Sunday, July 31, 2011

Skillet Ziti - From America's Test Kitchen to Mine

A few weeks ago, I caught this current episode on America's Test Kitchen, and so I bookmarked the recipe.  Fast forward to last week, when I had come home from work and my sister-in-law was cooling off from the Missouri heat visiting us in California.  My husband wasn't going to be home for dinner, and the two of us preferred to stay home.  Bingo!  I have lots of fresh basil and zucchini in our backyard.  I had just purchased a refrigerator staple of fresh mozzarella.  I tend to hoard pasta, and while I didn't have ziti pasta, I had a bag of rigatoni. Close enough!

I try to keep at least one can, each, of tomato products in my pantry.  Fortunately, I had crushed tomato. The rest of the ingredients are six cloves of garlic, red pepper flakes, water, heavy cream, Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. 

I decided to add one zucchini (from our garden) to this recipe, for a little extra crunch and to "healthify" it a little more. 

America's Test Kitchen used the kind of grated mozzarella that comes wrapped in plastic.  I rarely buy that, preferring fresh mozzarella.  Either way works fine, I am sure.

I simply sliced the mozzarella thin (like 1/2")

The sauce is very easy to make, by sauteing the garlic and red pepper flakes in some olive oil.  Then you add a can of crushed tomatoes.

Next, you add water, salt and the pasta and cover it.  The pasta is cooked until it's tender-- about 15 to 18 minutes. Preheat the oven to 475F.

While the pasta was cooking, I quickly sauteed the zucchini in a little olive oil and lightly seasoned them with salt & pepper. Then, when the pasta was tender, I added the zucchini. One pan cooking-- how easy is that?!

Last, stir in the heavy cream, Parmesan and fresh basil...

Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over ziti. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes. NOTE: Because I used fresh mozzarella, the cheese melted but it didn't brown. 
Total prep and cooking time took about 30 minutes. While the pasta cooked, I had time to clean my mess, and that is such a help on a work night.

VERDICT:  The sauce was delicious.  I liked the garlic flavor, which was definitely present but not overpowering.  The red pepper flakes were very subtle, and it added a little bit of heat.  The heavy cream turned the sauce a light pink color, and toned down the tomato flavor. I liked it.  Of course, I had to add more fresh basil.   My only criticism, is that I thought the sauce was a little runny for my liking. I'm not sure what the fix would be.  I'd be hesitant to reduce the water, as the pasta has to cook in the sauce and it does absorb a lot of the liquid.  I'm glad I added the zucchini, as it added some texture.  The next time I make this, I might consider adding cooked Italian sausage (maybe even turkey sausage) and/or mushrooms. 
Overall, it's a simple pasta dish that rates "very easy".  

A printable recipe card can be found at the end of this post.


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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Best Pancakes. I'm serious. With or without Olallieberries?

I have made this pancake recipe three times, in the last month. I feel it is my duty to share this recipe with all of you. You will thank me.  I spotted this recipe on "Coleen's Recipe's" in early June.  Coleen named them "Best Pancakes", and that's a tall claim!  Truthfully, I don't eat traditional pancakes very often, but my husband loves them.  I'm more of a "Swedish Pancake" lover, but I have to say that Coleen was being very accurate.  The first time I made this recipe, I added olallieberries to the batter. These pancakes are also delicious just plain.  Coleen's claim turned out be very accurate.

Olallieberries are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. 

This recipe hasn't made a lot of pancakes, as every time I've made them, it's has yielded about 8-9 pancakes. That's fine with us, as I don't want leftover pancakes-- but recently I doubled the recipe and it yielded about 15 pancakes.   The dry ingredients are unbleached white flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  The wet ingredients are beaten eggs and melted butter and pure vanilla.

The soured milk helps to activate the baking soda.  This creates fluffy pancakes. Trust me. Just read the recipe directions carefully-- the key to this recipe is to make "soured milk" by combining vinegar with milk.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Best Chocolate Cake with Old-Fashioned Cooked Vanilla Frosting

Today is my birthday. (Thank you, in advance, for your best wishes.)  I'm taking the day off, to spend the anniversary of my arrival into this world.

Honolulu, Hawaii.  Age? Not sure, but about six months old. Why do I look so cranky?

 My birthday card/gift from my brother, Fred.  I love it!

I'm happy to say that how I feel on the inside, doesn't match my true age. My birthday coincides with the that great leap for mankind-- our first landing on the moon. I was fourteen years old.  Yes, you can do the math and that's my age. 

Question: Is is strange for me to bake my own birthday cake?

There are very few good bakeries where I live.  The ones I do like are expensive.  I do not like cakes that come from those warehouse businesses (and I won't name names).  Suffice it to say that I don't care for frosting that is made with shortening.   Canned frosting is the devil.  I won't buy it, and I can taste it blindfolded with a clothing pin on my nose.  Chemicals, I tell you. Gross.   My preferred cake frosting is a Swiss Meringue, and I've finally mastered how to make it-- it's surprisingly easy.  A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a recipe for Old-Fashioned Cooked Vanilla frosting.  I was intrigued about a frosting that uses a roux of milk and flour.  Very interesting!   I started to fixate on my favorite chocolate cake recipe.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting-- but chocolate cake with white frosting?  Yes!! We had a barbeque, this weekend, as an early birthday celebration.  I decided to bake my favorite moist chocolate cake (recipe card will be at the end of this post.)

First you make a "roux" of flour and milk (I doubled the recipe, since I planned to frost a cake, instead of cupcakes.)  I've mentioned this in a few previous posts, but I only use King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.  Sure, the flour costs a few quarters more, but it's the best quality flour I've ever used. You want to cook the milk/flour mixture on medium heat, until starts to thicken; then cook for 1-2 minutes more.  You don't have to do this, but I decided to run the roux through a fine mesh sieve because I didn't want to risk having lumps.  It's a bit labor intensive, but the roux looked nice and smooth.  Next, you want to use unsalted (softened) butter and granulated sugar... not confectioners, which is used for a more traditional buttercream.  Allow the roux to cool to room temperature, but don't refrigerate it!

You'll want to stir the roux every so often.  The consistency is thick and creamy. Perfect!

Whip the butter and granulated sugar until it's fluffy.  Add the roux a couple of tablespoons at a time...

...this is where the "magic" begins.  The butter/sugar mixture begins to morph into a very creamy texture (about 6-8 minutes)..

Amazing! This is beginning to resemble whipped cream.

This icing even tastes like whipped cream!  I added a little vanilla and then gave a final taste.  
VERDICT:  Delicious!  Creamy! Sweet, but not nearly as sweet as a classic buttercream-- and I like this!
I detect a bit of sugar grains.  Hmmmmm....

Time to frost...

This frosting is quite nice to work with...

Since there was leftover frosting, I decided to do a little piping. I was curious about how well this frosting would work in a pastry bag.  I decided to chill the frosting for about 15 minutes, since it was a bit soft.

Not bad!  I wanted roses on my cake, but I failed that part of my Wilton cake decorating class. My roses kinda looked like cabbages.  I gave up. Someday, I'll attempt to learn how to make them again.   (The "blob" of frosting, in the center,  was to support the real roses.)

I decided to go "monochromatic" and cut a few of our white roses.  Real roses would do just fine!

Happy Birthday to me!

Who wants a slice? 

I love the contrasts of the dark chocolate and vanilla.  I can hardly wait to serve the rest of my guests, so that I can have a taste.

TASTING NOTES:   If I do say so myself, this is one of the best cakes I've ever made!  The chocolate cake is incredibly moist. It should be, since I've used both buttermilk and canola oil in the batter. The coffee that I've added intensifies the chocolate flavor-- though the cake doesn't taste at all like coffee.  The frosting is silky and creamy and fluffy... and so good!  My guests ooh and ahh over this cake, and several ask for seconds. Best of all, the sugar "graininess" that I initially detected, was unnoticeable as I ate the cake.  
As a side note, once the remaining cake was refrigerated, the frosting hardens.  I enjoyed the texture of the frosting just as much this way, as I did at room temperature when it was soft.  
Now, I'm on the search for the Ultimate Moist White Cake!  I promised some friends that I'd bake cupcakes for them, and I plan to use this very same frosting recipe.  
I always post a printable recipe card at the end of each recipe post. If you cannot view it, you might be using an older version of InternetExplorer. You should be able to view my recipe cards with Safari, Mozilla, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.
If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cherry & Apricot Crostata with a Ricotta Filling

Hello, again. It's been almost a week since I've had a chance to post this recipe.  This is the second dessert recipe in a row.  I don't have any dinner recipes ideas to share, because we are grilling just about every meal, and at that it's simple (but tasty) fare-- grilled chicken, salmon, veggies and burgers.

This recipe was a smashing success, I tell you!  Whole Foods had organic Bing cherries on sale for $2.99 a pound, and I stocked up.  Originally, I wanted to bake a cherry pie.  Then, I stumbled across two different recipes-- one was for a cherry-apricot tart.  I had never thought of combining these two summer fruits, but I knew instantly that these would pair well together.  Then, I stumbled on a recipe for a crostata at "Cowgirl Chef".  I liked the crust recipe and I especially liked the idea of a ricotta filling.  Crostatas (or Gallettes) are what I consider to be "free form" pies.  They're rustic. They're fast and easy.  You can use a store bought crust, but I prefer to make my own.  I'm always game to try new pie crust recipes, and this one used all butter and a touch of sugar.

The key to great pie crusts is to use very cold butter and don't over work the dough.  As a note, I am a full convert to buying only unbleached flour-- to be specific, I buy King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.  Once the dough chilled for about an hour, I rolled it out to about 9-inches wide.  The uneven edges are fine, as I'll be folding the edges over.  I have a tutorial on how to make my fool-proof pie crust here.

I adapted the ricotta filling a bit.  I decided to add orange zest, and to omit using cinnamon. I simply whisked in two eggs and vanilla, and set it in the refrigerator ( you could easily do this the day before).  Next, I peeled and pitted 3 apricots and sliced them. I pitted roughly 20 Bing cherries.

I added about 1/4 tsp of almond extract and the juice of 1/2 small lemon. I sweetened the fruit with 3 Tablespoons of sugar and about 1 teaspoon of Clearjel (you can buy this at either King Arthur Flour or on Amazon).  If you don't have Clearjel, then you use always use cornstarch.  Set that aside.  On a whim, I decided to add a very thin layer of jam.  I do this, sometimes, to make sure that I don't end up with soggy crusts.  I didn't have apricot jam, but  I had  a lovely jar of Peach & Armagnac jam that the lovely folks at East India Company sent to me.  It's wonderful jam, and I'm sad that most of it has been eaten and thoroughy enjoyed.

I decided to change how I assembled the crostata from the original recipe, by reversing the steps.  I carefully spread the ricotta filling, on top of the jam-- leaving a 3" border.  Then, I piled the fruit on top of the ricotta filling.

I carefully folded the edge of the pastry over, and then brushed on an egg wash...

...then added King Arthur Flour sparkling white sugar, for the lovely crunch I like so much.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Strawberry Cheese Cake Ice Cream - Crust and All!

One of the best impulse buys I've ever had is the day I spotted an ice cream maker at my grocery store. It was at the end of summer, and it was marked down to $9.99!  That was three summers ago, and I've made many batches of delicious sorbets and ice creams.  I have made Philadelphia style ice cream, that unlike custards,  contains no egg yolks and does not require cooking. It's based purely on cream and sugar, and is very delicate-tasting, with few ingredients. But, now that I have mastered the art of making ice cream custard-- well, I'm smitten!  While the process involves whisking eggs and sugar, and tempering them into hot cream, it's so worth the extra effort.  I find that the ice cream results in a much creamier texture, with a richer flavor. What's not to love?   I had some strawberries that were a few days past their prime.  Sure, I could freeze them to make my Power Smoothies.  But, I had another idea-- I wanted to make a Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream.  Using my Universal Recipe Box ("Google") I landed on Joy The Baker's recipe.  Bingo!

The first thing I did was to make a strawberry puree (no photos).  It's pretty simple.  I hulled and washed 1 1/2 pint of strawberries and pureed them. I added a little bit of sugar and some lemon juice.  Into the fridge it went, until it was time...

I took a detour, since I didn't have 2 cups of half and half. Instead, I used 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of heavy cream.  In case you are wondering if you can use non-fat or low-fat milk, let me ask you... why?  I mean, if you're going to eat ice cream, then try not to cut the fat.  Ice cream needs fat to make it be-- well, ice cream!  Live a little! Exercise later. It's summer!

Vanilla bean is a wonderful thing. It's also expensive.  Meet my newest friend-- Singing Dog Vanilla Bean Paste is one of my favorite pantry items.  I buy mine at Whole Foods, or you can buy it on their website. They're also on Facebook.

You can use pure vanilla, of course-- and I also use Singing Dog Vanilla. Or, you can scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean. Moi?  I added a heaping teaspoon of the vanilla bean paste.  You can actually see vanilla bean seeds. Very cool!  While the milk/cream mixture begins to heat, to scalding over a medium-low heat--

...beat 4 ounces of room temperature cream cheese, two egg yolks and 2/3 cup of granulated sugar until fluffy-- about 2-3 minutes.  Once the milk/cream is hot (but not boiling) very gradually add it to the cream cheese mixture.  There are a couple ways of doing this-- you can add a ladle of the cream mixture to egg mixture, whisking all the while.  This should temper the eggs, so that they don't scramble. Because I'm comfortable making a cream Anglaise, I find that I can slowly add all of the scalded milk/cream mixture without any problems.  I tun this mixture through fine mesh sieve, in case there are any lumps.

Return the custard to the stove.  You can use a double boiler.  I don't, because I never leave my stove.  I have yet to burn a custard (crosses fingers).  You want to cook this mixture until it coats a spoon (at about 170F).  Sometimes I'll make an ice bath, and set a bowl inside.  This cools the custard quickly. This time, I didn't.  I like shortcuts, and if they work, I keep taking them!  I always strain the custard in a fine mesh sieve, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.  I always chill my custards for a minimum of four hours-- but overnight is best.  You cannot rush these things!

I almost forgot!  Add about 1 cup of the strawberry puree, and some more vanilla.  Give it a good stir and now chill the whole ice cream custard mixture.

While the custard was chilling, I started to think--  what if I made a cheesecake crust and then added it to the ice cream?  What I love about Twitter and my Facebook Fan Page, is that I posed this very question to my wonderful readers.  I was encouraged to go for it.  I pulsed 5 graham crackers in my food processor, then added 3 Tablespoons of melted butter and 3 Tablespoons of white sugar. I pressed the mixture into 1/4 baking sheet and baked it at 350F for 10 minutes.

I had set aside the remaining 1/2 pint of strawberries and I chopped them.  They tasted a wee bit tart, so I sprinkled a little bit of powdered sugar on top.

Early in the evening, it was time to churn ice cream. 

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