Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sometimes Not Cooking is a Good Thing

Saturday was my birthday.  I didn’t have any particular plans for the day and decided to bake myself some scones.  After rifling through the cabinets to see what was on hand, I opted for some chocolate chip/almond scones.  No muss, no fuss, just like I planned the day to be.

Chocolate Chip Almond Scones

2 cups flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs  heavy cream
1/2 cup lightly toasted, sliced almonds
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 425°.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry until butter is well incorporated into the mixture. Add the almonds and chocolate chips.

Stir in the cream until a dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly to bring the mixture together.  Form into a flattened rectangle, about a foot or so long and about 3/4” thick. Cut into wedges.  Place s on a lined baking sheet and bake for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown.

* * *
Offspring 1 and 2 decided to make dinner for me.  Now, my girls have been raised in a household with someone who cooks to relax, so they are on familiar terms with, shall we say, more complicated offerings than mac & cheese from a box (Which I buy on sale and use as a topping for popcorn – the cheese, at least.  Not the pasta.  Obviously).  That said, neither has exactly inherited my great love of being in the kitchen, either.  But I have to say, I was duly impressed with the menu.  O1 made a chicken and zucchini pasta with lots of garlic (Yes!) and cherry tomatoes.  She also roasted some asparagus.  O2 whipped up some garlic biscuits and then made various renditions of crepes for dessert (I opted for chocolate/apricot/almond).  And aside from an evening spent hanging out with my girls, laughing and having a great time, the best part was that I didn’t have to clean the kitchen afterwards!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Give You… The Harvey Wallbanger Cupcake

I’ve been working at the same place for 20 years now (someone should really talk to them regarding their practice of hiring 12 year olds).   Back in the day, the highlight of the year was the company Christmas party, which was always done in style (at least inasmuch as this neck of the woods, Oregon allows).  Over time it has devolved into more of a get-hammered-and-lose-fake-money-playing-craps kind of a deal.  And our Christmas party (now dubbed the Spring Celebration) is now held in March.

Anyway…  With all of the catering I’ve been doing, I was asked if I’d be interested in supplying all of the desserts for this little shindig (with roughly 300 people in attendance).  And of course, I said yes.  Never mind that I also help coordinate the thing, so… busy much??
Judging from the fact that there weren’t even crumbs leftover, the dessert table was a big success.  I had mini cheesecakes with three different toppings, key lime parfaits (basically my key lime pie in cup form), a variety of cookies and three types of cupcakes.  There were chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (always a favorite), Snickerdoodle cupcakes, and a fairly new find.  I ran across a recipe for these and decided to adapt it for cupcakes.  This is a ‘cheaters’ version, since it starts with a boxed cake mix, but you could easily adapt your favorite yellow cake recipe, substituting the liquids you would normally use with the ones here.

I baked these two days before the party and applied the glaze to them, which kept them perfectly moist.  It’s hard to describe the taste of Galliano, but it has vanilla, citrus and spice tones to it.  Don’t think it will ever replace Frangelico in my heart, but it’s not too bad.  Would make an interesting, grown-up snowcone.   Hmm….

Harvey Wallbanger Cupcakes
adapted from Saveur
1 box yellow cake mix
1 small box vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
¼ cup Galliano liqueur
¼ cup vodka
¾ cup orange juice

½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp orange juice
1 tsp Galliano
1/2 tsp vodka

1 8 oz package cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbs Galliano

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a large bowl, combine the two mixes, oil and eggs.  Mix on medium speed (if using a stand or electric mixer) for about a minute, or until the ingredients are well combined.  Add the liquids.  Turn to medium-high speed and beat for about 3 minutes more.
Pour batter about ¾ of the way up lined muffin tins (this will make about 48 mini cupcakes or 24 regular sized cupcakes).  Bake about 20 – 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine the ½ cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp orange juice, 1 tsp Galliano and ½ tsp vodka in a small bowl.  Stir to combine, adding more of the juice if the mixture is too thick.  It should be a runny glaze consistency.
As soon as cupcakes are removed from the oven, poke each several times with a toothpick.  Slowly pour a spoonful of the glaze over each cupcake, allowing to soak in.  Allow the cupcakes to cool (at this point, they can be covered until you’re ready to frost them).

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Slowly add in the powdered sugar, about ¼ cup at a time and mixing in between additions.  Add the vanilla and Galliano.  If the frosting is too runny, add more powdered sugar.
Frost the cupcakes as desired.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Missing Mom

Easter marked the second holiday spent without my mom.    We opted for a small family dinner since Peanut isn’t old enough to get much out of an Easter basket (although he did enjoy playing with the couple of things he got).  Without the expectation of a traditional meal, we decided to go for surf and turf instead, with me pan grilling steaks and jumbo shrimp and adding a couple of veggie sides.  One was a new recipe for a cauliflower gratin.  Not sure of its origination, but it was tasty.

I did keep somewhat to tradition, however, and made my mom’s dinner rolls, which have been gracing our family meals for ages.  I was happy to find it tucked into a recipe file of hers.  They’re quicker than most yeast roll recipes I’ve run across, needing only 10 minutes of rest time and another 30 minute rise.  So, in just over an hour, you can have hot rolls on your dinner table that are by far better than anything you’d find in a store.
So, we had a little bit of the old combined with a little bit of the new, which seemed just perfect.  Just wish Mom had been there to share.

Cauliflower Gratin with Almonds

¾ cup half and half
½ cup whole roasted almonds with skins on, plus ¼ cup whole almonds
4 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded Gouda
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
One 2-lb head of cauliflower, cored and cut into 1” thick steaks
2 Tbs olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp paprika

Heat oven to 400°.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the cauliflower slices evenly on it, drizzling with the olive oil.  Roast in oven for 15 – 20 minutes, or just until beginning to turn color.  Remove from oven and place in an oblong baking dish.  Reduce oven temperature to 375°.

While cauliflower is roasting, bring half and half to just under a simmer.  Add to a blender or food processor, along with ½ cup of the roasted almonds.  Process until almonds are ground, then allow the mixture to sit.

When cauliflower has finished roasting, add the butter to a medium saucepan and heat over medium.  When butter begins to bubble, add onions and sauté just until translucent.  Transfer the onions to the baking dish with the cauliflower, leaving as much butter in the saucepan as you can.  Return the pan to heat and sprinkle in the flour.  Cook and stir until the roux becomes slightly darker (a ‘blond’ roux).  Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.  Slowly stir in milk, stirring briskly so no lumps form.  Continue to cook until mixture begins to thicken, adding more milk if it becomes too thick.  Add the cheese and stir until melted.  Pour the mixture over the cauliflower, moving the vegetables around a bit so that the cheese mixture has a chance to spread throughout.  Sprinkle with paprika and the remaining almonds.

Return to oven and allow to bake for 20 minutes.

* * *

Dinner Rolls

2 to 2 ¼ cups bread flour
1 envelope Rapid Rise yeast
2 Tbs sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
¼ cup water
2 Tbs butter

Heat the milk, water and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, just until the mixture begins to steam.  Meanwhile, combine ¾ cup flour, yeast, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Stir to combine.  Slowly pour in the milk mixture and mix thoroughly.  Add 1¼ cups flour to the mixture and mix with a dough hook attachment for 5 minutes.  If dough seems too sticky, add the remaining ¼ cup flour.  Mix an additional 3 minutes.  Cover and allow to rest 10 minutes.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces.  Shape into balls and place in a greased pan.  Cover and let rise in a warm place about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°.  Place pan in oven and bake until rolls are golden, about 20 minutes.