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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Tea Totaller

What do I know about tea?
I know I enjoy it very hot with a little honey (okay, sometimes more than a little honey). I know despite the warm weather I could use a cup of very hot tea to help combat the summer sniffles I have recently contracted. I know tea with cake is better than tea by itself.

This month's IMBB #17, hosted by Clement of A La Cuisine! is called tasteTea! I have never cooked or baked with tea before but this theme has made me see the error of my ways. Tea is a wonderful addition for baked goods. It's not an overpowering essence, but one that will cause your tasters to think, "this is so good... so unusual... what is that flavor?"

When I began thinking about what I would make using tea as a featured ingredient, I wasn't sure where I would end up. I sort of made it up as I went along. I found a recipe for a basic brown sugar cookie and added a bit of powdered Chai Latte mix. This turned out to be quite a tasty cookie! I rolled the cookie dough into a ball and flattened the ball slightly with the bottom of a decorative cream pitcher dipped in more of the Chai Latte powder. This cookie would be even more phenomenal with a bit of Turbinado sugar sprinkled on top before baking, just to give it a bit more sparkle and crunch.

I wasn't sure where my week would lead me nearing the IMBB deadline so I packed away a few of these cookies so I would have something to photograph. I spoke to a few of my co-workers about the tasteTea! theme and they had some great ideas... one of which was making a teapot cake.
*thinking thinking* That's a good idea, but how would I do this? Simply icing a cake and decorating it with a teapot seemed sort of... boring. I talked myself into attempting to cover the cake with fondant and making the whole thing into a teapot... complete with lid, handle and spout. I had never worked with fondant before either, so this was quite a learning experience for me also.

The cake itself is made with green tea and turned out quite delicious. The filling is a light lemon cream, which complimented the cake very well. I found the sweet buttercream icing was too overpowering and if I were to make this cake in the future, I might simply bake a sheet cake and ice it with the lemon cream and leave it at that.

Green Tea Vanilla Cake
Adapted from Colette Peters' white cake
8 ounces each all-purpose flour and cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temp.
21 ounces sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites, at room temp.
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup strong green tea (1 cup water + 2 tea bags steeped until cool)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour four 6-inch cake pans (or use parchment circles and cooking spray). Sift together flours and baking powder. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add salt and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk and tea, mixing after each addition and ending with the flour. Mix just until combined. Do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely. Wrap and refrigerate before decorating.

Basic Buttercream
Colette Peters
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioners' sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix at low speed until smooth. If stiffer icing is needed, or if the weather is very warm, add a little more confectioners' sugar.

Lemon Cream Filling
1/2 pint Baker's Whipping Cream (pre-sweetened whipping cream with stabilizers)
1/4 cup lemon curd

Pour cream into chilled mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Blend a few tablespoons of whipped cream into lemon curd to lighten curd slightly. Gently fold lightened lemon curd into remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Chai Cookies
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 ounce packet powdered Chai Latte mix (about 1/3 cup), divided
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Turbinado sugar or Sugar in the Raw (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, combine cream of tartar, soda and salt with 3 tablespoons of the Chai Latte powder (reserve the remaining Chai powder) add dry mixture the to the creamed mixture along with egg and vanilla and mix well. Then add flour all at once.
Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet (cookies can be fairly close together since they will not spread very much during baking). Pour reserved Chai powder onto a plate. Dip the tines of a fork or the bottom of a decorative glass into the powder and press into balls to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar, if using. Bake 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing to cooling racks. Makes about 3 dozen.

Thank you, Clement, for helping me challenge my baking and decorating limitations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Cook Next Door Meme

So what's a meme? The food bloggers know this as a sort of questionnaire, similar to those surveys that got passed around via email when I was part of the Yahoo Trivia crowd. I have a special place in my heart for surveys because one caused me to be introduced to the funniest, most handsome, witty guy who eventually became my husband.

I was tagged by Chronicler at Food Chronicles. Originally authored by Nicky and Oliver over at Delicious Days! They also have the geneology of the meme. It is the most amazing list of bloggers! Almost everyone in the food blogging community has been tagged and there is so much to learn about everyone. Off to the meme:

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own? My early adulthood memories of attempting to cook on my own are not very good. Lots of mishaps and discarded food. I wasn't aware that meats should not be stored in the fridge for more than a couple of days before cooking and should not be kept for more than a couple of days after cooking, either.
I recall having a pound of hamburger in the fridge that I felt I shouldn't waste and decided to mix it with one egg (I only had one left) and a box of corn bread mix in an attempt to create something like a meatloaf. Ack... the most disgusting smells came from the oven that day... quite like I had pulled it out of a dumpster. I probably didn't cook anything for a long time after that.

Who had the most influence on your cooking? Certainly not my mother who was (and still is) an extremely impatient cook. If she can't cook it in 10 minutes, it's not going to be cooked. Even her microwave is not fast enough for her, most of the time. Cook a Thanksgiving turkey for 4 hours? No way... she flew off for a long weekend in Las Vegas instead. So much of my cooking knowledge comes from The Food Network and my own drive to read cookbooks and try new things.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?

The second picture shows a visit to my grandfather's house, and the nutritous breakfast I had there? Pop-Tarts and Cool Whip.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat? Cooking lobsters or crabs. I just don't think I could eat something that I've seen alive moments ago... I'll eat them if I haven't seen them alive, though. I may overcome these two at some point: pie dough; buttermilk biscuits. They are two things I love Love LOVE but am very afraid to try to make for myself mostly because I know that they require a previous knowledge of proper texture and minimal kneading.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown? Most valued: my KitchenAid mixer... a gift from my husband at Christmas one year. It took me a very long time to be brave enough to actually use it. I think it sat on the counter for over a year before its first actual use. Now, I'll bet the mixer wishes it could have a rest.

Biggest letdown: A salad bowl/vegetable grater combo thing that I got (as a gift?) years ago. It seemed cool until I tried to use it. It had 3 parts: the bowl, the grater thingy and the lid. The whole thing was plastic (which should have been a hint as to its functionality) and the idea was that you could connect the grater to the bowl so you wouldn't lose any carrots, cheese, whatever while you were grating them. The plastic wasn't really sharp enough to grate anything and after taking it apart the first time, it never fit back together properly. *Thumbs down.* I still have it, though... packed away somewhere.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like and probably no one else. Kraft macaroni & cheese with nacho cheese Doritos crumbled on top; vanilla ice cream topped with blueberry pie filling (from a CAN) and hot fudge sauce; fried chicken gizzards (though this is popular among my family); a new thing I just tried and liked: grilled steak with BBQ sauce. Normally, I would poo-poo anything going on a steak but this was quite good! Back to Doritos, this time with 'hot pimento cheese' (which I haven't been able to find since I left Lynchburg, VA), topped with white cheddar cheese popcorn. Sort of like redneck hors d'oeuvres, I guess... I actually learned this from a girl I worked with in VA, but I doubt many other people have this on their menu. Cheeseburgers with spicy potato chips tucked between the burger and bottom bun (which I then eat upside down). I think I have too many here!

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
1) Cheese (I'm still Jonesing for deep fried cheese curds since I wasn't able to get any while visiting Wisconsin).
2) Really good chocolate (Dove is very good, in my book. Also RitterSport Hazelnut from Germany... I'm hoarding some of this in my freezer right now... shhhhh.)
3) GFIC Italian Cappuccino (I go very far out of my way to buy this and stock up on it since it's gotten very expensive and somewhat difficult to find.)

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

3 quickies:
Favorite ice cream: Mint chocolate chip (only if it has tiny flecks of chocolate throughout); Ben & Jerry's: Chubby Hubby, One Sweet Whirled; Breyer's Natural Vanilla

You will probably never eat (again??): Liver, brussels sprouts, potted meat, Limburger cheese (I had almost eaten some once but couldn't get it past my nose.), head cheese, Scrapple, any type of brains, anything with more than two legs still attached.

Signature dish: My super fudgy brownies

I followed my meme forebears here:Question added by Zarah: On average, how many times a week would you cook something to satisfy your sweet tooth? I actually buy sweets more than bake them (a shame, I know) because I can often buy just one or two cookies or whatever from a bakery rather than baking a whole batch for myself because my husband won't eat many baked things. Still, I often bake in spurts... 3 or 4 different things at a particular time. I feel it's good if I can freeze a portion of something I've baked, but my freezer is getting full of these things I plan to go back and eat some day. They never look as appealing when they're frozen as when they've just come out of the oven so there they sit sadly gathering freezer burn.

Question added by Cathy: What do you usually eat for breakfast? Weekdays: Boca breakfast patties (in the red box), lately with a slice of whole wheat toast and one of the many jams I've made or purchased. Weekends: my husband makes glorious Pecan Waffles with real maple syrup... one of the few things he cooks, but oh, how wonderful they are! And of course, coffee.

Question added by Alice: What are your stand-by dinner options when you don't have the time or the inclination to follow or create a new recipe? I love to eat out. There is a local mexican place, El Toro Bravo, that we often visit. They make really great chile relleno and a fabulous strawberry margarita. Too often I opt-out for fast food, which is really never very satisfying.

Question added by Karen: What would you like to cook someday that you haven't tried before? A whole roast pig... the way they do it in Hawaii... burying it in a pit and covering it with banana leaves to smoke all night. I don't know when I would ever have opportunity to do this, but I'd love to try it.

Question added by the chronicler: Sweet or savory? Since I doubt I can get away with saying, 'yes, please'... I'll say: Sweet. Sweets are my life, at least for the time being. I'm a pastry chef and I love to eat sweet things. Though, washing down a slice of chocolate cake with a few strips of bacon is never out of the question.

Question added by Grommie: Do you have any food quirks you'd like to admit? Ahem... no. Er... well, just a couple: I don't like the food on my plate to touch. Chicken should be separate from potatoes should be separate from green beans (this can be witnessed in my previous post). I realize this may send shivers down the spines of some of you: I don't like for my upper lip to touch my silverware and often end up scraping my teeth. Then when it comes to liquid foods on a spoon: I slurp. I try not to do this when I'm around other people (I've been reprimanded by many people) but sometimes I forget.

Now that you know so much goofiness about me... lets choose a couple more victims participants to show their stuff.

Morsels of Megret
Roast Chicken Reasoning

Hopefully they haven't already been tagged.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mostly Mediterranean Snack

Just to prove that not everything I eat contains sugar.

This is a super easy snack (or lunch, depending on how much lands on my plate) that requires zero cooking ability. I picked up all of the components at my local market. Most markets now have beautiful selections of by-the-pound olives in or near the deli case. I chose 3 different types of olives. From the top, counter clockwise: green olives with Italian herbs, Kalamata, feta-stuffed green olives. The green olives with Italian herbs are something new I wanted to try. They are packed in vinegar & olive oil, I think. They have a nice oregano flavor. Kalamata, which I have eaten before and knew I liked are lighter on the salt and vinegar than some other types of olives, certainly less than the other two types I have here. Then we have the feta-stuffed olives. I like feta. I like olives. I found out I don't like the two together. The feta in the olives got rather... shall we say... funky. I like funky cheese but there's funky and then there's funky.

The hummus and pita are prepackaged. I simply cut the pita into wedges and if you wanted, you could place the wedges on a baking sheet and warm them in the oven for about 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees just to give them a little more crisp. The hummus I chose is simply the only brand this particular store carried at the moment. I chose the extra garlic flavor. There are many flavors to try and the roasted red pepper flavor is quite nice too... a great choice if you've never had hummus before and want to give it a try. Hummus is a very healthy alternative protein source. One serving (according to the label: 2 tablespoons) has 50 calories, 2 grams of fat (which is mostly a good fat because it comes from olive oil) and 3 grams of protein.

If you don't eat olives (I have recently learned of a few people who would rather not) you could certainly skip them, though I feel the salty olives compliment the hummus and pita very well.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Repentance or Something Like It

I suppose I am a typical parent in that I have assumptions that my child is often the worst ever... and at other times, simply more amazing than any other kid that ever lived.

I was complaining in my previous post about how selfish CheesePuff was for sneezing into my can of honey roasted cashews (I know there's a pun lurking there) thus making them inedible by anyone else. Today she has proven that she is mature beyond her years and that she can be one incredibly caring and giving human.

Today she gave of herself... literally. For another child in need. Today CheesePuff donated her hair to a program called Locks of Love. A charitable organization that accepts hair donations to make wigs for needy children who have lost their hair due to a medical condition. Puff made this decision completely on her own, despite much prodding to change her mind.

Am I allowed to cry for this loss?

She deserves much credit for being quite unselfish. For today, anyway. Tomorrow she may be back to her rascally ways.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Thanks For Sharing

My darling cherub known by many as CheesePuff is quite an amazing 6-year-old. Allow me to give just one example...

I was quietly enjoying an entire can a few honey-roasted cashews. Upon hearing the shuffle of nuts, Puff came from another room (a room where the TV is clearly too loud) running like a starved squirrel... if there ever was such a thing. She politely dabs at the drool that has formed on her lower lip and asks if she may have some of my delicious treat. Of course, I tell her since I would never be greedy (what are you giggling at??). I watch closely to be sure that she will only take a few of the glistening, amber nuggets since it is near her bedtime and I wouldn't want her to have a sugar rush before bed.

As soon as she opened the can she sneezed on my cashews... isn't that like some horrible pun? The agony. Oh, the agony.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Jam Success

As I stated here, I've had quite a crop of berries this year. Too many to eat, I decided to conquer my fear of canning and attempt to make jelly. I had no idea where to begin. I had seen (and purchased) beautiful jars of homemade jam at the farmer's market; I knew that my grandmother made all sorts of preserves in her years on the farm but she passed away before my love of all things food came to the forefront. Never having done this before, I obviously didn't have any special equipment, if I needed any. My ultimate goal was to make jelly using only fruit juice and/or honey for sweetness, rather than sugar. Most jellys that I have purchased at the grocery store are too sweet (IMHO) and I wanted the natural flavor of the beautiful red raspberries that I picked in my own yard to really shine, rather than a syrupy sweet copy of a big-company product.

Luckily, I made my first stop: the Whole Foods Market. They directed me to Pectin. Pectin, I found out, is the exact thing I needed to make jelly without adding sugar.

Never having done this before, I actually took the time to READ THE DIRECTIONS from the pectin. The directions were clear... they told me exactly what I needed: some clean, sterile jars, fruit, lemon juice, apple juice concentrate and pectin.
What? That's it??? I've been afraid of that all this time? Wait a minute... the directions say, 'pour mashed fruit into a jelly bag and let drip'. What's a jelly bag? Crap... something I don't have. I did a quick search and found it. I figured I wouldn't be able to buy one just anywhere and really didn't feel like purchasing one anyway. Not to be discouraged, I forged ahead toward my jelly goal. After all, I had freshly picked berries in the kitchen just waiting to become something!

At some point in researching what exactly a jelly bag was and what it was used for, I realized it was to keep jelly from becoming cloudy with berry pulp. I didn't care about whether my product was cloudy... I'd simply change from calling it jelly to calling it jam... lack of jelly bag problem solved.

I knew I didn't want seeds in my jelly jam and I had made berry coulis in the past. Simple conversion from coulis to jam puree. I puree'd the berries and pressed them through a wire strainer to extract as much berry goodness from those pesky seeds as possible. It took a bit of elbow grease and I began to understand why farm women never had flabby arms.

In the end, I found this was the most difficult part of making jam. The whole process is not really very time-consuming either. I made my first batch of jam (from beginning puree to sealed jars of jam) in just a couple of hours.

With the type of pectin I used, the jam takes a bit of time to fully gel. I allowed mine to sit in the fridge overnight before testing it. The consistency was perfect but I realized some of the berries I had picked were not completely ripe and the jam was too tangy... even for me. According to the directions, I could simply remove the jam from the jars, heat it back up and add sweetener to my liking, then re-sterilize, re-fill, and re-seal the jars.

A word of caution: don't take your eyes off the jam heating in the pot.

My jam pot runneth over.

The final product (after I added honey) is still tangy but quite good on toast.

Don't forget, I still had the black raspberries that I had picked and frozen before we went on vacation. It was really a small amount (only about 1 cup of puree, in the end) so I decided, since I was already an old pro in the jam business, I'd get fancy with this last batch. I had a couple of fresh, ripe mangoes in the fridge which I pureed and added to the black raspberries. This ended up being much sweeter than the red raspberry jam... almost too sweet for my morning toast, but it might be good baked in some turn-overs.

Now that I'm experienced in jam production, I might just experiment with other flavors and variations. In the meantime, I have too much jam! So, dear readers... if you've read this far and are so inclined, please reply in the comments section including your email address (it's not visible to anyone but me) and I will be happy to snail mail you a jar of my delicious jam. Please specify (sweet) Black Raspberry Mango Jam (only 2 jars available) or (tangy) Red Raspberry Jam. Both are sugar free and seedless. The first 5 responders will receive their choice. All other jars will then be available for purchase on ebay.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

IMBB #17 Announced

July's IMBB will be hosted by A La Cuisine with the theme of TasteTea.

Interesting subject and possibly a bit more challenging that last month's egg theme. The deadline for entry looks to be July 31. I haven't worked much with tea, other than drinking it HOT with lots of honey. I guess I have also done a few craft projects using a tea bath for fabrics, but I doubt that knowledge will help me in this instance. I will do some reasearch and hopefully find (or make up???) a fabulous recipe using tea.

Happy brewing to all participating bloggers.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Is That Raspberry Juice? Oh, I'm Just Bleeding

I'm stalling, I know. I still don't have vacation photos scanned so I can put them up.

How lucky I am to have so many beautiful fruits growing wild in my backyard.

Black raspberries from a couple of weeks ago and red raspberries today. This is 8 cups of red raspberries. If I can keep my greedy hungry neighbors out of the bushes, I'll have a few more cups in a couple of days.

I must admit I am a very determined berry picker. I wear one gardening glove to move the thorn-covered vines and keep one hand free to pick the delicate fruits without damaging them. One thing I never seem to remember is how many scrapes I receive from the thorns when I wear shorts to venture into the thickets. Bathing suit tops are not particularly protective either.

I guess I also forgot sunscreen.

Blackberries are beginning to ripen but I'm finding that many of them are quite bitter, even when they are fully black. I'm either picking them too soon or I simply have a skunky crop of blackberries.

Now that I have all of these beautiful berries... what do I do with them? There are too many to simply eat. I put the black raspberries in the freezer because we were leaving for vacation but I need to get them out and make something with them.

As for the red raspberries, I'll try my hand at making raspberry jelly later this week. If I fail, I've heard I'll have either raspberry syrup or raspberry jello. Either of those are fine, too. I'd like to find a recipe that uses fruit juice rather than sugar to add sweetness, so I guess I have some researching to do. Jars and gelatin will be purchased this week (hopefully tomorrow) and I'll post results, of course.

I'm open to suggestions for the next round of raspberries, including addresses to ship them to if I'm up to my eyeballs in raspberry jelly jars.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

It's always fun to go back to the place where I grew up, see what's the same and what has changed and grown while I wasn't looking. I had a nice visit with family and ate amazing food and have many pictures to share once I wake up completely and get everything uploaded.

The landscape around my hometown has changed quite a bit in the last 5 years but seeing areas that were once thriving dairy farms turned into housing developments was more than a bit disheartening. There are still plenty of corn fields and farms with mowed acres of lawn, I simply had to drive off the main highway to see them.

The flight home was pretty much a disaster and I was exhausted and more than a little cranky by the time we finally made it home last night after being in the airport all day. We left our motel at 7:30 am CDT and didn't arrive home until after 8pm EDT. I don't mind an hour or so layover from flight to flight because it gives me time to travel to the next gate, use the potty, get a bite to eat and if I'm lucky, rest for a couple of minutes... but this was too much. Our original layover was to be 2 1/2 hours, but an announcement from the airline stated there was bad weather en route to Baltimore (although no such weather delay for Washington D.C. -- which is less than 45 minutes from Balt.) which delayed our take-off by 4 hours. Once we finally landed at BWI, we could see how the sunny, 90 degree weather could be considered inclement! [rolling eyes] Someone took a bit of my luggage by mistake; I wrote down the wrong stop for long-term parking; and once we got to the car, I thought I had left my car keys in the suitcase that was missing. Thankfully, I was smart enough to bring the keys in my purse... I simply had to dig to the bottom.

We all slept in this morning... thank goodness. Mr.G was sleepy last night and agreed to CheesePuff's request for a motorcycle ride today so... somehow three of us are going to squeeze onto the cycle later and take a little ride.