Friday, November 30, 2007

Start trashy, end new motto.

Sometimes I get the impression that my associates think I'm all gourmet all the time--that I would never deign to eat the food of the common people. But I must confess, from time to time, I secretly enjoy trashy, processed foods like the ubiquitous blue box of mac and cheese or weiner wraps fashioned from hot dogs split and filled with cheese and baked in crescent rolls then dipped in a mustard sauce (of course). And a fitting dessert would naturally be...Rice Krispie Treats! (Try making them with half Cocoa Pebbles some time--DIVINE!)

But most often, I really do try to prepare "real" food from fresh ingredients with equal portions of thought and care. But not all of it is particularly sophisticated, and some of it is downright tawdry. For one such example, I give you the redneck cousin of the French-influenced, herbed and pampered roast chicken (think Barefoot Contessa); I give you, the BEER CAN CHICKEN! Oh, you fancy people can use your high-falutin' vertical roasters and such, but we country folk require no such airs or vanities. And recently, I discovered the ultimate version of this red-state delicacy courtesy of Guy Fieri (from "Guy's Big Bite"). I did not follow his exact recipe, but took tips from his method, and by gum, if I didn't end up with the juiciest, most flavorful and perfectly-cooked chicken that I have ever made. Here's the general idea:

Wash your chicken and pat him dry with paper towels. Then season LIBERALLY with your favorite spice rub. The secret is to loosen the skin (carefully!) with your fingers and work the rub down under the skin and also sprinkle a good bit in the cavities. Next, crack open a can of beer and drink half of it. At my house, we only have bottled beer (I know, too hoity-toity for this), so I half-filled an empty soda can with beer then added two peeled and smashed garlic cloves down into the can. Next I lined an oven-safe pan with foil (for easier clean-up), propped the chicken up/on/over the can, and then for the piece de resistance, stuck several pieces of bacon in the top opening, letting most of each slice dangle down to create a porcine umbrella of sorts that basted the chicken as it roasted in fragrant, porky goodness. I cranked up the oven to 450 for the first 15 minutes or so, then down to 325 for maybe another hour, until the leg joints moved freely and the juices from the thigh joint were running clear. Easy-peasy and YUMMMMMM-MY! And as a bonus, I saved the crispy bacon pieces, chopped them and used them in salads over the next week.

But I can't leave my readership thinking I am completely low-rent and uncouth, so I also want to share a couple of elegant desserts that I have made recently. To go with the beer can chicken dinner, we went uptown for dessert with Dorie Greenspan's French Yogurt Cake. It sounds very fussy, but it's as quick and easy as making a boxed cake mix. You can see unexpected guests coming up the drive and have this lovely, lemony cake in the oven before they've gotten their coats off! So this makes for a very handy recipe to have around the holidays. And it's pretty and impressive, and did I mention, EASY? In fact, it's stirred together in one bowl without a mixer. You can make it all the more attractive with a shimmering marmalade glaze as Dorie recommends, but I am out of marmalade at present (citrus season is just starting), so I made a quick powdered sugar-based lemon glaze and topped the cake with toasted blanched almonds (to echo the ground almonds in the cake). I think the finished cake looked gorgeous, if I do say so myself. And it was so delightfully lemony. With the cold winds finally blowing in, a little taste of sunshine would do us all some good.

French Yogurt Cake
(Source: Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds (or if you have no almonds, use another 1/2 cup flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used vanilla because that's what I had)
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (I think I used at least 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 cup light-flavored oil

Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly grease your baking pan (Dorie uses a loaf pan but I used a regular cake pan lightly coated with a floured spray). Mix together the flour, ground almonds (if using), baking powder and salt.

In a medium bowl, rub the sugar together with the zest using your fingertips. Whisk the yogurt, eggs and vanilla into the sugar. Whisk the flour mixture in until just blended. Fold in the oil with a rubber spatula. (This may seem odd, and you'd swear it won't come together, but it does and makes a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen.)

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. (This took less time baking in a regular cake pan.)

Let the cake cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then using a thin knife to loosen the edges, remove the cake from the pan to cool completely. In the meantime, melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave, then whisk in the juice of the zested lemon, a splash of vanilla, and enough powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency for a drizzly/pourable glaze. Glaze the cake and finish with a couple of handfuls of sliced, blanched and toasted almonds on top.

Lastly, I will begrudgingly share the tale of the cake that I made for trivia night a few weeks ago. It was the Brown Sugar and Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Maple-Espresso Glaze from last month's Bon Appetit. I thought it was just okay, so I didn't even bother to blog about it. But I took the leftovers into work the next day to share with others, and one of our wonderful librarians liked it so much, she asked me to make another one for her to take to a family Thanksgiving celebration. I was grateful for the opportunity to remake the cake and improve upon the flaws that I perceived in the first version. Mainly, I wasn't thrilled with the texture, which was a bit coarse. It also wasn't quite as moist as I would have liked. And though the brown sugar imparted a nice caramel flavor, it just wasn't sweet enough overall to suit me, even with the maple syrup and sugar glaze.

So using my faithful old pound cake recipe as my trusty guide, I reworked the recipe a little. First of all, I added 1/3 cup shortening to cream with the butter. Then I upped the sugar to two cups total, using half brown sugar and half white (suspecting that the brown sugar, though tasty, was contributing to the texture problem). I also used one additional egg (so 5 total), and once they were all incorporated, I beat the mixture on high for four minutes until very light and fluffy, getting a lot of volume from the eggs to further improve the texture. Then I followed the original recipe from there. It turned out GREAT the second time--moister with a much nicer texture and a better flavor from the added sweetness. Problems solved! (Bon Appetit may now add me to their payroll if they wish...tee hee.) The one thing I thought was perfect as it was was the fantastic maple-espresso glaze. But the first time I made it, the instant espresso bits didn't dissolve completely, so I ended up with a freckled glaze on my cake. Still, I thought it was kinda pretty (see photo below). But the second time, I dissolved the dried espresso in a little warm water before whisking it with the other ingredients, and that solved my last issue with this cake. Many people loved the original recipe and the resulting cake, so feel free to follow the link(s) to the Epicurious website. But I prefer this version:

Brown Sugar and Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Maple-Espresso Glaze
(Source: adapted from
Bon Appetit, October 2007)

nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup shortening (I used butter-flavored Crisco)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple extract
5 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons (or more) whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (may dissolve in a little warm water if needed)

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan generously with nonstick spray. Dust pan lightly with flour. Mix chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons flour in medium bowl. Sift remaining flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt into another medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and shortening. Add sugars and beat until fluffy. Beat in vanilla and maple extracts. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When all the eggs have been incorporated, mix on high for four minutes. Blend in flour mixture in three additions alternately with buttermilk in two additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chip mixture. Transfer batter to prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pan, about 1 hour (up to 1 hour and 15 minutes). Cool cake in pan on rack 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool completely before glazing.

Mixing the chocolate chips with a little flour before adding them to the batter helps the chips stay evenly suspended in the batter and evenly distributed throughout the baked cake (otherwise, they may sink to the bottom).

For glaze:
Combine powdered sugar, maple syrup, 2 tablespoons cream, and espresso powder in medium bowl. Whisk until smooth, adding more cream by 1/2 teaspoonfuls if glaze is too thick to drizzle. Spoon glaze decoratively over top of cake; let stand at room temperature until glaze is firm, about 1 hour.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and let stand at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oy, my feet! Ach, my back!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVE, everyone (gobble, gobble)! I decided since I have been in the kitchen ALL DAY and my back has now rendered me semi-paralyzed, that I would cop a squat for a few and post about tomorrow's menu. From the scope of it, you would think we were having tons of people coming, but it's just going to be me and the roomie and perhaps our next-door neighbor. But it's all about the LEFTOVERS, don'tcha know? ;-) Here's my plan:

Pickle Assortment (dill pickles, pickled baby carrots, and dilly beans)
Mini Cheeseburger Puffs*
Spicy Devilled Eggs
Brined and Roasted Turkey
Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing with Fresh Sage
Ultra-Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Pan Gravy
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Lima Beans
Golden Brioche Loaf*
Oreo Cheesecake*
Zoann's Pumpkin Dessert*

The little cheeseburger puffs were on Paula Deen's Thanksgiving special, and we couldn't resist trying them for an appetizer. I have the burgers made and the puff pastry thawed; I'll bake them tomorrow. The spicy devilled eggs with minced pickled jalapenos (the secret ingredient--props to my heat-loving friend, Mike!) are done, and it's been very hard keeping Cyd out of them until tomorrow! The turkey is brining. The stuffing is done, just needs to be baked off. (On a side note, can you believe that I managed to get fresh sage and lime thyme out of the garden at Thanksgiving?? That's one good thing about global warming!) The world's most dangerous potatoes (a la Pioneer Woman) are done, just need to be reheated. Tomorrow, I'll roast the turkey then make the gravy. I will also cook the veggies (brussels sprouts were Cyd's hideous choice, lima beans are mine), and I will bake the brioche loaves (from Dorie Greenspan...again!). The Oreo Cheesecake is done (actually leftover from trivia last night), and the dessert we lovingly refer to as "the pumpkin goo" is in the oven as I type. WHEW! What am I most thankful for? Sitting down!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday! Selected recipes (*) follow, and if nothing else, I STRONGLY urge you to make the pumpkin goo, aka pumpkin dump cake. It's one of my all-time favorite recipes! In fact, I can't believe I haven't posted about it heretofore. I don't even like pumpkin pie all that much, but I love this. The recipe I use is from one of my favorite college professor's mother in Oklahoma, by way of my dear friend, Kurt, in Salt Lake City. But if you google pumpkin dump cake, you'll find a bazillion variations. Whichever recipe you choose, it's soooooo easy to make that you can readily whip up a batch tomorrow before your big feast, even if it wasn't originally in your plan. Enjoy!

Mini Cheeseburger Puffs
(Source: Jamie Deen via
Food Network)

1 pound ground chuck
2 teaspoons steak seasoning (I would advocate using just one teaspoon here)
1 teaspoon Paula Deen's Silly Salt* (I used a vegetable salt blend)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 Vidalia onion, minced

1 package puff pastry sheets
20 (1-inch) slices cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the first 5 (0r 6 if using Worcestershire) ingredients. Hand-form patty to 1/4 normal burger size, about 2-inches in diameter. In a grooved black skillet, cook burgers to medium. Turn once. Do not overcook.

Roll out thawed puff pastry. Cut 10 (6-inch) even panels. Place burger in center of square and top with 2 slices of cheese. Fold edges up and twist on top. Bake 20 to 25 minutes and serve warm.

* Paula Deen Silly Salt is a blend of salt, dehydrated onion and garlic, spices, soybean oil, and lemon flavor.

Cook's Notes:
-Try serving with bacon or tomatoes.
-Havarti and ground pepper boursin cheeses are good substitutes for cheddar.

Golden Brioche Loaves
(Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan)

4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch milk
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

Put the yeast, water, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can to keep you from being covered in flour! Turn the mixer on and off in a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (you can peek), then remove the towel, increase mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two. At this point you will have a dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce speed to low and add the butter in 2 Tablespoon size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like a batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40-60 minutes. Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the covered dough in the refrigerator overnight.

If making brioche loaves: Butter and flour 2 8.5 X 4.5 inch loaf pans. Pull dough from the fridge and divide into two equal pieces. Cut each piece of dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece into a log about 3.5 inches long. Arrange 4 logs crosswise in the bottom of each pan. Put the pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mat, cover the pans lightly with wax paper and leave the loaves at room temperature until dough fills pans.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until loaves are well risen and deeply golden, about 30-35 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pans and turn the loaves out onto cooling racks. Cool at least one hour.

Oreo Cheesecake
(Source: adapted from

48 Oreo chocolate sandwich cookies, divided
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
4 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream

Place 28 of the cookies in food processor container; cover. Process 30 to 45 seconds or until finely ground. Add butter; mix well. Press onto bottom and slightly up the sides of a springform pan (or a 13x9-inch baking pan).

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs; mix just until blended. Blend in sour cream. Chop remaining 20 cookies. Gently stir 1-1/2 cups of the chopped cookies into cream cheese batter. Pour over crust; sprinkle with remaining chopped cookies.

Bake at 350°F for 40-50 minutes or until center is just set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

Zoann's Pumpkin Dessert

Beat three eggs and add a 29-ounce can of pumpkin, one can of evaporated milk, two teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup white sugar. Pour this mixture into a sprayed 13x9-inch pan. Sprinkle one box of yellow cake mix over the top (though I think spice cake would be fabulous, too!). Slice thin pats from one and a half sticks of butter or margarine (margarine actually works better for this!) and place all over the cake mix, then top that with one to one-and-a-half cups of chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or both--and I tend toward two cups myself!). Bake for about 50 minutes in a 350 degree oven (or until set). Serve with a generous helping of Cool Whip (yes, you heard me--Cool Whip!).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Finally...we celebrated June.

My friend June's birthday is two days after mine (so more than three weeks ago now). But because we were both going to be out of town for the big birthday weekend (mine was on a Friday, hers was Sunday), we decided to celebrate mine the weekend before and hers the weekend after. But before we could fete her properly, one of our dearest friends had a heart attack and was hospitalized. She's fine now, thank God, but it just didn't seem like the appropriate time to have a birthday party. So we finally managed to get together last Friday afternoon for a combo happy hour and birthday gathering. It was held at my friend Janice's house, and as usual, the party ended up in the kitchen with all of us crowded around the kitchen table, in front of the cozy stove, drinking wine and eating various yummy appetizers as we laughed and talked shop and watched June open her presents. (She is a die-hard Buffy fan, so I got her the definitive library of scholarly texts that deconstruct Buffy the Vampire Slayer to reveal issues of gender, religion and philosophy, and so on.)

My assignment, of course, was to make the birthday cake. I know June loves cherry pie beyond all things, but I have gone that route many times before. So I asked her husband, Tom, what she might like instead. And being from New Orleans, he suggested the definitive birthday cake, called a Doberge cake (pronounced "DOH-bash"). I looked online for a recipe, and found one for a chocolate-on-chocolate version that sounded delicious. But according to the cookbook that June got me the last time she was there, New Orleans Classic Desserts by Kit Wohl, the traditional Doberge cake is vanilla with a chocolate custard filling and chocolate frosting, followed closely by a lemon version, and then caramel as a distant third. Or commonly, bakeries will sell half-and-half cakes for customers that can't make up their minds. The definitive bakery that makes these famous cakes is called Gambino's who bought the bakery and the original recipe from Beulah Ledner, the inventor of the Doberge Cake, who retired in 1949. No one can say for sure what the word "Doberge" means. Could it be "from Auberge?" More likely, it derives from the "dobos torte" of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. In any case, for anyone from New Orleans, this is the ONLY cake to have for a birthday celebration. So I set about to make one for June. And it turned out to be one of the most taxing and exasperating endeavors of my life! (I think it's pronounced DOH-bash because it makes you want to bash your head against a wall until it's like dough!)

To be sure, the cake is a bit labor-intensive, but the main problem was the recipe that I used from the Wohl book. I should have remembered that June had previously made a recipe for Turtle Cookies from the same book and had no end of trouble getting the frosting to set up properly. This did not bode well for me, but I had repressed that information and set out naively but in good spirits to make this fabled Crescent City tradition. Here's the recipe as printed in the book (with my running commentary in parentheses):

Beulah Ledner's Doberge Cake
(Source: New Orleans Classic Desserts: Recipes from Favorite Restaurants)
Yield: one nine-inch cake (I made mine in eight-inch pans)

2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large egg whites
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
*You could also cheat and substitute a Duncan Hines French vanilla cake mix instead if you can't be bothered.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line the bottom of the cake pans with baking parchment cut to fit two to four 9-inch round cake pans (I used three 8-inch pans and sprayed the parchment rounds with a floured nonstick spray). In a medium bowl, sift the flour, soda and salt three times. (UM...WHAT SALT? I chose to use one teaspoon.) Cream the butter and sugar (UM...WHAT SUGAR? I used one and a half cups of granulated sugar) in a large mixing bowl, and add egg yolks, one at a time. (UM...WHAT EGG YOLKS? We'll presume the three yolks that were separated from the whites.) Gradually add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, then mix well by beating about three minutes (I did everything in my stand mixer). Fold in the three beaten egg whites and vanilla. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. After the cake cools, split each layer in half to make four thin layers (I baked three layers and split them to make six layers total which is more traditional...up to nine layers!). Or simply use four or more cake pans and divide the batter evenly between them to avoid the mess of splitting them. (WHAT MESS? Use a long serrated like charm.) Our record was seven layers. Bake them two at a time, watching carefully (I baked all three of mine at once, obviously). Since they are thin, they will cook quickly. A straw inserted into the layer comes out clean (STRAW? Try a toothpick or bamboo skewer if you don't have straw in your barn...or a barn...and/or you don't want to dismantle your undoubtedly filthy broom!) Another test is to touch the top of the layer and if it springs back nicely, it is done. Cool the cakes completely on wire racks and brush off the crumbs.

Chocolate Filling:

2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch, sifted (I whisked instead)
2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used half Scharffenberger and half Hershey's Special Dark)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 large egg yolks, whisked
2 cups half-and-half
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sifted corn starch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Slowly stir in the whipping cream. Place pan over medium high heat, and temper the egg yolks by adding them to the mixture very slowly while whipping very quickly. Tempering means do not add the eggs too quickly or the ggs will cook. (UM, WHY TEMPER THE EGGS? THE MIXTURE ISN'T EVEN HOT YET! I think, as in most custards of this sort, we are meant to bring the initial mixture to a simmer, THEN temper the eggs. I add a little of the hot mixture in, then more, then more, and then finally, add it all back to the pot.) Add the half-and-half, followed by the melted chocolate (I melted mine over a double boiler, but the microwave would work, too), stirring carefully but well. The chocolates will form little dark bits but will melt as the mixture heats.

Bring mixture to a boil, stirring slowly but constantly using a wooden spoon. Do not use a whisk. The vigorous whisking will apparently break down the starch molecules and lead to a runny mess. When it begins to boil, reduce heat to low and boil slowly for two more minutes. (At this point through this flawed, incomplete recipe, I was so frazzled that I made a critical error. I forgot to add the half-and-half and melted chocolate, and just boiled the cocoa mixture for two minutes, resulting in a thick, grainy brown paste. Figuring no real harm done and not wanting to waste the expensive Scharffenberger cocoa, I just whisked in the missing ingredients and boiled for an additional two minutes. That may have been a bad move, as the custard started threatening to separate, especially once I went on to the next step. But it tasted great, so I decided to live with it and soldiered on.)

Press mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Immediately add the butter and vanilla, stir well to incorporate, pour into a baked pie crust (WHAT THE HELL??!), and place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface to prevent a skin forming. Cool and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours.

When the pudding has set up and is thick, spread evenly between each layer. (WHAT? DIG THE CUSTARD OUT OF THE PIE SHELL? THEN WHAT DO I DO WITH THE PIE SHELL? THROW IT AWAY? WERE THESE PEOPLE DRUNK WHEN THEY EDITED THIS BOOK?? NO ONE NOTICED THAT THEY WERE INSTRUCTING US TO MAKE A CHOCOLATE PIE IN THE MIDDLE OF MAKING A DOBERGE CAKE?? AHHHHHH!!!) Do not spread pudding on the top layer or on the sides of the cake layer stack. We did. The following icing will slide off. It did. The chocolate butter cream icing recipe follows. Spread the icing on top and sides of the assembled cake. Return to the refrigerator to harden before cutting. (WHEN DID WE REFRIGERATE IT THE FIRST TIME? I actually did refrigerate mine while waiting for the icing to set up, but no one told me to--I did it on instinct alone.)

Chocolate Butter Cream Icing:
(Yield: 2 cups)

2 one-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
2 one-ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate (I used 2 oz. of chips)
1 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups confectioner's sugar

In the top of a double boiler, combine both chocolates, milk, and butter. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and add the confectioner's sugar. Whisk with a fork until smooth. (I used..UM...a whisk.) Refrigerate the icing for one hour to firm. (I waited one hour, then two then three for the stuff to be spreadable but it stayed somewhat runny. Finally, as it was 2am and I needed to get some sleep that night, I gave up and just poured the frosting over like a ganache. June told me the next day that Doberge cakes do have a ganache-like frosting. But this is not what the damn recipe led me to believe! It said icing and something about it being firm and spreadable. ARRRRRRGGGHH!)

After all of this frustration and heartache, I am pleased to say that the resulting cake was delicious, and after one bite, June declared it the real deal, just like one would get in New Orleans. So I guess it was all worth it. And I would definitely make it again, next time, getting the custard right with the proper texture. (But it was so delicious regardless that it may be my new go-to chocolate pie filling!) I think the chocolate-on-chocolate version is definitely in order, and I personally would love to sample the lemon. Now that I've figured out the basic recipe, and once the painful memory of this ordeal fades a bit, I shall give it another whirl. After all, June is worth it!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Two Tasty Products to Make Your Season Bright

I know that this does not substitute for a proper post, but I have been meaning to share about two new products that I've recently discovered. I was at Sam's Club last week, and I needed some vanilla ice cream to go with some dessert or another. Now I am fervent Breyer's fan, but I was tired and didn't feel like going to yet another store after Sam's. So I decided to try their new Madagascan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I was a bit hesitant, because it comes in a two-pack (what if we didn't like it?), plus, it's a little spendy at eight bucks for the two cartons. But I threw caution to the wind and bought some to try. Good heavens! It is WONDERFUL! Very dense and creamy with a pronounced vanilla flavor. And with all the holiday baked goods soon to come, this ice cream will make a fantastic accompaniment. I highly recommend this product to all you Sam's Club members. It's YUMMMMM-MY!

Secondly, and this matter may be time-sensitive as it concerns a seasonal, "limited edition" product. Thomas' English muffins and Ocean Spray cranberries have joined forces to produce cranberry English muffins for the holiday season, and they are DEE-LISH! The muffins have huge, tangy berries in them, and are just divine toasted and buttered, and make your house smell amazing, too. They also have cranberry toasting bread and cranberry bagels which we haven't tried yet. But can't you just imagine a toasted cranberry bagel with a shmear of melty cream cheese?! MMM-MMM!! Truly, these products are so good that it may be worth buying a few packages of each and freezing them for future enjoyment.

Once again, I should remind you that I have no financial holdings in either of these companies. I just like to share my joy when I find a product that I really like. Consider it my holiday gift to my readership. ;-) And yes, yes, I will have some real posts to follow shortly, as I have actually been doing some good cooking and baking lately. Just consider this one a tideover snack in the meantime!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A couple of tidbits to warm your tummy...

Gracious! Old Man Winter, that big blowhard, is giving us a taste of things to come today! Even here in the North Country, folks have still been rocking the shorts and flip-flops, though the calendar on the wall tells us that it's nearly Thanksgiving. But there is a vicious wind a-blowing today, and up here (at school) on the bluff overlooking Lake Champlain, it's particularly vicious. On a day like today, we need something warm and satisfying in our tummies, and I have just the thing--beef stew. And not just any beef stew, but a wonderful short rib beef stew with ale, a recipe I found on Simply Recipes (which was, in turn, adapted from a recipe from the October 2007 issue of Sunset Magazine). I made a couple of minor adjustments, as is my way, and one major one that should help busy people as we head into the holidays. Elise's recipe calls for the stew to be baked in the oven which, no doubt, would add more flavor. But I tried making it in the crockpot, and it was delicious, and so nice to come home to at the end of a long day. I'm sorry that I didn't take a picture of said stew, but click on one of links to Simply Recipes, and you can see better pics than I could have managed. ;-)

Short Rib Beef Stew with Ale
(Source: Simply Recipes)

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons hot paprika (I used regular paprika plus 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne)

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

salt and
freshly-ground black pepper
4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat (I used boneless, as that's what I unearthed from the freezer, but meat is always better "by the bone" as Nigella would say)

4 strips thick-cut bacon (I used six strips of regularly-sliced bacon), roughly chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bottle (12 oz.) brown ale (I used Saranac Scotch Ale from their winter assortment, but you can use anything you like--the original recipe simply called for beer)
1 can (14.5 oz.) whole peeled tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved
2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes (I used red ones)

2 large carrots (I might double this as the carrots were sparse and/or add some parsnips)

1 pound turnips (this gave us the opportunity to use the turnips we procured from Cape Cod and though they are optional, I recommend them--I don't even like turnips, but they take on the other flavors in the stew and eventually become indistinguishable from the potatoes)
*1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (this is my critical addition...and I think it gave the stew that last finishing note that it needed)

1 Preheat oven to 300° (if using the oven for this). Combine flour, hot paprika (or paprika + cayenne), smoked paprika, one teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon of black pepper in a large bowl. Dredge the short ribs in the flour mixture.

2 In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook bacon until fat renders. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels and reserve. Pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat from pot. Add short ribs and brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side.

3 Transfer short ribs to a plate and reserve. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ale and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add tomatoes and their juices and reserved bacon. Increase heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Return short ribs to pot, cover, put in the preheated oven, and cook two hours. (Or add everything to the crockpot and cook on low for about 6-8 hours.)

4 Peel potatoes, turnips, and carrots, and cut into one-inch pieces. Add to short ribs along with salt and pepper (to taste), cover, and cook until veggies are tender and meat pulls away easily from the bone, about 30 minutes in the oven, or 2-4 more hours in the crock pot.

5 Spoon off excess fat. Remove the bones if you like (and if there are any) before serving. I like my beef stew served over steamed rice, but I will leave that up to you.

Serves 8. Go ahead and make the whole batch--it tastes even better the next day as leftovers!

Then for dessert, I would highly recommend a cookie that I made for trivia this week, a delicious sable from Dorie Greenspan's baking book. I also made the fabled and ballyhooed World Peace Cookies, but as I am not the chocoholic that some of my teammates are, I wanted another cookie as well. I was going to make just "plain" sables that are the French version of shortbread with the same rich, buttery flavor but usually less sweet and with a characteristic sandy texture (sable means "sand" in French, don'tcha know). But one of the things I love about Dorie's book is that she always includes a section next to each recipe called "playing around," offering creative twists to boilerplate recipes. For the sables, she offered lemon, pecan, and spiced versions. But it occurred to me that I might want a sable that was both nutty AND spiced. Thus was born the spiced pecan sable. YUM!!! It is a homely little cookie that seems to scream "Frost me! Sprinkle me!" (You'll have to take my word for this as I didn't have a chance to take a picture of these before they were all gobbled up.) But they are scrumptious even without extra adornments. The flavor is bold and delicate at the same time and quintessentially autumnal. Give it a try and/or add it to your Christmas cookie repertoire.

(Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan)
Makes about 50 cookies (I got 48)--feel free to halve this recipe or better yet, freeze one log for future use

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature, plus 1 large egg yolk, for brushing the logs
2 cups all-purpose flour
Decorating (coarse) sugar (optional)

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in two of the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogenous.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek -- if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. (If most of the flour is incorporated but you've still got some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough.) The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it come together in a ball -- and it shouldn't. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy (rather than smooth) dough. Pinch it, and it will feel a little like Play-Doh.

Scrape the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long: it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log. Wrap the logs well and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove a log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Whisk the remaining egg yolk until it is smooth, and brush some of the yolk all over the sides of the dough -- this is the glue -- then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with decorating sugar.

Trim the ends of the roll if they're ragged, and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies. (You can make these as thick as 1/2 inch or as thin as -- but no thinner than -- 1/4 inch.) Place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them.

Bake one sheet at a time for 17 to 20 minutes (mine took only 13-14 minutes), rotating the baking sheet at the midway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that's fine. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining log of dough, making sure the baking sheets are cool before you bake the second batch.

SERVING: Serve these with anything from lemonade to espresso.

STORING: The cookies will keep in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days. If you do not sprinkle the sables with sugar, they can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months. Because the sugar will melt in the freezer, the decorated cookies are not suitable for freezing.

Playing Around

LEMON SABLES: Working in a small bowl, using your fingers, rub the grated zest of 1 to 1 1/2 lemons (depending on your taste) into the granulated sugar until the sugar is moist and very aromatic, then add this and the confectioners' sugar to the beaten butter. (Sables can also be made with orange or lime zest; vary the amount of zest as you please.)

PECAN SABLES*: Reduce the amount of flour to 1 1/2 cups, and add 1/2 cup very finely ground pecans to the mixture after you have added the sugars. (In place of pecans, you can use ground almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts.) If you'd like, instead of sprinkling the dough logs with sugar, sprinkle them with very finely chopped pecans or a mixture of pecans and sugar.

SPICE SABLES*: Whisk 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg into the flour.

*For the spiced pecan variant, follow the instructions for the pecan version, but just add the spices to the flour as in the spice sable instructions. Also, instead of ground ginger, I used some organic candied ginger that I grated with a Microplane, and it was heavenly--gave the cookies a nice bite.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I lied.

Ok, so I must 'fess up. Many weeks ago, I vowed that the canning season was over, and that I had already so much jam over the summer that I was calling an official halt to the madness. But...clearly I need a twelve-step program, because I couldn't help my damn self! I already told you about the best-ever apple butter that I've put up since then, but I forgot to mention the beautiful plum-orange jam that I made at the very end of the season. I found some amazing Long John and Empress plums at our new green market that was held on Thursdays through the end of October. The jam recipe was from the tried-and-true Ball Blue Book, and man, is it yummy! I didn't make that much of it--just a few jars--but I have in mind using it as a lovely cake filling at some point in the future. So I just wanted to share the recipe, and give it two thumbs up, even if you don't get around to making it until next year (at least there'll be a record of it here so that I'll remember to make more, too!).

Plum-Orange Jam
Ball Blue Book)

5 cups chopped and pitted plums (about 3 1/2 lbs.)
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 package powdered pectin (such as Sure-Jell)
5 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier)--I substituted fresh orange juice instead, as I was out of liqueur

Combine plums, orange peel and pectin (and orange juice, if using) in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam (even the foam will ‘gel’ a bit and tastes good on toast!). Stir in orange liqueur (if using). Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Yield: about 6 half-pints

Making this extra half dozen jars of jam didn't really push me over into the crazy category, but this next tale will surely confirm my poor mental health prognosis. And I blame the Bakerina. Long ago, I read about paradise jelly--a heavenly mixture of apples, quinces and cranberries--on her blog, and vowed to make some of my very own. The problem was finding the darn quinces! I have been looking for them, literally for years now, in two countries no less, to no avail. And then suddenly, this year, they turned up in my local grocery stores. Quinces are cousins to apples and pears and are harvested around the same time in the fall. But if you find them, they'll probably be among the "exotic" fruits. That's kinda funny, because quinces are an ancient fruit. In fact, legend has it that it was the forbidden quince that Eve sampled in the Garden of Eden, not the apple, which was cultivated much later. It's also odd to think of the quince as rare because they are quite common on the European breakfast table as preserves, and in Spain and Latin American countries as a jellied paste or membrillo that is most often eaten with a sharp manchego cheese. Moreover, because quinces are frost-hardy, they could easily be grown in my region, that is, northern New York and Quebec. They just aren't. And I'm guessing that it's because they are not a great fruit for fresh-eating (too hard and sour), and have to be cooked to be enjoyed. As so few folks take the time to make homemade preserves or pies/tarts anymore, that there isn't much of a market for them. Most of the quinces found in our markets come from Argentina (so sayeth the Wikipedia anyway), and believe you me, you'll pay the airfare! In our stores in town, they wanted two dollars APIECE for them! Fortunately, quinces are so strongly perfumed that you don't need many of them to flavor a whole dish. This is why they are often used in concert with apples and/or pears, usually in a ratio of 2 to 1, apples to quinces.

And this brings us back to paradise jelly and the Bakerina's wonderful but ridiculously over-sized recipe for it. Makes "at least 8 jars," indeed! I should have been suspicious when the instructions called for TEN POUNDS of apples and FIVE POUNDS of quince. And I had to have three separate jelly bags strung up around the house to strain that amount of juice! Better judgment should have prevailed, but it did not, and I ended up with 28 jars or some crazy thing. But oh, is it heavenly! It tastes largely of apple, but sort of honeyed and floral from the quince, and then with a finishing tang of cranberry. It's a lovely thing to look at, too, shimmery red and jewel-like. If you can find quinces in your market, I highly recommend that you make some of your own. (Although any of my personal friends reading this, don't bother--you'll be getting some for Christmas. Try to act surprised. Tee hee.)

Paradise Jelly

(Source: Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina)
Yield: 24-28 half-pint jars--I recommend making a half or even a third of this recipe

10 pounds tart apples
5 pounds quinces
2 one-pound bags fresh cranberries
sugar (see instructions)
juice of 2 lemons*

Wash the apples and quinces, but do not peel. Cut the blossoms from the quinces and quarter. Put in a large stock pot, add water just to cover, bring the fruit and water to a boil and cook until fruit is collapsing (this will take the better part of your day, as quinces are hard little suckers). Pour the mix into a jelly bag and let drain.

Cut the blossoms and stems from the apples and cut into four to eight pieces. Put them into another large pot along with the cranberries, add water just to cover, boil as with the quinces and pour into a separate jelly bag (I needed two more for this!). Let the bags drain overnight, or for at least four hours. Do not squeeze the jelly bags, no matter how much they look like they need squeezing, for squeezing will turn the juice cloudy. After the bags have rendered as much juice as they will, if it is past your bedtime, pour the collected juices into a huge vat and refrigerate until the next day. (Paradise jelly in this quantity is a full weekend project!)

The next day, measure the juice. For every cup of juice, measure 3/4 cup of sugar, if you like a tarter, cranberry-accented jelly or one cup if you like a sweeter, more quince-flavored jelly. Bring the juice to a boil, add the sugar and lemon juice*, stir, skim the foam (just for aesthetics, but very important to get a crystal-clear jelly and not a lot of micro-bubbles), and begin testing for a set after ten minutes. (Most cookbooks recommend that you cook no more than four cups of juice at a time, because it is trickier to determine a set if you cook much more than that, but I did six cups at a time to no ill effect.)

Meanwhile, sterilize your jars. When you see your jelly has turned into jelly (either by the sheeting test, the plate test or the thermometer test), decant it into the sterilized jars, apply the lids and screw bands, and return them to the canner. Process jars for ten minutes.

*The Bakerina didn't say how to divvy up the juice of two lemons, so I mistakenly added it to the big vat of combined juices before cooking the individual batches of jelly. Then I was afraid that there wouldn't be enough acid for it to set properly (though apple and quinces both have tons of natural pectin and that really shouldn't be a concern), so I added an additional teaspoon or so of juice to each batch before boiling. I'm not sure what I was supposed to have done, but my jelly all set perfectly nonetheless.