Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Almost


As I prepare to write my letter to leave Santa, I feel like there's something else I should write down.
And that would be the recipe for the new cookie I tried this week: pistachio meringues!

I wasn't planning on making meringues, but this morning, I suddenly realized it was Christmas Eve and I still hadn't finished my cookie tins to deliver to the neighbors. I never bought pistachios or dried cranberries to make Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies. The tassies and grasshopper squares looked lonely by themselves, and even though I made ginger crackles last week, they look out of place with the other cookies.

I looked up and noticed I had Delicious Living open to a hazelnut meringue recipe. Well, I didn't have any hazelnuts around, but I did have some ground up pistachios from when I made Pistachio White Chocolate Cookies. And meringues aren't that hard to make... my mind was set. As the last batch of tassies was cooling, I set out on these cookies, and awed my grandmother, though they were a little too sweet for her tastes.

Pistachio Meringues
based on this recipe
Makes about 30 small meringues

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup ground pistachios

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and preheat oven to 275ºF.

Bring water to a simmer in a pot that a metal bowl will fit over. Whisk together egg whites in sugar in bowl over the simmering water until the sugar is dissolved, about three minutes. Remove from heat. With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar, with cream of tartar, until still glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes.

With a spatula fold in vanilla extract and pistachios. Spoon onto prepared baking sheet, or transfer to pastry bag fitted with plain round tip and form 1" circles on baking mat. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until meringues are firm and dry to the touch and almost entirely dry on inside. Let cool on sheets for five minutes, then remove and let cool completely.

Monday, December 21, 2009

First Homemade Meal...

A sandwich. And by me. Wait, that's a lie. My dad made tasty eggs for breakfast Sunday morning. So this is the second home cooked meal since I've been home. And I'm the one who made it...
I need to learn my way around the kitchen again. This was a lot harder than it should have been.

I showed up at the grocery store after Christmas shopping with no idea what I wanted to make. It hadn't been a particularly eventful day. I ran an errand for my dad, then for my mom, ended up at the mall alone, people watched, bought a few presents, got stuck in traffic, failed to merge at the right time and passed up Target, sang my lungs out to extremely summery songs with the windows rolled up, and talked on the phone.
It's amazing I'm still alive. And made it to the grocery store. And walked around the grocery store. And put things in my basket; took things out of my basket. Changed my mind. Stared at the seafood case. Grabbed some tortillas. Picked up chocolate chips. Put back the tortillas. Paced back and forth.
Eventually, I ended up in the checkout line. With a baguette, a bunch of kale, portabella mushrooms, a jar of red peppers, celery, and a bag of chocolate chips. The chocolate chips were unrelated to the rest of the stuff. And the celery was to go with the spinach dip in the fridge.

Bet you didn't think that those ingredients were going to turn themselves into a sandwich. Except they didn't. I softened the cream cheese, put it into the food processor, and then spent ten minutes unsuccessfully trying to get the jar of roasted red peppers open. I tried hot water, towels, t-shirts, paper towels, phone calls. Nothing worked. So much for the roasted red pepper spread.

But you know what, it was okay without. My mom was hesitant sitting down to eat, looking at her sandwich and soup (courtesy of the fridge and available at Jewel), but was pleasantly surprised. I guess kale, cream cheese, and portabellas do make a tasty sandwich.

recipe coming soon.
I don't remember what I did.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

National Cupcake Day


So apparently yesterday was National Cupcake Day. There's a crazy list of food holidays here. I'm not quite sure what it means, but who doesn't want an excuse to bake cupcakes?

The semester is winding down to a close. Well, not winding. It's more in your face than that, with exams and all, but it's different. In a few short hours, I will have finished my first semester of college, and most likely be freaking out at the state of my dorm room and inability to fit everything in my suitcase. I need my baking stuff! And clothes and my cameras and shoes and...
I need to learn to live more simply.

My roommate had some ripe bananas, so I took her bananas, the butter from the fridge (still working on it from the last post), went to the grocery store and picked up some sour cream and eggs, and got to work. A couple hours later, there was less food in the fridge than before, and 15 frosted cupcakes that quickly disappeared. I didn't even get a chance to get a picture of them all!

cream cheese frosting

I ended up making a second batch, that was frosted significantly less liberally, even though I was considering making peanut butter frosting. Except I'm not sure I've ever had frosting that trumps this cream cheese frosting. It wasn't too sweet or too thick. It was just right. And of course, I didn't measure the sugar. It was a little lumpy, but that's what happens to powdered sugar when it sits on a shelf all semester.

Neil had 4 cupcakes, without frosting. I think that's a testament to the cupcakes themselves, frosted or not.

banana cupcakes w/ cream cheese frosting
Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from a chocolate banana cupcake on a blog, but I scribbled it on a notecard and can't find the site now
makes 17 (or maybe 18?)

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup mashed banana (about 2-3 bananas)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Prepare 18 muffin cups. In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until fluffy and smooth. Beat in egg, followed by banana and sour cream, and then the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture

Spoon a scant 1/4 cup batter into each muffin cup. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Remove from pans to cool completely on wire racks. Then frost as desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting
can frost just 17, or a few more

8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powder sugar, or to taste

Beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Beat in salt and vanilla extract. Slowly add powdered sugar and beat to incorporate.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Butterful Blondies


When I got back from class there was a checklist taped to all the doors along the hallway. It was a checklist for winter break, and what we had to do in our room before we left. I read the fourth line: "unplug everything." Which makes sense, because of standby power, and it's why my power strip has a switch on it, except, there's a tiny problem. And that is that our fridge and freezer are not empty. While my roommate's stuff is complete meals, I had seven sticks of butter, a package of cream cheese, melted chocolate, peanut butter, and a frozen overripe banana. In other words, the cast for a baking extravaganza. And less than two weeks to do it in. And I make things very slowly.

So I decided last night was as good a time as any to start. I was going to go to my roommate's dance theater performance, but I'm going tonight instead, and it's not like I'm getting any studying for that Psych exam anyway... Might as well procrastinate in a useful manner. And use up three-quarters of a pound of butter while I'm at it. (I got some eggs with my meal points... they cost more than my dinner.) My parents sounded a bit disappointed when I called them in response to a text of "What's up?" and told them I was alone and washing dishes. But it was all worth it!

These blondies are rich, delicious, and chewy. They have the approval of everyone who has tried them... though my roommate had to cut them herself, because I was too busy playing DDR.

Now I just need to use up that remaining pound of butter and half pound of cream cheese.

Classic Blondies
from Bruce Weinstein's The Ultimate Brownie Book p.118
Note: the recipe called for 2 Tablespoons of vanilla extract. I can't read, and with the chocolate chips, it's okay. If you choose to omit the chocolate chips, it would make for a very rich tasty blondie.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (3/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Position rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9X13 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, wisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer (stand mixer works better here, my hand mixer started to groan) at medium speed; continue beating until pale brown and thick, about 7 minutes, Add eggs one at a time, mixing well before each addition. Scrape down sides of bowls as necessary. Beat in fourth egg for about a minute; beat in vanilla.

With a spatula, stir in the chocolate chips, and then the flour. (If you do it the other way, nothing bad will happen, it just won't be as tender.) Do not beat up the batter, it will be very thick though, like cookie dough. Spoon into prepared pan, and gently spread to corners

Bake for 45 minutes, or until top is light brown and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Set the pan on a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes, otherwise you'll end up with a mess on your hands.

Cut brownies into desired number of pieces while still in the pan. Carefully remove. Serve, or let cool completely before covering. Eat within 3 days, or freeze them for a couple months.