30 March 2008

I'm a Daring Baker! - Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Morven, of Food Art and Random Thoughts, and she chose Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake, from her book Baking: From My Home to Yours. You can find the recipe here.

Morven was kind enough to give all us Daring Bakers some flexibility with the flavors for this cake, and I chose to make a lime cake with lime buttercream, with orange-tequila marmalade instead of the raspberry jam.

My first attempt was, for a lack of a better term, a disaster. I accidentally came home from the store with whole-wheat pastry flour, instead of regular cake flour. The cake was grainy and it was almost impossible not to break the layers. For my second try, I followed Dorie's advice to use Swan's Down brand cake flour, which worked much better.

I used a tablespoon or so of lime zest instead of the lemon zest for the cake batter, and vanilla extract instead of lemon, since I couldn't find lime.

Rubbing together the zest and sugar was easily my favorite part of this recipe - it was amazing how much lime scent wafted up while the sugar took on the consistency of wet sand.

After many a Daring Baker had problems getting the cakes to rise, I beat the crap out of the batter once it was mixed. Still, my cakes just barely rose. The finished texture wasn't lacking, though, so I think it's just the nature of the recipe.

To make the tequila-orange marmalade, I just mixed together a small jar (14 ounces, I think) of orange marmalade, a teaspoon of kosher salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and a half a cup of tequila in a medium saucepan, brought it up to a simmer, and cooked it for 10 minutes. Then I transferred it to a mason jar and threw it in the fridge to cool. It's pretty loose, so the syrup soaked into the cake.

For the buttercream, I just swapped lime juice for the lemon juice.

Overall, I wasn't impressed. My boyfriend loved it, but it wasn't my cup of tea. For one, the buttercream was far looser than I would like. For another, I'm just not crazy about fruity cakes. Cakes should be chocolate. Or vanilla. Or hazelnut, or coffee, or mocha, or a million different things. I just don't care for fruity cake. That being said, I would adapt the basic cake recipe for other cakes. To be honest, though, this isn't a cake that I will be making again.

25 March 2008

Beef and Cabbage Fried Rice

With only two people to cook for (including myself), I found that preparing my family's traditional corned beef and cabbage (yes, I know it's not Irish - but we're immigrants, so that makes it authentic, right?) left me with a veritable feast of leftovers. The mashed potatoes were no problem. The corned beef made a delicious hash. But the cabbage proved to be a challenge, so I came up with this delicious fried rice. Is it even remotely close to authentic Asian cuisine of any culture? I doubt it. But it is tasty, and that's all I'm concerned about.

Beef and Cabbage Fried Rice

1 pound beef, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2-4 tablespoons soy sauce, shoyu or tamari (I used tamari)
2 tablespoons stir-fry sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
1/2 head cabbage, thinly shredded
3 cups cooked rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Season the beef with salt and pepper and stir fry in a wok or other large pan over high heat until cooked about halfway through, 2-3 minutes. Don't worry about over-crowding the pan, I found it didn't matter.

2. Add the onions, garlic, soy sauce, stir fry sauce, ginger, and red pepper flake. Stir and cook until the onions are soft.

3. Add the cabbage (add more oil if necessary). Cook until wilted and about 2/3 its original volume. For volume reference, the picture above is only half the cabbage.

4. Add the rice and mix well. Cook until the rice is warmed through and season to taste.

5. Serve and enjoy!

18 March 2008

Home Fries

After the response I got to my homemade pasta post, I've realized what my posts are missing: pictures! So, from now on, I'm going to try to include more pictures for most of my normal posts.

I'm not generally one for breakfast. I like breakfast food, but in the morning, I just don't want to cook. During the week, breakfast usually consists of cold cereal (oatmeal if I'm feeling adventurous), if it consists of anything other than tea or coffee. So, on the weekends, breakfast normally happens around lunchtime. Either way, it's a good way to start the day and it's always very yummy. And really, with potatoes and bacon, where can you go wrong?

Home Fries

6 slices bacon, sliced into 1/4" strips
2-3 Yukon Gold or other waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper

1. In a large skillet or pot, fry the bacon until crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Remove the bacon fat from the pan, except for 1 tablespoon.
2 . Add the butter and olive oil to the pan, and saute the onion until translucent. Add the mustard and thyme.

3. Add the potatoes to the pan and toss to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, cover the pan and let the potatoes cook for about five minutes, then stir.

4. Again, cover the pan and stir. Keep repeating this process until the potatoes are cooked through and crispy and the onions are caramelized.

5. Once the potatoes are well-browned and cooked through, add the bacon back to the pan and cook until it is warmed back through. Serve and enjoy!

Currently, I'm reading... The Gathering, by Anne Enright.

11 March 2008

Process Post - Homemade Pasta

This is something new that I've been thinking of trying out for a while. Not just the homemade pasta, but a type of post that is more process-based than recipe-based. It took me a while to find the right subject, but I think this is it. My plan is to focus on things that most people don't make at home on a regular basis, generally things that people buy. If there's anything you'd particularly like to see me tackle, please e-mail me or let me know in the comments.

So, on to the pasta. This is something that can be very intimidating, but you just have to trust me on it. You don't need any special equipment, you don't even need very much time. And believe me, now that I've made it myself, I'll never buy it.

What You'll Need:
2 cups of flour (give or take), plus extra for dusting
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
a very clean counter and/or cutting board
a very sharp knife
plastic wrap
a rolling pin
a large pot full of boiling salted water

On the counter or cutting board, mound the two cups of flour. My kitchen is very dry in the winter, so two cups is a little too much flour for me. If this is the case for you as well, don't stress about it. You can add water to the dough, it just means you'll have to knead a little bit longer. Make a well in the center of the flour.
Crack the eggs into a bowl or some other egg-containment device, just in case you run into a bad egg. Pour them into the center of the well of flour.

Pour the olive oil on top of the eggs, and sprinkle with the salt.

Using your hands or a fork, break the yolks of the eggs and begin stirring them, pushing the flour into the eggs. This is the most difficult part, in my opinion. It will eventually come together, just work slowly. Once it comes together, start to knead. You'll need for about ten minutes total, folding the ball of dough in half, turning it 90 degrees, and folding again. After about ten minutes, you should have a smooth, not at all sticky, homogenous dough.

Wrap the dough very tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. After it has rested, unwrap it and cut it into quarters. Using your hands, form each quarter into a rough square. Sprinkle with flour and place on a lightly floured board or counter top.

Roll out the dough, turning frequently, until it is either as thin as you would like it to be, or as thin as you can manage. If you have a pasta machine, you can use it.

Sprinkle the sheet lightly with flour and set aside. After each quarter is rolled out, sprinkle lightly with flour and stack it on top of the other sheets. Once all are finished, roll up the stack of sheets (you can see the roll in the next picture, behind and to the right of the cutting board). Using your very sharp knife, cut the pasta into noodles, as thick or thin as you want them to be. Shake them out to separate the noodles.

To cook the pasta, drop it into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. This recipe makes enough for 4-6 first-course or side dish servings, or 2-3 main course servings.

05 March 2008

Green Onion Risotto

As I was stuck in bed with my second bout of flu this winter, I was faced with an interesting dilemma: I didn't want to get up, much less stand up for 30 minutes, but I really, really wanted risotto. Naturally, I chose the risotto. Luckily, I did manage to get through cooking it without having to drag a dining room chair into the kitchen.

This was major comfort food for me - it warmed me up and seemed to do a great job setting me on the road to feeling better. It may be my new chicken soup when I'm feeling under the weather.

Green Onion Risotto

4-6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 bunch green onions, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Bring the stock up to a simmer in a saucepan.
2. In a large pot, melt the tablespoon of butter into the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and toss until the grains are coated with oil (add more oil if necessary).
3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine. Return to the heat and stir constantly until the wine is almost fully evaporated/absorbed. Add the stock, about half a cup at a time, stirring after each addition and waiting until it is almost fully absorbed before adding more.
4. After 2 or 3 stock additions, toss in the green onions and season with pepper. Hold off on seasoning with salt until you've added the cheese at the end.
5. After about 20-30 minutes of adding and stirring, the rice should be al dente and creamy (the only way to know is to taste it). You can stop adding stock. Turn the heat to low, add the butter, olive oil, and cheese, and stir until the butter and cheese have melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Currently, I'm reading... If He Hollers Let Him Go, by Chester Himes.