Saturday, October 30, 2010

Caramel Corn

If not for Halloween, when would we eat things that are sweet and sticky and bound to rot our teeth?
When you make this caramel corn...the answer might just change to every day.

I hope this recipe finds you in time.  It's Saturday evening, and you're probably preparing the final touches on your costume and getting ready to go to a fun Halloween party, or host one of your own.  But it's still not technically Halloween, so you have one more day to make this AMAZING caramel corn...and make everyone around you very, very happy.

Luckily, you probably have all of the ingredients for this on hand already.  It takes almost no effort to prepare, and is an instant hit.  The unique thing about this recipe is that once you dump the caramel sauce all over your popcorn, you bake it in the oven for an hour.  Orangette says "In the oven, the caramel, which had started to harden as you stirred it into the popcorn, gets a chance to soften again. You can now stir it into the popcorn more easily and evenly. The whole, gooey mess will crisp spectacularly as it cools, and the kitchen will smell outrageous."

She wasn't kidding.  I couldn't even bring myself to let it bake for the full hour.  I made it to 20 minutes, did the first stir, and let it sit in the oven another 10 minutes before I couldn't bear how amazing my kitchen smelled, and how I had to have that caramel corn now. (I ate it right then and there...without allowing it to cool as recommended...and it was still INCREDIBLE).

Caramel Corn
adapted from Orangette

Orangette's recipe notes:
  • Be sure to have a whisk and a rubber spatula close at hand. You’ll need them both on short notice.
  • Before you begin cooking the caramel, measure out the baking soda and the vanilla, and set aside in small bowls. You won’t have time to do it later.
  • Do not try to make this recipe without a candy thermometer.
    • 1 (3½-ounce) package plain (unbuttered natural flavor) microwave popcorn, or about 10 cups fresh popcorn popped by any method, lightly salted
    • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
    • ¼ cup light corn syrup
    • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
    • ¼ tsp. salt
    • ½ tsp. baking soda
    • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
    1. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. If using microwave popcorn, pop the popcorn according to the package instructions. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and dump the popcorn into the bowl, taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.
    3. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

    4. Continue to simmer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes.
    5. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla.
    6. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can.
    7. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn, and serve.
    8. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (or thereabouts).

      Tuesday, October 19, 2010

      Halloween Sugar Cookies

      It's that time of year! Time for pumpkin recipes, fall soups and chilis, and of course, decorated sugar cookies!  This was my first time using this royal icing technique.  I've seen it everywhere: beautiful cookies with a beautiful matte sheen layer of icing, decorated in every possible color.  I was lazy and only wanted to use one color (ok, two if you count the normal white).  I followed Annie's tutorial on how to flood a cookie with royal icing, but basically, you take normal royal icing, pipe it along the edge of your cookie, then let it sit for about 30 minutes. Then take some of the icing, add a little bit of water to it, until it is thinner and runs off your spoon, and then "flood" the interior of the cookie, using a toothpick to help bring the icing to the edge.

      I made these cookies pretty late at night, so I didn't take any pictures of the process :(  But it's really easy to make a cool spiderweb design: before flooding the cookie, take some of the thinner icing and put it into another container.  Color it with black food coloring, and then proceed to flood the cookies with the white icing.  After flooding, while the icing is still wet, put some of the black icing into a pastry bag with a tip attached, and pipe a "target" onto the cookies (as shown in my horrible MS Paint drawing below).

      Then take a toothpick and drag lines from the center of the cookie, outwards, pulling the black circles into a spider web!  Let the icing harden overnight, and you will have beautiful spiderweb cookies!

      Sugar Cookies
      adapted from Annie's Eats

      • 1 cup butter
      • 1 cup powdered sugar
      • 1 egg, beaten
      • 1 ½ tsp vanilla
      • 1 tsp salt
      • 2 ½ cups flour
      Cream butter. Add powdered sugar. Blend in egg, vanilla, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm. Roll to ¼” thickness on well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375° for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool. Yields ~24 cookies.

      Royal Icing
      from Alton Brown

      • 3 egg whites
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 4 cups confectioners' sugar

      In large bowl, mix the egg whites and vanilla with an electric mixer until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes.  Color if desired, and transfer to piping bags for use.


      Saturday, October 16, 2010

      Orangette's Wedding Cake

      On Orangette/Molly Wizenberg: I've been a huge fan due to my old roommate and reading her book just made me a even bigger fan!! Another friend of mine saw her at Gregoire's and emailed her... too bad they didn't become friends, since I would have loved to meet her! I so want to go to DELANCY in seattle!!!

      So, after reading A Homemade Life by Orangette's Molly Wizenberg, the first thing I wanted to make was her chocolate cake. Granted it was also her wedding cake and a cake she calls "the winning hearts and minds cake," I had great expectations. The recipe calls for 5 eggs and 1 tablespoon of AP flour something I have never run across with cakes. (I'm a not big cake fan, pie any day over cake, but I was intrigued as I usually am with reading new and different recipes!)

      I decided to make this cake for a friend's belated birthday, she had strep and the flu over her birthday weekend and I thought I should add guinea pig to Eunice's attempt at Orangette's cake recipe. 

      You are only supposed to use one 8" round cake pan but I was afraid it would puff up too much but then again I wasn't thinking about the ingredients so I put 1/5 of the batter into another cake pan so my sister who kept putting her finger in the batter could try some. BUT remember there wasn't any leavening agents! NOTE: all the pictures are of the cake from extra cake pan (1/5th of the normal size).

      The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
      from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

      • 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
      • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
      • 1 C + 2 T granulated sugar
      • 5 eggs
      • 1 T unbleached AP flour


      1. Preheat the oven to 375F
      2. Butter a 8" round cake pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper (this is important in order to have better ease at removing the cake at the end)
      3. Put chocolate and butter in a microwavable bowl, microwave on high for 30 sec at a time, stirring until smooth (OR use a double broiler to do the same)
      4. When mixture is smooth, add sugar and incorporate well
      5. Set batter aside to cool for 5 min
      6. Add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each
      7. Add flour and stir to mix well (batter should be dark and silky)
      8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 25 minutes (set the timer to 20 min and check cake every 2 min). The top is lightly crackled and edges are puffed and the center only jiggles VERY slightly.
      9. Remove the cake and cool for 15 minutes in the pan
      10. Carefully turn it out of the pan then flip onto a serving plate so the crackly side faces up
      11. Cool completely

      END product: a very THIN, but very moist, dense CHOCOLATY cake like a flourless chocolate cake but with a subtle lightness. Molly says to serve some lightly sweetened with whipped cream.

      ** All the pictures where taken of the cake made from 1/5th the batter so the cake should not be as thin as pictured above **

      - Eunice 

      Sunday, October 10, 2010


      About a year ago, my boyfriend introduced me "Greektown" in Chicago and took me to this fabulous restaurant called Pegasus. I couldn't pronounce one thing on the menu! Greek food to me was kebabs, falafel, and gyros. Luckily, he knew what he was doing and ordered for us.

      When the food finally arrived, I was blown away by one dish in particular: the moussaka. Moussaka is a dish based on ground meat and eggplant layered with a bechamel sauce. It...was...unbelievable. So unexpected, so unassuming, and oh so wonderful. I had never had such flavors present in a meat dish before. It reminded me of Christmas. From then on, I have ordered moussaka at every Greek restaurant I go to, but nothing compares to the one at Pegasus....

      ...until now. I have been experimenting with different dishes over the summer, but this one seemed the most daunting. I ended up using two different recipes for reference, which can be found here and here. It came out great! It did not look as pretty as Pegasus' dish, but the familiar flavors were all there. It's just so good. :)

      (adapted from the Gastronomer's Guide to Moussaka)


      For the eggplant layers:

      • 3 long globe eggplants
      • coarse sea salt (I used Kosher)
      • olive oil (~1/3 - 1/2 cup)
      For the meat filling:

      • 2 tablespoons butter
      • 1 tablespoon olive oil
      • 1 onion, finely chopped
      • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used around 5-6 cloves because I love garlic)
      • 1 pound ground turkey (It's traditional to use beef or lamb, but I had turkey on hand)
      • 1/2 cup dry white wine
      • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I used fresh crushed grape tomatoes)
      • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
      • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 teaspoon parsley
      • coarse sea salt
      • freshly ground pepper
      For the béchamel sauce:

      • 4 tablespoons butter
      • 4 tablespoons flour
      • 2 cups fat-free milk
      • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
      • coarse sea salt
      • freshly ground pepper
      • 6 ounces pecorino Romano, grated

      To make the eggplant layers, cut off ends and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Liberally salt both sides and let stand in a colander set over the sink for at least 30 minutes. Cover them with an inverted plate that is weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink so that excess moisture can be drawn out. Rinse with water and pat dry.

      Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan on medium-high. Fry eggplant slices for 3 to 5 minutes per side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

      Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

      To make the meat filling, heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey and cook until brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the wine, tomatoes, tomato paste and cinnamon. Simmer until liquid has reduced, about 15-20 minutes. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

      To make the béchamel, melt butter over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
      Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.
      Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.
      Add half the grated cheese and continue to whisk until melted. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and white pepper.
      To assemble, layer the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch greased baking dish with the eggplant slices, making sure to overlap edges. Spread with half the meat mixture. Add another layer of eggplant slices and spread with the remaining meat mixture. Cover with remaining eggplant slices. Spread with half the béchamel and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake from 30 to 40 minutes until bubbling around the edges of the pan. Remove and let cool for 30 minutes. Serve squares with remaining béchamel sauce and either homemade or store-bought marinara sauce on the side. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

      Before the oven.

      And after.


      Thursday, October 7, 2010

      Gingery Zucchini Bread

      Monday morning and I felt like that Fall was finally approaching. The sky was grey and my feet walking barefoot around the house were a bit nippy and I wanted to bake. I looked around the house and saw the huge zucchini we got from our neighbor's garden. A couple of weeks ago we received 3 of these foot long summer squashes. My mom had already made a zucchini meal of grilled zucchini, roasted zucchini and korean zucchini pancakes a week before and froze the second one.

      I was fascinated by 101 cookbook's zucchini bread - the additions of crystallized ginger and walnuts seemed like a wonderful addition so thought I'd give it a try. Then I found out that there was only 2T of butter... But I was set on making THIS zucchini bread... So I substituted 6T with Smart Balance butter spread.... more on this decision later.

      I cut down the amount of walnuts to 1/4C because my mom hates it when I steal all the nuts, 1/3 C of crystallized ginger because I was unsure if I'd like it, and 1t of curry powder because I am a conventionalist at heart and 1T curry powder seemed too much! I also did not have poppy seeds or lemon zest.

      Zucchini Bread 
      Recipe from 101 Cookbooks

      • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
      • 1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
      • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
      • 1 cup sugar
      • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
      • 3 large eggs
      • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
      • 3 cups grated zucchini with skin, squeeze out the moisture and fluff up
      • 3 cups all-purpose flour
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
      • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 teaspoon curry powder
      2 loaf pans (5x9 inches)


      1. Preheat oven to 350F
      2. Butter and dust loaf pans (or Pam cooking spray with flour)
      3. In a small bowl combine walnuts and ginger
      4. Beat butter until fluffy using a stand mixer (or hand mixer in a separate bowl). Add sugars and beat until no longer crumbly. Add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Add zucchini lowering the speed.
      5. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and curry powder.
      6. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in two batches.
      7. Fold in walnuts and ginger by hand. (If you like save some to sprinkle on top of the loves.)
      8. Divide batter between the two loaf pans.
      9. Bake for 45-50 minutes on the middle rack. 
      10. Remove and cool for about 15 minutes. Take them out of the pan to cool completely.

      The result: a soft moist zucchini bread with the subtle surprise of the crystalized ginger and crunch of the walnuts, however a bit on the salty side. Perhaps it was the Smart Balance butter spread or 1 teaspoon is a bit much. I believe that the Smart Balance butter spread also affected the crumb making it a bit loose and crumbly. So lesson: USE REAL BUTTER.


      Monday, October 4, 2010

      Ultimate Banana Bread

      I'm definitely on a banana kick lately.  When I've let my bananas sit on my counter a little too long (and didn't make them into ice cream), I stick them into the freezer.  Once I have collected enough super-ripe bananas (think waaay beyond spotty...these bananas are so ripe they aren't even yellow anymore) it's time for the next best thing: banana bread!

      (Image source: Cook's Illustrated)

      The July issue of Cook's Illustrated had a banana bread recipe that sounded so strange, I knew I had to try it.  It involves microwaving bananas.  Weird!  But as weird and unnecessary as it sounds, this banana bread was possibly the best banana bread I have ever had!  It was really banana-y, dense and moist, but not soggy, and still fluffy.  And the smell of it while baking....mmmm my apartment has never smelled better!

      The secret to this ultimate banana bread is definitely the use of more bananas than a typical recipe.  This recipe calls for 5 bananas, which would typically make a banana bread way too dense and soggy -- enter the microwaving part.  The microwaving makes the bananas release their juices.  Then you simply strain the bananas, cook the liquid on the stove until it reduces, and then add it back into the dough.  This intensifies the banana flavor, but doesn't make the bread soggy.  Voila!  Ultimate Banana Bread!

      Ultimate Banana Bread
      recipe from Cook's Illustrated, July 2010

      • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
      • 1 tsp baking soda
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 5 very ripe bananas (plus one mostly ripe banana for garnish, if desired)
      • 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
      • 2 eggs
      • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
      • 1 tsp vanilla
      • 2 tsp sugar
      • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, if desired (I omitted the walnuts)
      1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position, and heat to 350 deg F.  Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
      2. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
      3. Place 5 bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with a sharp knife. Microwave on high until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid). [Note - if you don't have a fine mesh strainer (like me!) you can put a paper towel into a regular strainer placed over a bowl, and it will work just as well]

        (weeeiird! microwaved bananas!!)

      4. Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
      5. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
      6. Slice remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle banana slices on top of either side of loaf, leaving 1½-inch-wide space down center to ensure even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

      7. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes.
      8. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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