Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Buttermilk honey dough and resurfacing from under that white stuff

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photo taken exactly one week ago

There are a zillion reasons why I dearly love the two dudes I work for. One of them is how they handle the holidays. Typically, this time of year is not in any way merry for us restaurant employees. We are working our asses off while the rest of the world spends time with their friends and families.
Luckily for my co-workers and I, our employers cut us all a generous holiday bonus check and close both the restaurants down from the 23rd to the 2nd.
We all think they are completely bat shit crazy to do this, as they are missing out on some serious revenue, but we don't exactly complain about it.

During last year's closure I was little miss productive. This year, not so much. First of all, anyone living in the Northwest knows about last week's snow apocalypse.
And before any of your east coasters start in on how we are a bunch of pussies, let me just stop you right there.
Yes. We are a bunch of pussies. However, we are not used to this kind of weather and most of us are not confident driving in it. Then we get the "outsiders", immigrants from Vermont or Wisconsin or whatever, who think they are "experienced snow drivers". They get really cocky behind the wheel of their front wheel drive Honda, forgetting that Seattle is NOT FLAT. We are a city comprised of several neighborhoods, most of which are on their own ginormous hill. I happen to live on one of the biggest ones: Queen Anne Hill, which they had to close down completely. Did that stop the cheese heads from going around the road closed sign? Of course not. They can just drive around it, as unlike these local nimrods, cheese head is an "experienced snow driver". Oh wait...cheese head forgot that Seattle does not salt the roads either. Chaos ensues. Parked cars get smashed into, etc.

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Crisis '08!

Needless to say, we were snowed in and we both became ill with cabin fever. Even walking to the grocery store was not exactly safe. The hill was so iced up that falling on ones ass was bound to happen at least a dozen times.

So, we watched a ton of movies and several old episodes of The A-Team, I got over halfway through a 1000 page historical novel about Cleopatra and I did a lot of baking. I even took pictures of all my baking with the full intention to blog all of it. Did I feel like sitting at the computer for any of this down time? No not at all. I can't explain it, but blogging was the last thing on earth I wanted to do.

But, of course, now that the snow is nearly gone and I am free to go out and about- I'm ready to sit down and share some of these recipes with you. Yes, I am a strange bird.

When the snow first started falling, Trevor asked if I might be willing to make him "those little ham roll thingies" and "while I'm at it, what about cinnamon rolls? It's the same dough, right? Puuuleeeeease?"

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Yes, it is the same miraculous buttermilk honey dough. It comes from Beth Hensperger, author of The Bread Bible. It's just a perfect white bread dough. Delicious when baked into a loaf and smeared with a little butter and honey. Even better when used for cinnamon rolls, or Trev's fave: Ham and cheddar rolls.

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For the ham rolls, roll the dough out into a rectangle and sprinkle generously with sharp cheddar cheese (I like Tillamook). Then lay out several slices of good deli ham. Top with a little more shredded cheese and chopped sage. Roll up like Cinnamon rolls, and slice into medallions. Allow the rolls to proof in a warm spot for about 40 minutes. Then bake at 375 for about 20 minutes. For cinnamon rolls it's the same idea. Roll dough into a rectangle, brush with lots of melted butter. Sprinkle generously with a blend of brown sugar and cinnamon (I never use a recipe for either of these rolls, sorry I can't be exact). Once the cinnamon rolls come out of the oven, make a glaze by whisking powdered sugar and buttermilk together and pour it over the rolls while they are still hot.

Here is the recipe, and I promise my next post will be lighter on the yakity yak and heavier on the content. Pinky swear.

Buttermilk Honey Dough from The Bread Bible
makes 12 cinnamon or ham rolls or 2 9-by-5 inch loaves

3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 T active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, warmed slightly
2 T unsalted butter, melted
3 T honey
1 T salt
6 to 6 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Pour the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to combine and let stand at room temp until foamy- about 10 minutes.

Add the buttermilk, butter, honey, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat hard with the paddle attachment to combine. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a shaggy dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 3-4 minutes, or until the dough is springy. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead briefly by hand.

Place dough into a greased bowl (I just use pan spray). Turn the dough once to grease the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Gently deflate dough and form into desired shape, or follow above roll instructions. Allow to rise again for 40 minutes, then bake.

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cinnamon rolls were devoured before a photo shoot could take place.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not your grandmother's bread pudding

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warm gingerbread pudding with meyer lemon chantilly

It's not that I forgot to blog for the last two weeks. It's just that my stoopid computer caught one of those trojan virus thingys and was at the computer doctor for a week. Then I was lazy for a few days.
It's fixed and life/my blog may return to it's regularly scheduled programming.

Let's talk bread pudding, shall we? I first developed my geriatric-like obsession for this dessert (because, lets face it. The vast majority of those who ordered this dessert were of The Greatest Generation) while I was working at this little bakery in high school. It was a simple affair, made from the leftover cinnamon, orange, and pecan rolls. The combination of flavors from each roll was amazing. Caramel, cinnamon, and orange. All bound together with a very gently sweetened custard. The occasional pecan or golden raisin would pop up every other bite or so- but never obtrusively, for as a general rule, I am anti-raisin in bread pudding.

I have since eaten many other forms of this dessert made with brioche, cake, croissants, and plain old white sandwich bread. Some have been lovely (I once worked with a pastry chef that made a version using dried chocolate cake and a caramel custard. Holeee shit. That was a tasty 'un), and some have been downright despicable. There is a reputable restaurant in this city (who shall remain nameless) that prides itself on it's bread pudding. It is mushy, overly sweet and cloying. Nothing short of a travesty.

I think it comes down to the fact that there are two schools of thought on bread pudding. Those who allow the bread to completely soak up the custard before baking, creating a solid unit of indiscernible mush. And those who use a little restraint with that step, creating a pudding with more depth. I prefer the latter.

This gingerbread pudding is probably my second favorite incarnation of the dessert. The first being the one from my high school days. Sadly, I pretty much never have leftover cinnamon rolls, pecan sticky buns, and orange rolls sitting around. And unless we're visiting my in-laws, I avoid my hometown of Issaquah like the plague. That first taste of bread pudding will probably have to remain romanticized in my memory.

Okay- the recipe. I know it seems foolish to bake a perfectly good batch of gingerbread, only to cut it up and dry it out like croutons in the oven. Never will this seem more idiotic than with this recipe. It is that good. I took David Lebovitz's gingerbread recipe and tinkered with it. I replaced the oil with brown butter, and added the spices right in the pot with the butter as it browned to help their flavors bloom a little more. The result is a really tender, extra spicy (it almost tastes "hot") ginger cake. You may want to double the recipe so you have some fresh cake to snack on while the bread pudding bakes.

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I garnish this dessert with meyer lemon chantilly, which is just a simple meyer lemon curd with a little whipped cream folded in....good enough to eat with a spoon, standing in front of the fridge with the door still open. But not that I've done that.

Gingerbread

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt

4 oz butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup boiling water
1 tsp baking soda

2 T minced candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a sheet pan with baking release (like pam), line with parchment paper, and spray again. Sift the flour and salt together and set aside. Place a pot of water in the stove to boil. Combine the butter and the spices in a pot and melt over medium heat. Allow the butter to brown a little (this takes a minute or two, and will be difficult to tell when it has browned, as the spices are in there. Go by smell- it should begin to smell nutty.) Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk the molasses, sugar, and egg together. Add the butter/spice mixture and whisk to combine.
Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.Measure out the 1/2 cup of boiling water and quickly stir the baking soda into it. Add to cake batter and stir gently until combined. Finally, add the minced ginger and stir. Pour the batter out onto the prepared sheet pan and bake for approximately 14 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

Cut the cooled gingerbread into 1/2" cubes and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes. After the gingerbread has cooled, it will be somewhat crisp, like croutons.

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Gingerbread pudding

8 cups loosely packed cubed gingerbread

3 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream

9 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
3/4 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla extract
1 T calvados, or brandy

Whisk the eggs, sugars, and spices together in a large bowl. Bring the milk and cream to a boil, the gradually whisk into the eggs. Strain the custard, then stir in the calvados and vanilla.
Butter a large souffle dish. Place the dried gingerbread in the dish and slowly pour the custard over the gingerbread. Place in a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with hot water, until the souffle dish is about halfway submerged. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes. The custard will be set, but slightly wobbly in the center.
Cool to room temperature and serve.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Too stuffed for pie

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Pear Riesling Sorbet

Happy Thanksgiving!!
I love Thanksgiving, it's my favorite holiday. Trevor and I have a tradition of keeping it a "just the two of us" event. Big family Christmas parties are just around the corner, so it's nice to relax and have a nice dinner for two- and then survive off the leftovers for the week and a half to follow.

Just because it's a small party, doesn't mean it's not a raging party. I bust out the nice dishes, set the table all Martha-like, light candles...the works. We just happen to celebrate in jammy pants, and I may have forgotten to put on a bra.

Trevor has set himself up with a living room-prep station, and is obediently snipping green beans on the couch, watching From Russia with Love. I'm taking a cocktail break from the kitchen...
oh yeah, and were both being thankful.

One thing we never really go wild about on this holiday, is dessert. Usually an assortment of shortbread cookies, depending on what dough I have in the freezer, and a glass of prosecco is all the dessert necessary after the Turkey Feed.
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This year, however, I did have my fanciest of pants on. I had some yellowy golden pears, splotchy with little brown spots on the counter. They were primed and ready to be cooked down a wee bit, and pureed to become pear sorbet. A healthy amount of Riesling plays nicely with the pear, and a shot of cointreau adds a cozy, orangey warmth. Totally refreshing after a big meal. Rather than the tradish prosecco, I found a sexy pink cremant. She truly is a dirty girl, and will be glorious with the sorbet.
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Pear Riesling Sorbet

simple syrup (refrigerate the leftovers for cocktails)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

combine, bring to a boil. set aside to cool.

Pear puree (adjust sorbet recipe to how many cups your puree yields)

very ripe pears
lemon juice
water

peel and core pears. cut into chunks and place in a sauce pan. Add a few tablespoons of water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Cook, covered, over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Once pears are beginning to liquefy, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Puree in a blender (in batches if needed), Strain through a sieve into a large measuring pitcher
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Sorbet base:

2 cups pear puree
1 cup simple syrup
3 or 4 oz. of decent quality Riesling (add more or less to your taste)
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T cointreau

Stir together, then refrigerate until completely cold. Churn in an ice cream maker.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pie #8- Washington Apple..."perfect is in the eye of the beholder"

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I heart Washington State

I didn't mean to take such a hiatus from blogging, but here it is over two weeks since my last post! Woops. I wouldn't of had anything interesting to post anyway, as a few weeks ago, I put myself on a for reals-no foolie diet....oh- pardon me, I mean *lifestyle change*....sniffle. I need either a hug or a huge beer and a cheeseburger. Or both. It was definitely time to trim down between the summertime BBQ meat-fest and the holiday smorgasbord. I've been jogging and taking pilates classes like a mother fucker. And I swear to god if I have to look at another boneless-skinless chicken breast I'm going to fucking shoot myself.

I've lost 15 pounds.
I need PIE.

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So heres the deal with my apple pie. I've been tinkering around with this recipe for close to 8 years. I've tried variations on the spices, amounts of sugar, and most important: the apple varieties. What I've come with is a perfect apple pie for my taste. You may have a differing opinion on what "perfect" means in an apple pie, so don't give me that stinky eye ball if you don't like lemon zest, or feel that an apple pie without allspice is a crime against humanity.

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These are my requirements for a perfect apple pie:

1. Use a blend of apples. Mostly a firm, tart apple (granny smith or newton pippin) and a few sweet apples that soften a bit more after baking (such as a jonagold or a braeburn). The sweet apples will soften to almost a sauce like consistency while the tart ones will retain both their shape and a slight crunch.

2. 86 the butter. I know. Crazy. This is my one and only fruit pie recipe that has no butter in the filling. Personally, I think the apples taste brighter with out it.

3. Once you have tossed the apples with the sugar, spices, and lemon juice. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before filling your pie shell. This will eliminate the dreaded gap of space between the baked top crust and the filling.

4. Starch should be minimal. Apples are full of pectin.

5. Add both lemon juice (as per usual) and zest. It brings the apples alive.

6. Easy on that sugar, bucko. I really really really hate apple pie that is too sweet. Really.

7. My spices of choice are cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. I have tried just about every baking spice out there for this recipe and these, ho-hum as they may sound are my favorites. You may feel differently, and that is between you, your pie, and your god.

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Now that I have indulged in a much needed dose of fat and sugar, I am feeling much less bitchy...and more in the mood to blog. Break is over, I promise!

Apple pie filling

3# tart apples (granny smith or pippin)
1# sweet apples (braeburn or jonagold)
2 Tb lemon juice
zest of 1/2 of a lemon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg- freshly grated
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp salt

Peel and core the apples. Slice into 1/2" slices and toss with the lemon juice and zest. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, starch, salt, and spices. Toss with the apples and let sit for 15 minutes. Fill unbaked pie shell, apply top crust, and bake.
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

RFJ: Winter Squash Tart

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with glazed pecans, maple cream, and sage-caramel

Oh my god, I'm foodie jousting! I know, I can't believe it either. Seems like it's been ages since I joined in on the monthly battle brought to you by Jenn at the Leftover Queen Forum. Last month Susan won with her creamy gorgonzola, fennel, and pear tart. She probably deserves a separate award for both her blog and post titles. They sound like they should be spoken in a titillated breathy moan. I think it comes down the the use of the word "creamy"...

I thought I'd keep it tart-ie with Susan's chosen ingredients of acorn squash, sage. and orange.
Which are awesome ingredients.


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I made an orange scented-pecan crust, a sweet filling of pureed acorn and delicato squash, spices, brown sugar, and a little egg- Your standard issue pumpkin pie filling but with different squash.
The sage was infused into cream for the star of this dessert: sage-caramel. I gotta say, this one really tickled my g-spot. The earthiness of the sage cuts right through the sweet caramel. A little sea salt is stirred in as well to balance everything out. It was absolutely perfect when paired with the spicy, yet not overly sweet tart.

I finished the dessert with pecans that have been glazed with brown sugar, butter, and a little salt, and a chantilly of maple syrup, whipping cream, and sour cream. Oh yeah- and a spot of bourbon.....never forget the Bourbon.....
I brought the whole shebang to work so my colleagues can get fat too.

I've witnessed enough eye fluttering after watching them devour these to decide that it should probably be put on my menu. It's the super amazing funky phresh sage-caramel that makes it. I think I might take a bath in it.
...maybe make out with it a little?.....
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Sage Caramel: pretty much the best thing ever.

You know what I just realized? The next time I post a blog, we will have elected a new president. Fucking better be Obama or I'm going cry for a very long time.

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Winter squash tart with glazed pecans, maple cream, and sage-caramel

orange-pecan crust:
1 1/4 cup pastry flour
4 oz cold butter, cut into cubes
pinch sea salt

1/3 cup toasted pecans
1 tsp orange zest
1 T + 1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp flour

1 small egg
1 T cold cream
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

whisk the egg, vanilla and cream together in a small measuring pitcher and set aside. In the food processor, pulse up the nuts, zest, 1 tsp flour, and brown sugar until nuts are finely ground. Add the flour and salt. Process until nut mixture is evenly combined with flour. Add the butter and pulse until butter is the size of small peas. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the egg mixture and mix on low with the paddle attachment until dough just forms. Dump out onto the counter and gently work dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 3 hours. Roll out onto a lightly dusted surface. Makes either 6- 4" tarts or 1- 9" tart.
Freeze tart shell until baking time.

Sage-Caramel:
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4 sage leaves, torn slightly
1 cup whipping cream

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice

1 T butter
pinch of sea salt

combine the sage and cream in a small pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, bring to a boil again, then strain into a measuring pitcher. Cover to keep hot. In a separate, larger pot, combine the lemon juice, water and sugar. Cook, brushing down the sides with a brush that has been dipped in water until copper colored. Remove from heat. Slowly and carefully whisk in the hot sage scented cream. Whisk until smooth, then stir in the butter and salt.

Winter Squash Puree:
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oven cam!
1 acorn squash
2 delicato squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into cubes
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Slice acorn squash into rings, removing the seedy center and place on a foil lined pan. Prep the delicato squash and place in a hotel pan. Cover with foil. Place both pans in a 400 degree oven. Acorn squash will be done after about 30 minutes. Delicato will take up to 2 hours. Spoon out the center of the acorn squash into the food processor. add the cooked pumpkin and puree until completely smooth. Let cool. There are plenty of leftovers for soup after making this tart.

Tarts:
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6 pecan tart shells

1 cup winter squash puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 T granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp clove
3 T whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 Tb maple syrup
1 tsp bourbon (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
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Blind bake the tart shells for 25 minutes at 350. Remove pie weights and continue baking until pale golden (shells should be almost fully baked). Lower oven temp to 325.

Whisk together everything but the squash and eggs.
Place the squash puree in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the the spice mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in the eggs. Transfer mixture to a pitcher, then carefully pour into tart shells. bake for about 20minutes, or until set, but wobbly in the centers and slightly puffy on the edges.

Cool. Garnish with the sage caramel and a dollop of whipped cream (I flavored mine with maple syrup and bourbon), and glazed pecans.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Comfort Food

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Huckleberry Creme Brulee: scented with fresh bay leaf and served with brown butter tuiles

You know what hurts, like really bad?
A fractured rib.

Those of you who follow my twitter updates already know, I was in a car accident on Monday evening. Yes, folks- it's one woe-is-me post after another here. And by the way, thank you for all of your kind words about my kitty. Percy is doing much better-he's just as sprightly and obnoxious as ever, just the way we love him. He has, however passed his cold on to his sister- but she's always been a rockstar and seems to be kicking it's ass.

So, back to my whining: I was hit on the drivers side in the middle of an intersection. My car is kind of totaled (I can't close the driver's side door). The guy was in his mid 50's, driving a Lexus. Needless to say- he's got tons of insurance- so ya know, there's that.
Luckily, he was only going about 35 miles an hour. But that was enough to give me a nasty bruise on the side of my head, a healthy case of whip lash, and a fractured rib. Which hurts like a bitch. The other driver is totally fine, and I could be in much worse shape. For the most part, I am thankful that we are both okay.

But this rib....good god. Please don't make me laugh, cough, or sneeze. For that matter, I'd prefer not to breathe if thats possible. Anyone who has ever had one of these knows that there is nothing the doctors can do. I was given a weeks worth of codeine and told to "take it easy".

The last couple of nights, as I've been nursing my aches and pains- I've been craving comfort food (wine and the doting husband can only do so much). The combination of hurting, the cold weather, and this post, which I read just hours after the accident, brought it all on.
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I need a hug

It seems like the general dining public is craving it as well. Some of my fancy pants desserts at the restaurant are being snubbed for the simple, snuggly ones. Huckleberry creme brulee in particular seems to be all the rage right now. Which is fine by me- as it couldn't be easier to make.
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I use frozen huckleberries procured by the very same hippies that forage the wild mushrooms for the restaurant. They come all cleaned and ready to go (huckleberries are a fucking nightmare to clean). Those of you not living in the pacific northwest might be shit-out-of-luck. There is no commercial licence for huckleberries (which are native to the mountainous regions of Northwest forests), so they can be hard to find if you live in Skokie, Illinois. Blueberries would work (but they're nowhere near as good. sorry).
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I infuse my brulee base with a vanilla bean and some fresh bay leaves. If you've never tried a dessert made with fresh bay leaves, for the love of god try it. It's really good infused into creamy substances such as flans, ice creams, and of course brulees. If you live in an area where huckleberries are nigh impossible to get your hands on, I highly recommend you just try the bay-scented brulee. Trust me on this. Have I ever let you down?
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Huckleberry-Bay Creme Brulee
makes 4-6 individual servings, depending on the size of your ramekins

9 fresh bay leaves
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 cups whipping cream
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz. granulated sugar
1/3 cup huckleberries, fresh or frozen

Tear the bay leaves and combine them with the cream and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 hours.
Whisk the eggs, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Bring the infused cream back to a boil and temper it into the eggs. Strain through a fine sieve.
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Line a roasting pan with a tea towel to keep the ramekins from sliding around. Pour hot tap water into the pan until the cups are halfway submerged. Divide the huckleberries amongst the ramekins. Pour the brulee base into each cup. Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hour (start checking after 45 minutes). Brulee is done when custard is set, but slightly wobbly. Remove cups from water and chill for at least 4 hours, overnight if possible. Just before serving, sprinkle with granulated sugar and (if you have a propane turbo torch) torch until the sugar melts. Otherwise, place under the broiler until the top is golden brown. Don't walk away, this happens fast!
Serve with cookies.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Poppy seed shortbread and a pissed off kitty

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I had some big plans for my day off today. I was gonna take myself out for pancakes, go kitchen doo-hickey shopping, possibly hit up a nice bowl of pho for lunch, and take a power yoga class. Yeah. I was looking forward to it. It was gonna be a good day. Some serious "me time", ya know? All of that was shot to hell when one of my cats developed a nasty cold, which started on Friday night, then steadily got worse over the weekend.

This is why I don't have kids. Hearing his kitty sneezes breaks my heart. His drippy little eye looks like he's crying, and then makes me want to cry. It freaks me out, and I drop everything to rush him to the vet.
If that were my child, I would probably be panting into a paper bag.

So, little Percy (why yes, he is in fact named after the Scarlett Pimpernel) spent the morning being poked and prodded. Thermometers shoved up his bottom, hissing and growling at vet techs who smell like foreign animals. Usually, his sister is with him at these dreaded appointments, so he's got the comfort of the buddy system. But alas, she is feeling fine and got to sit this one out.
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Leave me alone. I am both sneezy and grumpy.

The vet decided not to treat him with any meds and just let this thing just work itself out. He had an upper respiratory infection as a kitten, and they do tend to pop up now and again. So, now I feel too guilty to go run around. All I wanna do is stick around the house and keep an eye on my guy.
Who is totally pissed off at me.

Maybe I'll make a pot of soup and a loaf of bread. Equally as satisfying and shopping and going out for pho.
I guess.

Right now I am drinking a pot of coffee and snacking on my favorite cookie EVER. I made these during The Great Baking Marathon of last week. I always try to keep a log or two of poppy seed shortbread in the freezer. People always love them. These days, I tend to prefer the simpler, less sweet butter cookies over the big chewy chocolaty varieties.
This batch was made to bring along to my mom's salon when I was getting my hair done. Where they quickly disappeared.
By the way: ALWAYS bring your hairdresser coffee and cookies....it's just common courtesy.
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Excellent dippage.

Poppy seed shortbread

8 oz. butter, softened
5 oz. sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
3 T poppy seeds
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Good cookies start with good butter and salt. Readily available brands I like are La Bailene sea salt and Plugra unsalted butter

Combine butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the lemon juice and vanilla- mix. Combine the flour and poppy seeds (poppy seeds should be evenly distributed throughout the flour. Add to the bowl and mix until dough just forms.
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"Poppies! Now they'll sleep! Sleeeep.."

Dump out onto a work surface and form into a log (or rectangle, as I like to do). Wrap in plastic. Freeze or refrigerate until firm. Slice off 1/4 inch thick cookies and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes, rotating halfway though.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When life hands you a case of plums....

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Make upside-down plum cake

So, yeah- I bought a case of black plums. A CASE. I'm beginning to wonder if I may have been high at the time, as I am feeling totally overwhelmed by them. I ordered a case for the plum pie I am making at work right now, and was surprised by how especially delicious they are this year. So why not order a WHOLE CASE for myself? Forget the fact that Trevor doesn't even like plums and will therefore be no help whatsoever in consuming them.

High I tell you. Tripping Balls.

In the past week I have made plum sorbet, plum scones, the upside-down cake you see, and will hopefully will be tackling the bulk of them today by making plum jelly.
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I'm drowning

Thats okay, when fall rolls around I get a major home-baking bug up my ass. On top of all of the plum desserts being pumped out of my kitchen, I've been on a cookie frenzy as well. Trevor and I made Halloween cat shaped chocolate butter cookies on Sunday. The recipe came from Cooks Illustrated and they SUCKED ASS (they were, however adorable). It's one of the few times I've been let down by C.I., but not even the ganache glaze could save them. I ended up dumping them on my co-workers who, not unlike meth addicts, will eat anything containing sugar. Anything.
Future blog posts will most likely include pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies (which were both cute and had the good manners to be delicious), poppy seed shortbread (my all time favorite cookie), and chocolate sandwiches (read: oreos).

These little plum cakes are my favorite incarnation of the upside-down genre, and it usually makes an appearance on my dessert menu in the late summer. The cake is not overly sweet and has the texture of a cross between a muffin and a cake donut. The Armagnac scented caramel provides most of the sweetness and acts as a gooey counterpart to the tart plums and muffiny cake. They don't need much dressing up. Ice cream is a little too rich. I usually go for a dollop of creme fraiche. On my menu, I will add a plum caramel to accent the flavors of the cake.
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The modest, unassuming dollop.

I'm going to send this dessert over to my girl Ley, of Cilantro and Lime. She's hosting her first blog event Baking for breast cancer awareness. I participated in the boobie bake off last year with my boob-shaped cupcakes. I had considered revisiting these, but opted not to be quite so 7th grade this time around. These plum cakes are pink(ish), which for some reason is the chosen color to represent breast cancer. While that is not a requirement for this particular event, I found them to be somewhat fitting. Ley also asked that we share how breast cancer has affected our lives personally....
Somehow, this form of cancer has not really affected me. I consider myself to be very lucky for this. Cancer in general has affected me greatly. My mother-in-law lost her battle with a rare form of lung cancer. My Grandfather (the coolest Grandfather EVER)is currently battling prostate cancer, and knock on wood, appears to be beating it. I could keep going, but as far as the boobies are concerned, those close to me have been fortunate. So I will keep participating in events like these, keep taking care of myself, and keep hoping the women I care about remain healthy.

Upside-down plum cake
Makes 7 4" individual cakes

Caramel:
4 oz. butter
6 oz. brown sugar
2 T Armagnac or brandy of your choice
sliced plums

Spray ramekins with pan spray. Line the bottoms with little circles of parchment paper and spray again. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until it melts. Remove from heat and whisk in brandy.
Ladle about 1 oz of caramel into the bottom of each ramekin.
Fan 4 slices of plums over the caramel (usually takes about 3 plums). Chill until caramel is firm- at least an hour.
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Cake batter:
3 oz. butter, softened
1 cup sugar (I always use my vanilla sugar. If you have any on hand, it really makes a difference. If you don't- make some!)
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup + 3 Tb all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup sour cream
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In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the butter with the sugar using the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed. Alternate adding the sour cream and sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions. Scoop the batter into the ramekins and spread with a small offset spatula (batter is quite thick). Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes- until a cake tester comes out with a few moist (but not raw) crumbs clinging to it and the surface of the cake springs back when gently pressed. Let cool about 10 minutes (until just cool enough to handle). Flip cakes out onto a cake rack. Serve warm.
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Thanks Norm!