Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Cupcake Saturday

Araminta and Lucinda were ready bright and early to have our first cupcake lesson, but sadly, it hadn’t occurred to me to get the butter out the night before. Ah well. It was softened pretty quickly and we began our classic cookthrough of Cupcakes: Luscious bakeshop favorites from your home kitchen with the very first cupcake – vanilla with vanilla buttercream frosting.

Aramita Cupcake Araminta mixing the dry ingredients. The girls need to wear nitrile gloves to handle this wheat and dairy, and Lucinda isn’t able to be near the flour until it’s incorporated into the moist ingredients.

002Lucinda mans the mixer

The cupcakes turned out a wee dry, but had a good flavor. I took two bites to check :-). The consensus was for girlie decorations on the piped-on frosting.

The only thing that didn’t work for us in this recipe was the method for making buttercream. We consulted our in-house expert, Clara, who looked over the recipe and said that she’d tried that method twice and didn’t have success herself at it. Sugar and egg whites are heated to pasteurize the raw egg, then this mixture is beaten until stiff peaks form. After over a half hour of beating, we finally gave up at the soft peak stage and felt grateful we’d achieved that! We’ll give the recipe one more try next Saturday, then if we have similar results, we’ll move to other methods of doing buttercream. 
All in all, a good solid vanilla cupcake. It was tasty but fairly utilitarian.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Change in Menu

Tonight, my first “Vendredis Fran├žais”, had to be cancelled due to lack of thaw! I was on a tight schedule today and the cornish hens were rock solid. I do my menus two weeks at a time, though, and was able to quickly swap out next Wednesday’s “Wild Card” for tonight’s dinner. We had, again cooking from  The Union Square Cafe Cookbook, “Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Herbed Goat Cheese”, with “Peach-Fig Chutney” to the side. It was a crazy busy day with a long trip to pick up daughter Clara from Fiddle Camp, quick get dinner together, then long trip back to Fiddle Camp for the last day concert. Clara made a guest appearance in the kitchen to assist since we were rushing on her account – good thing, too, as we just did get it done in time to leave.

The point here is that this dish was totally quick, elegant, and do-able. The chutney could easily have been done ahead of time. Instructions said to “serve room temperature”, so this could have been cooked, refrigerated overnight, and brought to room temperature as the chicken was made and stuffed. Actually, the chicken breasts are supposed to rest stuffed from one hour to overnight, so the entire thing could be done the day before. We served with another green salad – kinda boring, but we have that freshly made blue cheese dressing and it’s hard to resist!


Four fresh herbs are diced: basil, tarragon, chives, and parsley. Latter two freshly harvested from backyard. These are combined with a soft chevre, olive oil, salt, and pepper; this comprises the “stuffing”. It was somewhat amusing that the list of ingredients just lists “freshly ground black pepper” and the instructions tell you to “use half of the salt and pepper” in the cheese blend. Errr . . . half?


A slit/pocket is cut into the thickest portion of the chicken breast and the cheese mixture is stuffed into this pocket, and one is supposed to close the opening with a toothpick. Naturally we would not have any toothpicks! Well . . . I did remember that Sophia had some fancy umbrella toothpicks just because she loves “adorable”. Not standard issue, but they worked, even if the pan looked a little bizarre!


The stuffed breasts were just pan-done in butter and olive oil. Easy, easy, quick. The only part that took a little time was mincing the herbs. I realize that I could throw them in the coffee/spice grinder, but I’m working on making my knife skills quicker.
Clara, in the meanwhile, put together the Peach-Fig Chutney. Cooking vinegar always smells . . . like cooking vinegar. But once we got past that, the peach/fig smell (and this used tamarind paste and pickled ginger as well, ohhhhh my gracious what a smell) was amazing.


This was delicious. Second home-run from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Try at Chicken Marsala

I would really like to master Chicken Marsala. Didn’t get there tonight, but at least moved in the right direction. I made the recipe from Salt to Taste: The Key to Confident, Delicious Cooking , which (yep, here comes the part about Amazon reviewers again) is recommended as a book to help improve skills – reviewers commonly mention reaching for this book over and over.

After first cutting some fresh rosemary from the backyard (and feeding some to the goats, who love rosemary), I gathered ingredients. We had the hardest time finding marsala, and never did find the dry marsala called for in the recipe. It wasn’t an overly sweet marsala, either, so could have been worse.


I used several sorts of mushrooms, and tried Costco’s chicken breasts. They didn’t strike me as super fresh. When I pounded them thin, they sort of macerated in an unpleasant way.

The mushrooms get pan roasted, the chicken pounded flat, then the finely chopped rosemary is patted onto the chicken with salt and pepper. The chicken pieces are then lightly floured and cooked on the stovetop. I used coconut flour to make this a Paleo dish.


The cooked chicken gets set aside, then the mushrooms are added back into the pan, which is deglazed with the marsala (which is cooked off entirely) then a bit of chicken stock and butter added to the pan for a bit and it’s done.

It was good, but I need to keep trying to perfect it. There was a bit of dryness to the coating, which might have been the use of coconut flour instead of all-purpose flour, but I’m not ready to concede that point at this time!

The book was enjoyable, though. Again it was my first foray into a book off the shelves. It does seem to be a book that has a good balance of in-recipe teaching and usability. I’ll enjoy experimenting from it another time.

I also want to share what Araminta made tonight for her dinner (and Lucinda’s). With their severely limited ingredient list, she made “Meatza” – doesn’t it look good? They can’t do tomatoes, so she made a white sauce using hemp milk, rice flour, a bit of potato starch, and garlic. No cheese, of course, and the “crust” is ground beef seasoned with those pizza-type spices that they’re safe for. The toppings are olives, pineapple chunks, mushrooms, and caramelized onion.


A big green salad, and another night’s a wrap.


Two from Trattoria

I know I’ve designated Mondays as “Marcella Mondays”, but, well . . . Patricia Wells' Trattoria: Simple and Robust Fare Inspired by the Small Family Restaurants of Italy was calling out to me! I have a terrible weakness for perusing cookbook reviews on Amazon late at night. Big mistake. Which is part of the point of what I’m trying to do this year – cook out of all of these delightful books and expand my skillset.

Tonight we had “Penne with Vodka and Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce” and “White Bean Salad with Fresh Sage and Thyme”. I chose the latter because my husband does love a bean dish, and you should just see my herb bed this summer! The sage, thyme, and oregano are just crazy-big, and I have nice parsley, chives, and rosemary as well.

The white beans simmered in a pot for an hour with herbs and veg:

It was tasty, but my beans were not the freshest and despite giving them an extra 45 minutes, they could’ve been more cooked yet. Still, most of the pan was eaten with pleasure:


The penne was just fabulous. Really over-the-top good. Complicated and deep, unexpectedly spiced. Patricia Wells says this dish is her husband’s favorite, and there is no mystery involved in this preference! My own husband is not fond of pasta at all, but was a sport about it and thought it was “fine” after the addition of hot sauce :-). We used gluten-free pasta so that Sophia and I were able to eat it as a minor cheat. I used Lundberg Organic Brown Rice Pasta Penne -- 12 oz , which is not always the best brand, frankly. In a brightly-flavored sauce like this it is fine, but a delicate white sauce won't mask the somewhat cardboard-y flavor. What was an unexpected delight about this dish for me was that it is quite close to a favorite of mine pre-cancer; a local restaurant's Tortellini Aurora. The latter doesn't have the red-pepper-flake kick to it, so next time I make this, will probably try it without the red pepper flakes (just to see how close I can get to my restaurant favorite).


I am very excited about trying other dishes from this wonderful cookbook! It is older, but unless you want to be on the forefront of what is going on in food-dom (in which case you want to buy Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking , don’t you ::wink::), this is the sort of book that puts delicious food on the family table.


Salmon with Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette

For our inaugural “Sweetheart Sunday” that guy I’ll call “The Patriarch” and I made “Pan-Roasted Salmon with Citrus-Balsamic Vinaigrette” from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook: 160 Favorite Recipes from New York's Acclaimed Restaurant. It was a fun, simple salmon treatment that got rave reviews from the family – we’ll definitely make this one again.
071Basil, mint, parsley; freshly squeezed orange juice and zest

100  The Patriarch spoons the marinade over the salmon – he did this while cooking, as well.

We served this with a mixed greens & shiitake salad with homemade blue cheese dressing. Our Costco has some delicious blue cheese; that’s one of those times where the quality of the ingredient directly affects the quality of the result, so I’ll spend a bit more on blue cheese.
This was the first dish we’d tried out of this cookbook. Amazon reviewers raved about it, and I’m glad to have found an inexpensive copy. The fish was tender and delicious, very briefly on the stovetop, then cooked in the oven before the marinade was added, then on the stovetop again in the marinade.
I’ve added affiliate links for this book, but do what I did and buy it used – I only buy cookbooks when they drop below $2!

Adventure Begins! This Week's Menu

Up this week: