Last Hoorah

The last week in Seattle has seen some of the most bipolar weather of the summer. We went from record-setting heat Monday to cloudy, thunder storms and downpours by Friday.

Holy Hot Car, Batman

Holy Hot Car, Batman

It was a good reminder that summer is nearing a close. As if the Back to School commercials weren’t enough!! While Summer puts on its final show of heat, warmth and garden harvest, I have been reminded of the end of summer campout I would go with my friend and we had a diet of cereal and S’mores for the entire weekend.

Yes Please

Yes Please

S’more Muddie Buddies

S’mores are, to me, the quintessential definition of a summer evening and over the last few weeks my Pinterest has been nothing but recipes and ideas. The great thing? S’mores is no longer just for campfires. There are so many versions and varieties to this perfect flavor combo the possibilities are endless.

S'more Krispie Bars

S’more Krispie Bars

S’more Krispie Bars

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Plaid even got in the spirit and I came home to the Kitchen Aid whirring and he was making s’more cookies. For real!! As far as I can tell, he substituted some of the flour in a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with crushed graham crackers and then added those cute tiny marshmallows along with chocolate chips. I wish I took pictures, but I ate the cookies too fast.

One Slice for you... the rest for me

One Slice for you… the rest for me

Cheesecake? No… S’more cheesecake!

I am now determined to do a progressive bake-through of all the s’more-based ideas. Care to join me?

Happy Birthday, to me!

Happy Birthday, to me!

S’more Birthday Cake

 

Please excuse me while I go into a diabetic coma! YUM!!!!

-Jenn

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Cottage. Pie. Cottage pie.

Apparently all my tomatoes were waiting for was a little public shaming:

matoes

YEAH! So naturally, now that I’ve got the tomatoes I’ve been waiting for, and what with the days hot and sunny and the nights warm and balmy, dinner around these parts this week has been slow-cooked, piping-hot tomato-devoid cottage pie.

What? It TOTALLLY makes sense.

Cottage pie, for the uninitiated, is shepherds pie made with not-lamb. Shepherds pie, if you’ve lived under the saddest culinary rock in the quarry, is basically lamb-based meat pie filling poured sans-crust into a pan, and then topped with mashed potatoes before baking. It’s warm, comforting, cozy goodness, and, admittedly, probably much more appropriate to nippy early spring weather or the first brisk days of fall.

Except, every summer, I get dragged to local Highland games with my mom. This is a decades-long tradition, something we’ve been doing since the distant dark ages when she danced competitively at these events. Now, we mostly go out of habit and nostalgia, and to have one guaranteed day out of the year where I am not the pastiest person in the room.

Oh, and for the food. And the beer. And ALL the food. It’s the perfect meeting place of fair foods and UK staples, including heavenly meat pies that we sometimes buy an extra case of, frozen, before we leave, and have for dinners the rest of the week.

Net result, cottage pies are a summer staple for me, common sense and contrary weather be damned. And really, when one batch makes 6 hearty servings, a little slaving over the stove goes a long way. What’s one night’s cooking for three night’s dinners, right? Assuming, that is, you don’t have little fridge elves that eat pie for breakfast and lunch while your back is turned:

just one day later!

just one day later!

The recipe here is my own, and because it’s made to suit my preferences, heavy on the vegetable and light on the meat. If you want a denser, meatier pie, definitely use more meat – all the rest of the quantities can stay about the same.

Start with:

4 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 lb pearl onions
1/2 lb carrots – Parisian globes if you can find them (Trader Joe’s obligingly has them in the freezer section!)

Sautee vegetables in a large pan in 2 T butter, ghee, or olive oil, cooking until everything is just starting to get tender.

aromatic

Add:

1.5 lbs ground turkey
2 t Penzey’s Lamb seasoning (you can sub in an equivalent amount of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram, and savory, but if you have access to Penzey’s, just get the blend. It’s got a little kick of spearmint that makes it magical)
1/2 t garlic powder

Stir together with the vegetables, and keep it moving occasionally until the meat is thoroughly browned and things are starting to want to stick to your pan. Pour in:

1 12oz can beef or chicken broth

Simmer about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced about 50%. Stir in:

1 6oz can tomato paste

Transfer the whole mess to a 4 quart baking dish with high sides if you have one, or a 9×13″ baking dish if not. Top generously with mashed potatoes. Like really generously. Like two or three inches deep, if you have the space.

fluff

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden and little bits of filling start to bubble up at the edges.

With regards to potatoes: at the moment, my favorite mash starts with a 3lb bag of Yukon Golds. I peel half of them and let the other half donate their peels in the name of rustic goodness. Quarter the potatoes, boil til fork tender (about 25 minutes) in salted water, drain, and then mash together with one 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and revel in the fact that you’ve now made twice the potato you actually need for this recipe, and are now blessed with a bounty of mashed happiness you can shovel right into your face. And yes, I understand coconut milk sounds odd, but it brings all the buttery goodness of butter, and doesn’t loose its texture or taste with subsequent reheating.

Cake. Beer. Beercake. Believe it.

St. Patrick’s day is about the only holiday I don’t really celebrate. There’s reasons, not the least of them being – if my name hasn’t given it away, I get to be Irish 365+ days per year, and have the total lack of suntan to prove it.

Apparently, my lack of festive feeling doesn’t buy me a pass when it comes to baking. A lot of years ago, I made the mistake of bringing this amazing, truffle-y beer-soaked glory of a cake to a family boiled-meat-and-sad-cabbage dinner, and it’s been requested, demanded, and occasionally pleaded for every year since.

I don’t make it every year, or even most years, because as good as it is, it’s kind of a pest to make. No one step is particularly difficult, but there are a lot of them, and darn near all of them involve a whisk and a small sauce pan. I have a finite number of whisks and small sauce pans, so that means that there’s a lot of dish washing involved.

Cake is great. Dishes are not. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices, and some years, I sacrifice cake for lazy.

This wasn’t one of those years.

previewcake

Chocolate Stout Cake
adapted from this Guinness Cake recipe

cakesupply

Part one: the cake.

Start your oven preheating to 350, then, in a small sauce pan (that’s one!) combine:

1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup Young’s double chocolate stout

Place over low heat and whisk until smooth, then remove from heat and set aside. It will smell amazing. Don’t taste it. I don’t say this because I assume anyone reading isn’t smart enough to realize that beer + unsweetened cocoa powder = disaster; I’m saying this because somehow, I always manage to talk myself into ignoring that bit of common sense. Learn from my idiocy, please.

In a small bowl, combine and set aside:

1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together:

1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar

Then add, one at a time:

2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To the now-cooled chocolate-and-stout mixture, add:

1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

Truth: this is my favorite step, because it’s just so pretty.

buttermilking

Add the cocoa-beer mixture and the flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture in alternation, beginning with the cocoa-beer part and ending with flour. This batter isn’t going to be pretty – that’s the buttermilk and baking soda fighting it out, and making everything odd and granular-looking in the process. Just let it happen.

I bake the cake in a 9″ round springform pan, bottom foil-covered and the whole inside greased and floured to death. I strongly recommend doing this if you can, but if you don’t have a springform pan, any 9″ pan – square or round will do. Just consider adding parchment paper to the bottom before you grease and flour, because this cake sticks like duct tape otherwise.

Regardless of your pan preferences, bake for 25-30 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the edges creep away from the sides. Cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack that’s been placed in a large baking pan or on a rimmed cookie sheet. Leave it upside-down and let it cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, move on to step two: The Goo.

In a small saucepan (that’s two!), combine:

1/4 cup stout
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir and heat until smooth, then set aside to cool. Like the original cocoa-and-stout mixture, this will smell amazing. Unlike the original mixture, it will also taste amazing. Secretly? I put a tablespoonful or two of it aside in a coffee mug. You’ll see.

Step Three: The Saucing

Once the cake and the goo are both cooled, use a fork to poke a lot of holes into the bottom of your cake, being careful not to stab all the way through. Spoon the goo over the cake bottom, a spoonful at a time, and spread each spoonful around. Stop when the cake stops absorbing the goo easily – it should probably take up 1/2 of the goo easily. Let the cake rest, then flip it carefully onto whatever you plan on serving and storing it in.

Poke holes all over the top of the cake, and pour on the rest of the goo. Don’t worry too much if it doesn’t completely absorb, but if there’s any major puddles, poke a few more fork holes into them.

Step four: Ganache is Where the Magic Happens

In a small saucepan (that’s three!), bring to a simmer:

10 ounces heavy whipping cream

Try and use the fattiest, best heavy whipping cream you can find. I buy mine in adorable glass jars from a local dairy, and this stuff is so rich that you actually have to puncture the buttery fat layer that forms on the top of it before you can shake and pour it. Also, it comes in a 12oz bottle, and at least a tablespoon of that 2oz extra needs to get added to that coffee mug we talked about earlier. Trust me.

Simmering cream is tricky. It will go from not-boiling to OH MY GOD FROTHY DISASTER pretty much instantaneously. To avert catastrophe: tiny bubbles will populate the edges and a skin has will form on top. Watch closely, and when the skin appears to be moving up and down, almost like it’s breathing, remove the cream from the stove. Then add:

10 ounces semisweet chocolate mini chips

Mix and then whisk these together until smooth. Let cool very slightly, and then spoon onto the cake top. This works best if you do it pizza-style – pour into the center, then use the back of a spoon to smooth it out toward the edges. You don’t need to add more than about 1/3 of the total amount, and even if you’re careful, some of it’s going to spill over.

ganache2

Just let it happen.

ganache

Hell, revel in it.

Pour the rest of your ganache into a sealable plastic bag, and put it into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Squeeze the bag around about every 10 of those minutes to make sure it cools evenly. Then, take the bag out, snip a small hole out of one corner, and pipe out the much-less-runny ganache around the sides of the cake, and on the top if you want to be super fancy. Try not to worry if you wind up with ganache that escapes the bag’s closure into your and. Also, don’t feel too guilty if you don’t successfully resist the temptation to pipe ganache straight into your facehole.

cake!

There’s always a point in the baking process where I’m fully frustrated that all the effort – and all the dirty dishes! – are only going to result in a flat little 1-layer 9″ cake.

That frustration dissolves with the eating; then, it’s pure love at first bite. I describe this cake as 20% beer, 80% truffle by volume, and personally, I think it’s best served at room temperature or chilled, and accompanied by coffee – which, in turn, I serve myself in that mug of chocolate-goo-and-cream I set aside earlier.

Yes. Yes I do. I make no apologies – I need the energy to tackle the mountain of saucepans and dishes awaiting me.

Happy St. Whatsit’s day!

All the Rage

Just so we all know what I’m talking about when I start this post.

So we're on the same page

So we’re on the same page

I am going to offer my tips and tricks for making the amazing and currently uber-popular, French Macarons. Everywhere you look people are making and sharing these amazing little gems of the kitchen. They are finicky and difficult, but I think that is what adds to the appeal of making these at home. There is a little bakery in the Pike Place Market called Le Panier that makes these and so I can have these treasures on-demand if I so choose. But if I am to be honest, I take more pleasure in the ones I slave away for in my own kitchen.

Almost two years ago, I took a cooking class with my dad (I know… cheesy) at Sur La Table and we had a hands-on tutorial from a French pastry chef on the magical macaron and since then, I’ve been hooked on these cookies. Currently, I am trying to venture out from my mastered flavor/color combinations. We all have room to grow, yes? So I will share with you the Sur la Table recipe that I use and find success. There are many cheats and tricks out there that tout the “easy” macaron and guarantee a perfect cookie every time. I make no such claims. I do what I have done and just keep practicing until I get it perfect. Feel free to sub out any recipe and follow along.

Tricks and Prep

Piped and waiting patiently

Piped and waiting patiently

– weigh, weigh, weigh — I use a digital scale and weigh everything rather than volume measuring. I’ve read it improves accuracy. A basic digital kitchen scale does the trick
– old egg whites – the recipe I use and the ‘training’ I went through had us using at least day-old egg whites. So what I do is separate my yolks and whites about two to three days ahead and leave them out, at room temp, in a sealed Tupperware container. I open the lid at night just to ‘burp’ the air. Supposedly, allowing the whites to ‘age’ will improve their stability when you’re making the meringue
– Red Mill Almond Flour, fine grind – is magic. I didn’t find this until about my 4th or 5th batch of macarons. I was originally using Trader Joe’s Almond Meal, but the grind was not really fine enough and I spent a lot of time sifting and pulsing in the food processer
– sift, sift, sift – when the recipe calls for it, do it. It really aids in the stability of the batter, which in the end, improves the formation of the pied.

These are the only "feet" I love

These are the only “feet” I love

– the pied (foot) – pied is the tell-tale sign you’ve made a macaron. The ONLY way to ensure a good pied is to allow your piped macarons to sit, for at least 30 minutes. Usually I am making a day of baking and make three or four batches of cookies, so I mix and pipe everything one batch after another. So by the time I am done piping the last batch, the first are ready for the oven. It makes for a crowded kitchen, but if you are only doing one batch, there is no harm in letting those babies sit for as long as you need.
-Baking – it took me a while to find the write heat/time combo. Here’s the thing, every oven is different, so while I will put what I use, please watch your batches the first go around and tweak as necessary. However, one thing that will aid in an even rise and limit burning, Double Pan. This is where you have a baking sheet that stays in the oven, and you just place your piped macaron sheet on top, essentially ensuring you have an even heated surface. At the half way point in your bake time, do a quick rotation of your baking sheet. All these steps are to give yourslf the best chance at having sturdy meringue that is still soft to eat. Lastly, the class teacher told us that you have the best success with the macaronnage (when you fold the egg whites with the dry ingredients) if it is a ‘dry’ day. I take this to mean, any day when there isn’t moisture in the air, be it fog, humidity, or rain. This caveat makes these cookies all the more rare in my house.

So many colors

So many colors

-piping – I’ve made a template. I took an 8.5×11 piece of paper and traced perfect circles (slightly larger than a quarter, but bigger than a 1/2 dollar) on it. I lay my parchment paper over the template and pipe the macarons. Pipe by holding your piping bag directly over the center of the circle, about 1/4 inch above it. Evenly squeeze, holding the bag steady until the batter just reaches the edge of the template lines. At that point, make a swift motion going up and to the side, bring the piping tip out of the batter without disrupting too much of your soon-to-be macaron. If you’re unsure, allow yourself a few practice pipes on a separate parchment piece. Once done piping a baking sheet’s worth of cookies, bang (yes, they like it a bit rough) the cookie sheet with the piped sheet of macarons on the counter. This breaks up any air bubbles that may be trapped in the batter and makes sure that any air escaping during the baking process will exit out the bottom/sides forming the pied.

Even Ellie appreciates a macaron day

Even Ellie appreciates a macaron day

-let cool and enjoy!

Sur La Table’s Macaron Recipe for the Basic Macaron

Yield: 35 sandwich cookies

7 oz powdered sugar, divided
4 oz almond flour or meal
4 oz egg whites, room temp
pinch of Cream of Tartar
3 1/2 oz granulated sugar
Food Coloring gel (whatever color makes you smile!)
Filling of your choice (jam, buttercream, ganache)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare parchment paper macaron templates. Line baking sheets with Silpat silicone mats and top with parchment paper templates. **Jenn’s note — I start my oven at 310 and bake at 7 min a side.

Pulse one third of the powdered sugar and all the almond flour in a food processor to form a fine powder. Sift mixture two times. Sift remaining powdered sugar two times. Combine almond flour mixture and remaining powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a wire whip attachment, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. (*Jenn’s note: don’t add Cream of Tartar until the whites start to get frothy. Wait until the whites/tartar become… and this is gross… the consistency of runny snot, then add the granulated sugar). Gradually add granulated sugar. once all sugar is incorporated, scrape down sides of bowl, add food coloring and increase speed to high, whisking until stiff, glossy peaks form.

To complete the macaronnage step, sift the almond flour mixture one-third at a time over the egg white mixture and fold using a large spatula until mixture is smooth and shiny. One all the almond flower mixture is incorporated, check for the correct consistency, as the batter should be nicely firm and drip slowly from the spatula.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip (#12) and pipe according to the templates, approximately 1 1/3 inch rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets. Rap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. Check for a slight crust to form. the macarons should not stick to your finger when lightly touched.

Stack the baking sheet with the macarons on top of an empty baking sheet. Bake one sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 to 15 minutes total. If the macarons are still soft inside, lower oven to 300 degrees, cover with aluminum foil and bake for a few more minutes.

Let macarons cool on sheets for two to three minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.

Try to leave a few for others, but it’s really hard… these cookies are ADDICTING! You just pop ’em in… and it doesn’t stop. Happy Baking, everyone!

-jenn

So many colors, so many fillings...

So many colors, so many fillings…