12/22/14

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

It's Christmas cookie season! There's nothing better than a heaping plate of assorted cookies, and these simple meringue sandwiches are beautiful and sure to stand out from the crowd. I picked up the recipe from Martha's Cookies. Although they do take a while to bake (more like dry really), the trickiest part was getting the beautiful stripes along the sides of the piped meringue. Martha made it seem so easy, but without gel food dye or a paint brush, I had to get creative. Mixing a few drops of liquid food dye with a tablespoon of powdered sugar made a good paste, and taping a frilly toothpick onto the tip of a pencil subbed as a paint brush.
 By the end of it all, there was so much red dye everywhere I looked like I'd murdered someone, but miraculously, it worked! For the filling I used a chocolate buttercream, but you can also use ganache.

Ingredients

3 large egg whites
2 cups confectioner's sugar, separated
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
6 ounces butter, softened
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Special Supplies

Piping bag and large star-shaped tip
Red gel food dye
Small paint brush, or toothpick

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 200 F.
2. Beat the egg whites till soft peaks form, then slowly add 3/4 cup powdered sugar until glossy stiff peaks.
3. Stir in the peppermint extract.
4. Carefully paint 3 stripes of red dye along the side of the piping bag, then spoon 1/3 of meringue in the bag.
5. Pipe small stars on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Make sure to have an even number. Refill the bag as necessary, touching up the dye between fillings.
6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
7. When they have dried completely, place on a wire rack to cool.
8. Make buttercream: beat the softened butter until light and creamy, then slowly add the rest of the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder. Add the milk and vanilla and continue to stir until well combined.
9. Assemble the cookies: spoon or pipe a small dollop of buttercream onto the underside of a meringue, and smoosh another meringue of similar size to it.
Bam. Done. Let them dry completely, and don't store in an air-tight container, a plate works best.




12/21/14

Holiday Magazine Guide

This time of year, the magazine rack can get a little overwhelming, with all the food (and not so much food) magazines pushing all the holiday goodies to bake. I took the liberty of exploring some of the options, to parson out the best in any variety you might be looking for this holiday season.

Bon Appetit Holiday Special

For the cool holiday Party
More style than quantity, this one has great sections on party ideas, tips for handling stress relief, and beautiful decorations ideas for a hipster Christmas. Not quite as many recipes though, with cool, very specific ideas like a section on Norwegian Christmas ideas. Great beautiful pictures, but a little more about stylistic articles than a collection of recipes like some of the other holiday specials on the list.

Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies

For the all those cookies.
 This magazine holiday special is separated by different categories of cookies, clearly they mean business. This ones completely chock full of recipes, and it also has some really innovative ideas, including food gifts and holiday decorating. Oddly enough there is an entire section on thanksgiving, which is great, but not so much this late in the season. If all you want to bake this Christmas is cookies, this is definitely a good one to pick up.

Fine Cooking Holiday Baking

For the step-by-step baker.
This is a great guide to a wide variety of sweet recipes; including cakes, puddings, and sweet rolls. The magazine is clearly marked, with many beautiful photographs for the different steps of each recipe. I think this is the best overall baking magazine, especially if you just want ideas and recipes for the holiday season, and the extra photographs are a big help for the special techniques! 

Martha Stewart Living

To help make your house look amazing.
Martha Stewart is queen of home decorations. And while there are some scrumptious recipes in here, the best parts are definitely the different tips on how to make your house look like the inside of a snow globe. There are also so great crafty ideas on wreaths (like the one on the cover) but if you want recipes specifically, this may not be the magazine for you.

Cuisine Holiday Baking Double Issue

Ideas for your holiday dinner.
This one had a lot of good dies for baking your Christmas dinner, including vegetarian options. There are also so good artisanal food gift ideas for the chef in your life. Because it is Cooking Light after all, you can find a lot of recipes and ideas that'll cut back on calories and fat. The holidays maybe a time to indulge, but fresh veggie sides are always a good idea, right? And bonus: flipping the magazine over you'll find a great little collection of cookies to try. 

Taste of Home, Holiday Baking

The one with the trifle.
Taste of Home produces many different holiday baking magazines, which I'm going to assume is why this one (the basic baking one on the wrack) was lacking a little. It has many different kinds of recipes, but the photography was not nearly as appealing, with many of the cakes and pies looking like wax. There is however a good traditional trifle recipe (one of the few I could find).

12/6/14

Baking by Hand

When I saw this in the store, I was pretty skeptical. No mixer? Artisanal? Tempting, but what's the catch? But upon reading the introduction (yeah I do actually love reading those) I was excited to see that all the recipes, written by the owners of the New England bakery "A&J King Artisan Bakers," were baked in an "old piece of junk" home oven. In fact, the book is specially written for home bakers, and has meticulous instructions on the process and theory of baking. I particularly like the index to other great books and sources that the authors pulled from. The recipes extend from simple sour dough and focaccia, to a variety of sandwiches, to sweet pastries. Can't wait to start!

12/5/14

Simple Meringue Cookies


Crunchy, chewy, and sweet, meringue cookies are awesome and a great introduction in how to make and use meringue.

Ingredients:
3 eggs whites,
2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 300 F.
Whip eggs until soft peaks form, then add the sugar slowly until glossy and clinging to the whisk. Spoon in dollops onto a baking sheet, or pipe in fancy swirls. Bake at a low heat or 45-60 minutes.

Bam. Done.

And they are delicious!
You can add a few tablespoons cocoa powder for chocolate cookies, or wedge two together with buttercream or ganache for a delicious sandwich cookie.

12/3/14

Faux French Silk Oreo Cake


This is an incredibly simple and delicious dessert, that looks very impressive and beautiful on a table. I liked the light taste of the Cool Whip (yup, Cool Whip) and Oreos, but if you want to use  real whipped cream, feel free! I found this recipe at Baker's Royale, a great food blog, and was most excited by the nostalgia of Oreos and French Silk. I remember when we were kids my brothers and I would go nuts over slices of French Silk pie from Baker's Square. The homemade pudding (which also could be store bought) makes a rich, chocolate layer that tastes surprisingly similar to French Silk, but is much less finicky to make. In fact, this recipe could be completely no-bake if you bought everything from the store: fabulous!

Bake time: 10-15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes (plus extra for chilling)


Ingredients

1 sixteen ounce tub of Cool Whip, thawed
2-4 tablespoons butter, melted
25-30 Oreos
1/3 cup cornstarch
½ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
3 cups whole milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 Maraschino cherries, to decorate


Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Make the crust:
2. Place most of the Oreos in a gallon zipper -lock bag, leave a few to decorate afterward. Crush the cookies finely with a rolling pin or with your hands.
3. In a large bowl, mix 2/3 of the crushed Oreos with the melted butter, and pat into an 8 inch spring form pan, or into a pie dish. 
4. Bake 10-12 minutes, until firm. Let cool before adding the pudding layer.

Make the pudding:
5. Thoroughly whip the milk, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a sauce pan. 
6. Heat on medium-high heat, stirring continuously and making sure to scrape the bottom well, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon or spatula.
7. Stir in the chocolate and vanilla until completely combined.
8. Pour the pudding through a sieve to catch any cornstarch globs (it happens). Let cool, and pour into the crust. Chill in the freezer, till considerably frozen. 

Make the Cool-whip layer:
9. Stir the remaining crushed Oreos with the Cool Whip. Smooth onto the pudding layer. 
10. Decorate with cherries, Oreo halves, and piped Cool Whip, as you desire. For best result, chill in the freezer for 2-3 hours. Enjoy!

12/2/14

Leftover Turkey Pot Pie



So I had a lot of leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. No surprise of course. But after a few days of turkey sandwiches, I decided it was time to change things up. Pie time! I found this recipe on Food Network's website, and made slight modifications to suit my taste and what I had in the fridge. I had planned to make a huge pie and have leftovers of the leftovers for the next day, but it turned out so well my family finished the whole thing at once! I think this might be the start of a tradition.

Total Time: 1 hour
Bake Time: 40 -45 minutes

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken or turkey stock
6-8 mini potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 sprigs rosemary
2 cups shredded turkey
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 stems fresh thyme
Salt and peper to taste
Pie dough, or pre-made dough
Egg wash


Preparation
For the Filling
1) Preheat oven to 350 F.
2) Melt butter in saucepan. Mix in garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook on medium-high heat until softened.
3) Stir in flour until well combined, and cook for 2 minutes.
4) Add the stock and bring to a simmer.
5) Then add the potatoes and the rosemary sprigs, simmer until tender, stirring occasionally.
6) Stir in the turkey and fresh parsley and thyme. Remove the  rosemary.

To Assemble the Pie
7) Roll out half of the chilled pie dough on a well floured surface, or on parchment paper.
8) Gently fit the dough into a deep 9 inch pie dish. Carefully pour the filling into the prepared dish.
9) Roll out the remainder of the dough, and place it on top, over the filling. Crimp the edges as you like and cut slits in the top to ventilate. Brush the top with egg wash, as desired.
10) Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

11/9/14

Spiced Applesauce Cake

This one was a spur of the moment creation, as most of my bakings are. A combination of fall-baking craziness and a huge basket of apples taking up counter space. I was in love with the idea of this cake before I even preheated the oven, and I found recipes for each piece from different corners of the internet. It was denser than I had expected, more like quick-bread than sponge cake, but it cut evenly when chilled and matched perfectly with the rich cream cheese frosting. To top it all off I made a quick and easy cinnamon apple compote! Unfortunately, applesauce did little to replace any butter and sugar in this cake (apparently it doesn't work the same as with applesauce cookies). Damn, well at least I tried right?


Bake time: 45-50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients
Applesauce Cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup plain yogurt diluted a bit with milk, or 1/4 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 stick butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon Apple Compote:
2-3 medium apples, sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar


Method:
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in large bowl.
2. In a mixer or with hand-mixers, beat the butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla. Add the applesauce and beat till smooth as possible (this may take a little time).
3. Add half the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix till just combined. Then add the yogurt, and finally the rest of dry mixture. Mix in the walnuts.
4. Pour into a buttered 8x8 circular cake pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes.
5. When the cake is browned and just pulling from the sides, let cool ten minutes before cooling on a wrack.


For the cream cheese frosting:
Beat the butter, cream cheese, icing sugar, and vanilla with a balloon whisk in stand mixer, until pale and fluffy. Spread onto cooled cake.

For the apple compote:
Slice apples thinly and evenly. Place in a sauce pot with cinnamon and sugar, and cook on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes.

And there you go, a lovely fall cake for a table or for a sneaking a quick slice. Sweet, creamy, and spiced on all , this is a cake that needs no accompaniment.

Happy baking!



10/14/14

Fictitious Dishes

Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals, by Dinah Fried.
This is one cool book. It's a small collection of photos, all of which portray the meals of literature's most famous figures. It envisions everyone's plate, from Oliver Twist's gruel, to Alice's tea, to Esther Greenwood's ominous crab-avocado lunch. It's a great interpretation of literary texts, and the pictures are unique, beautiful, and fun. Books and food, food and books. You got to love it!
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
by Hunter S. Thompson
“‘You goddamn honkies are all the same.’ By this time he’d opened a new bottle of tequila and was quaffing it down….He sliced the grapefruit into quarters...then into eighths...then sixteenths...then he began slashing aimlessly at the residue.”


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carol
“‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.”
Heidi
by Johanna Spyri
“The kettle soon began to boil, and meanwhile the old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire, turning it round and round till it was toasted a nice golden yellow color on each side. Heidi watched all that was going on with eager curiosity.”
The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger
"“When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk.
It isn’t much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk. H. V. Caulfield. Holden Vitamin Caulfield.”
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.”
The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath
“Then I tackled the avocado and crabmeat salad...Every Sunday my grandfather used to bring me an avocado pear hidden at the bottom of his briefcase under six soiled shirts and the Sunday comic.”


10/12/14

Apple Pie

Fall is here! No, really; the leaves are changing, the weather is damp, and the apples have miraculously all become perfect.
It is time for pie.
I made this lovely, simple apple pie with guidance from online recipes and Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts. I used Gala apples, which are my favorite to eat and so I just have a lot around the house, but you can also use Granny Smith, Mutsu, or Honeycrisp. The key to fruit pies is to keep the moisture where you want it; as long as you take the right steps to get a dry and flakey crust (and give the pie lots of time to bake) the type of apple shouldn't make a huge difference, so go crazy with whatever you've got. (Some experts will debate the levels of sweet-tart combination, but that has never been an issue for me.)
This weekend I realized (too late of course) that I had no shortening, so this was made with an all-butter crust. However I recommend using my favorite pie crust.


Ingredients:
  • 1 pie crust, or enough for a double-crust
  • 6-7 medium-large apples, peeled and cut
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon cream
  • Decorating sugar or sugar in the raw

Total time: 2 hours
Bake time: 60 minutes

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Roll out half the pie crust, and fit straight into a 9 inch pie pan. The crust should hang about a 1/2 inch over the edge. Place in the fridge to chill.

2. Meanwhile, peel the apples and slice (as thick or thinly as you prefer).

3. Add the lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to the apple slices and toss together.

4. In a large skillet, heat the apple slices on medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes, until just soft. This will caramelize the sugars. Take off the heat and let cool.

5. Mix the egg white with water. Then brush the egg wash over the bottom and sides of the prepared crust. Important step: this will help to keep the bottom crust dry!

6. Add the apples to the pie pan. Roll out the remaining pie crust to fit over the top, and crimp the edges as desired.

7. With a sharp knife, cut slits into the top crust to vent. Mix the egg yolk with cream and brush the top and sides of the pie, and sprinkle liberally with decorating sugar.

8. Bake at 450 F for 15 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 F for another 45 to 50 minutes. If the edges begin to burn, covering them with tin foil will help.

9. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving. 
Homemade pies are well worth the extra effort and time. Miles ahead of defrosted, store-bought pies, they're the ultimate comfort food, and you can make them anyway you like. This is great with coffee, with some vanilla ice cream, or anyway you like it. Everyone has their own way of eating pie, that I keep thinking of that one scene from When Harry Met Sally. No judgements with pies!
Happy fall everyone!





10/8/14

Audley End: The Victorian Kitchen Garden

Still writing about my brief life in England this summer.

One Friday we took a quick trip to Audley End. This was one of my favorite outings, even if it was not quite as eventful as some of the others. Audley End is one of the great manor houses of East Anglia; think Downton Abbey, but much older, smaller, and filled with tourists. It's only a twenty minute trip from Cambridge, and has stunning grounds and gardens.
The day we arrived also happened to be absolutely beautiful. First we had some (more) tea and scones (all day, everyday). I had mine with clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream is a very dense spread, somewhere between whipped cream and butter. It's great with jam, and because I was on vacation, it had zero calories!
After tea we toured the house and explored the grounds. Audley End sells potted plants from its gardens. This is a quirky trait of English culture; tourist collect different plants from various houses all over the country as souvenirs. Gardening is really popular, almost like grilling for Americans.  
The house sported many beautiful, impressive rooms, but I think my favorite was the enormous Victorian kitchen. I could get used to that copper collection: 
And of course they had more things to try on....

The gardens at Audley End were very unique. In their hay-day, most of the great houses were completely self sufficient. Since their transformation into public monuments, many of the farms and gardens of the houses have been scaled back. Although the Audley End stables still had horses, the garden had been meticulously preserved. The huge kitchen garden featured every vegetable, fruit, and herb under the sun. In the manor's green house, which dated back to the nineteenth century, the manor's supply of grapes and other exotic fruits grew. The room growing peaches had the most beautiful fragrance!
After spending the day wandering around, in and out of the house, we were back to Cambridge in no time. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

10/5/14

Martha Stewart's Cookies

Ok, so I'm not exactly a Martha fan. But I'm loving her baking books. Her Pies & Tarts has already been a staple in my cookbook line-up for years, but ever since I received this book devoted to biscotti, bars, russes, tuilles, macaroons, and snaps, I can't stop going back to it.
What I like most about the book is how it's organized.
Each section is dedicated to a specific quality of cookies. So instead of being ordered by flavor or holiday, the recipes are divided into sections such as "light and delicate", "crumbly and sandy", "cakey and tender". This is so important, because so much of what goes into great cookies, from how to make them, to how to serve them, is determined by texture.
Martha knows. Martha understands!

And of the recipes I've tried from it, Milk Chocolate Cookies, Cocoa Shortbread Hearts, and Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti, (I might just have a thing for chocolate, ok?) they've all turned out great.
Am I recommending this? Yes, I'm recommending this.

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