Friday, February 27, 2009

February m.o.m. - Cranberry Zucchini muffins

Several weeks ago I dug around in my cookbooks and online in a fruitless hunt for a cranberry muffin recipe that was oil-based and wasn't orange flavored. (My mother's cranberry-orange bread recipe, which I grew up on and love, calls for shortening. I just don't bake with shortening if I can avoid it, and I haven't taken the time to convert her recipe. I'm afraid other cranberry-orange recipes would fall short of the mark set by her classic.)

I ended up depleting my stash of cranberries by baking a some cranberry coffeecakes (which I loved). Of course right after I used up my last fresh cranberries I saw some enticing Zucchini and Cranberry muffins (a recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook) on two of my favorite blogs: The Food Librarian and Meet Me in the Kitchen. The muffins looked so good, and met all my criteria. I wasn't too optimistic about finding cranberries in February, but I checked around at a few stores, and, lo and behold! I was able to locate frozen cranberries at Fresh Market. I scooped up a few bags and was ready for February's Muffin of the Month (m.o.m.) for my mom!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe at either (or both) of the blogs linked above.

- I love any recipe with shredded zucchini that doesn't make me squeeze the moisture out! Seriously, is there really a worse job in the kitchen? Well, squeezing frozen spinach is a bit worse.

- I substituted 2/3 cup of white whole wheat flour for the all purpose flour.

- For oil, I used extra light tasting olive oil; I love baking with that oil, because it's a monounsaturated fat.

- I added 1/4 tsp lime juice to the liquids. Lemon would probably have been my first choice, but I had a cut lime in the fridge. Of course orange would be the classic, but I was looking for something different.

- Instead of extract I used vanilla paste. Although I usually substitute equal amounts, it might have been a little intense for this recipe.

- This was my first time using cranberries that were frozen when packaged. I've often put a bag of fresh cranberries in the freezer, but these seemed to fare better than mine, which sometimes get mushy - these were just about as crisp as fresh ones.

- I cut the cranberries in half because I love the way they look like little wagon wheels. Also, that size gives a nice hit of cranberry tartness.

- The muffins came together quickly. I spooned the batter into 10 individual silicone muffin cups (the recipe's stated yield). They rose nicely in the oven. I baked them at 360 degrees for about 27 minutes

- The sugar forms a crunchy sweet crust on the top of these muffins as they cook.

the verdict:

The muffins have a nice soft crumb and a lovely vanilla flavor. They're definitely a muffin, rather than a cake in disguise. Even so, they were just a little on the sweet side for my taste. I think I'd try to cut the sugar and increase the cranberries and the citrus presence - probably using lemon and lemon zest next time.

My mom loved these muffins just as they are!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

{Adventures in Yeast} #8 - Five Grain and Walnut Bread

In honor of their one-year anniversary the Bread Baking Babes chose Carol Field’s Pane ai Cinque Cereali con Noci (Five-Grain Bread with Walnuts), adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field, for their February recipe. When I realized that I had all of the 5 flours in my baking drawer - oat, rye, brown rice, whole wheat, and all-purpose - I decided to try my hand at baking it (and thus be a "Buddy" of the BBB's this month!). You can (and I recommend that you do!) find the recipe and step-by-step photos at the host kitchen's site: My Kitchen in Half Cups.

There is something about bowls that I find irresistible. I have a wide assortment of sizes, colors, and silhouettes of bowls. A deep drawer filled with nests of mixing bowls. Cupboard shelves overflowing with serving bowls, cereal bowls, soup bowls, condiment bowls. And on and on.

All of my big bowls are stored up on the tops of my kitchen cabinets. While they are always visible, I tend to forget that they are up there. When I was getting ready to bake this bread, I looked up and saw the perfect dough-mixing bowl, a purple-glazed one that I found last year at an antique store in rural Central New York. As I stirred, I wondered how many other breads had been made with that bowl. I was having such a nice meditative time mixing this bread...

and then kneading it on the counter.

For the bulk rise I transferred the dough to an 8-cup glass measuring bowl because I love seeing the bubbles forming inside the dough, and the markings help me figure out when the dough has doubled. That bowl, an old Pyrex one, was owned by the original builders of the house we now live in. (When we bought the house from them, I also purchased some of the furniture and kitchenware.) I know that Kay was a marvelous baker, and I wondered if she ever made bread. More thoughts, following the rhythms of the dough.

As my bread was rising L. and her son J. arrived at my door. J is a very active and curious 18 year-old boy, and he and L. were fascinated by the bread. This was only my second real kneaded bread, so I was trying to pay attention/figure out the recipe while at the same time explaining bread-making, yeast, rising, etc. Also under consideration/discussion: cleanliness standards of canning factories, my computer, the radio controlled plane hanging from our rafters, the counter-mounted air switch for my garbage disposer... this was one very inquisitive teen! Not under discussion: this crazy food blogging habit of mine.

Somewhere in all that I forgot to check the recipe's baking temperature. I ended up popping the loaf into the oven at the oven's default setting - 350 degrees. About 15 minutes later I realized my mistake and turned it up to the specified 400 degrees. Aargh. Despite that, the loaf baked up well. I left it in the oven until it reached 195 in the center, which I think was around 55 minutes or an hour (mostly I relied on the temperature). I sort of wonder if my loaf would have had some oven spring if not for the oven-temp mix-up?

Even though this bread was oceans away from J.'s preferred bread flavor - Hawaiian sweet bread - I insisted he taste it. If you're going to hang around and watch the dough rise twice and bake in the oven you pretty much need to judge how it turns out, right? They also stayed long enough to see me prepare flambeed cognac-prunes for my (upcoming post on Tuesday) TWD chocolate cake! (To our collective disappointment, the cognac burned in demure little flamelets rather than in a giant fireball.) Anyway, I'm not sure if L. and J. really liked the bread, but they were polite enough to say they did.

I have no doubts, on the other hand, about the honesty of my book club. They have gotten used to giving me frank appraisals of my baking efforts, and for my part I've given up worrying about hectoring them for opinions - and even quotes. It turns out that this bread was an enormous hit at book club, where I served it with two kinds of cheese: goat cheese, and English five counties cheese. Even though there were three cakes there (this was our pre-Lenten bash, very important in a Catholic book group) - including the very sexy chocolate (prune) cake - the bread was just as big of a draw.

I loved it with the English cheese, some of the others enjoyed it with the goat cheese, and a few - like my husband - liked it plain so much that they didn't want to put any cheese on it at all! Just one person decided to save her carb allotment for cake(s) only.
The walnuts were indeed the star of the bread but not in a stand out, showy way. These are walnuts as I've never experienced them in baked goods. In sweet breads and quick breads, they tend to be quite separate in taste and texture. In this bread, while the walnuts was discernible in a quietly authoritative way, at the same time they blended with the well-knit tastes of the 5 flours. It's like the grains lent a wonderful supporting nest that the walnut flavor sort of settled into.

I will make this bread again and again, and I will always have a little thought for the first time I baked it, when I experienced the the extremes of contemplating life and having life appear on my doorstep with its often chaotic and distracting moments. Which are really the essence of living. As is bread!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

{TWD} Caramel Crunch Bars

This week's TWD recipe is Caramel Crunch Bars, which are pretty much heaven for toffee lovers. A chocolate-laced butter base is covered with a chocolate layer and toffee bits. This recipe was straightforward and quick - and a gift of grace in that they involved no separated, whipped, or cooked egg parts. And no molten sugar, despite the "caramel" in their name!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The dough was buttery and not too sweet

- I got lazy in chopping my chocolate and I'm pretty sure the pieces were too big.

- Using the specified 9x13 pan made for a very thin base layer which was a pain to spread on the buttered foil. Whatever merits I might have earned from not over-mixing the dough in the mixer, I erased in pushing the dough all over the pan in an attempt to get an even layer.

- they were very bubbly when I took them out of the oven. I wanted to get a picture of the bubbles but they died down by the time I got the camera ready. I think I could have removed them a few minutes sooner.

- Spreading the chocolate for the topping went smoothly, and I pressed Heath "bits o brickle" into the chocolate.

- I was feeling reckless, so I cut the bars a bit bigger than specified.

- The base layer of my bars was very crumbly. I could not remove bars from the pan, or even pick one up, without parts of the bottom layer spalling off. There was not one bar that ended up nice and crisply cut.

- It seems like using a 9x9 pan might make for thicker, more manageable layers.

the verdict:

very buttery, very toffee-y, very buttery, very crunchy, very buttery, very crumbly, very buttery, very yummy.

And have I mentioned that they're buttery?

I served these at book group and everyone pretty much abandoned all restraint. The bars were a huge hit. I unloaded as many of the extra bars as I could onto other book group members; these are not something that I needed to have around the house! They are absolutely dangerous; I love toffee and these were like a baked elaboration on Heath bars. To me they were more toffee-like than caramel-like.

One thing that bothered me was that they were so crumbly. The large-ish chocolate chunks in the base layer only made the crumbling worse. Operation: Reduce Crumble would include the following steps -
1. Leave the chocolate out of the base layer and either add it to the topping or eliminate it altogether.
2. Try a shorter cooking time.
3. Bake them in a smaller pan - 9x9, 11x7, or 8x8 - so that both layers would be thicker.

A note:

I will be observing the season of Lent, which begins tomorrow, in a variety of ways, a few of which relate to this blog. From Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday (April 12) I will not be eating anything sweet. I've planned ahead as much as possible - by the end of today I will have finished making all five of the March TWD recipes (it's been a baking whirlwind around here in the days since the recipes were announced!) I will be posting each of the TWD selections for the appropriate week, and I plan to bake whichever recipe is chosen for April 7, but I may not actually taste it before I post.

In the past few years I've also made a practice of "giving up" some aspect of computer activity for Lent. This year I'll be giving up Google Reader and also general surfing of other cooking blogs. That's the reason that you'll see fewer of my comments in the coming weeks. My current plan is to try to "speak when spoken to;" if you comment on my blog, I'll visit you and return the favor. Also, if I participate in any roundup events (TFF, BBD, etc.) I will do my best to check the roundup post and perhaps come around and check out individual posts also.

As a final matter, during the first part of March I'll be traveling and will be out of range of computer reception. I'm hoping to schedule some blog posts from my endless backlog of draft posts, so that you'll have something to read in my absence.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

{Adventures in Yeast} #7 - My First Kneaded Bread! Potato + 3 Wheat Flours

You can see a little piece of potato in the middle of the bread!
I couldn't be more excited about this bread if I made it myself. Wait - I did! This is my first honest-to-gosh bread that I made entirely by hand, stirring the dough with a wooden spoon and kneading it on the countertop! The first time I had to judge by the feel of the bread how much additional flour to knead in (about a cup).

And it turned out!!!

I've put a passel of sticky notes on the pages of my Fanny Farmer Baking Book. One recipe I marked was for "Potato-Broth Bread." It actually uses mashed potatoes in addition to the water that they are cooked in. According to the book,
"The starch in the mashed potatoes and potato water makes these loaves light, moist, and high."
This sounds like my kind of bread so I bookmarked the recipe.

As I was browsing through the yeasty-blogosphere this week I came across the announcement for this month's Bread Baking Day #17 - the theme is "Bread and Potatoes." I pushed the Fanny Farmer recipe to the top of my yeast list so I could participate. The theme's rules state that the bread must have potatoes; potato water alone isn't enough. I was glad that even though the cookbook calls this bread "Potato-Broth Bread" it does have actual potatoes.

Although the recipe is written for a white bread, I felt pretty sure that I could add some whole grain flour, so that's what I did. I also used instant yeast rather than active dry, and halved the recipe to bake one loaf rather than two. My adaptation of the recipe is below.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The potatoes in my cupboard were getting a little sprouty and a little soft. I'd read that they would firm up when cooked, and, sure enough, they did revive as I began to boil them, getting downright crunchy in the hot water. Of course they then softened as they were cooked through.

- I probably should have added some liquid when mashing the potatoes, because they were a bit lumpy. Some potato lumps came through to the finished bread, but they were very soft so didn't mar the taste of the loaf.

- In mixing the dough, I used about half KA all purpose flour and about a third KA White Whole Wheat. The remainder was Wheat Montana red whole wheat flour that I ground at a local market. It is a coarse grind, and gives a nice rough texture to the bread.

- I used about a cup of additional all purpose flour as I kneaded the dough.

- A large pyrex loaf pan was perfect for this bread.

- The bread rose very high - about 4 1/2 inches tall at the center.

the verdict:

The potato made for a tender and moist bread - yet at the same time it was somewhat hearty because of the whole wheat flours. It was fantastic toasted. My husband, the toast aficionado, said this is the best bread I've baked to date.

Needless to say, I'll be making this one again! Next time I think I'll increase the percentage of the red whole wheat flour.

requisite buttered toast picture!
This month's Bread Baking Day is hosted by Lien of Lien's Notes/ Notitie van Lien. The roundup should be posted around March 3, so hop over to Lien's site and check out all the cool and creative potato-y breads. I'm also sending this to Susan at YeastSpotting, a weekly compilation of wonderful yeast creations.

I'll be out of internet range when the roundup is posted, so forgive me for not coming round and commenting on the various potato breads. I'll try to catch up the following week when I get near a computer!

Also, if any of you happen to be counting, I'm posting my yeast adventures out of order. I baked 4 new yeast recipes in a week's time, and am posting this one now in order to submit it to February's BBD.

the recipe:

Potato Bread with Three Wheat Flours
adapted from The Fanny Farmer Baking Book

yield: one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf

1 1/2 cup warm potato water
1/2 cup warm or room temperature mashed potato
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 T butter, softened (3/4 oz)
1 T sugar
scant 1 tsp instant yeast
3 3/4 - 4 1/4 c. flour (I used 1 1/2 cups all purpose, 1 cup white whole wheat, 1/2 cup coarsely ground red whole wheat for the initial dough and 1 cup of all purpose kneaded into the dough)

1. Mix potato water, mashed potatoes, salt, butter, and sugar and beat to blend well.

2. Stir yeast into 3 cups of flour. Add this mixture to the potato mixture and beat vigorously.

3. Add enough flour to make a manageable dough; turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for a minute or so.

4. Let rest for 10 minutes.

5. Resume kneading, adding just enough additional flour to keep the dough from being too sticky to handle, until smooth and elastic. (this took about a cup of additional flour for me)

6. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double in bulk.

7. Punch the dough down, then shape into a loaf. Place in greased loaf pan, cover loosely, and let rise to the top of the pan.

8. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes. (I baked about 45 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registered 190 degrees)

9. Remove from pan and let cool on rack.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ultimate Yogurt Parfaits with Homemade Granola

A couple of Wednesdays ago, my afternoon 'to do' list ran about like this:

- go to gym; arrive in time to watch Tyler's Ultimate on the Food Network during my workout

- pick up farm box

- go home and make granola. I was going to be seeing my brother the next day and I often give him some of my homemade granola. Since baking the Granola Grabber cookies with TWD in the fall, I've been making my own granola. Commercial granolas can be filled with fat and sugars, and by making my own I make it with the ingredients that I choose. The recipe I've been using is really good; a lot less sweet than most store-bought (and most recipes), it lets the flavors of the fruit and nuts shine through. I'm glad to avoid a big shot of sugar in my morning cereal.

So anyway, I got to the gym and the Tyler's Ultimate episode was ""Saturday Breakfast", including granola parfaits. He made the granola and then the other parfait elements. What luck that the episode just happened to fit my plans for that afternoon! I made [this new granola recipe] that day and the parfaits on Saturday.

Granola notes:

I made the granola recipe from Tyler's show, but it turns out that the recipe Tyler made is credited so someone else. The rest of the parfait - the syrup and the yogurt - are Tyler's [I edited that last sentence to make it a little clearer; this was not my own usual granola recipe]

I made a few changes, mostly to boost the nutritional profile:

- used chopped walnuts not almonds

- replaced the flax seeds with wheat germ. Flax seed is a little hard for us to break down as we eat it, so ground flaxmeal is a better bet nutritionally. But the omega-3s can deteriorate with heat, so I've read that it's better to add flax once the granola is cooked. Or if you make the parfaits, you could stir the flaxmeal into the yogurt. I make sure to have a serving of flaxmeal every day.

- cut the brown sugar in half and added 1/4 cup water to the liquids

- used extra light flavor olive oil for the oil

- For the fruit, I stirred in what I like - 1 1/2 cups of a mixture: golden raisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries, and raisins. I left off the banana chips and dried apricots.

granola verdict:

I did a good job of cutting the sugar, because this granola had just the merest hint of sweetness. Because of its long bake time, the walnuts had a deep toasted flavor which was delicious with the crispy oats and the sweetness of the dried fruit.

I like adding the dried fruit after the granola was cooked - the fruit stayed nice and tender.

I'm thrilled with this new granola, but if you are wanting sweeter granola, add the full amount of brown sugar. This recipe doesn't make a clumpy-style granola - there's not enough of the liquid ingredients.

Parfait notes:

- I prepared a 1/3 recipe of the sauce and the lemon-yogurt.

- There was a partial package of mixed berries in the freezer and I filled in with some frozen wild blueberries. I used a Meyer lemon the berry sauce.

- On the show, Tyler used plain yogurt, but the written recipe calls for vanilla yogurt. I used about 1/2 cup of plain - nonfat Sigghi thinned with a little nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt - and stirred in a splash of Meyer lemon juice and a pinch of its zest. You can make it sweeter by using the vanilla yogurt.

This Icelandic-style yogurt is very thick and packed with protein. Since it's expensive, I use it judiciously.

parfait verdict:

This was a delicious breakfast. The sweet berry sauce was enough to balance the tart unsweetened lemon yogurt, and the granola added texture. Healthy and very delicious!

I'm submitting this post to Tyler Florence Fridays. Check out the roundup to see which of Tyler's yummy recipes have been cooked up this week!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

{Adventures in Yeast} #4 - Mark Bittman's No Knead Bread

This bread was amazing with dinner, dipped into olive oil, and for breakfast, spread with salted butter.
In November 2006 Mark Bittman published the recipe for his No-Knead Bread, which immediately took the food blogging world by storm. I was blissfully unaware, however, since at the time I was neither a food blogger nor a yeast baker. But now I dabble in both, so although I've arrived late to the party, I'm still excited to be in on the hoopla.

In the intervening two+ years since the recipe's publication, it's been baked, varied, analyzed and perfected by many experienced bakers. Even Mark Bittman has revisited his recipe, making it quicker, and devising a whole-grain version. For my first attempt at this bread, I used a blog with step by step pictures and tips - so easy even the blogger's four year-old can make it (and he shows us how).

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I followed the recipe to the letter.

Here's the dough after about 8 hours. See all those bubbles? They are going to be holes in the bread when they grow up!!
- I need some practice in the turning out and shaping arena. The four year old can shape a better loaf than I can! The surface of mine was not taut. And even though I thought I'd dusted the tea towel generously enough, the loaf oozed in to the towel. Or maybe the dough was too wet??

- I put a circle of parchment in the bottom of my pot so that the loaf would come out (rather than stick on the bottom) at the end of its cooking time.

- My bread was lopsided and flat, which I will try to improve on future loafs.

- My pot tolerated the high heat in the oven this time, but it did not seem happy. I don't think the handles will hold up to that heat on a regular basis. So the next time I make this bread it will need to be in a different pot.

The recipe specifies a 6-8 quart heavy pot. I'd really like to have a new 6 quart enameled cast iron pot but (1) I don't want to pay for one, and (2) I'm having a bout of cooking-induced elbow tendinitis (from wrestling with 25 lb turkey in January), and those pots are heavy! I've read that this bread can be baked in a crock pot insert, but mine's not big enough.

There is no question that a pan will be found/bought. Because I need to be able to make this bread; it's just that great.

the verdict:

This was the kind of bread that dreams are made of: crusty on the outside, substantial and chewy on the inside, with just the right kind of holes to soak up olive oil or butter or just be their splendid holey selves.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll have to say that my husband did not rave about this bread. Instead, as I gushed on and on about my own baking, there was a restrained subtly approving murmur from his quarter. Under brutal cross-examination, he admitted that he thought it was lacking a little complexity of flavor. Hmm, we'll have to see what he thinks of it next time ;)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

{TWD} Devil's Food "Wite-Out" Cake

Back in the day, when you were typing a letter, or a paper, or a document (yes, typing with an honest-to-goodness typewriter) and you made a mistake, you had two choices: retype the page or employ the magic of Wite-Out correction fluid. Slap that stuff across your mistake and voila! Good as new and none the wiser (unless you looked really really hard).

And there you have the true beauty of this cake.

I need practice with layer cakes. And with cooked icings. After making this cake I can honestly say... that I still need practice with layer cakes. And especially with cooked icings! This week's cake was fraught with pitfalls for me. So it may come as a surprise to hear me say that this is my new favorite cake. Not because of the taste - which is amazing, or the appearance - which is dramatic. Nope, it's because of the magic powers of the devil's food crumbs covering the outside. Like Wite-Out, these little babies cover a multitude (yes a multitude, you can take it from me) of sins.

Lumpy overcooked marshmallow frosting? You'll never taste it because of the clumps of crumbs. Finger in the side of the cake? No problem, the crumbs will cover it. Vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract in the icing? The black specks in that billowy whiteness will blend right into the crumbs. Lopsided crumbly layers? You won't notice under all those crumbs.

Dorie calls it "Devil's Food White Out Cake", but in my book it's Devil's Food Wite-Out Cake.

mother and baby: 6" and 3" cakes
n.o.e.'s notes:

- After a lot of internal debate about cake pan sizes, I finally decided to make a 6" cake rather than the specified 8". This should technically only have required around 1/2 recipe. Eschewing the math this week, I made a full recipe of both the cake and the frosting, figuring I'd find a way to use the extra half.

- The batter came together easily and tasted great. It was nice and chocolaty, and not too sweet.

- When it came time to fill the pans, I used 2/3 of the full recipe of batter rather than 1/2, to make sure I got nice thick layers that I could split for a really tall little cake. This week's P&Q had plenty of reports of cake layers that hadn't risen very much.

- Each of my 6" layers (baked for 29 minutes) domed a good bit, but otherwise didn't really rise much.

- With the leftover batter, I baked five 3" tartlettes using a silicone pan.

- I split the layers the next morning, and I can't say that they cut evenly or cleanly. I first cut off the domed part of each layer, leaving a fairly thin layer to try to split.

- My gut told me to start beating the egg whites for the icing when the syrup was 220 degrees, but I didn't listen to it, since I've never made cooked icing. I dutifully waited until the syrup was 235 degrees. It shot right past 235 to 242 before I could even get the mixer turned on. I spent the next several minutes frantically moving the syrup around on the stove trying to keep it at 242, while exhorting my whites to "form firm peaks already." I have no idea if I ever got the whites to the proper stage - or if I passed it in the flurry of activity.

- When I poured in the syrup instead of being rewarded with a lovely fluffy icing I saw a hot and scrambled icing. Last week it was scrambled yolks; this week the egg whites wanted a turn. I kept beating until the icing cooled and the big lumps broke up into small lumps. (Sorry for the lack of pictures; some things are just too discouraging to document visually.) Except for the scrambled bits (which tasted exactly like hardened egg whites) the icing tasted like fluffy marshmallows.

you can see the little lumps in the white icing, and the black vanilla specks - thank goodness for the crumbs!
- I pressed on and spread the icing and stacked the layers. I crumbled the dome trimmings for the outside, leaving me with one extra cake layer. The thought briefly crossed my mind to make this a 4 layer cake, but instead I just loaded the 3 layers with lots of icing.

- I also frosted two of the little tartlettes together to make a tiny cake.

the verdict:

I loved the taste of this cake - the layers were nice and moist and fudgy and the icing fluffy but not too sweet.

- I took one of the extra tiny tartlette cakes and sat it in a pool of creme anglaise that I just happened to have in the fridge (This was the scrambled batch from last week's TWD. I ran through the curdled creme with the immersion blender and it was perfectly smooth and delicious). I'll have to say this tasted fantastic!

Between last week and this week, I've had my fill of measuring the temperatures of pots on the stove top - and of the resulting scrambled eggs! I'm not sure how fast I'll want to make the marshmallow icing again - the cake would be (nearly as) delicious with any thick fluffy frosting. But this will be my new Devil's Food cake recipe (sorry, Duncan Hines!). And I will remember the magic powers of the "Wite-Out" crumbs to solve all those pesky layer cake setbacks.

p.s.- The icing reminded me of the marshmallow fluff I had on fluffernutter sandwiches every day when I was 10, so I had a spoonful of peanut butter + icing for a little snack.

Thanks to Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater for picking this cake for us to bake! You can find the recipe on her post, or on page 247-249 of Dorie's book Baking From My Home to Yours, where this cake is featured on THE COVER!

Oops, I forgot about taking this picture while it was still daylight!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Provencal Beef Daube

I have been making recipes from Cooking Light for more than 20 years. In fact before Cooking Light was a magazine it was a featured section of Southern Living Magazine, and I have some "Cooking Light" recipes that I tore out of Southern Living's pages. I don't subscribe to the magazine but I pick up an occasional issue in the grocery store. In the Fall of 2007 I came home with the 20th Anniversary issue of the magazine, which has turned out to be a veritable treasure-trove and has earned a permanent place on my cookbook shelves. (I've previously posted the Creamed Corn with Bacon and Leeks and the Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce, both from this issue. Edit: also Pasta with Prosciutto and Parmesan and Halibut with Bacon and Mushrooms) Another recipe in the issue that caught my eye was for Provencal Beef Daube, which was tagged as the "Best Beef Dish" in the magazine's history:
"It stands above all our other beef recipes because it offers the homey comfort and convenience of pot roast yet is versatile and sophisticated enough for entertaining."
Given this endorsement, I just had to try the dish for dinner guests. n.o.e.'s notes: I cut my own cubes from a wonderful beef chuck roast that I ordered through my farm box people. The roast was a tiny bit short of the specified 2 pounds, so I increased the carrots a little. As it turned out, the proportion was off - it really needed the full quantity of the meat and fewer carrots than I used. I browned the beef in two batches (in a 3 qt dutch oven, so the meat would brown rather than steam. This was the first time I used my new Lodge enameled cast iron - love the way it cooks. After starting the stew on the stove top, it finishes with 2 1/2 hours in the oven.
Ready to do time in the oven.
the verdict: I ladled the daube over buttered plain and spinach noodles. Although the recipe claims to yield 6 servings, we had just enough for 4 people. We really enjoyed this recipe (aside from wishing that I'd make it with the proper proportions of beef and carrots). All the flavors has mellowed richly during their long slow time in the over. It's as good as my go-to beef stew recipe, and more company-ready. Because it bakes in the oven rather than simmers on the stovetop, it needs less attention, leaving me do other things to prepare for company. Although it is a Cooking Light recipe, it is substantial and hearty - perfect for warming up on a gray, chilly day.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Date Night at America's Drive-In

Happy Valentine's Day! I'm sure there are some wonderful gourmet meals going on in your homes this evening, or maybe fantastic dining-out experiences. For us, a perfect Valentine's meal came in the form of extra long chili-cheese coneys, jalapeno cheeseburgers, onion rings and shakes at the Sonic (America's Drive In) while listening to Grown Folks Radio (old school R&B), Brown Eyed Girl, and Roxanne on the radio. We had to drive a bit to the closest Sonic, but since we hadn't eaten at Sonic for a year and a half, boy, were we excited to blow out the week's calorie allotment on tonight's feast! It doesn't get any better.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce

This recipe for Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce, sporting just 1/4 cup of cream, stopped me in my in my tracks when I came across it in Cooking Light's 20th Anniversary Issue. Cooking Light featured this recipe to illustrate two basic healthy eating principles:

"All foods have a place in a healthful diet" (ie, cream doesn't need to be a pariah), and

"Embellish convenience products with fresh ones" (fresh basil livens up the canned tomatoes that form the base of this sauce.)

n.o.e.'s notes:

This recipe was straightforward and fairly quick.

The only problem I have with Cooking Light recipes is that the stated portion sizes are pretty small (1 cup of the finished pasta/serving in this case). Depending on whether this will be a main course or a side dish, keep in mind that the recipe calls for just 1/2 pound of pasta, and yields 4 cups.

the verdict:

The recipe is quick and easy, and oh, so delicious! I can't believe I've never tasted this sauce before, but from now on it will have a firm place in the pasta recipe rotation at our house.

I'm submitting this post to the Preso Pasta Night's gala 100th roundup. That's a lot of fantastic pasta, folks. Stop by and browse the roundups - you're guaranteed to find a recipe you just can't live without. Congratulations, Ruth and all of the PPN regulars, for a consistently bringing us all of that delectable pasta week after week!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cranberry Coffeecake

I've had a bunch of cranberries in my fridge for the longest time. Last week I finally had a moment when I could bake something with them. I wanted to make a quick bread or muffins, and I was looking for something out of the usual cranberry + orange rut. I turned to my overflowing cookbook shelf and found a promising recipe for Cranberry Coffee Cake in the big yellow Gourmet Cookbook. The recipe can be found online also, but I was in a huge hurry so I baked this old school (without first checking my computer or reading any of the reviews.)

noe's notes:

I made a few changes to improve the health quotient a bit.

- I used a mix of flours - nearly half AP flour, nearly half white whole wheat, and a couple generous spoonfuls of oat flour.

- Instead of eggs I used 1/2 cup of egg substitute.

- I cut the sugar by 1/4 cup.

- Skim milk instead of whole milk

- I used my wonderful long slim loaf pan, and lined it with parchment so that I could just pull out the loaf when it was finished cooking. It was a tiny bit tricky to cover the cranberry layers with the cake batter. I tried hard to leave a sufficient margin of cake around each of the cranberry layers so that the cake would not separate when sliced.

- Baked it at 325 convect for around 40 minutes. Luckily it's supposed to cool in the pan, so I just threw it in the car and raced to book group.

- I saved the liquid from draining the cranberries and sugar, and simmered it to make a cranberry syrup. This was good on the floating islands and great stirred into yogurt.

the verdict:

We ate this while it was still a bit warm, and although the slicing was tricky the cake was delicious. There's always great coffee at book group, so we had a perfect accompaniment. The cake was very enthusiastically received, with everyone trying to guess the ingredients.

The cake is really pretty, with its cranberry veins alternating with layers of plain cake. It's a whole lot more dramatic in appearance than if the cranberries were distributed evenly throughout. The flavor is improved by the layers too, imo. I love how the pure shot of cranberry plays off against the soft buttery cake flavors.

It's very easy to cut off just another taste of this cake! In comparing notes with a fellow book group-mate, AT, we determined that neither of us is an orange-flavored baked goods kind of person. If you are, you could easily add some zest or juice. The comments to the online recipe are filled with folks who added orange flavors (and also nuts). Personally I love the simplicity and the plain cranberry goodness of the original cake.

After baking this I decided to experiment with making it even more low in fat - substituting some of the butter with Greek yogurt and light flavor olive oil. (I used half the butter and the other 4 T was an even mix of nonfat Greek yogurt and olive oil. I again used egg substitute and skim milk, but this time replaced the vanilla with almond extract. I baked it in a standard shaped loaf pan. We liked this version too, although it was the tiniest bit dryer and not as complex a flavor. It was still good, especially for an everyday breakfast, where it was special enough to encourage a cheerful attitude to start the day, but healthy enough not to lead to guilt!

I happened on the page of one blogger who is cooking her way through the Gourmet book (she's actually not the only one) and chronicling her experience at The Gourmet Project. Her blog makes for an interesting read; you can see her experience with this cake here.

If you have some cranberries in your fridge or freezer, this would make a great cake for a Valentine's Day breakfast, or really any time you want a showy, delicious quick bread.