Friday, November 30, 2007

Broccoli (oOOooh) and cheese (aaaHHhh) soup (wooooo! ow!).

Most of you probably know that although I adore the Food Network, I'm not the biggest fan of Emeril Lagasse. In fact, I find him overrated and incredibly annoying as a culinary entertainer. I cannot stand Emeril Live. Only a few minutes into the show, I am compelled to change the channel after hearing 50 "oh yah, babe"s and a billion other tiresome catchphrases. And I want to punch his audience in the collective face -- always applauding and ooh-ing and ahh-ing after Emeril slices up some zucchini, adds a pinch of cayenne pepper, or throws in some garlic. Oh yah, babe. Garlic is SOOO exotic. You add that garlic, Emeril.

(I mean, don't get me wrong -- I love garlic as much as the next gal, but come on! He uses it every show! Don't act surprised, people.)

But regardless of the obnoxious BAMs and punch-worthy audience, I have to admit one thing: Emeril's recipes are often pretty damn good. If I just pay attention to the actual dishes, I find myself wanting to cook them. And then I grimace and clench my fist.

I was recently recommended Emeril's broccoli and cheese soup. Although when I make this, I'll probably take the onions down a notch.

Monday, November 26, 2007

It's a savory world, after all.

Thanks for waiting patiently as my blog emerges from the depths of the four-day weekend. I'm sure you could barely contain your excitement to hear about how my Thanksgiving went, even though most, if not all, of you (three) readers were actually there to celebrate it with me.

So, I don't have to go on and on about how fabulous it was. But considering I was in the kitchen for a good 10 hours on Thursday cooking enough food to feed a small (Indonesian) colony, I think the menu warrants at least a few words of self-appreciation.

So please join me on my revisit to what I will call: Planet Thanksgiving!

First, we'll soar through clouds of roasted garlic and cream cheese mashed potatoes.

Then journey across a hot desert of sausage and apple stuffing/dressing.

We'll romp through green fields of creamed spinach and corn.

And trek rocky mountains of baked sweet potatoes and apples.

We'll meet a monstrous roasted turkey.

But we'll conquer it, like we do with the rest of the world.


Also, let's not forget the cranberry sauce (its individual photo looks quite murderous, which is why I didn't include it), the homemade turkey gravy (that one I just forgot about), the moist and savory corn spoonbread à la Irene, and a luscious pumpkin pecan dessert perfected by Greg's mom.

Thanks for coming along, and happy leftovers!

Friday, November 16, 2007

T minus six days until the happy turkey dance.

Less than a week away until Thanksgiving.

How did this happen?! I usually have my entire menu and schedule outlined at least three weeks in advance. Such is the woe of taking work home everyday.

So this weekend I am excited to finally gather my menu and ingredients. Turkey and spinach and corn and bread cubes and apples and herbs and potatoes and cranberries and "pumpkings" will abound.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pumpkin "butter" on fresh scones; pumpkin cookies. AKA I love Thanksgiving.

The period between Halloween and Thanksgiving is what I have (just) decided to call "Pumpkin Mania!" It's the time of the year when I indulge in pumpkin goodies and love them so much that say to myself, "Hey, I should make this anytime during the year!" But of course, that never happens. I just forget about it until next Halloween.

So, I better take full advantage of the 2007 Thanksgiving season. Here are a couple pumpkin yummies to start:

Trader Joe's recently introduced Pumpkin Butter to their stock. The label's suggestions for uses include "pastry filling, poultry glaze, ice cream topping, on toast or mixed with fat free cream cheese."

They're also perfect to spread on warm plain scones. A store-bought mix by Sticky Fingers Bakeries will do, but making them from scratch is so easy!

Boxing Day Scones, Sara Perry and Leigh Beisch, Holiday Baking
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk
Strawberry jam (in this case, pumpkin butter), for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it lightly and set aside.
2. Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then lightly whisk. Use a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers to cut or work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fine crumbs.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour-butter mixture, and add the buttermilk all at once. Stir the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Using lightly floured hands, gather the dough into a soft ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 4 parts and pat each one into a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut each circle into 4 or 6 wedges.
4. Transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet, and bake in the center of the oven until the scones rise and turn golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack. Serve warm, split and spread with pumpkin butter.

These are best eaten freshly baked of course, but if you store them in an airtight container and pop them in a 325-degree oven later for about 5 minutes, they're almost as good as new!

Ah yes, it's now time for the pumpkin cookie. There are basically two kinds: iced/frosted and chunky. I used to fancy the chunky kind, chock full of dried cranberries and pecans or walnuts. There was a recipe I used to have back in seventh and eighth grade -- as a library aide for my middle school, I had a ton of spare time on my hands and explored the stash in the storage area and found a kids' holiday cookbook with a recipe for the best pumpkin cookies I've ever tasted -- perfectly spiced, with a balanced pumpkin flavor and great texture, more cookie instead of cakey.

I wish I could share that recipe, but unfortunately, I lost it and can't remember what the book was to find it again. Even today I haven't been able to find a suitable replacement for chunky pumpkin cookies, but I was recently recommended a killer recipe for the kind slathered in frosting -- browned butter frosting, to be exact. Courtesy good ol' Betty Crocker.

Perhaps later this month: pumpkin cheesecake..?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Red velvet scandal.

The first time I had a red velvet cupcake, I wondered where the red color came from. Blood red strawberries? Overripe raspberries? I remember thinking. And then I looked up a recipe.

Oh, it's just food coloring. Lots and lots of red food coloring.

This didn't wig me out, oddly enough. I continued happily indulging in red velvet cupcakes whenever I got the chance. And finally, I decided to try making my own.

Now this recipe, by Elisa Strauss in The Confetti Cakes Cookbook, calls for a whopping 6 tablespoons of red food coloring for a 3-layer, 9-inch cake, equivalent to about 3 1/2 dozen cupcakes.

While I was collecting the ingredients, I pictured myself buying a bunch of those tiny little food coloring bottles that are readily available in any grocery store. Then it came to me -- a cake supply store, duh.

I arrived at Orange Novelty Cake Decorating and asked for a bottle of red food coloring.

"Do you want the airbrush food coloring or the gel paste?"
"Um.. what's best for red velvet cake?"
"Probably the gel paste, since it's more concentrated."
"Okay, I'll take that, then."

I should have also asked, "What is the gel paste to liquid food coloring ratio?"

(.... Yeah, I'm sure any pastry chef or red velvet cake veteran reading this can imagine what happened next.)

So later when I started making the cake batter, and when it came time to add the red, I thought, Okay, since the recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of liquid food coloring, 3 tablespoons of this stuff will probably be good.

I started with a single tablespoon. And then another.

Hmm. This batter doesn't look dark red enough.

I hate it when red velvet cupcakes are pink. They're not called PINK velvet! I like dark red velvet cupcakes. So I start to squirt more food gel in, a little at a time. When I decided to stop, I still wasn't satisfied with the color and felt that it was too light. But by that time, I was becoming disturbed at how much artificiality was going into these cupcakes.

(My pastry chef cousin later told me as I was telling her this story, "Yeah, the baked cake is always much darker than the batter." That would have been nice to know before I had started dumping gobs of red into my batter.)

Anyway, so I baked the cupcakes and was delighted to find that the cakes were moist, sweet, and a deep red color. It was one of the most delicious cakes I had ever made and tasted.

But as time went on, I became increasingly worrisome: What are the health disadvantages to artificial food dye?? My paranoia prevented me from thoroughly enjoying my cupcakes, which is very sad to me.

Later I found out that I used something like 6 times the amount of red food gel that I actually needed. Needless to say, I've had my fill of red velvet for probably the next year, and next time I will be making just "velvet cupcakes." Without the "red." Because the red is only used to dye the cake and not add to the quality of it, the cake will still be luscious and tasty.

But here's the now infamous recipe:

Red Velvet Cake, Elisa Strauss, The Confetti Cakes Cookbook
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (or 3 ounces) LIQUID red food coloring OR start with 1 teaspoon red gel paste at a time
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
2. Place oil and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two patches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
3. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
4. Divide batter among 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans, or fill muffin tins 2/3 of the way full. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes for layer cake or 12-15 minutes for cupcakes. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

After going on and on about the cake, I haven't even mentioned the icing. This delectable marry of whipped cream folded into mascarpone and cream cheese is what saved the day. Thanks to the New York Times (Feb. 14, 2007) for coming up with this killer combo. I recommend using an electric hand mixer to whip the cream, and a food processor to combine the other ingredients.

Red Velvet Cake Icing, John Doherty with John Harrisson, The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook

2 cups heavy cream, cold
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 ounces mascarpone
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. Softly whip cream by hand, in electric mixer or in food processor. Cover in bowl and refrigerate.
2. Blend cream cheese and mascarpone in food processor or electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, pulse briefly, and add confectioner's sugar. Blend well.
3. Transfer cream cheese mixture to bowl; fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate until needed.

And there she is. Naked, violated, and bleeding.

And yes. This baby stained. Everywhere.

* * *
Orange Novelty Cake Decorating
3625 W. Macarthur Blvd. #305
Santa Ana 92704

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eco-friendlier and fashionable.

I admit: I'm far from being as green as I should be. But there are two things I try to be consistent at. The first is recycling. The second is bringing my own bag to the grocery store.

This Trader Joe's canvas bag was the first I bought:

Despite its petite appearance, it actually fits a relatively large amount of groceries -- you'd be surprised. (A general rule of thumb: it will comfortably carry an almost-full basket of groceries.) Just don't spill maple syrup on it and accidentally shrink it in the dryer like I did.

I forgot my canvas bag one day and saw this hanging on the wall:

It's not uncommon that I walk out of Trader Joe's with more than a single bag of groceries (or my single canvas bag overstuffed and bulging), so I thought, why the hell not? And hello, just LOOK at it. Cute, no? Here's the other side:

And even though I reuse Target's plastic bags for multiple purposes, I was on a roll:

These reusable bags are inexpensive (each of the above was under $3), sturdy and generally hold more groceries than your standard plastic or paper bag. AND they are adorable, people (because let's focus on what's really important here -- I mean, plastic and paper bags are SOO five minutes ago).

In conclusion: there's no excuse! USE REUSABLE BAGS!