Friday, August 26, 2011

August 2011 Daring Bakers - Candylicious!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

This challenge kicked my culinary behind. Oh, I had grand plans...but I procrastinated them. Which is really asking to fail, since I don't work well under stress. But, I waited until the last minute...well, the last week. And, I paid for it. But, I learned quite a few lessons. And, hey, they look really nice on the plate. For once, I like the picture more than I like the food on it.

I will be the first to admit here, I didn't do the chocolate portion of this. I had such a stunning failure in the non-chocolate, I just gave up to fight another day. Tempering chocolate isn't something that I find difficult - but only because I have a chocolate tempering machine I bought quite a while ago on ebay. I don't use it often, but I know it turns out perfect chocolates.

My first grand scheme involved Aplets and Cotlets. For those of you that aren't from the Northwest, there is a company here that sells Aplets and Cotlets - mostly around Christmas Time. They are heavenly. Sort of like Turkish Delights (or locum), the ones I love have a little chew to them, and are stuffed with walnuts.

I thought I would try to modify the recipe given on the daring bakers site for fruit jellies into something similar - you can get the printout here. Well, my first mistake was forgetting to measure the apricot puree I used. It only got worse from there. I'm still convinced that recipe can be modified, and want to try it soon, but I did make other mistakes. I think Aplets are boiled for a lot longer, since my candy didn't jell quite as nicely as I had wanted. I can try that next time.

Still, those could have been edible if I hadn't made the second, fatal mistake. And, here's a lesson for all of you - be careful with the rosewater. I added a teaspoon, and it smelled like about a million roses exploded in my kitchen. As soon as the water hit and the smell filled the air, I knew I had made a mistake. Next time, a few drops will do.

The second candy I wanted to make was nougat. The finished product was pretty good, but I ended up modifying the recipe, and trying to adjust from a failure. I wanted to make pistachio nougat, and it was really good. I used this recipe from Emeril Lagasee. Now, I will admit, I made one mistake by putting the butter in too soon for the recipe. But, if any of you have made nougat - does it really call for 2 sticks of butter? Because I couldn't get all that butter incorporated.

The recipe called for whipping until the mixture holds its shape. But, I recommend, at a very minimum, whipping until its at least partly cool, or your butter will melt and fly all over the kitchen. Trust me. We are still cleaning up the nougat shrapnel. Once I finally got it re-incorporated from a separated mess coated in melted butter, the nougat is actually delicious, and I will make it again. Maybe the mistake was all mine, and incorporating the butter while the mixture is too hot is a mistake that is very difficult to overcome.

Anyway, even though I didn't have great results from this challenge, many of my fellow daring bakers blew my mind with their stunning tempered chocolates and creative chocolate fillings. Thank you again for allowing me to be part of this group, and I love all of your creations! Can't wait until next month!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Peach Crisp Tart

I hadn't planned on posting today, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share this delicious tart. In the Northwest, peaches are just starting to show up at grocery stores and farm stands. I had to take advantage. They looked so good. It took me a while to get a few that smelled as good as they looked, though. I think the effort was worth it.

I love peaches, and peach desserts. However, anyone that knows me knows that I just don't care much for heavily cooked fruits. I will eat, and love peach pie, but I prefer cobbler or crisps, since they aren't cooked as long. So that got me thinking - what would a tart taste like if the crust were made from similar ingredients to a crisp.

I still wanted the pie "goo" that comes with a nice fruit pie, though. To solve that, I created something similar on the stove top. The result? Beautiful fresh peaches topped with a not too sweet peach glaze, all sitting in a crunchy/chewy crust. I loved it, my family loved it, and I'm looking forward to making this again. After all, I did forget to put the chopped pecans in the crust (oops).

I also wanted to mention this tart comes together fairly quickly, you pat the crust in the pan and bake it, and while its baking, get the peaches ready. I wanted to eat it with ice cream, which I know will be fantastic, but it was so good on its own, I just enjoyed it that way.

For a printable recipe, click here.

Peach Crisp Tart

For the crust:

2/3 c. oatmeal

2/3 c. flour

1/3 c. brown sugar

½ t. cinnamon

Pinch salt

2 T. milk

4 T. butter, softened

For the filling:

3-4 ripe peaches, depending on size

2 T. cornstarch

2 T. water

Pinch salt

1/3 c. sugar

1 t. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. To prepare crust, mix all ingredients together until well incorporated. This isn’t fragile like a pie dough, but be careful to not overmix – just combine until ingredients are mixed together. Pat into an 8” tart pan. You can use a spoon, but I used my fingers. Bake for 12-19 minutes, until lightly golden. Let cool while you make the filling.

For the filling: Cut one peach into small chunks and place in a sauce pan. Add sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Place saucepan over medium heat and mash the peach up, releasing its juices into the pan. Bring to a gentle boil. Mix cornstarch and water together, and slowly drizzle in the peach mixture, stirring the peach mixture the entire time, until desired consistency. If your peach wasn’t really juicy, you may not need all the cornstarch. Remove from heat and strain mixture, discarding peach skin and pulp.

Peel and slice remaining peaches, and place them in the peach cornstarch mixture. Its easiest to place them in the mixture as you are working. If you fold them in the mixture, it will prevent them from browning while you are working.

Layer peaches on prepared cooled crust, and gently spoon any remaining peach cornstarch mixture over peaches when finished. Serve warm.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vegetable Lettuce Wraps

I just love chicken lettuce wraps you get as appetizers in quite a few restaurants. There are so many different flavors, you can customize your own, it's kind of like a version of a fajita plate with different flavors.

After having these as appetizers the last time I went to visit Tim, I decided to try my hand at my own version. I did some experimenting, and I think this recipe is great. No, it doesn't contain any meat, but with all the mushrooms, I didn't miss it.

I did try out several different options for lettuce - including whats seen in the pictures - Napa cabbage. I must say - I think iceberg lettuce is the best choice for this. It provides a nice crunch, tears easily enough when you bite into it, yet provides enough structure so you don't have a lap full of filling. I must admit, I thought my idea for cabbage was a good one, but it just didn't pan out. It didn't add any flavor and almost always tore the wrong way, so I would get some spilling.

This recipe makes enough for 4-6 wraps - depending on how much filling you want in yours. It's perfect for an appetizer, but also works great for 2 for a full meal. For a printed recipe, click here.

Vegetable Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4 as appetizers
½ cup carrots, chopped into small pieces
½ cup celery, chopped into small pieces
4 oz. button mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
2 green onions, chopped (including whites)
4-6 lettuce leaves – best are iceberg, bib, or even napa cabbage
1 T. grated ginger
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. soy sauce
½ t. pepper
½ t. sugar
2 T. hoisin sauce
½ T. oyster sauce
½ t. rice wine vinegar
Heat a saute pan over medium high heat. Add oil and both types of mushrooms. Saute 2 minutes, then add carrots and celery. Saute for 2-3 minutes, until carrots start to tenderize. Turn off heat and add ginger and garlic clove. Slowly add remaining ingredients except lettuce leaves. Toss all vegetables together until well coated in sauce. Taste for your seasoning preference, and add more soy sauce or pepper as needed.
Divide into 4 portions and serve with lettuce leaves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Daring Cooks August 2011 - Apam's and Curry!

Oh my goodness, I'm late! Posting, that is. And, very embarrassed about it! Anyone that knows me at all knows how much I HATE to be late - for anything, and here I am, posting late. BUT, I did finish this dish on time...I promise!

I don't know what it is with me and blogging. Lately, it's been something that I've enjoyed, well, avoiding. I love to cook, I love food, I love to share that food. However, I don't like much sharing myself - maybe that's the thing I need to work on!

Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

Well, I sort of cheated with this challenge. I made the bread - but in 2 bite sized, not big ones, and it is really good! Now, for the "cheat" part - I didn't make a traditional South Indian dish to go with it. We were in the midst of a "heat wave" here - and by that, I mean it hadn't rained for 3 whole days in a row - so I didn't feel like making a cooked dish. So, I made curried carrot salad - and I really liked that!

The appams were something I had never had before, and they have a very distinct flavor. I can see where they would go great with curry. I just wasn't in the mood for curry. I know its basically hotter than a thousand suns in Southern India most of the year, but I think of curry as a cold weather dish - one that warms you up!

Anyway, back to the appams. They were good. Like a little sourdough pancake - but not. I could definitely taste the fermented portion, and you know me, I love anything with coconut milk in it. I liked them. I would make them a bit thinner next time I make them, and I had a blast making these!

The carrot salad - well, it was so easy, I'm almost ashamed to post a recipe. But, I will anyway. I did want to talk a little about curry. yes, I know that curry powder is NOT the same as curry leaves, but I have a curry powder (well, two) that I really like, so I use that. It's from Penzey's, and no, they don't pay me as a sponsor...but if they really wanted to, I can send them my address, because their spices are really good. I like their Sweet Curry Powder, but I mix it with just a bit of ginger, since I'm a ginger fiend. I like their Maharaja curry powder as well, but that's about 10x the price of the sweet curry powder, so I don't buy that as often.

If you want to make these dishes, head on over to the daring kitchen and get the recipe for appams - they were great!

And, for the embarrassing carrot salad...Oh wait, a tip...I used coconut cream for this, but if you can't find that, it's easy to get from a can of coconut milk. Just refrigerate the coconut milk, and it separates. The stuff that's thicker is the cream! And, yes, I still do use the thinner stuff if I separate this.

Quick and Easy Carrot Curry Salad

1/4 c. coconut cream
2 cups shredded carrots
1/4 t. salt
1 - 1 1/2 t. curry powder
1/4 t. ginger powder
2/3 c. walnuts, toasted and cooled

Mix everything together but the walnuts, and taste for seasoning. Add more to suit your taste and serve with walnuts on top.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A tale of two Oatmeal Cookies

I am from a family of cookie monsters. While I like other types of stuff, I always come back to the cookies. So, I'm always looking for some new flavors in cookies.

I was playing around with oatmeal cookies, and came up with two flavor combinations that I love. Now, these may not pass muster because they are a combination of cakey and chewy. I love the chewiness of the oatmeal, and the cakeyness of the rest of the cookie.

The first flavor goes perfectly together. Since I think White Chocolate can be very sweet, they are nicely balanced with dried cranberries. I like to refrigerate these cookies before baking, so they stay thick and moist. And, they are so good!

The second one, I used oatmeal for a bit of a different reason. I know that dried mango can be a bit stringy at times, so the oatmeal is a perfect foil for that. And, the oatmeal stands up really well to all the pineapple in the cookie.

A bit about the pineapple in this one. I liked that it gave the cookie a bit of a different texture, but if you don't like the texture of crushed pineapple, you can easily process it in a food processor until smoother. This cookie is moist and delicious, and gives you just a hint of the tropics. It's also great with some dessicated coconut added to the batter.

For a .pdf of the recipe, click here.

Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 ½ cup oatmeal

½ t. baking soda

½ t. baking powder

½ t. salt

1 ¼ c. unbleached flour

½ c. unsalted butter, softened

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. sugar

1 egg

1 orange, juiced and zested

½ c. dried cranberries

¼ c. milk

1 cup white chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In a small bowl, combine dried cranberries and juice and zest of your orange. Let set at least 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whip butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and milk and blend until well mixed. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix until fully incorporated. Fold in oats, cranberry mixture, and nuts. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Drop cookies by ¼ cupfuls onto a baking sheet, giving ample room to spread (even though they won’t). Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before eating.

Pineapple Mango Oatmeal Cookies

3 cup oatmeal

1 t. baking soda

1 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

2 1/2 c. unbleached flour

1 c. unsalted butter, softened

1 c. brown sugar

2 egg

1 20 oz can crushed pineapple, including juice

6 oz. dried mango, chopped into small pieces

1/2 c. milk

1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In a small bowl, combine pineapple and mango. Let set at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 In a medium bowl, whip butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and milk and blend until well mixed. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix until fully incorporated. Fold in oats, pineapple mixture, and nuts.

Drop cookies by ¼ cupfuls onto a baking sheet, giving ample room to spread (even though they won’t). Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before eating.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Inspiration and successful Macarons

The beginning of the summer had me feeling the blues. Well, if I were a singer, I would be singing the blues, but no one wants to hear my singing voice! You know those ruts that everyone gets into from time to time. Everything seems a big grayer, nothing looks good to cook.

Yea, sure, like you, I go to foodgawker and tastespotting for inspiration, but this was deeper than that. Personally, I blame the weather. I really wanted to get out of my humdrum mood, but looking at other people making wonderful summer dishes while we were stuck in rain every day here didn't exactly help.

Well, I was fortunate enough to make a quick trip to Las Vegas, and found my inspiration there. While there, I saw a lot of sites, got to visit with Caleb, which is always awesome, and got to spend some time in the Bellagio. The first pic is the view from hotel room. Now, if those fountains don't inspire you, I don't know what will. Of course, walking by Jean Phillipe patiserrie certainly helped.

The pic above is a chocolate fountain made by Dale Chihuly. And, it is fantastic.

Now, who couldn't get inspired by that? A locomotive made from candy, floating in the air beneath another Chihuly glass sculpture. I love glass and crystal. I should have become a glass artist instead of an accountant, but I'm way too clumsy for that.
This is the first thing I got from the bakery. It's awesome - a *huge* macaron (rose scented), filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh raspberries. Yes, it did taste as good as it looked, and yes, I did totally cheat on my diet while in Las Vegas. Luckily (or not), it was 110 there, so when I came back not gaining any weight, I just figured I had sweated it off. I love this pic - it shows you the insides of the macaron and above the box, you can see the top. This was an awesome dessert!
The next treat, of course, I had to get the assorted macarons. These were awesome! 4 flavors - pistachio, chocolate, coffee, and strawberry. The chocolate ones were by far my favorite. The only reason the pistachio ones weren't my favorite is I felt a pastry cream would have been better than pistachio paste - the paste was really heavy. The chocolate ones were to die for - so were the coffee!

Of course, when I got home, this inspired me to try my hand at macarons. Yes, I'd read about them before, but this was the first time I tried them. I made Pandan Macarons, with coconut jam (kaya) filling. I loved them - they are so good!

I'm not going to post a recipe, rather I will link the recipe I used and provide some tips. The recipe I used was awesome, and I really want to make them again. Next time, chocolate!

I found my recipe on The Squirrel Bakes blog. That is a great recipe. I chose to use that recipe, because I know that meringue made with hot sugar is more stable, and I tend to be a bit of an overmixer. The recipe worked very well.

Now my tips:

- Listen to the recipe - these do need to rest.
- Don't overmix, but don't under mix either.
- If you use Almond Meal, no matter how fine it is, toss it and the powdered sugar in your food processor and blitz it for a while anyway.
- This recipe seems complex, but it's not - give it a try!

And, that's it! My first real try at macarons. And, I'm back from my vacation, and ready to make a ton more food!