Sunday, August 26, 2012

Do the math

Well, school starts tomorrow.  I think the girls are somewhat excited and also somewhat sad that summer break is done.  Gillian starts kindergarten this year, and some anxiety about has definitely been showing.  She's been much more clingy than usual, to the point of driving me totally crazy.  Brianna, on the other hand, is starting to worry a little about stuff like not remembering her math facts as well as she should.  Of course, that may just be because she wants an excuse to do flash cards on my iPod. =)  

We've been having fun with math in another way as well.  A month or so ago, someone from a parenting group I belong to introduced us to Bedtime Math.  The idea behind it is that we all focus on reading to our children at bedtime, but we don't teach them that math can be fun, too.  You can subscribe via email or just follow the blog, and every day you get a new problem to solve.  There are actually several problems in each email, for "Wee Ones," "Little Kids," and "Big Kids."  So far Gillian does fine with the easiest problems while Brianna has to help her with the Little Kid ones, and the Big Kid problems just enough of a challenge for B.  I love that they make it real, tying in a variety of different topics.  For example, during the Olympics, there were problems that had to do with different sports.  Some are more random, like today's problems about escalators.  I hope you'll check it out for yourself!  (I'm not affiliated with them in any way, btw.)

One of my favorite ways to use math in our everyday activities is to bring it up in the kitchen, of course.  My girls love to help me bake, as I've mentioned here before.  So far I think I have them pretty convinced that all baking is done by measuring ingredients with a scale, preferably in grams.  For now, I'm the one doing the math, since many of my recipes only give volume amounts, and the ones that do give weights often just use ounces.  I know how much a lot of ingredients weigh, but I also sometimes refer to tables like this one.  I'm getting pretty good at converting from ounces to grams in my head--I've memorized a lot of the common ones, like the fact that a cup of sugar weighs 7 ounces, which is about 200 grams.  I need to start putting Brianna to work figuring out the numbers, though. =)

With some authors I get lucky, and they publish recipes with metric weights.  That was the case for these Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies, from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert.  I made them a few weeks ago, during a rough week at work when it seemed like we all needed some chocolate to get through the days.  Any recipe that starts off with a full pound (about 450 grams) of chocolate has got to be good for that!  I didn't tinker around with the recipe much, other than to substitute dried cranberries for the nuts.  The recipe says to do the cookies as slice & bake, but I haven't ever done that.  Instead, I scoop the dough out with my #40 disher and let it set up on the pans.  If you're going to go that route, I recommend scooping all the dough (it's more like a batter) out at once, otherwise the later cookies don't look very pretty.  I end up with about 45 cookies doing it that way, and bake them for 10 minutes.  

The verdict?  These are very intense, and very tasty.  They were definitely just the thing for a pick-me-up during a stressful work week.  Gillian is happy any time she can convince me to make chocolate chocolate chip cookies, but was kind of annoyed that I added the cranberries.  I, on the other hand, think that I should use more cranberries next time.  The tartness cuts through some of the richness of the chocolate.  

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Ready for Dessert.  I also found an older version of the recipe (a half-recipe, actually, without ingredient weights and missing the salt) online here.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

'Tis the season...almost

I blame it on Starbucks.  I stopped in there one morning last week because I didn't have anything at home to make a quick breakfast.  So I got some iced tea (it's August in Texas, so I seldom drink hot tea between 7am and 10pm) and stared at the pastry case, looking for something to eat.  The pumpkin scones caught my eye, so I got one.  It was tasty, and it got me started thinking about making my own pumpkin baked goods.  Yes, it's still August, and frequently over 100ºF, but I couldn't get the idea out of my head.  Maybe doing some fall baking will encourage the fall weather to come sooner.  Probably wishful thinking, I know, but we did at least have some serious rain yesterday that kept the temps in the 80s.  The girls and I went to the movies yesterday morning (we finally saw Brave), and came out to find a torrential downpour going on.  We tried to wait it out, but finally gave up and made a run for the car, getting rather soaked in the process.  So we came home and put on dry clothes (actually pjs for the girls) and had hot chocolate.  We can certainly pretend that fall isn't far off. =)

I made the first batch of pumpkin muffins Thursday evening, intending to take them to work Friday morning.  I kept a couple for the girls to eat for breakfast, but Gillian informed me that "you know I don't like things with pumpkin!"  I didn't know that; I figured the addition of chocolate chips would make pretty much any baked good acceptable to my daughters.  So I gave a muffin to Brianna and took the rest to work.  Then Friday evening Gillian informed me that she had a taste of Brianna's muffin and decided that she did like them.  She was rather put out to discover that we didn't have any more at home.  I promised her that we could make more for breakfast on Sunday, so that's what we did.

A lot of the time, I just gather ingredients as I go, but when I'm baking with the girls or prepping things the night before so I can bake in the morning, I actually do a fairly complete mise en place.  First we took out the butter and cut it into smaller pieces so it would soften more quickly.  I also took out the eggs so they could warm up a bit--Gillian cracked them into a small bowl to make them easier to add to the mixer later.  I measured the pumpkin and yogurt into another small bowl.  Gillian measured the sugars into a bowl of their own.  Then we measured the dry ingredients (flours, spices, leaveners) into a larger bowl and Gillian whisked them together.  (We did all of the measuring using our scale.)  From there it was pretty easy to mix things up.  First the sugars got creamed with the butter and the vanilla was added.  Next the eggs were mixed in, followed by the pumpkin and yogurt.  Then the dry ingredients were gradually added while the mixer was running.  Finally, we added a cup of chocolate chips, folding them in with a spatula (which also helped make sure all the ingredients in the bottom of the bowl were completely mixed).

I used a scoop (a #16 disher) to put the batter into the muffin pan.  The muffins baked at 400ºF, and for us they took 20 minutes.  We let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then put them on a rack and let them cool just a bit longer before digging in.

The verdict?  As I said, Gillian has now decided that she likes these muffins.  Brianna does too; she commented that they taste best when still a little warm.  Judging by how quickly the first batch disappeared at work, these were definitely a huge hit there as well.  I got several requests for the recipe.  While I've blogged about these muffins before, for Tuesdays with Dorie, I'm going to share the recipe here, since I've made several changes.  

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours)

1 cup (135 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (135 grams) white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch allspice
8 tablespoons (1 stick/115 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (170 grams) canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1/3 cup (75 grams) plain yogurt
1 cup (170 grams) chocolate chips (or nuts or dried fruit--any mix you like)

Make sure your rack is in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups (I use grease-proof ones like these) or spray the molds with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until soft.  Add the sugars and beat until light and smooth, then mix in the vanilla.  Next, beat in the eggs one at a time.  Continue to beat the mixture for about a minute after the eggs are in, then mix in the pumpkin and yogurt.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Then, with the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, and fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula, making sure that all the ingredients are completely blended. (I find that some of the butter/sugar mixture sits in the bottom of the bowl and doesn't get thoroughly mixed in with the paddle.)

Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups.  Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops of the muffins are lightly browned.  Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan and put them on a rack to finish cooling.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Al dente

One of the time-honored traditions of parenthood is feeling like an idiot when you finally figure out what's going on with one of your kids that you think you should have realized much sooner.  Case in point, Gillian being "not that hungry" all the time lately.  It seemed really odd, since she wasn't even eating some things that she really likes.  One of the things was this ice cream.  Last weekend, I asked the girls for suggestions on what kind of ice cream to make next.  Gillian--"Chocolate!"  Brianna--"Can you make cookie dough ice cream?"  We decided to have the best of both worlds and combine the two.  But once it was made, Gillian didn't want to eat it.  That's when I finally realized that she wasn't eating much because she couldn't, sort of.  Poor kid has two loose teeth in front and has molars coming in in the back.  No wonder she didn't want to eat big pieces of cookie dough that had really firmed up in the freezer!  Not to mention bagels, croutons, sandwiches with chewy bread...  It all makes sense now.  I made sure to stock up on lots of her favorite yogurt flavors, and she's been eating the raspberry sorbet since I made that.

Now back to the cookie dough ice cream.  I was inspired by this recent post from Michelle of Brown Eyed Baker.  I like cookie dough ice cream, but sometimes it's just too sweet for my taste.  For the strongest contrast, I decided to go with the Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World from Jeni's.  The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate in the 62%-70% range, so I went with 70% El Rey chocolate.  I've made the recipe before and was turned off by the strong underlying coffee taste (probably because I used Starbucks VIA).  This time I simply subbed water and a teaspoon of instant espresso powder for the half cup of coffee in the chocolate syrup part of the recipe.

For the cookie dough, I used the recipe that Michelle posted, with a small variation.  I didn't use the mini chocolate chips that she suggests.  I don't like regular chocolate chips in ice cream--they're way too hard when frozen.  I borrowed a trick from Alice Medrich and made my own chocolate bits.  I melted 85 grams (3 oz) of 60% chocolate and spread it in a thin layer on a small metal pan lined with non-stick foil.  I put the pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes, and once the chocolate had hardened, I chopped it into small pieces.  Because the chocolate is no longer in temper, it melts more readily (so work fast with the chopping), especially in your mouth.  I used a small scoop to make balls of the cookie dough and stuck them in the freezer while I churned the chocolate ice cream.  Once the ice cream was done, I layered it in the container with the chunks of cookie dough so that there would be lots of cookie dough in every scoop.

The verdict?  We're all sad that we finished this one off this evening (well, except for G).  I can't believe I didn't think to add cookie dough to chocolate ice cream before this.  I'll definitely make this one again, and am already thinking of other combinations to try.  Like maybe peanut butter cookie dough in chocolate ice cream. =)

As I mentioned before, Michelle has this great post where you can find the recipe for the cookie dough (as well as her version of the chocolate ice cream).  You can find the Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream recipe in Jeni's book or here at Saveur.  This is my final recipe for my friend Phyl's Ice Cream Week.  Be sure to check out his post for some links to other yummy flavors.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The most important meal of the day

Amazingly enough, here it is.  My second post in three days.  Thanks again to Phyl for getting me motivated.  Part of my blogging slump has been due to lack of time.  Work has been kicking my butt.  I get up a bit before 5:00 and spend the next 60 to 70 minutes getting myself ready for work, packing my lunch, getting breakfast/snacks together for the girls.  Then I attempt to pry my daughters out of bed (so they can start getting dressed, etc.) before I run out the door with my travel mug of tea in hand.  This morning was no exception.  I got to work just before 6:30 and spent the next half an hour getting things ready for the work day.  At about 7:15, it occurred to me that I was hungry and that I should get my breakfast out of my bag.  There was only one problem--my bagel was still sitting at home in the toaster, waiting to be toasted.  D'oh!

Maybe I should have had a whole serving of this sorbet at 5:30 this morning, instead of the single spoonful that I snuck as I was checking on it to see if it had firmed up overnight.  I made the base last night as I was feeding the girls dinner, and churned it as I was making mine & Jamie's.  Then it went into the freezer for the night.  I was intrigued by this recipe when I first got my July/August issue of Cook's Illustrated.  I've made sorbet recipes before, but this one promised to tackle a number of problems that you can encounter with sorbet--grainy or crumbly texture, being too hard to scoop, and melting too fast.  The ingredient list is pretty straightforward--raspberries (I used frozen ones that I thawed), sugar, corn syrup, salt, water and one slightly unusual ingredient, pectin.  I definitely encourage you to read the article that explains how they came up with the final method (here online, or better yet, in the magazine (check your local library)).  

The verdict?  Very, very tasty.  The tartness of the raspberries is one of my favorite things about them, and there's just enough sugar to sweeten without making the sorbet taste very sweet.  I'm not sure the texture is quite right, but it just occurred to me that I think I goofed.  The recipe calls for 20 ounces of raspberries.  I had two bags of frozen raspberries, and I was thinking that they were 10 ounces each.  However, I'm pretty sure that they were actually 12 ounces, so I had about 20 percent more puree than I should have.  I'm sure that would be enough to throw the texture off a bit.  I definitely want to make this one again, so I'll see if there's a difference once I correct that.  Just from my limited experience with the sorbet so far, it does seem like it doesn't melt as quickly as some I've tried, so the pectin is doing its job.  I have a whole bunch of the pectin left, so I'd like to try it in other sorbet recipes, like this chocolate one.  

If you'd like to try the sorbet for yourself, you can find the recipe here.  Phyl has a perfect-for-summer frozen wine slushy on his blog today, and will have links to other non-dairy frozen treats.  Check them out! =)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sweet and sour

Welcome to Ice Cream Week 2012!  I did something along those lines in July last year, but this time around, Ice Cream Week is being hosted by my friend Phyl.  I'm indebted to Phyl for providing me with the push I needed to get out of my recent blogging slump.  I could blame it on a number of things--still getting adjusted to my new job location/hours, the parenting fun of ridding my children and my home of lice, the joy that is a Texas summer, being sucked into watching Olympics every chance I get...  But what it really comes down to is what one of my former bosses called "analysis paralysis."  I worry too much about what to write and how to make sure it's "perfect," when sometimes I really just need to sit down and do it.  And while I'm at it, stop being so hard on myself for everything that I don't get done and that isn't perfect. =)

First up in our themes for this week is Summer Fruit.  Since I haven't been able to spend much time in the kitchen recently, I started off by checking my archives for recipes that I made but never posted.  But I rarely make fruit ice cream.  I think the problem is that they never taste that fruity to me--the flavor of the fruit is muted by the dairy ingredients.  And one of the things I love about most fruit is its acidity. So instead of a fruit ice cream, I bring you a sorbet.  (That's actually our theme for Wednesday, so stay tuned for another one then.)  

This recipe comes from my favorite ice cream book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  The recipes are arranged by season in the book, depending on when the ingredients are at their peak.  The way my tastes run, I've mostly made recipes from the Autumn and Winter sections, but this one is squarely in the Summer category.  The recipe is for Sour Beer Sorbets, and can be varied depending on the type of stone fruit you want to use or have available.  The sour beers are Belgian lambics, one of the few beers I'll happily drink.  I had a bunch of nectarines on hand, so I picked up a bottle of peach lambic and was all set.  The recipe is pretty simple--simmer pureed fruit with some sugar and corn syrup (which helps the final texture), chill the mixture, strain it if desired, add the beer, and churn.  I'm lazy, so I didn't bother to peel my nectarines before pureeing, so I did strain my mixture.  When I tasted the mixture after simmering but before adding the beer, it seemed a bit flat and overly sweet.  However, the acidity of the lambic beer took care of that.  I also added a pinch of salt to the mixture.  

The verdict?  This is very tasty sorbet.  The texture is smooth and not overly icy or hard to scoop.  There's a hint of alcohol taste, but it's certainly not overpowering.  I'd definitely like to try other flavors, particularly the Plum & Black Currant variation.  

I've got my work cut out for me, since I don't have any other ice creams ready to go for this week's festivities. =)  But I'm looking forward to the challenge.  Be sure to check out Phyl's blog; he'll have posts every day this week (I'll probably only manage 3 or 4 at most) and will share links to other friends who are participating.  His recipe for today is Citrus Beet Ice Cream.  You should check it out for the color, if nothing else. =)