Friday, June 29, 2012

Let's have some Chowda!

Well, by let's, I mean Mike and his parents.

Mike took his big monster "The Professional Chef" book with him when he went home for the week. He has been mulling through it and bookmarking pages and recipes he wants to try out. It's fun to watch him get all excited about food and wanting to make it.

Recently he has been going through the soup section of the book. There are some really amazing soup recipes in there. I hope to try the next one.

So he was making a good old fashioned clam chowder for his parents. He was the sous chef according to the text messages I received. His father was helping him out for dinner.

The first picture I received was of an improvised sachet.

So not being at home or not wanting to go spend money to buy a sachet or materials for one he was clever and created his own, mind you he's clever all the time.

He used a coffee filter and stapled it shut with the herbs and spices that were required for this recipe. I couldn't tell you what was inside, but as you can see he was reading about it in the 'great big book of cooking.' I would say this is an inexpensive and easy way to do this if you do not have the actual materials for a sachet. Staples and a coffee filter, something most people have lying around their kitchen. (staples in your junk drawer - we all have one I know all of you do to)

So then he started with the veggies, which I know he chopped up all nice and pretty.

He cooked them down so they would blend with the soup base and have great flavor.

This is the blonde roux before cream is added. Cream is added at the end.

At this point my mouth was already watering.

Soon he was talking of pretzel bread and brats to go with the chowder. He wasn't so sure about pretzel bread and brats but I soon received a text saying "You should make pretzel bread." So at that point it's safe to assume he enjoyed it and that pretzel bread is a new food we should incorporate into our dining habits.

So he grilled and cooked and made delicious food for his parents. Such a good son and man :) I must say that brat sandwich on pretzel bread looks pretty awesome. Going to have to make that at home sometime.

So here is the final clam chowder picture - well sort of, that fish looking blob in there is the sachet of herbs that was boiled with the stock/veggies/clams and cream to infuse the chowder with those flavors.

He said the chowder was good but needed more clams. Can there ever be too much meat in a soup? I don't think anyone ever stocks up a soup/chowder or bisque with enough meat. Think Campbell's chicken noodle soup. Where's the chicken!? You all know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm sure it wasn't that bad but next time he knows, more clams. Kind of like a lot of things - more meat would make this better.

So this weekend I don't think there will be a massive amount of cooking as we are spending Saturday with my grandmother (though she did make German potato salad - hers is the best) and we will be eating out. But maybe Sunday we will whip something up in my small kitchen where all the baking action happens. Then maybe we can bake in his kitchen. Spice things up haha! I do not have the recipe to this - however, it is in the book "The Professional Chef" by The Cuilinary Institute of America. Check it out at your local book store or even on Amazon. It's not cheap so you are going to have to use it to make it worth the money.

Till next time kids!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Every great inspiration is but an experiment - Charles Ives

It was experiment week in the kitchen. Throwing things together and being bored and missing Mike while he has been out of town.

So between the crazy baking spree I recently went on with beer bread and peanut butter balls I have now made more sugar cookies. Regular this time - well I used rum extract since I'm out of vanilla. Can't really tell when you eat them though. It works.

I made the frosting first, not knowing what I was going to use it on. Brilliant right? Who said genius had to come after the main part of a baked item was created?

So when I was bored I had powdered sugar and softened butter. I then realized, after combining ingredients that I was out of vanilla...well I didn't want to do rum frosting. I just made rum cupcakes not too long ago. I didn't want to do coconut. A lot of people hate coconut. So I looked and found I had vodka, gummy flavored. I thought to myself, hmm I wonder if this would taste good as frosting? I enjoy the gummy vodka by itself as well as mixed in a drink but wasn't sure how it would work as a flavoring. Then again most all extracts are a flavored alcohol basically. Good extracts have alcohol in them. my thinking I figured it would just come out as a gummy flavor. Well, sort of. I had to play with the ratio of vodka to sugar and butter. Added a bit of water here and there to thin out without adding a crap load of alcohol, since this is not a cooked frosting.

I think it turned out well...I added red food dye to give it a gummy kind of feel. (More pink than red - but I'm not going to add that much food coloring). I personally think it tastes more like cotton candy than gummy in frosting form. It's super sweet so just a teaspoon per cookie is enough. From what people that have tasted them for me have said, it's not sicky sweet but it's definitely a "one and done" deal for eating.

So the cookies are pretty basic. They are my mom's super awesome "Christmas Cutout Cookies."

The edges got a bit crispy but still tasty

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Cream sugar and butter. Add egg and vanilla. Add milk. Mix well. Combine flour, salt and powder in another bowl. Add flour mixture in batches until dough comes together. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness and cut out with desired cookie cutters.

(I chose stars for Independence day. Also a good reason for the red coloring for the frosting - I thought of that after I cut out cookies)

Bake at 350 degrees for 6-10 min (depending on your oven - mine is gas and seems to cook things a bit faster than electric ovens I have used.)

Once you set them on a rack to cool you can start making your frosting. The basic frosting I make is 1 stick of butter, 1 lb powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla and a splash of milk for consistency. Add more milk to thin out frosting to obtain a spreading consistency. If you are lactose intolerant, use water.

Once your cookies are cool, start frosting those puppies, or stars in my case.

If you are using the Gummy Vodka recipe, please note 1 TEASPOON is way more than enough frosting for these. Up to 1 1/4 tsp. But no more. If you use more it will be too sweet and in my kitchen Audrey is watching, and a lady NEVER over frosts her cookies. ;)
Audrey watches me cook and bake.
She approves of the pink color
So until next time kids - I think Mike said something about clam chowder....that will hopefully be next. Time for some real food right? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Boredom hits the baker - prepare yourselves

So this is what happens when I, Sarah, get bored. Mike usually will ask what is wrong if I've been baking since I'm usually upset or in a mood to bake. There are times I bake for a reason but typically there are a few things that trigger a bit of a worry. The movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and random baking.

So this and last week I've been bored and I have also had to bake for a co-worker.

So a couple nights ago I made sugar cookies, of course I had run out of sugar. Great...didn't want to go to the store so I subbed brown sugar (light) for the white sugar. A little experimentation never hurt. These type of sugar cookies are meant to be chilled and cut out. I didn't care to go through that process (I do that once a year at Christmas time). So I just did drop sugar cookies.

As you can see I frosted them with a chocolate frosting. What you cannot see is that it is not just chocolate. It is a mocha frosting. I made a standard butter cream with cocoa powder to make it chocolaty and then added a little bit of instant coffee (I use Starbucks via, Colombian blend, since I have a crap load in my cupboard from working there for a year).

Here is the recipe:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, soft
1 cup sugar, white or light brown
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp milk

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla. Stir in flour, salt and baking powder. Blend thoroughly. Chill in fridge for 1 hour. (or just drop by tablespoons on a greased baking sheet)

Once chilled roll out on floured surface with a floured rolling pin, to a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out into desired shapes. Bake on greased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees.

OK, so there are those, I took them to work and left them on the coffee maker (our water cooler). I get to work at 8, these were gone by 9 and I had a note in the container asking for the recipe. Glad people enjoy them :)

So tonight I'm bored and a bit on the meh side so I came home, worked out and then proceeded to bake while NCIS is playing in the background. Aren't I exciting on a Monday night?

So I was looking through one of my cookbooks and found a "Peanut Butter Ball" recipe. Basically a buckeye for those that are familiar with those. Or as my co-worker Mai says "Peanut butter balls of death!"
Due to the sugar content. ;) At least the other recipe I used. This one doesn't make as many. About 30 balls.

This recipe comes from the "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook 12th Edition."

Start to finish, according to the book, is 1 hour. However, if you have to run out to get ingredients to finish these "Peanut Butter Balls of Death" and beer bread, it's more like 2 hours.

1/2 cup peanut butter of your choice
3 Tbsp butter, soft
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
8 oz chocolate flavored candy coating (chocolate chips work too)

1. In a bowl stir together PB and butter. Gradually add powdered sugar, stirring until combined. Shape mixture into 1 inch balls; place on waxed paper (tin foil is what I used because I don't have waxed paper right now). Let stand for 20 minutes.

Sent this pic to Mike and all he said was "Yum"
He is visiting his parents for the week so no baked goodies for him 

2. In a heavy saucepan, melt candy coating over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Cool slightly. Dip balls, one at a time, into coating. Let excess drip off (use a fork, it's easier). Place balls on waxed paper. Let stand until firm. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

I sent this pic to Mike and he immediately started making jokes ;)

(per piece 92 calories, 6g fat. 32mg sodium, 9g carbs, 0g fiber, 1g protein)

Delicious, simple and super easy. Great for kids to help with if you want to bake/cook with your kids.

OK final thing I baked tonight/this week - so far.

Beer bread. I have, for whatever reason, an over abundance of beer in my fridge. People would bring it over and I already have beer and it just keeps coming. Ugh, I drink beer but not that much and Mike hates beer. Great mix there right? So let's make beer bread :)

Super simple recipe that my mother passed to me.

3 cups flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder, sifted
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar, again I used brown because I'm cheap and haven't bought white sugar yet.
1/4 cup melted butter
1 - 12oz - can/bottle of beer (darker beer makes tastier bread)

Oven at 375 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients, sift flour. Add beer. Put in loaf pan. Pour butter on top for a crunchy crust or mix into batter for a softer crust.
Bake for 1 hour.
Cool for 15 minutes before turning out of pan.

I double this recipe and use a 9x13 pan sprayed really really well with PAM/Non stick spray. I also have an abundance of beer. So if you have beer and are trying to get rid of it, here you go. Quick, easy and soooo tasty!!

Mixing, using Bud Select - not a lot of flavor
Baked up :) I put butter in and on it, so tasty
- do it!!!
Perfect snack or breakfast or sandwich bread
- if you use a loaf style pan
So I have had a productive night I would say, I even made myself some dinner, yes I too cook - not just bake. Mike does a lot because I say he's better at it than I am. I like to cook too though.

Red, yellow and orange peppers, onion, garlic
 and sweet and smokey, I then added tomato
sauce and made it a BBQ style with the shrimp
Peeled and deveined shrimp and tails popped off
So busy night but productive. Now I think it's bed time for my burnt raccoon self. (I spent 6 hours in the pool outside in the 99 degree heat at a friends yesterday, Sunday) Guess I didn't put enough lotion on. It was hot but the water felt good. 

There will be more food this weekend with my grandmother coming to town. 75 yr old German lady cooking at my mothers huge kitchen. Yeah, there will be food! Get ready to loosen your belt Mike. 
Mike and the Hyvee guy say it's not so bad
You can just see the red arms and red face

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grill Master Mike

Alright, summer time + chicken + Mike = grilling time. So last night was the night for a summer tradition.

So Mike fired up the grill, broke out some of the new spices and got to work. Yesterday morning we had been talking about what sounded good for dinner. I said, what are you craving? He replies with "chicken." So what's better than summer time and chicken then BBQ chicken.

We had gone to the Farmer's Market on Saturday and picked up some needed and delicious spices. He got the garlic herb he was wanting and running low on and I picked up more sweet & smokey. He had some sweet and smokey (has a BBQ flavor) already and mixed with sirarchi sauce to create a wet rub.

Then he sliced some zucchini and yellow squash into beautiful discs and laid them out right on the grill to get some nice "tan" lines. He also prepared some asparagus with the garlic & herb spice and probably some butter but couldn't tell as it was in the foil and he forgot to photograph it ;) Trimmed asparagus and butter with the garlic herb seasoning all in foil and placed on the grill makes for tender but crisp deliciousness that is asparagus.

Oh well, it looked amazing. He said it was delicious. So I believe him. I've never eaten anything he's made that I didn't like. I like some more than others but that's true with my baking too and he'll say the same.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Baking Trial and Error

So here's the thing, I (Sarah), bake for the co-workers A LOT. They are kind of like my own personal guinea pigs. Well, for most things I would say. Some things are best tried by those closest and dear to you (Mike and Gooey Butter Cupcakes). So for co-workers birthdays, that have allowed us to do the little party thing for them on or near their birthday get a cake or cupcakes from me. Usually basic and typically with their name piped on it in a very simple fashion as I have yet to get the piping set and some more training from my mother (who makes the occasional cake for weddings).

So in my eagerness to make something lovely for a co-worker, whom I work pretty close with and deal with the stupidest things, I tried a new recipe with a limited few hours to do so. Had everything gone according to recipe and plan I would have had gorgeous cupcakes to show for it. However, things did not and I had this to show for it:

At least the coca-cola guy in the back is happy.
*Sigh* They would have been fabulous, light and fluffy white cake with a sweet and dense yellow cake topped with a delectable pineapple fluff frosting. But alas they turn out this way and had a weird tinny and chemical taste. *blech* So, file 13 for them and the recipe. I was not impressed and frankly I did everything according to the recipe. Letting eggs sit for 30 min and fluffing to egg whites to just so, making sure there was no water in the bowl or near the egg whites. Well, this is part of baking. You win some you lose some. So at 10:30 last night, after working out and baking a labor intensive set of 12 cupcakes I began my endeavor of a basic cake that could be whipped up quickly.

I was chatting with Mike when all this happened, he suggested "You can always buy a cake." Um, yeah, no. 1. That's cheating, 2. My co-workers expect homemade baked goods.

Mixing as fast as possible to get done before  the stroke of 12.
So mixing furiously and with a goal in mind, not really having to think about this recipe as it's a basic cake. Not really a yellow cake but not white either. Delicious either way. Kind of reminds me of pound cake mixed with yellow cake.

I did, however, cheat on the frosting the next day. I stopped at the store and picked up a can of chocolate fudge icing as I didn't want to stay up longer to make butter cream. I would have had to wait for the butter to thaw and such. By the time this puppy came out of the oven my kitchen was hot and so was I on top of being exhausted. So yes I did buy something. In the end the birthday girl was happy and half the cake was gone by the end of the workday. All in all not bad, just too long of a night for baking and experimenting. Early to bed tonight I think. (click here for the recipe of the final cake)

Monday, June 18, 2012

New frontiers in cooking

Mike has a new book, "The professional Chef," that gets more in depth about cooking. Basically a text book and cookbook combined. Sort of like going to a mini culinary school by yourself. Could get yummy. Next purchase is Julia Child's cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." we are going to be cooking fiends! Watch out! The flames will be rolling, the cutlery flying and delicious smells wafting from the kitchen!

Great now my mouth is watering.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cake Adventures - France - Crepe Cake

Well now it's cake time. But this time it's time to make a different cake, unconventional and different.

I found the recipe here at The Little Epicurean. She has some fabulous recipes. I found this while scrolling through food blogs and trying to find something new and different to try. This looked challenging and yet simple enough. 

The crepes were harder to make then I thought. The first three fell apart and were just kind of meh. Tasted good. :) They were the tester crepes, haha. Once I got in the groove of swirling the pan as well as getting the bottom just brown it went pretty fast. I, however, could not seem to flip the crepes. So I ended up just cooking them a bit longer on the one side. If I tried to flip them they started to tear and fall apart. Not sure what I was doing wrong. Will probably just buy crepes next time and not go through the cooking hassle. One of few things I will buy in the baked world. (There are very few things I will not make myself) Maybe with practice I could perfect the crepes.

The pastry creme is absolutely fantastic! I think that was my favorite part. But it only got better. I had to make whipped cream. Which in and of itself I enjoy. This particular recipe called for Kirsch, German for "cherry water" is a clear, colorless fruit brandy traditionally  made from double distillation of morello cherries, a dark-colored cultivar of the sour cherry (thank you Wikipedia). I, however, used triple sec. It's what I had on hand and actually tasted quite nice with the slight orange flavoring. So I would say if you don't have Kirsch or don't want to go buy it, use a lightly flavored fruity liquor.

So once the pastry creme was chilled and the whipped cream made I had to fold them together to make the most wonderful part, I think, of this cake.

Now to assemble. You layer a crepe and then the filling and continue until you have 20 layers of crepes with filling in between each. Go see The Little Epicurean for more details on the process. Here are the pics.

Definitely not pretty but most recipe pictures are staged anyway ;) It tastes good, now to get rid of it on some friends.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Busy Weekenders Sandwich Love

Soooo forgot to post this on Friday when we had this. We had a full weekend of hanging with friends and a wedding to attend followed by more hanging out with friends and more on Sunday. So, we hardly cooked with as busy as we were but after going to the gym on Friday together and burning off what we had eaten the night before (empty stomachs) we decided on some simple sandwiches.

Ham and cheese!
Side view
Was hungry obviously if a bite is taken before the photo.
You can see Sarah's toes.
So we made some ham and cheese with just some basic brown sugar, store bought ham luncheon meat.

But this is no ordinary ham and cheese. We used hoagie rolls  (Sara Lee) and toasted them in a pan with the homemade jalapeno cheddar butter that Sarah had made with those cute heart shaped biscuits earlier. So, toasted up the bread on the inside with the butter, makes the bread taste like it's had cheddar cheese baked into it almost. Had a very mild kick as the jalapenos used were canned.

From there the bread had the meat and cheese added (Sarah had her slice of cheese in the middle between the meat, Mike did his on the outside of the meat on both sides.) But you can do what you like.

Once the bread was filled it was toasted on both sides, much like grilled cheese. Then it was time to add our lovely mango slices and kiwi slices to the plate and kickback and relish in our hard work from the gym and relax before mini golf that afternoon. (Sarah beat Mike by 3 strokes, just FYI, hehe)

We didn't cook dinner that night since we went to the Slavic Fest and had some sausages and such there.

So the next day we didn't cook at all since we didn't wake up till 12 and then went out to lunch for Mike's birthday. Hit up the golf course grill. Not bad. After that we just relaxed and enjoyed the day until we had to get ready to go to the wedding. We then had delicious food there. Brisket, pulled pork, cheesy potatoes, veggies, fruit, chocolate strawberries and a really moist and delicious wedding cake. Yum, wedding cake is probably the best cake on the planet. Of course after the wedding and reception we went out and hung out with friends and had a blast then stayed up until the wee hours of the morning before actually going to bed.

Sunday we swam and Mike helped our friend with his deck and gutter. We always eat well at their house. Prior to getting there we stopped at subway and split a sub. Of course dinner was pretty delicious. Our friends live on a farm so they raise their meat and our food has a name. Mike had "Bacon Bits" (that's the pigs name) ham steaks, little Tricia had "Oreo" (the cow) steak. I ate chicken that was from Sam's Club. Haha! It was a smorgasbord. We discovered covering snap peas in taco seasoning or ranch seasoning. DE-LICIOUS. Those things were gone in a matter of minutes. Veggies are a big thing there. Lots of fresh veggies, all the time.

Great weekend, just not a cooking weekend. More of a foodie weekend.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Happy Early Birthday to You!

He's gonna kill me for this but heck with it. Mike's birthday is on Saturday. He really only had one request when I told him he would be getting cake. Gooey Butter Cupcakes. What are those you say? Well I derived them from a Gooey Butter Cake that is famous in St. Louis Missouri. I have finally mastered the gooey butter cake. He wanted to see if I could figure out how to make them into cupcakes.

First I had to master the cake itself. After many attempts and tweaks to recipes I finally hit pay dirt.

Here are a few photos of the gooey butter cakes I have made, good and bad. A few had Mike "chasing gravy," as he puts it. You will learn, as I have, about the things I like to call "Mike-isms." You'll catch on ;) Promise.

OK Attempt #1. Not bad, but flavor was wrong and texture of the base.

Crust wasn't right, not sweet enough. Filling was good.
 OK Attempt # 2, trying new things with the crust. We are now "chasing gravy."

"Chasing Gravy"
Now, attempt #3, still can't seem to get it right. (didn't bother with a picture because I was mad.)

And the baking gods shine on me with attempt #4, I figured out the issue with the crust and pan and now it's perfecto!
Perfection - it is called "Gooey Butter Cake"
Now, time for experimenting, was going to see if I could do something different with the crust and use an old standby recipe, my mothers famous yellow cake......yeah that failed miserably.
Experiment gone wrong.
So moving to cupcakes as Mike had requested. Time to experiment. First time I filled them, cut out the centers and filled with the gooey butter cake no so great and oozed out when you bit into it. A co-worker had the misfortune of getting it all over his hand and desk.
Oozy cupcakes -- yum, but messy
Second try was a variation of the original recipe just in a smaller form. Now I present you with the inaugural gooey butter cupcakes! Beautiful!
This one was a bit smooshed but I had to taste it :) Delish
So Mike tried those back when I first made them and approved those for his birthday. So now to present you with the birthday edition of "Gooey Butter Cupcakes A La Sarah." (had to make them twice the other night because as you can see the first batch was overcooked slightly - that was a bad day in general, work, home, baking, yuck. Let's move forward to something fun)

"Perfect Birthday Gooey Butter Cupcakes"
Now to call it quitting time and go home and get ready for an awesome weekend with Mike. We are going to be wild and crazy for his birthday. ;)

P.S. No you can't have the recipe I used because this one is my secret recipe and secret weapon when my advertising job falls through and I open a bakery. Everyone needs a secret recipe. This one is mine. :)