Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fuzzy Navel Banana Bread, Apricot style

Yesterday morning, I saw Streaming Gourmet's Fuzzy Navel Tea Bread, and I knew I had to make that, and make that soon! When I got home from a long, loong, looooooong day at work I discovered that I had not properly shut the freezer the night before (aka CRAP!!!!), and among other things, my frozen bananas had thawed. So it looked like the time to make this bread was now!

And am I ever glad I did. Check out her site for the recipe, it's definitely a keeper for me! Amy takes a classic banana bread recipe and jazzes it up with peaches and oranges, and the result is one of the best banana breads I've eaten. The texture is moist and dense without being heavy, and the flavours all blend together beautifully; they all mix together with a nice fruity undertone, and no one taste overwhelms the other. I don't like super bananay- banana breads, so this was perfect for me.

Things I learned:

1) I didn't have peaches, so I used the apricots I had bought for another project (sorry TWD - no brioche tart this week). I used 4 medium sized ones, and it worked like a charm. Can't wait to try it with peaches, though; I love peaches!

2) Lately, when I make a muffin or quick bread, I blend all the wet ingredients together with my stick blender. I like the uniform, smooth texture it gives, but if you prefer larger chunks of fruit by all means use the more traditional method. In fact, when I give it a go with peaches, I will likely do a peach puree and add some finely diced peaches as well.

3) This bread is great fresh out of the oven, when chilled, and toasted and spread with butter. Mmmmm. It's very versatile.

One final note: this time of year, if you are doing ANYTHING with fruit, dump all the scraps and outside and bleach the hell out of your countertops and sink drains as soon as you're done, otherwise the fruit flies will have a field day. I HATE FRUIT FLIES! I will destroy them all, you'll see!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I know strawberries are long over in many places, but in this part of the world they are just coming into their glory. I look forward to fresh strawberries more than any other food; they just speak summer to me. And of all the strawberries in the world, I can say without any bias whatsoever that Prince Edward Island strawberries are the best in the whole wide world. They are sweeter, tastier, truer than any other berry you'll ever eat.

I mean just look at that berry. And that's not even a prime season berry, folks!

I know of few better ways to celebrate the lovely strawberry than with homemade strawberry ice cream. With such gorgeous berries, you really want to showcase their flavour in a simple manner; don't chop them up into something where they're just a background taste, make them the star of the show!

If you've never made ice cream before, please start; it's easy, cheap, and better than anything you'll ever buy. (See my post on Honey Peach Ice Cream for basic tips.) I prefer using a custard base rather than using cornstarch to thicken the base; I just think it gives a creamier, smoother taste. And really, if you're using 1.5 cups of cream in one recipe, are you really worried about the extra calories from egg yolks? Go big or go home, that's what I say!

Make your custard base first, and while it's chilling, cut up your berries. You need to let them sit for a couple of hours so they get all juicy. Stir the accumulated juices into the custard base, pour into the ice cream maker, and churn baby churn. About 5 minutes before it's done, add the chopped berries.

And see? Here's your result. No, it's not bright pink, because it's all real, fresh ingredients. And those black specks? That's real vanilla bean, baby. (Make sure you put the spent bean in a jar with sugar: in a few weeks, voila, you now have vanilla sugar to boot.) I'd tell you that I didn't eat big spoonfuls right out of the machine, but, well, that would turn this blog into a BLOG OF LIES!

So make this ice cream. Would a girl like me lie to a person like you? Nah!

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 whole vanilla bean
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vodka (optional)

1. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds, adding both to the milk-cream mixture. Bring the mixture to a slow boil over medium heat, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, combine eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat mixture until it is thick, smooth, and pale yellow in colour.

3. Next, prep your strawberries. Thinly slice 2 cups of fresh berries and combine with 1/3 cup of sugar and 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. Let macerate for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

4. After 30 minutes, remove the vanilla bean from the milk (add to a cup of sugar if you like, and in a month you'll have vanilla sugar!). Pour out a cup of hot liquid and slowly add to the egg mixture while whisking continuously. This will temper the eggs and keep your custard from becoming scrambled eggs.

5. Add tempered mixture back to the main pot, whisking all the while. Cook, stirring continuously, over medium low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

6. Strain mixture through a seive (this will catch any lumps that may have formed) into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill completely, overnight preferably, but at least two hours.

7. Add strawberry juices and vodka to the custard mixture, and pour into your ice cream machine. During the last five minutes, add reserved berries. Add mixture to an airtight container, and let cure for at least 2 hours.

I just had to throw this failed picture in here for amusement's sake. It reminds me of the red room Jane Eyre's benefactors threw her in for punishment...only with ice cream instead of a ghost! Go Jane!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Roasted Garlic Pizza Dough

You know, I don't always bake; sometimes I cook as well. Actually, I like to think I'm a pretty good cook, thankYOUverymuch! I haven't posted too much lately on the blog, because we just wrapped up 2.5 WEEKS of rain and clouds. It's been muggy as all hell, and that does not make for either good pictures or the desire to cook.

But I broke down the other day and made some homemade pizza. I wanted to jazz up the dough a bit, so I thought to myself "Self, how about roasted garlic in the dough?" And thus a lovely supper was born!

I used Mark Bittman's recipe for pizza dough, which I've posted below. It uses the food processor, so there is NO KNEADING at all and is unbelievably easy to put together. Through in the dry ingredients, add the water, add the garlic, blend for 30 seconds. DONE. On its own, it takes about 5 minutes from start to finish, not including rise time. That's it. The garlic takes about 30 minutes to roast, but it's not like you have to sit there and croon to it or something.

Never roasted garlic before? It's easy. Take a whole head of garlic, remove as much of the papery skin as possible, cut about 1/2 off the top to expose the cloves, drizzle it with olive oil, and then wrap it up in tinfoil. Pop it in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes. You'll know it's done when the house starts to smell like garlic, mmmmmm. Let it cool so you can handle it, and then just squeeze the whole head of garlic; the roasted cloves will squeeze right out like toothpaste. Easy peasy!

There's the uncooked product. I like my pizza toppings simple, and I really wanted to taste the dough more than anything here. I saw a chef say once that real Italians never put cooked tomatoes on a pizza; they just chop up raw tomatoes, so that's what I did here. I whizzed a whole tomato in my mini-chopper, and then added enough to cover the dough. After that, kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste, fresh grated parmesan, and then a drizzle of balsamic for good measure.

And wow, it was good. The garlic flavour was really present, but gentle; roasting garlic really mellows it out. I through in some parmesan with the dough, but I don't think it added to it; I couldn't really taste it.

I can still taste that damn pizza, though. As you can see from my picture, I took a taste or two (or three) before I remembered to take a pic for the blog. Heh...whoops. ;) And I LOVED the fresh tomatoes in place of sauce; I will keep that up for sure.

Roasted Garlic Pizza Dough

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

1 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 cups flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 - 1 1/4 cups water (I used lukewarm)
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil

and my additions...
1 head of roasted garlic
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1. Combine the yeast, flour, and 2 tsp salt in the food processor container. Pulse to combine. Turn the machine on and slowly add 1 cup of water and 2 tbsps of oil through the feed tube.

2. Just as dough is starting to combine, add the cloves of roasted garlic and parmasan, if using.

3. Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water , a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is dry, add another tbsp of water and process for another 10 seconds. (In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour, a tbsp at a time.)

4. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Grease a bowl with the remaining olive oil, and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. You can cut this rising time short if you are in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the fridge, for up to 6 or 8 hours.

5. Add desired toppings and bake in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.

I tend not to use all the dough at once, so I freeze it in small portions. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in a freezer, and allow it to defrost at room temp before using. Set the oven to the lowest temp it can go, and turn it off when it reaches that temp. Place the thawed dough in the oven for about 15 minutes or so or until it rises a bit. I find letting it have that second rise stops it from forming giant crust bubbles as it bakes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

TWD - Katharine Hepburn Brownies

I have a never-ending search for the perfect brownie, and oh quest has come to an end. This week's TWD recipe was picked by Lisa of Surviving Oz, and she is my new hero. These brownies are exactly what I've been searching for: rich without being overwhelming; chewy, fudgey texture without feeling underbaked; and the perfect, absolute perfect, combination of complimentary flavours. Every single ingredient in this brownie works together in perfect symbiosis.

They are ridiculously easy to make, too. You just melt some butter in a pan, dump in the cocoa and coffee, stir in the eggs and vanilla, add the flour and chocolate chips, and bake. DONE. It took longer to measure the scant ingredients than it did to put them together. I've always heard people disparage brownie mixes, saying they are so easy to make, why would you buy a box mix? Well, these are the first I can honestly say make me vocifierously agree. For the love of God, make these brownies!!

I don't have a lot of tips, other than don't add nuts. Nuts are an abomination in brownies. But that being said, here are some things I learned:

1) Make sure when you're melting the butter that you use a decent sized pot, because all the ingredients are eventually going in there. Look at the pan below: yeah, it was a little wee, but I managed.

2) Just because you've been baking since Christ was a cowboy, it doesn't mean you're allowed to be uppity and skip directions. There's a part that calls for you to line the pan with parchment paper and butter it, yadda yadda yadda; I scoffed at that, since I had a non-stick pan.

See how they turned out? Yeah, they came out of that pan like a dream! Except not. Even when they cooled longer than, say, the 2 minutes I let them rest, they still came out in pieces. It makes for crappy pictures, but doesn't affect the taste at all. I'm betting no one is going to complain about how they look.

3) Finally, see how good this looks?

Keep this in mind: no matter how glossy and chocolately and rich it looks, until you add the sugar it tastes as bitter as a desperate housewife. GAHHHHH! Don't eat the batter until everything is mixed together.

Anyway, this brownie just made my damn day. Ahhhhh, thanks TWD!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TWD - Perfect Party Cake

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks. I'm sure many of you are experiencing "summer", which is something I have heard about but have yet to actually experience yet this year. Rain, rain, rain, ain't it great? I tell you what it's not good for - taking pictures. Inspiration. Wanting to cook! Moving enough to take a deep breath is enough to make you sweaty as a warthog's backside, so actually cooking is not something I've been doing a lot of. Scrambled eggs, sandwiches, and ice cream are my main fair these days. (And frogurt - that will definitely be posted soon!)

So with that in mind, I wasn't looking too forward to baking a damn cake this week for TWD, but I am so glad I did! Carol of mix, mix, stir, stir chose Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, and oh god, what a cake. I had made this one already for Obama's Inauguration and took it to work, and I thought then it was one of the best cakes I've ever made. This cake is light and springy, with a refreshing lemony, tangy taste.

You bake two 8 inch cakes, and then when cooled, cut them in two to give four layers total. I just used a long serrated breadknife. My layers weren't perfect, but they were kinda even. The crumb is amazing; it's like pulling apart cotton balls. See all the little holes in there? That's exactly what you're going for. The cake is moist and springy without being too delicate - holds up great to syrups, fruit, whipped cream, etc. Or hey, all three if you're really going for it, and really, why not?

Since I made this cake before, I wanted to play around with it a bit. Our strawberries are just coming into season, so instead of raspberry jam I spread sliced strawberries on the layers. Also, I found Dorie's icing to be WAY buttery (and a little fussy to make). I wanted to keep the icing white and pretty, so I used her cream cheese icing instead.

And there she is. It looks like a hot mess, I know, but I swear it tastes great. A cake decorator I'm not. I was taking it to my auntie's house, so I had to get on the road and go. Halfway there, when the top part slide RIGHT FRICKIN' OFF, I realized I should have chilled it first. Ah well. Anybody who turns down free cake, even if it half fell apart, is no friend of mine.

This cake is really straight forward, so I don't have a lot to say about it. I used more lemon zest than called for, as I didn't have lemon extract. I skipped the coconut, too, cuz I just don't like it. Also, I saw some people had problems with not having enough buttercream; I think the main problem with that is you really need to let the egg whites heat up so they'll increase in volume.

See that? I saved that piece for me. Mmmmmm. It really set up well in the fridge, and since it was so damn sticky out, it was super. Mmmmm. Cake for supper. The pleasures of being an adult, eh? Mmmmmmmm.