Sunday, July 3, 2011

Moving, Summer, One Kitten, and Two Cakes

 My goodness, time really does get away from me. It's been over a month since I've posted anything!  Since then, I moved, put together several pieces of Ikea furniture (three of them alone!) got a new kitten (we now have a dog and two cats), had a birthday, and celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Phew. June was quite a month.  We also didn't have a working stove for the first week, and a really spotty internet connection for nearly a month. But, we're loving our new home and our new neighborhood.  It's so nice to take our dog, Pookie, for evening walks in a neighborhood that's really interesting and full of history.  We also love our new kitten.

Her name is Lily, and she's quite a little girl.  She loves purring, cuddling and sleeping.  She also loves clawing feet and sticking her head in my latte, not to mention a not-so healthy love of ambushing both Pookie and our cat, Molly, in their sleep. She's become the life of the household, almost always inserting herself in the action. We got her from the Humane Society near our new home, where they called her Sweetpea and had her on the news.  We were the lucky family that got to take this pretty girl home!   Lily has also become my baking buddy.  I never had a baking buddy before, and I didn't realize that I needed one.  Lily likes to place herself in a corner of the kitchen, occasionally coming over to swat my feet, but usually falling asleep and giving me something adorable to look at. She stays with me no matter how long it takes or how hot the oven makes the room.  Who says cats aren't loyal? 

 A baking buddy has become really handy lately, because I've been doing a lot of baking. I recently took Rose Levy Beranbaum's new cake book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, out of the local library. My mom had a copy of The Cake Bible that I used to flip through from time to time, but I never really read what Rose had to say about cake.  She knows--and has been the one to discover--so much about cake!  Her recipes really are great. I find that I really do prefer her two-stage mixing technique, and that's something that I need to post about in the very near future.  I plan to change all of my favorite butter/oil cake recipes to use this method.  I've made several cakes in the book, including her recipe for red velvet, her yellow cake, and the white velvet cake (this one is so good!).  But, this is what I made for my birthday:

It's the Almond Shamah Cake, dressed up a bit, by using Rose's recipe for Raspberry Mousseline on the outside.  I used the raspberry flavored whipped cream for the filling. While the mousseline was really tough to make in hot, humid weather (really, it's the only thing I don't like about summer), it did help the leftover cake hold up really well, in the refrigerator, for about five days.

Four days after baking the Almond Shamah Cake, I baked an anniversary cake that looked like the top of our wedding cake (No, I am not manic, and yes, I do sleep).

To go back to what I was just saying, I didn't utilize the two-stage mixing technique (the recipe I used was from Martha Stewart Weddings), and while the cake was great, mixing the ingredients was tedious and messy.I also thought the recipe instructions were not as clear as a Rose recipe. Add to that a need to reduce all of the ingredients from a full-size wedding cake down  to one cake top, and you have a complicated task! Though this cake also took some time and patience, mainly because of the weather, again, I prefer baking to trying to eat freezer-burned cake, and then throwing the rest away.  I love cake far too much to ever do this. This was my first attempt at decorating a cake, and I was proud of myself, though it wasn't perfect.

And, that pretty much sums up my month, more or less. Tomorrow is the fourth of July, and I have lots of treats to prepare.  I'll be sure to report back with some of the results.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Simple Recipe, and Not Much More

I don't have much of anything to say about the recipe listed here today, except it's really, really good.  I made it as a simple, fairly nutritious weeknight dinner that was different.  It took me about thirty minutes max, and maybe even less. I also didn't get to take a picture.  When I made the recipe, I had no idea how good it would be.  Sometimes, simple recipes really are the best.  And this is a simple recipe.  It's all about timing and planning in advance, because there are several steps, though none are very complicated. A tostada is like an open face Mexican sandwich, if you aren't familiar with them. It kind of has to be, since the tortilla shell is so crispy and delicious. If you'd like to make the tortilla a little healthier, skip the frying and place them under the broiler, flipping half-way through. 

Tilapia Tostadas

8 six inch flour or corn tortillas
canola oil, for frying, plus more for sauteing
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1ear of corn, peeled.
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds tilapia fillets, cut into three inch pieces 
 Sour cream, for serving

Line two baking sheets with paper towels. Heat about one inch of canola oil in a medium skillet. While the oil is heating, dice the vegetables and heat about 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large skillet under medium heat.  Add the pepper and onion and saute for about three minutes.  Cut the corn off the ear and add to the skillet.  Using the back of a medium knife, squeeze out the juices from the cob into the pan. Add the red pepper flakes and cumin and saute for 1 minute longer.  Turn off the heat and move to a bowl for serving.

Working with one tortilla at a time, place a tortilla in the hot frying oil with tongs.  The tortilla should puff up and float. After about 1 minute, turn the tortilla over and fry for another thirty seconds. Remove the tortilla to a paper towel lined baking sheet. Continue frying all of the tortillas.

Sprinkle salt over the tilapia pieces.  Mix the cornmeal and cayenne on a shallow plate.  Wipe clean the large skillet used for the corn salsa with a paper towel and heat another tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat.  Dredge the fish pieces in the cornmeal mixture and fry the tilapia until the fish flakes, about three minutes on each side.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

For Wurst: A Case for Using Parchment Paper

I did it.  I made a total rookie mistake. When I realized that I didn't have any parchment paper in a recipe that specifically said to line the pan with parchment, I should have stopped. right. there.  But, I continued to make my cake, thinking that if I just greased the pan a little more, it would be fine. 

Obviously, things did not turn out as rosy as I had hoped.  The cake stuck to the pan and I had a lot of trouble getting it out. So, it ended up cracking. A lot. But in the end, it didn't really matter: the cake was pretty boring.   The texture was surprisingly dry and chewy for a cake that called for a cup of sour cream, three eggs and three egg whites. And not very lemony.  I've made at least two cakes like just this one in the past, though at least they didn't get stuck to the bottom of the pan. However, as you can see, we ate some of it before I took a picture, and it was still a freshly baked cake.  And that's always something.  If you're interested in making the recipe you can find it here (and I just realized, the original picture also has a slice taken out too.  That wasn't on purpose!).

Friday, May 13, 2011


Photo from Urban Comfort

Geez Louise, has it ever been a long week.  About half-way through, I began requiring wine and vast quantities of cake to make it to Friday.  Last night, I spent a couple of hours just looking at pictures of cake.  It was weird. I really have never just sat around, looking at pictures of food before, I swear.  But really, there are some cakes out there in the blogosphere that are really inspiring, and not just for baking. I also recently saw the latest issue of Martha Stewart Weddings in the grocery store.  While I certainly don't miss planning most parts of a wedding, I'm still interested in looking at wedding cakes (as if you hadn't guessed). Some of the cakes featured looked like wallpaper or embroidery.  And so, I give to you some of my picks for the best of inspirational cakes.

From Martha Stewart Weddings--I think you could hang this display on a wall!

From The Knot--this would make a great girl's birthday cake.

From Martha Stewart Weddings--I love the classic Art Deco style.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hello Again!

After a year-long hiatus, I've decided to resume blogging.  Hopefully I'll be more *ahem* consistent with my posts this time around.  I want to expand my focus, and talk a little more about other things that make the home a cozy place, and not just cooking. I've also changed my name.  There are two other blogs called Sugar and Spice, and one of them is a popular cooking blog. I was never really happy with the name, anyway.  It didn't feel quite right for me.  Though, please note, that while there will be plenty of butter used in the making of this blog, I don't foresee too much wurst.

As for my life, since I've been away, I got married, which was pretty much where we left off.  I've been able to get my stomach issues under control, and I've become a healthier cook--though I still love a nice piece of cake.

I've also had to become a more frugal cook, as my husband was laid off from his job of the past five years, about two months after we got married.  He then decided to take a chance on a similar position, but the business didn't work out.  He's now planing on going back to school, starting next month.  Sean will be a full-time student with an almost full-time job.  We'll also be moving back into the city of Pittsburgh.  Our new home will be a freshly renovated row house, built in 1900.  The kitchen will be a little smaller, but I think it will be a huge improvement for us on the whole. It turns out that I'm not much of a suburbs person, though I already knew that.

 As you can see, my life has become no less busy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I tend to be a sleepy, person, watching TV on the couch while thinking about what my next cooking project will be.  But this is such an exciting time for Sean and me as a family, and I think that lots more changes are in store. I hope you stick around with me to see them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good Like Chicken and Biscuits

With just over two months to go until The Wedding Day, things have become a bit crazy around here. Crazy and very distracted. It's really weird to me, because I never used to be a stress eater. In fact, it was just the opposite for years. I could barely eat at all when I was nervous. But this very week, I think I may have consumed my weight in lemon bars. It was an Ina Garten recipe, and I found it on the Food Network. The end result was delicious, but it was a little soupy, to say the least. I was making the bars while in a bit of a rush, so it's highly likely that I did something wrong, though I don't know what.

But today I made something far more successful that also appeals to me in these hectic moments. I'm not sure why, having been born and raised in Pennsylvania, and having lived here nearly my entire life, but I love Southern food. I had a Kentucky Derby party last year, and I want to have another one next year (this year, it's impossible, because of a Wedding Shower. While I'm looking forward to that, it just goes to show how getting married can kind of take over everything).

I have to admit, I don't know if I have ever eaten authentic Soul food. I have been to Pop Eye's once, but I think comparing that to Southern food is nearly as bad as thinking Taco Bell represents the best of Mexican cuisine. I once had barbecue ribs and corn bread from a North Carolina restaurant that was participating in the Pittsburgh rib fest at Heinz field. I thought it was so delicious that I didn't even care that I had the sauce all over my face.

So, usually when I want something close to Southern food, I have to make it myself. I've waxed poetic time and again about these biscuits, and I'm here to do it again. Plus, a little practice makes perfect. I can now bang these guys out in about five minutes.

The last time I attempted fried chicken, I wasn't pleased with the result. So I've given up and used something else to give me the crispy texture I want. Cornflakes. So yes, the recipe that I have for you today is one for cornflake chicken. It's actually quite healthy, and I've added some flavoring to make it "the best chicken you've ever made", according to Sean. It may not be the best chicken you've ever made, but I think it will come close. And I strongly recommend that you serve your chicken with some freshly made biscuits. Because these two things belong together. Which led me to think of this wedding slogan:
"Lauren and Sean ~Good together like chicken and biscuits~" What do you think?

Cornflake Chicken (aka Chicken a la Southern Fried But  Baked in the Oven)

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
2 cups plain, reduced fat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon seasoning salt ( I used Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Seasonings Original Mixed-Up Salt,   but Lawry's seasoning salt, or your own proprietary blend would work here too.  You want something with a little kick, maybe even just some garlic powder)
3 cups corn flake cereal, placed in a plastic zip top bag and crushed
1-2 tablespoons butter
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  However, if you are baking some biscuits, a hotter oven will work fine. The chicken will just be done faster.
In a small mixing bowl, add the yogurt and stir.  And the seasonings and stir again.  Taste, and adjust the seasonings.  Place the chicken in a small pan or platter.  Cover with the yogurt mixture and use a fork to turn the chicken, making sure that each piece is covered with the yogurt marinade. Allow to sit at least thirty minutes.  You could also do this step in the morning, or the night before.  I use the thirty minutes to work on my biscuits.
Using tongs, place the chicken breasts, one at a time, in the crushed cornflake bag. Seal the bag and move it  around to allow the flakes to stick to the chicken. If necessary, use your hands to stick cornflakes onto any places that are bare. Set the chicken aside on a clean plate and continue until all of the pieces are covered with the cornflakes. Discard the flakes and the yogurt. Melt 1-2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet.  Add the chicken and allow to brown on each side, over medium heat.
Spray a large glass baking dish with cooking spray.  Turn off the heat under the skillet and move the chicken to the pan.  Place the pan in the oven and allow to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or when the meat is cooked through and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 160 or higher.  Remove the pan from the oven and cover with foil.  Allow the chicken to rest a few minutes before serving.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Queen of Tarts

It's been a dry month-plus around here in my kitchen. I try recipes with the best of intentions, but there hasn't been anything worth reporting back on. This is my go-to excuse, I know. But I'm being truthful. Then it occurred to me that I always wanted to talk about tarts.

I received a tart pan for Christmas. I've used it to make several really delicious tarts, including this one. One thing that I especially like about this recipe is the technique for making the dough. Making the dough is easy; you can make lots of plain pastry dough, and freeze for up to three months. You can always have it on hand to make a wide variety of recipes. Here's a crash course:

Pastry dough, or pate brisee, can be used to make pies, tarts, quiche, or puff pastry. While there may be some variations, the basic formula is all-purpose flour mixed with a little salt, and then an equal amount (to the flour) of very cold butter (I use frozen) is grated in. Then use very cold water, about a tablespoon at a time, to form the ingredients into a ball. Use only enough water to achieve this. Shape into a ball, then flatten. Freeze or chill, for at least an hour. When you're ready to use the dough, thaw (if needed) and shape.

The technique from here varies, but you will have a delicious, buttery, flaky crust to use for just about anything. And it's so easy. A lot of modern cooks recommend that you use a food processor to do the work, which is fine, but you really don't need anything more than a bowl, your hands, a cheese grater (box or flat), and a freezer. A rolling pin is nice, too, but it's not necessary.

For some variations, you could add sugar, vanilla beans, freshly cracked black pepper, finely grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, or dried herbs. Not all together, of course. Also, as you'll note in the recipe linked above, the addition of an egg and an egg yolk makes the dough a lot easier to work with, as tart dough can be very crumbly. Omitting the egg and folding the dough over, then rolling it out, chilling, and repeating, results in airy, flaky puff pastry.

The easy part is deciding what to use the dough for. As I said, there are countless ways to use pastry dough. Make a chicken stew, cover with the pastry dough, brush with an egg wash,cut to vent, bake, and you have chicken pot pie. I like to use the scraps for little cookies. I dust them with cinnamon and sugar, roll up, and bake in the oven or toaster oven for 15 minutes. The butter in the dough braises your dish as it bakes, so you'll end up with great, rich flavor, no matter what.

The recipe that I used yesterday would make a beautiful and delicious addition to any Easter table: an almond and apricot tart. I got the recipe from the Food and Wine Magazine website. It involves a lot of work, but I think it was worth it. Fortunately, you can always make the pastry dough for the tart in advance, and then also bake the shell the night before.

Apricot, Almond and Brown Butter Tart
Adapted with revised instructions from Food and Wine

Ingredients for Pastry:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled if using a food processor, frozen if using a grater
5 tablespoons ice water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for Filling:
3/4 cup slivered almonds
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups dried apricots (10 ounces)
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean—halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved (I strongly recommend using vanilla bean, as it makes great flavor, but an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract would work too)
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract or vanilla
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving, or vanilla ice cream, if you're feeling extract decadent

To make the tart shell, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Remove the butter from the freezer and grate using a flat plane or box cheese grater. Add to the bowl, or grate directly over the bowl. Using your hands, crumble the mixture together until it is coarse in texture, or with lumps the size of peas. Add most of the ice water and vanilla extract. Using hands again, shape into a ball. Keep adding ice water by the tablespoon full until the dough forms a ball. Do not use more that 6 or 7 tablespoons of water, and only if absolutely necessary. The mixture may be very crumbly, but just shape it as best you can. If large chunks fall of, slap them back on. Dump the dough onto plastic wrap, flatten and wrap.

Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to a week, and in the freezer, sealed and wrapped well, for about three months. If you are keeping the dough in the refrigerator for more than a few hours, you will need to allow the dough to thaw.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 15-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the round to a 12-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom; gently press it over the bottom and up the side. Trim any excess. Again if the dough is hard to work with, just be patient. It will turn out fine if you do the patching. Refrigerate the tart shell for at least 20 minutes, until firm.

Line the tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the shell starts to brown around the edges. Remove the foil and weights and bake for about 25 minutes longer, until the shell is cooked through. Transfer to a rack and let cool. You can make the shell a day in advance. If finishing the tart on the same day, lower the oven temperature to 325°.

To make the filling, spread the slivered almonds on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about 6 minutes (at 325 degrees), until lightly browned. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring the wine to a boil. Add the apricots, cover and simmer over moderate heat until plumped, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a small skillet, cook the butter with the vanilla bean seeds over moderate heat until browned, about 4 minutes.

In a food processor, pulse the toasted and cooled almonds until it forms a meal. Place them in a medium bowl and add the confectioners' sugar, flour, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the eggs and stir until just combined. Add the browned butter and almond/vanilla extract and stir until smooth. There will still be some bumps from the almonds.

Drain the apricots and pat dry. Pour the almond filling into the tart shell. Nestle the apricots into the filling in concentric circles. Bake the tart for about 50 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and set. Transfer to a rack to cool. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature, dolloped with sweetened whipped cream.