Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maple Walnut Bundt Cake

I have a new obsession with bundt cakes, and by new I mean I bought my first bundt pan yesterday, whipped this cake up and have been trolling the internets and every cookbook in the house for bundt cake recipes ever since.  I am planning on making a lemon one tonight in fact.  I really cannot figure out what exactly it is that draws me to these, it could be that you don't have to decorate them at all, which as you may or may not know decorating cakes and such is NOT my forte by any stretch of the imagination (I struggled with making one of those bunny cakes at Easter, you know the kind that everyone and their grandmother can make, although in my defense it was gluten free and thus an unusual texture).  There is also the fact that they tend to be on the denser side which I prefer and how particular I am about my cake to  frosting ratio which isn't a problem as most of these cakes just call for a glaze or a dusting of powdered sugar.  Or maybe it's the pans, which I have decided to start collecting along with cake stands (I want this one and this one for starters).  They also have a delightfully retro feel to them.

Start by making the nutty filling.  Flour, butter, cinnamon, walnuts (or pecans, which is what the recipe calls for, but we had a big bag of walnuts in the pantry)....

...and of course, maple syrup.  It is a bit hard to tell the scale in this picture, but it is in fact a half gallon jug of the stuff, hand delivered from New Hampshire.  
Then cream some butter and sugar together, pretty standard.  Next, in a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, also pretty standard.

Now here is where it gets a bit fiddly.  You add a single tablespoon of the the flour mixture and beat it in, then add an egg, then another single tablespoon of flour mixture then the other egg.  I have no idea why 2 tablespoons of flour make enough of a difference to merit the explanation required, but there you have it, this cake is delicious so I won't argue.  Then you add the rest of the flour and then the sour cream.  

You will end up with a dough that definitely cant be poured into the pan, but will instead need to be manhandled a bit to get it to obey.  

The recipe makes a big deal about making a rim up around the edges of the pan thus creating a dent all around the ring for the filling to go in and making sure it doesn't leak out.  Either I did a much better job of sealing my filling in than I thought I was or it isn't that big of a deal.  Anyways, you end up with half the dough on the bottom, a ring of the filling in the middle and then top it off with the rest of the dough, doing your best to cover over all the filling.

Bake until done and then let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping it out.

Maple Walnut Bundt Cake (from Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson)
1/2 cup flour
2T butter, softened
1t cinnamon
1 1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (or pecans)
1/2 cup maple syrup

2 cups flour
1t baking powder
1t baking soda
9T butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream

10 cup bundt pan

Preheat oven to 350 and grease pan well, you can use pam with flour in it, but I use crisco on a paper towel and then shake some flour around in the pan.

Make the filling, mix the butter and flour together with a fork until it looks like a crumb topping, then mix the rest of the ingredients in with the fork until blended.

Then mix the flour, baking powder and baking soda in bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar, then add 1T of the flour mixture, then one egg, then one more tablespoon of the flour then the other other egg.  Continue to add the flour mixture, beating as you go.  When that is mixed in, add the sour cream.

Spoon just over half the batter into the bundt pan, spreading it up the sides a bit to make a rim.  You want the gooey filling sealed in.

Spoon the filling into the dent in the cake batter, then cover with the rest of the batter.  Bake for 40 minutes, but check around 30.  Be careful not to be fooled by the filling, it will stick to the cake tester, you want to see if the cake bit is sticking to the tester.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping it out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guest Blogger Tracie: Baked Risotto

My friend Tracie decided she wanted to do another guest post, so she emailed it to me.  Last August.  I promptly lost it in my email, but it has since been exhumed (after she nagged me for several weeks) and so here it is, her oven baked risotto, sorry for the delay.

Intrepid readers, I’ve made my triumphant return. I’ve missed ya’ll and I’m sure you feel likewise. In my first post I spoke (typed?) about my love for Pioneer Woman. But alas, my heart is fickle and I also love another. America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country on PBS. It’s super nerdy and has none of the sex appeal of the shows on the Food Network. However, Test Kitchen seriously appeals to me because of their obsessive search to make things better, easier, and perfect. (I like perfection. I rarely attain it. My life is fraught with tension because of this.) Because I enjoy Test Kitchen’s diligence, I get their Cook’s Country magazine where I got both of these recipes. Oh and PS, the next time you see Emma, ask her about how much she loves searching for the hidden roosters in the magazine. [You should try it, it is strangely satisfying]  So, to get on with it, my family had plans to go out to eat for Father’s Day (I do realize this was months ago, yes) but one of us had to work and so instead I whipped this up. And burnt my finger, which I will tell you about in a bit.  This was my first experience with making risotto. Apparently it’s a bit difficult and inconvenient. Thankfully, the awesomeness that is Test Kitchen has come to our rescue to make this easier for us.

Le ingredients: unsalted butter, garlic, onion, parsley, Arborio rice, Parmesan cheese, water, bay leaves, low sodium chicken broth, dry white wine, and salt and pepper which I have forgotten to include.

Step one (not pictured): Preheat, which is really just regular heating and I fail to see why it is referred to as “pre,” the oven to 400 degrees. Step two: on the stove-top, simmer the broth, water, and bay leaves over medium-high heat. Cover it and keep it warm over the lowest heat possible.  While your broth is simmering away, melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and cook until the onion browns.  Add the rice and cook it until the edges turn clear. Which sounded perplexing, but that is totally what happens. The edges turn clear and the center stays white. It’s pretty cool. Then, add in the garlic and stir it around a bit. [Tracie is all about the pictures, but I tend to favor a less is more approach, so I may have edited a few out, just imagine the broth heating and the onions browning....]

Next add in the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.  Then, pour the broth over the rice.

Cover the Dutch oven with aluminum foil, pressing it down so it sits on top of the broth. Which, personally, I think is difficult to do because the foil picks up the heat from the risotto pretty fast. Crimp the edges of the foil around the pan too, which I also find slightly difficult due to the heat of the Dutch oven. Cover the foil with a tight fitting lid and pop it in the oven for 15 minutes.  After baking it, pull the risotto out, EXCEPT, be sure to remember that the metal lid of the pot has *just* come out of a 400 degree oven and is pretty damn hot itself. So *don’t* go picking it up all willy-nilly and then drop it, well like it’s hot, on the kitchen floor, narrowly avoiding your bare feet and burning the crap out of your fingers, most inconveniently as they are the fingers of your dominant hand. (Lefties for life!) [dork, not about the burning, but the lefties thing]

Get rid of the bay leaves, and stir in the parmesan and parsley. Season it with salt and pepper to taste.

Easy Baked Risotto (serves 6 to 8)
5 cups  low sodium chicken broth
½ cup water
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
2 cups Arbario rice (it’s important you use this particular rice, it’s risotto rice)
½ cup dry white wine (and remember, only cook with stuff you’d be willing to drink)
1 ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Put the oven rack on the middle shelf and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Bring the broth, water, and bay leaves to a simmer in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. After bringing it to a simmer, cover the pot and keep the broth warm over the lowest possible heat.
3. While the broth is heating, melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt and cook until the onions brown, around 6 minutes. Add the rice, stirring, and cook it until the edges of the rice become translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook if for about 30 seconds, until you can smell it. Then add the wine and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.
4. Pour the broth over the rice. Cover the Dutch oven with a sheet of aluminum foil and press down so it sits on top of the broth. Crimp down the edges to form a seal and cover with a tight fitting lid.
5. Bake until the rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Pick out the bay leaves. Stir in parmesan cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stay tuned for Tracie's next guest post for Italian skillet chicken (which I promise will be up before next year)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tomato Soup

I didn't used to like tomato soup, then I started using it for dipping purposes when I had grilled cheese, but now I have moved up and like it all on its own.  This particular tomato soup is one of my favorites, as it has heavy cream and booze in it as well as 6 tablespoons of butter, where is the bad in that I ask you? (Of course, feel free to ignore that question if you are say, a cardiologist or some other sort of person who is well versed in the effects of heavy cream, butter and booze on your insides)  Anyways, the nice thing about this soup is that it uses canned tomatoes and a bottle of tomato juice, the sort of things that you have in the pantry so it's easy but it tastes like you were slaving away over it all day.  Granted you do have to chop up an onion and let it cook in the butter until it is nice and soft, as Alice Waters taught me there is no rushing that step in making soup unless you want terrible things to happen and pot of soup that is no good.  Otherwise, it's a matter of opening various containers and dumping them in the pot.  This is a Pioneer Woman recipe, and can be found here.  

Start with an onion, chopped.

Then saute it in the butter until it is nice and soft.

Next you add the rest of the ingredients, except the sherry and cream (and the fresh herbs if you are using them, I tend not to and just sprinkle some dried basil and parsley in whenever I remember about them).  Now all you do is simmer it together.  If you are making it ahead of time this is the point where you should stop and stick it in the fridge until about half an hour before you want to eat it, then you simply reheat it and carry on with the recipe.

Take you hot (or reheated) soup and turn off the heat.  Pour in the sherry and cream...

....stir it all together and you are done.  The recipe is here, make it the next cold, snowy day and you wont regret it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rosemary Garlic Soda Bread

When some people make soup they plan ahead and have lovely bread on hand to have along with, others, like myself, decide about an hour before dinner that they really really need to have lovely bread along with this soup to make their lives complete but due to a stronger commitment to their novelty slippers (seriously, who doesn't love sock monkey slippers?) than grocery shopping will search the internets for a recipe that they happen to have everything on hand for and can make without any of those time consuming steps, like rising.  Which is where soda bread comes in.  It is delicious, makes me remember just about every St. Patrick's day growing up, brings me back to those 6 months I spent in Ireland and is dead simple to make, as in no rising, no kneading, nothing strenuous.  This one has garlic, rosemary and cheddar cheese which gives it a nice flavor, not at all like traditional garlic bread, but distantly related.  Some claim to not be able to tell there is any cheese in the bread at all, which I suppose may be a valid claim, but there is no butter either and I am sure that you would miss the fat in any case, even if you didn't miss the cheese flavor.  I found the recipe here and followed it pretty exactly, except I used powdered buttermilk and just completely skipped the step where you are supposed to knead the dough into a ball.  The lump of dough I had would have been nearly impossible to knead so instead of spending 10 minutes cursing the dough and whoever created this recipe, I slapped it onto the baking sheet and mushed it into a ball and the world did not end and the bread was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Start by mixing all the dry ingredients together.  If you use powdered buttermilk add the powder now, then when you add the liquid just add the appropriate amount of water.

Mix in your water, or actual buttermilk.  I used to use actual buttermilk, and I always had big plans for using the entire jug of it before it went bad, but somewhere along the way I never quite managed to follow through on them and there was frequently buttermilk languishing in the back of the fridge.  But then I heard that the powdered stuff works just fine and I haven't looked back since.   

Anyways, once everything is combined, dump it onto a baking sheet and form it into some sort of uniform loaf type shape, the recipe says to score it, which would imply a much dryer dough than what I had, but then again, I didn't knead it all so there you have it.

Bake it until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, which is actually not what the recipe says, but how I judge all my bread even though I cant always tell if it sounds hollow or not, I guess I should have spent more time a la Trixie Belden solving mysteries and rapping on walls looking for secret passages in my youth.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

I adore this butternut squash soup.  It is luscious and creamy and velvety and yet it does not have a single drop of cream in it.  The flavors are simple, the squash, a bit of onion, thyme and chicken stock (which could be water or veggie stock if you so choose), with a touch of sugar to bring out the natural sweetness of everything.  I also get to use my fire engine red immersion blender when making it which is a major plus, I love my kitchen gadgets.  The recipe is from Food Network Magazine, and they have you serve it in pumpkin or squash bowls, which I only did the first time I made this soup and never since.  It is nice, and very filling, when you eat an entire acorn squash and the soup, but I feel like it is a bit unnecessary.  What IS necessary is the crisped up prosciutto to put on top, that salty crunch is delicious.

Start with a large, naked butternut squash.  Scoop out the seeds and chop it up.  Rumor has it that you buy pre-chopped squash, which some members of my family are rather excited about, I myself sort of enjoy hacking it up with a big knife, although maybe I shouldn't admit that.

Once your squash is ready, move onto the onions, just give them a rough chop, you are going to blend it anyways.  Then saute them in 3 tablespoons of butter.  This is important, DO NOT SKIMP ON THE BUTTER.  When sauteing things I am normally a very lackadaisical person when it comes to the amount of oil or butter I use, but with this I really feel like you need the full 3 tablespoons, if not a smidge more.  Also, the smell of onions cooking in butter is one of the best cooking smells ever and I would hate for you to deprive yourself of that by going easy on the butter.  Anyways, let the onion get nice and soft but not brown, and add the thyme (I have never used fresh thyme in anything, I always just use dried) and salt.

Then you toss in the butternut squash and a spoonful of sugar and stir it all around, letting the squash get slickly covered with butter and melted sugar.

Then you pour in 5 cups of liquid, the recipe calls for water but I add 4 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of water, you could do whatever you want, and simmer it until the squash is cooked through.  At this point you may want to fry up the prosciutto, I have a tendency to forget about it and then try to convince someone else to do it for me.

Here is where you pretend that I didn't get distracted and took more pictures, like of when I blended the soup with my immersion blender (depending on your squash you may need to simmer the soup a bit or add some more water to get the right consistency) and when I served the soup and had it prettily topped with crispy bits of prosciutto and croutons.  Of course, instead of doing any of that I was happily eating my soup and then remembered my blog, jumped up and ran for my camera.  I have turned into a very forgetful photographer and for that I am sorry.  The recipe is here, and remember, 4 cups broth instead of water and don't bother with the squash bowls unless you really want to. 


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone is recovering nicely from celebrating the coming of the new year last night.  I got all glammed up (or more accurately was glammed up by this lady) and went out with a few close friends in Annapolis.  We started out with dinner at Tsunami, which aside from still having reservations when I checked Open Table the night before New Year's Eve, has delicious cocktails and pretty amazing fries.  In fact I basically go there for the cocktails and fries alone, those and the watermelon salad, with it's pine nuts, feta, and mint, all drizzled with a balsamic reduction, which was sadly not on the menu last night, perhaps because it is winter and watermelons aren't known for their affinity for snowy weather.  Tsunami seems to me like one of those places that are going for the trendy feel but the actual trendy people don't go there, which I have no idea if that is true or not, not being one of the trendy people of Annapolis myself.  Anyways, I have never ordered what they call "main tastes," but I have sampled dishes from every other category, the first and second tastes, sides and sushi.  And the cocktails of course.  I love a good cocktail and these don't disappoint.  Be warned though, just about everything on the menu has some sort of fusion twist, which can be quite tasty, like the smoked chili aioli that comes with the fries, but can sometimes seem just a bit forced, fusion for the sake of being considered fusion and not because it is an innovation on the dish that takes it to a new and better place.  Not to sound like a food snob or anything.

The baby spinach salad I had last night was quite tasty although the picture doesn't quite do it justice.  The spiced cashews on top were my favorite part.  Between the 6 of us we also ordered quite a selection of sushi, which by my uneducated sushi palate was very decent.  Then of course there were the fries, of which I could not even get a decent picture before they were completely devoured.  We alternated between raving about them and inhaling them, going on about the perfect amount of chunky sea salt one minute and then chowing down the next.  All in all, it is not a bad place to pop in for a drink or a bite if you are downtown.