Friday, September 30, 2011

All in knots

Every once in a while we end up doing our Central Market shopping on Sunday morning.  Usually we shop Friday and Saturday nights (one CM, one HEB, depending on my work schedule), but we didn't want to go Saturday night last weekend for fear of not being back in time for the start of Doctor Who.  The girls like to watch too, and the 11pm replay is way too late for them.  Heck, most of the time it's way too late for me, too.  

Anyway, the great thing about shopping on Sunday morning is that everything is fully stocked, including the bakery!  Sure, I love baking my own bread.  But I worked Saturday and was still tired on Sunday (from what seemed like a very long week), so there was no way I was going to pass up the still-warm loaves of Durum Sourdough and Ciabatta.  We actually saw some of the bakers still at work, so Gillian and I stopped to watch for a minute.  Her comments?  "Mommy, he has a different kind of weigher than you do."  (He had a balance.)  "But he's making those rolls like you make!"  He was, in fact, making knotted rolls, though they were a bit simpler than these ones that I made last week.  He wasn't joining the ends together to make rounds.  It was neat that she recognized that we make the same sorts of things at home that they make at the bakery.  How many kids can say that?

I discovered these rolls as I was reading my new issue of Fine Cooking (Oct/Nov 2011).  They caught my eye both because they looked delicious and also because the recipe is from one of my favorite authors, Peter Reinhart.  They looked like they'd be pretty easy to make--it's a straight dough, no preferments necessary.  The nice thing is that you can mix up the dough, then either leave it at room temperature to rise if you're baking the same day, or stick it in the fridge to rise overnight.  You can keep it in there for a few days if you don't get back to it right away.  The full recipe of dough makes 18 rolls, so I decided to bake half the first day after refrigerating my dough, then do the other half a couple days later. 

I mostly followed the recipe, though I did decide to substitute some white whole wheat flour for part of the bread flour.  I used about one-third www flour.  I didn't really add any extra liquid, so the dough was probably a bit stiffer than it was supposed to be.  Next time I'll probably add a little extra milk.  The only other big change I made was to omit the egg wash on the rolls--most of the time I can't be bothered to fuss with it.  It probably won't surprise you that I'm one of those people who prefers matte finish over glossy on my pictures... =)

The verdict?  These were a big hit, especially with the girls.  Baking them in batches on different days worked really well, too.  That way we were able to get through them before they got stale.  I'm sure we'll be making this recipe again.  I doubt that the girls had any idea that there was whole wheat flour in them, either. =)

If you'd like to try the original recipe, you can find it in the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of Fine Cooking, or here on the Fine Cooking website.   My friend Kayte baked along with me on this one, so if you'd like to see the rolls finished the way they were supposed to be (with egg wash & seeds on top), check out her blog post.  I'm also submitting these rolls to Yeastspotting, where you can see lots of other yummy yeasted treats.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We flip for plums

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is courtesy of Becky of Project Domestication.  She picked a fun recipe--Flip Over Plum Cake.  The first thing you might think is that this is a recipe for an upside-down cake.  But it's much easier than that--the cake and fruit do the flipping all on their own.  You melt butter in a baking dish in the oven, then pull it out, pour in cake batter, top it with fruit, and stick the dish back in the oven.  After baking, the fruit and cake have magically traded places so that you have something more like a fruit cobbler.

I only had a pound of plums, so I made half the recipe.  I thought about using one of my 8" square baking pans, but then remembered my oval casserole dish, which seemed much more photogenic. =)  I pretty much followed the recipe as written, except that I left out the almond extract and used all vanilla. I baked my cake for 40 minutes.  That might have been just a bit too long, but not enough to be a problem.  

The verdict?  I really enjoyed this one!  I especially liked the crispy/chewy browned edges.  It was lovely with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and made a great breakfast.  Jamie and Brianna liked the cake too, but Gillian was not thrilled.  I definitely want to make this recipe again--and I'm already trying to figure out what other fruit would work well.  

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, you can find the recipe on Becky's blog.  And to see what other variations people came up with, check out this week's Links.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No respect, I tell ya

Salt and pepper often don't get the respect that they deserve.  How many times have you run across a so-called "5-ingredient recipe" only to discover that it's really more than that, because they don't count salt and pepper and water as ingredients?  Water is actually the one that bugs me most.  Sure, I understand not counting the water that you use to cook pasta, for instance.  But it drives me crazy to read the ingredient list for a recipe, then get down in the directions and discover that you need to add a specific amount of water.  If you need a specific amount, list it as an ingredient!  I've run into the same thing with salt--the ingredients may list a type of salt, but not a specific amount.  Yes, I know you're supposed to read through the whole recipe before you start, but even with doing that, sometimes I get distracted partway through...

Okay, done ranting. =)  Now on to a baked good that does give salt and pepper a starring role, even in the recipe title.  For this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, Tia of Buttercream Barbie picked the Salt and Pepper Cocoa Shortbreads for us to make.  The nice thing about these cookies is that the dough is easy to mix up.  I do recommend that you assemble all your ingredients ahead of time (mise en place) so you don't forget any... like the egg yolk.  I realized as I was putting my logs of cookie dough in the fridge to chill that I had totally forgotten the egg yolk.  (That's a bit ironic, since I started making the dough because I was looking for a way to use up egg yolks.)  However, I've made plenty of shortbread recipes that don't have any egg in them, so I decided to just go with it. 

After chilling the dough for a few hours, I cut it into thick slices with my serrated knife.  I baked the cookies for about 15 minutes, I think.  It's hard to say for sure, since I continued with my forgetfulness and didn't set a timer at first.  Fortunately, I've baked enough cookies to be able to go by how they looked and smelled to figure out when they were done.  

The verdict?  These turned out to be quite good, despite the forgotten egg yolk.  Like a lot of shortbread, I found that these were actually better the second day than the first.  I probably should have used a little more pepper, since I couldn't really taste it.  The fleur de sel definitely came through, though.  I really enjoy the little bursts of saltiness with the chocolate.  Everyone else seemed to enjoy these as well.

If you'd like to give this recipe a try for yourself, head over to Tia's blog.  And to see what everyone else thought of the shortbread, check out this week's Links.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Have your cake and ice cream, too

Well, it's back to work for me tomorrow.  On Friday, I stopped by work briefly, and several people asked me what I'd been doing with my time off.  The answer?  Absolutely nothing. =)  Or at least, pretty darn closed to that.  I did get to spend a couple days with Gillian (while Brianna was at school), which was nice.  At her request, we did a little shopping on Thursday.  Ah, to be 4-going-on-5 again--the days when all it takes to make you happy is some new socks and leggings and a 99¢ plastic pencil box.  Maybe it was the youthful company, but I did a little shopping for myself, and walked out of Office Depot with over a dozen colorful Sharpies.  I try to stay out of there, since I lack willpower when it comes to office supplies... =)

I also did lots of baking over the past week.  The most involved creation for the week was also one that would easily win the heart of any 4-year-old, not to mention most big kids.  I've mentioned before that I'm a DBCB.  The reason I went into work on my vacation is that Friday was the birthday of one of my employees, and another has a birthday tomorrow.  Fortunately, they're both old enough not too complain too much about having to share.  But just in case, I found a good solution--I made everyone a cake of his or her own.  My employee A has been nagging me incessantly about making peanut butter ice cream for her ever since I brought some to work for another event.  She even suggested that I make ice cream cake.  Normally that would be too hard too pull off, but since I was off, I could bring the dessert in at lunch time so it wouldn't have time to melt.  So I made a bunch of mini ice cream cakes!

The first thing to decide on was the cake.  I knew I wanted chocolate, and a cake that would be good cold.  One of the first recipes to come to mind was one from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours.  If you're familiar with the book, you'll remember the fabulous cake on the cover.  In the headnote for the recipe, Dorie says, "Freshly made or at room temperature, they [the layers] are moist and a little fluffy; chilled, they're still moist, but denser and firmer, very much like a super-fudgy brownie."  That sounded like just what I wanted.  Since I wanted thin layers, I used my quarter-sheet pans in place of the 8" rounds called for in the recipe.  (The bake time was 20 minutes, and I lined the pans with parchment to make it easy to remove the layers once cooled.)  For the ice cream layer, I used one of the same pans, and right after churning the ice cream, I spread it in the parchment lined pan and froze it until it was very firm.  

For the assembly, I used a 2 1/2" biscuit cutter (from this set) to cut out rounds.  I got 14 from each layer.  I stacked the layers--cake, then ice cream, then cake--and stuck the cakes into the freezer overnight to make sure they were completely frozen before I covered them in chocolate.  I debated what to use for a coating, but decided to go with the Chocolate Bombe Shell from my copy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  (The peanut butter ice cream was also from that book.)  I put the cakes on a rack placed over a sheet pan lined with non-stick foil and spooned the chocolate mixture over them.  I did three at a time, keeping the rest in the freezer until I was ready for them.  Also, if you work fast, you can put sprinkles on top before the shell completely hardens so they stick well.  The nice thing about the chocolate shell mixture is that you can stick the sheet pan in the freezer for a few minutes and the chocolate will harden so that you can easily peel it off the foil.  Then you can just break it up and remelt it.  

The verdict?  Well, this is now the newest "best thing that you have -ever- made!" according to my co-workers.  It was a big hit here at home, too.  I'm already thinking of different flavors that I can put together, especially since Gillian wasn't a huge fan of the peanut butter ice cream.  I have lots of cake scraps left, too, so they may end up in some sort of trifle, unless I manage to just eat them all.    

If you'd like to try these little cakes for yourself, here's where you can find recipes for the components I used.  Or you can just have fun experimenting for yourself.  Enjoy!

Jeni's The Buckeye State ice cream (I left out the chocolate bits & used Golden Syrup instead of honey)
Chocolate Bombe Shell (I doubled the amounts listed in this post)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Signs of fall

(Recipe here; used 2/3 cup choc chips in place of other mix-ins)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All dressed up and nowhere to go

I love vacation time--especially the kind where I get to stay home.  Sure, it's fun to go places and visit people, but traveling can also be stressful.  I'm ready for a break from stress.  It's nice to be able to hang out and relax, and maybe catch up on a few things.  Jamie's vacation time can roll over, but mine is the use-it-or-lose-it variety.  So you can bet I'm going to use it, even if it means staying home by myself.  To be honest, being on my own isn't bad. =)  Brianna is in school, and Jamie is at work.  Gillian stayed home with me yesterday and will probably do that again later in the week, but that's okay.  One child at home with me is peaceful--both would be another story.

Knowing that I had a whole week ahead of me with plenty of time to spend in the kitchen, I was completely lazy this past weekend.  I cooked dinner on Sunday, but that was about it.  But that was okay, since I'd actually made this week's TWD recipe over a week ahead of time.  Anne of Anne Strawberry picked Classic Brownies as this week's selection.  That was perfect, since I needed something to pack in lunches last week.  Only one problem--we managed to polish off the brownies without me taking any pictures of them.  Oops.

So yesterday morning, I set out to make them again.  I actually started off my day by turning a whole bunch of raspberries (I love Costco) into raspberry sauce.  Then I made the brownies.  It's an easy recipe--one bowl, and whisk and a spoon are all you need.  I skipped the nuts and put in chocolate chips instead, since I don't care for nuts in my brownies (and B's school has requested no peanuts or tree nuts if possible, due to a student with a severe allergy).  I baked the brownies for 30 minutes, and was quite happy with the fudgy texture.  Next up was ice cream, since there wasn't any at all in the freezer.  I made vanilla bean (with a splash of rum), figuring it would go nicely with another TWD recipe that I plan to make this week.  Once I was done with that, I realized that I had all the makings of a fabulous brownie sundae.  I also figured a sundae would be a way to make the brownies more photogenic.  And my children now think I'm the best mom ever. =)

The verdict?  We really enjoyed these brownies, both plain and dressed up.  While they don't quite displace my all-time favorite, they are very high on my list.  It certainly wasn't a hardship to make them twice, and I'm sure we'll be making them again.  I'd like to try the recipe with other mix-ins, like peanut butter chips (just for eating at home).  

If you'd like to try these for yourself, head over to Anne's blog for the recipe.  To see how everyone else played around with these brownies, check out this week's Links.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

This has been the first pleasant day we've had in months.  Breezy and dry, with 70s this morning and 80s this afternoon.  There's only one problem--it's dry.  Way too dry.  We had almost no rain in July, none at all in August, and none so far this month.  It's crazy--I've read how much rain has been falling in Louisiana and the southeast US from tropical storm Lee, and all we've gotten from it has been wind.  There won't be any grilling around here for Labor Day, at least there better not be, with all the wildfires burning around the Austin area.  (Thankfully, none are near us at the moment, but we know people close to the affected areas.)

Still, parents with the day off from work and kids with the day off from school flocked to the park this morning to enjoy the lovely weather.  We were among them.  We're lucky to have some really great places to play, like the playscape at San Gabriel park.  The girls got to run around like maniacs for about an hour, and I got to sit in the shade and read.  Well, and take some pictures. =)  Then it was home for lunch and naps.  I love extra days off. 

I did some baking yesterday.  I'm starting to get back into the bread baking mood, now that we're actually seeing some days below 100º. (The Austin area has had 79 days of 100º+ so far, and there's still a chance we could have more.)  I even revived Ernie, my sourdough starter, and have baked sourdough bread two weekends in a row.  Last weekend, I baked Pain au Levain from one of my favorite books, Artisan Breads Every Day.  I really like that recipe, but I wanted to make something quicker this time.  I turned to one of my trusted resources, King Arthur Flour, to see what I could come up with.

I have to say, I really like the recent redesign that KAF did on their recipe section.  For one thing, it's much more iPad-friendly.  I was also happy to see that in addition to weights in ounces, many recipes now give the option for grams as well.  It's an easy conversion if I have to do it myself, but it's nice to save a step.  I do have to wonder, though, why it will tell me that a tablespoon of sugar is 14 grams, but not give me a weight for 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt.  Oh well, it's not like it's that hard for me to figure out for myself. =)  

There's a section of sourdough recipes, with all kinds of interesting stuff (including pizza and waffles and even chocolate cake).  I settled on the recipe for Rustic Sourdough Bread.  There is a handy blog post to go along with it, showing how the recipe can be adjusted to give different results depending on how much time you have on your hands.  I went for the quicker version, which still has nice flavor while only taking a few hours.  I fed Ernie Saturday night, so I had a nice active starter ready to go Sunday morning.  I did have to do some math, though.  I keep a firm starter, with a hydration of about 66%.  That means that for every 100 grams of flour, it has 66 grams of water.  The recipe has a link to KAF's fresh starter, and the instructions for it led me to believe that it's a 100% hydration starter, meaning that it has equal amounts of water and flour.  So I had to figure out how much total water and flour were in the original recipe (totaling the amounts from the starter and what is added later).  I decided to keep the amount of starter constant, so I had to figure out how much water and flour were in the same amount of my starter (the recipe calls for about 225 grams of starter) and adjust the additional water and flour accordingly.  This is where I love my notebook.  I didn't want to write it out here, so the photo below shows my calculations and notes for this recipe:

The verdict? Well, we've managed to polish off the first loaf already.  Samples yesterday, toast for breakfast today, sandwiches for lunch.  The other loaf got sliced and went in the freezer for B's lunches this week (and maybe some for me, too).  The flavor is nice--a bit of tang, but not too sour.  It was a hit with B, which is good, since she can be picky about bread.  I'll definitely be making this recipe again--I love how easy it is, as long as I remember to feed my starter first.

If you'd like to try this bread for yourself, you can find the recipe here at KAF.  If you don't have a starter of your own, there are a number of great tutorials on the web, including this one from my friend Phyl.  I made mine using the steps in Artisan Breads Every Day, and posted about it here.  For more yummy and beautiful breads, be sure to check out the collection each week at Yeastspotting

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I had a conversation the other day with a friend who is thinking of starting a family.  He asked me, "Kids--they're worth it, right?"  My response?  "Most of the time."  I love my girls, and I can't imagine life without them.  But sometimes, like tonight, they just push all my buttons.  Awhile back I decided that Thursday is invariably the worst day of the week--prime time for some sort of meltdown.  Everyone is tired.  We're tired on Friday, too, but by that point, the end of the week is definitely in sight.  On Thursday, we're almost as cranky, and still have to find a way to get through another day.  

Fortunately there wasn't a homework meltdown from B this evening.  (That was last night.)  And at least G didn't wait until right before bed to have her every-other-day marathon bathroom session.  (Sorry, I know it's mostly a food blog, but anyone have any great solutions for 4yo constipation?)  But by now, I really just wish they'd finish up with the fooling around in the bathroom (they're supposed to be brushing their teeth) and go to bed already...  Though on the plus side, I did manage to feed them something for dinner that they both ate without complaint.  And it wasn't macaroni and cheese--there were actual vegetables involved. =)

Oddly enough, although I'm feeling tired and decidedly cranky, I have no interest in one of my usual stress remedies, chocolate.  (I know, crazy, right?)  I do, however, wish I had some of this frozen yogurt left.  It would really hit the spot right now.  It's lemon frozen yogurt with raspberry sauce, from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  

I've made about a dozen recipes from the book so far--some that I've posted, and some that I haven't.  (There's some Milkiest Chocolate with Marshmallows and Fudge Swirl in the freezer right now, for instance.)  But it really hadn't occurred to me to try any of the frozen yogurt recipes.  Then I went to a class that Jeni did here at Central Market last month.  She mentioned that the lemon frozen yogurt was her favorite, and we got to sample it at the class.  So I put it at the top of my list to try next.  

More than with Jeni's ice cream recipes, you have to plan ahead a little for the frozen yogurt.  The recipe calls for draining the yogurt for at least 6-8 hours to remove excess liquid.  I didn't have cheesecloth, so I improvised.  I lined my medium strainer with coffee filters, put it over a bowl, and added my quart of lowfat yogurt.  I covered the top with plastic wrap, and stuck the whole contraption in the fridge overnight.  By the way, can I just say that it's harder than I expected to find lowfat plain yogurt?  I saw plenty of nonfat, and several brands of whole milk, but not a lot of choices for lowfat.  I used Wallaby for the lemon.  I think I'm going to try Stonyfield for the next batch, and see which I prefer.  Another thing to note--you won't need all of the yogurt for this recipe, but the extra can be used for other things, like in place of sour cream in dips.

Besides draining the yogurt, you make a lemon syrup with lemon juice and sugar.  The zest from the lemons gets added to the milk/cream mixture, which is similar to the ice cream, but with smaller amounts to account for the volume that will be added by the yogurt.  Once the milk mixture is boiled and thickened with cornstarch and whisked into the cream cheese, the strained yogurt and lemon syrup are whisked in.  I did add a pinch of salt that wasn't called for in the recipe.  I also chilled my finished mixture in a regular ice bath rather than in a ziploc bag.  Once the mixture was thoroughly chilled, I churned it and then layered it with Jeni's raspberry sauce as I packed it into a freezer container.

The verdict? I think I have a new favorite flavor.  Much as I love chocolate, and the salty caramel (when I don't overcaramelize it), the lemon frozen yogurt is to die for.  I do want to try the Lemon Cream ice cream as well, for comparison.  What's actually up next is lime frozen yogurt with blackberry sauce.  I'll keep you all posted on how that goes.  Molly of Orangette says that she likes to eat this frozen yogurt from a teacup.  I'd have to say my favorite way to eat this flavor is in a cone.  You have the tart, refreshing tastes of lemon and raspberry with the crisp texture and browned butter-vanilla flavor of the cone.  Mmm.  I admit, I polished off most of the quart all by myself.

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, you can find the recipe here at The Splendid Table.  But I strongly encourage you to get your hands on a copy of the book, so you can try lots of other fantastic recipes as well.