Jan 06 2011

Cookbook Junkie

Cookbooks

Hi, I’m the Poet and I’m a Cookbook Junkie. I’ve tried to quit many times now–vowing over and over again that this would be the end–but I can’t seem to give them up. I already have dozens on the folding shelves in my too-tiny kitchen, overflowing with evidence of my addiction. Even though I promised I’d buy no more, 2 more showed up yesterday on my doorstep.

Admit it–you’re a junkie, too. If it’s not cookbooks, it’s food blogs, websites for food shows, daily emails, community forums, magazines, monthly publications at the supermarket checkout, so on and so forth. In this day and age, there are practically infinite sources for recipes. We have so many more options than our mothers and grandmothers did. But is this really a good thing?

I’m a girl who likes to have choices. I delayed graduation so I’d have more job options. I plan out multiple scenarios, trying to cover as many bases as possible. I like to be prepared. And I’m a recipe addict. I’ve looked through more recipes than I could ever make in my lifetime, and I keep on looking, never satisfied with what I already have at my fingertips. It’s almost paralyzing, this having too much to choose from.

It’s a disease.

You, my dear reader, get the benefit, however. With these 2 cookbooks comes the promise of new experiments–new material for this blog, which becomes a source of recipes for someone else. We’re all in this together. If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me! Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

Cheers!

Jan 05 2011

Burnt Sugar Dreams

vanilla bean caramel sauceLast week, I ventured into the new territory of making caramel candies–Apple Cider Caramels, to be exact. The experience taught me two things: leave yourself plenty of time and never underestimate the value of paying for pre-cut candy wrappers.

I’m not entirely new to caramel, however. I used to sell a nationally-known food brand at home demonstration parties and one of our products was a caramel sauce. When I parted ways with the company and finished eating up the remnants of my sales kit, I wasn’t sure what to do without that caramel sauce. I never bought it in the store before–the stuff in the ice cream aisle never really captured my heart–but this was different and I liked it, if only for a few recipes a year that I made that required caramel. So I sucked it up, did a search online, and discovered the world of burning sugar on purpose.

Let me clarify: we’re not talking turning it into a blackened goo welded to your pan. But the browning process that occurs is a burning of the sugar, much akin to what’s done with granulated sugar and a torch on top of the crème in crème brûlée. You add in some butter and cream for …well, creaminess… and voilà! Caramel sauce at home! It’s the temperature that the mixture boils to that makes the difference between caramel sauce, soft caramel squares, and hard caramel candies. So once you’ve mastered the sauce, you’re not far from figuring out the other confectionary variations.

David Lebovitz has some great tips on making caramel at home, utilizing both the dry and wet methods (dry being that you start with just sugar; wet involves a small amount of water in the beginning to make it easier not to burn, but it also takes longer because you have to wait for the water to evaporate before the caramel process will go on). The most important tip is that you should give it your undivided attention. Distraction=disaster.

Caramel and Ice CreamWhile there isn’t really a magic recipe (all being a variation on pretty much the same 3 ingredients), I decided to go with the Vanilla Caramel Sauce recipe from In Jennie’s Kitchen. The first time I tried it, I had problems (like David Lebovitz warned about) because I ran out of white sugar and had to use some raw cane sugar. The “impurities” in the raw cane sugar made it taste a little funky and it was harder to tell when it was done since the color was caramel-y to begin with. Yesterday, I tried again, using the vanilla sugar I “made” (you put dry, scraped vanilla bean pods into a jar and pour sugar on top, letting it sit so the flavor and fragrance disperse throughout the sugar crystals). The thing is that while it’s easy to make caramel sauce, it’s also easy to turn perfectly burnt sugar into overly-burnt sugar: the two are only mere seconds apart. So learn from my mistakes and pay attention. And if you’re concerned about missing the mark of perfection, go with the wet method instead of dry–it’s a little more forgiving.

Smitten kitchen’s ridiculously easy butterscotch sauce is another tasty variation–one that I found to be even easier to make, with more consistent results. I prefer the taste to straight caramel sauce, too. If you haven’t made caramel sauce before, you may want to start with this, then the wet method for regular caramel, working your way up to the dry method.

Regardless of which sauce you make and whether you’re enjoying it on cake, cookies, brownies, ice cream, or straight from the spoon, there’s one thing you can do: forget about the calories because you made it at home. No label=no calories, right? ;) Dig in!

Jan 04 2011

Crusty Cookies

Plate of Cookies

As the rest of my winter break from school slips away, I’m trying to pack in as much baking as possible. I should be working on my student film. Or that short story I planned on converting to a film script this spring. Maybe even read for pleasure. Instead, I spend my time browsing recipes and wandering the kitchen, sporting my ruffled red apron, frantically trying to fill the void somehow with an oven and a mixer.

Since I already have pork tenderloin with russet potatoes and baby carrots in the crockpot, dinner is covered. (And thank goodness! While I love to bake, I’m not so much of a fan of cooking… It seems like so much more work!) I was planning on making some caramel sauce today for a cheesecake I want to make this weekend, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention and burned it a little. Yes, I admit it, I am NOT perfect. Did I just destroy my credibility entirely with that one statement? Oops.

So what else did I have to work with? Pie crust, of course! Remember yesterday when I made the Alsatian Apple Tart? I only used half of the smitten kitchen all-butter pie crust dough that was chillin’ in the fridge. I’m feeling nostalgic so that means pie crust cookies.

Cookies & Milk

I don’t recall ever making pie crust cookies at home. Neither did my mother, who wasn’t one to make pies. But I did make them once in Foods class during my freshman year of high school. In and of itself, that was an interesting situation. The class was divided into groups, each getting their own kitchen. I was the sole girl in a kitchen of guys–you can imagine how well that went. It left a lasting impression. Thinking back, I guess teenagers aren’t to be trusted making whole pies–and considering the guys who were in my kitchen, I agree. So we made pie crust dough, rolled it out, cinnamoned and sugared it, and made cookies instead. Seeing as the crust is the best part, I’m not sure why they haven’t surfaced in my own kitchen til now.

There really isn’t a recipe. Take some pie crust–store-bought, your favorite recipe, or the one I used–and roll it out. You now have 2 options. You can use cookie cutters and sprinkle the cut shapes with cinnamon sugar. Or you can butter the rolled-out dough and sprinkle that with cinnamon sugar (or even chocolate chips, nuts, etc.), then roll it up like you’re making cinnamon buns, cut the log into individual servings, and bake those, cut side down. 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes should do it, but that will vary depending on the baking sheet you use, your oven, and how well done you want them.

Crusty Cookies… sounds disgusting, but they’re oh-so-delicious!

Crusty Cookies

Jan 03 2011

I’m looking at tarts…

…and clearly I’m pretty childish because I’m giggling about it. Tarts, tarts, tarts, tarts, tarts. It’s not even a part of American slang, somehow skipping us in favor of other unsavory terms for promiscuous women, yet here I am, smiling idiotically to myself as my husband rolls his eyes like there’s something wrong with me.

According to Wikipedia, in the kitchen,:

A tart is a baked dish consisting of a filling over a pastry base with an open top not covered with pastry. The pastry is usually shortcrust pastry; the filling may be sweet or savoury, though modern tarts are usually fruit-based, sometimes with custard.

Certainly not as salacious as the ladies who bear the same names.

I spent some of my “free” time yesterday preparing all-butter pie dough, a la smitten kitchen, with no real plan for it. I felt like it, so I made it, knowing the plan would reveal itself when the time was right. Or something like that. And I was right because through divine intervention, tarts have been on my mind all day. Either I’m in for a really sweet treat, or I have a very dirty mind…

In all seriousness, when I was on the verge of turning 21, I worked as a baker’s assistant at a local bakery for 2 months. One of my jobs was to transport the freshly-baked bread from the main location to its satellite shop about forty minutes away. Once the bread was safely conveyed, my new mission was to ferry tart shells back to the main shop so my aunt (the pastry chef) could fill them. I never really questioned how they were made or even what my aunt did with them. My job, once the tarts were ready, was to finish them for display–arrange fruit, paint on an apricot glaze, that sort of thing. And I really didn’t think about them much in the intervening years either. I had a tart pan in the back of the bottom cabinet in my pantry but I don’t think I’ve even used it. This is a project begging to be completed!

I decided on the Alsatian Apple Tart from Chicho’s Kitchen, substituting the pre-made all-butter pie crust from smitten kitchen for the one in the recipe, which is pretty similar anyway. The recipe is simple, requiring very few ingredients and not a whole lot of work, but it looks like you slaved away all day in the kitchen. And the taste? I was worried because I’m not really an egg person. I was pleasantly surprised. Delicate custard surrounding tart and sweet apples, perfectly complemented by crunchy, buttery crust. Delicious! I feel almost civilized now! Almost…

Alsatian Apple Tart

adapted from Chicho’s Kitchen

smitten kitchen’s all-butter pie crust (link brings you to her tutorial), or

Shortcrust pastry:

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

9 Tbsp (125 g) cold butter, cut into pieces

2 Tbsp cold water

In a large bowl, mix the flour, butter, sugar, and salt with your fingertips or a pastry blender until you have pea-sized chunks of butter. Quickly stir the water into the mixture, being careful not to overmix. Once there are no dry spots, gather up the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press it into a flat dish shape. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours (or overnight is better).

When ready to use, preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Butter the bottom and side of a tart pan with a removable bottom. Flour your work surface and roll the dough out into a circle slightly larger than your pan. Gently fold the dough in half and then half again, bring it over to your pan and then unfold it directly onto the pan. Trim the excess.

For the filling:

1 pound medium sized sweet apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I used Granny Smith and Gala)

3/4 cup heavy cream

6 tbsp sugar (I used vanilla sugar)

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (if you go with the vanilla bean, scrape it into the cream and let the seeds sit in the cream for 10 minutes or more before mixing)

Layer the peeled and sliced apples on the bottom of the dough-lined pan. In a bowl, mix the eggs and sugar, then add the cream and the vanilla extract. Pour on top of the apples and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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