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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Pink Applesauce Pancakes – Martha Stewart Living, October 2014

Apple picking

Apples in the wild

Has anyone else gone apple picking? I did, in October, for the first time. I picked four apples, right from the tree. I only screamed once, when a leaf landed on my shoulder, because it was (1) QUITE menacing and (2) potentially a large bug trying to burrow into my hair. There were a lot of trees. There were also a lot of abandoned apples lying around on the ground that made me feel a little sad, especially when people stepped on them to hear them go “squish.” There were a lot of babies and children at the apple orchard that were not on board with this excursion into nature. There were a lot of people taking pictures with a tractor wearing clothes that were not ever intended for use while tractor-ing.

Some that was fun and I now have a bushel (A REAL APPLE TERM, APPARENTLY, not something just in old timey songs, who knew) of apples in my fridge. I have eaten two of them.

I also still have applesauce from my LAST apple endeavor.

I am awash with apples.

Soooo, if you, like me, you made applesauce a few weeks ago, served it with pork chops, then let it languish in your refrigerator, then picked a bushel of apples because you don’t plan ahead or think things through, you need a way to use some apples up.

Martha, wonderful Martha, suggests Applesauce Pancakes. They are great. They are also not those terrible pancakes you read about that are like OH JUST PUT APPLESAUCE INSTEAD OF BUTTER NO ONE WILL KNOW. No. Everyone knows. Everyone can taste that deceit. No one wants applesauce instead of butter and eggs, it makes your baked goods taste like sadness.

Applesauce Pancakes

THESE pancakes have butter, eggs, AND applesauce. They are delicious, they are dense. There is a hint of apple. They are made just like regular pancakes, but with applesauce.

Apparently I threw away our syrup when we moved, so I opted for Martha’s serving suggestion. BEAR WITH ME, this sounds very strange. But – you take a pancake, layer it with sour cream. Add a pancake, layer it with applesauce. Repeat.

I was a little skeptical of the sour cream so I added about a tablespoon of sugar to it. That was good but not necessary. The combination is really good. It’s sweet and tangy and fallish, more like eating a fancy dessert than a nice fall Sunday morning breakfast.  It’s sort of German tasting, the applesauce pancakes with sour cream and applesauce.

Applesauce Pancakes

(Martha Stewart Living, October 2014)

My Notes:

  • I cut the recipe in half because there are only two people living in my house. They’re pretty filling.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup Martha’s Pink Applesauce, plus more for serving
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for griddle
  • Sour cream, for serving

Directions

  1. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add eggs, milk, applesauce, and butter; whisk just until combined (batter should be slightly lumpy)

  2. Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with butter. Working in batches, pour batter onto griddle 1/2 cup at a time, spacing pancakes 2 inches apart. Cook until bubbles appear on top and edges are slightly dry, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown on underside, about 3 minutes more. Repeat with remaining batter, wiping griddle clean and lightly buttering between batches.

  3. Layer sour cream and applesauce between pancakes; serve with more of each on the side.

Orange and Rosemary Brined Pork Chops with Pink Applesauce – Martha Stewart Living, October 2014

Orange and Rosemary Brined Porkchops Homemade Pink Applesauce

 

Have we discussed how amazing brining is? You mix some water and seasonings and salt together the night before, dump them in a bag with the meat, then go to bed. The next day, when you walk in the door after sitting in a horrific hour plus of traffic because someone got pulled over and didn’t bother moving to the shoulder of the road, and everyone stopped to look, all you have to do is toss the meat in a pan. The result is juicy, tender, well seasoned meat.

Adding to my list of delightfully brined meats is this orange and rosemary brined pork chop recipe from Martha Stewart. It’s so good, and so easy.

If you wanted to continue merrily down a path of ease, buy some applesauce from the store and serve it with the pork chops. If, however, you’ve whimsically purchased a four pound bag of apples because you were lured by the Idea of Fall, you should make Martha Stewart’s Pink Applesauce. I chose a cozy Sunday evening for the applesauce cooking project, because a Tuesday is no night to make homemade applesauce.

This applesauce is delicious and fallish. And it’s PINK. The best part of the pink applesauce is that the pink color is created through sheer laziness. You do not have to peel a single apple, the peels are what give the applesauce that great pink color. I cut the cores out of my apples and tossed them into a pot, then just let them cook for about 45 minutes. Not being in possession of a food mill, I pressed the results through a strainer, which didn’t take very long at all.

So, yay, this applesauce is GREAT and you should definitely make it. It’s fairly quick and hands off. You can use any kind of apple and flavor it in different ways to suit your taste. My apples were a bit sour and I had only a wee bit of lemon juice, so I skipped most of the lemon juice. The applesauce is good all on it’s own, or served with the amazing brined pork chops above.

Has anyone tried brining meat before? Or making applesauce?

Orange and Rosemary Brined Pork Chops with Pink Applesauce

(Martha Stewart Living, October 2014)

My Notes:

  • I did not use bone in pork chops, because I had regular pork chops in the freezer.
  • I used whatever variety of apple came in the four pound bag from Trader Joes, and one Gala apple from when I made a poor decision to get the apple instead of the baguette at Panera.
  • The magazine suggested adding cinnamon or bourbon to the applesauce for flavor. I still had some honey bourbon from my caramels, so I splashed some in. It didn’t make any difference whatsoever. Stick to cinnamon, save your bourbon.
  • I would never buy parsley for the sole purpose of decorating my pork chops. I did have some languishing in the refrigerator, so it made an appearance in the pictures. You can 100 percent skip the parsley.
  • The potatoes on the side were two potatoes, diced very small, and pan fried in olive oil with an onion, garlic, and rosemary until crispy.

Pork Chops:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup coarse salt
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 8 1-by-3-inch strips orange zest
  • 16 whole black peppercorns
  • 3 small sprigs rosemary
  • 4 bone-in pork rib chops (each about 12 ounces and 1 inch thick)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Flat-leaf parsley sprigs, for serving

Directions:

  1. Combine sugar, salt, bay leaves, orange zest, peppercorns, rosemary, and 4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar and salt are dissolved. Reduce to a simmer and cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; let cool completely. Pour over pork chops in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cover and refrigerate, turning once, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
  2. Remove pork from brine; discard brine. Pat chops dry; let stand 15 minutes. Heat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add pork, working in batches, if necessary, and cook until bottoms are deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn and cook until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops (without touching bone) registers 138 degrees, about 3 minutes more. Let rest 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with applesauce.

Martha’s Pink Applesauce

(Martha Stewart Living, October 2014)

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds McIntosh apples, quartered and cored
  • 2 pounds red apples, such as Empire or Cortland, quartered and cored
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Variations

  1. White Applesauce: Peel apples before cooking.
  2. Sweet Applesauce: Add 1/4 cup sugar to apple mixture in step 1 before cooking.

Directions

  1. Combine apples, lemon juice, and 1 1/2 cups water in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are completely soft, about 40 minutes.
  2. Pass apples through a medium-mesh sieve or a food mill fitted with the fine disk to remove skins. Applesauce can be stored in refrigerator up to 1 week, or in freezer up to 3 months. To can applesauce, follow these instructions.

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.

Chamomile Peach Tarts – Martha Stewart Living, June 2014

chamomile peach tart

Tart madness

On my tier of “greatest fears,” right after wrongful imprisonment, death by mosquitoes, and coffee shortages, exists the fear of “not having enough food for people. ” So when I had a mini party at my house, I spent weeks agonizing over the quantities required.

This is how I ended up making enough dessert for each person to have a third of a pie.  I know. I made that lemon basil pie, a blackberry pie, and these chamomile peach tarts. Don’t worry, there was also pasta salad, grilled meat, so much corn on the cob we had nine ears left, and a two cheese plates.

I like to blame this ridiculousness on my Italian heritage.

ANYWAY.

Martha Stewart Living did a beautiful spread on desserts featuring savory ingredients, from which I pulled all desserts for this party. The Chamomile Peach Tart was voted on by my friend Kaitlyn, so you have her to thank for bringing this delightfulness into your life.

If you have never made a tart and are intimidated, this can be your gateway tart. The crust is made in your mixer and has four egg yolks, and is so easy to work with that when I ran out of tart pans I free formed a tart. There is no custard to stir and strain, instead the filling is sweetened sour cream. To keep it truly simple, you could leave out the chamomile poaching altogether and just top it with sweetened fruit. THERE, now you are a tart master.

If you are ambitious, the chamomile poached peaches are subtle but lovely. I started the night before, poaching them in sugar, water, and loose leaf chamomile buds. After the poaching, you let them sit overnight, soaking up the gentle chamomile flavor.

Assembly of the tarts is straightforward. Bake the shells, add the sweetened sour cream, and top with the sliced peaches and cooked down chamomile syrup.

If you loathe chamomile tea and think it tastes like socks,  it’s a truly subtle flavor in this recipe, but I think you can skip it and be fine, or substitute black tea. The recipe is very versatile.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Lovekin

Chamomile Peach Tarts

(Martha Stewart Living, June 2014)

My Notes:

  • I assumed taking the skins of the peaches would be easy, like removing their little jackets. WRONG. These are terrible to peel. Keep a paring knife handy.
  • I used loose, dried chamomile buds for the peach poaching, and cut apart teabags from the Wegmans “Just Tea” chamomile tea for the crust. I wanted a full flavor for the peaches, but wanted the tea very fine in the tart shell.
  • If you know me at all you know I did not find fresh chamomile flowers for serving.
  • Lacking square tart pans, I tried to use six mini tart pans. That was definitely not enough, and I ended up making a GIANT free formed tart.

Ingredients:

PEACHES

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dried chamomile blossoms (from 10 to 12 tea bags)
  • 3 ripe peaches, halved and pitted

CRUSTS

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 8 teaspoons chamomile tea (from 8 bags)

FILLING

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • Fresh chamomile flowers (unsprayed), for serving

Directions

  1. Peaches: Bring 6 cups water, sugar, and chamomile blossoms to a boil in a medium pot, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil gently until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 1 hour. Strain out solids, then return liquid to pot and return to a simmer. Add peach halves and cover with a parchment round. Let simmer 3 minutes, then remove from heat and let peaches cool completely in liquid. Refrigerate, covered, until chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
  2. Remove peaches from liquid, peel, and cut each half into fifths. Pass liquid through a fine sieve and measure out 1 1/2 cups. Return peaches to remaining liquid. Transfer 1 1/2 cups liquid to a pot; bring to a boil and reduce until syrupy (about 2 tablespoons), about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.
  3. Crusts: Meanwhile, combine butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolks, then flour, salt, and tea; mix until dough just starts to come together. Dividing evenly, press dough evenly into bottom and up sides of two 4-by-13-inch rectangular tart pans with removable bottoms. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake crusts until golden brown, pressing down centers of tarts if puffing up, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely.
  5. Filling: Stir together sour cream and sugar in a bowl and spread in bottom of crusts, dividing evenly. Remove peaches from liquid and blot dry. Dividing evenly, arrange peaches over filling; drizzle with reduced syrup. Serve immediately, topped with chamomile flowers.