Friday, January 30, 2009

Quick Biscuits

Breakfast! A biscuit with apricot preserves and an unholy amount of butter.
I didn't actually eat it this loaded up, but aren't biscuits pretty with too much butter & jam on them?

Though I have previously professed my love for bagels here, I have to admit that my first love was definitely biscuits. I am a descendant of North Carolina farmers, biscuit making is in my blood. They take no time to make, so they're great for a quick, warm, filling breakfast or last-minute pot luck offering, among other things.

Other options:
Put the dough in a 9x9" square pan (greased) and cut the biscuits into squares or rectangles to serve. You can also use this recipe to make pigs in a blanket, but they're pretty crumbly. I don't mind.


Makes 6 biscuits, Takes about 25 minutes.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into cubes
2 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425º.
Add the lemon juice or vinegar to the milk in a measuring cup. Set aside.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the cubed butter and combine by smashing with a wooden spoon or your hands until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir until just combined. Turn out onto a piece of parchment paper and press the dough out flat, about 1/4" to 1/2" thick. The thicker the dough is, the thicker the biscuits (duh). Cut with a circle cutter and place on a cookie sheet, either touching or spread out. Bake about 10 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges.

Serve immediately. They have a shelf life of about 24 hours, and are lovely when toasted the 2nd day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


A friend of mine who reads this blog asked me to do a post to familiarize readers like her with the tools I refer to in my recipes. Who am I to say no? Give the people what they want. But she only asked about this one thing:

The Pastry Cutter.
This is my 2nd-favorite kitchen tool -- my favorite is the whisk. There's just something about them. Anyway, the pastry cutter, also sometimes called a pastry blender, is the hand-tool version of the dough hook on a standing mixer. They're great for nearly any recipe that involves dough, though once the dough is starting to be, well, doughy, it's best to scrape the pastry cutter clean and use your hands. Biscuit dough is one exception, I'm sure there plenty of others.
It's also great for blending things like guacamole, because you can whisk and smash simultaneously, or for any mixture that involves a bowl. Because of its shape it lifts the contents of the bottom of the bowl back to the top as you go, so the mix is always even.
You can get these at any kitchen store, or the kitchen dept of most large stores. They're also available online. Mine is by Oxo, and I love it. There are also many versions with solid metal at the bottom, I'm sure those are perfectly nice too, but I don't like the look of them, personally.

Anyway, if you want to make lots of bread, I strongly recommend buying one of these bad boys. It'll make your kitchen life a lot happier.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Banana Bread

Isn't it sad when bananas go black before you have a chance to eat them? NO! Cause that means you have an excuse to make banana bread! Delicious warm moist sweet banana bread. My boyfriend insists on calling it banana cake, no matter how many times I correct him. If you have any banana bread left the morning after it's made, it's heavenly when toasted and buttered, though I recommend keeping a close eye on it if you've got a butter-fiend cat around. I do, as you can see:
That is a Mummy mug, but it's for the Mummy rollercoaster at
Universal Studios, which is totally badass, unlike the movies.

Alternative recipe options: The nuts are, of course, optional, and you can put in any kind of nuts you want but I like pecans the best for most recipes. Walnuts are the second favorite choice. You can leave out the sugar if you're minding your health, it's still plenty sweet from the bananas themselves. You can also substitute 1/3 cup brown sugar or 1/4 cup of honey in place of the sugar. If you use honey, mix it in with the wet ingredients instead of with the dry. Also, if by some miracle the bread goes uneaten for a few days, it makes really wonderful bread pudding. I've only had the opportunity once, but I look forward to making it again. When I do, I'll share it here, of course.

Banana Bread

Prep time 15 minutes, ready in about an hour

3 very ripe black speckled bananas
2 large eggs slightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup plain yogurt
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried ground ginger (optional)
1 handful of whole nuts (1/2 cup?)

Preheat the oven to 350º and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray (or grease it with butter).
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.
In a medium bowl, mash and stir the bananas with a fork until they look kind of like baby food. Add the yogurt, eggs, vanilla and butter and mix with a wooden spoon.
Dump the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir just until the flour is incorporated. Add the nuts and mix in. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about an hour. Check for doneness at 50 minutes. It is done when the crust is brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
I recommend serving it immediately with butter and coffee.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pork Chops in Mustard Sauce

I made pork chops on a whim recently, because I'd only made them once before and done such a bad job of it that I wanted to make a point of doing them well. I browsed through some recipes in a coupe of my cookbooks, and got a sense of the sorts of things that go into marinades and sauces and the methods of cooking pork, and threw this together with what was in my pantry. It got rave reviews as it was eaten, so I thought you might like to try it. It's really easy, and really tasty. As you can see I served it with stuffing and string beans sauteed in garlic.

Chops in Mustard Sauce

Serves 4
Prep a few hours ahead, Cooking time 15 minutes

4 pork chops
1 tsp Dijon mustard with lots of seeds
½ cup apple cider vinegar, or more to taste
1 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp sage
2 tsp honey
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp coriander
dash of salt
dash of ground black pepper
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
¼ cup sherry
1 tb butter
¼ cup water

Mix all but the butter, sherry and water in a wide flat dish and marinate the pork chops in this, covered, for an hour or more, or as long as overnight.

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, place the pork chops as close to the center as possible without touching each other and press them down to the pan to ensure maximum contact. Do not pour the marinade in the pan yet.
After cooking for 5 minutes or so on one side, flip the chops and press them again, adding the sherry, butter, and half of the marinade. Cook for 5 minutes covered then check for doneness by cutting into the middle of one of the chops. Once the chops are cooked through, remove them to plates and add the rest of the marinade and a little water to the skillet, scraping and stirring to incorporate the browned marinade from the chops' initial searing.
Pour over chops and serve immediately.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Turkey Burgers

My boyfriend doesn't care much for beef, for many reasons, and so I have switched from hamburgers to turkey burgers as a staple. It helps that ground dark-meat turkey is really tasty! I made up a sauce the same night I made these burgers for the first time, and now I will not make one without the other. The chipotle hot sauce listed below is available in most grocery stores for less than $3, maybe in the Mexican section. I'm a wuss when it comes to spicy sauces, but the ranch and honey soothe the burn quite beautifully, in my opinion. I have yet to serve this to anyone who has disagreed.

Turkey Burgers
Prep time 30 minutes, serves 5 or 6 depending on the size of your patties.

1 package ground turkey, about 2 lbs
half of a medium onion, diced
3 or 4 thin slices of onion for sauteeing
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp Adobo or seasoned salt
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning (or just sage)
dash of salt & pepper
1/3 cup cooking sherry
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
1 avocado, sliced
4 to 6 deli sandwich rolls or burger buns
honey chipotle ranch sauce (see below)
colby/monterey jack

Sautée the onion and garlic in a large skillet with olive oil and paprika, add water if you want, and cook until softened. Remove from heat and separate the onion/garlic from the oil as much as possible. Do not wash the skillet, the flavors of the onion and garlic in the oil is part of what makes these burgers good!

In a medium bowl, mix the turkey and onion/garlic until well blended, adding salt, pepper, adobo, poultry seasoning, and paprika. Form into patties, making a little crater with your thumb in the middle -- this helps them stay flat when you cook them. Set the patties on a plate.

Heat skillet to medium-high and add sherry, plus a little more olive oil if needed. When it's good and hot, put the patties in. Turn the heat down to medium-low after about 2 minutes and cover.
Cook the burgers until golden and a little crispy on the edges, flipping as often as you please. Add cheese and thinly sliced onions, cover the pan again, and toast your rolls. Once the rolls are toasted, put the burgers on them and sautee the onions a bit more.

On the bun: avocado, sauteed onions, Burger, cheese, and this sauce:

Honey Chipotle Ranch Sauce
1/2 cup ranch dressing
3 to 5 tbsp chipotle hot sauce, or more depending on your heat tolerance
3 tbsp honey

Stir together in a small bowl. Add more of any ingredient to taste.

These burgers and this sauce are a match made in heaven for sweet potato fries. Trust me!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet potato fries are one of the best simple foods around, if you ask me. That salty crispy exterior that holds in all the sweet melt-in-your-mouth goodness inside. Man, I just had these for dinner last night but I already want some more!

Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 3, prep time 30 minutes plus hour of freezing time

2 large sweet potatoes
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp brown sugar
several cups of vegetable or canola oil for frying

Cut the sweet potatoes into fries. I always start this by cutting them in half to give myself a nice flat edge to sit them on while I cut them up. Put the cut fries into a large bowl, and put them in the freezer for at least one hour.
Heat your oil in a deep pot or turn on the fryer, if you have one. Lay out some paper towels on a pizza pan or big plate to drain the fries on. Mix the salt, paprika, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle the tablespoon of corn starch over the fries and make sure they are all thinly coated. This is what gives them crispy exteriors.
When the oil is very hot, add the fries. A two-hand handful is about the right amount to fry at one time, for most pans. If there are so many fries in the oil that some are not submerged, it's too many. Fry each batch until browned around the edges. Remove them to the paper towels and sprinkle with the seasoning mix.
Once all the fries are done, shuffle them with your hands so that the hot ones and the not-so-hot ones are evenly distributed and everything gets plenty of seasoning.

I strongly recommend dipping these in ranch dressing, and/or serving them with turkey burgers. I'll post that recipe for you tomorrow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Classic Pancakes

This pancake recipe is brought to you by my grandma's 1951 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and the phone call I got a few days ago from a good friend who was interested in making pancakes from scratch. Figures she'd call me - I've got a strict No Boxed Mixes rule, so of course I have a tried-and-true pancake recipe handy. I have made some adjustments from the original recipe, because a) for some reason the amount of milk called for in that cookbook leaves you with thick almost doughy batter that never cooks all the way through, and b) I can't ever leave a recipe how I found it.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 cup + 2 or 3 tbsps whole milk
2 tb vegetable oil or melted butter
1 tsp butter for the skillet

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and oil.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined. Batter should be slightly lumpy.
Heat your skillet over medium/high heat and add the tsp of butter. When this butter is bubbly, you're ready to go.
Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, pour one pancake in the middle of the skillet. How this one cooks will determine whether you need to add more milk or not. If it doesn't spread out sideways, or if the bubbles don't show up for several minutes, you need more milk to thin it out. If it cooks too fast, turn your heat down a little.

Once you know your batter's the right consistency, you can put one or two pancakes onto the skillet at a time. They will be about 5" or 6" so leave room for them to spread. When the pancake has bubbles all over the top, it's time to flip it. Each side should only take 2 or 3 minutes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

French Toast

This is my mom's recipe. She never measured it, and honestly I don't either, but just for you I actually measured when I made myself this hefty stack of French toast for brunch today.

Serves 2, takes about 10 minutes. You can double or quadruple this recipe with no trouble. If you start to run out of the eggy mixture before you're out of bread, add a little milk and whisk it in.

French Toast

6 slices of wheat bread (or white)
3 eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 pinches of salt
2 tbsp butter for the skillet

1. Heat your skillet while you whisk together all ingredients except the butter.
2. Add about 1/4 of the butter to the skillet. It should sizzle and foam up a little. If it doesn't, wait another minute or two before cooking, and add more butter.
3. Dip a piece of bread in the egg mixture, covering both sides. Hold by a corner and let drip a little, then carefully place in the skillet leaving room for another piece. Dip and place another slice in the skillet.
4. After 2 or 3 minutes, lift up one corner with a spatula. If it is browned, flip both pieces of bread over and let cook for the same amount of time. You may want to add a little more butter when you flip them, I always do.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you've cooked them all.
6. Top with maple syrup, chopped nuts, sliced bananas, butter, powdered sugar, brown sugar, whatever you want. It's also really good without any toppings.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Unbelievable Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok, so, chocolate cookies are totally basic and classic and wonderful. A friend of mine said that they're simple compared to the things I make most of the time (like peanut butter cake and chocolate cherry rum fudge), which might explain why I don't make them very often. The truth is, I don't make them very often because every time I do the batch lasts only a few hours and everyone in the house grumbles about having eaten too many. Maybe it's because there's something special about chocolate chip cookies that is so very satisfying in the way that hugs from your favorite family members are satisfying. You know?

I have experimented with chocolate chip cookie recipes for the past few years and this recipe is the result of that experimentation. It has double the vanilla and a little more salt than most recipes. The double vanilla is just because I love it so much, and the salt counteracts it and brings some savory into the picture to accompany the walnuts. I have faith that these will become your favorite chocolate chip cookies the first time you try them, but I would love to try any recipes you might want to email me as a challenge.

Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 slightly-overfull cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (optional, it makes them good though)
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled to warm
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1) Preheat the oven to 325º with racks in the middle and upper-middle positions.
2) Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
3) Mix the butter and sugars in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat until just combined.
4) Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of flour and beat until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
5) Drop lumpy tablespoonfuls on a cookie sheet, at least 2" apart. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Baguettes & Boules

For sandwiches, crostini, to spread with jam or cheese, there is nothing better than freshly baked French bread. Italian bread is nice, too, but as with most things I like the French version better.


1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
Oil for bread pan

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit for 2 to 5 minutes, or until foamy and showing signs of life.
2. Combine flour and salt in a very large bowl using a pastry cutter, then add the yeast mixture and stir.
3. While still stirring, have a helper add the cold water in a steady thin stream and continue stirring until the mixture becomes dough, about a minute. If you have no helper, you can just pour a bit at a time and stir it in before adding more.
4. Knead the dough either on the counter or in the bowl for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft. If it is hard to knead, dip your fingers in cold water and proceed with kneading (repeat as needed) until the dough is softened. If the dough is too wet, add a little flour to the kneading surface.
5. Form the dough into a ball and flatten it to a fat disc, then place it in the bottom of the mixing bowl. You should grease the mixing bowl slightly and get some of the oil on all sides of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I usually set the bowl over the warm part of the stove where the pilot heat exhaust is. Sitting it near the radiator also works.
6. Punch down the dough and knead it for about 30 seconds to get some of the air bubbles out.
**If you want to, you can repeat steps 5 and 6 two or three times for varying levels of bread softness. I usually only punch it down once or twice.**
7. Cut or tear the dough into 2 parts and set one aside under plastic wrap or a towel so it doesn't dry while you work the first loaf. Flatten the dough into a large rectangle using your hands, pressing out air bubbles as you go, and fold the dough over itself in thirds (like a letter) lengthwise. Fold the ends underneath and pinch them well to secure them on the underside of the loaf. It should look like a baguette about now. You can make the loaf longer and thinner by rolling it with your hands if you want to. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover, and repeat with the other half of the dough. Cover both loaves and let rise by half, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450, then cut 1/2" deep diagonal slashes down the top of the loaves . Cover and let rise while the oven heats. Bake 20-25 minutes, and throw in 2 or 3 ice cubes after 15 minutes to improve the crust texture. They'll make a nice sizzling sound, but it won't hurt you I promise.

For a Boule
Starting at the end of step 6, Form the whole piece of dough into the smoothest ball you can by making a thick square and tucking the corners underneath, pinching them into the underside dough to hold them there. Place patched side down on a *lightly* greased baking sheet. Cover with a bowl or pot and let rise to double or triple its original size. Once it is huge, turn on the oven to 425 and cut a few deep slashes in the top with a serrated bread knife, cover and let rise a bit more while the oven heats. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing ice cubes into the oven after 15 minutes.

This bread is really great with peanut butter and blueberry preserves.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fish & Chips! or, Beer-Battered Tilapia on toasted Brioche

For those of us who don't have access to a nice local pub, I bring you good ol' fried fish and chips.
I like to serve fried fish on a toasted bun, with tomato and mayo and a little hot sauce (we use Marie Sharp's,
which we discovered and purchased in Belize last year. You can buy it online, it's worth it!) and, of
course, fries doused in salt and vinegar with a pint of beer on the side. The pickle is optional.

If you don't have a deep fryer, you can use a deep skillet or a wok or a large sauce pot. Just fill it at least 2" deep with oil and use a pair of tongs or a Chinese skimmer to get the food out. If you want to skip the bun, use 2 fillets and serve them whole.

Fish & Chips
Serves 2. Prep time about 1 hour, plus 1 hour of letting the fries freeze beforehand.

2 potatoes
1 fillet of tilapia (or cod, or flounder, or catfish)
1/4 cup beer
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
dash of chili powder
dash of black pepper
vegetable oil for frying
flour for dusting the fish
2 tbsp corn starch

Cut the potatoes into fries of whatever thickness you like best. I make them fat at one end and skinny at the other, though it's usually because my knife needs sharpening. There's nothing wrong with oddly shaped fries. Put the fries in a large bowl and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Now drain the water and lay the fries out over paper towels on a cookie sheet to dry them as much as possible. If they're still wet you'll get a lot of spattering when you fry them, and spattering HURTS. Put them in the freezer for an hour.

After abour 40 minutes of freezer time, start heating the oil over high heat and get your fish ready. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the milk, flour, beer, egg, and spices. The consistency should be similar to pancake batter but runnier. Add more flour or beer accordingly and stir well. Set aside.

Get the fries out of the freezer and dust them well with the corn starch. Fry them in large handfuls, but remember that the more fries are in the oil at a time the longer they take to cook. As each batch reaches the brown-and-crispy-edges stage, remove them and set them on paper towels to drain. They might get cold while you cook the fish, but you can re-fry some of them and mix them back in with the rest of the batch and they'll warm up.

Cut the fillet into 2 pieces. Drag each piece through some flour on a plate and then dip into the batter, then carefully drop into the oil. Flip occasionally, and remove from the oil when the batter has browned, and drain on paper towels before serving.

Don't forget to sprinkle salt and vinegar on the fries!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Everything Bagels, oh my!

I LOVE BAGELS. I mean, I REALLY love bagels. In the fall I moved from New York to Chicago, and before I packed a single box I swore that I would not move if I couldn't learn how to make good everything bagels. After all, once you're used to having a New York bagel every morning there's no turning back. Fortunately, one of the cookbooks on my shelf has a great recipe for bagels and was pretty easy to follow, though I have taken the liberty of rewording the whole thing for my own entertainment, and changing a thing or two (their recipe has too much salt).

When it comes to making things like bagels, or cannoli, or tarts or pies or any other multi-step recipe, I think the most important part is getting past being totally intimidated by the thought of how complicated the recipes sound. Don't be scared! Seriously, the hardest parts of making bagels are 1) kneading the dough in the first place, and 2) making the loops - the dough doesn't want to stick to itself. The rest doesn't actually take much time or effort. I like to make my bagel dough around 5 or 6 pm, and bake the bagels around 8 or 9 the next morning. Making the dough and forming the bagels takes about half an hour, maybe less. Boiling and baking them only takes about 30 minutes, too, so altogether it's not actually that time consuming. Especially since they last for at least two mornings, depending on how many bagels are late night snacks. How happy I was when I figured that out! I make bagels about twice a week now, much to my boyfriend's delight. He's so spoiled.

This recipe is adapted from The Best Recipe cookbook from America's Test Kitchen.

Everything Bagels

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp malt barley syrup
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tbsp dried garlic flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
tons of cream cheese

In your largest mixing bowl, combine the flour, barley malt, and salt with a pastry cutter. In a small bowl, add the yeast to the water, stir well, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with the pastry cutter until the dough becomes too dense to stir, then start kneading it into dough, rotating the bowl as you go. It will take several minutes for the dough to become smooth, and once it is smooth keep kneading for at least 4 more minutes. It's not going to be easy. Bagel dough is very dense and hard, but if it's dry and crumbly add a little more water by wetting your hands and kneading.

Separate your dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball then roll each ball out to a 'snake' about 11" long. Shape the dough into a circle and pinch it together with 1-1/2" dough-overlap. Again, this will not be easy. You can put your hand in the middle of the bagel and knead the seam under your palm.

Set the rolled bagels on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. They will rise slowly in the fridge, which is what gives them that wonderful texture inside.

This is important! See these dough balls and bagels?
They're my first ones, ever. These are bad examples. The bagels I make these days look much better but my new kitchen doesn't have the same nice light, so I can't show you until the weather improves. Your bagels should be smoother than these. I didn't knead this batch enough, and the dough was too dry in the first place. Your dough shouldn't look this powdery, ok?

.....many hours of sleep or movies or work later......

Now for the fun part! No, really!

Preheat the oven to 425º.
Boil a quart or two of water in a wide pot at least 3" deep. It should have room for 4 bagels in it at a time. Take the bagels out of the fridge and set them on the counter while you wait for the water to come to a full rolling boil. Now mix your seeds and salt and dried flakes in a deep plate or a bowl. I like to use a pie pan, personally. Now might also be a good time to get out the wire cooling rack to rest the bagels on after boiling.

Carefully place 4 bagels in the water. Boil them for about 30 seconds, dunking them with a slotted spoon from time to time. Remove them from the water to the cooling rack, let drip for a minute and dip them face down in the seeds, being sure to stir the seeds up after each bagel because the salt and poppyseeds tend to settle to the bottom. Place the bagels seedy side up on the cookie sheet and bake for about 14 minutes, or until you start to see a hint of browning on top.

I don't know about you, but I have not yet managed to bake bagels without burning myself, because I HAVE to try to eat one the second they come out of the oven. 425º is pretty hot.
These bagels will keep for up to 3 days. I find they get tougher in a cookie tin, soggy in a ziploc bag and are better stored in a paper bag. If anyone has better luck with some other means of storage, let me know!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cocoa Covered Sugar Cookies

I'm really picky about sugar cookies. They have to be chewy. In fact, I never even bake sugar cookies for cut-outs because I really just hate thin, crisp cookies. So I've taken the best sugar cookie recipe I've come across and rolled it into balls, rolled them in cocoa powder, and dropped the cookie cutters out of the equation altogether. The result is a domed, chewy cookie with a hint of chocolate on the outside and lots of vanilla on the inside.

The sugar cookie recipe itself is a variation of Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies, Excerpted from Baking: From My House to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Copyright 2006 by Dorie Greenspan, which I found posted at Half-Baked Baker and really liked the flavor of. I have made some changes from the original recipe.

Cocoa Covered Sugar Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth.
Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated — because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.
Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Whisk the sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Roll teaspoonfulls of dough into balls and roll each ball in the chocolate sugar. Place about 2" apart on cookie sheets and bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until slightly browned on top.

For flatter cookies, press the balls with the bottom of a glass or let the dough balls sit and lose their chill before baking, this will cause the dough to spread out more.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Icing

The things I do on whims! I am freqently surprised at the amount of time I'll spend on something I have a slight hankering for, or whenever find a weak excuse to make something I haven't made before, or to try to use my sugary wiles to cheer up a friend who's having a crappy week.
I bring this up because a friend of mine is currently having a rough week. A big box full of warm clothes and Christmas presents has gone missing in the mail, or maybe stolen from outside his apartment by a nasty neighbor or shady passerby. He has a cold. He has a lot of work to do. He mentioned offhand recently that he loves peanut butter and chocolate together. So, of course, I made him this cake to cheer him up, and now I will go back to crossing my fingers that his box of precious new goodies turns up tomorrow, and this can be a celebratory cake.

It takes about 30 minutes to get the cakes in the oven and make the icing, and another 20 or so to decorate it. You get two or more hours in between while the cakes bake and cool.

Reese's eat your heart out.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsps peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350º.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, peanut butter and vanilla until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just combined. Blend in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/3 of the yogurt, repeat until all ingredients are mixed.
Pour the batter into two greased 9" round cake pans and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cool completely before decorating.

Peanut Butter Icing

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cocoa powder
pinch of salt
2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar,
3 to 4 tbsp milk

In a medium bowl, cream the butter, peanut butter, salt and vanilla until very smooth and light. Mix in the confectioners' sugar half at a time, and add milk one tablespoon at a time until the icing is wet enough to be smooth, then continue to beat for a few minutes to get it nice and whipped and fluffy.

Smear a dab of icing on the center of your cake plate. Turn one of the cakes out of its pan carefully, and flip it over onto a flat clean surface. With a bread knife or a cake layer wire, trim the top of the cake so it is flat. Carefully pick the cake up again and place it cut-side down on the center of the cake plate, where the icing will hold it in place. Spread a layer of icing about 1/4" thick over the top of the cake. Turn the other cake out of its pan and place it right side up on the icing. Spread icing all over the top and sides. I would love to have had some chopped peanuts to decorate the sides of the cake, but peanuts don't live long in my apartment. We are nut fiends.

For the cake in the picture, I sprinkled cocoa powder on the middle of the cake and then used a star icing tip to cover the top and surround the edge with stars, then painted melted peanut butter around the edges. I had some chocolate icing left over from another cake and drizzled some of that on top, too.

Sourdough Sour Tuna Melt

Remember that sourdough bread? Turns out it makes for wonderful tuna melts.

Sour Tuna Melts
1 can of tuna
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp malt vinegar
fresh ground black pepper
pinch of mustard powder
2 slices of sourdough bread
1/4 cup shredded monterey jack
1 tsp chives

Toast the sourdough bread.
In a small bowl mix all ingredients but the cheese and chives, and spread on toasted sourdough.
Sprinkle the cheese on top, then the chives on top of that, and broil in a toaster oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown.

If you know what's good for you, eat it with a pint of beer and some tortilla chips with lime!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Ginger Cream Cheese Buttercream

In honor of my sister's birthday, I bring you a cupcake recipe I can't get enough of. I chose this one because of its cream cheese icing, which she can't get enough of.

This recipe also works really well as a layer cake, which you can see here. For the layer cake I used 9" round pans (lined with wax paper for smooth tops!) and cut a stencil out of wax paper for the topping. You can make a stencil of whatever you want if you're handy with scissors or an xacto knife. You can even print a simplified image and cut it out from the printer paper, you don't even have to draw.

I recommend starting the icing while the cakes are in the oven. I also recommend getting the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge when you start making the cake, so they're nice and soft and you can actually blend them when you're ready to start the icing. I've killed a hand mixer or two trying to cream some cream cheese that was still far too cold. This bad-boy survives through just about anything, though. One of the best Christmas presents I ever got. Don't worry, your hand mixer will be fine as long as you take the time to let the cream cheese soften - and don't microwave it, either.

On to the recipe!
Pumpkin Spice Cake:

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour or cake flour*
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (or more!)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves (or more!)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup butter at room temperature**
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup solid pack pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line muffin pans with cupcake cups, or just spray with nonstick if you are so inclined.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. You can add extra cinnamon and clove up to double the amount listed, but more than that gets overpowering. I learned the hard way.
In a separate large bowl, cream the butter with a hand mixer until it's fluffy. Gradually add the brown sugar, then the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with milk, 1/3 of one then 1/3 of the other. Finally, beat in the pumpkin.
Pour into the cupcake cups (they should each be 2/3 full) and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of one comes out clean. Let cool completely before decorating.

Cream Cheese Ginger Buttercream Icing:
say that five times fast!

1 8-oz bar of cream cheese
6 tbsp butter, softened but still cool (see **)
1 tb sour cream
1/2 tsp ginger or more to taste***
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

In a medium bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese, sour cream, ginger and vanilla with a hand mixer. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until fully combined and smooth. Spread over cooled cupcakes in a circular motion, then dust the cupcakes with cinnamon and clove.

* I never bother with fancy flours, all purpose has its name for a reason.
** I find that microwaving a whole stick of butter for about 15 seconds gets it to the perfect temperature. For smaller amounts of butter, microwaves in 5 second intervals to see what works best with your microwave.
*** You can use freshly ground ginger, but the flavor will be much stronger, so put in a tiny bit at a time and taste test. Too much ginger and it'll get that nice tingly burn, which is not something most people look for in icing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sourdough For Starters

To start this blog, I bring you a hearty dense and delicious sourdough bread. Up to a week in the making and worth it, this bread is surprisingly simple as long as you remember sniff-test and feed your starter every day. This is a four-step process: 1) make a starter. 2) turn the starter into sponge. 3) turn the sponge into dough. 4) bake it.

1) To start your sourdough starter:

Mix 1 cup each flour and warm water in a plastic container, and stir them well. Put a lid on it, set it aside, and the next day open it, stir it, dump out half, and replace it with 1/2 cup each of fresh flour and warm water. Repeat until, after a few days (anywhere from 3 days to a week) it smells really sour and has gotten bubbly and frothy. On this day, do not pour any out, for you are ready to make bread!

2) Sponge!
Pour your starter into a large plastic or glass bowl and add 1 cup each of flour and warm water. Stir it well and set it in a warm place for several hours (6 to 12) to ferment. The longer it sits, the more sour the bread will be. When it is frothy and leaning toward pungent, it's ready. You can start your sponge in the morning and make the dough when you get home from work, or do it in the evening and let it ferment overnight.

3) Dough!
For the dough, you will need:
  • 2 cups sponge
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
Transfer 2 cups of sponge into a large bowl. Put the unused sponge back into your plastic container and put it in the fridge, with a hole in the lid to let all the air from fermentation out - if you don't poke a hole, the lid might pop off and make quite a mess. Trust me on this.

Add the olive oil, sugar, and salt to the 2 cups of sponge, mix well, then add the flour a cup at a time. As the dough solidifies, if you find it too dry or crumbly to form a proper dough, dip your hands in water and knead with wet hands. Once you've got the bread at a good consistency, set it aside in a warm place, covered, and let rise until doubled.

Once it has doubled, punch it down, knead it a little, form the loaf shape of your choice (I like a big boule, personally). Cut deep slits in the top and let it rise double again before baking.

4) Baking!
Turn on the oven when you put the bread in (do not preheat) and bake at 350º for 35 minutes or until the crust is golden.