Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tradition Smells Like Gingerbread

We have a gifting tradition where we pass this horrible, silver, laser cut dragon pendant back and forth. It started the year Sandy bought it for Mike, after I told her not to waste her money. There are rules;

1.) You can't just wrap it & give it, you must turn it into something else.
2.) The dragon must be able to be removed from whatever you turn it into.
3.) The remainder of whatever you turned it into has to remain usable.

We had it the first "gift back" year, I made a waterless snow globe out of a vintage mason jar and suspended the dragon from fishing line from the lid. They had it the following year and wired it into a wreath. Then we had a break and it was our turn again last year, we decided to encase it in a gingerbread house.

Mike had never made a gingerbread house and truth be told I had not done one in years. We decided to use the recipe for gingerbread from scratch and instructions on the King Arthur website.

It was pretty easy. We had fun. And the look on her face when she realized the dragon was inside was priceless!

We use Nabisco 100 Calorie packs of Oreo crisps for the roof. The rest if self explanatory. I would recommend baking the gingerbread 24 in advance of building and letting it sit out with no cover, it makes it easier to trim if needed.

Never Enough Time

My sad, sorry, neglected food blog. Oh how I had such great plans for you. But I am back and in the process or writing a "how to" for a simple gingerbread house. If you all come back in a few hours, I promise you won't be disappointed!

Monday, April 26, 2010

I Only Wish I Had Known Sooner

Food, Inc. on POV

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oh Carrot Where Art Thou?

I have been craving carrot cake since last summer. I have no idea why I haven’t gotten around to making one except that I always seem to baking for someone else. I adore carrot cake, moist, flavorful and another culinary excuse to have cream cheese frosting. I haven’t made carrot cake in years and for the life of me couldn’t remember my recipe so I set out with my trusty laptop to find one. Every single recipe I found contained massive amounts of white sugar, loads of oil and very little or worse yet, no actual carrot at all (baby food? Really? I didn’t even like that stuff when I was a baby, well except for blueberry buckle but that’s another story for another time). I found there are two extremes when it comes to carrot cake, uber-healthy or sugar laden and not much in between and none of it screamed decadent holiday dessert to me. I even consulted The Cake Bible I received as a birthday gift and to my utter disappointment, found Rose’s recipe using whole wheat flour to be lacking for my purposes. So the challenge had been set, I needed to put together an actual carrot cake that would make my tummy sing.

Many of the recipes I looked at were not actual carrot cakes, they were quick breads or muffins with a little bit of carrot and a ton of sugar baked in a cake pan and frosted with cream cheese icing. Carrots are naturally sweet and masking them under piles of sugar seemed wrong to me. Also, if I wanted carrot bread I would just make carrot bread. I wanted cake. Too many of the recipes called for extended mixing times AFTER the flour had been added. Hello! I want cake, not bread and over mixing causes gluten production, which makes bread.

So I started with what I knew… I knew I wanted carrot to be the star player and not merely an add-in. I knew I wanted walnuts but no raisins or coconut. I knew I didn’t want to taste vegetable oil or end up with a heavy brick that sat in my stomach hours after consuming it. I knew I wanted it moist, flavorful and decadent just like my Gram used to make. The last thing I should mention is that I ultimately decided on cupcakes instead of a 9x13 or layer cake. Why? Just cuz, that’s why. I gathered my ingredients and hit the kitchen…

You’ll notice a few things different about my version of carrot cake, most notably (I think) the absence of vanilla and a significant reduction in sugar and oil. I love vanilla. Vanilla is my friend. Vanilla has no place in this cake. Vanilla would be wasted in this cake. The cinnamon and ginger are such strong players that they would completely swallow 1 or 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Save the vanilla for the frosting. There is no white sugar in this cake. The frosting has more than enough white sugar in it to satisfy the sweetest of sweet-toothed people. I used a combination of brown sugar and unsweetened, crushed pineapple and its juice to sweeten the cake. I swapped out most of the oil for plain yogurt. Lastly, I used salted butter because that’s what most people have on hand. What did all of this produce? Actual cake. Carrot cake where you could see the carrots, walnuts and pineapple in the finished product. Cake that feels like cake in your mouth not bread. Cake that is savory and slightly sweet and yummy and a perfect vehicle for cream cheese frosting!

Carrot Cake

2 c Walnut halves and pieces or halves, your choice, toasted, cooled and chopped to size
1 lb of carrots, peeled and grated
2 ½ c AP flour, I prefer King Arthur
½ t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
½ t freshly rasped ginger (use 1 t if powdered)
¾ c brown sugar
½ c melted salted butter
¾ c + 2 T plain yogurt
3 eggs
8 oz crushed, unsweetened pineapple in juice, drained- reserve juice
2 T of the reserved pineapple juice
1 recipe Creamy Cheesy Cream Cheese Frosting
Pulverized, toasted walnuts for garnish optional

I started by toasting walnuts and yes, it’s worth the extra step. I had a one-pound bag of walnut halves and pieces. I toasted half of the bag on an un-greased cookie sheet in a 350* oven for 10 minutes while I peeled and grated a pound of carrots on the larger side of my box grater (yes it matters, the smaller side turns them to mush). I ran my knife through the walnuts to make them the size I wanted, which is to say in small chunks.

In a large bowl whisk together the: flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Using your hands, toss the carrots and nuts into this mixture. You really need to do this part with your hands to ensure that everything is evenly distributed and the carrots are well coated with the flour. By tossing the ingredients at this stage, you don’t end up developing gluten by over mixing once the wet ingredients are added.

In a separate bowl beat together the oil, yogurt and sugar until smooth and no traces of sugar remain. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the pineapple. Pour this mixture over the flour and stir just until combined. I found my mixture to be a little too thick at this point and added 2 T of the reserved pineapple juice.

I used my handy-dandy ice cream scoop to portion out the cupcakes (this recipe made 2 ½ dozen). Bake at 350* for 18 minutes, allow them to cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. You could easily bake this in any cake pan you wish.

Creamy Cheesy Frosting*

8 oz cream cheese, room temp.
1 stick of salted butter, room temp
1 lb box Confectioner’s/10x sugar
2 t vanilla extract
1 t lemon juice

I start by creaming the cream cheese and butter together in my kitchen aid. Once they are mixed and smooth I add the sugar and flavorings. I start on the "Stir" setting so I don't get covered in powdered sugar and then kick it up to 8 and let it go for 5 minutes. Too thick? Add about a tablespoon of milk. Too thin? Pop it in the fridge a bit and it will firm up.

I used a Wilton tip for the frosting swirls and toasted, pulverized walnuts to finish them off. There are a few tips I can give you that I find help me immensely. Before I start frosting I divide the cupcakes into 2 pans that are sturdy enough to be able to carry over to the fridge. When using tips to frost I find that in addition to the soft consistency of the frosting, holding the tip directly over the cupcake and NOT at any kind of angle gave me the best look. I frosted 4 at a time and then stopped to pat on the walnuts. When one pan was done it immediately went into the fridge to firm up. Firming up the frosting BEFORE transporting is the key to your cupcakes arriving as beautiful as they were freshly frosted in your kitchen.

*Squirrely wrath!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sabbatical Over

Greetings to anyone left reading my blog. I would apologize for being away so long but in truth I am not at all sorry that life has been so busy that I haven't had the time to blog. The 2009 holiday season was a blast! We had such an excellent time filled with friends, food and lots of laughs. Some time in the next week I will post about the gingerbread house we made as a gift but today I wanted to announce the addition of a new family member and sing the praises of a company that I just could not live without! This is Diamond, although we call her DD for short. While we've know her for a few months, she officially came to join our household a little over a week ago.

We had a little notice that she was coming and we also had known that there had been a little flea problem where she was living. I won't lie, I was a little panicked because originally we had discussed meeting at a grooming shop and that wasn't going to be able to happen. No problem, I am adaptable, so I called my friendly groomer who reminded me that Bobbi Panter makes a great flea and tick shampoo. Only one problem, I called over a dozen shops and no one had a bottle of Charlie Dog for us. What's a girl to do? I called Bobbi after 5:00 my time, on a Thursday night and left a message. Bobbi called me back in about 20 minutes and promised me that she would find a way to get a bottle of Charlie Dog into my hands before DD got here and Bobbi lived up to her word!

I have loved Bobbi Panter products since I was first introduced to them a few years ago. Her Itchy Dog shampoo was the only shampoo we used on our beloved Jack up until he passed away last year. Jack had some pretty serious skin issues from allergies and Itchy Dog would take the red and heat right out of his skin on contact. But it's not just that I think* Bobbi Panter's product are amazing and have seen them work wonders, it's the fact that Bobbi herself stands behind each and ever bottle of product. I know this because about a year before Jack passed we purchased a bottle of Itchy Dog from Pet Co and I wasn't happy with it at all. I literally had a nutty because the product just seemed off to me. In my passion to ensure that Jack only got the best I shot off a rather angry missive to Bobbi Panter and was shocked when she not only personally replied to me but did everything in her power to make it right for us. I became a fan of her personally and her company in addition to already being a fan of the shampoo line!

True to my other experiences with Bobbi Panter product, Charlie Dog did not disappoint. Unlike other chemical filled shampoos this had a great scent and left DD's coat so soft and smooth. We couldn't get over how great the product smelled int he bottle and how good DD smelled and continues to smell. It also appears to have significantly lessened DD's itchy skin as we have noticed a decrease in scratching and licking. Bobbi Panter has another win on her hands with Charlie Dog and we see it being a summertime staple in our house for regular grooming when we spend lots of times outside!

Thank you Bobbi!

*For the record this is an unsolicited and unpaid for review of Bobbi Panter products. I received no incentive for writing this review.