Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week 4 - Frosting/Filling - Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Avocado Frosting

I have always made my own frosting. I can't stand the stuff in the can.  But, I have a pretty standard recipe and I don't mess with it very often.  For this week's challenge I'd had designs on doing eclairs or something else fancy, but we have guests in town and it's been a busy week so I chose to go a bit more low key, but new.  I present: Chocolate avocado cupcakes with avocado frosting. 

The avocado in the chocolate cake part is mixed in with the liquid ingredients.

The batter was far thicker than I am accustomed to with cake batter, but I also forgot that I replaced the vanilla extract with scraping out a vanilla bean.  Even so, I don't think the 1 tsp. of vanilla would have changed the consistency that much. 

The recipe called for the muffin tins to be filled most of the way up rather than the normal half full.

I wish I'd filled them up even a bit more, so they would pop up over the cupcake tin, but they cooked up just right and I couldn't wait for them to cool so that I could make the frosting and taste these suckers!

Making the frosting was pretty easy - just mashing the avocado really well (I used a combo of a handheld mixer and then smashing with a spatula against the side of the bowl),  then mixing with vanilla and powdered sugar. The avocado essentially replaces the butter.  In addition to making a new frosting I've never tried, I also busted out my piping bag and got some practice with that.  I am not great at it, but it was pretty and I like how they turned out aesthetically. 

My wonderful in-laws and my wonderful husband were my guinea pigs and humored me by trying my creation.  The verdict was that the cupcake combo was good - not amazing, but good. We all agreed that doing either the chocolate avocado cake or the avocado frosting would be enough - this combo was a bit of overkill.  In the future I'd pair the chocolate avocado cake with a lemon frosting, or a simple buttercream, or perhaps even a whipped cream frosting.  The avocado frosting could be paired with a nice lemon or white cake.  

 It was fun to try out something new.  And it was in no way a bust - there was nary a crumb left, so it was certainly not disgusting. :)

Grilled Pizza

This wasn't one of our challenges, but A's parents are in town from Alaska and we wanted to make them a fun dinner last night.  We've done this once in the past, but we got more ambitious this time making three medium-ish pizzas all with different toppings and sauces.

The trick is to have all your ingredients ready to go on the pizzas since you build them on the grill.  On a well oiled grill, you lay down your pizza dough and cook one side fro just a few minutes.  Once it's got nice brown grill marks, you flip it and quickly build your pizza; sauce, veggies, meats, cheese, then close the lid hope to heck the cheese melts. You have to keep your eye on the dough while the toppings are getting cooked and when the bottom is about to get too brown for your liking, take it off the grill and brown the top in the oven (if you want). 

The top (un-cut pizza) was a red sauce pizza with fresh tomatoes, spinach, garlic, pepperoni, jalapenos and basil under way too much cheese (I got ambitious. This is the one we had to finish in the oven).  The bottom left pizza had mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, grilled eggplant, and garlic over a red sauce. The bottom right pizza had a white sauce with artichoke hearts, red onion, spinach, mushrooms, and garlic.  

All three were delicious and this is quite a simple way to do pizza.  Not the simplest, but really tasty and fun and the prep is worth it. In the bottom right pizza you can see a bit of our grilled eggplant.  We also made grilled brussel sprouts. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Week 4 - Pan Frying - Double Potato Pancakes

I've been dying to make potato latkes since Hanukkah and either haven't had time, or haven't been in the mood when I did have the time. So, this pan frying challenge was the perfect opportunity. 

I had sweet potatoes and new potatoes that needed to be used so I did mix of both. I added shredded onion, chives, salt and pepper, egg, and a little flour.

I'd been told by a friend that the trick to making sure they stick together is not to flip them too soon, so I heated up my awesome cast iron skillet (which I recently, painstakingly seasoned) then put on my patience hat.

Some held together better than others, but for the most part, they cooked up nicely and I piled them in the oven to say warm.

This little mesh pan lid is fabulous for pan frying. It prevents any burns or stains from the popping oil, but you can see your food so you don't overcook anything. It was left/given to us by the previous tenets (friends of ours) and I use it all the time. 

I always struggle with keeping the latkes crispy between the pan and the eating. I haven't mastered that yet, so suggestions are welcome! Below I've piled them up and they are ready to eat!

We topped them with applesauce and sour cream and went to town. They were sooo delicious! The mix of sweet potato and red potato made the latkes a bit sweeter than I am accustomed to, but it was a nice balance with the chives and sour cream .

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Creamy potato soup

I love snow.  I love the kind of snow we get here in Bellingham - a few inches and a few days of mild inconvenience followed by 50 degree weather and all the snow melts. Perfect! I feel like I get my dose of cold and pretty snow, but without spending months on end tromping through slush and ice. Here is our house on the first day as the snow came down.

This week's challenge was soup, which seemed perfect for the weather.  That being said, along with the snow came a certain amount of laziness; that and we had lots of left overs so cooking wasn't necessary for most of our meals this week. I have a huge bag of potatoes that need to be used to potato soup seemed like a no brainer.  
All too often I feel like potato soup is bland so I searched for a recipe that had some serious spice.  I came across a recipe that turned out to be absolutely delicious!  In order to combat the sometimes meh potato soup, this one had Worcestershire, mustard powder, allspice, celery seed, thyme, seasoning salt, white wine, cayenne, and boullion powder. Here is the recipe I (mostly) followed

A dollop of sour cream and chives on top, and Andrew and I were in heaven.

The Giants/49ers game was on and about to head in to overtime so we had our feast in the living room. 

We complimented the soup with a ciabatta roll and ceasar salad.  Overall, a huge win. I can't wait to eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Orange almond biscotti dipped (and drizzled!) in white chocolate

I struggled with what to make for this week's baking challenge.  I am not a huge fan of white chocolate (it isn't real chocolate after all) but I was determined to make something that I'd actually like to eat.  I called out to my facebook folk to get recommendations and got some really great ideas.  Next, it boiled down to time and ease.  As many of you know, we got hit by a decent amount of snow this week so I made no trips to the store to even buy the dang white chocolate.  Long story short, biscotti it was!

I've never made biscotti before and it was quite easy! Simple ingredients, only a few steps to get it mixed, then bake in two loaves! The recipe I used called for lemon and anise, but I used orange rind and very finely chopped almonds.  I was trying to just use what we had and I don't just have anise seed hanging around. 

You take them out of the oven, slice them up then bake them again. I let them cool completely and then busted out my makeshift double boiler to melt the white chocolate. 

 I used Baker's white chocolate which has actual cocoa butter - from the research I did, cocoa butter is what makes any white chocolate decent. 

I dipped the base of each biscotti in the melted white chocolate, then drizzled the rest. Andrew and I tried to bite into these bad boys and whoo-wheee they were HARD.  Virtually inedible by themselves. Sad face. 

No problem-o.  I threw the kettle on and whipped up a tasty hot toddy for dippin'.  When dipped in the warm liquid-y deliciousness, these biscotti are pretty good.  White chocolate is still not my favorite.  While the almond was nice, there was not enough orange taste.  I think I'd double, if not triple, the amount of orange zest in the future. 

I'm sure the coworkers will love these tomorrow!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Week 2 - Mini: Tiny Banana Cream Pies

This week's baking challenge was miniature. Andrew and I tossed around several ideas but while browsing in a kitchen store I happened upon a set of two tiny pie pans.  My brain instantly said banana cream pies!!!

The custard making process was actually quite easy.  I was surprised as I've never made one before and assumed it was difficult.  Although it was not hard, the whole process was a bit lengthy.  There is a lot of making one part, then letting it chill for an hour, then making another bit and waiting for 30 minutes, then making another thing and waiting an hour again.  

The short story goes like this: 1) The pie crusts get made, then baked. 2) The vanilla custard gets made and put into the baked pie shells to half full.  3) Sliced bananas are layered. 4) More custard is put on top to fill the pie.

After chilling for several hours (we waited over night since the custard got done so late at night and it needed to sit for at least 3 hrs) I made whipped cream and gave each pie a layer on top. 

It is a little hard to see the layers here, but it was so rich and delicious. I was worried that it wouldn't be banana-y enough because the recipe I used didn't have any banana flavoring in the custard, but the banana flavor was perfect and I am very excited to use recipe again in the future.  While the tiny pies were cute and fun, I think a large pie would be a better pie-to-crust ratio (these were a little crust intense for my taste).

Week 2 Sriracha Fried Rice

So, when planning last nights Orange Chicken we intended to pair it with a fried rice.  We did all the shopping  for our orange chicken and thought "There is no reason to buy rice, we have a 10lb bag of it at home!" We got home and I spent the next 30 minutes searching our house in a huff.  The rice is nowhere to be found.  Nowhere. Grrr.  I was baffled - and still am.

When out on the town today, we picked up a small bag of jasmine rice (I will find that 10lb bag) and when we got home I got out the rice maker to get rolling.  Without paying close attention, I washed the rice and poured it into the rice maker, then started measuring and adding water. A small pool of water appeared underneath the rice maker and I thought "huh".  It wasn't till Andrew said to me "Oh god. Unplug it!!" that I realized what was happening.  I forgot to put the bowl into the ricer maker and had poured the rice and, more tragically, the water directly into the electrical hot plate which has a hole into the inner workings. 

Well, shit. Andrew handed me towels to sop up the water and after a few beats said, "Let me know when it is ok to laugh." Such a good husband. 

He spent the next 30 minutes taking the whole thing apart and getting all the rice and water out of the insulation, the levers, the wires, the crevices, etc. A little red wine, a pair of pliers, a screw driver and a project and Andrew is pretty much in heaven. He managed to get it all fixed and we were back up and running in just under an hour.   (I managed to also drop an egg on the floor and defrost frozen turkey incorrectly... I was in fine form tonight.)

On to the tonight's dish: I made Sriracha fried rice! Some peas and carrots, fish sauce and soy sauce, an egg and some chilled rice = DELICIOUS.  Somehow, I had never made fried rice before, but it turned out well and I plan on making this easy dish a more regular item in our house. 

I cannot wait to eat the leftovers.  

Week 2 - Chinese - Sweet, Sour & Spicy Orange Chicken with Cashews and Broccoli

Andrew was the mastermind and expert chef this week for our second challenge. He scoured cookbooks and we talked about what to make for days.  He was off at a work retreat for a few days so the cooking had to wait and when he returned and we tackled both challenges in one night.  

The process was elaborate and Andrew remarked more than once how ridiculous this recipe was for needing 12 different bowls ready to give and receive a variety of parts of the ingredients.  Bowls for sauces, bowls for cooked things to be added to the mix again later, bowls for everything; basically, lots and lots of prep and it truly required finesse (which A has is spades).  Andrew is a seasoned chef having cooked in all sorts of environments, from fine dining to burger flipping, so there was no question he could pull off this complicated dish.
As you can see above, while cooking Andrew had a beer in his (or my?) favorite coozy!

Here is the finished dish.  It was certainly sweet and sour but we decided that perhaps next time to cut some of the vinegar as we both were a bit puckered due to the sour.  Next time we would also add more red pepper.  We like spicy food and the amount required by the recipe was not nearly enough for our tastes. 

The chicken was juicy, the broccoli cooked perfectly, and the cashews really made the dish complete. 

As you can see, it was disgusting and we could barely choke it down :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cream cheese brownies

My wonderful sister recommended I try the Cooks Illustrated cream cheese brownies for this week's baking challenge.  The recipe, in classic CI fashion, is a bit complex but it wasn't the most painful I've ever tried to follow. Below is the double boiler where I melted bakers chocolate and 90% cacao dark chocolate with just a tiny bit of milk chocolate (a deviation from the CI recipe due to what I had in the cupboard).

After mixing up the brownie base, I put half into the 13x9 pan and then dolloped the cream cheese mixture around before layering the rest of the brownie mix on top; then another bunch of dollops of the cream cheese mixture to top it off.   

I think I swirled a bit too much on top, but the parchment paper lining made it so easy to take out of the pan after baking (which never happens with brownies!). 

I know I'm supposed to wait and let it cool and everything, but I just couldn't.  

The consistency of these brownies is so perfect.  Nice and moist, sorta thick and dense, but also crumby and .. oh man.  Just perfect. Everyone at my work (and Andrew's) is going to be so happy tomorrow. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Look at these pretty eggs from our hens!

Nothin' like fresh eggs for making a delicious spaghetti (ok, we used linguini) alla carbonara. Cutting the Cooks Illustrated recipe in half was hard given the need for 3 eggs for a full recipe, but with only two mouths to feed, it was necessary to improvise. 

It is a time sensitive dish because the egg & cheese sauce needs to be applied to the pasta very quickly after being drained and then it should also be eaten right away.  So, the pressure was on, but man did it work out.  Having awesome thick cut Hempler's bacon (best bacon I've ever had) gave a nice crunch and saltiness to the pasta and mixing pecorino romano with the parmesan makes the egg sauce really smooth.

I learned a nice pan frying/steaming method for the brussel sprouts that Anderw and I have been using regularly and they turned our perfectly this night. Brussel sprouts go nicely with the bacon flavor from the pasta and cut the richness of the main dish wonderfully.