Sunday, April 22, 2012

Definitely my cup of tea

I don't like the taste of coffee.  I like the smell, and I don't mind adding espresso powder to chocolate recipes, but I don't like the flavor of coffee or most coffee-flavored things.  But that's okay, because I'm a tea drinker instead.  If I'm in the right mood, I'll drink fruity or herbal teas, but I mostly drink black teas, with milk and a bit of sugar.  My current favorites are from Stash--I order a lot of loose tea, but get some of my favorites in teabags, too, for the convenience.  I don't have to do that as much anymore, though, since they also make these handy filter bags so I can just make my own.  If I had to pick one favorite, it would be Christmas Morning, which I drink year-round.  I love the combination of flavors, especially the bit of jasmine.  

I make a lot of tea at home, and most mornings I'll fill my travel mug as well, but occasionally I run out of time.  So sometimes I'll get my tea fix at Starbucks.  I originally only went there for hot chocolate, then sometimes I'd get hot tea.  I really like their iced tea, too.  Then one day I discovered tea lattes (though I don't get one often, since they're more expensive).  Not the chai ones, since I don't like the chai they use, but black teas lattes.  The only problem is that the newer cashiers always seem so confused when I order one.  It took three or four visits for the latest guy to get it right--first he put it in as a coffee latte and I had to get it re-made.  Then he put regular black tea, which I caught, but in the process I didn't get the non-fat milk I requested.  Then the most recent time, he tried to do that again, but someone looked over his shoulder and showed him where the right button was.  We'll see what happens next time...

I admit, I sometimes succumb to the siren call of the pastry case at Starbucks as well.  The only problem is that the baked goods usually look better than they taste.  I do like the Maple Oat Pecan scones, but I tried a piece of lemon cake recently and was very disappointed.  Except for the tart icing, it tasted like it was made with lemon extract and it was too sweet.  It reminded me of why I need to make sure that I have homemade baked goods available for breakfast.  We're set for the beginning of this week, at least.  One of the first things I read in my Google reader is any new blog post from King Arthur Flour's blog.  A couple weeks ago they had one about a delicious-looking lemon streusel cake.  It immediately went on my list of things to make, but somehow I got sidetracked during my vacation and didn't get to it.  I thought about it again yesterday when I was trying to figure out a plan for Sunday breakfast.  I decided that I wanted to change things up a bit, though, and make it into muffins instead.  

I took an educated guess and figured that two-thirds of the batter would be about right for a dozen muffins.  I was hoping that would work out, since it was reasonably easy to reduce the ingredients by a third (the original batter called for three eggs, for instance).  I always have pecans on hand, so that was my choice for the nuts.  I didn't have the lemon juice powder, but the recipe says you can use extra lemon zest.  Since I wanted a bit of tartness that the zest alone wouldn't provide, I added a little citric acid to the topping and batter.  I also used the optional lemon oil in the batter.  The only change I made to the mixing method was an accident--I melted the butter for the streusel.  I've made plenty of other crumb toppings with melted butter, so I just went with it.  After I mixed up the topping ingredients, I put the mixture in the fridge so the crumbs would firm back up.  I divided the batter and topping evenly among the 12 muffin cups, using a scant quarter cup of batter for each (I used my #16 disher to fill the cups).  I stuck with the 350º baking temperature and my muffins took about 20 minutes to bake.  Once they had cooled for a few minutes, I drizzled lemon glaze on top of them.

The verdict?  I wasn't sure if I'd like the combination of lemon with cinnamon, but it ended up being quite tasty.  We all liked the muffins a lot, although Gillian wasn't thrilled that I had pecans in the topping.  She picked them all out.  If I'd chopped them fine instead of leaving them in bigger pieces, she might not have noticed them.  In any case, I'm sure this will be a repeat recipe around here.  The amount of batter ended up being just right for a dozen muffins, too--no messy overflow.  

If you'd like to try the original cake, you can find the recipe here at King Arthur Flour.  I love that their recipes give you the option for volume or weight, including both ounces and grams.  I'm including my ingredient list here as well.

Lemon Streusel Muffins - ingredients

For the streusel:
60 grams all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of citric acid
60 grams unsalted butter
60 grams coarsely chopped pecans
70 grams light brown sugar

For the batter:
160 grams all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon citric acid
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
75 grams unsalted butter, softened
140 grams sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil
2 eggs
150 grams sour cream

For the method, refer to the original recipe.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What I did during my spring vacation

I was on vacation last week--we didn't go anywhere, since I was the only one off (spring break for Brianna was a month ago), but it was a nice break from work.  I realized this weekend that I actually accomplished quite a few things on my to-do list.  I got some annual doctor appointments out of the way, including my first mammogram.  Gotta love getting older... =)  (It was kind of a weird experience, but not that bad. I've certainly endured more uncomfortable things--after all, I gave birth to two children.)  I bought some new sandals and gave myself a pedicure so I'm ready for all the warm weather around here.  Of course, then I had to paint two smaller sets of toenails as well.  I even got to have both lunch and dinner out with my husband.  I took him to lunch on Wednesday for his birthday (and made him cupcakes, too), and then the daycare did parents night out on Saturday.  Two nice meals sans kiddos in one week--unprecedented!

Surprisingly, I didn't do as much baking as I originally expected to.  But for a change, I did get a jump on making the latest TWD selection--I baked it over a week ago, in fact.  This week our recipe is Lemon Loaf Cake, and our hosts are Truc of Treats and Michelle of The Beauty of Life.  As I was reading over the recipe (contributed by Norman Love), I realized that I was already familiar with the mixing method for the cake batter.  Both Dorie's Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes and the French Pound Cake from Flour are mixed up in a similar fashion.  Instead of creaming butter and sugar together, you start off by mixing the eggs and sugar together.  Then you fold in the dry ingredients, and finally the liquids (cream and melted butter).

I like loaf cakes, but was in the mood for something different this time.  Gillian asked me recently why I hadn't made anything in the "bug pan" in a long time.  Since I previously used it for the Flour pound cake, I figured it would also work well for this recipe.  I was lucky enough to find the pan (pictured above) at Costco last spring, which made it much more affordable for a Nordic Ware pan.  It only has a 3 cup volume, though, so I knew I'd need to put the rest of the batter in something else.  I have some small loaf pans, but ended up going with my 6-cup bundt pan.  

Besides my pan choices, I did tweak the recipe in a few other small ways.  I borrowed Dorie's tip from recipes in Baking and rubbed the lemon zest into the sugar before combining it with the eggs.  I also used a bit more salt--1/4 teaspoon--and for the cake flour, I used King Arthur's Unbleached Cake Flour Blend.  After baking, I left the bugs unadorned, but couldn't resist dressing up the bundt cake.  After I removed it from its pan, I brushed it with a lemon syrup while the cake was still hot.  Then once it cooled, I drizzled it with a lemon glaze as well.

The verdict?  We liked both versions.  This is my favorite type of pound cake--I love the texture of it, and it never seems dry to me like others do sometimes.  I like the extra punch of lemon added by the syrup and glaze on the cake, and enjoy how the tart topping makes a nice contrast to the sweeter flavor of the cake itself.  The lemon flavor was milder in the bugs, but definitely still there.  We all ate those shortcake-style with macerated strawberries and whipped cream, and they were delicious.  I need to use that pan more often--the girls really love the fun shapes.

If you'd like to give this recipe a try, you can find it on Truc's blog or Michelle's blog.  Be sure to check out the other lemony Links, too!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Move to the music

I know I survived just fine before I had an iPod and iPhone, but I've recently really started to appreciate the benefits of portable music.  I can listen to music while I'm getting ready in the morning, either from songs on my phone or through streaming my favorite local radio station.  I've also been using the music options to get Brianna & Gillian moving when they're in the shower.  It's like a timer--it's a race to see who can get done in fewer songs.  Sometimes they just dance while they're drying off.  This past week, I found a new use, once I remembered that I had headphones for my phone, too.  Listening to music while I was in the kitchen baking was a great way to avoid listening to whatever Disney Channel show the girls were watching.  I can only take so much of that most days (yet they never seem to tire of it).  And hey, I figure I burned some extra calories as I was dancing around the kitchen.  Fortunately B&G weren't paying any attention to me, so there wasn't any critique of my dance style. =)

I'm thinking that I may have to start using music as a way to get the girls moving a little better in the morning, too.  Way too much time is spent arguing about clothing choices, or just lying on the floor complaining about how tired they are.  Meanwhile, I'm trying to finish packing lunches or figuring out something portable for them to take for breakfast in the car.  Some weeks I don't to a very good job of planning, and by Thursday or Friday I'm scrambling to find them something to eat.  That would be why my girls end up eating cheese sticks (aka string cheese) and dried fruit (cherries for G, apricots or prunes for B) for breakfast. 

We all really like it when we have scones or muffins or bagels available.  (Which reminds me, I meant to make bagels this week, but didn't get to it.  Coming soon!)  If I bake on the weekend, I make enough that we're able to get through 2 or 3 days during the week as well.  Occasionally I manage to bake in the morning before work on the other days.  The secret to being able to have just-baked muffins for breakfast?  Doing most of the prep the night before.  A recent favorite for that treatment has been some great Apple Cinnamon Crumb Muffins that I found over at Two Peas and Their Pod.  The streusel topping uses melted butter, and is quick to mix up.  I store it in a container in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, I just have to break it up into small clumps before putting it on top of the batter--and the crumbs hold their shape nicely in the oven, since the butter has had a chance to firm back up.  I mix the dry ingredients together in the large bowl that I plan to use for the final batter, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  (I use white whole wheat flour, btw.)  I even get out the muffin pan and fill the cups with paper liners.  Then the first thing I do in the morning is turn the oven on to preheat while I'm doing other stuff (showering or packing lunches).  I quickly dice up the apples, whisk together the wet ingredients (I've used plain yogurt instead of buttermilk with good results), and stir everything together. I use my #16 disher (which holds 1/4 cup of batter) to fill the muffin cups.  In the 20 minutes or so that it takes for the muffins to bake, I take care of some more of my morning tasks. 

The verdict?  The girls liked these muffins quite a bit.  I also shared a bunch of them with my co-workers, and they were a huge hit with everyone.  It's always a good sign when baked goods are completely gone before lunch time.  Everyone loved the fact that they're a little healthier than the average muffin, but still taste really good.  I highly recommend that you try them for yourself--you can find the recipe here at Two Peas and Their Pod.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter eggs

I don't like hard-boiled eggs, but I'm still the one who makes them. =)  Jamie & Brianna eat them; G is like me and won't touch them.  So I don't usually make very many to dye at Easter, since I don't want to have a bunch of eggs that don't get eaten.  Plus G is still young enough to need help, and my patience with egg-dying wears thin pretty quickly.  Maybe we'll do more next year.

The recipe I use is from Cook's Illustrated; it works great.  You put the eggs in a pot filled with cold water and bring it to a boil over high heat.  Once the water boils, you turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 minutes.  At that point, I move the pot to the sink and run cold water in it until the water is all cool, then add a whole bunch of ice to the pot.  I usually leave the eggs in there until most of the ice has melted, then dry them off and put them in a carton in the fridge.

You can find the actual recipe here at Cook's Illustrated.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pizza, pizza?

When I first read that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Pizza Rustica, I figured that it would go over well here, since everyone in the family loves pizza.  Then I actually looked at the recipe and realized that it wasn't pizza in the traditional sense.  Instead, it's an Italian pie, filled with cheeses and prosciutto and eggs.  The twist with this one is that the dough is sweet instead of savory.  I knew that my husband would probably like this dish, since he likes the contrast of sweet and salty/savory.  My girls are fans of pretty much anything with a ricotta filling, so I figured there was a decent chance that they would eat it without complaint.  It feels like we've been in a rut lately as far as meal planning, so I was excited to try something new for dinner.

I decided that I wanted to make a tart rather than a pie.  Since I knew the tart pan would be shallower than a pie pan, I used my 10" pan.  For the filling, I used my favorite whole milk ricotta and substituted Asiago cheese for the Romano.  I almost forgot about the pepper, and ended up grinding some on top of the tart filling after it was already in the pan, before I added the lattice strips.  The dough was very nice to work with--easy to roll out and put in the tart pan.  I used my fluted pastry wheel to cut the strips for the top.

For baking, I preheated the oven to 375ºF since I was using a metal tart pan.  I placed the tart on a baking sheet and put the sheet pan directly on my baking stone in the lower part of my oven.  I usually do that for pies and tarts to ensure that the bottom crust bakes well and doesn't end up soggy.  The tart took 35 minutes to bake, at which point it was puffy all over and starting to brown.  We let it cool somewhat, but it was still warm rather than at room temperature when we ate.  I warmed up some of our usual pizza sauce to serve on the side.  

The verdict?  This went over pretty well!  As predicted, Jamie liked it; Brianna did, too.  Gillian didn't like the prosciutto, but said she might eat it without the meat or with regular ham instead.  The girls weren't sure what to think about the slight sweetness of the crust; I might try a less sweet version next time.  The tart was good both with and without the tomato sauce, but J pointed out that the sauce brought some nice acidity to the table to balance all the rich ingredients in the tart.  I can definitely see myself making this again, and maybe playing around with the filling ingredients.

If you'd like to give this a try for yourself, you can find the recipe on Emily's blog or Raelynn's blog.  To see what everyone else thought of this week's selection, check out the Links.