Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TWD: Cran-Apple Crisps

Our fearless leaders at Tuesdays with Dorie have permitted us to post the November recipes in whatever order best accomodates our busy holiday schedules. The recipe that I've decided to post this week, Cran-Apple Crisps (chosen by Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef) is a classic fall dessert that would be a fabulous addition to any Thanksgiving table. But it was also great on that random Monday night in early November when I had my act together well enough to make a Cran-Apple Crisp for dessert. It is versatile that way - you can dress it up, you can dress it down. I never hesitate to make apple desserts, since my husband loves them and can be counted on to be a volume eater of them, and at least one of my three kids will eagerly join him (that's the best percentage I ever get).

Tempted as I was to make individual crisps, I decided to make a half recipe of this crisp in one large baking dish. It's an easy dessert to throw together. The only aspects of the recipe that might cause me to avoid it on those (numerous) Monday nights when I DON'T have my act together are that (1) it requires peeling/coring/cutting apples, and (2) it requires that I break out the food processor. But honestly, if either of those activities seems overly daunting, I know that I don't need to be making a crisp anyway.

This crisp is fairly traditional, but the topping has the unexpected addition of coconut. I'm not a huge fan of coconut, except when I am, and in this case, I think I'd have preferred the topping without the coconut. But I'm certainly not going to quibble - this is a delicious, crowd-pleasing dessert. It certainly pleased (3/5th) of my crowd!

You can find the recipe in Dorie Greenspan's amazing book, Baking from my Home to Yours, or by visiting Em's gorgeous blog. Thanks for the perfect fall pick, Em!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TWD: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

Even though I've been a monumental blog slacker of late (which I am really sorry about, particularly to my friends whose blogs I have not been visiting), I always get as excited as a kid in a candy store when the Tuesdays with Dorie recipes for a new month are announced. It's the promise of a clean slate - the promise of a new month in which I CAN make caramel. I just can't click over to the TWD website fast enough when I see that "new recipes are up!" tweet. And typically, I am affirmatively excited about one or two of the recipes; one or two of them scare the heck out of me (usually custard or caramel-based); and one or two of them fill me with indifference. The Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies, chosen by the fabulous Pamela of Cookies with Boys, fell into my "overwhelmed by indifference" category for November. Other people were really excited about them, but as someone who, when presented with a platter of chocolate chip cookies, lemon cookies, and spice cookies, would ALWAYS choose the spice cookies last, my primary thought was "Good. These won't tempt me and David will eat them."

Well. Then I made them. And realized, after taking one bite of their crispy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside-perfectly-spiced-subtly molassesy goodness, that these cookies now rank solidly among my top three favorite cookies EVER, right up there with World Peace Cookies and Alton Brown's The Chewy. This, a spice cookie! I don't know if my taste buds have changed (there's been some banter on Twitter that your taste buds die as you get older, and I did just have a birthday) or if I was just young and stupid back in the days when I thought I didn't care much about spice cookies, or if these spice cookies are just particularly amazing, given that they are a Dorie Greenspan recipe and all. I don't know and I don't care. All I know is that I am deep deep deep in Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookie love. If you see me sitting there with sort of a faraway look and a goofy half-grin, you can assume that I'm thinking about the Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies again.

I was a little thrown off kilter by my love for these cookies. I had to scramble to change my plans, because again, I was expecting to be indifferent to these cookies while my husband, he of the superhuman metabolism, ate them all. But after I had one, I knew I had to get some of them out of the house pronto. I needed a worthy recipient, though, someone who would fully appreciate their awesomeness - maybe someone who is eating for two. Yeah, that's it! So I brought some to my 8 months pregnant friend, Amanda. She called me after trying one and said "I am SO glad that you're on a diet." And I replied "I am SO glad that you are not."

Amanda can expect more of these cookies before she has the baby (and some after she has the baby); and I am going to start sharing them with some of my non-pregnant friends, too. If you are likely to receive baked goods from me for Christmas, these will be in the package. Just wanted you to know so you can plan your Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookie needs accordingly. Don't worry, the World Peace Cookies will be in there too.

My only cookie-related disappointment is my pictures of them. I got a fancy new camera for my birthday, and I expected to take it out of the box and instantly start taking beautifully styled, perfectly composed, well-lit pictures (on full auto, of course). Instead, these are even darker than the ones I took with my old point & shoot! I'm taking an Introduction to Digital Photography class starting this week, so maybe that will help. But I'm afraid that there may be inherent talent limitations at work here, and at the end of the day, I suspect that this is just not going to be the place you want to come for pretty pictures. But this IS the place to come for unbridled enthusiasm about Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies!!

Pamela, I loved you before you chose these cookies, and I love you even more now. Thank you for introducing me to a new favorite cookie!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Caramel Crunched Tart

I should start by saying that there have been far, far more TWD desserts that I expected not to enjoy, but ended up loving, than there have been desserts that I expected to love but did not. I will also say that when I affirmatively do not like a Dorie Greenspan dessert, and cannot explain that dislike purely by personal taste (see, e.g. custard, flan), I assume that I made an error. Usually I can identify the error, but in the case of this week's Tuesdays With Dorie dessert, Chocolate Caramel Crunched Tart, I cannot. But since most of the TWD universe heard angels sing upon tasting this dessert, and I was most disappointed, I can only conclude that I messed something up somewhere.

I cut most of the recipe down to make one 4" tart, but I made a full batch of the caramel because I had visions of my non-chocolate-eating husband enjoying the leftovers over vanilla ice cream. And he might have, if we owned a jackhammer. I had one previous run-in with caramel that, um, did not go well, so I was nervous going in. In fact, when my husband asked me that Saturday morning what I had on the agenda for the day, I told him that I was totally flexible for most of the day, but that at 1:00, I needed to concentrate on caramel completely, and would be most appreciative if the children were out of the kitchen (out of the house = even better). He totally wrangled the kids during the appointed time, and I had zen-like focus on the caramel. It seemed to go fine. The temperature was right. The color was right.

But the caramel was so, so wrong. It was spreadable at first, but once it cooled, it became rock hard, and I found the flavor to be on the bitter side. Not at all the smooth, luxurious caramel I had been hoping for. The caramel was very hard to break through without a knife (or with a knife, for that matter), and the ganache did not seem to be properly set. While this screams "company dessert!" on paper, I would not serve it to company unless Dorie herself were in the kitchen making it with me, because I don't want to have to raid my toolbox for proper dessert utensils (wire cutters? needlenose pliers?) nor do I like to ask my dinner guests to sign a waiver before biting into my dessert affirming that they have not had any recent dental work.

Carla of Chocolate Moosey chose this tart. It is obviously wonderful in just about everybody else's hands, so head on over to Carla's website for the recipe!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD: Cottage Cheese Pufflets

I find that participating in a weekly baking group is mostly a good thing, but one bad thing about it is that sometimes you bake for the wrong reasons. You might find yourself baking not because you feel like baking, or because you are going somewhere where it might be nice to bring a cake, or because you or anyone you live with or know actually wants what you're baking. No, sometimes you bake just to get the darn thing baked, because that's what you do. You get things baked.

But it's always great when you taste something that you baked for the sole purpose of getting it baked and find that you really really like it. Then it's all worth it. Such was the case with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Cottage Cheese Pufflets, which were chosen by Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes. It's not that they didn't sound good to me -- they did. But I baked these in a hurry several weeks ago before heading out of town to visit my adorable new baby nephew, so I was kind of checking things off the ol' list left and right, and the pufflets were just another item on the list, along with "buy TSA-approved baggies" and "pick up monogrammed bib." Therefore, I remember very little about baking them. I don't think they gave me too much trouble, or I would have remembered. I know that some people found the dough to be hard to work with, but I don't recall having any particular issues with it. I know that I did a poor job sealing them, as the jam kind of oozed out while they were baking, as you can see in the picture.

I do know that we really liked these. The pufflets were more breakfast pastry-ish than dessert pastry-ish, in my opinion. The dough puffed as it was supposed to puff and was flaky, tender and not too sweet. It went well with strawberry jam, which I can see from the pictures that I used. I might have made a few with apricot jam as well. David?

I knew that David would be turned off by the name "cottage cheese" pufflets. As I handed him one, I thought for a split second about calling them "jam pufflets" or "pufflet pastries" or "jam pastry thingies," but I told it like it was -- "cottage cheese pufflets" -- and watched him grimace. But fortunately, the worst thing about these is their name, and after one bite hubs was a believer in the deliciousness of cottage cheese dough. Who knew?

Thank you Jacque for the great pick!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TWD: Flaky Apple Turnovers

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe for Flaky Apple Turnovers was chosen by Julie of Someone's in the Kitchen. For whatever reason I did not get my act together and make these over the weekend, when the timing and lighting conditions would have been more favorable. So I found myself scrambling to get these done and photographed on Tuesday, which (fair warning) will be obvious from the quality of the photos and the post.

Dorie calls the sour cream turnover pastry a "miracle," because it is rolled, chilled, and folded in a way that encourages it to gently puff. Sadly, I tend to be a miracle killer when it comes to pastry, but I was very intrigued by this dough and hoped for the best.

I read the recipe and saw that the dough calls for three (3) sticks of butter.

[QUIZ: How annoying is it to watch someone who voluntarily signed up for a weekly baking group act horrified by the quantity of butter that she is using on a weekly basis? ___ kinda ___ really ___ really really.]

I decided to quarter the recipe, because my family of five (and only three sure-bet turnover eaters) did not need 16 turnovers, and because somehow three ounces of butter seemed less menacing than three sticks, even though the per-turnover butter quantity would be exactly the same as if I went with the full three stick version. Nope, deep down, I wasn't fooled. But I used light sour cream because I had a fridge full of it, thanks to a 3 for $5 special at Western. I didn't need three 16 oz containers of light sour cream (who does?) but I couldn't afford not to buy it at that price. I wasn't sure how light sour cream would work in the recipe, but decided to have faith that all the butter would carry me home in the turnover fat department.

The dough is a simple mixture of sour cream, sugar, flour, salt and, of course, butter. The butter gets cut into the flour with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. I do not have a pastry blender, and even one knife at a time is plenty dangerous for me, so I decided to follow Dorie's lead and use my fingers. Worked like a charm! I achieved that coarse meal consistency, although there were still a few large gobs of butter in there. Dorie's instructions suggested that that was preferable to over mixing, so I left them, and then added the sour cream/sugar mixture.

After a couple of rounds of chilling, rolling, and folding like a business letter, my turnovers were filled and ready to bake:

I didn't expect to see anything as dramatic as puff pastry, but I was hoping to get flaky dough with some decent puffage* (*probably not a word).


Success!!! We LOVED these! They were puffingly* (*actual word) flaky:

The dough was wonderful - it is indeed miraculous; Dorie is not kidding. The texture was perfect, and it was not overly sweet, so it complemented the apple/sugar/cinnamon mixture very well. My hubs raved about these and said that they reminded him of a fried pie (that's a compliment) but without the grease. As expected, David, Caroline and I were the only ones who ate these. Someday, perhaps my older two children will look back with regret on those days when mom baked crazy delicious things multiple times a week, only to be rebuffed in favor of Transformers fruit snacks. Until then, more for the rest of us!

Thank you for this fabulous fall pick, Julie! And thank you Dorie for yet another incredible dessert.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Soufflé

I'd never made a soufflé before this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, although I joined TWD in the first place because I was excited about the prospect of making renowned desserts that I would never otherwise try, like soufflés. Soufflés are synomous with difficult and fussy (although Dorie assures us that this reputation is undeserved) and, as my husband pointed out, a plot point in numerous Tom & Jerry episodes (i.e., Tom & Jerry's antics cause soufflé to collapse). I couldn't wait to tackle it.

I never really knew what went into a soufflé, and now that I know, I'm totally amazed. Chocolate, eggs, sugar, milk. That's it. No flour. No butter. The fact that these four ingredients can combine to create a dessert with this crumb

blows my mind. It's nothing short of magical. I mean, do a few different things with those same ingredients and you get ice cream. It's almost too much for me to get my head around.

I didn't think that anyone would eat these besides me and my two year old, Caroline, so I decided to quarter the recipe and bake the soufflés in two 6 oz ramekins. The recipe is so simple that I can actually remember what I did without having to go upstairs and check the cookbook! Melt sugar and chocolate over a pan of hot water, whisk in milk. Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes and whisk in egg yolk. Meanwhile, whip egg whites until they are opaque, add in sugar, and continue whipping until they start to hold peaks. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. Fill ramekin(s):

And bake. I took a picture of them in the oven to prove that they rose, just in case they immediately deflated as soon as I opened the oven, which was very possible since I live in a Tom & Jerry kind of world:

These soufflés left me speechless. What can I say? They are shockingly easy to make. They are intensely chocolaty, decadent and rich, without feeling heavy. This is, hands down, a top 5 Dorie dessert for me. My only mistake was in making just two of these, because my seven year old and four year old loved the soufflé and wanted their own. Lucky for them, they won't have to wait long to try these again.

One of my favorite blogger friends, Susan from Doughmesstic, chose this week's recipe. Do yourself a favor and visit Susan's blog - she's talented, creative, and really fun. She made the most adorable (and delicious!) custom cookies for my daughter's birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and I've been telling all my real life friends about her ever since! Thanks for the cookies, Susan, and for this fabulous TWD pick!

Monday, September 7, 2009

BBA: Cinnamon Raisin(less) Walnut "Swirl" Bread

The Slow & Steady subgroup of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge took on Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread this week. I tell you, the deeper I get into the Bread Baker's Apprentice, the more hooked I get on bread baking. It's like a little miracle happens every time that dough rises.

Of course, there's always something about my breads that keep them from being perfect (see, e.g, tiny ciabatta holes, preternatural hugeness, or gaping holes in cinnamon bread where swirl is supposed to begin) and therefore I don't usually get to revel in the miracle of my risen bread for very long. But still, even less-than-perfect homemade bread is pretty darn good, and this cinnamon walnut bread is Exhibit A.

Many of Peter's breads are two-day breads, requiring some kind of overnight soaker before the dough is mixed, but this one is a one day bread. It's also a one-bowl bread, so it is just about as easy as it gets. I started this one on Sunday evening at about 7:00. I don't usually like to start bread at night because I never know when I'm going to hit The Wall, and if I do happen to hit The Wall when my dough still needs to rise for another 30 minutes and bake for 40 minutes, I'm likely to make decisions that are good for my sleep needs but bad for my bread. Fortunately, on the first rise my dough doubled in 1.5 hours (rather than the 2 that Peter estimates it will take), and crested the pans on the second rise in about an hour. So the bread was out of the oven at the respectable hour of 10:30, and my night-owl husband graciously offered to cover the bread once it was cool. Delicious cinnamon bread and a decent night's sleep to boot - yup, it was a good day.

I left out the raisins here, but decided to try for a cinnamon swirl when shaping the bread. Peter provides clear instructions for doing this, and I tried to follow the instructions exactly, but my swirling clearly needs work. The slices of bread on the end of the loaf had these crazy half swirl things -- kind of like a semicolon with a huge hole where the top dot should be:

I'm a big fan of the semicolon, but not in the middle of my bread. Fortunately, when you got towards the center of the bread, the swirl looked a little more like a swirl is supposed to look (except for the big hole). I gave one loaf to David's parents, and I'm curious to hear how their swirl looked. I'm hoping that it didn't evoke thoughts of punctuation marks for them.

But mutant swirl or not, this is incredibly delicious bread. I was pleased with the crumb, and while I think this would be delicious fresh, cinnamon bread seems like it is meant to be toasted. So I toasted it, buttered it, and sprinkled it with more cinnamon sugar. My entire family loved this. Another great one from the Bread Baker's Apprentice!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ellie: Nekkid Waldorf Chicken Wraps

Jessica of Johnstone's Vin Blanc chose this weeks recipe for CEiMB, Waldorf Chicken Wraps. I fully intended to photograph and eat this in wrap form, but due to rushed lunch-packing and rushed picture taking, my chicken salad has yet to don a wrap.

I was happy to see this pick, because it is a perfect, portable lunch choice. I work in a field in which a 10 hour day is just a normal, ordinary workday, and during busy times, the hours can get much longer than that. But I've been working part-time ever since I had kids, which means that I have a limited amount of time in the office and usually have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Therefore, I don't usually leave my desk for lunch. Also, I'm kind of lazy -- that's another reason I don't leave my desk. Inertia just tends to take over, and unless acted upon by an outside force, the walk to Chick-Fil-A just never seems worth it. I will even go to great lengths to avoid having to walk downstairs two floors to heat something up in the microwave, such as buying Thermos hot food containers, or eating food cold that should be warm. So this Waldorf Chicken salad is really the perfect lunch for me. I could pack it in my pink Pottery Barn Kids lunch box in the morning, and enjoy it at noon with minimal movement required.

Yogurt replaces the usual mayonnaise in this chicken salad (there's just a touch of mayonnaise in the dressing). I used nonfat Greek yogurt, which I somehow lived without for 35 years, but I have no idea how. Ever since I discovered it last year (thank you, food blogging community!) it has been as much of a staple in my house as bread or milk. Lemon juice, dijon mustard, thyme, salt and pepper round out the dressing, and grapes, apples, and toasted walnuts combine with the chicken to create the salad. I know that I have walnuts somewhere around here, but I couldn't for the life of me find them while I was making this, so I used almonds instead.

Result: I really like this chicken salad. While it might not be the best chicken salad I've ever had, it is light, flavorful and perfect for the ol' lunchbox. I'll make this one again -- might even wrap it next time. Thanks Jessica!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

I had the kind of mixed feelings about this week's TWD recipe, Espresso Cheesecake Brownies, that I have about almost every chocolate pick. On one hand, they involve espresso, cheesecake, and brownies, so they pretty much sounded like heaven in a pan to me. On the other hand, my husband does not eat chocolate-y things, and my kids do not eat espresso-y or cheesecake-y things, which left me as the sole Eater of the Brownies in my house. Which would be fine if I wasn't paying Weight Watchers International cash money to help me shed the last of my baby/enthusiastic new baker weight (my baby just turned two, and I'm not a new baker anymore). So as I was reading the recipe, my eyes saw notes in the recipe such as "Makes 16 brownies," but my brain interpreted them as "Makes all 15 of those pounds you just lost come back." Still, at the end of the day, c'mon -- they're Espresso Cheesecake Brownies!!!!! -- ain't no way I wasn't gonna make them.

The day I made these, I got a call from the school nurse about 20 minutes into the school day. "This is Nurse Monica. J is in here and says he has a tummy ache. Would you like to talk to him?" Well, since the child he sits next to in class has the swine flu, hell no, I don't want to talk to him! I want to do what any hysterical mother would do and check him out of school immediately so I could rush him to the pediatrician's office with the other hysterical mothers and their maybe sick, maybe not children. But we had a little time before our appointment, so I mixed up the brownie component of this recipe while my son dressed up as a ninja, which was my first clue that he probably did not have the swine flu (he didn't).

The brownie mixture was thick but pourable, sort of like magma (not "liquid hot magma," Mike Myers fans, just "magma") when I left it to go to the pediatrician's, but when I got back a couple of hours later, it was significantly thicker. I don't know if that long rest time affected the final outcome. But in the interest of full disclosure: I let the brownie mixture sit out for two hours when Dorie did not tell me to do that.

The cheesecake portion of this was easy. I used light cream cheese and sour cream, because I always use light cream cheese and sour cream, and therefore they taste normal to me.

Because of the thickness of my brownie batter after the long rest time, it was no longer pourable, and in fact, was pretty darn hard to spread in the bottom of the pan at all. I used a 9" round pan because I did not have a 9" square pan (I'm pretty sure that 9" square pans and 9" round pans have different capacities, but they are close enough for me). The cheesecake layer was pourable and spread nicely. My "swirling" of brownie batter into cheesecake batter was pretty pitiful, possibly because my brownie batter was so thick, and possibly because I'm just not cut out to be a swirler. I pretty much violated every one of Dorie's swirl-related warnings. Take care not to plunge knife into brownie layer? Oops. Swirl sparingly? Oops.

Despite all that, these baked up really well. I had to bake mine for 35 minutes before the cheesecake was set. Cool and refrigerate, and many hours later, you have . . . one delicious brownie! The brownie portion of mine was a little dry, but that may be because I let the batter sit out for so long. I think the brownie part tended towards "cakey" as opposed to "fudgy," which complements the creamy cheesecake nicely, although in general I prefer a fudgy brownie. Or maybe they were supposed to be fudgy and I just messed up -- always a solid possibility here. The espresso cheesecake part was to die for. These went straight to my freezer, where I've been doling them out to myself 1 oz at a time. They are actually great frozen, and the brownie doesn't seem quite as dry when it's frozen. They are not the easiest things to share because they need to be kept refrigerated, and because they bring out the Greedy Brownie Hoarder in me, but I may try to share the love soon if I can bear to part with them.

This wonderful brownie was chosen by Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell. Thanks for the great pick, Melissa!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ellie: Chicken Saté with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

I got to choose this week's recipe for CEiMB, and I picked the Chicken Saté with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce. I had a hard time choosing, of course, but since this one was on my short list back in January when I picked for the first time, when I saw that it was still available, I decided to go for it. After I sent my email to Sara, I suffered some picker's remorse and commenced serious hand wringing and second guessing. The ingredient list is so long! We just recently (like last week!) made recipes that had an Asian flair - is this redundant?! What will the vegetarians do?! What if everyone hates it?! But once I made it, I relaxed and felt really good about this pick. Let's face it: there's just something fun about food on a stick.

Despite the long ingredient list, both the marinade and the sauce came together pretty quickly. The chicken marinates for an hour in a marinade of chicken broth, light coconut milk, soy sauce, shallot, garlic, fish sauce (or more soy sauce, which is what I used), dark brown sugar, lime zest, and ginger. Then Ellie says to thread the chicken on skewers and grill in a grill pan, but when I tried them in a grill pan, the chicken would not lie flat because the long skewers came up over the rim of the pan. So I moved them over to a regular grill:

I'd skip the skewers next time I want to do this in a grill pan. Skewers or no skewers, this one is going to end up being a finger food - fair warning.

The chicken gets garnished with peanuts, basil and cilantro (except if you hate cilantro, then for the love -- don't use it!)

The chicken was great on its own. But hubs and I agreed that it was the peanut sauce that made this dish really outstanding. I mixed up all of the sauce ingredients with my trusty immersion blender: creamy peanut butter, chicken broth, soy sauce, dark brown sugar, lime juice, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, red curry paste, and a shallot.

The sauce was sweet, spicy, smooth, creamy and utterly irresistible. I was so glad that it was just hubs and I eating this so any bowl-licking that took place could be overlooked. As good as the chicken was, next time I'm likely to just make the sauce and serve it with simple chicken grilled with salt and pepper - I felt like the sauce is what gave this dish most of its flavor, anyway. Ellie mentions that it's a "sublime" dip for raw vegetables, and I think it would be wonderful with grilled vegetables or tofu as well, or in a Thai noodle bowl -- so I really hope that the non-meat eaters in the group were able to find a way to enjoy this fabulous peanut sauce.

I hope that everyone enjoyed this recipe as much as we did!

Chicken Saté with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, 2006 Ellie Krieger, All Rights Reserved


1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup lite coconut milk
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce (or 2 additional teaspoons low sodium soy sauce)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast pounded slightly and cut into 1-inch strips


8 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked for 20 minutes

3/4 cup Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, recipe below
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped toasted peanuts
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the chicken stock, coconut milk, soy sauce, shallot, garlic, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime zest, and ginger. Add the chicken strips and marinate for 1 hour. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.

Spray a nonstick grill pan with cooking spray and preheat over a medium-high flame. While pan is heating, thread chicken onto skewers. Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side, until meat is cooked through and has light grill marks.

Serve chicken skewers with Peanut Dipping Sauce, and garnish with basil or cilantro and chopped peanuts.

Yield: 4 servings (2 skewers and 2 tablespoons peanut sauce per serving)

Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce:

1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Sauce can be made 1 day ahead of time, and will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 1 1/4 cups

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BBA: Cinnamon Buns

The Slow & Steady bakers in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge are taking on Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Buns this week. I sensed an overall lack of enthusiasm for the cinnamon buns at the beginning, a lack of enthusiasm that I shared to some degree -- we're in the middle of a stretch of enriched sweet breads with the BBA, and I think many of us are looking forward to getting to the crustier hearth breads. But once I tasted these cinnamon buns, my enthusiasm returned in full force. These rank right up there with the best cinnamon buns I've ever had. They also rank right up there with the best cinnamon buns I've ever made, although it is somewhat crazy to me to think that I have indeed made enough different cinnamon buns at this point to have several to choose from in declaring one "the best." I've made Dorie's pecan honey sticky buns using her brioche, and they were to die for fabulous. I've made raisin snails using Peter Reinhart's brioche - also very good. And I've made Ina Garten's easy sticky buns, which were delicious, and indeed easy. But for the perfect combination of both simplicity and out of this world deliciousness, I just don't think you can beat Peter Reinhart's recipe.

Making these is no more difficult than making a typical cake or brownie recipe. Mix together sugar, salt, and butter or shortening (I used butter). Another nice thing about this recipe, for all you health conscious cinnamon bun eaters out there, is that it uses significantly less butter than the brioche-based cinnamon buns (5.5 tablespoons, as opposed to a full stick of butter in a half recipe of Peter Reinhart's middle class brioche and a stick and a half in a half recipe of Dorie's brioche. Add an egg and some lemon zest or extract (I used extract because I have it and never use it). Add the flour, yeast and milk (I used nonfat buttermilk), mix until a ball forms, then switch to the dough hook and knead for 10 minutes. I had to knead (er, let the Kitchen Aid knead) mine for a little bit longer before my dough passed the windowpane and the temperature tests.

Once it passed the readiness tests, I transferred it to a bowl sprayed with oil and let it rise. It's supposed to rise for two hours, but as bad timing would have it, I had the opportunity to leave the house (alone) and run errands (by myself) right when the dough had been fermenting for a little over an hour. And NOTHING stands in the way of Mama and her alone time. Therefore, it rose for a good three hours before I was able to shape it. It had at least tripled in size by then, and I worried that I overfermented (is that a word?) it, but it certainly didn't seem to affect the final outcome.

Rolling up the cinnamon/sugar filled dough:

Cinnamon rolls sliced and ready for second proofing (I wanted to bake them fresh the next day, so I covered these with plastic wrap and retarded them in the fridge overnight):

The next morning, I took them out of the fridge - they had to proof for 3 or 4 hours before baking. This worked out perfectly with my timing, since I planned to serve them around "brunch" time at my daughter's two year old birthday party. It was a "Madeline" themed party:

I know that cinnamon buns aren't particularly French, but then neither are pigs in a blanket, and I served them too.

The cinnamon buns smelled incredible as they were baking, as cinnamon buns are wont to do. And they were really, really wonderful. I don't think that my two talking kids have ever been as enthusiastic about anything that I've baked as they were about these cinnamon buns. And my birthday girl?

She loved them too.

Suffice it to say that I will make these again. Peter, I'm sorry I wasn't excited about all these sweet breads. You sure showed me! I am in love with this recipe, and am already plotting and scheming to manufacture some other cinnamon bun occasions in the very near future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TWD: Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie

I think many people get into food blogging because they read a lot of food blogs, think it looks like fun, and decide to start a blog themselves. I, however, had never read a food blog before I started food blogging, other than my friend Amanda's. All I knew was that Amanda was in this online baking club that had her baking something every week and blogging about it, and I thought it sounded like a riot. So I joined TWD and started a blog. At the time, because I had not read food blogs, I did not realize that attractive food photographs are kind of the point. Since most of my blogging was done as a part of organized groups with participation requirements, I assumed that my pictures merely served as proof that I actually made the assigned recipe. Sort of like turning in homework. Eventually, as I started reading more and more blogs, and viewing stunning photograph after stunning photograph, it dawned on me that I had woefully misunderstood the significance of the pictures. Once I got a clue, I began trying, within the confines of my limited photographic and artistic talents, to take better pictures. I took the food outside in the late afternoon light. I thought about things like whether a particular bowl complemented the food. I garnished with mint leaves. I tried.

I say all that just to make it clear that I really, really wish that I did not have to post the following photograph. I wish it so much that I almost skipped posting today altogether -- but when I make something, it always seems foolish not to post, thereby wasting a permitted skip that could otherwise be used on a week that I don't bake. So here is my Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie, which I (1) turned into a parfait when my mini graham cracker crust fell apart, (2) accidentally burned with my blowtorch, and (3) photographed in my kitchen at approximately 10 p.m. And boy, does it show:

I fiddled with the photo editing software and tried to crop, adjust the light, etc. to help the situation, but nothing could help a lime pie that's been so abused. All I could do is post later in the day on Tuesday in the hopes of subjecting as few people as possible to this fugliness. I'm sorry if you're not one of the lucky ones.

I made one mini pie parfait for my husband. He really enjoyed it. I've made other (easier) key lime pies before (ones that don't require the whisking eggs over the stove routine) and he liked those a lot as well, so I'll probably stick with the easier kind (e.g., Mark Bittman's key lime pie from How to Cook Everything). Also, hubs prefers whipped cream to meringue, and I prefer whipping cream to whipping egg whites, so I'll stick with whipped cream going forward. But just because this probably won't be my go-to key lime pie does not mean that it wasn't wonderful. It was, says hubs! Linda of Tender Crumb picked the Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie - thanks for the great summer pick, Linda!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ellie: Grilled Thai Beef Salad

My friend Jen from Jen B's Cooking Carveout chose this week's CEiMB recipe, Grilled Thai Beef Salad. Jen has the office two doors down from me, and we joined CEiMB around the same time. Therefore, our turns to pick recipes come around the same time. I pick the week after Jen, and this Thai Beef salad had been on my short list. I was thrilled when I saw that Jen picked it, because I was able to knock one recipe off my list, which turned an excruciating decision into merely painful one.

I think the Thai Beef Salad appealed to me because I love Thai food, but rarely cook it at home. I guess I tend to skip over Thai recipes because the ingredients (things like red curry paste, green chile sauce, fish sauce) always seem exotic to me, although they can't be all that exotic, because they carry them in Publix.

In any case, I was so glad that Jen picked this, because it forced me to stare down the "international" aisle shelf at Publix and gather the ingredients I needed to make an authentic(ish) Thai dish at home.

The base of the salad is simple: red leaf lettuce, basil, cilantro, and shallots. But it is the dressing/marinade that makes this salad shine. A combination of lime juice, soy sauce, oil, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and red curry paste makes up both the marinade for the flank steak and the dressing for the salad. It came together really quickly and was so delicious. Hubs and I had it for dinner on Sunday night. I served hubs a scoop of rice with his to make it more of a manly-man meal. We both thought it was fabulous. We used the leftover beef in a stir fry tonight. This one is officially in the rotation. Thanks for the great pick, Jen!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TWD: Applesauce Spice Bars

I've got to be honest - I'm so mourning the end of One Sentence Blog Post Week ("OSBPW") that I almost couldn't even bring myself to post today. Something about the one sentence format was so energizing - I couldn't even wait to get to the computer to knock out that sentence. So the prospect of returning to multiple sentences kind of immobilized me for a while there. But then I realized that nobody is making me write long-winded non-OSBPW posts, and with a little bit of discipline, I could embrace brevity every week!

Karen of Something Sweet by Karen chose this week's TWD recipe, Applesauce Spice Bars. I first made these last fall to bring on a family trip to the lake, and I made the recipe as written, including the glaze. My memory from that trip is a little fuzzy -- I remember thinking the applesauce bars were very good, but didn't travel particularly well glazed. Fast forward ten months -- Karen picked the applesauce bars for TWD, and I decided to make them for another family trip. I decided not to glaze them this time because of that nagging recollection of a Tupperware container full of sticky, apple-y, spicy mess.

So I made the bars, sans glaze, before we left for vacation -- they're easy to make and did not unleash any kitchen drama. They even baked all the way through, which is by no means a sure thing for me when I bake bars of any kind. I brought them to the beach, where I prettied them up for a photo shoot.

There are lots of people taking pictures of all kinds of things at the beach, but I was the only one taking pictures of baked goods. I wanted to yell "What?! Haven't you ever seen anyone photographing applesauce bars on the dunes before?" But I was pretty sure I knew the answer. Kayte asked via Twitter if it was like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot. Having never participated in such an event, I can't be sure -- but I can tell you that I did not tell my applesauce bars to "work it, baby," or assure them that they are way hotter than my other desserts, and at no point did the applesauce bars throw a diva tantrum.

We all enjoyed these bars. When I first tried them (last fall) I was a little surprised by the texture -- very cake-like, when I was expecting something more like an apple-spiced blondie. It's a little like when you take a sip of what you think is water, but it's actually milk (or maybe it would be more precise to say it's like when you take a sip of what you think is water, but it's actually ice chips). Not bad, just not what I was expecting. But once I got over that, I thoroughly enjoyed the light texture and lightly spiced flavor of these bars. Yet another winner from the great Dorie Greenspan! Thanks for the delicious pick, Karen!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ellie: Stuffed Turkey Burgers

My good friend Peggy of Pantry Revisited chose this week's recipe for CEiMB, Stuffed Turkey Burgers, and the posting day for this recipe happens to fall during One Sentence Blog Post Week (which I've been enthusiastically participating in), and I feel like I'm getting really lucky with this whole one sentence thing, because the recipes I've posted so far this week fall into one of two categories (1) simple and delicious; or (2) made so long ago that I can't remember anything much to say about it anyway -- and without question this one falls into the former category: two small ground turkey patties filled with a little mozzarella and some roasted red peppers, and then sealed together and broiled to perfection (simple, delicious, and a nice change from ground beef - great pick, Peggy!).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

BBA: Ciabatta

Since this is One Sentence Blog Post Week in some parts, including these parts, I am going to seize the opportunity to post the ciabatta that I made back in May for the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge (since the one sentence limitation helps me out big time given that I remember so few details about the ciabatta, seeing as I made it back in May and all) but I do remember that (1) we loved it - this is probably the best bread that I have ever made;(2) it had tiny holes, which irritated me to no end given that the hallmark of a good ciabatta is big holes (i.e. when it comes to ciabatta holes, size matters);

and (3) the fact that I made this insanely delicious bread yet was annoyed about the hole size definitely made me pause and question what has become of me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

TWD: Brownie Buttons

As the lazy days of summer roll on, it's become apparent that blog fatigue has set in, for me and others, as manifested by a generally low motivation to wax poetic about baked goods (or just about anything else), and which has threatened to turn a super fun hobby into (gasp!) a chore (i.e., another thing on the to-do list) which would be tragic, as that is exactly the kind of thing that causes fickle people like me to ditch blogging and take up, say, fly fishing, so imagine my relief when I saw that someone had the brilliant idea of One-Sentence Blog Post Week (starting with today's Terse Tuesdays with Dorie), in which blog posts would be confined to -- yes, you guessed it -- one sentence, which is awesome because this week's TWD recipe, Brownie Bites (chosen by Jayma of Two Scientists Experimenting in the Kitchen - thank you, Jayma!), is an adorable little two-bite treat, and a lil' blog post just seems right for such a little dessert, and a mighty fine one at that (even without the glaze, which I skipped - good thing, because that might have necessitated a second sentence), even though the full recipe only made 12 measly little brownie bites, which was not nearly enough for a week at the beach (in fact, they were gone before we even left for the beach), and because I don't have any pictures of the brownie bites at the beach, I'll close with a gratuitous shot of my kids at the beach.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

BBA: Classic Banana Bundt Cake and 100th Post Giveaway

This week's TWD recipe was chosen by the wonderful Mary, The Food Librarian. Mary is a bundt cake enthusiast, and she picked a fabulous one this week!

I have a couple of mini bundt cake pans that I should have been really excited to use, but for some reason I was feeling a strong pull to do a full-size bundt cake. Just when I could feel myself falling deep into that "obsessing over something that really and truly does not matter" abyss, I realized that I had two, count 'em two, overripe bananas. Since the full recipe calls for four bananas, my decision suddenly became easy: I would make half of the recipe and use my mini bundt pans.

The cakes came together easily, and rose very well, well past the rim of the pan:

Of course, when I took those cakes out of the pan and turned them over, they had a distinctly Weeble-ish quality to them:

Fortunately, Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

And neither did my mini banana cakes.

This was not some ordinary banana bread. The banana flavor was just right -- not too overpowering, not too subtle -- and the texture was moist but not overly dense. It was simple and delicious. I glazed two of my four mini cakes with the lemon glaze that Dorie mentions in "playing around." David thought the glaze really complemented the cake nicely. And my almost-two year old so loved this cake that she was inspired to string a few words together: "ah wah mo kay" (translation: "I want more cake.")

Thanks for this fantastic pick, Mary! I will definitely make this one again, for reals.

I am particularly happy to have made such a stellar recipe to celebrate this, my 100th post! I will save my profound observations and my "Blogging and What it Means to Me" essay for my highly-anticipated-by-nobody-but-me blogiversary, which is coming up in a couple of weeks, but I couldn't let a good round number like 100 pass without doing something. And as luck would have it, I've recently been the lucky winner of not one, but two "pay it forward" giveaways, and this seems like as good a time as any to start paying forward. For this 100th post, I'd like to pass on the awesome prize I won from my bloggy friend Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook -- a $25 gift certificate for a new cookbook! I used mine to pick up this excellent one by Mark Bittman:

Thanks Di, I've been loving my book!

But if you win, you could pick out any cookbook (or heck, any kind of book, or even a board game -- I won't tell) you'd like! I'm offering one lucky winner a $25 gift certificate to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or another online bookseller of your choice that facilitates easy* (*in my sole and complete discretion) online giftcard transactions.

If you would like to enter, leave me a comment by midnight PST on 8/10 answering the following question: "If you were a classic bundt cake, what kind of classic bundt cake would you be?" (or some other question). I will use the random integer generator to choose a winner.

Thanks for playing along! And thanks again, Mary, for choosing one seriously delicious banana bundt cake!

Friday, July 31, 2009

BBA: Challah

We continue to work our way through the alphabet with the BBA challenge, and "C" happens to be a big letter for bread. Possibly the biggest, so we will be here for a while. The "C" in this week's C-bread, Challah, is silent, but it can hold its own with the other C-breads in every other respect.

I am sure that I have a lot to say about the process of making this bread, but lucky for you, I am scrambling to get this post drafted so I could get out of town, so I won't say (most of) it.

I will note that proud as I was of Artie, I was pretty sure I couldn't handle birthin' another loaf of bread quite so big. So I decided at the outset that I'd divide the dough in half and make two smaller loaves. And I sure am glad that I did - even the smaller loaves looked plenty big to me, and one big loaf might have out-Artied Artie.

Getting ready to braid:


Somehow the braiding looked slightly better before I baked it. Plenty of room for improvement with that braiding, yes there is.

I had a small bite of this bread fresh out of the oven and thought it was very good. But I didn't really see us eating it for dinner, so I decided to let the loaves get stale. One loaf is coming on vacation with us, and I plan to make Ina Garten's recipe for challah french toast for breakfast one morning. I will report back!

I turned the other loaf into croutons, which were really great - we enjoyed them in soup and on salad all week!

Aaaaaaand there goes Blogger, flipping my pictures again. Thanks for nothing, Blogger.

Next up: ciabatta!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TWD: Vanilla Ice Cream

I've definitely been enjoying my ice cream maker this summer, so I was excited to see that Lynne of Cafe LynnyLu picked vanilla ice cream for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Excited, that is, until I saw that this was one of those egg/custard kinds of ice cream. Some people learn to deal with their weaknesses by facing them head on until they conquer them; I prefer to deal with my weaknesses by avoiding them. And since there are wonderfully delicious Philadelphia-style (non-custard based) vanillas out there, it has been gloriously easy for me to avoid dealing with eggs in my ice creams. But I wanted to be a good sport and give the custard thing one more try. And this time, I was armed with some incredibly helpful comments and suggestions left by my fellow bloggers after my last custard failure. So I went into this one feeling really optimistic.

The main thing I took away from the honey-peach debacle is to ditch the thermometer. The thermometer's great if you want to figure out the interior temperature of your challah, or whether your steak is medium rare, but it can really mess with your head when you are trying to make custard. I do have my eye on a more custard-friendly thermometer that I might ask for my birthday or Christmas (along with some equally sentimental gift like a biscuit cutter) but until then, I decided to trust the spoon test and (shudder) my own common sense. And it worked like a charm! It only took the base 2 or 3 minutes to pass the spoon test. Now that I know what the custard is supposed to look like, I am very grateful that my family survived my honey peach ice cream, given how appallingly overcooked the custard for that actually was (I probably cooked that one for 30 minutes trying in vain to get it to reach temperature). I feel lucky that we all got away that time with nothing worse than "grainy mouth feel."

But there was no grainy mouth feel this time - this vanilla was delicious, and smooth as silk. It kept its wonderful texture even after a couple of days in the freezer, which might be the main benefit to using eggs in the ice cream. In terms of flavor, it's almost impossible for me to choose whether I like this one or David Lebovitz's Philadelphia-style vanilla better without an actual side-by-side taste test. They are both fabulous. I'm probably more likely to stick with the Philadelphia-style, simply because it has one less step for me to potentially mess up. But I loved Dorie's vanilla, and am glad to have finally conquered custard.

Thanks for this great pick, Lynne!
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