Thursday, November 22, 2007

TheNotChocolate Birthday Cake

I didn't make a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. But I have been baking, and yes, it is Thanksgiving today.

It also happens to be my great-aunt and great-uncle's birthday. And it is one of those years that ends with a zero. How can that not be commemorated with a cake?

Daunting may have been the word to describe making a birthday cake for Thanksgiving, especially from scratch. Actually, foolish, because I've never made one before. I guess layer cakes aren't hard, but they require some patience (something I lack when under time pressures, hence the reason I bake muffins to go in the freezer: nobody's impatiently waiting for breakfast). So even with Thanksgiving, and not having the day before off, I decided to bake this cake, and it was well worth it. All it meant was that nothing was prepped at all for Thanksgiving until today because I took over the kitchen from 4:30 until 9:30 Wednesday night.
The determination and slow pace paid of. This is the first layer cake that I've made from scratch, beginning to end, on my own. It even tasted good enough to allow my aunt to forgive me for breaking the "birthday cakes are chocolate cakes" requirement. But mostly, I'm just glad that despite one of my layers falling apart, I was able to stay calm and nobody knows. Well, except you and my dad who I accused of eating it because a chunk was missing, but really it had just collapsed.

I also didn't have the cake picked out until yesterday morning, even though I did all the shopping for it over the weekend (except the brown sugar because that wasn't in the first recipe I'd picked out.)
But when I went to print out the recipe, I stumbled upon another one, and decided to go with it instead. It was similar, but looked like it was more foolproof and would taste better. But it required three layers, and I only have two pans. I ended up borrowing four pans from my neighbor and making a four layer cake that was slightly smaller in diameter.

And I now have a new favorite cake for this time of year. But I'm only allowed to make non-chocolate cakes for my aunt if her birthday is on Thanksgiving. And I have tendencies to try something new when it comes to making special things because they really need a crowd to feed.

Some notes about the recipe: The original recipe on epicurious called for making applesauce in the cake, and I omitted that step, and used one large jonagold apple and one large granny smith. My frosting also didn't have a pronounced maple flavor because I am still looking for maple extract that isn't artificial imitation maple flavoring. I also noticed my walnuts had a funny taste when I was chopping them (I think if I'd rinsed them they would have been fine, because it wasn't evident in the cake or when dad put them in a fritatta earlier this week), so I just didn't press them into the sides of the cake. Instead I used some extra currants and decorated the border, but the top instead of the bottom of the side because I was tired and didn't realize that would have been the most attractive place until the morning. Oh, and the cake is similar to a carrot cake.

Apple Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

adapted from Bon Appetit October 1998
Makes a 3 layer 9" cake or a 4 layer 8" cake, easily serves 12

1 cup (140 g) plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (200 g) whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 lb apples (such as Pippin, Granny Smith, or Jonagold, about two), cored and shredded
1/4 cup water
1 cup dried currants (about 5 ounces), plus about 1/4 cup more to decorate cake (optional)
1 cup walnuts(about 4 ounces), toasted, chopped

2 cups sugar (I used slightly less because our sugar is weird right now and looks powdery)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tablespoon brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup pure maple syrup

To make cake:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour four 8-inch diameter pans.

Sift 1 cup all-purpose flour and next 6 ingredients (through cloves) into a medium bowl. Toss currants with remaining 1 tablespoons flour.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, brandy, and vanilla in a large bowl until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in half of flour mixture and 1/4 cup water. Beat in remaining flour and shredded apples with any liquid that drained from apples. Stir in currants and walnuts.

Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cut around sides to loosen and turn out onto racks to cool.

To make frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Beat in cream cheese; then maple syrup. Chill until beginning to firm, about 20 minutes.

To assemble cakes:
Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with second layer, spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with third layer; spread 1/2 cup frosting. Top with fourth layer and spread 1 cup frosting in thin layer over entire cake. Chill 15 minutes and then spread remaining frosting over cake. Press currants, if desired, around base of cake. Chill until frosting is set, at least 30 minutes.
Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tart Simple Green and Red Salad

When I made butternut squash risotto earlier this month, I wanted something easy and simple to go along with it since I am not known for my efficiency in the kitchen. If a recipe comes with a prep time, I usually have to double or triple it to get a good estimate of how long it is going to take me to make it. So I wanted my salad to be something that I could make so I wouldn't have to rely on the rest of the family to make half of dinner for me like I normally do, and so that it would be different from our everyday salads that my aunt makes. That isn't to say that those aren't spectacular, but they consist of whatever vegetables we have on hand and usually oil, herbs, and vinegar or lemon juice in the dressing. I just wanted to mix things up a bit. And do no chopping.

I will admit though that the only reason this was super simple for me was because my aunt did end up helping me. I'm really mean and when someone offers to help, I usually give them the hardest job. (My grandfather grated the ginger and squash for a cake when he offered to help, and my aunt got to peel and remove the seeds from the pomegranate when she offered to help me. See what I mean. But they're also tasks that I need to get done and easily become frustrated by.)

But I digress. So, if you aren't the one to deal with the pomegranate this salad is really easy, really simple, and, despite the toasted pecans, takes no time at all and can be made and then just tossed right before serving. Though the pomegranate juice wasa bit of a splurge at the grocery store. I guess I've never bought Pom juice before.

Mixed Greens and Double-Pomegranate Salad
adapted from Cooking Light November 2007
serves 6 as a small salad

1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 5-ounce bag mixed greens*
2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
a hanful of toasted pecans, finely chopped

Whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, shallots, oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add greens and pomegranate seeds and toss to coat. If plating, sprinkle each serving with about 1/2 teaspoon chopped pecans. (I prefer topping with pecans because it keeps them from getting soggy.)

*I was going to use two, but my dad stopped me. I couldn't find any of the large 16 ounce clamshells. It would have been fine with more greens, there was enough dressing. the original recipe calls for 6 cups

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nice Spice Granola

When flipping through the November Bon Appetit last month, one of the pages I dog-eared (okay, put a torn part of a receipt in) was one with two delicious looking and simple recipes. I would love to say that I've made both of them, but the night I was going to make the squash, mushroom, and spinach one I ended up having too much homework and not buying the mushrooms. The squash though was eventually used in the risotto and the cake. And then a few other uses since that one squash sure stretched far bread pudding and a side dish weeks later).

But the granola recipe on the left side of the page, that I managed to make. I've only made granola a few times before, and while it was good, I was disappointed with my greasy results and lack of clumps. Store-bought granola seems to suffer the same dilemma sometimes too, and it always seems so expensive or not full of oats or ruined with chocolate. (Yes, I said chocolate. Please don't hurt me.)

I have a feeling that everyone in the house would have preferred that I didn't make the granola the first time around. It isn't that it wasn't good, but it involved some poor planning on my part that led to a nasty mood. I made it in the morning. Before school. And it isn't that granola is difficult, it just requires quite a bit of time in the oven. I woke up before six, so I figured I was all set. I was in the kitchen around 6:05 and had everything on the counter by 6:10. With 15 minutes to get it onto a baking sheet and 35 minutes in the oven, I was fine. It would be ready by seven o'clock. Except that it didn't need just 35 minutes in the oven. And it took my twenty minutes to get it into the oven. I somehow misread a time in the recipe and it really needed closer to an hour. I'll leave it to you to decide whether you want to know how the course of events and my disposition played out.

I will say this: it was tasty granola the next day. I just knew it could be better.

This time it was better. I made it at night, and though it kept me up until 9:30, it was better than running late for school.

Spiced Maple-Walnut Granola with Dried Cranberries
makes about 6 cups
(based on a recipe in November 2007 Bon Appetit, it resembles the original recipe, but I'm too lazy to find the link since I'm offline)

2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons brown sugar, divided
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup egg whites (about 2 large)
3 cups old-fashioned or quick oats (my dad prefers quick because it isn't as hard, but I use old-fashioned since that is what I keep on hand)
1 cup walnut halves, halved
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a small saucepan stir in 1/4 cup brown sugar into maple syrup over medium heat to dissolve. Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl to cool.

(If you get out all your ingredients before you start, I measure them while the syrup cools. That's also when I turn on the oven and grease the baking sheet)

Whisk cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, and egg whites into syrup. Stir in oats, remaining 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar, and walnuts to coat.

Spread the oat mixture onto the baking sheet into an even layer and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and flip over with a large metal spatula. The bottoms should be browned. Bake for an additional ten minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with dried cranberries. Return to oven for another 5 to 10 minutes or until dry.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Unattractive Warming Tasty (Better Known as Bread Pudding)

A few weeks ago, there was a pumpkin bread pudding that was the recipe of the day on epicurious (or of some status as to make it into the epicurious feeds.) It looked good, simple, and I'd been wanting to make apple bread pudding with caramel sauce since May, but I was waiting for autumn to come. It's here, and so are winter squash, which I seem to be very taken to lately.

Somehow all that nonsensical stuff related to pumpkin bread pudding.

A few days later, on Smitten Kitchen I saw that Deb had made bread pudding, and from the very same recipe I had been looking at, but made the prep even easier.

So then of course, on Wednesday, there was a recipe for pumpkin bread pudding in the Tribune. I took that to be a sign that I have to make bread pudding. It is unavoidable. But I couldn't choose which one to make. The one in the paper was so complicated sounding, it sent me running back to the one in Gourmet. But then I read through the recipe, and it sounded like it had the same amount of liquid as the one in the paper but with less eggs. The complicated sounding custard drew me back to paper. I guess I've been making too much ice cream.

I didn't stop there though. I found brioche this morning, but chose to go with the bread I'd walked into the shop to buy: the harvest apple bread. It's a streusel-topped round filled with chunks of apples. I figured the streusel would dissolve into the pudding and the apples would carry the sweetness evenly through.

But I was wrong. Once cooked, the apples were masked by the pumpkin so any bread would have worked just as well. And I wouldn't have minded it being a little less sweet. But it was still tasty, and despite having no ice cream in the house, and having to toss out the whipping cream, the pudding was tasty and rich unadorned, even if it was downright ugly.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

serves 6
adapted from various sources, including some of Deb's ideas, Gourmet, and the Wolfgang Puck article in the Tribune

12 ounces apple bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a 3 qt casserole dish toss together bread cubes and melted butter. (Alternatively, do this in a bowl and transfer to six individual size ramekins before baking. It'll probably look more appetizing, and it is always fun to have your own little dessert. We just don't own any.)

Stir milk and 1 T. sugar together in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Combing the eggs, egg yolks, and remaining 2 Tablespoons sugar in a heatproof bowl. Beat with a mixer on medium speed for about 4 minutes. (I'll be honest, I'm not sure why. It said until smooth, but that never happened for me. It just got foamy and looked like the consistency was a bit more even than when I just whisked it. Maybe that was because of the amount of sugar, or the egg whites.)
Whisk in a spoonful of pumpkin puree and a small amount of hot milk, whisking well. Gradually whisk in remaining puree and milk. Whisk in cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Pour over the bread cubes and toss to coat. Let stand 20 to 30 minutes to absorb custard, making sure bread on top is coated. The oven will need to be 350F, so preheat it sometime between now and the next step.

Place dish in a large baking dish and pour water into the pan to come 1/2 inch up the sides of the custard dish. (I'm not sure that step is necessary, I know it helps the custards cook more evenly, but I forgot to cover them to keep them from over browning and to steam them, and it was fine.) Bake until puffy and cooked through, about 1 hour 30 minutes for the large one of 40 minutes for the smaller ones.

Remove from oven and serve in a manner that won't hurt anyone.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"The Best Cake I've Ever Had"

This is the story of a cake. It had great aspirations and always knew it could do better. Each time it failed, it saw it as a chance to rise up and do better...

Okay, I'll stop with the crazy story that isn't anywhere close to true. This cake came straight out of October's Bon Appetit, and came out fine on the first try. And only took two hours start to finish. And I move slowly, though my grandfather did help me with the hard parts. (He offered to help, so I gave him what I knew my fussiness couldn't have a problem with: Grating the ginger, and then when he finished that, he finished grating the squash for me.)

I was supposed to be over at my aunt and uncle's around 6:30, but ran late because of the cake. I don't think anyone minded. The cake was a shining star at the end of the meal, and due to my poor cutting skills and trimming of the gigantic pieces, my uncle was left with three small pieces to enjoy the rest of the weekend. He is the one who said it was the best cake he's had. And I had low expectations for this cake.

Even though it's a ginger-squash cake, the squash hides in the background while the ginger is mellowed by the other spices and, while dominant, not overly pushy or dominant. I was a bit hesitant, because I once put too much candied ginger into bulgur pudding, and I couldn't handle it. But the ginger was just right in this cake.

Ginger-Squash Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
from Bon Appetit October 2007
Serves 8 (unless you cut poorly like me and get 9 squares and three little strips)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (I used 1/2 teaspoon, but my allspice is just about dead)
1 cup packed finely shredded butternut squash
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 1/2 Tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger root
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
3/4 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts (about 4 ounces), divided

3 Tablespoons whipping cream
3 ounces high-quality white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9x9x2 inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray, or otherwise prepare for baking. Whisk flours and next 5 ingredients (through allspice) in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat squash, brown sugar, butter, egg, ginger, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in large bowl to blend. Fold in flour mixture and 1/2 cup hazelnuts. Transfer to pan, spreading to edges (layer will be thin). Bake cake until tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool.

Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add white chocolate and remaining 1/4 teaspoon vanilla; whisk until smooth. (Alternately, do all of this in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.) Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to spread, about 20 (I only needed to let it stand about 10.) Spread over cake (layer will be thin.) Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup nuts over cake. Let stand at room temperature.

Cut into squares and serve. (The recipe says 16 squares and serves 8, so I just went to cut it into 9 at my aunt's suggestion. She thought the 16 square would be too small.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bites o' Pumpkin

Usually I read the Good Eating section of the tribune on Wednesday mornings. That didn't happen this week. Instead, I skimmed it Thursday evening. And, one day later, for the first time, I've actually used a recipe I've clipped from it. I've been wanting to make pumpkin muffins and just hadn't gotten around to finding the recipe I copied two years ago from a book in the summer and never made (it was June, pumpkin didn't feel right then.) But upon finding this recipe, or the precursor to this recipe, which I thought I had everything for, except the flaxseeds, so I figured I'd give it a try.

I then proceeded to not even read the instructions. Surprisingly enough, they turned out well despite changing the ingredients (upon running out of granulated sugar), the procedure, the temperature, and the size of the muffins. They were loaded with a bit too much chocolate (and no nuts), but since I took them over to my friend's house where we watched Brazil and Monty Python's Now For Something Completely Different, they worked out nicely. Somehow, my container had 1 1/2 mini muffins, which resembled little balls, left it in when I brought it home.

Expect to see a full size variation of this, chock full of cranberries and pepitas, soon. (Which goes with this disclaimer: muffins shows above are not exactly the recipe below-they have pecans, as well, and are "normal" sized.)

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Loaded Muffin Bites
based on Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Muffins in 10/24/2007 Good Eating
Makes about 24 mini-muffins

1 cup whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 heaping Tablespoons flax seeds (about 7 teaspoons)
1/2 cup water
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease 24 mini-muffin cups.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

Place flaxseeds and water in a blender and whir until foamy. Add pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla and process on high until well blended. Stir into the flour mixture until combined. If it appears to dry, add a little water. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter evenly (I use a small scoop with a release) into the prepared tin. Bake in oven about 15 minutes or until an indentation doesn't stay when pressed or a toothpick comes out just about clean. Let cool a few minutes in pan; remove and eat or cool completely on wire racks for later.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oven Love

I have a fear of deep frying. I've used an electric fryer (is that what they're called?) once to make shirini panjereyi, a fried cookie, with my cousin in Tehran, but the thought of tossing chicken in one and either a) not burning it b)not burning me c)getting it cooked through or d)not setting off the smoke alarm, seems rather slim. But maybe it is just an unrationalized fear.

But, with oven-fried chicken this tasty, who needs to worry about trying to figure out how to fry it? It can't be much easier than this....well, except that it might not need the breading if you left a crispy skin on...

Dinner last night was a group effort. It started on Thursday with Mom preparing the marinade and marinating the chicken while I made the ice cream base. Friday, Mom got caught at work and Dad at the dentist with my aunt, who had already helped by washing and cutting the kale-something that would have taken me at least half an hour. Mamanzari worked on breaking up the sausage and mixing in the onions for the stewed okra, Uncle Larry did the hard part of battering the chicken and arranging it on the roasting rack, and Aunt A brought over a cast-iron pan and helped whisk the ingredients for cornbread.

As to how the meal turned out... It wasn't our first time following the chicken or the kale recipe, though Mom made the kale last time and did most of the work for the chicken from start to finish. I think Nick may have helped her. I just made the grits... which were super cheesy and salty from thinking we'd had more grits than we did and grating far too much cheese.

This time though, it turned out a lot tastier. I followed most of the recipes (doubling the chicken and okra), except used cayenne instead of Tabasco for the chicken, bacon instead of ham for the kale, and italian sausage instead of breakfast sausage for the okra.

The cornbread, which was the easiest part of the meal, was a recipe from Uncle Larry. And it requires a cast iron pan, something we don't own. (I am definitely getting one soon. Ame wants to learn how to make the cornbread, and I can't show her without a pan. It's a good excuse.) I first had this cornbread two years ago while studying for finals. The girls, my mom, my aunt, and I, were on one side of the house reading/studying while the guys, my dad and uncle, watched a football game. For dinner we had chili and cornbread with a honey butter, I think. It was awesome.
We didn't have the honey butter last night, and the cornbread was dotted with scrambled eggs, but it was nevertheless delicious sopping up the stew.

Recipes (from October/November 2006 Eating Well):
Eating Well's Oven-Fried Chicken
Southern Kale
Stewed Okra & Tomatoes

Skillet Cornbread

recipe from Uncle Larry, but it says it is from Zinfandel Restaurant
Serves 8 if nobody wants seconds

2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal (also called polenta)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda.

Preheat oven with 8" cast-iron skillet in it to 425ºF.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk in buttermilk.

When oven is preheated, remove pan and add butter. Swirl the butter around. If the butter does not melt, the pan is not hot enough.
Swirl the butter to coat the bottom and sides of the pan, and whisk remaining butter into the buttermik and eggs. Whisk in cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. A few lumps are okay.

Scrape batter into the hot pan. It should start to sizzle and rise immediately.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Invert onto a plate or basket and serve it while its hot!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pralines from New Orleans

The first praline shop I went into was disappointing. I'd read about it in a guidebook and it sounded like the description of fudge shops I'd been to where you can see them making the candy. They had samples, and they were tasty, but everything was boxed up, and while I saw a window to a room, it didn't seem to be used. But it was 5:30 at night.
We walked another block, and I saw another candy store. It had all sorts of candies, including pralines. I bought a box of ten pralinettes there because they looked even better.

The following day, in between bouts of pouring rain, and sometimes even during, we darted between shops in the French Quarter I found the New Orleans School of Cooking which I'd read about because they do cooking demonstration/classes every day. It was almost noon though, and the classes were 10-12:30. One of the things they always make though is pralines. Mom bought a praline for us to split, and its ingredients were the friendliest out of all the pralines we'd had: sugar, pecans, brown sugar, vanilla, butter, milk

I'd found my praline. I also found the New Orleans School of Cooking Cookbook with easy recipes. I'm guessing the praline recipe they teach is the one they use.

New Orleans School of Cooking Pralines

adapted from New Orleans School of Cooking Cookbook

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
6 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Mix together all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over figure out heat, stirring to keep bottom from scorching, until it registers as softball on a candy thermometer (238-240). Remove from heat and continue stirring until thick and cloudy. Spoon onto a buttered piece of parchment paper and let cool.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Crescent City

I'm spending the weekend in New Orleans. It is my first time in New Orleans, and it has already been clear to me what the main thing to do is: eat.

And I'm sad to say, out of four meals so far, only one meal was truly something, two were okay, and then there was the one was with my mom that was part of her meeting, but that doesn't count.

Saturday Night, so far disappointed with New Orleans with the exception of going to Art for Art's Sake. Afterwards, we ate and walked down Bourbon Street. That is something I never want to do again. I'm not fond of drunk people with oversized beers, pounding music mixing together from all sides, and the strong scent of liquor mixed with vomit and urine. I find it disgusting-and not in an exhilarating way.
Sunday was much better. Despite twice getting caught in the on again/off again heavy rain in the morning. The first quick downpour led to my riding on a streetcar for the first time. As soon as it started moving, it stopped raining. No more than a minute we got off at the end of the line, halfway to our destination in the Garden District, it started pouring again. Mom thought we should hang out in the underpass until it stopped. The air was so damp that we gave up on having the umbrella dry even after the rain did stop.
The rest of our walk was pleasant. We saw pretty houses, and others that still needed to be repaired. There was a new looking AT&T store in front of a crumbling yellow house. That made some things clear.

When we arrived at Commander's Palace, mom was damp and excited to be inside; I, miraculously, was comfortable in the steamy weather. The recently redone hundred-year old restaurant was definitely worth the weather. We walked in, and a server led us through a line of servers that greeted us with warm smiles, through a dining room, up a flight of stairs, through another dining room, and into a smaller dining room with striped walls with matching curtains that blended right in. It seemed almost as if it should be tacky, but it wasn't in the least.

Our three-course jazz brunch was spectacular. Mom was worried when I said I wanted to go there for brunch and insisted we get a reservation that it was going to be all show and no taste. After she had a piece of garlic bread (made with real garlic and cheese) with her chicory coffee, she changed her mind. When she read over the menu, and our waiter said that the pecan-crusted gulf fish was drum, Mom insisted I try it. Drum is her new favorite fish. She had it a few nights ago for dinner, and was blown away. She was also thrown by the size of a soft-shell crab her friend had gotten, and decided to get soft-shell crab.

We started with salads, a romaine salad similar to a Ceasar, except with a buttermilk-black pepper dressing and toast points, and a Warm Rabbit and Apple Salad that had pears, apple, candied pecans, warm rabbit, and a sweet vinaigrette.
Our entrees were also wonderful: the pecan-crusted drum with lump crab and a corn bisque-like sauce converted me to a drum lover. Mom's scary large soft-shell crab with its crunchy fried exterior and melt in your mouth interior with a remoulade was delicious. And I never thought I really liked crab.

And the bread pudding souffle, the signature dessert, was that classic New Orleans bread pudding topped with a puffy meringue. Mom's praline sundae had a tasty cookie wrapped around it that I couldn't stop eating. Plus, I really like candied pecans. After our dessert came, the jazz trio came around to our table and asked what we would like to hear. Mom asked if they had anything original, and they just played covers, but they chose Down Yonder in New Orleans to play for us.

After breakfast- and yes, depite my long narration, that failed to mention the polka-dotted bathroom walls, there was more to our day than a delicious brunch - it was time to do some exploring.

It was raining again when we left the restaurant, so we took a cab to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and spent a few hours looking around in there. There was an exhibit that was a guy who changed his name twelve times in a year, changing his persona and style each time, until his twelfth name, which is what he still goes by thirty years later with a style he still produces works of art with.
We walked back to our hotel from the museum on the same street we'd walked back on the night before. I got a picture of a Lutheran Church the night before, and it looked so different in the daylight. The street where the galleries were also looked less friendly.

After spending a while in our room (I was doing some homework, Mom read the paper), we decided to explore the French Quarter. We took the wrong street the first time, Dumaine, but walking back to the hotel, we found the street to see. Royal. It's chock full of galleries, restaraunts, and cute shops. Right off of Royal, on Toulouse, was a used cookbook and music store called Kitchen Witch. I was so glad that when I saw the sign that said "Cook books" I turned back around and headed towards it with Mom. We spent probably half an hour in it, and the owners were so friendly, as were Bob, the official greeter who happened to bea cat that reminded me of Jack, Sophie, a large black dog, and another dog whose name I don't remember.
I ended up buying a new book that's pretty recent called "Ruby Slippers" a cookbook with stories about Katrina that was put together by a twenty-nine year old woman. So far it is interesting to read.

We also saw a portion of Bourbon Street that was residential. Not quite the Bourbon Street thought of, but more pleasant.

Now that I've discovered Royal Street though, the French Quarter doesn't seem like such a bad place.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Brownie Points

When I was little there was the brownie, and then there were all those other things that I wasn't quite sure what they were. Until I was nine or ten, those other things got my attention because they were devoid of nuts. Though I liked nuts, sometimes. Like in white chocolate macadamia cookies; I thought macadamia was the fancy name for white chocolate chunks. They were my favorite cookies. And I liked walnuts in my chocolate chip cookies too. Just like the brownies.

Then, the brownies started being in different varieties. There were the "original" ones - a fudgy brownie loaded with walnuts, raspberry brownies, and orange brownies. The orange ones then became my favorite, cool out of the freezer with their orange zestiness and smooth nutless texture. One brownie would last me a week.

Then, suddenly, the brownies stopped coming. I was shipped down to Arkansas with a box of brownies ("don't bring me any of those weird ones. I don't like them") for my grandmother's freezer, and never saw any again.

Every year when I go down to visit, Granma's friend asks me when I'm going to give her the recipe and Granma wants to know if they'll ever be made again. Dad told me the recipe once (I stopped listening when he got to 48 eggs), and the enormity of it overwhelmed and discouraged me. He told me it was straight from The Professional Chef. I looked through the book and never found it, and then, this past January, I found it. In the Professional Pastry Chef, that is. I e-mailed it to myself from his desk and then never did anything about it. Sixteen by twelve inches sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is.

So yesterday I decided I was finally going to tackle these little bad boys. And yes, they are bad. In the best possible way. I bought enough stuff to make a half-portion of the recipe, and then realizing I had no adequate pans, changed my mind and bought the rest of the ingredients I needed to make a whole recipe (which is actually 1/6 of the recipe my dad recited that had scaredme so much) and then didn't do anything about it. Until dinner time. We were all ravenous by the time we sat down to eat because I just had to get those brownies in the oven.

The sheer enormity of it all though meant dad had to do most of the heavy lifting. And stirring. And pouring. I'm glad we have an outrageously large metal mixing bowl, which we thought at first was too large. It was just right.

And the brownies. Well, they weren't quite as I remembered them, but they probably are. Partially because I was too impatient to let them cool (well, it is past my bedtime) and because some of the walnuts on top burned. Maybe for once nostalgia doesn't really make things taste better.

I can't wait until I see Granma's face on Christmas now.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Winter Squash On The Last Day Of Summer

Last weekend I realized that the farmer's market was through October. For some reason I had thought that it was only June-August, despite that making very little sense. But I saw an ad for it on the local public access channel, jumped online, and it was true.

So I had to wander over, thrilled. And there was squash. Hard winter squash. In the summer. I'm okay with that, because last year, I realized I actually liked squash, but then it was bye-bye to the season before I had a chance to have fun!

I played it safe yesterday, despite having my eye on quite a few stuffed gems, I chose one out of a magazine with a picture that caught my eye when it came in the mail. I wasn't sure about it (turkey sausage, swiss cheese, and hot sauce?), but two of those reservations were personal taste, and one is just a bit ridiculous. Usually I replace swiss cheese, but I didn't, and my Dad was glad I didn't. I just put less on mine (which is the amount in the photograph.)

I can't wait until next weekend, since now I realize squash isn't too hard for me to handle, to buy more. I'll make baked macaroni one night, maybe another stuffing, or a "risotto" based on one I saw on a menu last week that called out to me.

Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash

adapted from Eating Well October 2007
serves 6

3 acorn squash (3/4-1 lb each)
1 teaspoon oil
5 ounces bulk turkey sausage, thawed if frozen
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
Cut each squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and do whatever you want to with the seeds. Place the squash cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Swirl oil in skillet and heat over medium heat. Add turkey sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir n garlic, chili powder, and cumin; cook for 30 seconds. Stir n tomatoes, beans, and salt, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, 10 t0 12 minutes.

When squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325ºF. Fill the squash halves with the turkey mixture. Top with Swiss cheese. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Revisiting The Muffin Man

I'm a bit rusty. I know that sounds odd, but I'm rusty at making muffins. I used to be able to have apple-oat muffins down and be in-and-out with the dishes clean in under an hour. Today it took almost an hour just to get the muffins into the oven. Well, I was also taking pictures (though just quick snips) and being careful with my measurements (metric weights, here I come!) to save time in the future, and I was remembering. I remembered why I love muffins. There's something friendly and forgiving about muffins. They're supposed to be lumpy and bumpy, and a little mistake is easy to cover. If they rise funny, well, its a muffin. I guess it isn't like a cupcake where a mistake can be covered in frosting, but if you bite into a cupcake and it isn't fluffy and uniform, things are a bit wacky. I'm very much pro-muffin and hesitant towards cupcakes, but I guess it is because we do call them muffin pans. And they make a much more satisfying breakfast.

My favorite muffins are apple-oat muffins, and at the farmer's market on Saturday (I thought I had ended, I was so thrilled when I saw an ad on public access!) and saw bins of gorgeous apples, I knew I just had to make some. Most people are dreaming of apple pie right now, but I dream of muffins. Okay, and I'm scared of pie crust. I like mixing things and being done- no rolling pins required. I asked the guy-who-knows-all which apples I should try, and picked up a few. I don't remember their names. I only ended up using one and a half of the apples, the first one was so large, but it was deliciously sweet and crisp. The second one was green and had a familiar, but somewhat deterring, flavor that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I finally recognized it. It tasted kind of like the artificial green apple flavor candies are flavored with. But the apples mixed together and in the muffin made for a tasty muffin.

I'm not sure if it was the extra care put into these, the fresh local apples. or the fact that I bit into one right out of the oven, or the months without then; they seemed yummier, and a bit sweeter, than ever today.

As for trying them with a dab of peanut butter in the middle- I think I'll save it for being slathered on top if I fancy it at the moment.

Updated Apple-Oat Muffins

makes 12

2 1/2 cups (310 g) finely diced apples (about 2 to 3 medium apples, I like it with a mix of sweet/tart apples)
1 cup (130 g) whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup (65g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (95 g) rolled (old-fashioned) oats
2/3 cup (140 g)firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (227 g) plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Place apples on paper towels to drain, pat dry.

Combine flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in medium bowl. Whisk together. If small lumps of sugar remain, that's fine. It makes it even better.

In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, milk, oil, vanilla extract, and egg until smooth.
Make a well in center of flour mixture, stir in milk mixture just until moist. Mix in apple.
Using a #12 scoop, scoop mixture into prepared muffin cups.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until muffins spring back lightly when touched. Remove from pan to cool.