Saturday, June 30, 2012

Applesauce Cake


One of the perks of the moving process (and in my opinion, there are very few perks) is discovering kitchen things you may have forgotten about.  Case in point, my small/mini bunt pan set.  It's not quite as small as a "bundtlette" pan, but more of the size of a jumbo muffin pan.  I acquired mine years ago, but I have not used it much.  However, one of the new charms I've discovered with this particular pan is that it fits into the toaster oven!

The other night, I wanted something sweet (surprise, surprise) and unfortunately the options were very slim... I desperately needed to make a trip to the grocery store, but instead my priority had been unpacking & reorganizing the apartment.

I opened the refrigerator, saw a jar of applesauce & suddenly thought of making applesauce cake!  I remembered the small bundt pans I had recently rediscovered. And the toaster oven was already hot from the baked chicken we ate for dinner.

Yes, apple & warm-spices are usually fall or winter flavors.  But desperate times (or an insatiable sweet tooth) call for unusual measures.

The cake came together very quickly, went into the toaster oven, and less than 20 minutes later, we were enjoying moist, spicy, flavorful mini applesauce cakes.  Plus, we had two leftover cakes, naturally destined for the next morning's breakfast.

adapted from Food52
The original recipe called for a caramel glaze.  But I did not feel like making caramel, so I just gave the cakes a dusting of confectioners sugar instead.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pound Cake with Balsamic Roasted Strawberries

{Moving Update} 
My things have FINALLY arrived!  And now comes the task of unpacking all the boxes & trying to find homes for most everything in this not-so-large apartment.  Even though the moving company was very late, I am still grateful that everything has arrived, and I have learned things I will do much differently when we next move (in a couple years)....  

At the beginning of April, my now-husband's family threw me a lovely bridal shower in Charleston.  It was a great time to reconnect with relatives that were soon to become part of my extended family and to get to know other relatives I had not yet met.

While there were many delicious food choices (and I am quite certain that no one left hungry), one particular item shines in my memories of the afternoon: Pound Cake.  My husband's aunt brought the most amazing homemade pound cake I have ever eaten!

Now, I didn't grow up in the south, and generally speaking, most of my pound cake experiences involved a really dry, not very flavorful cake that really was not so memorable.  But this cake was completely different.  It was moist.  It was flavorful.  It was delicious.  Literally, the best pound cake I had ever eaten.

When the shower ended, there was some leftover food.  Knowing that I had been too busy to cook or bake for myself during this past whirlwind spring of working & wedding planning, they graciously asked if I wanted to take home any leftovers.  So I returned home to my apartment with not just lovely memories & generous gifts from the shower,  I returned also with a hunk of amazing pound cake.

The cake did not last long.  Every time I entered my kitchen & saw the cake sitting on my counter, I had to break off a piece.  And another piece.  And another piece.  Very soon the cake was gone.

I was browsing recipes the other day when I came across a pound cake recipe that stated it was Elvis's favorite pound cake.  Now, I'm not entirely sure of the validity of that statement, but I figured that Elvis probably did not like dry, tasteless pound cake.  This cake, while not quite the same as the cake from my shower, is very tasty & not dry, though it didn't quite develop the same crust I was desiring.  I think it is time to ask for the original bridal shower pound cake recipe!  

In all the busyness of this past spring, with wedding things & moving, I have missed most of strawberry season.  I decided to pair this pound cake with some balsamic roasted strawberries & some vanilla bean chantilly cream.  If you have never tasted the combination, balsamic vinegar & strawberries pair beautifully together.  I like to include the vinegar during the roasting because I like how the flavor both mellows slightly & increases in richness during the heating process.  If you prefer a little more vinegar bite, certainly stir the vinegar in to the berries after they are roasted.  

The cake soaks up the syrupy strawberry balsamic juices just wonderfully& the sweet vanilla of the cream accents the vanilla of the cake.  If you're feeling especially decadent, pan toast the pound cake before serving.  Lightly butter each side of the cake & toast it on the stove until golden.  

Pound Cake
adapted from
I did cut the original recipe in half to fit in a loaf pan, since my bundt pan had not yet arrived...  

4 oz (1 stick) Unsalted butter, softened
10.5 oz (1.5 cups) Granulated Sugar
3/4 tsp Salt
4 Eggs, room temp
2 tsp Vanilla Extract {I used Vanilla Bean Paste}
6 oz (1.5 cups) Cake Flour, sifted
scant 1/2 cup Heavy Cream

1.  Do NOT preheat your oven.

2.  Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Cream about 5 to 6 minutes, or until fluffy, and lighter in volume and color.

3.  During the creaming time, use the wrapper from the butter to grease a loaf pan.  Sift a little cake flour over the buttered pan & tap out any excess.  Sift the flour three times (if you're using volumetric measurement, sift prior to measuring), and set aside.

4.  Once the creamed mixture is complete, add the eggs one at a time, scraping after each addition.  Add the vanilla & mix until combined.

5.  Add half of the flour to the mixer & paddle until just combined.  Scrape.  Add the cream & mix just until combined.  Add the remaining flour & paddle until just combined.  Remove the bowl from the mixer.  Scrape the sides & paddle and finish by hand, if necessary.

6.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan & smooth the top.

7.  Place the loaf pan into a COLD oven.  Turn the oven on to 350 F & bake around 45 minutes, or until a skewer/tooth pick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs.

8.  Cool in the pan for 20 minutes then invert on a wire rack to finish cooling.

9.  Use a serrated knife to cut into slices & serve as desired.  The cake will keep (if not eaten first) for up to 5 days, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries 
I actually roasted mine in the toaster oven & it worked well.  Plus, it didn't heat up the whole oven (and the house).  

2 cups hulled, halved strawberries
2 oz granulated sugar
2 Tbl Balsamic Vinegar

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.

2.  Hull & half the strawberries.  Quarter the large ones.

3.  Toss the strawberries with the sugar & vinegar until well coated.  Lay the mixture in an even, single layer on a parchment lined baking vessel (sheet pan, glass dish... a pan with sides).

4.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from the pan (and parchment paper) and cool completely.

Chantilly Cream  

8 oz Heavy Cream
1 oz Granulated Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste

1.  Place a non-plastic bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes.  If you plan to make the whipped cream with your stand mixer, put the mixer bowl into the freezer.

2.  Combine the heavy cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla bean paste in the frozen bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on high speed until soft peaks form.  Do not walk away during the mixing process (or the cream may overwhip into butter & buttermilk).

3.  Alternately, use a wire whisk to make by hand.  {I always prefer to make it by hand...  I have better control over how far it whips & I like the arm workout}

4.  Reserve in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

To Serve
1.  Cut the pound cake into generous slices. 

2.  Spoon balsamic strawberries (don't forget the sauce-y part) over the cake, so that the juices are absorbed. 

3.  Top with vanilla bean chantilly cream.  Serve immediately.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Special K Bars and The Not-Moving Move

I intended to make these squares when the movers arrived with my things.  I made banana bread when the moving company came to Charleston the end of May, so it only seemed fitting to make something for when the movers arrived in Texas.

Except, nothing about this move has gone according to planned.  The movers were supposed to be here last week.  They were suppose to arrive with all my things, carry them up to our third-floor apartment, and unpack the kitchen.  Suppose to.  ( I won’t even go in to the whole story about how the initial packing & loading was screwed up).

It’s very stressful and nerve-wracking to hand over all your possessions to a moving company.  Yes, the move is insured, but what if something does happen to things that are irreplaceable?  What would happen if everything was lost?  I’ve been praying lots for peace about the move, but sometimes I still regress back to the worrying stage.  Earlier last week, I finally allowed myself to check the tracking number on the move, just to see where everything is at (and also to plan when I should make these squares for the movers).

Our tracking number didn’t show any progress.  Zip.  I placed a call to the moving company & they informed me that the estimated arrival was June 21st.  June 21st?!?  That was more than a week beyond the end delivery span (June 13) listed on our paper work.  The company promised to do some checking to see why everything was taking so long.

The situation gets worse....  As it turns out, all my possessions are not en route.  They are, in fact, still in a warehouse in Charlotte, NC.  The company had no idea when their parent company will be sending a truck or driver to pick them up.  So absolutely no ETA.  After several calls to customer service, they final think they have a loading date?  But I'm not holding my breath....

I’ve been less than thrilled about this situation.  Yes, it has been fun to hang around the apartment, but I have things I need to do!  Things that require the contents of my moving boxes!  All the wedding thank you’s I designed, they’re in the boxes.  All my school materials I need to update to send back to Charleston, they’re in the boxes.  All the kitchen tools & cookbooks I need to start a home-based baking business (yay for the cottage laws in Texas), they’re all in the boxes.

Even though this senerio is not resolved, I am trying to move on with life.  I made the Special K Bars, another childhood favorite of mine, anyway.  My husband can take them to work instead... I’m sure  his co-workers won’t mind!   I’ll find something else to make if when the movers come.

I will be thankful for this lull between the chaos of packing to move and the chaos of unpacking & figuring out where on earth to put all my things in this small apartment.  I will continue to catch up on rest & reading for fun.  I will continue to pray for patience & peace.  

Special K Bars

Some people call these squares Special K Bars, and some call them Scotcheroos....  In my research, I've come to the conclusion that the major difference between the two is  the kind of cereal used.  Special K bars use, obviously Special K cereal.  Scotcheroos often use Rice Krispies.  Use whichever you prefer. 

2 cups / 14 oz Granulated Sugar
2 cups / 22 oz Karo Syrup
2 cups / 17.5 oz Creamy Peanut Butter
11 cups / 11.75 oz Special K Cereal

1 cup / 7.7oz Butterscotch Chips
1 cup / 7.7 oz Chocolate Chips

1.  Spray a 9x13 glass pan with cooking spray.  I like to use glass because it does not scratch when you cut the squares.

2.  Combine the sugar, Karo syrup, and peanut butter in a large pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.

3.  Remove from the heat and gently stir in the Special K cereal.  Make sure all the cereal gets coated.

4.  Pour the mixture into the sprayed pan.  Spray the back of a spoon with additional cooking spray & press to flatten.  Allow to cool completely.

5.  Combine the butterscotch & chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave in thirty-second intervals, stirring between the intervals, until the chips melt.  Alternately, the chips can be melted on the stove in a double boiler.

6.  Pour the melted chips over the cooled cereal bars and allow to set.

7.  Cut into squares & enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rhubarb Sauce

My husband and I were finishing our weekly grocery shopping trip at the local HEB.  (Yes, it is very true that my grocery options are much more limited than they were in Charleston, but I am enjoying HEB).  We were ending our adventure in the freezer section, when one of the products in the frozen fruit area caught my attention. “Oh, look!  They have RHUBARB!” I exclaimed with excitement.  “Can we get some? I think there’s room in the budget?”  He laughed at my exuberance over frozen rhubarb and agreed.

We are on a very strict budget and thus grocery shopping has become much more regimented.  We go in with a specific plan for the upcoming week’s meals and a calculator to make sure that we stay within the allotted budget. But, this particular week, we were under budget!  So the splurge on rhubarb was allowed :)

I grew up eating many rhubarb desserts, primarily made by my grandmothers....  pie... crisp... cake...  and sauce!  Yes, rhubarb sauce, as my grandmothers' called it.  Rhubarb cooked with copious amounts of sugar, a little water, and my Grandma's special ingredient: a little strawberry Jello.  We would pour the cold sauce into bowls  to which we would add a generous serving of heavy cream (because everything is better with a splash of heavy cream).  Then, we would eat it with spoons, kind of like it was a chilled, fruity soup.  Oh how we loved it!  And it generally was a special treat, only to be had in the early summer when Grandma had acquired some rhubarb (and there was some leftover from the pie making).  

Since rhubarb, in my experience, is a more northern regional dessert, I did not expect to find it when I moved to SC several years ago.  But I did find it occasionally in the produce section of Whole Foods, or at the Farmers' Market, or even on rare occasions in the freezer section of my local grocery store.  I even less expected to find it here in southwest Texas.  I have tried recreating Grandma's recipe, but decided to put my own spin on it. 

Grandma's recipe is great (and always the standard), but I've come to like my rhubarb  with a little less sugar, a little more texture (almost more like a compote), removing the Jello (since it isn't something I usually have on hand) and replacing it with a spoonful of strawberry or seedless-raspberry jam (which I usually have on hand), and making it a little more "grown-up" by adding a little vanilla bean to it.  And in an effort to become a little more health conscious, I have changed how I serve it.  I often mix it in with some greek yogurt (as seen in these photos) or sometimes pour it over frozen yogurt.  It is also really delicious as a topping to panna cotta (particularly this fromage blanc panna cotta) Sometime this summer, I'd like to perhaps experiment with turning it into rhubarb frozen yogurt popsicles.  

The recipe is simple, even more so if you find the already sliced frozen rhubarb like I did.  You can easily tweek the sugar levels, depending on the flavor of your particular rhubarb.  Remember, you can always add more sugar and sweetness, but it is difficult to take it away (unless you have an endless supply of rhubarb).  You can adjust the texture by adding additional water to make it more "saucy" or cooking it longer to allow the rhubarb to break down further.  

Rhubarb Sauce

1/3 c Water
1 Tbl Lemon Juice
2/3 c Granulated Sugar (adjust based on tartness of rhubarb) 
16 oz package of Frozen sliced Rhubarb (approximately 2.25 c; by all means, use fresh if you have it available!)
1 to 2 Tbl Strawberry (or seedless raspberry) jam
1 tsp Vanilla Bean paste

1.  In a non-reactive sauce pan (i.e. not aluminum) combine the water, lemon juice, and granulated sugar.  Bring to a boil, but do not stir.  (stirring can cause the mixture to crystalize)

2.  Add the rhubarb and stir gently.  Bring back to a boil and simmer gently until the rhubarb breaks down, around 20 minutes.  If you want a sauce with more texture, cook it only until the rhubarb just begins to break down. If you prefer more liquid texture, allow the rhubarb to cook until it really breaks down.  

3.  Add the jam and vanilla bean paste.  Stir to combine.  Carefully taste some of the sauce to ensure you like the sweetness level.  If you find it is too tart for your liking, there are a couple of options.  You could add additional granulated sugar, but that does require an additional boiling/simmering time to allow the sugar to dissolve.  Or you could add a liquid sugar (such as simple syrup or honey) directly to the rhubarb sauce without cooking it longer.  

4.  Serve warm or cold, though I prefer the cold method best :)  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Crème Brûlée & Life Changes

Amélie is a shy young woman with a pronounced taste for all life's small pleasures: immersing one's hand in a sack of grain, craking the crust of a crème brulée with the back of a teaspoon or skipping stones on the Canal St-Martin.

Amélie (2001) {one of my favorite movies & soundtracks}

In my nearly 7-month absence from this blog, there have been many life-changes happening.  Most of them have been pretty major.  And most of the changes have occurred in the last month or so.

At the end of April, I finished teaching my final semester at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.  On May 18th, I got married!   After a brief honeymoon, we started packing my beloved Charleston apartment.  Last week, I said goodbye (for now) to Charleston and my many dear Charleston friends, and I moved to southwest Texas to be with my husband.  So yes, just a few changes!

Life is really full of unknowns right now... One of the most pressing unknowns being whether or not the moving company will successfully and safely transport all my possessions to my new home in Texas!  But I am excited to see what this new Texas life holds.

I am currently without my kitchen equipment/tools/books/dishes, other than my knife kit which we were able to cram into my car, so much of my "normal" baking is a bit of a stretch.  I did move into what has previously been a bachelor's kitchen :)

But there is a silver lining!  Several weeks before the wedding, when I was being inundated with packages on a daily basis & was starting to feel like I was living out of boxes (only I had yet to start packing), we changed the addresses on our wedding registries to the Texas address.  So upon arriving here in Texas, there were many wedding present boxes to open!

 One gift, from Preston, a friend of a friend who I met in France 2 years ago and who ironically is from South Carolina, included the cookbook Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten.  Another gift, from my next door neighbors growing up in North Dakota, included the gorgeous Ocean-colored Le Creuset gratin dishes from one of our registries.

This weekend we're having dinner with some friends and I volunteered to make dessert.  As I was brainstorming ideas (something easy... something comforting... something I had the equipment & ingredients on hand to make.... a crowd pleaser), crème brûlée popped into my head!  What a perfect way to use the new gratin dishes AND to use a recipe from the new cookbook.

I checked around online and on my favorite time-wasting categorizing site Pinterest, I discovered that crème brûlée isn't as popular on the blogosphere as I thought it would be.  To be honest, it isn't a dessert I have made often since my days at The Sanctuary either.  But it should be one I make more often!

Crème brûlée doesn't require a crazy amount of ingredients—I actually had all the ingredients already.  It is very adaptable to the flavorings you have on hand (or just wish to include).  It isn't difficult to make (though it does require chilling time before you brûlée it).  It bakes at a low temperature, so you do not need to worry about over-heating your home on a hot summer day.  It always reminds me of Amelie, one of my most favorite movies!  And honestly, who doesn't like creamy pudding with a caramel crust on top! 

Most often, I like to serve crème brûlée with something crunchy.... a cookie, or a tulle, or a biscotti...  Just to add a variety of textures to the dessert.  But this time, I decided to go a more simple route & just include some delicious strawberries instead.  Mmmm.... so yummy!  I can hardly wait for our upcoming dinner!

Creme Brûlée tips & tricks
  • You can easily change the flavor of the base custard by changing the extract or liqueur.  You can also infuse the cream with a variety of different things, such as coffee,  tea (earl grey is particularly nice), citrus, herbs/spices, nuts, etc., by gently simmering the cream with the desired ingredient, turning off of the heat, covering the pot, and allowing the cream to steep.  Then strain out the ingredient, reheat the cream & continue with the remaining recipe.  
  • Creme brûlée needs to be baked in a water bath.  I suggest placing your empty gratin dishes or ramekins into an oven-proof pan that preferably has sides (to help contain the water).  I used several glass pyrex baking dishes.  Portion the custard into the gratin dishes or ramekins, then pull out your oven rack and place the pan onto the rack.  THEN pour hot water (slowly) around the gratin dishes.  
  • Try not to get any of the water bath liquid into the custard.... Tends to ruin them :(  
  • Bake the custards until they are just set.  They should jiggle underneath the top skin that has formed during baking, but they should not ripple.  
  • Don't overbake creme brûlée, or else the egg proteins and the liquid will separate, which not only looks bad, but also tastes terrible!  
  • Instead of purchasing a tiny "creme brûlée torch," do yourself a favor: visit your favorite hardware store & pick up a propane torch.  They're more affordable, much more efficient at brûléeing things than the sissy small torches, and most will self-light.  Plus, you look much more impressive with the big torch :)  
  • But, at the same time, try not to torch the cloth napkin next to the custard!  It doesn't mean good things for the napkin, and you don't want to start a real fire.... 
  • You can easily freeze crème brûlée by wrapping the baked custards individually, and then freezing.  When you're ready to serve them, just remove from the freezer, let stand a few minutes, sugar, and torch!  The heat of the torch usually thaws them enough so that they are icy cold, but not frozen.  

adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris
yields 6 to 8 servings, depending on size

650 g (3 cups) of heavy cream 1 large egg
120 g egg yolks {this took about 8 yolks.... Ina's original recipe called for extra large eggs & yolks, which I did not have, so I converted the formula to grams instead}
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (I used Vanilla Bean paste)
1 Tbl Grand Marnier (or other liqueur of your choice)
additional sugar for torching the top

1.  Preheat oven to 300 F. Heat the cream to a simmer in a non-reactive sauce pan.  You can tell when the cream is simmering by the presence of bubbles around the edges & a slight amount of steam.

2.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg, yolks, granulated sugar, and flavorings until well combined.  When the cream is simmering, temper it into the egg mixture, but slowly pouring the hot cream into the egg mixture while gently whisking constantly.... We don't want to make scrambled egg custard!

3.  Portion the custard evenly into either gratin dishes or ramekins that have been placed inside another baking dish.  Stir to keep the vanilla beans from the paste well dispersed throughout the custard.  Pull out the oven rack, carefully place the dish full of custard-filled dishes onto the rack.  Pour hot water into the large dish, being careful not to pour water into the custard.  Ideally, the water should reach a third to half way up your dishes.  Gently push the rack back into the oven.

4.  Bake until the custard is just set.  This time will depend on how deep your dishes are. Check the custards after 20 minutes. For me, the baking time took between 25 and 30 minutes.

5.  Once set, remove the custards from the oven & carefully remove them from the water bath.  Don't burn yourself on the water bath water!  Cool completely, cover, and store in the refrigerator overnight.

6.  Just before service, remove the custards from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle sugar over the surface.  You want enough sugar to cover the custard, but not mountains of it.  Pour off any excess (preferably onto the next custard!).  Start your torch and brulee until golden.  Remember, color is flavor :)

7.  Serve immediately.  Make sure to listen for the satisfying "snap" of the crust cracking!