Archive | January, 2012

I’m Obsessed With Cardamom

22 Jan

For about two weeks now, Chris has asked, begged even, for a dessert with cardamom.  Why he became obsessed with this particular spice, I have no idea.  After he treated me to a wonderful seafood dinner, I decided to indulge his obsession.  I took out our ground cardamom, opened it, and inhaled its complex aroma.  The lemon smell hit me right away, so I decided to go with a lemon cardamom cookie.  I based the dessert of this recipe: Meyer Lemon Cardamom Crinkle Cookies, but made several substitutions to work with what we had available.

For this recipe, as with any cookie, cupcake or muffin recipe, the first step involved mixing all the dry ingredients together.  This time, I thankfully remembered that I needed to save the sugar to cut the butter, and did not include it as a dry ingredient (by accident I added the sugar to the dry ingredients when baking banana cupcakes).  For the lemon flavor, the recipe suggests the zest of 4 Meyer lemons.  We don’t keep lemons on hand, and it would be rather difficult to grow a lemon tree on the patio of our apartment, so I had to make do with something else.  I looked through our fridge and pantry and found lemon juice, lemon extract, and dried lemon zest.  I surveyed Chris, and he chose the dried lemon zest.  This substitution required a bit of math:

1 lemon yields about 1 Tbsp of fresh lemon zest.  As you can imagine, dried lemon zest is smaller than fresh lemon zest, so you can’t just do a straight conversion.  I looked it up and most sites suggest that you use 1/2 the amount of dried zest.  Since 1 Tbsp equals 3 tsp, that means that you need 1/2 Tbsp or 1 and 1/2 tsp of dried zest.

courtesy of asromanov

After figuring out how much to use, I measured the zest and added it to the mixture only to find that I had enough to cover just 1 lemon.  My choices were to keep going and risk creating a rather bland cookie, or to come up with a second substitution for  the remaining 3 lemons.  I opted for dried orange zest to complete the citrus flavor.  This choice was rather lucky, as I read later on that Meyer lemons taste like a cross between oranges and lemons.  I then looked at the recipe for the salt, but hesitated before proceeding.  Sea salt!  Another item that I did not have on hand.  Besides the absence of the ingredient in my pantry, I was a bit concerned about the use of sea salt in a cookie.  Sea salt has larger granules, and while great in cooking, it isn’t often used in baking.  After some consideration, I decided to go for a 1:1 substitution with kosher salt.  The granules of kosher salt are slightly larger than table salt, but slightly smaller than sea salt, which generally makes it a better option for baking.  Last but not least, I added the cardamom with my favorite copper-colored, fish teaspoons – no substitutions needed.

Next, it was time to whip together the butter and sugar.  This usually calls for an electric hand mixer, and sometimes a paddle attachment.  I don’t have a paddle attachment, but my mixer always seems to do just fine as is.  A couple of notes here:

If you have the foresight, you can put the butter out in a bowl while you mix the dry ingredients.  That way the butter will be closer to room temperature and softer when it comes time to whip it.  Also, these cookies should have a fluffier, cake-like texture, so the recipe really emphasizes this step, explaining that the sugar cuts little holes in the butter that will expand from the baking powder when heated.

Once I whipped the butter and sugar to a creamy texture, I added the eggs and vanilla.  The last step before scooping the dough to a cookie sheet, involved mixing the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients.  This is also an extremely important step:

During this mixing process, it’s important to keep the mixer on low.  Mixing flour with the rest of the ingredients, results in the formation of gluten, the protein that holds it all together.  The faster and longer you mix the ingredients, the more gluten you get.   You want just enough gluten for a cohesive baked good, but not so much that the texture becomes tough or dry.  The key to this is to mix the ingredients together until just after you see the last bit of flour disappear.  Any more than this and you risk losing that moist, fluffy goodness.

I mixed the dry ingredients into the wet, dividing it into 3 sections, to keep lumps to a minimum and make sure that everything was evenly dispersed.  Note: You can add ingredients in this order for cookies due to the small amount of liquid in the batter, but wetter batters like cupcakes are best mixed in the opposite order to avoid lumps and prevent over mixing.  I also made sure to keep my mixer on low and to stop mixing the moment that I could no longer see the white of the flour.

Besides the cardamom and Meyer lemon, this recipe appealed to me for it’s cracked, powdered sugar covered exterior.  The recipe recommends sifting the powdered sugar to make sure that there are no lumps.  With my love for baking, you might think that I have a sifter in my cupboard, but I don’t.  Instead of sifting the powdered sugar, I used the shaking method.  I vigorously shook the powdered sugar in its container for a few minutes, and then measured out a cup.  The result was smooth, lump-free powdered sugar.

Finally, I rolled the dough in the palm of my hand (I also have no clue what a number 40 scoop is), covered each one in powdered sugar, and arranged them on 2 cookie sheets.  As with most icings, toppings, and coatings, there was a ton of powdered sugar left at the end (I really need to remember to cut these ingredients in half to start).  I took some of the leftover powdered sugar, sprinkled it over the balls of dough, and put the sheets in my 350 degree preheated oven.

For those of you that think that I spoil Chris, you should see the mess that I leave for him to clean up after.  That’s the deal.  I bake him goodness, he cleans up.  The mess I made with the powdered sugar in this recipe made our kitchen look like it was hit by a snowstorm.  Once the cookies were in the oven, I called Chris over with my sticky, sugar covered hands.  He kept a safe distance while taking a picture to document the moment.

Twelve minutes later, we pulled the cookies out of the oven.  They smelled fantastic, but they didn’t look quite ready.  We decided to put them back in the oven for an extra 2 minutes.  We pulled them out, and then put them on a couple of cutting boards to cool (I also do not own cooling racks).  The recipe mentions that they will not brown, and this is absolutely true.  Trust your nose, not your eyes on this one.

We sampled the cookies a bit later, and we both loved them.  Chris even went back for seconds.  They turned out light and fluffy, and the cardamom citrus flavor really came through.  The substitutions, save the salt, were great successes.  In hindsight, due to the size of the granules, we should have cut the amount down a bit when using kosher salt instead of sea salt.  The salt flavor, while a bit strong, still balanced out the flavors well.  Besides the slight salt error, the color of the cookies was also a bit pale and unappealing.  Perhaps a bit of yellow dye would liven them up.  All in all we count this as another yummy baking adventure.  If one or both of us ever becomes obsessed with cardamom again, this cookie could certainly sate the craving.

Sounded Like Ceviche, Ended Up Like Deconstructed Thai Clam Chowder

22 Jan

Colleen had to travel up to LA this morning to check in with her thesis advisor. So I promised that I would sift through the interwebs and find a delicious meal to prepare when she returned (or that I could have ready for her upon her return should she arrive late). I went straight to Epicurious. If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend it if you like one thing: flavor. Epicurious started as a website, but they have excellent iPad and iPhone apps that are actually free. If you want to sync your curated lists between devices you can – you just have to donate $1.99 to their culinary cause.

I found a great recipe there that was exactly what I was looking for: Lime Spiked Seafood Stew with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I love seafood. I love spices. Colleen eats seafood. It was the perfect match. I swung by the store, nabbed all the ingredients including: a Serrano Pepper, Cilantro, Heavy Cream and Red Onions. But to start were the sweet potatoes.

**Edit/Disclaimer** I’m attempting to write this blog using only my iPhone to take and edit images with Camera+ and to write the posts using WordPress’ app on my iPad. Still getting “the ropes”, so the first publish was a mistake… carrying on now….

Colleen played sous-chef this evening and peeled the sweet potatoes. Then I sliced them down to about 1/2″ pieces. The ease of the peeling process due to the size of the sweet potato amazed her. She usually struggles to hold on to their smaller, brown cousins.  During this time a baking tray had heated in the oven. When the temperature hit 400 degrees, I spread all the slices out on the tray and popped it into the oven. The recipe didn’t specify that you should coat the pan with oil, or toss the potatoes in oil – but I can tell you (spoiler) do it! Otherwise they stick horribly when you actually try to remove them…you know…to eat them. I set the timer for 25 minutes and then went about prepping the rest of the ingredients.

With the onions sliced, celery diced (not too finely), and limes juiced, I turned to the fish. I took the Salmon and Scallops out of the fridge and slices them into 3/4″ pieces. I tossed the seafood with black pepper and some of the lime juice and started to saute the rest of the ingredients.

Things started to speed up now. By this time there was about 7 minutes left on the Sweet Potatoes (which were starting to smell delicious). I added the cream to the pan, and cranked up the heat until it was boiling. I folded the seafood into the mixture and then watched the timer for 5 minutes. When the timer rang, I poured the last of the lime juice into the stew and removed the potatoes from the oven.

Colleen plated the sweet potatoes into a grid of 6 slices each. I served up a steaming mound of stew on the potatoes and added extra sauce (because in reality, food is just an excuse for sauces anyhow, right?). I finished the dish by adding a sprinkling of fresh cilantro to the plates. Next time we’ll add the cilantro into the stew and let it mix up a bit (it was a bit too fresh, and the texture stuck out too much from the rest of the dish). The end result was delicious. The sweetness of the potatoes combined almost perfectly with the spiciness of the Serrano peppers, and the cilantro was reminiscent of Thai curries I’ve had in the past. Next time we may try adding coconut to the mix.

Oh! No meal is complete without adding a complimentary beverage of some sort. Based on some of the comments on Epicurious I bought a Prosecco called Lunetta from the store. It was a tart, effervescent white wine that exploded in your mouth when you drank it. It was the perfect companion to this meal. You’d take a sip and then take a bite of the stew. The tartness of the Prosecco (which was almost painful at first) led right into the spiciness of the stew, but then mellowed to include the sweetness of the underlying potatoes.

Final note to self: Serve this in a bowl in the future and grab a spoon. The broth is delicious, but doesn’t thicken. You have two choices: overcook the seafood or thicken the broth. I’ll stick with a soup-like sauce and not overcooked fish (which were cooked to perfection).

Breaking in Our Creuset Casserole

16 Jan

So my wonderful, fabulous brother Scott bought us a caribbean blue Le Creuset casserole for the holidays.  Up until now we’ve been too busy to break it in, but tonight was the night.  I looked around online for some inspiration, ideas, and recipes, and happened upon a post for Moroccan chicken with lemon and olives. I pondered how to edit the recipe, omitting the whole chicken or chicken thighs, while Chris begged me to give him some dark meat.  In the end, I had to admit that slow cooking breasts just wouldn’t have the same result.  I ran to the store for some missing ingredients, ran back for my credit card (doh!), ran back to the store to buy the items, and returned home with roughly 2 lbs of chicken thighs (secretly hoping that slow cooking would fix the texture/bone issue that I have with such meat).

At about 5 pm, I mixed together the spices (paprika, cumin, tumeric, ginger, and pepper), rubbed them into the thighs and let them sit for an hour while I baked banana cupcakes for dessert.  While I dealt with the chicken and cupcakes, my amazing sous-chef did all the prep work – shaking garlic between two bowls to peel it (Shake Garlic To Peel – such a man!), dicing the garlic, chopping the onion (and crying), chopping the parsley and cilantro, and slicing the lemons.

After an hour of sitting in the spices, I warmed a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the casserole and browned the chicken (skin side down).  After browning the chicken, Chris insisted that we use our new pasta tongs to flip the chicken before adding the garlic and onions.  We then covered the casserole and let it cook on medium low for about 15 minutes.  Chris claimed that the heavy lid wouldn’t let anything get out, but a fast column of steam blew through one side of the pot.  Chris jumped to the rescue, adjusting the lid and minimizing the escaping air.

While the chicken sat cooking, I took the lemons (artfully sliced by Chris) and cooked them slowly in olive oil, salt and sugar.  This would serve as a substitute for the otherwise seven-day endeavor of preserving the lemon for the dish.

We finally added the remaining ingredients, pitted green olives, raisin, and our substitute for preserved lemons,  to the casserole, covered the pot, lowered the heat, and let it slow cook for another 30 minutes.

We placed the chicken over some pine nut couscous and added cilantro and parsley as a final touch – a forgotten afterthought in actuality.  We sat down with our plates and the remaining cook’s juice (an unlabeled bottle of red wine made by none other than Chris’ dad).  The meal was tender and flavorful (and the meat was easy to cut away from the bone without any globs of fat left to ruin the texture!).  This one will definitely be filed away for a repeat performance :).

A Good Use For Blackened Bananas

16 Jan

Every week we buy a bunch of bananas for breakfast.  And inevitably one or more end up as a gooey mess that we throw away because we forget to eat them in time.  But every so often if we remember, we make a delicious treat from these long yellow fruits.  This is one such treat.  Colleen has filled my tummy with tasty banana muffins (on multiple occasions), but this time we felt like something a little different.  So Colleen searched the interwebs high and low for a cupcake recipe with which to use these soon to be deceased monkey toys.  She found cupcakes with chocolate, peanut butter, lemon, honey, rutabaga (wtf) and more – but we set our sights on caramel and cinnamon. We decided to use Colleen’s new cupcake pans that come included with a handy spike in each cup, on which we planned to skewer a caramel candy.

The recipe had some odd proportions and instructions, which led Colleen to mix the sugar in with the dry ingredients instead of whipping it with the butter.  We weren’t really sure of the implications of this error, but went forward anyhow.

The butter, while light and fluffy, certainly didn’t cream together as smoothly as it does with the sugar added in.  And the egg didn’t mix well with the butter alone.  But once we added all the ingredients together, the resulting batter was business as usual (for a cupcake).  To top it off, we spiked the batter with a generous dose (ok, a Tbsp) of spiced rum.  Because we’re classy we used “Admiral Nelson’s” spiced rum, which was $5 cheaper than The Captain.  Admirals are ranked higher than captains right?

We poured a small amount of batter into the cups and then placed a caramel on each of their spikes.  We covered each caramel completely with the remaining batter.

350 degrees and 18 minutes later.  Well. 18 minutes…and then another 2 minutes…and then we swapped it around inside the oven (because the back cupcakes were browning faster than the front ones).  Finally another 2 minutes and voilà, beautiful golden, aromatic cupcakes wafting banana through the apartment.

We whipped up a cinnamon buttercream frosting.  It’s a blend of, you guessed it, butter, cream (cheese) and loads of sugar.  I filled a decorating bag and went to work icing the cupcakes.  Colleen has nothing to do with why they look like how I wrap my Christmas presents…  The frosting tasted delicious and spicy and there was way, way too much to use it all on the cupcakes.  This seems to happen every single time we make icing for cupcakes.

The finished product!  We saved them for dessert, but my stomach wasn’t feeling super so Colleen ate them and I watched with envy.  Colleen reports, they’re absolutely delicious (moist, sweet and spicy).  The caramel candy wasn’t as gooey as we had hoped, maybe next time we’ll try a caramel cream.  Later we had to shoo Stoli, one of our three cats, away from the platter, but not before she claimed one of the cupcakes for her own.  While we may let her keep rodents, she did not get to keep the cupcake.  Kitteh dibeetees iz srs bznass.  Srsly.

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