Sunday, May 2, 2010

TWD Rewind: Perfect Pound Cake

This was another of those recipes I made while I was on medical leave, and craving some good old-fashioned comfort.

On the plus side, it tastes very light and delicious, and it's easy to bung together. I've had trouble with pound cakes in the past; they tend to come out squat and hard. No such problems with this one; it went together like a dream and came out tasting like one.

That's the good news.

The not-so-good news (the CHALLENGE, as we say in the corporate world) is the texture. I don't know...I just didn't like it. It came out a tad dry, and with almost a cotton candy-fluffy crumb. It was very Sara Lee-ish, and oddly, Dorie called this out as a plus in her recipe intro. I didn't see it as so plus-y.

I ATE it, don't get me wrong. And I liked it. But the texture wasn't what I was hoping for in a pound cake. I guess I'll keep looking for MY Perfect Pound Cake.

Dorie's Perfect Pound Cake

(Source: Dorie Greenspan “Baking: From My Home to Yours” p. 222)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 2-1/4 cups cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan or an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you’re working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated – don’t overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it, by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.

Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you’re using a 9×5 pan, you’ll need to bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.

Run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chockablock Cookies: A Hit

Remember the Chockablock Cookies I made for last week's Tuesdays with Dorie? (By the by, this week's recipe is Burnt Sugar Ice Cream; weekend guests, you have been warned.)

Well, I took them to the office this morning, because they were just too deadly to have around the house. I was a little nervous about them, because they were full of weird dried fruits and pumpkin seeds, and I wasn't sure how they'd go over.

Well, they went over a STORM. Holy cow. This may be one of the more popular things I've made. The Russian, who doesn't really go crazy for sweets, had THREE. One guy was eating one in the elevator and another guy told him, "Dude...your eyes are glowing."

(Which may be because my cookies were awesome, or because he's an alien robot. You decide.)

Fortunately, I was smart enough to keep them on my desk so most of my friends all got one, and I didn't get in trouble. (If I put something in the kitchen, they disappear pretty quick.)

So, if I wasn't enthusiastic enough, go make these cookies. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alas, Poor Crack House

For the past five years, the house next door to mine has sat empty, slowly decaying and falling apart. It had actually been sadly neglected, with a jungle growing in its yard, for some years before that; that's just how long I've known it.

In the past two years or so, it's become a well-known meeting spot for meth dealers and crackheads, and a place for hitchhikers on the coastal highway to crash.

No longer. Today, I came home to this:

Poor old Crack House. On one hand, I'm glad to see it go. The cops were over there quite a bit, and I had to install security because of people jumping my fence.

On the other hand, it was an old house and at one point, apparently, it was well-loved. There were probably a lot of good memories in that house.

Then again, there were a lot of bad, and there was no hope of restoring it, so in the end, it's probably for the best.

Rest in Peace, Crack House.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TWD: Chockablock Cookies

Oh, she sneaks under the wire!

I mean really under the wire, since - although I've thought of them for days - Tuesday morning dawned with my still not having made these cookies. And since I'd only made one Tuesdays with Dorie recipe this month, I risked getting kicked out if I didn't get to them.

And then, lo! My day did turn to rubbish. And we all know what the cure for a Really Bad Day (tm) is...


So I threw together the batter tonight. (Like most of Dorie's cookies, it comes together in a jiffy.) I did halve the recipe, and then only baked two, because there's only so much temptation you should invite in when you're recovering from Bad Day-itis. The others will be baked when I'm feeling a little more stable, and promptly packed up for the coworkers.

Why? Because they're freaking awesome. I was all "Oh, I'm on a diet...I'll just eat one" and promptly hoovered them both up. Rotters.

Why am I suddenly speaking in English slang? Maybe it was because I replaced the molasses with Lyle's Golden Syrup. I love Golden Syrup - a British version of corn syrup with much more flavor - with a love to rival a thousand suns, and I kind of detest molasses. Reading the recipe, I was already considering swapping them out, and when I read on the TWD forums that others had done the same thing, off I went.

As for the mix-ins, I used a kind of strange mixture of cranberries, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, papaya, apples and ... something else. It sounds strange, but mixed with the oats and coconut, it worked really well. I also added Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips, which are more like flat discs and melt in striations throughout the cookie. Heaven.

These are a good, hearty "cookie jar" type cookie, and I definitely intend to make this one again.

Want the recipe? Head over to Popsicles and Sandy Feet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rosemary Focaccia

Boy do I have a lot of catch up posts to do, and this is one of them. When I was off on medical leave, I was feeling very pitiful and sorry for myself. And there's only one cure for my self-pity:


Not ice cream or cake or a bottle of wine. (Okay, maybe a bottle of wine.)

Yes, bread: soft and hot right from the oven. And since I don't have any bakeries within walking distance, that meant I did a lot of baking when I was on medical leave. And for the first time, I baked focaccia. Specifically, Rosemary Focaccia, with fresh rosemary straight from my garden.


Now, focaccia has always been one of those things that scared me to death. Why? I'm not sure. It just seemed like it had to be very complicated and tricky.

Well, of course, it's not that complicated and tricky at all. It's pretty easy, in fact, particularly since you bake it on a baking sheet. But I'm still scared of it. Know why?

It's delicious!!!

Holy cow. I'm going to be totally honest with you guys, 'cause we're all friends here, right?

I ate the whole thing.

YES. The WHOLE PAN. Okay, it took me a couple of days, but oh, my. Not a good thing. I actually haven't made it since; not because it's too hard or anything, but because I'm afraid I'll eat it all again.

But I think of it. A lot.

Just a note: This is best the day you bake it, but it will work the next day if you toast the pieces. (Which is delicious, especially with a little butter and a pot of tea.)

Rosemary Focaccia
(adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, which I cannot recommend highly enough)

1 medium russet potato, peeled and sliced into large chunks
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups (17 1/2 to 18 3/4 ounce) all purpose flour
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary (not dried)
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling

Boil the potato in water until easily pierced by a fork, about 10 minutes, then remove potato with a slotted spoon. Reserve one cup of the water; set aside to cool until just warm (110 degrees). When the potato is cool enough to handle, grate it on the large holes of a box grater. (You should have about 1 cup of lightly packed potato.)

Mix the cooked potato, 3 1/2 cups of the flour, 2 tablespoons of the oil, yeast, and table salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the reserved potato cooking water and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If after four minutes more flour is needed, adding the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Coat an 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with 1/4 cup more oil. Press the dough into the prepared baking sheet with wet hands. Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon more oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45 to 75 minutes.

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Dimple the dough with wet fingertips, then drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with the rosemary and coarse salt.

Bake until the focaccia bottom is golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the focaccia to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TWD: Swedish Visiting Cake

What better way to come back to Tuesdays with Dorie (and posting in general; sorry about that) than with my FAVORITEST ALL TIME DORIE GREENSPAN RECIPE OF ALL TIME.

For serious.

This Swedish Visiting Cake is phenomenal on multiple levels. First, it takes one bowl. Second, it takes only a handful of ingredients. And except for maybe the almonds and the lemon, you have all those ingredients already.

There's no complicated creaming or fancy techniques. You even melt the butter before you pour it in. A quick stir and voila.

Even better, you bake it in a cast iron skillet! How cool is that?! I was going to bake it in My Baby (a 100-year-old, beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet), but realized it was a tad too big. So I pulled out the Le Creuset I hardly ever use, and that now has a new purpose in life: To bake this cake. Over and over and over.

Because - as if the easiness and the coolness of cast iron wasn't enough - this cake is fracking delicious. It's moist and yet sturdy, and there's a delicate taste of lemon to it that's not overpowering. It's perfect with a cup of tea.

As with most of my baked goods, I tried this out on the guys I game with. There were only three of us, and we decimated the entire thing. (I was actually grateful I had two guys here, because I might have done the same if it were just me and then I'd have to go to confession.)

One guy said that he didn't believe dessert was dessert without chocolate in it, but he was making an exception for this cake.

So, there you have it. Awesome dessert to throw together quickly that is not only easy, but totally delicious.

Get the recipe at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs. (How cool of a blog name is that?)

And hi!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cheddar Cheese Beer-Batter Bread

I read tarot cards.

Odd way to start off a post about bread, I know, but hang in there with me a second. Anyway, I read tarot cards, but I only read for friends. I can't read for myself and I can't read for pay; it's really something I do to help people I care about. And from what I've been told, it does exactly that.

So, if you are my friend, and you need guidance or help on something, you call me up and ask for a reading. And with that reading usually comes a big helping of comfort food, like this cheddar bread. (See? Told you I'd get there.)

I'm actually not sure if it's the food or the readings that keep people coming back, but it makes my friends happy, and that's what matters.

This is a super easy bread; absolutely no kneading is involved. You just mix everything together, pour over melted butter, and bake. The beer is what gives it both its lift and its yeasty flavor. I like to serve this with my Guinness Beef Stew.

Oh, and slight warning: You know how you always like to taste the dough when you're baking, cause the dough's the best part?

Do not do that with this bread.

For serious. Ugh.

But the bread's good!

Cheddar Cheese Beer-Batter Bread

8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese (shred 4 ounces and cut the rest into small cubes)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 12-ounce can of American-style beer (like Bud)
4 tablespoons melted butter

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

Combine all cheese, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in beer and mix until well combined. Pour into loaf pan and spread evenly. Drizzle melted butter evenly on top of batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. (You may want to check it in a couple of places, in case you hit a pocket of cheese.) Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

(This is awesome toasted for breakfast the next day.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TWD: Toasted-Coconut Tart

I've been sick.

I say this not to illicit "poor you" comments (though I'll take pity where I can find it), but to explain why I've suddenly fallen off the face of the earth. Sick, as in...can't think of anything else and spending all my time either at the doctor's or asleep sick. Sick as in, on medical leave sick.


Not too sick to bake, of course. Don't let's be silly. I've actually got several blog posts queued up and just need to sit down and do them: a nice cheddar cheese bread, a rosemary focaccia sprinkled with sea salt and awesomeness, and at least one Tuesdays with Dorie rewind (a pound cake).

But for now, let's stick with today's awesome, awesome Tuesdays with Dorie recipe: Toasted-Coconut Tart.

Holy mother of coconuts, this thing is good. And easy! This was my first ever tart, and I had no issues with it at all.

I have to admit, I actually usually despise recipes that require a food processor, and avoid them as a matter of course. It's getting harder and harder to find modern recipes for tart or pastry dough that aren't built on the food processor, though; even America's Test Kitchen uses it. So, I grumbled alot, but I dug out my old Black & Decker, and guess what? It was so easy. Ridiculously easy.

My crust was a little thicker than it is really supposed to be, because I got nervous that I'd get it too thin. But it turned out great: nice and buttery and just golden brown. The custard wasn't at all hard, even though I let the milk boil all over the stove. I'll show you my 1920s Wedgewood stove one day; it's awesome.

Anyhoo, great dessert. It does take a little time, what with the chilling of various parts, but it really isn't hard. And it looks very impressive, so overall: win.

Now, I just have a huge tart in the house, and no one to share it with. Of course, I am sick, so eating an entire coconut tart by myself is completely allowed. Right?

Want the recipe? Go to Beryl's site.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TWD Makeup: Chocolate Chunkers

Because I have an unnatural aversion to wheat germ (why would I want to cook with germs?), I avoided this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe: Honey-Wheat Cookies.

But I still had hungry gamer mouths to feed, so I decided to do some makeup baking from the recipes I've missed. And since it's easier to play board games with something that you can hold in one hand, I decided to choose one of the cookie recipes.

And boy, did I hit a dandy. I'd say that Dorie's Chocolate Chunker cookie recipe is my favorite of any recipe of hers I've made. It may be one of my favorite cookie recipes, period. The cookies are more mix-ins than dough: a full 6 oz. each of hand-cut bittersweet and white chocolates, a cup and a half of toasted walnuts, and a cup of dried fruit (more on that in a minute). The dough itself, which really just holds all the goodies together, has melted bittersweet chocolate AND cocoa.

In other words, folks, this is one seriously chocolatey cookie.

Now, the only thing I changed on this recipe is that Dorie calls for salted peanut and raisins. I don't know why she has this thing about chocolate and raisins, but she adds raisins to, like, everything. I, personally, can't get into the raisin thing, so I substituted dried cherries, chopped up a bit. I also substituted toasted walnuts for the peanuts.

The only thing I'd do differently is cut the cherries into smaller pieces; the larger pieces sometimes jumped out at you when you took a bite. But honestly, that didn't even matter that much. These things leapt off the platter into people's mouths. They were, by far, everyone's favorite of anything I've brought to Game Days.

And that's saying something.

Chocolate Chunker Cookies
by Dorie Greenspan
pg. 70 of Baking: From My Home to Yours

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (or 1 cup chocolate chips)
6 oz. white chocolate, chopped into chunks (or 1 cup white chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped nuts (I toasted mine for flavor)
1 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or dried cherries, cut into smaller pieces if necessary

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the butter, and the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates (Disclosure: I didn't have unsweetened, so used 7 oz. of bittersweet) to the bowl and stir occasionally until just melted. The chocolate and butter should be smooth and shiny, but not so hot the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the counter to cool.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then scrape down the bowl. Reduce speed to low, add the butter-chocolate mixture and mix only until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl, and - with the mixer on low - add the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dry ingredients disappear into the dough (which will be thick, smooth, and shiny). Scrape down the bowl and, using the rubber spatula, mix in the semi-sweet and white chocolate chunks, nuts and fruit - you'll have more "crunchies" than dough at this point. (The dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Drop the dough by generously heaping tablespoonfuls (I made them bigger) onto the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between the mounds of dough.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops of the cookies will look a little dry but the interiors should still be soft. Remove the baking sheet and carefully lift the cookies with a metal spatula onto a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature.

Repeat with remaining dough, cooling the baking sheet (if necessary) between batches.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TWD: My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've talked about this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe before, so I'll keep this very brief.

1.) This is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it never fails to get rave reviews.

2.) The ratio of chips/nuts to batter is very high, meaning if you don't like a lot of goodies in your cookies, you may want to ratchet back on the add-ins.

3.) Chopping your own chocolate is a must. SO much better than chocolate chips.

4.) I replace four to eight ounces of the bittersweet chocolate with semi-sweet. The all-bittersweet was too bitter for my tastes.

5.) I go with the full amount of salt. The bit of saltiness gives the cookies major depth.

6.) Yes, they bake up kind flat. They're not at all puffy and cakey. If flat chocolate chips cookies are a problem for you, this may not be the recipe for you.

All in all, a great cookie. Want the recipe? Go to Kait's Plate.

PS...Yes, one day I will post my Tuesdays with Dorie recipe on a Tuesday. But not today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

King Cake!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Yes, today is Fat Tuesday and for the second year in a row, another Louisiana girl and I hosted a Mardi Gras "party" at work. I say "party" because in reality, we had a captive audience at a meeting and a PowerPoint presentation and everything.

But they got cake. So it couldn't have been all that bad.

Anyway, last year, we ordered a King Cake for our Mardi Gras presentation/celebration from a bakery, and had it shipped all the way from New Orleans, along with an assortment of beads and doubloons. My friend Risey got the baby, which traditionally means that you are responsible for the next King Cake.

Risey took that responsibility very seriously, even though she's not from anywhere near Louisiana. She...get this: baked a King Cake herself.

For serious!! I had never heard of such a thing! I just thought they grew in bakeries.

But Risey proved me wrong, looking up recipes and videos on the Interwebs, and baking three King Cakes to get it right. The King Cake she brought in (above) was honestly one of the best I'd ever had.

Risey's going to hopefully put together a guest post showing us all how to do it, too. Next year, I'm totally baking my own.

Laissez bon temps rouler!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Guinness Beef Stew for Lovers

Look, I am not the one to be giving relationship advice.

I'm notorious for picking absolutely the wrong kind of guy. Emotionally unavailable? Check. Borderline manic depressive? Check. Only shows an interest when he thinks I'm dating someone else? Double check.

Add an Eastern European accent and an addiction or two and there's no going back.

My last liaison went so awesomely that one of my guy friends coined the term "douchelationship": the act (or perhaps art?) of being involved with a douchebag.

She's just upset about her douchelationship.

So, who am I to judge what you serve your honey for Valentine's Day? God knows, you probably know better than me.

And yet...

It is my blog, and I can dish out all the unsolicited and unqualified advice I care to.

And since most of my friends are guys, I actually do know a thing or two about them. I know, for instance, that most of them just want simple things. (Give them a steak and they're happy. Really.) And I know that most of them don't want their wives or girlfriends stressed out, even if it's over cooking a nice meal for them. Maybe especially if it's over cooking a nice meal for them.

Therefore, I propose the perfect, guy-friendly, no-fuss meal for Valentine's Day. (I almost typed Thanksgiving. Ha! Me proposing a no-fuss meal for Thanksgiving. That's rich.)

I've served this Guinness Beef Stew, and the accompanying beer batter cheese bread, to a couple of guys now, and it's always a huge hit. It tastes rich and meaty and somewhat decadent, but is really a cinch to throw together. True, there's some prep work involved, but otherwise, it bubbles away all day in the slow cooker. The beer batter cheese bread (which I'll give you in the next post) is just a quick bread, even though it tastes like something way more. The last guy I served it to doesn't like cheese (?!) and had two slices.

So do yourself a favor and cook something that you know your man will love, and won't kill you in the process. Your douchelationship will thank you.

Which may not be a good thing.

Slow-Cooker Guinness Beef Stew

4 pounds boneless beef chuck stew meat
2 tblsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cups chicken broth (I use homemade, but you can use whatever. Choose something low-sodium)
1 1/2 cups Guinness (not extra-stout), divided
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Few sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (yes, really), chopped
2 bay leaves
5 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into chunks
2-2 1/2 pounds of red baby potatoes, scrubbed

Pat beef dry with paper towels, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons (or so) of the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook the beef in batches until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. (In my Le Creuset French oven, with this amount of beef, it takes about three batches.) Transfer meat to slow cooker insert.

Add carrots and potatoes to slow cooker.

Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil, onions, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to skillet and cook until onions are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add broth, 1 1/4 cups stout, sugar, thyme, chocolate, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Scrape up any brown bits. Transfer that to slow cooker.

Cook until meat is tender: 9-10 hours on low or 6-7 hours on high. Set slow cooker to high. Whisk flour and remaining 1/4 cup beer until smooth, then stir mixture into slow cooker. The flour will seize up some; do not freak out (like me). Just keep stirring it gently and then let it simmer, and it will work itself out. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.

Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and serve.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Downloads for Cooks

I have about a 20-minute train ride to work each day, and the same old songs on my iPhone were starting to get boring. So, I started poking around iTunes for cooking videos, and came across a treasure trove: Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen is on iTunes!

America's Test Kitchen - This PBS show usually gives you 1-2 recipes a show, along with equipment ratings and taste tests. Each show has a theme (cookies, pork, etc.), and the recipe instructions are very thorough. Ingredients and instructions are spelled out, so you could actually cook a recipe based on just watching the show.

Currently, only this season - Season 10 - is on iTunes; right now, there are about 6 episodes. I can usually watch a full episode between my morning and evening train rides.

Now, granted, this show airs for free on PBS, and the episodes cost $1.99 each on iTunes. But if you're looking for something to take with you or, like me, you don't have a DVR, it could be worth it.

You can find these in the TV Shows section, under America's Test Kitchen.

Cook's Illustrated - ATK's sister magazine, Cook's Illustrated, has done a series of short video podcasts on a wide variety of topics. The podcasts usually last 3-5 minutes, and can either cover a particular recipe (plum cake, shrimp salad), a technique (cooking thick-cut steaks), or a piece of equipment (they did a whole podcast on cast iron).

Each podcast gives you an overview of the recipe or technique, and then one or two short segments on a related technique or gadget. The podcast on French pot roast, for instance, has a section on how to tie a roast.

Best of all, the podcasts are free.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that the podcasts are hardly thorough, and don't give the whole recipe. For instance, the host will say "Add the sugar and salt", but not give you measurements for either of those. Instead, you're told to go to to get the recipes.

Unfortunately, that's a bit of a bait-and-switch, because when you get there and click on your desired recipe, you're basically told to sign up for the Cook's Illustrated website to get it. Now, granted, they offer a 14-day trial, and in my book, their site is well worth the price they charge for a yearly subscription. But I do kind of feel that if they're saying you can get the recipe on a page, you should be able to get the recipe - and then if you want to subscribe to the site, that's fine.

Anyhow, that said, I actually think you can still learn from these podcasts. And if, like me, you have most of the Cook's Illustrated cookbooks and magazines, you'll find the recipes there.

Both the shows and the podcasts make my commute a little nicer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TWD: Rick Katz' Brownies for Julia

Okay, I'm late with my Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Again. I also set these out at a game day and totally forgot to take pictures until about halfway through. But as you can see from the above, these were a knockout.

The story behind these brownies is that Rick Katz made these for Julia Child when both he and Dorie worked for her. They're unique in that you first combine the egg and sugar, and then divide the mixture in half. Half goes into the melted chocolate, and half gets whipped until light and airy - then folded into the batter.

The result is a very dense, almost gooey brownie.

It's so gooey in fact that many of the TWD bakers had problems with this recipe. So, I was pretty cautious. I baked it for the full 28 minutes, even though my oven traditionally runs hot. Sure enough, they had gotten just set and were still very soft in the center.

They were, to be honest, a tad TOO soft for my taste. They tended to crumble when you cut them. But no one really cared about that; the pan you see above was decimated in short order.

Some of the bakers refrigerated these before serving, and that would probably be good. I might also give them another minute or two in the oven. (Just because, again, not a huge fan of "gooey" - in brownies or life.)

But truthfully, they were so delicious that it really doesn't matter that they're soft. I knew when I was putting the batter together that they were going to be incredibly rich and chocolatey - and they were. The use of bittersweet chocolate makes these even more rich.

Overall, I would highly recommend these. Sure, they're a little fussy, but most good things are.

Also, don't give in to the temptation to eat these while they're still warm, unless you want to do so with a spoon. (Which I totally did.)

Want the recipe? Visit Tanya at Chocolatechic.

Stella's Worst Day Ever

Stella's spent the past two days in the hospital with an obstructed stomach. She's spent the past half-hour sitting on her chair, telling me how horrible it was.

This is, in case you didn't recognize it, her "How could you do this to me, Mom?" face.

Of course, the fact that she EATS GARBAGE (literally) might have had something to do with the whole obstructed stomach thing. Garbage Dog strikes again.

One friend asked if she'd learned her lesson, and then promptly laughed it off, since dogs don't do cause and effect well. I said, "Yeah, especially when they have a brain the size of a walnut."

When I went to pick her up, he texted me: "Yay! Walnut-brained Garbage Dog comes home!"


Anyhoo, I'm significantly poorer, but she's happy and in one piece, and worth every penny.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Brunch: Nona's Kitchen

Sunday Brunch this week is at my favorite, favoritest restaurant in my hometown (and maybe anywhere):

Pacifica is not a fancy town, and Nona's isn't a fancy place. It's in a small stripmall right near the big surfer's beach in town. (Plenty of people walk over to Nona's for breakfast after surfing.) It's tiny, but clean and attractive, like a fifties-style diner without the kitsch.

And while Nona's is open for lunch and dinner most days, where things get really crazy is weekend brunch.
Nona's chef, Joreth, specializes in "home food", but home food that's best in class. So, the menu - which changes with the seasons - will feature simple things like egg in a hole or blueberry pancakes. But they'll be the best egg in a hole and blueberry pancakes you've ever had.

The brunch specials (and every meal's daily specials) are written on a board on the wall, but the servers all know them by heart. I always sit in the far corner of the bar, right by the board, so I can peruse it at my leisure. There's always something delicious for brunch, and he even does biscuits and gravy well. And as a Southern girl, I'm picky about my biscuits and gravy.

One thing I love about the way Joreth cooks is that he focuses on what's local and in season. He's not slavish to it, but his specials are always going to reflect what's going on in the world around you. I love coming in and being offered a carrot soup from carrots that he found that were just picked today. And a while back, I happened to come in when he was taking the first peach pie of the season out of the oven. I hunched over that pie, growling like a dog whenever anyone got to close. I still have dreams about that pie.

But most people come to Nona's for the biscuits.

They're actually not the biscuits I grew up on, but they're pretty darn good - very buttery and flaky. He serves them for brunch with honey butter and two types of jam.

I've never really gotten anything on the menu that wasn't good. I love their hamburgers and flank steak for dinner, and one winter meal was memorable for the chicken pot pie whose puff pastry crust was decorated with a puff pastry rooster.

But for brunch, one of my favorite meals is the Monte Cristo. It's not greasy, and he covers it in powdered sugar before serving. The home fries, though, man... Best potatoes I've ever had. I really have no idea how he gets them that perfect.

The tiny kitchen is open to the dining room, and I like to sit at the bar on Sunday mornings and watch the bustle. Joreth is totally passionate about his restaurant, which can be highly entertaining to watch. Plus, he's cute. (But married, alas.) He's also a nice guy who is a part of the community; I ran into him at the Safeway once, and he voluntarily started helping me pick out turkey gizzards for my gravy.

Nona's is a great place to go for brunch, if you're looking for nice, hearty food served by people who really care.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Birthday cake baking is a royal pain in the butt. So, I require the coworker recipients of my birthday cakes to be nice to me.

And then there's Jeff.

Jeff is a meanie.

He makes fun of me at least once a day and I can never read his poker face and he told me that Russian mustard wasn't spicy (LIES!!) and he said snarky things about my favorite character from the tv show Dollhouse, Mr. Dominic.

Laurence Dominic
(God rest his tortured soul)

All of my friends with sense (which - to be clear - is not all of my friends) will tell you that dissing Mr. Dominic to my face is not the way to go about securing a birthday cake.

Lucky for Jeff, though, I am a giant sucker.

And lucky for me, Jeff was rather "meh" on cake, but he told me once that his favorite dessert in the world was Rice Krispy treats. I happen to have an awesome recipe for Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. This allowed me to assuage my guilt at leaving Jeff birthday treat-less, without breaking my unofficial (yet deadly serious) "No Cake for Meanies" Rule.

These are, without a doubt, the best Rice Krispy treats on the planet. They have that perfect, moist-but-not-gooey, marshmallowy texture, and also have depth of flavor from the browned butter. If you sprinkle a little sea salt on top before they cool, you'll get a nice, subtle salty hit in every bite. Plus, they're super easy; not much more time-consuming than the regular ones.

And if you feel guilty for spending about 10 minutes on a birthday treat for your friend, when you spent 8 hours on a cake for a Russian guy, you can cover it with colorful birthday sprinkles.

In the end, all was well that ended well. Jeff made happy noises when he found them on his desk, and declared them "The best birthday cake I ever had." And he washed out the pan himself, so I guess he's not all bad.

He loved his birthday treat, I don't have to feel guilty, and Laurence Dominic lives on in reruns.

Happy Birthday, Jeff.

Jeff's Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Note: These are slightly different than Smitten Kitchen's recipe, mostly in quantity but also in the fact that I use salted butter, and eliminate extra salt in the recipe itself. Hers works just as well, and doesn't make quite as many.

2 sticks salted butter
20 ounces of large marshmallows (for me, this was about a bag and a half)
1 regular-size (12 oz.) box of Rice Krispies
Sea Salt, to taste (Do not use kosher or table salt)

Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a very large, light-colored pot or saucepan (I use a stockpot). Allow the butter to cool over medium heat, stirring it frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan. The butter will begin to bubble and foam; at this point, scrape aside the foam so you can see the color of the butter. As soon as it begins to turn brown, take it off the heat. (If it gets a little dark, don't worry - the little flecks of brown will be fine in the treats. However, be very careful not to allow it to burn.)

Add the marshmallows to the butter. Lower the heat to low, and return the pan to the heat. Stir the marshmallows and butter vigorously until the butter is absorbed and the marshmallows have melted and are smooth.

Add the cereal to the pan, and stir everything together. Transfer mixture to the baking pan and use a spatula or a square of waxed paper sprayed with cooking spray to press the mixture evenly into the pan.

Sprinkle sea salt over the top of the treats, and press in with your hand. Let cool, cut into squares and serve.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mini-Bundt Cake Madness

Remember my mini-bundt-cakes-that-weren't?

Well, I certainly wasn't going to eat them all, so I did what I do with all leftover baked goods: I took them to work. I was rather embarrassed by them, to be honest, because they were all different sizes and some of them were a tad on the deformed side. But still, I stuffed them into a plastic container and dropped them on the table in the kitchen, saying something along the lines of:

"Here. You people will eat anything."

This was at 8:30; they were all gone by 9. And that was the last I thought of them until 3pm, when I got the following text from my best friend, Jay:



See, Jay's on a diet. Specifically, he's on the vegan cleanse I went on a while back. And apparently he's been really, really craving chocolate. So, the idea that I made chocolate cupcakes and "hid" them from him, well...

He was so mad, he threatened to quit his job. (Although I'm unclear on how that would have been effective in this case...)

He was almost as mad at me as I was at him when he forgot my birthday.

Oh, well. He'll get over it.

I think.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TWD: Milk Chocolate Mini-Bundt Cakes

If I had a mini-bundt cake pan, I would have loved this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.

But I don't.

So I didn't.

As you can see above, I tried to soldier on, even though I didn't have the right equipment. (And don't get me wrong; I actually think it's great that she formulated one recipe for those who have the pans. I just didn't want to go and buy a special pan for one recipe.)

I was going to double the recipe and use my large bundt pan. Well, no...first I tried my usual tactic, which was to bum a pan. To no avail. Alas.

Anyhoo, I was going to double it, but I kind of couldn't be bothered, and it would have made a huge cake, and I wasn't really into having a huge cake around. So, then the Barefoot Kitchen Witch said she made hers in muffin cups, and I want to be just like her, so that was how I decided to go.

But I am not her.


My little mini-bundt-muffin-thingies did not turn out so hot. First, I didn't have quite enough batter for 12. I should have just gone with nine, but I hate unevenness. So, I soldiered on (again) and they all turned out different sizes.

I skipped the "swirl" in the center and added chocolate chips, which really didn't help much. And I forgot about them and left them in too long, which helped even less.

All in all, they were a little dry, and they were obviously not what the recipe specified. But even then, they weren't my favorite. The cake part didn't really taste like chocolate and the bittersweet ganache I used over the top overwhelmed them. (Everyone on the TWD forums had trouble with Dorie's glaze recipe, so I skipped it and made a ganache, then dipped the tops of my muffin-thingies in it.)

So, overall, I give this a big meh. Though if I ever get a mini-bundt cake pan, I would probably try it again. But since such a pan is kind of at the bottom of my kitchen wish list, I do not expect that to happen anytime soon.


Want to try it yourself? It's on pg. 188 of Dorie's book, and if the recipe goes up online, I'll post it here...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gratuitous Cuteness

A comforter, haphazardly tossed over a chair, becomes a nest for Topher.

Dorie Greenspan's Chewy, Chunky Blondies

My friends and I get together at least once a month to play board games, and when we do, the rules are pretty simple: You bring your own booze, and games and a snack to share. Most people pick up a bag of chips or some hummus and once, famously, a box of Twinkies.

As you can imagine, that's not good enough for me - not when I have a whole captive audience on which to try out new baking recipes.

In preparation for the last get-together, I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours and came upon these "Chewy, Chunky Blondies." (By the way, if you don't have this book and you're into baking, you need to buy it - right now.) I just happened to have all the ingredients in my pantry, and so it made the cut for Game Day.

The thing I love about Dorie's cookie recipes is that they usually are chock full of add-ins, which is how I think cookies and bars should be. In the case of these bars, we're talking a full cup each of coconut, chopped nuts (I used walnuts), butterscotch chips and hand-chopped bittersweet chocolate.

There were almost more add-ins than cookie, and that was just fine by me. But the cookie itself is nice and moist, full of rich, brown-sugary, buttery flavor. They went over a storm, and are definitely something I'd make again.

As a bonus, Game Day was held at the home of a couple; I'd played with the husband before (that sounds weird), but had never met the wife. When I walked in, she looked at the container and said, "If those are what I think they are, you're my new best friend." I asked her if she thought they were blondies and voila...I had a new best friend.

Chewy, Chunky Blondies
a Dorie Greenspan recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks, or 1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips or Heath Toffee Bits
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan and put it on a baking sheet.

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

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, until well-incorporated. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until they just disappear into the batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate, butterscotch chips, nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and even the top as much as possible.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center of the blondies comes out clean. (Note: Careful here; a couple of times I got "false readings" because I hit a chunk of butterscotch or chocolate.) The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes before turning the blondies out onto another rack. Invert onto a rack and cool to room temperature right side up.

Cut into 32 bars, each roughly 2 1/4 by 1 1/2 inches.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

David Lebovitz' Potato Leek Soup

I know it seems like I only bake sweets, and I'll admit, I do that a lot. It's not that I'm averse to cooking. It's just that I'm usually just feeding myself, and when I am, I'm perfectly content to eat peanut butter sandwiches or stir fry some rice and tofu. Or just pop a batch of popcorn to eat while playing Mass Effect.

When I do cook, I like to do something that can be stretched out for informal meals throughout the week - beans and rice in the Crock Pot, for instance, or a pot of soup.

Key this week's recipe from David Lebovitz. I love Lebovitz, because he's funny, he's from San Francisco (even if he now lives in Paris), and he makes some seriously good grub. (Plus, he's written the world's best ice cream book.)

I came across this recipe on his site a few days' back, and since we're currently smack dab in the middle of the Bay Area's monsoon season (didn't realize we had those, did you?), I figured it was as good a time as any to pull it out.

The thing I loved about this recipe is the balance. In other potato-leek soup recipes I've tried, the flavors weren't balanced enough for my taste. They were too, well, leeky.

Which reminds me of a funny story about leeks: I was shopping once with my friend Jennie, who is totally punilicious. I love puns, which annoyed everyone else, because it meant I was always encouraging Jennie's terrible puns. Anyway, we were shopping, and our friend suggested we buy leeks for the stew we were making. Cue Jennie:

"Well, if they're LEEKS, we need a double bag!"

Get it?? See what she did th... Oh, never mind.

Anyway, David's soup was none too leeky, and had the perfect blend of potato and leek. I used a rich homemade veggie stock I had on hand instead of water, and I can't help but think that boosted the flavor a bit, too. Best of all, since I'm currently eating strict vegetarian, it could be made completely vegan (subbing olive oil for butter).

And it made the house smell all warm and homey.

So, if you're looking for a nice warm soup for your own monsoon season, I'd highly recommend David Lebovitz' Potato Leek Soup.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TWD: Cocoa-Nana Bread

I actually made this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Cocoa-Nana Bread, over the New Year's break, in anticipation of today. It certainly is an interesting hybrid: Is it chocolate or banana? Is it a bread or a cake?

On the former, it's definitely more chocolate than banana, in my opinion. I know the combo sounds kind of odd, but the banana is almost an afterthought - what with the full cup of cocoa powder and chunks of bittersweet chocolate. It's almost as if the banana is there to give the bread a nice, moist texture, but the banana flavor really only hits you at the end of the taste.

And while it's called Cocoa-Nana BREAD, I'd beg to differ. Texture-wise, this is much closer to pound cake than to, say, banana bread. Part of that is the mixing method; quick breads like banana bread mix the dry and wet ingredients together separately, then stir them together. This bread is made more like a cake, by creaming the butter and sugar, then mixing in the other ingredients.

The result is a dense, thick loaf that really should be called Cocoa-Nana CAKE.

This was delicious served on its own, but it really came to life when I spread it with cherry preserves. Nigella Lawson has a chocolate-cherry trifle recipe that calls for sandwiching chocolate cake like this with cherry preserves, and I really think this would be the perfect base for such a trifle. I didn't have enough leftovers to try it, but I will.

In the meantime, if you want the recipe, head over to Obsessed with Baking.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Brunch: Sears Fine Foods

Welcome to Sunday Brunch here at the Cinema! Sunday brunch is kind of an institution here in the San Francisco Bay Area (at least in the crowd I run with), and there are a lot of places that do it really well. I thought I'd take you through some of them, thus allowing me an excuse to go to brunch this morning to get pictures. See how this works?

Let's start with the granddaddy of all of them:

Yes, it's called Sears. I love saying "I had brunch at Sears", which conjures up images of me hanging out on a washing machine, eating eggs benedict. However, the two Sears are not associated, and there are no washing machines in sight. Sadly.

What Sears Fine Food is is one of the most famous places for breakfast in all of San Francisco. It's located right on Union Square, and is a major tourist draw. It's got a very old-fashioned SF vibe inside, filled with dark wood, white and black tile flooring, brass fixtures and neatly dressed waitstaff.

Miss Cassy, perusing the menu at Sears.

A couple of my girlfriends and I "discovered" this place a few months ago, because it's very close to the movie theater we like to go to downtown. I say discovered because it falls into that old adage where you never really experience the city you live in the way tourists do. (I, for instance, have never been to Alcatraz.) Lots of natives don't come here for that reason, and they're missing out, I say.

There's always a line outside Sears, especially on weekend mornings. This is actually one reason a lot of people don't experience it; they look at that line, which can stretch down the sidewalk, and freak out that they'll starve to death before they make it in the door. And they leave.

Here's an insider's secret: do not be intimidated by the line. I have never once been in it where I waited more than 10 minutes before I got seated. The truth is that a.) Sears is a cavernous place, and they move people in and out pretty briskly and b.) there's no place inside to wait. So, people wait on the sidewalk, but that's really not an indication of how long it will take to get seated. What would look like an hour wait in the rain at another restaurant is just a few minutes there.

So be brave and stay in line. Your reward will be...

The most awesome French toast you've ever had. This is what Cassy gets almost every time. One thing I love about Sears Fine Food is that they bring out their maple syrup warm.

Asking for extra powdered sugar gets you a whole ceramic bowl filled with the stuff. Cassy sprinkles it all over her French toast.

This is their most famous breakfast item: the Swedish pancakes. They're dollar-sized pancakes with a bit of buckwheat in the batter. They serve them with a little lingonberry sauce on the side, and I must say they are darn tasty.

This bad boy, however, is what I love the most. It's their "Crisp Pecan Waffle" and it makes me want to cry, it's so good. (You pronounce it PEA-can, by the way, not puh-CAHN. Don't let my mom tell you different.)

Actually, pretty much everything we've tried at Sears is delicious - even their hash browns are crispy on the outside and creamy and smooth inside.

We haven't done lunch or dinner there, but my friend Terry had a club sandwich on our last trip together, and she said it was just as good as their breakfast food.

Happy Terry, full of sandwich.

The waitstaff is always attentive, and when you're done, they give you a little token. You can keep it as a souvenir, or drop it in a slot machine at the front for a chance to win a free meal. We never win, but we keep trying, because at the very least, we still get to eat yummy waffles and french toast.

If you're in San Francisco, brave the line and try Sears Fine Food for brunch. Then you can be like me!

Next Sunday: Nona's Kitchen, in my hometown.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My First Pie

I made a pie.

Doesn't sound all that exciting, does it?

After all, pretty much every post on this blog is about me making something or other. So, why should a pie be all that different?

Because - and here I have to make a confession: I was scared of pies. Absolutely terrified. Well, more specifically, I was scared of pie crusts. I just couldn't get them right. They always tore into pieces when I tried to roll them out, or shrunk into the filling when I baked them. But they usually didn't get far enough to be called pies; they were more like balls of slimy chunks of unrollable dough.


I have never - not once - made a final pie that I would want to serve anyone, and since I am not one to resort to ready-made crusts, I just gave up on them.

Stupid pies.

The problem is, I am seriously considering going to pastry school. If not full-time, at least taking some more in-depth pastry and baking classes. And how could I hold my head up in pastry school if I couldn't even make a simple pie crust?

So, a few days ago, I got it into my head that I was going to make a pie. I happened to have a jar of leftover pumpkin-pecan butter from Thanksgiving that I needed to use, and a little cream and an egg would turn that into a pie filling. So, I had only to tackle to the crust.

I turned to Cooks Illustrated, and they had at least one nice recipe that didn't require a food processor. (I don't like them, but it seems like every pie crust recipe requires one nowadays.) It included both shortening and butter, but here's something interesting - they have you freeze the butter, and then grate it into the flour (mixed with a little salt and sugar) after you've smashed in the chilled shortening. Then you cut that with a pastry cutter, and add some iced water until it forms a dough.

I pressed that dough into a circle until it held together and waited while it chilled. I was able to roll it out and into the pie plate, then added the filling. Less than an hour later, I had a real, honest-to-goodness, delicious pie.

It even looked okay. Sorta.

On the plus side, the crust was delicious - the butter gave it really good flavor, while the shortening made it nice and flaky. It stayed crisp, even on the bottom and even the next day. Cooks Illustrated isn't big on people reprinting their recipes, but it's in all their magazines and websites - I think it's called the traditional single-crust pie dough.

There were obviously a couple of negatives that I will need to iron out with practice. For starters, I got a little nervous rolling it out, and stopped too soon. That not only meant that my crimping looked kind of bad, but there was not quite enough dough on a couple of sides of the crust, and it crumpled in on itself. It also got a little brown; the filling recipe directed you to start out at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, and at the end of that, the edges were already brown. I protected them with foil the rest of the way, but they were still too dark. Next time, I'd wrap them in foil from the start.

But all in all, I was pleased. I had made a real-live pie, and I know what to do to get even better at it in the future.

Heck, maybe next Thanksgiving I will make my own pies. We'll see.

The point is: I did it. I made a pie.

Go me.