Saturday, May 24, 2014

Golden Goodness

After a lazy Sunday morning of sleeping in until almost 10 a.m, I thought I should be a little productive and go to the farmers market in Encino, since I had missed Saturday's market in Burbank.  While I typically prefer to go first thing in the morning, when the temperatures are still cool and the sun hasn't reached its peak, I wanted to get some produce and thought maybe I could score some bargains since I was going to get there near the end of the day's run and figured the vendors didn't want to haul back what didn't sell earlier.

 I did get a few bargains that day.  I made a lightning quick round through the market, 25 minutes from parking to shopping to back on the road and came away with a huge bouquet of flowers for five bucks, because sometimes you just have to buy yourself flowers, golden beets, daikon radish, lettuce, carrots, leeks, a huge bundle of purple basil, and a bunch of yellow carrots.  Productive.  On the drive home, all I could smell was basil and eucalyptus.  It was blissful.

Pesto was definitely being made.  I've discussed and waxed about pesto on here before (at least four times!), and my feelings have not changed.  I love pesto today just as much as I did when I wrote about it previously.  Though I will tell you that this pesto was some of the best I've made in awhile.  No kidding.   Maybe because I was a little more precise on measurements.  Maybe because the basil was so amazingly fresh.  Maybe because pesto is really just an amazing food.

And what could be more amazing than taking that pesto and pairing it with those yellow carrots?  On that day, not much.  The carrots were perfect for roasting.  I let them roast long enough to leave them with a little, just a little, bite.  Al dente, as it were.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I was eating them out of the baking dish before dinner was even ready.  They were that good.  And bits of the pesto had actually browned and crisped in the oven.  AMAZING!

 I used walnuts instead of pine nuts.  I noticed the last time I made pesto, I had an aftertaste in my mouth.  I honestly didn't think too much about it until I was over a friend's house and she mentioned how she wasn't going to use pine nuts grown in China.  So, thanks to the power of Google, I found a slew of articles and blog posts about pine nuts leaving a metallic taste in people's mouths.  Realizing that's what happened to me, I decided to look for pine nuts grown anywhere but China.  Let me tell you how expensive Italian pine nuts are.  Very.  As much as I want to get some, I'm holding off on spending the money.  By all means, if you don't get the horrendous aftertaste, don't like walnuts, or feel that using anything BUT pine nuts is blasphemous, use them.

Roasted Yellow Carrots with Pesto
Pesto makes about a cup

3 cups basil leaves, purple or otherwise
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, grated
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1 bunch of carrots, yellow or otherwise, tops trimmed, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the walnut pieces  just until you can smell.  Remove from heat and let cool.  In a food processor, toss in the basil leaves and walnut pieces.  Pulse until the basil and nuts begin to pulverize and combine.  Add the cheese and garlic (you can chop the cloves).  Slowly drizzle in the oil and run the processor on high until everything mixes together.  Give it a taste, adding salt and pepper as you wish.  

For the carrots, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a shallow baking dish, lay the carrots in and pour olive oil over them.  Make sure all the carrots are evenly covered with oil.  Roast carrots for about 25 minutes, then spread 2-3 tablespoons of pesto on vegetables.  Return to oven for another 5-10 minutes or until fork tines easily pierce carrots.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

But Wait! There Was Cake!

You know I took the day off for my birthday.  Whenever I have the opportunity to do so, you can count on it.  Every employer should allow their employees to have their birthday off, without having to use a vacation or sick day.  Your very own personal national holiday.  I had to use vacation hours, but it was worth it.

I spent a good portion of the day in the kitchen baking cookies and crackers for an order that was due the following day.  I decorated my birthday cake and now looking through my photo feed, realize I only took one photo.  The birthday was also the beginning of a mini-heat wave out here and before noon it was already flirting with the 90 degree mark.  Hot weather and buttercream don't mix all that well.  My goal was to decorate the cake before the frosting had a chance to melt.

Happily, I didn't have to worry about cooking on my birthday.  I had a surprise lunch date with my favourite person and went out to dinner with two very special friends.  There was birthday chocolate ice cream and an old fashioned involved.  It was a good day.  And the baked goods were a total hit that Friday.

All this to tell you that I made a mini orange cake with vanilla buttercream.  I had these little square cake molds that I bought a couple of years ago and finally decided to use.  Originally, the cake was going to be a little tower of squares.  Larger 4 inch squares topped with 2 inch squares.  Turns out they reminded me too much of a wedding cake.  Nixed that idea.  So, the cake was a little 2-layer square.  It was a little wonky even after trimming the layers.  There were also 10 cupcakes since the recipe makes enough for 2 8-inch layers.  This was also one of the rare occasions where I didn't wander (too much) from the original recipe.  It was fabulous.  Just the right amount of orange flavour.  It was light.  It was Springy.  Covered in vanilla buttercream, it was just lovely.

Orange Birthday Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
From Bunny's Warm Oven
Makes 2 8-inch layers or 12-14 cupcakes

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (also known as bakers' sugar)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh squeezed (mine was a combination of navel, blood orange, and cara cara)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tbsp grated orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour or line cake pans, or line muffin pan with cupcake liners.  In a small bowl, combine milk, oil, orange juice, and eggs.  Mix well and set aside.

In a large bowl, add flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Mix until combined.  Make a well in the center and add liquid mixture.  Stir until thoroughly mixed.  Pour batter into pans or muffin tins (about 2/3 full) and bake for 30-35 minutes (for cakes) or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  For cupcakes, start checking around 20-25 minutes.  Let cool in pan before removing.

Vanilla Buttercream
Adapted from Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp half and half

Cream sugar and butter until smooth, add vanilla and mix.  Add half and half until desired consistency is found.

An aerial view to hide the wonkiness

Enjoying cake for decades.