February 27, 2008

When Life Hands You Lemons

Lemon Meringue Pie
Make Lemon Meringue Pie.

Lemon Meringue Pie
And now, to bed.

February 22, 2008


Saturday morning is the annual Lion's Club Pancake Breakfast. I think I'll go and bring my outside syrups with me. Can't have pancakes without good syrup, and I've got a good maple and a Chokecherry. Goodness knows I've got a peanut butter jar for everyone in the family to take along. Otherwise it'd be Aunt Jemima and Parkay.

Retiring from cooking has just meant lousy food, blogging, and some extra TV watching to avoid homework. I might as well be cooking. I'm thinking diner fare for Sunday dinner. Maybe I'll revisit the Reuben; a side of something potato-based, could be chips, fries, potato salad; and pie for dessert. It's all gotta be kosher, though, if you're starting with a Reuben. No bacon at this meal!

February 21, 2008

I'm a Nutt

E-mail from Katie this morning:
Hey did you see the stuff in the aj about peanut butter...they must've come and taken a picture last night when you were gone


Yep, I'll admit it. There are no fewer than seven jars of various nut butters in my pantry tonight. That's probably a six-month low for me, too. I haven't replaced my rather recently depleted Jif Extra Crunchy and Creamy varieties. I've got Nutella, honey-roasted versions, cashew butter, and sunflower seed butter; among my favorites is The Heat Is On, a spicy peanut butter - fine for sandwiches and great for mole! The White Chocolate Wonderful is even better. I'll confess that I've eaten that stuff straight out of the jar many times. Hence the stock is currently out. I suspect that it would also make a great peanut butter swirl in some homemade ice cream. Unfortunately, I can't get those two in local stores. Sites to check out:

Peanut Butter & Company

I don't know how you feel about ordering foodie stuffs online. I remember reading Candyfreak a couple of years ago and deciding I must try the Five Star Peanut Butter Bar from Lake Champlain Chocolates. (Yikes! I think they've gone up in price since then.) I'd go to equal lengths to get my Xocolatl hot chocolate, which I don't even see on the site anymore, See's Nut and Chew Bars, etc. On the wish list now: BonBonBar's Malt Bar from a one-woman startup in L.A. I'm a sucker for malt. Would also like to have a Mozart Piano Bar. It's been too long! I say order now while it's winter and you don't have to pay for warm weather shipping.

These foodie indulgences of mine may be a little ridiculous. Here's something else I could probably get into: fresh dairy products from local creameries. (That Times story has to include the best aptonym of all time, quoting Nancy Nipples, the dairy farmer.) Raw milk does taste better. There's a good goat creamery, Haute Goat Creamery, here in town. I'm a huge fan of the honey flavored cheese.

February 17, 2008

Tighten Our Belts

My retirement from cooking isn't just hurting me. Mom called to say that today for lunch they ate Lit'l Smokies and cereal. More sympathetic I could not be. I drank a root beer and ate leftover peanut butter fudge, which wasn't very good in the first place. On a brighter note, I did more homework this afternoon than I've done in, well, there's no reason to dredge up the distant past.

February 16, 2008

Saturday Is a Special Day

It is mighty cold and lonely in this house. I think my thermostat is lying to me. I know it isn't above freezing in here. I could warm up the house by turning on the oven to bake a cake. That's the usual mode of coping with winter chills around here. Another is eating Scottish Oatmeal, which I happily did.

A quick writeup of the St. Valentine's Day dinner menu follows, but first, I spend way too much time thinking about food, browsing recipes, and planning menus. Unfortunately for me, it's time for a hiatus, while I instead contemplate my future as a grad student and non-surgical ways to reduce my waistline. So, I'm going on sabbatical.

The dinner menu included a salad of red leaf lettuce and chicory, a simple vinaigrette, honey goat cheese, pears, and walnuts. For the main course, Steak au Poivre with a Brandied Cream Sauce. I bought two ribeyes, salted them, and covered one side of each steak with freshly cracked black peppercorns. Seared the steaks, non-peppered side first, in a tablespoon of vegetable oil at medium-high heat. After last week's rum cake bonanza, I'm on the wagon, so I used apple cider instead of brandy in the pan sauce, which also had shallot, chicken broth, and cream.

I used a Fingerling Potatoes recipe from Alton, a recipe which requires, brace yourself, one and a quarter pounds of kosher salt. I don't have a kitchen scale, so after a quick Google search failed me, I called Dad to get a weight:volume ratio for kosher salt. He made a guess and then said to Google the specific gravity of salt. Dad's got skills. All I know is that I poured a boatload of salt into that dutch oven along with the water and potatoes. I tossed them in a couple of pats of butter, sprinkled some black pepper over them, and served them with a dollop of crème fraîche and chives. Also served Cheese Muffins, as from Salsa Night. These are not rolls by any means. I don't know why I called them that before. Definitely biscuit-like.

I ran out of time and ambition to make Martha Stewart's Milk Chocolate Mousse Cake or whatever it was called. Instead, I made a batch of chocolate walnut fudge and one of peanut butter fudge. Quick to make and very so-so. Sometimes I find myself planning a menu by selecting a dessert, then working around it. It was strange for the dessert on this menu to be such an afterthought, thrown together and unspectacular, especially on such a Chocoholic holiday as Valentine's.

Valentine's Dinner

Sorry that the photo isn't very artsy. The camera batteries were dying/dead, and the food was getting cold. Here's a Gianduia photo of which I'm prouder. I've trained Chet well to immediately judge my cooking on presentation and taste. Chet said this cake ranked in the "top three" cakes of mine he's tried, but it's my favorite.


Before my self-imposed retirement from baking, I should make Daddy the next edition of Many Pies. Rather egotistical to show my love through my cooking, I know, but everyone likes pie. (See super cute comic by Dan Goodsell:)

February 10, 2008

Extraordinary Desserts

Chet deserved the best birthday cake in the world, so of course I offered to make it for him. He was browsing my cake photos and saw a good-looking cake.

Gianduia Gianduia

But it wasn't one that I made. The Extraordinary Desserts Gianduia Cake was so not in my repertoire. Mom, Wendy, and I tried it during our San Diego trip last summer. Here's how Karen Krasne's website describes it:

No sweat, right? This certainly turned out to be the most ambitious cake-making I've done to date. First, I made another(!) Devil's Food Cake. I made a basic chocolate mousse but added a couple of teaspoons of Frangelico. Then I made a hazelnut buttercream, also flavored by Frangelico. I bought some boysenberry jam. The only variety of boysenberry anything available at United was Knott's Berry Farm Boysenberry Jam. Tasty stuff, but I watered it down to make it more spreadable on the cake. I made a hazelnut brittle that was unfortunately too heavy on the hazelnuts. I also made a basic ganache, except I added some butter and whipped it after it cooled.

GianduiaAssembly: I sliced the cake layers. That was no easy task. I don't know what it is with me and that recipe, but the cake is always super soft and sticky. I didn't really halve the layers as I usually do. Instead I cut the top third off of each cake and reserved the thin upper crust, so to speak. I sprinkled a tablespoon(+) of Myers's Rum over the cake layers. I placed the bottom cake layer on the cake stand. Then I spread boysenberry jam over the cake. Next I spread the hazelnut buttercream over the cake, rather thickly. Then I placed the next cake layer on top of that. I spread a layer of jam over the second cake layer. I spread a thin layer of buttercream over that. Next I spread a thick layer of chocolate mousse over the cake. Then I placed the reserved upper crust layers on top of the mousse. As I said, the cake was very crumbly, so it was more like merging a lot of crumbs into a thin but cohesive cake layer. I spread a layer of buttercream on top and spread a very thin coating of chocolate mousse around the sides of the cake. I crushed the hazelnut brittle as best I could, and pressed it into the top and sides of the cake. Then I used a star tip to pipe the ganache around the cake. (I am truly awful at piping frosting. I need to practice correctly wielding a pastry bag.)

If and when I ever have a free weekend to make this cake again, here's what I would do differently: Use a cake recipe with more eggs that rises higher and isn't quite so sticky and unstable. I'd cut back on the amount of rum sprinkled on the cake layers. Maybe experiment with hazelnut frostings. This is obviously a rich cake, and the buttercream just seems extra heavy. Try some different hazelnut brittle recipes. Krasne describes the cake as being covered with pralines, but those sweet bits seemed awfully crunchy and brittle-like to me. I don't even know that the nut she uses is hazelnut. I think the flavor worked. I just plan to cut back on nuts in the brittle itself. I think that Krasne puts the boysenberry on top of the buttercream, not the cake as I did. Not sure. It probably doesn't matter. For the ganache, I'm cutting out the butter and would whip it much less if at all.

GianduiaAll of those ideas are subject to a second tasting tomorrow. I would say that I'd up the boysenberry ratio, but I would have preferred to serve the cake in a pool of boysenberry coulis and white chocolate swirls. And had Chet not been busy programming, I'd have taken the time to get the extra presentation points by doing so tonight.

Devil's Food Cake
Chocolate Mousse, doubled, plus white sugar and Frangelico
Hazelnut Buttercream and Ganache, pretty close to what I did
Hazelnut Brittle

Enchilada DinnerAlso this weekend: New York Cheesecake and my first attempt at Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas. Wendy laughed at me because I can't ever get my rice right. All manner of desserts and layer cakes don't present the problem that I seem to have with rice. Pathetic. I didn't have time to prettify the picture. I'm going into retirement until Valentine's Day.

What's on your Valentine's Day dinner menu?

February 5, 2008

Use Your Bean

More fun than Super Bowl XLII?:
  • sleeping
  • making mole (That's mo-lay. Like ¡Olé! Except with the accent on the penultimate syllable. Uh, never mind.)
  • eating dinner with my favorite people
  • decorating a cake
  • Devil's Food Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
  • eating a cake
  • watching Notorious
Also this weekend, more fun than homework?:Frosting the Devil's Food Cake with Coffee Buttercream.  Pay no attention to the messy table.  Eek!
  • Salsa Night
  • making The Once and Future Beans
  • eating said beans
  • making two Devil's Food Cakes
  • making coffee buttercream
  • frosting a birthday cake
  • going to a birthday party and watching a magic show
Lest you think that cooking is not as exciting as the Super Bowl or homework, let me remind you that cooking at my house usually involves high drama. While making the beans, for example, I literally had to break the lid off the molasses jar. What's stickier than molasses, really? I couldn't twist the lid off, and there was no one home to help me. I tried running the bottle under warm water, using towels to grip with, and then hitting the lid with a knife trying to loosen it. I ended up hitting the lid many times with progressive force, and probably with more anger than purpose, but you can't argue with results. There's probably a reason for mise en place. I already had a pan of simmering bean matter when I realized I couldn't open the jar of molasses. A run to the store wasn't a tempting option. I also acquired a new scar by hitting my hand against the hot oven ceiling while stirring the beans. Chopping two pounds of bacon with a relatively dull knife was a challenge, too. High drama, indeed.

I made two Devil's Food Cakes because I thought the first one, destined for the birthday party, looked a little short and felt sticky. To be safe, I made the same recipe again, but took more care creaming the butter and sugar. More drama: my oven was occupied with two pots of beans, so I had to find a spare oven on short notice. The birthday cake, second edition, got frosted with a coffee buttercream. It was easy enough to whip up, no drama there, and I topped the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans. I usually enjoy coffee-flavored desserts, but this was too strong for me. I much preferred the vanilla buttercream I used to frost the reject cake the next day.

Devil's Food Cake with Coffee Buttercream

February 2, 2008

Salsa Night

Pepper Peach Salsa Chicken with Rice, Broccoli, and Cheese Roll

I love cooking on the weekends, because I have enough time to make several courses. I am the world's slowest cook, and I need the luxury of being able to take my sweet time with everything. Even with my incredible slowness, the Pepper Peach Salsa Chicken was a speedy dish to prepare.

Chet discovered the wonderful Robert Rothschild Farm Hot Pepper Peach Preserves. Upon tasting it, I thought it could make a great pan sauce for chicken breasts. Katie has a good recipe for Apricot Salsa Chicken. It easily adapted to using the peach preserves and peach nectar. The recipe can be halved or doubled as well. I tried my hand at cheese rolls, too. These were very quick to mix up and complemented the meal well. The recipe said to coat muffin tins with a teaspoon of shredded parmesan, use extra sharp cheddar cheese cubes in the dough, and then top the rolls off with another teaspoon of parmesan.

Pound Cake with Lemon GlazeFor dessert, we had pound cake. Pound cake is definitely quicker to mix up than your typical layer cake. For the glaze, I got to use the microzester that Wendy gave me for Christmas. I am too anti-gadget sometimes, thinking I don't need any more tools in the kitchen. The microzester worked so quickly and yielded tiny shreds of zest, while using the smallest holes on a box grater takes more effort, produces too large zest, and often collects bitter pith as well. No, I didn't serve the cake with the goofy flowers. We had planned to practice some dance steps after dinner, but after all that food, watching episodes of The Office sounded more appealing.

I am saddened by the lack of participation in the favorite birthday cake survey. I needed inspiration for a birthday cake with universal appeal. As it is, the party theme is Texas BBQ, so I'm taking The Once and Future Beans and a Devil's Food Cake with Coffee Buttercream. I figure coffee was the closest thing to dessert the cowboys had on the trail.