Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TWD: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread (aka the Gingerbread too tough to die!)

If I were to pick a "Bonehead Move of the Week" (or "BHMOTW" - a new feature I think I'm going to run with), it would be very, VERY difficult to pick just one. How this week's pick (courtesy of Heather at Sherry Trifle) turned out so good is beyond me. It must be due to a great recipe. Many TWDers said they would have passed it up and were so grateful they made it instead.

This was my first time using fresh ginger (BHMOTW #1 - wondering what fresh ginger tastes like. Yikes!). I'm glad to know that it freezes so I can put the leftovers away for a bit and try something else later. The recipe is straightforward and easy (assuming you get your butter to room temperature correctly - BHMOTW #2. Otherwise you'll spend a bunch of time messing around with your mixer getting everything to the correct temperature). Dorie recommends a true 9x9 pan, or to use less batter, but I decided to just go with the 8x8 pan that I had a see what happens (oh yes, that would be BHMOTW #3). It took longer to cook than suggested (no surprise) and I probably should have factored that in when I was letting it cool before taking it out of the pan (part of the still-warm bottom stayed behind - BHMOTW #4. That did give me a chance to sample the cake, however, and it was quite good).

After a cool down over night I made the frosting, which generally turned out okay. Frosting it was quick, and since I had to go to work, but wanted to take a picture before I let my co-workers devour it, I popped the gingerbread in the freezer to set up quickly. As I was taking it out of the freezer, somehow the gingerbread and cutting board it was on got away from me. Happily I caught it in time, but only after it landed against the refrigerator (say it with me -- BHMOTW # 5. My personal favorite). Somehow it had set just enough to have no negative effect on the gingerbread, except for a dollop of frosting left behind (pictured here).

Despite it all, I must say that I really liked this dessert! The cake was moist and flavorful. The frosting was a nice complement to the gingerbread (it made a pretty good gingerbread into a really outstanding gingerbread). The folks at work really enjoyed it, and I'm most happy to have one last piece to enjoy this evening. The recipe says to cut it into 9 pieces which I think is too big. I went the 16 piece route. I've heard it's even better with the ginger-infused whip cream, but I'm pretty content as is. All in all, this is a definite keeper.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is it just me?? The Food Network Magazine

As my TWD contribution bakes in the oven, I'm pondering what it is about this magazine I don't like. First, you should know that I love magazines. I have tons of them -- and I've recently culled the herd a bit too, yet still have a pile that's reaching Everest proportions. I especially love food magazines, so when I renewed my Oprah subscription (I'm an original subscriber, I'll have you know) I was offered a free copy of the premier issue of the Food Network Magazine to try for free. I said sure (and I'm now inundated with a bazillion offers from other magazines - my mistake!). I was so underwhelmed by the first issue that I said "thanks but no thanks" per their offer and asked that they cancel the subscription.

They sent me the second issue anyway, and I looked through it cover to cover tonight, and found darn little to interest me. Almost nothing to tear out and keep (if you only saw all the clippings I have you'd know this is not at all usual for me). I've been wondering what it is I don't like and the only thing I can figure is that I am not their demographic. I'm not sure who is, but it definitely isn't me.

There's no depth, no substance, too much "hey look at me!" graphics and flash. Somehow the food is photographed in a way that doesn't look at all appetizing (they need to hire some of my TWD brothers and sisters who take awesome photographs of food!). I saw a bunch of recipes that had specialized ingredients I would have to go out and buy, or they just did not interest me at all (Scallops with Cabbage and Capers - really?), so I moved on without investigating. They showed Bobby Flay's kitchen (they did Tyler Florence's kitchen last time) and showed his $9,224 Viking range. In this economy, when so many people are losing their jobs, who can afford that besides a Food Network star?

So I'm wondering -- have any of you looked it over? Is it just me?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

It's been an interesting few days - the picture below rather sums it up (note cough drops in the midst of muffin making, and the unused chili fixings in the back). Since my time was unexpectedly shifted elsewhere in the last 48 hours, I was most happy to find that I could still get this week's pick done before the deadline (I cracked open the cookbook at 9pm.)

Today's recipe comes from Rebecca over at Erza Pound Cake. I discovered her blog in my ramblings through the TWD universe, and I really love her writing (I wish I could put my words together like she does). I also really love her pictures. And her choice this week.

In her blog Rebecca talks about cornbread highlighting the differences between a Southerner style vs Northerner style cornbread. As a Westerner who is half Southern I'm not sure where I come down in this debate, but know I'm out of whack all the way around. The TWD Southerners are not so pleased (respectfully) with sugar in cornbread and think this week's selection is too sweet. I like sweet cornbread (sorry Southern family members), so the addition of the sugar was fine by me (can I get some Southern love by saying I still eat grits at least once a month?). That said, my Western upbringing should mean I'm all about the spicy, but I am a complete spice wimp. My Southern father could eat a raw jalapeno, but I tend to stay as far away from the hot stuff as possible (I'm looking over my sore thumb from the jalapeno juice while dicing the pepper -- even my skin is wimpy!).

Before the results - the process. All went well at the start, until the bonehead move of the week.** I got the butter melted and cooled, but stupidly poured super cold buttermilk in. Can you guess what happened next? Yup -- the butter seized up and clumped up. After a few gentle trips to the microwave to warm to the correct temperature without cooking the yolk (and a few impolite words -- sorry again Southern family members!) the liquid got to the appropriate "well mixed" stage and things continued swimmingly from there.

The muffins made the house smell like a little slice of heaven, and had me wishing I made chili like so many of the TWDers! The results were delicious! I like the sweetness upfront, followed by the spicy (but not too spicy) kick at the back. As it turns out, these muffins perfectly represent my out of whack heritage. These will definitely be made again!
*** I'm thinking of making this -- the bonehead move of the week -- into a regular feature. I seem to do so unintentionally each week. Might as well incorporate it into the posting!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD: French Pear Tart

Let me first set expectations by letting you know this entire post was written under the influence of DayQuil. So if I ramble or embarrass myself, I'm blaming it on the nice folks at Vicks.

If I didn't already have a naming convention for my Tuesday with Dorie posts, I'd probably entitle this one "It All Comes Down to This." This recipe, more than any other, nicely illustrates my frustrations with learning to cook out of a book, and why I love the TWD group.

I haven't talked much about the classes I took last semester (they ended up being a bit of a bust - more on that later), or about why I'm taking them at all. As it turns out, I truly am at mid-life and am just learning about food and how to cook it. My mother readily admits she did not have the patience to teach me to cook (it was her, not me!) so I left home and went off to college with only a basic meatloaf recipe under my belt. I didn't really learn much in the following decades but really wanted to know more. I've subscribed to cooking magazines and picked up cook books for years and have tried various things with various levels of success.

It really wasn't until I took the classes in Culinary Arts at my local community college that I got any really helpful information. Perhaps most people are like this, but I'm an "observe and do" kind of a gal. I need someone to show me, and then practice myself, before feeling like I "get" something. And that is one of the most important things I've learned in school -- this is an art (ergo "culinary ARTS") and just because you make something once and it didn't' turn out well doesn't mean you should give up on that thing. Learn from those mistakes and try again.

It also opened my eyes to why cookbooks don't really teach you how to cook. Which brings me back to my tart. Had I not taken a cake decorating class (we made the most exotic cakes and very few gum paste roses in that class) I would have had NO idea what this recipe was about. I probably would have run at "blanched" almonds (cooking 101 taught me how to blanch a tomato - who knew you could blanch an almond!), and I never would have figured out that an 8 inch springform pan will stand in fairly well for a 9 inch tart pan. And I definitely never, EVER, would have known what Dorie meant when she described cutting the pears to put on the tart. And that has nothing to do with Dorie's description. If you've seen it, it makes perfect sense. And luckily I have, so I knew what to do.

Other TWDers, however, never had, and that's what I love about this little community of bakers from all over the world. You can ask questions and get answers from people who know without them making you feel like a complete dope! Links to pictures were even included, which were incredibly helpful to those who needed it. And those of us without food processors (I seriously have no room for any more equipment in my tiny kitchen -- seriously!) learned what our options were to make this without one.

While trying to contend with my dough without a food processor, it occurred to me that every chef I admire at some point in time has written the words "I learned this from 'X' at 'Y place' " -- meaning even the Dories and the Davids and the Jamies of the world have learned not from books but from their friends and co-workers who love creating with food as much as they do. Although we TWDers aren't in the same kitchens to learn "with" each other, this wonderful little community allows us to do that nonetheless.

So with all of that -- here it is, my French Pear Tart. Made with pears from a jar, and in an 8 inch springform pan. Had trouble with the dough, but I think it came out okay. My biggest problem was I had the "brilliant" idea of just blanching almonds I already had -- I'm on a resource saving kick. That way the only thing I needed to buy was the pears.

This was indeed a money saving idea -- I snack on raw almonds so I had them in the house -- but it definitely was not a time saving idea (I need to be more specific about which resource I'm trying to save!). Other than that taking forever, everything went along swimmingly. It was a little challenging to smooth out the almond cream in the springform pan. I only used 4 pears rather than 6. Going in it looked promising!

And coming out - oh so yummy! And pretty! I think this is the prettiest thing I've ever made! It is cooling as I type, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how it tastes. Maybe I will have fully recovered my sense of smell by then (I hope!!).

One thing before I close......There are recipes in Baking: From My Home to Yours that scare the pants off me, and I semi-cringe whenever the recipes are announced each month, worried that something I am ill-prepared to bake will be picked. But with each passing week I'm learning that "I can do that!" with the help of my TWD friends. So rather than running for the hills, I'll be running over to TWD to get some coaching. Thanks, friends!