Sunday, February 28, 2010

Orange Blossom and Rosewater Cupcakes

Having spent so much of the last few weeks in front of a computer, I am just itching to get back to the kitchen.  What odd is, where I formerly would focus mainly on cooking, I recently have had a pull towards baking.  I think I have this blog to thank for that.  My sweet tooth is a little under-active,  so I've never really had too much cause to bake before (unless it's savory).  Being able to share baking on Peas Love Carrots changes everything, however.  I always had an interest in cake decorating, and now I'm free to play with it!

I've been wanting to do something with flower waters, where you know what flavors you have by the type of flower on the top.  I modeled the flowers after the beautiful carvings I've seen all around Mexico, so often featuring the vibrant blues and folks-y shapes. I love them!

Finding myself with an actual free day yesterday, I decided to dive right in... and make fondant!  Fondant is really one of the coolest, most versatile cake "frosting" out there, but it's usually not terribly tasty.  Pre-made brands, like Wilton, give you convenience, but it tastes a little... off.  Marshmallow fondant is easy to make, and tastes pretty good, too.

For a large batch (you can refrigerate unused portions for months) you'll need...

1 16 ounce bag on mini marshmallows
2-4 tablespoons of water
2 pounds (one standard bag) of powdered sugar
Vegetable shortening to coat hands and finished fondant
Cornstarch for rolling

Place marshmallows in largest bowl that fits in your microwave and toss along with 2 tablespoons water.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds, remove and stir.  Repeat until marshmallows are completely melted and almost soupy (about 2.5 minutes).

With a wooden spoon (it's very hot, don't touch it with bare hands yet), begin folding in powdered sugar at about 1 cup at a time.  You may not use all the of sugar.  You can add a flavor oil now if you like, such as orange or almond.  Use the spoon as much as possible to incorporate the mixture, then grease hand liberally with shortening.  Test to make sure the mixture is cool enough to handle, then begin kneading.  I suggest doing this right in the bowl, but you can also turn the dough out onto a surface, just grease it first!  Knead until smooth and pulls into elastic ribbons (about 8 minutes).  If it tears easily, it's too dry.  Add a teaspoon of water at a time, kneading in between, until desired elasticity is achieved.

Divide out the portion of fondant you need, and coat the remain amount with a thin layer of shortening.  Double-wrap in plastic and keep in a zip top bag with as little air in it as possible.  It can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.  If it becomes to dry, microwave for 5 - 10 seconds.  Be careful, it may be hot after this.

Doesn't it sort of look like a little baby bird waiting to be fed?  Didn't notice it until the picture...

To roll fondant: Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch as you would flour and roll out to desired thinness.

To color fondant: I find it easiest to color it after making it, as there's often several colors you want one batch to be.  Also, over time colors can change/darken so coloring when needed is best.  Add a couple of drops of good gel food coloring to the dough at a time, kneading and assessing the color.  Note: I suggest wearing food-grade gloves while doing this, as good food colors can stain your hands.  If you don't use them, scrubbing hands with exfoliating products should remove dye color with a little patience.

To make light blue green: use a 2-1 ratio of blue to green food color
To make orange: 2-1 ratio of red to yellow food color
To make green: 4-1 ratio of green to brown food color(this makes a more olive green - you can just use green color, too)

To make the cupcakes (recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour basic golden vanilla)...

24 medium cupcakes

What you need...
2 cups sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
4 large eggs

To make it orange blossom-flavored
Add 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon powdered ginger

To make it rosewater-flavored 
Add 1 tablespoons rosewater
1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon

(to make half and half, just divide the batter and halve the flavoring)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line cupcake tins with paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.

Add buter and beat with hand or stand mixer on low until it resembles sand.

Combine milk and desired flower flavorings.  Beat on low for 30 seconds then on medium for 30 seconds, scraping the sides.

With mixer still on low, add eggs, one at a time.  Scrape bowl again and beat another 30 seconds on medium high.

Transfer batter to cupcake tins - a little more than 1/4 cupfuls each (you want them to have big tops).  To just a little under the cupcake tin rims

Bake for 23 - 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove and allow to cool before removing from pans.

To decorate your cupcakes you'll need...

Buttercream frosting to coat cupcake tops before fondant, and to secure flowers (I use premade with a little honey beat in for better flavor)
Light blue fondant for tops
White fondant to make orange blossoms
Golden dragees for the orange blossom centers
Edible markers (optional) to add detail to leaves and roses
Various colored fondants for roses

Tips for making blue tops...

Divide your dough into the number of cupcakes you have, and roll those sections into balls to easily make rounds

Coat the tops with a small amount of buttercream to act as glue, and to fill in or balance out the top (add more to one side if it's lopsided)

After adding the rolled fondant top, trim the edges of the round so that it just wraps under the lip of the cupcake top - tuck under and smooth as you go

Cut a conical hole in the center to attach roses - add a small amount of buttercream to the "stem", then fit it into the hole

Secure all leaves and flowers with a tiny amount of buttercream and a toothpick or knife

Tips for making roses...

Start with a small strip and roll a rosebud, then hand form individual petals to attach at the "stem"

Round and smooth the edges as you go

Use a little yellow and red food safe marker to add detail to roses - then blot with damp paper towel to blend

Tips for making the orange blossoms...

Find a picuture of blossoms to work off of, and roll out your white fondant and cut free-hand to size

Alternately, use a mini cookie cutter that is star or starfish-shaped like this one

Attach dragees to centers with a tiny amount of buttercream on a toothpick

Tips for making leaves

Roll out green fondant and find pictures of leaves you'd like to make, or use various cutters

Use green edible marker to make leaf veins - blot with damp paper towel to blend

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Swamp Dinner - for when I'm swamped with tasks, that is...

Have you missed me?  You might've noticed, or maybe not (even worse!) that it's been slim pickins' for posts from me this month... and just a month after I promised more frequent posting.  Tsk tsk on me.  [Warning: excuse follows] It's a very busy time at the company I work for, which just so happens to coincide with an uptick in the myriad of things due for classes this semester.  My hands have begun to take on a smooth, powdery feeling from handling so much paper as I move it from one pile.. to another pile... to the waste bin or, if they're lucky, the rest home where all good papers go to die: a crisp manila folder.

I know I shouldn't complain. I will admit to smiling to myself, even, as I careen around Chicago from one train to the next - shaking my mittens at the fresh sheet of snow that hides the slick ice beneath.  It's ridiculous in a way.  This is temporary, this wandering around in a fog of bibliographies and spreadsheets fueled with a steady diet of bad coffee.  Work will slow up, as will school.   And there are always good things to remember.  Basic things like love, and warm socks... and yes, food.  Always food.

So what do I eat during these times?  Lots of quick stuff, obviously.  Things that don't require much thought, certainly.  Things that aren't apt to be so heavy as to make me fall asleep onto my laptop, definitely.  Basically, that means a "if you can boil water" meal.   And boil water is exactly what I do.  That means rice/pasta/noodles + veggies + sauce/flavorings.  Normally this is great tasting, quick... but not exactly picture-worthy or recipe-worthy.  Last night, however, I looked down at my bowl, blurry-eyed with reading, and decided to get out my camera...

I am not going to write a recipe for this, because it's meant for the sorts of nights when recipes are not to be fussed with.  And frankly, I'm just too tired for it, my dear people, and I'm afraid it would come out in APA style (horrible academic joke).  I'll just spare you this and tell you the very simple steps...
  1. Put water on boil (or broth if you're feeling industrious)
  2. Add soba noodles
  3. Add vegetables - in this case, Chinese broccoli and some purple cauliflower I found at the market
  4. Boil on until the noodles are done (veggies will comply and be ready at the same time)
  5. Add flavor - I used good soy sauce, sesame oil and kimchi
It's so pretty, isn't it? 

Now *book spine cracking*, I'm going to get back to it...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Memories of sunshine - Strawberry Mojito Cookies


Every summer I think about the previous winter and its shivering and bundled layers and it seems like an odd novelty. Boots?  Hats and mittens?  Silliness.  And that's because I forget just how cold 20 degrees Fahrenheit can be... or 10... or zero.  From inside a sundress, it seems impossible to think of 2 pairs of socks.  But nonetheless here we are, peeking our heads out of our wool and triple-insulated down igloos at each other on the streets with watery, wind-struck eyes.  And now it seems impossible to think of seeing people with bare toes on the sidewalks.  The sign at the old diner boasting about "air conditioned" seating sounds odd, like maybe in 1956 they needed that sort of thing, but certainly not these days.  Buried under a crust of Chicago snow, summer seems like decades ago right now.

Which is why I needed to make these cookies.  Not simply because having an excuse to turn the oven on in my drafty kitchen, but because they're Mojito-inspired.  And Mojitos are the sort of thing you drink when you're outside in weather that doesn't require you have some purpose to be outside, other than to "enjoy" it. 

So to keep alive the notion of sunshine on bare skin, and kind breezes... even sunburns and humidity-frizz-hair, I had to make these.  To remind me that the boots will go back in the closet for the next half of the year, when I'll stumble across them while searching for a rogue sandal and they will seem alien to that version of me: a relic, and I'll marvel at how precious they seemed just a few months before.

Recipe: Goodbye Winter Strawberry Mojito Cookies

For the cookies...
1/2 pound unsalted butter (softened)
2 1/3 cups AP flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg (room-temperature is best)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the glaze...
1 pint fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup white rum
1/2 cup water
Small handful fresh mint leaves, minced fine

What to do with it all...
Cookies: Beat together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add all other ingredients except flour and beat until well combined.  Reduce mixer to low and add flour slowly until well combined.  Divide dough in half and wrap and put into fridge to chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove one half and place on a well-floured rolling surface.  Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut out cookies with about a 3-inch cutter (or use a tin can!) and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat 1 inch apart.  Bake on mid or upper rack for 6 - 8 minutes or until golden.  Repeat with second half of dough.  Set aside cookies to cool.

Glaze: In a medium saucepan, heat all ingredients except mint on medium, stirring occasionally until strawberries are soft and giving off color into liquid.  If there is too little liquid, just add a little more water.  Puree mixture with emulsion blender or standard blender and return to saucepan.  Simmer until thick.  Allow to cool slightly, then stir in your minced mint.  Add a tea spoon's worth of glaze to each cookie and spread until shiny and lovely.

Finish with powdered sugar if desired.

Hello Spring.  Oh how I missed you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Love You Berry Much Creme Brulee

Have I mentioned before how much I love rummaging, Truffle Pig style, thru the bins at the resale and antique stores that dot my neighborhood?  Every now and then I scout (er, snout?) out a dusty pair of Italian riding boots or an old printer drawer richly patina'd from a hundred inky hands.  Now that I am a food blogger (hurrah!) I'm more apt to linger in the housewares areas, too.  This is where I recently found this humble little heart ramekin.  Similar ones are available all over the place, of course, and I think everyone should have one.  Even if it isn't 60 cents (like mine, I gloat, I know).

It's obvious what needed to go into my little heart was a creme brulee.  Though I'm not a terribly prolific baker, for some reason I've made more creme brulee than anyone I know.  My guess for why I have continually made it is that it turned out very well on my first attempt, therefore giving me encouragement and a somewhat false sense that the Creme Brulee Gods smile on me with approval.  With the glow of confidence, I blossom, and have turned out generations of perfectly creamy custards with the quintessential "Amelie" burnt sugar tops.

I use a recipe adapted from Joy of Cooking, which is one of the only cookbooks I own.  I add orange blossom water to brighten it and make it my own.  I decided for the occassion of the ramekin find I'd also play with a raspberry glaze.  It's easy, consistent and I tend to agree with Irma when she says it's "the most sumptuous we have ever tasted".

Recipe: Raspberry Glazed Creme Brulee (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

What you need to get...

For the "creme"
2  cups heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional, but nice)
1/2 cup sugar

For the raspberry glaze
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar plus enough to sprinkle over tops
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
Water to cover

What to do with it all...

  1. Heat cream until barely simmering, then remove from heat
  2. In a medium bowl, combine eggs and sugar, stir until just blended
  3. Pour in cream gradually in a steady stream while stirring the mixture
  4. Strain mixture thru a fine mesh sieve into a bowl with a pouring spout to remove some of the viscous whites
  5. Prepare a large pan with a shallow water bath and set 4 - 6 (count) eight ounce ramekins in it
  6. Divide cream mixture between the ramekins and place in oven
  7. Turn oven to 250 degrees farenheight and bake 1 - 1/2 hours or until custard is still a little quivery but set
  8. Remove and cool, then wrap and refridgerate for at least 8 hours
  9. During this time, prepare raspberry sauce by combining all ingredients except "sprinkling sugar) in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil
  10. Cook on medium heat until water has taken on the color of the raspberries (about 5 minutes)
  11. Cool slightly and blend with immersion blender or food processor until smooth
  12. Set aside or store until custard is set
  13. Remove custard from refrigerator and spoon a thin, even layer of berry sauce on each
  14. Generously sprinkle an even layer of sugar on top of the berry sauce layer
  15. Fire up a hand torch, or your broiler and burn your sugar layer evenly until melted
  16. Allow to cool and turn smooth and glassy
  17. Serve!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Midweek Meals: Healthy Delicious Lima Bean Spread with Olives and Yogurt OR How Lima Beans Are Like Christopher Walken

Ok, so I'm posting a midweek meal on a Friday, bu it's been quite a busy week with school and the like and I wasn't able to post photos until today... sure, I could've posted the recipe on Wednesday, but without photos, lima beans are boring in most people's opinions (though I hope you will be forever changed on that after this) and just imagine what they'd be like without the pictures?  I would be a food blog pariah overnight!

After all that bashing of poor Mr. Lima, I think I should be fair to him and tell you there's more to him then smelly, shrivel-y/mush side dish afterthoughts.  The words LIMA BEANS make children collectively shudder and dive under kitchen tables around the globe, I have no doubt.  But the Lima has a bad rep for what really is a pretty amazing little legume: healthy, easy to cook and most importantly quite tasty when properly handled.  Problem is I don't think most people know what to do with them.

Kind of like Christopher Walken.  Amazing actor, right?  I know if I were a Hollywood director, I would be looking at him and thinking "Wow, this dude is freakin' amazing... but how the heck do I cast him?"  He can't play a down and out single father or run around the screen with a gun searching for the kidnapped Declaration of Independence, now can he?  His lines would take 5x as long to say, for one thing.

Just like Mr Walken, the lima bean can't just be thrown into a dish willy-nilly and without taking into consideration its special set of talents. For one, limas have a very nice rich/butter flavor and texture if they're not overcooked.  This recipe takes the lowly lima and puts him in the role he deserves: as a healthy, tasty and even elegant spread that makes a great midweek guilt-free snack!

Oh, and limas are full of fiber, magnesium and iron.  They're said to reduce cholesterol and even have a property that is supposed to "detoxify" bad sulfite preservitives (like in red wine).  The recipe also has garlic, yogurt and olive oil for added health points!

Recipe: Lima Bean Spread with Olives and Yogurt

What you need to get...

1 pound fresh or frozen lima beans (if fresh, blanch first in boiling water for 5 minutes)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dry Greek herb mix (dill, oregano, mint, rosemary)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (thick or Greek-style preferred)
10 pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste (won't need much)

What to do with it all...
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil on medium and add lima beans and herbs. 
  2. Saute until soft and very little color (about 5 mins)
  3. Add garlic and remove from heat - allow to cool slightly (don't let the garlic cook much, or it will get bitter)
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lima bean mixture to a food processor (leaving the olive oil to add back later)
  5. Add olive and blend - pouring olive oil in a steady stream to incorporate - until mixture is spreadable but still a little chunky
  6. Fold in yogurt and serve with whole wheat bread or pita, crudites, or heck, toss with pasta or layer in a veggie lasagna!


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