Friday, January 30, 2009

Carrots and Spice and Everything Nice

I have to admit, I made these quite some time ago, two weeks I believe! I was distracted with life and other recipes and put my hasty photographs on the back burner (figuratively ;) ), but better late than never, right? Besides, I wouldn't want you to miss out on yet another baked good! They are starting to feel somewhat rare these days...

I want to say it was a Saturday morning. Although I was up semi-early, which is unfortunately my nature, I was waiting on Taylor to find his way out of bed to start the day. I simply couldn't bring myself to wake him, so I, of course, decided to kill the hour or so with a quick recipe! It was still a little early to be thinking about cakes or cookies, so I turned to my favorite breakfast sweet, scones.

Anyone who claims they don't like scones is a liar. If you don't like scones, you're simply eating the wrong ones. The absolutely divine characteristic of scones is that they can be whatever you'd like them to be. Although in America they tend to be sweet, including ingredients like dried fruits, orange zest, cinnamon, pumpkin, nuts, poppy seeds, and so on, they also exist in a number of savory varieties available as well. The British often add raisins, currants, cheese, or dates. Potato scones can be found in Scotland, and other countries one may encounter scones with cheese, onion, and bacon! Um... YUM! They can be baked or fried, thick or thin, light or heavy, the possibilities are seemingly endless!

I, however, in my attempt to make my baked goods appear a little healthier, was attracted to a carrot cake scone recipe. Carrots and raisins folded into a thick cinnamon spiked scone batter was intriguing and a cream cheese glaze won me over. I will admit, I upped the health ante and replaced half the flour with whole wheat flour. Whole wheat is just has so much more depth of flavor, and feels so much better to eat!

Carrot Cake Scones

Of course, where I make healthy strides I tend to counterattack them with equally unhealthy embellishments, and I didn't fail here! The cream cheese glaze was delicious, though not aesthetically pleasing enough for my taste. The recipe recommended decorating the scone tops with cinnamon or coconut, so I thought "why not both?" Coconut, in my opinion, is best when it's lightly toasted. Before my handful of snowy coconut was oven-bound, I mixed in a bit of cinnamon to infuse in the heat. And so each of my carrot cake scones received a light layer of cream cheese glaze and a dusting of cinnamon toasted coconut.

Carrot Cake Scone

They were fairly well received, I quite enjoyed the one or two I ended up polishing off! They are a lovely breakfast go-to and would certainly make wonderful company to a cup of hot tea. The recipe is simple and quick, a wonderful go to for a homemade breakfast within an hour, for those of you who simply are too lazy to tackle the art of bagel making!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Weather Outside is Frightful, but the Kitchen is So Delightful!

I absolutely love snow days. There is an atmosphere about them that is so unique it really doesn't compare to any other type of day. The brilliant comfort of a snow day is built on the fact that you can't possibly have any plans. I always feel like I have a mile long to-do list, a thousand places to be, and I rarely get to treat myself to time spent on tasks I've longed to tend to for my own personal satisfaction. Snow days, however, are not like real days. They are like an extra day thrown into the year, like Mother Nature saying, "Screw the real world, do whatever the hell you want!" And so today I am doing just that.

I was woken up at about 6 by my brother who so graciously informed me that school was not something I needed to worry about on this particular Wednesday. I was so incredibly excited about the prospect of having a day open to do whatever I wanted (which, inevitably, was try out a few recipes) that falling back into a snow sent slumber wasn't an option. I was a little disappointed that on a day with so much potential I was getting up earlier than I would on a school day, but now that I've spent my morning I'm thrilled with the way it turned out!

So by the time I dragged my butt downstairs at 6:30 in the morning, cookbook in hand, I had already decided that a completely open day called for a good challenge. This particular recipe was one I was eager to try and was ecstatic to find an opportunity to test run. My father, who was quite befuddled that his teenager daughter was wandering downstairs so early in the morning by choice, met my ambition with a considerable amount of doubt.

I've never been a huge fan of everything bagels, but having never heard of homemade bagels, I found the recipe screaming "MAKE ME!" And I don't ignore screaming recipes. So when I eagerly told my father I was making bagels he responded by saying, "Molly... I think bagels are the type of thing that you make once and then you realize why you buy them." I AM NEVER BUYING BAGELS AGAIN!!! Except maybe when I don't have roughly two to two and half hours to make my own. But seriously, bagels have always just been alright in my book. Turns out that when they come fresh out of the oven the combination of a browned crust and a soft, warm interior is nothing short of orgasmic.

You may be wondering, as I did when I first flipped to this recipe, what in the world goes into the making of a deliciously fresh homemade wonder bagel? The recipe starts out much the same as any other bread recipe, activating yeast and kneading in lots of bread flour with a little sugar, salt, and whatnot. The recipe says to mix most of this together with a dough hook, which is a nifty device that slips into a standing mixer, but since I don't have a big $200 KitchenAid mixer, I got mine together with a considerable amount of elbow grease. After the dough rises for an hour or so, it's divided, rolled into strips, then formed into the typical bagel ring which is allotted another 15 minutes of rising time. Then 6 quarts of water is brought to a simmer with 1/4 cup honey, 1 T sugar, and 1 T salt. The bagels are simmered in the water for roughly 30 seconds on each side, 2-4 bagels at a time (I did 3 and managed quite well). The only bagel recipe in the book I was working from was the everything bagel recipe which, although I could probably adapt to easily accomodate any type of bagel, called for a mixture of satueed onions, poppyseeds, sesame seeds, and kosher salt as a pre-baking topping. After rubbing on an incredibly aromatic "everything" topping, I popped them in the oven for half and hour and found my labor was well rewarded.

Everything Bagel

By the time they came out of the oven it was around 9:30 and the rest of my family, clearly more sane than I, was just beginning to roll out of bed. Even though the bagels seemed to be coming along fantastically, I felt they could use a partner in crime if they were to perfectly grace the breakfast table. I love to chop, so it wasn't much of a surprise that I might have gone a little overboard with the onion I was mincing for the bagel topping. I reserved half the onion bits and mixed them into some scrambled eggs. I sliced my chosen bagel in half and put the eggs in the middle and LOVED IT.

Bagel Breakfast

My brother stole half the eggs and added some cheese and ham in the middle of his bagel, which after a few minutes of cheese-melting time in the oven seemed like a fantastic idea. The whole family loved them, and you will too! Although the recipe sounds a little funky, it's quite simple besides being a little time consuming. But believe me, the time and effort are a small price to pay for a bagel you will enjoy more than any other!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Move by Yourself

I realize that I have lied to you. I do believe in my first true post I claimed I would fill this page with chocolate and peanut butter flooded recipes, but I have not! The two birthday cakes and those molten brownies of killer (probably literally...) goodness had chocolate, but alas, not even one mention of peanut butter!!! What a travesty!!! Or maybe not...

As much as I love both of these fantastically divine substances, I've led myself to believe that it's within my best interest to shy away. At one, very brief, point, I had mastered the art of baking without excessive taste testing. I could make a dozen batches of cookies and be perfectly content without nibbling on even one. But I eventually came around and realized that it's almost as fun to eat my delectable creations as it is to bake them (though not quite!). In my ever-going, and sometimes ever-failing, effort to be more health conscious, I've tried to turn myself away from baking and focus more on cooking. I still bake, don't get me wrong! But I try to keep it to special occasions and gifts; if I give it away I can't eat it all!

Unfortunately I'm not a very great cook. Even less fortunately, I seem to have very unique taste buds. Moroccan stew and crazy artichoke tortillas don't appeal to everybody, neither does the roasted butternut squash soup that I recently conjured and failed to photograph. It used to bother me a little that if I made dinner at my house, I was often the only one eating it. My dad's a little adventurous, and sometimes half-heartedly embarks on my vegan/vegetarian/ethnic culinary experiments, but in the end nobody's anywhere near as enthusiastic as I am. The recipes I'm drawn to usually are full of spices like cumin and cinnamon, or fresh Italian herbs like oregano, rosemary, basil, and so on. But they hardly ever have meat. Probably have meat like .01% of the time. And so my family and my friends watch as I stir in chickpeas, squash, lentils, and any random vegetable I can get my hands on, wondering why in the world I could possibly want to eat the concoction I'm stirring.

I'm starting to learn not to care. I've stopped inviting others into my precious kitchen space to observe my prized work in progress, because I now know the reaction I'm about to get isn't the one I was hoping for. But does that really matter? Who cares if anybody else takes the slightest interest in my personal endeavors? To a certain degree I guess I do, otherwise I wouldn't ask so mainly fruitless times for an awe-struck smile I won't receive. I am, however, beginning to feed off my own thrill from cooking. I'm beginning to submerge myself in my own satisfaction with the warmth of my dishes. I suppose this blog may contribute to that, the fact that I can post pictures and write about the wrongs, rights, disappoinments, joys, and lessons learned of my efforts. Here I can pretend that somebody has the same reaction I do, pretend that somebody clicks on a picture of my latest interest and appreciates the outcome.

Ultimately, I think what's important is that I cook for myself. When I try to pick recipes that accomodate others and step outside of what really engages my interest my heart isn't in it. More than anything, food is about love. If you take the elements out of what you do that differentiate it as yours, you lose passion, you remove the love. Without that most critical element, our own secret ingredient, our pursuits are merely a recipe for disaster. In everything you do, make it your own and don't let anybody take it away from you. Those who cannot recognize the passion and zeal in your efforts are the ones missing out, and you shouldn't deprive yourself for their error.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Moosetracks Meltdown

The thing about creativity is that it can be very dangerous if you aren't careful with it. And I tend to abuse it. Saturday was Sally's birthday and she was a little apprehensive about me making her birthday cake, which was kind of disappointing, so I decided I needed to come up with a tactic to draw her in. I figured Sally was most inclined to request a cake from Coldstone, maybe Handel's, so it seemed my only option was to conjure an ice cream cake recipe. Which was not hard, because I figured I could just take a regular chocolate cake recipe and throw some ice cream in the middle, right? Wrong. Kind of. I bet it would work, if I learned from the experience, but overall it was not the most epic of all ideas, except maybe a little epic fail.

I should mention that my favorite things to make are birthday cakes, hands down. I think it's because they are the ultimate baked gift. And they can be anything! They're so much fun to decorate and so easy to experiment and usually so pretty, except for this time. I won't say I didn't have fun, I certainly did, and I learned a lot, too. But the visual aspect was disappointing, and it wasn't the best tasting cake I've ever made, but isn't it the thought that counts?

So I've been turning to the baking book Taylor gave me for Christmas, because, quite frankly, I'm completely captivated. It has so many things to try and everything is accompanied by gorgeous photographs... I want to try them all. So I picked out a rich chocolate cake recipe with a thick fudgy frosting, because I simply don't make chocolate cakes without fudge frosting, and went to town. The hard part though was converting the cake into an ice cream cake of sorts. In theory, I think my idea was brilliant. If I hadn't messed up a bit on the execution, I really believe it would have worked too. Sally requested chocolate moosetracks ice cream, so I picked up a box and went to town. The idea was that I would construct the ice cream layer in much the same manner as a cake layer. Instead of cake batter I'd just have ice cream and instead of baking it in the oven it would come to the right consistancy via a freezer. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is line the bottom of a cake pan with parchment paper, that way it's easy to get out of the pan, then fill the pan with the ice cream of your choosing, keeping in mind that the brand of ice cream REALLY makes a difference. We used Meijer brand. Don't use Meijer brand.

Ice Cream Layer

Then cover it will plastic wrap and pop it in the freezer. Make whatever cake recipe you'd like, simply following the recipe up until assembly. It's a good idea to either double the frosting recipe, however, or maybe just multiply all the ingredients by 3/2 to account for the extra layer in the final cake.


I decided to make a three layer of cake, stacking my ice cream in between two cake layers, but for reasons I'm about to discuss, it might be a good idea to make a two layer cake (cake then ice cream on top). After my ice cream layer had aqequately frozen and I'd whipped up two beautiful chocolate cake layers, I started to assemble. Regardless of how many layers you choose, ALWAYS start with a cake foundation. I placed one cake layer onto a plate and covered that with a generous layer of frosting (because of course I made extra :)) and then crossed my fingers and prayed that the ice cream layer would turn out all right. I flipped it out and was, at that point, very pleased.


So I placed that on top and covered it with a layer of frosting. And then made a very big error. I started to clean the kitchen. Taylor was coming over, and I figured I'd rather be making a big cake than picking up dishes, scrubbing counters, throwing away parchment paper/saran wrap, and the sorts. After a little while I topped my cake with the final cake layer and snagged a few photos of how pretty it looked all stacked up like that before trying to cover the whole thing with frosting.


Isn't that pretty? And I thought a very good sign. I started to frost around the sides, but the ice cream was getting soft and very difficult to work around, so I decided to stick it in the freezer for an hour or so and come back when it would argue with me as much. Well, I came back an hour later and found out it had been a little late for the freezer... The ice cream layer was more melted than I'd thought, and didn't freeze up in time to stop the top cake layer from doing a landslide of the top. It was kinda ugly. So I took off the cake layer, scooped up the ice cream the best I could and tried again to refreeze what had been a perfect ice cream layer. Moral to the story? Don't dawdle with ice cream, work fast and it should work out alright. It may, however, be a good idea to freeze between stages, but if you do make sure to avoid the other mistake I made. I knew I should make a larger batch of frosting, but when I started to frost the top I left more there than I should've. After putting it in the freezer for a while, that frosting was determined to stay right where it was. Stupid stubborn frozen fudge frosting. Because I definitely ran out when I finally was able to kind of, sort of, maybe cover the sides. Sally must really love me, because she didn't complain much. If you look closely in the picture of the final cake, you can see on the bottom where it was, very sadly, left unfrosted...


By the way, the banana is there to give you an idea of how big it was. That was a big banana. It was a monster of a cake. In the end it tasted pretty good, the frosting was the best part. The cake itself wasn't superb, I think it was a fantastic recipe that I detracted from a bit by serving it frozen. Taylor said, and I think was spot on, that it would be ideal if you could serve the whole thing with the cake part at room temperature and the ice cream cold. You could certainly get a lot closer to this with the one cake-layer and one ice cream-layer concept, that way you can let it thaw without fearing the top cake-layer will play slip and slide and make you want to pull your hair out.

If you don't bake often I don't recommend an ice cream cake. If you do back often, I don't really recommend an ice cream cake. I think a scoop on the side may be the most effective way to preserve an elegant presenation, and it still tastes delicious :D

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oh Dear, I've Been Cooking...

My approach to baking and my approach to cooking are polar opposites. When I bake, as you can tell from previous entries, I like to really load things up. I can't bring myself to make a plain pan of brownies, it just feels so wrong! The more I can add to a recipe, the better, except for the fact that anything I bake is usually a heart attack on a plate. Oh well, if you're going to indulge REALLY indulge :)

When I cook I like things simple. Simple in that I don't like the choke ingredients. My mom likes to make casseroles, I think because her mom used to make them all the time or something and they just seem like a natural choice to her. I hate casseroles, I really do. I just can't stand dishes that are primarily cheese and cream of something soup. Gross. Things like that just seem so false, so disgustingly masked that I just can't stand them. By masked I mean that casseroles have all the natural flavors drowned out of them. Like green bean casserole, for example. Can you even taste the green beans in that stuff? Isn't it canned green beans? Canned green beans are an ugly vegetable if you ask me, all limp and army green, I don't know why anyone would want to eat such a depressing looking sodium-soaked excuse for "food." And then rob them of whatever flavor you may think they may have by coating them in cheese and creamy blah, I can't go on or I might be sick. Didn't I start by writing about how I cook anyway? Because I like things to seem natural and I think they are most beautiful that way. Like I hate how people will cover sweet potatoes in brown sugar and maple syrup and marshmallows and things of that nature. It's really quite a travesty. Sweet potatoes, one of my absolute favorite foods, are best when all you add is some salt, maybe a little cinnamon or citrus juice but even that's pushing it. A little salt brings out the flavor of sweet potatoes that make them so rich and so unique in comparison to other potatoes. Adding various forms of sugar turns them into cheap candy.

All this motivates my choice of recipes when I actually decide to cook. I like things that are primarily vegetables, because I think vegetables are the most neglected food group and therefore have the most potential. Vegetables are rustic, again one of my favorite food qualities, and so rich in color (at least for the most part). Best of all they feel clean. Vegetables don't seem to feel like a punishment to your stomach, unless you smother them with cheese, creamy soup, and french fried onions, vegetables make you feel good about what you're eating. I also like things with spices. I think spices enhance the natural flavor of food, whereas sweeteners help you to pretend you're eating something else. I don't want to choke down food by trying to make it something else, I want to find the way to prepare it that makes it the best possible version of itself it can be. It's two in the morning and I'm straying far too much...

All of this leads up to a recipe I came across on, as usual, Moroccan stew. YES! Pretty much straight vegetables, so right up my ally, and the main spice is one of my favorites, cumin. This is one of those recipes that I absolutely flip out over but nobody else really gets too excited about. Screw everybody else, I made Moroccan stew and loved it.


It's basically butternut squash (one of my absolute favorites!), red skin potatoes, garbanzo beans (also, huge fan), olives... tomatoes... um... onion... that might be it... cooked and poured over couscous. Again, it's on if you decide to give it a try, but I would recommend a little more cumin and maybe some red pepper flakes if you like a bit of heat ;) And I know the pictures aren't that great... oh well, have to work on that I guess.


Friday, January 16, 2009

French Toast of a Breakfast Past

I wish I could bake everyday. Or cook, though I'm really nowhere near as good at that. I don't think I'm really a great baker or anything, I just know how to follow recipes. And I love what I'm doing enough and have gone through so many recipes that I can't help but tweak things to be just the way I want them. Anyway, I wish I could be in the kitchen whipping up something lovely everyday. But for that to work out the way I'd like it would have to be the only thing I really did. Sometimes I volunteer to make dinner on a school night or after work or something and that's really never an awesome idea because I get stressed too easy and when I feel like I have a time limit to making something wonderful it turns into something very unwonderful, the experience that is, and usually the food too cause like I said I'm really not a great cook. I want to be in the kitchen everyday and I want to have all day to it. I don't need all day to make a cake or pie or bread or soup or whatever, but it's feels so wonderful to pour over something for as long as you'd like, with as much precision as you'd like, giving it as much attention and detail as you want, without seeming to have any other pressing matter to attend to. Have you seen the movie Waitress? You should see it. I love that scene where she's in the kitchen with the doctor singing her little pie love song with the sun shining through the windows, not caring how long it takes to make the pie she's making and forgetting about her awful husband. That's probably one of my favorite movies. Because of a number of things, including that picture perfect scene and the relaxed happiness in the end when she owns her own pie shop that really probably couldn't happen because to serve that many pies you'd have to work your butt off. But if she can do it, maybe I can, too. Then again, I like to work my butt off, for a some of the time. But I think that's what I'd really like, that scene, everyday. I don't think I necessarily need a doctor there, but sunshine in the windows for sure.

I started this post to talk about French toast and haven't gotten there yet... But I began with good intentions. I'd like to be in the kitchen everyday, right? But I can't. Which means I can't post things as often as I'd like, because even when I can get in the kitchen, if I'm feeling time pressured, writing about it is usually not on the top of my to-do list, let alone higher on the priority list than homework and such. In the past, however, I happened to take photos of some of the things I made and I think I'll share them with you when I hit a lull. I know I posted just a couple days ago, and really nobody is reading this blog anyway, but I came across pictures of my mother's last birthday breakfast and really wanted to put them up. The pictures are great, but the food was beautiful. I really like things that have deep, rich colors, and really rustic appearances. Food should not be neon, nor should it be pale. What's really tantalizing are golden browns and deep greens and purples and being able to see the textures before you can taste them. And this had most of that. It was a birthday breakfast, as I mentioned, so I wanted to do something special, something different, and of course, something challenging. I'd made this "almost fat-free french toast" once or twice that was pretty bland because, well, read the title again. French toast sounds pretty in itself, doesn't it? Maybe just because everything about France seems to sound pretty. Except I heard from a number of people that once you get there it's really not as pretty as you'd hoped, but maybe they were just having a bad day. So I decided to make real french toast. I had seen.... I think it was Tyler Florence make this one day while I was running and thought it looked fantastic. I was right. It was Tyler Florence too, now that I really think about it, because it was very "Ultimate." I don't remember what it was called, and I really don't care enough to look it up (I'm sure it's on the Food Network website) but it was very unconventional, in my eyes at least, which was probably why I was drawn to it. I remember cooking apples and dried cranberries in a caramel like sauce, then covering them with custard drenched challah bread and baking it in the oven. It was so good. So good. I suppose since the pictures were what made me think I should bring it up, I might as well show one to you.


I feel like I could write much more, but I really don't think the purpose of blogging is to sit down and write a novel. And I'd hate to bore you to tears so I suppose I'll just have to find time to relax in a sunshine filled kitchen to make something else to post, or maybe dig up more old photographs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Not the Tortilla You'd Eggspect

I found out today that the word tortilla encompasses more than just really flat, boring bread. Tortillas, the burrito kind, are alright, but kinda boring if you ask me. They really aren't that appetizing, they're just kind of there. What everybody seems to be attracted to is the massive amount of meat and cheese they hold together in a giant melty mess, not really the bland tortilla.

But wait!!! I was exploring, one of my favorite recipe sources, and came across a "tortilla" recipe that looked nothing like a boring deflated piece of lifeless bread. In fact, it doesn't have any type of bread in it at all! I was enthralled, and immediately put a Potato and Artichoke Tortilla on my to-make list. I must admit, I convinced my mom to make it once before, so tonight wasn't really my first time having it, but it was the first time I made it myself. Usually I make a recipe once and move on to something else, I love trying something new and revisiting past experiments feels like a waste of time. But this was good enough that I simply had to come back!

The basic idea of the tortilla is somewhat like a frittata. I think. I've never actually made a frittata (that's also on my to-make list), but I willing to guess they're on the same track. Anyway, this particular tortilla is a combination of onions, yukon gold potato slices, red peppers, and artichoke hearts cooked down and folded into a mixture of eggs. I cheated and added a little fresh basil, because herbs and spices are my favorite :). Another one of my favorites is mix-ins. I like everything "loaded," pizza, pancakes, brownies, cookies, sandwichs... tons and tons of ingredients=AWESOME! Especially if they are veggies or various forms of chocolate! Chocolate would be kind of awkward in an egg based recipe, but this tortilla is choc-full of veggies, so naturally I gravitated to it. I was so impressed by the gorgeous combination of reds and golds that these ingredients took on, I snapped a photo before I mixed them into the eggs...

Potato Tortilla Mix-ins

Honestly, I would've been a happy camper straight eating that pile of deliciousness, but I suppose every once in a while I should follow a recipe, and I was intrigued by this whole tortilla thing that really wasn't anything near the generally excepted meaning of tortilla, so I continued. The end product, as I said before, was delicious. I'll admit, I did overcook it a little... especially disappointing since my mom's version was a much prettier golden brown and I hate to admit she might have had a little more success. If you give this a go there's a picture on the smitten kitchen website that is much prettier, but then again, my photography skills aren't quite as impressive as hers, or Taylor's, so I make due.

Potato Tortilla with Artichoke Hearts and Red Peppers

I highly recommend venturing outside of the tortilla you have come to know, it gets so much more exciting and SO much more delicious! If you're not a fan of artichokes, there are other versions out there, actually another one on the recipe page for this one that is a little plainer. And by the way, if you make the internet trip to, which you should, don't forget to check out the peanut butter cake recipe, it will change your life! Or at least leave a serious impression on your taste buds ;)