31 July 2008

How Do You Eat Your Oatmeal?

I take showers in Pellegrino. That's why I have that bubbly personality that I just know, *flicks hair*, YOU ALL LOOOVE!

My car runs on used Starbucks coffee grounds. That's all it's good for! *buuuuurn, oooh!*

How do youuu eat your oooatmeal, with brown sugar? BLEEEGH. I use ganaaache. *Hmpf, hmpf, HMPF!*

By this time, you're probably wondering if I'm suffering from multiple personality disorder. You're correct. Starbucks coffee is the bestest evahhhh! You're wrong, I only have ONE personality. Deal with it.

Actually, Kath from Kath Eats Real Food is hosting a contest for the most creative bowl of oatmeal. The prize, awarded to 10 people, is a box of Blueberry Vanilla Crackle Granola Planks and an Apple Ginger Spice Country Square from Honest Foods.

Peach "Mound Bar" Oatmeal

The first step is to peel 3 peaches, chop, place in a pot and add 3 tablespoons sugar, about 1/4 cup of water, and a pinch of salt. Let cook on a medium heat, all bubbly like, until reduced and thickened somewhat (sorry, I didn't time it).

Second step is to add however much water to the ratio of oats (steel cut oats, in my case) that you are using. I probably shouldn't have made so much because I didn't really taste the peach mixture unless I took a bite of the peach. Anyway, cook the oatmeal as you would normally.

Third step is to serve yourself a bowl, add a dollop of ganache (Nutella, chocolate chips, maybe a bit of milk/cream/soy milk, etc.), then sprinkle with toasted coconut.

For my explanation, I don't normally put leftover ganache in my oatmeal, mainly because I never thought of it before. I definitely don't make ganache for the sole purpose of mixing it with oatmeal, either. (Be on the lookout for ganache cupcakes, coming soon to this here blog! *insert a picture of Conan O'Brien with a thumbs up hand gesture*) But as an homage to my all-time favorite candy of my youth, the Mounds bar, here it is, in oatmeal form.

(A shout-out to my younger brother for inspiring the snooty dialogue with his random sketch.)


30 July 2008

Daring Bakers and the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Another month, another Daring Baker challenge. This month, Chris from Mele Cotte chose a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Great Cakes by Carol Walter. I'm familiar with Walter from Great Cookie, but I haven't looked at her other cookbooks. After looking through the ingredient list a couple hundred times, I put this challenge off because it seemed pretty comparable to May's challenge, the Opera cake. So, come Tuesday, I finally got to it and completed the challenge. In one day. Many hours in a row. Do not follow my example.

Almond-Flour Mixture

After toasting the almonds and processing them with the genoise's dry ingredients, I kept smelling the mixture until I figured out what it reminded me of: French fries! Not exactly the most appetizing of smells, especially for a cake.

Almond Genoise Batter

Of the three sponge cake recipes I've made with the Daring Bakers, this one I made perfectly. There was no separation of the almond meal from the liquid mixture, and it seemed to rise well. I actually did not mean to clarify the butter, but I forgot it was on the stove, so I ended up needing to separate the solids. My aim was just to brown the butter. Since I didn't have any lemons, I used grated orange rind.


Moist and pillowy, I was pleased with the results. The skins left on the bottom of the cake pans were delicious.

Almond Praline

What you see above is the result of my first successful attempt at a straight caramel, meaning I didn't add water. Usually there are lumps of sugar that never dissolve (from when recipes call to add the water after the sugar caramelized), and I was wary about not adding water to the sugar before it caramelized, but it worked out. After I added the toasted almonds, I let the mixture remain on the heat a bit too long, so the combination of the toasted almonds with the caramelized sugar was almost bitter, but it tasted great. I could have eaten this without having pureed to a paste, but that would have defeated the purpose.

Praline Buttercream

Carol Walter's directions for this buttercream were a bit unnecessary. Adding the sugar separately? Little by little? Dorie Greenspan's Swiss meringue buttercream from April's challenge didn't call for it and I think hers was even better. But anyway, this worked out well, emulsified after whipping, though it was soft at the end (unlike Greenspan's) and required refrigeration before icing. It tasted great, almost like a Butterfinger with a hint of kirsch (the liquor I used for the icing, the simple syrup, and the ganache).

Makeshift Cake Board

This is my MacGyver adaption of a cake board. I cut the rim off of an old shortening lid, then covered it in wax paper. Not as sturdy as cardboard, but it gets the job done.

I Iced the Gateau

1. Brush the cake layers with simple syrup
2. Spread with a thin layer of praline buttercream
3. Spread whipped cream on top of the buttercream
4. Top with the remaining layer and crumb coat with the buttercream. Chill.

The Chocolate, the Ganache

This is the block of Callebaut that I kept forgetting I had.

That is the ganache that I did not allow to thicken enough before pouring over the cake. After letting the first coating set, I poured the ganache on top. They say the third time's the charm, but by this time I had been baking for a few hours straight, it was getting late, and I said forget it.

The Featured Production

After the ganache had completely set and the cake had been decorated with the remaining buttercream, you couldn't really see the mistakes that well. The cake sliced beautifully and the definition of the layers was quite apparent. Furthermore, each layer of filling was just about even, something which I usually mess up slightly.

The final verdict was that it didn't seem very spectacular, and really wasn't much different than the Opera cake challenge. I couldn't taste the praline buttercream through the other ingredients, and the ganache layer wasn't even thick. While I enjoyed this challenge and some of the different components separately, it just didn't impress me for all the work that was involved.

The End

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter, rewritten for clarity by Dulcedo
(I cut the entire recipe in half, minus the exemption of the apricot glaze, and used three 6-inch pans)

Yields one 10" cake

Sugar Syrup
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum or Grand Marnier

Filbert Genoise
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2/3 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
7 egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
5 egg whites
1/4 cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Praline Paste
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2/3 cup sugar

Praline Buttercream
4 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup praline paste
2 tablespoons dark rum

Apricot Glaze
2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water

Ganache Glaze
6 ounces good semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon dark rum or Grand Marnier
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

To Make the Sugar Syrup:
In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. Can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

To Make the Filbert Genoise:
Preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes. Slowly add 3/4 cup of sugar, one tablespoon at a time (this step should take about 3 minutes). When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Transfer to a separate bowl and set aside. Wash and thoroughly dry the mixer bowl.

Place egg whites in the clean mixer bowl and beat with the whisk attachment on medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar over 15-20 seconds. Continue to beat for another 30 seconds. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Working quickly and excluding any large chunks, sprinkle the processed nuts into the egg mixture 2 tablespoons at a time, folding carefully for about 40 folds. When all but about 2 tablespoons of nuts remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Add in the final 2 tablespoons of nuts and fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 folds.

Transfer the batter into the prepared pan. (If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter.) Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes before inverting on a wire rack to cool completely.

[If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a Ziploc bag, and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil and then place in the bag; use within 2-3 months.]

To Make the Praline Paste:
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10" skillet. Heat on low flame for 10-20 minutes until the sugar melts around the edges. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning, but do not stir. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals.

When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. When the mixture starts to bubble, remove from heat and pour evenly onto the parchment-lined sheet. As it cools, it will harden into brittle.

Break the cooled brittle into pieces and place in a food processor. Process for several minutes to make a paste. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate.

To Make the Praline Buttercream:
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Whisk in the sugar 2 tablespoon at a time until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.

Return bowl to the mixer stand and beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until the mixture is a thick, cool meringue, about 5-7 minutes. Do not overbeat.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, a few pieces at a time, beating well after each addition. If the frosting appears to separate or is very liquid after all the butter is added, continue to beat on high speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before proceeding.

Add 1/3 cup praline paste to the buttercream and whip briefly on medium-low speed to combine. Blend in the rum.

[Buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.]

To Make the Apricot Glaze:
In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed. Remove from heat and press the mixture through a mesh strainer, discarding any remnants.

To Make the Ganache Glaze:
Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped and set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the cream and corn syrup on low until the mixture reaches a gentle boil. Carefully pour in the chocolate. After allowing the mixture to sit for 1 minute, slowly stir the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Blend in the vanilla and rum or Grand Marnier. If the surface seems oily, add 1/2 - 1 teaspoon hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes. Use immediately.

Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top side down on a 10" cardboard disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 tablespoons of warm sugar syrup. Spread on a 1/2 inch thick layer of buttercream, leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, and spread with buttercream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the cake is coated, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before the ganache begins to set.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top of the cake after the “bang." Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

Leftover cake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

28 July 2008

Ah, the Aromas of Autum

You know those ingredients you usually cook/bake with only when the weather starts to feel nippy and your innards want to feel warm? What comes to mind? (Hint: A nice woman named Libby usually discounts this item. If you're lucky, you can hit a sale that's 10 for $10 and will not need to buy anymore for three whole years!) Did you guess pumpkin? It's pumpkin!

I opened a can of pumpkin last week to make a pumpkin-brown butter sauce for pasta, which means I had about half a can remaining that needed to be used up. Luckily, Sam from Antics of a Cycling Cook recently posted a recipe for pumpkin bread that I knew I needed to try. What stood out about this recipe is that it's a yeasted pumpkin bread, not the typical quick bread that usually is very sweet. Since this recipe didn't have much sugar in it at all (mostly to feed the yeast), it allows the natural sweetness of the pumpkin to shine through.

My modifications to the original recipe were to add about 1/3 cup more warmed milk, as the original amount wasn't enough to hydrate the dough (I think it might be due to the weather). I also added one tablespoon of vital wheat gluten since it helps keep the bread fresher longer, I replaced 1 cup of the flour with high gluten fine whole wheat (which may also have had an effect on the liquid content), and I used freshly grated nutmeg.
After kneading for 3 minutes, I covered the dough with the bowl and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes. I've found that this (technically called an 'autolyse') helps the flour hydrate by absorbing the liquid and begins the gluten development, as well as drastically improving the consistency of the dough, meaning less flour is needed during the kneading time, andit helps me not to overwork the dough. I also let the dough rise twice.

When it was reading to bake, I slashed a square pattern on the top, sprinkled with cornmeal, placed the baking sheet in the oven and spritzed the inside with water twice during baking.

Spaghetti with garlic, zucchini, Roma tomatoes, pinto beans, basil, paprika, and olive oil.

The aroma wafting through the kitchen as the bread baked was heavenly. The pumpkin mixing with the nutmeg was lovely, and it made me wish for a mug of spiced apple cider. Then I snapped out of my revery by realizing it was still quite hot outside, and would be for a while still.

After a baking time of 50 minutes, the loaf emerged from the oven in a golden-brown glory, highlighted by an orange-gold color. Waiting for this to cool before slicing was torture, as I really wanted to taste and see if it was as good as it smelled.

Finally, I sliced and saw that it was good! The hue, the scent, the flavor, and the softness were all stellar. Accented by drizzles of honey made it even better. Toasted and spread with a bit of butter, it adds a nuttiness to the flavor. I bet this bread would be great as a panino with pepper bacon, smoked cheddar, and spinach, or made into a bread pudding or French toast. I am in love with this bread!

I am entering this to YeastSpotting, a weekly event hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast.

27 July 2008

In Memory of a Fellow Foodie

As many of you may know, a well-beloved foodie passed away on 20 July. Sher, of What Did You Eat?, was known to many as a kindred spirit, someone who made your day a little brighter. She was a member of many foodie groups and Weekend Cat Blogging, though I knew of her from Daring Bakers.

The Bread Baking Babes, a group Sher belonged to, is using today as a celebration of her life. We were asked to visit her blog, choose a recipe, and make it in her honor, something which I was happy to participate in.

So, for Sher, her family, and her friends, here's to you:

Choosing this recipe was easy. Lentils are a favorite of mine, and I enjoy trying recipes for meatless patties as a change-of-pace meal. Lentils are only the quickest legume in the world to cook, so this is perfect for a meal you don't want to spend all day on. The mixture probably can be left in the fridge and taken out whenever you want to cook up a patty.

I liked that the texture was spongy and not dense, I liked that the flavors all came through well, and I liked that it was better and more economical than many meatless patties I've gotten at the store before. Paired with a salad of sliced romaine lettuce and finely chopped parsley drizzled with olive oil, a squeeze of lime juice, kosher salt and pepper, this made for a light, yet filling, meal.

Lentil and Spinach Patties
Adapted from What Did You Eat?
Back to the top


  • 10-16 ounces fresh spinach, chopped and sautéed in a little olive oil and kosher salt

  • 3 cups cooked lentils (I cooked the lentils with 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme and kosher salt sprinkled in the pan, and peppercorns, 5 whole cloves, and 2 small bay leaves in a tea ball)

  • 3 pressed or minced garlic cloves

  • 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons powdered cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram or oregano

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 3/4 - 1 cup dried breadcrumbs

  • 3 large eggs, beaten

  • Canola oil


  1. Mix the spinach, lentils, garlic cloves, cumin, marjoram, salt, pepper and bread crumbs together in a bowl. Mix in the eggs and put the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan, making sure the pan is hot before adding the patties. Form the patties by forming a ball in your hand, then carefully patting it into a patty. Large, thin patties will not stay together, so make them smallish. (Me: I didn't measure the amount, but I eyeballed about 3 oz. of the mixture to make a thickish patty, keeping it about 4 inches in diameter). Slip each patty into the skillet and press the patty together with a spatula if they break apart. Brown on each side over medium-high heat (pay attention to the heat; lower if the patties are cooking too quickly), then carefully remove each patty to a plate. Serve as desired.


25 July 2008

Burryro - Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

First off, just because you are imitating something doesn't mean it has to be exactly like the original. Take inspiration, but don't copy ingredient-for-ingredient or else it becomes redundant.

The ground beef was cooked with garlic, Greek seasoning (which tasted tinny because of whatever they used to make up for it being salt-free -- not worth it), oregano, kosher salt, and cilantro at the end. (The meat didn't end up tasting tinny after it was fixed, thankfully.) The greens you see is chopped parsley tossed with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, then finished with extra cilantro and a dollop of yogurt. What makes it a "burryro" instead of a gyro is the use of a flour tortilla instead of pita bread.

Since a burrito really is a full-meal item, this was paired with sautéed and lightly steamed green beans tossed with soy sauce and pepper. Very simple, really delicious, and a nice meal that left you satisfied without feeling stuffed.


23 July 2008

I've Been Tagged!

While sitting here sipping my cup of iced Haterade (which doesn't quite have the same effect as regular, albeit diluted, Gatorade has for running and such), I'm going to fill out the MeMe that Adam from Baking with Dynamite tagged me with. Hrmpf. And, my goodness, this is long!

1. Last Movie I Saw In A Movie Theater?
Oh, um, I remember seeing one... I think it was Hancock, the latest Willard Smith movie.

2. What Book Are You Reading?
Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb by Brian VanDeMark.

3. Favorite Board Game?
Ask my family, I HATE playing board games. I never really thought about why, but I do know why, I just refuse to tell you. Besides, "The only winning move is not to play." (Speaking of which, I'm going to see WarGames tomorrow at the theater!)

4. Favorite Magazine?
I used to like Runner's World, but all the articles became redundant because a) most of it was stuff I already knew, and b) I'm beginning to believe that the magazine is marketed towards beginner runners. I think Running Times magazine has better, in depth articles of use, not that I didn't get anything out of RW. (I think I just told you what magazine I dislike, not my favorite.)

5. Favorite Smells?
"Right before it starts to rain." That's what Adam said, and I agree. I just used a gift certificate at Bath & Body Works for a "fresh water" body spray. Also, outside smells after raining in the country, the aroma of bread baking, COFFEE!

6. Favorite Sounds?
The different sounds that my cats make, the running sound (feet against pavement), the sound a tennis ball makes when it comes in contact with a racquet, the sound of wind and the sound of the ocean/lake/river/you get the drift (the latter being ironic because I don't particularly care to go to the beach).

7. Worst Feeling In The World?
When I let myself down, which usually means I let someone else down, which probably means that I screwed something up.

8. First Thing You Think of When You Wake?
Whether or not to go running in the morning, or wait until the afternoon.

9. Favorite Fast Food Place?
I rarely eat at fast food places, but I make a chicken salad at Wendy's with their Caesar's side salad and chicken nuggets.

10. Future Child's Name?
After a character in Jurrasic Park, Roland sounded like a cool name (until I realized that a friend's name was actually Roland, but I never knew it because I was young and we called him by his nickname).

11. Finish This Statement—“If I Had a Lot of Money, I’d…
Turn myself into a countess à la The Count of Monte Cristo, minus the revenge stuff. I would still have a sidekick, though. Any offers?

12. Do You Drive Fast?
Michigan's speed limit on the highway is higher than Indiana's is!!!

13. Do You Sleep With a Stuffed Animal?
I used to, but now I just sleep with my cat. He's a live stuffed animal. Stuffed with bloody innards...

14. Storms—Cool or Scary?
I love a lightning storm!

15. What Was Your First Car?
Can't remember, but a future car won't be a Jetta VW, and sadly won't be a Land Rover unless I have money to spare after I become a countess.

16. Favorite Drink?
Coffee with milk foam, iced coffee, iced green tea with mint or raspberry with mint, tea smoothies, and soy milk "soft-serve" smoothies.

17. Finish This Statement—“If I Had the Time, I Would…
Run all day, 3 times a week, or drive to different states with awesome trails and go running.

18. Do You Eat the Stems on Broccoli?
Yes, I do. I don't often use it in stir-fries and stuff, but I cut the stems off and snack on them while cooking.

19. If You could Dye your Hair Any Other Color, What Would It Be?
I actually contemplated dying the underside of my hair red, but then I heard it fades quickly and you never really get rid of the red hue. Hm.

20. Name All the Different Cities In Which You Have Lived.
No way am I going to tell the lurkers that! But I was born in El Paso, TX.

21. Favorite Sport to Watch?
Volleyball. It's on again this weekend, too.

22. One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You
(Nice way to get a compliment, hehe!)
I don't really know Adam very well, and only through his blog, but I have good intuition about people and from what I've read, he seems like a great person to know 'cause he'd try to help anyway he could (judging solely by the informative posts he makes), and would be a fun person to be around.

23. What’s Under Your Bed?
Dust, probably.

24. Would You Like to Be Born As Yourself Again?
Is this question literal, or not? Literally speaking, I don't believe we are reincarnated. Figuratively, I'd like to be reborn as a Harvest Sprite.

25. Morning Person or Night Owl?
Quite the catch-22. I love being up very early when nobody else is around, and I like staying up really late when nobody else is around. The afternoon is a waste of the clock, like a void between when everything really begins. I wish I could be like Chuck Norris 'cause he doesn't sleep. He waits.

26. Over Easy or Sunny Side Up?
Sunny side up. But only one, since one is an odd number and two looks like eyes.

27. Favorite Place to Relax?
While running, actually, on a trail. With nobody around. Except for the Ents, but they don't count.

28. Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
Häagen-Dazs Mango Sorbet.

29. Of All the People You Have Tagged, Who Is the Most Likely to Respond First?
I'm going to tag Chuck Norris, but he's busy so he won't be first.


1. Chuck Norris
2. Antics of a Cycling Cook
3. Olive Juice
4. Pittsburgh Needs Eated.
5. Veggie Girl


21 July 2008

Like a Homemade Cake, But from a Box

What does it take for me to make baked goods from a premade mix? First, the ingredient list has to be very short, and preferably with ingredients that I'd use at home (check). Secondly, no vanillin (check!), which gives it that nasty from-a-box taste we all know and love hate. Thirdly, the type of mix has to be interesting enough to warrant buying it to see the results (think: upscale mixes). Many discount stores (Marshalls, TJ Maxx, etc.,) have a gourmet food section that sells reduced-priced mixes from upscale brands if you want to check it out. This was from Target, and was discounted.

The most interesting part about the directions for this mix was that it called for beating butter instead of adding oil. As you may know, adding oil is what most box-mix baked items call for, so I was definitely pleased about that.
Compared to other box mixes, the batter here was on the thicker side, more akin to a traditional recipe you'd make yourself. So far, it tasted just like if I had made it myself.

Since the cake was the easiest in the world to make, I spent more time on the icing and decorations. I found a recipe for candied pecans, making the adjustment of toasting the pecans before coating with the syrup. Very simple, amazing taste, one of those steps that requires a bit more time than just icing a cake, but really enhances the presentation factor.

I knew immediately what type of icing I wanted, a 7-minute icing, though I wanted one that had a caramel-butterscotch flavor to better meld with the chocolate cake. I found a 7-minute icing recipe made with brown sugar instead of sugar, so I used it. It came out excellently, though it took 13 minutes of total beating time before it got to the consistency I preferred.

Each time I finish a cake, all the preparation and time it took to put together becomes worth it, and it really is a simple pleasure.

Candied Pecans
Recipe from Cooks.com
(Back to top)

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 c. sugar

  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I used 1/2 teaspoon ginger and the grated rind of 1 orange. I'd increase the ginger to 1 teaspoon next time)

  • 6 tbsp. milk

  • 1/2 to 3/4 c. pecans (I used a 12 oz. bag of pecans, and I toasted the pecans first)

  • 1 tbsp. vanilla

  1. Mix first 4 ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. A heavy pan does better as thinner pans sometimes cause it to burn. Cook to soft boil stage. Remove from heat; add vanilla and pecans. Stir until all are coated well and until coating crystallizes. Quickly pour onto waxed paper and separate with 2 forks.

My notes: While I was liked this recipe, next time I wouldn't cook the syrup to the soft ball (which I'm guessing is what soft boil is) stage, but take it off at about 210°. For presentation matters, I wasn't too keen on how the syrup set on the pecans, and even though I could have taken it off the heat instead of continuing as per the directions, I usually follow a new recipe exactly how it says and make adjustments the next time (unless doing so will result in a disaster). The result I was looking for was more of a clear coating.

Caramel 7-Minute Icing
Recipe from Astrayrecipes.com
(Back to top)

  • 2 unbeaten egg whites

  • 1½ cup brown sugar

  • 1½ teaspoon light corn syrup

  • ⅓ cup cold water

  • 1 dash salt

  • ½ teaspoon maple flavoring (I used vanilla extract)

  1. Place all ingredients except flavoring in top of double boiler (not over heat); beat 1 minute with electric mixer. Place over boiling water and cook, beating constantly until frosting forms stiff peaks, about 7 minutes (don't overcook). Remove from boiling water. Pour into mixing bowl and add maple, beat until of spreading consistency, about 2 minutes. Frosts tops and sides of 2 8 or 9-inch layers or one 10-inch tube.

My notes: I really loved how the brown sugar enhanced this recipe from a regular, sweet icing to that with more depth. As I said above, itt took 13 minutes of total beating time until it got to the consistency I desired, other than that it was a dream to work with. If you are making a cake the day ahead of time, though, I would advise you not to use a 7-minute icing since it starts to dissolve and become gritty if left out (even in a cake dome) overnight. Maybe it wouldn't if it were refrigerated, but I'm not sure. I'm going to turn this into a Swiss meringue buttercream to give it a longer life.

16 July 2008

Weekend Baking and Other Food-Stuff

I really need to make a baking list. There are many recipes that catch my eye, but I either forget to make them or I don't plan it out. Rustic potato bread from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan is one of those that slipped my mind. What's worse is that this is a very simple recipe that doesn't require all day to make. I Googled it and came across the recipe from a blog called Kitchen Unplugged (click on the first link and it'll take you to KP -- but finish reading this first!).

As I said, the recipe was really quick and simple, but apparently I need to get in touch with teh yeast again since the consistency of the dough was off (that was really because the amount of potatoes was too much, so I had to add extra water and I probably added a bit too much). Even though the dough was too soft and lost some of it's height as I transfered it from the peel to the baking stone, the crumb structure didn't suffer much.

The aroma of this bread baking was incredible. Toasted and spread with a bit of butter, it's even better!

Here's a sight you haven't seen here in a while. This was nutmeg-flavored coffee with freshly grated nutmeg over the milk foam.

Sunday's dinner was a chuck roast, seared, then cooked on low for a while with onions, spices, and a bit of liquid, and covered with pepita mole sauce (that stuff is incredible!). Served atop fresh corn polenta and topped with a squeeze of lime and chopped parsley, this was a great combination of flavors.

13 July 2008

Breakfast Club

Like the characters in the movie, breakfasts vary wildly depending on personal preference. I think we need to look at what a person likes to eat for breakfast to determine their true personality instead of their actual behavior. Why? The same cold cereal eater might also enjoy eggs with toast, or pancakes and bacon, or a smoothie. What is the trait of each breakfast choice? I don't know, and I don't really care; this is just a random thought I had while eating breakfast the other day.

What's ironic about toad-in-a-hole is that I don't particularly care for toast when I eat eggs. The way the bread grills in this version, however, is a taste I like over toast, which makes this version more enjoyable than bread of the toasted variety.

To make sure the bread slices cook evenly, cook one side first before adding the egg, then flip the bread over and cook for a minute or so before adding the egg. This way all you're doing is waiting for the egg to cook, and a lower heat is better so it won't overcook the yolk. (My brother's tip, by the way.)

I prefer the yolks to be runny so I can dip chunks of grilled bread into it.

Granola has to be the best cereal ever. It stands up to sogginess more than other cereals, and if you make it yourself you have total control over the ingredients that go into it and what flavor it'll be. I haven't fully tapped my granola creations yet, but I have some ideas for flavors that I'll be testing out. This one was a molasses-orange combination, but I didn't think that either flavor was very pronounced.

Mark Bittman's Crunchy Granola recipe is the basic directions I follow, though sometimes I add fruit juice, a bit of safflower oil, nix the spices, flaxseed meal, whatever I feel like doing. Gosh! Overall, the recipe is very simple and relatively quick, with the end result being just as good as the better granolas at the store. I find that this recipe doesn't have many oat clusters, but that could have been because I didn't add enough honey or something. I want to try Alton Brown's recipe, too.

Crunchy Granola
From The Minimalist; The History of Crunchy, Revisted
Time: 40 minutes
  • 6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)

  • 2 cups mixed nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds or cashews.

  • 1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

  • Dash salt

  • 1/2 to 1 cup honey or maple syrup, or to taste

  • 1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit, optional.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds, coconut, cinnamon, salt and sweetener. Place on a sheet pan and put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes or a little longer, stirring occasionally. Mixture should brown evenly; the browner it gets without burning, the crunchier the granola will be.

  2. Remove pan from oven and add raisins or dried fruit. Cool on a rack, stirring once in a while until granola reaches room temperature. Transfer to a sealed container and store in refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely.

Yield: About 8 cups (at least 16 servings).

10 July 2008

Of Corn and Cows

I love nibbling on the cob after slicing away the kernels. Fresh corn has the most amazing flavor, and it has a milky essence. Picture me standing over the trash bin nibbling the cob like a squirrel. Raw corn -- can't you just taste the vitamins!

Most people wouldn't correlate cows and corn, but cows graze on corn; therefore, eating corn with steak is kind of a double-whammy.

I remember watching an episode of Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way a long time ago. He made, among other things, fresh corn polenta. This might have been a year ago, which means two things: it took me a year to make it; at least I remembered it.

(Recipe at end of post.)

Perusing teh interwebz via Google led me to a recipe that was pretty basic and quick. (On account of not having Jacques Pépin's book, I couldn't use his exact recipe.) My deviation from the recipe was to add chicken broth for added moisture to aid in puréeing. I also added a bit more chicken broth after the mixture finished puréeing to achieve the consistency I desired. Then, as per the directions, I seasoned with kosher salt (1 teaspoon), but added only 3 tablespoons of butter instead of six.

This is the mixture after cooking. You can't tell much by the picture, but it thickened up a bit. If I wanted it thicker, I could have either reduced the added chicken broth or cooked it longer.

Fresh corn polenta was served topped with heated black beans and sprinkled with cilantro alongside green beans and a perfectly cooked steak (rawr!). I mean, the steak was excellent; so juicy, tender, and bloody, well-seasoned and even better with chopped cilantro on top. (On that note, the Saturday after 4 July my dad grilled hamburgers, though I opted for a hot dog. I walked past the platter of grilled burgers and I could smell the essence of meat, in all it's raw splendor. Since Dad has a tendency to fully cook meat I went on my way and ate the hot dog. "Christina, look: [insert picture of rareish hamburger]." Said/showed my brother. I think my eyes bulged out and I exclaimed, "I KNEW I smelled rare! (As if rare is a smell...) I walked past the platter and I could smell that meat smell when it's not overcooked!" That caused my mom to make some comment about me and cannibalism. Heh.)

The polenta had such a fresh taste, very vibrant, and the texture of the finished polenta was the perfect consistency. While it had its own discernible flavor, it still paired nicely with the black beans and cilantro. I will definitely be making this often.

Finishing up the exquisite meal was spice muffin shortcake with a dollop of applesauce, raspberries, and whipped cream.

Fresh Corn Polenta
From Cuesa


  • 6 ears sweet white corn, all leaves and silk removed

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • Kosher or sea salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper


1. Grate the corn into a bowl using a box grater (I puréed the mixture in a blender with chicken broth). In a small saucepan, combine the grated corn pulp with 6 tablespoons of the butter and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently until it thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.
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