Monday, October 29, 2007

don't you stop having fun

Sunday found Matty at rehearsals and in the studio, so I had the day to myself to fool around in the kitchen. I'm glad I ended up with so much free time because I actually forgot that I had promised birthday cupcakes to Ray Don for his show last night.

All I had to go on was that he liked chocolate. So, I busted out one of my favorite birthday presents, Jill O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth, and had it narrowed down to the Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cupcakes w/ Caramel-Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting or the Black Bottom Cupcakes. The mister voted for the Black Bottoms, so off to the store to buy more mascarpone I went. (Sidenote: there has been so much mascarpone in my life lately. I'm a lucky girl).

The recipe in the book said the batter/filling would yield 24 cupcakes, but I only managed to end up with 12 with just enough batter left over to not be able to make another cupcake. I had a couple tablespoonfuls of filling leftover, but judging how the cupcakes did not turn out like this (not Jill's, but the best photo I could find), I could have stood to include more filling in each cupcake. Whereas Mr. Lebovitz' cupcakes had a distinct cheesecake-y center, mine kinda just floated to the top.

They were the most beautiful cupcakes I had ever seen come out of my oven, though. Perfectly domed, kinda shiny. The glaze was a perfect touch, too. Matty and I obviously had to perform some QC on one - I mean, we couldn't very well just give Ray birthday cupcakes without having made sure they tasted okay. What kind of friends would we be? :P

Not to worry, though. They were damn good. At the risk of sharing inappropriate information, the fiddle player said they were the best cupcakes he had ever had, and that he had a small orgasm when he had one. Boys.

Sharing the spotlight in the photo above is another Thanksgiving winner - the Cranberry-Chocolate Tart from Bon Appetit reproduced digitally on Epicurious.

It looked like the most ideal dessert - a little chocolate, a little creaminess, a little fruitiness. We had also recently had a perfect cranberry-topped cheesecake with a chocolate crust from the Alcove that I wanted to recreate, but this was even better, especially since the comparative lightness would be helpful since I'll be having 3-4 pies at Thanksgiving.

Everything came together really easily. I used these little chocolate cat cookies from TJ's for the crust, but while they were delicious, it was super difficult to get them to be nice crumbs. Especially with a rolling pin and a Ziploc bag, as opposed to a food processor. Matty liked the bigger crumbs in the crust, though, and considering I still have half a massive tub of those cookies, I may just use them again for Turkey Day.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

good go bad

I know I sound like a broken record, but here's another Thanksgiving test recipe for you. (And as forewarning, you're probably going to get more test recipe action for the next week or so).

I absolutely had to Google this recipe for Creamed Spinach after I found it perusing the comments to Adam's post about which food magazine has the best Thanksgiving issue. I mean, it had bacon and pearl onions in it. I have a great weakness for pearl onions. (Oh, and upon perusing the new comments that have been posted since I read it initially, I know how to find a recipe for pumpkin cake with pear filling and pistachio brittle. *faint*)

I paired it with some firm white fish (sorry, I don't know which one - Matty and his dad caught it at the beginning of the month, and it's been hanging out in the freezer unmarked). I pan-fried the fish in butter after giving it a little butter coating and a dip in an almond meal/Pecorino Romano mixture. I also made a little salad of edamame and halved plum tomatoes that Matty ended up liking a whole lot.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the spinach very much. I did screw up and add just a little too much bacon and milk. I know it doesn't sound possible to add too much bacon to anything, but the porkiness overwhelmed the poor spinach leaves. And I just added about 1/4 cup too much milk, but it just refused to cook down - I would have preferred a drier creamed spinach.

Not to worry, though - apparently, our friend Jeff has a fantabulous recipe for creamed spinach. We can always make him bring it as his Thanksgiving contribution. :P

Saturday, October 27, 2007

i've got to keep my love warm

I've been on a cauliflower kick lately, so when I saw that Laura had posted a recipe for Cauliflower Gratin, I knew I had to get in on it.

I used a 12 oz. bag of cauliflower florets and 4 Yukon gold potatoes. Next time, I'll use a couple more potatoes. I also thought I had ruined everything from the get-go because I cheated the cauliflower-cooking and zapped them in the microwave as well. I was trying to go for a lesser-cooked veg, but by the time it came out at 4 minutes, it was mush.

Oh well. I wasn't about to waste it and actually leave the house to get more, so it was time to work with what I had. Set everything out and started roaming the Internets while I waited for a call from Matty to stay that he had landed.

Got the call, mixed up the cheese sauce, poured it over the cauli-tater mixture in an 8x8 dish, sprinkled it with the smoked mozz (a brilliant touch), panko and stuck it in the oven.

The house started smelling so good (no thanks to the cauliflower, which stunk to high heaven when I steamed it in the microwave). I give all credit for that to the smoked mozzarella. God, I love that stuff.

After 35 minutes in the oven, I took it out and broiled it for 2 minutes for beautiful browning. Then, I stuck it back into the turned-off oven to keep warm. When I pulled it out about 30 minutes later, it had turned a very deep brown and a lot of the sauce had disappeared. Kind of a duh moment - obviously it was going to continue cooking as the oven cooled from 375 to 0.

It turned out perfectly, though. The crust was both crispy and slightly chewy, and the cauliflower was much mushier than I had hoped, but it was still a great comforting meal. It had tried to sprinkle earlier in the day, Matty was knackered from the cross-country flight (including a 2-hour delay), and it was 11:30p, so it totally hit the spot. We ate the whole thing with a side salad of greens, carrots, mushrooms and potato-parmesan croutons.

I was considering making this as a veggie option for Thanksgiving, but I don't think I will, only because a lot of the stuff I'm making is already going to be similarly textured. However, when I make this again for myself or another dinner party, I think I'll try sticking the cauliflower in the oven raw and see where I get with the texture. But I'll have to see how many vegetarians I get at Thanksgiving because the more I think about it, the more I want it again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

try again

Another recipe checked off the Thanksgiving test recipe list. The list is looking more and more manageable. :)

Pumpkin Risotto from Have Cake, Will Travel. I mean, I probably don't have to say more, but of course, I will. Pure delight. I used the entire 15-oz. can of pumpkin instead of just the cup called for in the recipe, and I subbed creme fraiche for the sour cream because, um, the sticker on it said "Best by 10/09."

I added some sauteed mushrooms, but only because I had them hanging out in the fridge from another dish I made this weekend. The risotto would have been just as lovely without.

Although it was definitely delicious enough to serve for Thanksgiving, I hesitated because it's not really the most visually appealing dish. I quickly changed my mind when Matty laughed mercilessly at me when I brought it up. :P

The Brussels sprouts were a last-ditch attempt to prove to myself that I'm not a cliche. The last time I made Brussels sprouts, I did not like them at all. I figured I would try a recipe that involves a lot less cooking time, since I generally like raw-to-undercooked veggies better. Enter these Superfantastic Brussels Sprouts from VeganYumYum.

Oh yes. These were good enough just steamed in the apple juice, but the mustard-y dressing took it right on over the edge. I seared them for a minute, steamed them for 4, and then doused them in dressing as soon as I whisked everything together. I may even try steaming them for a little less time next time to get more crunch, but as they were, Matty and I both polished them off quite quickly. Then again, he was the model child who actually ate his sprouts as a kid. :P

The bread was this weekend's Potato Parmesan Bread broiled for 2 minutes on each side to warm back up. Not very exciting, but it works. :)

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Terrifying, no?

Truly, I don't know why I keep attempting to make bread. I hate it. It's messy. It's sticky. It takes forever.

But darned if this Potato Parmesan Bread didn't make me drool just a little bit. I love potato bread. I love Parm. *sigh* Here we go.

This was super sticky. Maybe I didn't add enough flour. The second the dough started to pull away from the mixing bowl, I threw it out on the counter and started kneading. Wait, wait, wait. Punch, punch, punch. Wait some more.

I was attempting to make crostini bottoms out of some of this bread, so I tried to shape the once-risen dough into two baguette-shaped loaves as opposed to one oval loaf. It refused to have any of that. By the time it finished rising, the two "baguettes" had melded into one and completely taken over my baking sheet. Oh well.

It turned out magnificently, though. I sliced it into one-inch thick slices, and it reminded me of the good bread over at forever-in-my-heart Amalfi Ristorante. Quite an accomplishment, I think. And considering how much bread I have, I suppose it was worth it. :P

I can't wait to make a grilled cheese sandwich using this bread. Yum.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

they say it's your birthday

Par-tay! (And me pretending I'm the Goodyear blimp for my stadium birthday cake). :)

I used this recipe for Eggless Chocolate Bundt Cake, and made it gluten-free. I had a vegan and at least one gluten-free friend come to the party, and I didn't want to exclude anyone.

I thought the cake was a bit tragic, dry and lacked enough sugar to make it edible, but Jason (the vegan) said it was worthy to be sold at Flore, our new favorite vegan restaurant. I was also assured by a couple other people that it tasted fine - just what was to be expected from a vegan, gluten-free cake. However, I was disappointed that they said that because I've had several vegan, gluten-free desserts that shone on their own merits. I'll have to keep experimenting.

A glaze might have helped, but with all the detail in the cake, I decided to make some basic buttercream, dye it with food coloring, and then proceed to do a bad job of frosting. :P The seats were supposed to be red, but ended up a little more pink; I was going to try to to put in yard markers on the field, but seem to have lost the correct tip, and my "field" (just green icing) ended up leaking a bit in the car ride, but thankfully, I got a picture before we left.

wake me up before you go-go

Matty had a gig in SF today, so he took the day to drive up, thus missing my football birthday party. No big deal, though - he had already treated me to a wonderful birthday dinner on Thursday, and we celebrated early this morning with Apple and Brie Pancakes inspired by The Passionate Cook.

As I've mentioned, Brie is my favorite cheese of all time. This seemed like a no-fail idea, and it was. :)

I used the Buttermilk Pancake recipe I found on Amateur Gourmet and just threw in about 5 oz. of diced Brie and a peeled, diced Granny Smith apple. I managed 6 pancakes from the batter, and 2 were more than enough for each of us.

Initially, I was terrified of how they would turn out because, obviously, the batter was very lumpy from all the goodness, and it just mounded on the griddle. However, as they cooked, the flattened into normal-looking pancakes and completely enveloped the fruit and cheese. As you can see from the photo, you can hardly tell the pancakes hide such a lovely breakfast treasure. Bad camera-work aside, that works for me. Fried up some applewod smoked bacon, and sent the mister off.

Friday, October 19, 2007

that i would be good

Dinner tonight was a simple affair - we had blown it out last night for my birthday dinner at Pacific Dining Car (I highly suggest reviewing the menu and taking a look at the Filet Oscar, what I ordered), and I'm going to go nuts in the opposite direction tomorrow - partying with beers/wings at a sports bar for the USC/Notre Dame game.

This was a riff on one of my Real Food Daily fallbacks - the Basic 3. For the Basic 3, RFD lets you pick 3 things from a list of greens of the day, beans of the day, salads, proteins, etc. to create your own meal.

I always get the soba noodles (and I should probably buy some start buying soba noodles for myself). Replacing it was a variation on Elise's Sesame and Cilantro Vermicelli Salad. Instead of vermicelli, I used the brown rice spaghetti that I picked up at TJ's on a whim. I didn't add cilantro because I don't use it very often, and I didn't want to see an entire bunch go to waste just for one meal.

It was very good. I was able to refrigerate it for about 2 hours, so it was still glistening with dressing, but it wasn't too oily. It was a bit sweet for my taste, and I could barely taste the spice, so I think I might cut down to 2 T. of honey and either up the red pepper flakes to to 1 tsp. or use sriracha or something.

The "greens of the day" were another Elise recipe - Kale with Seaweed, Sesame and Ginger. Except I didn't use sesame (didn't have it) or ginger (don't like it). Instead of arame, I used wakame, otherwise known as the green that is in miso soups.

This one was my favorite. I love kale, and I always try to get a seaweed salad when I go out to sushi. This was a great combination - the slightly lemony taste of the kale, and the saltiness of the wakame were great together.

They were even great stirred into the last of the "Basic 3" - Spaghetti Squash with Green Onions from Nook & Pantry. I've always been fascinated with spaghetti squash, but I've never had a chance to try them out before. I had a hell of a time cutting into it to steam just half of the squash, but that was really the hardest part of the preparation. I loved the refreshing, cold crunch, and the very slight bite of the green onions.

So, all that made me feel good enough that I think I can overindulge tomorrow. Go Trojans! :)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

working for the weekend

This Jam Coffee Cake was simultaneously a thank-you for everything Matty's parents did for us while they were visiting, and a travel kick-off for them (going home to NY) and us (going to Vegas for my friend Bethany's wedding reception).

The amount of work they did while they were is mind-blowing. They built a pot rack, planted a garden (two birds of paradise, one decorative grass and three bougainvillea), made/took us out to countless dinners, the list goes on. I felt so guilty as I generally just sit around on my rear when we go visit them.

One of the things they fell in love with the last time they were in town was our precious Alcove. We intended to go Saturday morning for their send-off, but that meant less time sleeping/packing for our respective trips, so we passed. Plus, they only really wanted to go for the desserts anyway. I figured a good compromise would be to make them something almost dessert-like for breakfast to make up for it.

This coffee cake did not disappoint. It was a breeze to mix up, and I packed while it was baking. I used organic raspberry preserves from TJ's, and I can't wait to try others, especially this pomegranate-acai combination that I saw on the shelves. My only issue with it was my only fear of the cake from the beginning - I'm not good at judging how much batter I've already poured into a cake pan. Because of this, I think I poured a lot less than half, so by the end of the baking, the jam had seeped (or risen when you flip the cake out) almost to the top. I think the crumb topping would have been extra crunchy goodness if I had been a better pourer. My bad.

But really, that's just nit-picking for problems. The cake was so moist and delicious. We left it out all weekend, and it was still perfection when we came home. I snuck a slice to make sure it was still good before I gave a chunk to Jeff for picking us up from Union Station.

Matty's already insisted that we have it for Thanksgiving breakfast. (Yes, I have to plan a Thanksgiving breakfast because smoking a turkey takes all day). :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

don't try too hard

Our efforts to eat more vegetarian aren't as successful as we had hoped, but it seems we're better at it when we're not trying too hard. Take, for example, dinner tonight (and last night for that matter - fondue w/ veggie/fruit/bread dippers): halfway through eating these portobello pizzas, Matty looked up and said, "This is vegetarian, isn't it?" Why yes; yes it is. :)

Cobbled together after various sources of inspiration on the Internets:

Portobello Pizzas
serves 2

2 large portobello mushrooms
4 oz. goat cheese (I intended to use ricotta, but our ricotta had gone very, very bad)
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
a couple strips of sun-dried tomatoes (for Matty)
a handful of black kalamata olives (for both of us :P)
4 slices fresh mozzarella
dollop of pesto

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove gills from mushrooms and clean. Place cap-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Fill caps with remaining ingredients, ending with 2 slices of mozzarella per mushroom. Top with a dollop of pesto.

Return to oven to bake for another 10 minutes.

Enjoy a vegetarian meal! (Perhaps with pesto tortellini and a mixed salad with olive bread croutons). :)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

celebrate good times, come on!

It's been quite a year for our good friend Rebecca. She got married this summer, and today, she received her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. We had a celebratory dinner tonight at Taylor's Steakhouse (I highly recommend the prime rib), and I brought these Bubbly Pear Cupcakes that I found on yumsugar.

I was so excited to make these as soon as I saw the recipe, especially since I had everything but the champagne at home, but I ended up deciding to hold out and make these for the graduation - you know, a little celebratory champagne without the cliche of giving a bottle.

Rebecca's gluten-free, so I subbed a gluten-free flour mix for the APF. Unlike my last gluten-free experiment, I had since Googled that to get the appropriate texture/consistency, I should be adding one teaspoon of xanthan gum or guar gum (I used xanthan) per cup of gluten-free flour mix. Why I didn't research this before is beyond me.

I also subbed in a cup of brown sugar for some of the white sugar, mainly because I was running low on white sugar. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter. I initially thought it would be difficult to grate the pears I had because they were fairly soft, but I just peeled them, left them whole, and grated until I hit the core. Much easier than trying to core them first.

These smelled so good baking up, and I could hardly wait for the first batch to cool before I tore into one. They were seriously the moistest cupcakes I have ever had. I don't know if it was all in my head, but it almost felt like they were fizzy. So light, fluffy and airy. They weren't very strongly pear-tasting, so next time (and there is definitely going to be a next time), I think I'll add in another pear and decrease the champagne by just a touch to compensate for the added moisture the extra pear adds.

I may make this in a loaf pan next time, too. It's perfect breakfast food because it's not too sweet, especially without the frosting. I also wonder what other baked goods I can be adding champagne to. :P

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

you're so delicious, sometimes you're vicious

I'm fairly sure I audibly gasped when I saw the picture of this Chocolate Walnut-Caramel Cake over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It immediately went on my Thanksgiving test recipe list, potentially as a replacement for the caramel pecan pie I made last year. Matty's parents' visit was a perfect excuse to try it because I remember from their last trip out here that his dad loves pecan pie, and this was close. :)

I was also having a rough day yesterday, so I thought baking might make me feel better. And while everything eventually turned out okay (for both my mood and the cake), it was initially the last thing I needed to attempt last night.

First of all, I don't have much experience cooking sugar/making caramel. The last time I tried, I ruined a caramel sauce.

I really appreciated that this recipe gave temperature readings. I have no idea what hard ball/soft ball/soft crack means, but I can read a thermometer. Except my candy thermometer is potentially a piece of crap. Or at least I thought so because it took SO long to reach all the different stages.

I am not a patient person. This is why I hate making bread (wait 60 minutes per rise, please). Although I may be making some bread later this week. But as impatient as I am, I am also a glutton for punishment, it appears. :P

Anyway, it took ages to make this cake, and I suppose I should quit my bitching because Peabody did entitle the post "If You Have A Couple Hours To Kill..."

I let the cake cool overnight and made the chocolate glaze this morning. I should have left it out on the counter, but I stuck it in the fridge. This, of course, meant that we had to wait about 15 minutes for everything to soften slightly before I could even begin to take a massive knife and leverage all my weight against it to cut 4 slices off. And then I let it sit on the stovetop for another couple of minutes to soften the caramel some more.

But boy, was it ever good. It was like eating a massive candy bar. A candy bar with a cookie-like crust around it. And the parentals seemed to like it, and even went so far to say that one of our favorite dessert stops, The Alcove would definitely serve this. I'd call that a success. :)

Oh, and don't mind that "pretty" swirl on top of that slice. I'm sure it's just a product of me not clarifying the butter very well. :P