Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pudding Fail

Pretty!
So lately I have been craving chocolate pudding.It's soft, smooth texture is very comforting and during the winter months, comfort is what I need. I also had a surplus of whole milk that needed used, so that factored into my desire to make pudding.

To find a recipe, I headed to one of my favorite websites, foodgawker. As I perused the recipes, I found that I had two options: make a pudding with cocoa powder or make a pudding with real chocolate. I decided upon real chocolate because I wanted something really chocolatey. I eventually chose this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

The recipe was only supposed to take 20 minutes at the stove, but I wound up hovering over the stove for about an hour. I'm not entirely sure what went wrong, but the recipe asks you to cook the custard in a double boiler, and I think the indirect heat was the problem. After nearly an hour, my pudding never thickened and was just a custard, maybe a little thicker than creme anglaise.

Yummmm...
It wasn't until I was asleep that night that I realized one thing I had done wrong with the recipe: I had added 5 ounces of chocolate instead of 6. Oops. The custard was still chocolatey and delicious, just not the texture I was looking for.

I served the "pudding" on Friday when I had Frakah over for dinner. I served it in nice little bowls with some whipped cream spiked with scotch whiskey. I discovered that the scotch paired nicely with the pudding as I was making the pudding because I sipped some scotch as I tasted the custard. I have to say, it was still tasty and chocolatey, but I am determined to try a different recipe, perhaps one that calls for eggs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blondies

Blondies on a plate!
My baking compulsion has resurfaced. Now that i live on my own, I have a clean kitchen at my disposal 24/7. This is a very dangerous thing. You see, Sunday afternoon I was supposed to be studying and putting together the first draft of a complaint for my employment law class. What did I really accomplish? Blondies.

In all truthfulness, what I really wanted was brownies. My brownies. But, that recipe calls for cake flour and as of yet I have none. So I glanced at the recipe for blondies and realized I had all the necessary ingredients at hand. The recipe actually calls for chocolate chips and white chocolate chips, but all I had were bars for baking. Then I thought, hey, chopped chocolate could be better than chips! So I proceeded with my chopping. Chopping chocolate is a very therapeutic activity for me, especially after dealing with the stress of trying to find the format for a complaint in the U.S. District Court in the State of Oregon. Yes, so the recipe came together quite easily with no trouble at all. My only concern was how little batter there seemed to be for the pan, but in the end, the blondies puffed up quite nicely.

As for the eating of the blondies, the recipe says you must let them cool completely for cutting, which was sheer torture for me. But I am learning to be patient! So I practiced belly-dancing in the meantime. While dancing, I realized I could easily spin out of control and fall and crack my head on my furniture and pass out and no one would know... But maybe my dog secretly knows how to dial 911? Okay, I digress. Let's just say, by the time I was done dancing, I was famished, and ate two blondies (I normally do not eat more than one of something in one sitting). And they were good.

Do you know who else enjoyed my blondies? My new kitten, Enzo. The pesky rascal climbed on my dining table this morning and chewed through the plastic wrap that covered a plate of blondies I was taking to work. Luckily he only got a few nibbles out of one before I caught him in the act and tossed that one out. I believe this kitty is going to cause me trouble...

In the pan
Blondies
from The New Best Recipe

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 lrg eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fold two 16-inch pieces of foil lengthwise so that one measure 13 inches wide and the other measures 9 inches wide. Fit into the bottom of the pan in a cross-wise pattern so that the edges stick out over the sides. This makes it easier to remove the blondies from the pan. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the semisweet and white chocolate chips and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula.

4. Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil handles and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2 by 2-inch bars and serve.

Yummmmmm...
Enjoy!

Note: My coworker Chelsea told me these were her favorite treat I've ever brought in. The plate I brought in to work was empty by 2pm, a first for me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Soirée Crêpe


Food!
Now that I have had my apartment for two weeks and feel pretty well settled, I decided I should commemorate the occasion with a Soirée Crêpe. When I studied abroad, I remember having such a fête with my host family. My host mother and sister would make a huge batch of crêpes and on the dining table would be placed a jar of nutella, some lemons cut in half, some sugar, honey, and whatever else was on hand. When the crêpes were ready, we'd each take one and fill it with whatever we wanted. My favorite, of course, was nutella. I was a nutella junkie when I studied abroad, an addiction I regret entirely. But it's just soooooo gooooood.

Anyway, so we'd all eat crêpes and chat and generally have a good time. I was very fortunate to have a great host family that wanted to give me a real taste of France. My host mother was a great cook and she did her best to educate me about the traditional foods of France. My host father, on the other hand, made sure my wine glass was always full, and always spoke English with me because he wanted to practice his English. I have very fond memories of these dinners. So I wanted to bring a little of that back by hosting my own soirée.

Les boissons!
For my fête, I invited a mixture of friends and family. Sadly, I did not realize until too late that I did not have enough chairs for everyone, but I think we got by just fine. I served up my host family's recipe for crêpes, some hard cider (I believe that's tradition), some beer and wine, and various fillings. My crêpes did not turn out pretty, but they tasted good. I cut my host family's recipe in half because it called for an entire kilogram of flour and twelve eggs! Even though I cut the recipe in half, I still have leftovers...

And now, the recipe (la recette, en français):

Crêpes

500 g flour
1 liter whole milk
6 eggs
6 oz beer
salt
5 Tbsp oil

Put the flour in a large bowl and add the eggs. Stir a little, then add the milk, little by little (au fur et à mesure). Next, add the beer, oil, and salt. Stir until smooth, then set aside and let sit for at least 3 hours.

Really, there's nutella in there!
When ready to cook the crêpes, butter a crêpe pan and use a ladle to put some batter on the pan. I use the rolling method, where you kind of tilt the pan around to get the batter spread out evenly. You don't want to use too much batter, as the crêpes should be thin, but if you don't use enough batter, you will have funny scraggly lines coming off the edges. When the top of the crêpe starts to look dry, you are ready to flip. I use a long thin spatula (the kind used for frosting cakes). Remember, the first crêpe is for throwing out!

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Early Morning Brownies

Brownies!
Well, folks, it’s 2011 and the times they are a-changin.’ I’ve always had this feeling that some major changes would come when I turned 28. Now that I’m here, I have this strong feeling that that prediction was not far off mark. According to astrology, major life changes occur every 27-30 years- it’s something to do with Saturn shifting houses (I think- please don’t quote me). And changes are happening indeed.


Specifically, I have moved into my own apartment and am living alone for the first time in my life. I admit, it’s a little scary at the moment. I’m not used to all this time to myself and I fear my dog, Lucy, thinks I’m going out of my mind, what with all the talking to myself and referring to myself as a “we.” I even adopted a kitten from the humane society yesterday as a companion for both my dog and me. Because, as introverted and secluded as I can be, I am simply used to being around people.

But it’s not all bad. I can sing or dance whenever I feel like it, without judgment (other than from Lucy). I can eat dinner as early or late as I like (okay, so I usually do that anyway), and I can stay up as late or go to bed as early as I desire.

All this change, however, has left me feeling a bit uneasy as I make the transition. I’ve never been good with transitions; in fact, I hate them. My ideal world is a place where there is never that feeling of being in the middle- you are always at your destination. My ideal world has a teleportation device that takes you from here to Australia in nanoseconds. But alas, this is not my ideal world. So my poor tummy has been angrily grumbling at me, alternately growling for more food and lambasting me for filling it. This, in turn, has led to a reduced ability to get a full night’s sleep. Which leads me to the early morning brownies.

It all began just prior to 4am on Thursday morning when Lucy awoke me with little whines and urgent kisses on my nose. She had to go potty. So I got out of bed, pulled on my boots and a coat and took Lucy out to the grass. She was quick to do her business and we promptly returned to our little abode. I took off my coat and boots and got back into bed. But I could not fall asleep. So just before 5am, I got back out of bed with the inspiration to rearrange my closet. Then I realized I was starving and fixed myself some toast with Nutella. Then I saw my Ready for Dessert cookbook by David Liebovitz that I had gotten for Christmas. I decided to have a look-through and came across a brownie recipe. When I realized I had everything on hand to make these brownies, and that I also had the time to bake them before I had to get ready for work, I decided to go ahead and bake some brownies at 5am. What the hell, right?

Baking brownies early in the morning is kind of nice. Probably more peaceful for me than baking in the afternoon. I put on some Queen and chopped some chocolate. Too little chocolate. But it was all good, because I just chopped more when I realized my mistake! The recipe called for 8 ounces of either bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, so my non-committal self chose both! Why not?! The recipe also called for preparing the batter entirely in the saucepan, which I have never done before. When the batter was finished, I slid them into the oven and proceeded to clean my kitchen. I even ran a load of laundry and dishes. I was on a roll! Once the brownies were out of the oven, I got ready for work and had a second breakfast. And then I left, without the brownies.

Let me just say that it is really difficult for me to last an entire work day knowing that I have brownies waiting for me at home. Brownies which I have never tasted before. You see, brownies are my favorite. I can’t say exactly what favorite they are, I just simply love them. I believe brownies are in a class all their own. They’re not cake, they’re not cookie, and cannot even be compared to custardy desserts (Tiramisu being my favorite there). So anyway, by the time I got home I was tempted to skip dinner and go straight for the brownies (which may or may not have been what I actually did- I honestly cannot remember, as I was in such a brownie-daze). All I can say is that with the first bite, I experienced extreme pleasure, and then minor disappointment. You see, these were not the best brownies I have ever had. That title remains with my New Best Recipe version of the brownie. I can’t quite put my finger on it- maybe these are too sweet, not buttery enough, and not quite substantive enough… But they’re good and they’re satisfying. And they’ve made up about half of my meals since making them…

Brownies in the pan
Well, I suppose I’ll quit torturing you with my blathering and give you the recipe.

Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies
from Ready for Dessert by David Liebovitz

6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 lg eggs, at room temp
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the inside of a 9-inch square pan with 2 lengths of foil, positioning the sheets perpendicular to each other and allowing the excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan. Lightly grease the foil with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
     In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add the chocolate and stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and stir energetically for 1 full minute, until the batter loses its graininess, becomes smooth and glossy, and pulls away a bit from the sides of the saucepan.
     Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Don’t overbake.
     Let cool completely before lifting out the foil to remove the brownies.

Sweet goodness
Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year's Eve, Part II

Ooh, wow

No, friends, I did not forget that I promised you two parts of my New Year’s Eve post, so here it is, albeit a little bit late.

Half of the spread
As I said before, we had quite a spread at our family New Year’s Eve soirée (attended by me, my mom, my dad (the bartender), Frakah, her husband, my nephew, and one of my best friends, 80 (hey, that’s her nickname). We had Greek olives, the bad ass hummus and tzatziki from the previous post, a Boursin-like cheese (that really didn’t taste like Boursin), Cheez-It-ish Crackers, and Mustard Bâtons. For dessert, my mom made a delectable Banana Butterscotch Pie from one of my new cookbooks. As for the drinks, my dad served up some French Horns. One day I shall have to do a post about my dad’s bar in my parents’ dining room. It’s quite spectacular.

Anyway, New Year’s Eve was a nice family affair, playing board games (Truth Be Told, our newest board game) and super-fun games (the After Eight game, which I learned from a box of After Eights when I lived in France). Fun was had by all. I feel obligated to share the fun of the After Eight game here. What you do is you take an After Eight dinner mint, place it on your forehead, and without using your hands, try to get it into your mouth. You can do a face-off and whoever gets it to their mouth first wins! I must warn you, however, that you will look like a freak when you play, so if you’re really concerned about that, maybe you shouldn’t play. Sadly, we all know that I could not give a hoot. Fun first, looks last.

As for the yummies I am covering in this post, the crackers were delish. In fact, they were like crack to me. I just could not get enough of them, but then I love cheesy crackers. And as for the Mustard Bâtons, they were awesome as well. I really love mustard (remind me to share my secret for the perfect scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches), so these things were pretty bomb. So, without further ado, here are the recipes:

Cracker time!
Cheez-It-ish Crackers
From Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
¼ lb. Gruyère, Comté, or Emmenthal, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of Aleppo pepper or cayenne (optional)
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

     Put the butter, cheese, salt, white pepper, and Aleppo/cayenne in a food processor and pulse until the butter is broken up into uneven bits and the mixture forms small curds. Add the flour and pulse until the dough forms moist curds again- these will be larger.
     Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead it gently until it comes together. Divide the dough in half, pat each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. Chill for at least an hour, or up to 3 days.
     Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
     Working with 1 disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly-floured work surface until ¼ inch thick. Using a small cookie cutter- about 1 ¼ inches- cut the dough into crackers. Gather the scraps together, so you can combine them with the scraps from the second disk, chill, and roll them out to make more crackers. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving a scant inch between the rounds.
     Bake for 14 to 17 minutes, or until the crackers are lightly golden and firm to the touch; transfer the crackers to a rack to cool. Repeat with the second disk of dough (and the scraps), making certain that your baking sheet is cool. You can serve these while they’re still a little warm, or wait until they reach room temperature.

Yummmm!
Mustard Batons
adapted from Around My French Table

2 sheets puff pastry (found in freezer section at grocery store)
2/3 cup Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk (for egg wash)

So, I don't have the recipe in front of me, so bear with me. The gist of these is you roll out one thawed sheet of puff pastry to roughly 13 by 17 rectangle. Then you spread half of the mustard on one half of the pastry (you will be folding it hamburger style). Then you fold the dry side over the mustard side. Next, cut from the folded edge to the opposite edge using a pizza slicer. I cut thin slices, less than an inch. Transfer these to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Next, prepare the egg wash (egg yolk and a few drops of cold water beaten together) and brush across the tops of the sticks. You can then choose to sprinkle sesame seeds on top (to make them look fancy). Next, you bake them until done at something like 375 or 400 (I will edit this post once I get internet in my new apartment) for maybe 14 minutes. Presto, you have fancy batons that were super easy to make! Go ahead, impress your friends!

In closing, I'd like to wish everyone a happy new year. I think 2011 will bring great things and many positive changes. One of my resolutions is to bake a souffle for the first time. Is there anything you would like me to bake this year?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Eve Appetizers, Part I

Hummus, tzatziki and pita
That's right, I'm dividing this post into to parts. Why? Because I made 5 new recipes for New Year's Eve and thought it would be overkill to share them all in one post. Two just sounds a little more digestible.

In this first post, I will share the Greek-style recipes I made. First I need to share with you all a little bit about my time studying abroad in Poitiers, France.

Once upon I time, I spent 9 months studying French in Poitiers, France. I was 21/22 years old at the time. I went over with a group of about 20 students from various Oregon universities and we all lived in different situations- some of us with families, some in apartments, and some in a combination of the two (I was one of the latter). We Oregonians were a fairly loyal bunch, sharing classes, activities, and meals together. One such meal was lunch. When not eating in the cafeteria, some of us frequented a tiny little Greek restaurant called Le Petit Grec. It was run by a French woman and her Cretan husband, and their specialty was pitas. There was pita poulet (pita with chicken), pita souvlaki (lamb pita), and pita kefte (meatball pita), among others. The pitas were prepared with one flat pita (the soft kind, not the pocket kind- which I detest), topped with the best tzatziki in the world, covered in lettuce and some onions, and then the meat on top. It was delicious, and for five Euro, you could get a pita with frites (fries). We Oregonians became regulars at this little hole-in-the-wall and the owners seemed to enjoy having us there. Sadly, it no longer exists, but I still remember that tzatziki- it was the stuff of dreams...

But now that dream can be made real once again! I have finally found a recipe for tzatziki that rivals that of Le Petit Grec. It's in my new cookbook, Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. This cookbook was a Christmas present from my grandma, and I have to tell you it's one of the best gifts I've ever received, reasons for which I will explain as this blog develops and I make more of the recipes within. The tzatziki recipe in this cookbook calls for Greek yogurt and it has you salt and drain the cucumber before combining everything, two requirements that I believe make this tzatziki so thick and creamy. As for the taste, I think the dill gives it a flavor reminiscent of Le Petit Grec. If you're a tzatziki fan, look no further than this recipe, posted below.

The other recipe I will share with you in this post is the hummus recipe. My hummus turned out thick, but I could have added more liquid if I'd liked. The garlic flavor actually took some time to develop, even though I made it the night before the party. The party part I will talk about in post number two. All in all, I was pretty happy with both of these recipes.



Hummus
Hummus
from Around My French Table

1 can (16 oz) chickpeas, drained (reserve the liquid), rinsed, and patted dry
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, chopped
1/3 cup well-stirred tahini
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

     Put the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice in a food processor and whir until smooth. With the machine running, add some of the reserved chickpea liquid a little at a time until the hummus is a nice, thick, scoopable texture- you'll probably need about 4 tbsp of the liquid. Add the cumin, if you'd like, tasting to get the amount you want, then season with salt and pepper and more lemon juice, if you think it needs it.
     Scoop the hummus into a bowl or refrigerator container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, and chill until serving time.
     When you're ready to serve, taste again for salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Note: I added maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil to my hummus because I like olive oil.

Mmm, tzatziki!
Tzatziki
from Around My French Table

2 cups Greek yogurt (nonfat is okay)
1 cup finely cubed seedless cucumber
Salt
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and minced
2 tbsp minced fresh dill
2 tbsp minced fresh mint
White pepper to taste

     Toss the cucumber into a bowl, sprinkle with about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir, and let sit for 30 minutes.
     Drain off the liquid in the bowl, put the cucumber in a clean dish towel, and dry it by twisting the cloth and squeezing. Return the cucumber to the bowl and stir in all the remaining ingredients, including the yogurt. Taste for salt and white pepper, and, if you've got the time, chill for a few hours before serving.

Note: I have no idea what "split, germ removed" means in reference to the garlic. If you do, please fill me in.

Enjoy!