Monday, November 19, 2018

Mushroom Farroto

I'm making room for holiday foods and found the bag of farro in the freezer.  I decided to make an earthy version of farroto that didn't have to be a meal in itself.  This one is more like a rich rice side dish.  I had it with salmon and asparagus.  Both were on sale, but the plate looked like I had thrown a lot of money at it.  Three servings for $9 plus pantry items.  It's amazing what reading the market specials can do.

*3/4 C dry farro
1 C vegetable broth
8 oz portobello or crimini mushrooms
*1/2 C diced onion
1 Tb olive oil
*2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
*1/4 C dry white wine (optional)
*parmesan for garnish (optional)

1.  8 hours before, soak dry farro in water.  Pre-soaking will keep it from developing a hard shell when it's being toasted.

2.  Wash mushrooms and remove stems.  Slice caps thinly and chop slices into bite-sized pieces.  Place stems in a small saucepan with veggie broth and bring to a simmer.

3.  In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Sauté onion until softened.  Drain farro and add to the pot, stirring frequently.  When the grains start to look toasted, deglaze with the wine.  Stir until wine is cooked off or absorbed.  Lower heat to a simmer

4.  Add a ladle of broth (avoiding the stems).  Stir frequently until absorbed, 5 minutes or more.  Add mushrooms and garlic.  Ladle in some more broth, but not all of it.  The mushrooms are going to give off a lot of moisture as they cook.

5.  Once the mushrooms are cooked down, you can decide if you need the rest of the broth.  Chew on a grain or two to see if they're soft enough.  You can use this opportunity to decide how much salt and pepper the dish needs.

6.  When the farro is soft and creamy, serve hot.  Garnish with grated parmesan cheese if desired.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Pumpkin Mini-Cakes

I'm modeling these after the ones made on Preppy Kitchen.  I liked that he admitted there's nothing wrong with shaping chilled buttercream with your clean fingers instead of buying expensive tools.  You can also use Viva paper towels, which don't have a pattern.  The YouTube video the blog links to shows how the shaping works, but the photo series isn't bad.

I'm guessing you can start with cupcakes instead of Bundts, but I was gifted some mini-Bundt pans and this was my first chance to try them out.  I've seen videos of this concept with a partially-filled full-size Bundt, putting two together for a big pumpkin.  Man, that's a lot of frosting.  It would also serve 20.
I went somewhere else for the cake recipe, though.  There were just so many ingredients in Preppy Kitchen's!  I found one at Homemade in the Kitchen that reveled in its simplicity, which is exactly what I wanted at that moment.  It was also a 2-egg recipe and easy to cut in half.  These may be minis, but one is enough for two or three people.  I'm posting the full recipe for anyone who wants to do this as a two-layer regular cake.

So, for that one person at Thanksgiving who simply isn't into pie, here's a seasonal alternative.

2-1/2 C flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
*1 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
*1/2 C oil
1 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
*1-1/2 C canned pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla
*1/2 C whole milk

1.  Pan spray the hell out of your Bundt pans unless they're brand new.  Start preheating the oven to 350º

2.  Sift together dry ingredients (through the salt).

3.  In the mixer with the paddle, cream together both sugars and the oil.  It will make a grainy paste.  Add eggs one at a time and beat to make a smooth mixture.  Stir in pumpkin and vanilla.

4.  Alternate stirring in flour and milk, starting and ending with the flour.  It will quickly turn from pumpkin soup to a batter.  Mix only until combined.  You're using AP flour and not cake flour, so over mixing will lead to holes.
5.  Scoop into pans.  I used the half cup measure but didn't scrape it out each time, so I think I got about 1/3 C in each cake well.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is springy but firm.  Turn out immediately onto a wire rack to cool.

6.  Trim the bottoms of the cakes relatively flat, so when you put two together with the bottoms touching, they sort of already look like a pumpkin.  Fill the middle with a good dose of pipeable cream cheese frosting (about 2 cups is enough for all the cakes), including the middle hole.  Chill until frosting is firm, so everything doesn't slide around when you frost the outside.

7.  Tint a double batch of buttercream frosting orange, minus half a cup that's colored green for the stems.

8.  Frost the bottom of a pumpkin and the bottom edge, then place it on a bit of parchment paper.  Spread way too much frosting all over the cake.  A lot of it is going to come off.
9.  Using a spreader or the rim of a washed out yogurt cup, smooth the sides into a decently rounded shape, deciding how thick you actually want the frosting.  Freeze the cakes for at least half an hour, to make sure the frosting is completely solid.

10.  Get the cakes out and put one on a work surface or turntable.  Wash your hands well with hot water and let them stay damp.  Use your fingers to smooth out the frozen buttercream.  Work fast enough, and it refreezes as soon as you let go.  Reheat and dampen fingers as necessary.  Use your pinky to make the pumpkin ridges.
11.  Fit a piping bag with a 4B tip and fill with the green frosting.  Pipe a mound into a stem shape at the top.  Carefully transfer cake from the parchment to a serving plate.  (You may want to freeze it again first if the frosting is getting too soft.)

12.  Because of the cream cheese filling, don't leave the cake out indefinitely.  It should be just back up to room temperature when served.

Makes 6 mini cakes, about 12 servings if people share

Difficulty rating :-0

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Baked Salmon with Parsley-Chive Butter

I guess I usually poach fish.  It's fast and doesn't involve the oven.  I felt like baking it today and dressed it up with herbed compound butter.  Neither part is difficult and looks elegant.

Compound butter is just butter with stuff kneaded into it, usually herbs.  Fancy restaurants charge a lot to make something very simple just because it's served with interesting butter.  And I do suggest using true butter and not margarine.  You get that lovely butter-solid foam as it melts on the fish.  Margarine will just look oily.

1-1/3 lb salmon fillet
1/4 C butter
*1 Tb chives
*2 Tb parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Set butter at room temperature to soften.  Finely chop parsley and chives.

2.  Check salmon for pin bones and remove if necessary.  Place fillet skin-side down in a baking dish, preferably on a rack.  Rub with a bit of olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake 15-20 minutes, until thickest part is barely opaque.  Time will vary with thickness of fillet.
3.  While the fish is baking, make the butter.  With a fork, break up the butter in a small bowl.  Work in herbs.  Add a touch of salt if the butter is unsalted.  Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until the fish is ready.  It melts best when it's only slightly firm, so you can see it actively melting when the dish is presented.

4.  Cut fillet into 4 pieces and serve hot, garnished with a tablespoon of the butter and more parsley.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Breakfast Cookies

Let's be honest, all cookies are breakfast cookies if you're grabbing something on the way out the door.  These are just more nutritious.  They're a lot like Oatmeal Everything Cookies without the egg or flour.  If you get GF-certified oats, they're good for that.  They're also vegan if the added sweetener is.  Basically, they're cookie-shaped granola bars, and there's nothing to prevent you from making them bar-shaped by baking them in a cake pan, turning out, and cutting the bars.

Because I was making these for tea snacks, I kept them small.  Some recipes I found have you using 1/4 C of batter apiece.  That's good if they're actually to take in the car with a cup of coffee for a driving breakfast.  I did a rounded tablespoon, almost an ounce, and got 15.  Two or three would be a meal.

Nearly all recipes agreed that you can freeze the finished product.  I wasn't sure because of the peanut butter.  The oils in nut butters do odd things once they're frozen.  Maybe having them mixed with the oats and/or baked keeps the oils from separating or caking.

1-1/4 C rolled oats
1 banana
*1/2 C peanut or other nut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp cinnamon
*2 Tb chocolate or vanilla chips
1/2 C dried fruit, chopped
*2 Tb coconut flakes
2 Tb chopped or slivered nuts
*2 Tb honey or maple syrup

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper or silpat.

2.  You can make this in a bowl by hand, but I got lazy and dumped everything in the stand mixer.  Cream together banana and peanut butter.
3.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  I used figs for my dried fruit, so I subbed 1 Tb boiling water for half of the honey.  If using a less sweet fruit or unsweetened nut butter, you'll probably want to use the full amount.
4.  Scoop batter onto baking sheets to desired size.  Flatten the scoops, as they won't spread out in the oven.  Bake until bottoms begin to brown, about 10 minutes.  Cool on the pan until firm enough to move, about 10 minutes, then finish cooling on a rack.

Makes about 1 dozen, depending on size

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Pumpkin Roll

Cakes still aren't my first go-to, but I wanted something special for tea and had a can of pumpkin in the pantry.

While I was on the East Coast for the wedding, Techie Smurf loaded up an old episode of The Great British Baking Show.  One of the challenges was a Swiss Roll.  Some of them were very complex.  I agree with the judges that it's harder to pull off something simple and elegant.  Fancy designs and decorations distract from the quality of the product.  Some of the most successful rolls were basic and minimally garnished.

This recipe is from Libby's, the canned pumpkin people.  It's a basic jelly-roll cake recipe with pumpkin in it, then filled with a cream cheese paste and dusted with powdered sugar.

I know, you can buy these in October and November in the market for about $6, which is roughly what the ingredients cost, but if you want to make this off-season, here's the recipe.

3/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
*1/2 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 C sugar
2/3 C canned pumpkin purée (not pie mix)
powdered sugar for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Grease a 15" x 10" jelly roll pan.  Line with wax paper, grease the paper, and dust with flour.  Get out a clean, thin kitchen towel and dust with powdered sugar.

2.  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.  Set aside.
3.  Beat together eggs and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy.  Beat in pumpkin until smooth.  Stir in flour mixture until just combined.
4.  Pour batter into pan and smooth all the way to the corners.  You can shake and smack the pan a little without ruining the sponge.  Bake for 13 minutes, until top is springy but corners are not crisp.

5.  Immediately flip out cake onto sugared towel and remove wax paper.  Dust cake with more powdered sugar.  Starting on the short end, roll up cake with the towel inside.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  This is to prevent the cake from cracking when it's rolled later with filling.

8 oz (1 package) cream cheese, softened
6 Tb unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 C powdered sugar

1.  Beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth, scraping bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla and powdered sugar.  This is not frosting, it's filling, so don't expect that kind of consistency.
2.  Unroll cake and remove towel.  Spread filling evenly over the cake surface.  Reroll tightly, using plastic wrap if necessary.  Remove any filling that squishes out and store seam-side down.  You will get better slices if you chill the roll first.

3.  Before serving, slice off the two ends just enough to remove any crust.  Snacks.  Place on a serving plate and garnish with powdered sugar.

Serves 8-10, depending on thickness of slices

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Quinoa with Roasted Vegetables

The vegan thing continued into dinner and got upped with gluten free, making this KLP.  Still, surprisingly filling.

This is the special time of year that you can buy fresh bundled spinach and most of it will be "baby", without having to buy it packaged that way for twice as much.  Ten minutes into the de-stemming process, I wished I'd bought frozen.  Save yourself the trouble, since it's getting cooked anyway.  I'm using the same process for the quinoa base as with the Garlic Spinach with Quinoa.

The dressing was going to be parsley, until I realized my chive plant needed a haircut.  You can swap out pretty much any herb that goes with lemon.  Thyme, sage, or curry would all go well.  Rosemary might be pushing it because it's such a strong flavor.

1 C tri-color quinoa
10 oz box frozen spinach, thawed
*1 clove garlic, minced
*2 large carrots
1/2 red onion
1 bundle asparagus
*1 lemon
*2 Tb fresh chives
olive oil
kosher salt
*Nuts for garnish (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Chop carrots, onion, and asparagus into 2" lengths.  For the carrot, also make the width about the same as the asparagus.  The veggies should all be about the same dimensions, like you were making a stir-fry.  Toss with a couple of tablespoons of oil and spread in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until just starting to brown, about 30-40 minutes.
2.  While the veggies are in the oven, place quinoa (pre-soak if needed) in medium saucepan.  Top with minced garlic, a slight pinch of salt, and the thawed spinach.  Add 1/2 C water and bring everything to a simmer.  Cover and cook until quinoa is done, about 15 minutes.  Stir and add a few more tablespoons of water at the end if the quinoa looks dry.
3.  While the quinoa is simmering, make the dressing.  Combine juice of the lemon and 1 tsp lemon zest with finely chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk in 2 Tb olive oil to make the vinaigrette.

4.  To assemble, spoon a bed of the quinoa/spinach mixture on a plate.  Top with roasted veggies and drizzle with lemon dressing.  Serve hot, garnished with nuts of choice for a bit of crunch.  I used macadamias.  Pine nuts or walnuts would work well.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup

I gained less than a pound after a week eating out almost every meal, which tells you how much running around we were doing.  I knew I hadn't been eating enough veggies on my trip.  I decided to go mostly vegan for a few days to reset my system and work out the extra salt.

This is kind of the Turkish lentil meatballs in soup form.  The spices aren't as concentrated, and the lentils dominate instead of the bulgur.  Still the same general idea and much more filling than it looks.

1 qt vegetable stock
1/2 C diced onion
1/2 C red lentils
*1/3 C fine or medium bulgur
1 C chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp chili powder
kosher salt and pepper to taste

1.  Bring stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan and add lentils and diced tomato.  Simmer for about 10 minutes while you make the onion.

2.  In a small skillet, heat oil over medium.  Add onion and spices, going easy on the salt and pepper for now.  Sauté until the onions are soft and spices are fragrant.  Add to the soup pot with the bulgur and chopped parsley.

3.  Simmer until lentils and bulgur are done, about another 10 minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve hot, garnished with fresh parsley

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 29, 2018

Wedding Cake!

I am so glad that's over.  Remind me, the next time someone asks me to do a party cake, not to do it in someone else's kitchen in another state.

The experience was not altogether bad.  I learned that I can bake five layer cakes in four hours.  It took another four or so to ice them the next day.  I adjusted to the oven and appliances very quickly.  The groom very generously got out everything I needed the evening before, so I wouldn't have to hunt.  He was surprised how much I didn't need because it was in the box.
Emma the cat hated me.  Her favorite spot is the kitchen window, and here I was invading her personal space.  I'm surprised she didn't draw blood, since she swatted at me half the time I washed my hands.  We ended up storing the un-iced cakes in the car overnight so she couldn't get into them.
Really, the only thing I didn't like about their kitchen was lack of freezer space.  One of the kids moved around enough in the fridge to chill one cake at a time, but there was zero freezer space.  This was only a problem when I got to the red cake and accidentally made a soft batch of frosting.  Even after making it firmer, most slid off in the car on the way to the hotel and I had to re-pipe about 2/3 of the rosettes.  That's why I brought my decorating supplies and a bag of frosting with me.

Oh, other learning experience is that a 3-pack of shortening is 3 cups, not 6.  I was thinking it was the same as a pound of butter.  I also miscounted the powdered sugar.  Fortunately, the groom was headed to the store and I just gave him some money to tack on my groceries.  He got back just as I had used the scrapings to fill his Groom's Cake.  I wasn't all that short, and now he has ingredients for his own cakes.  I exactly estimated the first box of cake flour to run out half a cup short of cake #4.  Yay me.
I miss Wal-Mart.  It may be evil in some communities, but the ingredients sure were cheap.  The first trip was only $37, and round two of frosting ingredients was barely $10.  I'm not a brand snob.  Hens lay eggs and butter comes from cows.  The only brand name item I bought was the cake flour, because there are only two brands.  I have never encountered a generic version of it.  Oh, and the lemon curd was Bonne Maman because that was the only kind on the shelf.  Not as good as mine, but zero time or effort.
I was the only person in the hotel prep kitchen the morning of the wedding, so I spread out to fix the cakes.  After having three square feet to mix icing and frost in the apartment, it felt really good.  When it came time to set up, the hotel provided a central cake stand.  I flipped over two cake pans and covered them with cloth to support the side cakes, and the Groom's cake was table-height on the other side.  When the extra bridesmaid bouquet was placed in front, I realized it exactly matched the design on the cakes.  The whole time we were wrapping the bouquets in ribbon, I never noticed.
Everyone said they liked the freshness of the cakes.  Sure, because they'd never been in the freezer like they were supposed to.  Also, they were only two days old instead of the usual 5-8 when you order them from a bakery.  The bride and groom forgot to save the 6" lemon for their anniversary cake and ate it the next day.  There wasn't any room for it in the freezer anyway.  I'm not going back next year to make them another one.

Recipes and Techniques Used to Make the Cakes
Vanilla Chiffon Cake
Lemon Layer Cake
Strawberry Cake (sub blackberries)
Buttercream Frosting
Spider/Mummy Cake
Strawberry Rosette Cake

Friday, October 26, 2018

Spider/Mummy Cake

I'll get to the wedding cake in a minute, but this is time-sensitive.

I saw this idea on Little Cherry Cake.  Hers is specifically a spider cake, and that's what I made, but you could also make the streaks thicker, use different decorations, and call it a mummy cake.  You can also make this in any color.  Their wedding color was purple and it was a blackberry cake, but the groom is Slytherin and wanted it green.

You can see from the photo above that I didn't do the Cadbury Egg spider, which was a brilliant idea in the original video.  This was the Groom's Cake, and he didn't want any chocolate involved.  When I couldn't find any large enough Halloween sprinkles, I bought a mold with various creepy crawlies and a bag of black vanilla candy melts.  Never mind that four hours later I was making three dozen chocolate frogs for party favors...

Lemon extract can be hard to find and pricey.  The easiest substitute for thinning gel colors or hydrating powders is vodka.  You're not using much and most of it evaporates off.  I suggest getting a regular paintbrush at the hardware store instead of one at whatever craft or baking store you buy the glitter dust at.  Half the price.  You only need a brush that is either new or has only ever been used on food.

1 cake, any size or shape, any number of layers
Frosting to coat cake and gel or powder food coloring in desired color
Edible luster dust in the same or a translucent color
1-2 Tb vodka
About a dozen large marshmallows
Pan spray!!
Decorations such as themed sprinkles or molded chocolate

1.  Trim, fill, and frost cake in desired color.  I'll go into it in more detail in the next post, but I was conserving frosting by the time I got to the 5th cake and just mixed all the leftover colors for the fill and crumb coat.  I figured it would make an interesting surprise.  The next half-batch of frosting and a few drops of green turned everything the color I wanted, which was a kind of awkward forest green that was maybe one shade into the khaki range.

2.  Once the cake is frosted and thoroughly chilled, hydrate the shimmery part with the alcohol.  I used half the tiny vial for a 6" cake, and had enough for one generous coat.  Paint the slurry onto the cake.  The brush streaks disappear when the cake dries.  Chill cake until needed.
3.  Pan spray a microwaveable bowl.  Drop in the marshmallows and microwave for 45 seconds to a minute, until they are puffed.  Pan spray a scraper spatula and stir until strings start to appear.

4.  Get the cake out of the fridge.  Lightly pan spray you hands and grab a handful of marshmallow.  Start pulling it into strings and draping it over the cake until the desired effect is achieved.  Don't forget to string some over the cake board.  Make the strands thin for spider webs, or thick to be like mummy dressings.  Decorate with edible or plastic adornments and serve.  I would suggest adding the marshmallows the same day, so they don't absorb too much moisture and get drippy.

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Maple-Glazed Spiced Butternut Squash

I keep getting magazines I didn't subscribe to.  It's some kind of promo being run in the area.  This recipe came out of Women's Health, which clearly needs a food editor.  Not all of the ingredients were listed, and the directions must have been trimmed for space.  I made some tweaks to make it a bit less spicy and not break out in a rash, but it was an excellent use of two of my tiny home-grown butternut squash.
This is a grilling recipe, which made more sense in a summer issue of the magazine.  In October, you can finish off the skewers under the broiler.  Or, skip the skewers entirely and just serve as a side.  In that case, you don't have to chop up the squash, just roast as halves or quarters.

I was hoping to have a couple more recipes banked before going on vacation.  Looks like there's going to be a gap before I get the wedding cake posted.  Only a few extra days.  I had a choice between packing the laptop or a cloak to wear at the wedding.  It's going to be 50º, so the cloak won.  Meanwhile, it's going to be lovely and mid-80s at home.

*1 large butternut squash
*1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tb olive oil
*1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
*2 Tb maple syrup
salt and pepper
*1/2 tsp dried oregano

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  If skewering, soak wood skewers in water for at least half an hour (or use metal ones).  Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds.  Chop into 2-bite pieces, about 1-1/2" square.
2.  Toss butternut in a bowl with oil to coat.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and pepper flakes and toss again.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, skin side down.  Roast for 20 minutes, until mostly done.  Let cool enough to handle.

3.  Heat grill to medium or preheat broiler.  Thread squash onto skewers, brush with maple syrup, and season with salt, pepper, and oregano.  Grill or broil until lightly charred, about 6 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π