Sunday, July 31, 2011

Strawberry Shortcakes

After the macarons, I still had quite a bit of heavy cream left over. I figured I'd better use that cream straightaway. In something amazing. So I did.

Yesterday I opened the fridge for a snack and came face to face with two cartons of some mighty fine looking strawberries. It was then I realized I had all the ingredients to make strawberry shortcakes. They are a perfect summer treat and I already had the flour and other dry ingredients for the cakes.

I believe this situation is a lot like that saying, something about the stars are all aligned or whatever.

Strawberry Shortcakes
from here

4 c fresh strawberries
4 -6 T sugar (I used 4)
1.5 c flour
1.5 t baking powder
4 T sugar
1/3 c butter, cut up
1/2 c cold milk
1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425F. Rinse the strawberries and slice them up. In a bowl, stir strawberries and 4-6 T sugar and set aside.

In separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and 4 T sugar together. Cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and vanilla all at once to flour mixture and stir just till combined. It's a lot like making biscuits.

Drop mixture onto ungreased baking sheet in 4 equal piles and bake 12-15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Assemble the shortcakes. Eat.

The cold, soft, sweet whipped cream is like a pillow that contrasts with the still warm from the oven biscuit. The strawberries are juicy, fresh, sweet and give a nice pop of color.

strawberry shortcake

I do believe the stars were all aligned and the universe was telling me to make strawberry shortcakes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chocolate Macarons

Macarons are delicious and make for great presentation but the cookies are pretty temperamental. They're made from simple ingredients so it's really about the execution I think. There are so many different ways to go with the flavor combinations, which is awesome.

chocolate macarons

The thing that really overwhelmed me when I first started out making them was the millions of ways to use the ingredients. To age the egg whites or not and how long? Pre-ground almond flour or grind it yourself? Is it necessary to weigh your ingredients? Hand mixer or the trusty KitchenAid? Italian method or French? Oven temperatures? The list went on and I started to psyche myself out. Not good. I'll stop rambling now so we can get on with it.

So, the recipe:

Chocolate Macarons
makes 16
3/4 cup almond flour (ground almonds)
scant 1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

3.5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate or bittersweet
2/3 cup heavy cream

chopped almonds

I used whole almonds so I chopped them up before grinding them. If you're using chopped or slivered almonds, stick them in a food processor or something to grind them up. I used a small spice grinder. The idea is to grind them to a flour, not a paste.

sifted dry ingredients

Sift the almond flour, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa powder together. 

Separate your eggs. If any yolk gets into the whites they will not whip. Lots of recipes I've read call for aging your egg whites but I didn't do that. I took mine straight out of the fridge and whipped them cold.

soft peaks

Beat the egg whites till soft peaks form.

soft peaks in bowl

When you've reached soft peaks, gradually add the granulated sugar. Then continue beating the mixture until you reach a firm, glossy meringue. 

firm glossy peaks

Also, you can turn the bowl upside down and the whites will defy gravity!

upside down bowl

When the you scrape the beaters off, the egg whites will just sit there on top of the meringue. They will not disappear into the rest of the mixture.

thick ribbony batter
Just a few more folds and the batter is ready.

Add in 1/3 of the dry ingredients and fold them in with a spatula. Fully incorporate it and then add another third in. Finally, add the last of it. Use it all - it may look impossible at first, but keep going. If you don't use all of it, the dry to wet ratio of ingredients will be messed up.

I've heard the proper batter described as a mixture that "flows like magma" or has a "shiny, ribbon-like consistency". Seems fairly accurate, I guess, since I've never been remotely near flowing magma. When you lift your spatula a thick ribbon should fall slowly into the bowl and disappear within 30 seconds.

piped macarons
My piping skills are kind of rusty.

Place the batter into a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off and a plain tip inserted. Pipe rounds onto a Silpat or parchment paper. 

Some people just pop their macarons into an oven at this point. When I tried that, the smooth tops broke. So I let them rest for 30 minutes. You should be able to lightly touch one without the batter sticking to your finger.

macaron shells

I think it really depends on your oven at this point. Some run hot, some cooler. It took some real trial-and-error (heavy on the error) to get to the point where I finally got my shells to look like the ones in the picture. 

I baked them at 290F for five minutes, then reduced the temperature to 280F and let them bake for 12 minutes more. That's a big difference from the 325F my recipe called for. So it could be anywhere from 280F-325F for your oven.

After letting cool for about 5-7 minutes, carefully pry the shells off the paper. Completely cool - fill with ganache.

chocolate ganache

Place chocolate in heatproof bowl. Heat cream in saucepan till just boiling and pour over chocolate. Stir until smooth and use to sandwich the macaron shells together.

Don't be discouraged if the macarons don't work out the first time. I used to have stacks and stacks of GLAD containers with fail macarons in them. Seriously. Really though, these are so worth it once you get the hang of it. It's so satisfying to take a bite and know you created this with your own two hands. You will impress everyone with your little sandwich cookies. 

Or: Omit cocoa powder for plain shells. 
Lemon Macarons: add some yellow food coloring and zest of one lemon to batter and fill with lemon curd.

lemon macarons

Finally, after a long winded post, I am leaving you with some ways to use all of those egg yolks. I nearly went crazy with the amount of egg yolks left after all those batches of macarons I made. You'd have thought I made a few angel food cakes or something.

Creme Brulee
Lemon Curd
Ice Cream
Béarnaise Sauce

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lazy Morning Waffles

Waffles almost never make an appearance in the house except for the Eggo kind on hectic weekdays. They show up lots when guests are staying, because they're pretty impressive, especially if they're dusted with powdered sugar and have a side of fruit.

I'm just kind of reluctant to bust out the waffle iron often because pancakes can easily be made with a simple skillet and a bowl or two. So my poor waffle maker tends to hang out in the pantry for far too long than it should.

However. I woke up at around nine thirty today and decided to make waffles. The batter came together quickly and all I had to do was let my iron do the work after that. I made them in my pajamas too. Because that's the only way to do it :)

lazy morning waffle

Buttermilk Waffles
from this blog

2 eggs
2 c buttermilk
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 c and 2 T shortening (I used 1/4 c melted butter and it worked fine)

Heat waffle iron. Beat eggs and then add the rest of the ingredients. Beat it all together till smooth. Follow the directions on your waffle maker.

I made chocolate waffles and replaced 1/2 cup of the flour with 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

These waffles were great - crunchy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tuna Melt

Tuna was something that was really in the background of my diet before this sandwich. Eh, not even in the background. It was like a blip on my radar that showed up only occasionally, like in chip dips and tuna salad. Usually I bypassed it without a thought.

Everything changed when I was up in the mountains with a few relatives. We were staying in a small cabin with one little stove and a fridge as the kitchen. We ate out frequently, but sometimes we'd cook a little something up for a quick lunch. Anyway, on that fateful day, one friendly relative handed me a tuna melt, right from the hot pan. I inspected it warily before taking a bite.

Love happened. Between the toasty bread and the melty cheese and the crunchy celery, there lay a hunk of tuna.  I suddenly regretted ever having ignored this amazing food.

Unfortunately, we returned home and the tuna melt memory was forgotten for awhile. Surprisingly. You're not supposed to forget experiences like that, are you? Well, I did. I think it was almost year before I hopped onto the computer and bugged him for the recipe. He was very nice and emailed me back with the recipe.

Tuna Melt
makes two sandwiches

4 slices of bread
One can of tuna
1-2 stalks of celery
1-2 Tbsp mayonnaise

Heat a pan over medium - medium high heat.

Drain the can of tuna. Place into a bowl with mayonnaise. Adjust it to suit your taste. I usually use a tablespoon. I like to think of it as the glue that holds everything in this sandwich together.

Chop the celery and throw it in. Mix it all up.

Slice the cheese if you are using a block, or just pull out a few slices. I used cheddar because it's a good combination, but I bet some pepper jack would work well too. Whatever cheese you want.

Assemble the sandwiches. I put some butter in the pan at this point. If it sizzles, I usually take it as a sign that my pan is hot enough.

In the sandwiches go. You don't really have to time each side or anything like that. Really, it's kind of like making a grilled cheese sandwich. Everything should be heated throughout, bread should be toasty, cheese well melted and it's all good.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Focaccia + Growing Lentils

To be completely honest, I was never partial to sitting quietly in a desk and listening to a teacher read from a textbook. Wasn't much of a fan of copying from the board or reading aloud either, I'm afraid. I would much rather be outside trying to catch frogs or learning how to put something together.

And thus, when my teacher decided we were going to grow something, I was excited. We were each given some beans. We moistened some paper towels and then folded them into squares. The beans were folded into the moist paper towels and all of it was placed into a plastic bag. We taped the baggies to a wall in the greenhouse and waited for nature to work its magic.

They sprouted days after and we planted them in soil. They grew into plants; we watered them and talked to them. It was probably one of my favorite experiences in school.

I decided to see if the process would work with lentils, and they sprouted quite quickly.

After only 2 days

At this point J informed me I could eat these if I wanted. So I told him I planned to nurse these precious lentils into a beautiful plant.

He dubiously agreed and assured me if I needed any help he would do his best to help. I thanked him and went about my business planting the sprouts.

Despite the excitement of all of this, I managed to squeeze in some baking. I was reluctant to turn the oven on in heat wave, but sometimes to get what you want, you have to make sacrifices. And sacrifices it is when it comes to focaccia.

Recipe from King Arthur Flour can be found here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think everyone has their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, whether it's their grandmother's recipe or the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package.

I happen to like this one very much. It makes a great cookie and is simple to prepare. There are so many variations for that single cookie that I rarely repeat the same recipe, but my family enjoys this recipe so much that I find myself making it over and over!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes: about 30

1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c sugar
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 large egg
1/4 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Cream the butter, sugars, baking soda, and salt together. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Add the flour until it just makes a dough. Stir in the chocolate chips and if desired, 1/2 cup walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, whichever you prefer.

3. Roll pieces of dough into roughly the same size and place on ungreased cookie sheets or you can use baking paper. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are just turning light brown. Cool on sheets for 2 minutes and then move them to cooling racks to cool completely.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Almond Granola

The weather has been hot and humid lately, which greatly diminishes my desire for a hot bowl of oatmeal. I do love my oats, but thought that something cold to start the day would be better. Enter: Granola.

I'm not a fan of all those weird preservatives and additives that manufacturers put in their food, and granola doesn't seem to be any exception. So I made my own. Why not?

Almond Granola (from here)
makes: about 2 cups

2 T unsalted butter
2 T honey
1/4 c brown sugar
1.5 c rolled oats
1/3 c slivered or chopped almonds

Now I was supposed to put some coconut flakes or shreds in with the party, but I didn't have any, so I didn't use any. The original recipe called for 1/4 c shredded sweetened coconut.

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Melt butter and honey together over low heat. Stir in the sugar and stir and cook until it's dissolved.

2. Stir together the oats and almonds in a large bowl. And the coconut flakes too, if you're using them.

3. Pour the butter, honey, and sugar mixture over the oat mixture. Mix it all together well, so all of it is coated.

4. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn't burn. I stirred it every 5 minutes because I'm kind of nervous like that, but I imagine it would be okay to stir it every 10 minutes. Take it out of the oven when it's golden brown. It will smell really good.

5. Let cool completely on the sheet on a wire rack.

I like to eat mine with cold milk like cereal, with some banana chips or M&Ms mixed in. This is a really good all purpose recipe that you can use again and again for basic granola. :)