Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Strawberry Thyme Shortbread Cookies

I've been wanting to make these cookies for over a year, but never got around to it because it involves something I've never done before, and frankly was afraid wouldn't work for me-- drying strawberries. It sounds easy enough, right? Well, it wasn't. And it didn't turn out the way it was supposed to. But I went ahead and used them in the dough anyway, even though it was more a strawberry mush, rather than the dried strawberry chips I was expecting.
The ingredients

Also, I'd like you to know that it requires a lot of patience to pull fresh thyme leaves off without getting any stem (nobody likes to be picking sticks out of their teeth). Yes.
Thyme twigs

This blog is all about making do with what you have sometimes, and this recipe was no exception. I used a cup and plastic wrap to roll out the dough, since I have no rolling pin to speak of (though I have mentioned I'm in the market for a nice French one).
Waiting to be rolled out

Since I don't own a cookie cutter (and may not until years from now, unless it's in a goofy shape like a ghost maybe), I tried all number of lids in different sizes until finding that the lid to the cooking spray actually worked perfectly. It even had a tiny hole in the top to vent the air as I pushed down into the dough.
Cutting cookies (notice the outlines of all the other lid cutouts I tried...)

Chilling the dough

Anyway, I'm glad I finally made these, my kitchen smells like buttery spice and my fingers smell like thyme.

Dried Strawberries and Thyme Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies (depending on the size of your cutter)

1 cup strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1 stick butter (113gr) butter at room temperature
1/4 cup (50gr) sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups (188gr) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon of milk

Preheat your oven to 250F.

Place the strawberry slices in one single layer on a parchment paper line baking sheet and let them dry in the oven for about one hour. Let them cool completely. Chop the dried slices in small pieces and set aside. (I was out of parchment paper and had to use tin foil instead. Maybe that was part of the problem? But still, they shouldn't have been mushy...)

Turn the oven to 350F.

In a stand mixer (or by hand, this dough is very easy to mix), beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour, thyme, dried strawberries, pinch of salt and the milk and beat until the ingredients are just started to come together.

Stop the mixer and finish mixing the dough with your hands on a work surface.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies with your desired cookie cutter and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until just golden brown around the edges.

Supposed to be good with Strawberry Ice Cream.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gluten-Free Expo

Next weekend is the Gluten Free Expo. I want to go, because since my challenge last year, I've been interested in solving the mystery that turned out to be Gluten-Free Cooking. There will be demonstrations and free samples, and I think it will be fun!
Would anyone be interested in attending with me? $6 only.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Wonky Sort of Cake

For Megan's birthday, I made her a chocolate peanut butter cake-- or rather, a chocolate sour cream cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting and a chocolate peanut butter glaze. Man, that sounds cool. Anyway, it turned out tasting better than it looked, for many reasons, but OH it was delicious. Even the aforementioned sister (who actually loves dark chocolate, but doesn't much care for cake...I was wrong) loved it.
Anyway, it was my first three-layered cake, which is really no excuse for the shape, but rather because I didn't have a third cake pan, so I used a Marie Callender's pie tin for the top layer. Also, since I was making it in a tiny kitchen with limited time (meetings, etc starting at noon, and I was leaving for Megan's right after them), so I sort of sped through the various chilling processes, and my frosting "crumb layer" was actually the only layer (not to say the frosting wasn't piled on thickly anyway). And the glaze chilled for about 4 hours (during all those meetings I mentioned...), which is about 3 and a half hours longer than it needed to, so it was a nice hard chocolate shell (read: a rock-hard shell that had me freaking out a bit and rapping on it with my knuckles to test it's strength), but luckily a ride in the hot car to Springville softened it up and everything was fine in the end. Phew!

It occurred to me that some of you (crazy) people out there might not believe that I actually make the stuff I post, so I tried to take a few "in the process" shots this time. Unfortunately the lighting in our basement kitchen is terrible, so these don't look very good. But I've incorporated them in all the same!
The inner workings.
Now, without further ado, the recipe:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
from Smitten Kitchen, who took it from the book "Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes"

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanut brittle (I skipped this and so did Smitten)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper. Somehow when I read this, I read it as "butter and flour the paper," which is something that you do sometimes. Anyway, it didn't really need to be done I suppose, but I like that there was absolutely no stickage, so I'm going to recommend you do it, but it's apparently not necessary.
Pans waiting for batter (minus the pie tin)
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.
Vinegar makes the batter bubble, which makes the cake airy. Cool!
3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (although mine only needed to cook for about 28 minutes, but our oven is a little weird), or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. These cakes are very, very soft. I found them a lot easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes. They’ll defrost quickly once assembled. You’ll be glad you did this.

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Once the cake is fully frosted, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up. The cooler and more set the peanut butter frosting is, the better drip effect you’ll get from the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze.

5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top with chopped peanut brittle.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups
I have a few words to say here. First of all, I hate that cream cheese always comes in 8-oz packages, I've yet to see a 10 oz one. So I had to buy two cream cheese things, and I know I'll never use the last of it, because I don't eat that kind of cream cheese. Also, I had tons of frosting leftover, so in theory I could've only gotten 8 oz and it would have been okay (but then, of course, you'd have to alter the amounts of the other ingredients. I'd say probably 3 oz butter, 1/2 c peanut butter (unless you want it more peanut buttery) and maybe 4 1/4 cups of sugar. Of course, I only had about that much sugar anyway, because a certain person living with me loves to eat my food the day I buy it, and I didn't quite have enough sugar. Hmph. But if your frosting is too runny, add more. If you ran out, the chilling will hold it together, so no worries. Also, I must emphasize once again, HAVE YOUR BUTTER (and cream cheese) AT ROOM TEMP before mixing. I know I say this all the time, but it really does make all the difference (especially when making frosting)! Also, if your cream cheese is softened (and not zapped in the microwave), it makes it easier to mix, and the frosting less chunky. Such was my problem, because I didn't have time to let it sit out. Alas.

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out) Hey ho, I had the store brand and I did just fine!

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or broken into pieces, like I love to do
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup I sure wish corn syrup came in smaller containers than they do. Anyone need any?
1/2 cup half-and-half I used heavy whipping cream because it came in a smaller package and was cheaper, but that's just me.
1. In the top of double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Another note: Smitten says this cake is rich, and I scoffed at that, thinking of how much I love chocolate and all that. But she didn't lie! It seriously is. Mostly it's the frosting that's rich (though incredibly delicious), but still, keep a glass of milk nearby. A very LARGE glass.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oreo Bonbons

My sister Megan got these for her birthday last week from a friend. She let me try a couple (thank you!) and they were delicious. Megan said other people that tried them said they were too rich after only one, but she was popping them in her mouth over and over. Of course, our family is known for our high tolerance (read: appreciation) for good chocolate, except for one sister, but we won't go there right now. Anyway, keep a glass of milk handy in case you're one of the less tolerant folk out there. Actually, I vote using dark chocolate instead of the milk or semi-sweet (I can't quite tell, the cookie center is so dark) used on the bonbons in this picture.
Oreo Bonbons
from Megan's friend Kristin

1 package Oreos cookies
8 oz cream cheese (left out to get soft)
almond bark or chocolate melted with crisco or butter

1. Grind Oreos in food processor.

2. Add cream cheese until thoroughly mixed. It will look a little like cookie dough.

3. Roll into 1" balls. Freeze one hour.

4. Coat with melted almond bark or chocolate.

5. Store in fridge. Eat. Yum!

Lesson #1

You should probably follow the suggestions that say "keep frozen" and "do not thaw"
Or else don't forget that you left them on the counter to soften them up.

Note: This is not a personal experience, but rather that of my roommate's. Luckily the dough was still good after exploding over night, and we all had a good laugh. And good cinnamon rolls :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Caprese and Adventures with Artisan Salami

Yesterday we were hanging around at my sister and brother-in-law's house, and my other sister and her husband made caprese for us all. I didn't actually have any, because I rather hate the taste of tomatoes (trust me, I know it's sad, especially for someone who loves Italian food), but they looked delicious, and were super easy to make.
You slice the tomatoes and sprinkle ground thyme, salt, and pepper onto the slices. Then you place a leaf of fresh basil on top of the spiced tomatoes, and finally place a mozzarella ball (they come in a little tub you can get in the cheese section at your grocery store) on top of it all. Done!
Also last night, we attempted to eat some of the artisan salami I'd gotten for free from Creminelli for taking a survey on their packaging. I was actually really excited. Now, to be honest, I eat very little meat for health reasons, but I was willing to try this salami. I mean, really, how often do you get to sample artisan salami? That's right.
Cacciatore, Sopressata, and Wild Boar salamis
So I opened the package and was a little surprised to see two hard white blobs connected with string. Salami, what?
Then my sister Megan piped in and reminded me about a guy she'd seen on tv (and told me about only a few days before) who made "fancy" meats, and left them in a room to be covered in mold, because that made them fancier. So I ran to the computer to see if I could find anything that would shed some light on how to eat the "meat" I'd been given. I went to the Creminelli website and read about how their excessively fine meats were made in the Italian tradition (read with a stuffy voice and wave your hand around in a sophisticated manner), and that the moldy casing could be removed simply by allowing the meat to rest at room temperature for about twenty minutes, then cut off the tip and slice down the edge, peeling the casing as you went. All well and good, but when I went back downstairs and attempted this, the white "casing" could not be persuaded to separate from the rest of the meat. I also discovered that while I was researching, Megan had eaten a bit of the meat (I don't think she ever told me how it tasted), white mold included, much to my amazement, despite the fact that the "fancy" meat guy on tv had served his meat moldy, with the expectation that consumers would eat that part also. Yuck. I tried to convince my niece and nephew that they didn't need to eat any moldy meat, despite the fact that Mommy had just done so. The smell of very old gym shoes began to permeate the air. I stopped sawing at the meat and sniffed at the white powder rubbing off on my fingers. Yes, it was indeed eau de gym shoe. Needless to say, I was frustrated and a little put out that we didn't get to try any artisan salami, and it all ended up in the trash. Despite Creminelli's insistance that their artisan salami never goes bad, I am convinced that I got a bad bunch. Otherwise, how can people eat that? Call me uncultured, but Gross. Capital G.

Sorbet...As Promised!

This summer, I constantly craved fruity ice cream. I never actually got any at the time I was craving it, but that's okay. I read up on sorbets, and the importance of the balance between water and sugar in your sorbet, so that it isn't too icy or too sticky, but just right on all accounts. I looked around for a berry sorbet recipe I could make, but most of them called for various types of alcohol (because alcohol lowers the freezing point and keeps it from getting too icy), and since it wouldn't be cooked (and therefore burned off), I kept looking for an alcohol-free one. I finally found one from a blog called The Hungry Mouse. I substituted raspberries for the blackberries, and made it when I was visiting my parents in California (they have an ice cream maker, and I, alas, do not). The prognosis? So delicious. But very expensive to make, so I'd recommend acquiring berries from a local vine if possible (free!). But definitely make it, it's very easy and very tasty.

Raspberry Sorbet
from the Hungry Mouse (more and more detailed pictures of each step on here)

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup water
24 oz. fresh blackberries
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice

1. Combine sugar and water in medium-sized saucepan.

2. Set the pot on the stove over high heat. Whisk occasionally until the sugar dissolves.

3. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let it boil for about 2 minutes, just to be sure that all the sugar is dissolved.

4. Remove the pot from the heat. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then put it in the fridge or freezer and chill it completely through.

5. When your simple syrup is completely chilled, you’re ready to make your sorbet. Grab your blackberries/raspberries/whatever and pick through them to get rid of any that are bruised or moldy or whatever.

6. Put about half of the berries in the blender and
about half of the chilled simple syrup.

7. Puree on high for about 30 seconds, or until the berries are completely liquified.

8. Strain the berry mixture.
Set a strainer over a large bowl. Pour the berry mixture through the strainer.

9. It’ll be fairly thick and there will be lots of seeds, so stir it with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to push it through.
Push the berry pulp through the strainer with your spatula to squeeze out the last of the liquid.

10. Blend and strain the remaining blackberries and simple syrup. Then pour the lemon juice into the strained mixture. Stir to combine.

11. Because you chilled the simple syrup, your mixture should still be fairly cold. Pour it into your ice cream maker. Process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Hungry Mouse says for their Cuisinart model, that means processing for about 25 minutes. For whatever model my parents have, it was closer to 40.

12. As the mixture processes, it’ll get thicker.
When it’s done, it should be about the texture of soft ice cream.

13. Transfer it to a freezer-safe container. A loaf bread pan works very well.

14. Smooth out the surface. Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface, then pinch it tight around the edges of the pan. Put into the freezer for at least few hours (ideally, overnight), until it’s completely frozen. It should be firm, but still very scoopable. If it's still soft and mooshy on the inside, like mine was, let it freeze a bit longer, unless you have hungry family members breathing down your necks, wanting their fruity frozen dessert.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What, Dead my Dove?

Seriously, I deserve thirty lashes for neglecting the blog this long. June 15th, really?!??
Anyway, school has just started up again, and internet is down at home until this weekend, so I may not get around to blogging right away. But! I do have one recipe on the way (hopefully it isn't too "Fall" already in the weather that you won't want to try it) that is really delicious and also really nice for hot days.

In the mean time, I loved the look of this peach shortbread from Smitten Kitchen that she posted today, so I thought I'd direct your attention to it, since peaches are in season (are they? I'm such a bad foodie...I should know this). I just called myself a foodie. Hm...

copyright to Smitten Kitchen