Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I have had two great loves in my short life: cats and pop culture. I do so love a good gossip story about celebrities or even better, truuue stories. And even better, pictures! Realistically, I would be satisfied with a giant magazine of pictures of celebrities which is quite convenient since most magazines consist primarily of pictures. And so, it was the love of pop culture that brought me this recipe.

The Royals are a subset of pop culture since we are Americans and therefore they are not our government but a foreign fascination. Specifically, I follow the Middleton sisters. I had a wonderful moment with my previous manager where we discussed their fashion and how they were good fashion icons for me to have since it would influence my work style in a positive way. This conversation started because I bought a dress based off of a photo of one of them and got many compliments. Alas, that was the moment when I realized we had a good bond as manager and employee--and then I got transferred.

Spoiler alert: it worked!
But I digress. As you may or may not know, Pippa Middleton has written a book on party planning which consists of entertaining ideas, decorations and recipes (ta da!). Since she has canceled her US leg of the book tour (so sad, sooo sad), there have been a couple of magazines publishing excerpts from the fall section of the book. One such magazine was People, which I already subscribe to (it was free, don't judge) and was conveniently provided with a recipe for sticky toffee pudding. It sounds so British and delicious, which is surprising because I feel like most British food consists of things I would not want to eat...

Gloriously torn from a magazine with a note added about self-rising flour. I really want that cow.
Anyways, now that we have established I follow celebrities and know way too much about celebrities (you can stop judging now, you had 3 paragraphs to digest, move on), we get into the recipe. I immediately had several important questions that were only going to be answered by a) a trip to the grocery store and b) my mother.

Question 1: Chopped Dates--are those a thing here? Can I even find them in a normal store? My initial instinct was to ask someone at the grocery store but then I realized walking up to a random grocery store employee and saying "Excuse me, do you know where I can find Dates?" (mind you, capitalization is not represented in speech, only in writing) would result in an extremely awkward situation. Fortunately, chopped dates are a thing and they're right next to the other dried fruits.

Question 2: They have an 8x8 pan but the recipe says 9x9...obviously these are different but will that still work? Mama says, yes but you'll have to adjust the baking time. And since I already do that with my badass oven, 8x8 pan sold for $3.97 (no for real).

Question 3: Is self-rising flower the same as regular flour? It sounds like  fancy way of saying flour, maybe it's already self-rising but British people specify because they have not-rising flour too. Nope, Mama says self-rising has salt and one of the baking things already in it. Easily solved by using regular flour and Google (1 cup self-rising= (1 cup all purpose flour-2 teaspoons)+1/2 teaspoon salt+1.5 teaspoons baking powder).

Question 4: This is more about me being cheap than anything else. The recipe calls for heavy cream but I have a coupon for light cream and it's on sale, can I just use that? Yes, and it's healthier, Mama says. She also added that life is like a box of chocolates (note: I don't call my mother 'mama' but it sounds better when discussing baking, don't ask me why).

The two mixtures pre-mixing. The one on the right is the date mixture which looks gross.
As I was making this, I have no idea how this is meant to look. There aren't pictures of the actual food in the magazine, mostly just pictures of Pippa. So it looked a little soupy and all the dates were on the bottom of the pan. Since I had a pan that was smaller than necessary and it was a new recipe, I made myself a little side dish. Yes, I actually bought baking dishes in the shape of snowflakes. They're so festive!!

I checked on the pans a couple of times in the oven to make sure it was rising (maybe I miscalculated the flour and that's why it looked soupy?) and because the baking times are pretty much guestimation at this point. In the meantime, I made the toffee sauce. There are two items that were recycled during this process: 1) the empty cinnamon spice container because I actually went through an entire container this year and 2) the empty syrup bottle. The recipe calls for pumpkin spice which is really a bunch of other spices together so I made a separate container of it (previously I just did a dash of this and a dash of that but then I found this recipe for pumpkin spice via Joy the Baker!). The syrup bottle will be used for transporting the toffee sauce to Thanksgiving dinner because I don't want it to be a mess and it's syrup going into syrup! This is why it takes me a month to take out the recycling, every once in awhile something comes in handy. This is the path to hoarding, my friends--take out your recycling, it will be okay.

Mmm toffee sauce...and butter.
So I went ahead and tested the pudding and it was quite delicious. I don't normally like raisin things in cakes (love carrot cake, don't like raisins and nuts in it) but I didn't even notice the dates. So next to the traditional pies at Thanksgiving, an American holiday, lay my traditionally British dessert. Ironic? I think yes. It received the family stamp of approval though and my 9 year-old nephew called it his favorite dessert. The recipe stays!

In case there was any confusion, I labeled the bottle as Toffee Sauce. Apparently this was material for making fun of me, you know who you are...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pumpkin Waffles

I promise this is the end of the pumpkin. As an addendum to pumpkin scones (they came from the same can of pumpkin, it's relevant), I had a dream that I did give them to people and this girl got mad about something else and was ranting about how bad the scones were. Does that count as a nightmare? If that happened in real life, my baking reputation would be ruined, I would lose my credibility! Nightmare, I have very little street cred as it is.

So I actually lied about how many blogs I know about, I forgot Smitten Kitchen. She has a new cookbook out, btw. There is a spectacular recipe for pumpkin waffles. For me, myself and I, I halved the recipe and it made three waffles (one for me, one for myself and one for I). I know it's a lot easier to just use a mix and believe me, I have that instant Bisquick in my cabinet (because Bisquick has so many ingredients to add, you need the super easy Bisquick that just requires water) but I'm telling you, you just measure a few extra things and you get homemade waffles. Your street cred will definitely improve, the words "made from scratch" are super impressive.

My dad made waffles every Sunday growing up, it was the best tradition ever! And he would go all out, complete with Cool Whip and strawberries and bacon (soooo much bacon, there is a fantastically embarrassing story about me and large quantities of bacon). So waffles have a special place in my heart and last year for my birthday, I got a waffle iron and now I make ze waffles on weekends (not all weekends, I'm just one person). This is probably the first time I didn't burn the first one, I never quite get a handle on the amount of batter to use or the timer. Note to self: it's more batter than you think and 2 minutes. 

Separated! They're separated!
There are two spectacular things about this process and my baking education. First and foremost, I separated not one egg but two. It was so glorious, no shells and no mixing! Secondly, I then made the egg whites into fluffy fluffy...egg whites. I don't think I whipped the egg whites enough, breakfast was calling.

Mix and whipped egg whites
 And so I made waffles and coffee and had brunch all to myself--for 3 straight days, including Monday. Do you know how much better Mondays are when they start with waffles?? Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much. It got me to about 3:30, then I was ready for Monday to be over (sadly, Mondays end at like 9pm).
Om nom waffles

Pasta Bolognese

Fact: I am carbo-loading in preparation for Thanksgiving. Not entirely intentional, it just so happens that I decided to thaw the bolognese sauce from the storm prep to eat this week. And pasta was on special for $1 (seriously, how do you resist that??). So now I have all these bowls of pasta bolognese that I can just pop in the microwave. I believe this is what people refer to as 'portion control'. Here's the thing about portion control, you can have individually packaged/portioned items so you don't eat too many but that doesn't stop you from eating multiple. Like those 100 calorie packs of cookies. Genius in theory, you eat one, you get your cookies, you don't overeat. But what is stopping you or me from eating another one because the first one just wasn't filling? Well, the good news about portion control with pasta bolognese is I don't like to do dishes. So one serving is sufficient to avoid doing more dishes. At least I have portion control on my chores.

Lots of pasta. I saw a shirt that said "Eat Pasta, Run Fasta". I don't think that rhymes.

Okay, so this post is far overdue as it was probably one of the first things I actively made from scratch. This recipe comes with a special history as well. A couple years ago, my college friends and I were hanging out at our friend's parents' house because they are super cool and give us really good food and free reign. While my guy friends were being--well they were being guys so I took a little break and joined my friend's mom in the kitchen (no stereotyping people!). Over the cooking of bolognese I got all kinds of fun stories about my friend (mwahaha) but I also really enjoyed chatting with her. So years later (no literally, it has been years), I finally got the recipe and discovered the secret: you pretty much wing it. It's like the perfect recipe for me! I don't measure, I can change the meat, I can add whatever I want and I pretty much can't mess it up because IT'S DELICIOUS!!!!

Storm prep: have ziploc bags, will thaw.
Now, whenever I go to an Italian restaurant, I order pasta bolognese. This is to see if any bolognese can compare (answer: it does not).

The other magical thing about this recipe is someone requested I post it. Zomg, please take a moment to be happy with me that a) people read this (247 views, what up??) and b) listen to me when I go to Italian restaurants for lunch and tell this story. This recipe is legit people, true family recipe, it's not even online, it's a pdf on my desktop. It appears that I leave some things out (whoooops) which is why, children, we should reread things.

So go forth, make pasta and bolognese. Make it with sausage or make it with ground beef or even ground turkey! Add vegetables, add seasonings, go crazy!

Delicious! But my pasta to sauce ratio was a little off. Need more bolognese!

Recipe with my commentary in italics:
  • 2 lbs chopped beef/turkey/sausage (sausage as patties or empty cased ones--if you don't mind handling meat)
  • Prego tomato, basil, garlic sauce (1 bottle for 2 lbs is good)
  • Olive oil to coat pan
  • Crushed garlic
  • Grated cheese
  • Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (parsley is optional but I had to put them in order of the song, Scarborough Fair)
  • Bay leaves
  • Brown sugar (or white)
  • Caper liquid (not for use with sausage as meat)
  1. Saute crushed garlic in olive oil and break up meat (if you burn the garlic, start over)
  2. Begin adding spices, turning meat every 3-4 spice additions. Add more garlic, Italian seasoning, basil and oregano. Add sparse covering thyme sage and onion powder. Add caper juice if necessary. 
  3. Once the meat is browned, add approximately 1/2 jar of sauce. Stir gently and add warm water (...water? Whoops) until meat is almost covered. Alternate until it looks right (intuition my friends).
  4. Add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar, sprinkle of grated cheese and 2-3 large bay leaves (if someone could explain bay leaves to me, that would be awesome because I see them as those things that are in my food that I don't want to eat).
  5. Bring to boil for 2 minutes and let simmer, covered (I have no cover) for 10-20 minutes
  6. Retaste, add spices to adjust (I'm no expert, I just add a bunch of stuff and guess. I don't think you can mess that up)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin Scones

I have this fall to-do list on my fridge with a list of activities or things to make in the fall. I decided this was the best way to make sure I slowed down and enjoyed the season instead of waking up at the holidays. It's just about time to make a winter to-do list (get excited, so many pins, so many pins) so I finally got to the Pumpkin Scones.
So many spices, so little time. I'm so proud I had all of these in stock.
 As you know from my previous scones post, they have always seemed tricky to me but I have conquered my fear and so I ventured out solo. Unfortunately I got a phone call just as I was taking the dough out to flatten and cut into scone shapes so I got distracted. This led to the scones being more of rhombuses and trapezoids than straight up triangles (okay they look great in the picture but I think at least one fused with another in baking). Also, this recipe said to put it in a rectangle and cut it into smaller rectangles and then again into triangles. Much more complicated than just making a circle, I probably should have done that.

Please note the wonder that is the real cutting board!
By this point, I was tired of baking (it was late!) and so I decided to wait to make the icings (yes, there are two) until the next day...or the next day...and then by that time I was like "eh, I'll just mix some powdered sugar and milk and some spices and see what happens". They're okay, I think pumpkin things are a bit hit or miss. I made pumpkin muffins last year and they had a weird after-taste and these scones have some too so I fear sharing them. Which means I have a dozen scones to consume by my lonesome. I guess I will take this hit, for the team.

Completed lovelies, hot from the oven.
Fear of scones conquered! That's really all that matters. And by the time I finally made the scones, I had my sites set on the next thing (live in the moment, do as I say, not as I do): sticky toffee pudding. British baking antics to follow, hopefully soon because those dairy products won't last forever. And I know I've said this before when I had half a can of pumpkin leftover but then it went bad so now I think maybe I will make pumpkin waffles or pancakes or something. It would be sad to waste the last pumpkin of the season. Since it's snowed, I think I'm obligated to move onto such things as chocolate and peppermint--preferably together.

Bourbon Banana Bread

Say that three times fast. Then say it again after sipping out of the bottle of bourbon. Being the economical person that I am, I realized I could buy those little cutesy bottles of bourbon for this recipe and even then, I over-estimated. Oh darn, cutesy bottle of bourbon now lives in my spice cabinet. Seems legit.

The Noah's Ark of baking: the ingredients go together, two by two.

This recipe is from Joy the Baker (I can't find the recipe online but it's in her fabulous cookbook, go buy it), what a shock! I'm still new to the blogosphere so pretty much know of three blogs:
  1. Joy the Baker
  2. CupCait
  3. HomeFries (an offshoot of Joy the Baker, listen to the podcast, it will change your life)
I'm not a fan of walnuts or nuts in cakes. Cakes should be spongy, not crunchy, so I ignored that bit but otherwise followed it right down to the chocolate chips and bourbon. I tried to make banana bread once before and got only as far as determining the bananas were rancid, not over ripe. And that reminds me I have a frozen banana in my freezer saved for banana bread (there's always money in the banana stand). So this was round one with the banana bread.

In process and yes, my rubber spatula says "Princess"
I must say this came out very well considering the eggs miiiight have been past their best by date (for once I actually broke the eggs in a separate bowl just in case). And I discovered that 45 seconds on half power is the perfect amount of time to soften butter because let's be real--I never remember to take it out ahead of time.

There's this myth that alcohol burns off when you cook it and I'm not entirely sure if that's true. I think in this case most of it did burn off (I have to add that because I gave it to a pregnant lady, she knew bourbon went into it) but I'd be interested to see if there's a MythBusters episode talking about this.
Completed product! And my wire shelf doubles as a cooling rack...right?

This post comes in double doses because as the bourbon banana bread baked (now say that three times fast) I also finally made pumpkin scones!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Roasted Mushrooms

As a normal child, I rejected vegetables with a passion. Specifically anything that wasn’t broccoli. This did not deter my mother from trying such terrible things as brussel sprouts or people from insisting supreme pizza, which had mushrooms, was a great plan. I preferred plain, pretty simple tastes over here. Eventually, like eons later, I tried mushrooms (I can tell you exactly when it was, surprisingly it was at sport’s camp and it was lunch time and I’m pretty sure I mistook a Portobello mushroom to be a hamburger. Happy accidents.) and discovered perhaps they weren’t so terrible. They should still not be mixed into such delicious things as pasta sauce and pizza though; those things exist in perfection and need not be tainted by other things like chunky vegetables.

Large quantity of cleaned and chopped mushrooms
Anyways, I found this recipe on Pinterest (what a shock!) and it just so happened that the grocery store had a sale on mushrooms (BOGO which for those of you who are like me and never understood that term, stands for Buy One Get One…YOLO so BOGO!!). Typically I ignore the part where you’re meant to wash produce. If it comes pre-packaged (strawberries, bananas, blueberries etc.), then I assume it’s clean. However the recipe specifically tells you how to wipe off the mushrooms (not that it’s hard to figure out) so I assumed this might be an important step, mushrooms are a fungus after all. Oh my am I glad I did: visible dirt coming off of those lovely ‘shrooms. You’d think this would change my approach to washing things but no really, just mushrooms. Once they were all nice and clean, I did that thing where I followed the directions and had a moment of “well, it says ‘until they’re cooked’ but I have no idea what that means…” but figured it out once they looked mushroom-y enough. Fun fact: there are little herb boxes at the store for types of meat so instead of having to buy three herb bunches separately that would have gone to waste since I needed small amounts, I bought the one entitled “Poultry” which contained most of what I needed. How important can parsley be anyways?
Mmm seasonings
I also bought a bottle of balsamic vinegar only to realize that it requires a teaspoon. If I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have bought the bottle but I guess I can use it for other things like more mushrooms and salad dressings and—Pinterest/Googling ‘balsamic recipes’.
Ready for the oven!
Fun fact: these mushrooms are delicious. And they’re even more delicious if you put them in a grilled cheese sandwich. And then you dip that sandwich into tomato soup on a cold fall day and it’s heaven. And then you realize you have bread, cheese, tomato, and mushroom and it all surprisingly tastes like pizza. But that does not mean putting mushrooms on pizza is okay. There is no transitive property of mushrooms, it’s not the same!
And all done! Tenderly cooked and marinated. So delicious!

Chocolate Pudding Pie

What is one to do when pie crusts come in two-packs but your pies don’t have top layers? Make more pies! This is precisely the predicament I found myself in the other day: one extra pie crust and a craving for chocolate. The solution? Chocolate pudding pie, of course!

I take great pride in the fact that I had everything I needed to make the pudding part of the pie and I only had to buy the whipping cream, which is really something you buy as needed considering it can spoil.

This is the pie that made the non-pudding believers into a believer. No really, that’s what happened when I gave it to my friends. Someone was like “is it pudding? Because I don’t like pudding” to which I of course replied “well, technically it’s not pudding because it didn’t come from a pudding box, so I think it’s just squishy chocolate”. Obviously this is pudding but my definition of pudding is it comes from a box of Jello and contains gelatin. Apparently this is a very modern and lame definition of pudding.
Beautiful pie day, like for Thanksgiving, I'll make it for real

 I’m pretty convinced that this pudding is not as pudding-y as it should be, it was still a little runny but it’s chocolate! Consistency does not matter. The flaw in this plan was when it came time to do the whipped cream topping. Again, whipped cream from a can is not what this recipe calls for but whipped cream from whipping cream (from the Latin root ‘whip’ or to move quickly into delicious froth). Let’s review my kitchen gadgets: no mixer.

For the record, I have whipped whipping cream into submission before using only a whisk (say “whipped whipping cream with a whisk” three times fast, I dare ya—I triple dog dare ya! Bonus points if you get that movie reference). Knowing this takes a long time, and knowing that you have to add it shortly before serving, I allotted a full 30 minutes of whisking time. I overestimated my arms’ ability to whisk for that long and my left arm’s coordination skills. Poor right arm, so much work. It was getting down to the wire and it was starting to get some sort of thickness but only on the top portion of the cream. Alas, I had to abandon the whipped cream, realizing I would be late if I continued and also that no one would know…
Om nom pudding pie. It looks nothing like the Smitten Kitchen pictures but it was still yummy.

See, that’s the key. Realize that as much as an amateur you might be, the people NOT making things are probably more amateur and therefore will be a) in too much awe to question and b) not know that you’re missing a garnish or fancy piece. So the pie was in fact well received and as I mentioned before, converted the non-believers (I wish I could make some sort of Justin Bieber pun here about believers and Biebers but I got nothin’).

This of course also left me with a cup of sweetened and half-whipped whipping cream which I spent the next week dipping strawberries into and pouring over the remaining pie (good news, not much was left after my friends got hold of it, woohoo waistline!). Because realistically, the whipping cream still tasted like whipped cream just not the right consistency. That which we call whipped cream by any other consistency would taste so sweet? Yes, yes it does.