25 February 2010

Refried Beans From Scratch

Refried beans is one of those foods that has grown on me over the years. What used to be a vaguely icky side dish in Tex-Mex restaurants is now an absolutely crucial component of quesadillas. I made them from scratch once a long time ago, and remember it as an easy but long and tedious process. But this morning I discovered that it doesn't have to be that way! Making refried beans is incredibly simple, and you get so much more food for the same amount of money you'd spend on buying them canned. It is one of those foods that can be done in numerous ways – the only absolutely essential ingredient is beans (and water).

I used:
dry pinto beans (about 2 ½ cups)
one large red onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
one tomato, diced
olive oil
cumin and chili powder

This makes a HUGE amount of beans! You might as well make a ton at once, since they freeze well.

Soak your beans in water overnight, then boil them until tender. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the beans and how long they soaked. Drain the beans, but save some of the beany water! You'll need it later. I had about 8 cups of cooked beans, but you can make less! You can also start with canned beans if you want.

In a large pot, cook your onion and garlic in a generous amount of oil until the onion is translucent. Turn the heat to low. Add the tomato and some of the beans, and mash it all together with a potato masher. Keep adding beans in batches and mashing them, keeping the heat on. As you go, incorporate a little more olive oil and some of the bean water – the beans will dry out a little after you're done, so make it a little more liquid-y than you think you'll want it. Add salt and spices to taste! The beans will soak up tons of salt.

The great thing about making your own refried beans is that you can control the amount and type of fat, salt, and seasonings. It tastes better than store-bought, and it is super cheap. And super easy! Seriously, try this!

23 February 2010

Beet Velvet Cupcakes (let's not call them Red Velvet, OK?)

A friend told me that red velvet cakes were red because during WW2, there wasn't enough chocolate to go around so people started putting beets into their cakes to make them dark. Buuuuuut, other people have told me red velvet cakes are red because of the vinegar's reaction with the buttermilk. Either way, almost all red velvet recipes call for a whole bottle of liquid red food coloring. I wanted to make red velvet cupcakes without red food coloring, so I decided to try the beet route.

Not really red, eh? I did a lot of things wrong!

I found a recipe that sounded promising. (The owner of that website asks that her recipes not reproduced online, but that we just link to her blog. So I am obliging!) I decided to double the recipe because it seemed small.

I went out and bought beets from the farmer's market. Candy cane beets! They sound so sweet and delicious! But then I get home and after boiling and removing their red skin, I realize they are red and white striped. Like candy canes. I didn't take a picture, but this is pretty much what they look like:

So much white under the deceptively red skin! Oops. I decided to use them anyway because I had no backup plan.

I bought 2 bunches of beets, which in total were 8 fairly large beets. After boiling them, I realized I had no real way to "puree" them--no food processor or masher! We do have a muddling rod for making mojitos though! So I smashed them in a glass measuring cup with that. It totaled just over 1.5 cups which was perfect since I was doubling the recipe. I did a pretty good job smashing them together. Only one person told me he got a bit of beet stuck in his teeth while eating a cupcake!

I followed the recipe pretty much exactly except: I used 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil instead of 1 cup; and I didn't have yogurt, so I added a little more milk. I think the yogurt was probably important in developing the red color, since most recipes call for either buttermilk or yogurt. Also, I used some pretty good quality chocolate which made the batter dark. I was still hoping for red, so I added 1/2 bottle of liquid red food coloring.

For frosting, I winged it... 2 sticks of butter, some vanilla and enough powdered sugar to make it taste good. I added some flour and potato starch to make it thicker without making it sweeter and a pinch of cream of tartar to make it fluffy.

I was a little worried, but these taste really good! But they do taste beet-y, while the recipe said they would not. One person pointed out that if I used store bought beets instead of farmer's market beets the beet flavor would probably have been milder. I kind of liked the beet flavor, myself. Some people did, some didn't. You have to be prepared for it though, otherwise it would be a confusing flavor! With the exception of the one person who got a beet chunk, the texture of these was great! Definitely "velvet"!

--On a side note, I used some silicone heart shaped cupcake liners (it was for Valentine's Day aferall!) that my roommate bought for me. I love the idea of reusable liners, especially since I bake so much. But the cupcakes didn't come out super smoothly, just like in regular paper liners. I didn't grease the liners, maybe that is where I went wrong, but they didn't have any instructions! And cleaning them is a bitch because of the ribbed sides, so I have to soak them forever and then scrape the cake out. Just mentioning it!

21 February 2010

Chocolate Buttercream

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love the Cake Love book! It was my roommate's birthday last weekend and she wanted a very chocolate cake. I made the chocolate cake from the bake off which is really the easiest cake in the world to make and everyone always loves it. I make the CakeLove Chocolate Buttercream with just a few variations. This is easily my favorite buttercream from the book. I think the yolk-based buttercreams are much better than the egg-white-based buttercreams...

For some reason, the farmer's market is still selling local strawberries in the dead of winter (a whopping 70 degrees today!!) and so I thought strawberries would go well with the chocolate-chocolate cake. I put thin slices in between the layers (along with frosting) and then decorated the top with strawberry halves. I think the strawberry went really well with the frosting and I am tempted to put some pureed strawberries IN the frosting itself next time!

This frosting isn't very dark chocolate, which I was a little worried about. But it went well with the dark cake. There cocoa didn't fully homogenize in and I am not sure if this is because I made a mistake with the yolk mixture (see below) or if it's supposed to be like that (it doesn't look like it based on the picture in the cookbook). But I loved it. There were little pieces of chocolate in the frosting. The recipe suggests adding cocoa nibs to the frosting (optional), but I didn't have any and I think the weird chocolate blobs more than made up for it!

Yolk Mixture
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp potato starch
5 Tbsp cocoa powder (the recipe called for 3 Tbsp which just didn't seem like enough... I also used some really high quality cocoa and I'm not sure if that impacted the flavor or not)

Milk Mixture
2 cups whole milk (I didn't have whole milk, so I used 1 cup skim and 1 cup half and half)
1 1/2 cups white sugar

Flavorings and Butter
4 sticks butter, chilled and cut into Tbsps
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1. Put the yolk mixture ingredients in a medium bowl. I whisked them together because I can't read. You aren't supposed to, I don't know if doing this changed anything!
2. Bring the milk mixture to a boil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan.
3. As soon as it starts to boil, pour it slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking until it is fully incorporated.
4. Pour back into the saucepan and heat over medium heat whisking constantly (but slowly) to keep from cooking on the bottom. Cook about 4 minutes, or until you see large bubbles form.
5. Once you see the large bubbles, reduce the heat to low and whisk strongly for 1 minute.
6. Pour this into a mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on high for 4-5 minutes, or until it is room temperature.
7. Reduce speed to medium low and add butter 1 Tbsp at a time and then add vanilla. Whip on medium or until smooth, about 3 minutes.

17 February 2010

Rum Cake (with Rum Buttercream that was only necessary for arts sake!)

I bought a Kitchenaid mixer last week. This is big news! This means I can make cakes all the time without having to borrow my friend's Sunbeam mixer from the '70s which works, but is not nearly as amazing as the Kitchenaid!!!

My friend had a squid eating party last weekend. I don't eat squid (squid and octopuses are the only thing I don't eat because they are too cute to eat...) and in protest I made a cake. I wanted a cake that would be sand colored, and rum cake fit the bill! This is from my favorite cakebook again because I am kind of on a mission to make all the cakes from it... Like all the other cakes I've made from this book, this one was delish!! It is very rich and doesn't reallllly need frosting (I glazed AND frosted it!) but I wanted to frost it to send my message. This would be quite good as a bundt cake, or other cake with a fun shaped pan.

Rum Runner Cake

2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup packed muscovado (or dark brown) sugar
2 Tbsp potato starch
1 tsp vanilla powder (I didn't have this so I just increased the vanilla extract to 1 Tbsp)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda

1 cup sour cream (I didn't have quite a cup, so I filled the rest of the cup with half and half that I had lying around, but yogurt is also a good substitute!)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark rum (use THE KRAKEN rum if you can, especially when making cephalopod themed cakes!!)
1 tsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla (or more if you don't have vanilla powder

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups white sugar
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean, slice bean down the middle and scrape the tiny seeds out, save the pod!
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks (save whites for buttercream or omlettes!)

1/4 cup simple syrup
1/4 cup rum

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper, don't grease! Or, if you are making a bundt, grease and flour or spray with a baking spray that already has flour in it.
3. Put all dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Do the same with the liquid ingredients in a separate bowl.
4. Cream butter and white sugar for 3 minutes on low speed.
5. Add vanilla seeds.
6. Add eggs followed by yolks one at a time, incorporating fully after adding each one.
7. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
8. Turn the mixer on medium low and quickly add the dry ingredients and liquid ingredients in 3-4 additions each, starting with the dry and ending with the dry.
9. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
10. Mix on medium for 20 seconds.
11. Pour the batter into the pan(s). Bake the 8" pans for about 30-35 minutes (my oven is sketchy, so keep checking) and a bundt for 50 minutes (according to the book) or until the top isn't jiggly and the cake passes the toothpick test.
12. Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely.
13. For the glaze, mix 1/4 cup simple syrup* and 1/4 cup rum. After removing the cake(s) from the pans, pour the glaze over evenly (use a brush if you have one) and allow it to fully soak in.

Rum Buttercream
I am lazy and don't want to retype the recipe, but it's exactly the same as the Amaretto Buttercream from the banana cake but I used 1/4 cup dark rum instead of amaretto and 2 Tbsp vanilla. My plan was to cut back the butter, so I reduced it to 3 sticks. The texture was bad. It was way too meringue-y. So I added the last stick of butter and just as I added the last tablespoon, the texture totally changed, so I guess there is some science in this! I used TJ's butter instead of Ralph's and lo and behold, it didn't taste so buttery! So I think the type of butter does matter, but you can add flour anyway if it's too buttery tasting. And if you want to add color, I strongly suggest using the gel because a) it's much more concentrated color and b) the liquid color doesn't mix well with such a buttery frosting! It will eventually after a lot of mixing, but you know... oil and water!

Assembling the cake!
1. Cut tops off of the cake (so they are flat) and eat them! (I never do this, but you are sort of supposed to for nicer looking cakes...)
2. Put one of the cakes on a cake plate.
3. Put a thick layer of frosting on the cake.
4. Put the other cake on top of the frosting.
5. Frost the tops and sides.
6. Add red food coloring to the blue frosting until you get a contrasting color. Decorate with a sad squid.

I always mean to take pictures of the inside of the cake, but it usually gets destroyed in the cutting process. But here it is! The dark clump is muscovado sugar that didn't get fully worked in... don't be lazy with your ingredients like me!

*To make simple syrup: Combine 2 cups white sugar and 1.25 cups water in a saucepan. Add the vanilla bean pod if you want vanilla syrup (this smells SO GOOD)! Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool. Store in the fridge.

15 February 2010

Bread - a family recipe

Making bread is one of those things that seems intimidating at first, and then becomes so easy that you can't believe you haven't always done it. Our house has seen a steady supply of homemade bread lately, since all three of us bake, so that we haven't had to buy the pre-sliced variety in months.

For me it started with my mom's family recipe rolls. I resisted making them for years because I was afraid I'd dishonor the Lickey family legacy if I screwed it up. But last Thanksgiving I gave in, and discovered how fool-proof it is.

This recipe has a history: my mom's family has baked it since the pioneer days, when no one had measuring cups and you couldn't buy yeast and had to use potato water instead. (I never understood how that worked until Heidi got the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, my new favorite baking book. Apparently, there is wild yeast in the air all around us, and this can be harnessed for bread baking in the right conditions. Starchy potato water is particularly good for attracting wild yeast!) Anyway, when my grandmother made this bread she still used the lard called for in the original recipe. Sure, I thought they were delicious, but in all honesty I never noticed the difference between lard-rolls and my mom's margarine version.

In any case, the rolls (or bread) from this recipe are amazing – chewy and starchy and perfect for holiday dinners. For every day eating, though, I prefer whole wheat. So I'll share the original recipe, then my own whole wheat variation, with bread-making tips from King Arthur.

In a large mixing bowl, combine one handful of sugar, one cup of warm water, and 2 ¼ tsp (or 1 package) of yeast. Stir it around a bit and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. It should get a little bubbly on the surface because yeast is alive and it is eating the sugar, yum! If it doesn't bubble your water was too hot (or cold) or your yeast was bad, and you need to start over.

Add 4 cups of warm water, two handfuls of sugar, one handful of salt, 1/3 cup of butter, and enough bread flour to get the consistency of cake batter. Beat this really well, but don't worry if the butter isn't completely combined. The kneading will take care of that!

Continue adding flour until the dough forms a firm ball. You will end up using most of a 5-pound bag of flour. Flour tip: My mom strongly recommends King Arthur bread flour, though I think just about any variety, including all-purpose, will work just fine. This is a pretty forgiving recipe.

Dump your dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, 10-15 minutes. If the dough seems really sticky, you can incorporate more flour, but be careful – adding too much flour is the most common bread mistake!

Place the dough in your largest mixing bowl, lightly greased, and set it somewhere warm to rise. Rising time can vary depending on the temperature, the mood of the bread gods, and the amount of wild yeast floating around your kitchen; but it should be at least doubled in size in 1-2 hours.

Punch down the dough monster and separate it into greased pans. You can either form it into rolls at this point or just leave it one big blob per pan if you want loaves. This makes a lot of bread – I usually get about 3 cake pans full of rolls, sometimes more! At this point you can put it in the fridge to slow rise over night, or just leave it on the counter for about 20 minutes before baking. You can also leave it out a lot longer.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes (for rolls) or 45 minutes (for bread loaves). If you are making these for a holiday dinner, you should definitely eat one immediately after it comes out of the oven, just to make sure they're okay. I think at this point Bekkah has made this rolls recipe more than I have, so maybe she has tips to share!

For whole wheat goodness: When I have these rolls in my house, I don't eat anything else, so I had to come up with a whole wheat version for daily consumption. I generally add flour one scoop at a time, so to make this recipe whole wheat I just alternate between scoops of regular bread flour and whole wheat flour. If it's your first whole wheat attempt, start by using a 1:1 ratio of whole wheat to white flour. My last two batches were made with a 2:1 ratio, and have turned out fantastic. Whole wheat flour doesn't rise as easily as bread flour, so I help it out by adding a few heaping teaspoons of vital wheat gluten (sprinkle it over the dough while you're adding flour). This is a completely optional ingredient, but my bread does rise very nicely. If you are really a health nut, add some milled flax seed for omega-3s and a multi-grain taste. Divide your dough into three loaf pans and bake as above. Cool on a drying rack, so the bottoms don't get soggy. Decide how much your house will eat before it goes stale, and put the rest in the freezer for future consumption. Feel smug and superior for making your own tastier, cheaper, and healthier alternative to store-bought bread!

Sugar tip: The two handfuls of sugar can be replaced by about 1/3 cup of honey, molasses, or whatever liquid sweetener you desire.

Rising tip: If your house is like mine, finding a warm place for the dough to rise is the biggest challenge of making bread. My mom recommends the top of the fridge, though the top of my fridge does not feel particularly warm. You can warm up your kitchen by cooking other things while your dough rises; if it's the holidays, time it so the dough is rising while something else is in the oven, and just set the bowl of dough on the stove. I usually end up putting the bowl in the oven and setting it to warm for a few minutes, then turning it off. The oven should stay warm for long enough to make your dough happy.

King Arthur has some kneading tips! Once you have formed the dough, let it rest for 20 minutes before you start kneading. This lets the flour absorb all the moisture. Kneading can also be easier if you take a 5 minute break half-way through the process; this allows the gluten to relax a little, which for some reason helps.

Hash Browns

Breakfast is my favorite meal. I love cooking breakfast! I had some people over for brunch today and made hash browns, which I haven't made in a while. They take a while and it's best to make them for a group, I think. I have made them a few ways before, and I think this is the easiest way to make them. The onions in this recipe will obviously cook much faster than potatoes and will turn crunchy and delicious! This recipe makes about 4 servings.

2 large baking potatoes (or any other combination of potatoes that is about that much quantity), chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (you can make them larger, but they will take longer to cook)
1/2 medium onion, diced
~4 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1.5 tsp kosher salt and 10 twists of pepper)
1 Tbsp potato starch (optional, this helps it get a little crunchier on the bottom. you can probably substitute corn starch but I don't know! you don't need the starch)

1. Toss potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, potato starch, other spices and ~2 Tbsp oil (enough to cover everything) in a bowl.
2. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in the largest flat bottomed skillet you have over medium heat. I think a cast iron skillet works best because it gets nice and hot and helps facilitate a nice crunchy texture on the bottom, but if you don't have one, any skillet will do.
3. Pour potato mixture into skillet and spread out evenly over the whole skillet, press with a flipping spatula.
4. Let cook for 5 minutes.
5. Flip over all the potatoes, cook another 5 minutes.
6. Keep flipping/cooking until almost all of the potatoes look crunchy, usually 15-20 minutes.

This goes well with salsa, cheddar cheese, sour cream, sriracha (or other hot sauces), parmesan cheese, ketchup (ew! I hate ketchup! but other people don't...) or anything else you like on your potatoes!

14 February 2010

Squash Sauce with Pasta

One day there was a tupperware of leftover cooked squash and a bowl of half rotten shallots, so I invented a meal. Don't worry I only used the salvageable shallots. Yesterday I decided to try to recreate it - this time with a squash (whose name we've already forgotten; perhaps Ambercup, it was very vibrant red) that was beginning to rot.

The ingredients:

1 squash
1 large onion
3-4 garlic cloves
3/4 - 1 cup milk
Parmesan cheese

I cut up the squash, discarding the rotten bottom, into chunks that I threw into a pot of boiling water to cook. I didn't bother pealing off the skin cause I was hungry and that can take a while. I think the squash took less than 30 minutes to cook, but you can test for doneness periodically by stabbing a piece with a fork.

Meanwhile, finely chop some onions and caramelize them in some olive oil. This should take about 30 minutes. Ideally they should slowly turn a soft golden brown color, but I didn't cook mine long enough or at a low enough temperature, doesn't matter they were still delicious. At some point, after the onions have got a good head start add 3-4 cloves minced garlic.

Once your squash is soft, yielding to the caress of a fork, fish it out of the water and set it aside to cool slightly. Now add your pasta to the same water once it is boiling again (see this way you save water and energy). Once you can bear to touch your squash, you should dispose of the skin. Next add about 3/4 cup to one cup of milk to the onions, stir for a minute or two then add the squash and use a potato masher to mix it all up together into a sauce or thick paste; really you can control the consistency of the sauce by adding as much or little milk or water as you like. I typically prefer thicker sauces.
Ladle up some noodles and smother them with the squash sauce. The final note is a generous sprinkling of real parmesan cheese to accent the dish. Enjoy!

I actually like the flavor of the shallots in this dish better than onions, but I didn't want to go to the store this time. If you happen to have a little half and half or cream, a bit swig added in addition to the milk would add some richness. I also suspect adding some ricotta cheese might be tasty and add some protein power.

13 February 2010

A Simple and Most Delicious Salad

This salad was the perfect accompaniment to Heather's golden beat gnocchi.

Start with fresh greens. I used red leaf lettuce, but a mixture of baby greens would also be wonderful. Take a nicely ripe pear, quarter it and remove the core. Slice the quarters as you like.

To make the dressing, combine 2-3 parts olive oil with one part balsamic vinegar. If you can, try to get some good quality stuff, it really does make a difference. I like to combine the oil and vinegar with one part soft goat cheese in a container with a lid and shake it vigorously. A lot of the cheese will emulsify, making a creamy dressing. To incorporate more of the cheese you can use a fork to mash it up and separate the clumps, then shake again.

Top salad greens with pear, dressing, and if you want to be really fancy, pecans that you've just roasted in the oven or in a pan on the stove top. You just have to be really careful not to burn them. But really, freshly roasted pecans is a transformative experience.

While I will admit that this salad is influenced by what so many restaurants are serving now, but with quality ingredients, your salad will far surpass most restaurants, at least the ones I can afford.

10 February 2010

Golden Beet Gnocchi, Two Ways

I never ate beets growing up; they were a strange vegetable my mom grudgingly bought for my dad for holiday meals. But in the past few years I have cautiously added them to my diet. I've eaten them roasted, sauteed in stir fries, or stewed in curries. At the farmer's market a few weeks ago I saw a truly massive golden beet, and my mind filled with ideas of new ways to enjoy this sugary root. Then I promptly forgot about it, until I noticed it getting disconcertingly squishy in the vegetable basket. Gnocchi seemed like the perfect way to use it all up quickly.

Until now my only gnocchi experience was with this potato gnocchi recipe, which intimidated me – it basically said that gnocchi is extremely difficult to get right, and if you haven't been personally taught how by an Italian grandmother then your attempt will very likely end up a disaster. Needless to say, I approached the task with a fair amount of anxiety. But the end result was delicious and, more importantly, easy to make.

I couldn't find many beet gnocchi recipes online, and the ones I did find either involved potatoes or Parmesan, and I didn't want to use either. So I used the recipes as rough guideline and pretty much did my own thing. The result was scrumptious and simple to make. I split the dough in half and prepared the first half the traditional way, by boiling. The second half was pan-fried the next day. Here's how I did it:

To make the gnocchi dough:
Wrap your beets in foil and roast until tender, about an hour. My ginormous beet was probably the size of 2 or 3 average-sized beets. If your beet is very large, cut into quarters before roasting.

Once the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and finely grate them. Add about a cup of ricotta cheese, one large egg, salt, and pepper. I also added a few shakes of allspice and some garlic powder, but I couldn't taste it in the finished product. Stir everything together until well combined. Begin adding flour. I used around 2 cups, but the amount will vary depending on the size and moisture content of your beets. The dough should gather into a ball and be tacky. I stopped adding flour when it still seemed a little too sticky, and that seemed like a good place to stop. At this point you can put some or all of the dough into the fridge for later.

Pretty colors!

To form the gnochhi:

Divide the dough into manageable portions and roll each into a log, about an inch thick. Slice each log into inch-long segments. Roll each gnocchi under the tines of a fork to get those wonderful indentations that hold sauce so well, and place your finished gnocchi pieces on a lightly floured surface.

To boil and serve with rosemary-garlic olive oil:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add your gnocchi in batches and boil for a few minutes, removing them with a slotted spoon when they are done. Normally gnocchi are supposed to float to the surface when they are cooked, but mine did not – they were too big or too dense, I suppose. I cooked half of the dough and got two good-sized servings out of it.

You can just drizzle these with olive oil, or do what Heidi did and make garlic-infused olive oil with rosemary. Just heat some olive oil in a small sauce pan, then add a few cloves of sliced (not minced!) garlic and a couple pinches of dried or fresh rosemary. Cook until the garlic turns brown, then drizzle over the pasta. The perfect simple accompaniment!

These gnocchi were dense and chewy and slightly sweet. And completely satisfying. Heidi made a salad to go with it that may appear in another post; it involved pears and goat cheese. It was one of those meals that sounds (and tastes!) fancy, but is incredibly simple to make.

To fry:
Since my gnocchi dough was pretty sticky, I rolled the raw pasta lightly in flour before frying, just to keep them from sticking to the pan. I don't know if this was really necessary, but frying things makes me nervous.

Coat the bottom of a small frying pan with oil – I used half olive oil and half safflower oil, since safflower oil has a higher smoke point. Bring the oil to medium-high heat, and add your gnocchi, working in small batches. Turn after about two minutes; your pasta should be lightly browned on both sides. Lightly salt and serve!

Fried gnocchi has an even sweeter flavor than the boiled variety; I can easily imagine this sprinkled with powdered sugar instead of salt and served as a dessert. Since my gnocchi were bigger than the average variety, they were still doughy on the inside, and slightly crispy on the outside. Personally I thought this was perfect, but if you think you'd like a more thoroughly-cooked dish, either make your gnocchi smaller or cook for longer on a lower heat setting.

All in all I got five servings out of one beet – not bad at all!

09 February 2010

Butternut Squash and Fried Sage Penne

almost exactly this recipe

This recipe helped me get rid of a few of things that I was worrying were getting really old (a squash, a red onion). The original recipe only called for 8oz of pasta (boxes are usually 16oz). After cutting up the squash, I thought half a box of pasta would not be enough so I used more, and increased everything else too. Look at the picture! Squash to pasta ratio did not need to increase! I liked this a lot, except for the pasta. I used Barilla Whole Wheat Pasta (not the Barilla Plus, which was a dollar more per box) and didn't really like that much. That's the only thing I'd change. The flavors are good, as is. They are simple, but go together so well!

I had a bottle of Dogfish Head Punk beer with it. That was a good match. I know it's kind of past pumpkin beer time, but I love DFH beer and I found a 4 pack of this at Whole Foods, so I had to buy it!

16 oz penne (or other similarly sized pasta)
3 Tbsp olive oil
12 whole sage leaves
1 medium to large red onion, sliced thin
4 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes
3/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper)
grated parmesan for garnishing (or not, if you're vegan)

1. Bring large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions. When draining, rinse with cold water so it doesn't get sticky. Return to pot (if the pot is huge!) or a large mixing bowl.
2. In the largest skillet/wok you have, heat oil over medium heat.
3. Fry sage leaves until crispy, about 1 minute on each side. Remove to paper towel. Step out of the kitchen and then back in so you can really appreciate the smell of the fried sage.
4. Add onions and garlic to the skillet and fry until soft, stirring pretty much constantly.
5. Once soft, add squash, water, salt and pepper to skillet and stir to mix.
6. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until squash is soft, stirring occasionally. The recipe says this will only take 5-7 minutes. It took me more like 20 or 25. Possibly because a) I cut the squash pieces too big and/or b) I didn't adequately cover the skillet for the first 10 minutes. I didn't have a lid for the skillet and so I used the two largest I had, overlapping... until! I realized that I could just use the second largest skillet I had as a lid. Ta-da!
7. Once soft (test by tasting! om nom nom!), pour the squash mixture into the pasta and mix until pasta is fully coated. Add a little more water if necessary (I didn't need more water).
8. Garnish with the fried sage (whole leaves for presentation, or crushed up leaves for a more dispersed flavor) and parmesan cheese (unless you're a vegan).

07 February 2010

Banana Cake with Amaretto Buttercream

It was my friend Sam's birthday this week and I asked him what his favorite cake was. He said, and I quote, "a banana cake with that bomb frosting on top." Later to be explained as basically banana bread with frosting. I wasn't really interested in making that. Banana bread is good, but it isn't a cake. Fortunately, my favorite cakebook (which I have referenced before), CakeLove had a banana cake recipe called Mr. Banana Legs. I made the Italian Buttercream, also from this book, to go with it.

This cake was delicious!! It was the first time I'd made it and I am always nervous when I make something new. It's not as dense as banana bread and oh man, it is so good. The only alterations I made from the original recipe is that I used amaretto instead of rum (because I didn't have rum) and I used not fresh nutmeg. I've made the buttercream before and it was great, but this time it tasted too buttery (imagine! after 4 sticks of butter!) so I added flour which helped quite a bit. I had used TJ's brand butter last time, and Ralph's brand butter this time, so maybe the Ralph's one was somehow different? But even before when I made it and it was quite good, it was still buttery. Next time I'm going to add an extra egg white and cut out one stick of butter....

Banana Cake

Dry Ingredients
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp potato starch
1 Tbsp turbinado sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Liquid Ingredients
3 very ripe bananas (tip! to ripen yellow bananas, put in 300 degree oven until black, flipping over once. allow to cool, then peel)
3/4 cup half and half
1 Tbsp amaretto
1 Tbsp vanilla

Creaming Ingredients
12 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 3/4 cups white sugar
4 eggs
3 egg yolks (save whites for buttercream!)

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper, don't grease!
3. Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl.
4. Mix all liquid ingredients together in a food processor or blender until smooth.
5. Cream butter and white sugar in electric mixer.
6. With the mixer on low speed, add eggs one at at time, followed by yolks one at a time. Incorporate fully after each egg is added. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides with a spatula.
7. Add the dry and liquid ingredients alternately with 3-5 additions each, starting with dry and ending with dry. Do this quickly and don't wait for things to incorporate fully before adding the next.
8. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the mixer. Make sure to get the flour off the bottom!
9. Mix on medium for 15-30 seconds until everything is mixed in.
10. Pour batter into two pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 25 minutes in the pan. Then remove from pan (remember to remove parchment paper from the bottom!) and cool fully before frosting.

Amaretto Buttercream
5 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cold water
4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
1/4 cup amaretto
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 cup flour (optional?)

1. Heat 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in saucepan until it reaches 245 degrees (use a candy thermometer!).
2. While the sugar mixture is heating, put the 5 egg whites in a mixer and beat until stiff peaks form.
3. Once stiff peaks form, keep mixer running and add 1/4 cup sugar.
4. When the sugar reaches 245, pour into egg white mixture and mix on high for 2 minutes. Then reduce the speed to medium and mix until cooled (about 4 minutes).
5. Add the butter 1 Tbsp at a time and then beat on high until butter is fully incorporated.
6. Add amaretto and vanilla and beat on high until fully incorporated.
7. Taste! If it's too buttery add flour, a few Tbsps at a time, until you like the flavor.

Assembling the cake!
1. Cut tops off of the cake (so they are flat) and eat them! (I didn't do this, so that is why the cake is round on top and sort of falling over. I always think about cutting off the tops, but I'd rather have a slightly larger leaning tower of pisa cake... and so I never actually do...)
2. Put one of the cakes on a cake plate.
3. Put a thick layer of frosting on the cake.
4. Put the other cake on top of the frosting.
5. Frost the tops and sides.
6. Spread 1/3 cup of chopped pecans on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp turbinado sugar. Toast/roast for ~7 minutes at 400 degrees, making sure the pecans don't burn.
7. Slice 1-2 bananas.
8. Arrange bananas and pecans on cake to cover up your poor frosting job and to add deliciousness.

06 February 2010

Avocado Muffins

I recently picked up 1001 Muffins, Biscuits, Doughnuts, Pancakes, Waffles, Popovers, Fritters, Scones and Other Quick Breads from the library. It delivers just what it promises – no introductions or descriptions with each recipe, just dutiful lists of ingredients and baking instructions. Each recipe is accompanied by a photo of the food, a single muffin (or waffle or whatever) floating in space. I admire this book for its minimalism and straightfowardness. As far as I can tell, one guy came up with every recipe in this book, and as you can imagine, some of them are a little weird. I was intrigued by the Avocado Muffins.

Avocado Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

1 cup toasted slivered almonds

1 large egg

¼ cup butter, melted

1 cup milk

1 medium ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and pureed

  1. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease or line with paper baking cups twelve 2 ¾-inch muffin cups.

  2. In a large bowl, blend together the flour, baking powder,sugar, salt, and almonds. In a small bowl, beat the egg until foamy. Beat in the butter, milk, and pureed avocado. Combine the two mixtures, blending until the dry ingredients are just moistened.

  3. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve warm, or invert onto the rack to cool completely. Top with Peach Sauce.

Once baked, these muffins are a pale green. The toasted almonds are a very nice addition to the creamy avocado taste. I did not make the recommended Peach Sauce, but they taste great warm with a little butter. I can imagine a little cinnamon added to the batter would be very nice.

03 February 2010

Creamy Broccoli and Potatoes

I bought a crock pot a while back and so far I have only used it to make soups and chili. I really want to use it more. The vast majority of crock pot recipes use meat, which makes sense I guess. I read something somewhere a while back about making cheesy potatoes in a crockpot. I looked up a bunch of recipes and they are all pretty similar. So, this is based off the whole internet, and some things I wanted to get out of my fridge/pantry.

This is pretty tasty but pretty heavy, because it's full of carbs and dairy! It actually tasted better the second day, maybe the flavors needed some time to blend? I think next time I will use cheddar cheese soup instead of mushroom. I saw some recipes that called for cream of mushroom, others for cream of celery and others for cream of cheddar. I think the cheddar is what my taste buds really wanted! I was really worried about the sauce being too thick. Some recipes called for just cream cheese and undiluted soup. It seems like that would be really, really thick and I was worried about the potatoes drying out/not cooking, so I added a can of evaporated milk. I think any other dairy would be fine as well, depending on how much fat you want to add! The broccoli was a good idea because a) it adds some color/something other than the heaviness of the starch and b) adding the water actually would have made it too liquid-y without the broccoli, I think. As made, I thought the consistency of the sauce was perfect.

This makes a huge quantity! And I'd suggest eating it as a side dish instead of a main course, so it feeds many. You could reduce the amount of potatoes, but then you might have too much sauce.

4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick) (you can probably use oil, use less or eliminate all together)
8 oz Neufchâtel cheese (or cream cheese)
12 oz can evaporated milk
10 oz can condensed cream of mushroom soup (or other creamy soup, see above!)
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp oregano
1-2 tsp Kosher salt (to taste!)
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
red chili flakes to taste (I used 1 Tbsp, which I think was too much, not because it was too spicy, but it was just too dominant of a flavor)
2 lbs potatoes, diced into 1/2"-1" pieces (I used red, yellow and blue potatoes because they are pretty!)
1/2 large onion, diced into 1/2"-1" pieces
1 large head of broccoli, chopped into 2" pieces, I keep the stems because I like them, but feel free to toss if you don't!

1. Lightly grease the inside of a crock pot with cooking spray or butter.
2. Turn the crock pot on high. Melt butter and cream cheese and stir to mix.

3. Add evaporated milk, soup, water and spices and stir thoroughly.

4. Mix in potatoes and onions.

5. Reduce heat to low and cook for 6 hours, adding broccoli only for the last 30 minutes.