Monday, April 30, 2007

Thirty in Ninety v2.0

Wow! Thanks everyone for the great support while I suffered... I mean embarked upon losing 30lbs in 90 days, per my doctor's orders!! It has meant a lot to me that my readers have sent so many notes and made so many nice comments of encouragement. As you may also remember, there was the added incentive of MBH offering to buy me the mixer of my dreams, the Kitchen Aid Professional 5 Plus 12 Cup Bowl Lift Mixer in Empire Red if I lost 32lbs in the 90 days.

I had my follow up doctor's visit last Friday and I am happy to report that the official doctor's office scale said I lost 31lbs! My blood pressure was way down from 165/100 to 120/70. My blood sugar looked good considering the person who called to remind me of my appointment didn't tell me the doctor wanted to do a fasting blood test so I had my normal morning coffee and breakfast before going to my appointment. My cholesterol level I will know the results of later this week but I have no reason not to suspect that it too hasn't gone down. My doctor does want me to continue to lose more weight but has agreed that it appears I am doing well on my own; meaning no medicines for now. However, she wants to see me again in 90 days to verify I'm still doing well or else Lipitor here I come.

So, since I have ninety more days to go and both MBH and I, as well as my doctor, agree that I could stand to lose some more weight and I didn't quite get to my 32lbs to win my bright red mixer, I am announcing Thirty in Ninty v2.0! My goal is to lose a total of 30 more pounds by August 17, 2007; the date of my next doctor's appointment. MBH has agreed to extend the offer of the mixer provided I lose a total of at least 60lbs from this past ninety days and the upcoming ninety days. I'm secretly hoping for more...

I'm going to make a few more adjustments to my daily eating habits now that spring has arrived and the farmer's markets are starting to open again in New England. There is one just up the hill from my place in Fairfield, CT that I will be frequenting for fresh veggies and fruits as well as one in downtown Belmont, MA that is open on Saturday mornings for when I'm in Cambridge. The one here in Fairfield has the added bonus of being within walking distance; meaning exercise and fresh food in one fell swoop!!! One other added bonus of shopping at the farmers markets is this will help my plan to eat more local grown foods to help reduce MBH and my global warming footprint. But more on that later...

Guess it was good thing I just purchased the Best of Cooking Light.

White Bean Salad Nicoise
from Best of Cooking Light

Makes 6 - 8 Servings

4 ounces haricots verts, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
4 ounces trimmed arugula
1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 (7-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

To prepare salad, cook haricots verts in boiling water 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and plunge into ice water, and drain. Place the haricots verts in a large bowl. Add kalamata olives and the next 4 ingredients (kalamata olives through baby spinach), and toss gently to combine.To prepare dressing, combine lemon juice, parsley, basil, mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle dressing over salad, and toss gently to coat.

Calories: 86 per 2 cup serving

Sunday, April 29, 2007

If I Ever See a Chocolate Crepe Again It Will Be Too Soon

Every once in a while a recipe comes into your life that is like that bright red swimsuit in the copy of the latest fashion magazine or the window of the department store downtown. A good idea in theory but when you try it on.. Let's just say like that red swimsuit, some recipes should just remain pretty eye candy; as was the case with this month's Daring Baker Caper.

It all began so innocently. Brilynn from Jumbo Empanadas suggested we bake the crepe cake of her dreams, the Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart.

Bri had been oogling this recipe and causing the rest of us in the group to salivate over the idea of luscious, rich chocolate crepes with a creamy layer of hazelnut filling between each crepe layer all topped with a shiny sinful fudgy frosting. Bonus round was we got to play with spun sugar and hazelnuts! Oh yum!!! What possibly could go wrong? After all, we are the Daring Bakers. Oh, let's see here... JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING!

I'm not a Martha Stewart hater. I admit, she appears a bit snooty and does sometimes take a "holier than thou" tone but all in all, I admire her for building the type of empire she has and for actually having the brass balls to play in the men's end of the corporate shark pond. I have her Baking Handbook and I've made a few things from there that have turned out wonderful (biscotti is to die for). I also have a fondness for crepes. When I'm in Paris, I make sure I have at least one meal from a Breton creperie as I always stay in a small hotel about ten steps from the Metro stop Vavin in Montparnasse, the section of Paris filled with creperies. So, I was very excited to finally get a chance to make my own crepes as it was something I had never done before. Based upon the picture of the crepe cake and all the steps involved in the recipe, I expected this to be a bit more challenging than the Red Velvet Cake from last month but I didn't expect it to turn into the nightmare it became...

The evilness started right away with the crepes. The batter recipe calls for over a stick of butter, 8 oz of chocolate, 6 eggs AND 2 1/2 cups of milk and only a cup and half of flour. Now, as I've said, I've never made crepes before but I have made quite a few pancakes and read a few recipes for crepes (Julia Child anyone?) and this recipe seemed out of balance; too much oil and liquid and not enough stuff to bind it all together. But, hey who am I to question the Domestic Diva and her army of test kitchen staff?

The first time I made this batter and tried to make the crepes was an unmitigated disaster. I had crepes sticking to the pan, my fingers, tearing and not holding shape. I used the entire batch of batter and got exactly one pathetic looking crepe

Ok, I thought. It is me. I'm obviously doing something wrong here. Maybe I'm using the wrong kind of pan. So I made another batch of batter and switched pans from my non-descript wide omelette pan to a french crepe type pan and the results were even worse...

UGHHH!!!! What was I doing wrong??!! Querying my fellow DBers, I found that I was not the only person struggling with the crepes. There were horror stories of burnt fingers, gooey batter stuck to pans that required three day soaks, wasted weekends and from the sounds of the few comments, some new expletives based around Martha and crepes were invented and flung around kitchens all around the world (a few crepes too!) Not to be deterred and with the encouragement of a my fellow masochistic crepe makers, I decided to call it a day and try again the next weekend later. Last weekend, I came home and while MBH puttered around on a computer program, I wasted some more milk, flour and eggs; as I got the exact same results, a brown gooey mess stuck to my pan, crepes that fell apart. The crepes were so awful I considered robbing a Harvard Square creperie for my crepes.

This weekend however, I decided that after most everyone else had reported the same failures with the crepes it couldn't possibly be me but rather had to be the recipe. Sure enough, with the exception of two or three Daring Bakers, a few adjustments to the recipe had been made by the other Daring Bakers who had succeeded with their crepes; more flour, less butter, don't grease the pan with butter, use a bit more batter than the recipe called for, and let them cook longer. So, deciding that Martha's crepe recipe was just wrong, I added more flour (about 1/2 a cup more), took out one egg, and 3 Tbsp of butter. I also switched pans to MBH's fantastic omelette pan and used vegetable oil lightly brushed on the pan instead of melted butter and guess what??!! I made crepes!!!

Not as many as the recipe called for (about 20 instead of 30) but they were crepes. They looked like crepes. They smelled like crepes and they tasted like crepes.

The next two steps of the recipe came together pretty well. I'd already had success with the hazelnut creme from the previous weekend that by all reports is very good schmeered on top of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream and as the "jelly" component of a PBJ sandwiches. This week it went well again. I had to forgo using whole hazelnuts for the sugared hazelnuts this weekend. I used the last of my whole ones last weekend and like the hazelnut creme they found their way into other uses. This weekend I couldn't find whole hazelnuts at my local store so I used crushed hazelnuts and made hazelnut brittle that I broke up into several pieces. I had the crepes and creme layered in about 20 minutes. Feeling pretty good about how things were progressing with my crepe cake, I decided to call it a day and finish the cake in the morning.

There is only word that comes to mind now, hubris. Hubris the great leveler of all men, women and boiled chocolate frostings... Friday night, feeling pretty darn cocky and frankly just wanting to get this friggin' challenge over, I decided to do something I knew I shouldn't, make boiled frosting at 11pm at night. MBH had fallen asleep and I lay there tossing and turning thinking I should just get this over with. So I got up, went into the kitchen, and made the frosting. Or rather burned the frosting. I can't blame the recipe for this one. I have only my proud self to blame. One really should keep their eye on a pan full of heavy creme, light corn syrup, and salt when one is making frosting. Also, adding 2 cups of water and 1/2 a cup of vinegar to a hardened blob of charred heavy cream, light corn syrup and salt, letting it soak overnight and then letting it come to a slow boil will get your 2 quart Caphalon sauce pan back to rights!

Yesterday morning, after cleaning out my sauce pan, I made the frosting watching the pan with a hawk's eye. The frosting came together nicely this time and after about 20 minutes it was ready to pour over the crepe cake.

My crepe cake doesn't look as nice as Martha's. It sags at one end but after the HELL I went through to get the crepes I don't care. I got the crepes done, the cake is assembled and ready for the final step, sprinkling the hazelnut brittle.

You'll notice this is only half a crepe cake. This is because I decided to go for height vs shape. I spread the hazelnut cream on each crepe and folded it over to build up height and It resulted in a very pretty effect when I sliced the cake.

This cake was the most difficult cake I've ever made. There was a lot of fustration due to a bad recipe but once I got the crepes the result was actually quite good; especially the hazelnut cream filling.

I'm not discouraged by crepes and I'm actually eager to try them again but you can bet your sweet bippy they won't be made with a Martha recipe!

I encourage you to go read the rest of my extremely nimble and persevering Daring Bakers posts about the Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake by clicking on the links to their blogs over on my side bar! I'm sure you'll get some laughs and see quite a few chocolate crepes...



Hazelnut Cream Filling

Serving: Makes about 8 cups

  • 2/3 Cup heavy cream

  • 6 large egg whites

  • 1 2/3 Cups sugar

  • 1 3/4 Cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened

  • 1 Teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1/3 Cup hazelnut cream, (available from Whole Foods Market, or Nutella

  • 1 salt

  • Put cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour.

  • Whisk egg whites and sugar in the clean bowl of mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees;, 2 to 3 minutes.

  • Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment; beat on high speed until slightly cooled and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 5 minutes.

  • Fit mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Add vanilla, hazelnut cream, and salt; mix until mixture comes together, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.

  • Friday, April 27, 2007

    Thirty in Ninety Judgement Day

    Today is the day I go back to visit my doctor in regards to my "Thirty in Ninety" plan. I'm a bit nervous because I just stepped on the scale at home and according to my scale I've lost 30.5lbs in a little over ninety days. But we all know the scales in doctor offices...

    Regardless, I'm proud of myself for having stuck with my plan of losing 2.5lbs a week. It hasn't been easy, especially with my Daring Bakers throwing out recipes for things like Toasted Coconut and Banana Ice Cream and Bacon Brittle; not to mention our monthly challenges and then there is everything Mimi over at French Kitchen in America cooks.

    I've learned that I can take one bite of my sweet and savory creation and then give the rest away to the folks at my office, my landlady in Connecticut and MBH's work colleagues. I've increased the number of fresh fruits and vegetables I eat daily and I've slowed down my eating pace and linger longer during meal times. All in all, it has been a pretty positive experience. I still prefer full fatted half and half for my morning coffee to the fat free or worse yet skim milk. Same goes for milk but I've compromised; skim milk for my cereal, half and half with a dash of milk for my coffee.

    And, just so you don't think this has been all deprivation and no good eating going on; here is one of my favourite recipes for a decadent but light version of chocolate bread pudding.

    Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding
    From "The Best of Cooking Light"

    Makes 2 Servings @ 319 Calories per serving

    1 3/4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed Hawaiian sweet bread
    2/3 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
    1 tablespoon Kahlúa (coffee-flavored liqueur)
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    Cooking spray
    1 ounce semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    2 tablespoons frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed

    Preheat oven to 350°.Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until toasted. Remove bread from oven; decrease oven temperature to 325°.

    Combine milk and next 5 ingredients (milk through egg) in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add bread, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

    Divide half of bread mixture evenly between 2 (6-ounce) ramekins or custard cups coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with half of chocolate. Divide remaining bread mixture between ramekins; top with remaining chocolate.

    Place ramekins in an 8-inch square baking pan; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake at 325° for 35 minutes or until set. Serve each pudding warm with 1 tablespoon whipped topping.

    I use homemade Portuguese sweet bread for these as as it doesn't contain all the candied fruit and frosting the store bought Hawaiian bread does (thus less calories but not much as Portuguese sweet bread normally calls for 4-6 eggs). I lighten it further with egg substitute and skim milk and I skip the frozen fat free topping as I dislike those types of toppings. Instead, I treat myself to a small dollop of real creme fraiche. If you do that, this recipe will have only 275 calories.

    Thursday, April 26, 2007

    Small Microwave Issues

    The other night, while making risotto, I discovered a nifty little feature of the small microwave I'm using to cook with while I'm in Connecticut. It has a safety feature called "auto shut-off" that engages when the temperature inside the microwave gets too high or there is too much steam. Apparently, in the case of my microwave, that temperature and steam tolerance is pretty low.

    I was IMing MBH while the rice and chicken stock were in the middle of an uncovered nine minute on medium-high cooking stage when I noticed there was no sound coming from the microwave. Funny, I thought to myself as I hadn't remembered getting a "beep" and when I looked over at the microwave I discovered why...the microwave was black. No lights, no noise, no glass plate going round and round. Nothing. I thought maybe I had tripped the circuit but then the small fridge that is on the same circuit came on; eliminating that possibility (good thing too because I realised I had no idea WHERE the circuit breakers for that part of the house were).I thought maybe it was the outlet. Unplugging the fridge and plugging in the microwave resulted in no lights, no beeping, no glass plate going round and round. Hum... I know! I'll look in the manual and see if there is a "troubleshooting" section.

    Remember when the manuals that came with appliances and electronics were thick? Remember when they actually contained useful information like how to hook up the gadget, who to call if you needed service, what possibly might be wrong with your gadget? Now, all the information you get in the manual is a thank you for buying the product and the extremely limited warranty but you get that information in nine languages! You also get the address for the company's website so you can go download the full manual and find a phone number for customer service. What if, heaven forbid, I didn't have internet access at home like a still surprisingly large amount of the people in world?

    Luckily, I do have internet access in Connecticut and while I was scrolling through the manual online looking for some clue as to why my microwave had died and having mental images of the nightmare of standing in line on Friday at the store with my dead microwave in hand to try and get a replacement or warranty repair with no receipt because I had shredded it last weekend, the microwave went "beep".

    Later, while munching on slightly crunchy risotto, I discovered in the online manual the "auto shut-off" function...

    Don't Mess with Our Chocolate Update: The FDA has extended the comment period on the petition by the large food manufacturers to change the definition of chocolate. If you haven't commented yet, you have until May 25, 2007 to do so. Please, go HERE and tell the FDA to keep their grubby little paws off our chocolate!

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007

    Keep Our Chocolate Real: Don't Let the FDA Change the Definiton of Chocolate!!!

    I don't normally post twice in one day BUT I'm going to have to make an exception...

    MBH just sent me a link to this article on Slashdot.

    In case you didn't know (and if I know most of you, you do...and I'm just WAY behind on the news), the FDA , one of our benevolent government agencies here in the US, wants to bow to pressure from the big conglomerate candy companies to allow changes to the definition of chocolate: replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil and milk solids with dry whey (defined as any type of whey like soy etc. vs milk and cream) and allow them to sell that as "real" chocolate vs. "imitation" chocolate.

    This is the same agency btw that is heading the charge against those evil trans-fats and now they want to let chocolate manufacturers put vegetable oil in my chocolate??!!

    Apparently the FDA public comment period is up tomorrow, April 25, but if you want, you can read about the outrage here at Candyblog's "Don't Mess With Our Chocolate" section and here at "Don't Mess With Our Chocolate" and then go comment here on the FDA Website.

    I'm not sure if this comment period is open only to US citizens but heck it can't hurt to try and if it is and you still want to make some noise, post a little "something-something" on your blog so your US readers can see it.

    Now where is my pitchfork? Time for that revolution that Thomas Jefferson was talking about...

    Waiter There's Something In My...and it's a Whole Lotta Something

    Andrew from Spitton Extra is hosting this round of "Waiter There's Something in My..." and... oh darn... that something is bread!

    Meaning of course I had to jump right in and participate, because as you all know I'm all over any food blogging event that features bread and, as my good friend and fellow Daring Baker the ever spritely and humourous Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas says right in her header: "GO BIG OR GO HOME".

    So, I went big..

    with not one loaf of bread...

    not two loaves of bread...

    but THREE LOAVES of bread!!!

    I typically make bread during my weekend home in Boston to take back to Connecticut for my work week. I like to have a piece of toast with blueberry and lime preserves or cherry butter each morning with a cup of tea at my desk for breakfast while I catch up on work emails or read a blog or two. This weekend, I had a massive moment of indecision. I wanted egg bread for sandwiches and toast for myself and I wanted to leave MBH some crusty sourdough to munch on during the week. Then there was the promised bread for Monday morning's project meeting; what to do?

    Never being good at choosing just one option, I decided to make all three. So, before MBH and I wandered out into the gorgeous late spring weather on Sunday morning, I pulled out of the fridge my rather active sourdough starter and started a poolish for MBH's bread and the bread I would take to work on Monday. When I had that in our oven starting to do its sourdough thing (the oven was not on folks! Just the oven light to make a nice, warm, draft free place to let breads and sponges rise), I tossed some flour, yeast, a pinch of sugar and water into another bowl for a sponge to make my egg bread. Into the oven next to the sourdough poolish that bowl went and out into the bright sunshine MBH and I went...

    And three hours later I came home to this:

    Egg Bread Sponge

    I don't really have a recipe per se for my sourdough breads. They are pretty basic: a poolish (1 cup sourdough starter, 1 cup water, 2 cups AP flour), salt, and approximately 4 -5 cups flour are the only ingredients. I make the dough, and put it in a big greased bowl to rise a first time, punch down the dough, form the loaf and then let the bread have a second shorter rise and bake. This time, for the Italian bread and rustic flat bread, I split the dough into two pieces after the punch down and formed a "Vienna" shaped loaf for MBH's Italian bread and a large boule that I didn't support with my brotform because I wanted it to rise but also spread for the rustic flat loaf. Getting those two loaves back into the warm oven for their second rise, I turned my attention to making the dough for the egg bread.

    Most egg bread recipes call for long pre-ferments and since I had made a last minute decision (MBH would say my typical lack of planning) to make egg bread, I had to improvise. I have a no-fail recipe for basic white bread I use when I just want a quick loaf. It has never failed me and anyone else I've given the recipe to but I've never really played with the recipe. I've been meaning to but you know how it is with tried and true recipes; why mess with them? Doing some quick math in my head to figure out how much more liquid the eggs would add to the no-fail recipe and how much more flour I would need to add to compensate for the eggs, I decided to toss two eggs into the mix and see what would happen! The dough was definitely a softer dough and had a nice yellow tint. It also took a bit longer to develop elasticity and spring but when I put the dough into the oven for it's first rise, it looked right.

    So how did everything turn out you ask? Well let's take a look!!

    MBH's Italian Bread: I used an egg wash for this loaf. Nice crumb and just the right size of "holes"

    Rustic Flat Bread

    Rustic Flat Bread: Four slashes was all the ornamentation this loaf needed.

    Holy Moly! Look at that rise on that loaf of egg bread!

    I have to say the egg bread turned out to be a bit of a surprise for me. The dough didn't rise as much as I had expected in the first rise, but during the second rise it took off like gang busters. It was almost over flowing out of the loaf pan and then it had this incredible oven spring. I think this off the cuff egg bread will be a keeper recipe for me and I can't wait to try French Toast with the left over loaf this weekend!

    Egg Bread

    Breadchick's No-Fail Egg Bread

    8oz water
    2 eggs
    2 tsp yeast
    4 cups of bread flour (13% Gluten)
    1/4 cup dry milk
    3 tsp butter (melted)
    1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
    1 tablespoon of sugar

    Step 1: Sponge:
    Mix 1 tsp yeast, 1 cup flour and the water in a 2 quart glass bowl or 2 quart plastic container. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let it sit for 3 hours in 70 degree room. (This time will be longer in cool room or shorter in warmer room). Tip: If your oven has a light, turn the light on and put the sponge in the oven to rise.

    Step2: Make the dough:
    Reserve 1/2 cup of remaining flour and set aside.

    Add the melted butter to the sponge and combine completely. Stir the eggs, one at a time into the sponge. Add the yeast, salt, sugar and dry milk and stir until yeast is mixed in completely. Add the remaining flour 1/2 a cup at a time (except for reserved flour) until the dough is firm but shaggy. Dough will feel very soft to tough. Sprinkle the reserved flour on a good clean surface and flour your hands to knead the dough; about 7 - 10 minutes or until you see the development of gluten. You may need to add more flour if the dough is too soft (clumps of dough sticking to your hands). Do this one spoonful at a time. Dough will be smooth and elastic feeling when it is ready. Put in oiled bowl or proofing container and let rise until double, about 2 hours.

    Step 3: Form loaf
    Punch dough down and press into rectangle about 12″ x 5″ Fold rectangle into 3rds and place seam side down in large greased glass loaf pan. Brush a little melted butter on top of loaf, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until top of loaf touches plastic wrap. Remove plastic wrap and let it rise until it is about 2" above the rim of the loaf pan.

    Step 4: Bake
    In 350 degree preheated oven, bake bread for 30 - 35 minute or until internal temperature is 190 degrees. If crust begins to get too brown, cover with foil until last 5 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and pan when done and let cool completely before slicing

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Giada, Grocery Store Pasta, a Microwave, and Me!

    I'm back in the lovely wilds of Connecticut this week. I survived driving back in the teeth of that N'oreaster we had on Sunday; seven inches of rain out here and the next town over, Westport, had it's downtown flooded! But I had a nice surprise waiting for my drenched self when I walked into the house, a little tell tale package from Amazon propped up against my door!! MBH had sent me a cookbook to read and enjoy (with the provision that I bring it home for him), Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis. He has been after me for about two years now to cook more pasta and he likes cookbooks with lots of pictures so this one meets all his criteria and surprisingly mine too!

    Last night I decided to see if I could make one of the recipes out of it in my little makeshift kitchen here. Since I had a bit of yellow and red bell pepper in my bar size refrigerator, I decided to try the "Spaghetti with Red and Yellow Peppers". I basically stuck to the recipe as it didn't involve anything too fussy from a prep standpoint. I went to the grocery store and purchased some of the pasta from the deli section ("fresh" pasta vs the dry) and the shallots. I already had the peppers, olive oil, salt/pepper, dry white wine, and low sodium chicken stock. The only two things I changed in the recipe were..oops...three things were: I used linguine instead of spaghetti because that was all the store had; I tossed the last of the asparagus from last week into the mix, and I couldn't roast the peppers (no stove). The dish went together pretty easily and was frankly delicious! The sweet of the peppers played with the taste of the asparagus and the sauce was light and refreshing. I had enough left over that I took the pasta to work today as a cold pasta salad with a bit of left over chicken breast. It was even better today!!

    I have to say, with the exception of Tyler Florence's cookbooks (um what isn't to love about Tyler Florence??!!), I haven't been that impressed with the "Food Network" cookbooks BUT I will have to give credit where credit is due here. From what I can tell Everyday Pasta looks like a very nice cookbook for quick and easy Italian.

    Linguine with Red and Yellow Peppers and Asparagus in the Microwave
    based on Spaghetti with Red and Yellow Peppers from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis

    Serves 1 (with leftovers for lunch)

    1/2 red bell pepper

    1/2 yellow bell pepper

    6 stalks asparagus

    3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

    1 large shallot, thinly sliced

    1/8 tsp salt

    fresh ground pepper to taste

    1/4 cup dry white wine

    3/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth

    1/2 package fresh pasta of your choice from the grocery store deli case

    fresh flat leaf parsley

    1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

    Thinly slice the peppers and set aside. Trim the light green and woody ends off the asparagus and discard. Cut the remaining bits of asparagus into 1/2 inch pieces and set aside. In a 2 quart microwave safe dish, add the olive oil and the shallots. Microwave uncovered on medium-high (80% power) for 1 1/2 minutes or until shallots are translucent. Add the peppers, asparagus, salt and pepper and microwave for 2 minutes on medium high. Stir to coat all the veggies in oil and return to the microwave for 1 minute on medium high. Add wine and chicken broth and cook on medium (50 - 60%) for 5 minutes until asparagus and peppers are almost soft. Add pasta and cover dish. Cook on high for 5 -7 minutes until pasta is tender and veggies are soft. Add parsley and Parmesan cheese and serve with small tossed salad and crusty roll.

    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    Refund Muffins - No Guarantee

    A few days ago, one of my favourite food bloggers and a fellow Daring Baker, Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody received an email from a reader asking for their money back for the ingredients they had purchased to make one of the recipes on her blog. Apparently, this was the second time this reader had made a recipe of Peabody's and it hadn't worked and now they wanted restitution in the form of a check or money order. WOW!!

    This little incident evoked quite a bit of discussion amongst us Daring Bakers and Peabody's readership about taking responsibility for your own cooking, shared war stories about hundreds of recipes we have all made that didn't quite turn out as described/promised, and more than a few cheeky comments about billing Martha, Ina, Giada, and Mario for committing "bad recipe". We all wondered, does this now mean we have to put disclaimers on our posts? Has our society devolved into such a "it isn't my fault so it must be your fault" society that we can't bear to think we could possibly do something wrong?

    I don't know if I have the answers for any of those questions but I do have the answer for Peabody's reader about the muffin recipe. Nope, nothing wrong with the recipe!! Oh, and Emeril and Christopher Kimball better get ready for my bill...

    Without further adieu, I bring you my results of the now "infamous" Snickerdoodle Muffin by Peabody.

    Disclaimer: Your results may vary. Side effects may include drooling, visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in your head, an uncontrollable urge for seconds and the need for a cuppa. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Professional driver on a closed course.

    Snickerdoodle Muffins
    (Or Refund Muffins as they are now known in my house)
    from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

    2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    2 tsp vanilla
    2 eggs, at room temperature
    ¾ tsp baking soda
    ¾ tsp baking powder
    ¾ tsp cream of tarter
    ¾ tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I used a whole teaspoon because I like nutmeggy Snickerdoodles)
    1 and ¼ cup sour cream
    2 and ¼ cups all purpose flour

    1 cup sugar and 2 TBSP cinnamon mixed together for rolling

    Makes 24 small or 12 -14 regular muffins

    Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Prepare muffin tins with cupcake papers and lightly grease with cooking spray./p>

    Making the Batter
    Note: This batter will be very thick. Do NOT add extra liquid.

    In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and cream of tarter and set aside. Using a stand mixer on medium low speed or by hand, cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time and mix until each egg is fully combined with the sugar, butter, vanilla mixture. If you are using a stand mixer, turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture and the sour cream alternately to the egg-butter mixture. Start with the flour and end with the flour. Scrape the bowl occasionally to get all the ingredients combined thoroughly. Do not over mix though. The dough will be firm but not clumpy.

    Forming the Muffin
    Using an ice cream scoop or soup spoon, scoop out muffin batter one at a time and drop into a shallow bowl filled with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll the muffin around in the mixture until it is covered completely in cinnamon sugar.

    (I found this part of the recipe really fun and tasty as it was easier to use your fingers to coat the ball with the cinnamon sugar; meaning you have to then lick your fingers after making each muffin dough-ball. Don't worry...I washed my hands a lot while making these!). Once the muffin dough-ball is completely covered in cinnamon sugar, place dough-ball in prepared muffin tin.

    Bake them for approx. 20-22 minutes or until they are golden brown. Let cool for about 5 minutes before removing from tins to allow the cinnamon sugar crust to firm up. Serve warm.

    Tasting Results: Fluffy, zingy muffin with crunchy sugary cinnamon top. Exactly like a Snickerdoodle cookie. About the best tasting muffin I have ever had and a keeper recipe.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    All the King's Flour...

    A fellow Daring Baker recently asked her fellow DBers how much flour we each had in our pantries. This included cornmeal and any other type of ground grain we used in our baking endeavors. As I am in Fairfield, CT for my work week, I couldn't run out to the kitchen and KEC (Kat Entertainment Center, the nickname MBH has for our laundry room where we have 2nd pantry and LB has his liter box and other cat things) to count, but from memory here is the list: King Arthur (KA) unbleached AP, KA Unbleached Self rising, KA Whole Wheat, KA White Wheat, KA Sir Lancelot high gluten, KA Queen Guinevere Cake, Wondra flour for gravies, KA French flour, KA Buckwheat (only available in their store), KA Pumpernickel, KA Light Rye, Gold Medal AP, KA Bread, Bob's Red Mill Rice,Bob's Red Mills Amaranth, Bob's Red Mills Barley, KA Yellow Cornmeal, Martha White Cornmeal (white, Southern style), KA wheat gluten, and KA Golden Semolina.

    So what does that put me at 19 bags of flour??!!

    Ok, so I have a control problem when it comes to buying flour; especially when I visit the KA Mothership in Vermont...

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    The Coolest Sound Ever!!

    This has absolutely nothing what so ever to do with cooking but I have to share it with you.

    It is late (for me anyways) and I'm lying bed in my little cozy room in Fairfield, Ct reading Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution and I just heard my very first hoot owl (Barred owl for you birdwatchers out there)!!

    There is an old orchard out behind the farm house I room in and he is sitting out there somewhere in the crisp, clear, cold night just hooting away. How cool is that??!!

    "Hoot, HOOT, Hoot, hoot"

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 15: Elegant Springtime Fare from a By-Gone Era

    This month's edition of Weekend Cookbook Challenge is being hosted by the super talented Marta over at An Italian in the US. She has picked a very appropriate theme for the WCC #15: Easter or Springtime Food. As you know, Sara of I Like To Cook fame started Weekend Cookbook Challenge so she could cook from little used cookbooks in her collection and invited a few food blogging friends to join her. For the past few WCC, I've had a personal additional theme of food cooked from my little used cookbooks that are based around a mode of transportation. I've done Great Lakes ships with Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbooks for WCC#13 (also the theme of the recently completed Cookbook Challenge #3 ) and trains with the Harvey House Cookbook for WCC#14. This month finds us back shipboard on the antecedent ocean liner of luxury and tragedy, the R.M.S. Titanic. I'm serving a spring time inspired dish from the menu served to first class diners on that last night shipboard before the Titanic hit the iceberg; Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette from Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley.

    It is also appropriate that I feature this cookbook today of all days because exactly 95 years ago on April 8, 1912, in Southhampton, England the first class stewards and cooks reported for duty to begin preparations for the Titanic's maiden and final voyage scheduled for departure on April 10. 1912. Preparing a dinner or any meal for that matter for Edwardian high society was not an easy or quick matter. According to Archbold and McCaully, "The planning and execution of each of the day's three meals, plus assorted snacks and light meals, required extensive advance preparation and precise timing - not to mention huge quantities of raw material". This cookbook is full of insight into both the dining and social habits of the Edwardian wealthy as well as the middle class passengers in 2nd Class and the immigrants hoping for a new life in America who sailed steerage and into history on that awful night of April 14th/15th, 1912.

    This interesting cookbook is broken into several sections with each section detailing menus and recipes from all classes who sailed on the Titanic. There are menus and recipes from the ala carte restaurant, "The Ritz" (an innovation at the time because until the Titanic, first class diners only had the option of dinner in the first class dining saloon or tea and bouillion on deck); both cafes (also a White Star Line innovation, first seen on the Titanic's older sister the Olympic) "The Parisien", which became the place for the younger set to be seen and see between meals, and "The Verandah", which was popular with the older matrons and more staid set. There are also recipes and menus from the First Class Dining Saloon and Reception rooms and the Second Class Dining Saloon, which rivaled first class on every other companies liners. Second Class fare on the Titanic, while served "family style" and more simply prepared, came from the same galley as the first class restaurants/saloons and was served on Delft china. To see the contrast between these two classes there is a wonderful section on traveling in steerage and very simple but filling food served in one of two 3rd Class Dining Saloons. This food was prepared in a separate galley but was not typical of that served on other transit lines. For example, the meals were included in the price of the passage and were served on china and utensils provided by the White Star Line; very unusual as most other companies required steerage passengers to provide their own linens and service items and sometimes even their own food.

    Two separate first class menus survive from the last meal served on the Titanic. The night of April 14th was suppose to be the second to last night at sea and the Titanic was on course to break the speed record for an Atlantic crossing (despite this speed record attempt being disputed in the inquiry that followed the sinking). As the last night at sea during Edwardian times was always less formal so that passengers could go to their cabins early to prepare for the early morning docking in New York City, the second to the last night out was always the most elegant night for dinner when the passengers dressed in their finest clothes and wore their most expensive jewels. One of the menus served that evening in the first class dining saloon was a full eleven course Escoffier menu of hor d'oeurves, soup, fish, entree (appetizer), removes (main course), punch or sorbet (to clear the palette), roast, salad, cold dish, sweets, and finally dessert. All of this was followed by an "after dinner" of coffee, cordials, and cigars for the men. There was also a "smaller" seven course meal that started with the soup course from above and ended with the sweets course eliminating the removes and cold dish courses.

    Last Dinner on the Titanic goes into detail about how the meal was served and has eye witness accounts from survivors of the disaster about dinner conversations at various tables and juicy first class "gossip" (this is possible because 70% of the survivors of the sinking of the Titanic were first class passengers who wrote accounts of the sinking). The cookbook even gives directions for the reader to give their own "last dinner" party including details about how Edwardian society behaved and what type of conversations about timely subjects they would have engaged each other, what they would have worn and how the table would have been set. There are biographies of the major "players" so a party giver could even have certain guests play the roles of Captain Smith, or the George Dunton Wideners, or the John Jacob Astors. Last Dinner on the Titanic is an absolutely fascinating cookbook about not only the Titanic but also from the social and culinary history standpoint.

    Some last interesting bits about the Titanic. Harvard University's The Widener Library right here in Cambridge, MA is named after Harry Widener, the son of survivor Eleanor Widener, wife of George Dunton Widener. Young Harry was a graduate of Harvard, an avid collector of books and died in the Titanic sinking along with his father. Within the library is a room, The Widener Room that is the exact replica of his dorm suite while he was at Harvard. According to a Harvard legend, the swimming requirement that all Harvard students had to pass in order to graduate was a direct result of the Titanic disaster. Mrs. Widener endowed the library with the provision that all students be able to swim 50 yards since had her son swam 50 more yards after the sinking he would have made a lifeboat. If you want to dine surrounded by artifacts from one of the Titanic's sisters, the Olympic, you can dine in the Olympic Restaurant onboard the Millennium. The restaurant is paneled in wood salvaged from the Olympic that once graced the first class ala carte restaurant.

    Today, on the eve of the 95th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, there are two living survivors.

    Asaparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette
    (salad in the eleven course menu from the final meal served on the Titanic)
    From cookbook: The Last Dinner on the Titanic

    1 1/2lb asparagus
    1/4 tsp saffron threads
    1 1/2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
    1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
    pinch sugar
    3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    salt and pepper
    1/2 sweet red or yellow bell pepper finely diced
    large leaf lettuce

    Trim asparagus of any bottom stalk and light green, leaving only the tenderest and greenest part. Steam with salted water until just tender. Remove from steamer and immediately run under very cold water until completely cooled. Drain well and pat dry. Set aside. In large bowl, stir saffron with 1 tsp boiling water; let stand for about 2 minutes until softened. Stif in champagne vinegar, mustard, and sugar. Whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add asparagus and diced red/yellow pepper and toss to coat. Arrange on lettuce lined serving platter.

    Serves 6

    Saturday, April 07, 2007

    Cookbook Spotlight #3 Round-Up Part One: Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook

    First, let me thank all the wonderful food bloggers who joined Sara of I Like to Cook and founder of the Cookbook Spotlight for helping out with Cookbook Spotlight #3: Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook. Also, thanks to Paula McKenna, author and publisher of Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook, who kindly sent out copies to our spotlighters.

    Now on with Part One of the Round-Up!

    My co-hostess and good friend, Sara of I Like To Cook made some wonderfully warm and filling Chili from the Tall Ship Madeline and a most lovely bundt Grecian Orange Cake from the museum ship S.S. Valley Camp.

    Her cake is absolutely sinful looking and made me go order this so I could make it very, very soon.

    Staying in Canada and within my Daring Baker family, let's go check out the most incredible stack of pancakes I've EVER laid eyes on Jumbo Empanadas!

    Now if Bri's buttermilk pancakes with bananas from the S.S. Courtney Burton doesn't make you hungry then the pictures of the Homemade Bread from the M.V. Canadian Miner or maybe Arlene Earl's, The Flower Lady's Sailor's Favorite Cookies will! Check out Arlene's story on Bri's post while you visit. Guaranteed to make you tear up...

    Next my fellow Great Laker and Daring Baker (he-he...that rhymes), Lis from La Mia Cucina, who lives on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, OH, finally ripped the cookbook from the clutching hands of her hubby to put together two scrumptious dishes from the tall ships of the Great Lakes; the very popular Cinnamon Rolls from the Schooner Manitou and a piled high Marinated Focaccia Bread Sandwiches from the Tall Ship Wisconsin's Flagship Denis Sullivan.

    Staying in the Great Lakes basin, we'll head over to the west shore of Lake Michigan and one of my favourite fellow food bloggers, Mimi from French Kitchen in America. Mimi probably has more frieghter food "street creed" than anyone else in this group of Cookbook Spotlighters because her father cooked on the Lakers during the 40's and 50's! Mimi made perfect looking (and I am sure tasting) Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Chicken.

    This perfect for a Sunday dinner dish is from one of my favourite boats on the lakes, the M.V. Paul R. Tregurtha, and her super talented steward, John R. Dunning of the best chocolate chip cookie/coldest milk on the lakes fame.

    Back to Ohio we go but inland a bit from Cleveland to visit Becke of Columbus Foodie. Becke picked two midwestern classics that you will find in every galley on the lakes: Lazyman's Cabbage Rolls from the museum ship S.S. Valley Camp and Dump Cake from the S.S. Courtney Burton.

    After reading this post, I had such a craving for Dump Cake that I started planning a full month of different versions of this easy and satisfyingly delicious dessert.

    Finally, we head over to another cluster of inland lakes, the Finger Lakes region of New York to visit Laura Rebecca of Laura Rebecca's Kitchen. She constructed an entire meal from the cookbook! Feast your eyes on her Braised Pork Chops and Cabbage from the M.T. Atlantic Hickory, the Oven Roasted Red Baby Bliss Potatoes from the Schooner Manitou, and Old Fashioned Apple Cake; a house specialty of the "Flower Lady", Arlene Earl.

    For Part Two of the Cookbook Spotlight #3 Round-Up, head on over to Sara's Weekend Cookbook Challenge site here.

    One last thanks, to all my friends over at and especially Dick Lund who once again has graciously let me link to his site of Laker pictures for this round-up.

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Catching Up and a Little House Cleaning

    WHEW!!! Well the first week of the new job is under my belt. Living in lovely Fairfield, CT during the week is interesting. I'm discovering you can't get there from here for most of the places I need to go. The roads are twisty and meander all over the county, even when all you are trying to do is get from your house to the train station. I've had a little bit of a hiccup with the internet connection (my computer and my landlady's WEP protected wireless router seem to be having a small disagreement) but I'm hoping with a little help from MBH over the weekend to have it resolved.

    I'm back home in Cambridge, MA for the Easter weekend and spending my day today baking. So far today, I've made two dozen chocolate chip and chunk cookies for MBH to snack on next week, have a batch of homemade hambuger buns in the middle of their second rise, a batch of old fashioned cream tea scones in the oven (to take back to CT with me for the folks at work and for my landlady). I've got my loaf of honey wheat bread to get finished yet and need to get MBH's green beans ready for the slow cooker. We are having Easter dinner tomorrow since Sunday I will be driving back to Fairfield rather early.

    One of the downsides to my changing jobs and not having an internet connection at night has been it has taken me longer than usual to get my new computer set up as a lean, mean blogging machine (no laughing from the peanut gallery MBH...) But, I'm happy to report that I've about got one of my laptops ready to go. Since I'm back, now would be a good time to let you see the final pictures and read the stories that MBH brought back with him from Stockholm. I'm actually very proud of him because he stepped WAY out of his comfort zone with some of the food he tried. But, I'll let you read all about it in MBH's own words...

    Walking the Plank: (From MBH's 3/20/07 dinner report)

    "When you say say plank steak here, they take it literally! Unfortunately it was really dark in the restaurant and I have no flash on my mobilephone camera so I know this photo is hard to see. The interesting thing about the arrangement of this dish is that it's served on a charcoal plank! Surrounded by an edge of potatos, it was a perfect steak!"

    An Honest to Goodness Smorgasbord: (From MBH's 3/22/07 lunch Report)

    "The weather here is as unpredictable as it is in New England. When I walked out for lunch it was dark and snowing; coming back after eating Kebabtallrik Special med ris eller pommes frites, couscous (SEK69) it was bright and sunny! So much so it put me in the mood for dessert

    So I picked up a fabulous Marabou Mjolkchoklad bar (made in Sweden) and washed it down with some Mer apple juice."

    All About Leksands Knäcke: (From MBH's 3/22/07 dinner report)

    "I skipped dinner last night as jetlag and mental activity was catching up with me. But I did stop by the foodhall for some snacks and found these wonderfu - not sure what you'd call it. The English would call them biscuits; not sure if we'd call them crackers. Like Melba toast but different. They're dry, bland, no salt - just the way I like 'em! With no flash on my phone camera I'm at the mercy of available light and unfortunately in this shot they're very washed out. There actually chocolate-brown colored, like a dark ice cream cone. I washed everything down with some Spendrups and curled up with some curling!"

    One last thing before I go to punch down the honey wheat dough, form a nice small loaf and let it rise for a final time, take a look at the sidebar to your right. You will notice my Daring Bakers family has gotten larger!! We welcomed fourteen (14!!!) new sisters into the little group this month. You'll also notice some incredible and I mean INCREDIBLE graphics done especially for the Daring Bakers. These are courtesy of the super talented on oh so many fronts Ximena of Lobstersquad. If you aren't familiar with her blog, get thee there right now (as opposed to a nunnery)! You will be bowled over by her talent.