September 30, 2007

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice?

When first learned of this months' Daring Baker challenge, I had a feeling the double entendres would fly on post day. So far today, Barbara's title and Stacy's are among my personal favorites. A latecomer to the party again this month, it's been my great pleasure to leave various iterations of "nice buns!" on ninety-some blogs as I wait patiently for MY dough to rise. Curious what my brothers and sisters in baking are up to? check them all out here.

I had a bit of a scare with the dough. I carefully measured all of the ingredients by weight, creamed the butter, salt and sugar, blended in the egg and lemon zest. So far so good. Then I added the flour, yeast, and milk and patiently waited for my dough to form a ball. Okay, perhaps *not* so very patiently. Five minutes later, no ball. John agreed that the dough was too wet, and we added approximately a half cup more flour before it came away from the sides of the bowl and formed a ball. Switched to the dough hook and let my mixer do its magic. Ten minutes later I had exactly the silky smooth soft dough I'd heard about from those daring bakers who didn't wait until the last possible second to bake their buns.

I spent the two hour proofing time reading other cinnamon roll reports and drooling over the accompanying photographs... hoping my midnight snack buns turn out half as tasty as the others look.

Once risen, I divided my dough in half, dedicating half to a future project and half to cinnamon bun goodness. We were offered the choice of cinnamon and sticky. I opted for cinnamon because I'm picky about nuts in baked goods, and I've been making my grandmother's sticky bun recipe since I was old enough to stand up and hold a rolling pin; choosing someone elses -- even if it is very good -- feels tantamount to sacrilege. Bun assembly was fairly straightforward, and I stashed them in the 'fridge while we headed out to a Sunday afternoon football party with John's high school friends. We'd proof them the final time and bake them when we returned -- a true midnight snack!

At 10:30, after two hours in a proofing oven, my buns had risen to glorious heights and were ready for baking. Heating the oven to 350 took no time at all, and we were quickly enveloped by the scents of sugar and spice and everything nice...

Eighteen minutes in the oven and my buns had baked to a delightful golden brown. I assembled the fondant while they cooled a bit -- choosing to halve the recipe since the most often repeated 'complaint' among the bakers was that it produced an excessive amount. I then transferred my cinnamon scented bounty to cooling racks and drizzled them with the sugary goodness. I'll admit that we didn't wait an additional twenty minutes to bite in, or I'd never make my midnight deadline and my coach would turn back into a pumpkin. Cinderelly? Cinderelly? Bippity Boppity Boo! Oh...Er... oops... sorry, wrong story.

These were absolutely worth the wait, and I'll definitely be repeating them in different forms and flavors. Just sweet enough to be satisfyingly sinful, without they cloying heavy sugar aftertaste of many commercial versions.

This month's adventure into the world of baked goods has been brought to us by Marce of Pip in the City. She's posted the recipe from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice in all its glorious detail here.

Resources used:
King Arthur unbleached bread flour
Clover-Stornetta Organic butter, whole milk
Penzeys' Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon

Technorati Tags: | Key Ingredients: ,

September 25, 2007

Recaculating route...

Every once in a while, it occurs to me how much I've grown in the year and a half since I set up camp in my little corner of the Internets. I've joined a formidable group of men and women from around the world drawn together by our obsession with passion for goodies constructed of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. I've made some wonderful friends near and far in the process. I've honed existing skills and developed new ones, sometimes formally and others more casually. And I've had a blast along the way.

One of the surprise benefits are the various monthly events, and their ability to stretch my creativity and widen my comfort zone. Because by nature I tend to be a recipe follower. In the kitchen (as on the road) I have the confidence to create anything your heart desires (or take you anywhere you want to go)... as long as you provide a detailed, end-to-end, step-by-step set of instructions. Which before blog I would adhere to with almost a religious vigilance.

Put me behind the wheel of a car in unfamiliar territory and I still lean on "Vera" my trusty Verizon-provided GPS virtual goddess to get me there, patiently 'recalculating route' if I make a wrong turn. But in the kitchen the Sugar High Fridays, the Donna Days, the Presto Pasta Nights and even the whole Daring Baker experience have pushed my limits, helping me to spread my wings and look at a recipe as a set of guidelines rather than a rigid rule book, resulting in some creations that -- while they might not have been the vision of the recipe author -- are an interesting combination of the best of both of us.

Take this Cooking Light recipe for Fresh Corn Tart with Chipotle Cream for example. Pre-blog I would have followed the recipe literally, and probably come out with something pretty good. But a carbon copy of the magazine version. Instead, I evaluated the published ingredient list and improvised a bit:

For the Cream:
1-8 oz. container sour cream
juice of half a lime
3 chipotle chiles, minced, plus a tablespoon of adobo sauce (we like our food a little spicier than Cooking Light generally instructs)

Yes, there's more cream than we'll need for the tart. But it will taste great with a bit of cheddar atop a baked potato...

For the Tart I decided not to dirty a dozen measuring cups:
1 whole medium onion, chopped
2 whole seeded poblano chiles, chopped
half a package of leftover pork chiorizo
6 ears of corn
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of water (give or take)
salt (eyeballed at about 1/2 teaspoon)
3/4 cup dry polenta (this I DID measure)
a chunk of leftover chipotle cheddar cheese, grated
Liberal amounts of Penzeys Salsa Salad Seasoning and Ground Chipotle Pepper

I added the ingredients for the cream directly into the sour cream container, stirred well with a fork, tasted, mixed a little Salsa Salad seasoning in, tasted again, declared victory and stashed the cream in the fridge while I tackled the tart.

The biggest chore there was preparing the corn; it took about 20 minutes to clean the cobs to my satisfaction. I'm not sure how much waste the Cooking Light version would have generated; my cobs were clean and the result was probably twice "3 1/2 cups". Good think my cast iron skillet's industrial size...

From there I chopped onion and peppers, again producing a greater volume than strict adherence to the recipe would have allowed.

I spread a couple of drops of olive oil across the bottom of my heated skillet and got to work cooking the onions to a nice golden color. Added the chiles and continued to saute until they browned a bit and released a soul-satisfying fragrance.

I had pre-cooked my sausage while I was shucking corn, and I added it at this point. Added the garlic and the corn and because of the volume, I probably cooked it another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure a nice, even light-brownage. After transferring the mix to a big bowl, I mixed in the Penzeys seasonings, tasting occasionally until I was happy with the balance.

I followed the polenta instructions as published (without realizing it) -- I've been making polenta since I was about 6 years old so there's no lack of confidence there. I tossed a handful of the grated chipotle cheddar and sprinkled some of the Penzeys seasonings into the polenta before lining the skillet with it to create the tart "shell". Layered on the cheese and the corn mixture and baked at 450 for 35 minutes (cheese melted, edges crispy but not blackened).

I served this over a bed of lettuce dressed lightly with a chipotle vinaigrette. Yum.

Because this creation was loosely inspired by "Donna Day" and her sister events, I've chosen it as my contribution to Hay Hay, it's Donna Day - Equal Opportunity Tarts, hosted this month by the dynamic Sarina Nicole of TriniGourmet.

Resources used:
Organic corn and poblanos, chipotles and cheese from Whole Foods
Garlic & onion from my CSA
Clover-Stornetta organic sour cream
Penzeys Salsa Seasoning and Ground Chipotles

Technorati Tags: | |

September 23, 2007

Eat it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, Do Without

One of the advantages of last month's Operation Bug-Begone is an increased awareness of exactly which foodstuffs abound in my pantry. I discovered that in addition to 7 different varieties of flour and 11 separate olive oils, I have nineteen tins of imported Italian tuna, shoved in the corner of a cabinet after Nona Sylvia's last trip to the old country.

So when Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness announced that September's Leftover Tuesdays Edition #8 was a call to rummage through the cabinets, counter top, refrigerator and come up with a creative meal, I knew exactly where my focus would be. A weeknight dinner comprised entirely of leftovers centered around a forgotten pantry item: the tuna panini.

I started with a leftover hunk of kalamata olive bread. Sprinkled it with a little grated asiago. Mixed the tuna with a chopped red onion, olive, and roasted bell peppers. Spread the tuna mixture over the bread and topped it with a wedge of avocado. Ten minutes of prep, two minutes per side on my grill pan with a sandwich press and dinner is served.

I paired it with the last few ounces of a bottle of Pinot Grigio we'd opened over the weekend.

Resources used:
Kalamata Olive Bread from Della Fattoria
Callipo Ventresca (Belly Tuna) in olive oil
Stevenot Winery 2006 Pinot Grigio

Technorati Tags: | |

September 18, 2007

One last wave at summer...

Summer is fading into fall here in Northern California. It's getting dark a little earlier in the evening, and 100-degree "Indian summer" days have given way to crisp cool nights. Rain is in this weekend's forecast. Apples, pears and figs have replaced peaches and plums at the farmers' markets.

I was pleased when Ivonne chose to honor the fig in this 35th edition of Sugar High Friday. I love fall fruits -- *especially* the unctuous fig -- but like many of you I don't have a lot of experience cooking with them. I enjoy slicing them over a harvest salad, stuffing them with goat cheese and wrapping them in pancetta, and I've even experimented with a yummy savory torte that often makes our autumn open house menu. But Ivonne was looking for something sweet, so I couldn't lean on any of my old standbys. I'd need to expand my horizons and come up with some new way to fall in love with the fig.

I looked at a lot of recipes. I thought about scones. I perused a half dozen different interpretations of fig tart. I briefly contemplated preserving the bounty for posterity in the form of fig jam. But in the end, I took a step back toward summer, choosing a riff on Fine Cooking's Fig and Anise Ice Cream as my contribution to this month's event.

I'm not a fan of anise so I did a little improvising there, choosing cardamom and clove to impart a bit of a fall flavor. And I used my grandmother's trick, swapping mascarpone for the creme fraiche the recipe requested. Because recipes are just guidelines, right? My revised ingredient list included:

2 pounds fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
2 cups organic whipping cream
1/3 cup honey
8 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon cloves
3 large eggs, separated
1 cup mascarpone

I pureed the figs to a fluffy pink texture and then cooked it to a wonderful jammy goodness. And every time I combine cream and eggs over heat, I thank Shuna for her careful instruction in all things anglaise.

I had plenty of down time while my base chilled in the refrigerator. An hour and a half, to be exact. You'd think I could have used some of that time to study the instruction manual that came with the ice cream maker attachment I haven't used since *last* summer.

You'd think wrong.

I *did* look at the manual. I actually watched a video on Kitchen Aid's website that showed how to assemble the equipment. This isn't rocket science. You'd think I'd have retained it long enough to get the apparatus up and running.

I repeat, you'd think wrong.

I screwed up the assembly. So my delicious gelato base is still... gelato base.

Lucky for me, Shuna's curriculum included some troubleshooting, so my base is back in refrigeration and we're going to try this again tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Resources used:
blend of organic brown turkey and black mission figs from Hamada Farms
Clover-Stornetta organic whipping cream
California Wildflower honey from Marshall's Farm

Technorati Tags: | |

September 16, 2007

Who can take a sunrise...

...Sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with choc'late and a miracle or two?
The Candy Man...
Oh, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can
'Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good

I'm honored to announce that Laura Rebecca has invited me to host the latest iteration of her delightful Retro Recipe Challenge. With Halloween approaching in all its sweet-centered indulgence, we're celebrating sugar. We've chosen Sammy Davis Junior as our spokesperson for Retro Recipe Challenge #9: The Candy Man...

Who can take a rainbow
Wrap it in a sigh
Soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie?
The Candy Man...
The Candy Man can
The Candy Man can
'Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good

So don't just sit there singing along... join us! Dig out your old magazines and cookbooks. Flip to the dessert section. Find a recipe that speaks to you in the language of sugar. Make it. Photograph it. Blog about it. And send me the details...

Who can take tomorrow
Dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream?
The Candy Man...
Oh, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can
'Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good

Are you in?

Let's take a little closer look at the guidelines: First, we're primarily interested in recipes published before 1980, but we're flexible. Ideally, your blog post should cite your source (even if that's grandma's recipe box) and share your experience with the recipe. You're welcome to use the Retro Recipe Sources Laura Rebecca provides for inspiration. Pictures are lovely, but optional.

Next, send me your contribution, including a link to the post, your name and location before midnight PDT on October 26. Send it to dolores dot ferrero at gmail dot com. Look for a sugar soaked round up the round up on October 31.

The Candy Man makes everything he bakes
Satisfying and delicious
Talk about your childhood wishes
You can even eat the dishes...

Technorati Tags: |

September 11, 2007


I found this over at Fer Food.

I'm not sure what it says. About the criminal mind. About justice. About the American diet. About me. About anything.

But I found it fascinating.

September 05, 2007

One tardy tart...

By now many of you have read fifty-some stories detailing the saga of the Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart. A bit of bleeding aside, our experience wasn't terribly dramatic.

The shortbread crust came together quickly and without incident. I had the advantage of the collective Daring Baker experience to draw on, so when it crumbled a bit as I pressed it into the tart pan I didn't panic. The result was sensational; I will be adding this crust to my tart shell arsenal.

Have I mentioned how much I love that my guy enjoys the kitchen as much as I do? John agreed to help me tackle the caramel. When he learned that the "dry method" was a challenge for all but the professionally-trained among us, he decided to take it head on.

This is where the minimalist recipe left us the greatest room for error. The instructions read: "In a saucepan, caramelize 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar using the dry method until it turns a golden caramel color."

Google "homemade caramel, dry method" and below fifty some blog entries dated August 29, you get a handful of other hits. Each offers advice on how to make a perfect caramel. No two sets of instructions match. Some say stir. Some say leave it alone. Some make dry caramel using damp sugar.

In the end, John winged it. Stirred the sugar until it melted, turned up the heat slightly until he had a color and a texture he was happy with, then mounted the cream and butter.

Like many of the other Daring Bakers we baked the tart for twice the published duration, then let it cool overnight before adding the mousse component.

And it was in making the mousse that things got a little dicey. John's chopping the chocolate block for melting, and the dialog goes something like this:

J: {expletive} Didn't need that fingertip anyway.
J: Honey, can you come here a second?
D: What happened?
J: Cut myself chopping the chocolate.
D: Do you need me to bring a band-aid?
J: How about a tourniquet?

That got my attention. In the end, the wound wasn't serious (although it still smarts), but the bleeding was profuse. We were able to contain it and move ahead with the mousse, and managed to proceed through the remainder of that task without incident.

I'd found a bar of dark chocolate with hazelnuts that I thought would make a nice decoration tying the components together and I drizzled a bit of dark chocolate sauce over the top of that.

In an ongoing attempt to prevent these monthly challenges from turning into a steady program of weight gain, our taste-testing audience for this culinary experiment were the attendees at a Saturday square dance party. So I can tell you that this travels beautifully and presents well on a buffet. We served it sliced into brownie-sized squares. How did it go over? Nine people asked me for the recipe. I think we have a winner here.

You can find the recipe on Patricia's post or Veronica's. Veronica and Patricia chose this month's confection from Eric Kayser’s Sweet & Savory Tarts, a tome that's found its way to the top of my wish list despite the author's brevity with recipes. Curious how the other Daring Bakers fared with this challenge? Check out their results through the Daring Baker Blogroll.

Resources Used:
Horizon Organic whipping cream
Farm fresh eggs from the fine folks at Vino Noceto winery
Valrhona milk chocolate
Rapunzel Organic Swiss Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts

Technorati Tags: | | | |

September 04, 2007

HEALTHY Fair Food?!?

In Texas it's the Fried Cookie Dough. In Minnesota, it's Mac & Cheese on a Stick. Indiana is frying their Twinkies trans-fat free. And they're frying soft drinks in Colorado.

At state and county fairs across the United States, food vendors shove a stick in just about anything edible, drop it in a deep fryer, and sell it to hungry fairgoers at premium prices.

Your heroine is no stranger to the fair food phenomenon.

One of my fondest summertime memories is sharing a corn dog and a coke with Grandpa as we waited in line for the ferris wheel.

And I'm no stranger to the funnel cake.

So while I headed to this year's county fair anticipating a caloric and dietetic disaster, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new relatively healthy new fair food obsession: mango on a stick. For four bucks I walked away with one of the sweetest, juiciest most succulent mangoes I've ever experienced. Sure, it probably prompted a spike in my blood sugar. But it provided some nutritional value with the sugar rush. And as I considered the artery-clogging options I'd passed up, smugness settled in.

Technorati Tags:

September 01, 2007

You've got Mail! From Australia!

The package arrived at my doorstep during the height of "Battle Bug" (a war we're still waging against a few hearty stragglers). A delightful little box all the way from Australia.

I wasted no time clearing off the first available horizontal surface and diving right in! (Sadly, I wasted way too much time getting my goodies posted here, and for that I extend sincere apologies to Cin and Stephanie.)

First out of the box, a generous jar of Wattleseed. Hmm... Wattleseed? Wattleseed: according to the Internets, an Aboriginal spice blend made popular by a pioneer in native Australian foods and used to add complex flavor profiles to sweets and savories. A little more web surfing reveals some must-try recipes: Wattleseed Pavlova and Emeril's Wattleseed Ice Cream.

Next up, a handful of chocolate bars... two adorable Cadbury "Caramello" Koala Chocolate Caramel bars and two bars of Ccoca Rhapsody's Nut Cove -- roasted hazelnuts, pistachios, and caramelized sugar covered in organic fair trade milk chocolate hand-crafted in Melbourne.

From sugar we turn to caffeine, in the form of Byron Bay Coffee Company's Classic Roast. Rich and smooth with hints of chocolate, it's been a hit at my breakfast table.

G'day mate... if I ever find myself visiting the land of Oz, I know what I'll get if I order a sanger and a tube of amber fluid. thanks to a handy dictionary of Aussie slang.

As summer fades to fall and I'm searching for an inviting book, a cozy blanket and a warm cup of soup on a chilly weekend afternoon, I now have Jacques Pepin's memoir The Apprentice waiting on my coffee table. It promises to be a story of strength and determination, growth and transformation... sprinkled with some soul-satisfying recipes.

And then there are the Tim Tams. These are clearly Australia's contribution to that small collection of foodstuffs (marcona almonds, pimentos di padron, Girl Scout thin mints, Caramel Sin) that I consider culinary cocaine. Cin suggests the Tim Tam Slam: "bite off (nibble) diagonal corners and use biscuit as a straw to sip your tea/coffee (make sure it's not too hot). Quickly place entire biscuit in mouth and wait for explosion." We haven't been able to try the Tim Tam Slam because we can't stop eating them straight out of the package. Another trip to the Internets reveals that these lovelies come in multiple flavors. For which there are recipes. A few more minutes with Google and I have a source for the entire product line in Texas. My uncle lives near San Antonio. I see a road trip in my future...

Thanks to Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness for hosting this installment of Blogging by Mail, and to Cin of My Favorite Things for sharing a little bit of Australia with me.

Technorati Tags: