Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Twist on a Summer Classic

Why does summertime make me think of potato salad?

Eh, no matter. love of the mayo-based concoction has waned in recent years.  I don't know why - maybe I'm getting older.  Or getting fatter.  Or maybe I just don't like mayonnaise much anymore (except on sandwiches).  Whatever the reason, I usually bypass the heavy, creamy salads...and that includes potato salad.

Until today.  For your pleasure, I present a new take on a old favorite.

3 to 4 cups of peeled potatoes, cut into 3/4" dice

Bring water and potatoes to a boil in a medium saucepan for 5 to 8 minutes, until potatoes are tender, but not mushy.  Drain water from potatoes and lay the cooked veg out on a cookie sheet.

1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)

Bring peas and salted water to a boil for 4 to 8 minutes (peas will be tender).  Put 1/3 cup of the cooked peas into a large bowl and mash thoroughly.  Whisk in the following ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried dill (2 tsp fresh)
1/4 tsp salt

Add in remaining peas and potatoes; toss gently.  I added some chopped scallions to the top, because I needed to get rid of them, but hard-boiled eggs would work well too.  Cover the salad and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Double check taste before serving and correct with additional salt, pepper, and/or vinegar.

And voila! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let Them Eat (Cup)Cake!

It's good to know, in these difficult tween-age times, that the apple fritter doesn't fall too far from the tree.

My daughter is eleven...and that means every day brings something different.  Every hour, for that matter.  Sometimes she's sweet and kind and beautiful, and sometimes she can be the opposite.

Last night, though, she was looking through this book, A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes, which I'd checked out from the library (not so much because I wish to actually create the cupcakes, but because I like looking at the elaborate pictures and dream of a day when I can masterfully work with fondant and edible plastic).  And she then asks me: Mom, can I make the Crumb Cake cupcakes?  She further presses her case: We have all the ingredients. 

Of course I will let her.

Thankfully, the recipe wasn't too complicated.  She made the crumb topping first, then the cupcake batter, and I assisted only at the end, pouring the batter into the muffin tins (and this was more to expedite the process than anything...dinner was almost ready).  And of course, they were delicious...

...especially reheated...the next morning...with a cup of coffee...

Okay, so the bottom half of the cupcake is a little blurry.  This does not affect its taste.

I admit, my kitchen was not immaculate when my daughter was finished.  There was flour everywhere, crumb topping strewn across the floor, and my Breville was in dire need of a wipe down.   There are some things worth sacrificing!

For your culinary pleasure...

Crumb Cake Cupcakes (makes 18 cupcakes)

For the streusel:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter/margarine, melted
2/3 cup sugar (or substitute)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
1 1/4 all-purpose flour
(Feel free to cut this in half...we covered the cupcake as you see above and had plenty of the topping leftover...but if you're a streusel fanatic...)

Combine melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, salt.  Add flour until mixture "clumps" when squeezed with fingers.  Set aside.

For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter/margarine, at room temp, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar (or substitute)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
Optional: fruit or nuts (totaling 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper cups.  Whisk flour, baking powder and soda, and salt to aerate.  Set aside.

Beat butter in mixer until creamy (two minutes), and add sugar gradually.  Beat three minutes, scraping sides down once or twice.  Beat in extracts.  Beat in one egg at a time, scraping down after each time.  Add flour in four additions, alternating with the sour cream.  Begin and end with flour, stopping when only a few streaks of flour show.  Fold in fruit/nuts, if using.

Divide batter evenly in cupcake liners, top with streusel.  Bake about 22 minutes (although check earlier if you've not used fruit or nuts).  Cool pans for five minutes, then remove to wire racks for further cooling.

Thank you, Kirby.

Friday, June 8, 2012

God Save the Queen!

With Chocolate-Chip Scones! 

A scone is classified as a bread, but to me, they seem more of a biscuit...which a bread too.  Scones originated in Scotland and southern England...and they are not to be confused, according to Wikipedia, with tea cakes and currant buns.  But, stupid me, I can hardly resist clicking the lateral links there at Wikipedia, and after reading entries for both tea cakes and currant buns, I can't be anything BUT confused.

Anyway, back to scones.  As you know, the Summer Olympics are being held in London this year.  And the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was celebrated this year too.  In commemoration, then, with two events that I am largely disinvolved with - it's scone time!

I happened to have an extra half-bag of chocolate chips sitting around, and that's why I chose to add them.  However, I've also got in a request from my daughter to make scones again, this time with frozen blueberries (also available to me at present).  The book I lifted the recipe from, Mom's Big Book of Baking, also has a recipe for Oatmeal Scones, which would make a nice match with a fruit jam, I think.

Chocolate-Chip Scones (courtesy of Lauren Chattman in the book linked above)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled

Cut the butter into small cubes and place in freezer for additional chill.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

In a mixer, combine the dry ingredients and add in the chilled butter.  Mix on low speed until mixture looks like coarse meal.  For me and my Breville, this took about four minutes.  Then, stir in:

1 cup of chocolate chips
3/4 nuts (Note: I didn't have nuts, so I used oatmeal - it worked well!)

Then, stir in until JUST moistened:

2 large, slightly beaten eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla 

The book says to lightly flour a working surface to roll out and cut the dough...but I found "moderately flour" worked better for me, since the dough is pretty sticky.  Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a six-inch circle.  Cut each circle into six wedges and place on a cookie sheet a half-inch apart.  Note: I lined my sheet with parchment paper, but the next time I make these, I think I'll try simply greasing my sheets.  I like a golden-brown bottom on my baked goods, which I didn't get with the paper.  

Sprinkle a mixture of 2 Tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp cinnamon on top of the scones.  Or don''s optional.  I'll probably try some turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) next time I make these.

Bake until golden, about 15-18 minutes. 

Eat these yummy things with tea, coffee, milk, jam, clotted know, whatever you've got sitting around. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Favorite Dairy Product?

This is a tough question.  It's similar to asking the epic question: Favorite wizard - Gandalf or Dumbledore?

For me, though, it's: Favorite Dairy Product- Cheese or Yogurt?

And while I love the versatility of yogurt as a breakfast food and a baking ingredient, I must, in the end, opt for cheese.  For the endless variety.

But here's what is a little sad to me: that for us Americans, cheese is SO limited.  I know I was fully grown before I knew that "fresh" mozzarella was not that semi-dried, shredded, bagged stuff produced by Kraft, et al.  And I know I was inexcusably old when I discovered Parmesan cheese's natural form.

I know.  I know.  Please pick your jaws up off the floor now.  It's shocking, but not surprising, I think.  As a child, we ate such exotic, foreign foods like tacos and La Choy chow mein.  I cannot imagine my mom buying a block of Gouda...and I cannot imagine my dad being willing to try it.  I don't intend to libel my parents - that's just the way it was.  They were more concerned about affording decent food and a warm shelter for us, as opposed to opening the world of foreign cheeses to us.  God Bless Them.

But, since my husband and I are easily able to meet the first two needs (and others), why not branch into foreign cheese?  Why ask why?  Just do it.  (Genius advertising jingles!)

The last couple of days, I've taken a few pages from the French manual of eating, and served a plate of fruit and cheese to my family before the "main dish" (also known as "leftovers").  My local grocery store carried these three guys:

Camembert from France (cow's milk)

Gruyere from Switzerland (cow's milk)

Manchego from Spain (sheep's milk)

As it turns out, true connoisseurs eat the rind on the Camembert (cah mem beh).  However, our family (neophytes) liked the taste better without.  The cheese itself seemed bland and flavorless to me, but perhaps that would be called mild?  I don't know the exact terminology yet.

Next up was the Gruyere, and the smell and flavor could not be any more different.  The Camb is soft, the Gruy is hard.  The Camb is mild, the Gruy is not.  The Camb has a slight grass smell, the Gruy is quite pungent.  This was actually my and my husband's favorite choice.

The kids, on the other hand, unanimously chose the Manchego as their favorite this round.  Milder-tasting than the Gruyere, the Manchego did have more personality than the Camembert.   I can see why they favored it.

In short, a great time and a great culinary experiment.  We definitely will be trying new cheeses.  The weirder, the our motto this summer!

But, a disclaimer: it can get expensive.  Foreign cheeses cost more money than Kraft Singles.  Just so you know.  Also, the French don't eat a whole block of Brie in one sitting, and neither did we.  That's just common sense.