September 30, 2008

TWD- Creme Brulee

After my first year of college I studied abroad in Paris. I first heard about the trip in the fall and couldn't wait. By the spring, I'd fallen madly in love with a tall English major. When summer came I didn't know how I would leave him but I knew I HAD to go to Paris, I mean, when would the chance come again? I couldn't bale for a boyfriend. So I went. I emailed my tall man every day and missed him like crazy when I went to La Tour Eiffel. I ate baguette, strawberry tarts, and creme brulee at side walk cafes. I even studied a little. :) It was the best summer of my life. And then I came home, and when fall came, I married my tall man. Now it's our fifth anniversary in a few weeks and tomorrow we are going to Paris together (seriously! It feels like a dream!). It's incredibly romantic, don't you think? Really, we're just going to Paris for two days and then we're going to Greece with my family to pick up my brother. It'll be the trip of a lifetime and with an amazing romantic date. Now that's a long story for a cooking blog, but when I had my first bite of this creme brulee, all of that flooded to my mind.

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, chosen by Mevrouw Cupcake (you can find the recipe there), is a straight forward and delicious dessert. I don't have a kitchen torch so I used the broiler method. Naturally, I forgot to add the sugar on top for the first minute or two (the whole I kept wondering about the color!) I added it and gave it just a bit more time, since I was worried the custard would get too hot with my little mistake. Although there wasn't a thick crunchy topping, this dessert was yummy and a great excuse to reminisce about Paris. I'll be back soon with photos, but until then, I have lots of post scheduled (including my romantic entry, with a photo of my sweet husband, to the new Pies with That event...) And seriously, go make a french dessert. You won't regret it (even if you forget to put the sugar on top!)

September 25, 2008

Perfect Party Cake

Post-it notes decorate my Baking book, flagging things I'm dying to make and gorgeous photos. One in particular has been calling my name since I first saw it. The perfect party cake. I finally made it last week for my birthday party. I know you don't normally make your own cake, but honestly, I don't really like cake. I never have. I just like to make them. And my friends like to eat cake. So that was a perfect arrangement. Besides, I'd never justify making this enormous, rich, and lovely cake on a regular night.

With my good excuse in hand, I plopped open the book and had a great morning making it. My cake pans are a little smaller so I made two 8 inch cakes and one 4 inch, that I've tucked away in the freezer for another day. Then I worked on the icing. I've actually never made a buttercream frosting before and loved how it turned out. I was alarmed by all of the butter in the icing but it was so smooth and delicious. I might not love cake, but I do love icing. This was wonderful. I didn't have quite enough to frost the cake so I only made three layers instead of four, since I didn't have time to make another batch and didn't want to run out!

I also layered in frozen black raspberries that I found at Trader Joe's. They were such a beautiful, dark color (but I hate how they kind of smeared the inside of the cake- they were too juicy!). Next time, I'll make a sauce out of the fruit instead of using whole raspberries to avoid that problem. They were so delicious, though, that it was totally worth it. All together, this cake was fun to make, moist and light- just delicious. I loved the delicate flavor with just a hint of lemon and I'm sure I'll make several variations of this great recipe.

Lastly, meet my lovely new apron from icing-loving Auburn. With a pretty like that, I'm more than happy to whip up some icing for her (cake optional)!

Perfect Party Cake
From Baking by Dorie Greenspan

For the Cake
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Whisk together the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.

The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.

Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.

On medium speed, gradually beat in more lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.

Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.

Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top. (I omitted this and topped the cake with more raspberries)

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

September 24, 2008

Fresh Peach Sorbet

Peaches are still abounding at my house and since they are my husband's very favorite fruit, they've been the star of the show around here lately. This peach sorbet came together quickly the other night and was a perfectly refreshing dessert- marrying the flavors of fall and the coolness of ice cream- just right for an Arizona autumn (of what, 100 degrees?)

I served it up with some snickerdoodles and the cinnamon went along just right. I'll post that recipe soon- they are my brother's favorite cookies and he'll be home in just a couple of weeks. I'm sure he'll want some after all this time. He's been serving a mission in Greece for our Church for the last two years and we'll be picking him up next week. I'm scrambling to get everything ready and hope to have my Dorie and Barefoot posts scheduled. But while we're hustling getting ready for our trip, I especially appreciate a quick and refreshing dessert... and using the ice cream maker one last time before the season is truly over. Enjoy!

Fresh Peach Sorbet
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

6-8 Fresh, Ripe Peaches (about 2 pounds)
2/3 Cup Sugar
2/3 Cup Water
4 Teaspoons Fresh Lemon Juice
Pinch of Salt

Slice, peel, and pit the peaches. Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Taste, then add more lemon juice of sugar if desired. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Serve immediately or allow to harden in the freezer for a few hours. Before scooping, allow to soften a couple of minutes.

September 23, 2008

TWD- Dimply Peach Cake

Fall is not quite here but I am absolutely in love with these fall desserts. I just bought a 20 pound box of Utah peaches that have been gracing every meal around here- diced into cereal or cottage cheese, grabbed for a quick snack, sliced for lunch, and baked into something for dessert. I've even got some peach sorbet coming tomorrow. So when I saw this recipe, and smelled my fragrant, enormous box of peaches, I knew I'd have Dimply Peach Cake for Saturday's breakfast. Although I was assured that oatmeal would be sufficient and no cake was necessary, the platter was empty less than a half an hour after the cake came out of the oven.

I've included my recipe below since I made several modifications that I'd like to remember. First, I subbed whole wheat flour for 1/3 of the all-purpose flour (1/2 cup). I also included cinnamon and lemon zest to compliment the peaches, which I halved and then sliced each half into thirds. I also dished it up with a little pastry cream. Let's be honest here... what doesn't taste good with a little pastry cream?

After the first bite, I immediately thought of a reversed peach cobbler. Lots of cobbler with some sweet, soft fruit on top. The cake is moist and flavorful, soft and delicious. It easily held it's own flipping out of the pan and back onto a platter- no breaks here.

Do be careful to bake it fully or the fruit might collapse into the middle (my cake took about 2 minutes more than Dorie said, but I would check about 5 minutes before the buzzer goes off and pierce the center with a thin knife to be sure). Thanks Michelle for the great TWD choice. Next week- Creme Brulee!

Dimply Peach Cake
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
Grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 ripe peaches, pitted, halved, and sliced into thirds (6 slices per peach)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet. (I actually buttered my pan this time but a nice even spray of Pam with Flour would work here)

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together.

Working with a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each addition. On medium speed, beat in the oil, lemon zest, and vanilla. The batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny (with the whole wheat flour and cinnamon it will have a nice light brown color). Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter, just to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the peaches in an evenly spaced pattern, lying each slice on it's side and slightly jiggling the pan just so the fruit settles comfortably into the batter.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes , or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the fruit and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes- during which time the peaches juices will seep back into the cake- then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.

Serve with whipped cream or a dollop of pastry cream for breakfast. For dessert, add a small scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

September 19, 2008

Strawberry Birthday

Last week was my birthday, so instead of going out, I decided to spend the afternoon making some delicious food. And you know what? Now that I think about it, I can't remember what I made for dinner. Even so, the dessert was wonderful. We're past the season really but I had a container of strawberries in the fridge that looked perfect. Normally by the time my birthday rolls around, it's peach season, so I was happy to have a strawberry dessert this year! I've made Dorie's Strawberry Tart before and loved it so I thought I would try Ina's and see how they compared. They are very similar, especially since I added a layer of pastry cream to Dorie's tart, which is already included in Ina's recipe.

The pastry came together quickly in the food processor but the instructions were a little different. Ina has you freeze all of the ingredients (even the dry) so everything is nice and cold. I might try this next time provided I'm not in too much of a hurry. Then I filled the shells with some pastry cream (I loved Ina's technique with the stand mixer and will do this again). Then I placed some strawberries in the tarts, brushed them with a little apricot glaze, and sprinkled toffee bits on top.

I decorated two of the tarts with raspberries and they looked so pretty (though I'm still devoted to strawberries). In the end, I think I prefer Ina's pastry cream but with stick with Dorie's tart crust. We all thought Ina's was a little hard, but not quite cookie-like, as Dorie's is. They certainly turned out beautifully and were the perfect birthday treat.

Sweet Tart Dough
from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 T) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in- you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal fakes and others the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses- about 10 seconds each- until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change- heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate and dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

To press the dough into the pan: butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy handed- press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferable longer, before baking.

To partially or fully bake the crust: center a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Butter the shiny side of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, against the crust. (since you froze it, you can bake it without weights). Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, carefully press it down with the back of a spoon. For partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack. To fully bake the crust, bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

Pastry Cream:
from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris
5 extra-large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups scalded milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Cognac (I omitted this)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream (I omitted this, but I did use whole milk for the scalded milk)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.

With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't be alarmed when the custard comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, Cognac, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.

To assemble the tarts:

Immediately before serving, fill the tart shells with the pastry cream. Arrange the berries decoratively on top of the cream. Melt 1/3 Cup Apricot Jelly with 1 teaspoon of water and brush the top of the tarts. Sprinkle with pistachios (or toffee bits), if using, and serve.

September 18, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers- Apple Turnovers

This week's Barefoot Bloggers recipe has me reminiscing. I miss the Apples and Peaches that come with Fall. I miss my dear friends in Utah who would share a box of peaches with us, go with us to the dollar theater last minute (before we had babies, you know), and I miss the smell and colors of fall- before it's cold and while it's still so beautiful.

Well, Arizona has it's own wonderful time of year- Winter- and it's going to be here soon, I hope. I'll be eating oranges and lemons and everything will have a little bit of zest or juice in it. It will be a good as the Fall, if a little different. So until then, I chose Apple Turnovers to celebrate the coming of Fall. The apples came from Safeway, but baked up in a delicious puff pastry crust, they are just about as delicious as possible. Add some orange zest and juice, a few craisins (maybe cherries next time) and sharing these with new friends (while we have a babysitter for our little man) is almost as wonderful as Fall in Utah.

So fork over the money for some good puff pastry (or be like me, and stalk it in the grocery store, waiting for a sale, that will come and will likely result in buying at least three packages) and make these one night with your honey. It's fun, quick, and satisfying. Even if it's still 110 outside... but that's why we have air conditioning, right?

But unless it really is cold in your house, be sure to cool the pastry after you roll and cut it. When you form the turnovers, they will have a much better shape and texture to them if you take the extra ten minutes to do that. Believe me (since this recipe makes 8 and from the pictures you are only seeing 4, you can guess the other 4 were less than beautiful since I didn't take my own advice on those!)

Apple Turnovers
from Ina Garten

1 teaspoon grated orange zest (a little more)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/4 pounds tart apples, such as Empire or Granny Smith (3 apples)
3 tablespoons dried cherries (1/4 Cup)
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on top
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (just a pinch)
Pinch kosher salt
1 package (17.3 ounces, 2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the orange zest and orange juice in a bowl. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and then cut them in 3/4-inch dice (I will cut mine a little bigger next time, around 1 inch, so they stay a little firmer when baking). Immediately toss the apples with the zest and juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add the cherries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

Flour a board and lightly roll each sheet of puff pastry to a 12 by 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 4 smaller squares and keep chilled until ready to use.

Brush the edges of each square with the egg wash and neatly place about 1/3 cup of the apple mixture on half of the square. Fold the pastry diagonally over the apple mixture and seal by pressing the edges with a fork. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, make 2 small slits, and bake for 20 minutes, until browned and puffed (about 25 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

September 16, 2008

TWD- Chocolate Cherry Cookies

This weeks TWD was chosen by Claudia and what a choice it was. I glanced at the recipe and noticed that there was only 1/3 a cup of flour in the whole batch and there is an alarming amount of chocolate- bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, semisweet chocolate, white chocolate, and milk chocolate (did that remind anyone else of the quintuple chocolate brownies?).

Toss in a generous portion of nuts (I chose pecans) and some raisins (cherries in my case) and you don't even need flour! Well there was a bit, but as I was making these I knew they would be delicious with so much chocolate.

The dough came together quickly and I planned to bake them right away but had to leave a little early, so I stashed it in the fridge. I came home a couple hours later, got the bowl out, and came back to it a bit later to find a brick of chocolate. It was so hard that even after I let it sit in the Arizona sun all morning it was still hard as a rock.

So, I set up a little double boiler and took out my ice pick and worked at it until I could get the bits crammed into a baking dish and kind of smoothed out.

I'll admit at this point I had a stomach ache from testing the chunks I kept prying off.

I baked it for about 30 minutes at 350, let it cool for 15, and inverted it onto a cooling rack. I chopped them into "brownies", ate one, and promptly packaged up the others to send off to work with my husband and to my skinny cousins's houses.

These cookies were good. Next time I feel like burning through a few pounds of chocolate I will make them again... and be sure to scoop them right away! You can find the recipe at Madam Chow's Kitchen.

September 12, 2008

Simply Wonderful Apple Crisp

A few weeks ago I went to lunch at my cousin Kristi's house and she served the most wonderful apple crisp. She raved about how simple and easy it was to make and we raved about how delicious it was, too. Naturally I asked her for the recipe when I realized that I had bought about four times as many apples as I needed for the Barefoot Blogger's Apple Turnovers. This came together in a flash one afternoon earlier this week, thanks mostly to my handy apple peeler and corer. If you don't have one, peel the apples with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, cut into quarters, and chop into 1 inch pieces. I made a few "Anne" modifications- a little lemon, a little extra cinnamon, and not quite as much nutmeg. I also reduced the topping by half since I figured with a little less "crisp", this is nearly a healthy dessert. Well fine, my judgment in that area has been more than impaired by Tuesdays with Dorie. I do think, however, that this quick and inexpensive dessert is practically healthy, and totally delicious. Plus, calcium has been shown to help with weight loss, so don't forget to include some whipped cream or ice cream on top.

Kristi's Apple Crisp
Adapted from Kristi Ellingson

6 Cups Tart Apples, Sliced
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently. Pour into a medium baking dish (9 x 9 or 9 x 11 for example).

3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Rolled Oats
3/4 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup (1 Stick) Butter, cold and cut into small pieces

Combine all ingredients with a pastry cutter or two forks (even your fingers will do in a pinch) until the butter is incorporated in small pieces.

Pour topping over the apples and bake from 35-45 minutes at 350. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

September 11, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers- Grown Up Mac and Cheese

This week for Barefoot Bloggers, Heather chose Grown Up Mac and Cheese. I was really exciting since I love making homemade mac and cheese and I'm always looking for the perfect recipe. I did get a little nervous at the sight of the blue cheese and when I asked everyone else they said they'd prefer it without the blue. So, I subbed in a big of extra cheddar and some fresh Parmesan. The sauce came together quickly and tasted wonderful out of the pan. I did lessen the nutmeg since I just can't stand the taste (although I like the flavor complexity it adds to dishes, I just don't like to actually taste it!) For the bread crumbs, I used some Whole Wheat Sun Dried Tomato Basil Bread from Whole Grain Bread Co (which you should check out if you live in AZ, they have the best breads!)

In the end, I think I would have preferred a little more sauce and a little less noodle, but I loved the bacon and the basil in the pasta. The flavor was amazing and it's always fun to try a new pasta dish. Next time, I'll include a little grated onion with the roux and maybe try adding some fontina. And I'm sure, whatever recipe I use, I'll include some bacon and basil!

Grown Up Mac and Cheese

Recipe from Ina Garten
4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven - there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.

Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

September 9, 2008

TWD- Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops (Whopper Cookies!)

Cookies are the first thing I remember baking and are probably still my favorite. I'm hard pressed to find something I'd rather do on Sunday afternoon than bake with my family and take treats to our neighbors. So, I ended up doing just that this weekend. These Whopper cookies came together in no time and the one bowl mess (yay!) was all cleaned up before nap time was over. I packaged up the cookies, loaded my son into the car, and we had fun delivering them. I even managed to get them out of the house soon enough that I only ate one. Whew. TWD is killer on the skinny jeans sometimes!

I used plain malted milk powder instead of chocolate so I opted to include all of the bittersweet chocolate (I'd heard they were too chocolately and then that there was no such thing so I compromised!) I loved the texture of these cookies and everyone loved them. I'm still a die hard chocolate chip cookie fan, but these would be awesome with a glass of milk and a good book. Or a good cook book if you're at all like me. For the recipe, stop by Rachel's blog. You won't regret it!

I'd also like to thank the DeL Sisters for this blog award. You guys seriously make me wish I had a sister to cook with! Keep it up!

September 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Honey (with Pecan Honey Sticky Buns and More)

Last week was my husband's birthday so we celebrated in typical fashion- lots of family, food, and babies running around. For the party, I made one batch of Dorie's brioche into two pans of Pecan Honey Sticky Buns. I'm glad I made two plates because everyone ate one as an appetizer while we waited for the grill to heat up. Thankfully there was another batch to turn into the cake later on!

Then, for his work party, I made Dorie's Banana Cream Pie and a Florida (Key Lime) Pie. I was watching my niece (of Blueberry Pie fame) when I made those so I don't have process pictures, but let me assure you they were delicious. The Florida pie is refreshing and tangy. I love putting whipped cream on top for the perfect compliment to the citrus. As for the banana cream pie, Dorie based the recipe off of her original pastry cream with a few things added. Since I'm all for pastry cream, I loved this pie. It was creamy, flavorful, and a cinch to put together. I loved the sour cream in the topping, too. It was subtle and perfect.

I do have one complaint about all three of these recipes. They don't come with someone to wash the dishes. I have a feeling, though, that with the promise of one of these for dessert, nearly anyone would commit to washing a few dishes for you.

Banana Cream Pie
from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

For the Custard:
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar, pressed through a sieve
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (a little more)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (a little less)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

3 ripe but firm bananas

1 9-inch single crust made with Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough, fully baked and cooled (or my no fail pie crust)

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk-- this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are full incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. You can either press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly--as I always do--put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes. (If it's more convenient, you can refrigerate the custard, tightly covered, for up to 3 days).

When you are ready to assemble the pie, peel the bananas and cut them on a shallow diagonal into 1/4 inch slices.

Whisk the cold custard vigorously to loosen it, and spread about one quarter of it over the bottom of the pie crust- it will be a thin layer. Top with half of the banana slices. Repeat, adding a thin layer of pastry cream and the remaining bananas, then smooth the rest of the pastry cream over the last layer of bananas.

To make the topping:
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the cream holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently fold in the sour cream.

To finish:
Spoon the whipped cream over the filling and spread it evenly to the edges of the custard. Serve, or refrigerate until needed.

September 6, 2008

An award to end a busy week

I have an almost subconscious tendency to show people I love them by cooking. When someone has a baby, I like to bring dinner. When someone is sick, I bring a treat. When I was dating my husband, I was constantly baking for him (and I think to his skinny starving self this was very desirable!) All this cooking can be messy but it makes me feel happy and productive. Well, my mom went into the hospital unexpectedly last Saturday and was stuck there until just yesterday. I've been baking cookies to bring down, trying to keep my Dad fed, and all in all, just cooking almost more than normal. Nonetheless, I haven't really made much worth posting aside from some Barefoot Bloggers recipes coming later this month (Apple Turnovers, yay!)

So I admit I've neglected my blog a bit in the mayhem (did I mention we are also house hunting? Anyone have a nice cheap house available in the East Valley?), and I was so happily surprised to find this blog award from my new friend Cathy, who I feel a special kinship with. Not only does she cook fabulous things while managing children, which I try to do, but her kids and husband's name all happen to be on my favorite and potential baby names. Everyone one. I think we'd be friends, if I could ever manage to live in the humidity of the South. So thanks Cathy for making my day and for sharing your adventures and new hobby- I love reading all about it!

So here are a few blogs I'll pass it along to- awesome blogs to browse while your kid is distracted watching Signing Time or "walking" the dog in the house!

Susie of She's Becoming Doughmesstic- her entries are hilarious, the food is beautiful, and she gets it all done with baby in tow.

Heather of Randomosity and the Girl- she's so funny, includes her adorable dog in everypost, and just makes me happy when I read her blog.

Jenny of Picky Palate- this is the first food blog I ever read and probably my favorite still. Not only is she so sweet, but her real life approach to cooking mixed with some creativity has amazing results.

Aggie of Aggie's Kitchen- she so nice, makes amazing things, and inspires me too do more cooking instead of just baking (my husband and waist thank you Aggie!).

And finally, Kim of Scrumptious Photography- which is the best name for this blog. I don't know how she gets such beautiful photos, but I'm awed every time I check it out. Keep it up Kim!

September 2, 2008

TWD- Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

What a fun Tuesdays with Dorie- I love cookies! They are the first things I ever really baked and probably still my favorite (aside from a good french tart!) My husband loves oatmeal cookies and eats peanut butter out of the jar so he was pumped about this recipe until he realized there was chocolate chips included. Since he can't have chocolate, I subbed in Reese's Peanut Butter chips for half of the dough. In the other half, I included mini chocolate chips and mini Reese's Peanut Butter cups. Wow! They were yummy... and even the non-chocolaty version was tasty. I did omit the spices since I was primarily making these for my mom and she doesn't like them in cookies.

All in all, these had great reviews from all of my tasters and were a fun, simple cookie to make. Another winner by Dorie. What can I say, I love this cook book! Thanks for the great choice Stefany (you can see the recipe on her blog)!