Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Birthday Cake!

My mom's birthday was on Sunday, so I made her a cake. Specifically, this cake, which will go into my "recipes to use again and again" stack.

I made the cake on Thursday. It's another nice white cake where you have to beat the egg whites separately, so keeping in mind how my egg whites didn't enjoy their little rest on the counter in the caramel cake from the beginning of the month, I beat the butter/sugar mixture first, adding the flour/baking powder alternating with the milk, and then putting that aside, cleaning the mixing bowl, and beating the egg whites.

This way, the egg whites didn't sit at all, they were added to the waiting butter/sugar/flour/milk mixture. This worked well.

I baked it in 2 layers, it took longer than the 30 min the recipe suggested, but that was fine. I then made the cream cheese frosting (using neufchatel cheese instead of full-fat cream cheese- we're all on varying degrees of diets- which was extremely thin, so to compensate and try to get a thicker frosting, I added far more sugar than the recipe called for, although I think even with the full-fat version, 1.25cups is not enough sugar), but didn't frost the cake til Sunday afternoon.

I also recently acquired a gorgeous cake plate (Simon Pearce's Hartland cake stand), so I brought that with me.
The cake was baked in two layers, so first I cut each layer into two. I put one layer on the cake plate, and frosted it, then added blackberry preserves. I repeated with the next two layers, and the last layer just got frosting.

I should have put some strips of parchment down on the cake plate to avoid making a mess, but I didn't have any, so I was just very careful- you can see I did a decent job of that. To finish, I patted on some sliced almonds. Yum!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yay! and pie.

I finally got on! They have to gradually add people because two people can only handle maintaining so many people on a forum like ravelry (which I'm still trying to figure out), so I only recently tried to get on. I've heard of people waiting months to get an account, but it took me less than a week.

So, maybe this'll motivate me to finish some of my UFOs, and give me ideas for new things to knit. I should start asking for yarn or gift certificates to my favorite LYS as birthday gifts.

I also baked a raspberry pie last night- my favorite kind of pie (peach-lime being a close second).
Martha Stewart's pie crust:
combine 2.5 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar. Cut up 2 sticks (1cup) of cold, unsalted butter, and blend into the flour until mixture is crumbly (many suggest doing this in a food processor, so not having one, I started out doing this in a blender. I don't recommend that. However, using your Kitchenaid stand mixer works beautifully). Then slowly, while mixing, add in 1/4-1/2 cup of ice water, just enough so the crust will come together. Pat into 2 discs and chill for 1 hour. Roll out to 1/4-1/8 inch thick.

Raspberry filling: 3 12 oz packages of frozen raspberries (I like to overfill my pies), 1/4 cup sugar, 2 T flour, some spices (I used 1/2t cinnamon, 1t allspice, 1t ginger, but I like to experiment). Put into pie dish with bottom crust already in it, cover with top crust. Mush edges of crust together, poke holes in top, brush on an egg white wash (if you use a whole egg, it might turn yellow from the yolk). bake at 425 for 15 min, then turn down to 375 for 45 min. Eat. Yum.

Seriously yum.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I lied...

I said I probably wouldn't cook for a while... but I made another rhubarb crisp last night, using only 2T sugar with the rhubarb. YUM. I was a little haphazard with the crisp topping, not really making any precise measurements, but it was great, especially with a little vanilla ice cream.

Unfortunately, I was quite stupid and forgot to bring in a piece for my lunch today.

Next week I'll share my recipe for cosmopolitans, since I'm having some cosmo-loving friends over. I also have to think up a dessert... the back up plan is another rhubarb crisp.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Misc. tasty things

A recipe:
Fennel slaw with pistachio pesto
This caught my eye: I like pesto, I like fennel. I also never really know what to do with fennel. One of my labmates once suggested putting it in stew/soup, but I'm not a stew/soup maker. I've also done prosciutto-wrapped veggies as a simple and quick appetizer, and used fennel as one of the veggies, but it's a bit boring. So when I saw this one on Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentiis, I said, ooh.

Make pesto: toast 3/4cup of pistachios, then add them to a food processor with 2cups flat leaf parsley, 1T fresh thyme (I used a 1/2T of provence herb blend I found in my mom's cabinet, that was fine), 3 garlic cloves and blend until finely chopped. Then run the food processor and slowly pour in 3/4cup olive oil, and voila, pesto.

In addition to the herb change, I skipped the olive oil and replaced it with about 1/2cup lemon juice. I don't really like oily foods, so I usually either drastically reduce the amount of oil I add or cut it altogether. I'm also trying to lose weight at the moment (or realistically, cut down on other things so I can enjoy my baking, which is what I'd rather eat than anything fried or potato-y or with oil, anyway). At first, the lemon pesto was quite lemony, but when I coated the chopped fennel (into bite-sized pieces) with it, the mild licorice flavor of the fennel went really nicely with the somewhat overly-citrusy pesto, and was good. Also, the pistachios give it a great flavor, much more interesting (in my opinion) than pine nuts.

I made this recipe for a potluck luncheon. I also made a simple tomato/basil/mozzarella salad. I reduced balsamic with figs (see previous entry), starting with 1 cup of balsamic vinegar, and added that to a bowl containing 5 medium tomatoes cut into wedges, a bunch of chiffonaded basil, and a pound of small mozzarella balls. Mix it all together, and make sure you grab a serving for yourself before it's all gone! You can add olive oil, but again, not my thing. This recipe is completely fat-free if you avoid the mozzarella, and I believe that's not a very high-fat cheese, anyway (as cheeses go).

Non-recipe good food:
Boyfriend and I went to the farmer's market on Saturday. Since we live in a fairly rural area (at least compared to where I lived before), the farmer's market is big, a big deal, and popular. One should really arrive early, although the stand that used to sell out before 11am (except for the plain croissants) now has a bakery here in town, so their stuff lasts a bit longer.

Boyfriend got some elk sausage from an elk ranch relatively nearby. They have quite a variety, and since this was our first farmer's market of the season, he chose our favorite, the celtic stout sausage. It's good. They put Guinness in it, and I'm not sure what else, but slap those babies on the grill and the result is extreme goodness. He also grilled some sweet potato wedges and made a salad, and after my long day in lab (an on a Saturday, so I was a bit bitter), it was heaven.

I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. A labmate lent it to me, and praised it. It took me a while (about 6 months) to finally begin it, since I'm not usually a non-fiction kind of reader, but while it's slow going, it's really interesting. Last week I read the section on the pastoral farm, which, in a quick summary, is about how animals that eat grass are healthier and produce better food (meat, eggs, etc- probably milk too, but I don't think that was specifically mentioned) than their corn-fed counterparts. (Incidentally, feeding cows corn is terrible for their health, and the only reason they can survive on it is because they're slaughtered younger than their grass-fed counterparts.) By "better", I mean healthier for us, as well as tasting better- "more chickeny" was a common quote from people interviewed. Anyway, so I'm thinking about fresh eggs- not necessarily eggs from grass-fed chickens (cage-free and grass-fed are not the same thing, and free-range chickens don't always range freely. They're given the choice, but, being creatures of habit, don't always take advantage of the foreign outdoor range offered to them) because this seems to be hard to find, but fresh eggs. So, I found one stand selling eggs from their farm, and I bought them. Added bonus: they were cheaper than at the grocery store. Jumbo eggs were 14cents less, and large eggs were 69 cents less. Eggs are outrageously-priced right now in my area, $3.39 for the jumbos, $3.19 for larges.

So, the eggs. They don't look fresh when you crack them in a pan, the whites are runny, a sign of old eggs. However, they weren't refrigerated (which is fine, they just last longer in the fridge, and once you fridge them, they need to stay fridged), so maybe that affects the whites in ways I'm not familiar with. However, they're quite huge (the farm jumbos make the grocery store jumbos look like mediums) and they do have a richer taste. And, they're cheaper. So that's nice.

This week I have 3-4 hour rehearsals tomorrow on, with a choir concert on Saturday, so I won't be cooking at all after tonight, when I probably won't cook anyway because I'll need to sleep to get myself ready. I will probably make a pina colada smoothie tonight, my favorite post-gym meal/heavy snack, so if that's good, I'll tell about it. I'm planning another farmer's market trip on Saturday, when I have people in town for my concert and no Saturday morning rehearsal, so I'm hoping some veggies might start coming out. I'm not really in tune with vegetable seasons, unfortunately, aside from asparagus and citrus.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Birthday cake!

I haven't posted in a while- I haven't not been cooking, but I haven't cooked many new things worth sharing. Until Monday.

Yesterday we had a craft night at a friend's place, and since her birthday is next week, we decided to surprise her with a small birthday celebration. As you can imagine, I nominated myself to bake her a cake.

This is the Dolley Madison cake, from Cokie Roberts' book Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation and featured on (and I believe also her tv show a few weeks ago). It's basically a white cake with caramel icing. When I think caramel, I think coffee (more so than chocolate and coffee, another combination I love). And when I think coffee, I think of this particular friend.

The cake itself is similar to your standard white cake. If you've never made a white cake, here are some tips:
get a stand mixer.
get a second bowl for your stand mixer.

To start, you beat 8 egg whites until they're stiff. Then, if you have all the supplies you need, you'd simply set that bowl aside, grab a clean one, and cream 1 cup of butter and 2.5cups of sugar together. What I have to do in these situations is transfer the egg whites to another bowl, wash the mixer bowl, dry the bowl, and then cream the butter and sugar. It's not really that big a deal, but the eggs kind of drooped before I got back to them. Now, I'm not an expert, so I can't tell you exactly why this happened (and therefore tell you how to avoid it), but I think it was either that they eggs sat for too long before I got back to them, or I didn't beat them quite long enough.

Anyway, cream the butter and sugar. Add in 1cup of milk slowly, while the mixer's going. Then sift 3 cups of flour with 3/4cup cornstarch (I have never used cornstarch in a cake!) and add it slowly to the butter/milk concoction. Finally, fold in the egg whites- be gentle. Then add 2.5 teaspoons of vanilla- which I forgot to do until I'd already filled two cake pans, oops.

Divide the batter evenly among 4 8inch round cake pans- or, in my case, try to get about 1/4 of the batter into each of two pans, bake those, then bake the rest once they're cool. Bake at 350oF for 30-35 minutes.

While they're cooling, make the caramel icing. YUM. I made myself a little sick on this, so watch out.

Set a medium saucepan of water to simmer. In a heat-proof bowl, combine 3 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of light cream (I used 3/4 cup of whipping cream and 1/4 cup 1% milk) and 2 T of butter. Whisk (I used cold butter, it didn't really specify, and then just let it melt). Put this bowl over the simmering water, and cook for 20 minutes.

My changes to this: there were a lot of comments on the website that no one's caramel icing solidified very much, and remained a drippy mess even the next day. I simmered mine for about 40 minutes. It made a mess while putting it on the cake, but it solidified nicely, although the next day the leftover icing I put in tupperware was rather grainy. I'm terrible at caramel, though.

The recipe says the sugar/cream mixture will thicken; I'm not so sure. I mostly stopped after 40 minutes in my double-boiler because it was after midnight and I was tired. I let it cool about 20 minutes (not long enough, though- you want it room temp, and the saucepan the caramel was in was still too hot to place directly on my counter), and then start assembling.

To assemble: place a layer of the cake on the plate. You'll notice I have a blob of stuff there- I usually try to use some of the frosting as a glue, especially when the cake's going to go in the car. So, glue the bottom layer down. Put 4 strips of parchment just barely under the cake, around the perimeter of the plate, to catch all the drips. Then pour 1/2cup of icing over that, spread it around if it doesn't do it itself, add another layer, repeat. etc.

It's also a good idea, when making a cake, and especially when making a new kind of cake, to save some of the batter for a cupcake or two. then you can eat it without cutting into someone else's birthday cake.

In the next couple of months I'll post more birthday cakes. My birthday's in a little over a month, my mom's is in 3.5 weeks, and my boyfriend's is at the end of June. I'll most likely have a cake for each of those (although I may skip my own birthday cake, we're going to an out-of-state wedding the next day), so I'll try to pick some interesting ones worth sharing.

I had some other stuff to post, but I don't have the photos yet. One recipe will address the problem of all the yolks left over in this recipe- if you paid attention, you'll have noticed we used 8 whites, but the yolks are never mentioned. We'll get to that.

I also added a photo to the previous post, although there was only one- I thought I'd taken quite a few more than that.