26 December 2010

Christmas macarons

For Christmas, my mom challenged me to make French macarons. Well, more accurately, I took it as a challenge when she asked if I'd ever made them before because she had some frozen macarons she brought back from France and didn't know how to make them herself. Something to compare my macarons to? Challenge accepted! Oh, THEN my mom says something along the lines of she can't believe I make all the stuff on my blog, haha. She's like, "I recognize the kitchen towels in the pictures and your dirty fingernail, otherwise I wouldn't believe it!" So this is a chance to impress her with my mad skillz and show her that I am a chip off the old block (half of my memories involving her are in the kitchen baking something) I told h er, well yes I do make it all, and yes I do know how to make macarons. Wanna see?

I followed the same recipe for the shells I used last time, and then filled them with a simple chocolate ganache. Love the classic combination. And while the macarons my mom brought back were flavored, so not an exact comparison to mine... We can both confirm that the texture of the macaron cookies themselves were spot on, so Victory is mine!

Macarons and Chocolate Ganache Filling
adapted from Tartelette

3 egg whites, aged 1-3 days (large eggs)
2-3 tbsp white sugar
110 grams blanched almonds
200 grams powdered sugar

Prepare/Age the eggs: Separate the whites from the yolks, place whites in a really really clean bowl, and cover loosely. Let it sit at room temperature 1 to 3 days. I aged mine for 3 days. You can also refrigerate up to 5 days.

Prepare the almond meal: Combine almonds and confectioners sugar in a food processor and proccess until it's very fine. Sift through a strainer to keep the big bits out and regrind as necessary, until pretty much all of it can be sifted through.

Make the meringue: In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy -- it should look like a bubble bath. Continue beating and add sugar little by little (I added 2 tbsp worth) just until it forms a glossy meringue that looks like shaving cream - you should just get stiff peaks.

Add about half the almond meal/powdered sugar mix to the meringue and mix in - about 10 strokes. Gently fold in the rest of the dry mix until it comes together. You know it's done if you cut your spatula through it and it sinks back into itself within 10 seconds. You can also take a little bit and dollop it onto a plate - it should flatten on its own. If it's got peaks, fold a couple more times. This whole thing shouldn't take more than 50 strokes.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag or zip top bag with the batter. If using a zip top bag, snip off the bottom corner when ready to pipe. Pipe small rounds the size of a quarter onto the baking sheets. It should spread a little, so leave an inch between each one. Let sit for 1 hour so the shells harden. Preheat oven to 300.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. Look, more feet!
Chocolate Ganahce
1/3 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp instant espresso
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped well
Put chocolate into a small bowl. Heat heavy cream over medium high heat until the edges start to bubble. Mix in espresso powder until dissolved. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool until thick enough to pipe.
Assemble the macarons: Match up similar sized/shaped cookies. Pipe or spoon about 1 tbsp of the ganache in between and sandwich the cookies. Allow to cool/set completely (I just did this overnight) so flavors can meld. Enjoy!

25 December 2010

Christmas Eve dinner recipes

Merry Christmas! Maligayang Pasko! My gift to you: recipes from last night's killer meal :)
Since I wouldn't get to spend Christmas dinner with my dad and little brother, I made dinner for us for Christmas Eve.I went with something not so traditional and knocked off another Hit List item at the same time: pastitsio. Almost didn't happen, though -- I may have almost burned down my kitchen, haha. That's an exaggeration, sorta... Instead of turning on the burner to boil water, I ended up charring the bottom of the box of pasta sitting on the other burner, lol. By the time it stopped smoking and, um, glowing, half of the bottom was gone, lol. Don't worry, I saved the pasta and was able to make this!

So pastitsio... Never heard of it? It's a Greek casserole, kinda like lasagna: you layer pasta (in this case, tubular noodles), meat sauce, and bechamel, then bake.  It's not the same in flavor, given you use cinnamon and nutmeg in the meat sauce. The only change is that next time I'll double the bechamel (and go to the gym for twice as long, lol) cuz I LOVE that stuff.  I wish I could explain it better, but you'll just have to try it: it's definitely delicious!
Adapted from food.com

For the pasta:
1 box ziti (since I couldn't find bucatini or the traditional No. 2 pasta)
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 C parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 C milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the meat sauce:
1 lb ground lamb (or ground beef*)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 8-oz can of tomato sauce
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

For the bechamel:
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 C milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 C parmesan cheese

Make the pasta according to the box al dente instructions. Drain, then return to the pot. Mix in the milk, butter, cheese and egg then set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

Make the meat sauce: In a large sautee pan, heat the oil over medium and add onions. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the lamb. Cook until the lamb is no longer pink and the onions are translucent. Drain off the fat. Add the tomato sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.
(*Note: if using ground beef, the 2 tsp salt should be good... If using lamb, make sure to taste it and add salt as necessary.)

Make the bechamel: In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in the flour and salt. Slowly stir in the milk, whisking constantly so there are no lumps. Cook, stirring, on medium high heat until sauce thickens (thicker than gravy, not as thick as sour cream) then take off heat. Mix in the egg, stirring well. Mix in the cheese.

Spread half the noodles into an 11x7 or a 9x9 baking dish. Spoon on all the meat sauce and spread so it's even. Top with the remaining pasta. Pour the bechamel over so everything's covered. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until top browns. (I shoulda baked mine a bit longer to have it brown all over but we were impatient, lol.) Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.


Okay and for those green beans:
These are SUPER simple and absolutely awesome. I think I actually ate MORE of them than of the pastitsio, lol. (I heard a radio commercial say that the average american gains 10 lbs during Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays... not for me, thank you very much.) So. I got 2 bags of the prewashed, steam in the bag green beans (from Wegmans, though I'm sure most grocery stores have something similar). I microwaved it for 30 seconds shorter than the instructions said. Drained them, then put into a bowl. Drizzled some olive oil and lemon juice from half a lemon, sprinkled with salt, ground some red pepper flakes and viola! Absolutely perfect green beans! I will make those over and over again!

24 December 2010

Christmas Eve spread

Dinner for three on Christmas Eve:

> fried Halloumi cheese over sourdough crostini with orange apricot marmalade
> lemony haricort verts
> 2008 Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay
> cookies for dessert (not pictured)

Recipes to come! Until then, Maligayang Pasko! Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

iced chocolate peppermint snaps

Behold, the one Christmas cookie recipe I will be posting before Christmas. Just under the wire, lol. They're basically thin mints topped with white chocolate and crushed candy canes... perfect for the holidays! Big thanks to Carly for trying the recipe first and sending me a sample. So good I had to try for myself :-)
These crisp cookies are adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe. I didn't get 60 cookies the way she did, I got 36 uniform square cookies. I skipped her method of chilling discs of dough then rolling them out and cutting out circles. I went the shortcut method (that I picked up from a post on one of the first blogs I started reading, Smitten Kitchen): after mixing the dough, dump into a gallon size ziplock bag, roll until unform, chill, then cut away the plastic and cut squares. That method is SO much neater and in my opinion much simpler to cut out cookies. And I'm all about easier and neater during this majorly hectic cookie baking season!

Iced Choclate Peppermint Snaps
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 C flour
1/2 C dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter
3/4 C sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp peppermint extract
crushed candycanes -- about 20 small ones
8oz white chocolate

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, and salt in one bowl. Beat butter and sugar on medium high until well combined - 2-3 minutes. Reduce speed to med-low and mix in the egg, then the yolk, then extract - beating well after each addition. Slowly mix in the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Dump into a gallon size bag, zip about 75% so air can escape while you roll it out. Roll it to about 1/8" thickness -- will take up about 3/4 of the bag. Zip, and refrigerate flat for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 325. Cut edges of the ziplock so you can peel back one side, exposing the flat dough. Cut with a knife or pastry wheel into 36 squares like so:
Arrange on baking sheet with at least 1" between each cookie. Bake for 11-13 minutes then cool completely on a cooling rack that's over newspaper or something you won't mind throwing away later...

Chop up white chocolate and put into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30-second bouts, stirring between each one, until chocolate is melted. Put into a piping or ziplock bag and snip a small piece off the end. Drizzle over the cookies. (You can also just dip a fork into the chocolate and drizzle, but the bag was a lot neater cuz I just tossed it out afterwards. This is also why you want something under the cookies to catch the extra drizzle.) Sprinkle with the crushed peppermint. Allow to dry completely (I let it sit overnight) and then enjoy!

19 December 2010

hit list challenge item: Risotto

You'd think I'd be blowing up the blog with Christmas cookie recipes. Well, I wish I had been, but not so much, lol. Wll, since I'm not playing any sports (shocker) and I dropped choir, I had a lot of free time so I picked up a seasonal job. So, there goes my free time to bake, lol.

BUT, I did make time for Friendsmas* at Ang.'s. It was a perfect time to try out a new recipe and to knock out one of my Hit List items. There are only a few things left, so I went with the risotto. Since she was making the pot roast, I opted for a side dish version. It was yummy! The addition of meyer lemon zest really made the flavor sing. Or as Danielle said, "what is that extra something... it tastes... zesty..." Lol.
I was actually quite surprised at how easy risotto is. It's not HARD to make per se, since it's mostly just stirring. It is just time consuming. Patience is definitely your friend here... Like the original recipe said it'd take some 18 minutes for it to cook, mine probably took closer to 25-30. Be patient, taste it along the way, and enjoy.

*Friendsmas = the Christmas version of Friendsgiving, of course!

Asparagus Risotto
adapted from Gourmet

4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 lb asparagus
3/4 sweet onion, chopped small
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 1/4 C arborio rice
1/4 C white wine
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 C parmesan, (freshly grated, may want to use less if using the plastic jar kind)

Snap the ends of the asparagus then cut into 1" pieces. Bring the broth and water to a boil. Add the asparagus, reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes until tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove the asparagus and put in an ice bath to stop the cooking, then drain. Keep the broth/water mix on the stove.

In a large pan, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender - about 5-6 minutes. Add the rice, stir constantly, and cook for about a minute.

This is where the patience begins :-)

Add 1/2 C of the broth mix to the risotto and mix until absorbed. When it's absorbed, add another 1/2 C of the broth and mix until absorbed. Keep repeating - adding 1/2 C at a time and allowing to absorbe before adding more - until the rice is al dente. (Note: it should be simmering, and mine wasn't, which is probably why mine took so long to cook,)

Stir in the asparagus, remaining 2 tbsp butter, parmesan, and lemon zest. Serve hot.

This can easily be made into a main course by adding shrimp, but otherwise this works as a lovely vegetarian side.

10 December 2010

cheddar biscuits

I love buttermilk biscuits. I don't care how full I am, I will always make room for them. Add cheese and garlic, and you've got some of the best biscuits ever that taste pretty much like those from that red crustacean restaurant chain. Ya know the one. But I get to control the butter, so yay! I got the recipe from America's Most Wanted Recipes. It's actually the first recipe I've made from it even though I received it as a gift last year from James. (Hi James!) I made them for one of our Thanksgiving potlucks as an alternative to the normal dinner rolls. Yum!
Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from that book linked above, lol

For the biscuits:
2 rounded cups of buttermilk biscuit mix
1/4 rounded tsp garlic powder

4 tbsp cold butter

1 overflowing cup of grated cheddar - I used a mix of mild and sharp cheddar
3/4 C cold whole milk

For the buttery topping:
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
dried parsley flakes for color

Mix garlic powder into biscuit mix. Cut butter into the biscuit mix until incorporated but bits are still about the size of peas. Gently mix in the cheddar. Stir in the milk until just combined.

Preheat oven to 400. Drop into big dollops (about 1/4 C sized) onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Smooth the tops so you don't get any crispy parts. Bake for 15 minutes or until they're lightly golden.

Melt the butter and mix in the garlic powder and parsley flakes. Brush the baked biscuits while hot.

Makes 1 dozen.

09 December 2010

Daring Bakers: Crostata (better late than never!)

November has come and gone, but I didn't forget about the Daring Bakers' challenge. The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. I only got a chance to make this tonight, so here is my take on November's challenge.
The pasta frolla was easy to make and absolutely delicious. It tastes like a sugar cookie that mated with shortbread! (In fact, instead of using the excess to create a pretty decoration on the crostata, I baked them up as cookies then inhaled them.) It's such a great base to any kind of tart or crostata or pie. I was thinking about doing a fruit preserve crostata, but I've already made some fruit pies this year (see here and here), so this time around I needed to try something entirely not me: chocolate.

I used the pasta frolla recipe per the challenge, but pulled the chocolate filling from Rachel Eats and added about a teaspoon of orange zest, so thanks to everyone for making this possible!
This is decadent. It's like fudge in a cookie in tart form.

21 November 2010

Friendsgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving is 4 days away, and Friendsgiving was just last week. Neither would be complete without TURKEY!
The Friendsgiving invite put full disclosure out there: I had never made a turkey before, so I promised to have some deli turkey and sandwich bread just in case, haha! I lied, though - I had no back up plan that day! I basically obsessed over how to roast a turkey for the week before Friendsgiving and gave it my best go. I came across 2 different recipes/methods for making the turkey: the first that involves refrigerating the bird overnight w/o it's wrapping found at Simple Bites, and the other where you roast the bird breast side down so the juices all drip into the breast while cooking - I can't find the link to the site right now, but when I do, I'll edit this post. It was basically a 24 hour process - I started to prep the night before. Actual cooking day, took about 15-20 minutes to prep, and then roast away. Between the two, I totally NAILED it! My house semlled delicious, the turkey was moist and seasoned just right. AND it was gorgeous. Recipe WIN.

This is what I did. I was cooking for 14. Combined with the apps and all the delicious side dishes everyone brought, there was plenty of food to stuff us that night AND have enough leftovers to bring home a full meal each!

Roast Turkey

15 lb fresh turkey
1 stick butter, room temp
large yellow onion, quartered
2 large carrots, snapped into pieces
2-3 ribs celery, snapped into pieces
1 lemon, quartered
fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
fresh parsley (I got both curly and flat leaf, mostly for decoration purposes)
Special equipment: roasting pan, meat thermometer (preferably the probe kind like this)

The night before: Make space in your oven for the bird! Remove the giblets (keep in a ziplock bag - use to make the gravy). Rinse the turkey very well inside and out. Pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly salt the inside of the turkey. Lightly salt the outside of the turkey. Spread an entire stick of butter around the entire outside of the bird. Put bird breast side down onto the rack in the roasting pan. Put back into the fridge overnight. No, don't cover it with anything - just put it on the rack and throw in the fridge. The point is to dry out the bird a bit.
(See : it's breast side down)

The day of: Take the bird out of the fridge and bring up to room temperature (took me about 2 hours). Drain/wipe up the liquid that's in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly salt the inside of the bird again. Shove the inside of both cavities with a couple sprigs of parsley, then an equalish amount of the onion, carrots, and celery, and the lemon. You'll probably use about half of what's in the ingredient list. Shove a handful of parsley and 2 sprigs each of thyme and rosemary into any leftover space between all those veggies. Try to make it kind of even. Lightly salt the outside of the bird again. Toss the leftover onion, carrot, celery and lemon into the bottom of the pan.

Stick the probe part of the thermometer into the thickest part of the bird (into the inner thigh near the breast), but don't allow it to touch the bone. (If you're using an instant read thermometer instead of the probe, first, don't leave it in the bird while cooking --  insert and check the temp when it comes out of the oven.) Roast at 400 for 30 minutes. Drop the temperature to 350 and roast for approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.
(OMG look how golden!)

Take the turkey out of the oven. Flip the breast to right side up. Be very careful and use your oven mitts - sure they'll get a bit dirty, but much better than burning yourself!
(Someone needs a tan!) 
Put back into the oven and roast until the breast is golden - about 15-30 minutes - and the temperature reads 165 degrees. Take out of oven.
Tent with foil. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes. I'll say it again - let it rest! Two things happen while it rests: The turkey will continue to cook up to about 170-175 degrees, which is safe eating temps, and it allows time for the juices to redistribute throughout the bird.

To decorate (see first picture): Line plate with the parsley, and a few sprigs of the thyme and rosemary if you like. Put bird on it. I added these mini pears I found because one of the desserts was a pear and blueberry crisp. You can also use crabapples, slices of lemon, mini pumpkins, or anything really!

To carve the bird: I should have cut the legs and thigh off first, but I forgot, lol. Instead, I cut the the entire breasts free from the bird, then cut slices so everyone got the same amount of skin. My cutting was very messy, but everyone got plenty to eat.

This bird had flavor! It wasn't too salty, wasn't dry, the skin was golden and delicious... Total success! If I can do it, so can you!

One pretty important note: This recipe is for a 15 lb bird. Cooking times obviously vary according to the size. Use the Simple Bites link for a good idea of how long to roast different size birds.

16 November 2010

Friendsgiving app # 2: stove top stuffed mushrooms

That's right. STOVE TOP. As in the best stuffing out there.

A quick aside: Stove Top is THE stuffing. None of this cornbread stuffing... or sausage and sage stuffing... or oyster stuffing (oysters? really?). No. Absolutely not. Stove Top chicken stuffing goes with all things poultry or holiday or anything that requires awesome delicious stuffing.

Okay so I like Stove Top. So much that it never quite occurred to me to use it in, like, any other way. That's a partial truth - I once made a bruschetta chicken bake with it, but that was years ago and I totally forgot about it until Ang. and I found this cookbook:
Oh. My. Gawd. How the hizzle did we never think to use it in all those different ways? Answer: because Stove Top is that good on its own :-) Anyways, this is the first recipe that caught my eye, and thus we made it for Friendsgiving. And by we, I mean my brother, Ang., and I all had a hand in making it, lol. See - stove top bringing people together! Friendsgiving win!

Stovetop and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms
from that Kraft mini magazine

1 1/2 C hot water
1 6 oz package Stove Top for chicken
24 oz white mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 1/2 C shredded mozzarella
1 C grated parmesan
salt to taste
Heat oven to 400.

In a large bowl, add hot water to stuffing mix and stir until moist. Pop the stems from the mushrooms and chop the stems, putting the caps onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

In a large pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add mushroom stems and garlic. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes or til tender. Add spinach and mix. Take off heat. Mix into stuffing. Add cheeses and mix well.

Spoon into mushroom caps. (To make it uber fast, I used my smallest cookie scoop to do this.) Bake for 20 minutes.

Ridiculous and easy. You can bet I'll be making these again and again!

15 November 2010

food and fun for Friendsgiving

What is Friendsgiving? It's Thanksgiving, but with friends! No family drama, no kids, just you, your friends, and the huge Thanksgiving meal that brings you all together. It's usually celebrated a couple weeks before actual Thanksgiving to avoid the hectic holiday season. I'd love to say I came up with the idea, but nope, I was fortunate enough to be invited to one a few years back, and the tradition lives on. Basically it's a huge potluck where the host makes the bird and everyone brings traditional Turkey Day sides. Well, not necessarily traditional - one year we did an Alternathanksgiving, where we all made a twisted recipe of a traditional meal - i.e. I made mashed cauliflower instead of taters, mmm. If you've never been to a Friendsgiving, I highly recommend starting that tradition with your friends!

Over the next few days/weeks I'll start posting the recipe from this year's Friendsgiving, which will, of course, work perfectly well for offiicial Thanksgiving! I kinda started with my Friendsgiving recipes yesterday when I posted about the meringues, but instead of dessert this time, how about an appetizer recipe for caramelized onion dip:
I made this the day before and let it sit in the fridge. That really allowed the flavors to marry, and it made actual Friendsgiving Day a breeze! This is a snazzy version of a typical sour cream and onion dip - the caramelized onions are so sweet, but it's balanced out by the kick of the cayenne pepper. Serve it with some kettle chips and enjoy an easy make ahead app good for pretty much any party!

Caramelized Onion Dip
adapted from Ina Garten

2 large yellow sweet onions
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bar (4 oz) cream cheese
1/2 C mayo
1/2 C sour cream\

Quarter onions then slice into thin pieces. Heat butter and oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add onions and stir until soft. Add salt and peppers. Continue to cook on just a bit lower heat than medium, stirring once in a while for 25 or more minutes until it caramelizes - you want them to get to this color.
Try not to eat them right out of the pan :-) Allow to cool.

Use a blender to mix the cream cheese (room temp so it's easier to blend), mayo, and sour cream. Once the onions are cool, mix them in. Add salt or pepper to taste, but keep in mind the heat of the cayenne will get a little stronger as it sits. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight so the flavors have time to marry.

Serve at room temp. Makes about 2 cups.

14 November 2010

meringue kisses

Meringues are some of the simplest and most versatile cookies to make. Cookies? Confections? Whatever, lol. I say simple because the most basic merginue only has 2 (maybe 3) ingredients: egg whites and sugar... and maybe salt (or cream of tartar) as a stabilizer. Versatile because you can flavor them pretty much any way you can imagine - use a vanilla bean, extracts, zests, spices, etc. This time I made one batch and split it into vanilla and chocolate.
I found out AFTER I made this recipe that meringues generally fall into two categories: The kind that creates something of a crisp shell and a marshmallowy center. I associate this texture more with pavlovas (basically a topped meringue, lol) than cookies. These are also delicious, and you get the contrasting textures which is interesting. There's also the kind that's crisp all the way through, which is my favorite because it kind of crumbles then melts on your tongue when you eat. And apparently it tastes kinda like the marshmallows you get in kids cereals, lol. I attained both textures when I made these -- I got the marshmallowy one first, then decided I wanted it crisp, so I dropped the oven temp to 200 and baked for another 25 minutes to dry it out. Turned out just the way I liked it!

Two tips: First, since you just gotta say it when it comes to making meringues: CLEAN BOWL! CLEAN UTENSILS! Clean = Successful :-) Second, did you notice how my chocolate ones kind of cracked? I shouldn't have opened the oven door so many times. And to avoid cracking as they cool, I turned off the oven, cracked open the oven door, then let them cool slowly that way.

Meringue Kisses

3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 C superfine sugar (food process granulated sugar for about 30 seconds to make superfine), divided
1 vanilla bean, split and caviar scraped
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Special equipment: stand mixer (preferably), and 2 piping bags and tips (one for each flavor)

Preheat oven to 300. Line 2 pans with parchment paper.

Mix vanilla caviar into 1/2 of the sugar and set aside. Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat at medium spead until foamy. Turn mixer to high. Add the plain sugar slowly, a table spoon at a time. Then add the vanilla sugar little by little, all while the mixer is running. Beat until glossy and stiff peaks form (check by sticking a spoon in and pulling out real quick - peak should stand straigt up like in the pics above. Also, make sure your mixer is OFF before you do that!) Also, check that most of the sugar is dissolved - if you rub it between your thumb and finger, it shouldn't be too grainy.

For the vanilla meringes, fill first piping bag with half the meringue. To make the chocolate ones - fold the cocoa powder into the 2nd half of the batter. Once it's even, fill other piping bag. Pipe 1-1/2" rounds onto baking sheets. (Should make approximately 30 of each.) Bake for 30-35 minutes. If you like marshmallowy center meringues, turn off oven, crack door, and allow to cool. If you want it completely crispy, drop the temp to 200 and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, then turn off oven, crack door, and allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container.

I put some out at Friendsgiving, then paired them up in little baggies for guests to take home:

13 November 2010

spicy steamed shrimp for one or more

The inspiration for this meal actually came from a dive of a restaurant in Fairfax. Like really dumpy dive. But we went one day for $2 seafood, and I got the shrimp. It was surprisingly delicious - spicy and perfectly cooked. There wasn't a whole lot to it, so it wasn't hard to figure out the recipe and make it a couple weeks ago for girls night... but we scarfed it down so fast I didn't get any pics, lol.

I've been getting busy again planning for the holidays, and I needed an easy fast meals for just me, so here we are again! This was so fast to put together... 2 minutes of prep (not including boiling water), and 9 min to steam, then ready to eat! Even better, while this meal was steaming, I chopped some onions for another holiday treat (recipe to follow, stand by!). Multitasking is good. So is this spicy Old Bay shrimp!
Spicy Steamed Shrimp for One

1/2 lb raw easy peel shrimp
2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
cocktail sauce and lemons, if desired

> pot and colander that fits inside it w/o touching the bottom

Fill a pot of water 1 or 2 inches with water - enough that your colander/steamer won't touch it. Stir in 1 tbsp of old bay. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Mix shrimp with 1 tbsp of Old Bay. Put into steamer colander, put in pot, cover, and steam for about 9 minutes.

Sprinkle with more Old Bay if you like it spicy (I do!), serve with some cocktail sauce and a sliced lemons if you like. Enjoy!

Good thing about this -- you can easily multiply the recipe for more people. Serve it as an app, even. When you're steaming, just watch the shrimp. They should turn bright pink and curl into a nice capital C. You don't want it to curl up too much aka overcook or it'll get rubbery.

27 October 2010

October Daring Bakers: Donuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Given how much I LOVE Alton Brown, I made his yeast donut recipe. I woulda made more, but 1) that's a LOT of donuts for 1 person and 2) I actually had a donut baking night with Jenn The Cookin Cutie where she made the pumpkin kind, so I got to try different type. We cut and fried away, dipped and decorated. The yeast donuts were light and fluffy with a greaet crust. They're best fresh, but I froze a bunch the same day I made themand have been defrosting as I want them. Still pretty good, though a bit more chewy. Again, just make sure to eat them the same day. It was a great challenge this month!

I guess I used a small cutter because mine made over 4 dozen donuts:
The first set I made had a maple glaze, which was essentially powdered sugar, a bit of vanilla, and pure maple syrup. Look how cute the sprinkles are:
Here are a few I defrosted a few days later. I coated one in cinnamon sugar, and the rest have a plain vanilla icing, which is powdered sugar, vanilla, and a bit of milk. After the donuts defrost and the icing sets, zap them in the microwave for 5 seconds. They taste like new (minus the crisp crust, lol)!

17 October 2010

pumpkin cookies with browned butter icing

I like the idea of Martha Stewart, but don't actually know enough about her style to know if I like her. I've watched her, but never tried any of her ideas to know if I'm a fan or not. I even get her cookie a day emails, but is the first time I've ever actually made anything. Based on these alone, I'm now a fan :-) It was the browned butter icing that caught my eye -- because browned butter is amazing and I have no idea how I lived without it until recently when I made some for a Daring Bakers challenge (which I haven't actually posted, whoops). Holy canoli browned butter is good. So put that on a cookie? Heck yeah I'm in. I also happened to have a lone can of pumpkin in my pantry, and it's getting to be pumpkin and Halloween time, so here I am with these:
After baking them, I wouldn't exactly call them cookies. I understand there are different textures and types of cookies, but I generally don't like this kind... These were basically dollops of cake. Or mini muffin tops. And you know what, they were really GOOD little cakey muffin tops. By themselves, they're fluffy and spiced just right that I kept popping them in my mouth. But then there's the icing... That browned butter icing where you see flecks of the browned parts. Ridiculous. It's rare I meet a cookie that I can't stop eating - I'm usually happy with 2 or 3 in a batch. I could not stop eating these. This recipe easily makes over 5 dozen little cookies... so I had to give them away to save me from myself because I really could have eaten all of them. They're delightful.

Pumpkin Cookies (little pumpkin muffin tops) with Browned Butter Icing
adapted from Martha Stewart

2 3/4 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 C brown sugar
1/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 15-oz can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie, straight up pumpkin) minus 2 tbsp
3/4 C evaporated milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375. Sift together the dry ingredients - flour through the nutmeg. Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Mix in eggs. Slowly mix in the pumpkin, evaporated milk, and extract until well blended. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dish out cookies -- you can either use a 1-1/2" scoop then slightly flatten, or pipe out 1-1/2" rounds. I did both, and got the same general result. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on sheet while you bake the next set. Allow cookies to cool completely before icing.

1 1/4 sticks butter
4 C confectioners sugar, sifted
1 tbsp vanilla
1/4 C evaporated milk

Sift the sugar into a bowl. In a small, light colored bottom pot or pan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until golden brown. (The milk solids will fall to the bottom of the pan - cook until they get a nice milk-chocolatey brown and the butter darkens a bit. But don't cook too long or it'll burn - it should smell a bit nutty, or like toffee.) Immediately add to the sugar (make sure to get allll the brown bits). Add the vanilla and evaporated milk, then mix until smooth. If it's too firm to spread, add a bit more evap milk. Ice cookies. Try not to eat the icing straight.

Note -- this icing doesn't harden completely. It'll develop a shell, but it's a soft icing that'll squish, so when storing, don't stack them or the icing will stick. That's it you don't eat them all.

14 October 2010

let soup season commence

Today was a soup day - tons of rain, looked like it was night time at high noon, cold, and straight up dreary. I had pho for lunch and STILL wanted soup for dinner, lol. All that rain closed the softball fields tonight, giving me my first free night in a week. Don't get me wrong... I like being busy, but a night of down time is way underrated so I was going to take full advantage. Go fig the rain stopped, blue skies came out, and suddenly it was quite lovely. Quite a lovely evening, indeed, to stick to the plan and make some soup :-)
I got the original recipe off the Eating Well website and it had this long name basically telling you what's in it - chicken, spinach, pesto. Yep, it's all that and some carrots, beans, and broth and little pasta to give it extra bite. That's about it. Deceptively simple and even pretty healthy... and totally awesome. Took me all of 15 minutes to put together plus the boiling time. It's like the fresher version of the hearty chicken soups you'd eat on a snowy (ack, too soon for!) winter day. It's a nice transitional soup, comforting and light.

Chicken Soup for Fall
adapted from EatingWell.com

1 tbsp olive oil
1 C chopped carrots
8-12 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into bite size pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 C chicken broth
2-4 C water (depending on how liquidy you like it, I just refilled both broth cans ~ 4c)
6 oz baby spinach, chopped
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 C little pasta (I used stelline, but you can use orzo or something similar)
freshly ground black pepper
5-6 Tbsp store bought pesto (recipe from scratch in the source recipe)

Heat olive oil in a medium pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add carrots and sautee for a couple minutes. Lightly salt the chicken, then add to the pot and allow to brown lightly on all sides. Add garlic and sautee until it's soft. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil.
Once the soup is boiling, add the pasta and spinach. Boil according to the pasta directions. Add the beans with 2 minutes to go to heat them through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat when the pasta is cooked al dente. Stir in the pesto.

03 October 2010

shrunken chicken pot pies

I've been craving chicken pot pie lately, but here's one of the moderately annoying things about being single -- making a regular 9" pie recipe for something like this would be very, very wasteful since I can't eat a whole pie by myself, I generally don't like leftovers, and even when I force myself to eat them, most of it still goes bad before I get a chance to finish it. I also rarely have enough people over to eat a whole thing before all that stuff happens. One day, when I have a family all my own, I'll be able to make a whole pie. But until then... Solution for a single gal? Mini pies!
I got this cute little lattice pocket pie mold from Williams Sonoma a while back and it made for perfectly portioned pies. Here's a little trick about this sucker, by the way -- it's a dough cutter and mold in one, but when you cut the dough it's not quite big enough for the mold (dumb, I know) so I just cut them then rolled them a little to give it the extra width. Just make sure to wet the edges before crimping or else they're going to come apart. Worked brilliantly. You can freeze them and take one out at a time for a simple meal for one.
Chicken Pocket Pies
adapted from allrecipes.com

1 lb chicken breast or thigh (boneless), cubed into bite size pieces
2 cans chicken broth
1 1/4 C carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3/4 C green peas, frozen
1/2 sweet onion
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
rounded 1/2 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
ground red pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 C milk
2 C chicken broth (from the boiled chicken)
2 9" pie crusts (see below)

Place chicken, celery, and carrots in a medium pot and cover with chicken broth (about 2 cans). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain, saving the liquid.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and sautee until translucent. Stir in flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and peppers. Continuously stir to allow flour to mix in and cook a little - about 2 minutes. Slowly add in milk and chicken broth. Simmer over medium low heat, stirring regularly, until thick.

Cut out, fill, and form the pocket pies -- makes 10 using the pocket pie cutter.  If baking right away, set oven to 425, place on parchment lined baking sheet, brush with egg wash, and bake for 16-20 minutes, or  until golden. Otherwise you can freeze them -- when ready to use, take right out of the freezer then follow the same directions above except bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.

Oh. About that crust... That flaky, buttery, lovely crust... It's really just a variation of the crust I used for the galette and peach pies.
Pie Crust for something savory -- you'll need to double this recipe to make the chicken pocket pies

1 stick butter, cut into small pieces and frozen
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
4-6 tbsp ice water

Combine flour and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or food processor until it forms a coarse meal. Stir in ice water a tablespoon at a time until dough starts to come together into a dough ball. You may need fold/roll it around to get most of the pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight before using.

Definitely keep pie crust cold -- Since I was cutting out shapes, I'd cut each disc into two, then roll/cut only a half at a time to make sure the rest of the dough stayed chilled.

And yay, I get to check another item off my 2010 Hit List!

29 September 2010

homework pics

I bought my DSLR a month or two ago because I wanted to improve the quality of my food (and I guess all other) pictures. I was on full auto for a long time, but what's the point of a SLR if I'm not going to learn how to use it properly? So I signed up for an intro to photography workshop at the Washington School of Photography thanks to a groupon or living social deal. I'm glad I did because I finally get what ISO means *not* regarding to internal auditing for work, and I now know what the f-stop does. Am I a pro now? LMFAO hellz to the nizzo. But am I starting to understand basic stuff like composition better? Indeed.

So during our first class we went over that technical stuff and then 6 basic composition guidelines -- rule of thirds, filling the frame, leading lines, change of perspective/point of view, repetition, and frame within a frame. (All are easily googled for examples if you're curious.) We were supposed to bring in some examples for critique in class. I had all these grand ideas of food pics I wanted to take... closeups of pillowy cupcake frosting kissed with sprikles, filling the frame with some nifty kitchen gadgets, cookies that look so scrumptious you can't help but drool... Unfortunately, I didn't do a whole lot of baking/cooking, and also sometimes what's conceptually awesome in my head doesn't translate well in real life (or at least I haven't figured out quite how to make it translate yet). I did manage to get 2 food-related pics that I liked, and both were well-received from the instructor and the class with "This is an interesting picture" comments, lol. Actually for one of them, he asked the class what they thought, and I think they were scared. Something about being a serial killer...

Here are the 2 food pics I brought in for my homework assignment. Which composition techniques did I use for each? What do you think of them?

~~ 1 ~~

~~ 2 ~~

I've also learned a few things about my photographing skillz: 1) I need a tripod. My hands are so not steady! And 2) I take a bazillion pictures to get one good one. I'm hoping that with this class and more practice, I'll start getting better than 1 in a bazillion. I'll definitely save a lot of time if I can get it right sooner rather than later. I just gotta keep practicing. So with any luck, over time, you'll see this blog get prettier!

What's your favorite way to compose your food pictures?

27 September 2010

daring bakers: decorated sugar cookies

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. You can find the recipe on Mandy's blog. I followed the cookie recipe almost exactly - I just added a tsp or two of cinnamon to spice it up a touch!

We were supposed to decorate these cookies with a "September" theme. And while most of the American population starts thinking about football come September, I think of the same thing I think of for 3/4 of the year: softball. September is the beginning of the last season of the year - that last 8 weeks before the cold kicks in and I trade in the glove and ball for, well, different kind of gloves and balls (ski gloves and dodgeballs, but not at the same time!) I currently play on 3 teams, and because of the timing of when I got to bake, these cookies are dedicated to my Sunday night team, the Coconut Banger's Ball Club:
Super cute, right!

So I made cinnamon sugar cookies, and topped them with vanilla icing. We weren't required to make royal icing from scratch, so the first round of cookies I used a store bought cookie decorating icing. That's what I used on the stars. But I wanted to try the royal icing, too, so I whipped up a batch using meringue powder and used it to make the softballs. I have no idea if it turned out the way it was supposed to... but the icing dried well enough so I assume I got it right. I used a decorating writing icing tube thing for the red, blue, and yellow writing/outlines.

11 September 2010


I haven't yet met a rolled food I don't like. Cinnamon rolls, sushi, croissants, lumpia, mocha rolls, those little canned crescent dough things... And to add one more to the list - rugelach.
Pronounced "rug-uh-la," these are little rolled Jewish cookie - tender, just sweet enough, and completely addictive. It's either a yeast-based dough or a cream cheese based dough (like this one) that's rolled into a circle, then spread with a variety of fillings (jam, cinnamon sugar, chocolate, nuts and berries, etc - I'm partial to apricot preserves!), then cut into triangles that are rolled into little crescent shapes. They can also be shaped into logs and cut into little pieces:
While rugelach are common enough that you can get them almost anywhere, they're particularly popular during Jewish holidays - and given that Rosh Hashanah just ended yesterday, I had to try my hand at them. Okay that's not entirely true, hehe, I'd already been planning to make these this week because I had some awesome ones in this deli in NY last weekend. Then I noticed all the happy new year statuses from my Jewish friends on facebook... good timing, right!

from Ina Garten

8oz bar cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 C flour

1/3 to 1/2 C apricot preserves (or your jam of choice)
6 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
raisins (I used golden raisins)
mini chocolate chips

and one egg for the egg wash

Make the dough: Cream the cream cheese and butter until light. Beat in the sugar, salt, and extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour until just incorporated. On a lightly floured surface, form into a ball. Cut into 4 equal parts, flatten into discs, wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least for several hours, or better yet, over night.

Prepare the filling: Combine the sugar and cinnamon. Place jam in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir until it's all liquidy.

Make the cookies: Lightly flour your work space. Take out one disc of dough and roll out into a 9" circle. Spread a thin layer of jam evenly over the circle, leaving a 1/2" border. Sprinkle with a tsp of cinnamon sugar. (If making chocolate rugelach, spread a super thin layer of jam and cinnamon sugar like above, then sprinkle the mini choco chips evenly, then press into the dough so it'll be secure when you roll it up. If making the raisin one, first sprinkle the raisins with a bit of cinnamon sugar and give them a rough chop. Then same directions - super thin layer of jam, a bit of cinnamon sugar, press chopped raisins into dough.)
Use a pizza cutter or large knife to cut the disc into 12 wedges (like a piza is cut). Starting from the wide end, roll each wedge towards the point. (Keep in mind you can also roll into a long rectangle that's 4-5" wide, then spread, roll, and cut.) Place the roll with the point on the bottom (so they don't unwrap) onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 while it chills.
Beat the egg in a small bowl, then add a bit of water and beat well to make the egg wash. Brush each cookie lightly with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar -- you can use more cinnamon sugar, turbinado, sanding sugar, or just plain sugar. Bake for 17 minutes.

Makes 48 cookies.

10 September 2010

spanakopita (or, greek spinach triangles)

'm a Top Chef fan, especially this season because it's set in my home town. DC, despite being a small city, has a plethora of really great restaurants. That is partially thanks to renowned chef Jose Andres, who's the mastermind behind Jaleo (supposedly the place that brought tapas to DC), Cafe Atlantico, Minibar, Oyamel, and Zaytinya. (I've been to all except Minibar, which is the one Bourdain went to in his DC ep, and is definitely in the top 5 of my To Eat At list). The Chef at Zaytinya is Top Chef contestant from last season, Mike Isabella. (See how I brought that right back around :-)) One of the most memorable things I ever ate there was a crab (or was it lobster?) spanakopita which was a special during the Easter season a few years back. It was AWESOME.

So I've had a hankering to make spanakopita lately, plus it's on my Hit List. Lo and behold, Mike Isabella has a little instructional series on just this dish. Here's the first vid. He says "uh" a LOT, but once you get past that, it's a really informative set of videos. I watched it a few times to get an idea of how to do it, and viola - here's my spanakopita!
The first time I tried to make this, I was fresh out of college. I knew I was supposed to defrost the phyllo... so I left it on the table for, like, an hour. When I started to unroll it, it cracked almost immediately! I promptly quit trying to make it, and haven't bothered since, lol. But this time, it phyllo was not as tough to work with, simply because I actually prepared well - fully thawed (won't forget that one), damp towel to keep it covered, everything organized so I could move quickly. That being said, I still tore a few sheets. And the towel can't be that wet because the phyllo turns gooey.

Please enjoy the pretty process pics. I <3 my new camera!

adapted from Mike Isabella's videos

1/2 large vidalia onion, diced
1 leek, white part only (mine was pretty small), diced
4-5 stalks green onion, diced
olive oil
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
8 oz package feta
1 egg
2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried parsley
freshly ground red pepper flakes, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
phyllo dough, defrosted overnight in the fridge
clarified butter

Heat olive oil over medium high heat and sautee onions until half translucent. Add the leeks and sautee another 2-3 minutes. Add the green onion and sautee until everything is soft.
Turn off heat, then add spinach and mix until everything's combined. Add about 1/2 tsp salt and peppers to taste. Put into a large bowl and allow to cool while you prepare the phyllo.

For the phyllo - cut into 11"x3" strips. The package of phyllo I got was 18 sheets, so I only had to cut one 3" strip -- this recipe makes 18. (Please see my note at the end of this post.) Cover with damp towel so it doesn't try out.

Add the feta to the spinach mixture and season to taste. Mix in the egg.

To form the spanakopita: Lay out a strip of phyllo. Brush with clarified butter. Put a heaping tablespoon of spinach mix in the bottom corner. Fold over to form a triangle, press down the filling a bit, then keep folding (like making a paper football). Brush top with more butter. Place on parchment lined paper.  When you have enough for one tray, put in fridge for at least 30 min (and then repeat until you're done with filling).
Make sure the oven rack is in the top 3rd, and then preheat oven to 350. Bake spanakopita for 8 minutes, then flip them over, and bake for another 3-4, or until the whole thing is toasty brown.

Enjoy hot! Mmm flaky.
When I do this again (and I'll be making this again soon because I have leftover phyllo), I'm going to play with the size and shape. For one thing, the one I had at Zaytinya was shaped more like a cigar, so I'll try rolls. Also, I don't think that I got enough flaky layers, so I'll double up the sheets of phyllo.

03 September 2010

crab cakes for Chesapeake eggs benedict

This baby is one of my favorite special breakfast ot brunch (or in crab fest's case, dinner) items.
Crab cakes by themselves are a treat, but top them with a runny poached egg and some hollandaise? Taking them to the next level. They're not terribly hard to make (assuming you know how to poach an egg, and if you want a good idea - google how Alton Brown does it cuz he's the man) but they do take some time and good timing to have everything come out at the same time. We cheated and used a hollandaise mix, thus the recipe for only the crab cakes here, since that's the only recipe we really used, hehe. But basically, if you have 2 people, great - one can poach the eggs while the other fries the crab cakes. OR if its just you, make the hollandaise first, then poach the eggs while the crabcakes are being broiled and muffins being toasted. By the way, split an English muffin with a fork, please! Nooks and crannies, folks... you don't get them if you use a knife, mmkay! 

Besides these crab cakes, you'll need English muffins, eggs to poach, and some hollandaise. Oh, and butter for the muffins. To make the eggs benedict: buttered muffin topped with crabcake topped with the egg topped with hollandaise. Serve with some homefries for breakfast. Mmmm. Or with salad for dinner. Mmmm.

Crab Cakes
adapted from allrecipes.com

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (1/2 if you don't like a little kick of heat)
1 1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp old bay powder
1/2 C crushed buttery round crackers
16 oz crab meat
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp mayonaisse
squeeze of half a lemon (no seeds!)
salt and pepper to taste
1 C panko
more oil for frying

Sautee green onion and garlic in the 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. Set aside and allow to cool while you combine the next five ingredients (from the dry mustard to the buttery round crackers) in a small bowl. Put crab meat into a large bowl. Add egg and mayonaisse to it then give a gentle toss. Add the spice mix, cooled onion/garlic, and lemon juice. Toss gently until combined well -- but be gentle so you keep the chunks of crab. Form into patties. This will make 12 small patties, or 8 larger ones. Use the english muffins as a size guide. Refrigerate until ready to use.

If you're going to fry these: heat up some olive oil over medium high heat. Coat each patty with panko, then fry until each side is golden brown.

If you're going to broil them, set oven to broil. Coat each patty with panko. If they're small, broil for about 6 min a side. If they're larger, about 8 minutes per side.

31 August 2010

I'm back, with stuffed mushrooms

Yeah, I'm still alive :-) What have I done in this past month? Hmm... got pretty sick, got better, went to the beach, watched a bunch of movies, played some softball. Notice that baking/cooking isn't listed. Yep, I've been bad about that. But here I am now, with food!
So the other weekend was crab and beer fest at National Harbor. Because we planned in advance (was that sarcasm?) we did not get the general admission tickets. Not to be defeated by that, though, we had our own Crab Fest at Chez Smurf (aka Ang.'s place). That led to the best of sayings...

"We went to Angela's house and all we got were these stinking crabs!"
"By the end of the night you WILL have crabs!"
"Who knew having crabs could be so good."

What was on the menu? Maryland crab soup. Crab bites. Crab cakes eggs benedict. Steamed snow crab legs. And these not so photogenic but very tasty crab-stuffed mushrooms. The mushroom caps came out a bit... black. But they were tender. I think using white mushroom caps would make much prettier stuffed shrooms, but guess I'll just have to make them again to find out, heh. Oh, and coincidentally, stuffed mushrooms were part of my Hit List, so yay I can cross another item off!
Oh, and by the way, these were yummy. Not overwhelmingly crabby, not too mushroomy, just the right amount of cheese. Maybe next time I'll add some panko breadcrumbs to the top for some crunch, but they're delightful as is.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
from allrecipes.com

24-30 baby portabella or white mushrooms
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 stalk green onions, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
1 C crab meat
1/4 C breadcrumbs
1/4 C crushed buttery round crackers (since I had them leftover from the crabcakes, otherwise just make it more breadcrumbs)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp dried dill
1 C monterey jack cheese, divided
1/4 C dry white wine

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with baking spray. Preheat oven to 375.

Remove stems from mushrooms and dice finely. Heat butter and oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add mushroom stems and green onions and sautee about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sautee an additional 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5-10 minutes.

Arrange the mushroom caps out in the baking dish and spray one more time with the spray. Bake for 10 minutes.

Mix in the lemon juice, crab meat, breadcrumbs, crushed crackers, egg, dill, and 1/2 C of the cheese to the mushroom stem/onion mix.

Fill with the crab mixture, and top with the rest of the cheese. Pour wine into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake 20-30 minutes or until mushrooms are soft. (Note: I wonder if I'd used white mushrooms that I'd have to bake them for a shorter amount of time, because at 20 minutes the baby bellas were still on the raw side. Just something to keep in mind.)

25 July 2010

peach pocket pie

I went to the farmers market yesterday with the intention to buy some sour cherries. Shows what I know - there wasn't a cherry to be found; guess cherry season's over, lol. There were, however, peaches everywhere. And I heart peaches. See - I got 2 lbs. Mmm. Farmers market swag:
Remember that poll I had a couple weeks back when I had all these ideas of what to make? I ended up making the galette, but this time around I'll be using those delicious peaches to make hand pies aka pocket pies. I used the same dough recipe from the galettes, and they translate to these little pies nicely. These were flaky, sweet and fresh tasting. Made a great snack for me and the fam at the Beach Boys concert at Wolftrap today. Look how pretty:

Peach Pocket Pies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 recipe pie dough (split into 2 pieces, wrapped and refrigerated at least 2 hours, preferably overnight)
1 lb peaches
1/8 C flour
1/8 C sugar (my peaches were pretty sweet, so I only used 1 tbsp)
1/2 tsp bourbon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten (for the egg wash)

Make the filling: Peel and dice peaches into about 1/2" pieces. Mix in the flour, sugar, bourbon and vanilla until combined.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 of the doughs to about 1/8" thick and cut 4-5" circles - I used one of my bowls to cut them out, but a cookie cutter or the top of a circle tupperware will work. Spoon 1 to 2 tbsp of filling (just the fruit, skip the liquid that forms) onto the half of each circle. Dip your finger into the egg and brush around the circumfrence of the circles. Fold over one half to make a half moon and press down the edges to seal - use a fork to make crimp the edges shut. Repeat with the rest. Put pies into the freezer to chill dough for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375. Place chilled pies on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with clear sanding sugar if you'd like to decorate. Use a knife to poke a small hole in the top of each pie. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes about a dozen pies.

PS - these are awesome with vanilla ice cream :-)

Oh I just have to throw this little aside in there - I went to the Beach Boys concert, right. They sounded the same - upbeat tunes and great harmonies. I was singing along and dancing, hehe. I was also very Very *VERY* thrilled when I saw that JOHN STAMOS was performing with them! He was on guitar, drums, bongos, and even sang a song! He was so clearly loving every moment of it -- I totally flash backed to that episode of Full House when Uncle Jesse got to perform with them. He was dancing and taking pictures with his phone, pulled a girl wearing an Uncle Jesse tshirt onto the stage to dance with him. He was yummy icing to a very fun show (made even more fun by the mini hurricaine we had that drenched the lawn and dropped the temps some 20 degrees... glad I was in the theater so I didn't actually get wet by the rain.). It's the best concert I've been to this year, I think. Oh, and by the way, John Stamos -- still super freaking hot. Wish I had a camera that coulda caught this better... we were in row O and my phone didn't get the best shot, but I tried:
All the more reason to upgrade cameras, hehe.

23 July 2010

first time's a charm: french macarons

You ever have moments where you want to throw your arms in the air and shout, Queen of the Kitchen! Cuz tonight I definitely did. I present to you: French macarons.
So the first time I ever tasted a French macaron was maybe a month or two ago. I talked Brandt into baking some - purely because I was too intimidated to make them myself. Intimidated? Yeah. Google the French macaron and you'll see so many blogs talking about how tempramental macarons can be. Meringues in general can be tricky, so making a little treat where the meringue is simply the base? Ugh. Let someone else make it. Hi Brandt! Okay so he made them, right, and they were good! As much as I bake/cook I don't usually go back for seconds after I try anything that first time, but I think I ate, like, half a dozen... and it would have been more had he not run out.

Flash forward to this week when I decided it was time to tackle macarons myself. Was I still intimidated? Yup. I mean I've been researching these puppies for weeks now... seen plenty of pictures of failed ones, read lots of stories of how many times someone had to try it before it finally worked out. Where are the feet!? They shells are too bumpy! They didn't puff up! They puffed up too much! I looked at these freshly piped dollops of batter and mentally prepared myself for the worst.
There is a flip side to all that research. I read about all the techniques needed to make these a success. I learned that it will take anywhere from 1 to 5 days for the whole process start to finish. I learned that weighing them is your best bet (but estimated conversions will be listed below.) I learned that by letting the batter sit for a while after piping, their outside shells will harden a bit. I'm guessing that makes for a very delicate top. I took all the tips into account, and these turned out exactly right -- crisp delicate top, airy middle, meringue-y cookie part. Smooth tops. And look at the feet! Queen of the kitchen!
The recipe below is for the shells. A macaron is basically a sandwich with 2 shells and a filling - often ganache, buttercream, jam, or curd. In my first picture, I filled them with key lime curd, peach preserves, and raspberry jam. (I had all three in my fridge, convenient yay!) The curd was my favorite, though I look forward to trying a flavored buttercream or ganache... and to trying different shell flavors too. In the mean time, heck, I could happily eat the shells by themselves!
One more note: Of the dozens (seriously, dozens) of blogs I read to find recipes and tips, the vast majority of the variations are based off of Tartlette's recipe. Apparently she is the macaron goddess. Thus, this recipe is from Tartlette.

French Macarons

90g egg whites (just a touch less than 3 egg whites)
25-50g vanilla sugar (2 tbsp to 1/4 C)
110g blanched almonds (about 3/4 C)
200g confectioners sugar (about 1 1/2 C)

Prepare/Age the eggs: Separate the whites from the yolks, place whites in a really really clean bowl, and cover loosely. Let it sit at room temperature 1 to 3 days. I aged mine for 3 days. You can also refrigerate up to 5 days.

Prepare the almond meal: Combine almonds and confectioners sugar in a food processor and proccess until it's very fine. Sift through a strainer to keep the big bits out and regrind as necessary, until pretty much all of it can be sifted through.

Make the meringue: In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy -- it should look like a bubble bath. Continue beating and add sugar little by little (I added 2 tbsp worth) just until it forms a glossy meringue that looks like shaving cream - you should just get stiff peaks.

Add about half the almond meal/powdered sugar mix to the meringue and mix in - about 10 strokes. Gently fold in the rest of the dry mix until it comes together. You know it's done if you cut your spatula through it and it sinks back into itself within 10 seconds. You can also take a little bit and dollop it onto a plate - it should flatten on its own. If it's got peaks, fold a couple more times. This whole thing shouldn't take more than 50 strokes.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag or zip top bag with the batter. If using a zip top bag, snip off the bottom corner when ready to pipe. Pipe small rounds - about 1" in diameter - onto the baking sheets. It should spread a little, so leave an inch between each one. Let sit for 1 hour so the shell hardens.

Preheat oven to 300. Bake for 14-18 minutes, depending on the size. My small ones baked in 15 minutes. I made bigger ones (about 2" diamater) and they took 16 min.