Friday, December 28, 2007

These Muffins Are Healthy, I Swear

Well look at me posting two days in a row. I guess this really means I’m on vacation with time to spare. I could certainly get used to this life. And (and this is truly worth a tad of bragging), I said I was going to make something and then I DID. Within twenty-four hours. I’m really on a roll.

Those lemon poppy seed muffins I was drooling over last night from my new Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours, well, it’s confirmed they are drool worthy. Sneaking two at time up to your room to eat alone worthy too. They’re damn good. So moist, lemony, and soft. Even the kids, who usually say things like “what are those black things?” didn’t question. They just ate, and then said “these are really good.” You heard it here folks: these are really good. Even my nine-year-old sister, Chuckie, liked them.

Let me tell you something about Chuck, she’s a sugar fiend. She doesn’t like apples without peanut butter; she doesn’t like strawberries without sugar (who heard of a child that doesn’t like a plain strawberry?); she asks for a bagel with cream cheese, only to lick every ounce of the cream cheese off without a bite of her bagel. My mom cooks kale into her spaghetti sauce, pays her to eat spinach, but she won’t have it. She wants twizzlers, jello, pretty much anything with fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient or red dye #40 lingering somewhere near the end. It’s concerning.

I’m not trying to pretend that lemon poppy seed muffins are health food. White flour, butter, sugar…not exactly legumes and veggies. But at least it’s homemade. At least I know what went in to it. And she ate it. Maybe next time I can sneak in something or better yet, just bribe her with them (extra glaze and all that).

Because you know what? These are bribe worthy.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins out of Baking From My Home To Yours


2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tbsp. poppy seeds

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1.5 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1.Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter a regular size muffin pan.

2.In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3.In a separate bowl whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, and melted butter together until blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just blended. Stir in the poppy seeds. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

4.Bake for 18-20 minutes (mine were actually done after 16 min.) or until tops are golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool. Remove muffins from the pan and place directly on the rack.

5.For icing, whisk the sugar and lemon juice together until just liquidy enough to drizzle over the muffins when completely cool.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Now What?

Christmas has come and gone. How did that happen? I’ve had six days off work. I’ve spent time with my family, chaotically Christmas shopped, wrapped and wrapped some more, baked pie after pie, not to mention a few dozen cookies, roasted a turkey, napped (maybe once) and yet, it feels as if I’ve done absolutely nothing.

When I’m at work, I fantasize. Really good fantasies too. Waking up early. Heading down to the coffee shop and getting a lemon scone and latte. I sip slowly, and pinch crumbly bits into my mouth, while I thumb through my newest book (Faulkner, or something just as academic). Maybe I even write brilliant thoughts in a small, worn notebook. Then I stop at the market, pick up ingredients for dinner that night—a meal I’ve methodically planned the night before—and then head home for a quick snooze. I wake up and cook. Perhaps watch an episode of The Office while I wait for my chicken to roast or my water boil. Eating is insanely satisfying (a nice glass of wine helps) and then I fall into bed. I’m out like a light, ready to do it all over the next day.

But when I actually get that day off, I don’t manage anything like that. It’s much more spontaneous and chaotic. And I think now I’m in some kind of post-holiday stupor. I keep making pumpkin pies in the hopes of perfection, stuffing cookies down people’s throats one day and throwing them out the next, and all to what avail? I’m not sure. Trying to figure out what’s next, I suppose.

Based on my Christmas present from The BF, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours, I’m guessing the next thing will be something baked, first thing tomorrow morning, or the thing after the first thing, you know, in lieu of the latte and scone. Reading in pajamas is way better than reading at a coffee shop anyways.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

How I Finally Became A Joiner

I'm not a joiner. I'm just not good at it. I'm much better at being a bystander and watching from the sidelines. I'm an observer by nature, and I tend to shrink in large groups. But today, I'm starting over. It's nearly the new year, and with it I'm starting, a new, more DARING me.

I've joined the Daring Bakers. I know, but it's true. I've joined. I'm a joiner. There, I said it. And you know what? I feel really great about it. I feel like I could spend three hours in my kitchen on a Sunday whipping up buttercreams, sampling fillings, and pressing my fingers onto spongy genoise cake. Oh, wait. I already did that. It's only as glamourous as it sounds when you're showing off a Yule Log to all your coworkers, and then watching them devour it. (Secretly, laughing about all the butter and sugar they just consumed. No, I'm not better than that.)

The truth is buttercream is unglamourous. It's downright dirty work. I was up to my elbows in egg whites and butter. I had to make the buttercream three times. I'm not a joiner, and I'm sure as hell not a quiter. So finally, on the third try I had the best buttercream ever. Was it worth it? Without a doubt. I now have a showstopper dessert. Not too mention the glory of being a real, homemade Daring Baker.

We had the option of filling the cake with whatever we wanted and I immediatley thought of something I had seen from past Daring Baker entries: hazelnut cream filling. Only, I couldn't find hazelnut cream (anywhere on the planet), so it became chestnut, chocolate cream filling, which couldn't have been a better fit.

Here's to joining! And shamelessly eating butter and sugar.

Yule Log

Plain Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Filling and frosting the log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Chestnut Chocolate Filling (adapted from Martha Stewart)

2/3 cup heavy cream
6 large egg whites
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup chestnut cream
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup chestnut cream
1 tsp. salt

1. Put cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour.

2. Whisk egg whites and sugar in the clean bowl of mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees;, 2 to 3 minutes.
Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment; beat on high speed until slightly cooled and stiff (but not dry) peaks form.

3. Fit mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Add vanilla, hazelnut cream, and salt; mix until mixture comes together, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Going Steady With A16

Now that my semester is over, I have no excuses for not posting more. Except that, as previously mentioned, I have a tendency to be lazy and gluttonous. For example, the past two weekends I have managed to eat at A16 twice. TWICE. For those of you who haven't heard me go on and on about A16 or have been there yourselves, A16 is a Southern Italian restaurant, specifically based on cuisine in Campania, on Chestnut Street in The City. Definitely one of the most highly reviewed places in The City without being one of the most expensive or white table cloth-y. Then again, white table cloths are out, at least around here. In fact, table cloths in general are getting harder to come by. It's pretty much earth toned paper on wooden sheen or just the clamorous clank of your silverware on worm wood. We're very rustic these days. Needless to say, A16 is rustic, both in food and style. It's certainly a pleasurable rustic. You see it in their appetizers--we enjoyed their Minestra Maritata, which is pretty much the Italian name for Bomb Ass Meatball Soup--all the way to their sides--it's probably bad to say that I've had three of their five sides currently available; I especially loved the anchovy kale.

While I will warn that their pasta dishes can leave something to be desired--we concluded that they are truly meant as a pasta course and not a main entree, they're certainly delicious, but often drastically more mild then their pizzas, entrees, and even appetizer--obviously I truly enjoy every meal I have at this establishment. But even so, twice over two consecutive weekends, is even wild for me. The first was just a celebratory dinner with The BF, and this Saturday, The BF's sister and brother-in-law were coming into town from Wisconsin and just really needed to go there, which of course I respect deeply. You know when you're first dating someone and they seem really wonderful. You hardly notice the annoying way they have of sweeping their hand through their hair or saying "um" before beginning a long thought. They're just down right perfect, until a few weeks go by, a month or two, and then you start to see it all more clearly. Have you really been dating this person all along? Sometimes you shrug it off; it ain't a deal-breaker. But then sometimes, you can't. Sometimes it changes the way you see that person permanently. Well, with A16 and me, I guess I've finally started to pick up on some small flaws. And they are small, but still. The problem is that they're not A16's fault. It's locked in a burden of circumstance I suppose.

Okay, so what is this gripe of mine? The clientele of course. Though not all of them, namely just the overtly snobby ones that crowd the bar and make sniffling comments about wine that I can't stand. These are the kind of people that drive me nuts. People who are uptight and just plain rude. The BF and I witnessed a scene go down involving two of these said gentleman and another couple of (normal) gentlemen over two of the seats at the bar. No, there were no near brawls; there wasn't even any up-in-the-face action. There couldn't of been, since the two stick-up-ass men wouldn't even turn and look at the other guys and have a discussion with them. And the other guys were so very nice and accommodating. But no, stick-up-ass man one would only remark (loudly) to stick-up-ass man two, things like, "Um, should we give them these seats? I think no." Even their A-hole moves were lame as can be. I have Kharma Police Syndrome; basically I can't take it when people get to act mean with no repercussions, so of course, I was upset about the incident all night. I mean I was still able to lick my plate and dessert bowl clean, but you know, it wore on me. A16 isn't supposed to be about being mean for one seat at the bar. It's about noise, wine, burrata, pork and a wood fire oven. It's about eating seasonally and overdoing it on Salted Carmel gelato.

But maybe it's not. Maybe I've been living a lie, and I'm finally seeing it for what it is: all white table cloth-y or not even that, just plain snooty (there, I said it). I really want to make it work though. The way I feel about the pizza bianca and the tuna conserva salad, well, that's love. I can't just let it go. But without out a doubt, the honeymoon period is over. I guess we're in it for the long haul, fights and all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Thought Really Does Count

In case you hadn't noticed, Christmas is only two weeks away. That's fourteen days. I don't say that condescendingly either, I really didn't realize how soon it was. Until now of course, when only two of the eleven people I must buy gifts for are taken care of. And I've even narrowed it down big time. I cut out my usual holiday baking for extended family and friends. I even cut out Christmas cards, which (in case you're wondering) I feel horribly guilty about. I'm not lazy, I swear. I 'm just busy. Heard that before? Eh, me too, but it's true, for the most part. (Sometimes I do have free time to do productive things and choose not, and that's definitely lazy, but doesn't everyone do that?)

Then all of a sudden it’s present time, and not only do I feel too emotionally fragile to head to the hellish, overly-crowded zoo that is my nearest mall, but I don't have any ideas. NONE. Seriously, notta one.

If it wasn't already apparent from this post (please read sarcasm), I love giving gifts. No really, I do. But not just for the sake of gift giving. I like to put thought into things. I practically can't give a gift to someone, if real thought hasn't gone into it. I'll get guilt-ridden, anxious, and I'll think about it all year long. I'd rather just give nothing--a big hug and a "Happy Holidays." But you can't do that, which is why I'm so distraught. Isn't it better to not get anything one year but know that the next gift will really be just meant for you? I'm guessing, based on the shockingly long lines on December 26th, that I'm alone on this one. I'm thinking of mounting a campaign in '08: Presents with Heart or something. I suppose in the meantime, I better start shopping.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sunday Night Blues

Sunday’s are hard for me. Pretty much always have been. I have a tendency to get more and more down as the day goes by The BF and I made a pact this past summer: We can’t be sad until 8pm. At 8pm we can be complete grumps (read: A-holes) and snap at each other for no real reason, except that it somehow relieves the Sunday pain, even though it really doesn’t. When I say "we" what I really mean is "me", as usual The BF is far better at controlling himself then I am.

The only problem is that in the winter it gets dark sooo early, and 5pm feels more like 8pm then 8pm does when the time changes. And then I get confused. And the confusion only compounds my Sunday night blues. In fact, The BF and I have determined, through intense scientific testing and research that he does indeed suffer from SAD.

So lately we’ve found that cooking for Sunday night meals eases the pains. Mostly because we’re just too distracted and stressed out with cooking disasters (grease fires and the likes) to notice the sun fading, the time just ticking away, another weekend.

This weekend we decided to really embrace the distraction making an entire Indian feast. Let’s see there was Raita, Saag Paneer, Chicken Tikka Masala, Cilantro Chutney, Vegetable Dal, & Naan. I’m still full. But it was good. It was like we-couldn’t-believe-we-made-it good. Also, I think we just wanted to give ourselves some props after an entire day of cooking truly from scratch—we made the paneer (cheese) & Naan from scratch.

I’d include recipes if recipes hadn’t gone straight out the window as soon as we got going. And so did note-taking, right around the time the second gallon of curdled (but not curdled enough) milk was tossed down the disposal (along with a variety of expletives by The BF) during cheese making.

So though I can’t offer recipes this time, I do recommend that you join in a little food therapy next time you’re feeling blue. If you're not up for Indian, you could try these, I think they would help.