Monday, December 30, 2013

Project Wedding Cake

Project Wedding Cake was a huge success!

When my friend Jennifer moved up her wedding date, and decided she wanted to make her own wedding cake. To say that I was apprehensive might be putting it lightly. I sent her a variety of links to various blogs with wedding cake baking tips and horror stories. Everyone I mentioned the idea to said it was a bad idea without months of practice. I also told her that I wasn't a great cake decorator and I said we needed to do at least one test run. 

After a failed attempt with a french vanilla cake recipe, we settled on a chocolate cake recipe with a salted caramel swiss meringue buttercream frosting. We baked and frosted the two tiers, and then assembled them at the restaurant with some strawberries and extra caramel sauce. 

Both the cake and the wedding reception were amazing. Hollah, project Wedding Cake!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Salted Caramel Filled Shortbread Bars



I originally saw the recipe for these "Salted Carmel Butter Bars" on Pinterest, and Jennifer requested them for her birthday today. So naturally that means they are everywhere on the web by now. I ended up tweaking the recipe a little, and changing a some things. Since people have asked me for the recipe, I thought I would write those thoughts up in one easy to access post. 

First, these things are dense and rich. One of those square bars up there is more than enough for one sitting. I probably should have cut them smaller to be honest. The original recipe makes a full 9x13 pan of these, which in my opinion - unless you are baking for some kind of event - is way too much. It also means that you use a full pound of butter, which after adding the sugar and flour was almost too overwhelming for my KitchenAid mixer. 

Second, make your own caramel. Trust me on this one. My favorite flavor combination is most definitely salted carmel. Since I started making my own caramel, I've lost the taste for those wrapped store caramels. Plus depending on the state of your pantry, making carmel is cheaper than those wrapped ones. The recipe below will make enough for about two half pint jars of it, so I like to make a batch and keep some on hand for baking emergencies, to spoon over ice cream and into coffee.

Third, I swapped out the original shortbread recipe - butter, granulated sugar. powdered sugar and flour, for a similar sturdy shortbread recipe that I have used in the past. 

Salted Caramel Filled Shortbread Bars
Originally from Pip and Ebby / Shortbread adapted from Real Simple

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, leave out the salt)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt

(Depending on your mixer, you could also halve this recipe, and make two batches of shortbread).

Heat oven to 325° F. Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in a mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly add the flour and mix until smooth. Divide the dough in half, and press one half into a greased 8-inch square pan. Place the other half of the dough in the refrigerator.

Bake 20-30 minutes or just until the shortbread begins to turn golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Make caramel (see below). Pour caramel over shortbread in pan so it forms an even layer. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Take remaining dough out of the refrigerator, and crumble evenly over the carmel layer.

Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Salted Carmel Sauce (from Brown Eyed Baker)

(If you haven't made your own caramel before, I would recommend looking at David Lebovitz's 10 Tips for Making Carmel post.)
2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)

Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy saucepan, with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You'll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, but that's okay. Just keep whisking and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.

Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees F.

As soon as the caramel reaches 350 degrees, add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will once again bubble up ferociously.

Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.

Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into your favorite glass jar and let cool to room temperature. You can refrigerate the sauce for up to 2 weeks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Alone in the Kitchen with a Computer : Red Pepper Pitas and Doctor Who



cooking dinner (#229)
In my Syracuse kitchen. Looking back through my photos, this seems like the best one I have of the kitchen, ironic since it was taken in the reflection of the windows.

This past week I've been reading "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone." Aside from making me hungry, it's also been making me think about eating and cooking for people. So I thought I would write up my own confession of cooking for one and dining alone.

After college I moved to New York City for a year. I was working an office job and living in the Bronx with two roommates I knew from college. I had graduated from college without much of an idea of how to feed myself, and this was not a conducive situation in which to learn. There was at least one disastrous attempt to make Eggplant Parmesan (one of my favorites), but most nights by the time I finally made it home I was too tired to attempt cooking, or I had stayed in Midtown and eaten there with friends. I survived mostly on bagels, cereal, yogurt and hamburgers at a variety of Midtown diners. At the time it seemed mostly easier and cheaper than attempting my own meals.

But after a year in a job I hated, I left New York City for the colder pastures of Syracuse. I had a room in an apartment I shared with four other graduate students, less money, and way more time. Cheap, plentiful meals could not be found on every block, if I wanted them I was going to need to make them myself. Luckily, during this time I made a friend who knew way more about cooking than I did, and she liked to cook for people. With someone to bounce ideas off of, and to experiment with, I started a trek into the world of cooking. There was a lot to learn, and because the winters in Syracuse are long and dark and deep, there seemed plenty of time to learn it. Over the two years we were in Syracuse at the same time, Kelly and I made more meals and baked goods than I can remember. One time we spent a beautiful fall Saturday picking apples, then made four pies and gave those away. I made my first jam with strawberries we picked from a u-pick farm in the kitchen of house where she was renting a room for the summer. Even after Kelly left Syracuse, I remained working to finish my thesis and applying to Phd programs.

After finishing my degree at Syracuse, I moved back to Southern Illinois - the place I grew up, and the place my parents still live - to get my doctorate. For a time I lived with my parents, and I took over the cooking. Now our meals also include my boyfriend and one of my brothers, also back at home. The family lets me cook whatever strikes my fancy, and eats it without complaint. I can try larger recipes that I wouldn't have attempted when just cooking for myself. More than that, I love sitting down with everyone at a table full of food. When I lived in Syracuse, I would often spend Sunday out somewhere reading and writing, go grocery shopping around 7, and then cook dinner around 8 or 9. Whatever, I made - often pasta, soup or chili of some kind - would last the week. After eating, I would portion it out into tupperware containers for the week ahead. Though I would sometimes sit down at our small cafe style table, mostly I would just eat standing up in the kitchen. I'm a much more adventurous cook now, in part because of experience, and in part because there are more people around to help me eat the things that I make. Since one pot of food won't last a week, I'm forced to make more meals and move outside my comfort zones. Now, I go to farmer's market on Saturday mornings and buy fruits and veggies for the week. I try to cook seasonally and mostly vegetarian, and I end up stopping by the grocery store on my way home a few nights a week. And in the apartment my boyfriend and I share, we've even thrown some dinner parties, something I never really did in New York because of the table and the roommates. And so, to paraphrase William Carlos Williams, this is just to say I really like not just cooking for myself all the time. All the meals, even the ones that are rushed and thrown together, or that don't really turn out, are better for having a table of people to share them with.

But this is also to say that while reading"Alone in the Kitchen," I began to get nostalgic for my kitchen in Syracuse. There was something joyous in eating whatever I felt like eating, in whatever form that took - one night I happily made four popovers and ate them still warm with honeyed brown butter. Another favorite was a plate of "egg in a hole,"with ketchup; I remember explaining to one friend that the egg and bread were made more magical after being fried together than alone. Mostly, I think I would be quite content to eat pesto and hot dogs in the summer, and warm soups and grilled cheese through the winter. And I have many such fond memories of cooking and eating simply for myself. But there is a specific fusion of food and time and place - watching Doctor Who and eating Red Pepper Pitas with Feta Cheese. I'm not even sure what inspired me to start watching Doctor Who, aside from Tumblr, probably, but there I was. And of course, it wasn't long til I was head over heels in love with this British show about a time traveling man and his blue box. I must have eaten a lot of meals while watching the first four seasons, but in my memory it's always these Red Pepper Pitas and the episode "Bad Wolf." I would buy a package of pitas, slice up a red pepper and onion, arrange the veggies on the pita with the cheese, and drizzle it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Into the over they would go for 8 minutes. (Only 8 minutes! Both cheap and fast!) There was a corner of the counter right next to the oven, where I would often set up my laptop, so I could watch television while preparing and eating food. And while it's a solitary sort of joy, I wouldn't trade away the memories of watching Doctor Who and eating the Red Pepper Pitas right out of the oven while standing in that drafty kitchen.

Last week, fueled by some Proustian nostalgia, I made these Red Pepper Pitas for my parents and my boyfriend - just two, cut in half, as sort of an appetizer. (Because I wasn't just cooking for myself, I also made another pizza with pesto and cheese). Both were delicious, but the Pitas were just how I remembered them, hot and salty and bread-y and crispy.


allons-y! (#29)




Red Pepper Pitas with Feta and Red Onion (makes 2 single-serve pitzas)Adapted ever-so-slightly from NotEatingOutinNY

2 pocketless pitas
about 1/2 of a medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I mostly use yellow onions, because I keep them on hand)
about 3/4 cup feta, crumbled (I've never measured, I just sprinkle till the pita looks full)
2 tsp olive oil
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Begin Episode of Doctor Who. Place pitas on a baking sheet and arrange peppers, onions, and feta on both. Drizzle each with 1 tsp of olive oil. Sprinkle with pepper and a touch of salt. Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove pitas from oven and let cool a moment before serving (or not).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cherry Tomato, Corn and Zucchini Pie


Adapted (just barely - because I didn't have time to make the pie crust and let it chill) from Smitten Kitchen

The trouble with cooking on short notice on a school night is there is never an extra hour to make and chill pie dough. I read through the comments on the Smitten Kitchen post, but no one had discussed successfully switching out store-bought pie dough (apparently the commenters are better at planning ahead!). I was afraid the store-bought pie dough would be too small to fold galette style, so I swapped it out for a pie pan. 

I prepared the filling as she suggests, and then spooned it into the dough laced pan, and covered with Parmesan. Then into the 400 degree over for 30 to 40 minutes, and it was lovely. There was some liquid, which I was able to pour out before we sliced into the pie. Aside from the need for an insanely hot oven, this is like the savory taste of summer in pie form. Worth it. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Game Time Pretzels

Game time: my homemade soft pretzels are ready to take the field. #superbowl


We got invited to a Superbowl party this morning, and I needed something I could put together with stuff I had on hand. I've also been dying for a chance to try these Miniature Soft Pretzels. Since I can't make pretzels as a main course for family dinner, they always seemed like slightly too much work for even a weekend dinner. But a Superbowl party with plenty of other food? Perfect. 

It look a little bit to get a hang of the twisting and folding of the pretzels, but aside from that they came together really quickly with ingredients that I had on hand. And then my Mom reminded me of this awesome football taco tray we had in the basement, which was the perfect size for the pretzels! Let's play ball!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oh My God Rolls in an Hour

oh my god, these rolls (#321)

So reading the food blogs I kept seeing recipes for rolls, and I wanted to eat all of them. But since I spend the weekends doing school work out of the house, I don't have hours at home to make them. Normally, the only kind of homemade bread I am able to make with a meal is a quick beer bread or biscuits. Enter the recipe I found for these rolls, which had them listed as taking a little over an hour. Amazing. These are life changing. That I could take these big warm yeasty rolls out of the oven in an hour from start to finish? It's all i want all the time, I'll have to fight the urge to just make these for dinner and just eat them. 


Oh My God Rolls in an Hour
from Mommy's Kitchen


3/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup hot water
4 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 - 4 1/2 cups flour, divided
1 heaping tablespoon instant yeast

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Butter a 9x13 pan and set aside. Put butter and milk in a microwave safe container. Microwave mixture until milk warms and butter melts (about 1 minute). Add milk/butter mixture, hot water (it can be straight from the tap, just make sure the water is plenty hot), sugar, salt and 2 cups of the flour to stand mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook. Mix everything together for 1 minute.

Add the yeast. Slowly incorporate the rest of the flour 1 cup at a time as the mixer runs. There's enough flour when the dough scrapes the side of the bowl clean. Mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes.

Spray the counter, or cutting board with cooking spray. After the 5 minute rise, lay the dough on top of it. Flatten the dough out into a rough rectangle (no need to get out the rolling pin or knead it, just shape it with your hands). Take a sharp knife, spray it with cooking spray and cut your dough into 12 roughly equal squares. Gently round the squares into balls, and put them into the buttered 9x13 pan.

Bake the rolls at 170 for 20 minutes, or until they have risen slightly above the rim of the pan. Leave the pan in the oven, turn the heat up to 350 degrees, and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown and impossible to resist. Serve warm.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

birthday cake! (#301)

Happy Birthday to Me! 

Of course, when you find yourself to be the typical baker in your group of friends / family your own Birthday cake can be a bit tricky. In my case, I'm used to having other people tell me what they want. Val wanted something that was low-carb, and Liz didn't want anything chocolate, and you catch my drift. So first, I had to decide what I wanted. Then I had to find some recipes. My mom offered to make the cake, as long as I provided the recipes. I decided that I wanted something with a salted caramel frosting, but I didn't like any of the recipes I found. 

I ended up having her halve the recipe on this Chocolate cake recipe, and double the recipe on a traditional buttercream frosting. All the Salted Caramel Buttercream recipes I found just listed proportions for making the caramel sauce straight away, and I had already made the caramel sauce. She ended up adding a pint jar of salted caramel that I had made earlier in the weekend. It was delicious. It was fairly salty the first night, and after that it just got saltier. I was fine with this, but I recognize that not everyone shares my undying love of sea salt. Mmmm, salty and sweet, my favorite.