Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Eclairs

I was really excited to see this month's Daring Bakers Challenge because eclairs are one of my husband's favorite desserts! While he liked the hazelnut gateau last month, I knew he would love the eclairs this month. The recipe we were given was from Dorrie Greenspan's book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. You can find the recipe in its entirety here. We had to make the pate a choux (the dough) from the recipe, but then had quite a bit of room for creativity. Pierre Herme's recipe also had a chocolate pastry cream filling and a chocolate glaze. We had to keep one of those elements in our eclairs but could do whatever we wanted after that. Since I really wanted my husband to love whatever I made, I let him choose what type of filling he wanted. He chose to stick with the recipe exactly as it was given to me, so chocolate/chocolate it was.

Day 1

After a very busy start to August, I finally found time to attempt my eclairs in the middle of the month. I love these recipes that have tons of parts but allow you to do them over several days. On the first day, I decided to make the chocolate sauce and the chocolate pastry cream. The sauce was a cinch. I think it took maybe 5 minutes to make. I'm not really a fan of dark chocolate, but I have to admit that this sauce is delicious. I can see tons of possibilities for it: ice cream...more ice cream. OK, so I really only see it on ice cream, but since when is that a bad thing? I also discovered that pastry cream is nothing to be afraid of. For some reason, it has always seemed really tricky, like if you don't do it perfectly you get scrambled eggs. But, just like the chocolate sauce, it only took a few minutes and tasted delicious. After tasting both the rich, rich sauce and the rich, rich filling, I knew these eclairs were to going to!

My only problem on day 1 was trying to stir the pastry cream while it was cooling in the ice water bath. Maybe I'm not the most coordinated person in the world, but it was REALLY challenging! Luckily, I didn't splash any icy water into my pudding.

Day 2
All I had to do on day 2 was make the dough, pipe it, bake it, and put the eclairs together. It didn't seem like it should have been stressful, but day 2 ended up being busier than I expected, so I probably should have left day 2 for another day. That being said, these were really a snap to make! The choux pastry came together really quickly, and the eclairs were not at all hard to assemble.

Mine were a little flat, but as far as I can tell, that has been a pretty common problem, and it certainly didn't affect the flavor, which was chocolatey with a capital "C". We ate as many as we could, and then gave the rest away. I kind of like making things that don't keep well overnight. I think I'll make up a new diet based on that.

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Eclairs Redux

As soon as I get my Daring Bakers challenges, I immediately start thinking of ways I can play with the recipe to make it different and still delicious. The recipe we were given specifically stated that you could freeze the freshly piped but still raw pastry dough, so instead of making 2 dozen chocolate eclairs, I froze half of the raw pastry fingers and saved them for another day. The eclairs themselves actually turned out better than the first time. They puffed beautifully and were lovely and very hollow inside. I had every intention of making a key lime filling and doing some kind of vanilla glaze, but then I happened upon Emeril's recipe for Vanilla and Orange Pastry Cream on and I swear I heard a chorus of angels singing. The pastry cream DID turn out delicious, but I ran into a few snags. Snag #1: Because I had made half the number of eclairs, I figured I needed half the amount of pastry cream. Things were going smoothly until I added the last ingredient--cornstarch--in the full amount instead of halving it. Luckily, I hadn't added the egg/cornstarch combo to the milk/sugar/vanilla bean combo, so I only wasted cornstarch and eggs. The big problem was that I had MAYBE enough cornstarch left, so I couldn't mess up again. Snag #2: It says to cook the entire thing on medium heat until it coats the back of a spoon. According to the recipe, this should take 3 minutes, but it only took mine about 30 seconds. It ended up being a little thicker than I would have liked, but I beat the heck out of it with my wooden spoon and I think it turned out ok. My only other complaint is that, while the vanilla flavor really came through, the orange was way too subtle. I fixed that by doing a vanilla glaze with lots of orange zest in it. C'est magnifique!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not-So-Authentic Swedish Meat Pies

You're probably thinking right off the bat, "Hey, that's the Norwegian flag. What gives?" Well, here's the whole story. First, one of the most popular foods at the annual Junction City Scandinavian Festival is the Swedish Meat Pie. If you want to replicate them once you get home, however, you'll probably find that there aren't a lot of recipes out there for "Swedish Meat Pies." At least not authentic ones. The only recipes I have found for them are ones that people came up with because they couldn't find a recipe anywhere. So I'm not sure if they even eat these things in Sweden. Second, I am of Norwegian descent, not Swedish, so I had Norwegian flags laying around, not Swedish flags. On to the recipe. I raved about the Swedish Meat Pies at the festival to my family for an entire year, so when my mom finally ate one, she found it disappointing. She even went so far as to dip hers in ketchup! When I decided to make these at home, I knew I needed to step things up a little. Consequently, I added garlic for flavor and carrots for color. My husband and I both thought they were divine and BETTER than the scandi-fest pies. And we LOVE the scandi-fest pies, so that is really saying something!

Swedish Meat Pies

1 1/2 cups flour
9 Tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 sticks butter
a generous pinch of salt

Beat butter and sour cream until well-blended. Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Add more flour if needed. This should be a soft, springy dough. Remove from bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until filling is ready.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, shredded or finely chopped
2 cups frozen hash browns
1 lb ground beef (I use ground turkey)
1/2 teaspoons salt
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of allspice
scant 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

In a large skillet, saute onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add hash browns and continue cooking until vegetables start to soften, 5 to 10 more minutes. Add ground beef and all seasonings. Cook until meat is no longer pink. Remove from heat and add cheese, stirring until cheese is melted. While filling is cooling, remove crust from refrigerator and divide into 6 equal portions. Working on a well-floured surface, roll each portion out into a circle, about 8 inches across and pie-crust thin. Working quickly, place a few heaping spoonfuls of filling on one side of each circle, wet the edges of the dough slightly with water, and fold to close. Press the seams shut with a fork and poke a few holes in each pie to allow steam to escape. Using a large spatula, gently place pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Key Lime Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Before my daughter went down for her nap, I asked her what she wanted for dessert tonight. She decided on yellow cupcakes. I was feeling a little adventurous this afternoon, so instead of making plain old yellow cupcakes from a box, I decided to doll them up a bit with a little key lime juice. Now, because these were spontaneous, I kind of had to wing it a little. I wanted to add vanilla pudding to make them really moist, but I only had 1/2 a box. And then I couldn't find consistent directions on how to alter the recipe when you add a pudding mix. Some people said don't change anything, some said add an extra egg, more water, milk instead of water, etc. They turned out just fine. Very tart, but very tasty.

Key Lime Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 of a small box instant vanilla pudding
1/3 cup oil--I used coconut oil because I had some that needed to be used; anything will work
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup key lime juice
3 eggs
1 teaspoon lime zest

Blend all ingredients according to cake mix directions. Scoop into 24 prepared muffins tins, and bake at 350 for about 23 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

1 8-oz package cream cheese
1 stick butter
4 Tablespoons cream of coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla
a pinch of salt
4 cups powdered sugar
sweetened, flaked coconut

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add cream of coconut, vanilla, salt, and powdered sugar and whip until smooth. Frost cupcakes and sprinkle tops with coconut flakes. This frosting is a little soft, but if you store the cupcakes in the refrigerator after frosting them, it helps a lot.
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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

**Our camera broke before I could upload the pictures of these. So, you'll just have to take my word for it: they were delicious. If you need further proof, just ask my husband; he hasn't stopped talking about them since I made them.**

As we were driving home from IKEA today, my husband said, "How many blackberries do you think there are in the state right now?" Blackberries grow like weeds--the most delicious weeds in the world, mind you--all over this state. They grow in parks, in backyards, in vacant lots, on the sides of roads, in between the northbound and southbound lanes on the freeway...basically everywhere. So we determined that there are literally trillions of blackberries in our state right now. I tried to do my part with "weed-abatement" and made these delicious blackberry muffins. They are at once sweet and tangy, with a warm spiciness from the nutmeg. My husband said they were even better the next morning.

Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins
I topped mine with some leftover streusel topping and they were delicious. They would be equally delicious without. For the streusel recipe, click here.

1 cup quick oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup blackberries

Combine oats and buttermilk and set aside. Preheat oven to 400. In a large bowl, combine egg, sugar, butter, and vanilla; stir. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder and soda, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add oat mixture and flour mixture to egg mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in blackberries. Spoon into 12 prepared muffin cups (either greased or papered) and bake for 20 minutes or until done.
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Blueberries are not my favorite berry, but I can't resist the u-pick farms all around our house, and this is blueberry season. I dragged my darling children to a little fruit farm on the hottest day of the year and we picked blueberries until it got too hot to be outside. Now we have all these lovely blueberries just waiting to be used. Yesterday morning, we had delicious blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Today, I decided that I wanted something sweet and crumbly, so I made blueberry coffee cake with a streusel topping. The recipe for the coffee cake comes from the big, yellow Gourmet cookbook, but it originally called for cranberries. Instead of adding the berries whole, you chop them in a food processor with a little sugar, then spread layers of fruit between layers of cake. I thought the ribbons of blue throughout the cake layers would look particularly lovely, and I was right. Because I like to go big or go home, I also wanted to toss on a streusel topping. Mmmmmm! The coffee cake tastes like those fantastic blueberry streusel muffins from a box only a million times better.

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Blueberry Layers:
2 cups blueberries
2 Tablespoons sugar

Place blueberries and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed. Transfer mixture to a fine mesh sieve and set aside.

Cake Layers:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla. Add half of the flour mixture, then the milk, then the remaining flour, again beating after each addition. Stir until just combined.

1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces
1 pinch salt

Combine all ingredients by hand until mixture is crumbly.

Putting it all together:
Preheat the oven to 350. Spread 1/3 of the cake mixture in the bottom of a well-greased 9x5" loaf pan. Top with half of the blueberry mixture. Repeat layers, then top with remaining cake mixture and streusel topping. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Caramel Brownies

Caramel Brownies

These are soooo good and soooo easy. I found Kraft caramel bits on the baking aisle at Walmart. They are basically little caramel balls that you don't have to unwrap, which makes these even easier.

50 Kraft caramels
1 can evaporated milk, divided
1 german chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup butter, melted
12 oz chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons flour

Combine caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in a small saucepan and heat over low until melted. Stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine cake mix, flour, butter, and 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Spread half of the cake mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x13" pan. Bake at 350 for 6 minutes. As soon as the bottom layer comes out of the oven, sprinkle with chocolate chips and spread on caramel. Top with remaining cake mixture, and bake for another 15-18 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
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The Evolution of a Baby Shower Dessert

As I've already stated, I love any excuse to make food, and I especially love occasions that give me an excuse to try something new. And I'm fortunate to have a husband that thinks most things taste good and doesn't mind me experimenting. Case in point: I volunteered to help out with my friend Anna's baby shower this month and was lucky enough to get to make a dessert. While I usually try something new and way over my head at the last minute, I did know about this enough in advance that I could play around with recipes. I knew that one person was making a citrus cheesecake (which was delicious), so I decided to go chocolate. And, since Anna is expecting a girl, I wanted to go pink.

Attempt #1
Now when I think pink desserts, my mind automatically goes to strawberries, so I decided to try out a brownie with strawberries and ganache, sort of a chocolate-covered strawberry in brownie form.

Brownie layer: a Betty Crocker store-bought mix baked in a 9x13" pan
Strawberry layer: strawberry buttercream with real strawberry puree + sliced strawberries
Ganache layer: standard ganache recipe
Results: When my husband and I first tasted these, we both said, "They're OK, but they could be better." And then we proceeded to eat half the pan. They were not aesthetically pleasing, but man did they taste good. The brownie layer was actually a little too chocolatey, so maybe something homemade would work better. The strawberry buttercream tasted good but was a mess. In order to get it to taste like strawberries, I had to add lots of puree, which made the buttercream too thin, and it started to separate. When I added more powdered sugar to thicken it up, it didn't taste like strawberries anymore. So I added a layer of sliced strawberries between the brownie and the frosting. It had to be stored in the fridge so that the strawberries wouldn't go bad, but that made the brownie layer rock-hard, at least on the edges. By day two, the buttercream was really weepy, and the whole thing was hard to cut into decent-looking servings. I decided to scrap this idea entirely...after I ate the whole pan.

Attempt #2
I was browsing the Martha Stewart website one morning and saw a picture of these adorable cupcake pops from Bakerella.

I knew immediately that I wanted to make these for the baby shower. My sisters were in town a few weeks before the shower, so I decided it would be good to do a trial run (which was a very, very good idea). Bakerella gives really good instructions for how to make these, but I've found that the "First Pancake Theory" can be applied to pretty much everything in life, so I was grateful I had a practice run. Strangely, they were harder to make the second time around. Reason #1: I had 2 sisters helping me on the trial run, but made them for the shower by myself. Reason #2: It was the hottest weekend of the year and they kept falling off the sticks! Some fell off sideways, some just crashed down with the sticks poking out the tops!

I actually had my doubts about how these would taste, but they were good. Clearly junk food-ish, but really, really good and just about the cutest things ever. They got RAVE reviews. Click here for the recipe.
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Tapas Anyone?

The series of events that get us to a certain point can be really wacky sometimes. Take the following for example: My friend Margaret decided a long time ago to--at some point in the then future--throw a party themed around the book Twilight. It was always sort of a nebulous thing that was always going to take place "someday." Well, the final book in the Twilight Saga came out a few weeks ago and Margaret decided that the night of the book release was the perfect time for her party. About a month before the party, I was on the phone with Margaret volunteering for all sorts of party-related things (like a tiered red velvet cake), when the subject of drinks came up. I said, "It would be funny if we had sangria, since the books are about vampires." Switch topics with me for just a moment. I offered to help throw my friend Anna a baby shower this weekend. Our friend Tannya, who loves to throw parties, wanted to do tapas. I thought that sounded like fun, even though I've never had any kind of tapas experience. Now switch back to the sangria. So I jumped on the internet looking for non-alcoholic sangria recipes, and the first website I went to was a tapas website that happened to have a recipe for non-alcoholic sangria! Worlds colliding! I browsed the tapas recipes and found one that I thought sounded delicious: Meatballs in Tomato Sauce. So I called Tannya and offered to make these meatballs for the baby shower. Then, all kinds of craziness happened and Tannya and I were no longer in charge of the baby shower, then we were again but all of the food was being made by other people, then I was just doing a dessert and not the meatballs. Meanwhile, back in the jungle, I tried several different non-alcoholic sangria recipes and didn't like any of them, so I pitched that idea entirely. Now flash forward to this week. Tannya and I talked it over, decided that we might actually need more food, and the meatballs were back on. It turns out we didn't actually need more food. We had lots of everything left over, but it was all so delicious I don't think anyone minded having to take some home. And I'm so glad I made the meatballs after all. They were soooooooo good. Without further ado, the recipe:

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup (about 2 oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, finely chopped, white and light green parts only
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 14.5-oz can petite diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons red wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients except olive oil. Divide mixture into 12 equal portions and roll into balls. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and cook until browned on all sides. Add all sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for about 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot with baguette slices.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Zucchini Bread, 2 ways

I used to see the massive, 10-pound zucchinis people harvested from their garden and wonder how on earth they let them get that big! Now I know all you have to do is blink, and your tiny zucchini has morphed into a monster. We picked one such zucchini from our yard yesterday. I thought about making fried zucchini this week, but then a lady at church brought in half a dozen of her monster zucchinis to try and give away and started handing out recipes for zucchini bread. So it seemed like fate wanted me to make zucchini bread today. Here is the recipe, plus a delicious variation.

Zucchini Bread

If your zucchini is huge, make sure you scrape out the seeds with a spoon before you shred it.

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla

Grease an flour two standard loaf pans. Combine flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, blending thoroughly. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 325 for 1 hour. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove and cool completely on wire racks.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Follow the above recipe with the following changes: decrease cinnamon to 1 teaspoon, add 5 Tablespoons cocoa powder to dry ingredients, and stir in 1 cup chocolate chips before pouring into pans. You might have to bake this a little longer than the original version.
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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Brazilian Lemonade

I've been blessed to have my whole family (except for my brother) visiting us over the past two weeks. When my mom and sister first arrived, they told me I HAD to make this strange and wonderful drink they had tried while visiting my other sister and her husband in Provo. Coincidentally, the recipe had just been published in the July 2008 issue of Sunset magazine. I tweaked the recipe to make it sweeter and stronger, and it is so delicious I have made it twice in the past week. Why is it called lemonade when it contains limes instead of lemons? I don't know. That reminds me of a song by Anne Murray that we had on a tape when I was little: "Why does a camel drink water? Why, why, why? Because, because, because. Good-bye, good-bye."

Brazilian Lemonade

Buy one of those big bags of limes from Costco so that you can make this over and over and over again! One recipe makes a little over 1 quart.

3 limes, quartered
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 cups cold water

Place limes in a blender with sugar and sweetened condensed milk. Add as much of the water as you can and pulse until everything is combined. Yes, there will still be big chunks of unpeeled limes in your blender. That is OK! Pour mixture through a mesh strainer and into a pitcher. Pour the remaining water over the pulp in the strainer to remove any sugar or juice that stayed behind. Stir. Chill until ready to serve. I like it over ice.
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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bella and Edward's Red Velvet Cake

My Twilight Obsessed Friend (TOF) Margaret threw a much-anticipated party for the release of Breaking Dawn, the last book following the story of Bella Swan and her undead paramour, Edward Cullen. In honor of the Twilight Saga, I decided to make a red velvet cake for the occasion. After searching every cookbook in my house for a good recipe and coming up empty-handed, I turned to the internet, the Food Network website to be exact. I decided on Paula Deen's recipe for her Grandma Paul's Red Velvet Cake because it had the most cocoa powder in it. It also had the most red food coloring in it--2 whole bottles! Yikes!

Does that look like blood or what?

The cake and its crumb coat

Finished off with semisweet chocolate curls and raspberries from my very own backyard
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