Saturday, March 19, 2011

Irish Soda Bread by Barefoot Contessa

I'd like to see Ina Garten scrape a piece of dough she describes as "it will be very wet" out of a bowl and onto a cutting board gracefully, quickly, or without standing next to the counter rubbing her hands together like a moron trying to scrape the dough out from between her fingers, because that is exactly what I do every time I make bread.  I love kneading dough, to be sure, I just wish I didn't feel stupid every time I did it.

Time-wasting, mind-numbing dumbness aside, this is a great recipe that I will definitely be making again.  There's one tablespoon of sugar for every cup of flour, but the finished product is sweetened to a heavenly state by fresh orange zest and dried currants.  POW, it's obviously sweet, but the natural, fruity ingredients keep it from tasting sugary.  Heck, you probably don't even need to add as much sugar as was called for in order to get it to taste sweet and delicious.

You're supposed to cut an X into the top of the bread so that heat will get into the middle of the bread and cook it evenly.  I regret not flouring my knife, because my X was a little less pronounced than I should like it to be.  A thin layer underneath the top crust of the loaf took some time longer than the rest of the bread to cook, and it did not look as pretty when it came out, either.

Looks more like an Xbox logo than a loaf of bread.  



Nevertheless, it still tastes delightful and I eagerly look forward to scarfing down on it with every meal for as long as it lasts!  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lemon Meringues from Martha Stewart Living

I got my copy of Martha Stewart Living this week, and at the back was a recipe for meringues.  There are only two main ingredients, so that's what I decided to make this week.  For a meringue, one must whisk egg whites to varying degrees of stiffness.  I followed the recipe exactly, and it took me about an hour to whisk them to floppy peaks.  Now, my whisk muscles are a little flabby and Kung Fu Panda was on TV, so that might have distracted me, but why on earth did it take that long to whisk the eggs?  I did some research on egg whites, and this is what I learned:

*  Older eggs take less time for peaks to form than fresh eggs, but they lose their stiffness quickly as well, so don't over whisk them.  My eggs were less than fresh but they were never stiff; they were always a foamy liquid. Thus, I didn't think that that was my problem.

*  If any yolk gets in the egg whites AT ALL, then they just won't get stiff.  The same goes for butter or other oils, they won't let the whites stiffen either.  One source said not to use a plastic bowl because the grease residues are impossible to wash off, which will also prevent stiff eggs.  There was no yolk in my eggs, and I was using a freshly washed glass bowl, so that was not it either.

*  Egg whites get stiffer faster without any other ingredients in them.  If you put sugar in the eggs without peaks already forming, they will still stiffen but it will take much longer.  Ah-ha!  Martha's recipe told me to whisk eggs until foamy (NOT stiff), then add sugar, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, THEN whisk into stiff peaks.

*  If you live above 3,500 feet and a recipe calls for stiff peaks, go for soft peaks instead.  Dry mountain air sucks the moisture out of food.  I did this, and my meringues came out of the oven nice and crunchy.  After less than 24 hours though, the outsides are a little mushy, so I think I might raise the temperature of the oven next time.  They were in at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2 hours.

I learned a lot about eggs this week, and I hope you don't make the same mistakes I did!  They're not bad meringues, but it could have been a lot easier, and they could have turned out just a smidge better.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies from High Altitude Baking by Patricia Kendall

I browsing through my school's library last week and found their cooking section, yay me!  There are a bunch of books about cooking styles from different regions of the world, instructional books, informational books, all kinds of good stuff.  In their collection there was a book about baking at high altitudes by Patricia Kendall, who works with the department of food science at Colorado State University.  There are a lot of tasty recipes that I want to try in this book, so it's a good thing that I have it for a month.  I'm learning all about what to decrease and what to increase and by how much.

Last night I made chocolate chocolate chip cookies.  The dough is really thick, and when you roll them into balls you get chocolate smudges all over your fingers and it makes one feel like a "real" baker.  If you want the nice big round cookies like you get in a lunch line at school or something, I would make the balls really big because they stay pretty tall and don't mush out sideways very much.  Delicious!  I only wish the dry mountain air wouldn't make them crunchy so fast, I have to eat 2 dozen cookies in 2 days.  What a tragedy!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mushroom Onion Tartlets

Today I made mushroom onion tartlets, which are basically mini-quiche.  The dough consisted of cream cheese, butter, and flour.  The filling had egg, a small amount of flour, mushrooms, and green onions.  It was very easy.  The recipe is from the instruction manual/recipe book that came with Boyfriend's new stand mixer.  They were a delicious snack/appetizer!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Banana Pecan Muffins from Baking by Martha Day

Based on past experiences with this cookbook, I decided to modify the recipe for my altitude.  To do this I used slightly less flour and baking powder than the recipe required in order to get the muffins to rise more.  They rose a little, but next time I would use even less baking powder.

One thing I keep messing up: I don't look at the recipe much the day leading up to when I cook it, so I don't notice that the butter should be at room temperature until I'm supposed to cream it with something else.  I should get a butter dish because it doesn't hurt to just leave it out, as long as it's not in the sun.

Concerning bananas:  You get the most banana flavor in your baked good if your bananas are already turning brown, just a little bit past ripe.

So, other than being a little flat on the top, my banana nut muffins are pretty tasty!