Cooking Food and Stuff – January through March 2015

Winter is just the worst, guys. It’s dark all the time. It’s cold. Sometimes you wake up and you look outside and there’s snow all over your car and the road and everyone’s like OMG SNOW DAY and you’re like “no, no, I have a huge project at work and need to leave the house.”

And then you make food for dinner and there is no soul in it, just necessity. And even if you do make something exciting the pictures look so bad because of The Darkness. I am definitely not a photographer at the best of times, and winter food pictures are…unpleasant.

BUT it appears to be spring now. There is sunshine! I can go outside without four sweaters! I am pleased. My cooking magazines have piled up and are full of dog-eared pages. Things will be made from them!

Since I have actually cooked a bit this winter, some of it from my news year’s resolutions, this post will be a bit of a roundup.

Basketweave covers a multitude of lopsided layers

Basketweave covers a multitude of lopsided layers

Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Icing and Raspberry Filling

We had an extremely well-coordinated surprise party for my friend Krystal, who was quite surprised that her friends had shown up in her house and decorated it and brought food. We only had 15 balloons and two things of mismatched crepe paper for decorations because apparently none of us are on pinterest, but we had a giant cheese plate with heart shaped brie, so.

I made a cake! Per her husband’s request, it was a chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream. I layered it with raspberry filling to balance the sweetness of the chocolate. The decorations were sugar/gum paste flowers I made the week prior.

  • The cake base was this fantastic one-bowl chocolate cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart, same recipe split into two 9-inch cake pans. It is not as sturdy for layering as the butter cake I usually use, so I may keep hunting for a sturdy chocolate cake recipe. This one is quite delicious though. One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
  • The chocolate buttercream was Wilton’s recipe. I made it with cocoa powder and did the extra fudgy version. I doubled the recipe and also added two tablespoons of meringue powder so it would ice better. It was VERY thick so I thinned it slowly with extra water until I could pipe it easily. Chocolate Buttercream Icing  
  • This raspberry filling recipe is amazing. I use it all the time. The only thing I do differently is just get regular frozen raspberries instead of sugar-packed ones. I let them defrost all the way on the counter and then microwave them to get the maximum raspberry juice through the strainer. Raspberry Filling

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers – New Year’s Resolution #1

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

Action shot seconds before they disappeared

OH YES these happened. I made them for a faux-superbowl party and they were glorious. If you haven’t made them, you must. They are not too spicy for the fearful among you, once you remove the seeds and membrane from inside the pepper. Then you fill it with cheese and wrap it in bacon. I followed this recipe by Pioneer Woman, which has you brush a little bit of barbecue sauce on the bacon before cooking. You must absolutely do this. It makes the bacon taste like candied bacon. They were gone almost instantly at the party.

 Lasagna – New Year’s Resolution #2

If I had not promised myself to make this for New Year’s and wanted to point out that it had been accomplished, I would not be posting about it. This was sort of a disaster. I tried making my own ricotta, but didn’t have heavy cream and the low-fat milk just curdled and it was horrid. There was a foot of snow outside and we risked life and limb to drive to the store to get MORE ricotta and somehow, when everyone was frantically buying milk and bread for the 12 hours of being housebound, they bought all the Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles. So I used Trader Joe’s brand, which is NOT the preferred brand of Italians everywhere. They were very gummy and I do not recommend them. My mother, who held my hand via the phone throughout the process, almost disowned me for frying up ground beef and sausage for the meat layer instead of making small meatballs, per our family’s tradition. However, the spaghetti sauce did turn out perfectly and I will post that recipe at some point very soon.

The lasagna itself was not photographed, because there was a group of hungry snow refugees at my house and I do not usually take pictures of hot food if there are hungry people waiting for it. Everyone said it tasted very good, so I will remake it with the correct ingredients that one can usually find if they are not trapped by accursed snow.

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A Tale of Terror and Bravery – Corn, Zucchini, and Red Pepper Salad with Feta

Corn and zucchini salad with red pepper and feta

Some chopped  fresh veggies

I have debated the merits of including the descriptions of BUGS IN MY FOOD before a tasty recipe, but all other descriptions of this salad pale in comparison to the True Tale of Terror. So, please keep in mind as you read: “Nature is terrible but this corn salad is delicious.”

This is the story of how I almost died, but was the most courageous girl in the world and managed to finish this corn salad despite the extreme terror and agony I suffered.

THERE I WAS, innocently shucking corn for a corn salad. I peeled back the husk, only to see the world’s LARGEST WORM lunge at me from the corn kernels.

death worm

ACTUAL SIZE OF CORN DEATH WORM

 

I screamed and threw the corn into the trash can, then retreated into the furthest corner of the kitchen. Needing to share my terror, I called Christopher, who was driving back from Target.

“Hello?” he said.

“AUUUGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!” I said, bravely, in the calmest tones despite the abject terror before me.

“WHAT’S WRONG!?!” he said, flooring the gas, assuming I was the victim of a stabbing.

“WORM! CORN! AUGH! WORM!”

“That’s – that’s it?” he said, obviously not understanding the sheer terror I had bravely faced.

“IT’S IN THE TRASH CAN WAITING TO ATTACK. TAKE IT AWAY. TAKE IT AWAY.” I said, calmly and rationally, with pure survivor instincts.

He hung up on me, obviously needing to focus on driving speedily to come to my side to fight the Death Worm Beast. I tweeted about my harrowing experience, as one does.

When he finally arrived, not appreciating the ongoing threat, Christopher removed the corn from the trash and examined the worm. I had not expected to face my enemy again so soon. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! IT’S GOING TO ATTACK.”

He assured me it was not, but returned it to the trash can. After shucking the rest of the corn and examining the rest for unwelcome guests, the Corn Death Worm and its corresponding corn cob were whisked away to Trash Land.

I, the picture of bravery, knew now what must be done. I must finish the corn salad.

SO. This corn salad, WORM FREE, is absolutely delicious. The dressing is tangy, the vegetables crisp, and the feta cheese creamy. I started out using a recipe from Bon Appetit, but changed up a few of the ingredients along the way. OBVIOUSLY there was less corn than originally planned. I cut down the amount of zucchini because there really is so much raw zucchini one can take. I added a diced red pepper  for crispness and sweetness. I also upped the amount of feta cheese, because if there’s one thingI know, it’s that there is never such a thing as too much cheese.

You should definitely make this salad. You should also definitely check your corn at the store for unwanted intruders.

 

corn and zucchini salad with red peppers and feta

corn salad of bravery

Corn, Zucchini, and Red Pepper Salad with Feta

(Adapted from this recipe by Bon Appetit)

Ingredients

  • 3 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 medium sized zucchini
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces of feta, crumbled

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the corn in the boiling water for three minutes until bright yellow, remove from water and let cool. Once cooled, cut the kernels from the cob.
  2. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini lengthwise, forming thin strips.
  3. Combine the corn kernels, zuchinni slices, red pepper, basil, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Top with feta.

 

 

One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

I think everyone has that imaginary version of themselves they like to trot out from time to time. I, for instance, like to pretend I’m the type of person who can whimsically whisk cupcakes together at a moment’s notice, sans recipe, perhaps while competing on Master Chef. No recipe, needed, thanks, I know 17 cupcake recipes by heart.

PLEASE HOLD YOUR SHOCK, I don’t actually know 17 cupcakes recipes by heart. I do think, however, this one-bowl chocolate cupcake recipe takes me one step closer to Imaginary Allison. It’s really simple. It’s the type of recipe that becomes a staple, the one you turn to when you need to bring a dessert and you want something tried-and-true, with no crazy ingredients.

One bowl, people. You mix the dry ingredients together, then whisk in the wet. No creaming of butter necessary, simply melt it in the microwave. I believe the one thing that sets these apart is the buttermilk, which adds a lightness to the cupcake.

Be warned before you melt your butter – this recipe makes more than twelve cupcakes.  Twenty-four, in fact. If you plan to cut this recipe in half, plan it out now. I melted my butter prior to realizing this, and ended up making three batches of cupcakes. SPOILER ALERT, it turned out ok! I survived and had an extra dozen cupcakes. I’ve managed to eat them, bravely.

I topped these with my all-butter version of the classic Wilton’s Buttercream recipe. No imaginary Allison needed for this one, I could pretty much make it in my sleep. This is the best icing, guys.

I realize it looks fancy-ish, but I promise it’s actually easier to pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes than to try to smear it on with a spatula. I used a disposable plastic decorating bag and tip #2D. Start piping on the outside and twirl the cupcake until you get to the middle. If you make cupcakes even semi often, I really recommend getting a few decorating tips and bags. It’s honestly easier, and you’ll be slightly closer to the imaginary version of yourself that makes the fanciest cupcakes in the land.

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes 

From Martha Stewart’s Cooking School

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
  • 2 large whole eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled.
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Prepare oven and tins. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Combine ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in eggs, yolk, water, buttermilk, butter, and vanilla until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes.
  3. Bake. Dive batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about halfway. Bake cupcakes, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  4. Cool and frost. Transfer to wire rack; cool 10 minutes, then turn out cupcakes onto rack. Let cool completely before frosting. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container, up to 3 days at room temperature or frozen up to 1 month.

 

Classic Buttercream Icing

Adapted from Wilton’s recipe.

Notes:

  • The meringue powder will help the icing maintain its shape after you pipe it. It’s nice but optional.
  • I’ve doubled the recipe below to match the amount needed for the cupcakes.
  • If you cut the recipe in half, I REALLY recommend buying the one pound box of powdered sugar. It’s much easier than measuring, since powdered sugar shifts so much.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsalted butter (four sticks), softened to room temperature.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 lbs pure cane confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Meringue powder
  • Two pinches of salt.

Instructions

  1. Measure out the water in a small bowl, then dissolve the salt in the water.
  2. Cream butter, vanilla extract, and salted water until butter is fluffy.
  3. Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until thoroughly mixed. Blend and additional minute or so until creamy. Be careful not to overwhip, this will form large bubbles in your icing that looks odd when piped.

Honey Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

honey bourbon sea salt caramel

Have you ever made candy before? It’s actually shockingly easy, even though it can sound intimidating.

Like baking, candy making is extremely precise. You’ll want to have a candy thermometer (I have some random one I picked up at Giant, but it’s basically this one.) and make sure to keep a careful eye on the temperature. Too high, and you’ll have hard, brittle candy (which is great if you want peanut brittle, bad if you want gooey caramel). Too low and you’ll have a caramel sauce. Luckily, most candy thermometers have markings telling you which temperature equals which stage of candy making. A quick rundown of the stages:

  • 230 F  – “Thread.” Sauce.
  • 235-240°F – “Soft Ball.”  Soft caramel, fudge, pralines, and fondant.
  •  242-250°F – “Firm Ball.” Caramel, marshmallows, gummies.
  • 250- 265°F – “Hard Ball.” Nougat, rock candy.
  • 270-290°F – “Soft Crack.” Saltwater Taffy, Butterscotch.
  • 300-310°F –  “Hard Crack.” Toffee, PEANUT BRITTLE, and lollipops.

The other thing I recommend having for candy success is a three-quart saucepan. Candy has a tendency to bubble sharply, and what is a sticky disaster in a two quart pan is merely bubbles with a three quart saucepan.

“This sounds very messy,” you may be thinking to yourself. Here’s the best part of candy making – if you soak your pot, candy thermometer, and any utensils used for about an hour, the sugar just melts away.

SO, gather your candy thermometer and let’s blow our minds with these caramels.

The basic recipe for these is from Bon Appétit.  Let me tell you, I’ve made vanilla caramel before. These are way better. Partly because of the direction to cook the caramel to a dark amber, partly the sweetened condensed milk, and partly the Honey Bourbon, these have a luxurious undertone that makes all other caramels seem bland in comparison.

One last thing to keep in mind about candymaking is you can spend a lot of time waiting for the sugar to melt, but the final stages usually move VERY quickly, with a lot of stirring. I recommend prepping all your ingredients ahead of time and keeping them handy.

So gather your candy thermometers, think very hard about the shades of amber, and make these caramels. The most difficult part of this candy recipe will be waiting for it to cool.

Honey Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

(Only a little bit adapted from this Bon Appétit recipe)

Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray, such as Pam
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons honey bourbon (I used Wild Turkey Honey Bourbon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Flaky sea salt (optional. Christopher HATES sea salt crunching on things so I skipped it.)

Instructions

  1. Spray an 8″x8″ or equivalent baking pan with the nonstick spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of about 2″ on 2 sides. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray.
  2. Bring sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water  to boil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture turns a deep amber color, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. You don’t need a candy thermometer for this step.
  3. Remove pan from heat and whisk in sweetened condensed milk and butter. Everything will bubble aggressively, DO NOT BE ALARMED. Instead be thankful you used a 3-quart pan.
  4. Attach the candy thermometer and return to a medium-low heat. Continue to whisk constantly while watching the thermometer, until the thermometer registers 240 degrees.
  5. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon and kosher salt.
  6. Pour into prepared pan; wait impatiently to cool.

Parmesan and Sage Crusted Pork Chops and Cheezy Orzo

 

Finally a balcony not occupied by wasps.

Parmesan everywhere!

We moved last weekend. It was very dramatic, complete with Christopher spraining his ankle the day before the move. Cooking currently takes eight times longer, since grabbing a fork now involved opening every drawer in the kitchen while yelling “WHY IS EVERYTHING SOMEWHERE WRONG?!”

Tired of take out but reluctant to run one more errand, I wanted to cook a meal from what I already had on hand, which in this case happened to be pork chops and Locatelli Parmesan cheese. Extensive googling of “Pork chop recipe” “pork chop parmesan recipe” “QUICK Pork chop recipe” finally led me to this Cooking Light recipe for Parmesan and Sage Crusted Pork Chops.

I used to be very suspicious of Cooking Light, but far from the usual “use sadness instead of sugar!” and other terrible substitutions you see floating around, they have careful and well crafted recipes that make you go “Really, this is healthy? Nice!”

The battering process they use for the pork in this recipe provides maximum adherence of the lovely cheesey breading. You coat the pork chops in flour to dry them and help adhere the egg whites and mustard mixture, followed by dipping them into the bread crumbs, sage, and Parmesan. The result is a light, flaky, cheesy breading over tender pork with a hint of tang from the mustard.

Obviously I could not allow a “light” recipe to stand alone, so I paired it with cheesy orzo (adding an extra half cup of cheese to the recipe, I regret NOTHING), and a green salad. I left the orzo alone for most of the cooking process until most of the liquid was absorbed, then stirred continuously like it was a risotto, resulting in a creamier texture.

Start to finish, this took about 40 minutes, which could work well on a weeknight. I imagine you would be even speedier if you knew where all your forks were hiding.

Photo Credit: Randy Mayor

Parmesan and Sage Crusted Pork Chops

(Cooking Light, December 2008) – Recipe by Lorrie Hulston Corvin

Serves 4

My Notes: 

  • I sliced those one inch Costco pork chops in half so I didn’t have to fiddle with my meat thermometer and for maximum breading to pork ratio. You could also make things easier on yourself and use thin-cut pork chops.
  • I had no white bread to toast and three containers of bread crumbs to choose from, so I used Panko bread crumbs and it worked perfectly. I’d actually recommend this  over making your own bread crumbs.
  • I used one teaspoon of dried sage instead of fresh.
  • I used dijon mustard.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 (1 1/4-ounce) slice white bread, torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 4 (4-ounce) boneless thin-cut pork loin chops, trimmed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

Preparation:

  1. Place bread in a food processor; pulse bread 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure about 1 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, cheese, sage, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Place flour in another shallow dish. Combine mustard and egg whites in another shallow dish, stirring with a whisk.
  2.  Working with one pork chop at a time, dredge pork in flour, shaking off excess. Dip pork into egg white mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat pork completely with breadcrumb mixture. Set aside. Repeat procedure with remaining pork, flour, egg white mixture, and breadcrumb mixture.
  3.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add pork; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned and done.

 

Cheesy Orzo 

Adapted from Rachel Ray

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 14 ounces chicken broth
  • 1 cups orzo pasta
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano or Romano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Heat an 8 inch pot over moderate heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and saute unit soft, 2 to three minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and return to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  2. To add a risotto-like texture to the orzo, begin stirring the orzo continuously when most of the liquid has been absorbed. Begin adding the Parmesan, stirring continuously until all cheese has been added and is melted. Serve immediately, with additional Parmesan.