Tuesday, May 30, 2006

cooking italian style... or so we thought

Mr. Cupcake's brother was Mr. Cupcake's best man in our wedding last year. Since we went to Italy for our honeymoon, he wanted to give us a cooking class that focused on Italian food as part of our wedding gift. Fast forward nearly a year later and we finally signed up for one. This past year has been insanely hectic, so taking the cooking class right before our 1st anniversary was really nice.

We went with a Viking HomeChef cooking class. It was a three hour class that focused on the "Foods of Italy". The menu consisted of the following:

White Bean Soup with Fried Sage Leaves
Tuscan Roast Pork Loin
Broccoli Rabe Pasta with Spicy Olive Oil Dressing
Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce
Bellini Cocktail

The class had 7 participants total. We split up into two groups. We were paired with a lady who had taken a lot of these cooking courses already.

When we arrived, the instructor was already preparing the pork roast. We watched her add her premade rub and throw it into the oven. Then we started on the profiteroles. The recipe was easy and we had no problems throwing it together. When both groups were done, our instructor combined the two batters. Well, it turned out that one of the groups added too much water and the batter was thin. This upset our instructor and that's when she turned a bit salty on us. She wanted to know who added the extra water, but of course no one fessed up. I'm pretty sure it was the other group though. Mr. Cupcake measured our water and being the perfectionist that he is, I'd be shocked if it was him. She ended up making her assistant make a new batch of profiteroles.


Next we made the soup. It required chopping some vegetables, and a couple of the participants were struggling. I don't think the people in the class were very familiar with the kitchen in general. Again, each team made their own soup and then the two were merged. Halfway through cooking, the lady on our team told Mr. Cupcake that she thought the other team wasn't following the recipe. Indeed she was correct. The soup called for 1/2 a teaspoon of dried sage to go directly into the soup during cooking and 1/4 of a cup of fresh sage for frying later on. Unfortunately for us, the other team ended up throwing the 1/4 of a cup of fresh sage into their soup. Our instructor wasn't impressed. We were able to compare the soups before the merge and there was quite a difference in flavor. I definitely preferred ours. However, after the merge, the soup was still pretty good and it's something I'd make again.

The last thing we made was the broccoli rabe pasta. Mr. Cupcake and I make this dish on occasion, so we were looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the instructor couldn't find broccoli rabe anywhere so we ended up using spinach. Not quite the same. There wasn't any drama during this course, and overall it was pretty good. However, it was missing the bitterness that broccoli rabe tends to have.

After we made the broccoli rabe pasta, the instructor told us to leave and come back in 10 minutes so she and her assistant could prepare everything. This was one of my least favorite parts of the class. We didn't get to do any of the real assembly of the meal. We came back, and she had put together all the profiteroles, carved the meat, made the gravy, and told us to eat. She also made the bellinis which weren't true bellinis. Mr. Cupcake saw she used peach juice instead of white peach puree. Tisk, tisk.

We were disappointed that there wasn't a real focus on Italy. My real problem with the menu was that Italian cooking is all about using simple, fresh ingredients to create amazing meals. The recipes were more involved and packed with ingredients. This was more of a beginner's lesson on how to cook food. If you don't know your way around the kitchen very well, then this class will probably blow your mind. The other people in our class were highly impressed with the fruits of their labor. It's okay though. Mr. Cupcake and I still had a good time. Plus, we now both have these smashing blue Viking aprons that the instructor gave out
when the class was over.

Anyway, many thanks to Mr. Cupcake's brother. We had a good time and appreciate it! Oh, and if anyone wants a copy of these recipes, post a comment and I'll throw them up for you. I'm too lazy to type them out right now.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

everyone say "awwwwww"

I am exhausted. Sorry for the lack of an update lately. We have been really busy this past week and I'm trying really hard to not fall asleep right now. It's too early for me to go to sleep though. I figured if I started blogging, it'd delay my need to sleep; at least for the moment.

Anyway, over the weekend, we went to San Francisco and visited the two major farmer's markets. I will blog about all details (plus so many other things) another day. I just wanted to show a picture of the peonies we bought from a street vendor near Union Square.


Peonies are near and dear to my heart. We used them in our wedding and I have been fond of them ever since. Tomorrow, Mr. Cupcake and I will have been married for 1 year. It's amazing how fast time flies. Anyway, I was ecstatic to find peonies because they have such a short blooming cycle thus they're hard to find. Mr. Cupcake enjoyed it when a lady saw me carrying my prized flowers and shrieked "oooohh peonies!".

It's been a really great year, and I look forward to many more. And Five told me he is happy he's no longer our bastardly cat.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

disaster

I don't know what it is about pizza dough that makes it so hard to make. I attempted to make pizza dough again last night. I know, I said again. This is the first time I've written about making dough. The story is that I have been experimenting on and off with various dough recipes. I haven't found a recipe that makes me want to do cartwheels because it's so great. I use to make a dough that utilized my bread machine and it was fairly good, but just not great. I have been on a quest to find that one recipe that blows everything out of the water especially since most places around here serve subpar pizza.

The other day, I caught an old episode of "Good Eats" on the Food Network. It was the pizza episode and I figured why not give it another go as I've never tried Alton Brown's recipe. I checked the recipe out online and saw it had tons of raves. It was simple enough. I threw the ingredients in my KitchenAid and let it spin forever. It sat overnight and grew in size over the next 24 hours. I pulled it out for dinner tonight and started molding it into a ball. I could tell the texture was off. I'm not sure what happened, but it was very tough. However, overall it was still pretty smooth. Mr. Cupcake and I shaped the dough, topped it, and threw it into our 500 degree oven. We use to have these unglazed quarry tiles that were seasoned well and made good pizza. Unfortunately, we threw the tiles out when we moved. I really wished we hadn't. We now have a commercial pizza stone and I guess it's okay. I'm hoping it'll get better as it starts to season more. I searched high and low for decent sized quarry tiles out here to no avail.

Moving on. I topped my pizza with my favorite ingredients: basil, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella. Mr. Cupcake calls these ingredients my peanut butter and jelly. I just love the flavor combination. I make paninis with these ingredients at least once a week for lunch. I want a panini press so I can make a panini bar at home like they have at Mr. Cupcake's work. Then Five and I could eat paninis all day, everday.

Anyway, I don't normally like cheese on pizza because I think it's gross. However, I used the mozzarella to protect the basil and prosciutto so they wouldn't burn. My other favorite pizza combination is tomato and onion. That's what I normally order when we get take out.

So, how did it turn out? It sucked - a lot. There was way too much dough. The outside was crispy, but the inside puffed up quite a bit and was extremely dense. It was just too overwhelming. This is coming from a person who lives for bread.

Mr. Cupcake topped his pizza with hot Italian sausage and shredded mozzarella cheese. Mr. Cupcake loves pizza. He was excited to have pizza for dinner. He ate it, but I could tell he definitely didn't love it. At least he loved the sausage. He dropped his car off yesterday and while he was waiting, he went to Dittmer's and bought a bunch of sausages. Dittmer's is a local butcher and I think Mr. Cupcake is in love. I'm sure we'll be making more visits there in the near future especially since it's been good grilling weather.

So, yet another pizza failure. I'm not sure what the problem is, but I guess it could be any number of things. I will just have to try again. I'm not sure I'll try this recipe again though. If I ever have a pizza success, my blog will be the first to know.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

hello big burrito

Mr. Cupcake is having a wild and crazy night of poker with a bunch of computer nerds. I, however, will be spending some quality time with my blog. Unfortunately, I have been falling behind on some of my recent food excursions, so tonight I'm going to play a little catch up.

Last weekend Mr. Cupcake and I found ourselves without any food at our place. As our hunger started to consume us, I thought of the perfect cure; a big, fat burrito. I've heard raves about La Costena in Mountain View, but for some reason I just wasn't feeling it that day. Instead, we went next door and hit up Taqueria La Bamba.

Let me tell you, this place does little in the way of ambiance. There's counters on each side of the restaurant lined with chairs and most of them were taken when we walked in. We ordered up at the main counter. I didn't play close attention the entire menu since I had already set my sights on a burrito. There were three options available that I can remember: super burrito, regular burrito, and veggie burrito. There might have been one more but I can't remember.



I ordered the regular burrito with chicken and no beans (I hate beans with a passion). It came with rice, cilantro, and pico de gallo. I love cilantro. It makes everything taste so fresh and delicious. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to save my very dry burrito. The dryness was bothering me so Mr. Cupcake went up and got some extra salsa. I also noticed a table with various condiments including limes, onions, and cilantro. I picked up a lime. The salsa was thin and spicy. It added a nice burn to my burrito. The lime also helped moisten it up. As I delve further into my burrito, I couldn't help but to notice how moist the chicken was. The pico de gallo was also sparse, but in those few bites where there was just enough, the burrito was quite good.

What's that? You like looking at my half gnawed on burrito? Well, you're in luck because here's Mr. Cupcake's half eaten burrito:



Mr. Cupcake ordered the super burrito with beef (I think). It came with beans, cilantro, rice, pico de gallo, sour cream, and guacamole. I think Mr. Cupcake liked his burrito. He thought it was big and didn't finish it. Maybe he'll comment with his full analysis. That's right Mr. Cupcake, I'm calling you out!

Our total bill for two burritos and a diet soda was just under $13. I won't be rushing back to Taqueria La Bamba, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go there. I just have to be in the right mood for a big burrito. I think my favorite local taqueria is Taqueria Los Charros in Mountain View. I don't know why, but I just really like the place. Maybe it's the crispy chips with the two salsas. Maybe it's because it's so cheap. Whatever the reason, I just like it. However, I should visit a few more places before I declare the ultimate taqueria.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

banna banna

Mr. Cupcake has been working a lot lately. So last night, I spent the evening perusing different cookie recipes on various blogs. I didn't really have any intentions of actually making cookies, but that was until I came across bakingsheet's blog. The recipe that caught my eye was the banana oatmeal cookies. Now, Mr. Cupcake loves bananas. It's probably right up there with rice pudding and PB&J's on his list of favorites. I had a few very ripe bananas that I'm sure would have ended up in the trash, so I decided to save them.

One of the core ingredients is oats. I really love oats in cookies. It tends to give cookies a nice chewy texture. A prime example of this is Torie's Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Martha Stewart. Mr. Cupcake's sister-in-law made these for our wedding as part of our favors and they were big hit. I have since made these minus the toffee and cherries and found it makes a nice, crispy yet chewy chocolate chip cookie. It's lovely.

Anyway, the banana oatmeal cookie recipe was easy enough. The good thing about it is that there are only 2 tablespoons of butter. That's unheard of in most of the cookie recipes I've made.



The cookies turned out pretty well though they didn't look as nice as Bakingsheet's. As much as I like oatmeal in cookies I think the recipe called for a bit too much. Not all the oats broke down so some of them were still raw. Next time I'll scale it back 1 cup from 1.5 cups. I will also probably lower to temperature to 325 and bake for longer. The cookies looked good when they came out, but this morning they were very sticky and seemed undercooked. If I had baked them longer, they would have burned. Otherwise, I like the balance of the banana to chocolate chips. I also have to give another shout out to the trader joe chocolate chips. They melt so nicely in cookies; I'm just in awe. Anyway, I have a few more overripe bananas, so I may experiment more in the coming days.

Mr. Cupcake didn't come home until after 12:30 last night. He was surprised I made cookies and even more surprised that they were made with bananas. He also informed me that he loves oats, so the cookies turned out to be full of Mr. Cupcake's favorite flavors. This morning, he told me he really liked the cookies again because I'm not usually coherent when Mr. Cupcake comes home late. This is unusual because normally when he likes something, he'll say "it's okay". He said they were a little fluffy, but he liked the crispy outside. Looks like these cookies (with a few tweaks) are a keeper.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies from BakingSheet Blog
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter, very soft
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup mashed banana (1 small/medium)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugars. Beat in egg and banana, followed by the vanilla extract. Gradually, on low speed or by hand, add in the flour mixture. Stir in the oats (either whole rolled oats or "quick cooking") and chocolate chips.
Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 11-14 minutes at 350F, until set and lightly browned.
Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes on the pan before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 2 dozen cookies.


*Why "banna banna" as the title you ask? The first time Mr. Cupcake met my niece she had a finger puppet monkey named Cassie. She was young at the time so she called bananas, "bannas". She informed us that Cassie ate bannas. So eat your bannas.

that's it?

I had some business I had to take care of up in San Francisco yesterday, so I decided to test out the public transit system. Now, I'm from the Midwest where public transportation is laughable (with the exception of Chicago) at best. My day was filled with some successes and some huge failures. I missed my train into the city because I couldn't find parking, so I had to catch the next train. Once I arrived, it went pretty smoothly and I made it to my destination. I was pleased with my navigation efforts, so when I was finished I decided to reward myself. I headed downtown to 99 Yerba Buena Lane and walked into the brand spanking new Beard Papa's shop.

It's a tiny place. Much smaller than I was expecting but cute and cheery. I order the vanilla bean cream puff because that's all that was available. The other flavors are suppose to be available soon. I also picked an extra cream puff for Mr. Cupcake. There were only two tables inside, and they were both full. So I took my order outside and sat down on a nearby chair.

Oh dreamy Beard Papa's cream puff! How I've been lusting after you for months now! And now the day has come where I finally have you! I took a bite. The outside was crispy and the inside was oozing with a speckled custard. The speckles were real vanilla beans. I really wanted to love this cream puff with all my heart, but it just didn't blow me away. I've heard of some accounts where the puff is actually warm when the person received it. However, mine was not. The custard wasn't as rich as I thought it was going to be either. Perhaps I came too early and this is just part of growing pains. It hasn't even been open a week. Based on this experience, I won't be lusting after these cream puffs anymore. However, it doesn't mean I won't be back. There's an eclair flavor I'd like to try. As we all know, chocolate makes everything taste better.

After I finished my cream puff, I proceeded to get on the wrong bus. 20 minutes later I found myself on the wrong side of San Francisco. I then got off the bus and called Mr. Cupcake who then lead me to the wrong bus stop and I had to walk back to where I started. I eventually got on the right bus and 2 hours later, I made it home. What a day.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

madame coconut?

I seem to be obsessed with coconut flavors lately. I still have fond memories of the coconut fritters I ate at Burma Superstar a few weeks ago. I visited Mr. Cupcake at work this week for lunch and had to have a coconut drink. They have actual coconuts with the hole drilled in them topped off with a straw. It's pretty sweet. So, when I made coconut macaroons last week, I couldn't bear to throw away the leftover cream of coconut. Mr. Cupcake cleaned out the fridge earlier this week and got mad at me because I never throw anything away. I figured it was time to do something with it before Mr. Cupcake goes on another fridge cleaning rampage.

I had some leftover cream from the strawberry shortcake. I didn't want it to go to waste either. My immediate thought was ice cream. I started searching the internet for recipes and I went with the one that I had all the ingredients for.

The recipe only called for four ingredients. I had the exact amount of cream and was slightly short on the cream of coconut but that didn't stop me from proceeding. It also called for milk and coconut shreds. I threw the ingredients into my ice cream maker and gave it an 18 minute spin. When it was done, it was way too soft and fluffy, so into the freezer it went not to be seen again for another day.

Yesterday, I decided to go for a walk. I'm not sure if that was a good or bad thing because it was incredibly hot. This humid 85 degree weather is killer. Apparently, it's very unusual for this time of year. Anyway, I felt like death was closing in when I came home, so I chugged some water and remembered my ice cream.

It looked so much different compared to the day before. It actually resembled ice cream. I took a bite and was instantly revived. I forgot how easy ice cream is to make and how good it can be. It wasn't overly sweet so using a little bit less cream of coconut was a good thing. It amazes me how few ingredients can produce such a tasty treat. Maybe next time I'll add pineapple and it'll be like the ice cream shop I love. Or maybe strawberries. The possibilities are endless!

Mr. Cupcake and I are going to volunteer at Kaboom this weekend. I'm thinking about going early so I can snag a few Beard Papa Cream Puffs and gorge myself before I start pouring beer. The grand opening is tomorrow, Friday, May 12. I posted the incorrect date in my earlier post. I must have turned retarded that day. Anyway, it's tomorrow, so if you go, eat 10 for me!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

strawberries revisited

CI and SK came over the other night for an impromptu BBQ. Mr. Cupcake grilled up some rare steaks (I'm pretty sure I heard a few moos when they made it to the table), chicken, and vegetables for dinner. He also pulled together some bruchetta. I look forward to when tomatoes are actually in season. I'll eat them like apples. Anyway, for my part, I straightened up the apartment and made dessert. It wasn't hard for me to decide what to make. Ever since I saw the strawberries at the A La Carte Festival on Saturday, I've been completely fixated on the red berry. We bought a crate of strawberries at Costco, and I made Strawberry Shortcake.

I remember my mom would make strawberry shortcake on occasion. She usually made the biscuits out of Bisquick. Nothing too fancy, but I didn't notice because the strawberries were the star of the show. No Bisquick on this fine evening however. I consulted my trusty Baking Illustrated cookbook and made shortcakes.

The recipe wasn't hard. It's sort of like making pie or tart dough in that the chunks of butter aren't suppose to melt until it's time to bake. This was a challenge because Mr. Cupcake had the burners going and it was warm in our itty bitty kitchen. Fortunately, they turned out pretty well.


The selection of strawberries at Costco was a bit of a disappointment. The strawberries looked amazing, but didn't smell. I always use smell as the key indicator of whether or not a piece of fruit is ripe. I really wanted strawberry shortcake though and so I picked a crate that sort of smelled. As expected, the strawberries tasted like water. No problem! Just add more sugar. I dream of the day where I eat a strawberry that actually tastes like a strawberry.

I made some homemade whipped cream in my trusty KitchenAid and out came a strawberry shortcake.

Kudos to SK for the lovely presentation. And the verdict you ask? SK and CI said it was good. Mr. Cupcake said I could make it again and he wouldn't be upset. I liked the slight crispiness to the outside of the biscuit, but I think it would have been better if it was sweeter. That's an easy fix though. Overall, I was pleased with my new venture. I have been eating leftover strawberry shortcake for the last 2 days. It's not quite as good compared to the day it was freshly bake, but I have no problems gorging myself on day(s) old shortcake.

Strawberry Shortcake from Baking Illustrated

Fruit
8 cups strawberries (about 2.5 pounds), hulled
6 tablespoons sugar

Shortcakes
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface and biscuit cutter
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon half and half or whole milk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

2 cups whipped cream

1. For the fruit: Place 3 cups of the hulled strawberries in a large bowl and crush with a potato masher. Slice the remaining 5 cups berries and stir into the crushed berries along with the sugar. Set the fruit aside to macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
2. For the shortcakes: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the baking powder, and alt to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over and process until th emixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl.
3. Mix the beaten egg with the half and half in a measuring cup. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Combine with a rubber spatulauntil large clumps form. Turn the mixture onto a floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together.
4. Use your fingertips to pat the dough into a 9 by 6 inch rectangle about 3/4 inch thick, being careful not to overwork the dough. Flour a 2.25 inch biscuit cutter and cut out 6 dough rounds. Place the rounds 1 inch apart on a small baking sheet, brush the tops with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. (Dough rounds can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours before baking.)
5. Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the cakes until warm, about 10 minutes.
6. To assemble: When the shortcakes have cooled slightly, split them in half. Place each cake bottom on an individual serving plate. Spoon a portion of the fruit and then a dollop of the whipped cream over each cake bottom. Cap with the cake top and serve immediately.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

strawberry fields

Mr. Cupcake was craving dessert. He decided he was going to get ice cream until he realized he wanted to finish watching his movie. Therefore, ice cream didn't happen. Earlier today, we went to the Milk Pail Market because I needed an onion. While we were there, we snagged some blackberries and strawberries.

A ripe strawberry is amazing, but it's so hard to find. Most strawberries look plump and delicious, but taste like water. The best strawberries were from the wild strawberry patch that grew in my mom's garden growing up. I picked them by the handfuls until my fingers were stained from the red juices. Those days are long gone, yet I still crave the sweet, succulent berry.

Anyway, I offered to make Mr. Cupcake some chocolate covered strawberries since I had some leftover chocolate from the macaroons. He declined. Instead he went with yogurt and blackberries. I, however, decided to romance myself and went ahead and dipped the strawberries.

The strawberries were lackluster, but just like the macaroons, the chocolate made them into something delectable. Mr. Cupcake later changed his mind and ended up eating some of my chocolate dipped strawberries. He then dipped a pretzel into the leftover melted chocolate. I tried to take a picture when he showed me, but he then shoved it into his mouth to prevent me from doing so. Mr. Cupcake is mean.

Friday, May 05, 2006

poker: part 3

This will be the last post in my poker series. It will make more sense if you start with "poker: part 1" and make your way up.

For my final item, I didn't bake. I wanted versatility. Perhaps they wanted salty instead of sweet, so I needed that to be an option. Finally, I decided upon dip. I thought chips and dip would make for good poker food. However, this wasn't going to be any ordinary kind of dip. It had to be special. It had to be my girl crush Ina's Pan Fried Onion Dip. This onion dip is made with caramelized onions. I read raves on the Internet. I printed the recipe. I was ready.

The recipe called for sliced of onions. I didn't want to have huge dangly strands, so I threw the onion into the food processor and pulsed like a mad woman. I sauteed for 10 minutes and then let the onions do their thing for another 20.

Five being the loyal companion that he is, sat with me as we waited for the onions to finish. The onions caramelized and I threw them into my KitchenAid mixer with some sour cream, cream cheese, and mayo and thus the pan fried onion dip was born!

I tasted it and my immediate reaction was disappointment. How could this be?! The raves! The undying affection towards this onion dip turned out to be a total fallacy. Disappoint overcame me. I covered it and threw it into the fridge, and it was not to be heard from again. That is until this morning. After I ate my chocolate chip cookie, I decided to I needed to give it another chance. It is Cinco De Mayo afterall. A day to celebrate with Mexico by eating totally unrelated food! I tried it with a baked chip. Not bad. I tried it again with a kettle cooked chip. Not bad at all! I was beginning to understand the accolades and the devotion. A little time given to meld the flavors turned out to be a good thing. Unfortunately, tis only I who will be able to experience this dip. Mr. Cupcake hates dips of all kinds which is something I did not know. However, I will not experience two full cups of pan fried onion dip on my own. Perhaps I will invite over my Mexican friends and we will celebrate this day by eating dip! Except, I don't have any Mexican friends in California, so it will probably meet an untimely trash can death. Forgive me Ina!

The moral of the story: I guess I need to practice my poker food offerings. Mr. Cupcake took the leftover cookies and macaroons into work, so we couldn't eat them all. If Mr. Cupcake hosts poker again, I will be sure to be on my game.

poker: part 2

I had a hard time deciding what to make for poker. I really wanted to make a cake, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it just wasn't good poker food. I then decided cookies were the way to go. It's easy finger food. I went simple and made chocolate chip cookies.

I have been experimenting with various chocolate chip cookie recipes. I like the toll house variety, but I think it's just because it brings back fond childhood memories. I use to bake a lot when I was young pup. Anyway, I have a really hard time making "pretty" chocolate chip cookies. The edges are always too crispy and they fall flat. Over the course of experimentation, I've learned a lot. It's important to make sure the cookie dough is fully chilled. It's important that the baking sheet isn't hot when putting drops of cookie dough onto the sheet. My edges are crispy because my oven is too hot. Things like that.

I still haven't found the perfect cookie, so I tried the "Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies" from Baking Illustrated. It's an interesting recipe because it uses 1 egg and an extra egg yolk and the butter is melted.

I was pleased with how the overall look of the cookie. They were big and looked pretty good. I used the chocolate chips from Trader Joe's. I had a lot of reservations about using these chips. I was afraid that they wouldn't melt properly and wouldn't give the cookie the right chocolatey gooeyness. Nestle chips melts well, but some of the others don't i.e. Hershey's. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The chocolate melted perfectly and on the plus side the chips are bigger than your average chocolate chip. I will definitely use Trader Joe's chips from now on as they are far superior to any of the other chips I've tried.

Overall the cookies were pretty good. They were a little bit chewy, but as they sat overnight, they definitely became a lot chewier. I know this because I had one for breakfast. I also would have liked them to be a little bit sweeter. I like cookie dough that is good enough to be eaten straight from the bowl. How else am I going to get salmonella? This batter wasn't really sweet enough to do that. I will have to test out some more chocolate chip cookie recipes soon.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 18 Large (I came out with 15)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1.5 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nostick cooking spray.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.
4. Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball. Hold the dough ball with teh fingertips of both hands an pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate the havles 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the havles together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough's uneven surface. Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2.5 inches apart.
5. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown and the outer edges start to harden ye tthe centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through thte baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a wide metal spatula.

poker: part 1

Last night, Mr. Cupcake hosted poker for the first time. It made me happy. No, I don't play poker, but it finally gave me a reason to bake again. I have been cutting back on baking recently. The reason being because I've gained 5 pounds in the last year. My doctor confirmed my findings this week when I went in for a checkup. This is better than the 10 pounds Mr. Cupcake's uncle predicted we'd gain after our wedding. Mr. Cupcake has found his weight has been creeping up as well. I have to watch out for the heart disease that runs in his family. However, I don't have to watch out for heart disease in the guys who play poker. Yes, I know I'm going hell.

To celebrate all things poker, I went into a baking frenzy yesterday. I'm going to post each adventure separately starting off with coconut macaroons. I love coconut macaroons. I've made the Barefoot Contessa (Ina call me!) macaroons in the past and thought they were fabulous. I wanted to try the recipe in Baking Illustrated this time.

The recipe calls for 3 cups of sweetened shredded coconut and 3 cups of unsweetened coconut. I couldn't find unsweetened coconut, but the book offered a modified recipe for 6 cups of sweetened coconut. I went with that one.

Everything was going well. Here I mixed up the coconut with the liquids. This recipe is interesting because it contains coconut cream. It's the stuff that you mix in with pina coladas and can be found by the mixed drinks. It's also expensive at $4 a can at my local Safeway.

I shaped them and then popped them into the oven. They aren't very uniform. Halfway through, I tried to be creative and started shaping them in different ways. In the end, they still looked like non uniform macaroons.

I tried one, and to be honest, I wasn't very impressed. There was a distinct coconut flavor to them, but I'm not really sure I liked it. I wasn't comfortable sharing them with the poker crowd. So to make them presentable, I dipped them in dark chocolate.

Ah chocolate. My friend. My first love. The macaroons were now quite good. The chocolate enhanced them and I felt they were good enough to share.

Next time, I might try a hybrid of these macaroons with the Ina macaroons just as an experiment. Mr. Cupcake said they weren't good for poker because the chocolate melted in his hand. Fine, no more macaroons for the poker crowd.

Baking Illustrated Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 48

1 cup cream of coconut
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

Modified recipe if unsweetened coconut is not available (this is what I used).
6 cups of sweetened coconut
1/2 cup of cream of coconut instead of full cup
omit corn syrup
toss 2 tablesppons cake flour into the coconut before adding the liquid ingredients.

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower - middle positions and heat the overn to 375 degrees. Line the 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl; set aside. Combine the unsweetened and sweetened coconut in a large bowl; toss together, breaking up clumps with your fingertips. Pour the liquid ingredients into the coconut and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened.
3. Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared sheets, spacking them about 1 inch apart. Form the cookies into loose haystacks with your fingertips, moistening your hands with water as necessary to prevevnt sticking. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.
4. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets upntil slightly set, about 2 minutes; remove to a wire rack with a wide metal spatula.

Monday, May 01, 2006

aye aye matey!

Mr. Cupcake has been a busy bee lately. I didn't seen him very much last week, so to compensate we went out to dinner on Friday night. Nothing says romance like the Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City. I picked our destination because I've heard tons of good things about this place from various people.

Now, I must confess, I didn't really get into seafood until I was older, and even now I tend to be somewhat cautious. I've spent most of my life landlocked, so good seafood was more of a myth. I was afraid. I became more adventurous when I moved to the east coast in college. My first experience with lobster was in Kentucky (it was a nice place, I swear!) and I have to admit I wasn't taken by the experience. I've pretty much avoided lobster since, but was ready to give it another go.

The Old Port Lobster Shack website said it closed at 8pm, so Mr. Cupcake and I hustled to make it there by 7:30. It's tucked in strip mall so it can be a little tricky to find. The decor was bright and cheery with brown picnic tables all around. Orders are taken at the counter. Mr. Cupcake and I mulled over the large menu. Everyone I've talked to raves about the Maine Lobster Roll claiming it's the REAL thing, so that's what I ordered. It's described as "lobster mixed with mayo, lemon juice, chives, salt and pepper". It can also be ordered "naked" where mayo and butter are served on the side. I went with the mayo figuring I'd try my first lobster roll in all its glory. Mr. Cupcake had a hard time deciding what he wanted. It was either a normal sized plate of all fried food or a platter of fried food. Fortunately for his heart, he went with the fish and chips (haddock) which was the smaller of the two.

I thought the lobster roll was on the small side. It's probably because I'm used to everything being supersized these days. I have no concept of what is "normal" anymore. Anyway, the roll came with some crispy kettle chips, 2 slices of bread and butter pickles, a lemon wedge, and some coleslaw. The roll had the texture of a hotdog bun that was toasted and buttered. The lobster roll was good. However, between all the butter and mayo, it was on the rich side. I would probably go "naked" if I ordered it again. I use to hate bread and butter pickles, but these complimented the sandwich well. Maybe it's just me getting old and liking things I use to hate. The chips were pretty greasy, but that's not all that surprising. The coleslaw was vinegar based which is what I prefer. Overall, it was a pleasant experience.

Mr. Cupcake ordered the fish and chips and wasn't very impressed. The fries were pretty good, but the fish was weak. The batter was too soft and didn't have a crunch to it. It was also very greasy, and the tartar sauce was bland. Mr. Cupcake said he wouldn't hurry back for the fish and chips, but maybe he'd go back and order a full lobster.

Our total bill for our two dishes and a beer was $30 before our tip to the bus boy. It's definitely worth a visit. If anything, it's great people watching. I'm not sure I'll rush back, but I'm still trying to determine how much I like lobster. I have to say my sandwich was pretty good. I'll attribute it to no longer being landlocked. Though, I think they fly the lobsters in from the east coast, so my reasoning doesn't really work. Oh, and they didn't close at 8pm. I'm not sure what time they close, but the place was still bumping after we left. Finally, be sure to tip the bus boy. The poor guy had to pick up all the leftover lobster shrapnel, and no one left a tip.