19 December 2011

Birthday Cassoulet

Last night we celebrated our good friend's birthday with a nice Sunday dinner. He works a lot and despite my best efforts, I rarely get to give him a nice home cooked meal. Since he has great taste in food and has eaten at many of the fine dining restaurants in Portland, I decided some French comfort food was in order.

15 December 2011

Holiday Cookies

I love the holidays if only for the food. We get the best of the best--ginger, pumpkin, chocolate, molasses--everything that says warmth. Oh yeah, and that's just the dessert side of things. While I don't have the sweet tooth I once had, I still greatly enjoy spending a whole day baking cookies. I took last Friday off to get started on my long list of cookies to be made. Shawn gave me a look when I showed him the eight varieties I planned to make in one day, and I reassured him that I had a plan. A cookie plan. Needless to say, given the great number of refrigerator cookies I had planned, they all didn't get made. Not even close. I still had a great time.

06 December 2011

Easy Winter Vegetable Soup

It's already feeling like winter, even though we're still a couple weeks away. The weather has been very crisp and clear--quite a treat for us in Portland since we're usually in the middle of a month-long stretch of rain at this time of year. With the holidays approaching, our calendar is filling up and I have less time for long-cooking Sunday meals. Kale was on sale, though, and I had to get in one of my favorite soups--kale and white bean soup. I know I've already posted a similar soup before, but this one is so easy, quick and filling, I had to share the latest rendition. And there are really limitless combinations...I happened to have an extra potato hanging around, so I chopped it up and threw it in. There are so many warm, earthy flavors. I just love it.

25 November 2011

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

Thanksgiving this year differed greatly from last year's Spanish extravaganza in that we went "normal" and had turkey and all the fixings. I also did not get to have my family down to visit or get to go home to be with them, which was a bummer, but luckily our friends took us in and we prepared quite the feast.

22 November 2011

Easy Roast Beef

It was a busy Sunday in our little house while I prepped all that I could for our Turkey Day potluck at Chris and Stacey's. I managed to fit in a warm Sunday dinner for us and testing out a recipe (not pictured) for Cook's Illustrated (yes, I'm that cool...ok, it's open to anyone, but I still feel cool). I used a bottom round

13 November 2011

Best French Onion Soup

Fall is finally here in Portland. The leaves have changed, but we've had less rain than usual, so we have been enjoying the colors for much longer than usual (no complaints). The rain is starting up again and with that, the need for more comfort food. I made this French onion soup years ago when Cook's Illustrated first published it in January of 2008. We were so blown away, I knew I'd make it again. Why I waited this long? I'm not sure. But fortunately for me, gruyere and baguettes went on sale, so it seemed natural to finally make it again.

09 November 2011

Light(ish) Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

The other night I was bored. Shawn had gone off to write (his usual post-dinner routine), and although I had just made a delicious chili dinner, I still had some kitchen time left in me. When I get this baking kick on a random night, I normally don't have all the ingredients I need to make anything. I'm either missing chocolate chips, or oatmeal, or whatever...but this time I checked and had just enough to make oatmeal cookies from the Best Light Recipe cookbook from America's Test Kitchen. So I thought. 

24 October 2011

New York Travels

I have been a little quiet around here since last week we had an amazing vacation to New York--both the city and upstate, to see my in-laws. Obviously, we ate well in NYC:

10 October 2011

Mediterranean Feast

This post is going to be short and sweet. We are 4 days from leaving for New York (both the city and upstate), and my time is a little limited. I wanted to share some pictures and recipes from my most recent experiment. My favorite guinea pig Michael and his partner came over for a long-awaited Sunday dinner. They are nice enough to be watching our kitties while we're away, so I wanted to make something worth their while.

03 October 2011

The Saga of the Cookie Monster Cupcakes

I'm never working with blue frosting again. At least not with a piping bag. Below is a picture of the prototype of my sister's 40th birthday Cookie Monster cupcakes. She saw them on Facebook months ago and asked if I could make them. "Sure!" I said with so much naive enthusiasm. After consulting with some fellow bakers on Twitter, I decided to go with a buttercream frosting. I had never made buttercream, but how hard could it be?

26 September 2011

Quick Update

The weather is finally starting to change to fall here in the Pacific NW and with it comes more nights of things like beef stew (below, made for Sunday dinner) and baking.

19 September 2011

Our Favorite Things

No, it's not raindrops on roses (although whiskers on kittens are pretty darn cute). However, this weekend I treated our household to our favorite dinners. Mine being sour cream enchiladas, Shawn's being chicken parmesan.

23 August 2011

Cultured Butter

My new work schedule has made me very productive in the evenings. I started culturing the cream for my butter project on Sunday afternoon, and actually had enough time to make it on a Monday evening--even after hitting the grocery store, going for a run, making dinner, and prepping Tuesday night's dinner. I'm amazed at how much I'm able to get done these days.

22 August 2011

Camping Food, Part III

This part three of a three-part series about the greatest summer food of all: the stuff you cook by the campfire...or in this case, over the campfire. It is also my post for the America Test Kitchen's Dish It Your Way challenge. Every other week they give a dish or ingredient and two weeks for bloggers to make the dish and write about in their blogs. At the end, the social media team reviews them, posts links to the competing blogs, and picks a winner for an online subscription to Cook's Country. Wish me luck!

We spent this past weekend in Bend to celebrate Shawn's birthday (don't worry honey, I won't tell everyone how old you are). Since time and menus were running out for me to make the next dish for the second to last food blogger Dish It Your Way challenge, I had to combine efforts and make mac and cheese in the great outdoors. Shawn was really disappointed by the way. Oh wait, not at all.

17 August 2011

Tuna Pasta (not tuna casserole)

I do my best to plan all of our meals the weekend before so we aren't tempted to go out and spend money. Once in awhile I over plan what we need, such was the case a couple of weeks ago when we had more leftovers from the BBQ than I expected. We were supposed to just have simple tuna melts, so holding off on using the tuna was easy. It came to make the shopping list last week and I figured in our cans of tuna to our meal plans, of course, to save some money.

08 August 2011


Until September, I will writing some posts for America Test Kitchen's Dish It Your Way challenge. Every other week they give a dish or ingredient and two weeks for bloggers to make the dish and write about in their blogs. At the end, the social media team reviews them, posts links to the competing blogs, and picks a winner for an online subscription to Cook's Country. Wish me luck!

Next up in the Dish It Your Way challenge: burgers. When I showed Shawn the list of themes weeks back when the challenge began, he made sure to ask me if I was participating in this one. The man loves a good burger...and boy is he picky as to what "good" entails.

01 August 2011

Camping Food, Part II

This part two of a three-part series about the greatest summer food of all: the stuff you cook by the campfire...or in this case, over the campfire.

This weekend we spent two peaceful and quiet days at the ocean. What was supposed to be a short retreat to one of my all-time favorite locations, ended up being another entry in the Shawn and Carmel Adventure book. We arrived at our beach campsite only to discover that every.last.person. there owned at least one ATV. And when they weren't disturbing the peace of the ocean with their engines, they were tinkering away on them, and in the case of our neighbors, talking loudly and playing club music. Needless to say, we didn't spend too much time at our site. We retreated to another beach and the pub.

24 July 2011

My Hundredth Post!

Until September, I will writing some posts for America Test Kitchen's Dish It Your Way challenge. Every other week they give a dish or ingredient and two weeks for bloggers to make the dish and write about in their blogs. At the end, the social media team reviews them, posts links to the competing blogs, and picks a winner for an online subscription to Cook's Country. Wish me luck!

How fitting is it that for my 100th (!!) post I get to write about an America's Test Kitchen recipe and enter it into the Dish It Your Way challenge?? Before I get started, let me just say it's been so much fun writing this blog and getting the very kind feedback from friends, family, and even the strangers who actually read what I write. This just started as a way for me to practice writing and keep myself accountable for challenging my culinary skills. So, thank you!

17 July 2011

Camping Food: Part I

This part one of a three-part series about the greatest summer food of all: the stuff you cook by the campfire...or in this case, over the campfire.

The first of our camping trips this summer brought us to Tucker Park, about six miles south of Hood River, Oregon. I found the park by doing some Internet research on lesser-known camping spots and found an Oregonian article from 2008 profiling just such areas. Granted, three years after the article was written it was bound to have increased in popularity, but I figured it was worth a shot. We had been searching for a campsite we could reserve for so long without any luck, I was willing to take the risk.

Like any other weekend, my first thoughts of planning went straight to the food. We started with Shawn's favorite: foil packet dinners. I first heard of these potato-ham concoctions at one of my first overnight trips while I was away at sleep away camp in fourth or fifth grade. Back then it was probably pre-shredded potato and deli ham provided to us by the CYO kitchen. Nowadays, we've gotten ever-so-slightly more sophisticated. I actually shred my own organic potato, use Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese, and (admittedly) buy cubed ham. I know, I know....I don't even want to start to think about what happened to that poor pig when they slaughtered him. Anyway...we learned our lesson about using the proper foil and not overstuffing a packet years ago when we first made them at Olallie Lake. Undercooked potato on top, burnt and stuck to the foil potato on the bottom. Ick.

Using nonstick foil and adding a little butter helps the end product not stick to the foil. For our packets, we using potato, ham, green onions and salt and pepper.

Our cooking source for the night.

Do NOT overstuff these or you'll end up with some nasty raw potato.

Add enough layers to keep the insides from burning.

A nice, hot fire is key...and if you don't have a grate to put over the fire, that's ok, it's cool to stick them right on the fire. Just make sure you use enough layers so it doesn't burn through the foil.

While in the past I've put cubes of cheese right into the packets, this time I bought shredded cheese, added it after they were done and just let it sit for a minute until it melted. 
Of course after a great meal and some beers, it was necessary to make my famous s'mores. Not sure if they've actually become famous yet, but I have some fans.

The key to perfect s'mores? Lots of patience toasting the marshmallows and putting the graham cracker and chocolate near the fire to melt the chocolate before adding the perfect marshmallow.

Pardon my unwashed hair...enjoying my creation.
Next camping trip is at the beach. Shawn has promised that I can cook hot dogs over the fire even though he doesn't love hot dogs. What a guy.

05 July 2011

Fourth of July BBQ

Until September, I will writing some posts for America Test Kitchen's Dish It Your Way challenge. Every other week they give a dish or ingredient and two weeks for bloggers to make the dish and write about in their blogs. At the end, the social media team reviews them, posts links to the competing blogs, and picks a winner for an online subscription to Cook's Country. Wish me luck!

Summer has finally arrived here in Portland and the arrival of the good weather means beer festivals, camping, and of course, more cooking on the BBQ. Shawn and I took advantage of the 80 degree weather and tried our hand at smoking ribs on the grill. The idea for ribs all came from my desire to enter the "Dish It Your Way" challenge from the America's Test Kitchen folks. As soon as I heard about this challenge, I knew I had to enter. Who loves the Test Kitchen more than I do? I even have a label for Test Kitchen posts, for goodness sakes. The week 3 challenge calls for potato salad posts, so ribs seemed like a fitting main dish.

At first the process seemed a bit daunting: making my own rub, two hours on the grill and then another hour sitting, AND making my own barbecue sauce...are you kidding me? But after we broke it down, it wasn't so bad. The instructions and illustrations from Cook's Illustrated always make things just a wee bit easier. The ribs require a little patience--much easier to have when your refrigerator is stocked with good Oregon beers. This is Oregon Craft Beer month after all!

Secret to perfectly cooked ribs...great rub and lots of patience.
I improvised a bit on the barbeque sauce and made the basic sauce and jazzed it up
with  a few of the ingredients for the tangy and sweet sauce.
And what goes better with ribs than a nice potato salad? I have been playing around with an idea for blue cheese potato salad in my head for awhile and finally got around to making it. Since we were already having pork, I decided to skip the bacon idea I had fearing it would get too rich, and instead focused on increasing the blue cheese flavor and adding thyme to the mix. It's a pretty simple recipe using red potatoes and basically the ingredients for a blue cheese dressing. It went very well with the ribs, giving our mouths a chance to cool off from all the spices I threw into the sauce. Perhaps I got a bit too liberal with the Sriracha...

Served in the funky fish bowl Kara gave us.
Use your thyme wisely--it takes a lot to stand up to the strong flavor of the cheese

Have to take advantage of the limited asparagus season!
And there you have it...summer is here, Portland. Take advantage while you can!

Blue cheese and thyme potato salad

1 1/2 lbs. red potatoes (new potatoes would be ideal, but regular red potatoes work as well)
4-5 oz crumbled blue cheese
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup sour cream (lowfat works)
1-2 T mayonnaise
White wine vinegar
Green onions, sliced (green part only)
Fresh thyme leaves, minced

Cut potatoes into equivalent, bite-sized pieces and boil gently until cooked through, but not falling apart. While potatoes are cooking, combine half the blue cheese crumbles, sour cream, mayonnaise, shallots, garlic, and a splash of white wine vinegar, making sure to mash the blue cheese into the sauce. If it seems a little too thick, adjust with sour cream and vinegar. Add about 3/4 green onions and mix until just combined.

After the the potatoes are cooked through, drain, place in a large bowl, and toss with enough white wine vinegar to lightly coat the potatoes. Let the potatoes cool in the bowl at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

After the potatoes have cooled, combine gently with already made blue cheese sauce. Toss in the rest of the blue cheese crumbles and top with green onions.

At this point, if you wanted to add bacon, you could throw some fried up bacon bits on top.

20 June 2011

Pizza Night

When I was staying with my family in Spain, every Friday night we would make pizzas and watch a movie. It was my small contribution for them generously letting me stay at their house and corrupt my teenage cousins. Anyway, my uncle would make pizza dough and I would take the cousins to go load up on delicious toppings at the market. My specialty, the Carmel special, basically just had everything on it. Saturday night, with a busy week ahead, we decided to have a little pizza/movie night at home. It was another drizzly day in Portland, so instead of the plan to grill the pizzas, we ended up just doing them inside. I also forgot to make dough, so we bought a couple pounds from Trader Joe's. Their dough is actually pretty good and a good deal at around $1/lb.

Our toppings, starting at the top (clockwise): fontina cheese, fresh tomatoes,
sage, jamon serrano, mozzarella, and sauteed mushrooms

From farthest to closest: plain cheese, mushroom/fontina/sage,
jamon serrano/fresh tomato/arugula

Cheese...ready for its close up. Made with a combo of the plain and whole wheat dough.
Little fresh basil from the garden on top.

Sauteeing the mushrooms beforehand rids them of excess moisture ensuring the crust stays crisp during baking

Although we put the arugula on at the end, I stuck it back in the oven to stay warm for seconds.
The wilted arugula was delicious, as well. I can see it going in for a minute at
the end of baking to char it a bit for an even more pleasantly bitter addition.

Trio of fresh pizza

This has nothing to do with the pizza, but it's the salad I made the next day with the rest of the arugula.
All that paired with a delicious bottle of Barbera from Rosa D'Oro, made for a delightful evening. We watched The Social Network, and although it was entertaining and pretty interesting, I'm not sure why it was nominated for so many awards (other than the soundtrack, which was well done). Oh well, at least the food and wine was great!

14 June 2011

Farmers Market Inspired Weekend

This Saturday, Shawn and I finally took the time to head down to the PSU Farmers Market, which I believe is the largest in Portland. It was a somewhat drizzly morning being that it was the Grand Floral Parade for the Rose Festival, of course it had to be! It worked to our advantage as it wasn't too crowded when we arrived a half hour after it opened. First things first--we had to get food. Shawn opted for the chile and potato filled breakfast burrito from Enchanted Sun Breakfast Burritos. It was a tough decision for me, but ultimately I had to pick the egg, cheese, and fried chicken (?!) biscuit sandwich from Pine State Biscuits. I've been dying to go there and when opportunity presented itself, who was I to say no? And it was as good as everyone says it is. Next time, I'm going for the McIsley, though (Fried chicken with pickles, mustard and honey). Yes, please!

Our real purpose at the market was to find rhubarb, maybe some of our weekly veggies, and definitely some starts for our garden since my poor little starts all died when they weren't able to be planted at the time they were ready (Portland weather FAIL). Apparently Shawn is not much of a fan of my Farmers Market wandering, just like he is not a fan of my grocery store wandering. After a little perusing, I finally found my rhubarb and settled on a genovese basil plant, dill, two types of tomatoes (one called "Mr. Stripey"...tee hee), and a lemon cucumber plant. The rest of the afternoon was spent weeding and planting. I also transplanted the mysterious carrots that have appeared in the beds, and some seeds that didn't need to be started indoors. Busy day and hopefully we'll see the fruits of my labors this summer.
Now those are some nice egg yolks!

Sunday morning I ended up skipping the run I had planned to go on with friends and instead made us breakfast (worked late Saturday night and 9-mile run was planned for 7am...ugh). It turned out to be a kind of  hash with sausage from the market, shallots, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes. 

Needing something slightly more healthy than the previously planned biscuits and gravy,
this hash kept me energized for most of my 9 miles.
For dinner, I planned to do a Mediterranean rub on grilled chicken drumsticks. We had a little buttermilk coleslaw on the side, and what fits naturally with coleslaw and chicken? Biscuits of course! I eventually got to indulge my addiction to carbs and fat with my super simple drop biscuits. I swear I'll never buy that packaged crap again.
I think I could've called this post "Biscuit weekend" instead.

As for the rhubarb, I had many ideas, but finally settled on a combination dessert of a tart with oatmeal crisp topping. I wish I had done two things differently: toasted the oats beforehand and cooked the tart crust a little longer. It came out delicious and I'd definitely make something like it again, but I would like a little more of buttery crunch from both the crust and the topping. I used a combination of recipes and ideas, though, so it was bound to need some tweaking.

Love that fluted crust!

Rhubarb Tart with Crunchy Oatmeal Crust

Tart Pastry (Pâte Sucrée)
Cook's Illustrated

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar (about 2 3/4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), very cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. For the tart pastry: Whisk together yolk, cream, and vanilla in small bowl. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor with four 1-second pulses. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, about twenty 1-second pulses. With machine running, add egg mixture and process until dough comes together, about 12 seconds. Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk; wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 48 hours.

2. Remove dough from refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable). Unwrap and roll out between lightly floured large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 11-inch round. (If dough becomes soft and sticky, slip onto baking sheet and refrigerate until workable.) Transfer dough to tart pan by rolling dough loosely over rolling pin and unrolling over 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Working around circumference of pan, ease dough into pan by gently lifting dough with one hand while pressing dough into corners and sides of pan with other hand. Press dough into fluted sides of pan, patching breaks or cracks if necessary. (If some edges are too thin, reinforce sides by folding excess dough back on itself.) Run rolling pin over top of tart pan to remove excess dough. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet or large plate and freeze 30 minutes. (Frozen dough-lined tart pan can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 month.)

3. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet; lightly spray one side of 18-inch square heavy-duty extra-wide foil with nonstick cooking spray. Press foil greased side down inside frozen tart shell, folding excess foil over edge of pan; fill with metal or ceramic pie weights. Bake until pastry appears dry and pale gold under foil and edges have just begun to color, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. Remove from oven and carefully remove foil and weights by gathering edges of foil and pulling up and out. Return baking sheet with tart shell to oven and bake until sides are medium golden brown, about 5 minutes; set on wire rack to cool.

Rhubarb Filling

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 3 x 1/2-inch strips lemon peel (yellow part only)
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 pounds fresh rhubarb, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick pieces (about 6 cups)

Combine sugar and water in heavy large skillet over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add lemon peel and cinnamon stick. Increase heat and bring to boil. Add rhubarb and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover pan and simmer until rhubarb is just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Let stand covered until rhubarb is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and cool completely.
Using slotted spoon, remove rhubarb from cooking liquid and arrange in concentric circles in crust. Strain cooking liquid into heavy small saucepan. Boil liquid until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Cool syrup completely. Spoon syrup over rhubarb. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)*

Oatmeal Topping

Combine about 1 cup of oats with about a 1/4 cup brown sugar, a little cinnamon and a few tablespoons of unsalted butter (cold). Mash together until pretty uniform and top rhubarb. Bake the whole dish on a cookie sheet until bubbly and top is crisp--about a half hour at 350 degrees.

*I omitted this last step of spooning over the rhubarb since I was baking it again and didn't want too much liquid. I reserved the extra sauce and have been using it over yogurt instead.

31 May 2011

Absurdly Decadent Cupcakes

How is is possible to make a chocolate ganache cupcake even more sinfully delicious? Just add salted caramel and potato chips. Yes, potato chips. I was reading an email from Portland Monthly about Portland's microbakery and noticed these little treats. I had to make them, oh yes, I had to make them. 

I started with the Cook's Illustrated recipe for chocolate ganache cupcakes.
Fresh out of the oven

A close-up of just how moist and chocolatey these suckers are

Then took a handful of Lay's Wavy potato chips and dipped them in the chocolate buttercream frosting I made (ran out of pure chocolate), and threw on a sprinkle of kosher salt for good measure.
Good idea to let these cool on wax paper so you don't lose the chocolate
Then I made a classic caramel with some salt in my other liquids (seen above), which was then finished off with some grey sea salt I discovered after putting salt on the chips. Sigh...my cabinets will never be completely organized.
Don't take your caramel off the stove before it turns a nice,
deep amber color or it'll lack the depth of flavor you want
Once cooled, I then frosted my cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting.
Before they go completely overboard
I jammed in the potato chips. I put in some non-frosted ones for good measure.
Little cupcakes waiting for the caramel storm
Drizzle the caramel over the cupcakes once it has cooled down a bit and serve!
Probably a good idea to do this over the wax paper or something you can throw away
This is just absurd...but delicious.
Even two days after baking these, the cupcakes are still moist
For those of you not able to purchase one at Sugarcube in Portland, here are the recipes I used.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling
From Cooksillustrated.com
Use a high quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate for this recipe, such as one of the test kitchen's favorite baking chocolates, Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate L-60-40NV or Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar. Though we highly recommend the ganache filling, you can omit it for a more traditional cupcake. The cupcakes can be made up to 24 hours in advance and stored unfrosted in an airtight container.

Ganache Filling
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine (see note)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
Chocolate Cupcakes
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine (see note)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup (4 1/8 ounces) bread flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 recipe Frosting

1. FOR GANACHE FILLING: Place chocolate, cream, and confectioners sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high power until mixture is warm to touch, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.
2. FOR CUPCAKES: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-size muffin pan with baking-cup liners. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
3. Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.
4. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.
5. TO FROST: Mound 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.

Easy Caramel Sauce*
From Cooksillustrated.com

1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon high quality salt

1. Place water in heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan; pour sugar in center of pan, taking care not to let sugar crystals adhere to sides of pan. Cover and bring mixture to boil over high heat; once boiling, uncover and continue to boil until syrup is thick and straw-colored (syrup should register 300 degrees on candy thermometer), about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until syrup is deep amber (syrup should register 350 degrees on candy thermometer), about 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring cream and salt to simmer in small saucepan over high heat (if cream boils before sugar reaches deep amber color, remove cream from heat and cover to keep warm).
3. Remove sugar syrup from heat; very carefully pour about one quarter of hot cream into it (mixture will bubble vigorously), and let bubbling subside. Add remaining cream, vanilla, and lemon juice; whisk until sauce is smooth. (Sauce can be cooled and refrigerated in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.)

*I halved this recipe and had more than enough to cover the cupcakes. Make sure to use the smallest pot you have or the water will evaporate too fast.

24 May 2011

The Mac and Cheese Off

The gloves came off last weekend and a showdown was had the Rice house...Baked mac versus Stovetop mac. Which would prevail?

I used Steve's Famous Macaroni and Cheese for the baked version, and Eve-Maridy found a creamy stovetop mac from the Food Network's Alton Brown. Since we had the showdown on a Friday right after work and baked mac can take some time, I prepared mine up until the baking part and stuck it in the freezer. I also made breadcrumbs out of leftover Little T focaccia we had from earlier in the week and integrated the chili powder that way.
Eve-Maridy's creamy mac
My baked mac
Two things were discovered from this challenge. One--the two types of mac are WAY too different to really declare a clear champion. Mine with its crispy crust and four types of cheese were nothing like her super creamy, sharp cheddar goodness...each bite made me want to pick a different winner. Two--despite my effort to bring the partially made dish of mac to room temperature before sticking it in the hot oven, there were some cold parts in the middle. The top was divine--so bubbly, melty, and crunchy. The middle made me cringe. It was by far NOT my best work (sorry Steve-o). So, I suggest not only letting it come as close to room temperature as possible, but also covering it with aluminum foil for the first 20 minutes of baking, then removing the foil for an additional 20-25 minutes until crisp. Sad it wasn't my best effort, but it was still a delicious night with great friends!
Creamy and baked coexisting peacefully
To top it all off, I made a skillet apple pie (now THAT turned out perfectly), and we watched Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (filmed right here in Portland, Oregon!).
Skillet apple pie right out of the oven
Even better with some ice cream
Perfect ending to a great night

Skillet Apple Pie
by Cook's Illustrated
If your skillet is not heatproof, precook the apples and stir in the cider mixture as instructed, then transfer the apples to a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Roll out the dough to a 13- by 9-inch rectangle and bake it as instructed. If you do not have apple cider, reduced apple juice may be used as a substitute—simmer 1 cup apple juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 10 minutes). Serve the pie warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Use a combination of sweet, crisp apples such as Golden Delicious and firm, tart apples such as Cortland or Empire.

1cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces), plus more for dusting work surface
1tablespoon sugar
1/2teaspoon table salt
2tablespoons vegetable shortening , chilled
6tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3–4tablespoons ice water
1/2cup apple cider (see note)
1/3cup maple syrup
2tablespoons fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
2teaspoons cornstarch
1/8teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2pounds sweet apples and tart apples (about 5 medium), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (see note)
1 egg white , lightly beaten
2teaspoons sugar

1. FOR THE CRUST: Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined. Add shortening and process until mixture has texture of coarse sand, about ten 1-second pulses. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. With blade of rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if dough does not come
together. Turn dough out onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into 4-inch disk. Wrap dough and refrigerate 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling out. (If dough is refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.)
3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (between 7 and 9 inches from heating element) and heat oven to 500 degrees. Whisk cider, syrup, lemon juice, cornstarch, and cinnamon (if using) together in medium bowl until smooth. Heat butter in 12-inch heatproof skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add apples and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times until apples begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Remove pan from heat, add cider mixture, and gently stir until apples are well coated. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Roll out dough on lightly floured work surface, or between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap, to 11-inch circle. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over apple filling. Brush dough with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. With sharp knife, gently cut dough into 6 pieces by making 1 vertical cut followed by 2 evenly spaced horizontal cuts (perpendicular to first cut). Bake until apples are tender and crust is a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes; serve.

17 May 2011

Beef Rolls with PICKLES!

Since last week I had such success with a Lidia recipe, I thought I'd try another one this week. Since New Seasons has taken down their online shopping tool (boo) that I used to plan our shopping trip each week, I have had to play it safe with our shopping list, as well as make more decisions in the grocery store (dangerous). I saw this recipe for beef rolls with mustard and vegetables on Lidia's Italy months ago and immediately fell in food lust. However, unless the stars align and I'm magically in the middle of planning our meals on Sunday afternoon (never happens) when I watch her show, I forget about it and go on lusting in the back of my brain where the index of all the recipes I want to try are filed. I managed to recall the information as I mapped out our dinners for the week and made plans for it to be our Sunday meal.

These rolls are pretty simple to make once you get past the meat cutting part. A butcher I am not. Here is a short compilation of the rookie mistakes I made....

Cutting the meat with the grain
D'oh! I knew I was supposed to cut against, but got so disheveled when trying to figure out how to approach the big slab of beef that I am pretty sure I cut with it. Not the end of the world, but it did make things a little tougher than they should've been.

Not drying off the meat enough
I didn't really do much to prepare it to be browned, like take a paper towel to each one and make sure it was nice and dry.

Overcrowding the pan
Another d'oh! I noticed that they were looking a little big to all fit in my usual pan (you need a lid for this one as they simmer on the stovetop for over an hour), so I pulled out the gigantic dutch oven...except it wasn't big enough. Instead of doing them in batches and then nestling them all in for the final simmer, I pushed it and tried to brown them all at once. Problem with this, for those who didn't know not to crowd the pan, is that it lowers the temperature of the oil too much thus making it hard to brown your meat.

Despite my little errors, they still turned out pretty good. At first taste, it has a beef stew-type flavor, but then you get the tang of the pickle and mustard and it ends on a completely different note. I will probably try to make this again and hopefully avoid my rookie mistakes.

Best thing about this recipe...gets better with time. I had leftovers for lunch today and it was so much more flavorful and tender than when I first made it.


Vegetables all cut up and my recipe ready to go

Ready for rolling

Secure with a toothpick....and try not to use colored ones (the only ones we had) because they tend to leave a little decoration behind

Light dusting of flour--make sure to shake off excess flour

Steamy...too steamy. Overcrowded pans lead to less than perfectly browned meat

Had to cook my veggies separate, but still scraped up all the browned goodness

Finished product! Serve with something that can sop up that delicious gravy. I was supposed to make spaetzle, but got lazy. Ciabatta from New Seasons works too

Beef Rolls with Mustard and Vegetables*
(Involtini di Manzo alla Senape)
by Lidia Bastianich

2½ pound boneless bottom-round rump roast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons German style mustard
2 large stalks celery, cut in 2x4 inch sticks
2 medium carrots, cut in 2x4 inch sticks
12 small dill pickles, (about 2 inches long)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 cup white wine
4 cups light stock, (chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth)

Lay one hand open on the top of the roast to hold it in place. With a sharp chef 's knife, begin slicing the meat on a slant, cutting across the grain, and continue with parallel angled cuts every 1/2 inch or so, slicing the meat chunk into a dozen thin scallops. As you slice, press down lightly with your top hand, creating resistance, so you can feel the blade moving and keep the slices evenly thick.

Flatten the slices into scallops one at a time. Place each one between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and pound it with the toothed face of a meat mallet, tenderizing and spreading it into a narrow oval, about 6 by 3 inches. When all are pounded, season the scallops with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon in all, and spread a thin layer of mustard on the top surfaces.

Starting at the short end of each scallop, pile three celery sticks, three carrot sticks, and a pickle in a bundle. Roll up the meat, enclosing the vegetables, and secure it with toothpicks. When all the rolls are formed, season with the remaining salt. Spread the flour on a plate, and dredge the involtini, lightly coating them.

Pour the olive oil in the pan, and set it over medium-high heat. Shake excess flour from the rolls, lay them in the pan in one layer, and cook, rotating and moving them around, until browned all over. Push the rolls to the side of the pan, and scatter the onion slices and any remaining carrot and celery sticks on the pan bottom. Drop in the bay leaves, and cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they're beginning to brown and soften, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat to high, pour in the white wine, and let it heat and bubble until almost completely evaporated. Pour in just enough broth to cover the involtini, and bring it to a boil. Set the cover ajar, and adjust the heat to keep the liquid simmering. Cook for an hour and 15 minutes, or until the beef is tender and the sauce has reduced to a consistency you like.Turn off the heat, take out the toothpicks, and remove the involtini to a warm platter. Ladle some of the pan sauce over the involtini, pour the rest into a bowl for passing at the table, and serve while hot.

*This recipe does not specify the amount of oil to be used for cooking the rolls. I used about 1/4 cup and that was a little much. Use enough to coat the bottom of your pan generously.