Monday, January 21, 2019

Piñata Cake

I found a reason to decorate another cake.  The outside of one of these party cakes can be any decoration you can imagine.  I was considering doing a Unicorn Cake, but I was still getting over the cold, and a trip to Michaels for colored fondant was more activity than I had in mind.  I'll get around to one of those eventually.

I chose to fill a confetti cake with mini M&Ms.  Recipes I've seen online show all sorts of fillings.  Reese's Pieces in a chocolate cake with peanut-butter frosting, sparkly sprinkles inside aforementioned Unicorn cake, sour candies or gummi bears in a fruity cake, even wrapped hard candies inside pretty much any flavor.  You can do small plastic toys, like party-favor pacifiers for a gender-reveal party.  Someone suggested money, but even new coins have tons of germs on them and I'm not even going into what's on paper cash.  It's all about the fun of that first slice, when the cake upchucks an extra surprise.

1.  Bake a cake.  You need a minimum of 3 layers.  Most photos I found showed four.
2.  Using a glass or cookie cutter, cut a hole in the center of all but the top layer.  I suppose I made the hole in mine a bit big, but I wanted to make a single-serving cakelet out of the middles.  I dug the last of the frosting from the pumpkin cakes out of the freezer and beat the orange and green together.  It makes a milk chocolate brown, in case anyone was wondering.
3.  I found it easiest to freeze the layers before proceeding.  Flip the bottom ring upside-down and put a bit of frosting on it, then upright it and center on a cake circle or final serving plate.  Top with filling, then with next cake layer.  Repeat if there's a third ring, making sure to put on the filling that will be below the top layer.  Crumb coat the open rings and freeze before proceeding.
4.  Fill the hole with candy.  I got about a cup of mini M&Ms in mine.  This will depend entirely upon the size of your cake, size of the hole, and how many layers you used.  Fill all the way to the top, and even slightly higher.  This needs to support the middle of the top layer of cake.  Put the top layer on and finish crumb coating the whole cake.  Chill to set crumb coat.
5.  Decorate your cake.  I had fun with colored sanding sugar on a store-bought white base.  You can set a cookie cutter on your cake, fill with a thin layer of sprinkles or colored sugar, and lift.  Most of it stays where it's supposed to.  For the side sprinkles, I just dried my hands very well and pushed them against the edge.
6.  DON'T TELL ANYONE WHAT'S INSIDE!  It's so tempting.  Do put the cake on a wide cake board or serving platter, maybe with a rim, and place it farther from the edge of the table than you normally would.  Depending on the filling, this might get messy.
7.  Make sure there's an audience when you cut the cake.  This is pretty easy at most parties, but when I do dinner parties I generally show off the cake, then go into the kitchen to hack it apart.  People seem under the impression that bakers are good at cutting cakes and pies.  Not always.

Difficulty rating :-0

Friday, January 18, 2019

Confetti Cake

I don't monetize, but I still don't want to run the risk of infringing on the Funfetti trademark, so we're calling it Confetti.

I haven't made a cake in a while, and started to miss the process.  Everyone at work wanted to know why I'd stopped bringing them, and I had to remind them that the Wedding Cake was done.  I had no reason to practice.  I also didn't have any new decorating ideas.

Then I found a cake I wanted to make.  More about that in the next post.  I could have used a previous recipe, and almost did it with a marble cake, but I wanted to try something new.  Considering the entire box of sprinkles I have, confetti made sense.
The first step is admitting you have a problem

In my recipe search, the common denominator seemed to be not to use nonpareils in the cake batter.  Those are the little beads, and half of the sprinkles in my box.  Fine, I bought more sprinkles.  At least this recipe uses an entire small container.

The batter recipe is a modified one from Preppy Kitchen, primarily because it's for 6" pans and doesn't use an indivisible 5 eggs.  He uses AP flour in all his cakes, and I swapped out half for cake flour because I have a lot of it and some of the YouTube comments talked about the cake being tough, but it still needed to be sturdy for the decoration I had in mind.  The butter turned into margarine because I prefer that in cakes.  I opted for whole eggs instead of egg whites, so used 1/4 C unflavored Greek yogurt instead of 1/2 C sour cream.  Similar acidity and swaps the volume.  As stated in the recipe, omitting the yolks is only about the color of the cake, and one of the recipes I had been considering was a yellow cake anyway.  All these changes did allow the batter to dome a little, which doesn't happen if you do it as written and use cake strips.  One layer was flat enough not to trim, and the other two had minor doming.  Snacks.

This post is only the cake itself.  Confetti frosting is just a basic buttercream with rainbow jimmies in it.  Honestly, it's cheaper to buy a can of Funfetti® frosting than to get the sprinkles separately, if you only need enough for decorating.

1 C All Purpose flour
2/3 C Cake flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 C margarine, room temperature
3 eggs, room temperature
1 C sugar
*1/2 C milk
1/4 C sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C rainbow sprinkles (flat rounds or jimmies)

1.  Grease three 6" cake pans or two 8", line bottoms with wax paper, and grease again.  Preheat oven to 340º.  Adjust cake bands to fit, if using, and start soaking.

2.  Sift together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

3.  In mixer with paddle, cream together margarine and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time until smooth and fluffy, scraping the bowl between additions.  Beat in sour cream and it's going to start getting a little soupy.
4.  Stir in half of flour mixture on low speed.  Add milk and vanilla and stir to combine.  Add remaining flour and stir until just evenly moist.  Remove from mixer stand and fold in sprinkles, making sure to scrape sides of bowl.  Only mix until evenly distributed, or they'll start to melt.
5.  Divide batter evenly between pans, preferably using a kitchen scale.  That works a whole lot better if your pans are identical, so I did it by volume.  If you have cake pan strips, they will help reduce doming and eliminate the crust around the edges.  Bake until cakes test done, about 30 minutes.
6.  Cool cakes in pan 5 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack.  Remove wax paper.  Cool completely before trimming and frosting.  These are very moist cakes, and I broke one by trimming it too soon.  Once cool, they can also be wrapped in plastic and foil and frozen to finish another day.

Makes one 3-layer 6" cake, about 8-10 servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Cold Got Worse

So much for my minor sore throat and sniffles.  I spent a whole day sneezing, followed by a night of low-grade fever.  I actually took a sick day off of work, and I can't remember the last time I did that.  Mainly because I don't get sick often.  My energy level recovered first, but I had too many symptoms to be preparing food for others.  Yesterday and today are my regular days off, but I'm largely treating them as extra sick days to get over this thing.

I still had to eat something.  The downside of shopping at Sprouts is it's very hard to find reasonably priced junk food, which is all you really want when you're sick.  The closest I got was herbed goat-cheese mashed potatoes, with a side of steak and fresh green beans.  I baked off all the Linzer cookie dough in the freezer, mainly to keep me from eating ice cream.  (Most of the baked cookies went back in the freezer for a future teatime.)  Once the fever went away, I got really hungry.

On the upside, if you have to be sick, staying in on a rainy day drinking tea and napping with the cat is a pretty decent way to do it.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Sick Day Soup

I caught the Office Cold.  It actually wasn't all that bad, just tiring.  Half a dose of DayQuil and a lot of herbal tea knocked it down to an acceptable level of discomfort, but there was one day with a whole lot of sneezing.  I also went to bed at 6pm for a week.  I think where everyone else at work went wrong (and got a lot sicker than I did) was not getting enough rest.

This recipe is mostly like Wor Wonton Soup, just without the wontons and adding red lentils.  If you don't like lentils, you could sub quinoa, chickpeas, or just about any legume.  The soup was just low in fiber for my liking and the only soba noodles at the market had a crazy amount of salt in them.  I did not want to add water retention to my list of woes.

*2 cloves garlic, minced
2" fresh ginger, grated
4 stalks green onion, sliced
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
*1/2 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
*1/2 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
1 qt low-salt chicken broth
1 package firm tofu, diced
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, tail off
*1/2 C dry red lentils
salt, pepper, and soy sauce to taste

1.  Pour broth into a large pot and start heating on medium.  Add garlic, ginger, and onion first, then start slicing everything else.  Add in mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, and radishes and let everything come to a low boil.  Cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until vegetables are softened, about 30 minutes.
2.  While that's simmering, rinse the lentils well to reduce any starch.  Cover with water 1/2" deep and bring to a low boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and rinse.
3.  Add diced tofu and shrimp to the main pot and cook until the shrimp is done, about 5 minutes.  Add in lentils and taste.  Add salt, pepper, and soy sauce as needed.  Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings as a main course, or 8 smaller bowls

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Emergency Salad

The day I was originally going to make the cauliflower pizzas, I got stuck at work late.  Knowing that the recipe was going to take longer than I had and not wanting to go to a drive-thru, I went foraging at home.

I mean foraging literally.  I picked some romaine lettuce, arugula, and a radish out of the garden.  There was a pear in the fridge next to leftover gorgonzola.  Walnuts, dates, olive oil, and vinegar in the pantry completed the salad.  And a bit of French bread defrosted for the side.  Pretty soon, it looked like I meant to do that.

This "recipe" goes to the core of what this blog originally did.  It made me look at what I had on hand and get creative to make a balanced meal.  If one of your New Year's resolutions is to improve your budgeting skills, a first step may be to look through your pantry and freezer before heading to the market.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Cauliflower & Quinoa Pizza Crust

Relax, I haven't gone gluten-free, vegan, or low-carb.  As usual, my dietary lifestyle is based on portion control and good choices that include a decent amount of fiber and low salt.

That said, this trendy recipe is GF, lower in carbs than regular pizza crust, and can easily be turned vegan.  What it is not is a faster recipe than yeast-raised pizza crust.  I was going at a pretty good clip, and it took close to an hour and a half.  That's before putting on the toppings and baking it another 10-15 minutes.  It also produces an unfortunate number of dishes to wash and a bit of laundry, too.  But you do feel better about yourself than if you've eaten a bread pizza.  Too bad it's past holiday party season.  These can be made into bases for canapés.  Not so much for dipping.  It's really hard to get them stiff.  You'll probably have to eat them with a knife and fork.  I can't stress enough how important it is to get out as much liquid as possible.

So why make this at home instead of buying a frozen cauliflower crust?  Control of salt and fat, my frequent mantra.  I'm also trying to find recipes my boss can eat.  Since his angioplasty, he feels like he can't eat anything delicious.  I even had to teach him how to make oatmeal not awful.  When you're used to eating whatever is available, having to look at labels is discouraging.  I seriously doubt he's willing to spend 90 minutes cooking anything, but I learned something new.

As for the taste, it definitely does not taste like bread.  It's closer to a potato pancake vibe, which made me realize these are KLP if you eat quinoa during Passover.  I ended up having sides of garlic toast to round out the meal so I wouldn't feel deprived.  For someone GF, this would seem like a normal recipe and you wouldn't miss a thing.

2 lbs frozen cauliflower florets, thawed overnight in the fridge
*1/2 C dry quinoa
*1 tsp oregano
2 eggs or egg substitute (chia egg acceptable)
*2 Tb parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast flakes
1.  Start cooking the quinoa according to package directions.  Process cauliflower in the food processor until just past the riced stage.  I did it in two batches.  Microwave for 5 minutes, stirring halfway through.  Pre-cooking, in addition to using frozen cauliflower, will help to release as much water from the veggie as possible.
2.  Get a thin kitchen towel or a nut-milk bag.  Place the riced cauliflower in the towel, probably in batches, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  My goal was 2 cups.  I got pretty close.  Place dried clump of cauliflower in a large bowl.
3.  Add the cooked quinoa (try to get it on the dry side) to the bowl.  Stir together with cauliflower, oregano, and parmesan.  Separately, beat eggs lightly and then add to the mix.  Stir until evenly combined.  At this point, you have 24 hours before you have to bake it if you want to do it in advance.  48 hours if you wait to put in the eggs.
4.  Preheat oven to 400º, or 375º with the convection fan on.  Spray parchment with pan spray after cutting to whatever size pizza you want to make.  I made four ovals, like focaccias, on two sheet pans.  Spread "dough" thinly on parchment, less than 1/2".  I probably would have gotten them smoother if I'd used another piece of parchment or wax paper on top and run a rolling pin over it.  We're calling these "rustic".
5.  Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through.  The tops should be lightly browned and firm to the touch.
6.  Here's where it comes in handy to have two extra sheet pans and two Silpats.  You're going to have to flip these.  They don't have to go onto parchment for the second bake.  I used the Silpats to make cleanup easier.  Pick up the parchment and commit to the flip.  Don't hesitate.  The one on the right was patched together because I flipped it just a smidge too slow.  The other three, I took a breath and flipped them as fast as I could.
7.  Bake crusts again for 10 minutes to brown the other side.  At this point, they can either be finished with toppings and put back in the oven long enough to heat everything through, or cooled and placed between pieces of wax paper for storage.  Refrigerated, use within a few days.  Frozen, you can defrost as needed, top, and bake.

Makes 4 individual-sized crusts

Difficulty rating  :-0

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Christmas Dinner Recap

So now that everyone's on a diet, here's a menu post of a decadent meal.  To be fair, it gives you three months to bookmark the recipes before Easter.  Some of it is fine for Passover too.

I had a last minute change in the dessert menu.  The watermelon I had been saving on the vine for a bit of a showstopper dessert had rotten spots that were a little too big to cut around.  Fortunately, I still had Linzer dough in the freezer and half of a peanut butter cream pie that the folks at work had not finished.  If you plate something in the kitchen, no one knows it was leftovers.
Starter:  Cheese Platter

French Onion Soup (With the cheesy croutons I didn't do in the original post)

Roast Leg of Lamb
Steamed Green Beans
Maple-Glazed Spiced Butternut Squash
Individual Yorkshire Puddings

Plum Linzer Cookies
Magic Cookie Bars
Peanut Butter Cream Pie

You know you made enough food when bites of dessert are left on the plate.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Yorkshire Pudding

Even though I went with a lamb roast instead of a beef standing rib roast for Christmas, I went ahead and made Yorkshire pudding instead of rolls.

A traditional Yorkshire is made in the roasting pan after the meat has been removed, creating a monstrosity that tends to fall and get gummy.  The Bible has you make individual ones in a muffin pan, more like American popovers.

I'm changing the recipe slightly.  As you can see from the photo, these were in about five minutes too long.  Also, there's no picture of them out of the pan because they got stuck.  We only ate the caps.  I swear, I followed the recipe.  Maybe the lamb drippings weren't as fatty as a rib roast's, but we're going to pan spray as an insurance policy.

1 egg
*1/2 C milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C flour
Pan drippings from a roast

1.  Pan spray a muffin tin.  When your roast comes out of the oven, turn up the heat to 400º.  The meat has to rest anyway.

2.  Beat the egg until frothy.  Beat in milk and salt and get a good head of froth on the mixture.  These are leavened by steam and supported by egg.  Beat in flour until smooth.

3.  Spoon a teaspoon of pan juices into each of six muffin cups.  Swirl to coat sides.  Portion about 2 Tb of batter into each cup.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden but not nearly as dark as the ones above.  Turn out of pan while hot.  It's ok if they implode as they cool.  Serve with roast and additional juices.

Makes 6

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, December 28, 2018

Roast Leg of Lamb

Seriously, I've never posted a recipe for leg of lamb?  That's embarrassing.  Maybe I felt it was too basic.  It must not be, if I went looking for what temperature I usually roast it at.

This is one of those things that you want the meat to shine without too much interference.  Gentle seasonings that make sense, plus a slow roast at a low temperature after an initial blast to create a crust.  You probably have all the ingredients on hand and just need to buy the meat.

1 small leg of lamb (2-3 lbs boneless or 3-4 lbs bone-in)
*3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
Olive oil
*1/2 tsp dried rosemary
*mint jelly for serving (optional)

1.  Unwrap lamb and let it come to room temperature on a rack in a roasting pan, fat-side up, about half an hour.  I left the netting on this time because I liked the shape.  Most of the time I cut it off.

2.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Slice the garlic into thin slivers.  Pierce the meat all over and stuff with the garlic slices.  Because I left the netting on, the garlic kept squirting back out.  Usually, it stays in the slits.  Drizzle roast lightly with olive oil and spread around.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary.
3.  Roast for 20 minutes, until outside is getting a little browned.  Lower heat to 300º and roast until center is 145º when temped with a food thermometer.  This will take longer with a bone-in, but it generally takes 30 minutes to an hour and a quarter after the initial high roast, depending on size, bones, and whether you took off the netting.

4.  Allow meat to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.  I try to slice thinly so everyone can decide how well done they want their meat.  Serve with pan juices and mint jelly, or just extra salt and pepper on the table.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Chicken and Carrot Tagine

This isn't what I'm serving for Christmas tonight, but it was on the short list, so I made it a few days ago.

I've been kind of ignoring the carrots in the garden.  They weren't growing well until it started to rain a few weeks ago.  Less than two inches of rain total, but it pushed them over the edge of "probably a good size" to "pull me already"!  I pulled one for some Summer Rolls that was nearly the size of the cucumber.
I'm basing this on the Mrouzia, with a few alterations to go with what I had in the pantry and because I wanted to serve it with Persian Rice.  For anyone who missed the primer, Tagine is just the Moroccan term for Stew.  This is super easy, just requires a bit of time for all the flavors to simmer together.

*4 chicken thighs or 2 breasts, skin-on preferred
*1 Tb "Moroccan" or Tagine spice blend
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch of saffron
*1 cinnamon stick
1/2 C grated or finely diced onion
*2 ribs celery, finely diced
1 Tb olive oil
*1 lb carrots, cut in chunks
1 C pitted dates, cut in half
1 tsp honey

1.  Combine tagine spice, ginger, salt, pepper, and saffron.  Moisten chicken and rub spice blend into it.  Place in plastic bag with about 1/2 C water and marinate for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

2.  In a soup pot or large saucepan, sauté onion and celery in olive oil over medium until soft.  Add chicken pieces, skin side down, and the liquid in the bag.  Cook to brown the skin, turn over, and sear the bottoms a couple of minutes.  Add water to just barely cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and come back in an hour.

3.  Add carrot pieces, put the lid back on, and cook until the carrots soften, about 20 minutes.

4.  Remove chicken and carrots to a warm plate and crank up the heat on the pan juices.  Reduce by half.  Stir in chopped dates and honey.  Fish out the cinnamon stick.  Re-warm the stew pieces in the sauce and serve hot.

Difficulty rating :)