Saturday, March 29, 2008

I Love My Oven & Tyler Florence!

Tyler Florence is one of my favorite Food Network personalities. With the exception of the association with Applebee's, the man can do no wrong. I was watching Tyler's Ultimate one day and the man roasted broccoli. I love roasting as a cooking method because it intensifies flavor like nothing else. It also makes veggies sweeter.

I've roasted carrots, potatoes and onions before, but broccoli??!! This I would have to try. Since I've tried it, I haven't cooked it any other way. It's really quick and it doesn't require a lot of work. Be forewarned: If you like mushy broccoli, this is not for you! Here goes:

Start with fresh broccoli. This will not work with frozen. Rinse and chop off the crowns. You can also cut it into spears. I'm using just the crowns today.

Grab a foil-lined baking sheet. and place the broccoli on it. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss everything together.

Take it to a 400 degree preheated oven. Roast it for 10 minutes. Look at that color!

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and roast for 10 more minutes.

Plate and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice. The caramelized pieces are the best.

Tools of the trade:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I think my favorite veggie in the whole world is the tomato. I know it's technically a fruit. I live for May when tomatoes come into season. I was in Trader Joe's and the grape tomatoes looked so good! I couldn't resist. I decided to buy some early. I had roasted tomatoes in mind. Something mystical happens to tomatoes when you slow roast them.

Turn the oven on 250 degrees. If you want to cook your tomatoes overnight, turn the oven on 200 degrees. Gather some garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Slice the tomatoes in half, lengthwise. Toss with chopped basil, minced garlic, olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Try to place the tomatoes cut side down in the baking dish. Do not use cast iron or foil-lined dishes for this. Okay, so some of mine are right side up. Place in the oven and walk away for several hours. You can really do these overnight if you want (make sure you're working at 200 degrees.)

After a couple of hours, give everything a good stir and taste. Here's where you adjust the seasonings, including adding a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are too acidic. Park them back in the oven. When they are done, you'll have this caramelized goodness.

Intense tomato flavor with basil and garlic. It's all good! You can also dial up the flavor with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Tools of the trade:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!!!

Lemon cupcake covered with marzipan and lemon buttercream. African Violet royal icing flower.

Six hours later ... Dinner is served!

Roasted chicken, roasted broccoli, slow roasted tomatoes, sauteed fennel, glazed carrots and yeast rolls. My theory is that once you turn the oven on, you should cook as much stuff in it as possible. Damn. I really forgot to bake the mac and cheese. You've seen the glazed carrots before. We'll talk about the other stuff later.

Peace and blessings.

Tools of the trade:

  • Joy
  • Reverence
  • Patience

Saturday, March 22, 2008

When Winter Won't Leave

Yesterday was Good Friday and it snowed! (This will make it very hard to wear white linen for Easter.) What better time to write about the Saturday I spent making soup? Roasted butternut squash soup is always a favorite. I had some sweet potatoes on hand and I wanted to see what I could do with those and some corn. The result was fabulous. It's now on my list of favorites too.

Roasted butternut squash soup first. My version is a combination of three different recipes from Cook's Illustrated, Williams-Sonoma and the Food Network. Preheat the oven to 350-400. Grab a baking sheet, ice cream scoop, rubber mallet and cleaver. Oh yeah. Get some squash too.

If you have an easier way of dismantling hard squash, let me know! Here's the deal. Apparently I'm a wuss. I struggle to open jars and occasionally a water bottle or two. I've heard of people being able to tear through hard squash with a chef's knife. I look at my Shun and think, "No damn way." I value my knife and my fingers, although not necessarily in that order.

Anyway, use the cleaver to slice a thin piece off the bottom of the squash to make sure the squash has a secure base. Stand the squash up on a kitchen towel. Split it in half using the mallet and cleaver. Use the ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and membrane. Save both.
Place the halves cut side down on the baking sheet. Use a Silpat or foil to make cleaning up easier. Roast until tender.In the meantime, drizzle a little olive oil into your soup pot. Add a few sage leaves and heat the oil.
Add the seeds and the membrane.
I like to give the seeds and membrane a head start before I add the onion. I don't know why. Saute until the onion is tender.
Add chicken stock. You can make this with veggie stock or water. I prefer the chicken stock. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer.
Remove the solids. I just dump the contents of the pot into a strainer. Add the stock back to your pot.
By now the squash should be done. Grab the ice cream scoop again and dig out the flesh. Add the squash to the pot. Now whip out your immersion blender. I named mine Frenzy. Don't have one? Add the squash to a blender and ladle in some broth. Either way, process until smooth. Put the soup back into the pot and simmer.
Now here is where you can get more creative. You can add heavy cream to the pot now for a richer soup. When serving, you can garnish each bowl with chopped pecans and/or fried sage.
Now for the sweet potato corn soup. Start by infusing some olive oil with sage, just like the roasted butternut squash soup. Add onion and saute.

All I had in the house was frozen corn. I dumped it (still frozen) into the pot.

Moving on to the sweet potatoes. Pierce the sweet potatoes a knife and roast until tender.

Remove the skin and mash immediately. Throw it in with the now thawed corn and very soft onion. Add chicken stock. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer.
Once the flavors meld, puree. Again, the immersion blender rocks.
Strain the soup. (I don't like the corn bits.) I finish the soup with cream. Adjust the seasonings. I throw in a pinch of sugar. When I dish it up into bowls, I add a little bit of brandy.
Yeah. It's good.

Tools of the trade:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wishing for Summer

Well okay, my NordicWare shortcake pan isn't new, I got it for Christmas. I used it for the first time last week when a friend came over for dinner. I apologized because I used a boxed cake mix as a base for dessert. I do keep boxed cake mix in the house for emergencies like this and for cake decorating practice. It's not even the kind of mix that uses butter! (If I had time to soften butter for cake mix, I could make a cake from scratch.)

Anyway, now it's time to give my shortcake pan it's due. I decided to use the recipe that came with the pan. I have also purchased a second shortcake pan because I want to be able to use a regular cake recipe for this (one pan holds about three cups of batter.) You can freeze the extra cakes and your dining emergencies won't really be emergencies.

Let's knock out the batter. The directions suggested that I dump everything into a bowl and mix. I decided to take a more traditional approach. I creamed the butter and sugar first. Since I was working with a small amount of batter, I used my hand mixer, Sparkle.

I added the egg and alternately added the flour and milk (I used buttermilk.)

Fill the cups 3/4 full and bake. Here's the deal. I followed the recipe (with the exception of substituting buttermilk for milk) and I portioned the batter out properly (or so I thought). Why then do I have these misshapen cakes?

I pulled the excess from the cakes while they were in the pan. I tried to slice the bottoms off some. Pulling the extra off worked much better.

The scraps made an excellent snack!

My last complaint is that I can't get good browning in this pan. This is my second attempt, and the cakes are very light, yet done according to the toothpick test. When you look at the cakes on the packaging, they are perfectly browned and you can see the decoration from the pan. I promise I will cook until they are brown the next time. I think a pound cake batter might work better too.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Pop the cakes out and cool on a wire rack.

Here's the fun part: fill and eat! I scored some blueberries, blackberries and Trader Joe's lemon curd. I already had the whipped cream. To assemble, add a couple of tablespoons of lemon curd to each cake and nestle the berries in the curd. Top with whipped cream.

Isn't it cute? And yes, it tastes as good as it looks. It's 37 degrees right now. This is as close as I can get to sitting out on the balcony in the warm sun with a good book and a big glass of sweet tea! June needs to get here quickly.

Tools of the trade:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Faux Fours

I know it's still winter, but stores have Easter merchandise on display, there was a Serious Eats post about spring, it was 45 degrees in Chicago recently ... I got caught up. I wanted lemon cake. I like lemon bars and lemon meringue pie, but I have never wanted or made lemon cake. The promise of spring to come has altered my taste buds.

For a few weeks, I've also wanted to make petit fours (just so I could use pourable fondant). They also help with the portion control thing. It would give me a chance to brush up on my cake decorating skills since I have Wilton III soon. This will complete my second trip through the Wilton series. I still can't make a proper rose. I digress. Now that I think about it, I never liked petit fours either. The fondant was always so gross. Cakewalk in Chicago has the best tasting fondant, Satin Ice. Fondant will never taste as good as buttercream, but Satin Ice is pretty decent.

I didn't want just any old petit fours; I wanted properly-made and artistically-inspired petit fours. There was only one resource up for the task, Pretty Party Cakes by Peggy Porschen. I love this book! I may not be able to deliver on the artistically-inspired part, but I could give it a shot.
For the cake, I used Cook's Illustrated's yellow butter cake. I use a combo of 2% milk and buttermilk, used lemon and almond extracts and added lemon zest. For reasons that allude me, I decided to bake the cake in two quarter-sheet pans. Okay. I chose those because I thought I could get away without torting. I woke up from a nap and headed into the kitchen, my judgement wasn't clear.

I hoped these were even.

These didn't brown as well as I would have liked, but they are done. Perhaps I should have trimmed the parchment more?

How tall are petit fours??! Should I tort these or just stack them on top of each other? Never again will I wake up from a nap and bake. I decided to stack the two layers. In hindsight, this was a bad idea because what did I now have? A sheet cake.

Time to brush the bottom layer with the sugar syrup. This is a lemon syrup.

Now it's time for the buttercream. I have to say that this is one of the best buttercreams I've ever made! Powdered sugar, butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and a pinch of salt. It was so bright. The lemon really cut the butter's heaviness. I gave the bottom layer a nice thick coating.

Next, I put the lemon curd on the bottom layer.

If you're following along at home, place the second layer (bottom up) on top of the first. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Next is the marzipan. Marzipan is made from ground almonds. Roll it out to match the size of the cake.

Brush the cake with melted jam. I'm using citron preserves.

Cover with marzipan.

Here's where it all started to fall apart. I left my cake in the refrigerator overnight, which I think was okay. When I took it out, I let it sit for too long before trying to cut it. So yeah, I had sliding layers. Never mind that I was tying to use a cookie cutter on a sheet cake. ... I was in this predicament because I woke up and headed to the kitchen. Then I started doing chores. Yes I have learned my lesson: I will no longer wake up and try to cook.

These remnants made a great snack days later!

Moving on to the fondant. Place the fondant in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with hot water. Let it sit until the fondant is soft, about 15 minutes. Pour off the water. Add lemon juice and glucose. Microwave until runny.

Now that the fondant is melted, you should be able to dip the cakes into the melted fondant using a candy fork. Notice I said should. My too-tall cakes fell apart. The loss. The shame! The inhumanity of it all. These were still tasty, even though you had to eat them with a fork! I'll have to try again soon, when I have a whole day to devote to making them.

Tools of the trade: