Category Archives: kitchen adventures

Cinco de Mayo Takes the Cake

If you’re wondering what the above photo is all about, it’s the leftovers from a Kahlúa Bundt cake I made yesterday for a company potluck in honor of Cinco de Mayo. (I suppose it was technically Quatro de Mayo, but oh well.) As you can see, I clearly forgot to take a picture of the cake in all its glory before everyone tore into it, but I managed to salvage a small slice and some additional crumbs for Dr. J, who didn’t get to sample it before I brought it into the office. I hate to brag, but it was the bomb, and I’m pretty sure everyone wasn’t just saying it was delicious just so my feelings wouldn’t get hurt. So, as you can see, the picture above may not be the prettiest, but it’s proof that this cake can be easily decimated in no time flat. It’s moist, richly flavored with one of Mexico’s finest spirits, and had the perfect glaze that tied everything together.

It’s really nothing fancy–just boxed yellow cake mix, pudding and booze–but it’s definitely one of my favorite cakes to make, since it’s an easy-breezy party showstopper. Plus, people seem to get excited about the idea of alcohol in cakes. (Ooh, it’s so naughty, yet so socially acceptable!)

Here’s the recipe, which may also be called a Black Russian cake if you’re celebrating a Russian holiday. (Defender of the Fatherland Day, anyone?) Feel free to make it as boozy as you wish.

Boozy Cinco de Mayo Kahlúa Cake

1 18-oz. box yellow cake mix with pudding inside (I like Betty Crocker Super Moist)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding powder
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 c.  Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Glaze:
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. vodka
2 tbsp.  Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Directions:

1) Heat oven to 350 °F.

2) Use the paper wrapper from the stick of butter for the glaze to grease a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle the pan with a little flour to make it easier to pop the cake out of the pan once it’s done.

3) In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, oil, water, vodka and  Kahlúa, and beat everything for 10 minutes by hand or five minutes with an electric mixer.

4) Pour the mix into the Bundt pan, and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

5) While the cake is baking, make the glaze, Combine the sugar, butter and water in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove the glaze from heat and cool it slightly before mixing in the vodka and Kahlúa.

5) Once the cake is finished baking, cool it in the pan for 5 minutes, invert on wire rack to cool, then poke holes in it using a chopstick. Pour the glaze slowly over the cake, making sure every bit of it is saturated.

6) Just before serving, sift a bit of confectioner’s sugar over the cake to make it pretty.

This cake would also be perfect for a Big Lebowski party. Just give the glaze a White Russian-inspired twist, substituting the 1/4 c. water with 1/4 c. whole milk.

¡Buen apetito!

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Kitchen Adventures: Guava-rama

As much as I’d like to think of myself as something of a food savant, I’ll often come across random things in the grocery aisles and wonder, “What the eff do I do with this?”

Such was the case recently with a round can of guava paste. I picked it up at a local supermarket with an excellent Latin American food section, intending to use a bit of it in a baking experiment, but wasn’t quite clear on what to do with the rest. I mean, there’s a crapload of it stuffed in there. It sort of looks like that gelatinous cranberry jelly that pops out of a can, only darker, thicker and tastier.

Well, it turns out you can use guava paste in a crapload of ways, too–in Cuban empanadas with some cream cheese, in turnovers, in muffins, even in meat sauces. Pretty much anything goes when using the stuff, including these:

Ta-da! Guava macarons, straight up.

I’ll post a recipe shortly for these guava macarons. In the meantime, here’s a fresh and simple way to munch your way through a whole can of guayaba paste: Stick cubes of paste and a white cheese (the stronger-tasting, the better) with a toothpick, add some bread, and have yourself a little feast. Muy bueno!

 

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Hip to Be Square

Snap, crackle, pop

On the rare occasion that I do go to a coffee shop for some joe, I’m often tempted to pick up a crispy rice square to go along with it, but two things usually deter me. 1) The fact that shops usually charge as much as $2 per square, which seems way overpriced for something you could make at home for a fraction of that, and 2) the fact that they usually don’t taste very good after sitting in a pastry case for, hell, I don’t know, a half day?

This morning, I was jonesing for some crispy rice squares to go with my morning coffee. I thought about attempting fellow blogger Foodie on the 49th’s insanely delicious-looking bacon, peanut butter and chocolate Rice Krispy treats, but I didn’t have any bacon or chocolate on hand. So, I turned to my trusty copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery, for inspiration, and found a recipe for Brown-Butter Crispy Rice treats. Brown butter? Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Yes, please!

Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is that extraordinary ingredient that lends a certain je ne sais quoi to pastries and sauces. Rich and aromatic, this butter is definitely one to add to your cooking repertoire. I first discovered the wonder that is brown butter in this Epicurious recipe for Spoon Cookies, which are basically shortbread cookies, and was immediately smitten. It’s like magic–one moment, you have an ordinary stick of unsalted butter, and the next, you’ve struck culinary gold.

As the pan heats up over low heat, the butter separates and the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and turn a lovely hazelnut color. And the smell! Oh, the smell is to die for. It’s what I would imagine inhaling nutty toffee cocaine would be like, and I think it must put my pituitary gland’s endorphin production into overdrive because I am always in the BEST mood after making a batch of beurre noisette.

Anyway, I digress. On to the good stuff. I’ve adapted this recipe from the Flour recipe book, since I wanted to try a little something extra to go along with it. And yes, I could have just called them “Brown Butter Crispy Rice Squares,” but Frenchifying phrases seems to make everything sound/taste better.

Beurre Noisette Crispy Rice Squares

1 stick unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 16-ounce bag of large marshmallows
9 cups crispy rice cereal

1) Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over low heat.

3) Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod** and mix in with the butter.

4) Keep a close eye on the butter. At first, the butter will foam up, and then the foam will disappear. A thicker layer of foam will come up and blanket the surface just as the butter solids start turning brown. You’ll smell a nutty, toffee-ish fragrance, which should signal that the butter is changing. This process takes about 6-8 minutes, depending on your stovetop burner.

5) Once the butter has browned, turn off the heat and take the pot off the burner. Immediately add the vanilla powder, kosher salt and marshmallows, and stir constantly until the marshmallows melt and you’re left with a smooth mixture flecked evenly with vanilla seeds.

6) Add the crispy rice cereal to the mix, and stir until everything is well blended.

7) Dump the contents of the pot into the prepared baking pan, and press the mixture into the pan.

8) Let cool for about an hour, cut into squares and go to town with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

**Don’t throw away the vanilla pod! Those things are expensive. Try sticking it in an airtight glass jar and cover it with granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar, which lends a lovely flavor to other baked goods. After all, want not, waste not, right?

Stay hungry, my friends.

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Easy Like Sunday Morning

Rise and shine!

Sunday morning breakfast has become something of a ritual ever since Dr. J and I got together. I usually whip up something easy, like pancakes and bacon or eggs, bacon and hash browns, and he makes the coffee, sets the table and grabs the morning paper. (Yes, we still get a physical newspaper, and no, we’re not 80-year-olds.) I also like to put on some music, perhaps a little Django Reinhardt (okay, fine, maybe we are kind of like 80-year-olds).

Over the years, I’ve tinkered with several pancake recipes, like banana caramel, lemon ricotta and chocolate chip, and sometimes mixed it up with Belgian waffles, challah French toast and Danish ebelskiver.

But I’ve finally settled on a recipe that I know will be my go-to in the kitchen, mainly because it doesn’t require running out and getting extra ingredients–you should have everything on hand already. Besides, grocery shopping in your PJs? Not cute.

Lazy Sunday Pancakes
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

3/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 c. fresh blueberries or other fresh fruit (optional)
1 tbsp. canola oil for pan
Silicone pastry brush

  1. Combine the milk and vinegar in a small bowl and let it sit and curdle for five minutes.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk egg and butter into soured milk.
  4. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  5. Gently fold in blueberries or other fruit if you like.
  6. Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat, and brush lightly with oil.
  7. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Using a spatula, flip and brown on the other side. Makes enough for two very hungry people or four semi-hungry folks.
A couple of tips: I like to keep the pancakes warm in the oven on a cookie sheet while I go through the whole cooking process. Also, if you have any left over (unlikely), just stash them in the fridge and pop them in the toaster tomorrow morning.

Here’s a little Django to go along with breakfast and ease you into the day. Happy Sunday!

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Kitchen Adventures: Brilliant Brioche

Happiness is a warm loaf of bread.

There is a reason why I will never lose weight in time for bikini season this year–it’s brioche. It’s buttery, light, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and I just can’t get enough. Now that I know how to make it successfully, well, I can just kiss goodbye any chance of  shrinking my muffin top for good.

Over the holiday weekend, I finally carved out some time–and you do need plenty of time for this project–to make brioche from my favorite pastry book, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe. I’ve made several waistline-busting batches of goodies from this book already, including Double Apple Pie, and all of them turned out swimmingly, so I expected no less from Joanne Chang’s brioche recipe.

As far as pastries go, brioche is sort of an odd duck in that it’s pastry-like bread. Or bread-like pastry, whichever you prefer. Apparently, the first recorded use of the word brioche was in 1404 (whoa!) but the origin of the word itself isn’t quite clear.

According to FoodTimeline.org, there are several theories, but my favorite is the one from Larousse Gastronomique, which says that brioche gets its name from Brie, since brioche was originally made with the famous cheese.  I like this idea best because my favorite Filipino pastry, ensaymada, is pretty much like brioche, except it’s topped with a thick, creamy, sugary frosting and shredded cheese. Fodder for a future kitchen adventure, perhaps?

The Philippines' answer to brioche. Via Recipes.Wikia.com

Another fun fact about brioche is that it’s tied to the infamous quote that’s often attributed to Marie-Antoinette. You know the one:  “Let them eat cake!” In French, it translates to “”Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” a quote that the French queen reportedly said after hearing about famines in the French countryside in pre-Revolutionary France. It’s long since been a phrase associated with callous insensitivity to the plight of the working class, but the sad part is, Marie Antoinette apparently didn’t say it.

Marie Antoinette lost her head for brioche in a bad way. (via Biography.com)

The quote actually appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book Confessions, which came out when Marie Antoinette was only nine years old, and there’s no record that she said it herself during her reign. Of course, 18th-century folks didn’t have the Googles back then, so that fact didn’t help when the angry bourgeoisie stormed the castle and sent her to the guillotine (ouch). The misattribution still persists to this day though, even with the interwebs. C’est la vie, I suppose.

Anyway. I digress. The brioche-making experience was pretty fun. The process involves mixing the dough, letting it proof in the fridge overnight, dividing the batch in half, shaping each section into rectangles, folding them up and placing them in two loaf pans. After the dough has had enough time to rise, you brush the tops with an egg wash, pop them in the oven, and 35 minutes later, you’ve got yourself two loaves of heaven. Also, the buttery air in your house will smell so good, you’ll want to eat it.

I immediately sliced off several pieces, slathered on my mother-in-law’s amazing homemade raspberry preserves (made with fruit from her own raspberry patch in Minnesota!), made myself a cup of vanilla rooibos, and I was a happy girl. Guess who’s going to be eating brioche every morning this week?

Screw it. If I gain a little more of a belly because of this amazing treat, so be it. Anyway, French women don’t get fat, right? Does the same go for women who eat French food? One can only hope.

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Kitchen Adventures: Keen on Quinoa

The grain with the funny name

On my newly-vegan colleague/friend Mr. Smith’s recommendation, I picked up a box of quinoa at Trader Joe’s last weekend, just to see what the fuss is all about. Everyone keeps telling me how awesome this stuff is–not only in terms of taste, but also in terms of health benefits, and after actually trying it and reading up on it, I can confidently say that quinoa is going to be a mainstay on my pantry shelf.

Let’s just get one thing out of the way first. “Quinoa” can be pronunced KEEN-wah, or kee-NO-ah, depending on who you talk to, and its name borrows from the Spanish spelling of the Quechua word kinwa. Apparently, the Incas were the first to revere quinoa as a supergrain, but the Spanish all but banned its cultivation, essentially calling it a heathen food.In fact, growing it was punishable by death under Spanish colonial rule. I know Spaniards are partial to their paella, but damn, Gina! No need to go around killing people for growing a plant!

Things didn’t look so hot for this ancient grain until some clever folks in the Colorado Rockies region started growing and selling it commercially in the 1980s. It’s enjoyed a resurgence in popularity not only among the health food set, but also mainstream consumers, thanks to the grain’s status as a “superfood.”

What’s so super about quinoa is that it has a balanced set of amino acids, and has more protein than its other grainy friends–about 12 percent to 20 percent. It’s also gluten-free, easy to digest, and has tons of fiber and phosphorus (which helps bone growth and cell/tissue repair), as well as magnesium and iron.

And here’s an added bonus–it’s one of the superfoods that supposedly give you the most bang for your buck, according to this article by personal finance site LearnVest.

It’s also easy to cook, as I learned last night when I decided to give it a go. All you need to do is dump in 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid (I used chicken stock, but you can use water or another kind of broth), cover it, and let it simmer for 15 minutes or so. The result is a fluffy pile of curlicued grains that have a distinct nutty smell. It’s also versatile–you can pretty much add any kind of veggie to the quinoa while it’s cooking to add some palate-pleasing interest.

One thing I learned, though, is that you really have to rinse off the quinoa before doing anything with it, because the grains have a bitter saponin coating. My quinoa didn’t turn out very bitter, but I could definitely smell it a bit.

For those who are curious, I was going to take a picture of my crimini mushroom and shallot quinoa pilaf, but Dr. J and I ate it so fast, I forgot to snap a shot. Oops. It was scrumptious. For reference, you can find the recipe here on Food Network.

This is what it more or less looked like, though:

Yum! (via Food Network)

Word to the wise–quinoa wreaks havoc on your braces. I had some last night and I’m still finding bits and pieces hiding in brackets and rubber bands even after a few thorough brushings. (TMI, I know, but I serve to inform.)

Of course, that won’t be a problem for me much longer, since tomorrow I’m finally getting these braces off! No more post-adjustment meals of mashed potatoes, ice cream and macaroni and cheese–no more  incessant picking and brushing of the teeth. It sort of feels like I’m getting out of jail or something.  Naturally, I’m planning on eating as much caramel, pizza crusts, nuts and popcorn as humanly possible following my debanding appointment.

Watch out! Foodzilla is on the loose!

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Mushroom Watch 2012: ‘Shroom to Grow

My beloved mushrooms meet their fate.

It seems like only yesterday that my shiitakes were but wee spores. I tended to them every day, carefully misting them three times a day and following every instruction in the handbook–even going so far as e-mailing the mushroom patch company to ask someone questions about the welfare of my little ones.

Then they started growing like gangbusters in girth and height virtually by the hour, reaching 1 inch in diameter, then 2, then 3. After they stayed at nearly 5 inches in diameter for a couple of days, though, I knew they were good and ready to be harvested.

I feel sort of silly even typing this, but I actually felt the slightest tinge of sadness when I cut the stems and chopped them up. I’d invested quite a bit of time and effort in my patch, and even though I only got two mushrooms out of it, they were the very first fungi I’d ever grown, on purpose anyway. A girl never forgets her first shrooms.

At first, I thought about just sauteeing them with a little butter and salt, but then I found this drool-worthy Epicurious recipe for Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Dee-licious.

So what now?  It looks like my patch is dormant at the moment, so no more updates for a while. Hopefully, the next time I get a flush of mushrooms, they’ll grow bigger and badder than the first ones.

Maybe I should get some advice from Ian Neale, a Welsh farmer whose vegetable-growing prowess caught the attention  of a certain hip hop star who also happens to be a fellow gardening enthusiast.

“Let’s smoke some swede, fo’ shizzle.”

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