30 July 2008

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

I am in the process of reading Julie and Julia, a great book where a lovely blogger named Julie takes on a personal challenge to make and blog about every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the span of 1 year. This is a must read, by the way (thanks Sarah for the recommendation!). Anyway, yesterday I was reading the chapter where Julie finally finishes the Oeufs en Gelée (Eggs in Aspic). She has been toiling over these darn things for more than a day, and finally finishes them after getting up at 6am Thanksgiving morning to work on them some more. Even though they looked rather unappetizing and blobby, and probably wouldn't be eaten further than an obligatory bite, she writes:

"It was 8 a.m., and though I still had a whole Thanksgiving meal left to cook, roast goose and cabbage and onions and green beans and souflée, I felt giddy with relief."

Yeah, that's kinda how I felt when I finally finished this challenge. Not like it was the hardest challenge I've done, more like the most frustrating, and not working into my schedule too well.

Working on the house seems to be my main priority these days, but I am also determined to work on my baking/blogging. And I missed the last challenge, something I am not too proud of. The Daring Bakers Rule is that you cannot miss two challenges in a row. So even though I had a million house things on my To Do list as well as friend obligations and tons of work, I was NOT going to miss another challenge and get kicked off.

I was terribly excited to make this lovely cake. So pretty! So many components! But it wasn't going to be easy, or cheap. I went out to the grocery store hopeful, though, and spent my hard-earned money on lots of eggs and hazelnuts. Then set to work. I had a whole 10 days to finish this sucker, after all.

First try: everything seemed fine. I toasted and skinned my hazelnuts. I measured, poured, carefully separated eggs. I mixed and whipped and ground my hazelnut meal. I lovingly toiled in a rather-warm kitchen for over an hour, and finally finished my batter. I poured it into my round cake pan and gently placed it in my preheated oven.

Then it got kinda bad.

I started my simple syrup while the cake baked. I hear sizzling and smell burning coming from the oven, and take a peek: oh, hurrah. Batter bubbling over everywhere, all over the inside of my oven, the thick batter coating the oven rack. Ack! I threw a sheet pan in underneath in a vain attempt to curb the overflow, but that seemed to only let out most of my heat and added a new level of cleaning to my batter-coated rack. But everything else seemed okay, so I finished up my simple syrup. The cake was supposed to be finished in 30-35 minutes, but it was still pale and wiggly at that point. I let it go to 40 minutes, then 50 minutes. Finally it started to brown and pull away from the sides of the pan. Looks done! I pulled it out and let it cool. Then I went to remove it from the pan: the sides of the cake slid out like a dream, and the center poured a sticky mess all over my counters.


Well, at that point I was out some dough and a good chunk of a Sunday morning. I was... well, not happy. I pouted around the house and angrily did the laundry (which I'm sure was hilariously entertaining for my Hubs to watch). That's it, I'm done. I give up. Let them kick me out, I figured. I didn't want to see another hazelnut as long as I lived.

But, by the next weekend (and a mere 3-4 days before posting the dreaded challenge), I had come around again. I love being a Daring Baker, and my blog is the best little hobby I've ever had. I wasn't giving up. But: I was not spending a ton of money on new supplies, and I wasn't making a damn round cake again. So I bought the generic bags of chopped hazelnuts, cheap eggs, and broke out my big jelly roll pan. It was just going to have to do.

On Attempt 2, I am pleased to say I had no problems. Glad, in fact, that I gave it another shot. I didn't want to do any sort of boring square cake, so I cut my thin jelly roll genoise into flower shapes with a cookie cutter, then assembled. Frosting was a bit trickier to say the least, but still I am proud of my slightly-ugly results. Oh, and of course then I read in the Daring Baker instructions that our cakes MUST remain round. Oopie. Well, my flower shapes are round-ish. Take it or leave it.

And I gotta say: when I finally finished photographing those suckers, even though I still had a weekend's worth of painting/drapery sewing/picture hanging to do, I felt giddy with relief :)


This one cake kinda took a header, leaving a lovely Rorschach-like blob on the plate.

Again: don't forget to check out the other lovely cakes put out by our ever-growing cult! And a big thanks to Chris for the fabulous, yummy cake recipe :)

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
(From Great Cakes by Carol Walter)

Cake Components:
1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Genoise
1 ½ c. hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 c. cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 c. sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 large. egg whites
¼ c. warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute. Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.*

Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.*

Sugar Syrup
1 c. water
¼ c. sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 c. praline paste1
½ - 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 large egg whites
¾ c. sugar
1 ½ c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.

Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Praline Paste
1 c. hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 c. Sugar

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter. Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle.

Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
2/3 c. thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
¾ c. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside. Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp hot water.

Assembling Cake:

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream. Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers.

Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes. Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake. Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish.

Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

28 July 2008

Garlic Shrimp

This was a recipe I originally tried while hosting a tapas-themed Cooking Club. It was so good, I decided it was worthy of center stage at dinnertime :)

The garlicky, spicy shrimp is just amazing, and all-in-all this is a very healthy version of shrimp (as long as you go easy on that red chile oil). I served it with wild rice and steamed veggies, it was pretty darn good if I do say so myself :)

Garlic Shrimp with Red Chile Oil
(from Bobby Flay)

24 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Red Chile Oil (recipe follows)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Place the shrimp in a cazuela or an ovenproof casserole and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle olive oil over shrimp, add crushed garlic, and toss to coat. Roast in the oven until pink and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drizzle generously with Red Chile Oil and sprinkle with thyme. Serve with crusty bread.

Red Chile Oil:
1 c. olive oil
6 dried chiles de arbol, lightly toasted and crushed
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed

Blend all ingredients including the thyme leaves in a blender until smooth.. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.

26 July 2008

Chopped Salad Verde with Sweet Pea Vinaigrette

My Hubs is a beer nerd, it's true. He is one of those guys who, when his pint of microbrewed-fancy-schmancy-oddly-named beer is placed in front of him, he will hold it up to the light to look at the color and stuff. Then he carefully puts the glass back down on the table and smells it for awhile. Then he sips it, and tilts the glass to ogle the lacing. Then he scribbles furiously in his pocket beer journal. Oh, yes. He is one of those weirdos. And yet I married him anyway.

Due to this affliction of his, I am guaranteed a meal his favorite restaurant/brewery in town at least twice a month. And I'm not complaining, really - Free State Brewing Company has not only great beer, but awesome food as well. More often than not, I go for my most favoritest thing on their menu: the chopped salad verde.

I'm a chopped salad nut. This one is like my other favorite chopped salad, with lots of veggies and pasta, but this version also has this a great tangy-yet-slightly sweet vinaigrette along with huge chunks of avocado and a lovely Vella Jack cheese. Mmm, what a good salad. So imagine my delight when, the last time I ordered this salad, our waitress casually mentioned the recipe had been printed. Printed! Awesome! That means I can make it at home!

Make it at home I do, and will continue to do. A lot. It costs less than $10 that way, you see. ;) Plus, you'll have tons of leftovers with this recipe (well, if you usually cook for two; it'll serve 4-6). That is not a problem: this salad is even better the next day, after the flavors meld.

Chopped Salad Verde with Sweet Pea Vinaigrette


For the dressing:
1/2 c. fresh or frozen sweet peas
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
1 clove roasted garlic
2 sprigs fresh parsley
2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. white wine vinegar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. water

For the salad:
1 c. dry pasta (baby shells or elbows)
2 ripe avocado chopped
4 oz. (about 4 c.) fresh spinach, chopped
2 oz. grated Vella Dry Jack Cheese (or a mild hard cheese)
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 small carrots, julienne cut

Make the dressing:
Place all of the dressing ingredients except oil and water in a food processor and blend until well combined. (Alternatively, place the ingredients in a large, deep bowl and use an immersion blender.)

While pulsing the processor, slowly add oil to emulsify. Thin with water as needed to salad dressing consistency.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, place all remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. When pasta is cooked, drain, run under cold water to chill, and drain again. Add cooked chilled pasta and all of the vinaigrette to the bowl and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately.

24 July 2008

Grand Marnier Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookie porn! Cookie porn! Frankly, these suckers were so good, so I feel the need to add as many pictures as I can.

I made these cookies after reading about them in the NY Times. Apparently, they had perfected the chocolate chip cookie recipe, and printed their outcome. The story of how they came to perfect the recipe is pretty interesting in and of itself, so you should totally read it if you have a few minutes.

I wanted to mix things up a bit, so added some orange zest and Grand Marnier to the mix. Oh, so good! As the recipe promised, the cookies were the best - pretty cookies, that were crunchy on the outside and soft/chewy in the middle. The dough chilling also added a caramel-toffee type of flavor to the cookies. And the Grand Marnier gives just the right sweet orange taste, a perfect pairing with the huge chunks of deep chocolate. Mmmm.

Grand Marnier Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from The New York Times, July 9, 2008)

2 c. minus 2 Tbsp. cake flour
1 2/3 c. bread flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 c. light brown sugar
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
Zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. Grand Marnier orange liqueur
1 1/4 lbs. bittersweet chocolate, 60% cocao content, chopped into chunks (I used Ghiradelli)

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars, and zest together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and Grand Marnier. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them into dough. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 12 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
Scoop six 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls; about 1/3 c.) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.

Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin (and gigantic glass of milk).

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

22 July 2008

Garlic Pork Chops With Sauvignon Beurre Blanc

Talk about easy - there are a scant 5 ingredients and about half an hour of work involved with this recipe. And still, it is my absolute favorite way to serve pork chops. If you are anything like me, you run out of fun ways to make pork chops. I hate breading and frying them. I like them with fruit (like apricots) or with a honey-mustard sauce. But that was about all I had in my repertoire until I found this recipe in my copy of Dean & DeLuca.

The pork chops end up still tender and juicy, the sauce is just the right concoction of tart (from the wine) and rich (from the few chunks of butter), yet still very light. And the garlic chips, all carmelized and crispy, are just right sprinkled on top. I love to serve this with smashed potatoes, then pour the beurre blanc sauce liberally over the potatoes as well.

Garlic Pork Chops with Sauvignon Beurre Blanc
(from Dean & DeLuca: The Food and Wine Cookbook, 2002)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 thick pork chops
2 Tbsp. virgin olive oil
8-10 cloves garlic, in crosswise slices
2 c. sauvignon blanc or other dry white wine
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Salt and pepper pork chops on each side. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute garlic until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to a small bowl and set aside.

Put pork chops in hot pan, cover, and cook over medium-high heat until golden brown, 10-15 minutes per side, adding a tablespoon or two of wine to pan if it starts to smoke. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Add wine to pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Cook to reduce liquid by half. Reduce heat to low and add butter, stirring until melted. Turn off heat.

Place pork chops on warmed plates. Garnish liberally with garlic and drizzle with pan sauce. Pass any remaining sauce at the table. Serve with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling or gewürztraminer.

20 July 2008

Milky Way® Cake

Where, oh where, has Nemmie been?? Well, I originally had this post scheduled for Thursday, but lost track of time. It's been a busy week:

  • Worked myself to the bone at the office.
  • Hosted (and also attended!) my very first Realies Cooking Club meeting, which was totally awesome. And forgive the picture of me in that link: when people ask me to smile for the camera I tend to dork out.
  • Attempted my next Daring Bakers Challenge, which flopped worse than Tony Parker on a basketball court. Off to try try again...
  • Sewed like a fiend in order to get some darn drapes on my poor naked windows. Poor poor naked windows. Only the dining room and living room left to clothe!
  • Read two books that have had me totally engrossed, therefore meant no time baking/cooking/blogging. I very much recommend both books, by the way (click links to see).
  • Saw the new Batman Movie, which totally rocked and then some. I want to see it again already. Me and my sis Beah LOVED the Michael Keaton one when we were little, this is the only version that is as good (well actually, it was better). So go see it if you haven't yet!

So yeah, you see. Busy. But have plenty to blog about in the coming weeks, so stay tuned! In the meantime: I made you this fabulous little Milky Way cake as a way of apologizing. Well, okay. I actually made it for a friend's birthday. But it was really good!

This cake is incredibly rich, so small slices are best! I loved it plain, although Hubs thought it could use some caramel or chocolate frosting (men; sometimes I swear he has a meaner sweet tooth than any woman I know). I loved the flavor of this - the candy bar is so subtle, almost more of an essence that hits you after you've tasted a bite. For as rich as it is, the cake is also remarkably light (I thought it would be this very heavy, dry monstrosity). A goodie with an afternoon cup of coffee or tea, I would think. Just be sure to have a wee slice, or you will regret it later when your tummy hurts!

Milky Way® Cake
(from Simply Simpático, from the Junior League of Albuquerque, 1981)

8 Milky Way® candy bars
2 sticks butter, divided (one at room temperature)
2 1/3 c. all purpose flour
2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. pecans
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a tube pan.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt 1 stick butter and 8 milky bars together, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.

Cream sugar and 1 stick of butter (the one at room temperature) for about 3 minutes, until pale and fluffly. Add eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly mixed.

Add the baking soda to the milk. Add milk mixture and flour to the batter, alternating, about 3 times (you want to begin and end with the flour). Stir in MILKY WAY® bars and pecans.

Bake for 90 minutes at least, until a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan, then gently remove and finish cooling on a cooling rack. Serve room temperature (Hubs thinks with a healthy dollop of caramel ice cream topping).

15 July 2008

Shrimp Pad Thai

I am the type of girl that buys her pad thai sauce in a jar. Yup, it just always seemed like it would be a complicated thing to make from scratch. One afternoon, though, I was baking to my little heart's content (with Food Network on in the background), when a program came on where they were going to make pad thai and spring rolls. I was curious and kept it on - and lo and behold, it's not hard at all! So I decided to give it a shot; besides: the jarred sauce is always a bit on the sweet side, and I like the way my favorite restaurant makes it: tart, light on sauce, and dry.

This recipe is right on the money. Rice noodles are tossed in sauce with bean sprouts, scallions, lots of cilantro, egg, and shrimp. Not too sweet (instead nice and tart from the lime), with a lovely flavor in the background from the pungent soy and fish sauce, the spicy ginger/garlic. The sauce soaks into the rice noodles, making for a light meal. Bliss. I love a good pad thai, and this is it.

And best of all: for the cost of a jar of pad thai sauce, I was able to buy the fish sauce and rice wine vinegar. Which will provide many, many more meals of pad thai in this house.

Shrimp Pad Thai

1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger, minced
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. red crushed pepper flakes
1 tsp. brown sugar
7 oz. rice noodles, soaked in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes then drained
1/2 c. bean sprouts
3-4 scallions, sliced
1 c. freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 lime, zested and juiced
Chopped peanuts for garnish (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok or a large frying pan. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute until golden brown. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until pink, tossing from time to time. Remove and set aside in a bowl.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in the same pan and add the eggs. Stir to scramble the egg into small pieces, remove and set aside with the shrimp.

Heat the remaining oil in the pan and add the soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine, red pepper flakes, and brown sugar. Stir briefly, add the drained noodles, and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the bean sprouts, chopped scallions, and cilantro. Mix well and continue to cook until noodles are heated through. Season, if necessary, with a little more soy sauce or fish sauce, add shrimp and egg, then sprinkle in lime zest and juice. Serve while hot!

13 July 2008

Ligurian Lemon Cake

I love to cruise through baking books at the library. For one, baking books tend to be much weightier and also, much more expensive than your average cookbook. I also tend to either love or hate a baking book. So for me, the best way to give a baking book a test run is to pick it up at the library.

That's how I was introduced to this gem, Desserts by Pierre Herme. I have several more recipes that I want to try out of this sucker, so it might get checked out again next month.

I wanted to start out easy, since investing a ton of time and energy into a crap dessert is not my idea of a good time. This lemon cake sounded good, nice and summery. Plus, the whole olive oil angle had my curious. How would it change the texture and taste of a lemon cake?

Ina's version is my usual go-to lemon cake recipe, I've made it several times so figured I'd have a good enough memory to notice the difference. One immediate difference I can tell you, is that the lemon seems more subtle. Then again, I didn't have to use 8 lemons to make this beauty... But aside from that, it was much lighter than the average lemon cake, almost pillowy in texture, and much more moist. And the flavor - it tasted almost creamy, if that makes sense. Very neat little recipe. And hey, any way to get it at least a little healthier is good in my book.

I made teeny little cakes in ramekins rather than a large cake in a round; if you go this route, just cut your cooking time to about 20-25 minutes (keep an eye on them). Hermé recommends a meringue topping to this cake, but the purist that I am, I served them without. Believe me when I say they are still quite lovely that way.
Ligurian Lemon Cake

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for pan
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons, very finely chopped
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 Tbsp. milk, room temperature
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 F; with rack in center. Butter a 10-inch round cake or springform pan, dust with flour, and tap out any excess. (I used a 12-cups muffin pan)

In a large bowl, sift flour and baking powder; set aside.

Place sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer; rub the ingredients together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and has absorbed as much of the zest as possible. Return bowl to mixer.

Using the whisk attachment, beat in eggs on medium high until the mixture is pale and thick, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on lowest speed, beat in milk. Add reserved flour mixture; beat until incorporated. Add lemon juice, melted butter, and olive oil; beat until blended.

Pour about one third of the batter into the prepared pan; there should be just enough batter to form a thin, even layer. Arrange the raspberries on top of the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the raspberries, and use a rubber spatula to gently spread batter so that it runs down between the berries and just covers them (you’ll have a very thin top layer of batter).

Bake cake until it’s golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 33 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately unmold it onto a wire rack. Invert cake so it is right side up, and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, the cake is ready to serve or to decorate with meringue.

11 July 2008

Orecchiette with Sausage, Cremini Mushrooms, and Peas

This made a fantastic Sunday meal, yet another from Giada DeLaurentiis (what can I say, the chick has great pasta recipes). I love any dish with lots of peas, this one also adding spicy sausage and earthy mushrooms, all stirred together with salty Parmesan cheese. Mmm.

It makes for a good summer recipe - good hot or cooled down a bit, comes together quickly, and no heavy sauce drowning all the ingredients.

Orecchiette with Sausage, Cremini Mushrooms, and Peas
(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everyday Italian, 2005)

1/3 to 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground Italian sausage, removed from casing
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 (10 oz.) package frozen peas, defrosted slightly
1 lb. (or so) dried orecchiette pasta
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.

In a large saute pan over high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sausage and sauté, breaking any large lumps, until golden brown (8-10 minutes). Remove meat from pan and set aside.

Add about 2 more Tbsp. olive oil to pan and heat. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 5-8 minutes. Add the peas and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and cook until the flavors begin to meld (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

When the pot of water has come to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain in a colander, reserving about 1/2 c. of the pasta water.

Return pasta to the pot and add the meat mixture. Combine thoroughly and gently cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, adding pasta water as needed to moisten. Drizzle in remaining olive oil into mixture. It is important to keep the mixture moistened (do not let it dry out); use more pasta water or olive oil as needed.

Check the seasoning. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir well and serve in large bowl.

09 July 2008

Nemmie’s Cold Summer Salad

I will admit to the occasional “cooking taboo”. We all love something or another that we’d be embarrassed to admit, no? Aside from baked bean sandwiches and cold green beans (out of the can, with lots of salt), I must admit to an undying love for a certain boxed quick-salad. I am talking, of course, about Suddenly Salad.

But not just any Suddenly Salad! I never buy them, I swear, except for the Bacon Ranch flavor. If you’ve never had it, you don’t know what you’re missing. I used to love to make it as a meal – add chopped veggies and some canned tuna, and you’ve got a great summer salad on your hands. However, I still felt the guilt of buying a boxed quick-make-thing, and those freeze-dried carrots/peas in the mixture were something I tried not to think about too hard.

Finally I admitted my addiction to a group of friends. One of them, Julie, recommended I try to make it from scratch – she had done so and it was much better. Genius! That way, too, I can control the salt and fat and have all fresh veggies… What I would do without my girlies, I can’t tell you.

Anyhoo – here is my “healthier” version of that beloved box of Suddenly Salad. I like it because I’ll use more sour cream if I want to be healthier, or the low-fat dressing mix. Plus this recipe makes tons, a lot more than the wimpy Suddenly Salad box, so there are leftovers galore for many days! Which is perfect, because now I can enjoy this salad guilt-free : )

Nemmie’s Cold Summer Salad

(A big thanks to Julie)

1 pkg dry ranch dressing mix
1/4 c. of mayonnaise
1/4 c. sour cream
4-5 slices bacon, browned and broken into pieces
A handful of nuts or seeds (I like sunflower seeds), optional
1 lb. of pasta of choice (rotini, penne, bow ties, shells, whatever you like)
1 c. frozen peas
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
3-4 tomatoes, diced and drained on paper towels
1 cucumber, diced and drained on paper towels
2 cans tuna in water, drained and flaked

In a large bowl, mix the ranch dressing mix with mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in bacon pieces and nuts or seeds (if using). Set aside.

Boil pasta in water, as directed. When the pasta has 2-3 minutes left to cook, throw peas in pasta pot. When done cooking, drain and run pasta/peas under cold water, to stop the cooking and cool it off to be added to the salad.

Add pasta to ranch mixture. Stir in carrots, tomatoes, and cucumber and mix well. Finally, add tuna and mix gently. Put in the refrigerator to cool, at least 1 hour.

06 July 2008

Fish with Tomatoes, Olives, and Potato Gratin

My sister Beah (mommy to the stars, aka Mahni) gave me this cookbook one year for Christmas. There are plenty of fabulous recipes hidden in the pages of this book, and this one is no exception. I love not only that it's healthy and flavorful, but it's a one-dish wonder - the potato gratin serves as a bed for the fish and tomato, and gives you a nice rounded meal.

The fish fillets are infused with olive oil, which gives the flesh an almost creamy texture. The tomatoes are sweet, the olives salty, and the basil and lemon zest brighten things up quite a bit. The fish stock really adds flavor to the potatoes, but I think maybe chicken broth or even water would do the trick to soften things up.

Fish with Tomatoes, Olives, and Potato Gratin

4 to 6 large white potatoes cut into thin slices
1/4 c. virgin olive oil, plus more for coating
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 c. fish stock or water
4 halibut fillets (6 to 8 oz. each), or any other firm white fish (I used thick cod fillets)
1/3 c. fresh basil leaves
3 tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
3/4 c. kalamata olives, pitted
1 Tbsp. minced lemon zest
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Lemon wedges for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the olive oil, the rosemary, salt and pepper. Spread the potato slices evenly in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Add the stock or water. Bake until the potatoes are tender and can be pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover to keep warm. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F.

Lightly salt and pepper the fish fillets and coat with olive oil. Coat a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Sear the fish on one side for 2 minutes. Uncover the potatoes and transfer the fish onto the potatoes seared-side up. Roll the basil leaves up tightly lengthwise (like cigarettes) and cut them into thin slices. Unroll the slices to make thin strips.

Distribute the tomatoes and olives over the halibut and sprinkle with the basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake until the fish is firm to the touch and opaque throughout, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven.

Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with lemon wedges. Dean & DeLuca recommend that this is served with a nice Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

04 July 2008

A Very Happy 4th!

Mahni wants to wish everyone a happy and safe 4th of July holiday!

Nemmie is busy so - once again, it is time for sous chef Mahni to take over. Here is her recipe of the day, a true gem.

Take a Dorito (Nacho flavor works best), dip it in sour cream, then your bowl of breakfast cereal. Eat. The End.

Aunt Nemmie will be back on the 6th.

03 July 2008

Panzanella (Bread Salad)

This is a perfect recipe for the 4th of July holiday - a fabulous salad that comes together quickly, uses the smallest amount of stovetop time (just enough to dip your tomatoes), and the longer it sits at room temperature, the better it tastes. You can toss it together well ahead of lunch or dinnertime, and forget about it.

I love a good bread salad. This one has lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and capers, along with a nice thick country bread; all soaked in a tart vinaigrette until the flavors meld together. The bread is stale and therefore doesn't get mushy but instead has a nice soft texture. I love to make this in the summer for a side dish, and it always goes quickly.


(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everyday Italian, 2005)


1/4 c. drained capers

2 Tbsp. + 1/4 c. red wine vinegar

12 oz. ciabatta or other country-style white bread, 2 to3 days old

8 ripe tomatoes (about 2 1/4 pounds total), cored and scored on the bottom

2 Tbsp. + 2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. + 1/4 c. red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 c. thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

1 c. diced cucumber chunks (salted and drained on paper towel)

1/4 c. pitted kalamata olives, halved lengthwise

Soak the capers in 2 Tbsp. of vinegar in a small bowl for 10 minutes. Drain.

Cut the crust off of the bread. If it is not quite “stale” enough: Cut into 2-inch slices and toast in a 350 F oven for about 20-30 minutes. Once toasted, cut or tear bread into 1 inch cubes and set aside.

Submerge the tomatoes into a large saucepan of boiling water for 10 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl of ice water to cool slightly. Using a small sharp paring knife, peel off the tomato skins. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the tomatoes into 1-inch cubes and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk 2/3 c. of oil, 1/4 c. of vinegar, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the bread cubes, tomatoes, and basil; toss to combine.

Transfer half of the bread mixture to a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish. Arrange half of the cucumbers, drained capers, and olives over the bread mixture. Repeat layering with the remaining bread mixture, then the remaining roasted peppers, capers, and olives.

Cover the salad and let stand at room temperature for flavors to blend, at least 1 hour (and up to 8 hours).

01 July 2008

Geneva's Sweet Cherry Muffins

Shall we talk about what a crap-tastic week it's been? No? Can't I divulge a wee bit? Pretty please? Well settle in, because I'm going to anyway (pouty face). It's my blog, so you're stuck ;)

I had a work trip. It was long, that's all I'm going to say. I got back with all intentions of doing the latest Daring Baker Challenge and posting it (I had a whole 3 days to do it), but suffice it to say that was way too ambitious on my end. Too much work and work and work and employee dramz and more work. So no challenge for me, my first miss. But, instead: please check out my fellow Daring Bakers and their amazing takes on Danish Pastry.

We paid our first mortgage payment (yay!) as well as made a rent payment on our old apartment (boo!), bright and early yesterday morning. Then that evening Hubs' car broke down. Another $550, hurrah.

I decided to walk home from work (2 mi.), not the brightest idea when it was 90 F and humid today. Then, I ruined dinner: nothing is as amazing as crunchy potatoes. That were in the oven for an hour, so hmmm, that makes me nervous about our new oven. Then I sat in our new, week-old, lovely and gorgeous leather club chair, and realized - one of the supports in the arm has either fallen away, or was never there to begin with. Yet another headache. Grr. Not a good week my friends, not a good week.

So, I decided to perk things up the best way I could. I made muffins.

Not just any muffins, though! I made cherry muffins! These were fantastic, they didn't rise too well or dome like those store-bought things, but they sure hit the spot. Very moist, tons of flavor. And a nice crunchy hazelnut topping, to boot. I think I'll tinker a bit with this recipe, get some more rise out of them, but otherwise I think they turned out perfectly. At least they brightened my mood, anyway.

Geneva's Sweet Cherry Muffins
(from Hacienda Nicholas Inn, Sante Fe, NM)

1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. chopped sweet cherries, pitted (or use frozen)
2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. vanilla (or plain) yogurt

Heat oven to 375 F. Grease 12 muffin cups, including area between cups. In a medium sized bowl, beat butter until creamy. Beat in sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla, baking powder and salt. Then add the cherries.

Mix in half the flour, alternating with the yogurt, until completely mixed. In a small bowl mix together:

1/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. chopped hazelnuts
1/4 - 1/2 t. nutmeg

Scoop batter into muffin tins, filling half way. Sprinkle on almond mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 30 minutes before removing from pan.