Wednesday, October 21, 2009

TWD - Sweet Potato Biscuits

This week's TWD was Sweet Potato Biscuits. For me, it was a chance to redeem myself from my failed make-up Monday's biscuits. I gave up on the idea of mixing the butter in with my fingers. I thought last time the heat from my fingers and the time it took to mix it in affected the end result. So I turned to my old trusty stand mixer. By pulsing it, I was able to get the same effect and crumb texture without adding the heat from my fingers.

But honestly, I think two things made these biscuits easier than traditional biscuits - the sweet potatoes and the fact that I didn't really roll them out. I just sort of pressed them out into a circle and cut them.

They puffed up some, not high necessarily, but up, which was a vast improvement from the previous attempt. Not only were these good right out of the oven, they were good the next morning and with dinner tonight, with whipped cream cheese on them. YUM.

This week of biscuits reminds me of a story. My parents are in the same profession. Unfortunately, in the mid-1970s, women were still having a very difficult time in the workplace, particularly the professional workplace. My parents had both just passed the licensing exam. My father had a job but my mother couldn't get a job because she was pregnant with my younger brother. After having my brother in December, my mother was a stay-at-home mother for six months before she found another job.

When asked about that time in her life, she describes it as "the worst six months of her life." She was not cut out to be a stay-at-home mother of a four-year-old (me) and a newborn. (I'm sure it was my brother's fault . . . I was the perfect child.) Since she couldn't find a job, she decided she was going to be a gourmet chef and perfect making biscuits.

I don't know why she chose biscuits. Probably because the ingredients for biscuits are always on hand or because they were relatively quick compared to other baking projects or because they are cheap to make. Anyway, it was a failure. The only things she perfected were gaining weight, being depressed, and yelling at my dad.

It all ended well. She got a job and has worked every day since. I liked having a working mother; she was a great role model. However, she hasn't made biscuits since.

These biscuits might change her mind.

TWD - Make Up Monday - Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

OK. I made these as part of my make-up Mondays. I'll just put it out there. They sucked. They were like small, beige hockey pucks. Actually, they were small, beige, burned hockey pucks. And that's what they tasted like as well.

I didn't even take pictures because they really weren't pretty, but I did take them camping with us on Saturday. (I made them Friday night.) I figured I could put them in with the bacon and eggs on Sunday morning and they would at least fill us up for hiking. Yeah, well. We ate a few of them but it was mostly because we were really hungry and it was about 34 degrees outside when we got up.

I take complete blame for the failure. I knew I was working the biscuits too hard but I just couldn't let it go . . . I just had to have them rolled out perfectly and evenly. Well, I paid for my perfection streak. BUT, I learned a lot and applied it to the actual Tuesdays with Dorie recipe this week. Coming up next!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TWD - Allspice Crumb Muffins

I've made this recipe twice in the last two weeks. It is one of those recipes that is great because I would almost always have all of the ingredients on hand. I guess the problem would be that, while they are good muffins, they aren't my favorite muffins ever.

The crumb gave me some trouble the first time. It basically melted off all over the muffin tins and burned. The second time, I reduced the amount of butter by a tablespoon and that corrected the problem.

Here is the muffins pre-cooked and fully topped with crumb:

Completely covered, right? Then why did I have this much crumb left over?

Here's the finished muffin - a quick picture before I left for work this morning:

TWD - Make Up Monday - Pumpkin Muffins

I really loved this recipe. First, it was really easy and fast. Second, it tasted almost like pumpkin bread but better with pecans and raisins. Of course, I used my whiskey-soaked raisins which probably helped the flavor. I will definitely make this one again and again.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TWD - Chocolate Crunched Caramel Tart and Split Level Pudding

For the first time in a long time, my job got the better of me last week. I pride myself in maintaining a good balance between work, social, and home life but this past 10 days . . . all I have to say is "I surrender!" Work won - bringing work home every night and working on the weekend. All if it made me not want to be at the computer ever again and consider a job change to toll booth operator.

I think my stress played out in the Chocolate Crunched Caramel Tart. The crust went well until I let it go 30 seconds too long in the oven. Too dark. The pecans (used instead of peanuts, which I don't really like) were perfect until I let them roast a little too long. The ganache was fine.

In the end, my fiance loved it, which is good. I didn't like it that much, mostly because I had tasted Jennifer's (from Keep Passing the Open Windows) the night before and hers was P.E.R.F.E.C.T. Melt-in-my-mouth perfect. So mine paled in comparison.

On the other hand, my attempt at Split Level Pudding went well. I used some extra cream in the ganache because I usually find ganache too rich and thick. I made the cinnamon version of the top layer, which was SO good. I was worried that I had to use my stand mixer because I only have a small food processor. It worked just fine and the pudding was the perfect consistency.

Like other people, I only got four pudding coffee cups out of the recipe, but I could be a pudding hog. Whatever. I've been called worse. This week, in fact.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD - Make Up Monday - Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

The second make-up recipe was actually a savory recipe rather than a dessert. So, I paired it with dinner (pan-fried tilapia and roasted broccolini). It was a great compliment to both the fish and the vegetable. The only complaint was that the muffins were too crumbly.

My actual Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is coming up!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD - Black Raspberry Pufflets

I have officially renamed these. These should not be called Cottage Cheese Pufflets. I mean, really. Look at that picture above. Does that look like it has cottage cheese in it? No.

When I think about cottage cheese (which I love), I think about my paternal grandmother. You see, both of my grandmothers were good cooks. My maternal grandmother was a good cook like in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking way of being a good cook. On the other hand, my paternal grandmother was a good cook like in the Betty Crocker way of being a good cook. Basic, good food. She grew up on a farm. She could kill a chicken and fry it. And she served cottage cheese topped with Western Dressing and half a canned pear. Yum.

Anyway, you can't even tell there is cottage cheese in these yummy little pufflets. And they were soooooo easy. I feel bad for saying that because I have been reading all of the horror stories over at Tuesdays with Dorie. The dough was a dream for me - it worked really, really well. But, I gave in to a lot of its demands. I let it chill for two days after making it. I rolled a third at a time on floured wax paper with lots and lots of flour on the rolling pin. Yeah, it was a demanding diva of a dough, but when I followed it's rules, it was perfect.

So, first I floured a rectangle of wax paper and floured my rolling pin. And rolled out the dough. Then I cut it with a pizza cutter.

Then I tried to peel it off of the wax paper. Nope. But after putting in the freezer for 15 minutes, it was perfect again. Then I flipped it over onto the silpat and peeled off the wax paper.

Then I dolloped on some wonderful Black Raspberry jam from the Farmer's Market. It needed a few moments to thaw a little before folding it over. And yes, I completely suck at making squares free-form. I decided random trapezoids were much more interesting anyway.

Here you can see the variety of wonderful shapes I came up with - just to make things interesting.

But I have one question - why did mine have all these little spots on them??

And they taste even better than they look.

Monday, September 21, 2009

TWD - Make-up Monday - Orange Blueberry Muffins

I have decided that I am going to try to make up some of the Tuesdays with Dorie recipes I missed because I didn't join until June of 2009. Or, at least that is what I'm saying this week because I have been uber-motivated to bake all of a sudden. I think it is because fall is upon us and I always want to bake more in the fall.

This weekend, I decided to make Orange Berry Muffins. I was in the mood for muffins and these were very good and very easy. I like buttermilk in muffins because it gives the batter that little tang and makes them very fluffy. My live-in taste tester said he didn't like the batter because it wasn't as good as cake batter. I'm assuming he actually knows that muffins and cakes are two different things. . . .

I was a bit disappointed because the muffins, while very blueberry-y, did not taste orange-y at all. I added the entire zested rind and all of the juice I could squeeze out of the poor orange but got little in flavor-return. After loving orange flavoring in other TWD recipes, I was sad.

But now I know what the problem was . . . bad oranges. I ate one of them at lunch today and it had almost no flavor. So, my hopes are restored that I can have very orange-y muffins using this recipe.
As a side note, you may notice I used silicone muffin cups to make these muffins. I know Dorie often mentions using silicone bakeware and usually says that you do not have to prep silicone bakeware. I would like to know if other people have found this to be true? In my experience (limited to these muffin cups), they only work if they are sprayed with Pam with Flour for Baking. After that prep, they work very well and are much easier to clean than regular muffin tins. These are fairly high-quality silicone muffin cups - I believe my mother bought them for me either at Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel.

Any other silicone experiences?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TWD - Flaky Apple Turnovers, Michelle Obama's Arms, Chocolate Souffle, How to Talk to Bears, and Assaulting Sarah Palin

"Honey, no pressure but I just told everyone in my office you were making apple turnovers tonight. They are so excited to taste them tomorrow." Greeeeaaattt.

Anyway, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie was Flaky Apple Turnovers. I was very excited because I love a good turnover. (Hell, I love a bad turnover too . . . he he.) However, in the end, it was more like pie than a turnover. But very good. I had no problems with the dough-making. I blended everything with my fingers, as I do for most doughs like this. It was still a little crumbly when I divided it and pressed it into a rectangle, but it came together nicely.

I made the dough Monday night, let it rest overnight, rolled it the first time Tuesday morning, let it rest, and then rolled it last after dinner. Let me tell you . . . if I rolled dough like this daily, I would have arms twice-as-nice as Michelle Obama's arms. Good grief, it was hard work. But that's the problem with butter-rich dough. It firms up intensely when chilled but won't roll unless chilled, which makes it harder to roll. It's a vicious cycle.

For both the first and second roll-outs, I rolled it between two pieces of wax paper, which worked fairly well and kept the mess to a minimum. Whenever I roll dough with flour, I get as much flour on myself and the floor as I do on the counter and the dough. So, wax paper works well for me. I also use a handleless, uncontoured rolling pin, which I think works much better than a pin with handles. (You can see it in the apple peel picture above, just to the left of the apples. It is one of my favorite kitchen things.)

Speaking of the apple peel picture (pay no attention to the green beans on the right - they were for dinner . . . but green bean turnovers sound interesting, no?), I took that picture for two reasons. First, I love peeling apples and I'm always sad to throw away the peels. Isn't there some recipe that uses apple peels as the main ingredient? Second, I was convinced at this point that four Fuji apples was wayyyyyy too many apples. And it was. I probably could have been fine with just two apples.

After rolling out the dough, I cut it with my four inch tartlett pans. They have scalloped edges which I thought would make the turnovers extra pretty. Well . . . sort of. I put too many apples in and that kind of stretched the dough too far, so "pretty" was relative. Here they are after forming but before the egg wash:

I didn't dot the apples with butter (mostly because I forgot) but, seriously. Did this recipe need MORE than the three sticks of butter in the dough? I don't think so.

Mine baked for less than the 20 minutes called for, but my oven runs hot so I count on less baking time in general. They got a huge vote of approval from myself, my fiance, and his office mates. They were very pretty in the end:

I still have dough and apples left over. I can't handle another arm work out, though, so I think I'm going to put the apples in a pie plate, make loosely formed circles with the dough and put them on top and then bake it.

Oh, by the way, I did make the Chocolate Souffle last week, but was so busy I forgot to post about it. Here is the picture:

It turned out pretty well, despite the fact that I beat the eggs a smidge too long. But, in my defense, I was distracted by talking to my dad on the phone. He called right in the middle of the egg beating. Ordinarily, I would have not answered the phone, but they just got back from 10 days in Alaska, during which time they stayed in a Bear Lodge. And by Bear Lodge, I mean a place that you have to fly a bush plane to get to that is designed to put you right in the middle of bear country.

I was distracted by my dad telling me how they had to take a class in "How to Talk to a Bear." Apparently, if you meet a bear on the path, you are supposed to avoid eye contact and sweet talk them. "Nice bear, pretty bear, good bear."

I think anyone would have been distracted from egg beating while hearing that story.

Also, they went to Wasilla but didn't meet Sarah Palin, which is a good thing since I would have had to fly to Alaska to bail both my parents out of jail for assault if they had met her.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD - Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

This week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe was delightfully simple - brownies topped with espresso cheesecake topped with sweet sour cream. Frankly, my favorite part of the recipe was the sweet sour cream. It reminded me of a good friend who served fresh strawberries with sour cream swirled with brown sugar. I've never eaten strawberries with regular cream and sugar again.

The picture above was taken after the brownies/cheesecake had cooled, just before I put the sour cream on top. It seemed a shame to cover up such a pretty swirl, but the sour cream layer really made this dessert, so I was glad I did.

The brownie layer was very similar to the Brownie Buttons recipe we made a few weeks ago. The cheesecake layer was so easy, I felt bad for making people clear out of the kitchen while I made it.

I'll just be having the one small piece, though. The primary reason is that I don't like cheesecake. I can understand why people like cheesecake, I just don't. It is too thick for my taste. The secondary reason is that my fiance has been bugging me to let him bring one of my TWD desserts to his office. This is the perfect one - it travels well and I don't have a desire to hide in my closet and eat the whole thing because I can't stop eating it.

Maybe I should join a weekly cheesecake making club . . . then I wouldn't have to worry about eating everything I made.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

TWD - Applesauce Spice Bars

I seem to have terrible trouble posting on Tuesdays for Tuesdays with Dorie. Thursdays seem to work much better . . . so here I am posting on Thursday.

This week's recipe was Applesauce Spice Bars. They are like traditional spice cake with raisins and pecans and are supposed to have a brown sugar glaze. I had trouble with proportions again this week. I followed the recipe exactly and did not have enough glaze to come close to covering the cake. You can see the result here:

Sure - it still tasted good, but I was really looking forward to the brown sugar glaze and it wasn't even noticable in the final product. Next time, I will double the glaze recipes.

The only change I made was that I soaked the raisins for about 8 hours in whiskey before using them in the cake. This was mostly because the recipe called for "moist plump raisins" and I only had hard nearly stale raisins in the back of the cupboard (neither I nor my children are big raisin fans.) So, I made them plump and moist with whiskey. Very similar to the way I used to catch men in college.

Anyway, it was also very good with ice cream:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TWD - Brownie Buttons

Wow. Summer has just not been good for blogging. We are in the process of a lot of home improvement and moving and a garage sale last week and on and on and on. I actually made the Banana Cake last week but didn't have the energy to post about it after all of the painting and other home improvements. (Plus, I was disappointed because it basically tasted like banana bread to me and, frankly . . . there was an awful lot of banana cake in that recipe!)

And, now this week's Tuesdays with Dorie post is late too! But only a day late, I will add. Let me just say first that these Brownie Buttons were deadly delicious! I seriously thought about making another batch right after the first one cooled. I made them with the orange zest, which was WONDERFUL and added the white chocolate on top. They were perfect little snacks and would be very fancy to take to a party or something.

The only problem is that I doubled the recipe and only got 24 mini-muffin sized brownies out of it. And I would like to know what kind of mini-muffin tins are 3/4 full after adding only a teaspoon of batter? I must have abnormally large mini-muffins tins or Dorie has abnormally small ones.

Perhaps I should not be a glutton and want a super-sized portion of the perfect mini-brownie bite, but these were good! And I would have to make a quadruple batch if I wanted to take a respectable amount to a party. I guess that isn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but after the portion sizes on some of the other recipes in this book (i.e., Pineapple Dacquoise and the Perfect Party Cake), it was odd that this one was so small.

Anyway, the next time I make these brownies, I am totally hiding them in my car so only I can enjoy them. They were that good!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

TWD - Rosemary Honey Ice Cream

Better late than never, huh? Several things kept me from posting on Tuesday, but the biggest one was that I was not able to actually make the ice cream until Wednesday.

So, starting at the beginning. . . . This week's TWD recipe was picked by LinnyLu and it was Vanilla Ice Cream. Meh. I've made vanilla ice cream more times than I can count in my lifetime, so I decided to jazz it up a little. Three months ago, we were out for dinner . . . a very expensive dinner that wasn't very good. But the dessert was fabulous - it was rosemary gelato. The rosemary was so intense that I could still taste it on my breath after I brushed my teeth before bed.

But I liked the flavor, so I decided to try and make rosemary ice cream. The only recipe I could find was Charlie Trotter's recipe. I didn't use it because that's not really the point of belong to Tuesday with Dorie and using someone else's recipe. But I used the infusion method he recommended. After heating the milk, I let about 1/4 cup of rosemary sprigs sit in the hot milk for half an hour. Then I continued with the rest of Dorie's recipe.

I was a little concerned because after I slowly combined the milk mixture with the egg mixture and started to heat it up again, it got lumpy. Not bad lumpy, but lumpy. Out of the hundreds of times I have made ice cream, this is the only time I have come close to curdling the custard. I'm still not sure it actually curdled, though. It was kind of lumpy, but not weird looking otherwise and tasted just fine.

So, I let it sit overnight to cool and it was still a little lumpy, but tasted just fine. I froze it and it wasn't lumpy at all. So I don't really know what happened, but it all turned out just fine in the end. I really liked the rosemary and honey together. It was refreshing and comforting all at the same time. I think I might try other herbs. I've had lemongrass, bay leaf, lavender, thyme, and basil ice cream (not all together) and they were all good. I don't know if I would pair them with honey or just plain sugar and vanilla.

One thing I'm dying to try is cayenne pepper chocolate ice cream. When I lived in Minneapolis in the early 90s, there was an independent ice cream store across the street from our apartment building. It was some of the best ice cream I've ever had. My favorite flavor was called Coyote Chocolate and it was cayenne and dark chocolate ice cream. It was a slow heat spicy but sweet as well. Someday, I hope to perfect that recipe.

I have a picture of the rosemary honey ice cream, but it is on my camera, which is at my house, where I am not. I am sitting in a bar and currently waiting for my fourth or fifth Captain and Coke to be served. I'm a little drunk.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TWD - Blueberry Blankety-Blank Manger and Newlyweds

This week’s TWD is Blanc Manger, picked by Susan of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy. I’ve never made Blanc Manger and I’m not sure if I have ever eaten Blanc Manger. I’m a big fan of all pudding like desserts - creme brulee, custard, panna cotta - so I was pretty sure I would like Blanc Manger.

The word "blanc" makes me laugh, however, because it is part of a running joke in our family. There is a type of champagne called "Blanc de Blanc" which is pronounced "blonk duh blonk" but my mother insists on pronouncing it "blankety blank." It has something to do with the champagne tasting dinners my grandfather threw during my parents’ engagement to determine which champagne would be served at their wedding. I’m sure no one got drunk during these dinners. Therefore, despite more than six years of French classes, I really want to pronounce Blanc Manger "blankety blank" manger because it’s funny.

Anyway. Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of red fruits and almonds in the TWD recipes, so I used blueberries for my Blanc Manger, copying from Jennifer of KPOW, who brought her mixed fruit Blanc Manger to book club on Sunday night. Next week, I hope to get away from almonds, particularly ground almonds, which proved to be my downfall in this recipe and last week’s recipe.

I didn’t take very many pictures of the process because there was nothing really visually stunning about the process, although the end result was very pretty. You can see the almond chunks that settled to the bottom and then became the top of the dessert.

Of course, after I made it, I read on the TWD that some people used almond flour. I had no idea such a thing existed and I will use that next time, if I can find it locally. With the almond chunks, the texture was like undercooked tapioca. But really good flavor.

I saw this recipe when I first purchased the cookbook and read the description right away to see how difficult it would be to make. I was floored by one of the statements in the description: this dessert is "beloved, particularly, I'm told, by newlyweds with no kitchen experience, because it is positively foolproof." There was something that really bothered me about that notion. I've been thinking about it all week.

I think it raises my feminist flag when I hear that because it relies on the 1950's concept that women marry young, only learn to cook to satisfy their prospective husbands and the husbands' work colleagues and families, and that upon getting married, adults' lives become stereotypical versions of the perfect home life.

Sure, that's probably true of some women who get married in 2009, just like it probably wasn't true of all women who got married in 1954. But the facts are that women (and men) are getting married later and most people who get married have lived on their own for some time before getting married. And most people find themselves in the situation of needing to feed themselves, wanting to feed others and entertain, and needing to know how to make a good dessert (or knowing where to buy one.)

Perhaps this is fueled by that streak of anger I still have about being unmarried and nearly 38. Granted, my life has taken a wonderful turn in the last year and marriage is in my future. But that doesn't immediately erase the 20 years of wondering and worrying if it would ever happen. In those 20 years, I had to grow up and be an adult without getting married. I had to learn how to feed myself on a budget without eating out every night, how to host a party, how to make a kick-ass dessert to bring to an office pot-luck, and how to manage a household on my own.

In all honesty, I had to stock a kitchen with tools without getting everything as bonus prizes off my registery for getting married.

But that's not all of it. Why couldn't it just say that this recipe is beloved by those just learning to cook or those newly discovering baking? Why does it have to play to a stereotype?

Friday, July 17, 2009

My New Happy Place

I have discovered a new blog that makes me very, very happy. Every time I'm feeling a little low or sad, I read a few posts. There's nothing like uncontrolled giggling, tears running down my face, and near pants-wetting experiences to make me feel better.

STFU, Parents.

*Warning - if you are one of those no-sense-of-humor parents, please ignore. You won't get it anyway.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TWD - Brioche Plum Tart

So, I bought a bunch of plums and they were good, cheap plums. Unfortunately, they were also mismatched - some were deep purplish-red inside and some were yellow inside. The purplish-red ones were really, really good and sooooo juicy. I took the picture at the top of this post because they looked so incredible when I sliced them open. Now I realize that picture looks like I am holding a freshly-ripped-out-perhaps-still-beating heart. But you get the point.

I also had jam issues. It seems plum jam is a rarity in Central Illinois. Not that we don't suffer from a over-abundance of other fringe jams . . . black cherry, apricot, fig, guava, and tutti frutti. Yes. Tutti-frutti jam. But no plum. So I used the black raspberry jam we picked up at the Des Moines Farmers' Market last weekend. In the end, I don't think it made a difference because the tart was so plum-y that the jam was lost.

But it certainly was pretty. I used a total of six plums, but they were regular everyday plums, not the Italian ones mentioned in the recipe. I also used an 11 inch tart pan - mostly because that happens to be the only type I have. However, I also read from other bakers that they wish they had used a bigger pan.

My brioche didn't puff much, but it still tasted very briochey. The fruit was slightly tart and I thought the almonds were not really cohesive with the rest of the tart. I think what would be really good is a layer of marzipan instead of jam. Yum.

Of course, I would probably eat a still-beating-heart if it had marzipan in it.

Speaking of blood, this picture sort of looks like I had an accident while slicing the tart. Don't worry - that's just plum juice. Really.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TWD - Perfect Party Cake

This week's TWD is the Perfect Party Cake, picked by Carol of Mix, Mix . . . Stir, Stir. The picture of this cake in the book is striking, but I have always been a little afraid of it because it looks so complicated and perfect. I made the cake part (a half recipe) on Saturday but we had to be out of town from early Sunday morning until late Monday night. The cake making was so simple that this is the only picture I could think to take:

Fast forward to tonight. The cake was in the freezer and then defrosted overnight in the fridge. Even after being frozen and defrosted, this cake was so easy to work with. I felt like I could handle it without being overly concerned about breaking or crumbling.

Now, on to the buttercream. Following advice from the TWD website and Dorie herself, I let everything come to room temperature before starting:

Mmmmmm . . . egg whites and sugar. Here's an action shot:

Here's the dog pretending not to be very interested in what's going on just out of nose-reach:

See? I'm a good dog (who, by the way, has been out of dog treats for weeks and barely complained about it.)

I sliced the cake, and then ran into my first snag. The fruit filling. I had some raspberry preserves in the fridge but they had seeds. So I attempted to strain them. It didn't work. So, I heated them up a little and strained them. Too runny. So, I added some ligonberry preserves. Still runny. So, I decided to just use the strawberry preserves I had, large chunks of fruit be damned.

After this experience, I began to wonder why it is that I have three different kinds of red fruit preserves sitting in the back of my fridge. Well . . . no worries. They are all gone now.

Here's the cake with just frosting:

And with coconut and the dog trying to look casual:

And here is the first slice:

Very, very good flavor. I followed the recipe exactly (except for the preserves issue) and would be interested in trying other flavors together. But unless I'm feeding 20 people, I'm still going to make just half a recipe. This cake is rich!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TWD - Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise

Andrea in the Kitchen picked this week's TWD recipe and it was a doozey!

Oh, the hours! I am unlikely to make this recipe again based simply on the fact that it took more than 24 hours to complete. Of course, part of that time was driving around to four different stores on Sunday morning to find unsweetened coconut, which I never found. I decided that because most dacquoises are made with nuts, I would simply just use all almonds and no coconut in the meringue part.

Other than being so time-consuming and requiring three hours of the oven running on a day with 90% humidity and 90 degrees, this was a fun recipe. I actually reversed the order in which I made the parts, making the pineapple first, then the ganache, and lastly the meringue.

The Pineapple.

Here in Illinois, we must have much smaller pineapples, because there was no way the pineapple I got was going to make three layers of 24 sections of pineapple. This looks like a lot of pineapple, but really it wasn’t enough:
It was really fun to broil the pineapple, but my oven is so old that the broiler is on the bottom and really uneven when cooking. So, I found myself laying on the floor watching the back pieces so they wouldn’t burn:In the end, it was a win-win situation since I didn’t burn the pineapple and I found a few child/dog/cat toys under the oven.

The Ganache.

This was the simplest part of the whole thing. It also just shows that the simplest things are often the best tasting - such as 14 ounces of white chocolate whisked with three cups of heavy cream. You just can’t screw that up.
I took a picture of the chocolate squares individually divided in the bowl because I thought it looked cool. Then I re-read the recipe and took it all out to chop it . . . finely.

The cream went into the chocolate and the whole thing went into the refrigerator. Really, the only reason it didn’t go straight down my throat was because I had to get in the shower so we could go to an afternoon baseball game.

Intermission: The Baseball Game.

We had tickets to the 2 pm Peoria Chiefs’ game, which normally would be great. However, as I mentioned above, it was like a swamp outside. Right before we arrived at the ballpark, it rained and not in a get-rid-of-the-humidity way. I had the forethought to bring a rag to wipe off our seats.

What I did not have the forethought to bring was sunscreen or an umbrella - both of which were needed during the game. So, let’s review: it was 90 degrees, it was raining off and on, there was no breeze, everything was wet first from rain, then from sweat. It was super sunny and I was beginning to fry like a popper. After the end of the fourth inning, I gave up and we watched the rest of the game from the concourse which is in the shade. Even so, I got a pretty nice sunburn.

The Meringue.

I have to admit - the meringue almost didn’t happen. I was burnt and exhausted. But I also had the house to myself after dinner, which is perfect for challenging baking situations that require the oven to be on for three hours and copious amounts of swearing.

The first step was drawing the 12 x 6 patterns on parchment paper. Apparently, I got rid of my 12 inch ruler when I left 8th grade, so I struggled to find something to use as a pattern. And this is what I decided on:
Yes . . . it’s a license plate. It is the license plate from my first car. And yes . . . it has been washed. And why was this more easily accessible than say . . . a tape measure in my house? Well, that’s just how I roll. And I forgot I had a tape measure.

Anyway, here are my stiff peaks:
Huh-huh. Someone is going to make an off color comment about that, I just know it.

And here are the meringues pre-cooked:
The amount of meringue batter (is that the right word?) seemed excessive, but that’s better than sparse, I guess. They baked just fine, although they were only in the oven for about two and a half hours instead of three. I left them in the oven overnight to cool (because the two and a half hour mark was 11 pm and I was tiiiiired.) I was worried they would get too much humidity in the house overnight, even with the air conditioning, but they were fine.

The Final Product:

The biggest trick was finding a rectangular shaped serving/storage dish on Monday morning before work. I finally found one that was about two inches too narrow, but I used it anyway. Only now as I am writing this has it occurred to me that one could very well make this into circular meringues, which would be much easier to present.

Before work I whipped the ganache and toasted the coconut. (Does everything sound kinky today or is it me?) The meringues came off the paper perfectly (although next time, perhaps I won’t use a pencil and will put the pattern with the drawn part down on the baking sheet. Eh . . . what’s a little lead in your dessert? It balances out all of that lead paint I licked off the windowsills when I was a kid.)

Because my meringues were a little too big for the plate, I had to sprinkle the coconut on the top rather than on the sides:
The meringues were also darker than pictured, mostly because I used all almonds instead of coconut, I'm assuming.
The Review.

Too sweet!! I have quite a sweet tooth and this dessert was JUST TOO SWEET. And there is so much of it! My plan when starting this TWD thing was that either my boyfriend or I would take the leftovers to our respective offices so we don't end up each weighing 400 pounds. You know a dessert really didn't work when neither one of us really wanted to take the leftovers to work and I didn't want to eat it for breakfast. Just looking at it in the fridge made my teeth hurt.

If I ever make this again (the flavors were quite good - just need some tweaking with the finished product), I would make small rounds of meringue so I could make multiple individual dacquoises. They would be a very impressive end to a summer dinner party. But small servings are the key.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Look Me in the Face and Tell Me That

I believe you can judge a society by the way it treats it’s weakest members. Foster children are, in many ways, the weakest members of our society. They are taken from the only home they know through no fault of their own. They are brought at a moment’s notice to a strange home and a strange family. And foster families take in these children, who most often come to them with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and tear-stained faces. Foster parents take them in, protect them and love them, and take very little in return.

And now you are asking us to take even less and deal with even more. The effect of these budget choices mean foster parents like me will be unwilling or simply unable to take as many foster children, if any at all. These choices you are making are sending the message that foster children and foster families are not worth the compensation we receive for one of the most challenging situations any family will ever face. These choices convey the message that foster children are not as important as your children. These choices may be a quick fix to a very difficult financial situation, but the return you can expect to see will last for generations. Generations of families and children will be shown by these cuts that they are worth little to nothing.

If you are inclined to support or vote for these cuts, I invite you to come to my house and look me in the face and tell me you don’t care what happens to me or my children. Look me in the face and tell me why the weakest members of our society always must carry the heaviest burden.

There can be no keener revelation of society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. - Nelson Mandela

Shame on you. Shame on all of you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TWD - It’s All Peaches and Cream . . . and Honey

I love making homemade ice cream. When I was a kid (OK - until about four years ago), my father’s side of the family had the Fourth of July tradition of making homemade ice cream in a wooden box ice cream maker my great-grandfather made in 1903. It was a wooden box with a metal round insert, crank, and wooden paddles. After my mother made the custard and poured it into the metal container, my father and grandfather would take turns pouring ice and salt around the cylinder and cranking it to mix the custard into ice cream.

They had to take turns because, if you stopped turning, the ice would freeze and the ice cream wouldn’t be finished appropriately. When it got really stiff, my brother and I had to sit on top of the box so they could turn the crank. I remember it taking forever until they couldn’t turn it anymore.

We always did this in the early afternoon on the Fourth. Then my grandmother would put it into the freezer until after dinner. To us, it was like waiting to open presents at Christmas. We each got such a small portion but it was like heaven to eat. Right after eating ice cream, we would walk to the end of the road in my grandparents’ small town in Northern Minnesota to watch the fireworks over the train tracks.

My own ice cream making experience yesterday was very different. First, it was June 15, not July 4. Second, I have an electric ice cream maker so no ice, salt, small children, or sore arms were necessary. Third, my family only ever made vanilla ice cream and my grandfather would have had a fit if we even thought about putting fancy-smancy things in it like peaches or honey or vodka.

Yes, that’s right . . . vodka. I read on the TWD website that the chunks of peaches froze too hard if they were just let be, but if you soaked them in some alcohol, it was better. Well, after surveying all of the possible alcohol choices, I decided vodka was probably the most appropriate alcohol in my cupboard and luckily, I only had about a tablespoon and a half left:

Oh, and I used nectarines instead of peaches. I sort of did this on purpose because I almost always prefer nectarines to peaches because of the skin. And yes, I know we weren’t using the skin and peaches are easier to pit, but I’m a creature of habit and I just grabbed them in the store. That and I had been very discombobulated by hearing a lounge-singer version of "I Want to Be Sedated" on satellite radio just before entering the store. It sounded as if Barry Manilow, John Denver, and Karen Carpenter got together and had a love child. A love child that was slightly . . . off.

Anyway, no one knew the difference (and by "no one" I mean the cooking gods and my boyfriend) and they cooked up in the honey just fine:
The custard was yummy, yummy, yummy. The essentials of any good ice cream:

Some people have commented that the honey was overpowering in this recipe, but I didn’t really think it was. I thought it was well-balanced with the cream and peaches.

After cooling, it went into my electric ice cream maker - a far cry from my grandparents' wooden box and hand cranking. And then the vodka-peach chunks went in:

I didn’t take an end result picture because we wanted to eat it before it was completely set in the freezer, but maybe I will tonight.

Oh, and to finish the story . . . my parents still have the antique ice cream maker, sort of. They still have all the parts, but five years ago, the paddle met with an unfortunate accident. Since it was made a long time ago by hand, the metal pieces were soldered together, probably with lead. To avoid rust, my mother always dried the metal pieces in a warm oven. Unfortunately, she left them in the oven too long that year and melted the solder, thus killing a family tradition. Oh well, she probably saved the younger generation from certain lead poisoning.