Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Daring Cooks: Soufflé

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided many of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website. You can find the recipes we were given here.

The last daring baker's challenge was doughnuts, which did not actually involve baking. This daring cooks challenge was soufflé, which most definitely does. I'm not sure why I find this amusing, but I do.

One of my friends and I made two varieties of soufflé for this challenge. The first was an adaptation of the watercress soufflé found in the above link and the second was the chocolate soufflé.

Now, we did not actually manage to find watercress, so we used spinach instead. We also used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan and added some finely chopped onion. As is typical with me, we did not bother carefully measuring these out, but this picture should give you some idea of the ratio. The quantity of onion is half of a small onion.

Mixing spinach into the egg mixture turned it a lovely shade of green. Here we have the soufflés shortly after putting them in the oven and then again when they are almost done.

Here are the finished souffle's right after pulling them out of the oven. They both gorgeous and were absolutely fantastic. It is more work than I am likely to put in a meal often (especially since they do not keep particularly well), but definitely something to keep in mind if I am ever trying to make a "nice" meal for something.

Now the chocolate soufflés on the other hand... Folding the chocolate custardy mixture into into the egg whites made pretty swirls.

It did not hold up as well in the oven though. They started to rise and then a couple of them decided that they should clearly be volcanoes. We were glad they were on a cookie sheet.

The ones that didn't explode ended up pretty enough, but I did not find them as impressive visually as the spinach variety. Furthermore, while they were certainly tasty, I do not think they were any more impressive than many of the other chocolate desserts I make. I might try an interesting variation sometime, but I don't really see myself making basic chocolate soufflés in the future. Brownies are a whole lot less work and at least as tasty.

PS. Taking pictures through the oven door is interesting. Some of my attempts clearly came out better than others. Perhaps I should experiment with this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tastes like fall :-)

Fall must be here, because I have been being enticed by winter squash, apples and sweet potatoes instead of zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. Poking around the internet looking for inspiration on what to do with the current set of produce, I have come across a large number of recipes that call for maple syrup and thyme. This is not a combination I would have thought to put together, but it turns out to be quite good.


1 buttercup squash (acorn or butternut would probably work just as well)
2 apples (I used fuji)
1 large sweet onion
~1 lb chicken
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp dry thyme
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 400. Dice squash, apples, onion and chicken and mix together in a 9x13 pan. Melt the butter and mix with the maple syrup, thyme and salt. Drizzle the syrup mixture over the vegetables and chicken, and toss to coat. Bake covered for 45 min, uncover, stir and bake for another 15 or so (until the chicken is cooked and the squash is soft.) I ate it with couscous, though it would also go well with cornbread or biscuits.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Doughnuts!

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up.
Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious. The recipes we were given can be found here.

I worked from the yeast doughnuts recipe we were given.

1.5 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
4.5 teaspoon active dry yeast (I have a jar, but this is about 2 pkgs. if you don't)
1/3 cup warm water (95°F to 105°F / 35°C to 41°C)
2 eggs
1⁄4 cup sugar (plus extra to roll them in)
1.5 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
4 2/3 cup flour
oil for frying (I used corn oil) amount depends on size of vessel you are frying in – the original recipe said you need 3 in, I used 1 and was fine.

Heat the milk until it is warm enough to melt the butter. Combine the milk and butter in a large bowl. While it is cooling to lukewarm, mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl and let it sit for 5 min or so that it gets thick and foamy. Once the yeast mixture is foamy and the milk has cooled enough that it won't kill the yeast, mix the yeast, sugar, eggs, salt and cinnamon into the milk and butter. Add half the flour and mix well. Add the remaining flour, mix well, and then kneed the dough until it is smooth and not very sticky. If you live in a humid place (like I do), you may have to work more flour in as you kneed in order to get it non-sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl that is large enough for it to more than double, cover with a towel and let it rise for an hour or so. For me it had well more than doubled at that point - I was glad I had ended up with it in my largest bowl. Roll it out to 3/8 in thick on a well floured surface and cut out the doughnuts. The hole cut out of the center actually seems to help it cook more evenly with this recipe, so I would either make them quite small or find something to cut holes with. As you cut them out, place them on cookie sheets or the like so that you can take them close to where you will be frying them. Let them rise for another 30 min or so.

Heat the oil to 365 F (I used my 6 qt soup pot). My stove is terrible at maintaining constant temperatures, and I found that it worked reasonably well anywhere between 360 and 370. Any cooler and they had to stay in long enough that they started soaking up the oil (yech), much hotter and it was hard not to burn them. There were several times I had to take the oil off the heat and let it cool down for a bit before continuing. At any rate, you gently pick up the doughnut and set it in the oil. When the bottom is golden, flip it and cook until the whole thing is golden (this takes about 30 sec per side if the oil is a good temperature - long enough that you can keep it from burning, fast enough that it doesn't end up greasy). I set them on paper towels as they came out. Once they were cool enough to handle I dipped them in granulated sugar. Ideally you should let them cool a little more so you don't burn your tongue, but they are best warm :-)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Leaf Cookies

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. She told us to make sugar cookies that represent September. You can find the recipes she gave us to work with here.

I make cookies all the time. Roll-out cookies (including sugar cookies) require more effort (and counter space) than drop cookies, so they get made less often, but there are still several slightly stained recipe cards for them in my recipe box. One of the two go-to cookies if we needed to take cookies to an even when I was little were my mom's butter cookies. When these cookies were taken somewhere they were almost always decorated - although essentially never with frosting. The mess that comes with frosting was reserved for birthday cakes and the the construction and decoration of gingerbread houses. Thus this challenge was essentially asking me to take two things I was familiar with and put them together.

The theme for the cookies was easy - fall leaves. I have a couple of leaf cookie cutters (and an acorn!) that I picked up in the dollar bin at Target one time and have been looking for an excuse to use. We split the dough in half so that we could make some plain (and thus see what exactly the recipe gives us) and added orange zest and a dash of cloves to the other half. I would give you measurements, but we didn't actually measure the flavorings. They came out well, but I have to admit that this particular cookie recipe is not one I am likely to be going back to. I have others that fill the same kind of role that I like better.

With decorating, we tried putting veins in the leaves before and after flooding. Our conclusion was that it was more effective to add the detail after. One of the pictures below shows the difference.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I have been posting pretty butterflies and such lately. I would not have expected to find butterflies in the city, but they are here anyway. They serve as a reminder to look for the little spots of unexpected beauty in life. On the other hand, when you are chasing butterflies it is easy to miss the beauty in the bigger picture. Sunset and sunrise are bright enough to catch my attention and remind me to not get lost in the details.

On a less philosophical note, I'm trying to learn to use things like traffic lights and power lines instead of always fighting them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Butterfly collection part 2

This first one is a little beat up, but pretty anyway.

This one is also black and blue, but less beat up (though it really did not want to sit still).

Then there is a lovely yellow one. Maybe I will eventually learn their names. For now though I am happy to just admire them.

In addition to all of these big showy butterflies there are a whole host of small ones that are easy to overlook.

This last guy isn't a butterfly, but I thought it was a nifty picture anyway :-).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Butterfly collection

For something completely different, here is some of the gorgeous produce I have acquired from the farmer's market. The three purpley ones are eggplants, the rest are various squashes.

This batch was mixed with some beans and a can of tomatoes and turned into a thick tasty stew. It goes well both with couscous and with biscuits and was even good mixed with scrambled eggs. I am a big fan of foods that lend themselves to lots of variations as leftovers.

Oh, one other thing:

Red leaves! Fall is coming earlier this year than it did last year. I am pretty ok with this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Daring Cooks: Canning!

Once again I am running late on posting this... life has been doing far too good a job of keeping me busy, especially in the middle of the week.

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation. The instructions they gave us can be found here.

Now, the first part of this challenge was gathering all of the supplies. I already had a wonderful large stock pot and the size of my kitchen dictates that one very large pot is enough. This meant that getting an actual canning pot was out of the question. The only problem with my pot is that it is about an inch less in diameter than the typical canning pot and thus the standard canning racks are not going to fit in it. On labor day (since I actually had time...) I set out for the local Ace Hardware to track down jars and figured there was a decent chance that a hardware store would have something I could repurpose as a canning rack. Apparently I was wrong on that second count. While I was looking around I was approached by an employee who asked what I was looking for. I explained and was informed that they did not have anything that would work as a canning rack and was further given a lecture on how dangerous canning is. I smiled, assured him I would be careful, bought my jars and set out for the walk home.

Walking to Ace took me somewhat farther east than my normal errands do. Whenever I find myself in a part of the city that I do not know as well I try to be observant and learn where things are. In this case I discovered that the Trader Joe's shopping center also has a Richard's Variety Store. Since I had a few fairly odd things I was looking for (something to act as a canning rack and jar tongs) I figured it would be worth stopping to check it out. Not only did it have the tongs and a cooling rack that would work as a canning rack, it has all sorts of other entertaining things. This includes a nice selection of cookie cutters (and some silly ones like gingerbread men missing a bite), unusual note cards, a lovely selection of jigsaw puzzles and stick candy. Overall it was a very good find :-)

Ok, now onto the food. I was very bad about taking pictures this month, so I only have a picture of the finished products:

As you can see, I made peach jam and apple butter. The peach jam was made from the last of my farmer's market peaches from this summer. They had gotten to the point of needing to be used, so jam seemed like a good bet. To make the jam, I blanched the peaches so that I could peal them, and chopped them up. At this point I had a little over 5 cups of peaches. I stirred in about 4 cups of sugar and a splash of lemon juice and let it hang out for a while so that the juice would come out of the peaches and mingle with the sugar. Once it was nice and mixed I transfered it to a large pot (you want one larger than you think you need, as it boils it fills a rather larger volume) and cooked it until it reached 220 F. At this point it went into the preheated jars and then into the stock pot of boiling water for processing. The texture isn't quite ideal, but it isn't bad either and is quite tasty, so I'm calling it a success.

For the apple butter my friend and I got three bags of apples from the grocery store (gala, granny smith and McIntosh) and more or less followed the challenge recipe in the above link. Our only major deviation is that we don't believe in Splenda, and so used a mix of honey and brown sugar to taste instead. The result was fantastic. We now have grand plans to make the Flying Biscuit's cranberry apple butter at some point later this fall when cranberries become available.

Overall this challenge was fantastic :-)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Beautiful Day

The weather today was gorgeous. I went to the farmer's market at Piedmont Park (and got an exciting collection of squash) and then wandered around the park for a bit before finding a nice shady spot under a tree to sit and do some math. It was lovely. I also remembered to grab my camera when I left the house this morning.

You can click on the panorama (or any of them for that matter) to see it larger :-)

Friday, August 27, 2010


Here is the view from my the living room in my new apartment. I unfortunately can not open the windows here, so I'm having to figure out how to take pictures through the glass. Right now this means that camera usually ends up reflected in it...

Of course, in the down in my room also has a screen (despite the fact that it does not open...), which makes things even trickier.

Here we have different sort of sunrise shot than the ones I usually go for. I rather like it though. It is a little hard to see at this size (you can click it to see it bigger), but the next three traffic lights are all different colors!

Then later that morning

Daring Bakers: Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alasa or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”. The recipes can be found here.

This challenge turned out to be quite the adventure. The concept behind baked Alaska is that you start with some sort of cake, generously top it with ice cream, cover it with meringue, freeze the whole thing and then manage to cook the meringue without melting the ice cream.

For the cake we were asked to make brown butter pound cake. I mixed up a half batch of the batter and baked two small cakes in the 1 cup pyrex dishes I have with a little bit of batter left over. In retrospect I think it would have baked more evenly if I had split that amount of batter between three cakes that size (or, you know, followed the instructions - but where's the fun in that). Despite the slight issues with baking, the brown butter pound cake was absolutely fantastic.

I started with my mom's recipe for vanilla ice cream and froze it using the stir-every-hour method. It does not not come out as wonderfully smooth as it does in an ice cream maker, but it is still delicious. Once it was frozen, I chopped up a peach and mixed it in. I prefer this version of peach ice cream to the one I made last month.

Then there is the meringue... My meringue skills need work. It was delicious, but even with freezing did not want to actually stay on. The result was a tasty mess, but nothing so impressive looking as baked Alaska is supposed to be.