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Sunday, June 27, 2010
Last year, I posted a recipe for a lemon cornmeal crust that just made me swoon, so when I saw a recipe for a cake that purported to have similar flavors - and blueberries to boot, I was hooked. That crust I made last year was fabulous with strawberries, but it was really fantastic with blueberries!
You just can't go wrong with the flavoring power of fresh lemon zest, and this cake tastes great because of it.
It doesn't take a lot of cornmeal to give a baked item a very interesting flavor and texture. In this cake, it amounts to only 1/4 of a cup of cornmeal.
If you want to ensure that you can remove your cake from the pan so that you can serve it on a nice plate, be sure to spray the pan with oil and place a round of parchment in the bottom. If you're not using a non-stick pan, you may want to also flour the pan.
Once the cake is mixed, you'll want to toss together the topping. The flour and sugar mix with the blueberries to make a nice crust on the top of the cake. If you end up with any extra flour and sugar in the bottom of the bowl after you've sprinkled the blueberries on the cake, you can discard the remaining flour and sugar.
Pour the cake into the pan and even it out. There are two ways you can do this. If you really want the cake to rise to its fullest and have a more even top, then you'll want to bake the cake for fifteen minutes before adding the topping. I just couldn't be bothered with that and the cake turned out fine. It was a little bit concave (you can check out the photo below), but I think it was still gorgeous and it still tasted great - so it's your call.
Bake the cake for a total of 40-45 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pan. Once cool, you can loosed the edges with a knife, if need be. Invert onto a plate and then invert again onto the serving plate. Once it's cool, you can sprinkle with powdered sugar for an extra pretty touch. Word to the wise, though, only dust it right before you serve it; the cake is moist enough it will absorb the powdered sugar in fairly short order.
Blueberry Lemon Cornmeal Cake
Yield: one 9"-cake
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp table salt
6 TBS butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
1 TBS granulated sugar
1 TBS all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray and then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
Mix the first five ingredients (though the salt) together in a small bowl. In a mixing bowl beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the zest and then the eggs. Beating again until the eggs are well incorporated and the mixture is thick. Add the lemon juice and buttermilk. At this point, the mixture will look curdled. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just mixed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and even the top out with a rubber spatula. Either put into the oven at this point for fifteen minutes while making the topping, or proceed directly to the next step. Putting it in the oven for fifteen minutes first will allow the cake to have time to rise unfettered by the weight of the topping, but the cake turns out just fine, albeit a bit concave, if you top it right away.
Mix the berries, remaining flour and sugar in a small bowl and slightly mush the berries. You do not want to mush everything too much, just enough to get some juices flowing. Sprinkle the topping on top of the cake and bake. If you have a little flour and sugar left over, simply discard it. If you pre-baked 15 minutes, give it another 25 minutes or so, if you are baking it all at once, start checking it after 40 minutes. Remove from the oven when a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Cool completely on a rack. Once cool, loosen the edges and then invert onto a plate. Then invert again onto your serving plate so that it ends up right-side up. Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving. This cake is best when served within two hours, but it is still very good after a few days.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The good news is that I have come up with a fabulous recipe for a low calorie, chocolaty, delicious frozen treat. They're like Fudgsicles, only better. The bad news is that they are so good, you may not be able to only eat one. Yesterday, I had one after breakfast, one after lunch, and one after dinner. What? You never heard of having a dessert after breakfast?
Now, growing up, my folks provided me and my brother with wholesome, healthy fare. The only time we got sugar cereal, for instance, was as an occasional treat that we were only allowed to eat as a dessert... after dinner. So, it might not come as any surprise that I can still remember the moment in my life when I had my first Fudgsicle. It was field day in elementary school. Fourth grade field day, I think. It was like heaven on a stick.
But I've grown up a bit now and while I still appreciate a chocolatly, frozen treat with less than 100 calories, I like my food to be a little more au naturale, if you know what I mean. Here's the ingredient list for Popsicle brand Fudgsicles: nonfat milk, sugar, corn syrup, whey, high fructose corn syrup, water, palm oil, alkali cocoa, tricalcium phosphate, mono- & diglycerides, cellulose gum, guar gum, malt powder, salt, polysorbate 80, polysorbate 65, carrageenan.
That ingredient list starts out okay, but doesn't end so great. My version? Milk, sugar, alkali cocoa, whipping cream, cornstarch, gelatin, vanilla, and guar gum. I have become fairly smitten with guar gum. I use it all the time now. It's a great natural additive (a powder from a bean grown in Pakistan) that can help with texture and consistency in all kinds of applications.
The first thing you need to have on hand is unflavored gelatin. You'll need a little more than one packet. I buy mine in the food service container and simply measure out a tablespoon.
Pour the gelatin and milk combination in to a heavy bottomed sauce pan. I used a 2-quart pan. Add the vanilla and stir. Sift together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and guar gum and then add to the milk. Stir until incorporated and then heat over medium until the mixture just starts to come to a simmer. It will not be overly thick, but it will sure taste good! Remove the pan from the burner and set it aside to let it cool. Stir occasionally to keep a film from forming on the surface.
While you could use either alkali or regular cocoa powder, I think the flavor of the alkali version gives a slightly better end result. Alkali cocoa powder has simply been treated with alkali to reduce cocoa's acidity. I think, in this case where the chocolate is not competing with any other flavors, the alkali version is smoother.
Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, whip three tablespoons of whipping cream. It's such a small amount, that I simply whip it by hand in a small bowl. Add it to the chocolate mixture and then pour the liquid into your popsicle molds. I like these ones that I purchased from Amazon. This recipe should fill all ten molds. As you can see in the picture, I use clothes pins to keep the sticks straight and from going to far into the popsicles. Place the mold into the freezer and let freeze until the popsicles are hard. Unmold by running the outside of the mold under warm water. I wrap my popsicles in wax paper and tape closed. If you think your popsicles will stick around more than 4-5 days, I recommend also placing them in a bag or other airtight container.
Yield: 10 popsicles
Nutrition: less than 100 calories and less than 10 grams of sugar per bar
3 cups 1% milk
1 TBS unflavored gelatin, such as Knox
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup alkali processed cocoa powder
2 TBS cornstarch
1/4 tsp guar gum
3 TBS whipping cream
Soften the gelatin by sprinkling it over the cold milk. Add the vanilla and stir. Let mixture sit for five minutes.
Sift together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and guar gum. After the gelatin is softened in the milk, stir in the powdered mixture. Stir to combine.
Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture just comes to a simmer. It will not be overly thick. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir occasionally to keep a film from forming.
Whip three tablespoons of whipping cream to stiff peaks and stir into the chocolate mixture once it is cool. Use a whisk to make sure the whipped cream is well incorporated. Pour the chocolate mixture into popsicle molds and freeze until hard. Unmold and wrap in wax paper to store.
NOTE: Nutrition information is based on the published nutrition information of the ingredients.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Not only is this bread easy, it's got great flavor and a superior texture both inside and out. The outside gets nice and crusty while the inside is soft and chewy and has big holes. The only draw back is that you have to plan ahead a bit to let the starter develop, but that's where all the flavor comes from, so it's definitely worth it.
The starter takes about two minutes to make. Combine all ingredients and stir until it forms a shaggy mass. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for a day or so (the number of hours is not a hard and fast rule, just don't let it sit more than 20-24 hours).
The next day (or 8-18 hours later), you will see that the dough has risen quite a bit and has lots of big holes in it.
Gently dump the mixture out onto a floured board or counter. Use plenty of flour as this dough is a wee bit sticky.
Knead the dough ten times or so; then shape the dough into a ball.
Place the ball in the middle of a sheet of parchment that is sitting in a circular vessel that can be covered. I use a skillet with a lid but you could use a bowl or whatever else provides the dough with room to rise unimpeded. Let the dough rise until double, about 2 hours.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. If you haven't had your oven this hot in a while, be prepared for a little smokiness. You'll need a cast iron Dutch oven for this recipe. I have an old regular, seasoned Dutch oven, but I would recommend using an enameled one. Lodge puts out a good one for a reasonable price. The seasoned cast iron tends to smoke a lot at that high temperature, which is not so fun. Be sure your Dutch oven is at least 6-8 quarts so that the bread has room to rise up when first put in the oven. Place the Dutch oven into the oven to preheat as well.
If you want, you can slice the top of the loaf half an inch deep before baking. This procedure can help the bread rise better in that last gasp effort when first place in the oven. When you put the bread in the oven, reduce the heat to 425 degrees F and bake, with the lid on, for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes is up, remove the cover and bake another 20-30 minutes until the bread is done and exhibits an internal temperature of 210 degrees F. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool completely.
Here's the best way I've found to cut a round loaf: cut the loaf in half and then cut slices downward through the load. This bread is absolutely divine when fresh, but also makes perfect toast.
Almost No Knead Bread
Yield: one 8-9 inch boule
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup + 2 TBS room temperature water
1/4 cup + 2 TBS lager (I use Yuengling)
1 TBS white vinegar
Mix together all ingredients in a medium sized bowl until it forms a rough ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in. Set the bowl aside at room temperature for 8-18 hours.
When the dough is done with its pre-ferment, prepare a skillet or bowl with a large sheet of parchment and set aside. Liberally flour the counter and dump the dough out. Sprinkle the top with flour and then knead about ten times. Shape into a ball and place into the prepared vessel. Cover and set aside to rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled.
When the loaf is just about doubled, start preheating your oven and Dutch oven to 500 degrees. Slit the top of your loaf about a half-inch deep to help it expand quickly in its last spring of expansion in the oven. When the Dutch oven is hot, simply use the sheet of parchment to quickly transfer the loaf into the Dutch oven. Put the lid on and place in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425 degrees F and bake covered for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue baking another 20-30 minutes, until the loaf is golden and the bread has reached an internal temperature of 210 degrees. Transfer loaf onto a rack to cool completely.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Zucchini is one of those vegetables that everyone jokes about in the summer. Have you ever had so much that you were giving it away and then you gave it away so much that your friends had to ask you to stop leaving on their doorstep in the middle of the night? If so, I have an answer for you! Grate it and freeze it. I am still making delicious zucchini bread from zucchini I grew the year before last. It still works and tastes great!
The recipe I use for bread requires 2 cups of grated zucchini, so I put 2 cups of fresh grated zucchini in freezer bags, expelled all the air I could, and put them in the freezer. When I want to use some, I simply thaw it out and use it as is. What you'll see is that freezing has destroyed the cellular integrity of the squash, but for this application, it doesn't matter. See how it doesn't look like two cups anymore? Don't worry. Just pretend that it is still 2 cups and proceed. Just don't drain off the liquid that comes out when it's thawed or your bread will turn out on the dry side.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Then mix together the eggs and sugar and beat until it is nice and thick. Add the oil and vanilla and beat again until you have a nice thick batter that leaves a ribbon on itself.
Mix the dry ingredients in a separate, small bowl. I love the combination of the cinnamon and zucchini. Whoever originally thought of that combo deserves some recognition!
Add the dry ingredients to the batter along with the grated zucchini. Try not to mix more than is necessary to thoroughly combine the ingredients. Set the batter aside while you prepare the pans.
In my experience, even when using non-stick bakeware, this bread does not like to come out of the pans cleanly. To combat this problem, I spray the inside of the pans with cooking spray and then line the bottom and two sides with parchment. Loaves can be easily and cleanly lifted out of the pan every time!
Pour the batter into the pans. This recipe will fill either 2 - 8x4 inch loaf pans or 4 mini-loaf pans. I prefer using the mini-loaf pans because it allows me to pull out smaller amounts at a time from the freezer (I usually freeze three of the loaves for future use). But the bread turns out beautifully in either size. Regardless of the size you use, evenly distribute the batter between the pans.
Bake at 325 degrees F for about an hour for full loaves and about 45 minutes for minis. You'll want to start checking them early as there is nothing worse than over baked zucchini bread. My favorite part of this bread is the top crust. It is sweet and crunchy with a hint of spice.
Yield: 2 - 8x4 loaves or 4 mini-loaves
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Beat the eggs and sugar together until they are thick. Add the oil and vanilla and continue beating until thick again and batter leaves a ribbon on itself.
In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients and grated zucchini to the batter and mix thoroughly. Divide batter evenly into either 2 8x4 inch loaf pans or 4 mini-loaf pans that have been sprayed with cooking oil and then lined with a strip of parchment. Bake minis for about 45 minutes and full sized loaves for about an hour. Be sure to start checking loaves early for doneness and remove from the oven as soon as a tester comes out clean. Let cool for five minutes before removing from pans.
Monday, June 14, 2010
I can cook again! This last weekend, I canned chicken broth. I really like having homemade chicken broth on hand. I know a lot of people freeze it, but as it is very often a last minute dinner ingredient for me, I prefer the convenience of not having to thaw it out first. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I don't have to fill up my freezer with it.
Can you believe that I made chicken broth for less than I can buy it at the store? I think I was recently paying somewhere between 65 and 85 cents a can for Swanson's recently. Depending on where you live, you may have to spend a lot more! I bought a ten pound bag of fryer legs for less than nine bucks. From that, I canned 18 pints of broth, had two meals from the broth that didn't fit in one canner batch, and put four cups of chicken meat in the freezer for later. Even with incidental costs for canning lids and vegetables, I still come out ahead. And it tastes better! For folks watching their salt intake, it's a heck of a deal.
You can sometimes get really cheap chicken parts from your butcher (backs work well and are usually quite cheap), but what I really liked about using the fryer legs was that I could then save the meat and freeze it separately to use later. The cost savings just keep on adding up!
The hardest part about this process is getting comfortable with a pressure canner. When I first got mine, despite the fact that I knew there were multiple safety mechanisms on them to keep them from blowing up, I was nervous. I'm over than now. I'll tell you what, you take my word for it and skip right ahead to being over it too. Pressure canners are so wonderful! To be honest, they're less work to use than a water bath canner (if you aren't up to speed on the difference between the two types of canning or on the basics of how to can, read this).
Place the chicken in a large stock pot. Please note, for this recipe, I really mean large! You can cut this recipe down however much you like, but for the amounts I used, you need at least a 20 quart (5 gallon) stock pot. The good news? This is not a hard and fast recipe. Exact proportions are not required, so use what you've got and wing the amounts. It'll turn out fine.
Roughly cut up a bunch of vegetables. I like to use the traditional combination of celery, onions, and carrots.
Throw the vegetables into the pot with the chicken and then add a few sprigs of parsley, and small bunch of thyme, a couple garlic cloves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns, a few bay leaves, and some salt. Add 2 1/2 gallons of cool water and turn on high. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. I cover mine to help it heat up faster and then cook it uncovered at a simmer.
Unfortunately, cooking chicken in this way does not lend itself to being a pretty sight. For that matter, the aroma isn't that great either. Have faith; all will be well in the end. Cook until the chicken pieces are cooked through (I use a thermometer to be sure). Remove the pieces and let them cool until you can handle them to remove the meat to save for another use. Return the bones and skin back into the stock pot and simmer another hour.
I got four bags of pulled chicken to put in the freezer (about a cup of meat each) to use for quick meals. I love the added bonus.
Prepare your jars and canner following the instructions for your canner. When the broth is done, ladle it through a sieve. For the best clarity, you don't want to pour the broth, but I was lazy this time and poured away and it didn't turn out too cloudy. Your judgement call here. Pints process for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, quarts for 25 minutes. Fill the jars leaving a 1/2 inch head space. Be sure you don't start your processing time until the pressure control starts jiggling (or however your canner works - be sure your 20-25 minutes starts after the pressure is sufficient for processing). Let the canner cool off at room temperature before opening and removing the jars.
Again, I got 18 pints out of this batch; this should last me a good while, don't you think?
Yield: approximately 22 pints of broth
10 lbs fryer legs
2 1/2 gallons water
4 celery ribs with greens
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
1 TBS salt (or to taste)
Chop the onions, carrots, and celery into large pieces. Place all ingredients into a 20 quart stock pot. Cover and turn heat to high. When broth comes to a boil, uncover and simmer 1 hour, until chicken is cooked through (it may take a long time to come to a boil). Remove chicken pieces onto a plate or tray and let cool until you can handle them to pull the meat. Return scraps and bones back into the broth and continue cooking another hour at a simmer.
Prepare your jars and canner according to your canner's instructions. Ladle broth through a sieve and then pour into jars so that there is a half-inch head space at the top. Can at 10 pounds of pressure, 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts. Allow canner to come back to room temperature slowly. Check for a proper seal before storing in a cool, dark place.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
It amazed me, the first time I made these cubes and had them in the freezer, how often I found a use for them. They are so stinking convenient! Want to add a nice shot of mellow garlic flavor to soups, stews, sauces, etc.? Just pull a cube out, nuke it for ten seconds in the microwave and voila! You're good to go.
As I mentioned, I tend to roast about ten to twelve heads at a time. This usually lasts me a good while and I only have to go through this process once - maybe twice - a year. The first step is to preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Then line a baking pan with foil. Cut the garlic heads in half so that each clove is exposed. Then put them, cut side up in the baking pan.
In my experience, based on how the garlic cloves are put together, its best to cut your bulb not quite in half. What I mean by that is to cut is so that the top "half" is larger. The bulbs are held firmly together on the bottom of the bulb, but this is not the case on the top. I've found by giving the top side a bit more substance, it holds together better. I also cut off the pointy top before I cut them in half as that allows the bulbs to sit more evenly in the pan.
Drizzle the heads with olive oil and close the foil tightly. Roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes at 400 degrees F or until the cloves are tender and slightly browned. Remove from the oven and let them sit to cool until they are easily handled. At this point, unless you are okay with your hands reeking of garlic for the next five years, you'll want to don some gloves. I keep a box of vinyl first aid gloves in the kitchen for this and other tasks. All you need do is squeeze the cloves out of their hulls. They should pop right out.
While you can do this next step by hand, it goes much faster in a food processor. Process the bulbs with just enough olive oil to make a nice, smooth paste.
Then spoon the paste into molds of some kind. You could use ice cube trays (just be sure they are designated "garlic freezing" trays as they will forever smell of garlic after this use), but I usually use mini-muffin tins. To make it easier to get the cubes out when frozen, I line the tins with plastic wrap, spoon in the mixture and then place more plastic wrap over the top. Freeze until frozen solid, pop out of the trays, and place into zip top bags for storage. Here's one last important tip: you'll want to double bag these suckers - they really have a potent aroma!!
Again, any time you're ready to use some, simply thaw in the microwave for a few seconds. Make these once and you'll be amazed how often you find yourself using them. And every time you come across a recipe that asks you to spend forty minutes roasting a single bulb of garlic, just smile to yourself and save thirty-nine minutes, forty-five seconds!
FYI: I've found that for mini-muffin tins, one cube equals about half a bulb of roasted garlic.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Back when I was just out of high school, being a silly young girl, I went and fell in love with a guy who lived in another state far, far away. Of course, that meant that I had to follow him to said state and set up playing house. While I could bore you with the details of my poor decision making skills at the tender age of 18, that's really not important here. The reason I bring it up is that I suddenly started doing a lot of cooking. For the entire time I was with this guy, it was not unusual for me to cook three meals a day. At the time, I wasn't exactly a bad cook, I was just without experience, and side dishes is where I was lacking creativity the most.
When cooking back then, I would often spend most of my time on the main course and the sides were almost an after-thought, usually a boiled or steamed vegetable and a boxed side of pasta or rice. Looking back, I don't think I realized how easy it can be to make really fabulous side dishes that can rival the best main course. This recipe is a perfect example of a simple side dish that really carries its own weight in the meal.
And here's where the crumbs come in. See that golden nugget there in the middle? There's gold in them thar hills! That nugget there is pure bliss. It's salty and slightly crunchy, buttery and chewy. The nuggets go perfectly with a vegetable that is somewhat creamy inside. Ooooo! Pavlovian response. I swear, one of these days my computer's going to short out. Must. Stop. drooling while writing posts.
So, here's how easy it is: melt a little butter over medium heat in a saute pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the cut up cauliflower, cover, and shake across the burner periodically to toss and turn the pieces. Be careful not to toss it too often or you won't end up with the nice, tasty caramelization. Continue cooking, about 5-8 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender through and has a nice golden crust on it.
While the cauliflower is cooking, grate a small handful of cheese. I used Gruyere here, but Parmesan would work well, too. In a small bowl or on a paper towel, toss the cheese with a few tablespoons of bread crumbs. I've used both regular bread crumbs and panko. Both are delicious. Throw in a little dried parsley and toss to mix.
When the cauliflower is about done, remove the lid and throw in the cheese mixture. Stir and then continue to cook over medium heat until the cheese mixture is cooked through and nicely golden. Some of it will stick to the cauliflower, some will stick to itself and form nuggets. It's a win-win, I tell you. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve!