29 April 2008


Ah, focaccia. Focaccia is a sort of Italian flatbread, kinda like pizza but more like a traditional bread (confused yet?). It can be topped with any number of things: onions, herbs, tomatoes, olives, the sky's the limit there. The word 'focaccia' itself is derived from the Latin focus meaning "center" or "fireside" (the hearth was the center of the home). The recipe is at least 2,000 years old, and still going strong today. And for good reason! It is the easiest bread, good for beginners and something that can be thrown together quickly on a weeknight.

This is a very speedy, easy focaccia recipe that I found at the blog Itzy's Kitchen. And big thanks to Erica for sharing this little gem! I love the fact that you mix the dried herbs into the dough, so it doesn't need a ton of stuff on top if you don't have the time/energy to top your dough. And great with soup or stew: it's just amazing warm from the oven, and perfect for dipping into your soup bowl.

Easy Focaccia Bread

2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white sugar
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 c. water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. mozzarella

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and all herbs/spices. Mix in the vegetable oil and water. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Punch dough down; place on greased baking sheet. Pat into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Brush top with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

27 April 2008

Cheesecake Pops, Tiki-Style

It's Daring Baker time again! This month, we're making cheesecake. Cheesecake pops, that is: little chunks of cheesecake on a stick, dipped in chocolate and chilled. Yum! I will admit, a recipe with 5 blocks of cream cheese does make me hesitate for a second, but hey - it's only once a month that I indulge like this, right? Ahem.

We were given the opportunity to play around with this recipe, as long as we kept the cheesecake 'white'. I decided to get a bit tropical - for heavens sakes, when I made this it was freezing cold outside (and it is APRIL in KANSAS, it should be in the 70s). I thought some warm-thinking would maybe jump-start the weather around here.

Well, to me nothing screams 'warm and tropical' like tiki men and exotic flavors. Hence my theme! I made a pina colada cheesecake, using pineapple and coconut liqueur. I stacked my blocks of cheesecake on bamboo skewers (to get that true tiki statue feel), and dipped them in a coconut-spiked white chocolate. And the crowning touch: to decorate, I used yellow sparkling sprinkles and sugar-cast tiki masks.

Deborah and Elle hosted this month's challenge, and a big thanks to both ladies - the challenge was fun, and the cheesecake recipe is a keeper. The cheesecake is so smooth and creamy, so rich that the cheesecake is perfect for these little dipped bites.

Don't forget to check out the other cheesecake pops out there, compliments of my fellow Daring Bakers! We're hundreds strong, so I'm sure there are a lot of fun variations out there :)

Cheesecake Pops
(Recipe taken from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor)

5 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 c. sugar
¼ c. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ c. heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
30-40 (8-inch) lollipop sticks
1 lb. chocolate, finely chopped (whatever type you want for dipping)
2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
Assorted decorations (sprinkles, sanding sugar, chopped nuts, etc.)

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes (*note: I baked mine for an hour, so keep in the oven longer if needed).

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.). Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

25 April 2008

Peanut Butter Nanner Bread

This one is adapted from my Muzzy's banana bread recipe, which I practically have memorized. I switched out the shortening for mostly peanut butter, but it still wasn't a very strong flavor in the bread (and I wanted more peanut butter than banana). Next time it's all peanut butter, baby. And I gotta say: Muzz makes one awesome banana bread, so you should give this one a shot. It's dense but very moist, not too sweet; the brown sugar gives it a nice rounded flavor. This version is particularly good with a healthy slather of peanut butter on your slice :)

Peanut Butter Nanner Bread
(adapted from my Muzzy)

1 3/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. shortening *OR: increase peanut butter to 3/4 c.*
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 c. (about 3) mashed ripe bananas
1/4 c. chopped peanuts (optional)

Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the peanut butter, shortening, and sugars (about 2 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated. Stir in mashed bananas, and mix well. Add dry ingredients, and finally nuts if using.

Pour batter into loaf pan, and bake for 50-60 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean-ish). Allow to cool before slicing. Great with a thick slather of peanut butter.

23 April 2008

Breakfast Carbonara

Such a pretty little dish, you'd never believe how easy it is to pull together. It's not an authentic 'carbonara', but it certainly is good. The recipe makes a ton of aioli; the leftovers can be kept for 2-3 days in the fridge and can be used for sandwiches, or to top roasted veggies, fish, etc.

I believe Ms. Giada titled this recipe "Giada's Carbonara"; however I think it's fabulous for breakfast with an over-easy egg on top, so I changed a few other things and re-named it. The dish is really rich, I will warn you, so if I make it I usually do so on a late Sunday morning, when it can double as an early lunch. Super speedy and tasty. Can't beat it.

Breakfast Carbonara
(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)

A few handfuls of frozen peas
1/2 lb. linguini
1/2 c. Basil Aioli, (recipe follows)
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
2 to 3 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 3-5 minutes. Scoop peas out of the pot with a small colander and toss into a large bowl.

Add the pasta to the large pot of salted water used to cook the peas, and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Drain pasta into a large bowl. Add the Basil Aioli, peas, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and place on a long, rectangular serving dish.

Place the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry the eggs to your liking. Place the eggs on top of the pasta and serve immediately.

Basil Aioli:
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the garlic, egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, basil, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a food processor and run the machine to mix. With the machine running slowly drizzle in the vegetable and olive oil.

Basil Aioli can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

21 April 2008

Brooklyn Baci

Can't go wrong with a Sherry Yard recipe! Baci is Italian for "kisses"*. Fitting, since that's the shape of these little guys. I like this recipe because each cookie is a nice healthy bite and no more. They also have a very deep chocolate flavor (thanks to both the cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate), and the powdered sugar gives a delicate, crispy crust to the softer cookie. A nice change from the usual cookie baked around this place.

*Hubs thinks these cookies would be better named merda. Nice. Yes, my husband's maturity level is that of a 5 year old. Certainly didn't stop him from eating them.

Brooklyn Baci
(from The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts, 2003)

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 c. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Set aside.

Fill a small saucepan three-quarters full of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and place over the simmering water, creating a double boiler. Stir occasionally until it is melted, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.

Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add the sugar, honey, espresso powder, vanilla, and salt. Cream on medium speed until it is smooth and lump free, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.

Add the chocolate and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, about 15 seconds.

On low speed, add the flour mixture. Beat until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cream and mix it in, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the dough to a large piping bag fitted with a medium (#4) plain tip. Pipe the dough onto the prepared baking sheet in [Hershey] kiss shapes. To achieve the kiss shape: touch the pastry tip to the tray and squeeze the bag, pulling straight up as you squeeze. Stop squeezing when the cookie is 1-in. in diameter and quickly lift the bag straight up. Sift powdered sugar over the kisses.

Bake one sheet at a time for 12 to 15 minutes, or until firm and dry to the touch, turning the baking sheet front to back halfway through baking. Cool on a rack before serving. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days at room temperature. The cookies can also be frozen up to 1 month.

19 April 2008

Lemon Baby Buttons

Every once in awhile, a magazine issue really impresses me, and I keep the whole thing around for future reference. The March 2008 issue of Food & Wine is one of those issues - I want to make the Meyer lemon gnocchi, the grilled ham (and chutney, apple, and cheddar) sandwiches, the beet salad, the pan-fried salmon... On and on. No joke. Hope you picked up this issue when it was on the stands, because there's lots to pull from it.

They also had a darling little article on Big Sugar Bakeshop (out of L.A., Calif.), with several recipes from the owner, Lisa Ritter. All look scrumptious, but it was the "Baby Button" cookies that really begged for me to make them today. They are buttery and soft yet crumbly, all around very light. Not too sweet (the bulk of your sweetness comes from that final roll in powdered sugar). I made some adjustments, added more vanilla and some lemon zest. Just perfect with a hot mug of coffee or tea.

While it wasn't the original intention of this post, I am posting this for the LiveStrong With A Taste Of Yellow blogging event. I feel like a very lame blogger, because this one was just totally off my radar until a reader brought it to my attention (thanks Nicole!). I'm glad she did: Cancer is a devastating disease that has affected everyone, in some way or another. I have had family members diagnosed (and thankfully in remission). I've had friends with family members with cancer, fellow students in school, coworkers.

A dear fellow editor had adrenal cancer, I felt quite close to him and was at a loss when I heard he was diagnosed. A year later I sat at a conference banquet and swelled with pride when he accepted a pretigous society award, telling the audience that while cancer was a terrible disease, he felt blessed to have cancer: it gave him a new outlook on life, a clear understanding of his personal strength, a deeper relationship with his loved ones, and a stronger faith in God.

John died from his cancer less than a year ago, after a long fight over several years. At the time I no longer worked directly with him, but his wife was kind enough to give me a call when the time was near, so I could get in touch. And even though it had been over 2 years since I worked with him, I must admit: I miss John quite a bit. So this ones for you, John, and for Barbara, and for my aunt, and everyone else affected by this disease. God bless.
Lemon Baby Buttons
(adapted from Food & Wine, March 2008)

2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse the butter with 1/2 cup of the confectioners’ sugar until combined. Add the cornstarch, vanilla and flour and process until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch rope. Cut each rope into 12 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Transfer the balls to the baking sheet; they won’t spread much. Bake the cookies on the center rack of the oven for about 22 minutes, until the bottoms are golden but the tops are still pale.

Sift the remaining 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Add 12 warm cookies to the bowl at a time and toss to coat. Transfer the cookies to a clean baking sheet. While the cookies are still warm, poke 4 shallow holes into each one with a toothpick or skewer to make a buttonhole pattern. Let the cookies cool completely before serving or storing.

16 April 2008

Turkey Sausage and Penne with Feta

A quick casserole for you to tide you over until the weekend - then the baked goods will re-appear with a vengeance. I have been busy busy busy trying to get things done around the apartment and semi-sorta pack (for our future moving) and meeting up with friends and house hunting (you know, all that lovely gorgeous stuff called 'life').

For the record - house hunting is for the birds, man. Soooo not as fun as I always envisioned it to be. There's a lot of stinkers on the market right now, but I have faith. We'll find a cutey little place that doesn't need a ton of work and with a nice kitchen to boot. Cross your fingers. I have great faith in our agent, she's a total gem.

That being said, my poor blog has been suffering. I've been making meals that are quick and already on the blog, or I forget to photograph them; still, I was able to get this one done. This recipe is yummy, and comes from Cooking Light so you know it won't hurt the waistline. I was a bit more liberal with the feta than the recipe calls for, because hey - the rest of it is so healthy, I couldn't resist. I'm not a huge fan of eggplant (I mean I like it okay; I could take it or leave it I guess) but it is really good in this dish.

Turkey Sausage and Penne with Feta
(from Cooking Light magazine, April 2005)

4 1/2 c. cubed peeled eggplant (I usually salt and drain it before using)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. turkey sausage, cut into thick slices
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
10 oz. penne (I used some tri-colored weirdly-shaped stuff instead)
1/2 c. (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

Cook eggplant, and garlic in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 2-4 minutes or until eggplant begins to get tender. Toss in turkey sausage and brown. Add tomato paste and the next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); cook over medium heat 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally (just long enough to cook down the juices a bit and meld the flavors).

Cook pasta according to directions, and drain. Place in a large bowl. Add tomato mixture, feta, and parsley; toss well.

14 April 2008

Halfway Cookies

Another urge to bake satisfied by one of my older cookbooks, this one put out by the Junior League of Charleston, West Virginia. This cookbook was courtesy of my sister Anne. She got the old cookbook gene from my parents as well, and likes to share with me :)

This is (from what I can gather researching) an old recipe, many that people attribute to their family: aunts, grandmothers, parents. There's no explanation of the name, but I am guessing they are called Halfway Cookies because they are half-way like a chocolate-chip cookie. It's a basic bar recipe dressed up a bit – a nice sweet cookie-like base, with a speckled chocolate layer and a baked meringue topping.

My topping baked into the bars, but I think I did not beat them long enough, so recommend that for any future users (the original recipe just said "beat together whites and brown sugar and spread over chocolate; gotta love those older recipes). These bars are sweet sweet sweet, I will warn you! I used half bittersweet chocolate for my chocolate layer, and wish I would have used all bittersweet.

Halfway Cookies
(adapted from Mountain Measures, 1974, by the Junior League of Charleston, West Virginia)

2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. brown sugar, separated
2 eggs, separated
1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
12 oz. milk or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks/bits

Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift together flour, salt, soda, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, beaten egg yolks, water, and vanilla. Add flour mixture. Spread in greased oblong pan, and sprinkle chocolate bits on top of this mixture.

Beat egg whites and mix with 1 cup brown sugar, to soft peak stage. Spread thinly on top of chocolate bits and cover completely with waxed paper, having it touch the egg-white mixture. Bake at 350 F for 20 to 25 minutes. Cut into squares when cool.

12 April 2008

Mediterranean Tuna Pockets

Hi hi. Yeah, haven't posted in awhile. Well, there was all that Jayhawk drama. And then I got the flu. Yay, flu! So I basically died. And I don't have any recipes/pics in the queue any longer, so there you go. No posting for awhile. But now I'm back.

I picked up this little darling from watching Giada's Food Network show a few years ago. Love the premise she has, but (1) I don't have a panini press, nor do I have any intention of pressing gunk in a makeshift way, and (2) I don't have artichoke hearts around ever - it's a thing with me, I hate the canned, and the jarred stuff looks like it has dust floating in it, and it's too much work to do myself. Ahem. Anyhoo...

So I improvised it a bit, and love the outcome. Easy breasy beautiful CoverGirl. Or something like that. Comes together in a snap, and tastes ooooohh so yummy. I make this a lot in the warmer months, so maybe it's my way of praying to the summer gods to come visit (did I mention we had snow this morning???). Yeah. Please come visit, warm weather!

Mediterranean Tuna Pockets
(Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis, Everyday Italian network show)

3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 (6-ounce) cans tuna in olive oil, drained
1/2 cucumber, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
Other assorted veggies, chopped (I've used carrots, radishes, bell pepper...)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 pita flatbreads, cut in half

Puree the olives, oil, garlic, and zest in a food processor until smooth and spreadable. Blend in the mayonnaise. Set aside.

Toss the tuna, cucumber, tomatoes, other veggies, lemon juice, and pepper in a medium bowl, keeping the tuna in small chunks. Set aside.

Take pita halves, and open. Spread the olive puree over both open sides of the pita bread. Spoon the tuna and veggie mixture into the bread. Serve.

08 April 2008

Lentil Stew with Ham and Greens

Er, yeah. All my big talk in my last post, and here I sit: bringing you another recipe from my queue. Heh. But I have a good excuse! Did you see That Game?? That SHOT?!? Insane! The last 2 minutes (and overtime) was a thing of beauty, I'm telling you. Mario Chalmers is a Legend now. And Mass St. was a madhouse for much of the night and early morning. Hence the fact that my very fuzzy-brained, very sleepy self is bringing you a recipe that I made a few weeks ago :)

After the big Easter meal, my parents graciously gave me not only huge quantities of ham, but the ham bone itself. Now, I'm not a big fan of Ham and Bean soup, mainly because of the beans. Instead I decided to make a Ham and Lentil Stew recipe I had seen in Cooking Light. Very good call! It made a ton of stew, a nice thick steamy stew that sticks to your ribs instead of some brothy thing. And the lentils do not have the same... effect... on my digestive system as beans, a gigantic plus. Add to that the fact that it's good and healthy for you, and you can't go wrong. So: I realize it's a bit past the Easter holiday at this point, so most people don't have a ham bone sitting around, but if you find yourself with one in the future: definitely give this stew a shot.

Off to finish some housework and then snuggle into my comfy comfy bed. One last thing:

Lentil Stew with Ham and Greens
(Adapted from Cooking Light, January 2002)

1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 c. fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 ham bone
1 c. dried lentils
1/2 c. chopped carrot
2 bay leaves
3 c. chopped Swiss chard, collard greens, or spinach
1 1/2 c. chopped baking potato
1 c. chopped smoked ham
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add broth, ham bone, lentils, carrot, and bay leaves; bring to a boil.

Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Add Swiss chard, potato, and ham; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until potato is tender.

Remove ham bone, and cool; cut off as much meat as you can, and then discard bone. Stir in ham from bone, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and pepper; simmer 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Sprinkle with parsley.

06 April 2008

Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

March/April, my favorite time of the year. No, really - it is! Mainly because of that lovely event known as March Madness. Our team's a contender every year, something I'm oh-so proud of. This year we've battled our way to the Championship Game tomorrow night, and I'm on pins and needles. Maybe this is our year. I'm holding my breath and crossing my fingers, as it's been awhile since my alma mater won the whole thing.

One terrible thing about this year, though, is that it's been so darn busy. There are all the KU games to watch at the local pub with our friends and family, for one thing. Then there was Easter so early this year. And business travel. I've had a potluck or two to attend, but get embarrassed taking pictures at those type of things, so they can't be blogged about. Work's been pretty hectic, too. This all adds up to: there hasn't been a ton for me to blog about. I've been relying on things I've made long ago and have in the queue for some time now.

Because of all this: I've seriously missed my kitchen and baking. So today, I thought, I'll make something just for the heck of it. A cake, that's what I'm making. And something out of a cookbook, maybe one I haven't picked up in awhile. Enter the Devil's Food Cake and Brown Sugar Buttercream from my trusty copy of the Gourmet cookbook. A classic recipe, so says Ruth Reichl, and the buttercream is supposed to be pretty darn good too. Well then: devil's food cake it is. So this afternoon I measured and whisked and frosted to my heart's content. Ah, it was so nice.

I decorated my cake with a chocolate transfer from Fancy Flours, and whisked in some sifted cocoa powder to my leftover buttercream to color the piped border. This is a nice, classic chocolate cake, it's moist and soft with a rounded chocolate flavor (nothing overpowering or too sweet). The buttercream is very good as well - a sweet, thick, and very buttery concoction with a deep brown sugar flavor. A good compliment to the milder cocoa-flavored cake. It's a fantastic basic cake recipe to have in your arsenal, so I really recommend you give it a try.

Oh, yeah - one last thing: Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! GO KU! Here's the madness that was our "main drag", aka Mass St., last night. Can't wait until tomorrow :) Hopefully I run into my fellow Daring Baker Meryl again, who I met for the first time last night in the midst of madness...

Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream
(From The Gourmet Cookbook, 2004)


Devil's Food Cake:
1 c. boiling water
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1/2 c. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks (1 c.) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs

Brown Sugar Buttercream:
3 large egg whites at room temperature
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3 sticks (1 1/2 c.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
2 tsp.vanilla

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter three 8 X 2-in. round cake pans and line bottoms of each with rounds of wax or parchment paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture (batter may look curdled).

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean and layers begin to pull away from sides of pans, 20 to 25 minutes total. Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove wax paper, and cool completely.

Combine egg whites and salt in a large bowl.

Stir together brown sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, washing down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.

When sugar syrup reaches boil, start beating whites with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until frothy, then add lemon juice and beat at medium speed until whites just hold soft peaks. (Do not beat again until sugar syrup is ready.)

Meanwhile, put candy thermometer into sugar syrup and continue boiling until syrup reaches 238–242 F. Immediately remove from heat and pour into a heatproof 1-cup glass measure. Slowly pour hot syrup in a thin stream down side of bowl into egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Beat meringue, scraping down bowl with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. (It’s important that meringue is properly cooled before proceeding.)

With mixer at medium speed, gradually add butter 1 piece at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. (If meringue is too warm and buttercream looks soupy after some of butter is added, briefly chill bottom of bowl in a large bowl filled with ice water for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.) Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all of butter is added, but will come back together before beating is finished.) Add vanilla and beat 2 minutes more.

To assemble:
Put 1 cake layer, rounded side up, on a cake plate and spread with about 1 cup buttercream. Top with another cake layer, rounded side up, and spread with another cup buttercream. Top with remaining cake layer and frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream.

04 April 2008

Kabul-Style Lamb and Rice Pilaf

One evening while in Baltimore, some colleagues and I decided to share a meal at The Helmand. This was my first time trying Afghan food, and I loved it. The dishes are similar to Indian cuisine, but also very different: Afghan cooking incorporates much more vegetables, fruits and nuts, for one thing. They also don’t seem to use curry (at least not as much), leaving you with a nice mild heat instead of that ever-building sweat you get from traditional Indian dishes. We ordered several different dishes and shared family-style, which seemed to be the best way to sample it all. And if you ever find yourself out that way: the kaddo borawni was to die for (stewed pumpkin, sweet as can be but also with a garlicy bite and cool yogurt sauce. Wow).

So of course, I came home with a wild craving for the Kabuli I had there: like an Afghan casserole, it was lamb chunks, carrots, raisins, and onions on a bed of brown, cinnamon-spiced rice. Yum! I just couldn’t take it any more, so I finally went on an Internet hunt. I found a great version at the Saveur magazine site, and added the dish to my daily menu.

Now, I want to add here that I made some major adjustments to the recipe I found: I traded in the lamb shoulder for ground lamb, for one (the butchers were gone from the grocery store when I went shopping and I wasn’t buying the $50 pre-packaged shoulder, so ground lamb it was going to be). Also, I didn’t buy rosewater. I adapted the recipe a bit to make up for the changes, and from what I can tell it was still fairly successful: lamb chunks with sweet sauted carrots and plump raisins, in a brown, spiced rice. Mmmm. This recipe uses a few pots and pans and has a few more steps than your usual casserole, but I still love it and will probably put it on regular rotation at our house.

Kabul-Style Lamb and Rice Pilaf (Qabili Palau)
(Adapted from Saveur magazine, no. 109)

1 1/4 c. basmati rice
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp. ground cardamom
1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lb. ground lamb
Kosher salt
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1⁄4 c. raisins

Put rice into a large bowl and cover with water; let soak for 20 minutes. Drain rice and reserve. Combine coriander, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, cardamom, and cloves in a bowl, and set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Season lamb with salt and about 1/4 of the spice mixture. Brown meat (breaking up so that it is medium-sized chunks), about 8–10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate; set aside.

Reduce heat to medium, add onion, and cook, stirring, until browned, 12–15 minutes. Return lamb to pot with 2 cups water; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, about 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate; set aside. Reserve cooking liquid in pot.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer carrots to a plate; set aside. Add raisins; cook until plump, 2–3 minutes. Set raisins aside.

Add rice to reserved pot; stir in half the spices and 1 1/2 cups water; season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, without stirring, until liquid is just absorbed, 8–10 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle remaining spices over rice. Scatter lamb, carrots, and raisins over rice. Cover; continue to cook until rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir rice, lamb, carrots, and raisins together and season with salt and pepper; transfer to a serving platter. Pig out.

02 April 2008

Brioche à Tête

I saw darling little brioches in a bakery a few weeks ago, and they made me drool. The smell of them was overpowering, and they were so glossy and golden! Sadly, there was no need to buy them at that time (other than fatter thighs, which I really don't need), so I left without buying any. Still, I couldn't get them out of my head! I always thought they were hard to make, that they came from a temperamental dough, so I never attempted them myself.

Finally my brioche daydreams got the best of me, so I pulled out my Jacques Pepin tome and looked them up. Lo and behold: not so difficult after all! I even had brioche molds (that I bought thinking they were mini tartlet molds, heh). The next time I found a free afternoon, I set out to make them.

They were just as I imagined: eggy and buttery, with a soft crumb. That dough is to die for when baked, it has a flaky brown crust and chewy, tender interior that is slightly sweet (or maybe that's just from the butter and jam we smeared on them). Heavenly.

The only issue is that there was no way Hubs and I could eat all these suckers! One thing with these brioches as well, they are really best while still warm. On the first day. Although they will keep, they lose a little bit of their charm when they aren't fresh and warm.

Luckily for me: Ann at Redacted Recipes posted a great little crockpot bread pudding recipe on her site. I have an office potluck tomorrow, so it should make good use of the leftovers!

Brioche à Tête
(from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques, 2001)

1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1 pkg. dry active yeast
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, water, and yeast. Set aside to let the yeast "work" for about 5 minutes (it will foam or bubble).

Place the remaining ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, start mixing on low, adding the yeast mixture slowly. When all the ingredients hold together, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in medium speed and beat for 5 minutes. The dough should be well blended, and elastic, velvety, and hold into a lump around the beater.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled (about 2 hours). Gently punch down dough (yeah, I guess push lightly, that's what I did). You are now ready to shape and bake!

To shape the Brioche à Tête:
Generously butter 3-oz. individual brioche molds (I did 12 molds). Cut the dough into a little bit larger than golf ball-sized pieces, and roll on the table in a circular motion to give body to the brioche.

With the side of your hand, make a back-and-forth "sawing" motion to create a small lump for the "head" of your brioche. It should be about one-third of the size of the dough. Lift the brioche by the head, and place in a buttered mold. Cup the head with your fingers, and push down on the "body" of the dough to make an indentation. Gently push the head into this indentation. Repeat until all molds/dough are finished.

Let the brioches rise in a warm, draft-free place for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 400 F, and brush tops of brioches with an egg wash (1 egg, beaten). Bake for approximately 25 minutes. They should be golden brown on the outside. Allow to cool ten minutes before removing from molds.

These are best the day of, when still warm! They will also keep in an air-tight container for 3-4 days.