Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whoo-hoo, My New Storage Closet

Ta-Da! I'm so happy it's finally done.

Remember my pantry project (center) from this past summer? I had it built because the extremely narrow pantry our house came with (far right) didn't adequately serve our needs, but I thought I could put it to good use as a place to store my pots and pans.

This was the closet before its transformation. The wire shelves were deep, too deep - and there were only 4 of them. The wire was flimsy too - it would bend under the weight of whatever was placed on it.

I patched and painted the walls. Then hubby installed the brackets and shelf supports, and cut the shelves to fit.

To be completely honest, this project was very, very low on Hubby's list of priorities, but he finally got it done and earned lots of bonus points in the process.

In the past I stored all my pots and pans in lower cabinets. I had to kneel down and carefully stack and restack in order to get everything to fit - kind of a pain, but I managed. Then I started having the kids put the dishes away. They did NOT share in my vision of a neatly stacked and organized cabinet... they would literally shove things in with no rhyme or reason. Pots and lids were never together. Items would tumble out when I opened the door. And I was constantly worried that my non-stick items would get damaged.

Now each pot and pan has it's own shelf space, lids neatly stored with each pan. I still need to add a few hooks to the walls to optimize unused space, but for now, I can take a deep breath and smile - ahhhhhhhh!

Here's a close-up. Small and seldom used items on the top shelves.

Large and more frequently used items on the bottom shelves. Ignore the missing stock pot - it's currently housing a big batch of soup.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Oven Roasted Cauliflower, Onions, and Garlic

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower, Onions, and Garlic ButteryumYummy roasted cauliflower with onions and garlic. Oh my goodness is this a fantastic veggie dish. Sweet, garlicy, amazing!

I usually roast cauliflower with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, but I stumbled upon a slightly more interesting Emeril version that I tweaked to my family's liking and it was a hit - proven true by the fact that I had several teenagers sampling bite after bite as soon as I took these out of the oven.

Warning - if you make this dish, your house will be filled with the aroma of caramelized onions and garlic!

Start with a head of fresh cauliflower - chop it into smallish florets.

Time to add onions and garlic. My cauliflower was huge, so I used 5 cloves of garlic and 2 small onions.

I always chop the dried ends of the garlic cloves off - ick.

Chop the onions into large cubes. If your garlic cloves are large, cut them in half.
Add onions and garlic to the cauliflower florets.

Time to make the flavorful dressing. It's simple - all you need is extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Kosher salt, and ground pepper (recipe below).

Whisk, whisk, whisk.

Pour over veggies; toss to coat evenly.

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower, Onions, and Garlic ButteryumBake in a 400F oven for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes. The cauliflower will cook down quite a bit, but the flavor will be intense!

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower, Onions, and Garlic ButteryumHeaven!!

Oven Roasted Cauliflower, Onions, and Garlic

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
3-5 cloves garlic, cut in half if large
1-2 small onions, cut into large cubes

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Optional Garnish - chopped parsley or chives, crushed red pepper flakes, or parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place veggies in a large casserole dish; toss with dressing. Bake at 400F for about an hour, stirring every 10 minutes. Garnish.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Yes, I made a cake that flopped

Yes it's true, even experienced bakers such as myself make cakes that flop every now and then.

This is my failed attempt at this week's Heavenly Cake Bakers selection of the Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake from Rose's Heavenly Cakes. I've successfully made many Angel Food cakes over the years. Never had one fall until today.

The recipe started innocently enough - I carefully weighed each of the ingredients.

Whipped my room temperature egg whites to the frothy stage before adding cream of tartar.

Continued beating, adding the sugar as directed. Whipped until the whites reached stiff peaks.

Carefully folded in the flour, salt, sugar mixture.

Carefully folded in the grated chocolate.

So far, so good.

Now here is where I did something I had never done before... I "prepared" the sides of the ungreased tube pan with a thin layer of cake batter (as directed in the recipe). The process was uneventful and I doubt it had anything to do with the cake ultimately falling out of the pan.

A quick run through the batter with a spatula to remove any air bubbles.

I smoothed the batter and cleaned up the edges of the cake pan.

The directions say the cake should bake in the bottom third of a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes, until the batter puffs up, cracks, browns, and starts to shrink back in the pan. Check.

I baked my cake for a total of 35 minutes.

The cake is then immediately inverted over a bottle to cool upside down.
(again, as directed in the recipe)

But less than a minute later, I watched as the cake fell right out of the pan.

I don't know what happened. We've had quite a bit of rain over the last 3 days, and I know egg whites and humidity don't jive, but there hasn't been any rain today and my whites whipped up nicely. The humidity is currently 61% - not sure if that led to the fall or not. I'll quit while I'm ahead and serve this cake as is to the kids when they get home from school. I'm sure they won't mind.

Update - the humidity was 61% when I started this cake 2 hours ago, but I just checked again and it seems the humidity has risen to 78% - thoughts?

You win some, you loose some.
What can I say.

Note - many bakers in the group had no trouble with this recipe, but a few of us ended up with fallen cakes. If you're so inclined to give it a go, the recipe is posted here on NPRs website. I've copied it below.

Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Serves 14 to 16

1-1/2 cups, divided superfine sugar
3/4 cup cake flour, lightly spooned and leveled off (or 1 cup, sifted into the cup and leveled off)
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 large egg whites, at room temperature, or 2 cups
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ounces fine-quality unsweetened or 99% cacao chocolate, chilled, finely grated, refrigerated

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:One ungreased 10-inch (16 cups) two-piece metal tube pan or 1 long-necked glass wine or soda bottle, or a large inverted metal funnel that will fit into the opening at the top of the pan. (Have this ready before baking and weight it by filling it with sugar or marbles to keep it from tipping)

PREHEAT THE OVEN: Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

PREPARE THE SUGAR, FLOUR, AND SALT: In a small bowl, whisk together half the sugar, the flour, and salt until evenly combined. Sift the remaining sugar onto a piece of wax paper.

BEAT THE EGG WHITES INTO A STIFF MERINGUE: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. With the mixer off, add the cream of tartar. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. Gradually beat in the sifted sugar and continue beating on medium-high speed until very stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Beat in the vanilla until combined.

MAKE THE BATTER: Dust (lightly sprinkle) the flour mixture over the beaten whites, 1/4 cup at a time (if using cake flour, sift it over the whites). With a large balloon whisk, slotted skimmer, or large silicone spatula, fold in the flour mixture quickly but gently. It is not necessary to incorporate every speck until the last addition. Fold in the grated chocolate until evenly incorporated. Using a long narrow spatula or silicone spatula, spread a thin layer of batter onto the sides of the prepared pan to ensure smooth sides. Empty the rest of the batter into the pan. In a 16-cup pan, it will be 1/2-inch from the top of the rim. Run a small metal spatula or knife through the batter to prevent air pockets and smooth the surface evenly.

BAKE THE CAKE: Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown, a wire cake tester inserted between the tube and the side comes out clean, and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. (A wooden toothpick will still have a few moist crumbs clinging to it.) During baking, the center will rise about 2 inches above the pan, but it will sink to almost level with the pan when done. The surface will have deep cracks, like a souffle.

COOL AND UNMOLD THE CAKE: Invert the pan immediately, placing the tube opening over the neck of the bottle to suspend it well above the countertop. Cool completely in the pan, about 1-1/2 hours.

Loosen the sides of the pan with a long narrow spatula and remove the center core of the pan. Dislodge the cake from the bottom and center core with a metal spatula or thin sharp knife. (A wire cake tester or wooden skewer works well around the core. To keep the sides attractive, press the spatula firmly against the sides of the pan, moving the spatula up and down as you go around it.) Invert the cake onto a flat plate covered with plastic wrap that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray and reinvert it onto a serving plate. Allow the cake to sit for 1 hour, or until the top is no longer tacky. Then cover it with a cake dome or wrap it airtight. It keeps for 3 days at room temperature and for 10 days refrigerated. Freezing toughens the texture. The cake is also lovely decorated simply with a light sprinkling of cocoa or lacy drizzles of melted chocolate. Do not serve this cake with sauce as it would fall apart.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Maple Glazed Acorn Squash

Oven Roasted Acorn Squash ButterYumHere's a recipe I found on the website Food Wishes. Chef John has a great site chock full of recipes, videos, and lots of wonderful humor. I urge you to set aside several hours when you visit because you'll be tempted to click video after video after video - believe me, I know.

So anyway, I had this acorn squash sitting around and decided to give it the Chef John treatment - oven roasted with a touch of fresh orange juice and glazed with a butter, brown sugar, maple syrup glaze - hello.

Preheat oven to 400F. CAREFULLY cut the acorn squash and scrape out the seeds. Hint - you can stabilize the squash in your impeccably clean sink drain if you're nervous about it moving around while you try to cut it in half. You can also bunch up a tea towel and make a well to nest the quash in. Also, Chef John shows how to slowly and carefully cut and score the squash in his video.

Okay, now you carefully score the inside of the squash with 1/4-inch deep score marks; do this in a crisscross fashion. Place the squash in a baking dish and brush with freshly squeezed orange juice. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and bake for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes, make the glaze by combining the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and cayenne in a non-stick pan over med-high heat.

Bring to a boil for 1 full minute.

ButterYum Maple Glazed Acorn SquashBrush the glaze all over the squash and return them to the 400F oven for 40 minutes. If your glaze starts to firm up before you use it, return it to the heat for just a moment.

When done, allow the squash to sit for a few minutes. The glaze will thicken as it pools in the bottom of each squash half; redistribute the glaze, season with salt and pepper. Serve.

ButterYum Maple Glazed Acorn SquashLunch for me.

(warning for those who don't like cute little critters)




...lunch for DD's hamster too!

Maple Glazed Acorn Squash
recipe makes 1 - increase as needed

1 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
sprinkle of Kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup (the real stuff please)
itty-bitty pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Score halved squash and brush with freshly squeezed orange juice and sprinkle lightly with Kosher Salt. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Make glaze by combining the maple syrup, brown sugar, butter, and cayenne; boil for a minute and brush on squash halves. Return to oven for another 40 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tres Leches

Torta de las Tres Leches Rose Beranbaum ButterYum

Torta de las Tres Leches Rose Beranbaum ButterYumThis week's Heavenly Cake Baker's selection was the Torta de las Tres Leches cake from Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Loosely translated, the cake of 3 milks. I heard about this specialty cake from Mexico several years ago and have wanted to try it ever since. The cake can best be described as sweet, cold, and very, very wet.

Tres Leches Cake is comprised of three components - a sponge cake layer, the leche soaking mixture, and a whipped cream topping. The cake layer was easy to make, as was the whipped cream, however, I was not at all pleased with the length of time it took to reduce the milk for the leche mixture - reducing 5 cups of whole and skim milk down to a total of 2.5 cups took over 30 minutes of constant stirring - what an aggravation. More about that later.

Let's make the cake. Start by heating whole eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a stand mixer bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk constantly until the egg mixture is very warm to the touch. This step only took about 5 minutes.

The egg mixture is then whipped with the stand mixer, on high, for 5 minutes - until it the eggs lighten in color considerably and the quadruple in volume.

Here we are after 5 minutes - complete transformation.

Sifted cake flour is then folded in to the whipped egg mixture. The batter is poured into a 9x3 cake pan that has been prepared with baking spray and parchment.

The cake bakes in the lower third of a 350F oven for 30-35 minutes.

The hot cake is removed from the hot pan immediately. The cake should be domed. The parchment paper is kept in place and the cake is turned right side up to cool while we make the leche mixture.

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, one with plenty of extra room to allow for bubbling, combine sugar, whole milk, and skim milk. Bring the mixture to a boil; continue to boil until reduced by half. I stirred constantly because milk burns very easily - this process took over 30 minutes - very frustrating and much too time consuming for this impatient baker. I might very well just substitute 2 1/2 cups of 2% milk in the future and completely forgo this awful step. By the way, several bakers complained of the horrible stench produced by the milk reducing process - I discovered this to be an accurate complaint. I'm so thankful to have a high output fume hood that kept my house from filling with that awful odor.

When the milk mixture is FINALLY reduced sufficiently, remove it from the heat and combine it with sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream; chill.

Now we prepare the cake layer for its leche bath. The recipe specifically states, "remove the upper crust, but do not remove any of the cake beneath it - leave it slightly domed". This advice goes against every ounce of my cake making soul, but I followed the instructions despite my incredibly strong desire to make the cake perfectly level.

Can you say Baking OCD?

The cake pan is used as a container for soaking the cake. After washing and drying the pan, Rose suggests lining the pan with two pieces of "crisscrossed plastic wrap". This sounded too messy to me (certain leakage), so I opted to line my pan with a large vegetable bag from the grocery store - you know, the ones you put your produce in. They're large, they're leak proof, and I assume they're food safe since they're made to hold food.

The trimmed cake goes back into the cake pan and all 4 2/3 cups of the leche mixture is poured over the cake.

The wrapping is then closed and the cake is refrigerated for at least 8 hours.

Turn the cake onto a serving tray, remove the plastic, and decorate with whipped cream.
The produce bag worked perfectly - didn't leak one single drop of the leche mixture.

I smoothed a layer of whipped cream just on the top of the cake, then piped the remaining whipped cream in a decorative pattern.

Torta de las Tres Leches Rose Beranbaum ButterYum
Be sure to serve this cake on a cake plate that will contain the puddle of leche which slowly grows into a pool of leche. See what happened after sitting for an hour.
Update - 48 hours later, I'm still sopping up leaking milk. If you're not planning on serving this entire cake right away, definitely put it in a container of some sort. I've been doing some recipe research and I see this cake is stored and served straight from the baking pan most of the time.

I had 4 taste testers for this cake tonight. My daughters loved it. I thought it was "okay". Hubby didn't like it at all - in all fairness to him, I didn't tell him anything about the cake ahead of time so he fully expecting the usual cake, but he was was taken aback by the cool, wet texture of this one. Personally, I had really high hopes for this cake, but I found the flavor to be lacking greatly. Just an eggy tasting sponge cake soaked in sweetened milk with an almost buttery topping of barely sweetened whipped cream.

The whole recipe contains only 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (in the cake layer). I would have liked this cake much more if the recipe called for more vanilla, not only in the cake, but in the leche and whipped cream as well. That surely would have made all the difference to my taste buds. Unless someone in the family requests this cake specifically, I doubt I'll be making it again.
Update - a friend emailed me her favorite recipe for this cake. It contains 2 teaspoons of vanilla in the cake layer, 1 teaspoon in the leche mixture, and 1 teaspoon in the whipped cream - there's a touch of cinnamon too. Much more to my liking. I think I'll give it a try.

Caloric Info: I bought an new kitchen toy this week - a food scale that calculates calories (The Biggest Loser Nutritional Scale - from QVC). Now I know this isn't exactly scientific, but I thought it would be interesting to weigh each of the ingredients and calculate the total calorie count for each slice.

If you cut this cake into 12 slices, each slice is approximately 488 calories.
If you cut this cake into 16 slices, each slice is approximately 366 calories.

Wow, lots of nice comments on my piping - thanks so much. It was very simple, I just piped a continuous swirl in concentric circles.

Here's the tip I used, a Wilton 2D, but a Wilton 1M or any other jumbo star tip would work.

Here's another great trick, use a zip-top food storage or freezer bag instead of a piping bag. They're dirt cheap, the top zips closed to prevent spills, and they're disposable. Don't be tempted to use a sandwich bag, they are not strong enough and will split at the seam. I use professional piping bags for really large decorating projects, but for a small project like this, the zip-top bags are perfect.