Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Creme Fraiche Quiche, and my new appliance.

I may never get married again.
Friends, I have news.  This Christmas, I welcomed a new arrival into my life: a Cherry Red, sexy, delicious, KitchenAid mixer.  It is the love of my life.  And to christen it in, I made Joy the Baker's Creme Fraiche Quiche.  Man alive, it was a good day.

Then, to top it all off, Joy mentioned my Christmas baking in her latest post.  (I know.  Some people get excited to meet someone like LaBron James.  I get all nerdy about virtual baking buddies.)

But back to this quiche.  I know puff pastry and creme fraiche are expensive, but sometimes I just can't help myself.  I need to know what that thing tastes like.  And it was worth it.  The egg part bakes up to be all fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth good, and the puff pastry crust is the perfect soft texture to compliment the delicate middle.  And, well, you add bacon and gruyere to anything and it's gonna be fabulous.

My brother refers to this as
"Wake and Bake".
I'm on a quiche quest now.  First I'm going to learn how to make puff pastry, then I'm going to experiment with plain yogurt instead of creme fraiche (cheaper), and then I'm going to start putting wild and crazy things in there.  Like whole cloves of garlic.  Or fresh thyme.

Brunch invitation coming soon.


If you've read a few of my posts, you know that I'm easily distracted.  Case in point: these caramels.  My brother wanted me to make him some chocolate chip cookies, but on my way through the "C"s in my recipe index, I came across the instructions for caramels, which I have never made before.  "Oooo!  I'm gonna make caramels!" I said, and I pranced off into the kitchen to find the ingredients.   Not until several hours later, when my brother was hunched over with gut rot from too many caramels, was it mentioned, "Hey, weren't you going to make chocolate chip cookies?"  Oops.  Next time.

My dentist is gonna be pissed.
I only got one picture of this process, partly because I was busy with a candy thermometer, but also because you really don't want to know what goes into caramels.  (Hint: Everything bad for you is on the list.  Except bacon.  But I don't see why you couldn't throw a little of that in there, too.)  What you see in this picture is brown sugar and an ungodly amount of corn syrup.  What you don't see are the two sticks of butter and the can of sweetened condensed milk that I added later.  Lord help us all, they were delicious.

You can make them, too.  I promise all you need is an accurate thermometer and a decent attention span.

Quick Caramels

1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8x8 or 9x9 inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of the pan. Butter foil, and set aside.

In a heavy 3 qt saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add brown sugar, condensed milk, and corn syrup, mix well. Cook and stir over medium high heat to boiling. Carefully clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook and stir mixture over medium heat to 248F or firm ball stage. (10 to 15 minutes)

Remove the saucepan from the heat; remove thermometer. Stir in vanilla. Immediately pour caramel mixture into the prepared pan. When firm, use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Use a buttered knife to cut into 1 inch squares. Wrap each caramel in waxed paper. Makes about 2 pounds.

Props to my former co-worker, Jane, for this recipe.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wild Rice Stuffed Pumpkins

I'm handy with a whisk and a screwdriver.
 I am really excited about this recipe.  Not only because it's orange and involves tucking food inside more food, but because I made it up!  I know.  I'm awesome.  (And I was inspired by several awesome friends and cooks who have made other pumpkin-stuffed beauties.)

So here's what you'll need, and be prepared for a larger-than-usual grocery bill:

2 medium-sized pumpkins, about the size of a kindergartener's head
1 cup wild rice (or wild rice blend, like the one I used)
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp butter + more for smearing and sauteing (total? about 4 Tbsp)
1 Tsp salt + more to taste

7 garlic cloves, hacked into big chunks (just do it)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
20ish mushrooms, sliced
1/3 lb Gruyere cheese, grated
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (as fresh as you can get it)

Before they get their rice filling, those pumpkins need to bake for a while at 350.  I'd say an hour is a good amount of time.  But scrape out the guts first.  How?  After surveying a group of my most serious foodies on Facebook and using my imagination, I decided to carve it... well, like a pumpkin.  Saw around the top with a paring knife or serrated knife, then find some sort of thin metal object to catapult the lid across your kitchen.  I used a flathead screwdriver, but a crowbar would work, too.

Once the guts are out, smear the insides of the squash with butter, put the lids back on your squashes and place them in a 9x13" pan (I prefer Pyrex).  Open oven, insert pan.  Bake - like I said - for an hour.  While you wait...

Hazelnuts.  Pretty.
Throw the rice, butter, stock, and salt into a pot and cook yourself some grain.  I'm not gonna walk you through this process.  You're no dummy.

Next, saute up the following the garlic and onion, adding a swish of salt (because that's what fancy cooks do).  When the g & o are glossy and starting to get soft, add the celery and mushrooms.  When that's all about halfway cooked (not fresh, but not wilty), transfer the works to a bowl.  Stir in the nuts, Gruyere and nutmeg.  Taste it to see if it needs salt.  It probably does, so add some.

There.  Your stuffing is done.  Pull out the squash, stuff with stuffing, and stuff stuffed squashes back into the oven for another hour.  Remove from oven.  Stuff squash and stuffing into self.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Flourless Orange Cake

I learned something today.  Well, two things actually: 1. The Craftsman is open for brunch until 3pm, which is awesome; and 2. When using whole oranges in a recipe, you'll get the best flavor if you boil the oranges first.

Now, orange-boiling is a tedious task because it involves changing the water twice so that the bitterness of the orange doesn't get absorbed back into the fruit.  I know not everyone digs this sort of long process, but I'm telling you, it's worth it.  (Just like when Martha Stewart tells me to refrigerate cookie dough for two hours before baking.  There's a reason she has her own magazine.)

The other time-consuming part of this recipe is that it calls for "caster sugar".  This is not cane sugar and it is not powdered sugar - it's something in between.  And maybe you can get it at the grocery store and maybe you can't, but the roads were slippery today, so I just used my mortar and pestle.  I suppose you can use a food processor, too, but I'm all about manual labor today.  Anyway, the sugar ends up looking kindof like fine little snowflakes.  Pretty.

Aside from the aforementioned shenanigans, this recipe is rather simple - oranges, almond meal, baking powder, sugar and eggs.  Oh, yeah.  And you're probably wondering what almond meal is.  Well, pretty much it's finely ground blanched almonds.  Sounds fussy, but you can buy it in a bag at the co-op.  Just gonna warn you, though: it's hella expensive.

You can find the recipe for Flourless Orange Cake here.

As usual, there were a few instances where I didn't follow directions.  I boiled the oranges all proper-like, blah blah blah... but the order in which I combined the ingredients went kindof like this: throw everything except the almond meal in my (borrowed) KitchenAid mixer, whip it around for a while, stand in awe of the electronic device doing all the work, then add the flour.  Pour into pan.

The actual instructions were much more careful about number-of-seconds-between-adding-eggs and adding-the-orange-puree-in-three-shifts, but... I went to yoga in between a few of the preparation steps and thought I remembered how everything went in.  Oh, well.  It still turned out.

Another "learning experience" I had during this baking experiment was when I went to check the cake after 50 minutes of baking: It had apparently been done baking about 8 minutes earlier.  Lesson learned?  Check on your stuff ten minutes before the recipe says it's going to be done.  I'm sure this sort of thing was taught to me in 7th grade home ec. class, but that was a long time ago, and sometimes I forget things.

The ResultsThis cake is fantastic: juicy, moist, orange-y, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, and well-textured.  I'm going to make it for your birthday.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


My cookie sheets are worthless.  They have been for a long time, but sometimes I'm slow to catch on.  The last five things I've made on them - mostly cookies and roasted vegetables - have all come out black on the bottom.  So I've decided to get rid of them.  Any takers?  They might be worth something on the scrap metal market.  But they're unsuitable for kitchen use.  And they're not even magnetic, so you can't even use them for magnetic poetry.  Harrumpf.

(FYI: I'm replacing them with baking stones.  If you haven't used them before, you should know that they're magic.  Everything I've baked in them looks like perfection.)

Last weekend I spent a few days at my parents' house in "the country".  I did a lot of baking, but nothing y'all haven't seen before, so I didn't create any new posts.  (The Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies were a big hit, by the way.)  One of my mom's friends is an excellent cook, and she had made some homemade granola, so when I went over to her place to deliver some baked goods, we made a little exchange.

Mmmm... Have you ever tasted granola that had the essence of "toastiness" rather than "sweetness"?  That's what this stuff tasted like.  It's just the way I like my breakfast - not too sugary, but with a lot of crunch.  With a little batting of the eyelashes, I was able to pry the super secret recipe from her.  (Actually, she just copied it out of this month's Bon Appetit magazine.)

Today was a perfect fall day for being a homemaker, so I made the granola.  If you want to stop by for breakfast tomorrow, this is what I'll be having.

I used sunflower oil instead of canola oil because there's a family in Pierz, MN that produces it.  I also opted for apple juice-sweetened dried cranberries instead of dried blueberries, 'cause blueberries are hella expensive.  The tang is a little intense, but I still like it.  Maybe currants next time?

Ps. Have you seen my new apron.  It's sexy.  And so am I.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Photo Credit: Martha, not me.
I have found my new favorite cookie.  I'd take a picture of them, but every time I make them, I can't keep them around long enough to get a good shot.  Yes, they're that good.  Earlier this week, I made a batch that was supposed to make 24 cookies, but it only made 15. That meant I must have eaten 9 cookies-worth of dough before I put them in the oven.  Dang you, Martha Stewart.

So here's the recipe.  I cheated a little, because there's nothing more annoying to me than grating ginger, so I keep this stuff around for instances such as these.  You can get it at the co-op, and it pretty much lasts forever.

The other finicky thing about this recipe is that you have to refrigerate the dough for two hours, and then again for 20 minutes.  I'm not sure why (hey, I never claimed to be an expert), but I'm not gonna mess with perfection, so I just do what Martha tells me to do.  The nice thing about all these annoying and time-consuming activities (waiting for dough to rise, refrigerating cookies for hours before you cook them, waiting for milk to cool to room temperature, etc.) is that you can do other things while you're waiting.  Like laundry.  Or watching six episodes of How I Met Your Mother.  For instance.

Now that these cookies are gone, I have to find something else to bake.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls... again.

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
I talk to my baked goods.  It's probably not normal, but... there it is.  Today I got home from work to find my final pan of cinnamon rolls sitting perfectly on my stovetop, and I got all ushy gushy with them: "Awww... Have you been waiting for me all day?"  Then I proceeded to eat three of them.  They were tasty.

Yesterday was one of my employees' birthday and I totally spaced it.  So, to show that I'm a caring and supportive supervisor, this morning I baked cinnamon rolls.  Lots of them.  I hadn't intended for it to happen that way; it just did.

Last night at about 7:30 I texted my friend Colin: "You wanna come over and make cinnamon rolls?" to which he responded, "Um, yeah."  Before he arrived, I began to attempt this recipe.  One of the first things I was supposed to do was combine sugar and water at a temperature of 115 degrees.  Well, one of the kitchen implements I don't have is a candy thermometer (or a meat thermometer, or anything culinarily temperature-telling), but what I did have was a regular old medicine cabinet thermometer, so I thought, "Hey, that's pretty much the same thing."

Not for baking.
So I heated up the water in the microwave, tested it with my finger, then stuck the thermometer in: 96 degrees.  I put it in the microwave for another 20 seconds and then rechecked my progress.  Instead of giving me a temperature, though, the thermometer started beeping wildly and flashing the words "HI TEMP" across the screen.  Apparently, the thermometer was under the impression that I had a serious fever and should get myself to a hospital immediately.  Lesson learned: Human thermometers are no good for measuring anything above 105 degrees.

Plan B: Guess what 115 probably feels like using your pointer finger.  This worked just fine, as evidenced by my yeast activating and my dough rising.

However, before I let it rise, I had to do some impromptu kneading with my hands (due to a lack of a "stand mixer"), which is about the time in the story where Colin rings my doorbell.  I was somehow able to pry enough sticky dough from my hands to open the front door with a combination of fingertips and elbow.  When I went back to read the instructions I realized I had missed some rather key steps, and was concerned that the rolls might not turn out.  So I said to Colin, "I think we're going to have to get started with Plan B."

Plan B is the cinnamon roll recipe that I made over Labor Day weekend.  You should also know that Plan B yields about 50 cinnamon rolls.  But if the experimental cream cheese cinnamon rolls weren't going to turn out, I had to have a backup plan.  You understand, right?

Ok.  So lots of mixing and sifting and stirring and waiting-for-everything-to-rise...  and it turns out both sets of dough were edible and gorgeous.  So this morning when I got up, I threw it all into the oven, got ready for work, and pulled the finished products out of the oven.

Then I had a slight moment of panic when I realized I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with 36 cinnamon rolls.  I mean, to bring in one pan to work is nice, but to bring in five pans... well, that's a little crazy.  People start to wonder.

The good news is, people have been wondering about me for a long time.  So I brought in three of the five pans (which was a nice compromise), and they were a big hit.  Especially for the birthday girl.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of the dough tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Labor Day Baking

Rainy Lake

Like many Minnesotans, I went "up north" for Labor Day weekend.  The beginning of September can be a sketchy time near the Canadian border - it might be 85 degrees and sunny, or you may need a stocking cap and fleece jacket.  Last weekend, we got both, so on the fleece jacket days, I baked.

The best part of baking up on Rainy Lake is the kitchen in our cabin - the amount of counter space is equal to the square footage of my entire apartment back home, and it has... (wait for it...) a Kitchenaid Mixer.  I have got to get me one of these.  This one's been around for probably 40 years, and it's still kickin' like it was the day it was brought home from Sears, I'm sure.

Behold, the exact moment when Kevin falls off the wagon.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'd like to start this post by giving a shout out to my friend, Kevin, who has been off sugar, wheat, eggs, and dairy for the last few months.  In one weekend of baking, I totally destroyed his cleanse, and I'm not sure he'll ever forgive me.  But I know a little piece of him secretly liked it.

My new desktop wallpaper.
Since my last chocolate chip cookie experiment was such a disaster, I decided I'd start out the weekend with a sequel.  I did have a timer on this go-around, which made things much easier.  The cookies came out of the oven looking like perfect, storybook treats, and they had the texture of chewy awesomeness.

Here's what I think about these cookies, though: The fat in them is all shortening, and I used to think it was totally interchangeable with butter or (god forbid) margarine, but this turns out not to be the case.  My experience has been that Crisco gives baked goods a chewier texture, but let's face it: the stuff tastes like wax.  While those cookies were good, I felt like I could have been serving something that I got out of a clear plastic box from the baked goods aisle at Cub.  I want my cookies to have flavor, man.  So I'm gonna use butter next time and see how it changes things.

Peaches & Cream Pie
After making the cookies, I was sortof on a flour & sugar high, so when my friend Kate suggested we make a pie, I kindof couldn't stop myself.  We decided to take a walk on the wild side and see if we could make up a recipe, so we went through the pantry to see what possibilities were before us: oatmeal, jello, half a bag of white chocolate chips, marshmallows, graham crackers, and a can of peaches.  The forecast wasn't looking good.  But then we looked to our other resources: a bunch of 50-year old cookbooks.  We found a recipe for Vanilla Creme Pie, and then Kate said, "Hey!  What about a Peaches & Cream Pie?"  So we had our recipe.

Kate & our pie
Kate had never made pie crust before, so she took on this part, and it was delicious.  We had some coaching from Kevin, who advised us to a) make sure the butter was cold, and b) make sure our hands were cold when working with the butter.  Something about the gasses that are released when butter warms up?  I can't remember.  But the crust turned out well.

The next part was the filling, which Kate whipped up while I tried to figure out how to make a meringue.  Longstoryshort, our pie was gorgeous.  I don't know why people freak out about meringue.  It's totally easy if you have a KitchenAid Mixer.  *sigh*

I want to eat this picture.
Cinnamon Rolls
I really really wanted someone to stop me from making these cinnamon rolls because I feared that by this point I might put myself into diabetic shock from all the sugar I was eating.  But we had to eat something for breakfast, and I had already bought the ingredients.  And I hate wasting things.  So I made them.

A little tip: this recipe makes 8 batches.  What I mean by that is that this recipe will yield about 50 cinnamon rolls, so you'd better be hungry, or you'd better have 13 children, or - for the love of God - you'd better share with your neighbors.

This was the first time I had made anything with yeast in the dough (except maybe baking bread with my mom when I was seven), and I was so delighted by how it turned out.  The cinnamon rolls were out-of-control good (I think I had four of them at breakfast, and maybe another two for an afternoon snack) and it was surprisingly easy to do.  I think the trick to cooking and baking is that you have to a) be patient, and b) enjoy the process.  But that's probably true of everything in life.

Anyway, a few things I would recommend with this recipe:
  1. It calls for a boatload of butter.  Use a boatload of butter.  (If you're dieting, just eat one instead of four.)
  2. The frosting calls for an entire bag of powdered sugar, but I think I only used 1/2 to 3/4 of a bag - I like the texture of a thinner frosting because then it can seep into all the crevices, making everything extra delicious.
  3. These rolls really are best when they're right out of the oven.  I mean, they're a long ways from terrible if you wait to eat them in the afternoon (Ha! As if you could wait that long...), but they're really at their prime when they're all warm and gooey and the whole house smells like sweet sweet breakfastlove.
I've done a whole lot more cooking/baking since Labor Day, but I'm not good enough at blogging yet to be able to keep up!  More soon...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I hesitate to even post about this because I failed so miserably at something so easy.  But failure is part of the process, right?  Right.

So I started out with an excellent recipe - my co-worker's brother's recipe - the results of which I've tried before and loved.  And it's chocolate chip frickin' cookies, man.  I mean, how can you screw that up?  Well, I'll tell you.

But not really.
First, this weekend I stocked up on my wraps - saran wrap, aluminum foil, and wax paper.  So when I got to the point where I was supposed to put the cookies on the cookie sheet, Lazy Katie whispered in my ear, "Hey, if you put some wax paper down, you don't have to wash the pan later."  And since I rather like Lazy Katie, that's exactly what I did.  In my defense, the Waxtex box did claim that it was "For [my] microwave and baking needs."  Well, about ten minutes into the baking process, my smoke alarm started to scream "Fire! Fire!" at me, which it does from time to time, so I just put the shower cap over it and continued to watch Jon Stewart on my computer, waiting for my cookies to be done.  About three minutes later, though, I noticed that my apartment was thick with smoke.  Shit!  I took the cookies out of the oven and assessed the damage - the cookies were dark brown around the edges and not-at-all cooked in the centers.  Also, all of the wax paper edges were charred and smoking.  So much for that idea.

My second batch turned out a lot better, actually.  I switched from cookie sheets to a baking stone, and kept an eye on them, making sure to take them out when they looked almost done.  Those ones I had no problem with.

The third batch got the same baking stone treatment as the second, but two seconds into the baking process my brother called, and I forgot all about the cookies.  Result: ummm... a batch more suitable for people who enjoy a real crunchy cookie.

Hard. As. A Rock.
And batch number four.  "This time," I said to myself, "I'm going to pay attention."  But you know me.  I'm not good at just standing around waiting for cookies to bake.  So I went back to my computer and started posting about my zucchini bread adventure from two days ago.  Yeah.  Batch #4 got crispy, too. 

So all in all, I ended up with a total of five awesome cookies and twenty hockey pucks that I'm going to feed to the squirrels (or my co-workers).

Moral of the story: I have to either a) work on my attention-deficit disorder, or b) get a kitchen timer.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zucchini Bread

I'm a big fan of putting vegetables in my baked goods.  Makes me feel like I'm eating healthy.

Last year, I discovered a recipe for zucchini bread that was kindof out-of-this-world good.  When I read the recipe, though, I was like, "Uh, curry powder in zucchini bread?  I don't think so, lady."  But Heidi Swanson hasn't done me wrong yet, so I thought I'd give it a try.  Turns out, this stuff is amazing.  I brought it to a dinner party this weekend and a little girl there kept asking, "Can I have some more of that cake?"  And you know you've done well when you've gotten a 4-year old to think something with veggies in it is "cake".

The Recipe
Even the batter is pretty.
101 Cookbooks is one of my go-to websites when I'm looking to try a new recipe.  It's written by Heidi Swanson, who has written a book called Supernatural Cooking, which I am also a fan of.  She just looks so organic and wholesome on the front cover - her food has to be good, right? Anyway, her recipe is called My Special Zucchini Bread Recipe.  (Ok, she could use some help in the creative branding department, but that aside...)  I followed her recipe pretty much exactly, except I didn't have lemons, so I used lime zest instead.  Personally, I think I liked the lemon better.

The Verdict
Awesome.  It's moist and chunky, and the combination of flavors is so delightful.  I especially like the poppy seeds - there's nothing more fun then surprising little crunchies in your baked goods.  (Unless, of course, the crunchies are actually egg shells...)

I'm thinking this could even pass as a cake, actually, if you put it in a cake pan and frosted it with something cream cheese-y.  Kinda like carrot cake, no?  Try it and tell me what you think.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Banana Bread

I realized this morning that I need to start buying butter by the ton.

In the US, people can claim that something is "the best there is" without really backing up their statement. One of my favorite examples of this is when an Argentine steak house moved into my neighborhood, and before they were open, a sign in the window boldly declared, "Best Steak in Minneapolis!" According to whom? The chef's mother? They weren't even open yet!

Anyway, it seems that everyone has a "best there is" banana bread recipe, but I have yet to find one I truly like. Today I am trying out the Moosewood Cookbook's banana bread. It includes two sticks of butter (gasp!) in addition to some interesting flavors - almond extract, orange zest, black coffee, and sesame seeds. We'll see how it turns out.

The Recipe
Beat together in a large bowl, beginning with the sugar and butter, add eggs one-at-a-time. Add remaining ingredients and beat until light in color:

1 cup (two sticks) butter, softened
1 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
3 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 tsp grated orange rind

Sift together the following ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Puree together the following:

3-4 ripe bananas, mashed
 2/3 cup black coffee

Add flour mixture and banana mixture alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour (flour-banana-flour-banana-flour). After each addition, mix gently to combine, but do not beat or otherwise overmix - this toughens and dries the bread.

Generously butter two loaf pans and sprinkle with sesame seeds (they'll stick to the butter). Divide batter into the two pans and bake for 40-50 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

The Verdict
The flavor is very, very good. And I love the addition of sesame seeds on the bottom. However, it isn't as moist as I'd like for it to be (suggestions?), and I think I might add chunks of something next time, like maybe banana or walnuts. Mmmm. I think we're getting closer to "best there is".

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares

(One of the reasons I will remain single well into my 40's is that instead of going to something fun/social like the dance party at the Bedlam or Boyz II Men at the State Fair (ha ha), I stay home and bake.)

Tonight I was feeling like staying in, and while reading a book about a woman who quits her job and goes to Le Cordon Bleu for a year, I suddenly had a hankerin' for cheesecake.  So I went to my latest favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, and found a recipe for Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares (or "Bars" as this Minnesota native will call them).

I had never made cheesecake before, and I wasn't sure if was one of those things like angel food cake that everyone thinks is such a nightmare, but it turns out it wasn't so bad.  The only annoying part of this recipe was the making of the dulce de leche.  I didn't have a double boiler, so I improvised with two pans, which seemed to work fine.  The other thing I didn't have was patience, which is what made it annoying.  But flipping back occasionally to look at the picture kept me motivated.  Damn those bars look good.

One thing to note is that the cheesecake part might look like an earthquake about to explode before you take it out of the oven.  I was worried that the whole dang thing was going to be lopsided, but as it turns out, once the cake cools, everything levels out.  I also think I might have over-cooked it - the recipe says to bake it until "the center has just set"... uh, you know what?  Now that I go back and read the recipe again, it says I was supposed to bake it in a hot water bath.  Hm.  Maybe that's why the edges are all brown.  *sigh*  Follow directions, Johnson.

Anyway, stupid mistakes aside, they turned out aesthetically beautiful, but not quite as tasty as I had hoped.  For as much butter and sugar and bad-for-you ingredients as I added (even corn syrup - yikes!), you'd think they would have been tastier.  But my assessment is that the cheesecake bit was kindof spongy and flavorless, and the graham cracker crust - which had been so crunchy and yummy at first - got soggy and gross.  It's very possible that these shortcomings are all due to user error, I know, but nonetheless, I am disappointed that I won't be having cheesecake for breakfast.

Lessons Learned
I had never made graham cracker crust before - it is ridiculously easy, and definitely one of my favorite flavor combinations - graham crackers and butter.  (Right up there with chocolate and peanut butter.)  Additionally, the glaze on top was quite simple, and quite tasty.  Maybe corn syrup isn't so bad after all.  (Though I welcome any suggestions for more environmentally-sustainable & "healthy" substitutes.)

Also, for comedic effect, I am including a photo here of my photography strategy - the lighting in my kitchen sucks for nighttime food photos, so this is my solution until I get a fancier camera.  I am a big nerd.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Best Cocoa Brownies

For Christmas last year, one of my employees baked for me this brownie recipe, and I do believe I ate the whole batch in one afternoon.  They were incredible.  Afterward, I kindof went a little crazy, trying to make the recipe even more perfect.  I probably baked three batches a week for an entire month.  I brought the brownies to work, to my writing group, and even to the bar on trivia night (to which a skeptical lady in her mid-50's inquired, "Are they... special brownies?")  In the end, I did decide that the original recipe was really quite awesome, but I prefer to add three tablespoons of ancho chili powder to give it a little zing.

Don't tell my landlord.
Today I have a potluck for my new crew of AmeriCorps members, so before eating breakfast this morning, I whipped up a batch and stuck them in the oven.  Earlier this week I baked a strata, which kindof ended up all over the bottom of the oven, so to keep from waking up my neighbors, I've rigged up a system for disabling my smoke alarm.  It's very Jayme Johnson.  (Yes, that is a shower cap.)

Observations & Tips
If you're going to try this recipe, I recommend using parchment paper to line the pan, as opposed to greasing it.  If you're like me and you hate to wash dishes, this method is awesome.

Also, you may be tempted to eat/share these brownies when they're piping hot from the oven, but they're really at their best when completely cooled - gravity pulls the ingredients together, creating a more dense, chewy, tasty brownie.  (However, I do recommend eating them warm if you're serving them with ice cream.  Julie's Organic is the best - available at the co-op.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Conventional wisdom dictates that one should never "test out" a new recipe when company is coming over.  I'm not one to follow conventional wisdom, so I've decided to try out a few cupcake/frosting recipes for a co-worker's bridal shower tomorrow.

Chocolate Beet Cupcake with
Chocolate Buttercream
The first batch I made was based on the beet cake recipe I made yesterday, only this time I omitted the ginger and chocolate chunks.  They turned out pretty well, actually, especially since I took them out of the oven a little before they were done.  To these cupcakes, I added Chocolate Buttercream Frosting from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  I've never made frosting from scratch before, so this was a fun experiment.  I'm not so sure the flavors (cupcake + frosting) go together, but dang it if the whole works wasn't moist and lovely as can be.  I think next time I'd do something a little heartier for the frosting, like a dark chocolate ganache.

Coconut Cupcake with
Coconut Cream
The second batch I made was... less successful.  Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Frosting, both from Bittman again.  (By the way, if you don't have his cookbooks, you should - he uses few ingredients and talks very accessibly to readers.  Plus his flavor combinations are yummy and often unexpected.)  First, I didn't exactly follow the directions when fluffing the eggs for the cupcake, so it never reached the point where the egg whites "form[ed] soft peaks".  Second, I left them in the oven too long, so instead of being all-around fluffy and moist, my cupcakes have crispy exoskeletons that are a little on the dry side. Finally, I must have messed something up with the frosting recipe, because the consistency resembles a combination of marshmallow creme and taffy.  Also, it's overwhelmingly sweet (but that might be because I tried substituting honey for the corn syrup.  Just the thought of corn syrup makes me gag a little.)  So.  Point being this: maybe it's best to start by following the recipe carefully the first time you make something high-maintenance.  Then next time you can take some artistic license and mess around with substitutions.

Now all I need to do is come up with some cheesy bridal shower games.  Anyone got ideas?  (Also, if you have a use for four cups of marshmallow creme, see me.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eat for Equity

Tonight for dinner I let someone else do the cooking - an organization called Eat for Equity.  This group holds monthly dinners at various locations around the Twin Cities, and each month your donation for the meal goes toward a nonprofit organization that is building equity for/with people in need.  Tonight's donations benefited the American Refugee Committee, which supports the basic survival needs of people in refugee situations.  Specifically, tonight's donations were given to relief efforts in Pakistan, where major flooding has displaced about six million people and have killed nearly 1,500.  Appropriately, we were served a Pakistani-themed dinner of beef pulao, cucumber raita salad, and cardamom kulfi.  It was fantastic.

I should also say that aside from the food being tasty and the cause being worthy, I've met some really cool & progressive people at these dinners.  If you're interested in coming next month, or would like to find out more about Eat for Equity, check them out on Facebook.

Chocolate Chip Beet Cake

During the summer of 2001, I lived in a house with six other women.  The house only had three bedrooms, so one of us slept in the basement, and the rest of us slept on mattresses in the attic.  (Ghetto, I know.  But rent was $140 and I was a college student.)  Oh, also?  It was mother-effing hot in that attic, and we did not have air conditioning.  I don't think I slept for three months.

One day I came home from work to find one of my roommates deep frying naan on the stove.  It was 101 degrees outside.  Due to my lack of sleep and generally pissy 20-year old attitude, I think I said some not-very-nice things to my roommate, probably including something like "Can't you just make a goddamn peanut butter and jelly sandwich??"

Farmers' Market Beets
Needless to say, we didn't remain friends.  But I'm reminded of her today as the temperatures are in the 80's and I have an overwhelming need to bake something.  I'm going to blame it on the Midtown Farmers' Market and the three bunches of beautiful beets I bought this morning.

The Recipe
I've decided to make a Chocolate Chip Beet Cake, roughly basing my recipe on this one from Heavy Table.  I don't think I've ever cooked with beets before, so I hadn't anticipated that the boiling of the beets would take so long.  (These are things I'm still learning.)

Tip: Don't peel the beets before boiling them - the skin will slide right off when they've been cooked long enough.

You should know, too, that I'm experimenting with a few substitutions - I like to put a little splash of my own creativity in every recipe I make:
  1. I'm using dark brown sugar, which always looks so much more luscious than the other stuff.  
  2. I don't have applesauce, so I'm using and plain yogurt instead (making this recipe not-vegan).  
  3. I added a tablespoon and a half of minced ginger because, well, why not?  
  4. For some reason I'm opposed to semi-sweet chocolate chips, so I used pieces of a dark chocolate bar instead.
The great thing about cooking with beets is how gorgeous the batter is.  I think I might even dare to call it "sexy".  The not-so-great thing about cooking with beets is how the juice gets all over everything, including your clothes.  Just make sure to wear something that looks good with magenta flecks all over it.

The Verdict
So how did it turn out?  Well, it tastes good, but unfortunately I didn't grease my pan well enough, so the whole top of the cake is still stuck there.  (Hey, I never claimed to be an expert...)

Hey, where's the rest of it?

Other observations
I think my oven gets a little hot, so I have to remember to set it a little cooler than the recipe calls for.  In general, the cake has good consistency, and the sweet flavor of the beets really makes it a unique dessert.  I'm thinking it would be good with a nice glass of Valpolicella, too, on a crisp fall evening.  My only beef with it is that I really prefer my cakes with something wet - you know, like ice cream or frosting or something.  But this one is so sweet on its own that I think adding anything else would be really overdoing it.  I'm open to suggestions.