July 30, 2008

What's A Filbert?

I admit I was a little concerned when I first decided to join the Daring Bakers. Opera cake, danish braids...wayyy over my head. Could I really hang with these crafty culinary ninjas? Throwing caution to the wind I gave myself a pep talk (you can bake, yes you can), signed up and held my breath in anticipation of my first challenge. And then knock, knock...who's there?...Filbert Gateau...who? What's a filbert? Better yet, what's a genoise? Help me wikipedia! Thanks in part to my fellow DB's, and google I pulled myself up by my apron strings and faced this cake head on. 2 days, and many dirty dishes later, my cake was finally done. All in all I was happy with the end result.

The flavors were great and look at how much I learned:
1) Don't try to substitute hazelnut flour for real hazelnuts if you stink at math. I was a wee bit off in my calculations resulting in a much drier cake than I had hoped for.
2) Swiss butter cream is possible, even for a novice like me. That being said, if you're going to make it ahead of time, you need to re-blend it before piping, otherwise it separates (duh).
3) I will never use store bought whipped cream again. There is great satisfaction in making it yourself.
4) Ganache, while delicious, is not lunch.
5) Daring Bakers Rock!!!

July 28, 2008

I Coulda Been A Contender

Bakers are everywhere, popping out where you least expect them. Exhibit A, the Boston Legal 1st, 2nd and 3rd Bake-Off!

The last 3 Mondays have brought all the closet pastry chefs at my work to the forefront as they compete each week for glory, bragging rights, and dibs on leftovers. Not only did I have to compete, I needed to win! On Saturday I made these 2 little beauties- an apricot and a plum mini galette.

They were a lovely end to a Saturday night bbq but for the competition I wanted something more so I set out to recreate the Napoleon Cupcakes I saw on Scrumptious Photography.

When all was said and done, the cupcakes looked great but I started second guessing myself, were they a first place winner? I dug the leftover dough out of the fridge and whipped up another galette with white peaches.

I decided to bring them both in and pick my contestant in the morning. That night I was startled awake by a dream- as I approached the door to work, I dropped the galette and it splattered all over the street (gasp!). Since it survived the trip, I took that as a sign and entered the peach galette into the competition. Do you want the good news or the bad news? Alas, I did not win, or even place for that matter. But I did get a lot of compliments on my rustic little treat and I loved making so much that it has found a place in my regular dessert rotation...and my heart. Thanks TWD...you'll always be a winner to me!

And speaking of winners, congratulations to all the semi finalists- I can't wait to see what you have in store for us next Monday!

July 21, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables

Mmm, chocolaty, gooey, yummy...zucchini? Yep that's right, say goodbye to "You should've had a V8" and hello to chocolate zucchini cupcakes! Made with fresh organic zucchini from a friend's garden, unsweetened applesauce, and whole wheat flour these babies are chock full of nutrition. Why, they are practically health food! And your mom always said, "no dessert until you finish your vegetables!"
Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes
Adapted from recipes on Straight From The Farm & and Chocolate and Zucchini
3 cups grated zucchini
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350. Grate zucchini and squeeze out excess moisture. Whisk together dry ingredients. Add eggs, oil and applesauce and mix well. Fold in zucchini. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and bake for approx. 25 minutes. Cool before icing.

Coffee Buttercream
Adapted from Cupcakes by Susannah Blake
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tsp brewed coffee cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz semi sweet chocolate

Cream butter, then add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on medium until combined. Alternate gradually adding remaining powdered sugar and coffee until achieving desired consistency and flavor. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes. Garnish with grated chocolate

July 20, 2008

Do You Cous Cous?

Ok so I've gotten a little behind on my blogging. My grand plan to post three times a week regardless of my work schedule...FAIL! I hate it when real life gets in the way of my fantasy life. So to catch up, here's what I made last week:

In an effort to spend more time in the kitchen and less in my car driving to Trader Joe's, last Sunday I whipped up a couple of easy lunch salads. This summer-ized cous cous with fresh lemon juice, toasted almonds, and dried cranberries.

Tuna and fennel salad with cute little persian cucumbers and fresh parsley from my garden.

And my first attempt at cedar plank salmon glazed with brown sugar and thyme.

The "lookin's not cookin'" mentality was a too strictly enforced (by me), and the fish came out a little dry. Maybe next time we'll adapt a new rule, "lookin's not cookin', but peekin' is quality control."

Summer Style Couscous
adapted from Giada De Laurentis' Mediterranean Salad
1 bag Trader Joes Harvest Grains Blend
3 tbsp plus 1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable stock
2 lemons juiced
1 lemon zested
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Saute garlic in 3 tbsp of olive oil for 1 minute, Add couscous and brown lightly, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock and juice of 1 lemon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered until couscous it tender, stirring occasionally. In a large bowl, toss cooked couscous with remaining lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Once cooled to room temperature, toss with fresh herbs, almonds and cranberries.

Tuna Salad with Fennel and Cucumber
from Food & Wine
1 small shallot finely chopped
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chopped parsley (or fresh herb of your choice)
1 small fennel bulb, cored and diced
2 persian cucumbers, peeled and diced
2 6oz cans olive oil-packed tuna, drained
salt & pepper to taste

In a bowl, whisk shallot, vinegar, oil, sugar and parsley. Add fennel and cucumber, toss and let stand for 5 minutes. Then add tuna and season with salt and pepper.

Cedar Plank Salmon Rub
from Real Simple
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine ingredients and spread over salmon just prior to grilling.

July 14, 2008

Chocolate Elvis

After weeks of pies, tarts and cobblers, TWD (thanks to Melissa's Kitchen) is finally chilling out with chocolate pudding. Now don't get me wrong, I love simple desserts and I never met a pudding I didn't like, but I couldn't stop myself from taking this recipe just a wee bit further. I'm no good at math but...pudding recipe + unused wedding present= Chocolate Banana Trifle!
I made the full recipe and let it chill for 2 hours- I wanted the pudding to be soft set but still easily spreadable in my trifle bowl. Then I layered it up with lady fingers soaked in creme de cacao, bananas, and whipped cream (also flavored with the creme de cacao), and finished it off with shaved chocolate.
Take your pudding to the next level!

Chocolate Banana Trifle

Dorie Greenspan's chocolate pudding
1-2 packages lady fingers
4 bananas thinly sliced
1 cup plus 1 tbsp creme de cacao
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1-2 pieces of chocolate for garnish

Prepare the pudding and let chill for 2 hours.

Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream, powdered sugar and
creme de cacao until almost stiff.

Gently dip each lady finger in the creme de cacao and layer on the bottom on a trifle dish. Slowly pour over 1/3 of the chocolate pudding, then top with a sliced bananas. Next add a layer of whipped cream. In order to create defined layers, make sure you spread each layer to the edge of the trifle dish. Continue layering to the desired height, finishing your last layer with whipped cream and a dusting of grated chocolate.

July 12, 2008

The Good Book

It all started with a Sur La Table gift card. Looking around the store that day, my eye fell upon a lovely leather bound book, The Ultimate Bar Book- The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Cocktails. At the time, I didn't even have a bar, and the only alcohol in my house was the beer and pinot grigio in my fridge- but the book was so pretty, the idea of mixing a martini so romantic, I couldn't resist. Next came the cocktail shakers and accessories, a BevMo club card, and later a glass and stainless steel bar which is now full of every type of libation you could ask for. But even with all of the recipes (many of which I've now tried) you can't beat the classics so tonight, like many warm Saturday nights, my drink of choice is a Bloody Mary. My favorite vodka to use is Absolut Peppar- I love the spicy kick it gives to the drink, and I always steer clear of premade bloody mary mixes in favor of plain tomato juice (or Clamato if I really want to get crazy!)

Bloody Mary
adapted from The Ultimate Bar Book

2 oz Absolute Peppar
4 oz tomato juice
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
3 dashes of Dimitrius Bloody Mary Seasoning (a mix of spices and worcestershire)
2 to 3 dashes of Tapatio hot sauce

Combine ingredients and shake vigorously with ice. Strain into a ice filled highball glass and garnish to your liking.
Repeat as needed.

July 8, 2008

American As... Blueberry Pie

Fourth of July holiday went by awfully fast- Angels on game on Friday night, Saturday hanging by the pool with family, and Sunday relaxing at home. Now I'm back at work with have my tan lines and one last piece of pie to remind me of the glorious long weekend that was. Double Crusted Blueberry Pie was the perfect choice for this week's TWD. I made it after work on Thursday night and it came together beautifully.

I substituted graham cracker crumbs for the bread crumbs and added a little extra lemon juice to the berries. My only misstep was forgetting to apply the egg wash before baking (note to self, bake first, cocktails second) but overall the pie was deliciously buttery and the berries were the perfect combination of sweet and tart. I can't wait to try this crust with cherries!

July 1, 2008

Excuses, Excuses Blueberry Scones

It was bound to happen sooner or later. When I started this blog I was on hiatus from my show and had all the time in the world to bake my heart out. What a luxury to spend hours shopping for pastry tips, and buying all my ingredients from the farmers market. But alas, my woman of leisure days had to end (sigh, the bills aren't going to pay themselves) and while I love my job its really cutting into my prep time! With a very small grocery shopping window, a nagging cold, and nary a dried apple in sight, blueberry scones won out. Forgive me TWDers!

I used Dorie's recipe as a guideline, incorporating buttermilk and cornmeal, omitting the apple cider, cheddar and elusive dried apples, and adding dried blueberries and lemon zest. I also used my tried and true method of pressing the sticky dough into a glass 9inch pie pan and then using a knife to score slices into the batter before baking.

They were lovely warm from the oven with a little butter for our Sunday morning breakfast. I'm feeling much better now, and with a 4 day work week (yippee!) I am looking forward to restocking my pantry in anticipation of our next challenge- no excuses!