Thursday, March 31, 2011

Roses and Orange Peels

Tomorrow it will be April, and just a little over two weeks before the wedding cake must be done.  Although the plan has changed, work is progressing on the gum paste flowers.  I decided to ditch the daffodils.  When I have more time to work on them to get them to my satisfaction, I think they will be wonderful.  In the meantime, I'm going with roses.  They're a little more formal, anyway - a little more wedding-y.  In taking a serious look at the measurements of the cake, I've determined that 8 flowers will be needed for the bottom tier, but I'm making 12 anyway just because things happen and I want to be prepared.  They need to dry overnight and tomorrow I can add the color.

                   I really don't know why I can't make these pictures line up the way I want.

Working on flowers hasn't left me much time for baking.  But a note on the orange pound cake:  the flavor did develop overnight and it stayed moist practically forever (well, until it was all eaten) so given that I have to bake the cakes two days in advance, it will work really well.  I've also finally decided on the flavors for each tier.  The bottom tier will be half chocolate and half vanilla for those who choose to abstain from alcohol or with less adventurous palates.  The center tier will be the bourbon and brown sugar cake, and the top the orange pound cake.  At this point I'm thinking I'll use vanilla bean buttercream for all of them.  We'll see.

In other news, over the past few months I've read posts at David Lebovitz, Cupcake Project, Hitchhiking to Heaven and Calabria from Scratch about candied citron and citrus peels.  I've tried these before, but was rather underwhelmed with my results.  The candied citron will have to wait until next year with the hopes that I can once again find Buddha's Hand in Carbondale.  Until then, I've been saving my Cara Cara orange peels and Minneola tangelo peels over the past week and yesterday started the process of candied peels.  After reading all of these posts, I'm taking a little bit from each and going with my own method.  (Imagine that.)  When they're finished, I'll be using some of the candied peels in a recipe I'm conjuring up and can hardly wait to try.  Are you at all curious?  I can hardly stand the anticipation.

Briefly boiling the peels several times reduces the bitterness.
I probably should have done this a couple more times.

After the peels were boiled, I let them cool and them scraped
off most of the bitter pith.  I left a little bit for flavor contrast.

The pithed off peels ready to be doused in a pool
of sticky, sweet sugar syrup.

Drawing from the Lebovitz method, I'm going to keep
them in the sugar syrup for a few days.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cake and Flowers

wedding cake flower before . . .
Flowers first:  The flower for the cake topper is essentially finished.  It still needs a little drying time and may later need a bit of royal icing to demand some of the petals remain where I want them.  The daffodils, on the other hand . . .  Thus far I'm just not happy with the results.   Unless I can figure out a better way to make these, they may be abandoned.  While I think daffodils on a spring wedding cake will be absolutely lovely, it won't be so lovely if the daffodils are themselves pathetic.  I did learn to pipe royal icing daffodils in one of my Wilton classes that are cute, but not what I want for an elegant wedding cake.

. . . and after.
 And now for cake: 
In checking with Justin, he let me know there is absolutely no problem using alcohol in the cake.  That was music to my ears, so one of the tiers will definitely be the bourbon and brown sugar pound cake.  One flavor decided; two to go.  Today I thought I would try a variation of the lemon pound cake recipe I made for lunch with Clora Mae and Rhonda, using orange instead.  Since there is orange juice in the syrup for the bourbon cake, I'm thinking an orange cake would tie in better than lemon.  Unfortunately, my recipe did not impress me.  The orange doesn't stand out nearly enough and for some reason, it almost tastes like cornbread.  But I think with changes, it has potential.  What I started with is below.

Cornbread flavored orange pound cake sans glaze.
 Now, what will I do differently? 
First, I think I'll cut out the heavy cream and go with 1 cup of sour cream.  Then I will be mindful of the type of orange I'm using.  I used one of the Cara Cara oranges, and the zest really didn't seem as fragrant as that of a regular navel orange.  In addition to the 1/2 teaspoon of Grand Marnier, I will also use 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and possibly 1/4 teaspoon of orange extract.  I will also be careful and now allow the syrup to pool in the center of the top of the cake, and WAIT for it to cool completely before cutting.  I seriously don't know if I'm capable of learning patience at this point in life.

Grand Marnier Pound Cake
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
3 extra large eggs
Zest of one orange
1/2 tsp Grand Marnier
1/2 cup canola oil

3 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice
3 Tbs Grand Marnier
1/2 cup granulate sugar

Glaze (optional):
1 Tbs Grand Marnier
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F for at least 20 minutes.  Brush a 9 x 5 loaf pan* with cake release and line the bottom and two long sides with parchment paper.

Whisk or sift the flour, baking powder and salt to combine.  In a larger bowl, combine the sour cream, heavy cream, sugar, eggs, orange zest and Grand Marnier.  Whisk until completely combined.  Add the dry ingredients into the wet and use the whisk to gently fold the ingredients together.  Add the oil and slowly whisk until combined into a smooth batter.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, combine the orange juice, Grand Marnier and sugar in a large glass measuring cup.  Microwave for one minute, stir to mix in the sugar and microwave another minute until the sugar is dissolved.

When the cake is done, allow to cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.  Invert the cake onto the baking rack and remove the parchment paper.  Set the rack of a rimmed baking sheet.  Brush or spoon the syrup over the bottom and sides of the cake and allow it to soak in.  Turn the cake right side up and brush the top with syrup.  Cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the Grand Marnier and confectioners’ sugar and whisk until smooth.  Drizzle over the top of the cake, letting it fall down the sides.

*To use an 8” round, prepare the pan in the same manner.  Bake for 40 – 45 minutes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lost in Austen

(As in Jane Austen; I didn't misspell the city in Texas.)  This was brought on several weeks ago while the hubs and I were channel surfing one evening.  We caught the end of Pride and Prejudice (Kiera Knightley version) and he was so kind to indulge me in watching it.  Seeing it again made me realize that I had never read anything written by Jane Austen.  I set about to remedy that when we stopped by The Bookworm during my family’s visit so dad could browse. 

So here it's time to explain some of the "hate relationship" with technology.  I will probably never own a Kindle or Nook or whatever other brand of e-reader is out there.  I have an incredible fondness for books, especially vintage hardcovers.  I will, occasionally, judge a book by its cover.  That being said, I was thrilled that a particularly nice hardcover copy (though not vintage) of Pride and Prejudice availed itself to me. 

It’s been quite some time since I’ve engaged in reading for pleasure and had forgotten how engrossing an interesting book can be.  Not only have I finished Pride and Prejudice (twice), but Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park have also been finished.  I'm not a fan of modern romance novels and never pictured myself reading them, past or present.  To soothe my ego, I'm telling myself that I'm reading "classic literature" and not indulging in Georgian romance novels.  Quite pathetic, I know.  I’ll be starting Emma in the future and still have to acquire Persuasion.  Once those are finished, I believe I’ll move on to the sisters Brontë. 

However.  Before any more books are started, I have some work to do.  While I will never, ever say that reading is a waste of time, I noticed how little I get done when I'm determined to finish a book.  The penalty I've imposed upon myself is that I can't start another book until I've finished the gumpaste flowers.

So far, none of them are beautiful, but they are in works in progress.  The large one that will go on top of the cake will look similar to the pink flower on the top of the dress cake my friend, Tracie, and I did in Pastry class.  This one is pale yellow and will be brushed with dry orange color on the edges of the petals.  I am going to make sure this time that I let it dry thoroughly before removing all the tissues.  My lack of patience did teach me a lesson when I made the last one.

I had also planned on using 12 daffodils on the bottom, square tier.  I'd not made these previously but always wanted to try them.  While the original plan was for 12 daffodils, I'm now thinking 8.  If they don't get easier as I go, that number may be reduced even further.  They looked so simple in the book!  I still need to make some royal icing to pipe in the center and add the stamens.  And hopefully not break them in the process.  That would be tragic.  I don't need tragedy.  I'll leave that to the novels.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Intimidated by Cake / Local Business Shout Out

Actually, it's probably more accurate to say I am intimidated by the creator/baker of the cake.  I've owned Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible for years - decades, actually.  I've baked from it before.  Somehow over the years though, it began to intimidate me.  Rose is, after all, THE authority on cake baking and I do have such a hard time following instructions.  The self-doubt was creeping in.  I've been wanting to make her Golden Grand Marnier Cake for quite some time.  It's been on my mind the last couple of weeks and I've been very adept at finding excuses to put off making it.  Today, I decided to stop making excuses and bake the blasted cake.  I would like to say I followed the instructions implicitly, but that would be a lie.

Fresh from the oven with their first shower of syrup.

Believe it or not, I had a few squares of Ghirardelli 72% and 86% dark chocolate left over from Valentine's Day.  Those coupled with some coarsely chopped 60% chocolate chips took the place of the mini chips.  The recipe calls for ground, slivered almonds.  My original thought had been to just use some almond flour I already had on hand.  Except I didn't have any on hand and I found myself not enamoured by the idea of mucking up the food processor to grind almonds.  I used an equal weight of all-purpose flour.  Though I had saved orange zest from the orange I juiced for the bourbon and brown sugar pound cake, it wasn't enough.  We had just bought tangerines, so tangerine it was, as well as for the juice in the soaking syrup.  And as much as I wanted to revert to my method of mixing, I did follow her instructions for that.  Very begrudgingly, but she's the expert.  And I don't have a 9-cup fluted tube pan.  I do have a 6-cake bundt-lette pan, and that plus six cupcakes worked perfectly.
Out of the pan and ready for more boozy syrup.

Despite what seemed like my attempts to force failure, it all worked.  They even came out of the pan beautifully, about which I had been extremely concerned.  (As much as I often find fault with Wilton, their Cake Release works amazingly well.)  I was absolutely thrilled. 

But now they needed glaze.  I used Rose's recipe for Chocolate Cream Glaze, which really is nothing more than a medium-thin ganache with a bit of liqueur added after the ganache is blended.  Very tasty, though I think the technique may be a little more complicated than necessary.  But again, she's the expert.

All snuggled in with a lovely coat of Grand Marnier infused ganache.

Using the cake flour gave the cake a very light, airy texture.  And while I had at one point considered this as a tier for the wedding cake, it's quite clear that as is, it will not support the weight of fondant and certainly not tiers stacked on top of it.  Using all-purpose flour instead of cake flour may give it more strength and I may experiment with that in the future, especially since a-p flour is much less expensive than cake flour.  But in considering that there are usually children at weddings, I've come to the conclusion that if I do use alcohol in the cake, it must be confined to just one tier and clearly identified as such.  I certainly don't want to be contributing to the delinquency of minor wedding guests.  (But I do so think the bourbon and brown sugar pound cake would be awesome at a barbecue!)

My reward.  I love that chunk of dark chocolate right in the middle.

And now to the local business shout out:

If you've not yet been to La Unica Bakery (213 West Main in Carbondale), you need to go.  Right now.  Drop what you are doing and go.  Yes, parking is inconvenient (in the back) but you'll get over it.  The hubs and I stopped in last Wednesday.  He had a bread stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos, I had one stuffed with cream cheese and covered in slivered almonds.  We also picked up a croissant (not totally authentic, but very good) and a small batard.  Our total was less than $3.00.  If we lived closer I would be there daily.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bourbon Project No. 2

Tuesday's lunch with friends was quite wonderful.  We had all worked together at the university and now that they are retired and I am otherwise idle, we don't see much of one another.  I served a risotto with spring vegetables and roasted shrimp and lemon pound cake for dessert.  I would have posted the recipe for the risotto, but I didn't actually use one.  It was rather improvised.  The lemon pound cake was based on Ina Garten's lemon yogurt cake.  I didn't have any plain yogurt, however, so I used sour cream thinned with a couple tablespoons of heavy cream and snuck in a couple of tablespoons of pistachio oil basically just so I could empty the can.  Beyond those things, I believe I stuck to the recipe relatively well.

Later that evening, after having cleaned everything up of course, I decided I absolutely must test the bourbon and brown sugar pound cake.  I've had this recipe in waiting for so long that I don't even remember where I found it.  Beyond cutting the recipe in half to accommodate my loaf pan, I didn't make any significant changes to ingredients, only to technique.  It's quite lovely on its own, but a bit of heavy cream whipped with a pinch of orange zest was a nice additional also.  This may be in contention for one of the wedding cake tiers. 

Does this give any hint as to how I'll be spending my afternoon?

Bourbon & Brown Sugar Pound Cake
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbs bourbon whiskey
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice
2 Tbs bourbon
1/3 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan and line with parchment so that the bottom and two long sides are covered.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Combine the milk, vanilla, and bourbon in a measuring cup.  Set both aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the sugars on medium speed until fully combined and no clumps of brown sugar remain.  Add the butter and cream on medium-high speed about 5 minutes, stopping to scrape the paddle and bowl periodically.  Reduce the speed to medium.  Drizzle in the beaten eggs, no more than one to two tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape the bowl after approximately half of the eggs are incorporated and again before adding the flour.  On low speed, add half of the flour mixture and mix just until combined.  Drizzle in the milk mixture, followed by the remaining flour mixture.  Mix just until combined, then finish with a spatula making sure to get down to the bottom of the bowl.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake 55 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool the cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, the invert cake onto the rack and remove the parchment. 

While the cake is baking, combine the syrup ingredients in a glass measuring cup and microwave for one minute.  Stir to dissolve all of the sugar.  Set aside until the cake is done.  After the cake has been removed from the pan, brush or spoon the mixture over the bottom and sides of the warm cake.  Allow the syrup to soak into the cake then turn the cake over and cool completely before serving. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bottoms Up

Despite my absolute best efforts to delay their stay at least a day longer, my family left for home on Friday.  It was so wonderful to have them and I only wish the weather had not waited until the very day of their departure to be pleasant.  Such is life in Southern Illinois, no?  Hopefully the next time the weather will be more accommodating, as we all decided Giant City Park needs further exploration.

Of the three things I said I would accomplish last week, only two were finished and only one last week.  Alas, the coconut cream pie is still not within my repertoire.  A remedy to take place another time.  Currently, I'm having somewhat of a fascination with using bourbon in recipes.

The bacon and bourbon jam was finished, but not until yesterday.  The recipe I started with was adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe.  Of course, given my inability to totally follow a recipe as written, I made my own changes as well.  None of the recipes I've found actually process the jam, but to do so would definitely require the pressure cooker and I'm not sure what that would do to the texture.  So for the meantime, I'll be content to refrigerate it as it doesn't make that much anyway and I doubt it's going to last long enough to go the the trouble. 
Crunchy, bacony goodness.

Although the recipe said it made
three cups, I managed two
of these half-pint jars.
Thus far I've found the jam to be quite tasty with grilled hamburgers and pretty good on crackers with goat cheese.  My taste buds are telling me that perhaps smoked gouda would be even better than the goat cheese.  I am feeling a need to test that theory.

I also happened across yet another recipe for bacon and bourbon jam that sounds rather interesting (a little more spicy) which may be on the radar for the future.  But before that, I have a recipe for bourbon and brown sugar pound cake that needs testing.  And before that, some friends coming for lunch today.  I don't think I'll involve any bourbon in that.

Bacon Bourbon Jam
Makes about a pint.
1 1/2 lbs thick cut apple wood smoked bacon, diced
1 large red onion, diced (about 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs packed brown sugar
2 Tbs molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
6 Tbs strong brewed coffee
7 Tbs bourbon, divided (6 + 1)

Brown the bacon in batches over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fat is rendered and bacon is browned and crisp.  Remove each batch of bacon with a slotted spoon or spatula to a colander set over a plate to drain.
Pour off all but one or two tablespoons of fat from the skillet.  Don’t worry about the bottom of the skillet being totally black.  Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and translucent, about five minutes.  Add vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, coffee, and six tablespoons of the bourbon.  Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes, stirring and scraping the blackened bits from bottom of skillet with wooden spoon.  Add the bacon and stir to combine.
Transfer mixture to a six-quart slow-cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid has reduced and thickened slightly and bacon is a deep burnished brown, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.   (Of note, my slow-cooker tends to run a bit warm.  I cooked on high for 2 hours and then low for 2 hours.)
Allow the jam to cool to room temperature.  Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and add the remaining tablespoon of bourbon.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.   Spoon into jars and cover tightly.  Keep refrigerated for 2 – 3 weeks.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I have family arriving today and have spent the last few days making rather pathetic attempts at getting ready for their visit.  What a horrible time for insomnia to strike.  Very rude. 

I'll mostly be playing hostess this week, but there will be a few things I accomplish: 

1) A coconut cream pie.  I've never made one.  We'll see how it turns out.

2) Bacon jam.  Sound weird?  It's a sweet/savory jam that I think will be good as an appetizer.  Or maybe on a spoon.

3) More homemade dog biscuits.  Dad has four dogs as well, although all four put together aren't as big as one of ours, so I'll make bunches to send some home with him.

Other than that, it will be play it by ear.  The weather will definitely be a factor in our activities and it hasn't been impressing me thus far.

And the fate of the frozen goat cheese:  I let it thaw, hoping that it would drain a little more and firm up.  Not so much.  So I decided to make dip out of it.  Looking in the spice cabinet (Does anyone say "cupboard" anymore?  Just curious.) I came across a package of Bear Creek dip mix.  It was sesame garlic.  What's really interesting is that the goat cheese with the dip mix now tastes like bleu cheese.  I haven't figured that out yet.  C'est la vie.

Until next week . . .

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cheese and Cake

No, not cheesecake. 

During my goat milk caramel phase (which hasn’t entirely passed, but is on hiatus), I bought a quart of goat milk to make my own sweetened condensed goat milk.  I only used a cup.  Every day since, I’ve stared at this open quart of goat milk in our refrigerator wondering what can I do with it and will I do something with it before it has to be thrown out. 

Cheesemaking is the only time I want to
see chunks in my milk.

Epiphany:  Cheese!  I pulled out one of my textbooks from school and am in the process of homemade goat cheese.  It takes about two days, but the original recipe from my Garde Manger textbook was beyond simple to begin with and I simplified it even more.  My recipe, adjusted to use the full quart of goat milk, is at the end.

I was hoping to show pretty pictures of the drained cheese this morning.  However.  Apparently our mini-frige downstairs is having an identity crisis and thinks it's a freezer.  What I have this morning is frozen curds, cream and whey.  Not what I was looking for and not sure if it can be rescued. 

My frozen curds, cream and whey.  At this point,
there's not supposed to be any cream,
 just curds and whey. 
You're thinking of Miss Muffett right now aren't you?
I'll be a bit annoyed if it can't.  It would have been better to just toss the goat milk than waste heavy cream.  Heavy cream is sacred in our refrigerator.  At least to me, anyway.
For the past couple of weeks it’s been in my mind that I haven’t done a cake in awhile and I’m feeling the itch.  As fate would have it, I was contacted by a fellow culinary student Wednesday about doing a wedding cake for some friends of his.  (I think he’s arranging the cake for them on the sly since he won’t let them contact me or vice versa.  What a friend, huh?!)  I was told the cake should be a simple, elegant, but bold, three-tier cake.  Their colors are yellow and orange.  I have free reign on pretty much everything.  They are getting married April 16.  For all intensive purpose, six weeks is rather short notice for a wedding cake, but it’s not as if I have a full schedule.  I’ve worked on my design, and if everything comes together as I’ve visualized, I think they will be happy with the results.  You’ll probably see it before the couple does.  I’m super excited about this!!

Lemon Pepper Goat Cheese
1 quart goat milk (I got mine at Neighborhood Co-op, but I think I’ve seen it at WalMart, too)
1-1/3 cups heavy cream
6 Tbs plus 2-1/4 tsp cold lemon juice (strain if using freshly squeezed)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp coarsely ground or cracked peppercorns (whatever kind you prefer)

Special equipment you’ll need:  thermometer, cheesecloth, mesh strainer

Combine the goat milk and heavy cream in a large, microwave safe bowl.  Heat to 100°F.  (In our microwave, I went full power for 2 minutes, stirred and checked the temp; 2 more minutes, stirred and checked the temp; then 45 seconds to reach 100°F.  Newer models are probably more powerful, so you may want to do this in 1 minute intervals.)  When the temperature reaches 100°F, add the lemon juice.  Stir briefly and gently, just to combine.

Cover the bowl with the cheesecloth and let rest at warm room temperature for 3 – 4 hours, depending on your schedule or level of patience.  Line the mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl to catch the whey.  Gently pour the curdled milk into the cheesecloth.  Fold the cheesecloth over the top of the milk and refrigerate the whole thing for 8 – 12 hours, or overnight, to drain.

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and work in the salt and pepper.  Clean or gloved hands are your best tools here, but use a wooden spoon if you'd rather.  Be gentle so as not to overwork the cheese.  Tired cheese is not a good thing.  Press the cheese into a mold (bowls can be molds), place a piece of cheesecloth over the top and weight it down.  I usually use a jar of something I already have in the refrigerator as a weight.  Refrigerate overnight.  Unmold and serve or wrap and refrigerate for up to four days.

This should make about a pound of cheese.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Planned Meal: Two Thumbs Up!

Last night I made the first of four meals I’ve planned (thus far).  It was my take on Emile Henry’s Classic Tagine.  (I was going to include the link for the original recipe, but it's not longer valid.)  I actually started this Tuesday since the meat had to marinate eight hours or overnight.  The original recipe uses lamb.  My jury is still out on lamb.  I’ve had it several times, but only once that I kind of liked it.  Given that, and the fact that I didn’t have any lamb, I used some steak we had in the freezer. 

The spice mix for marinating the beef smelled so amazing.  I may have even eaten lamb with that spice mix.  It really made me not want to wait.  I'm not really good at waiting.  Which is why when I was re-reading the recipe last night and noticed the 1-1/2 to 2 hours cooking time, I literally gasped.  I should have known better, but I was hungry!!  Thank goodness I'd done most of the prep work on Tuesday.

I didn't really following the cooking directions very closely, due to said hunger.  And I had planned on making some couscous to go along with the tagine.  The original recipe included the option of thickening the cooking liquid with a corn starch slurry.  Since I'd used the last of my chicken stock in the tagine, I decided I would just cook the couscous along with it and let it soak up some of the excess cooking liquid.  It turned out quite well.  The hubs really did give it two thumbs up.

Whenever I try a new recipe, the definitive question is,
"Will you eat this again?"  The answer was a definitive "YES!"

I had asked him to pick up some wine to go with dinner.  On the recommendation of the manager at Westroads, he came home with Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel.  If you like big, bold, red wines (which I do) I highly recommend it.  It went very nicely with the meal.  Given the headache I woke up with, I do think I drank a little too much of it though.  But that doesn't take much.

The following is my version of the recipe.  As I said, I used beef instead of lamb, and cooked the couscous in the tagine.  I also used regular tomato paste instead of sun-dried tomato paste.

Dawn’s Neo Classic Tagine 
4 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 lb lean beef, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 pinch saffron
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 carrots, peeled, cut into fourths, then sliced lengthwise into thin planks
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 Tbs minced or grated fresh ginger
1 lemon, zested
1 (14.5 ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
1-1/2 tsp tomato paste
1-1/2 tsp honey
1 cup Israeli couscous
Chopped parsley for garnish

Place beef in a bowl, toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and set aside. In a large re-sealable bag, toss together the paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, salt, ginger, saffron, garlic powder, and coriander; mix well. Add the beef to the bag, and toss around to coat well. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown well. Add onions and carrots to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and ginger; continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, chicken broth, tomato paste, and honey. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 – 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender.
Add the couscous 15 minutes before serving.  Cover and continue cooking over low heat.  Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Serves 4 – 6.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's for Dinner?

Despite two years of culinary classes, I am still quite pathetic when it comes to menu planning.  I've noticed that far too often in the past few months, dinner around here ends up being a "fend for yourself" affair.  That's not setting well with me.  The daughter of my friend, Terry, posted an observation on her blog, llama-et-burro, awhile back that really struck me:  "Feed myself like I like myself. If I had a friend over for lunch and fed them a piece of cheese, some chocolate, a banana, and a glass of milk, I wouldn't be a very good friend."  A very astute observation, indeed.  Thank you, Alanna.

In the past, the hubs has done the majority of the cooking.  But now that he's in the midst of working toward tenure and promotion, he really doesn't have time.  He has a lot of other things on his plate, so to speak, and with a stay-at-home wife (again, who went to school for culinary arts!), he shouldn't have to.  (This should not in any way, shape or form be mistaken for a subservient 50's mindset.  Those who know me, certainly know better!)

Given the fact that I've accumulated literally thousands of recipes over the years, menu planning shouldn't be that difficult.  I am making it more difficult than it needs to be.  I think it has to do with the fear of rejection.  Cooking is very personal to me; it's a way of expressing to people that I care about them.  To make something that isn't well received can be very disheartening.  While I get very excited about trying new recipes, I also get a bit anxious as well.

But it's time.  So I'm now in the process of selecting recipes I want to try and making up my grocery list.  A few of the ingredients I'll need are a bit on the pricey side, but not many and I don't feel badly about spending money on meals prepared at home.  So far I have four recipes selected:  another tagine (using beef instead of lamb) with couscous; General Tso's chicken with lo mein noodles; Spanish pork chops with chorizo and green beans; and pasta shells stuffed with spinach, pancetta and cheese.  Not much, but it's a start.

I'd be lying if I said I was making one of these tonight.  I've got the grocery list started, but I won't set foot in any store at the first of the month without the hubs along as my bouncer.  Left over pizza it will be!