Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why the 6 Inch Cake is Awesome

A 6 inch cake is the perfect size to make cake accessible on more than just special occasions. Unless you have 12 or more people in your family, a 9 inch cake just doesn't make sense. It's too much cake. Even if you have cake every night, you'll never finish the cake before it goes bad. And if you do, well . . . you shouldn't be eating that much cake.
This is the finished cake (see picture). I went a little nuts with the fondant flowers, but I just got caught up in the spirit of Fall. But, back to my topic.

A 6 inch cake is a more reasonable size for families of 2-5 people. Even for larger families, a 6 inch cake may provide more options, by having two 6 inch cakes of different flavors, because there is no way that a family of 12 all wants the same flavor of cake (go ahead, prove me wrong). As The Physicist points out, "it already has a higher frosting to cake ratio, if you're into that sort of thing". Because they are smaller, they are less work to make. It's easier to experiment with flavor combinations when you aren't committing to a giant cake of licorice pineapple (I don't recommend licorice pineapple). And lastly, they're just so darn cute! Seriously adorable!

Here is an aerial shot of my cake, so you can see more of the fondant flowers. I made roses, calla lilies, mums, hypericum berries, and kinda generic little yellow flowers. This was a first attempt at painting the fondant, after I shaped the flowers and leaves, to give them more depth. Ain't half bad, if I do say so myself.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Pumpkin Style

I'm usually a huge fan of butter, but smearing your cake with butter mixed with powdered sugar . . . kinda seems gross to me. This is Pumpkin Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It's not like regular buttercream. It's silkier, and lighter tasting, because of the meringue replacing most of the butter. Sure, you have to make meringue, which takes a little longer, but the end result is totally worth it. Trust me.

I use Martha Stewart's Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe. Well, the Baking Handbook version of it, which is easier to halve for the 6-inch cake (but the link recipe is excellent too). I highly recommend purchasing Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, because it's an amazing reference. To make the buttercream pumpkin, I added about 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin to the finished buttercream.

This (see picture) is where we left off with the syrup. I have used some of my buttercream as the filling between the cakes.

Now, a word about frosting a cake. I take about a third of my frosting into a separate bowl, to be my crumb coat. "What's a crumb coat?" you ask. Excellent question. It's a first coat of frosting, to make sure there are no crumb in your final coat of frosting. If you've ever painted, think of it as primer. You separate a third of your frosting, because crumbs might get into your bowl. It happens. It's why you're doing this. It doesn't have to pretty (see picture), but this is your chance to even up your sides and smooth out your top. Once it's on, refrigerate the cake for about 10-15 minutes.

After 10 minutes, you'll notice your crumb coat is kinda hard. Good. Then it won't smoosh into your final coat, transferring crumbs. Now it's time for the final coat, and you'll notice how much easier it is to frost because of the crumb coat. If you're going for a smooth look, dipping your spatula in a glass of water really helps. If you just don't think you can manage a smooth look, just frost it like I recommend in the Chocolate Raspberry Cake.

Then it's time for finishing touches. I . . . am not good at piping frosting. Really not good. So I just pipe little circular blobs of frosting around the top and bottom edges. It's easy. It looks pretty okay. And I add fondant stuff to it, so you don't notice how bad my piping is anyway. You'll see that in the next post.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Syrup: Not Just For Pancakes

Yup, we're back to making the cake. And, yes, the topic is syrup. Not maple syrup (though it could be), but a sugar/water/flavor combo to make your cake spectacular. It's easy, it adds extra flavor, and it keeps the cake moist. Come on, if it adds all that, why wouldn't you put syrup on a cake?

Now, you can make a simple syrup, by boiling sugar and water in some ratio, and adding a flavor (The Physicist does this, because he loves doing things the hard way), but I have a much easier method, with much more flavor.

You will need (for a 6 inch cake):

2 Tbsp. Jam or Preserves

3 Tbsp. Liquid


Pastry Brush

Pictured are some of my favorite combos: Ginger Preserves with Amaretto, Raspberry Preserves with Rose Water, and Lemon Curd with Orange Blossom Water. I like the ginger for fall cakes, the raspberry for chocolate or spring cakes, and the lemon for citrus or summery cakes. You can make your own combination, and just go with what flavors sound great to you.

For our Spice Cake, I'm using Ginger Preserves and Amaretto. Put your jam and liquid into a saucepan, and heat over medium low heat until the jam melts into a syrupy consistency (see first picture).

Cut off the tops of your cakes, and using a pastry brush, mop the top surfaces of the cake with the syrup (see picture).

Now, when you add your filling and stack your cakes, you should have layers from bottom to top: cake, syrupy side of cake, filling, syrupy side of other cake, other cake (see picture).

If you are making a regular sized cake, just double the recipe.
So, next time you're making a cake, give a syrup a try. I promise, you'll like the results.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Extracts & Flavorings

I'm going to pause our cake assembly, to take a moment to discuss extracts and flavors. As you can see, I have a bit of a collection (this isn't all of it), and I'm still collecting more. Flavorings can take a baked good or candy to the next level. Homemade marshmallows are fantastic, but homemade POMEGRANATE marshmallows?!?! Out of this world.

Now, you might think, "Why can't I just use pomegranate juice in my candies or cakes? Why the flavor/extract?" Well, baking and candy making are . . . science. Acids, bases, exact temperatures, exact ratios, are all part of baking and candy making. It's kinda funny that The Physicist is not a fan of baking, but, I guess he's The Physicist, not The Chemist. (The Physicist is a big fan of candy making, but that's more dealing with temperatures, which I guess is more physics-y.) So, if you're making something that needs to puff in the oven, you're counting on a specific reaction of acids and bases, so adding orange juice (an acid), could possibly keep your cake from rising. BUT, adding orange flavor, keeps all your ratios in line, and lets you have that punch of flavor. Also, if you want the flavor of something chunky, like a nut, in something smooth, like a ganache, nut flavorings can be a lifesaver.

I should also mention that a little goes a long way with extracts and flavors, and the potency varies depending on what extract you're using. I tend to add a ton of vanilla to baked goods, but I wouldn't add nearly as much peppermint to anything (peppermint = very strong!). Always give it a good sniff before you add anything, to make sure you know how strong it is.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homemade Spice Cake

The next step in making a cake, is, of course, making a cake. Sure, you can just add eggs and oil to a mix, but there is definitely a difference in texture and flavor with a homemade cake. It's denser, and has loads more flavor than anything you'll ever get out of a box. Here is my recipe for a 6-inch Homemade Spice Cake. If you want a regular sized cake, just double the recipe.

You will need:

1 stick Softened Unsalted Butter (1/2 cup), plus some for the pans

3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour

3/4 cup Cake Flour

1 tsp. Ground Ginger

1 tsp. Cinnamon

1/2 tsp. Allspice

1/4 tsp. Ground Cloves

1/2 Tbsp. Baking Powder

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/2 cup Sugar

3/8 cup Dark Brown Sugar (I use Muscovado Sugar)

2 Eggs

2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

5/8 cup Milk

2 six-inch cake pans


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You're going to need 6-inch parchment circles, and yes, you can buy them, but they usually aren't in grocery stores. Regular parchment CAN be found in a grocery store, and making a circle is pretty easy. Set down the pan on the parchment, and using a pencil, trace the bottom. Then just cut it out, inside the lines, so there's no pencil marks on your circle (see picture).

Butter your pans, set in your parchment circles, then butter the parchment circles. You can then flour them if you want, but I usually don't. I know I'm going against everything you've ever heard, but really, the cakes turn out fine.

Sift together your flours, spices, baking powder and salt (see picture). Sifting is important. It does make a difference. For some cakes I sift twice, but since spice cake doesn't need to be a super light texture, once is fine.

Using an electric mixer, cream together your butter and sugars. Make sure the brown sugar gets fully incorporated, since it has a tendency to make clumps. Mix on medium low for about 5 minutes.

Set your mixer on low speed, and add the eggs, incorporating the first before adding the second, and then add the vanilla. I like a lot of vanilla in my baked goods, which is why the recipe asks for two teaspoons. I'd add a tablespoon if I could, but The Physicist thinks it's "too much".

Okay, time to add your dry ingredients and your milk. Add your dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. I don't know why you do this, but it works. Mix until fully incorporated.

Split your batter evenly between your two pans, and using an offset spatula, smooth the tops. This helps for even baking, and smooth cake tops when they're done.

Bake your cakes for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out without batter on it (comes out "clean"). When I first started baking, I'd worry if a crumb stuck to the toothpick, because that wasn't "clean", but crumbs are okay.

Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then get 'em out of the pans, and let them cool completely on a cooling rack. Once completely cooled, you can frost them, or you can wrap them up tightly in plastic wrap, store them in the fridge, and frost them tomorrow. Which is what I'm doing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fondant: It's Like Sugar Play-Dough

This week, I'm going to be blogging about cake, and since fondant is usually my first step when making a cake, I'm gonna start the week with it. I'm not good at piping icing, but I am good at sculpting. So, when it comes to decorating cakes, I use fondant. I sculpt it into flowers, shapes, animals, etc., but I don't cover my cakes with it. I'm a big fan of my icing (it'll be another blog topic), so I like cakes smothered in swiss meringue buttercream, with beautiful sugar flowers on top.

I was going to do a step by step guide, showing how I make the flowers . . . but there are a lot of books and kits to tell you how to do it, and a lot of them come with the fondant equipment anyway. So I'm going to just do an overview. I buy my fondant from Wilton. You can make it, I know someone who does (looking at you, Duckie!), but I like the ease of purchasing it, knowing I have a quality product. It's like sugar play-dough, so if you have fond memories of sculpting in your childhood, I recommend fondant. You do need some special equipment, and Wilton makes some great ones. (If you want roses, go get the Wilton Rose Step-Saver Kit, it's amazing!)

Now, you don't have to be an awesome sculptor to use fondant either. It helps, but it's not necessary. Beautiful fondant designs and decorations can be made just cutting out shapes in rolled out fondant, and attaching them to the cake. You can make a really pretty cake just cutting out circles in different colors and putting them all over the cake.

A few caveats: it does dry out quickly while you're working on it, so be sure to keep the fondant you aren't currently working on wrapped up, you sometimes need to give delicate pieces (like flowers) a good 24 hours to dry into the proper shape, and you need to use gel food coloring to color it. I'm a big fan of gel coloring in general, because it gives you more vibrant color, with less "color taste", so I don't see this as a drawback, but I know some people are addicted to squeezing drops out of tear shaped bottles.

I will be posting pictures of my finished fondant, but I'm going to wait to reveal them with the whole cake. Because it's cake, and it deserves a big reveal. ;)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Night Football

I.O.U. one blog post. Steelers are playing the Patriots. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oh, Ina . . .

Ina Garten is my hero, and she fits perfectly into this week's theme. Ina believes that some things should be made from scratch, and that some things . . . should just be bought. I love Ina because some of her "recipes" are the equivalent of "buy some fresh vegetables, and put out a dip". She has a refreshing mix of "from scratch" and "buy quality pre-made".

I also love her entertaining philosophy, which is kind of a "never let them see you sweat/ don't sweat it" combination. She believes that guests prefer hosts to be relaxed and happy, rather than be served food that's been slaved over. It's taken me awhile to take this to heart ("NO! I'm sure my guests will prefer me whipping them fresh butter for their rolls, rather than mingling!"), but . . . she's totally right. Most of her recipes are available online, but I recommend the buying the books too. Her turkey meatloaf is to die for. :)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes, It's Called "Take-Out"

Sometimes, it's Friday. Sometimes, you're tired. Sometimes, you just can't make, and photograph, and blog about another food. Sometimes, it's called "take-out". I got chicken korma from my favorite Indian Restaurant. I didn't take a picture. Tomorrow I will resume blogging properly. Good night.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

World's Easiest "WOW" Cake

This cake rocks. I came up with it seven years ago, and I'm still completely in love with it. It's my easy Chocolate Raspberry Cloud Cake. If you are a person who is afraid of baking, feel you can't possibly make a cake, then make this one. It's a confidence builder. You literally frost it WITH THE BACK OF A SPOON! No complicated tools, no complicated ingredients, it's just simple, and people are so impressed by it. It's pretty! It's pink! It has raspberries and chocolate! Make this cake.

You will need:
A Dark Chocolate Cake (follow the instructions on the box, usually involves eggs and oil)
2 8oz. Cool Whip tubs
2 6oz. packages of Raspberries.
A Spoon
That's it. Seriously (see picture).

Bake the cake according to the package directions. (Since my house is filling up with baked goods from these blog posts, I made a couple 6 inch cakes, so my cake looks small in the pics, but you should make a regular 8 or 9 inch cake.)
Let cool completely (see picture).

Wash your raspberries and set them out on paper towel to dry off. It's also an excellent time to split them into two categories: smooshy and nice looking. It should be an even split (see picture).

Open one tub of Cool Whip, and mash the smooshy raspberries into it. It should turn the Cool Whip pink with raspberry bits. Mash it right there in the container, no sense messing up a bowl (see picture).

Cut off the rounded tops of your cake layers. Put one cake layer down on a plate, cut side up. Spoon half the raspberry mixture on it, and smear it around into an even layer. Put the next cake layer on top, with the cut side down. Spoon the remaining raspberry mixture onto the top of the cake, smearing it into an even layer with your spoon (see picture).
Clean your spoon.
Open the other container of Cool Whip. Scoop some Cool Whip onto the back of the spoon and smear it onto the sides. Don't try to smooth it. It looks better rough. If you get some crumbs in the Cool Whip, just wipe off the spoon, and put more Cool Whip over the crumb-y part. Make sure all the cake is covered (see picture).

Then take the nice looking raspberries and place them in a circle around the edge of the top (see first picture). Put a raspberry in the middle. If you still have raspberries, make another ring around the center. You can eat it right away, but I recommend putting it in the fridge for about an hour. If you have leftovers, store them in the fridge. Super easy.

Spicy Apple Chicken with Gorgonzola Orzo

This is my "go-to" dinner, when I want to be impressive, but I just don't have "impressive" time. It is seriously the easiest thing to throw together, so easy, that tonight, for the first time, I actually paid attention to, and measured the ingredients. Normally, I just throw the ingredients in the pan. It's 15 minutes prep, and 45 minutes to bake, but it's a complete meal, not to mention low in fat. And, if I do say so myself, it's just SO yummy!

You will need:

3-4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (whatever comes in the package)

1 Onion

1 Apple

1/2 cup Apple Butter (from yesterday's recipe, or store bought)

1/2 cup Spicy Brown Mustard

1 cup Orzo (or other small pasta, like Israeli Couscous)

3-4 oz. Crumbled Gorgonzola (whatever comes prepackaged)

8x8 baking pan
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Slice your apple and your onion (slice your onion like it's an apple) and drop in your baking pan. Cover with your chicken breasts (clean and trim them if you have time, but if you don't care, just plop 'em on)(see picture).
In a separate bowl, mix your apple butter and mustard together. Slather the apple & mustard sauce over the whole thing, making sure to completely cover the chicken (this will keep the chicken moist). Put the baking pan in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the chicken reaches 165 on a kitchen thermometer.

About 15 minutes before the chicken is done, boil your pasta according to package instructions (usually around 10 minutes). Drain, and throw back into the pot. While the pasta is still hot, stir in the gorgonzola crumbles. The heat from the pasta should melt the cheese into a sauce.

Serve the chicken over the gorgonzola orzo with some of the apples and onions from the bottom of the pan, and plenty of the apple & mustard sauce. Done. Leftovers refrigerate and reheat very well, and I even think it tastes better on the second day. Seriously easy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Butter

This is the one "From Scratch" recipe I'll be posting this week. But, I realized it does kinda fit in with the spirit of the week, since I didn't invent this recipe. In fact, it's copyrighted, so I can't even copy it here. Which is making tonight's blog post super easy, since all I can do is give you a link to it!

I love this apple butter. We gave it as favors at our wedding. In fact, this jar is one we canned for our wedding, six years ago. I should mention that the original of this recipe is no longer available on the internet, so the link is to a slightly less spicy version. To make it the way we made it six years ago, up the cinnamon to 1 tsp., and the cloves and ginger to 1/2 tsp.

I also feel I should mention that apple butter contains no butter, unlike fruit curds, which contain TONS of butter. So, if you're looking for a delicious, not too sugary, non-fat fruit spread, I say go with a fruit butter.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not From Scratch

I've been posting a lot of recipes, and I've noticed that most of them are a bit, shall we say, "time consuming"? Not even I, with my tons of time, really have enough time to cook and bake like this all the time, so I'm dedicating this week to "Not From Scratch". Other than one recipe (which is just SO good, I had to!), all the posts and recipes this week will be easy to throw together, can be done on a weeknight, and use pre-prepared goods.

I'm a big fan of pre-packaged, quality products. Pictured are a few of my favorites. Now, most of these things, I have made from scratch, but buying them is just easier. And, frankly, usually tastes as good. Heating up Bush's chili and serving it over some corn bread from a mix, with some shredded cheddar and sour cream is wonderful, and does not take more than 15 minutes. Stonewall Kitchen marinades are also a wonderful time saver (if you don't have time to marinade your meat, just heat up the marinade and use it as a sauce!). Dickenson's curds and preserves are a staple in my pantry, and I use them in a lot of my baking (which I also occasionally use a cake mix for). The Physicist buys our organic chicken broth in bulk, because I just don't have the patience to make it from scratch, freeze it, and then wait around for it to thaw before I use it in a recipe. Sure, you can make fudge sauce from scratch, but somehow the sundae is sweeter when you don't.

And here is my confession: I don't like pancakes, unless they're made from Jiffy Baking Mix. The Physicist has tried many recipes for making pancakes from scratch, and I can't make it to a second bite. I can tolerate other mixes and pancakes from Pamela's Restaurant (President Obama's favorite pancakes too, but they aren't really pancakes but more of a butter conveyance system), but the pancakes I want, I crave, are Jiffy.

So, yes, you can milk your own cow and butcher a whole pig. But, most people don't have the kind of time or energy to spend more than 20 minutes putting dinner together. If you're pressed for time, and your grocery store can offer you a delicious, time-saving alternative, well then, you should take it.

Scones, Not Stones

Scones are a misunderstood, much abused pastry. I don't know how some bakeries and coffee shops are making them, but most commercial scones I've encountered could break teeth. So, if you saw the title of the post and are hoping to find a recipe for scones that won't leave you with dentures, your wish has been granted. These scones are tender, with a delicate crumb, and are delicious for breakfast or an afternoon snack. They are also, fairly fast and easy, leaving you with fresh from the oven scones in about 30 minutes. Here is a recipe I adapted from Joy of Cooking for Apple Ginger Spice Scones.

You will need:

2 cups Flour

1/3 cup Sugar

1 Tbsp. Baking Powder

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Cinnamon

1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger

1/4 tsp. Allspice

6 Tbsp. (¾ stick) cold, Unsalted Butter, cut into pieces

1/4 cup Dried Apple, chopped

2 Tbsp. Candied Ginger, chopped

1 Egg

1/2 cup Heavy Cream

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

2 to 3 tsp. More Heavy Cream

More Sugar

Mixing Bowl

Pastry Blender

Baking Sheet
Preheat the over to 425 degrees.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and allspice together in a fairly large mixing bowl. Drop in the 6 tablespoons of cold butter in 1 tablespoon pats, and coat them with flour before you begin "cutting" them in (see picture).

Cut in the butter with 2 knives or a pastry blender (I recommend the pastry blender, because it will produce a finer texture) and separate them as you work, until the largest pieces are the size of peas and the rest resemble breadcrumbs (see picture). Do not allow the butter to melt or form a paste with the flour.

Whisk the 1/2 cup heavy cream with the egg and vanilla in a separate bowl, and then add to the flour mixture, mixing with a spoon until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Then gather the dough into a ball and knead it gently against the sides and bottom of the bowl until it all loose pieces are incorporated and the bowl is fairly clean. Separate the dough into two equal balls, and pat each ball of dough into a 6-inch round about ¾ inch thick and cut each into 8 wedges and place at least ½ inch apart on the baking sheet (see picture).

Brush the tops with the extra heavy cream, and liberally sprinkle them with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown (see picture).

Let cool on a rack or serve warm. I highly recommend enjoying them with a cup of tea.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

No Glop Apple Pie

I love apple pie. I do not love apple glop pie, which is what I find in most people's apple pies. I get that some people love the gooey, syrupy, gelatinous, primordial ooze with apple bits that you find in most apple pies. I'm just not one of those people. I want my apple pie to look and taste like apples. It should not have flour, or cornstarch, or have the filling cooked beforehand. This is my apple pie. It tastes like apples.

You will need:

7-8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored

1/2 cup Sugar

2 tsp. Cinnamon

1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger

1/2 tsp. Allspice

1/4 tsp. Ground Clove

1 Tbsp. Butter

1Tbsp. Heavy Cream (optional)

More Sugar (optional)

Pie Crusts

A Mandolin Slicer

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Peel and core all your apples, and then slice them on your mandolin on the thinnest setting you have. Trust me. The thinner the better. Then cut them in half, to make little half circles of apple (see picture). Really, trust me.

At this point you should also put your bottom crust in your pie plate, and make sure there is no air trapped between the crust and the pan. I'm not including a pie crust recipe, because I use my mother's secret pie crust recipe, and I won't reveal it. You'll never make me talk!

In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and spices, and mix them up well (see picture). I'll use this time to give a big shout out to Penzey's Spices. They're great. When I was growing up, there was only really one type of cinnamon available, and it was whatever McCormick was offering at the grocery store. Now, there are tons of different types of your staple spices available to you. I highly recommend finding a Penzey's and smelling a couple of types of cinnamon, and deciding which one you like best.

Okay, start laying out your apple slices in concentric circles. It looks really pretty while you're making it, and it kills me that no one gets to see this part of it when it's finished (see picture). But you aren't doing it to be pretty, you're doing it to make tightly packed, thin layers of apple. Sprinkle every layer with the sugar/spice mixture, starting off with a light sprinkle on the first layer, and gradually getting heavier as you layer to the top. Some spice will trickle down, so you want it top heavy, or the bottom will be very spicy.

When you are done layering your apples, sugar, and spice, dot the top with bits of butter (see picture). (The apples should be piled at least and inch and a half higher than the edge of your pie pan. The apples will shrink when you bake them, so you want it to start high.) Then place your second crust on top and seal the edges. Make sure to cut some vents into the top crust. I like to cut a decorative leaf pattern, but a few slashes will do the trick.

Now, at this point, because The Physicist has a sweet tooth, I brush some heavy cream lightly over the top, and sprinkle the crust with more sugar.
Place your pie on a cookie sheet (pies sometimes bubble up, and you want something to catch the drips so they don't burn). Then, using small strips of aluminum foil, cover just the edges of your crust. Slide into the oven to bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the crust covers, and bake for another 20 minutes. The pie should look golden (see picture). Cool for 20 minutes, then serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I should warn you, it tastes like apples.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hollandaise: A Three Hand Sauce

I'm a huge fan of sauces. Luckily, The Physicist LOVES making sauces. But there is one sauce that I'm in charge of, and that's Hollandaise. I learned to make hollandaise when I was sixteen, after having it at a restaurant, and have tweaked the recipe to the point where I think it's perfect. Just adding a few more ingredients, you can also get Bearnaise sauce, which is just pure heaven over beef (see picture).

The trick to a good hollandaise is that you need no distractions, and preferably three hands. When conditions are perfect, it's a two person sauce. One person to make the sauce, and one to run interference with the phone, other distractions (like children), and to get the butter out of the fridge at the critical moment. It can be done by one person, but two just makes things easier.

You'll need:

4 egg yolks

2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

A stick of cold butter (1/2 cup)

A small saucepan

A mixing spoon (not a whisk)

I like to put the egg yolks and the lemon juice together in the pan, before ever putting the pan on the stove. Stir 'em together real good, so you have a solid bright yellow sauce. Now, before you turn on your stove, is the last time for about 20 minutes you can do anything other than stir this sauce, so get your affairs in order. If need be, the saucepan can be left on your counter like this for 10-15 minutes (see picture).

Phone off? Pets and children locked up? (These things can also be handled by your third hand.)

Okay. Turn on your burner to the lowest possible setting, put half of your cold stick of butter (1/4 cup) into the egg yolk mixture (leave the other half in the fridge), and then place your saucepan over the low low heat. Start stirring. Constantly. Not fast, but constantly. I like to use my spoon to swirl the half stick of butter around (see picture). Keep stirring until the butter is completely melted. The second it is melted, add the other half of the stick of butter, preferably, using your third hand, so the stirring NEVER stops. Keep stirring.

If it ever looks like you might be getting a curd (pretty much, you accidentally made a bit of scrambled egg), just take your saucepan off the heat, and continue to stir until the curds reincorporate into the sauce, or if they are big curds, you stop getting more, and then return the pan to the low heat to continue to thicken. Your sauce got a bit too hot for a second. It happens to the best of us. If you catch it early (you see almost streaks in the sauce), you can recover, and you won't see curds in the final sauce. If you get big curds, don't worry too much, the sauce will still be delicious, just will have some lumps, and won't be too pretty.

Stir the sauce until the second half of the butter is melted. And then, keep stirring. When the sauce is done, it will become ever so slightly lighter, but if you're not that good at determining color, here's another way to check it: Unfinished sauce is the consistency of milk. Finished sauce is like a thin pancake batter (see picture).
Serve immediately.

It's great on asparagus, chicken, fish, and artichokes.

Now, if you want to make Bearnaise sauce, it's the same thing, just add 1 Tablespoon White Wine (or white wine vinegar) in with the lemon juice, and at the end, add 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon, 1/2 tsp. dried chervil, and a 1/2 tsp. onion powder. Bearnaise is amazing on red meat.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Baby Santoku

The Physicist loves his Santoku knife. He even has a slicer that has the same scalloping in the sides, because his chef knife cut so nice. He cuts everything with that knife. But . . it's HUGE. I'd need to chop a clove of garlic, and he'd hand me that thing, and I'd look at him like he was crazy or at least not a fan of my fingers.

So, last year, I asked Santa to leave me a smaller sized one. Christmas morning, there it was in my stocking: my very own Baby Santoku. Now, *I* use it for everything. It's the perfect size for me, and it really is one of the greatest knives I've ever used.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post Party Mac & Cheese

The Physicist and I just had our Halloween party, and, as usual, still have a fridge full of party food. Which is why I'm blogging about my second greatest invention: Post Party Mac & Cheese! (My first greatest invention is Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies.) With a little forethought, you can be enjoying a giant tray of mac & cheese the week after your party. I usually buy a bunch of cheeses for a party that have bold flavors, but flavors that generally go together. We tend to go for green and orange cheeses for the Halloween party, so I had Munster, Aged Gouda, Wasabi Gouda, Sage Derby, Caramelized Onion Cheddar, and a Goat Cheese. I also had leftover cauliflower and broccoli from my veggie tray. I caramelized some onion I had laying around, and cooked up some leftover bacon.

The Physicist (my personal saucier) made a blond roux, (we'll blog about roux later) added milk, then the goat cheese, and then half of my shredded cheese (we ended up having about a pound!). I boiled up and drained some macaroni noodles, and added the chopped cauliflower and broccoli, the bacon, the caramelized onions, and the remaining cheese. We put the whole thing in a large baking dish, covered it in some panko, and baked it at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. It's a bit of a heart attack waiting to happen, so only have it 2-3 times a year, which is about our average for big parties.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caramelized Onions

I'm a huge fan of caramelized onions, and I like to put them in all kinds of things (like the mac&cheese I'll be blogging about tomorrow). BUT . . . they take time. On the bright side, they don't require constant attention, in fact, they do better if you ignore them awhile. I'd recommend making them while puttering around the house on a weekend, then storing them in the fridge 'til you need 'em. Here's a simple guide to making them.

You'll need:

An onion

Olive Oil

Frying Pan



Rough chop your onion or slice it in rings, then cut the rings in half. Here, I've only done about half an onion, since I only wanted enough for my mac&cheese.
Put your frying pan over medium heat, with enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Probably less than a Tablespoon. Add your onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
When your onions are translucent (see picture), reduce heat to very low, make sure they are in an even layer, set your timer for 15 minutes . . . and walk away. DO NOT STIR for 15 minutes.

After about 15 minutes, give 'em a good stir, try to get the whites sides down and the brown up, set your timer for 15 minutes and walk away again.
After another 15 minutes, repeat your stir process. They should be beginning to get some caramelization now (see picture). Set your timer for 15, and walk away.
At 45 minutes, they should be fairly brown (see picture). This is where you'd stop if you were The Physicist. It's actually where he asked me to stop. And sure, if you like your onions just caramelized, without blackness or crispy bits, then this is when you should take your onions off the heat.
But if you like the taste of carbon, stir and set your timer for another 10 minutes.
This (see picture) is how I like my caramelized onions. I like 'em black and crispy, I think they add loads more flavor this way.
At this point, you can add them to your recipe, sprinkle them on a salad or meat, or let them cool to room temp and store them in an air tight container for use later in the week.