Monday, January 28, 2008

Pucker Up for Lemon Meringue Pie ala Daring Bakers

Normally, I wait to do the Daring Baker Challenge recipe in the middle of the month. I like to wait and read the comments by the Early Bird group to see what I will be up against that month. This month however I was out of the starting gate like Seattle Slew and pounded down the home stretch with the wind in my tail because this month's challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie!

Lemon Meringue Pie (LMP) has a special place in my family lore because it was a lemon meringue pie that brought my folks together.

When my parents were in high school in the late 1950s, my dad was a senior when my mom was a sophomore and they couldn't have been more different than night and day. My dad was jock (co-caption of the football team), class clown (suspended for masterminding putting the Home Ec teacher's car on top of the shop garage with the engine left in the parking spot during the school day), one class from flunking out (not because he was dumb but he didn't apply himself) and literally a kid from "the wrong side of the tracks" (my grandparents lived by the train depot in the small town in Northern Michigan where both my parents grew up).

My mom was a book worm (straight A student), vice president of the sophomore class, member of the Yearbook, and from the "right side of the tracks" (my grandparents lived in a big house on the lake). Needless to say, the chance of the two of them hanging out together, let alone dating, in the late 50s was very slim. One last piece of background that is very important to the story, my dad worked nights at the local bakery making all the pies that would be sold the next day to all the resort restaurants and out of the shop. It was this job that led my dad to become a chef.

But, in the spring of 1959 that is exactly what happened,my parents started dating. My mom was taking Jr. Algebra as was my dad (for the 2nd time) and because their last names started with the same letter they ended up sitting next to each other. All through the first part of the semester my dad tried and tried to get my mom to go out with him on a date. His friends kept telling him she was "out of his league". My mom's friends kept telling her my dad was "a nice guy and fun but not her type". Finally one day, my dad tired of trying to find some common interest my mom and he had that he could then use to get her to go out on a date with him, he asked her what was her favourite pie. She said lemon meringue. My dad said he was going to make her the "World's best lemon meringe pie" and deliver it himself to her house on Saturday. My mom, thinking he was joking told him to come on over at 3pm because the whole family would be home.

On Friday night, my dad stayed late at the bakery to make my mom her pie. On Saturday, after he finished with all the other deliveries he went to deliver the pie to my mom. My mom, being somewhat a joker herself, had told her family (my grandparents and her six siblings) as well as the neighbor that she was having the best lemon meringue pie in the world delivered at 3pm. So at 3pm on a bright sunny April Saturday afternoon, everyone in the family was sitting out on the porch waiting for the pie to be delivered. When my dad pulled up, he saw the whole family sitting out on the porch and got nervous. Getting out of the delivery truck, he got the pie out of the back, straightened his uniform (this was the 50's, all delivery people wore uniforms), and very cocky, walked up the steps to my grandparents porch and....

Promptly tripped on the top step and sent the World's best lemon meringue pie flying through the air to land in the lap of my grandfather.

My mom says it was the look of complete horror on my dad's face and then the look of fear and then his sad brown puppy dog eyes as he surveyed the mess that made her fall in love with my dad that very minute. My dad says it was the fact that my grandfather, after he got over the shock of having a whole lemon meringue pie end up in his lap, took a piece of crust with lemon curd and a bit of meringue out of the mess, ate it and declared it WAS the best lemon meringue pie in the world but that the next time he came over to pick his daughter up for a date, could he try not to trip and to not drive the delivery truck that he knew he was "in".

So, when Jen, The Canadian Baker, our hostess announced our January challenge was going to be LMP, I knew I would be an early bird for this month because you see, I was in Michigan for the Christmas holidays and snowed in with nothing to do but bake. My mom was already back at school (she's a teacher) and my dad, who is retired was puttering around town with his brothers. Since I had already said I would fix dinner that night, I decided to surprise them with a lemon meringue pie for dessert.

I'm going to go on record right here as saying, I have no idea about my dad's lemon meringue pies. He has never to my knowledge made one for the family. BUT, if he did, I suspect he would be using the same recipe as Jen selected because this was one of the most fantastic tasting LMP's I've ever had. The curd was lovely (despite so many fellow Daring Bakers having big problems with it.) It set up nicely and quickly.

The crust was pretty good. I had some shrinkage but that was because I couldn't find my mom's pie weights and didn't have time to try to as I was working on a deadline. So, I used the only dry beans I could find and there weren't enough to fill the whole pie pan.

Once I got the crust baked and curd made, I let them cool in nature's icebox and got started on the meringue.

This meringue was incredible. It got stiff and fluffy very nicely and didn't break down at all. I got "mile high" meringue for pie.

So, what did my parents think? They both declared it some of the best lemon meringue pie not spilled on a porch ever!

Now, go check out my over 400 strong Daring Baker brothers and sisters Lemon Meringue Pies and read them and weep...just like meringue!

Lemon Meringue Pie
(from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver)
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008
Host: Jen (Canadian Baker)

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Round Table Review: Discovering Where Flavor Was Born

A few weeks ago an email arrived in my inbox from my blogging twin, Sara of I Like To Cook asking me if I would be interested in taking part in a Cookbook Round-Up or as one of my partners in crime ended up calling it on the emails that flew fast and furious between the little group "That Cookbook Thing". Sara wanted Mike, Deborah, myself, and my other blogging twin sister Lisa to read through a cookbook that would arrive on our door steps, pick a few recipes out that the group would all cook together and then blog about it on the same day. Um, me not want to help Sara out and in the process add to the weight of my groaning cookbook shelves? Surely you jest!

A few weeks after receiving Sara's email, Andreas Viestad's lovely book, Where Flavor Was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route was waiting at my door when I got home for work. Without even taking my coat off, I sat down and ripped open the package to find a lovely note from the folks at the Lisa Ekus Group and a beautiful coffee table sized cookbook about the spices found around the Indian Ocean.

First, let me tell you how gorgeous this book is. I really mean it when I say it belongs on a coffee table. The photos by Mette Randem are stunning. Vibrant in color and composition they match the feel of a cookbook about spices and the food of the lands of spice. The stock of paper used in this book is that nice heavy stock that lends itself to hours of reading about the spices and where they come from and just losing one's self in the picture.

Second, I really like the way the book is laid out from a concept standpoint. There is a large colorful map showing all the major parts of the world where the spices discussed in the book come from. The table of contents is presented by spice versus type of dish, a nice way to find a variety of dishes made with a single spice. There is wonderful section up front that has a paragraph or two about the spices, their origin and their significance in the cooking of the Indian Ocean region.

After spending about a week reading through the book, we each submitted a long, long list of the recipes we all wanted to try. In the end we chose six recipes to make:

Yogurt Cucumber Soup with Coriander and Cumin, pg 43
Entrecote with Onion, Ginger and Tamarind, pg 210
Grilled Green Fish with Red Rice, pg 159
Stuffed Onions with Ginger and Lamb, pg 94
Bananas with Coconut and Cardamom, pg 125
Coconut Curry Cake, pg 147

Unfortunately, after a few days we all discovered that we each would have problems sourcing a few ingredients needed for the Grilled Green Fish with Red Rice so we switched that recipe out for what I think was the hands down winner of the bunch, Fish in Coconut Curry on page 138.

I've only recently began cooking dishes from this region of the world and I'm really fortunate because I live next door to a lovely family from India and I've been getting great lessons on how to cook the food from this part of the world the past few months. The family has been wonderful about sharing food with me. I bake a loaf of sourdough bread and take over, they make lamb korma and bring it over to me. I make cut out cookies with sprinkles and they make samosas and tamarind chutney. Like I said, a great neighbor relationship. (Not to mention they had the best decorated house on the block this Christmas!) Anyways, when I had a few questions about a few of the recipes we were making and where to source a few items, I baked a bundt cake and went next door! Over bundt cake and a perfect pot of Indian tea, Mrs. P and I walked through the recipes and she even gave me a ziplock baggie of green cardamom pods to use in the Fish in Coconut Curry, only asking that when I made the Coconut Curry Cake, I had to promise to return for tea.

So, armed with a few tricks from my neighbor, I dove head first into the world of Indian Ocean cooking (get it Mike! Head first....he, he) The first dish I made was the Bananas with Coconut and Cardamom. I was little disappointed in this dish. I thought the bananas got lost in the coconut milk and the cardamom. But the recipe was pretty straight forward and easy to follow. Which lulled me into a false sense of bravado.

Because the very next night I struggled mightily with the Stuffed Onions. I'm not sure but I think onions are much smaller over there than they are here because first I couldn't figure out how to deal with the onions. The directions on this are not very clear in the recipe and this wouldn't be the first time I had that problem with one of the recipes in Discovering Where Flavor Was Born. A good illustration or one of those fabulous photos of how to prep the onion would have been helpful here. Then I had a mess of onion left over that thankfully was put to good use in an onion tart or two or three. Then I was underwhelmed again with the result. It felt like a lot of hard work for a good but not terrific dish. I thought the lamb tasted like an after thought to the onion and the flavors of the spices were muted against the onion. Maybe it was my onion?

I knew as soon as I read the ingredients for the Coconut Curry Cake I was going to be in trouble. I am not a huge fan of self rising flour. I think that with the exception of good Southern Buttermilk Biscuits, self rising flour should not be used. The ratio of baking soda/baking powder to flour in a cup of self rising flour is too high for my tastes, literally. Self rising flour normally leaves a funny and dry taste in my mouth, which was exactly what I got with the cake. The cake was pretty bland and with that after affect of the self rising flour, I didn't like it at all. Neither did any of my co-workers. It was the first time that a baked good I have brought into work made it not only past 3pm but all the way to the end of the day with two pieces still left. Knowing that it was the self rising flour that caused this, I have since made the cake twice more substituting 2 tsp of baking powder and the flour amounts using AP flour called for in the recipe. I also kicked up the amounts of cardamom, star anise, and coconut called for. This time I had a great tasting cake that was moist and disappeared by noon after I convinced my co-workers I had made some changes. I asked Mrs. P when I took a cake over to them if her cake recipes called for self rising flour. She said yes in some cases so this difference of opinion about the taste of the cake may be owing to that. She did like my cake though...

The final dish I made was by far and away the best dish I've made from this cookbook and the very first curry I've ever made. The Fish in Coconut Curry was so flavorful and delicious.

The recipe was also one of the best written ones of the book that I tried. There were no hard to follow directions like in several others we made. I loved the broth and had enough left over I could pour it over rice the next day and take it into lunch, where heating it in the microwave had several of my co-workers standing around sniffing the air like a bunch of bassett hounds on the tail of an escaped convict. I loved the chunks of tomatos and the zing of the spices. I'm definitely keeping this recipe and my success with it has made me anxious to try a few more of these types of dishes from Discovering Where Flavor Was Born.

Unfortunately, time ran out on me before I could try the Yogurt Cucumber Soup with Coriander and Cumin and the Entrecote with Onion, Ginger and Tamarind (which makes me very sad because tamarind is one of my favorite spices from this part of the world). But, I'm going to at least make the steak when I get back from my blog break.

Thanks to Sara for asking me to participate and to Mike, Deborah, and Lisa for "chillin" on email with me. Thanks also to the folks at The Lisa Ekus Group for getting us these lovely cookbooks.

If you'd like the recipes we used for this Round Table Review, please visit Sara over at I Like To Cook!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Breaking Away With the "Other White Meat"

I'm going to be taking a little blogging break for the next week to refuel the ole noggin' and take a breather after the week I just finished.

While I'm away a few posts will automagically appear to keep you entertained, including this month's post from that huge group of Daring Bakers, now over 400 strong!

But before I go, I want to share an unbelievable pork chop I made last weekend before all hell broke loose at Chez Breadchick.

I've been wanting to blog about this cookbook for almost a year and I've been remiss about doing so. The cookbook is The Good Home Cookbook: More Than 1000 Classic American Recipes edited by Richard J. Perry.

This is one of those all around cookbooks that I often get asked to review. I thought the book was pretty well laid out and stayed very true the idea of good home cooking hitting on the solid basics of the "classic American recipe" like breakfast, lunch, all the meats as well as chapters on pasta, veggies, desserts, etc. I did like the "Appendices" where Mr. Perry discussed cooking terms, equipment, and even a very good section on canning and pickling. All in all a solid cookbook. Still, my only complaint was once again a broad based general cookbook obviously meant to be the all inclusive cookbook that makes up the center of many home cooks cookbook collection was woefully lacking in illustrations when a technique was described or a specific prep of an ingredient was necessary.

I've made quite a few recipes from The Good Home Cookbook over the past year. I haven't had any issues with any of the recipes (that weren't of my own making) and if I was asked by a stranger in the cookbook section at The Strand for a recommendation of a cookbook that encompassed the depth and breadth of American cooking, I probably would include this as one of the choices.

One of the dishes I have made oh about twenty times and had nothing but stellar results is the Pork Medallions with Madeira. This is a quick and easy dish that ends up tasting like you spent hours on the pan sauce. Here is all you need!

Well, all that and a really good butcher! I'm fortunate, I have one less than two blocks away who cuts my chops for me as I stand there and wraps them in that wonderful butcher paper. While they aren't medallions, I find this sauce tastes just grand on a nice pork chop.

Especially when the chops look like this!

Yes, I have found pork nirvana with these not over lean, nicely marbled, full flavoured chops. In other words pork the way it was meant to be and not those overly bland and dry hunks of sorta pink meat you normally find in this country.

So, here's how you make a million dollar pork chop...

Start by sprinkling kosher salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary on both sides.

I like to press the rosemary into the pork and then loosely cover them and let them hang out for about 20 minutes.

Then heat some olive oil in a large pan and sear the chops for about 2 minutes on either side. Reduce heat and let the pork chops cook until slightly pink in the middle (about 6 - 8 minutes on each side). Remove them from the pan and keep them warm while you make the Madeira sauce. Drain the fat from the pan and add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. Stir in the wine, some water and the vinegar and bring to a boil. Then you reduce the sauce and finish with some butter.

Put the chops on a plate and top with the sauce. Served with a good homemade Ceasar salad (dressing recipe from The Home Cookbook) and you have a restaurant quality meal made in less than 20 minutes.

Pork Chops with Madeira

2 thick cut pork chops
2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup Madeira wine
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (note: I've used white wine vinegar with no adverse affects)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp chopped parsely

Sprinkle chops with rosemary, salt, and pepper on each side of the chop. Let sit for about 20 minutes. Heat oil in large pan over medium high heat. Sear both sides of the chops then reduce heat and let the pork chops cook until slightly pink in the middle (about 6 - 8 minutes on each side). Remove them from the pan and keep them warm.

Drain the fat from the pan, add onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in wine, water, and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup. Whisk in the butter until melted.

Plate the chops and pour the sauce over the chops. Sprinkle the chopped parsley on top.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Working Like a Dog But at Least I'm Eating Well!

Tonight will mark the forth day in a row since Monday that I've worked fifteen hours plus. Between a full set of project drawings due tomorrow and two surprise issues on jobsites that required my immediate attention, I've barely had time to sleep let alone feed the cat! At least on Tuesday night, instead of having to cancel my personal training session with C, the Queen of Pumpkin Bread recipes, she was able to squeeze me in late in the evening for a rather good but tiring workout.

Since there hasn't been a whole lotta baking going on in my house, I thought I'd share with you two of my go to convenience foods, Laughing Cows and Ready-pac Bistro Salads!

I always have a pack of Laughing Cow Lights in my fridge. I eat them every day as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack instead of making a run for the vending machine. A wedge will provide enough cheese to spread on two Wasa light rye crackers but only packs 70 calories for the crackers and the cheese together! On Monday night, after getting home after 9pm from one of my projects, I was too lazy to even heat up a Lean Cuisine. So, I sliced a piece of bread from my weekend loaf, spread a Laughing Cow Light French Onion on it, topped it with a slice of tomato and put it under the broiler for 2 minutes. I had instant comfort food that was light but tasty.

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with lettuce salads. I love them but frankly with my schedule lately, I don't have enough time to make a salad for lunch from scratch most days. I'm either out the door and at the gym by 5:30am or at work by 6:30am.

I discovered the Ready-pac Bistro salads when I was living in Fairfield, CT this past spring. They were exactly the right size that I could keep two of them in my tiny fridge in the room I was renting there at the time. Now, I keep two or three of them on hand for weeks just like this one. The salads come in several varieties and each contains all the lettuce, toppings, dressing to make a complete salad and best of all, there is a little fork that comes in the pack too! I like the Chef Salad the best. It has the lowest calories and sodium content of all the varieties and it is easiest to dress up with a few grape tomatoes, a slice mushroom, or some kidney beans. If you don't use the ranch dressing that comes with it and sprinkle some lemon pepper on top instead, you can have a really filling meal and consume less than 400 calories! And if you are worried about all the packaging, it all can go into the recycling bin.

Toss a piece of fruit into the mix and you have a really good tasting and good for you dinner!

Like the one I'm getting to have at my desk right now...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Clippin' Coupons

Now that I have a car payment for the first time in seven years and with the huge increases of the cost of food, I am determined to get back to being a diligent coupon clipper and store sale flyer reader.

I remember my mom sitting at the kitchen table on Saturday morning before going to the grocery store with her list on her right and stacks of store flyers and her coupon box on her left. She would go down her list, check through each flyer and then her coupon box to check for sales and specials. Then, she would load my brother and I into the family station wagon and down to Oleson's, IGA, or Giantway we would go.

Today, I'm off for Martin Luther King Day and I decided to get caught up on reading my newspapers and then go grocery shopping. I use Tada Lists for making my list and then I sat with the coupon inserts from the Sunday paper and the online store flyers and went through my grocery list to make sure I had all my coupons in order.

While I was doing this, I noticed a lot of "visit for more coupons and offers". So, I visited the site, found a few more coupons, printed them and headed out to the store. I'm thinking internet coupons are even better than flyer coupons. They don't end up in the dumps or recycling bins, you can find coupons for exactly the products you want, and you don't have to subscribe to a newspaper to get coupons!

While standing in the checkout line at the Super Stop and Shop, I noticed a sign over the cash register, "We do not accept coupons printed on your computer".


Sunday, January 20, 2008

One Last Review...Seeing Red

Hmm.... there is a whole lot of red going on in my life lately!

First, it was the adoption of Isabelle.

Then it was the sassy red sweater I got at Christmas from my mom.

Now it is a brand new red car!!

Yup, the "Rolling Pigsty", as W called my car,

finally died while driving to work last week.

I had been in the market for a new car for about four months so I had done my research and narrowed down my choice of cars to four, Honda Accord Hybrid, Ford Focus, Toyota Camry, and Dodge Caliber. OK, there was a fifth car that I wanted too, a Sebring Convertible, my "midlife crisis" car. But it was only a passing thought because well, north of the Mason Dixon line they just aren't that practical of a car, especially if you want to haul a kayak on top!

I had purposely rented my finalist cars on business and pleasure trips to take them on extended test drives and had eliminated the Ford Focus and Toyota Camry due to poor handling and noise on the road (the Camry was worse than the Focus surprisingly!). So, I was down to the Accord and Caliber. I liked the idea of a hybrid car but fell in love with the performance and funky design of the Caliber. In fact, I was leaning heavily towards the Caliber because it also got really good gas milage (only 4 mph less in the city than the Accord Hybrid and exactly the same as the normal Accord) and I admit it, I'm a Michigan girl and I have a soft spot in my heart for Detroit cars. So, I had told a dealer I was working with to find me a Caliber. Then a trip to my parents house changed everything.

I was given a 2007 Sebring sedan with a fully loaded package as my rental car when I went home to Michigan for Thanksgiving. This car was fantastic. It drove wonderfully, was quiet and powerful. It handled well on all types of pavement, including the two track my folks live down. Best of all, it drove through two snow storms in Michigan like a champ, including a pretty nasty lake effect gale between Traverse City and the UP up the west coast along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It handled better than my mom's jeep in this weather. I loved the head room, the comfort of the seat (hard to find for long legged women, the seats in most cars are designed for men and hit me upper thigh making sitting for a long drive a bit uncomfortable), and best of all I love the sound system complete with Sirius Satellite radio. Between all the comfort features there was the gas mileage and the standard safety features. This car gets great gas mileage and comes with side curtain, head, front and knee airbags standard. The car gets good to excellent crash ratings and good reliability according to Edmunds and a few other car sites. I had found the car I wanted to buy.

When I got home, I told the dealer I was working with find me a used 2007 Sebring with low mileage. It was off to the bargaining races. You know that game of here is the payment you can afford, the guy writes it down and takes it back to some other guy who writes a different number down and you counter with another number. This goes on a for about a week. Except this time, I think I won this game! While the guy was searching for my used car for me the economy took a nose dive and car sales plummeted, especially for American cars. As it happened, he had a brand new red 2007 Sebring with the fully loaded touring package (it even has the remote start!!) on his lot. It only had 13 miles on it and he also had eight 2008s of the exact same model on his lot; not to mention a packed lot of Jeeps, trucks, and other cars. Basically he wanted it off his lot and he was willing to give it to me for the same price we had negotiated for my used one. Um, no brainer....

This is the first brand new, new car I've ever owned and I have to admit, I do like the new car smell.

To celebrate my new purchase, I decided to have a little Red Velvet Cake with my dinner last night. Since I didn't want to make a whole cake, I reached for a cookbook that I turn to time and time again when I want a baked treat without having to have a whole cake or batch of cookies in my house to tempt me, Debby Maugans Nakos Small-Batch Baking and made the Red Velvet Cake.

When it came out of the oven, was frosted and ready to eat, I hit the remote start on my car, poured a glass of red wine into a travel mug, and went out and sat in my shiny new red car listening to Sirus Radio while had my dessert...

Tiny Red Velvet Cakes
Adapted from Debby Maugans Nakos Small Batch Baking

Makes 2 small cakes.

Note about baking small batches, I have found that purchasing a kit of children's baking tins is helpful for this cookbook. Ms. Nakos also has suggestions for using things like washed out tin cans as baking pans.

1/2 cup AP flour plus more for preparing cans or baking tins.
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp buttermilk (I use regular milk with no ill effects)
yolk of 1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp red food coloring

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare the pans or the cans by greasing them and lightly dusting them with flour, tapping out the excess flour. Place the small pans or cans on a baking sheet for easier handling and set them aside.

Combine water, egg yolk, buttermilk, and vanilla and whisk to mix. Gradually pour the melted butter into the buttermilk mixture, whisking constantly. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the buttermilk mixture and whisk just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans or cans, dividing it evenly between them. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean, 25 - 30 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the pans or cans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans or cans by running a thin and sharp knife around the edge of each pan/can and invert them to release the cakes. Let cool completely.

Frost with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle sides with walnuts.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review Week: Celeberity Chef Goodness or Why You Should Never Say Never

Keeping with the theme of surprising finds and not judging books by covers, the final installment of Review Week brings us a triple review, Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors from the Southwestern Kitchen and reviews of Mesa Grill in both New York and Las Vegas.

The first time I saw Bobby Flay on Food Network I have to admit I didn't like him. I didn't like what he cooked and I didn't like his brash and arrogant TV persona. In fact, I went so far as to tell a friend that if Bobby Flay was the last chef on earth I would never eat at one his restaurants or buy any of his cookbooks. Well, I am going to have to eat my words and thank goodness I get to!

This past spring, while in Las Vegas for one of the many audio industry trade shows that are held in Sin City, some high profile clients wanted to spend the evening discussing upcoming projects with their firm. More importantly, they wanted to be taken out to dinner on my expense account and the restaurant they chose was Mesa Grill in Ceasar's Palace. I inwardly groaned as I picked up the phone and made a reservation. That evening, we arrived, we were informed that they were running a bit behind and it would be a 20 minute wait but we would be welcome to wait at the bar.

Here is where you find out immediately what type of mettle a restaurant is made out of in the way they handle their customers when a table that is reserved isn't ready at the time of the reservation. Good restaurants under good management will sit you at the bar and serve you either drinks or an appetizer on the house because good restaurants won't give diners seated at a table the "bums rush" but they also don't want the party who has a reservation to be slighted. This is exactly what happened at Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. We were given a round of free drinks and the chef (no, not Bobby Flay) personally delivered to our table a plate of Yellow Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with his apologies for our wait. He had nothing to apologize for because those oysters were fantastic. Fresh and crunchy and the sauces served with them were perfectly spicy without being overso.

We enjoyed the oysters so much that we had another plate of them when we were seated along with the Blue Corn and Barbecued Duck Pancakes and Rough Cut Raw Tuna Nachos. For dinner I had Ancho Chile Honey Glazed Salmon and a side of Sauteed Spinach. My salmon was a bit overdone but the ancho chile glaze was very good and the spinach was perfectly seasoned. Everyone said their meal was great and I even had a taste of the special steak that night and it was perfectly grilled and seasoned. The service was good and prompt without being over bearing and rushed, a rarity in Las Vegas. The restaurant was packed so it wasn't because the restaurant was slow that the service was so good, it was because this is the way the restaurant is run. For dessert I had the Warm Chocolate Cake served with Dulce De Leche and Toasted Pecan Ice Cream. It was excellent and with the port I had for a final night cap, the perfect topper to a wonderfully tasty and surprising meal. I definitely recommend Mesa Grill in Las Vegas and can't wait until the next time I'm in Vegas for a trade show, because as a consultant, I'm not the one who gets taken out for dinner and I know exactly where I'm going to ask to go for dinner!

I've since had a chance to have both lunch and dinner at the original Mesa Grill in New York City. None of the meals I've had there have disappointed but none of them have shined the way the dinner in Las Vegas did either. I have never had an awful meal here but the service is a bit erratic and rush, rushed. Sometimes the service is down right awful and confusing, especially between the 7 and 10pm hours on Thursday thru Saturday. A few of the people I've been with for meals have had less than stellar meals with over cooked steaks and undercooked pork been had all four times I've been there for dinner by someone at the table. One night I have a dry and gritty shrimp tamale, the specialty of the house. So, I would have to say that the Mesa Grill in NYC needs a little attention at dinner from its founder, Bobby Flay. It's lunch service is a bit better and the Blue Corn Barbacued Duck Pancakes are one of my favourite quick lunches in New York.

Given my one hundred-eighty degree change of heart for Bobby Flay and his cooking, it was with great interest that I agreed to review his latest cookbook, "The Mesa Grill Cookbook".

When the book arrived the first thing I did was look to see if my beloved duck pancakes were in the book. They are along with all the other classic Mesa Grill dishes, the Wild Mushroom Quesadillas and the Shrimp and Roasted Garlic Corn Tamales, one of my favourite dishes at the New York restaurant. The book is divided into well organized sections like drinks (the Mesa Grill is famous for its margaritas), soups, salads, sides, etc. The book starts out with a really good introduction to the Southwestern Pantry and a great guide to chilies, the main ingredient in most of the recipes. This is really helpful for someone like me who doesn't cook a lot of this type of cuisine and wouldn't even know where to begin when it comes to sourcing the ingredients. The chile guide is especially helpful if you aren't a huge fan of super spicy food. You can look at a recipe and then refer back to this guide and decide if the seasoning of the recipe will be too much for your palate. Luckily, the hallmark of Southwestern food and Bobby Flay's take on it is more to the smoked and roasted chile resulting in even the hottest peppers being tamped down a bit. I also liked the extensive section on relishes, sauces, and vinaigrettes.

There are some really interesting relishes like Grilled Pineapple and Pickled Green Chile Salsa. I love grilled pineapple and anything pickled. This was a super tasty compliment to fish and chicken and while it was a bit time consuming to make, once it is made it keeps for a really long time in your fridge. I also made the Avocado Relish to serve with some friends that came over and watched football a few weekends ago. We all agreed it was a nice take on guacamole with better seasoning.

I found the recipes to be easy to follow with most of the ingredients pretty easy to find in even my grocery store, albeit in the Spanish/Mexican food section (The Goya brand will have most everything you need to make most of the dishes and there is a small list of suppliers at the back of the book). The one ingredient that defied my best efforts to find was the one ingredient that I most wanted to find, blue cornmeal. Since the Barbacue Duck Pancakes are my favourite dish at Mesa Grill, I wanted to make these. Alas, I never found a source for the blue cornmeal locally. I have some on order and as soon as it comes in, I'm making these as well as the Blue and Yellow Cornmeal Muffins.

Bobby Flay is known for how he handles meat, especially on the grill. Unfortunately it is winter here so I didn't venture out and fire up the grill but I did make two of the meat dishes from the cookbook, Tamarind Cracked Black Pepper Chicken and Coffee Rubbed Filet Mignon. I made the Tamarind Cracked Black Pepper Glazed Chicken for dinner one night and wasn't that thrilled with it. I like lots of tamarind and I could barely taste it in the glaze. The orange juice in the recipe overpowered the tamarind. The Coffee Rubbed Filet Mignon was the big surprise dish for me. When I made the rub, I thought the coffee flavor (in the form of finely ground espresso beans) was WAY overpowering. In fact, I thought it tasted bitter. But, when I seared the steak and then let it cook over a low and slow burner, the steak took on a smoky and densely layered taste. I really like it. A lot! I now have a small container of this rub in my pantry to toss on a steak without having to make the rub from scratch. I think I'm going to try it on a prime rib when my folks come out to see me at Easter.

One side dish I fell in love with because it was so easy to make and I'm a girl who likes her beans and rice is the Spicy Yellow Rice with Red Beans. This dish is quick and super tasty. I have made it a few times as a main dish with pan seared shrimp, poached white fish, and on its own topped with a handful of shredded four cheese blend. I also served it as the side dish with the above mentioned Coffee Rubbed Filet Mignon.

The kicker to the Spicy Yellow Rice with Red Beans? A pinch of saffron and the ancho chile powder, a sweet spicy winning combination just like Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors from the Southwestern Kitchen.

Coffee Rub for Steaks
From Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook

1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
1 Tbsp finely ground espresso
2 tsp Spanish paprika
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chile de arbol powder

Combine all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container.

To use: pat dry steak and rub 1 heaping tablespoon on each side of the steak. Let sit for five to 10 minutes. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a pan over hight heat until smoking (canola oil works really well) and pan sear each side of the steak for 2 minutes or until a crust has form. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking the steaks to desired doneness. Let meat rest 5 minutes before serving ( I like Medium Rare - about 5 -7 minutes).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Review Week: A Good Pint and Fish and Chips In a Rather Surprising Place

When my grandfather passed away in October I flew home to Michigan through Cincinnati. I was using a frequent flyer ticket so I didn't have much choice on connections and found myself with about three hours to kill between puddle jumpers. Having nothing to do and not wanting to sit at the gate trying to read the same page in my book I'd been reading since I left New York LaGuardia, I wandered around the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport looking for a place to grab a bite to eat and a beer.

The first place I wandered into was well frankly pretty awful in regards to service and cleanliness. I landed at Gate 80 and there was what appeared to be a full service bar/restaurant almost directly across from the main gate area. I wandered in, asked if they were open and serving alcohol. The hostess said yes. So, I plopped myself at the bar and waited... and waited...with no bartender in sight. While I waited, three staff members walked by, looked at me and then walked away. Finally, I flagged one down and asked if there was a bartender. She said yes and walked over to where a group of employees were standing around talking and motioned to one of the girls that had earlier walked by me. She looked at me and then kept right on talking with her friends!! Finally, after about five more minutes, the bartender came over, sighed, tossed a menu on the bar and asked if I wanted anything. I looked at her and in my most charming voice said, no not anymore, got up, and walked out. I don't remember the name of the restaurant but if you are flying through Cincinnati, don't go there. Awful place. Awful service and the food that went by didn't look all that good either. (note: the directory of the Cincinnati airport says this place is the Bluegrass Brewing Co., the picture looks like the place but the name doesn't sound right)

Still in search of my beer and food, I went to the information desk and asked if there was another full service bar/restaurant as all I could see was a food court. I wasn't holding out much hope as the Cincinnati airport is small but the very friendly gentleman behind the desk said that there was a British pub right near the gate I was leaving from in two and a half hours. I thanked him and headed toward the place on the map he had pointed to.

A British pub? In Cincinnati's airport? Well, it might be what people in Cincinnati think a British pub would look like but I highly doubted it would be anything like the British pubs or even the Boston Irish pubs I know and love so well.

Note to self, always expect the unexpected, especially when traveling, because as I walked around the corner of the hallway I was directed to, there in front of me stood The Pub.

I walked into the place and while yes, it was definitely an airport and it wasn't as dark as a pub should be, it probably was as close to a pub as I'd been in since I left Boston. There were seven tellys and all were turned to either American football or English Premier League games. The barstools were of the type you typically find in London, short and no back and there was a full wall of good British beers on tap, including Fuller's London Pride, my pint of choice when I'm in the UK and Bass, my pint of choice when I'm here. I sat down at the bar and super cheerful bartender immediately came over, sat a paper coaster down (with Smithwick's on it). I told her I would like a pint of Fuller's and a menu. While she pulled my pint, correctly mind you...nice and slow, I perused the menu.

It was a very traditional pub menu complete with Shepherds Pie, Bangers and Mash, Ploughman's Lunch, and Fish and Chips. It also had the typical pub burger and appetizers that are found on this side of the pond. By the time I had finished reading the menu, I had a nice and correct temperature (cellar temp) pint of London Pride at my elbow. I asked about the fish and chips and was told it was made with cod or haddock flown in fresh with a traditional coating and pub fries, the only thing missing was the mushy peas (they serve it with cole slaw) but since I'm not a huge fan of mushy peas, that was OK by me.

While the bartender went to place my order, I read about the history of The Pub. The Pub is part of a chain of regional restaurants owned by the Tavern Restaurant Group. The group started by building authentic Scottish and British pubs in 1997 and has grown to include four Pub restaurants including the one at the airport. While I was waiting for my fish and chips, the bartender and I chatted about football (both types, she is Manchester fan and well...I'm Arsenal. She is a Packer fan and I'm well....a lifelong Cowboys fan). Then she brought me my fish and chips and a pint of Bass to wash it down with along with malt vinegar for my chips. I doused my fish and chips and took a sip of Bass before I broke into one of the huge pieces of deep fried Cod. When I cut into the cod, the crust was perfect and fish flaked wonderfully.

I could tell it was fresh cod and the chips were exactly the type of chips you get served in a good Chippie. All in all, probably the best fish and chips since I left Boston. I had one more pint of London Pride while I decided on dessert, which was a rather mediocre rustic apple tart. By the time I finished my pint and paid my tab,it was time to board my plane. All in all, my meal at The Pub was quite good, pretty British, and proved to me there is more than chili to be had in Cincinnati.

I don't fly much through Cincinnati for my business travel, but I'll tell you now that I know a place to get a good pint along with decent fish and chips, I just might start trying to a little more often.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Review Week: Tale of Two Flours

All bakers have favorite ingredients and brands of those ingredients. As a bread maker, flour is mine.

If you could see how many different flours I have you would be stunned. A few months ago, a few of us Daring Bakers got together and compared the number of flours we had in our pantry. At that time, I had a much larger pantry so I could keep even more more specialty flours on hand. Today, I have about nine different flours on hand: all purpose (AP), bread, high gluten, whole wheat, rye, pastry, buckwheat, pumpernickel and cake flour. Over the years, I have developed a preference for King Arthur flour but will use Gold Medal AP and bread when I can't find KA.

Right before I left for Michigan to spend Christmas, I received a request to review a new all purpose flour coming to market from Eagle Mills, All Purpose Unbleached Flour with Ultragrain.

According to the company, " Ultragrain is an all-natural, 100% whole wheat flour that combines the nutritional benefits of whole grains with the finished recipe qualities of traditional refined flour." Recent studies and health trends are showing that having several servings a day of whole grain and fiber is good for you. Also, I suspect that most people who are casual bakers at home use white bleached or unbleached AP flour when they are making cookies and other goodies. So, the idea that a readily available in the supermarket AP flour that adds a percentage of whole grain goodness, like the Eagle Mills, is probably not a bad idea. I said, "Sure, send me a bag. I'll give it whirl and see how it works in a few different recipes".

Since King Arthur flour is my preferred brand, I decided to compare and contrast five different recipes for baked goods: my Farmer's White bread, chocolate chip cookie bars, lemon cardamom shortbread, devil food cake, and low fat, low calorie maple currant scones I like from a Cooking Light cookbook. I would make each of these recipes two times, one with my normal KA flour and one with the Ultragrain flour (yes, Sara, this whole testing brought out the scientist in me, much to my delight!)

I would judge the performance of the two flours on texture of the raw flour, crumb of the baked good, and taste.

(Ultragrain flour on the left, KA AP on the right)

In the texture of the raw flour, I found the Ultragrain flour to have a bit of a gritty feel and was slightly more yellow in color than the KA flour. It wasn't objectionable in its grittiness but I wondered how that would effect the shortbread recipe since that recipe calls for 1/2 cup of pastry flour and one cup of AP flour and the cake.

I judge all flours on how they make bread and the very first thing I made with the Ultragrain flour was the Farmers White Bread. The sponge and the dough came together exactly the same way with both flours. The gluten development during the kneading took a bit longer with the Ultragrain and I had to use a bit more flour than I did with the KA version but not enough to say it was show stopper. Both breads rose nicely, and in fact the Ultragrain bread crowned higher than the KA one did, just the wonderful vagaries of working with yeast I suspect and nothing to do with the flours. Both loaves baked nicely. After they both cooled, I sliced into them and had my first taste. The Ultragrain loaf had a really nice tight crumb and very closely resembled in taste and texture what we know as Canadian White Bread, a style of bread I actually find pleasing.

(Ultragrain Farmers White Loaf)

The results of the chocolate chip cookie bars was indistinguishable. Both batches had the same texture of dough and taste. The only slight difference was the Ultragrain bars browned a bit more but where just as good with a tall class of milk and no one who had them complained one little bit. In fact, when I told one of the taste testers who once told me they couldn't stand whole grain anything the fourth chocolate chip cookie bar they were eating had whole grain in it, they just stared at me with a deer in headlight look and then grabbed another bar!

For the cake, I turned to one of my favourite cookbooks for baking tiny batches, Debby Maugans Nakos wonderful Small-Batch Baking and made her Chocolate Birthday Cake and used that wonderful frosting from the Daring Bakers Red Velvet Cake challenge.

(Ultragrain Chocolate Cake with Red Velvet Frosting)

Again, I didn't find much of a difference between the two flours and both little cakes tasted pretty darn good. I took them to a friend's house for a night of video viewing and we each had half of the two cakes. She said the Ultragrain one actually tasted moister. I didn't perceive any difference but then I may have been distracted by that frosting...

The one recipe that I did find a pretty big difference between the two flours was with the shortcake. I knew when I put the dough together that there was going to be a difference. For one thing, the dough using the Ultragrain was much denser in feel than the dough using the KA flour. It was heavier and I actually had to use a little liquid with it to get it to spread into the shortcake mold. The Ultragrain shortbread (piece on the bottom) got browner too. As you can see below, the Ultragrain shortbread was much more dense and not as flaky and "shattery" as the KA AP version (top three pieces).

It still tasted pretty good and didn't have an offensive texture, it just wasn't the same shortbread.

Finally, I baked a low fat, low calorie version of maple currant scones. I love this recipe. Everyone I make these for loves these and they are dumbfounded when I tell them they are light versions. These scones bake up light and fluffy versus like bricks. They have a sweet maple flavor and the currants add a nice texture to them. You can make them fancy by brushing egg white and sprinkling sparkling sugar on top or make them rustic by leaving the egg wash and sugar off. Best of all they taste wonderful.

The two doughs went together exactly the same with no difference at all. The scones baked exactly the same and I couldn't tell the difference at all in the way they puffed.

(Ultragrain Maple Currant Scones)

The surprising thing? Between the two batches I made, I actually preferred the version made with the Ultragrain flour. I thought it had a texture and quality to them that was really close to the tea scones I have had in Europe. They had a tighter crumb than the KA AP flour and a slightly sweeter than the KA AP ones. I also liked the fact that since I was making a healthy version of scones that using the Ultragrain flour added a little bit more healthiness to the recipe.

So, my conclusions? For general baking and everyday baking I probably would recommend substituting at least a cup of Ultragrain flour for regular AP flour if you are looking for a way to add whole grain to you and your family's diet without letting them know or without going full whole grain. For recipes that call for really light and delicate crumb though, I would stay with my King Arthur AP.

Will I be buying a bag of Ultragrain to add to my flour collection? Yea, probably. I like the idea, especially for the general baking I do for my gym, that I'm adding a little bit of whole grain goodness into my baked goods and since it worked really well in those recipes, I might as well take advantage of the Ultragrain. Especially since it means I won't have to cut back on the butter!

Maple Currant Scones
adapted from The Best of Cooking Light

Makes 16 Scones

2 cups AP flour (I used the Eagle Mills Ultragrain AP Flour)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup skim milk
3 Tbsp maple syrup
4 Tbsp egg whites or Eggbeaters
1 Tbsp Water
1/8 cup sparkling sugar

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine first five ingredients in a bowl, cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add currants and toss well. Combine milk and syrup and add to flour. Combine until ingredients are just moist. Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead ingredients just 4 or 5 times until a dough ball is formed. Pat the dough into an 8 inch round circle and cut into 8 triangles. Cut each triangle into two smaller triangles and place as close to each other on a cookie sheet lightly coated with cooking spray.

Combine egg whites or Eggbeaters with water and brush each scone with egg wash. Sprinkle sugar on top of the scones.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

Calories: 187 per scone Fat: 3 grams

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Review Week: The Welcome Return of the Coffee Cake

If there is one baked good that has gotten a bad rap the past decade or so it would be the coffee cake. Too often, when we think of coffee cakes, we think of those dull tasting cakes with the overly sweet topping that look so good in the pastry case at our local bakeries but then disappoint when we get them home. Or those gooey residue on our tongue leaving ones that come out of the ubiquitous blue and white boxes found near the dairy or frozen food section in every super market from coast to coast.

Come on...

You know that is what you think about coffee cakes.

I know because that is what I thought about coffee cakes...until a few weeks ago that is.

A few weeks ago, Carole Walter's latest cookbook, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More: 200 Anytime Treats and Special Sweets for Morning to Midnight, was dropped on my door mat by my nice, good looking UPS guy for me to review.

About 30 minutes after the book arrived, I sat down with a cup of tea and a hot from the oven Country Cherry Honey Scone (pg 152) and started reading the recipes found in this wonderful ode to baked love. As I flipped through the pages and read the recipes for the coffee cakes, I was pretty sure I would never find a recipe for a coffee cake like my grandmother used to make.

But, before I tell you about the coffee cakes let me tell you about the Chocolate Glazed Cream Buns (pg 280). I want you to close your eyes and imagine the lightest, fluffiest, cream filled yeast raised donut you have ever had. I want to imagine yourself biting into that soft spongy dough and having an explosion of smooth, vanilla tasting pastry cream and chocolate to go along with the donut. Are you drooling? Are you opening up Amazon right now to order Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More: 200 Anytime Treats and Special Sweets for Morning to Midnight? No??!! You need more reasons to give Carole's book a try? asked for it...

Let's turn to Page 292 shall we and explore the recipe for the divine Pear and Dried Cranberry Strudel. First, who doesn't love strudel? This is strudel is a surprising flavor combination. The tart cranberries play off the sweet pears and then, just when you don't think this recipe can get any better, you get to add 1/3 cup of Kirsch or rum. Hey, any coffee break that includes alcohol is a good coffee break, especially when it comes packaged in something as flaky and tasty as this strudel.

Just when you don't think Ms. Walter can top herself she gives you this ode to maximum chocolate in a muffin with Jeff's Chocolate Glazed Midnight Muffins. These chocoholic gems are a creation for her grandson, Jeffrey. They are moist. They are chocolatey. They are chock full of nuts and the glaze you put on top will send you to the moon! I have dreams about these muffins. They are that good.

I made over fifteen recipes from this cookbook. There hasn't been a week that has gone by since I got "Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More" that I haven't made at least two things to bring into either the office or the gym. I have read this cookbook from cover to cover like a romance novel and each recipe I read makes me fall more in love with it. The recipes are well thought out and easy to follow, even the yeast bread section is a dream to work from. Each recipe has an "At a Glance" section that outlines the pan, prep, baking temperature and time and the difficulty of the recipe. At the end of the recipe, Ms. Walter offers storage and serving tips. Sprinkled like cinnamony, crunchy nuggets on top of a muffin are gems of wisdom from well know authors and other famous people. For example, at the end of the scrumptious Crumb Buns, where Carole Walter confesses her addiction for streusel toppings, we find John Gunther's most appropriate quote, "All happiness depends upon a leisurely breakfast". The final chapter of the book is dedicated to frostings, toppings, and of course crumb toppings. I like that even though there is a recommended topping suggested in the main recipe, you can come back here and pick and choose how you want to top the baked goods.

And it is here that you will find what I will declare for all to read to be the end all to be all of all crumb streusel toppings, "Carole's Favorite Streusel". This topping is paired with the coffee cake that sent me straight back to my grandmother's kitchen, the Butter Crumb Coffee Cake. This coffee cake is one of the moisted, most tender coffee cakes I have ever had. I've made this coffee cake four times, twice following the recipe to the letter, and the other two times, putting fruit (blueberries and raspberries) between the top of the coffee cake and the streusel topping. When I die, I want Carole Walter's Butter Crumb Coffee Cake topped with her Favorite Streusel coffee cake served at my wake.

Better yet, someone better put this coffee cake in the box with me because I want to munch on it all the way to the afterlife...

Butter Crumb Coffee Cake
from Carole Walter's "Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, and More"

Coffe Cake Ingredients:
1 large recipe Carole's Favorite Streusel
2 cups sifted AP flour, spooned and leveled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes at room temp
1 large egg
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar for dusting

Generously butter, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment paper a 10" springform pan and set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the lower third of the oven.
Prepare Streusel and set aside. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and work with your fingertips until fine crumbs are formed (I used my mixer on "Stir")
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the liquid. Stir gradually pushing the crumbs into the liquid, beginning with the crumbs in the center of the bowl and working toward the edge of the bowl (dough hook worked really well for this!!). Beat for one minute or until batter is smooth. Batter will be thick.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the back of a large soup spoon or offset spatula. (If you are going to use some fruit or nuts, sprinkle them on top after you smooth the batter). Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze gently forming a large clump. Then break the clump apart, and sprinkly the crumbs onto the batter. Repeat until all the streusel mixture has been used. Lightly press the streusel into the batter.
Set the pan on a 12 inch strip of and bake the cake for 40 - 45 minutes until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let stand on a cooling rack for 20 - 25 minutes, then remove the outer ring. Place a 12" piece of aluminum foil directly on top of the cake and carefully lift off the bottom of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. cover with another rack, invert again and remove the foil, and cool right side up. Just before serving dust with powdered sugar

Carole's Favorite Streusel (Large Recipe)

2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup AP flour, spooned and leveled
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Place butter in a 3 Qt heavy bottom sauce pan and heat until almost melted, remove from heat and cool to tepid. Whisk together remaining ingredients. Add to butter and stir with a fork until blended and mixture begins to form crumbs. Gently squeeze the mixture with your hand to form larger lumps, then break apart with your fingertips. Before using, let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Review Week: Simply the Best Tart Ever!

Note: This post is going to be the first post in a week long series of reviews of cookbooks, products and a restaurant or two.

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to receive a copy of Alice Waters new cookbook The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution to review. As I had been waiting for this cookbook to come out for a while, I was happy to say, "Yes, of course!"

I have to admit to not knowing who Alice Waters was until I was on a business trip in San Francisco a few years ago. My client, knowing I was a budding foodie, took me to Chez Panisse for dinner and it was one of the most memorable meals of my life. I will never forget the braised lamb shanks I had that night; especially as they were the dish that started my love affair with lamb.

"The Art of Simple Food" is more than just a compilation of Ms. Waters recipes. It is a great starting point for anyone who is just beginning to cook using fresh and local ingredients or for that matter a great first cookbook for anyone new to the kitchen. But, the book is also a great resource for someone like me who has years of kitchen experience and sometimes just needs to be reminded of the basics or that one little tip to take a recipe of their own to that next level. There is something here for every level of cook. The book is organized in two sections, "Part I: Starting from scratch; lessons and foundation recipes" and "Part II: At the table; recipes for cooking every day".

Part I takes the reader through all the basic techniques and recipes that are considered the foundation for any great dish. Each chapter in Part I starts with an explanation of the concept and then presents a recipe that showcases the concept in its purest form along with simple variations to expand on the basic. For example, the chapter on pasta and polenta starts out with a description of fresh pasta and how to prepare and cook it. This is followed with a straight forward recipe for making your own fresh pasta without needing to use a pasta machine. The recipe also provides tips for those who have a machine but makes it clear that you don't need a machine to succeed. I love that none of the recipes for these basics call for ingredients or gadgets not easily found in the kitchen of a home cook who can make soup, broil a porkchop or bake cookies.

Another nice touch is throughout Part I there are margin notes with little tips about the chapter concept, ingredient use, or how to make the most out of the recipe. The only thing about Part I of "The Art of Simple Food" that I found a bit unfortunate is one I've mentioned before about comprehensive cookbooks, there is a lack of step by step illustrations for some of the more difficult techniques described. But, that one little thing shouldn't stop anyone new to cooking from buying and making this book a centerpiece of their cookbook collection. The recipes and descriptions in this section of "The Art of Simple Food" are that good and anyone who cooks should have these under their belt.

Part II provides a playground for the recipes and techniques from Part I. The recipes are well laid out with ingredients in bold letters. I really like this in a cookbook as it makes the ingredients stand out from the rest of the text making easier to ensure I don't miss one. I also like that each basic recipe used has the page number where that recipe is found reprinted. I always hate it when a recipe refers to another recipe in the cookbook and then doesn't tell you where to find that recipe, making you have to go to the index.

I tried seven different recipes from this section and didn't find any that couldn't be completed within a few hours and some within one hour; making most of the recipes perfect to use even on a busy work night. For example, one busy night I made the Baked Wild Salmon with Herb Butter (pg 330) and paired it with the Braised Belgian Endive (pg 311) but made the variation of using cream as the braising liquid. It was a delightfully light and tasty meal on a chilly mid-winter night. Best of all, even after having a training session at my gym that lasted until 8pm, I had dinner on the table by 8:30pm and dishes done and cleared by 9:30pm, all without any pre-gym prep work.

Another night, after having to work until 7pm, I came home and decided to clean out the fridge of a few odds and ends before leaving for the my Christmas trip home at the beginning of the next week. Rummaging around the various drawers and shelves of my fridge, I found half a Spanish Onion, 2 cups of diced ham, one scrambled egg from an egg wash I had used on some scones I took to work the day before, and about 3/4 cup of shredded swiss cheese. Flipping open "The Art of Simple Food", I found a recipe for a savory Onion Tart. Reading through the recipe, I decided it could be adapted to meet my need to clean out my fridge and to satisfy my hunger for a light but tasty meal.

Starting with the most simple of recipes for a tart or pie dough, I had the dough made and in the fridge in less than ten minutes. While the dough rested in the fridge, I sauteed the onions, deciding to take advantage of the time needed for the dough to rest, to allow them to almost caramelize. Then while I let the onions drain and cool, I rolled out the dough per the instructions, spread the onions across the dough and sprinkled some sage and nutmeg on them. Then I added the ham and swiss cheese, brushed the crust with the remaining egg wash and baked the tart. What came out of the oven was simply put, the best tart I've ever had in my life. Period.

The crust was incredibly thin, flaky and buttery. It shattered when I bit into a piece of tart. The sweet flavor of the onions with the combination of sage and nutmeg was incredible and was nicely complimented by the saltiness of the ham and tang of the swiss cheese. Best of all, I had enough left over to take to work for breakfast the next morning and have a late evening snack the following night after a long day of business travel.

If you know me, you know that I have quite a large cookbook collection. I keep my cookbooks in a large five shelf library style bookcase in my kitchen with my most often used cookbooks on the center shelf within easy reach. All these cookbooks are dog eared and ingredient spattered from years of use. Last night while I was picking up and sorting through the stacks of cookbooks I was working with over the past month, I made room on that center shelf for Alice Waters "The Art of Simple Food".

I'm sure in the weeks and years to come it will get a dusting of flour and a stain or two...

Tart and Pie Dough
From Alice Waters "The Art of Simple Food"

Makes two (2) 10 ounce balls of dough, enough for two 11" tarts or one double crust 9" tart

Have measured: 1/2 cup ice-cold water

Mix together:

2 cups AP unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)

Add: 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small (1/4 inch) cubes

Cut or work the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingertips, leaving some of the butter in fairly large, irregular pieces. This will take 1 or 2 minutes. (Or mix for no more than a minute, at medium low speed, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement) Pour in three quarters of th water, stirring all the while with a fork until the dough begins to form clumps. (In the mixer, turn the speed to low and pour the water down the sides of the bowl, mixing for 30 seconds or less) Keep adding water if needed. Divide the dough in two, bring each part together into a ball, and wrap each ball in plastic. Compress each ball, and then flatten them into disks. Let rest, refrigerated for 1 hour or longer.

Friday, January 11, 2008

We Have Winners!!

The winners of the Menu for Hope IV Raffle have been announced!

But, before I let you know who won our prizes, let me say thank you to everyone who bid on my prizes and all the other fabulous prizes my fellow food bloggers from around the world offered. Because of each of your contributions, we will be sending $91,188.00 to help support the World Food Programme!! That is 50% more than we raised last year. Absolutely fabulous!!!

So here are the winners of the Menu for Hope IV raffle prizes from The Sour Dough:

UE08: Box of 9 LA Burdick Chocolate Mice:

Congratulations Ms. Jessica Su! I'll be shipping you this lovely box of mice.

UE09: Small Signature Collection box of Chocolate from Knipschildt Chocolatier:

Congratulations Ms Stephanie Leveene! Once these chocolates arrive, let's see if they last longer than the boxes we had in offices over the holidays.
UE10: Two Loaves of Fresh Baked Bread from Breadchick:

Congratulations Mrs. Sarah Rosenberg! Two fresh baked loaves of bread will soon be on their way to your house!
UE11: Day of Baking with Breadchick:

Congratulations Dr. Ewan McNay! On an upcoming weekend day, I'll be visiting you and your friends in your kitchen to teach you the basics of bread making and I'll have a basket of bread making tools and goodies with me.

If you are one of the winners, please drop me an email to claim your prize. Please include the email address you used to donate to Menu for Hope in your email to me. Thanks!

Again, a huge Breadchick thank you to everyone who contributed to make this year's Menu for Hope so successful. We'll see you next year for Menu for Hope V!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I'm in Love with a Girl!!!

I'm in love with a girl. She is strong and buff, has gorgeous curves and is feisty as hell. She has shiny eyes, looks damn fine in red and her name is...


As you know, right before Christmas, I got myself my dream mixer, the Kitchenaid Pro 5 Plus and named her Isabelle. Since it was right before I went home to Michigan for two weeks, I really didn't have much of a chance to use her other than to make an awesome coffee cake I'm going to tell you about a bit later this week and a few batches of cookies.

But, since I got home from Michigan, there hasn't been a night that Isabelle and I haven't spent together. We've been inseparable. We've made cookies for the little girl upstairs and her friend. We've made pie and this incredible savory tart. We've made brownies for the office. We've made three batches of cinnamon rolls for folks who have ordered them from me. And, we've made bread. Lots and lots of bread.

We've made French baguettes, classic Farmers White, low fat whole wheat cinnamon pull-apart bread, pumpkin bread, and tonight we made honey whole wheat.

I just love to watch Isabelle knead the bread. I love the way she gathers the dough and twists it around her dough hook. I love how all I have to do is scrape the flour from the bottom of the bowl and Isabelle grabs it and tugs and pulls it into the dough. I even love the sound of the finished dough going "thawk, thawk, thawk" agains the side of her pretty, shiny, metal bowl.

Does this new love of my life mean I'm not going to extol the virtues of making bread completely by hand? No, absolutely not. In fact, even though Isabelle had been doing most of the heavy lifting, there hasn't been one loaf of bread that I've made that I haven't finished by a few minutes of hand kneading or that I haven't stopped Isabelle during the kneading process to touch the dough so I can get a feel for how the dough develops with a dough hook. Even with all Isabelle's speed and grace, there is something said for the therapeutic and cathartic experience for making a loaf of bread from hand.

Loving Isabelle just means that I now get the best of both worlds of love...

Breadchick's Honey Whole Wheat Bread - Stand Mixer Version

(Note: If you want to skip the sponge portion you can. Just put all the ingredients together in the order they appear in the mixer bowl, combine them with the paddle attachment until just combined, switch to the dough hook, and let rise. Follow directions below from that point to finish)

1 package (1 Tbsp) active yeast
2 Tbsp warm water (75 - 85 degrees)
1 1/3 cup warm water (75 - 85 degrees)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup bread flour
1 tsp wheat gluten
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 1/4 tsp salt
4 cup wheat flour

Step 1 - Proof Yeast: Activate 1 packet of active yeast in 2 Tbsp of warm water. Combine until smooth and let sit for 5 - 10 minutes until bubbly and/or really "yeasty" smelling

Step 2 - Make Sponge: Combine activated yeast, 1 1/3 cup of water, and 2 cups of wheat flour into a bowl and cover. Let sit for 2 hours until mixture is bubbly.

Step 3 - Make Dough: In stand mixer bowl, combine sponge, oil, honey, bread flour, wheat gluten, powdered milk, salt and 1 1/2 cup of wheat flour, reserving the 1/2 cup and mix with paddle attachment until just combined. Switch to dough hook and slowly add remaining flour one spoonful at a time until the dough is shaggy looking. Stop mixer and touch dough, it should feel tacky and stick to your fingers but not in large clumps (Note: you may need to add additional flour, one spoonful at a time if the dough is too wet). Continue to knead dough until it is firm and not tacky, about 5 - 7 minutes.

Step 4 - First Rise: Lightly dust counter and let dough rest for five minutes. While dough is resting, wash out the bowl, grease with butter and put rested dough in bowl and cover bowl. Let dough rise until doubled, about 2 1/2 hours.

Step 5 - Form Loaf/Second Rise: Punch down dough and on lightly dusted counter, press out dough to form a 12" x 5" rectangle. Starting at short end of rectangle, fold dough like a business letter, into thirds. Place dough into buttered 8" x 4" loaf pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise until top of loaf is 1/4" above rim of loaf pan.

Step 6 - Bake Loaf: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaf for 35 - 40 minutes or until internal temperature is 200 degrees. Let cool for 15 minutes and then spread butter on top. Let cool completely before slicing.