enough to remember. Maybe I mixed the orange blossom and the rose waters? Whatever. They were all tasty. Michael hated the ones with the waters, saying they tasted like perfume. I liked them, and argued that they were "boutique-y," not perfume-y. I also really liked the cocoa orange one, but Michael doesn't like that flavor combo. He liked the plain cocoa. Sigh. Anyway, the point of the story is that I'm a crazy person and didn't make a SINGLE chocolate chip cookie, but instead made twelve other cookies out of whatever crap I had lying around.

3. Graham crackers. From scratch. That's right. This idea came from that "cooking project" book I've blogged about. That's also where the yogurt cheese came from. These came out super yummy, and now I can say that I have made a graham cracker from scratch. Before that night, I didn't even know what the hell was in one of those things. Well, let me tell you. Molasses and honey. They were so good. Not pretty though, and I'm guessing that's why I didn't take a picture. I'm also having problems with this "cooking project" book, as this was the first of now two of her recipes I've made that didn't call for nearly enough flour. It is not possible to roll out a sticky mess and cut it into shapes and bake them. MORE FLOUR, LADY!

     Somewhere around this point a whole bunch of fluffy white cold stuff fell on the ground. I have no idea where the hell it came from, I just woke up on Saturday morning and there it was. Michael and I being, the adventurers we are, we went outside to play. I hit him with a few snowballs, he debated on whether or not he could drive to work, I fell on my ass, and we felt bad for the mailman. Then it was time for snow cream! We decided the snow in our backyard was probably the safest since we have zero shrubs and even zero-er trees back there, and we found that we had some pretty badass icicles on our back porch, as did most people with porches did, I'm sure. Moving on. I filled my big red bowl with a lot of snow and then we trudged back inside for the day, because by that time we were freaking cold and it wasn't fun anymore. So I dumped a can of sweetened condensed milk (which was intended for a tres leches cake, which STILL has yet to be made) and some vanilla into the snow, mixed it all up, and hunkered down on the couch with Michael and a couple of spoons and it was delish. The sweetened condensed milk was Paula Deen's suggestion, and a damn good one.

     Which brings us to today, my day off and my oven's day on.

4. Boston Cream Pie Cookies. For no reason whatsoever, I googled boston cream pie today. And then for even less of a reason, I googled black and white cookies. And then for every reason EVER, decided to mash the two together and make these damn cookies. I have no idea whether or not I like them yet. After tasting batter and test cookies and pastry cream and ganache all freaking day, I just do not want to eat one. So maybe after I have some real food I can give some real feedback. One thing I can say? They look awesome. It was minorly terrifying making pastry cream, and I'm pretty sure I did it wrong, but it tasted okay so we're just going to run with it. At one point it was not looking healthy, and I wish I had a picture of it, but I was too busy freaking out at the time. Michael just tried one and he says, "It was a wicked pissah!" Which is apparently a good thing? I think the most important thing we can take away from this whole Boston-cream-pie-cookie experience is that the picture of the bowl of ganache is awesome, and pretty much just makes me want to eat ganache. The cookie/cake things didn't turn out quite perfectly, like those wonderful soft spongy black and white cookies, but they sure did the trick. Anyway it was fun and I'd do it again.

5. Onion, Poppy-seed, and Sesame Crackers. This was recipe numero cuatro from the "cooking project" book, and the second recipe that doesn't call for nearly enough flour. Regardless, I wanted to try to make crackers, cuz I've never done it before, and this flavor combination sounded good. I should start by telling everyone that I'm not Onion's number one fan. Probably not even close, I've never tried to eat a Vidalia onion like an apple before, and the thought of it pretty much gags me. I decided since cooked onions are slightly less heinous, that I'd probably actually like them in these crackers. HOWEVER. Being such an onion newbie, the chopping process had me almost sobbing, EVEN with the aid of my new shiny food processor. So I had to leave the kitchen for a good ten minutes to regain composure. Which was fine, since it had been about five minutes since I had checked Facebook last. So then I browned the onions, made the cracker dough, refrigerated it, took it out, realized that no amount of refrigeration was going to compensate for the lack of flour action going on, added a lot more flour, rolled 'em out, cut 'em, baked 'em, and here we are. They're pretty tasty, and darn cute to boot. I think I'll make cheese crackers next time.


Monday, January 18, 2010

A Cupcake Menagerie

     I suppose we can talk about the cupcakes, now that I've had enough time to recover from the trauma that is a failed first attempt at an Italian Meringue Buttercream. It was god awful, pretty much like spreading way too much butter on top of a cupcake and eating it, which doesn't sound like such a bad idea, but I assure you it is. The really sad part is that the cupcakes themselves were delightful, and sparkly and pretty to boot thanks to my mom's tackle box of sanding sugar. The green one is a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, the orange one is an orange blossom water cupcake with orange blossom water icing. The pink ones are both rosewater cupcakes with (you guessed it) rosewater icing, but the one in the front has blueberries (clearly), and the one in the back does not.
     It was a little nerve-wracking adding these exotic water concoctions to the batters, but it actually turned out pretty cool (but google it I did not (this time, anyway)). The cupcake batter base was just a standard genoise batter, and I read somewhere recently and randomly that genoise is typically kind of dry, and that soaking them post-bake with either a flavored syrup or a liquer can really help them out. I didn't read this until after I had baked them, of course, so I didn't have this little nugget of info beforehand, but the cupcakes with the waters in them were significantly moister than the plain ones anyway. I was super excited about it, but I think I'll try it the other way next time, because maybe the flavor will be more intense.
      The blueberry-rosewater cupcakes were the definite standoutof the day, the flavor combo was a win, although only Joel and I know this because no one else got to try them. I got the idea from a blog I occasionally (obsessively) read, Bake and Destroy. Her recipe is a bit different, I'm still playing with ratios and just adding shit, and I am positive whatever delightful confection she put on top of hers was way better than mine. I also experimented with the plain cupcakes a bit, and just crammed leftover pieces of fruit (from my awesome fruit salad) into the cupcakes after I had poured the batter. The blackberry-crammed cupcakes were particularly good, so I'm going to have to play with that more later.
    Big thanks to my lovely kitchen assistant Rachel, who very helpfully held the mixer while I googled italian meringue buttercream (DAMN YOU, google), decorated the orange blossom water cupcakes, sat in the kitchen and entertained me while drawing a picture of an ear, acted as food and flower photographer, and gave me some awesome nudie artwork. Thanks also to Joel and Michael for eating the cupcakes, and thanks to all three for eating my roasted potatoes and parsnips.
       I also bought another cookbook (GAH!), but to make myself feel better, we're not going to call it a cookbook (or a comeback), just like the author doesn't. It's a cooking "project" book. I like projects. Not like THE projects, but just projects. It's by Karen Solomon of San Francisco fame (yeah, I have no idea what that means, either) and it's called Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects. So basically it's awesome and I'm going to be making: jam, lemon curd, butter, queso blanco, ricotta salata, crackers, ketchup, marmalade, and graham crackers. Yeah. Get excited.

Blueberry Rosewater Cupcakes
You will need:
2 Large Eggs plus one Yolk
4 oz Sugar (I did indeed invest in a small digital kitchen scale. Worth it.)
.5 Tsp Salt   
.5 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
4 oz flour- cake flour is best, but AP is fine
1 Tsp Baking Powder
4 oz Butter, melted and then cooled
Some rosewater, to taste
One pint of fresh blueberries, rinsed (and dredged in flour if you're feeling fancy, it keeps them suspended in the batter better)

With which you will:
1. Preheat oven*. Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. You can put these in a metal bowl over some simmering water for a bit until the sugar starts to melt and the eggs are just above body temperature, but if your ingredients are at room temp it should be fine. The little bit of heat at the beginning just makes it easier for you to get the eggs nice and fluffy.
2. Beat the crap out of this mixture until it's at least tripled, if not quadrupled in volume. Show no mercy.
3. Gently fold in the flour and the baking powder until you just can't see it any more.
4. Gently fold in the butter. But not too gently or you'll end up with a puddle of butter at the bottom of your bowl and that does not end up well. I read somewhere that if you mix a bit of the batter into the butter first and then fold THAT mixture into the rest of the batter, it helps. But I have not tried this yet.
5. Add rosewater to your desired intensity. Add blueberries. Pour into cupcake tin (lined, por favor) and bake until they spring back when you touch them.
6. Frost with something better than butter.

*350F is standard for regular sized cupcakes, but I've been baking mini lately, and I think 325F is better.

     Did anyone notice a pattern in the ingredient list? It's pretty much a 1:1:1:1 ratio of sugar, flour, fat (butter), and eggs. One large egg is about two ounces, usually a little less (which is where that decadent extra yolk comes in. One time, I tried to bake a black forest cake for a birthday without any kind of mixer. That chocolate sucker called for a chicken's worth of eggs. I ended up with chocolaty, eggy hockey pucks. They were not good. I learned my lesson. Get dem eggs fluffy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Egg Salad, Quick Pickles, and Macerated Fruit, or Tessa's Ridiculous Day of Making Summer Foods in the Middle of January

     It's amazing the things I can accomplish on a day off when I don't want to search for a new job. After a mini-medical adventure with my mom this morning (she has a hernia! more surgery! could that be more annoying?), I arrived home to find TWO packages on my front porch. I mean getting mail is always fun, getting mail that isn't a bill or a solicitation is even better, but getting PACKAGES is almost as good as getting the awesome greeting cards my mom sends me. Package the first was a pair of blue pointy-toed flats that I'd been waiting for since, oh, December 26th. Package the second was my first, and very likely not the last, purchase from, containing a bottle each of Rosewater and Orange Blossom Water. Oh the possibilities.
     The first thing I did was try the shoes on. I mean they're bad ass, pointy blue shoes. I do have priorities. The second thing I did was have my mom smell our living room to see if she smelled cat pee (we don't have a cat). Luckily, with the aid of a small candle, the problem seems to have taken care of itself. But THEN the kitchen deconstruction began. First on the chopping block: the pile of fruit purchased with wonderful intentions of eating more fresh produce. Into a big bowl went: a chopped apple of a variety with which I was not familiar (but looked really pretty, and therefore must be delicious, right? Who's gonna make a delicious apple pun? Joel?), halved and pitted cherries, halved red grapes, a banana, a Cara Cara orange, and a blood orange. I gave the mix a squirt with a Meyer lemon (if you haven't smelled a Meyer lemon, do it, it is so cool), a few pinches of sugar, and a few dashes of the orange blossom water. SO GOOD. I learned later (after googling, I really can't kick the "must google after making something to make sure I did it right" habit) that oranges and rosewater go really well together, so maybe I should have squirted some of that in there instead, but at that point I couldn't get the damn bottle open, so next time. I have lots of leftover fruit.

     Spending a half an hour cutting up fruit wasn't enough, though. I had to do MORE. I had to make pickles. Not crazy, jar-sterilizing, farm pickles (which will likely happen some day), but quick pickles. I'll concede, the result is very much like a cucumber salad. But the veggies are crisper, and there's more of that je ne sais quoi-- pickle flavor. It was super simple (though would have been easier and less back breaking if I had a mandolin slicer mybirthdayisMarch2ndjustsaying)-

1 Cucumber
Half a Red Pepper
Tbsp Salt
1.5 Cups Water
.5 Cup Cider Vinegar
1 Cup Sugar
1 Bay Leaf
A few Mustard Seeds

With which you will:
1. Slice the cuke and the pepper as thinly as you can. Coat them in the salt and let them sit in a colander on paper towels for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool.
3. Rinse veggies well, then get as dry as possible (methinks a salad spinner would have been awesome here).
4. Pour brine over veggies, and stick `em in the fridge for at least 3 hours before munching!

     You may be thinking I was done after that. You would be thinking wrong. I needed to make egg salad. Michael has been asking for egg salad. Well, ask and you shall receive. So I go and get the stuff I need together....eggs, mustard, sweet relish......SHIT! My beloved jar of Duke's mayo expired a month ago! I guess that shows how frequently I eat sandwiches. Well, no problem. I'll go Julia freaking Child on this shit and MAKE mayonnaise (let us not forget there is a Food Lion less then a mile from my front door (that is how much I hate driving)).
                  Mayonnaise made from scratch is glorious.
     It's also not all that difficult to make. I just used one egg yolk, because the egg salad didn't call for too much mayo. Just beat the yolk for a few minutes til it's thick and sticky, add a little vinegar and mustard and then slooooooowly beat in about 3/4 cup of oil. I used the plain ol canola stuff, didn't want to use the good olive oil since there was the potential for me to severely botch the whole thing. Seasoned with a little lemon juice and white pepper (my new favorite thing), the stuff is amazing. It's slighty more yellow in color, but just as glossy as the commercial stuff, and tastes way fresher. So if you ever wanna try it, go for it, cuz it's worth it. I was going to post a picture of the stuff, but really. Who wants to look at a bowl of mayo?
     Did I mention that my latest Martha Stewart mag arrived via Postmommy? What a good day.Oh yeah, and I also baked some mini-cupcakes, but having not frosted nor tasted them, I'll talk about them later.
For now- Seacreast out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits and The Puddle of Butter.

     And here I am, in this twenty-third year of my existence, wanting nothing more out of life than to be able to bake the cupcake to end all cupcakes. The cupcake that is so perfect, that other cupcakes lust after it and try hard to be it's friend, though a cupcake that good does not need friends. It needs pretty piped buttercream and adorable sprinkles. I don't just want to be able to do it once- I want to be able to do it over and over again, easily, and I'd like to be able to do it from memory, to know instinctively that this batter needs more flour- or that one didn't have eggs that were beaten to their potential.
     Much time has been spent in my kitchen beating various parts of an egg into submission, for cakes, a hollandaise, or even just scrambled eggs- so beating eggs isn't really the issue. It's the constant need to look things up in recipe books, or googling tips and problem solving techniques mid-panic attack because my sauce looks like cottage cheese. I want to kick the cookbook habit and be FREE from dried egg whites on my keyboard!
     My first tiny baby step into a dark, strange, and scary world of cooking without guidelines was to ask for a book for Christmas. A book. Of guidelines. I know, I sound like a crazy. BUT WAIT. It's the last book I'll ever need! I promise! It's called Ratio and it's written by a guy (Michael Ruhlman) with a lot more baking chops (ha) than I have, but the same goal! It contains 5 delightful sections of how to use a set of tweakable ratios to make most anything you'd want to- dough, batter, stocks, sausage, custard, sauce, etc. Genius. And I gotta say- so far, so good.
     I used his biscuit ratio (3 parts flour, 2 parts liquid, 1 part fat) last night and made some pretty darn good cheddar garlic biscuits. I just diced up some cold ass butter, pinched it into some flour, mixed in some milk, and then added as much garlic and cheddar cheese as I wanted to. And then added more milk, because they were drop biscuits and Mr. Ruhlman said to add more milk for those. How much more, you ask? Until it looks like biscuit dough! SO awesome!

     This does not change the fact that while I was adding cheese and garlic, I was still freaking out and DYING to google a cheddar garlic biscuit recipe to see if I was adding too much/little cheese/garlic and generally ruining everyone's biscuit-eating lives. But I resisted. And the darn things were great. So I'll trust the guy. I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up cutting the wheel image off the book's dust cover, frame it, and hang it in my kitchen for easy reference until I can spit out ratios like a pro.
     Side note- I tried his sponge cake ratio. The batter was delicious, but due to an operator error involving folding (I am so bad at folding!), and discovering a puddle of melted butter at the bottom of the bowl (after portioning out a good dozen mini-cupcakes), I ended up with half a batch of dry mini-cupcakes, and half a batch of mini-cupcakes with chunks of re-solidified butter in them.I mean they still tasted good. And who says no to a cute, pathetic mini-cupcake?