Saturday, January 28, 2012

Late Night Baking Session No. 562

The number is totally random.  It could be baking session number 562, 1289, or 48 for all I know.  It's my version of an inside joke (really inside), or my (sad) attempt at being funny.  I'll sometimes post a Facebook status when I get the urge to bake at night.  These are also sometimes known as 'Midnight Baking Sessions.'  The updates usually include a photo of what the late hour produces or provides a tease of what's to come.  There were a lots of those sessions around the holidays when I'd come home from the day job and decide to tackle just one more batch of biscotti.

Wednesday night turned into a late night baking session, after a lovely day off where I had lunch with the Girls, drank a latte with the best design ever, ran errands, and even made it to the gym!  It's those kind of days that get me itching to do some baking.  Like good foreplay leading into good sex.  All the right moves to put me in the mood---to find my hands covered in flour.  Wait...we're talking about baking, right?? RIGHT!

I bought a few Cara Cara oranges on the last grocery trip.  Yes, marketing by Mother Nature strikes again.  Not just any oranges, no Navels or Valencias here!  Cara Cara!  You know I was fascinated by the idea of a blushing pink surprise inside that bright orange peel.  I didn't want to hide the fruit.  It needed a showcase!  I considered a loaf cake with a layer of fruit on top, but after perusing some of the blogs I normally read, I saw a post for an apple upside down cake.  That's it!  Cake, fruit, caramelized sugar.  A little recipe searching and sorting and I decided on a David Lebovitz recipe.  If you haven't read his book, 'The Sweet Life in Paris,' you should.  He's funny, charming, and the book is filled with killer recipes.

His Upside Down Cake Recipe is just the kind of recipe I love, easy and adaptable.  The cake is amazing, moist, yet stands up to the caramelized top.  I used a 9-inch cake pan (even when making the caramel on the stovetop---tongs are helpful!) and vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract.  With the paste, you get the vanilla bean speckles.  I love that!

Find David's recipe here.  And go bake a cake.

Fresh out of the oven...Cara Cara Orange Upside Down Cake

Best latte art ever...meow!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Burnt Muffins

Sometimes when you try to make something good, it turns out less than spectacular.  The plan seemed relatively foolproof, but the result...well, not so much.  I made cranberry orange muffins.  Kind of a no-brainer, right?  It's not like I was trying to make French macarons and was worried about perfect 'feet.'  Flour, sugar, milk, and cranberries.  But in my attempt to not poke my head in the oven every 5 minutes to check (a bad habit of mine), I let them go a little too long.  I thought, 'oh well, the tops are a little over done, no big deal.'  Then I flipped them out of the muffin pan.  When your baking cups (you know, the cute blue ones with the little green flowers) are a little on the burnt side, you know it won't be pretty.  Peeling the baking paper off the muffin was another experience, as most of the cake was sticking to the paper.  They tasted good, if a tiny bit crunchy around the edges.  The centers were perfect.  It was a bit like searching for treasure.

So, there I was....with a dozen well-done muffins in front of me.  I hated the idea of throwing it all away.  I peeled the paper off another muffin, thinking maybe it was a one-off deal.  No.  I waited until they cooled completely.  Granted, less of the muffin stuck to the paper, but still it wasn't looking good.  Then....two words came to mind:  Bread Pudding.  Easy to put together, and more importantly--it saved my less-than-spectacular cranberry muffins.  The bread pudding went to work with me the next day, where it got the thumbs-up.

Lessons learned:

1. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  More accurately, when you burn the cranberry muffins, make bread pudding.

2.  Celebrate the failures in the kitchen, it's not all that bad.  Clean it up and move forward.  [Note to self--apply that mantra to your daily life.]

3.  Go out and buy an oven thermometer.  (Purchased one that night and have since discovered that my oven runs about 25 degrees hotter than selected temperature.  Something I've suspected for awhile.)

Cranberry Muffin Bread Pudding
(Adapted from The Caramel Cookie)

8-10 well-done cranberry muffins (cut into cubes)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray.  (I used a 4-quart Pyrex dish.)  In a bowl, combine milk, egg, extract, and sugar.  Whisk until well-mixed.  Add muffins and stir to coat.  Let sit for about 20 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed into the muffins.  Put into baking dish. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and bake for about 45 minutes.  

Not bad from a distance.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winter Comfort

I spent the first thirty years of my life on the East Coast, growing up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, PA. I remember winters of snow, with 12 inches (sometimes more) atop my dad's car in the driveway.  I remember having to shovel that stuff and I remember happily making snowballs and pitifully trying to throw them.  (Yes, I throw like a girl.)  I moved to California in 1998 and I can genuinely say I don't really miss those winters of snow, sleet, and ice.  If I really want to play in snow, I only have to drive a couple of hours outside of Los Angeles to find some.

And yet...I find myself drawn to winter images once the holidays hit.  I have winter themes on my homepages, and even my Blackberry sports a winter scene of a snow-covered lane and bare tree branches bowing heavily under the weight of snow.  Don't get me wrong, I love the weather here.  It was in the mid-80's last week and has been bright and sunny.

Maybe it's that East Coast mindset, even after all this time, that made me crave something that fits the comfort food bill for a cold winter night.  That craving was meatloaf.  I don't know the last time I made it.  Easily 4 or 5 years ago, in what feels like a lifetime ago.  Going along with the other mindset of a 'new year, eating healthier than I have for the past month or so', I grabbed a package of ground turkey out of the freezer.  I checked my copy of 'The Pillsbury Cookbook' and looked at a few online recipes for meatloaf and meatloaf made with turkey to see what I could put into it.  I didn't really want to make the usual version with a tomato base.  So after looking in the Italian Pantry and the fridge, I came to my recipe conclusion.  Two points of note--1.  it's good to have onion soup mix around; 2.  Salsa Verde--not just for tacos or tortilla chips.  What's better than a dinner of meatloaf on a chilly night?  The leftovers in a sandwich the next day for lunch.

Turkey Meatloaf

1 20oz package of ground turkey
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 salsa verde 
1 packet onion soup mix
1 teaspoon minced garlic
salt and pepper (to taste)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix.  It's best to mix it with your hands as you can really work all the players together.  Put into a loaf pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray. I bought those aluminum loaf pans at the dollar store because they were smaller than the loaf pans I have.  It makes for a higher loaf.  Spread mix to the ends of the pan.  Bake for 50 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.  

With the healthier option of haricot vert tossed with almonds

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Fresh Start...2012

A new year...bright, shiny and full of possibilities.  I am happy that 2011 is behind us.  For me, personally, it was an unsatisfactory year.  I know I'm responsible for what did and didn't happen and I was thinking about that a lot in the last days of December.  I'm going to finally get out of my own way.  No more holding myself back and selling myself short.

So here we are...5 days in and the wheels in my head are spinning.  I have to make things change this year because no one else is going to do it for me, and it's time to stop exerting energy on what doesn't move me forward.  It's time to take Kat Cooks Bakes Eats and Semplice Gourmet to new levels.

Here's to a new year...of success, happiness, and good food.

...and Red Velvet Shorbread for good measure