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.


May 30 2013

Bake Forth: chocolate chip meringues

Tonight is the first Forth, a salon-inspired gathering I’m staring with Lisa Guillot of Step Brightly and Kelly Allison of Kelly Allison Photography. We’ve got a crew of insanely amazing women coming together at Design Cloud to talk about the power of starting. Each woman attending is a specialist in starting, having recently ventured into new waters or for their power to inspire others to start. What better group to start something new with?

We hope to have four events a year around seasonal themes. We hope to maybe help other women launch similar events in other cities. We hope it’s awesome.

I’m in that place where I’m so ramped up I want to keep creating. I was up late. I was up early. Lots of bags and piles. Brett’s been very patient.

So, I’m writing about baking because I just kind of need to put one more thing out there.

A long-serving go to recipe for me has been these chocolate chip meringue drops. I can get behind a one-bowl, five-ingredient recipe that takes about 10 minutes to prep and then sits in the oven for hours. I can proudly say I’ve never burned this one.

It’s easy, easily scalable and the drops have that satisfying crunch that means you can either enjoy one and be done or keep on crunching and feel like you are accomplishing something. No picture because, honestly, they look a bit too turdish. But trust me, they’re anything but.

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper. *I’ve used both foil and parchment.
  2. In large metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar while continuing to beat until they hold stiff peaks. Mix in the vanilla and cocoa on low speed, then fold in chocolate chips by hand. Drop small mounds of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. *I’ve done bigger and smaller versions.
  3. Bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven, and leave the cookies in the oven for 2 more hours, or until centers are dry. Remove from pan and store in an airtight container. *You can leave them in longer if you are a Nervous Nelly. Our oven’s been cranky lately so leaving in an extra 15-20 minutes ensures they’re dried. 

Now, more piles! Lists!


Feb 25 2013

Sweet Mondays 2/25/2013

Pear & ginger is a combination that makes my heart happy. For a good month in the first year of our marriage, B and I went on a pear-ginger kick. We made pear-ginger pancakes. Pear-ginger waffles. That might have been the extent of the kick but we knew that the flavors worked well together.
So when I was thinking about what to bake for tomorrow, I flipped through a binder we have of recipes and came across one I’ve done once before, a pear ginger bundt cake that incorporates a ginger syrup and utilizes crystalized ginger. I thought it would be a not-too-sweet option. Here is is from HuffPo.

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Four things.

One.
Why doesn’t any spell check recognize bundt? Makes me anxious.

Two.
Chopping crystallized ginger is like cutting a live jellyfish. It recoils and wiggles and moves. I do not like it.

Three.
Be sure to cool the ginger syrup thoroughly before adding it to the egg/milk/oil mixture. I forgot why again this time but put it in the freezer for a few moments anyway. Then, as I added I had the realization that scalding hot syrup dumped into raw eggs is a recipe for one nasty scramble. Hey, dodged bullet, nice to see you.

Four.
HOW THE HECK do you get a bundt cake to dump the cake without leaving a cake limb, a cake eye, and a piece of my soul stuck to the f’in pan? I greased it. I scraped. I jiggled. I know there is a trick. I just want to know it already.

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I hope you can tell what a Frankensteined mess this thing is. I actually cut a third of it out and decided I’d present it like a rainbow. And then realized that was absurd. So I smashed it back in. Lord.


Apr 17 2012

Recipe Lesson: Half A Can Per Person

After posting about the soup exchange I committed to actually, you know, exchanging some soup. We had some neighbors (non-exchangers) over for dinner one evening and one mentioned sweet potato chili. My ears, they did perk up.

Since our exchange skews vegan I rubbed my greedy little virtual paws all over the recipe when it pinged on in my inbox. I got up early (weeks later) to get some writing done to carve out some time to make some soup. And soup was made. A glorious, hearty chili with dried chipotle spice and diced sweet potatoes sweeting things up.

The only problem? Not enough friggin soup.

There are four families. 14.5 people total (sorry, Loie is still not fully full in terms of her eating potential). In the past I’ve trebled recipes and had more than a-plenty. And by in the past, I mean the two times I did this before.

This time I doubled it because the sweet potatoes looked more medium small than the medium large desired. The result? Enough for two families. For a moment I humored three freaky small portions and thought Brett&I could play the martyrs and deliver soup while eating (hey now!) Thai take out. But I spooned and ladled into the various soup delivery vessels in my charge and it was laughable.

To be fair, there were no sizing or portion recommendations on the recipe. I just went with my past over-souping tendencies and made the jump.

Because I like to believe there are fundamental truths out there that I discover through trial and error all on my own (por ejemplo: one pepper equals half an onion in volume when chopped), I offer you this truth: half a can of beans per person. The double batch used 4 cans and could comfortably feed 8 people. I needed a 8-caner. Next time Sweet Potato Chili, next time.

Here’s the recipe, which again, is delish. Just count your beans.


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!