Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - French Bread

Do you see that beautiful basket of bread??  I baked it!!  I really did!  I can hardly believe it.  I really, really wanted to succeed with this week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe, making French Bread, and I did!  Yahoo!

We are all friends here so I will be completely honest.  This recipe scared me.  I just had this idea that there was no way that I was going to be able to accomplish baking a batard or baguette.  Especially not in Houston.  Humid climates are not helpful in bread baking, so that was a major strike against me.  But I beat the odds, I guess.  You never know what you can do until you try, do you?  Can you tell I did the happy dance all over the kitchen when they came out of the oven?  And AGAIN when I tasted one?  Ahhh.  Delicious freshly baked bread.  Is there ANYTHING more wonderful???

I am not going to go step by step through this recipe, because let me tell you, there were lots of steps.  However, at the same time, it wasn't totally overwhelming.  I mean, I was able to complete the last part while making dinner AND helping the clever girl with her homework (homework, in first grade!!) AND attempting to keep the clever boy from opening up my flour container and shaking it all over the floor handful by handful (his new totally favorite thing to do, ugh).  And it turned out well!  So, if my totally multi-tasking self could accomplish this bread, YOU CAN TOO!

A couple of things about this recipe:
  • It calls for 0.6 ounces of fresh yeast.  I have never found that in the grocery store and substituted 2.5 teaspoons of instant yeast instead.  This amount was determined after checking many conversions online that mostly agreed.
  • You can make this bread by hand, in which case you have to knead the dough for 10-15 minutes with your big muscley-muscles, or make it in your heavy-duty stand mixer.  I opted to use the mixer.  That was what I initially thought and then when I watched the video and saw that Danielle Forestier kneaded and turned the bread over 800 times, my inclination for the stand mixer was confirmed.  There is no way my current multi-tasking brain would be able to manage 800 turns.
  • There are specific times given for different steps for this recipe.  I underlined each of them in my book so I wouldn't miss them.
  • I found the video quite helpful for shaping the batards.  Unfortunately, I started shaping the first one and then started watching the video, so the outside of that loaf got a bit dry.  You can tell if you look closely at the sort of bumpier looking loaf that I tried to hide a bit in the basket above.  However blemished this loaf was on the outside, it was still delicious.  You can't judge a book by it's cover!
One other thing...  This recipe has you create a shaped cloth for resting your shaped batards/baguettes (a batard is a shorter, wider baguette).  Then you have to get the shaped dough off of the cloth and onto the preheated baking stone very quickly without losing the shape of the dough.  Instead of doing that, I rolled up 4 tea-towels into tubes and placed them in a row with spaces inbetween for the batards.  Then I laid a piece of parchment over those towel rolls, and placed the dough between each roll, on the parchment.  When I was ready to bake, I turned them all over and slit them with a sharp knife.  Then, I slid the towels out from under the parchment and moved the batards a little closer together, so they would fit on my baking stone.  I slid my bakers peel under the parchment, carried it to the oven, and slid the parchment onto the stone.  The bread baked on the parchment on the stone.  I could have opened the oven and slid out the parchment after about 10 minutes of baking, but I forgot.  This would theoretically given me a better crust on the bottom, but honestly the bottom crust turned out great so I don't think I missed anything.  I hope this explanation makes sense.  I was not confident that I would be able to get the batards onto the stone quickly while maintaining their shape (the biggest problem - I find that the bread shape often gets a bit wonky at this point).  This method worked well!

Oh, and the taste?  Yum.  The bread had a great crust on the outside and was soft and airy on the inside.  The flavor was great, like most baguettes I have eaten out.  Are you  up for a challenge?  Give this recipe a try.  The recipe and video give great explanations, and I believe you will find success!  The IDEA of this bread is scarier than the reality.  You can find the recipe on pages 123-127 of Baking with Julia, or here

Truly, the feeling of accomplishment and success is worth the work of this recipe!  Yeah, me!  Now it's your turn!









Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Texas Lovin'

A good friend of ours is moving away.  BOO!  And in the midst of dealing with the fact that her husband already had to move to start his new job while she is parenting their three kids and having their house on the market, her youngest love had his first birthday.  The girl has enough on her plate! So when she asked if I would mind making a cake for his birthday party/going away party, of course I told her to just leave it to me.  She wanted a "Texas" theme, since they are moving away from here (WAH!) to New Jersey.  Then she emailed me photos of cakes she had seen online that she particularly liked and I got very scared.  VERY.  We were talking multi-tiered cakes with all sorts of fancy Texas decorations!  Yikes.  Oh, and did I mention that this little baby-love is highly allergic to eggs?  As is his brother?  Yeah.  So this needed to be a super fancy EGGLESS tiered cake.  Ummmm.  Yes, of course I can do that!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Poinsettia Christmas Tree Skirt

Yes, I know, it is September and Christmas isn't for another couple of months.  I promise you, I am not one who starts decorating for the holidays this early!  (Though a week or so ago I did see someone in my neighborhood with a Christmas wreath on their window... could they have already decorated?  Or is it still up from next year??  Yikes.)  Anyway, I am posting this now because if you get the motivation to make this beautiful tree skirt for your house, you'll want a head start!

I got the idea last November when I realized that since our new house has really tall ceilings, I can have a really tall tree, thus my beautiful hand-knit tree skirt would look woefully inadequate.  I "obviously" needed to make something new, so I trolled Google to find something that caught my interest.  I landed upon this, which got my wheels-a-turnin'.  I decided to use my favorite new home decor fabric, painters drop cloth (from your closest hardware store).  It comes in pretty big pieces, and I did not want a seam in my skirt.  And I chose to do mostly off-white poinsettias, with a few dark red ones thrown in for interest.  I have to say, I LOVE how it turned out.  This is not a hard project, however depending on the size of your skirt, it can be a bit of a time-consuming one. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes


Our recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie is Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes.  It is really perfect timing, as the plums I have been purchasing lately have been delicious!  I love when things work out that way!

These little baby cakes are amazingly easy.  And what I  mean by that is they truly take no time to put together!  Before you know it, you are cleaned up and waiting for the little cutie pies to get out of the oven!  The full recipe makes 12 cakes, but I don't actually need to have 12 yummy little cakes in my house.  That is a BAD idea.  So I thought I'd be smart about this one and halve the recipe.  Yeah, me!  These cakes are baked in individual custard cups.  I halved the recipe, so I only made 6 little cakes, instead of 12.  I only  had 3 of the right size so I also used 3 smaller ramekins, which seemed to work!  Phew.  I had worries about the batter overflowing all over the place (hence the parchment lining the sheet pan) but it didn't happen!  In fact, I sort of like how the cakes turned out in the little ramekins better than the ones in the cups.  I think they are prettier, with the straight sides.  Plus, getting the cake out of the cups was a bugger!  It did not look pretty, I must admit!

So, to make these little cakes, you essentially make a small amount of cake batter.  You place a couple tablespoons of the batter in buttered ramekins/cups, place a halved plum on top (face up) and then sprinkle the top with brown sugar.  Done.  Into the oven they go, and the cake puffs up around the sides of the plum and gets nice and golden on top.


A few thoughts about this recipe:
I think some of the components really depend on the sweetness of the plum.  My plums were pretty sweet on their own, so I would definitely cut back on the amount of brown sugar I sprinkled on top with plums this sweet.  They just don't need it!  Plus, I would cut down on the amount of orange zest a little, too.  It sort of shocks me that the previous statement came out of my brain, as I love orange zest, but it almost overpowered the sweet plum.  I think if the plum had been a little more tart, the zest would have complemented it more, instead of competed a bit.  My plums had a very mild, sweet taste, so I did not want any flavors to compete.

That said, I would definitely make this again.  It was easy and I think it would look beautiful at a dinner party with a dab of whipped cream.  And it would also be delicious with a fresh nectarine!  And I'd like to try this as one big cake instead of mini cakes.  I am sure with the right sized pan, it would work!  I'll have to see if any of my TWD pals made one cake... I am sure someone probably did!

Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes
adapted from Baking with Julia
serves 12

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus melted butter for greasing cups
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar, divided use
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon minced orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
6 large ripe plums, halved and pitted

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter the insides of 12 8- to 9-ounce custard cups or ramekins, and set them inside a rimmed sheet pan.

Cream the butter, 2 TB of the brown sugar, and the granulated in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment.  Cream for 3 minutes, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then beat again for another 3 minutes, until the mixture is very light in color and the sugar is mostly dissolved.  Add one of the eggs and beat on high speed for about a minute.  Scrape down the bowl and paddle and then add the second egg and beat for 30 seconds.  Add the orange zest and vanilla, and beat on high for about 30 seconds, until both are incorporated.  Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour and baking soda.  Beat for 15 seconds.  Add the buttermilk and mix for 30 seconds.  All of these times are so that the batter is not over-mixed.  Finish any mixing with a rubber spatula.

Drop approximately 2 TB of batter into the bottom of each cup/ramekin.  Place one halved plum, cut side up, on top of the batter, pressing down just a little so it is set.  Sprinkle some of the remaining brown sugar over the tops of each plum.  Place the sheet pan holding the cups/ramekins into the oven and bake for around 25 minutes, until they are golden on top and a cake tester placed in the cake part of the cups comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let cool in their cups for 8-10 minutes.

Unmold the cakes by running a short knife or icing spatula around the sides and a little under each cake.  Lift the cake out of the cup with the spatula, plum side up, and place on individual dessert plates.  Serve warm, with whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce, or nothing!

Wrap remaining cakes airtight and store at room temperature for one day.
Printable Recipe

Friday, August 29, 2014

Amazing Turkey Lasagna

I just made the yummiest lasagna!  So I had to share it with you right away so you can make it too! Everyone seems to have their favorite lasagna recipe, but I promise you, this one is truly special.  It is from Ina Garten, and I rarely ever go wrong with her recipes!  First of all, she uses turkey Italian sausage, so you can feel very proud of your healthy dinner and just forget about all of that cheese, okay?  I mean, surely the use of turkey instead of pork sausage outweighs some of that yummy cheese??  Honestly, I think what makes this lasagna so delicious is the addition of some creamy goat cheese in the middle.  Mmmm.  And there is a whole new brilliant way of "cooking" the noodles that is so easy!  Ready to hear more?  Read on!

The sauce for this lasagna incorporates the turkey sausage, instead of using sauce and then layering the sausage on the cheese or something.  Smart, I think.  I think next time I might even use more sausage, just to boost the meaty/protein element of this lasagna.

Are you ready for how to cook the noodles?  It is brilliant and it WORKS, I tell you.  Instead of dumping the noodles into boiling water and trying to get them out at that perfect al-dente texture and then dumping them into a colander to cool without breaking them all to pieces, this recipe has a smart new way.  Find a large bowl.  I used the biggest mixing bowl I have and next time I might just use my big broiling pan so the noodles can lay flat.  You fill that bowl with the hottest TAP water you can.  Then add the noodles to the bowl and let them sit in the water for 20 minutes.  Done.  My noodles had troubles being totally submerged in my large mixing bowl (it just wasn't quite wide enough).  If this happens to you, no worries.  Place something heavy on the top of the noodles to hold them down.  I used a glass jar filled with my pie weights.  After about 10 minutes, I removed the jar and gently flipped the noodles around, so the ones that were on top were now on the bottom of the bowl, and then put the jar back on top.  After 20 minutes, the noodles were still fairly stiff but softened the right amount.  I will NEVER cook lasagna noodles in boiling water again!  Or use the "no bake" ones!  This is easy!

I prepared the lasagna in the morning and just threw it in the oven for dinner!  Easy.  And I have to say that this recipe is pretty forgiving, as at SOME UNKNOWN POINT during the baking of the lasagna, the clever boy stood up at the stove and TURNED OFF the heat.  He is totally fascinated by the oven/stove right now and those knobs are right in his reach when he stands up.  I need to figure out how to prevent this from happening again!  Anyway, when my timer went off, I realized that the lasagna was not only not bubbling, but that the oven didn't seem very hot.  Ugh.  So I turned the oven back on and let it cook for a bit more.  I had no idea how long it needed to go, but it worked!  Phew!  Dinner was delayed a bit but it was still delicious! 

Are you ready for the entire recipe?  Here you go!

Turkey Lasagna
adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled apart
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 400F.  Get out a 9x12x2-inch rectangular baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute before adding the sausage.  Break up the sausage into small chunks, and cook until the sausage is not pink, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 TB parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.  Allow to simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.  The sauce will thicken.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl or pan with the hottest tap water.  Submerge the noodles and let them soak for 20 minutes.  Drain.

Combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup Parmesan, egg, remaining 2 TB parsley, remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish, spreading it all over the bottom of the dish and into the corners.  Start to layer the lasagna:  1/2 of the noodles, 1/2 of the mozzerella slices, 1/2 of the ricotta mixture, and 1/3 of the sauce.  Repeat the layering, ending with the sauce.  Sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.
Printable Recipe


I am honestly not sure I'll make another lasagna again.  You can definitely adapt this recipe however you want.  You could remove the sausage and use some portobello mushrooms for a vegetarian option.  And add lots of different veggies in the layering if you wanted.  I would probably cook the veggies a little first, as this lasagna only cooks for 30 minutes so you might want to give the veggies a head start.  I would not change the cheese though.  Fresh mozzerella and goat cheese with ricotta and Parmesan?  That is some yummy, creamy, cheesy goodness right there!  This recipe was a huge hit!  Even as leftovers!  My family will definitely be seeing this again!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Another playsuit!

I know, I know.  I promised this playsuit a long long time ago.  What can I say other than time really got away from me this summer?  However, better late than never, I say.  Plus, this pattern can also make a playsuit with LONG pants, so you know the clever boy will be wearing some of those whenever the weather actually gets cooler!  So whether you are looking for a shortie playsuit or a long one, this pattern is what you need.

And I really do mean that literally.  The pattern is from the Children's Corner, and is called the "Johnny".  Appropriate, isn't it?  In fact, if you go to this link, and scroll down to pattern # 260, there it is.  Go ahead and buy it, as this is truly an awesome pattern.  When I searched for playsuit patterns, I'd say that 95% of the blogs I visited used this pattern.  Here is why.... IT IS PERFECT.  It is that simple John-John pattern that I was searching for.  Plus it is lined, which is nice.  No seams to rub against your sweet baby's skin.  The only tricky part is sewing the lining to the leg holes, for which the Children's Corner even created this great video to help you out!  The pattern pieces are easy to cut and the pattern sews together really quickly.  Can I say more things to convince you to purchase this pattern?  I don't get anything from the Children's Corner for suggesting their pattern, I just want to share my great find!

The pattern comes with a pocket you can put on the front, and an applique for a dog or something.  I prefer to make my own applique so I can't say anything about the applique in the pattern.  I find my applique patterns by searching "coloring book" images at Google Images.  I actually found the guitar a while back, when I made this Jiggle Jam dress for the clever girl.   I reduced the size of the guitar and used it again for the clever boy's playsuit.  There was an ulterior motive here... He wore this playsuit to the Jiggle Jam in May! 

The guitar applique was sewn to the main fabric (grey with dots) before the playsuit was sewn together.  The front two pieces were together, but the side seams were not sewn, and the lining was not attached.  This way the stitching from the applique ends up under the lining so it won't scratch the little man's skin.  When I applique, I create a backing from "Steam-a Seam Lite" (which I cannot find in stores anymore, boo!) or Wonder Under, so I can adhere the fabric applique (in this case the guitar) to the base outfit (in this case the playsuit) before sewing.  Then I iron some freezer paper on the WRONG side of the playsuit, to create a nice stiff surface for stitching.  Iron the freezer paper with the shiny side against the fabric, putting a warm iron on the dull side to stick it own.  Then do the applique stitch (a zig-zag in this case).  I painted the black details with a freezer paper template that I ironed over the top of the sewn guitar.  I used black fabric paint.  After it dried, I peeled away the freezer paper behind the applique and admired my work!  If you aren't painting anything on the applique, you can remove the backing freezer paper once the applique is sewn.  Since I was painting, I kept it there for extra protection (though didn't actually need it).  This sounds WAY more complicated than it really is. 

I made only one adaptation to this pattern:  It calls for 2 small buttons on each shoulder, and I used 1 big button on each shoulder. 

Another great thing I learned when making this playsuit, is the beauty of the snap setter!  Oh, heavens, why did I make other playsuits without this amazing tool?  The one I have is made by "Snap Source"  and I purchased it online from Joanns.  It is simple to use, just needs the snaps, a nice hard surface and a hammer.  I actually brought mine outside and used it on the driveway!  You could probably use any hard table in your house, but I had a sleeping boy at the time, so hammering is better done outside than in.  These snaps work great!  They look just like the ones you will see on store-bought clothes, and work the same way.  This tool is WORTH IT!



I  liked this pattern so much that I made one for my friend, who had a baby soon after the clever boy was born.  Wasn't that convenient?  I love a friend who enters the world of pregnancy with me, so we could go through it together!  In fact we went through it together with our first kids as well.  That is what great friends we are!  Or maybe, that is really how nature worked it for us, to be honest!   Regardless, it was great to have a friend along in the pregnancy adventure both times!  My friend likes to sail, so I created this cutie-pie applique for the front.  It was actually hard to give this playsuit away.  It would look precious on my little man, and I SO love the rick-rack water!  Alas, I did gift the playsuit and it quickly became a favorite for my friend! 


A playsuit in action!  Yes, indeed, the clever girl is wearing a matching outfit....  You can read all about that in another post! 

I highly recommend this pattern!  You too can make awesome outfits for you kiddo that look like you purchased them from a fancy boutique!  I envision a Christmas playsuit in the clever boy's future...


Friday, August 22, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Baking Powder Biscuits

My apologies for being so dreadfully late with this post.  I honestly thought I'd be EARLY, but ahhh, best laid plans.  I got my weeks mixed up and thought that our TWD week was the previous week, so I made these biscuits and was all proud of myself and then realized my date error.  No big deal though, now I'd have time to get the post done and up in advance, right?  Well, evidently not!  Where is that free time I sometimes have to create my posts?  It seems to have gotten lost, so if you happen to find my free time, would you please send it back?  It is sorely missed. 

I did try to get sort of scientific about this recipe.  Indeed, it is a very simple recipe, involving only 5 ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt, white shortening, and milk.  But while I was getting out those ingredients, I thought, "why shortening?  Why not butter?"  So when I made my biscuits, I made some with white shortening, and some with butter.

I made a half batch of the butter ones, as really, how many biscuits does one family need?  Oh, and I used frozen butter to ensure I'd have some nice fluffy layers....

When Mr. Clever Mom came home, I asked him to taste one biscuit from each pan and tell me what he thought.  Note that the pans are now switched, sorry, but the shortening ones are on the left and the butter on the right.  He said that he thought that the LEFT biscuits were more BUTTERY, but the RIGHT biscuits have a nicer TEXTURE.  Huh.  Super confusing, considering the fact that the LEFT biscuits are the shortening biscuits!  (I asked him to eat another to verify his analysis.)

Looking at the photos above, you can see that the butter-made biscuits spread a bit, while the shortening ones did not.  Neither batch rose how I thought they should, though.  And I used a brand new container of baking powder...

Since I made these in advance, I decided to give the recipe another shot.  This time I used 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter in the recipe.

Good, but I thought that the texture wasn't as good as either of the first two batches.  On this batch, I did not put them into the pan touching, to see if maybe that had anything to do with them not rising much.  Obviously, that did not make a difference. 

So why didn't they rise as much as they theoretically should have risen?  The photo in the book shows puffy, tall biscuits.  I was SUPER careful to use a very light hand and stop mixing before it was over done, only kneaded the dough the suggested 10 times, etc.  I did mix the dough with my hands, could my body heat have anything to do with it?

I did not twist the biscuit cutter after using, I lifted straight up.  But I didn't flour it each time, so maybe it stuck to the edges a bit, preventing them from rising up.  Or maybe my biscuit cutter is too old, so the edge has gotten dull, so it squishes the edges together when it cuts, again preventing the rising.   Hmmph.  Any thoughts?  I would love a big fluffy biscuit.

But here is another question.  Why do people make baking powder biscuits instead of buttermilk ones?  Could I use buttermilk in this recipe instead of the milk??  That might be worth a try...

The recipe can be found here, or on pages 211-212 of Baking with Julia.

So, I know this post is dreadfully late, but I hope some of my TWD bakers will let me know their thoughts.  I want to perfect the biscuit!