Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Power Outage Pizza

Last Thursday we had a major storm in our area. I was expecting the thunder and lightning, but not everything that came with it! Hail, 70 (or greater) mile-per-hour winds... even some tornado spottings... Wow, The destruction was pretty major here by our apartment complex. Downed trees, downed power lines, downed telephone poles... One tree fell right onto the swing-set, completely crushing the sliding board. In all of this, our power got knocked out. Unfortunately, no electricity makes it rather hard to cook or bake...

The storm hit just as I was trying to get Little Girl to take a nap, so I couldn't look out of the window to see what all was going on. While I gave her some time to settle down, I decided to try a new recipe for whole wheat pizza crust. Just as the mixer was finishing up the kneading process, that was when the power died. Ok, I figured, I can just knead by hand for a few minutes, and then when the power comes back on in a couple of hours I will still be able to make dinner as planned. With the flash of my camera, I was able to see that I had a well risen dough, which was exciting to me.

But the power didn't come back. Around 5:15 pm Little Girl and I ventured out of our apartment and were amazed. There were trees and branches everywhere. We even saw a helicopter flying above us. When Hubby got home it was via a circuitous route, as the police had blocked off the road and he couldn't get into the parking lot... So my whole wheat crust was not going to get baked that night... I did a very quick opening of the fridge to put the bowl inside, hoping that the residual cool would help keep the dough ok, and hoping that the electricity would be back the next day...

It didn't come back on Friday. By midday it was clear that power wouldn't be back any time soon, so we packed up and went to my in-laws' house. I have to tell you, we are SO lucky to have such an amazing family! Unfortunately, though, when Hubby packed up the food from the fridge to bring, he forgot the bowl of dough. On the counter. Oops. (Totally understandable how it happened, I was surprised he even thought to bring it!) We got home on Sunday to a bowl of dough that looked like this:I think I could have played Frisbee with the top part. And when I lifted the "lid" I was greeted with quite a smell. I thought it smelled like beer. Kind of over fermented beer... So I have no clue how this dough would have come out...

Hopefully I get the chance to try this recipe again really soon. And hopefully, when I do, the weather will cooperate and I will get to eat it!

As a side note, we did have pizza for dinner last Thursday night... But not home-made... Thankfully the pizza place up the street still had power.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daring to do it: Chocolate Pavlovas

***UPDATED!!! PICTURES ARE NOW INCLUDED!! Thanks for your patience... And thanks to the electric company for working around the clock to get us back up and running...***

**Due to some incredibly wacky weather, I am writing this post from my in-laws' home. We have no electricity, and won't be getting it back until after the challenge post date. So I am posting my Daring Baker's experience now, but pictures won't be added until I can work from my home computer again. I know, it isn't nearly as interesting without the photos, but this is the best I can do for now...**

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

I had actually heard of pavlovas before this challenge was posted - we make them for dessert during Passover sometimes, as the meringue crust is a great no-flour recipe. What I am used to is a meringue shell topped with yummy fresh berried and drizzled with melted chocolate. This recipe looked to be a bit more complex than that! I was a little concerned at first, as this is a very dairy recipe, I don't keep any sort of liquors in the house (neither Hubby nor I drinks it, so why have it?), and also because mascarpone cheese tends to be on the pricey side. Even with all of that in mind, though, I was determined to find a way to make this work!!
My first challenge, yet again, was finding an excuse to make this much dessert! Much as I love these challenges, they really are designed to make enough food to feed more than just two people... Well, it was still playoff time for hockey, and the Flyers were heading to the Stanley Cup final, so I invited a friend over and had my excuse. Of course, you know, I then had to turn this into a Flyers themed dessert... (See? The pictures will make this make a LOT more sense!!)
I started with the meringue, as it needed a long time in the oven to dry out, and could then spend time cooling so the mouse topping wouldn't melt. Making meringue isn't that hard, you just have to know what you are doing. Separate the eggs carefully, and whip those whites senseless! In order to make this a Flyers dessert, I transferred the meringue to a piping bag and made Flyers logos out of it. I had some success with the shape, not as much with consistent sizing... It worked out nicely in the end though!!

While the meringue baked I worked on the chocolate mascarpone mouse. Mascarpone cheese is pricey, though, and I wasn't willing to spend $15 on just the one ingredient to get as much as the recipe called for. I bought one 8 ounce tub and substituted for the rest. My substitution? Drained yogurt. I had gotten some full fat plain yogurt to give to Little Girl, but she wasn't so into it. So I had a lot of yogurt left... I strained it through a towel over a colander, and what was left was a thick, creamy, yummy "cheese" (or Greek yogurt, I guess...) that seemed perfect for this recipe! I also used soy milk instead of either whole milk or cream. While this wouldn't be a dairy free dish, I felt better using soy... The mouse came together pretty easily. I was a little concerned about the lack of sweetness, as there is no sugar added, just whatever is in the deep dark chocolate, and I wasn't using Grand Marnier to jazz up the flavor, but combined with the mascarpone, yogurt and soy milk, the mouse was really good - Hubby wanted to stick his face in it...!

Finally it was time for the mascarpone cream. I had never made creme anglaise before, but I have wanted to. This was a nice excuse to do it! It was also a good way to use the egg yolks leftover from making the meringue!! Yet again, I used soy milk as my dairy. While it took a while for the sauce to thicken, it wasn't hard to do. I think using soy milk, which is thinner than whole milk or cream, was the reason for the extra time. I think, if I make this dessert again, I will leave the creme anglais as it is for the sauce. I am not saying that the mascarpone/yogurt added to it wasn't good, it absolutely was! It is just that there is so much richness to this dessert already that it would stand up well to the "lighter" sauce! (I actually had no idea what Sambucca tasted like until I asked Hubby, and then I was actually glad I didn't have any interest in using it!)

All three components made, it was time to assemble everything. I actually chose to use the mascarpone cream as a base for the dessert, not just as a drizzle on top. So there was a layer (or lake...) of cream, then the meringue, then the mouse, followed by a little more cream. This was SO good! While I added some fresh fruit, it wasn't actually necessary. The crispy meringue matched with the cool, creamy mouse so well, and the creme anglaise sauce was just so refreshing! We all enjoyed this thoroughly, and were pretty much licking our plates at the end!!

Thank you so much, Dawn, for such an amazing challenge! Each element alone was fabulous, and together it was out of this world!!
If you would like to see what my fellow Daring Bakers came up with for this challenge, take a look here!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A crumby dinner

As you know, I have been baking a lot of bread over the past few months. Clearly, I love it. Even so, there is only so much I can eat...! So there have been some partial loaves of challah left unfinished which I did not want to see going to waste. So I put them into the freezer, awaiting inspiration. Usually, this is the stuff of great French toast. But I had different plans for these lonely challah halves. I wanted to use them to make breadcrumbs. Yes, breadcrumbs. No, they aren't fancy, heck they aren't even that creative! But I don't tend to keep them in the house, since I don't use them all that often. But every now and then they pop up in a recipe, so I thought that some day I might want to have breadcrumbs hands. As it turned out, today was the day.

Thanks to my handy food processor, the breadcrumbs were SO easy to make. I really don't foresee buying them. Ever. Why let them sit around forever when I can make them fresh when I want them?! I started by toasting up my frozen bread. I just tossed the loaves onto a foil covered sheet pan and popped them into a 350 degree oven for... well, for a while. After about 15 minutes or so I turned the oven off but left the bread in to let it dry out a bit more. It worked well! Next it was into the food processor for a spin. I did wind up having to do this in batches, as I had too much bread and I wanted somewhat uniform crumbs, but that was (clearly) not a problem. And, thankfully, this food processor is quieter than my little one, so I was able to do this while Little Girl napped.
So there I had it. Freshly made breadcrumbs, ready to be seasoned (or not) as I might want, and used however I saw fit! And how did I see fit? The weekly meal plan told me that macaroni and cheese was to be dinner this evening, and while I never usually use a breadcrumb topping, this was my opportunity! Little Girl helped me season the breadcrumbs with pepper, basil, ground mustard and shredded cheese to match the seasonings in the cheese sauce. Then the topping was sprinkled over the casserole and the whole thing was baked to gooey, crispy doneness. I can see why this crispy, crunchy topping is traditional in home made macaroni and cheese... It was really yummy, and the texture was really good with the soft pasta! I think I will be doing this again!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weekend bread baking

It would appear that I have not made challah in quite some time... and that is sort of true. For a while I was working on the frozen loaves in the freezer, and then there were a few weekends when Little Girl and I, or all three of us, were away. But this weekend we were all home for Shabbat dinner, so I wanted to have bread for the blessings. Unfortunately, I didn't think ahead enough to make challah dough early in the day. So I needed something that would be a little quicker, and a little less labor intensive. I decided on rolls. Because preportioned loaves of bread sounded better to me than big loaves that might not get eaten quickly enough! I found this recipe, which looked easy, yummy, and used some whole wheat flour, which I really like.

The dough came together nicely, even though I thought my water was too warm and the yeast would be killed, it rose beautifully! I was excited to get my hands in there... then I thought, hey! Little Girl can play, too! I have always included Little Girl in my kitchen activities, but usually more as an observer or mimicker with her own set of utensils. This time I was brave enough to let her handle the real stuff! After a quick sanitizing of her tray and the table, and a thorough wiping of her hands, I was ready to see what she would do with nice, soft, warm bread dough. Turns out, she had a great time! Of course, she is only one, I knew there would be a certain amount of dough going into her mouth. Maybe I should be more paranoid, but I was more curious as to how she would react to the raw taste than how to keep her from eating it! It was a lot of fun to see her pat, smoosh and squish the dough. I can't wait to do this with her again!!

The bread turned out really well. I had enough dough to make seven fairly large rolls, one small braided loaf (it was for Shabbat, after all!), and six cinnamon-brown sugar cloverleaf rolls. Plus whatever Little Girl managed to eat! They browned up beautifully, and were incredibly soft, especially for whole wheat bread not using any bread flour! They made a great accompaniment for our Friday night dinner, and were a great addition to the Father's Day barbecue with Hubby's family. See what happens when Little Girl helps out? Lots of success!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Little Girl, Big Help!

I know I haven't been posting a lot recently... Sorry about that! Little Girl is getting so active, sometimes it is hard to find the time! She has also developed a love for the camera such that any time I try to get a picture of her doing something crafty, she stops and comes to investigate... We'll see how that goes as time goes on...! We are working on a few new projects together, so hopefully you'll be hearing all about that soon enough!

So today was a somewhat busy day. Little Girl loves to help out with whatever is going on around her, which is a lot of fun. She and I visited Daddy (Hubby...) at work today, and she even got to help out there! Daddy's coworkers love it when she comes in, and I think they appreciate her efforts to keep things in the office moving along! She did great answering calls, sending e-mails, and, best of all, keeping up morale!

Little Girl also knows how to help around the house! I have noticed that one of her favorite "toys" right now is a dust-pan and brush. She does a great job of sweeping up, now I just need to teach her to throw the dirt into the trash instead of back onto the floor! Today's job was a quick wet mop of the kitchen floor. She was more than happy to supervise, assist, and inspect, making sure that Mommy's work was up to par!
We really are lucky to have such an amazing helper around. She absolutely makes everyday more fun, and we love to see what she'll come up with next!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Daring to do it: Pate and Bread

(Yet again, this is going to be a long, picture intensive post... Please bear with me!)
Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

Ok, this was a challenge I was going to have to read before I got either excited or frustrated. Pate is not something I think to make too often. Or at all... The only pates I know of are liver. We used to make chopped liver at home growing up, until we decided that we liked our arteries... Now that I have a vegetarian kitchen, I was really curious to see what would be offered up as a vegetarian alternative to livers. As it turns out, there was an interesting looking vegetarian option, some sources for vegan pates, and research turned up a lot of interesting stuff. So this challenge was going to be a lot of fun for me - as long as no one expected me to stick exactly to the given recipe! (No offence intended - I am sure the carnivorous recipes are good, and the vegetarian one looked great, I just don't know how to leave well enough alone!!) Interestingly - at least to me - the aspect of the challenge that a number of m y fellow Daring Cooks were troubled by was not the pate, but the bread. As it turns out, there are many people out there who do not enjoy both cooking and baking, and for whom the prospect of baking bread is a bit intimidating. Fool that I am, I was excited to try a new bread recipe! Actually, fool that I am, I made three different pates combinations! I know, I am kind of insane...

If you somehow haven't noticed, I am a dessert person. Even when it comes to these cooking challenges, I always imagine some sort of dessert alternative. Well, the first pate I chose to make was a dessert pate. During my research I found that pates and terrines could be made in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. I found some amazing looking recipes for chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and other dessert type dishes. I decided to improvise and made a chocolate chip cheesecake pate. I didn't really follow a recipe, I just sort of winged it. I used cream cheese, ricotta cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla... some cinnamon, I think.... and some melted baking chocolate to make a chocolate layer. And, of course, chocolate chips! I cooked it in a bain marie (I think that's how it is spelled...), or water bath, until it seemed set up. Instead of bread I served this pate on a plain cake. It was REALLY good! Hubby told me that it tasted like the filling for a black bottom cupcake, which is praise, since he isn't a huge cheesecake fan but loves black bottom cupcakes!!

For my second pate I decided that I really ought to work from the recommended challenge recipes. Of course, my options were limited, since I could not use any of the meat recipes. But the Tricolor Vegetable Pate looked quite yummy, so I didn't actually feel limited at all. I did, though, make it a two color dish rather than three, as I decided it would be nice to make it such that Little Girl could eat all of it, and I have yet to give her roasted red peppers. I was also interested in making it a slightly smaller quantity, as there aren't enough people to eat that much pate!
I started with the bean layer. Into my food processor went cannellini beans, sauteed onion and garlic, olive oil and spices. It smelled good already, so how bad could this be?! After a couple of quick whirs in the processor, I transferred the mixture to a bowl to mash by hand, as I was afraid the loud machine might wake a sleeping baby-girl... (Usually my cooking time has to be Little Girl's nap time. Even a yummy dish isn't worth waking her and having a cranky girl!!) Into the dish with the first layer...
As I was omitting the red peppers, the other layer was to be a pesto mixture. Yummy - I love pesto! But I don't have that much basil, and I didn't have the chance to get it. But I did have something else green - spinach! So I made a spinach and ricotta cheese layer, adding in the remaining onions and garlic from the bean layer. As Little Girl was still asleep, I again mixed this by hand. I didn't get as uniform a green color as I would have liked, but I did get the nap to extend, so that was a trade I was willing to make! The spinach went on top of the beans, the whole thing got wrapped up and put in the refrigerator to set up for dinner. So far, so good...
As for the bread, I used the given recipe for baguettes. I have made French bread before, using Mark Bittman's recipe from my beloved How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cook book. I was excited to try this new recipe, but a little nervous, too. It didn't call for very much yeast, and I needed to make an overnight starter... This was new to me. But that's what this is all about, right? At around 8:30 pm looked like this:
...somewhat sticky, shapeless, lumpy...
The next morning? I had this:Frothy, light, still sticky, and well risen!! That was really cool to see, at least for me, and looked like a good omen for the breads to come!
Once all of the ingredients are combined, this dough is actually supposed to rise and be punched down three times, then get shaped, then rise again before baking. I was a little surprised how much the dough rose from start to finish. I didn't know how the extra punch downs would affect it, but clearly it works!! I had a nice, puffy, smooth bread dough ready to form into baguettes. The only thing I changed in this recipe was inadvertent - I forgot to spray the loaves with warm water before baking them. Somehow, they were still browned and crispy, so I don't feel too badly!!Put together, the pate and the bread made for a really nice dinner. As the weather has finally been warming up, this was a great meal for a hot day, and Hubby, Little Girl and I all enjoyed it!

Finally, the last pate. When I first read the challenge, there actually was a recipe that came to mind before I started getting (or trying to get...) creative... A couple of years ago a friend of the family introduced us to a mock chopped liver. It tastes frightfully convincing. Not identical, and the texture is different, but it is really similar... So I thought it would be fun to make that for the challenge. The problem is that Hubby isn't really a fan, and Little Girl can't yet have it, as it contains nuts. Well, I solved that problem by going to Florida to visit my parents! While my father won't eat this, my mother and I both like it, and were glad to have the excuse to make it!This is a frightfully easy recipe. It calls for four basic ingredients: hard boiled eggs, sauteed onion, walnuts and a can of peas. That's it. Give it all a whir in the food processor (again, while the one year old is not napping!) and get it to the consistency you like! The intention had been to serve this with Friday night dinner, so having freshly baked challah as the bread pairing. But that kind of didn't happen... My mom and I looked at it after it was made and decided that we really had to "test taste" it for lunch with pita chips. So that is what we did...!

Thank you so much to Evelyne and Valerie for this challenge!! I would never have thought to make pate were it not for you, and I had a lot of fun exploring the possibilities!

If you would like to see the amazing (and sometimes frightening!) creations made by my fellow Daring Cooks, then take a look here!

Monday, June 7, 2010


Yes, I have been called a genius!! This is a rare occurrence. VERY rare. So I am recording it for posterity here on the lovely internet.
The story:
Auntie Twin and I are very pale. We come by this honestly, our father is very pale, too. We got our first sunburns at age six months, including blisters. (To be fair, the family was living in Puerto Rico, and this was a long time ago, before sunscreen was as powerful and prevalent as it now is.) So we have always knows to be careful out in the sun, and to slather up with the highest SPF we can find. Inevitably, though, each of us gets burned about once a summer. It stinks, but we are sort of used to it. Last year, when trying to find some relief from my burn, I turned to something I had previously not had in the house, and it was amazing! I filed the fact away, and I plan to hold it for future use.
Auntie Twin and her family have a beach house. They go there almost every weekend during the summer. This weekend was no exception. Despite making sure that Little Miss was well protected, Auntie Twin wound up with a doozy of a sunburn. When she told me about this last night I let her in on my discovery from last year: diaper rash cream! She was a little hesitant, but sort of understood why I would think this worked.
This morning my phone rang. "I just wanted to thank you for that diaper rash cream hint - you are a genius!"
So there you go! A crafty mommy tip, and proof that once someone thought I was a genius!!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Let's go Flyers!

As I have mentioned, I am a huge fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. I am not entirely sure why I am quite this fanatical, but it is fun none-the-less! Even being the fan that I am, though, I was amazed when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals last week. This is a team that made it into the playoffs by winning a shoot-out on the last day of the season! Now they are one of two teams left trying to win it all? Unbelievable. Unfortunately, the first two games didn't go quite as well as a Flyers fan might have hoped. Two losses in Chicago, each by one goal margins... No good. But seeing as my croquemBoucher helped the Flyers do so well earlier in the playoffs, I figured it was time for another Flyers themed dessert! (Well, that and there was a recipe that had caught my eye and a friend from out of town visiting...)

Once upon a time when I was foodgawking I came across a picture of a cinnamon roll type pastry. Looked too good to ignore. So I went here to look at it. Looked really good and really easy. So I filed it away in my "I'll have to try that at some point" memory bank. I wanted to make it yesterday to have for game-time snacking. But I didn't have any cream cheese, and I already have some actual cinnamon rolls in the apartment. What to do...? (Sorry there are no process pictures... It just kind of wasn't in the cards to happen...)

Well, I started with making my own pie crust. I don't buy the prepackaged ones. Many tend to be unKosher, and I kind of like making my own anyway. While I was wrist deep in crust dough, Little Girl helped herself to some leftover cake she found in a foil package on the kitchen table. Crumbs everywhere! But she had fun, so sweeping up was a small price to pay. With the crust chilling, I had no choice but to figure out a filling. I had already pretty much decided on chocolate. Because, hey, it's chocolate. But still, no cream cheese. So I faked it. One stick of margarine, a half cup of brown sugar and three tablespoons of cocoa powder later, I had a nice fudgey filling. Crusts were rolled and cut with my Flyers logo shaped cookie cutter, filling was added, ends were crimped with a fork and the treats baked at 350 for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have crimped the edged quite well enough, as a lot of filling spilled out. Oops. I guess next time I need to "glue" the pieces together with water/egg wash/milk before crimping. Lesson learned.

Despite the mess, the treats turned out pretty yummy. A little light on the chocolate, but that will be fixed next time by sealing the edges better. And it must have worked, since the Flyers won last night!! Looks like this might have to be a new pre-game ritual!

Let's go Flyers!!!!