Friday, December 31, 2010

More Adventures in Baking: Applesauce Spice Cake

I'm not much of a baker. I don't have the world's biggest sweet tooth, but I think it has more to do with the precision required for baking and the inability to adjust seasonings during the baking process. You don't know if you won't like the recipe until it's done and out of the oven!

Thankfully there are a bunch of web sites and blogs out there for people to comment on what's good and bad about certain recipes, often offering ideas on how to tweak to your taste. That was the case for this applesauce cake.

I started looking for apple cake recipes back when our CSA was giving us 20 apples a week, and we were struggling to keep up. However, I was surprised to find that most apple cake recipes didn't have many or sometimes any cut apples in them! I'm guessing that cooks prefer the consistent consistency of applesauce rather than wrestling with the water and sugar contents of different varieties of apples. Anyway, now that I don't have piles of apples to consume or give away, I was tempted to try one of the recipes I came across during my apple cake recipe hunt.

Based on the comments from other cooks, I decided to do away with the icing since it sounded unnecessary and a bit of a pain. I had to do a good bit of googling before figuring out some substitutions. First, I forgot to take the butter out to soften an hour before I started, but I picked up a great tip from Simply Recipes to put the butter between two sheets of wax paper and roll/beat it soft with a rolling pin. It was warm and soft in no time! The original recipe called for turbinado sugar and rum., but I didn't have either of them. Thankfully the internet quickly found light brown sugar and rum flavoring to be appropriate substitutes.

The cake isn't very sweet, but I love the spice flavors in it. I'm going to attribute that to my efforts with the nutmeg! I went out and bought whole nutmeg for the first time rather than substituting ground nutmeg from the jar. It was kind of fun to grate the nutmeg seed, but it'll probably take me a lifetime to go through the whole jar of nutmeg seeds I bought. I better start looking for more recipes that call for nutmeg!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Applesauce Spice Cake
adapted from Fernando's Hideway in Grenadines via Gourmet Magazine via epicurious

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup light brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon rum flavor
1 large egg
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
Confectioners sugar

Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter pan and set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together sugar, butter, and rum flavoring with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until combined well, then add egg and beat until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 to 6 minutes with a handheld.

Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, mixing until combined well. Add applesauce and mix until combined well. Spread batter evenly in 10-inch springform pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Cool cake in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove side of pan and cool completely. Sift confectioners sugar over cake before serving.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 60 minutes

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Roasted Kohlrabi and Butternut Squash

Happy holidays! I had a blast cooking with my sister for Christmas. We made lots of delicious food, and when I asked for the recipes, she said, "You're not going to blog about them, are you?" Well, if she doesn't want me to start using her recipes for this blog, she better start her own blog soon!

Anyway, yesterday I made this recipe because I was trying to figure out what to do with this one poor kohlrabi stem I had left over from our fall CSA. Yes, the kohlrabi sat in my refrigerator for two months, but it looked exactly the same as the day we got it. I adapted the following recipe for my one lone kohlrabi, but the proportion of kohlrabi to butternut squash is probably pretty flexible. Anyway, it was a nice change from the usual roasted butternut squash. Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family according to wikipedia, but the stem part tasted like a sweet turnip!

Roasted Kohlrabi and Butternut Squash
adapted from Gourmet via epicurious

1 medium kohlrabi stem without leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 lb butternut squash

Put oven rack just below middle position, then preheat oven to 450°F.

Trim and peel kohlrabi, then cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Toss kohlrabi with 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a Pyrex lasagna pan. Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel butternut squash, then quarter lengthwise, seed, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Toss squash with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in same bowl.

Turn kohlrabi over and push to one side of pan. Add squash to other side of pan, stirring and turning squash over halfway through roasting, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes total (after squash is added).

Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Monday, December 6, 2010

All-Clad Skillet: Love at First Sight?

My first All-Clad pan! It's a historic day!

For a long time, I wondered what the big fuss was all about expensive stainless steel pans. I even resisted registering for them when I got married, but after years and years of watching America's Test Kitchen, I started wanting one. That's right, Chris Kimball made me covet a pan. Now I have one thanks to an early birthday present from my mom! Thanks, Mom!

According to the Cook's Illustrated review of my All-Clad 12-inch Stainless Steel Fry Pan:
Testers praised this pan for having “everything you need in a skillet and nothing you don’t,” with enough cooking surface for sautéing eight chicken pieces without crowding; steady, controlled heat for excellent browning; and a good shape with low sides. The weight balance was outstanding; it was easy to manipulate and lift. In the durability test, it sustained the least damage, with barely visible dents.
I didn't have anything big planned for my pan's debut. Thanks to the Patriots playing Monday Night Football today there was an insane amount of traffic on the way home, so I picked up some takeout. However, I had to open up the cardboard box waiting for me. I have to say that I was dazzled when I first opened the box. Some people might use words like "dazzling" and "stunning" to describe clothes; I use them to describe new pans. Look at how the light reflects off of it!

Anyway, I stirfried some sugar snap peas in garlic and oil for my pan's first run, but I can't wait to test it out for real. I'm already impressed with how much lighter they are than my anondized aluminum pans. Maybe I'll re-run some of the tests the Cook's Illustrated crew did including sauteing onions, searing steaks, and browning chicken. Hopefully my pan will continue to dazzle me with its even heat distribution!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Porcini Sauce

The best part of making this recipe was that I finally used my meat pounder, the 2-pound MIU 3600. I think I'll keep dried porcini mushrooms as a permanent part of my pantry so I can make this recipe more often. It was pretty fast and perfect for a weeknight dinner. What's better after a long day at work than pounding out some frustrations on a chicken breast?

Of note, I didn't have the shallot this time, but I think it would have made the sauce even better.

Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Porcini Sauce
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated March 2009

Serves 4

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
4 boneless,skinless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each)
1 small shallot, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tbsps cold unsalted butter
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Freeze chicken breasts for 15 minutes to make cutting into cutlets easier. Trim breasts of excess fat and halve horizontally with chef's knife. Place each cutlet into bag from cereal box or between two pieces of parchment paper. Pound with your favorite meat pounder into 1/4-inch thick pieces.

Rinse porcini in large bowl of cold water, agitating them with hands to release dirt and sand. Allow dirt and sand to settle to bottom of bowl, then lift porcini from water and transfer to microwave-safe 2-cup measuring cup. Add chicken broth, submerging porcini beneath surface of liquid. Microwave on high power 1 minute, until broth is steaming. Let stand 10 minutes. Using tongs, gently lift porcini out of broth and transfer to cutting board, reserving broth. Chop porcini into ¾-inch pieces and transfer to medium bowl. Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer lined with large coffee filter into bowl with chopped porcini.

Combine ¼ cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in pie plate. Working one piece at a time, dredge chicken in flour, shaking gently to remove excess. Set aside on plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Place 4 cutlets in skillet and cook without moving until browned, about 2 minutes. Flip cutlets and continue to cook until second sides are opaque, 15 to 20 seconds. Transfer to large plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and repeat to cook remaining cutlets. Tent plate loosely with foil.

Add remaining teaspoon oil to now-empty skillet and return pan to medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 30 seconds. Add remaining teaspoon flour and cook, whisking constantly, 30 seconds. Increase heat to medium-high and whisk in wine, soaked porcini and their liquid, tomato paste, soy sauce, and sugar. Simmer until reduced to 1 cup, 3 to 5 minutes.

Transfer cutlets and any accumulated juices to skillet. Cover and simmer until cutlets are heated through, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and transfer cutlets to serving platter. Whisk butter, thyme, and lemon juice into sauce and season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Edition: Butternut Squash Soup with Red Pepper Puree

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it's just about family, friends, and food without the pressure of gift giving! I am happy to make side dishes for Thanksgiving. The pressure of making a good turkey is just too much for me.

I've made this butternut squash soup before, but for Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to actually follow all the directions. I wasn't a fan of the orange flavor, so I left the orange peel out in my final version of the recipe. The red pepper puree was a great addition, though. From reading the comments on, I also decided to roast the squash a bit to add a little extra flavor.

Next post: Mushroom and Leek Stuffing (as seen in picture)

Butternut Squash Soup with Red Pepper Puree

adapted from Gourmet Magazine via epicurious

For soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-1/4 cups chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 2 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

For puree:
1 cup coarsely chopped drained roasted red peppers from jar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Roast squash in toaster oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and thyme; stir 1 minute. Add squash and 5 1/2 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until squash is soft, about 40 minutes.

In the meantime, place ingredients for puree in food processor and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

When squash is done, cool slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in food processor or blender until smooth. Return soup to pot. Thin soup with more broth if desired. Simmer 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and chill. Rewarm before serving, thinning with more broth if desired.)

Ladle soup into bowls. Swirl 1 tablespoon Roasted Red Pepper Puree into soup in each bowl.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dave's Marinated Salmon

I've made this recipe six or seven times in my toaster oven, and it makes for a great weekday meal. Tonight, I served it over a bed of watercress stir-fried with garlic and oil. It's my go-to salmon recipe, and I didn't even make any changes to it! Thank you to whoever Dave is!

Dave's Marinated Salmon

adapted from Gourmet Magazine via epicurious
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 (1/2-lb) pieces center-cut salmon fillet with skin (1 inch thick)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Whisk together soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oil, lemon juice, garlic, scallion, ginger, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Add salmon, turning to coat, and marinate, covered, at cool room temperature 30 minutes.

Remove salmon from marinade, letting excess drip off, and discard marinade. Bake salmon, skin sides down, on baking sheet until just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Lift salmon from skin with a metal spatula and transfer to a plate (discard skin).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pasta with Lemon Cream and Prosciutto

My husband will pretty much tell me anything I make for dinner is good. He always has a healthy appetite, so he eats second helpings almost every night. However, I know dinner's really good when he tells me how good it is multiple times. Tonight's meal was one of those times. The mixture of the lemon with cream took the dish to another level.

I made a few substitutions noted below for what I had in my fridge and pantry. I used green beans instead of peas because we had received so many green beans from our summer CSA that I blanched and froze them several bags. Now we're enjoying summer produce deep into autumn!

Pasta with Lemon Cream and Prosciutto
Adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 medium onion, minced
1-1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups frozen green beans, thawed
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
16 ounces penne pasta
4 thin slices prosciutto

Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add broth. Simmer over medium-high heat until mixture is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 2 minutes. Add cream, lemon peel, and cayenne. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Add beans; simmer just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and lemon juice. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; return pasta to pot. Toss pasta with sauce to coat.
Divide pasta among plates or bowls. Cut prosciutto into strips and mix into pasta and serve. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Local produce

Some of this celery was bought at a grocery store; one bunch is from a local farm as part of our CSA box. Can you guess which is which?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Adventures in baking: "Simplest" apple tart

I'm not a baker. I'm not that great at following recipe instructions, and I'm not sure why. I'm more of a savory cook, preferring not to measure and just play and taste; that's what I do most nights with a recipe as a guide for general ingredients and cook times.

So, why am I baking today? My fruit CSA has been giving us apples, apples, and more apples every week. My husband and I have been trying to keep up, but we've been failing miserably. I took out my faithful How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and looked up "apples" in the index and found "Simplest Apple Tart". That sounded promising, but somehow I forgot how much I suck at baking.

The transferring of the crust into the pan was a complete disaster. I tried to fold it onto the rolling pin, but it started breaking apart. My cries for help went unheeded as my husband was sitting 10 feet away with his headphones on playing Starcraft 2.

Here's a picture of what the rolled out crust looked like after I tried to transfer it to the pan:

Luckily, it still looked like this in the end:

Maybe baking is more forgiving than I thought.

I've highlighted in red all the steps I skipped/forgot, but luckily, it still came out okay.

Rich Tart Crust
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
2 egg yolks, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons ice water, plus 1 tablespoon if needed

1. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the container of a food processor; pulse once or twice. Add the butter and turn on the machine; process until the butter and flour and blended and the mixture looks like cornmeal,a bout 10 seconds. Add the egg yolks and process another few seconds.

2. Place the mixture in a bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water over it. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to gradually gather the mixture into a ball; if the mixture is dry, add another tablespoon of ice water. When you can make the mixture into a ball with your hands, do so. Wrap in plastic, flatten into a small disk, and freeze the dough for 10 minutes (or refrigerate for 30 minutes); this will ease rolling. You can also refrigerate the dough for a day or two, or freeze it almost indefinitely.

3. You can roll the dcough between two sheets of plastic wrap, usually quite successfully; sprinkle both sides of it with a little more flour, then proceed. Or sprinkle a countertop or large board with flour. Unwrap the dough and place it on the work surface; sprinkle its top with flour. If the dough is hard, let it rest for a few minutes; it should give a little when you press your fingers into it.

4. Roll with light pressure, from the center out. If the dough seems very sticky at first, add a little flour, but if it becomes sticky while you're rolling, return it to the refrigerator for 10 minutes before proceeding. Continue to roll, adding flour as necessary, rotating the dough occasionally, and turning it over once of twice. When the diameter of the dough is about 2 inches greater than that of your tart pan, move the dough into the pan by draping it over the rolling pin or by folding it into quarters, then unfolding it unto the pan. Sounds easy, doesn't it? When the dough is in the pan, press it firmly into the bottom, sides, and junction of bottom and sides.

5. Before filling, freeze the dough for 20 minutes (or refrigerate it for 1 hour).

Simplest Apple Tart
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

1 recipe Rich Tart Crust, well chilled
2 to 3 pounds tart apples, such as McIntosh
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup strained raspberry preserves
1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat over to 4325 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Line it with tin foil and weight the bottom with a pile of dried beans or rice. Bake 15 minutes or until shell is no longer raw but still pale. Remove from oven, and reduce the heat to 375 degrees F, and carefully remove the weight and foil. Set the shell aside to cool.

2. Peel and core the apples, and then cut them in 1/8 inch slices. Toss them with lemon juice so they don't brown. Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles in the the tart shell, with the circles overlapping. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, then dot with butter. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake until apples are quite soft (a knife will pierce them easily) but still hold their shape, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rick for about 20 minutes before glazing.

3. To glaze: While the tart is cooling, warm strained preserves with 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, until thinned. Brush the top of the tar with this mixture. Serve at room temperature.