Monday, September 30, 2013

TWD X Cookies

I'm not going to sugar-coat this (no pun intended!).  These cookies were a total pain.  First, I couldn't find candied orange peel at the grocery store and didn't have time to mail-order or try another store.  Luckily, David Lebovitz has a recipe for candied citrus that's pretty easy to follow, although it probably still took almost 30 minutes of hands-on time plus additional time waiting for things to boil.  Once that was made, the dough and filling came together pretty easily in the food processor.  I did run out of ground cinnamon and had to grate cinnamon sticks myself, but that's my own mistake.  But then the shaping started.  I know I'm slow, but it took me two hours to shape all of these cookies!  It was kind of relaxing, and I got to watch the Redskins win while I worked (although if I'm honest it was a terrible football game), but there definitely were more important things I should have been doing while Charlotte napped.  After all that, I  really wanted to love these cookies.  I love Fig Newtons and thought these would be a better, more complex version, but I was under-whelmed.  I actually really liked the bites of filling I ate straight from the food processor (everybody does this, right?), but I thought the flavor got lost in the finished cookie.  The combination of the dough and baking the cookies muted the flavor, at least for me.  The most fun part of this experience for me was probably making the candied citrus peel.  I ran out of white sugar and had to substitute sucanat so these are darker and not as pretty as they should have been, but I really like the flavor and I have a lot left.  I'm looking forward to thinking of ways to use them up.

Friday, September 27, 2013

FFWD Rice Pudding and Caramel Apples

Right now I'm working Monday through Wednesday, and staying at home with Charlotte the rest of the time.  Sundays are always fun, but exhausting.  I always try to spend as much time with her as possible, get us all ready for the week, and watch the Redskins game (luckily I don't have to waste my time with them anymore!).  My Sunday dinners aren't as complex as they used to be, but I still try to make something nice.  This week I made the Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds from Jerusalem, sliced tomatoes, and the pudding.  Paul grilled corn and okra and made a chicken on his rotisserie.  We were hoping to have a nice quiet dinner, but we ended up taking turns eating with one hand while holding Charlotte with the other (a frequent occurrence).  I liked everything about this dinner (except for the okra which Paul turned into charcoal), but the pudding was my favorite part.  As I've mentioned before custards and puddings are probably my favorite dessert, and this was no exception.  I find the simple, clean flavors of rice pudding very comforting, but really loved the addition of apples and caramel.  We were both skeptical when I read Paul the description, but both pleasantly surprised at how well the flavors worked together.  I also loved how easy the caramel apples were.  This is definitely one I'll be making again.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

FFWD Tuna-Packed Piquillo Peppers

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of canned tuna fish.  I was pretty excited when I saw this recipe finally got chosen.  I was less excited when I started looking online for piquillo peppers - they are so expensive!  I decided it was okay for a one-time thing, and after looking at lots of different options (at a pretty wide range of prices) I ordered some nice ones.  Selecting which peppers to buy was probably the hardest part of the whole recipe.  The tuna fish was a pretty basic recipe (I think it would also work well in a sandwich) and stuffing the peppers was easy.  The only challenge for me was keeping the outside of the peppers pretty and clean.  I kept getting tuna fish on them.  I don't really have the patience for appetizers on weeknights (especially now that we're always trying to eat quickly before Charlotte needs our attention), so I served these together with sandwiches (turkey bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocados) and roasted vegetables (patty pan squash and green beans).  The tuna was good, but nothing to write home about.  For the cost I wanted to love the peppers, and I didn't think they were that different from regular roasted red peppers.  The highlight of this dinner was actually the roasted green beans.  I have some nice green bean recipes, but when I just want them as a quick side I almost always boil or steam them.  Roasting was delicious.  It's definitely a technique I'll use again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TWD Espresso Profiteroles

The first time I made profiteroles was several years ago for Paul's birthday dinner.  I used a David Lebovitz recipe and made cinnamon ice cream, hot fudge sauce, and candied almonds ahead of time.  On the day of the party all I had to do was make the puffs (is profiterole the name of the puff or the name of the dessert as a whole?).  I must have made them three times before they turned out.  The first time I didn't cook enough of the liquid out before adding the eggs.  The second time I was impatient and used eggs straight from the refrigerator.  I'm reasonably sure I cried.  Paul kept trying to console me and telling me he was sure the runny blobs I was trying to spoon on my baking sheet would taste fine, but I knew they were wrong.  The third time I waited until the eggs were at room temperature and cooked more of the liquid out before adding them.  They still didn't look like much on the baking sheet and I stood anxiously watching them while they baked in the oven, but miraculously they rose into lovely golden puffs.  Our friends loved the dessert, which made me particularly happy because I had broken my usual rule and made profiteroles for friends who are actually French.

After my first profiterole experience I had high hopes for this recipe.  I love the cinnamon and chocolate combination (if you ever have extra time, money, and calories on your hands go make this) and am a sucker for anything with coffee (unfortunately decaf these days).  Unfortunately, these were kind of disappointing.  The chocolate sauce and ice cream were okay, but I liked David Lebovitz's recipes better for both of them.  The puffs were good, but neither Paul nor I could taste the coffee at all, and I brewed an extremely strong pot of coffee.  I'm going to try a plain puff tonight--I think the chocolate sauce might have over-powered the coffee flavor--but I don't think the brewed coffee and beans added much other than a pretty look.  Oh well.  These weren't bad, but from now on I'm sticking to David's recipe.

Friday, September 6, 2013

FFWD Fresh Tuna, Mozzarella, and Basil Pizza

The "rules" for eating while pregnant or nursing are enough to drive a sane person crazy, and I probably wasn't totally sane to begin with.  They're numerous, vary from source to source, and based on research that's suggestive at best (and usually merely correlational).  The whole debate about eating fish is enough to make my head spin.  Without getting into it and saying something that might get me in trouble, I'll just say that I've been generally avoiding sushi grade tuna.  For this recipe, I decided to substitute some wild-caught salmon in it's place.  I wasn't totally sure about eating the salmon raw, so I pan-seared it on very high heat until it was almost cooked in the center before proceeding with the recipe.  While I was being "wild and crazy" and making substitutions (everything's relative, right?), I decided to use some French goat's milk feta that I had in the fridge instead of buying fresh mozzarella.  I was nervous about the substitutions--the recipe seemed like such an odd combination of flavors to begin with and my substitutions probably made it even crazier--but actually really enjoyed the finished dish.  I don't normally serve cheese with fish, but for some reason the combined flavors really worked together.  Maybe it was the puff pastry.  I can't think of anything that wouldn't taste good on top of Dufour Puff Pastry.  In a smaller version, I think these would make a fun appetizer for a party if I ever have time to entertain again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

TWD Blueberry Muffins and Sweet Fig Fougasse

As I've written about before, I'm not what one would call a flexible person.  I like to follow instructions and rules, dot my i's and cross my t's, and seemed to have completely missed my rebellious phase (or maybe it's yet to come?).  When it comes to cooking, this means that I usually try to follow recipes exactly.  I'm trying to learn to be more flexible and at least make simple substitutions based on what I have available, but I rarely think to tinker with a recipe just for fun.  Paul, on the other hand, is much more creative in the kitchen.  He's always suggesting modifications to recipes, and will often read through and combine parts of several recipes for things that he's really into making (such as bread and pizza).  Paul went through quite a lemon zest phase several years ago.  I'm not sure if he had ever had it before, and once he tried it he was hooked.  No matter what we were making, he would always ask whether I thought we should add some lemon zest.  It drove my rule-following self absolutely crazy.  I remember getting into serious arguments over whether we should add lemon zest to muffins, scones, and pancakes.  Well, why am I bringing this up now?  I thought the Blueberry Muffins recipe could have used some lemon zest!  Or orange zest, oats, or whole wheat flour.  Something to add another dimension to the flavor profile.  While I definitely enjoyed the muffins, especially the very light and airy texture, I thought that they were a little one-note.  In general, this would be my main critique of Baking with Julia so far.  I think that the recipes have worked and have generally been good, but many have felt like they mainly tasted buttery or sweet, and could have used an additional flavor.

Last time we had a "Choose your own Adventure Week" the over-achievers in the group made me me feel bad for not having made both recipes.  Since it was Labor Day weekend and I had a little extra time I decided to make the muffins on Saturday morning and the Sweet Fougasse on Sunday night.  For the Fougasse, I decided to use the figs which are finally ripe on our tree instead of going out to buy berries.  I thought the figs worked beautifully.  My only complaint is that the streusel covered them up.  The finished pastry was not nearly as pretty as the working version.  It will probably be a long time before I make these again--they are enormous, and after splitting one we now have 11 downstairs in the freezer--but I do think they're something I would make again.  I enjoyed the mildly yeasted taste of the foccacia with the sweet fruit and streusel, and thought that they were relatively easy to make once the foccacia dough was ready.