Monday, June 27, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow?

It's growing quite well.  The plants seem to be flowering quite nicely.  How it's fruiting is another story.

The two tomato plants (both Brandywine - one red, one pink) flowered like crazy.  I was quite excited at the thought of having beau coup tomatoes at my disposal in the future.  Apparently, it's not to be.  The pink Brandywine continues to have blossoms set, only to wither and drop before the fruit can be formed.  The red one started out a bit better and has two small fruits on it, but now appears to be suffering the same affliction.  I believe a call to Dad is in order, though I'm not sure if they can be salvaged at this point or not.  Dad will know.

Most of the peppers - sweet and hot - are doing better, with the exception of the red bell.  It seems to be content with its lone fruit.  While it's disappointing, I honestly can't be too surprised given that I have no idea how long this soil has been in these planter boxes and it may be long past its usefulness.  I need to run by the Neighborhood Co-op and see if I can find some organic fertilizer.  What I've seen so far isn't really organic when you read the label. 

Speaking of reading labels, this is something I need to start doing a bit more.  Last week I attempted to make something called latik, which is basically coconut milk cooked down until it separates into solids and coconut oil.  The "coconut milk" I attempted this with was anything but coconut milk.  I had picked up a brand I don't ordinarily buy without reading the label.  When I noticed the latik didn't seem to be working the way it should, I fished the label out of the recycle and proceeded to be disappointed:  coconut extract, water, guar gum, polysorbate something and a couple of other things I couldn't pronounce.  Obviously, it didn't work correctly.

My second lack of attentive label reading was in regard to oatmeal.  I like to keep a box of instant oatmeal around for mornings when I'm in a hurry, but need something rather substantial for breakfast (or occasionally a snack on a chilly evening).  My favorite is maple and brown sugar, which is what I thought I was buying.  While I actually looked at the box of maple and brown sugar, I grabbed the box of cinnamon swirl.  Not my favorite.  So now what do I do with the rest of the box?  Make instant oatmeal cookies.  A lot of them.  My daddy will be getting some more cookies this week.  And they were even good enough that the hubs ate a some.

Instant Oatmeal Cookies
This makes a lot of cookies.  If you don’t have a six quart mixer, I recommend cutting the recipe in half.

1 cup dried currants (or raisins)
2 cups (6 packets) instant oatmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat.  (I tried using my tried and true parchment paper, but these cookies stuck to the parchment even after cooling.)  Use multiple baking sheets/silicon mats if you have them.

Place the currants in a small bowl and cover with hot water.  Cover the bowl and allow to steep 10 – 15 minutes, then drain.

Combine the instant oatmeal, flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk together.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium high for 3 – 5 minutes, scraping the bowl and paddle occasionally.  Lower the speed to medium and gradually drizzle in the beaten egg, no more than a tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to become fully incorporated.  Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle about halfway through.  Add the vanilla and the drained currants. 

On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients.  Mix only until combined.  Make sure to scrape down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure all dry ingredients are fully incorporated. 

Scoop the dough on to the prepared baking sheet with a cookie scoop or two tablespoons, spacing about two inches apart.  Bake 10 – 11 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.  Allow to cool 1 – 2 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  If necessary, let the baking sheet cool slightly before reusing.  Store baked cookies in an airtight container with a piece of parchment between layers of cookies. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cookies for Dad

Father's Day is this Sunday and I'm not going to be able to make it home.  I was hoping to just show up and surprise Dad, but a righteously annoying jury summons has prevented that from happening.  Thank you Jackson County.  While I've always said there isn't anything I wouldn't do for my dad, I don't think he would want me sitting in jail for contempt.

Instead of being there, I sent off a package of about eight dozen cookies and a couple of DVDs of old Philo Vance movies.  I hope he's surprised by the DVDs.  He had two of the Philo Vance mystery novels from back in the day and I went online and found the rest of them for him.  (Of course by time I accumulated them he had already read them since the ladies at the library will do anything for him.)  It's not much of a gift, but there really aren't a lot of things my dad wants (that he'll admit to, anyway) and what he does want, he usually gets instead of waiting for someone to buy it for him.  He's just like that.

Sticky dough in the piping bag.
It wasn't my intent to wait so last minute to send his gift, but I got a little too wrapped up in cupcakes.  Wanting the cookies to be as fresh as possible, I measured out all of my ingredients for molasses cookies last night and baked them this morning.  These are quick and easy to make but the dough for these cookies is so soft and sticky, I've actually found it's easier to pipe them than to scoop them. 

My first sheet is always inconsistent.  I don't keep up with my piping skills as much as I should so it takes me that first sheet to get a feel for pressure, amount, etc.  The last ones I pipe are always the best.  
No need to worry about the peaks.  They'll flatten.
And also usually the biggest.  Which is why I normally prefer using a cookie scoop.  Just not with these.  Using a scoop is not efficient when you have to scrape the dough out of the scoop every other cookie. 

I fully believe parchment paper (or a silicon baking mat) is a must for these cookies.  My mind can't conceive that putting these on an ungreased cookie sheet would have had a positive outcome unless your goal was to have a lot of smooshed and broken cookies.

The first sheet of various sized cookies.
What I forgot about making this recipe is that it makes a lot of cookies.  Two dozen fit on each of my half sheets and I baked four sheets full plus a dozen.  I managed to fit all but about four cookies into the box to ship to Dad.  I know that's a lot of cookies, but my brother's three kids are there a lot so this ensures that Dad will get at least some of them.

One more sheet to go.

Soft Molasses Cookies
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbs cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening (see note)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line at least two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats.  (If using parchment paper, lightly spray the baking sheet with cooking spray to keep it in place.)

Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and sugar on medium-high for 3 – 5 minutes, occasionally scraping the bowl and paddle.  Add the molasses and mix until combined.  Drizzle in the beaten egg and mix thoroughly.

Scrape the paddle and bowl.  Reduce the speed to low and add half of the dry ingredients.  Mix briefly and add the sour cream, followed by the remaining dry ingredients.  Mix just until combined. 

Fill a piping bag fitted with a large round tip with half of the dough (I used Wilton 1A but Ateco 806 would be fine as well).  You could also put the dough in a large plastic zipper bag and cut off a corner.  Pipe mounds of cookies about 1” wide and 1/2" high and 2” apart.  Bake 8 – 9 minutes.  Allow to cool on the cookie sheet 1 – 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.   Let the cookie sheet cool, scrape off any crumbs from the parchment and repeat until all of the dough is used.  Makes approximately 9 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Note on shortening:
I’m not a fan of shortening, but occasionally use it along with butter in cookie recipes.  It helps the cookies maintain their shape and keeps them moister longer.  If you want to use all butter, you’ll just have thinner cookies. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Success - Finally!

I love cupcakes.  I love ice cream.  So when I read about the 2011 Ice Cream Cupcake Contest sponsored by the Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious, I was enthralled. 

When I first read about it on the Cupcake Project blog, mango sorbet immediately popped into my head.  But what to go with it?  I kicked around the idea of sort of a mango tres leches cupcake with a spicy ancho chile kick to it (I may still make these - they sound so good to me), but I’ve really been fascinated with Indian cooking lately, so I decided to let those flavors be my inspiration.  Thinking about coconut rice pudding, masala chai tea and mango lassies conjured up A Taste of India Cupcakes with Mango Sorbet. 

Round One
In my first attempt, the coconut in the coconut chai cupcakes was too dominant over the chai flavors.  They were good – just not what I was looking for in terms of flavor.  The saffron buttercream I made to go with them turned out pretty well, but maybe just a bit too much saffron.  It amazes me that something so small packs such a punch! 

The second go at the cupcakes yielded more of the flavor I was looking for, but they were dry, dry, dry.  Not even brushing them with a chai tea simple syrup could resurrect them.  For quality control purposes, they went to the trash.  I was beginning to feel defeat creeping in.   The second round of buttercream kept that at bay though. 

While lying in bed wide awake at some unholy hour, the idea popped into my head to use some melted mango sorbet in my buttercream.  I wondered about the effect of replacing the milk in the recipe with the sorbet since there is no dairy in the sorbet.  I compromised and added a couple of tablespoons of milk to the melted sorbet.  Eureka!

But the contest deadline was looming and my cupcakes were still not to my satisfaction.  Time for round three.  I went back to the first recipe but reduced the amount of coconut.  Then, instead of using a combination ground spices, I used a bag of Celestial Seasoning’s India Spice Chai.  It worked.

Sunny-side up cupcake?
The assembly got a little messy.  I started by just placing a scoop of sorbet on top of the cupcakes.  They sort of looked like they had a bad fried egg on top.  After softening the sorbet a bit, I attempted piping rosettes.  A common problem I have with piping is that my hands seem to radiate heat.  Not great for buttercream, even worse for sorbet.  By the time I had one ready for its close up, the sorbet was already dripping down the side. 

And I was okay with that.  I snapped some pics, grabbed a fork and enjoyed some cake and sorbet bliss.  The cupcakes finally had the taste and texture I wanted:  a balance of coconut and chai, moist but not falling apart, and chewy little bits of coconut.  The sweet/tart of the mango sorbet is perfect to cut through the richness of the buttercream.  Even though the buttercream has sorbet in it, you smell it more than you taste it.  It just sort of adds to the mango experience.  

As is often the case for me, the third time’s a charm.  My lucky number 3 didn’t let me down.  I now have a recipe I'm not embarrassed to share, and half a pint of mango sorbet at my disposal.  It would have been great to make my own mango sorbet, but there is a reason I don't own an ice cream maker.  As I said, I do love ice cream.

Taste of India Cupcakes with Mango Sorbet
Coconut Chai Cupcakes

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened, finely shredded, dried coconut
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 bag chai tea (I used Celestial Seasoning’s India Spice Chai)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup milk
Mango sorbet for assembly (I like Häagen Dazs)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line cupcake tins with paper or foil liners.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and dried coconut together in a large bowl.  Set aside. 

Combine one tablespoon of the sugar and the contents of the tea bag in a clean coffee/spice grinder and process until nearly powdered.  Add to the remaining sugar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the paddle and the bowl.  Reduce the speed to medium and slowly drizzle in the beaten egg, no more than a tablespoon at a time, incorporating thoroughly after each addition.  Stop and scrape the paddle and bowl about halfway through, and again after all of the egg is incorporated.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one third of the flour mixture.  Mix briefly, then add the yogurt.  Add another third of the flour followed by the milk, then the remaining flour.  Mix only until combined.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion into prepared pan(s).  Bake 18 – 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Immediately remove the cupcakes from the pan to a wire rack to cool.  Cool completely before icing with mango-saffron buttercream and topping with mango sorbet.

Makes approximately 18 cupcakes.

Mango-Saffron Buttercream

3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
pinch of saffron (I used exactly 10 threads)
1/8 tsp turmeric
6 Tbs melted mango sorbet (melt, then measure)
2 Tbs milk
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbs heavy whipping cream, cold
1-1/4 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

Combine one tablespoon of sugar, the saffron and the turmeric in a small bowl and grind with the back of a spoon (a mortar and pestle works much better if you have one) until the saffron is crushed.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar mixture with the remaining sugar, the melted mango sorbet and the milk.  Heat on medium-low until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Gradually sift in the flour while whisking and whisk vigorously until completely incorporated. 

Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk on medium-high speed until the bowl is cool to the touch.  This may take up to 10 minutes, depending on the ambient temperature. 

It gets better - trust me.
When the mixture is cool, switch to the paddle attachment.  Add the vanilla and whipping cream and mix briefly just to combine.  Add the butter all at once.  Begin on low speed and gradually increase the speed to medium-high.  Don’t worry if the buttercream looks curdled – just keep going.  Beat on medium-high for 8 – 10 minutes or until the buttercream is smooth and creamy.  

Almost there.

If you’re not using the buttercream  immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to three days or up to two months in the freezer.  Thaw frozen buttercream in the refrigerator.  Allow it to come to room temperature and then re-beat before using.

Makes approximately one quart.

Made it!


Place the buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.  I like Wilton’s 1M cupcake icing tip, but Ateco 824 also works well.  Pipe a border around the edge of the cupcake (plain or fancy - it's just to keep the ice cream contained), leaving space in the center for a small scoop of mango sorbet.  Add the sorbet just before serving.  You can also try piping some softened sorbet in the center, but that didn’t really work out so well for me. 

Devour immediately.

Cupcake Test Take Three

Making cupcakes (again) was not in my plans for today.  Making chocolate stout caramels was.  However.  I had made a couple of alterations to my first cupcake recipe and apparently not for the better.  While the first ones were lacking somewhat in flavor, the second batch's downfall was texture.  Dry cupcakes will win no prizes.  I made a syrup to brush them with, and while making syrup is not at all difficult it just adds another step and I don't want the recipe to appear overly complicated.  But on a more positive note, my experimental buttercream worked perfectly.

Good buttercream on bad cupcakes.
So today, instead of chocolate stout caramels, I'm giving the cupcakes one more shot.  If they don't work today, I'm calling it quits.  While not one to give up easily and I usually chalk up my failures to learning experiences, I'm already close to crossing the line between tenacity and blind obsessiveness and I don't want to get too far on the other side. 

Plus, I'm almost out of butter.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That . . .

. . . pretty much describes what I've been up to last week. 

I started by doing a test of my recipe for the Ice Cream Cupcake Contest.  Good, but not great.  Another test with alterations is in progress today.

Then I decided to make hummus from dried garbanzo beans (instead of the garbanzo flour I usually use).  I'd love to share the recipe with you, but I was winging it and didn't write anything down.  It's doubtful I could even make it the same again.

I took a day and did nothing but clean house.  I should have taken two days to do nothing but clean house. 

I pulled weeds out from under the deck to make room for the hostas and ferns that need to get out of the sun.  I'm not completely done, but it's been so bloody hot that I'm only doing a little at a time.

I made green tea cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream for Bride-to-Be No. 4 to try.

I thinned out my radish sprouts, and despite the outbreak of E. coli from sprouts in Europe, decided to try the pulled sprouts in a salad.  To go with the salad, I attempted a vinaigrette made from a reduction of some wild blueberry beer the hubs got me.  It turned out fairly well.  We're going to try the vinaigrette as a marinade for fish, too.

While doing laundry, I reduced a can of Young's Double Chocolate Stout for a go at some chocolate stout caramels later this week.  These sound so good in my head!  I hope they live up to my hype.

And we can't forget laundry.  I honestly do not know how two people who practically wear the same things all the time can have so much laundry.  Or maybe I just need to do laundry more often.

Blueberry Beer Vinaigrette
1 (12 fl oz) bottle Sea Dog Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
3 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs finely minced shallots
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

Reduce the beer in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat until you have two tablespoons.  (This may take 30 – 45 minutes, but other than occasionally checking the volume when you start to get close, it’s largely unattended time.)  Cool completely before proceeding.

Combine the beer reduction and lemon juice in a small, non-reactive bowl.  While whisking vigorously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.  (You could probably also do this in the food processor if you wanted to.)  When the mixture forms a consistent emulsion, whisk in the shallots and thyme. 

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ice Cream and Cake and a Relapse

I need to test a cupcake recipe.  The Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious are sponsoring an Ice Cream Cupcake Contest.  I have an idea I think is really awesome and I want to enter, thus the need to test the recipe.  But I'm less enthusiastic about turning on my oven.  We are experiencing "near record temperatures" (as The Weather Channel keeps reminding me) and the idea of turning on the oven isn't so appealing.  I guess I'll have to stay up until wee hours of the night or get up at 0:dark:30 to prevent overheating the kitchen.  I won't spill the beans entirely yet, but I'm calling them "A Taste of India".  Curious?  I am.  The recipe and photos will be posted here after I enter.

In other news, a relapse of my caramel addiction was inevitable.  After finishing the caramels for the Food Blogger Bake Sale, I verbalized something along the lines of not wanting to think about, see, smell, eat, etc., caramels again for quite some time.  In the lyrics of Elvis Presley, "well that was just a lie".  To be completely honest, I don't think I've ever stopped thinking about caramels. 

I'm thinking about chocolate stout caramels.  I'm thinking about goat milk and buckwheat honey caramels.  I'm thinking about caramels made with apple juice.  I'm thinking about how to incorporate peanut butter into caramels.  I'm thinking . . .

I'm thinking I need to learn to make smaller batches of caramels.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Gardening by the Deck

It's been several years since I've done any gardening.  First it was because the hubs was graduating with his Ph.D. and we didn't know where the job search would be found.  Then after he got a job it was because we had made the decision to look for a new home.  Then it was because we were moving to a new home.  I've been missing it.

A previous year's partial harvest

The hubs had built this awesome little raised bed garden for me.  I grew mostly chiles (for the hubs), but also attempted some green beans and tomatoes.  My tomatoes never had an ideal location and we harvested enough beans for one meal before they were eaten practically to the ground by unseen invaders.  I gave up and just grew chiles.  Lots and lots of chiles.  One year we had over 75 plants of at least 40 different varieties.

I was really excited that our new place had two acres of potential for gardening.  (Well, not really two.  The acre on the south side of the creek is wooded and wild and we're probably not going to attempt to tame it.)  I spent a great deal of time evaluating hours of daily sunlight and shade and how well different areas of the yard drained.  What I wasn't considering in the least was the deer that came with the two acres.

We routinely see anywhere from one to nine deer roaming around, often right outside of our windows.  It drives the dogs absolutely insane.  And I know if I were to put a garden in the ground without a six foot fence, they would drive me insane as well.   So instead of digging in the dirt and having the cute little garden of my imagination, I have planters on the deck.

Two large cedar planter boxes were left here by the previous owners.  This one is actually in quite a state of disrepair, as the bottom has fallen out of it.  We'll have to take care of that in the fall when the plants are finished.  This box has Anaheim, jalapeno and habanero chiles, tarragon, thyme and a lot of involuntary cilantro.  Since I absolutely adore cilantro, it was allowed to stay. 

The other box is in a bit better shape, although it will be overhauled this fall as well.  It contains two sweet peppers, basil, rosemary and two varieties of Brandywine tomatoes.  

In the past I've always seemed to end up with indeterminate (vining) tomatoes that I didn't have adequate support for.  When these get going, I'm going to sort of trellis them along the airline cable on the deck.  I figure this has the potential to be a win-win:  the tomatoes have something to hang on to and it will be easier for me to harvest them.

In addition to the two large planter boxes, I also have a couple of containers of mint (lemon mint and orange mint) and started a couple of buckets of radishes (French Breakfast and Black Spanish).  Unless we're in need of a ground cover somewhere, the extremely invasive mint will stay in containers.  This is the first time I've ever attempted to grow radishes so I'm anxious to see how they turn out.  I noticed yesterday that the seeds had sprouted, which is always a source of excitement for me.  

I wish I had started everything from seed back in December, but indecisiveness overcame me and I ended up doing nothing at all. But I'm already making plans for next year's "garden".  

Lovely little tomato blossoms