Archive | March, 2012

The Best Guacamole — Period

27 Mar

 

Do you ever wonder what happens when the doctor gets sick?  I mean, who takes care of the patients?  Well, don’t worry because this doctor’s only ailment is a treatable case of Spring Fever.  I will get my tropical cure soon enough, but in the meantime I am treating myself with my husband’s tried-and-true recipe for homemade guacamole.

Guacamole is a new love for me, though, because neither one of my parents have learned to love it… yet.  I wouldn’t touch the stuff until I had been married for at least five years and it was another year or two before I really learned to love it.  Now, though, I crave the stuff, especially since I know it is packed with good-for-you vitamins and nutrients.  The fresher the better, and this recipe is divine with chunks of onion, cilantro, garlic, and tomato, and a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice.  I recommend avocado regularly for my youngest patients when they are just being introduced to solid foods.  Maybe if my mom had fed me avocados when I was a baby…

This week my sister, who is also my nurse practitioner, sidekick, compadre, partner-in-crime, etc., has abandoned me for a conference in the Lonestar State, so I have yet another reason to have Tex-Mex food on the brain.  So here you go.  Stop by the grocery as soon as you can and pick up the necessary ingredients.  You’ll decide to eat this for dinner just like I did.  And decide to save the taco fixings for tomorrow night because your tummy is so full of avocado-y goodness!

 

 

 

Guacamole

3 avocados, peeled and pitted
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup red onion, diced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic

 

In a medium bowl, mash avocados with a fork (we like to leave ours a little lumpy).  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.  Serve with crispy tortilla chips (my favorite are Xochitl).

 

 

Tips for Successful Cakes

20 Mar

I have so many posts waiting to be written that I don’t know where to start!  I even have a few finished sewing projects to show you!!  I will start with something that is already photographed, though, and since I will have a few cakes recipes for you in the upcoming weeks, I will share some of my cake baking tips with you in preparation.  Some of these tips have been picked up from various internet sources, some from cake decorating instructors, and some from learning the hard way :)

I hope you will find these tips useful and if you have any good tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

P.S.  The cake photographed above was made a while back for my aunt’s mother-in-law’s 90th birthday.  I had the cake layers and frosting made up and then got food poisoning.  My wonderful mother came over at the last minute to finish assembling and decorating the cake and delivered it to the party.  Thanks again, Mom!

 

1.  Pan Preparation

Most butter or oil based cake recipes will instruct you to grease and flour your pans.  I don’t know about you, but I always get flour everywhere when I do this.  When I took a cake decorating class at a local community college a few summers ago, the instructor presented this brilliant technique.

 

Easy Peasy Nonstick Cake Pan Coating

1 cup shortening
1 cup all-purpose flour
 

Combine both ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined.  Scrape into an airtight, resealable container and store in the pantry.  Using a paper towel or pastry brush, spread a generous amount in cake pans to prepare for baking.

No need to shake flour in and then tap it out.  This also prevents that cake-y, flour-y mess on the outside of chocolate cakes.  This paste will keep stored in the pantry indefinitely (at least for as long as your shortening and flour would have been good for).

In recipes that call for buttering, lining with parchment, then buttering and flouring the pans, I have found that just a good coating of this stuff is sufficient.  But note that this paste should not be used for cakes that do not call for greased pans.

 

2.  Insure level tops

I do several things to make sure my cake layers are level.  First, I use insulating strips around my cake pans.  Wilton makes these and you can buy them at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s.  You can also use wet strips of dish towels wrapped in aluminum foil.  The theory is that by insulating the edges of the cake pan, the edges of the cake do not cook as fast, therefore, they will rise higher and be level with the center of the cake.

Rotate your pans partway through baking to make sure your layers bake and brown evenly.

Another tip I learned from my cake decorating instructor — press down gently on the top of your cake layers with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel immediately after removing them from the oven to level any high spots.

After cooling my cake layers in the pans for 10-20 minutes, I turn them out (top-side down) onto parchment-lined cardboard cake boards and leave them there for about 10 minutes.  I then slide the cake and parchment off of the cake board onto the cooling rack to finish cooling completely.  This is a trick I discovered myself that makes the top super smooth and flat and the edges very square.

Using these tricks, I haven’t had to level a cake layer with a knife in a very long time.

 

3.  Crumb coat

If you have gone to all the trouble of making your cake beautiful and level, you don’t want stray crumbs in your frosting.  Once you have filled and stacked your layers, apply a thin coat of frosting on the sides and top of your cake then place it in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes or so to allow the frosting to set up.  This will seal in crumbs and make it less likely for them to escape into your outer coat of frosting.  This is especially important if you are frosting a darker cake (like chocolate or red velvet) with lighter frosting (like cream cheese).

 

4.  Don’t point out your mistakes

If you have gone through the motions to make a filled, frosted, and decorated layer cake, chances are you are much more talented in the kitchen than most of the folks who will be eating your cake.  So don’t point out the minor imperfections that you may notice about it!  Smile quietly and politely thank everyone for their praises about your divine creation :)

Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes

7 Mar

 

I have a new food blog crush — Scientifically Sweet — which presents delicious recipes with a scientific spin.  I was thrilled to learn that the release of a cookbook by the same name was imminent so I hopped over to Amazon and made a copy my own to satisfy my nerdy sweet tooth.  I was all set to cozy up on the couch with the book Monday night and plan which recipe I would try first, but my sweet little niece had other ideas.  Namely, ideas like a sleep over and playing dress up.

 

 

So once I got her off to school yesterday, I flipped through the 101 thoroughly and beautifully photographed recipes and decided my first victim would be the Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes with Vanilla Roux-Meringue Buttercream.  I am always on the lookout for the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe.  I am also a HUGE fan of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC, for short).

SMBC is not as cloyingly sweet or greasy as American buttercream made with powdered sugar and shortening.  It also holds countless flavors and mix-ins beautifully.  And best of all, you can make it by remembering the simple mathematical ratio of 1-2-3.  1 part egg whites to 2 parts sugar to 3 parts butter.  I was intrigued by the recipe in this cookbook because it takes SMBC a step further by mixing in a vanilla roux, a step similar to that of an old-fashioned cooked frosting.

As far as the cupcake goes, the batter comes together easily with a one-bowl method and is smooth and silky.  The cupcakes rise significantly so be sure not to fill your cupcake liners more than half full.  The cake is fluffy and moist.  The cake releases neatly from the paper liners which I think is an important feature for a good cupcake recipe.

As for the frosting, it is very tasty.  It is silky smooth, creamy, gorgeous, and pipes like a charm.  I am not sure I will do this every time I make SMBC, but the extra step definitely takes the flavor and texture to a different level.  I will add vanilla beans to the roux next time to see if this will deepen the vanilla flavor.  I will also increase the salt a little to bring out the flavor a bit more.

Overall, my first recipe from Scientifically Sweet by Christina Marsigliese was a success, and I am excited to try many more creations from this gorgeous book.  I hope y’all like desserts because it looks like I might be on roll ;)

 

 

Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes with Vanilla Roux-Meringue Buttercream

Makes about 15 cupcakes
 
 
For the cupcakes: 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cake flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (I just pulsed my granulated sugar in the food processor then measured it)
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¼ cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp pure canola oil
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk, at room temperature
For the frosting:
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1 tbsp pieces
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line 15 muffin cups from two standard muffin pans with paper liners and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together both flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Attach the bowl to the mixer, add sugar and mix on low speed until evenly blended, about 30 seconds.
 
Add softened butter and beat on low speed for 1 minute. The mixture will become less dusty as the butter becomes coated with flour and broken down into small pieces. Increase speed to medium-low and continue to beat until the mixture resembles damp sand or fine bread crumbs, about 2 minutes.
 
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, yolk, sour cream, canola oil and vanilla extract until smooth. Add it to the flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until moistened, sticky and the batter begins to form webs along the sides of the bowl and the beater, about 20 seconds. With mixer running on low, gradually add milk and then beat on medium speed for 20 seconds. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and then beat on medium speed for another 15 seconds. Do not over-mix. The batter will be smooth, satiny and creamy-looking. Gently fold the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to incorporate any ingredients stuck at the bottom of the bowl.
 
Spoon or scoop batter into lined muffin cups, filling them no more than halfway full (these cupcakes will rise quite a bit). Bake until evenly browned on top, the cake springs back when pressed gently with your finger and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
 

To make the buttercream, whisk together flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small 1 or 2-quart saucepan until evenly blended.  Gradually whisk in milk until smooth.  Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken and nearly comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, while whisking constantly, until very thick and paste-like.  When it is ready, the mixture will resemble white glue and you should be able to see the bottom of the pan as you whisk.  This will take about 10 minutes all together.

Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and into a small bowl.  This serves to remove any lumps and it helps the mixture cool down faster.  Place plastic wrap directly over the surface and set aside to cool completely at room temperature.

In the heat-proof bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites, remaining 2/3 cup sugar and salt. Place the bowl over a pot with ½-inch of simmering water or a double-boiler and whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 162 degrees F (72 degrees C), about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until it is completely cooled. This will take about 7-8 minutes and the mixture will appear white and fluffy like marshmallow or shaving cream.

Do not begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral (not warm).   Reduce speed to medium and add the butter slowly, one tablespoon at a time. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until creamy and smooth, 1-2 minutes. The mixture will go from looking grainy and soupy to smooth, silky and glossy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

At this point the cooled flour/milk mixture will be stiff.  So, with a wooden spoon or spatula, beat it vigorously until it is smooth and creamy.  Add half of the cooled flour mixture to the buttercream and beat on medium-high until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Add the remaining flour mixture and vanilla extract and beat until whipped and creamy, about 1 minute more. Cover with a damp cloth if using shortly.

Frost and decorate cupcakes as desired.

Oatmeal Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

5 Mar

Please, add any missing ingredients for these cookies to your grocery list ASAP — you need to make them STAT!  They are like banana nut bread and chocolate chip cookies fighting and making up in your mouth.  And they are loaded with good for you ingredients — like bananas, whole wheat flour, and oats (and yes, a stick and a half of butter, too). 

 

 

Before you ask, yes, that’s milk on the rocks.  Growing up, my grandfather operated a large dairy farm.  We were only allowed to drink his brand of milk, whole fat of course, and always on the rocks.  And a big refreshing gulp of it was always followed by a loud and satisfying, “Aaahhhmmm!!!”  And truthfully, it still is, even if it is only in my head instead of out loud, even if the dairy farm has morphed into high dollar residential real estate, and even if the milk is 1% instead of whole fat.  My grandfather would like these cookies, and the next time I see him, I will take him a batch so we can dunk them in our milk on the rocks and say “Aaahhhmmm!!!” out loud together just like when I was a kid :)

P.S.  My grandfather grew, harvested, and shelled the pecans that went into these cookies.  He keeps my freezer stocked with several gallons every season.  How sweet is he?  See now why he’s getting some cookies soon?

 

Oatmeal Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields 3 dozen

 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted (about 2 ounces)

 

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk together both flours, salt, and soda in a bowl.
2. Put butter and both sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer ­with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale. Reduce speed to low. Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Mix in ­banana. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts.
3. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or heaping tablespoon), drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12-13 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cook­ies to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

 

Adapted from How to Eat a Cupcake who adapted it from Martha Stewart’s cookie cookbook.

Marc Jacobs and Vogue 8032

2 Mar

Were y’all wondering where all the sewing projects had gone?  I’ve had a few finished but just haven’t had a chance to take pictures and get the details typed up.  But here’s one for you. 

This is an out of print Vogue pattern (number 8032) for a cute halter top that I thought I would like to have in several different fabrics.  I bought the pattern on eBay and made a quick muslin since some folks on patternreview.com had mentioned it fitting funny in the armholes.  I got in a hurry and only pin-basted the bodice to the neckband and thought it fit fine — oops.

It ended up gaping in the armholes so I had to take it up with a dart after the fact.  I was really disappointed because I had done such a good job with all my seam finishes and was using a cute Marc Jacobs cotton fabric that I got for only $5 a yard.  In the end, it is wearable and I think I will get plenty of use out of it this summer.

If I make this top again, I will cut a smaller size and do a full bust adjustment to see if that helps with the fitting issues.  Or I may just draft my own pattern from scratch since it is such a simple style.  If you are contemplating making Vogue 8032, definitely make a muslin first.  Aside from the armhole issue, this is a very easy top to sew and could definitely be sewn together in an afternoon.

 

Stay tuned for more finished sewing projects as well as some of the yummy baked goodies that have been coming out of my kitchen lately (including something for a bachelorette party!!!).  I hope you are having a relaxing weekend!

Wicked Caramelized Sea Scallops

1 Mar

This past weekend Matt and I took an itty bitty teeny-weeny little tiny mini vacation to see the musical Wicked in Birmingham.  While I had great plans to sew a skirt especially for the occasion, I just didn’t have enough time to finish narrow hemming four layers of thin, silky fabric before we left.  And it’s a shame, too, because one of the leads in the production wore a very similar skirt in one of the scenes of the musical.  Instead, I decided to wear a beautiful store-bought dress that has been hanging unworn in my closet for a while.

While we were in Birmingham, we stopped by Whole Foods to do a little shopping (but mostly to just look and drool).  We brought home some gorgeous 10-count sea scallops that I cooked that evening for dinner.  Those of you who know me, know that I am a die-hard baker — I love that baking is very scientific and follow-the-directions.  I am less fond of cooking since it is more art than science (back to the whole OCD/control-freak bit again).  Scallops are one thing that I like to cook, though, thanks to the excellent directions in this cookbook.

I first learned about Thomas Keller when Matt and I were in Napa Valley a few years ago.  While we didn’t eat at any of his restaurants, I sure wanted to.  When we got home, I purchased the French Laundry and ad hoc at home cookbooks.  I don’t know that I’ll ever make anything from the French Laundry but I do use ad hoc on a pretty regular basis.  The roasted chicken has become a regular on my table (I’ll share it with you sometime), and his ice cream is divine.

These scallops are extremely easy to prepare and are almost fool-proof.  I recommend waiting until you can find really large scallops — like those that are 12 or less to the pound — so that your dish will turn out successfully.  This dish is definitely one that you could serve to impress guests but also works well as a quick, light meal on a busy night (like it was for Matt and I after we spent 4 hours on the road home from Birmingham and made a detour by the state farmers’ market in Montgomery).

A few notes about this simple recipe to ensure it succeeds without a glitch:

1.  Try to use the specified brand of Kosher salt.  If you can’t find it or don’t have it, measure your salt by weight, not volume.  In other words, if you don’t have Diamond Crystal, weigh out 5 ounces of salt — don’t use a measuring cup.

2.  Do not use olive oil.  Olive oil is not well-suited for high-heat cooking and may scorch.  You could use canola or vegetable oil if you had to, but clarified butter really is the best.

3.  To clarify butter, simply melt 1/2 stick of butter in a small sauce pan over low heat.  Pour it into a small, narrow glass.  Let it sit until the milk solids have settled to the bottom and you see two distinct layers.  Skim the foam off the top and discard.  Carefully pour the clear yellow liquid off the top into another small container (this is your clarified butter).  Discard the milk solids that remain in the bottom.

4.  Use a stainless steel pan.  It will caramelize the scallops better than a nonstick pan.

Caramelized Sea Scallops

Serves 6
 
1 cup (5 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 cups boiling water
8 cups cold water
1 dozen large (8-10 count per pound) or 1 3/4 pounds sea scallops
2 tablespoons clarified butter
1/2 lemon (optional)
 

Line a small baking sheet with paper towels.  In a large bowl, combine the salt and boiling water, stirring to dissolve the salt.  Stir in the cold water.  Add the scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes but no longer as the scallops may become too salty.  Remove from the brine and rinse under cold water.  Place on a single layer on the baking sheet to drain.

Heat the clarified butter in a large stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and smokes.  Sprinkle the scallops lightly with salt then add to the pan without crowding (scallops should not touch — cook in two batches if necessary).  Cook, without moving the scallops, until the bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.  Turn the scallops and caramelize the second side.

Transfer the scallops to a serving platter and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, if desired.

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