Thursday, November 27, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Mexican Chicken Soup

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And since nothing says "Thanksgiving" quite like Mexican Chicken Soup, I am particularly excited about today's Barefoot Bloggers selection, chosen by Judy of Judy's Gross Eats. I only have about a 50/50 success rate when I try to schedule posts (it's that darn AM/PM thing, it gets me every time!), so I am hoping that this posts on time. And I will look forward to coming around and seeing all of my fellow Barefoot cook's creations when I am back in front of a reliable (or any) internet connection!

This was such a great recipe. It is nice to see a tex-mex soup that is so relatively heavy on the veggies. Start out by sauteing onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and jalapenos, and then add your stock and seasonings:

I used leftover stock that I froze after making it for that awesome Butternut Squash Risotto. I tried halfheartedly to defrost it under running water at the kitchen sink, and then got lazy and just added the ice blocks to the pot. Can I do that? Well, I did. And my soup did not seem to suffer.

This is a wonderful soup, and a great addition to any "Mexican soup" arsenal. The flavors here were subtle -- definitely Mexican (I said "ole!" I really did!) but not overpowering. Cumin often seems to dominate in soups like this, but that wasn't the case here. Obviously, it can easily be spiced up to suit personal taste if you like a little more heat and a little less subtlety. Adding the corn tortilla strips straight to the broth is a brilliant idea -- it gives the soup a little extra "heft" without actually turning it into a heavy soup. I topped mine with copious amount of chopped cilantro, because I think cilantro makes everything taste better. David, on the other hand, thinks that cilantro makes everything taste soapier, so he skipped it. We ate this the first night I made it -- David is not as much of a "soup" person as I am, in the sense that I think when I make soup for dinner, he wonders where the rest of dinner is. But he definitely liked this, and thought it was a great appetizer course with some enchiladas! I gave some of it to my good friend and carpool partner, Elizabeth, and pretty much ate the rest of it myself over the course of a week. And this is such a healthy soup that I didn't even feel one moment of regret that I ATE THE WHOLE POT.

I hope that everyone is enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving day with their loved ones. I am thankful for the fabulous food, creative cooking ideas, and fun community spirit that I enjoy every day with my blogging friends. And I am thankful for the food on my table, the kitchen I have to cook it in, and, most of all, the family and friends with whom I am richly blessed to share it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TWD: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie, Or "Why I'm Thankful That Nobody Was Really Counting On This To Be The Thanksgiving Dessert"

I have no cooking or baking responsibilities this Thanksgiving. My only job is to show up with my family at my parents' house 1000 miles away, which is a Herculean feat that requires the planning of a small-scale military operation. Common sense told me that I should have been spending any extra time that I had over the weekend packing lollipops and Dollar Store surprises in the carry-on bag to pull out when Elizabeth starts kicking the seat in front of her on the plane. Besides, I knew that if I made this pie, we wouldn't have time to eat it all before we left, and seeing as it's not freezer-friendly, most of it would go to waste. But despite all of the compelling reasons that I had not to make this Thanksgiving Twofer Pie, I did it anyway, because I am stark raving insane a committed TWD-er.

This is the second time I made Dorie's Good For Almost Anything Pie Crust. The first time was for the peach galette, and it was amazing. This time, I accidentally started making the recipe for a double crust, but I just went with it and figured I'd freeze one of them. The dough came together fairly easily, just as it did the first time.

After inventing a whole new shape while trying to roll a circle of rugelach dough, I asked Jacque for tips on how to roll a dough circle, and she was kind enough to leave me a really helpful,really detailed comment with some great pointers. And, as you can see, they helped a ton! Thank you, Jacque!

Much more circle-ish:

While the mixing and the rolling went well, the whole pre-baking thing really tripped me up. I followed the instructions, covered the crust with foil, weighted it down, etc. And yet the edges of my crust seemed very "post-baked" after the pre-bake:

I could not envision a scenario in which those edges would not be downright charred after another 45 minutes in the oven, even at a relatively low heat oven. When it came time to bake the pie, I tried to cover up the edges with foil for part of the bake time

but it really didn't do a whole lot of good.

Moving on to the pie fillings. I've got to say, there is no better way to stock your bar than to join an online baking club. We live a tame life around here. I might order a glass of wine with dinner, David will have a beer when he watches the game or order a bourbon out at a restaurant. So our bar is not particularly well-stocked, and I don't tend to have whatever liquor I need a teaspoon of for these various recipes. I'm always tempted to go knocking on the neighbors' doors, in the great American "may I borrow an egg?" tradition, to see if I could borrow a shot of Chambord. Shake things up a little bit. Anyway, I'm sure that I could have skipped the Meyer's that was part of this week's pumpkin filling:

But I splurged, because rum seems like a nice basic liquor to have around, and I figured that even if I use two teaspoons of it every year to make this Twofer Pie, I should still have plenty left over for that island-themed party I'm planning for 2024.

I made this pie in fits and starts throughout the day. I did the pie dough when I woke up and the pumpkin filling later in the morning. I figured that I would be able to do the pecan filling, and then assemble and bake the pie, at my leisure later that afternoon after running some errands. But the day got more complicated when my son started complaining that his ear hurt, and since I was worried about him flying with an ear infection, I scrambled to get him an appointment at the after-hours pediatric clinic. Instead of just waiting until after his appointment to finish the pie, I tried to horseshoe in the pecan filling in a 3 minute window that I had. In my haste I tried to cut through some frozen butter, but when the knife slipped, I cut my thumb instead. David was raking leaves, so I stuck my head out the front door and said "Hey, I just almost cut my thumb off. Can you please come inside?" He has heard some variation of that sentence so many times since we've been married, that if you witnessed his reaction, you might have thought that I had just said "Hey, dinner's ready. Can you please come inside?" Cool as a cucumber. All I could think about was that the last time I cut my finger (it was an onion that time) I spent four hours at the ER, and it wasn't even a Saturday night. No, my pie would never get baked if I had to go to the ER. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the competing medical emergencies, the stress of trying to get out of town, and my unfinished pie. All I could think to do was sit down right there in the middle of the kitchen and have a good cry, when suddenly, I remembered my Doctor's Choice Advanced Wound Care Skin Closure Kit®


I've lived with myself for long enough to know that I should never take to the kitchen without a couple of these puppies at the ready. Just one minor home procedure later, David was off to get the boy some ear relief, and I was back to my pie!

I filled it up -- there were a few breaks in the dam:

I think I was so shaken by the knife injury and the subsequent DIY surgery that I forgot to sink my pecans into the syrup as Dorie advises. This step was clearly not simply for aesthetics -- keeping the pecans submerged in the syrup appears to prevent them from burning. I learned this the hard way, because all of my exposed pecans burned. I ended up just picking off and eating the burned ones, but there were so many of them that by the time I was done, I was left with something that most closely resembled a Thanksgiving One And a Halfer Pie.

My finished pie (before I raided the burned pecans):

And a unit of pie best classified as a "slice":

Almost turns you to stone, doesn't it? It was edible, but this pie really didn't work out for me. The crust was overdone and not as flaky as when I made it for the galette. Half of my pecans were burned as well, and the pumpkin part was just barely set. I don't know where things broke down exactly, but break down they did. The house smelled amazing while this was baking, though, so it was worth all of the hubbub just for that! And I am sure that many of you knocked this one out of the park, so I can't wait to hear about how great this pie is when done right! Thanks for this great holiday pick, Vibi of La Casserole Carree!

I hope that you all enjoy a special day with family and friends on Thursday, and I hope for your sake that you don't get stuck sitting near us on the plane. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Clarifying the Pam thing, and passing out some awards

Some of you were frightened and confused by this image in my last post:

And I can't say I blame you. But before you go setting up internet controls to block my blog so that your children don't accidentally stumble upon it, let me assure you that I don't actually have a Pam fetish. Here is the deal. Back when there was only one kind of Pam, I never had this problem. My current Pam issues stem from (1) too many varieties of Pam on the market, all of which seem indispensable to a sucker like me; (2) scatterbrained shopping habits; and (3) scatterbrained home organization habits. I've got three places in my house where Pam might live -- the pantry, the cabinet next to my oven, and in a storage room off the garage. I am just not together enough to check all of these places to evaluate my Pam situation before I head to the grocery store. So when I get to the store, I know that I probably have Pam, but which Pam? I might know that we're out of "Grilling Pam," but I won't be sure what our inventory of "Baking Pam" is, so I'll go ahead and get two Grilling and two Baking, just to be safe (Pam is like Noah's Ark to me -- they come in twos). Then I'll get home and realize that I had a Grilling Pam in the basement after all, and I even had a Baking Pam in the cabinet, but the nozzle on the Baking Pam was blocked up by the flour. But I'll probably get distracted by something or someone before I get a chance to throw out the clogged Baking Pam, and voila! -- now I have three Baking Pams in my cabinet. And with all of these specialty Pams on the market, I fell into a bad spot for a while there of having every kind of Pam but Original Pam, which annoyed the hell out of me. One night after needing Original Pam but only having five Butter Pams, four Grilling Pams and six Baking Pams, I vowed never to be without the classic Original Pam again, and stocked up big time next time I was at the store. And that, my friends, is how you grow your Pam collection. In all seriousness, now that I've actually taken the time to round up all of my Pam from all corners of my house to photograph them, I know that I have PLENTY OF ALL KINDS OF PAM, and will be on a Pam-buying hiatus until at least 2009.

Now that we have that cleared up, I was so tickled to learn that the uber-talented Blonde Duck passed this cool award on to my blog:

If you haven't been over to Duckie's blog yet, you really need to check it out pronto! Duckie writes fun, whimsical, downright magical fiction. Her characters are quirky and full of personality. And she even throws out some great recipes every now and then, even though she doesn't have to -- I'd visit just for the stories! You will, too. Thanks, Duckie!

The rules of this award are:
1. Pick ten people to pass this onto if you choose (please note the emphasis here on the "if you choose" part. I am trying to honor your blog, not give you more work! If you don't want to pass it on, great! If you just want to pass it on to one or two other blogs, terrific! I won't tell the Butterfly Award police, I promise.)
2. Contact them and let them know you have chosen them for this award.
3. Also, link back to the person who gave you the award.

And the Butterfly Award Goes To (in no particular order):

In the "I Love Your Blog So Much, I Had To Award You Twice" category,

Marie of Proud Italian Cook: If Marie posted 10 times a day, I'd wish that she posted 11. I eat up her posts like candy -- I just can't get enough of them.
Laura of she's cooking now: John Taylor was both of our favorite Duran Duran guy, and we both feed our kids frozen dinosaur nuggets every now and then. I feel a serious kinship. Oh, and her blog is really fun, too!
Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs: I can't even begin to list all that I've learned about cooking from reading Nancy's blog. Thanks to Nancy, I knew what Benton's bacon was and didn't embarrass myself when it was all over the menu at Blackberry Farm. Plus, we share an alma mater!
Maria and Josh of Two Peas and Their Pod: This is how my morning goes on the days I work. I get to the office. Log onto the computer. Go to the breakroom, get hot water for my oatmeal, and read Dear Abby. Go back to my office, toss the papers that are on my chair onto my desk, stir my oatmeal, and read Two Peas and Their Pod. Then, and only then, can I get to work.
Mary Ann of Meet Me In The Kitchen: Mary Ann is a prolific blogger, turning out mouthwatering menus and professional-caliber photographs day in and day out. I don't know how she does it, because I have kids about the same ages as Mare's, and I can barely manage to get some plain chicken and Steamfresh broccoli on the table without injuring myself. So Mary Ann's blog inspires me to do better!

In the "I've Awarded You In My Head Numerous Times, So I Am Thrilled That I Finally Have Some Hardware To Pass On To You" category:

Matt of Matt's Kitchen: Great writing, great ideas, thoughtful posts. A "don't miss" blog.
Lisa of Magic Sprinkles: I knew that I was going to like Lisa when she called me on the fact that I use a carpenter's level when I cook.
Audrey of Food From Books: Entertains me several times a week with her New England wit and her great recipes. I'm going to suffer serious withdrawal when your posts slow down over the next few months, Audrey!
Shari of Whisk: A Food Blog: Shari's blog chronicles her culinary adventures as she works through the Le Cordon Bleu At Home curriculum. Shari is plainly a phenomenal and accomplished cook, and yet her kids complain about her food sometimes, too! It gives mere mortals like me a tiny bit of hope!
Clara of I Heart Food For Thought: So many great recipes, and Clara is just so clearly a fun person. I get a lift whenever I read her blog.
Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook: I love reading Di's blog because I know that I'll always be getting real, honest, down to earth posts. And great food, too!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CEimB: Oven Fried Chicken

This is my first post for a new blogging group that I just joined

Craving Ellie in My Belly ("CEimB" -- just for fun, I'll go ahead and define some terms for my peeps back at the office!), which is a group that will be cooking its way through Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave."

After much deliberation, I decided to join CEimB because:

(1) I'm a joiner. It's what I do. I join, therefore I am.
(2) I've really been looking for a healthy cooking blogging group. I LOVE Tuesdays with Dorie and Barefoot Bloggers, but sometimes my arteries just get tired of being caught in the middle of the epic battle between Dorie and Ina over who can use the most butter. Light cooking feels more normal and familiar to me, and I've heard rave reviews about this cookbook. I've enjoyed doing the occasional Cooking Light Night post (thanks, Clara!) and reading Cooking Light Night posts by my blogger friends, so I thought it would be fun to try the light cooking concept in a more formal group.
(3) My work friends Amanda, Peggy, and Jen signed up for CEimB, and I didn't want to feel left out of the water cooler talk. I'm already the last to know all the office dirt since I only work part time. It's not that interesting, but still.
(4) I joined the group early enough that I might actually get to choose a recipe sometime before the next millennium!
(5) I respect any blogging group that goes the extra mile to come up with a rhyming group name.

So, here we go! The first recipe is for Oven Fried Chicken, which is theoretically the perfect choice for my family. While I almost always blog about how David and I like the food that I make, I rarely blog about what my children think of it. That's because my children don't eat what I cook. Really! It's not just a catchy profile slogan! My two older kids are maddeningly picky eaters, and chicken nuggets are among the foods they will eat, along with peanut butter waffles, fish sticks, grilled cheese sandwiches, Scooby cheese (it's like regular cheese but it comes in a Scooby Doo wrapper), french fries, grapes, and cereal. Their preferred eating style reminds me of the preferred decorating style of some of the hip interior designers of the mid-2000s: very monochromatic, very beige-on-beige. They will tolerate a punch of color in the form of ketchup, and in fairness to them, they'll eat a red apple or a piece of orange cantaloupe, and if all the planets align, the occasional green vegetable. But try to jazz up a naturally beige food like chicken or potatoes with green flecks, and it's freak-o-rama at the dinner table.

So I was excited about this one because it could potentially be marketed to them as chicken fingers and served with dipping sauce (aka ketchup). In fact, I decided to skip the thighs and cut the breasts into strips from the outset. Also, I knew that I could control the flavor and color content to maximize the chances that the 6 year old and 3 year old would eat it. And who knows? -- maybe it would even earn me rave reviews such as "I don't like it, but I can eat it without holding my nose." Oh yes, check your ego at the door before signing up for this parenting gig.

In terms of the ingredients, I knew that sesame seeds would not get me closer to my goal of getting my kids to eat these. So I skipped them. I also cut the cayenne down from 3/4 teaspoon to more like 1/4 teaspoon. See, blander already!

Other than those small changes, I stuck to the recipe, and these came together easily.

Crackers (I used Whole Grain Wheat Thins), corn flakes, garlic powder and a wee bit of cayenne:

And egg whites, yogurt, dijon & salt for the first dredging:

Aaaaaaaaand then dredge again in the crumb mixture.

I went downstairs to my Pam cellar and retrieved my finest 2008 Olive Oil Pam:

[I know you're going to ask, Amanda. Yes, I think I buy Pam even more obsessively than than I buy ice cream sundae toppings. No, I don't know what's wrong with me. But please continue to enable me and bring me any coupons you happen to see -- thanks!]

Lightly sprayed my chicken fingers, and baked:

Incidentally, I only used half the meat called for, and I still ran out of crumbs. That's why there are those three sorry little half naked chicken pieces at the bottom of my baking sheet. Next time, I think I'll increase the amount of the crumb mixture.

Plated the chicken with a careful eye towards the presentation:

And served to my toughest critics:

The verdict?

J, age 6: "Ummmmm. I don't really like it. Well, it's pretty good if you put a lot of ketchup on it. Actually, this is too spicy. And I put my cheese toast in the grape area so the bottom got soggy. May I please have dessert?"

E, age 3.5: "It's too cinnamon!"

C, age 14 months: Ate it with gusto, then chanted "muh, muh, muh, da! da! da! da!"(translation, "I want more. When is Daddy getting home?") and then as soon as I let her out of the high chair, headed straight to the pantry to eat a paper plate that was on the floor. She is so refreshingly easy to please.)

Mom, age 36 (the reasoned voice of objective reality): These really were a bit too spicy for most kids, I think, even with the smaller amount of cayenne. I'll leave the cayenne out next time so that my kids can come up with a different reason not to eat them. I thought this was excellent oven fried chicken. Nice and crispy on the outside, but the chicken stayed moist and tender, and had a great flavor. They definitely had a little kick to them. I assume they would have had a lot of kick if I used the full amount of cayenne called for in the recipe.

Dad, age 36.5 (really, almost a full year older than Mom): Really enjoyed these. Upon learning that they were too spicy for the kids, said "Great! More for me!"

Summary: I still think this is a family friendly recipe despite the fact that only one of my children ate them. I'll leave out the cayenne next time, but they'll definitely show up again in our rotation. They were really easy to throw together, and one of the better oven fried chicken recipes I've tried lately. All in all, this was a great way to kick off CEimB! Thanks for picking this, Macduff of Lonely Sidecar!!!

OVEN FRIED CHICKEN, from Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave"
1/2 sleeve (about 20) whole-grain salted crackers, pulsed in a food processor until fine (about 1/2 cup)
2 1/2 cups corn cereal flakes, pulsed in a food processor to fine crumbs (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 egg whites
1 cup lowfat, plain yogurt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Olive oil cooking spray
4 medium sized skinless chicken breasts and 4 skinless chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry (about 3 1/2 pounds chicken)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray a baking sheet with olive oil.

Combine the crackers and corn cereal crumbs, sesame seeds, cayenne, and garlic powder in a shallow bowl. Reserve.

In a large bowl, combine egg whites, yogurt, Dijon mustard, and salt. Add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with the yogurt mixture.

One at a time, dip the chicken pieces in the cracker mixture, packing crumbs onto chicken. Arrange the chicken on a baking sheet and spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TWD: Arborio Rice Pudding

I'm having a lot of "I'm not as young as I used to be" moments lately. Like when I went into Abercrombie a couple of weeks ago to buy a present for my pre-teen niece, and was completely overwhelmed by the smell of cologne, pulsating loud music, and oversized pictures of half naked people on the wall. Maybe it's just me, but the very day that I left the 18-34 demographic, in addition to becoming less desirable to advertisers, I lost all ability to be in Abercrombie for more than 3 seconds without feeling utterly desperate to leave. As I stood in the checkout line, I found myself praying for the line to move faster, and in return I promised to be a better person and a more faithful servant starting the moment I exited the store. After mercifully completing my transaction and departing, I felt like quite the cougar walking around the mall with my Abercrombie shopping bag, which, natch, was adorned on all four sides with young naked lads.

And then there's Rolling Stone magazine, which my husband has been getting since college. Reading Rolling Stone on a regular basis will either keep you young (David), or age you prematurely (me). It has become something of a joke in our house, because as far as we know, we don't pay for this magazine. They never send us renewal notices, so we can't decline to renew, and we have never notified them of our new address when we move. And yet, somehow Rolling Stone always finds us. So every two weeks, no matter where we are in the world, the mailman or a carrier pigeon will drop Rolling Stone on our doorstep, and every two weeks, I read it and find myself perplexed, in that way that old people are, at the music that the kids are listening to today, and their crazy "Young Hollywood" party ways, and the fact that Kim Kardashian is even a little bit famous. Yes, back in the days before fire, we partied with Prince! And we did it without getting arrested!

But really, nothing tells me that I am getting old quite like the fact that I enjoyed this rice pudding. As a kid, I thought of rice pudding as an "old lady dessert." I'll have to investigate further to figure out why I thought this. Mom, did Grandma used to serve rice pudding to the ladies on pinochle night? I like to believe that my thoughts about many things have evolved a bit since I was six, but my thinking on one issue has remained firmly entrenched over the past thirty years: rice pudding = old lady dessert. And yet here I am, helping myself to seconds. Hand me my reading glasses, David, I'm making us some more rice pudding!

Well, I should have known as soon as I read the simple-seeming directions that making this would give me fits. It sounded too easy to be true. Parboil the rice and set it aside, and then stir together milk and sugar and bring it to a boil.

A watched pan of sugared milk never boils:

Eventually it did boil, of course, and like the good little recipe-follower that I am, I turned it down to low and set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes. I stirred occasionally, as I was directed to do. And thirty minutes later, it looked exactly the same as it did to begin with! I felt like I was trying to rise kugelhopf dough again, what with all that was not happening in my kitchen despite the passage of the prescribed period of time. I decided to be crazy and turn the heat up to medium low. I continued to stir occasionally, and the sugar/milk continued to not do much of anything. Finally, probably close to an hour into the process, if I looked really really hard, I thought that I could see the rice floating under the surface.

Thar she blows!

Okay, so Dorie says that means that it's almost done -- great! I let it go a few more minutes, and divided it into a couple of bowls. I made one vanilla, and one chocolate:

It was very much still liquid, but I wasn't worried -- Dorie said that it would be, and that the puddingification would occur once it chilled for six hours. Well, alas, for me, pudding was not to be. Mine stayed liquid. I almost threw it out, but then Audrey suggested that I keep it and use a bendy straw instead. I tell you, I just have the coolest, smartest blogging friends! Thanks, Audrey!

Arborio Rice Pudding: The Liquid Years

But for the fact that there is something inherently unpleasant about arborio rice coming at you through a straw, this would have been a fabulous milkshake! The flavor really was wonderful.

Well, to paraphrase my friend Lisa, "I'm no quitter," so I decided to try again to achieve actual pudding. Another good blogging friend, Flourchild, gave me the heads up that I could try heating my rice soup again rather than starting over, which sounded like a great idea. Unfortunately, the liquid stuff had been sitting in my fridge for close to a week by that point, so I had to toss it. For round two, I cut the milk down to 3 cups instead of 3 1/4 cups, and I cooked it on medium low from the get-go. It gently bubbled away, again for significantly longer than 30 minutes (I did not see Dorie's post on the P&Q until after I made this, but I bet that I cooked it in the 55 minute to one hour range), and by the time I took it out of the pan, it definitely seemed much thicker than it did after my first attempt. I was feeling more optimistic that I'd indeed get pudding this time around. And I did get pudding!

Arborio Rice Pudding: The Pudding Years

This was SO good! The texture (which would have caused me to avoid this dessert in the past) seemed just right to me. The flavor was perfect. I preferred the vanilla to the chocolate. I was going to add in some chambord-soaked somethings to it, but I ran out of time. Maybe next time, because I'll be making this again for sure. Round 2 wasn't ready until Monday night, so I gave some to David as an appetizer before he left for a business dinner (he is getting used to me begging him to eat my desserts at random odd times). He really enjoyed it too. I think that this will be the perfect dessert to take us into our sunset years. Thank you, Isabelle of Les Gourmandises d'Isa, for causing me to take a second look at rice pudding. I'm glad that I did!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Roasted Onions

No time for a long post today ("there is a God!!" you say) -- the hubs and I are trying to get out of town for the weekend for our 10th anniversary, and I have to pack, go clothes shopping, buy presents for the weekend birthday parties, locate and remove all of the choking hazards to make things easier for the grandparents (without whom this trip would not be possible), install a plexiglass barrier over our railings because my 14 month old is trying to squeeze through the balusters, go grocery shopping (again), cook a big pot of chili so there is something in the fridge to eat while we are gone, and possibly redo my liquefied rice pudding. And clean. And hand sanitize in a borderline-obsessive way, because two of my three children have had the stomach bug over the past week, and I will cry a river of pitiful salty tears if the cooties strike me this weekend. I'll take the stomach bug, a cold and pink eye all at the same time if they will just hold off until Monday.

But first, roasted onions! This is a fun, unusual choice; of course, I'd expect nothing less from Kelly over at Baking with the Boys. Kelly's blog is your one-stop source for cooking fun -- where else can you go to find dimply plumosaurus cake, gigantimuffins and punk rock pie?

I didn't really understand the first instruction about how to cut the onion:

Remove the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onion. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onion in wedges through the root. Place the wedges in a bowl.

I only understood the "place the wedges in a bowl" part of that. Even studying the picture in my copy of "Barefoot Contessa at Home" did not help me one bit. But I decided not to sweat it; I figured as long as I didn't go and do something crazy like mince the onions, they'd taste fine in the end.

My interpretation of removing the stem end/preserving the root end/standing onion on the former stem end/cutting through the formerly preserved root end:

Successful placement of wedges in bowl:

The dressing was fabulous. Coming right on the heels of not having butternut squash on Saturday, Publix did not have fresh thyme yesterday -- oh Publix, how you infuriate me sometimes! -- and there was just no thyme for a scavenger hunt, so I went with dried. But we thought the dressing was great; I think this would be wonderful on salad, too:

I love that there was no marinating time involved. I really needed that after the kugelhopf. Just toss the onions with the dressing and then put them on the pan as fast as your little heart desires:

They smelled wonderful while they were roasting! And looked great coming out of the oven:

We really enjoyed these! We had them with a rotisserie chicken from Publix (I pushed the Easy button there) and some mashed potatoes. While we liked these onions as a stand alone side dish, I would be more likely next time to toss them in pasta dishes or use them in paninis and on pizzas, etc. I will definitely make this again. Thanks, Kelly!

2 red onions
1 yellow onion
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onion. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onion in wedges through the root. Place the wedges in a bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a sheet pan, reserving the vinaigrette that remains in the bowl. Bake the onions for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and browned. Toss the onions once during cooking. Remove from the oven, and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Sprinkle with parsley, season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TWD: Kugelhopf

When I went to pick up my daughter from preschool last week, her teacher rushed up to me and said: "Elizabeth sang her very favorite song for us today, and we all really enjoyed it! Elizabeth, do you want to sing your favorite song for your mommy?" I was fully expecting to hear "Five Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate," since this was what she'd been singing the most at home, complete with wind-blowing sounds and having the wind blow out the lights. So imagine my surprise when instead, I heard her sweet, tiny little voice belt out, in perfect tune:

She wore them apple bottom jeans
Boots with the furrrrr (with the fur!) [yes, she did indeed include the second "with the fur" line]
The whole club was looking at her
She hit the flo'
Next thing you know
Shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low . . .

As the teachers threw back their heads and howled, I squirmed and said "Oh! Um. Heh. Heh heh. Gosh, Miss Kelly. I don't know where Elizabeth would have heard Flo Rida and T-Pain. We only listen to Raffi at home. Um. That's something else, alright."

The moral of this story is that kids will soak in absolutely anything, just like my Kugelhopf. But whereas hip hop lyrics and three year olds might be considered "a bad kind of soaking in," we'd all agree that melted butter and warm brioche is most definitely "a good kind of soaking in."

Backing up, I wanted to share what my sweet hubby got me for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I was pretty excited when I saw the box. What could it be?

(Gasp!) It's a Kugelhopf pan!! How did you know? Thanks, honey!

Well, let me just say that nothing about this project was relaxing. I managed to dodge yeast for my first 12 TWD weeks, so I guess it was just a matter of time before I had to deal with it. When I first read through this recipe, I completely freaked out, started having night terrors and panic attacks by day was a bit nervous. Yeast and I have a long, sordid history. I don't like it and it doesn't like me. We deal with each other by avoiding each other, and that has worked just fine until now.

Is it dissolving? Is the milk warm enough? Is the milk too hot? Am I using the right kind of yeast? Is it still active? Heck if I know.

I forged ahead and added the flour mixture to the yeast mixture. At that point, you basically just let the Kitchen Aid do its thing until the dough "climbs up the dough hook." Like this? Maybe?

This was super stretchy, sticky, gooey dough. The thought of raisins actually mixing into it seemed absurd. I folded them in the best I could:

And then set it in my oven (which was not on) to rise for a couple of hours. There is some serious "waiting around" involved with this kugelhopf. Fortunately,the same day that I made the kugelhopf, some friends talked me into joining this newfangled "Facebook" thing, which is pure crack and possibly the biggest time black hole ever invented. As an enthusiastic Facebook newbie, I was able to pass the time giving my far-flung, long lost friends constant updates on my kugelhopf, which I am sure made them wish that I had stayed lost.



I decided to call that doubled, and stuck it in the fridge. It was about 11:30 p.m. at that point. I went back to the recipe and realized that I was now supposed to slap the dough every 30 minutes for the next two hours. Quick breads are just not this high maintenance. I decided to split the baby, slap the dough twice, and go to bed at 12:30. If my kugelhopf flopped because of my failure to do the 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. smack down, then so be it.

I saw Amanda the next day and told her that I was baking it that night and was seriously worried. She said "you just need to give it a little looooooove before you put it into the pan." See, that's exactly the kind of vague, non-specific instruction that gets me into trouble time and time again. Not knowing what Amanda meant by "loooooove," I gently put it into the pan and said "please rise, baby."

So, so not optimistic:

I stuck it in my oven (which was off) and checked it an hour later. It had not done a thing (yes, I know it's supposed to take 2 or 3 hours, but I was alarmed by the utter sameness of the dough from when I first stuck it in there). Then I remembered that my oven has something called a "proofing" feature, and I dug out the manual to see what that was all about. It said:"The proofing feature maintains a warm environment useful for rising yeast-leavened products." Yes, rising yeast-leavened products, that's my situation. I decided that I might as well make full use all of the technology at my disposal to try to compensate for my lack of talent:


It baked up to a lovely golden brown color:

And came out of the pan without any trouble (I take nothing for granted):

I then melted the butter and brushed it on the kugelhopf, and sprinkled it all with sugar. Even though it was once again after midnight, I made David stay up to try some, because Dorie says to eat it right away, and I always listen to Dorie. We both really enjoyed the kugelhopf, but we had a hard time coming up with occasions that would just seem to scream for kugelhopf. We decided that it's not exactly what you want for dessert on your major (or even your minor) holidays -- to us, it seemed more like a breakfast bread than a dessert. And yet, unless you want to wake up in the middle of the night, it won't work as a "good morning, sunshine!" kind of bread, what with the 3 hour rising time that precedes the actual baking. It would be a fine addition to any brunch table (just be sure to make it a late brunch). It would also be lovely at High Tea, for those of you who do that. Or (hypothetically) it might be the perfect midnight snack to cap off another wild Friday night of watching Flight of the Conchords on You Tube. Just as an example.

While this was not my favorite TWD recipe so far, it is definitely the one that I am most proud of. It forced me to face my yeastaphobia head on, and I was richly rewarded with the best remedy for the 12:45 a.m. munchies ever! And I especially enjoyed it a couple of days later when I toasted it under the broiler and spread a little apricot jam on it. So, there you have it, another TWD success! Thank you, Yolanda from All-Purpose Girl, for picking a fun, challenging and tasty recipe!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

TWD: Rugelach

One of my favorite insults ever was recently directed at me by my friend Julie, a fellow TWD-er. Julie and I work together in real life, and have been working together on a notsofun project that involves spending most of the day on the phone with lots of justifiably irate people. One day, there was a lot going on with this project, and I kept calling Julie, emailing her, and stopping by her office. I finally must have bugged her one time too many, because when I knocked on her door, she looked up at me and said "You again! I like you better online." Ah, Jules. Right back atcha, babe. I sure wish that "online Julie" made more regular appearances (although I get MORE than my fill of real life Julie, trust me).

Well, in contrast to the way that Julie feels about me, I could not get enough of this rugelach. So thank you, Piggy of Piggy's Cooking Journal, for picking this special treat. It's the kind of cookie (pastry?) that makes me feel like a real baker! I didn't want to disappoint Dorie, Dorie's mother-in-law, or Mrs. Strauss, so I made it a few different ways.

This is my kind of dough -- four ingredients that can be whipped together in no time. I was a little bit worried about overmixing, and I thought that I might have gone a few seconds too long with my first batch:

but it baked up just right. I felt more confident with my second batch and knew when to stop processing. My first batch sat in the fridge for days before I got around to topping it, and was a little bit easier to work with than my second batch, which was only refrigerated for a few hours.

Rolling out the dough was a bit stressful for me, since it required that I use judgment. I can no more reliably eyeball "10 or 11 inches" than I can solve Fermat's Last Theorem. So I used a ruler.

I realize that the shape that I rolled does not even remotely resemble a circle. What can I tell you? I'm just not very good at this.

I remember taking a standardized test in high school that measured your aptitude in various subject areas, and then based on your score, provided a narrative analysis of careers that may be suited to your academic strengths. In addition to the usual math and reading, there was a section on "spatial relations," which tested how well you perceive sizes and shapes. I scored abysmally on the spatial relations section, and my narrative said something like: "Whatever you do, we beg you, please don't be an architect." And as you can see based on my efforts to cut my dough into 1/16ths, this analysis was spot-on.

Big Daddy rugelach and teeny tiny rugelach:

Filling the rugelach was the fun part. The sky's the limit in terms of what you can put in these. I liked Dorie's classic combos and figured that they would serve as a good starting point.

I made some with raspberry jam and some with apricot jam. Half of my raspberry ones had chocolate (I used semisweet rather than bittersweet), the other half did not, only because I love my husband. For the apricot ones, I used pecans, golden raisins and white chocolate chips.

Four-ish ounces of chocolate, give or take, according to my flimsy, antique and not-very-accurate kitchen scale:

Dear Santa Claus,

I have been a really, really good girl this year. I did not fight with my sister, and I have tried extra hard to watch my language. All I want for Christmas is this digital kitchen scale, which was recommended to me by my blogger friend Nancy. Can your elves make that? If not, I'm told that the website that I linked for you is THE PLACE for all of your weighing and measuring needs. Thank you, Santa. We'll have lots and lots (and lots) of cookies for you if you stop by our house this year. And tell Rudolph that we'll save him a carrot!

Your friend,

After topping and cutting these, it's time to roll them. I was prepared for things to go very poorly for me at this stage of the game. But to my relief, they rolled up fairly easily. The longer the dough sits out, the harder they are to roll. Incidentally, just a couple of days before I made this rugelach, my son gave me this for my birthday:

I had no earthly idea what it was -- I thought that the "other part" of it was in a different gift bag, and when I put the two pieces together it would all make sense. But no, David said that he let our 6 year old loose in Williams-Sonoma and told him to pick out a gadget for me, and that's what he picked. I just held it up and said "it's a metal thing! I LOVE it, honey!!" Well, imagine my delight when I sniffed around a bit on the WS website a few days later and realized that it was a pastry scraper, perfect for this:

It really did make the rolling easier, especially after the dough had been sitting out for a while.

Well, what can I say? We just loved this rugelach. I loved the rugelach. David loved the rugelach. David's parents were in town and they loved the rugelach. I am a gusher, you know that I'm a gusher, and I'm sure that my gushing rings hollow by now -- but these are definitely some of the best cookies (pastries?) that I've ever had. Dorie makes a passing reference to buying rugelach in a German bakery, and since David lived in Germany for several years as a small child, I was eager to ask him how this rugelach compared to the rugelach of his childhood. He said that he remembers being chased through the apartment building by a 10 foot tall St. Bernard, and remembers having the bejeezus scared out of him when he had to ride a log down into the salt mines on a trip to Salzburg -- but has no recollection whatsoever of rugelach. Okay, so that wasn't helpful. But he did love these! As for whether I preferred the raspberry or the apricot, well, that's sort of like the eternal "George Clooney or Brad Pitt?" question. Personally, I'm a George woman myself, but I'm not going to kick Brad out of bed for eating crackers. The raspberry and chocolate combo was pretty close to cookie nirvana as far as I'm concerned, but the apricot was awfully good too. And there are several other combos that I've got in mind that I am dying to try, such as apple jelly with walnuts, and orange marmalade with dried cranberries, and I can't even imagine the abundance of additional brilliant ideas that I'll collect from my fellow TWD bakers. In fact, all of this yapping about rugelach is cutting into my rugelach-making time. Gotta run! Thanks again, Piggy, for a great pick!
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