Monday, June 28, 2010

Something Special For All The Ladies

It's funny having my daughter be pregnant. I get to relive the experience without having to live it. There's the cool parts, like feeling little feet pushing against your hand, hearing the heartbeat, and anticipating the little person's arrival. Then there's the not so cool parts like fatigue, heartburn, and swelling up so that when you turn sideways to scooch through a narrow space you realize that you're thinner face-on than sideways. And the comments.

I hated going out in public after my 5th month. I'm a short person and I carried my babies all out front. Waaaaay out front. At six months I started getting the "Any day now!" comments. I'd have to grit my teeth and say, "No, three more months," and try to pack as much venom into that statement as I could to alert the clueless listener that they were playing with fire if they uttered another word. Usually they would trip blithely on and say, "Gosh, you're huge!!! You're going to explode if you go three more months!"

When pregnant with my youngest daughter, I got so sick of the questions that I had a button made that read "I'm due in October. No, it's not twins." I wore it every time I left the house. It worked... some of the time. Until I reached November.

Also, there's something about pregnancy that breaks down normal social barriers and gives total strangers the freedom to touch your belly, ask personal questions, and relate their own pregnancy/birth sagas in graphic, often horrifying, detail. Really? In what universe it is OK to tell a stranger stories involving your lady parts with your hand pressed on the stranger's pregnant belly?

Almost worse than that, though, are the people who think they're being covert by not approaching you, but merely pointing and whispering. It's not covert and it's not polite. Pregnant women know what they're saying, even if it's in Korean.

One of the very best parts about being pregnant, though, is having a baby shower. Being surrounded by friends and family, getting gifts, having treat food, and being bathed in love. Just what a pregnant woman needs to recharge and be able to face that world of weirdos out there who say things like, "You're pregnant!" Optimum, response: "Wow, thanks. That explains so much."

For my daughter's shower this past weekend I made macaron pops. They were supposed to be a sweet baby pink and the powdered, dried strawberries colored the batter the perfect color. Unfortunately, baking turned them tan. So I compensated by filling them with pink cream cheese buttercream. They might not have been perfect, but they were pretty darn cute, if I say so myself.

Many thanks to Helen of Tartelette for her recipes and invaluable advice and to Bakarella for the inspiration.

Strawberry Macaron Pops

90 grams egg whites (about 3 large egg whites)
1/3 cup (or so) freeze-dried strawberries
20 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds (blanched, slivered or sliced)

1- At least 2 days in advance you need to prep the egg whites. Put them in a clean bowl at room temperature, uncovered or loosely covered with a towel at least 24 hours. Refrigerate after that if desired. You can use eggs that have been "aging" for up to 5 days.

2- Place the dried strawberries in a zip-loc bag. Use a rolling pin to crush the berries into a powder.

3- Place the powdered sugar, almonds, and strawberry powder into a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Sift a couple of times to remove the bits and pieces, regrinding as needed. You should have a smooth powder, with no nut chunks.

4- In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam (like bubble bath foam). Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating until you have a glossy meringue (like shaving cream). Do not overbeat the meringue, or it will be too dry.

5- Add the nuts and powdered sugar to the meringue. Give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to breakt he mass and then slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the top flattens on its own, it's good. If there is a small peak, give the batter a couple of turns.

6- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809 - Note: I couldn't find those at the store, so I used my pastry bag without a tip. Those tips measure 9/16th and 11/16th of an inch, and that was the closest I could get.) with the batter and pip in small rounds about 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter onto parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit uncovered for 30 minutes to an hour to harden the outer shell a bit.

7- While the macarons are hardening, preheat the oven to 300 deg. F (280 deg. F, if using a convection oven). When ready, bake for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool on the pan then remove to a cooling rack.

Dainty Pink Filling

4 oz. cream cheese at room temperature, cut into pieces
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
Scant 1/8 tsp pure almond extract
1 cups sifted powdered sugar
Red food coloring
Lollipop sticks
Pink ribbon (optional)
Edible ink pen (optional)

1- Make sure the cream cheese and butter are not too soft, or the filling will be too soft. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and almond extract on low speed. Slowly add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add one drop of red food coloring and blend it in. To finish, increase the mixer speed to medium-high for 30 seconds.

2- Scoop the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip (Ateco #12). Pipe the filling onto the flat side of one macaron. Place a lollipop stick onto the filling and give it a 1/2 turn, to the end is covered by the filling. Place another macaron, flat side down over the filling and gently push together. Lay flat on a baking sheet.

3- Chill the macaron pops several hours or overnight. If desired, you can draw on designs with the edible ink pen and tie on ribbons.

4- For presentation, push the bottoms of the sticks into a block of styrofoam and place the styrofoam in a basket or a tin.

Note: The filling softens up at room temperature, so if the room is warm, encourage guests to eat them right away. When the filling is very soft, the pops plop down to the bottom of their sticks.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fun With Yogurt

I've been playing with yogurt a lot lately. You can bip over to Simple Bites to check out my article on how to make yogurt. I'll wait here for you.

Back already? I hope you enjoyed that. Now that you know how to make yogurt, here's how to make yogurt cheese. It's beyond simple. All you do is drain the yogurt. Really, that's it.

I put an unbleached coffee filter in a canning jar funnel. Mine has a removable mesh insert that keeps the filter from falling through, but even without that, I don't think the filter would fall through. If you don't have a funnel, you can use a strainer or whatever you have in your kitchen that will allow it to drain, while supporting the sides.

Spoon as much yogurt as you'd like to drain (I like to put in as much as it will hold) and set the funnel over a canning jar to catch the drips of whey. Cover the top with plastic wrap and set the whole thing in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

At the end of that time, you should have something with the consistency of cream cheese that peels away easily from the filter. Store it covered in the refrigerator. Also, you don't have to pitch the whey. Keep it in the refrigerator and use it in place of water in baking.

You can use the yogurt cheese in place of cream cheese in many recipes. Be aware that it won't behave the same as cream cheese in baked goods because of its lower fat content. Also, it has the same tang as yogurt, so consider the flavors you'll pair it with. I like it particularly in dips that are savory.

Recently we grilled some salmon that was amazing and when we had some leftover (what is it with weird kids not eating salmon?), I put some into this lovely dip. Add a few crackers and a glass of wine and you've got the makings of a beautiful evening.

Salmon and Yogurt Cheese Dip
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

8 oz yogurt cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp minced fresh dill OR 1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp prepared horseradish, drained
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 oz smoked salmon, minced

1- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the yogurt cheese until it's just smooth. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, horseradish, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Add the smoked salmon and mix well.

2- Cover and chill. Serve with crackers or rounds of crusty bread.

Cute As A Cherry

Cherries are the hands-down winners in the cutest fruit contest. Strawberries are nice, kiwis have a special appeal, and oranges are colorful, but I'm drawn like a magnet to anything with cherries printed on it. Aprons, kitchen towels, dresses, handbags - anything with cherries on it is just about irresistible. Something about the bright red color, the cheerful off-round shape, and the jaunty stem just makes them darling.

Another cute thing that's hard to resist is tiny food. Petit fours, itty bitty cookies, tiny tarts, brownie bites, and miniature cupcakes.

Now if you combine cherries with mini cupcakes what do you get? Serious cuteness. And deliciousness. When I saw this recipe in Martha Stewart's Cupcake cookbook, I had to make them for the cuteness factor alone. Bonus that they are moist, almondy, and have the surprise of a whole cherry in the middle.

These are perfect for a tea party, a picnic, or just a mid-afternoon indulgence. Small, sweet, and oh so cute - how can you resist? Just be sure to warn guests that there's a pit in the middle so they don't break a tooth. Of course, you could pit the cherries, but I think it's more fun to leave them in. There's a certain amount of cute in having to spit the pit from a cupcake, too.

Tiny Cherry and Almond Tea Cakes
- adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

makes about 24-30 mini cupcakes

1-1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 oz almond meal OR 1 cup unblanched almonds
1 cup sugar
1 tsp coarse salt
5 large egg whites
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp kirsch (cherry brandy)
30 sweet (Bing) cherries, stems intact

1- Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Brush mini muffin tins with butter and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from the heat and skim off the foam from the top. Set aside.

3- Place the almond meal in a large bowl. (If using whole almonds, process them in a food processor till finely ground, then transfer them to the bowl.) Whisk in the flour, sugar, and salt to combine. Add egg whites and whisk until smooth. Stir in the kirsch. Pour in the browned butter, leaving any burned sediment behind, and whisk to combine. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.

4- Fill each prepared cup with 1 Tbsp batter. Push a cherry into the batter of each cup, stem standing up. Dip the back of a small spoon into the remaining batter and smooth the batter over the top of each cherry to cover it.

5- Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted near the cherries comes out clean. Cool the tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edges to loosen and turn out the cakes onto the rack to cool completely.

Cakes can be stored overnight at room temperature in airtight containers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No Korni Jokes

The Bread Baking Babes are back and this month I've really let them down. Our bread for the month was a Korni loaf and I'm sure big things were expected from me in the way of Korni jokes, but I just couldn't get there. I was too busy making a simple loaf waaaaay harder than it needed to be.

When Lien, our host kitchen of the month, announced her choice was the Korni bread from The Village Baker, I promptly got the book from the library. I could have just printed out the recipe, but I wanted the book in case there was extra information I needed. Mistake. I was unaware that there are THREE Korni bread recipes in the book.

I opened the book to the (I thought) correct recipe and groaned. A starter. Pooh. That has to percolate for days. Double Pooh. Oh well, better to get started, so I mixed whole wheat flour, a bit of milk, some cumin, and some water to make a firm dough and let it sit in a bowl, covered, for 2 days. I fed it some more flour and water, covered it up and let it sit again. It wasn't until the third day that it dawned on me (yes, I really am that slow), that I was making a sourdough starter for the sourdough version of the Korni. Arggghhhh!

I can't tell you how the assigned recipe turned out. To find that out, you'll have to check the other Babe's sites (listed in the sidebar). I can tell you that the sourdough version is nice. Very moist, subtle flavor, speckled with crunchy bits. I'm not going to give you the recipe as it's too long, involved, and frustratingly vague. Check out the book if you want the sourdough version or make it the assigned way.

If you make and post the bread by the 29th, send the URL to Lien and she'll send you a handsome Bread Baking Buddy badge to proudly display on your site.

(The changes that I made were: I used soy nuts in place of the whole soy soak, roast process and I only used 1 tsp ground caraway seeds. Oh, and I made the sourdough version, but added 1 tsp instant yeast because I really didn't trust that sourdough to do much heavy lifting.)

(makes 1 round 3 1/2 pound loaf)
- adapted from Joe Ortiz' The Village Baker

Korni means corn or grain. It is made from a combination of grains that go well together for flavor, crunchiness, and good nutrition.

Soy bean mixture
1/2 cup organic (dried) soy beans (85 g)
1 cup boiling water (235 g)

1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons; 1/4 oz) active dry yeast (1 1/2 tsp)
2 1/2 cups warm water (2 1/4 cup = 533 g)
1 cup organic rye flour (100 g)
1 cup organic whole wheat flour (130 g)
1 1/2 cups organic unbleached white (or all-purpose) flour (180 g)

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (60 g)
All of the starter from the previous step
3 cups organic, unbleached white (or all-purpose) flour (420 g)
1 tablespoon sea salt (2 tsp)
1 tablespoon ground caraway seeds* (1 tsp)
1/4 cup organic fax seeds (37 g)
1/2 cup organic millet (100 g)
All of the soy mixture

Glaze: 1 whole egg whisked with 1 tablespoon milk

Prepare the soy beans:
Place them in a small bowl, cover them with the boiling water, and let them soak for 10 minutes. Drain the beans and let them cool. Process the beans in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until they roughly chopped.

Place the beans on a cookie sheet and roast them in a preheated 350°F oven between 15 and 20 minutes, until they are completely dried out. Set them aside.

*(to make your own, grind a few tablespoons of whole caraway seed in a mortar with a pestle until you have a fine powder. If your powder still contains large chunks of seed, sift the mixture and use 1 tablespoon of the sifted powder)

Prepare the sponge/poolish:
First proof the yeast, in a large bowl, in 1 cup of the warm water. When it is creamy, mix in 1 1/4 cups warm water and slowly add the rye flour, whole wheat flour, and 1½ cups of white flour by handfuls while stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon.
Set the batter aside, in a large bowl, covered with a dish towel, for between 8 and 10 hours or overnight.

Make the dough:
Proof the yeast in the warm water, add it to the risen sponge, and mix the two together. Start adding the flour, handful by handful, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. After all but 1 cup of the flour has been added (this will take about 10 minutes), turn the dough out onto your worktable, sprinkle the salt and the ground caraway over the dough, and incorporate them by kneading the dough for about 5 minutes while adding the last of the flour. The dough should be very moist.

Add the fax seeds, millet, and roasted soy beans and knead the dough to incorporate them.
Set the dough aside, covered, to rise for 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.

Flatten out the dough again and then shape it into a round loaf. This loaf is best proofed in a canvas-lined basket (I used a large bowl sprayed with baking spray) and then baked on a baking stone in the oven. It can also be placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let the loaf rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Glaze the loaf with the egg and milk mixture and bake it in a preheated 425°F oven for between 30 and 35 minutes.

Let the loaf cool on a wire rack.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gluten-Free Glory

One of my favorite people to feed, my chiropractor, recently was put on a gluten-free diet by his doctor. He enjoyed how he felt, but he missed the baked goods. And because I missed how happy he got when I brought him treats, I began dabbling in gluten-free baking.

One of the premier gluten-free bakeries in the country, The Flying Apron, happens to be in my neck of the woods and they also happen to have just released a cookbook. Of course, when I saw it at Costco I snagged a copy. It features a cornucopia of beautiful baked goods, all of them vegan as well as gluten-free.

My first trial bake from the book hit a home run. The Pumpkin Glory Loaf is a cross between a sweet quick bread and a cake. Dense, moist, very crumbly, and utterly delicious. The grateful recipient of this loaf bit into it and moaned. Ah, sweet success!

Pumpkin Glory Loaf
- adapted from Flying Apron's Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking Book

makes two 8-1/2 by 4-1/2-inch loaves

1 cup buckwheat flour
2 cups brown rice flour
1-3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 cup safflower oil
1 cup molasses
1 cup maple syrup
15 oz can pumpkin puree (about 1-3/4 cups cooked squash, sweet potato, or pumpkin)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

1- Heat oven to 350 deg. F. Line the bottom of two 8-1/2 by 4-1/2-inch loaf pans with parchment paper. Lightly spray the pan with baking oil and dust with brown rice flour.

2- If your raisins are not fresh, plump, and moist, put them in a bowl, cover them with hot water, and soak them till you are ready to use them.

3- Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet. Toast them for 10 minutes, until they they smell toasted and are lightly browned. Remove the nuts and set aside to cool. Turn the oven temp to 375 deg. F.

4- While the nuts are toasting, combine the dry ingredients (buckwheat flour through cloves) in a large bowl.

5- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, molasses, maple syrup, pumpkin, and vanilla until well mixed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredient mixture until well mixed, about 3 minutes.

6- If you soaked your raisins, drain them well and pat them dry with a paper towel. Fold the raisins and walnuts into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

7- Bake until the loaf springs back when you press the center with your finger, about 50 minutes. Cool for about an hour before slicing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Clean Up Time

I love order, it just doesn't happen in my house. I really try. I organize my pantry, grouping all the canned tomato products together, the canned beans together, and the canned fruits together. Then I go to the grocery store and my unloading helpers put things on the shelves wherever they fit. I appreciate their help, but this totally destroys my organization.

Then the next time I need a particular canned good, I have to hunt through the entire pantry to find that one item that I know, I KNOW, I have because I bought it last week.

But the upside to that is that in the searching and hunting, I often unearth things I'd forgotten were on the shelves. Like a can of cherry pie filling. I don't normally use cherry pie filling from a can, but I had just run across a recipe in a cookbook that calls for just that. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to clear the shelf and give my husband something to take in to a work meeting.

The result? An easy recipe and a pan that came back 100% clean. So, think about it, do you have a can of cherry pie filling lurking in your pantry? Here's your chance to use it up without having to make a pie crust!

Chocolate Splattered Cherry Bars
- adapted from The Taste of Home Baking Book

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1-1/4 cups butter, softened
1 can (21 oz) cherry pie filling
1 tsp almond extract
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven.

2- In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugars, and butter until crumbly. Set aside 1-1/2 cups of the mixture in a small bowl. Press the remaining mixture into an ungreased 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.

3- In a bowl combine the pie filling and the almond extract. Spread the filling carefully over the crust. Sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture.

4- Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until edges and topping are lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack.

5- In a small bowl, microwave the chocolate on high power for 45 seconds. Stir until the chocolate is smooth. Using a spoon, drizzle and splatter* the chocolate over the warm bars. Cool the bars completely before slicing.

*Homeschool moment: I used my famous Jackson Pollock technique on these. My son watched me doing it and gasped, "Just like on Sister Wendy!" (We've been watching The Story of Painting together and had just watched Jackson Pollock painting.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

LPS Tea Cake

Recently I posted Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread and I wrote about my craving for all things Lemon and Poppyseed. Delightful reader Grace of A Southern Grace asked what was next - pudding? That got me started. I made LPS (I'm getting tired of typing that out) pudding. I tried a technique of steeping crushed poppyseeds in the milk to intensify the flavor. It made fabulous tasting pudding, but it was ugly as sin. Since I'm averse to putting ugly things on the blog, you won't be seeing it here.

But what you are seeing is a delicious cake. It's actually a reworking of a favorite lemon cake, adding in poppyseed for a bit of taste and texture. I'm not sure that it won't replace the original as my go-to lemon loaf cake. I made it in a daintier size, perfect for having a slice with tea. But I won't complain if you prefer to have it with coffee.

Lemon Poppyseed Tea Cake
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 tsp grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp poppy seeds

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Grease two mini loaf pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pans.

2- In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3- In a large bowl whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and poppy seeds. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated.

4- Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake for 45-50 min, or until a cake tester in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

5- While the loaves are baking, place the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook and stir till the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set it aside.

6- When the loaves are done, allow them to cool in their pans for 10 minutes.

7- With the cake tester, poke holes over the tops of the loaves, about 1/2-inch apart. Spoon the syrup over loaves, gently pushing the edges away from the pan so the syrup slides down inside the pan. Allow the syrup to soak in. Don't be concerned if you have some syrup left over, just set it aside.

8- Remove the loaves from their pans, peel off the parchment paper, and allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack.

9- When the loaves are cool, combine the glaze ingredients with the leftover glaze. Stir till smooth and spoon the glaze over the loaves.