Dec 23 2013

Simple Infused Syrups, Simple Homemade Gifts

We met our dear pals last night to view insane Christmas lights and eat at Chili’s. Because that, to me, is just about the best holiday tradition ever. These friends gave us some lovely cocktail bitters last year. I wanted to make them a little something as a token of affection and acknowledgement of what a banner year they’ve had.

Flavored simple syrups to add to cocktails and other drinks are so yummy and so easy, and I had everything I needed on hand.

I settled on:

Lavender

Saturday nights were made for culinary lavender.

Rosemary

Saturday nights were made for infusing rosemary.

Ginger & black peppercorn

Sunday afternoon ginger and black peppercorn experimentation.

For each one, it was a matter of simmering some sugar and water and a bit of something lovely. I went with floral, herbal, and zesty options to offer some variety to cocktails. A French 75 with the lavender? Ginger with lemon and bourbon? A rosemary gin fizz?

Each batch makes more than anyone could need, so a jarful can go along to parties and family visits. And, there is even some left for us to play with too.

Three very simple syrups.


Nov 6 2013

Test Kitchen: Premade Parfaits

We’re all about testing out some pre-made meals for Thanksgiving  week, when we’ll have a ton of people here on different time zones. We want them to eat well and feel welcome but also don’t want to be trying to cook breakfast all day long. Here’s a solution we’re excited about.

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We returned to our dear San Francisco this past weekend for an utterly charming wedding. And while we happily brought the CopperTop with us over the summer, for this quick trip we opted to exercise the Grandma Clause.

The Grandma Clause is the magic truth that, most of the time, Grandma wants you to go away so she can develop secret languages, break established rules, fiddle about with bedtimes, and otherwise cause good-natured trouble with the grandbaby. We get a weekend with friends in a great city, Grandma gets a weekend of merry and mischief making, and Loie gets more fun that she knows what to do with.

As a thank you, and to ensure my mom took care of herself, too, Brett suggested getting her yogurt parfaits. My mom loves her some yogurt parfaits.

Instead of picking some up at the store, I decided to make use of the ample mason jar selection we have (At some point, Brett will can stuff, I know). I started to Pin and search and, for once, decided I’d just wing it. Though, this blog has some tips on freezing them which would make it even more family-invasion friendly.

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They made for such pretty additions to the fridge and my mom genuinely gasped when she saw them.

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I opted to make some with vanilla Greek yogurt and some with plain. In most I added either blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries or dried cherries (I wanted to do blueberries but none were available). I also did a couple smaller mason jars with just yogurt and granola.

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We have a great grocery store, Caputo’s, up the way that had big containers of granola. The bulk option at Whole Foods would also be great.

I filled the jars a bit between 1/3 and 1/2 full with yogurt. (The vanilla poured much, much smoother, hence the vanilla leading the photos). Then a hefty layer of granola and enough fruit to fill to just below where the jar narrows. It felt like making those sand sculptures from summers past that are now all the rage in weddings (but definitely NOT the wedding we went to).

I’ve since seen options that include putting the granola in a separate, smaller mason jar. The key, to me though, was to allow it to be edible in the one jar so you’re not washing MORE stuff. And, the clinking of the spoon against the class is a special kind of satisfying.

My mom didn’t even wait for us to leave before getting her parfait on. Cheers to Brett for the idea and my mom for gifting us a weekend away.

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Sep 24 2013

Book Club Baking: Champagne Cupcakes

I have a standard (and excellent) vanilla cupcake recipe I’ve been relying on for a while now. It’s fast and easy and I could probably make it in my sleep.

For our book club meeting, though, I wanted to bring something a bit more interesting without having to put more than a bit more effort in. I didn’t feel like going to the store and wanted to make do with whatever I had on hand. How’s that for restrictive parameters?

I Googled something like “awesome cupcakes” or “world’s most awesome cupcakes.” Lemon Sugar’s recipe for champagne cupcakes popped up. I assumed it was going to involve fanciness I just wasn’t up to. But Erin, the maestra of Lemon Sugar, said it was easy peasy yoga pant baking.

And, luckily, I had a bottle of champagne on hand.

Book Club Baking: champagne cupcakes from @lemon__sugar @lemonsugarblog

And you know what? It was super easy AND only used a portion of the bottle. So I got to sip in my PJs and bake and feel fancy, accomplished, and all without working too hard. Heck, this month I even finished the book early.

She went for pink frosting, I used purple gel food coloring which came out more pale blue than anything else. I decided that was champagne-y. Someday I will not accidentally double the recipe despite the warnings to not double it. We had so much GD frosting.

A few dragées because why not (and it turns out the source recipe used ‘em too. I’m a genius!).

I had it in my head that there would be a Pop Rocks experience…that the bubbles would somehow crystalize and solidify and burst? They didn’t. But I would definitely say there was an effervescence to the cupcakes that was really lovely. The addition of the champagne syrup Erin devised was awesome and essential.

I won’t repost the whole recipe but, again, you should go here and bake ‘em yourself. People will think you are fancy! Nay, people will know you are fancy!

Champagne cupcakes!

 


Sep 14 2013

Test Kitchen: Perfect Pancakes

Not gonna lie. I have been a pancake mix girl my whole life. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s so dang easy. I’ve upgraded over the years and now eschew Bisquick for some fancier brand from Whole Foods.

When we were in California, I wanted to make pancakes but didn’t want to buy mix we’d use once and then leave behind.

Homemade? I assumed it was, you know, a thing.

It’s not. I feel a fool.

I read a few recipes and their reviews and settled on this one the sharer said came from her grandma. I trust grandmas.

They were silly easy and silly good. Brett pronounced them “the best pancakes ever.” I felt domestic and goddess-y.

Once back in Oak Park I tried them again. Disaster. I used baking soda instead of baking powder. I don’t know why. I then spent 30 minutes trying to figure out if I had accidentally poisoned everyone with baking soda. I didn’t.

Last night I tried again. Getting the pan the right heat is always a mess unless you use Brett’s “sacrificial minicake” method. This time I decided to thoughtfully do it rather than heat it up too quickly, burn a few, then turn it down and curse. On our stove, between the 3 & 4 but a dash closer to the 3 seems to be the right heat using a non-stick. Yes, we have a huge cast iron griddle thing. No I didn’t use it. That shit is heavy.

That 3 not quite 3.5? That was perfect.

They were perfect.

Perfect pancakes.

Loie ate 5. FIVE.

Perfect Pancakes
from the mysterious dakota kelly

  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center (this really does help!) and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth. (Seriously, mix that stuff for real.)

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat (we use a non-stick pan, no butter, and not medium high heat). Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides (do that thing where you wait for legit bubbles) and serve hot.

Two notes:
1. I double sift. Sift the flour first before measuring and then sift again
2. Many reviewers suggest adding a dash of vanilla and I think that’s a grand idea.
You’re welcome. Go make them. Then ponder opening a B&B.


Jun 6 2013

Test Kitchen: A Forth of Rhubarb

(If this venture had ended badly I was gonna call this Rhubarb Hubris. Rhubris?)

I fancy myself pretty worldly. I’ve been some cool places and eaten some things.

I had, until last week, never touched rhubarb. Honestly, until my friends at the Sugar Beet set about to Beet some seasonal food sense into me, I’m not even sure I would’ve been able to tell a stalk of rhubarb from a flamingo’s leg before last year.

Why not decide to try it out for a big event, untested and with only a good tot nap standing between me and disaster?  What harm?

Before Forth was rained out by the April 18 Flood of the Century (Which, c’mon, happened like four times this year but wins at our house because ONE stair heading upstairs flooded. What?)I had baked a ginger pear bundt cake. The thing is damn good. Our event is seasonal though, based on a rambling vision I shared with Lisa & Kelly, and ginger pear just doesn’t shriek Spring. I took the FotC (Flood of the Century) as a chance to reboot and pick something a bit more May. And Spring? That’s rhubarb’s time to shine (I think).

I picked a rhubarb tart with a citrus glaze. I Pinned it. I planned it. And, because I am me, I waited until about an hour before I needed to leave to approach the rhubarb for the first time. Dude, it’s stringy and harder to cut than I expected. Like celery’s really cranky, blushing older sister.

But I worked it out.

rhubarb tart

 

I mean, that looks good, right? (Good as in I opted to ignore the instructions to cut/place the rhubarb in a geometric or organized pattern and decided it would be a “rustic” tart, which means mishappen rhubarb bits, a crust that is barely a rectangle, but shabby chic enough.)

I then went to work on the glaze. Easy, I can reduce shit like nobody’s business. Ten minutes later I had a saucepan full of near-glass. My solution? Try it to see if it was good. I proceeded to burn a whole in my chin (note: I also was heading to take head shots for Design Cloud.). It was not good, my face was melting. But because I am a stress shopper I had enough extra oranges and limes to sack up and try the glaze again. And this time? I added vanilla to show it who’s boss.

Y’all? I think it turned out pretty lovely. Made all the lovelier by staging from a new crush, Janelle of re:Find Joy,who is about as delightful a human being as ever.

rhubris be damned

And, by the by, Forth was ah-mazing. More on that soon.

Rhubarb Tart with Citrus Glaze, from epicurious

  • 1 cup fresh orange juice *I juiced 2 oranges. I think.
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally (1/8 inch)
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17 1/4-ounces package), thawed
    *DO THIS. Like, don’t forget everytime you are going to use puff pastry that it needs to thaw for about 40 minutes. Especially when you have provided yourself about that time to do the whole damn thing.
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • *I added a hearty splash of vanilla to the glaze per some reviewer’s recommendations.

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.

Stir together orange juice, lime juice, and sugar in a bowl. Add rhubarb and let stand, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut pastry in half lengthwise, then roll out each piece into an 11-by 7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Arrange pastry rectangles side by side on an ungreased large baking sheet.

Make a 1/2-inch border around each pastry rectangle by lightly scoring a line parallel to each edge (do not cut all the way through). Prick pastry inside border all over with a fork.

Strain rhubarb mixture through a sieve set over a bowl, reserving liquid. Top 1 pastry rectangle (within border) with half of rhubarb, overlapping slices slightly. Repeat with remaining pastry and rhubarb.

Bake until pastry is puffed and golden (underside of pastry should also be golden), about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil reserved rhubarb liquid in a small saucepan, skimming foam if necessary, until reduced to about 1/4 cup, 15 to 18 minutes.

Transfer tarts to a rack. Brush rhubarb and pastry with glaze and sprinkle with zest.


Mar 13 2013

Sweet (Some)day

How cute is this? A wee little hand snagging a treat while my back is turned photographing ingredients.

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Monday was not a day baking was going to happen. Until about 11 Sunday night I assumed I’d be unable to make it into Design Cloud.

And so, when 9 am rolled around and  I rolled into work, I was baked goodsless, a way I hate to be. I promised to make amends today.

We meet on Wednesdays in the morning to survey the creative freedom landscape and I thought having something to tempt the masses might be nice. There is usually a decent crowd just processing their coffee so I thought something breakfast-y would be a good match.

I started where I often start, at 101 Cookbooks. I came upon this recipe for donut muffins and stopped. Donut muffins? YES. The critical element in the baking is nutmeg, the critical element to replicate donut goodness is the cinnamon sugar coating.

But, well, there wasn’t really a recipe. There was talk of one and description of mixing things but not 1/2 cup of this and 1 tsp of that.

Google brought up this, which mentioned nutmeg, so off I went. Allrecipes.com usually has a large review pool and I found this.

The recipe is here. I use unsalted butter. And I stress about what percentage of milk to use. We have whole for the kid. Skim for my coffee/Brett’s cereal obsession. Both seem extreme. My solution was to splash both into a measuring cup at the same time till I got 1/2 a cup. Real professional.

Here’s a before & after the cinnamon sugar coating.
Both were tasty. But that coating was an extra dash of awesome.
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  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

And for the top:

  • 1/4 cup margarine, melted (again, mama uses unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 24 mini-muffin cups.
2. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup margarine, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, then mix in the baking powder and flour until just combined. Fill the prepared mini muffin cups about half full.
3. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. While muffins are baking, place 1/4 cup of melted margarine in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar with the cinnamon. Remove muffins from their cups, dip each muffin in the melted margarine, and roll in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Let cool and serve.

 

 


Apr 7 2012

Citrus Salt Baby Food Jars

The time had come to make 101Cookbooks’ Citrus Salts as a companion favor to the rosemary salted shortbread for Party 1: Bubble, Bagels, & a Birthday.

I initially planned to outdo myself and make tons of different options for guests to choose. Whole Foods had some crazy fruits that included some new Japanese hybrid of this and that. I was going to IMPRESS. Want nine options? Great, pick from these 12!

Instead, I opted for lemon and lime. Good standards that folks could add to fish or line a margarita glass with easily. The salts last a couple months and I just don’t think anyone would be so excited by them that they’d need seven ounces of citrusy salts! And Brett would not seethe. 

We used Earth’s Best baby food to feed Loie. Pretty little glass jars. Stage 2 jars are 4 ounces. This recipe makes sets of salts, each 3.5 ounces. Yip! Some Goo Gone and some scrubbing and several runs through the dishwasher and they were ready to go. I picked up little kraft paper labels at Paper Source to designate the flavors.

Heidi recommends using Maldon sea salts and I found bulk bins available online. Much more reasonable than buying tons of boxes. AND now we have a home for all our chalkboard chalk and I get one of my beloved mixing bowls back!

After zesting, I mixed half cups of salt with 1 tbs of zest. Smooshed it up real good.

Now, I may have done something wrong but the salts definitely didn’t retain this gorgeous coloring. They have a yellow or green hint but aren’t quite this bright.

And here’s a batch, pulsed with an immersion blender, in the jars!

All those bald fruits with a limited future made me anxious. So I juiced ‘em.

And poured the juice into ice cube trays. I read about doing this so you always have juice for cooking. We now have quite a bit of frozen lemon and lime juice. My dream plan is dropping them in pitchers of water in the summer.

I loved repurposing the jars as a way of signaling the end of her babyhood. And they were lovely little favors.


Apr 4 2012

Test Kitchen: Rosemary Salted Shortbread

The idea of cooking blog as game of telephone is on my mind today. One person takes a recipe, blogs about it, it goes out into the universe to be altered and edited by someone else, who blogs about it. And down the line it goes. 

I’ve been thinking about the rosemary olive oil cake over at 101 Cookbooks (oh, the life crush I have on Heidi…). I’m not super sure how I got here from there but the world of baking with rosemary was one I wanted to dig into.

 

A few years back I began really noticing salt in chocolate chip cookies. Not in a bad way, at all, but more a “Huh, I never thought about how critical this salty goodness was to my enjoyment of this tremendous cookie”.

Somehow those to thing met in my head, shook hands, and here we are.

With the impending 1st birthday I wanted an excuse to make the citrus salts from 101 Cookbooks as favors, putting the approximately ten million 4 oz baby food jars I saved to use. I’ll explore that process in a few days. And then, because I can’t help myself, I wanted to offer something baked as well.

And thus, the Test Kitchen for salted rosemary shortbread. I found two recipes I wanted to try out. One from Rustic Kitchen. One from The Fromagette.

Rustic Kitchen calls for coarse sea salt and an 8″ pan. I set to it. I must say, baking with rosemary is glorious. It is an aromatic dream and looks purty too. The savorier side of baking is one I’m learning to love as I emerge from whatever place of one’s youth requires sugar-caked teeth as evidence of a snack.

The single most challenging piece for me with Rustic Kitchen’s approach was figuring out how to get 16 triangles. I stared at that 8″ pan for a good couple minutes worried the freshly baked dough was going to get hard.

And then whatever teeeeeny bit of geometry was left in my left brain went to work. Quartered it, then quartered the quarters diagonally. Phew.

The sprinkled salt and rosemary on top were powerful, but in a lovely way.

Next up was The Fromagette.
She called for artisan sea salt and used salted butter but no other salt in the recipe. I was nervous because A) I had only recently made the realization to bake with unsalted butter and B) No salt anywhere else? Egads.

Her recommendation was Trader Joe’s Pink Himalayan salt so I ran right down to TJ’s and picked some up. I do so enjoy a self-grinder.

The artisan salt is just sprinkled on top. “Generous” sent me into paroxysms of anxiety that I’d somehow undersalt or oversalt these pretty little beasts. 

And voila.

 

Luckily, a group of OP villagers were gathering to discuss all things village-y so I brought my cookies along (And the baby. Very accommodating villagers) for a taste test. The verdict was a pretty split. Husband picked the Rustic Kitchen as did another fellow. Three women preferred the Fromagette. I opted to go Fromagette because I am a pretty-salt whore and because they were slightly more delicate (the coarse sea salt perhaps?). But Rustic Kitchen, we’ll be back.

So a salty first birthday favor was set. I couldn’t really think of a good thematic reason to hand ‘em out. “Celebrate Our Salty Daughter” perhaps.

The batch I prepped for the party were a wee bit too salty as I got a bit over-eager making them sparkly pink on top, but they looked good!