Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Slaving Away

Sunday night I successfully attempted Indian food! Indian food is my kind of food. Namely, it's flavorful mush. My grandma always said that I didn't like meat because I didn't like to chew. My mother never let that comment go and still to this day maintains that I am an anti-chewer. I think I'm not a big fan of meat because it's flavor and texture trigger my gag reflex at times (at least it used to, I'm much better now). But I do have to admit that I am a lover of mushy but flavorful food. And you get to scoop your mush up with some delicious bread, rather than just a boring old fork. Another plus!

Anyway, this wasn't my first attempt. I previously made Deb's spicy lentil, potato, and pea samosas, which turned out fabulously. That recipe and this recipe had three things in common: they were both flavorful and delicious, they both were made from simple recipes with great instructions, and they both had so many steps that it took freaking forever to make. Seriously. I don't know where the time went! It is definitely not a throw everything into a pan and cook it recipe. First you have to cook the peas, then the onions, then let things simmer, etc. etc.

But it was well worth the wait. Yum! That just means that it's a weekend dish. In this case I made yellow dal and black eyed peas in goan curry. It's another Smitten Kitchen recipe. (I have recipes from other sources, I swear!) It wasn't a complicated recipe at all, quite the opposite actually. It just had a lot of steps. I recommend having a good magazine or tv close by for the times when everything is cooking and you're left standing around and waiting.

I was also feeling ambitious and also baked up some pizza dough with olive oil and roasted garlic on top to act as my dipping bread. I need to learn to make garlic naan as good as the Indian restaurant in my neighborhood. It's fantastic! I wasn't very happy with the pizza dough recipe, I think I'll try to find a better one. But it was still pretty darned good as a scooper. Here's the finished product:

When Husband tried this he said I was "dinner party ready". He later clarified, saying that since my cooking attempts had been so successful lately (as in, delicious!) I was ready for other people to come over and try my food (something I've always been nervous about for some reason). It was a wonderful compliment that will hopefully be followed up by some real dinner parties! If they ever finish remodeling my kitchen that is.

Also, a warning to all married cooks out there. I keep running out of food! I made a big pan of dal and a big pan of curry and in the blink of an eye it was gone! And we won't even mention my poor pizza dough. Why? My husband! He keeps eating up all my delicious food because, well, it's delicious! You may need to double some recipes if you've got a husband (or children) like mine in the vicinity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Famous Cake

Why is the famous Smitten Kitchen chocolate peanut butter cake famous? Well sure it was featured on the Martha Stewart Show, but it was well known to me and my friend far sooner than that. I think this is a case where fantastic food photography combined with the words chocolate, peanut butter, and cake just became something magical. I remember I was out with my friend a few weeks ago and she mentioned a recipe for a chocolate peanut butter cake she really wanted to try. "SMITTEN KITCHEN!" I shouted at her. "YES!" she yelled back. And we made a pact to make the cake together, which we finally got around to last weekend.

This cake takes a long time to make. Clear you schedule for the afternoon folks. Not only do you have to make 3 layers of cake, frosting, and glaze, but you have to chill the cake in all three of those steps. Bake the cake, then freeze it; Frost the cake then refrigerate it; Glaze the cake then refrigerate it some more. It took us four freaking hours!

I have to say, as much as it bums me out, I have some major issues with the recipe for this chocolate peanut butter cake.
  • The recipe says to use 8 inch round cake pans. Now I'm new to baking so maybe someone can help me out. I went to two different stores (three if you count the grocery store), and as far as I can tell there is no such thing as 8 inch round cake pans. They're all 9 inches!
  • The cake batter is super watery. We read the recipe over 3 times in disbelief because 1 1/2 cups of water just seemed like too much. The batter looked too watered down after only 1 cup, so we were nervous about that.
  • The layers are way too thin. I would actually just do two layers. I get that you get more frosting for your buck with three small layers, but they were a pain to work with (do not skip the step of freezing the cake layers after they bake!)...but maybe that's just because I wasn't wild about the frosting (I'll get to that).
  • The cake itself is...not that great. I was expecting something dark and rich based on the picture. Maybe it was photoshoped, but I followed the recipe to a T and what I got was a cake that was light (as in the color was not a rich dark brown at all) and not very flavorful. I felt my Schargenberger cocoa powder was wasted!
  • The frosting is way too sweet and kind of nasty. The frosting alone has 5 frakking cups of sugar. The peanut butter makes it a bit heavy, which combined with the sickeningly sweet sugar content makes it a bit unpleasant.
  • Frosting this cake was a total pain. Since it was so watery, it crumbled and fell apart at the slightest touch. I ended up just globbing on the frosting because I had better success that way, but I ran out of frosting pretty quickly. There were definitely pretty spots and not so pretty spots.
My tips:
  1. As I said above, don't skip the steps to chill the cake at the various stages. It really makes a difference. It would have been impossible to work with the ultra thin cake layers if they had not been frozen first. In fact, only take out one layer at a time, otherwise the others will warm back up while you're frosting the first one.
  2. Make this cake the day before you actually want to eat it. We tried the cake just an hour or two after we made it and the flavors just didn't seem to mesh as well as I would have liked. But when I tried another piece the next day I thought it tasted a lot better (though still way too sickeningly sweet).
One thing I will rave about is the chocolate glaze. It is freaking good. I wouldn't mind modifying this recipe in every way except the glaze. I would like to first off ditch the chocolate cake recipe in favor of my go-to chocolate cake recipe my sister gave me. Not sure who originated it, so I hope I'm not breaking any rules by posting it, but this is my favorite chocolate cake recipe I've come across so far:

Amazon Chocolate Cake:

3 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (mmmm...Schargenberger...)
2 tsp baking sode
2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
1/2 cup + 2 Tb corn or vegetable oil
1 Tb vanilla
2 Tb white vinegar or strained lemon juice

Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Sift. In separate bowl, mix together water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar/lemon juice. Whisk together wet and dry mixtures. Pour through strainer into a bowl, breaking up lumps and pressing them through. Mix again, and pour into 2 greased 9-inch round cake pans or one greased 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to floor several times to pop air bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

I'm thinking if I can figure out how to make a raspberry frosting (with way less sugar of course), and if I take the peanut butter out of the chocolate glaze, and I use the above cake recipe, this could be a pretty freaking sweet cake (er, that's sweet as in awesome, not sweet as in the opposite of sour).

All that said, I am so proud of myself for making this cake. This was definitely not a beginner's recipe, and I think I managed to execute the recipe pretty darn well! And Deb does give a lot of good tips, which I always appreciate. I think that's why I like food blogs so much better than cook books. There's always little tricks and nuances that never make it into the book, but are so essential to whatever your making coming out right.

Oh and one more tip: if you do decide to make this recipe, make sure you have a tall glass of milk on hand. Even if you don't like milk you're going to need it. 7 cups of sugar will do that to a person. Enjoy!

Afterthought: I tried another piece of the cake last night and I'm very undecided.  The first couple of bites are delicious, and then the flavors just seem to compound and that's when it gets too overwhelmingly sweet.  I think serving it cold makes a big difference.  I know that Deb suggested serving only very small pieces, and now I think I understand why.  It's not because it's so rich that people won't be able to handle more, it's because the first few bites taste delicious, so you might as well only serve a couple of bites.  

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Just Like Grandma Used To Make

Last weekend at the farmers market I found some great looking swiss chard, so I decided to try this recipe for barley and lentil soup with swiss chard I had been eying for a few weeks.

Another nice and easy recipe (gimme a break, I'm just starting). It wasn't quite drop and simmer, but it was pretty close to that. I was actually surprised by how unbelievably delicious this soup was! It was close to the Progresso lentil soups I had all the time growing up, only ten times better of course. I just mean the flavors were similar...the lentils, the chard, and the spices.

But it was the barley that made this soup for me. I took a bite and instantly thought of my grandmother. Growing up she always had a pot of soup simmering on the stove. A few piece of beef here, a few carrots there. Her soups were always very hodge podge and always amazing. And they often had barley in them! She is the only person I've known who put barley in her soups, but really, it's a great addition. I loved eating this delicious soup and feeling like I had a connection back to my grandmother. I think she would have really liked this soup, but, you know, with some meat in it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Holla At The Baker

One of my latest ambitions is to learn to bake my own bread. I freaking love bread. Pumpernickle, dark, sweet wheat, crusty sour dough. I love them all. So when I saw this recipe for challah on Smitten Kitchen, I was ecstatic.

Let me tell you not only was this recipe easy, the challah tasted so darn good I was ready to bake two loaves a day for the rest of my life. It is so easy, in fact, that I was able to make it completely by hand with no mixer (my kitchen-aid is packed away at the moment...darn remodel). Ok, stirring in 8 cups of flour, one cup at a time, by hand was a bit of a challenge, but I could use the muscle.

The house smelled like heaven the rest of the day. I personally like poppy seeds on my challah (thus the addition of them), but Husband wasn't a fan. I decided that next time I'll make a his and her loaf, one with poppy seeds and one without.

I brought a loaf into work the next day, hoping to share my first bread baking triumph. I am astounded that so many people don't know what challah is! My co-workers kept asking if I was saying "holla". No, no. None of that please. For those not in the jew-bread know, this is what challah is all about.

Once the bread was made, there was the question of what to eat on the bread. I had two things in mind. First I tried out this recipe for plum and earl grey preserves. I had never heard of mixing fruit and tea leaves, but the results were a-m-azing. Not too sweet...slighty flowery...I can't even describe the flavor but whoever thought of mixing these two things together was a genius. Again, this recipe was so easy that even I could do it no problem. And let me tell you...

...the preserves tasted great on a slice of the challah. Since both had just a hint of sweetness (rather than being sugar central), they went really nicely together. Now that the challah is all eaten up (boo!), I need to find an alternative bread source for finishing off these preserves. I'm thinking pancakes for breakfast this weekend!

The other spread I tried with the challah was some cinnamon honey butter I had left over from some biscuits I bought. I don't have to recipe for this one (though I'd like to experiment and make one up sometime in the near future), but I'm guessing that just mixing up some butter with cinnamon and honey will get the desired results. Anyway, this combination was really delicious too. I think the cinnamon overpowered the challah a little bit, but since the challah was a few days old and just shy of stale, it there wasn't as much flavor to mask.

I'm really excited that my first bread baking adventure went so well. I can't wait to try a new adventure soon!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

We're Up And Running!

Well I finally did it. I updated I mean copied someone's blog template and tweaked it a little so I could call it my own blog template! I hope you all like it. I'll still make some tweaks along the way (especially with the blog header...that's temporary until I find something I like better), but I think it's good enough to put my name on. ;)

Ok, so why did I feel the crazy need to make a third blog? Well if you read my first blog you know that I had to set it to private, so blogging things like my knitting projects and cooking adventures really wasn't as fun. And if you read my second blog you know that there is only room for one star on that blog and his name is Theodore. I had been batting around this idea for months and I finally decided to just take the plunge.

I've been remodeling my kitchen for the last few months and let me tell you, nothing will encourage you to cook more than eating out every single meal for 3 months straight. I even got sick of Rubios for awhile, and that's staying something. Now that it's almost done I've been dabbling a bit with some of the recipes I've been drooling over since June. So while the title suggests that perhaps the first post of this blog should be about knitting, I'm going to be difficult and share with you my latest baking accomplishment: lime meltaway cookies!

The first few recipes I tried were definitely dominated by Deb from Smitten Kitchen. Simple recipes combined with fresh ingredients and gorgeous food photography kept me on the edge of my taste buds the last few weeks. Her keylime meltaways (pictured) recipe I highly recommend.

Like Deb's husband, I love limes. I didn't discover how much I liked them until I tried a squirt or two of fresh lime on my Rubio's fish taco especial years ago, but it's been a love affair ever since. So where before I may have thought "ew" upon seeing a recipe for baking with lime, now I see it and think "oh man that sounds like it could be delicious", and they were! They were buttery and sweet, but the lime flavor kept it from tasting too boring, too heavy, or too sweet. It added a bit of freshness to the cookies, which was good and bad. Good because it made the cookie taste light and was a great balance for the sweet sugar, and bad because it made me feel like I could eat twice and many.

This recipe was super easy. I didn't have any key limes, so I just used regular limes. I'd definitely be interested in trying this recipe again with the key limes to see how different the cookies turn out. And be sure not to over-bake! Mine were super crumbly, I think because I baked them a little too long, though it didn't seem to affect the flavor much. Also, I have to warn you, these cookies almost didn't make it in to the oven at all. Stay away from the dough! It is habit forming! The raw dough for these cookies is just about the yummiest thing I have ever tasted. Again, I blame the lime. Don't say that I didn't warn you!

PS: If you're interested, don't forget to follow my blog!