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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Go Crazy for Caramel!

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This is going to be a short and very sweet Daring Bakers post for this month. Most of you already know that I've been away on a family cruise since last Friday, November 21. I was a good DBer and completed my challenge before I left, but I just didn't have time to write my post. So, having just arrived home today at around 3:00 p.m., and being utterly exhausted, I am throwing this up to meet the November deadline.

This month's challenge is one that I was very happy to accept! It is for Shuna Fish Lydon's signature Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. Shuna has been a professional pastry chef for over fifteen years and the voice behind the deliciously excellent blog Eggbeater. I am a total caramel junkie, so I knew that I was going to love this cake!

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I wish I had time to get into more detail on my experience with making this cake. Surprisingly, the whole process went pretty smoothly. The first thing I did was make the caramel syrup. I was a nervous wreck because I had never made caramel before and I was a little scared of it. But, with a tips from some helpful DBers, I was able to make a lovely, sticky, amber syrup without burning my house down! The recipe provided makes enough caramel syrup to complete the cake with enough leftover to enjoy over ice cream and mixed into coffee. Mmmm! I really enjoyed that!

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The Caramelized Butter Frosting was to die for! I added about a teaspoon of fleur de sel to it for a salted butter caramel flavor. It did not disappoint!

I decided to make a four-layer cake with some frosting nestled between each layer. I baked my cake in two 8-inch pans and then sliced each into two horizontal pieces. When, I assembled the cake, I also added toffee bits on top of each layer of frosting for some crunch. When the cake was completely frosted, I drizzled some caramel syrup on top for a little extra oomph!

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This cake is not for the faint of heart, people. There is sugar and butter galore in it, and it is very rich and very sweet. But, I thought it was marvelous! Of course, it is not something you'd eat every day, but it would be a wonderful choice for a special occasion.

There was also an optional challenge recipe chosen for this month. It was Alice Medrich's Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from her wonderful book, Pure Dessert. I desperately wanted to make these little treats, but I just never got around to it. I looked in several stores for Lyle's Golden Syrup and couldn't find it, which was kind of unusual. I just didn't have time to go crazy searching for some right before my trip, so I had to pass on them. Never fear, though, I definitely plan to make these at least a few times during this Holiday season! They look and sound utterly amazing!

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My thanks go out to Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity; Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray of Food, for serving as our hosts this month. They not only selected a wonderful recipe for us to enjoy, but also graciously provided much helpful advice.

If you'd like to see what the many hundreds of other talented and creative Baring Bakers did with this challenge, please take some time to visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll. I know you'll be inspired!

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CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. (Use the foil trick)

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Obviously, wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.)

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS (makes 80 1-inch caramels) from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert

Ingredients:

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Equipment:

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Method:

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Variations

Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to All

ThanksgivingTable


May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs! 

~Author Unknown

I'm still out sailing the high seas, but I wanted to wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings.  Enjoy your day!

Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Thanksgiving Blues or Don't Worry, Be Happy

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You may have noticed my lack of presence around the blogoshere the past few weeks. I really do apologize for not getting around to visit most of you lately. It's nothing personal. I truly value all of my readers and wonderful blogging friends I've made since I began this journey. I've just kind of had a bit of the blues lately. November is a difficult month for me. It is the month of both my dad's birth and his death. They say that time heals all wounds, but that really is a bunch of crap - at least for me.
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Ever since my father passed away two years ago, the Holidays just haven't been the same. We buried him the day before Thanksgiving. As you can imagine we found it hard to find much to be thankful for that year, much less do anything to celebrate. Last Thanksgiving, we tried to get into the feasting mood. We really did! But, it just didn't work. I half-heartedly threw a meal together, but that empty chair at the head of our table was too painful a reminder of what we had lost.
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This year, my family is trying a different approach to "Turkey Day". We've decided to bust out of Dodge and are taking a Thanksgiving cruise to the Caribbean. So, by the time you read this post, Mr. SGCC, Mini SGCC, my mom, brother, sister-in-law, the twins, my niece and other assorted relatives will be heading off into the sunset, with pina coladas in hand for a week of tropical therapy, and hopefully some fun in the sun.
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Even though I won't be cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner this year, I thought I'd leave you with some recipe ideas from the SGCC archives. Some are old standards and some are new favorites. Each are delicious. I hope you enjoy them!
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baconbrusselssprouts1
sweetpotato5
Oysterstuffing4
chipotlelimecorn2
acornsquash
pumpkincheesepie2

applepie5
A Slice of Pumpkin Pie
BaklavetteWeb8
PumpkinTrifle

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Rachel

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Who doesn't love a great sandwich? They're quick and relatively easy to prepare. They're pretty much self-contained, portable and are appropriate in almost any situation. The various possible combinations and ratios of breads and fillings are virtually endless. And, they are delicious!

When my father was alive, his office was right down the hall from Mr. SGCC's and mine. Even after he retired, he still showed up every day, for at least a few hours to putter around and socialize with the rest of us working stiffs in the building. One of his favorite things to do was to go out for lunch. We always knew when it was lunchtime by the sound of his telltale whistling as he made his way down the hallway. He whistled all the time! When we were kids, that whistle was our alarm clock! Anyway, he'd pop his head into our office, cajole us into taking a lunch break and off we'd go.

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Dad's sandwich of choice was the Ruben, which is a grilled sandwich made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and dripping with either Russian or Thousand Island dressing. It is typically made with rye bread. Over the years, I think that Dad sampled every Ruben in town, and many others out of town too! I have to confess, Mr. SGCC and I developed a fondness for Ruben sandwiches too.

A few years ago, I learned about a variation on the Ruben that liked even better, aptly called a Rachel. A Rachel sandwich is exactly the same as a Ruben, except the corned beef is swapped out with pastrami and coleslaw is often substituted for sauerkraut.

Since we are going out of town in a few days, I've been trying to keep my cooking at home to a minimum. Call it nostalgia, but I've had such a yen for a Rachel sandwich lately, so I decided to pick up the ingredients and make some.

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What I did was lightly butter the outsides of some fresh rye bread and spread the insides with thousand island dressing. For each sandwich, I layered some muenster cheese and lean pastrami on one slice of the bread, topped them all with some well-drained sauerkraut and covered them with the rest of the bread. Then, I grilled them in my Griddler until they were all hot and oozey inside. That's it! Done!

There really is no set recipe for these. That defeats the purpose of "quick and easy". I used muenster cheese, because we like it, but you could use any kind of cheese you want. I used sauerkraut instead of coleslaw, again, because we like it that way. You could use either. With the Holidays approaching, I'm sure we'll all have many hectic evenings when cooking will seem like a chore. For those times, just pop a Ruben or a Rachel on the griddle or grill, add a little soup or salad and you're good to go!

Enjoy!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apple-Maple Acorn Squash Puree & Alltop

acornsquash

You know that we're firmly entrenched in Autumn when almost every other recipe you see on the blogs contains some form of pumpkin, butternut or acorn squash. It's inevitable. A myriad of orange-hued dishes abound, both sweet and savory. Pies, breads, cakes, soups, and even the simplest compositions of roasted root vegetables dot the web like little marshmallows on a sweet potato casserole. I'm not complaining, mind you. I like it. In fact, I like it so much that I'm jumping on the winter squash bandwagon, myself.

Those of you who are winter squash aficionados might be shocked to learn that there are some people who don't actually like orange-fleshed food. I know, it's shocking! Both Mr. SGCC and Mini SGCC fall into that category. I'm sure that you all feel my pain at this revelation! While they each might indulge in a bite or two of a cleverly disguised pumpkin pie or a spoonful of my mother's world famous candied sweet potatoes (only on Thanksgiving), they draw the line there. I, on the other had, adore the color orange, especially on a plate! So, when I feel the need for a gourd fix, I'm pretty much on my own. I'll usually look for a small specimen at the market, wait until I'm on my own for an evening and knock myself out!

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One of my favorites is acorn squash. I think that's because it was the one that I had most often growing up. My mom used to make it a lot. She prepared it very simply, baked in the oven with a little butter and some cinnamon, brown sugar and nutmeg sprinkled on top. I can still remember how good it was - that soft, yielding, slightly sweet and spicy flesh. Acorn squash is not quite as dense and sweet as it's other Cucurbitaceae cousins, and it's flesh is lighter and more golden, but it is every bit as healthy and delicious.

Acorn squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber, which, is said to play an important role in reducing the incidence of colon cancer. It is also an excellent source of beta carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and maintenance as well as many other functions.

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The other day Mr. and Mini SGCC were out, so I decided to make myself some acorn squash. I basically made it the same way my mother did, but I tried a new twist on it that I really, really liked. I cut it in two and spread a bit of softened butter on the inside of each half. Then I sprinkled on some cinnamon and dark brown sugar and drizzled on a little pure maple syrup (NOT Log Cabin). Here's where the twist comes in. Normally, I would bake the squash on a baking sheet in a little water bath. Instead, I poured some apple cider in the baking sheet. By the time the squash was cooked through, the cider had reduced and caramelized into a thick, gooey syrup that was both sweet and tart at the same time. I scooped the flesh of the squash into a bowl and scraped up all of that glorious apple ooze and added it too. The combination of apple, brown sugar, maple syrup and cinnamon turned that squash into something sublime! If you're a fan of acorn, or any winter squash, you must try it this way. It was really and truly divine - and incredibly easy to prepare!

Apple-Maple Acorn Squash Puree

(Printable Recipe)

Ingredients:

1 medium acorn squash

1-2 tablespoons softened butter

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 cups apple cider

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with foil.

Cut acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy bits.

Place on baking sheet flesh side up. Spread butter on squash, then sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Drizzle maple syrup on top.

Bake for 1 hour, or until squash is soft and apple juice has caramelized. Scoop flesh from the skin and into a bowl. Scrape as much of the apple goop as you can up from the baking sheet and add to the bowl. Mix and mash it all together and serve.

Enjoy!

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I also have a fun bit of news to share with you. SGCC has recently been included on Alltop. Alltop is a news aggregation site that provides “all the top” stories for the most popular topics on the Web, including food. According to their web site, "You can think of an Alltop site as a “digital magazine rack” of the Internet. To be clear, Alltop sites are starting points—they are not destinations per se. The bottom line is that we are trying to enhance your online reading by both displaying stories from the sites that you’re already visiting and helping you discover sites that you didn’t know existed. In other words, our goal is the “cessation of Internet stagnation” by providing “aggregation without aggravation.”

I am flattered and proud to be included with so many wonderful and successful web sites and blogs. If you've never visited Alltop before, why not take a few minutes and check it out. You just may discover some great new finds!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top Chef New York: Melting Pot

Cast-New York

Starting in San Francisco, and then moving on through Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, Top Chef has finally found its way back to "reality" in one of the world's greatest food meccas - New York City. I think that many will agree that this has been a long time coming. And, if last night's season premiere was any indication, I think we're in for an interesting ride!

Since the episode starts out with seventeen cheftestants. That should have been my first clue that something was up. Bravo really amped up the drama quotient in this season's first episode with an unprecedented twist. For the first time ever, a cheftestant was eliminated in the Quickfire Challenge! The challenge was to peel 15 apples using a knife (no peelers here). The first nine to accomplish this task to Chef Tom's standards were automatically safe. The rest had to brunoise (a fancy name for small dice) two cups of apples. The first four to finish successfully were safe. The remaining four had to wow Chef Tom with a dish they prepared using the diced apples - outside, in sweltering heat - with a hot plate and a saute pan! WTF?

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I don't even remember who won! I was too busy having an empathetic anxiety attack for the poor slobs that were the bottom four! In the end, "fresh out of the CIA, didn't even get to unpack her suitcase" Lauren got diced. That's gotta hurt, people! Can you imagine making it all the way through the audition process, telling all of your family and friends, buying a whole new hot wardrobe for TV (that's what I would do), and then getting cut within the first 17 minutes into the season? I'm with Gail on this one. It was heartless. Good bye, Lauren. We hardly knew ye!

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For the Elimination Challenge, the old knife block was brought out, and the cheftestants were paired up and sent off to randomly assigned ethnic neighborhoods around the city to soak up local color and shop for ingredients. They then returned to the Top Chef kitchen to create a dish inspired by the neighborhood they visited. Each pair would compete head to head. I thought it was a great challenge to kick off the season. New York is a true melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. What better way to experience it than through its food.

Now is probably a good time to give you a rundown on who exactly these cheftestants are.

Team Astoria has Richard and Jamie cooking Greek food. Richard wants to make sure that no one forgets he is gay, gay, GAY, so he announces it about ten times during the course of the episode. Jamie is from San Francisco, doesn't like to chat while she cooks and also is.....you guessed it, gay. I don't know what relevance this has to the show, but they made a big point of putting it out there. I'm just sayin'. Richard serves overcooked lamb sliders with an orzo salad and Jamie serves a Greek salad with eggplant and sea bass. Jamie wins.

Team Brighton Beach has Hosea and Carla, cooking Russian food. The only thing I remember about Carla is that she's very tall and has big hair. The only thing I remember about Hosea is that he's bald. Hosea serves a smoked fish plate with caviar, creme fraiche and apple chutney. Hosea wins.

Team Jamaica has Radhika, an Indian chef and Jill who cook Caribbean food. Radhika is worried about being stereotyped as someone who only cooks Indian food. That's probably why the dish she prepared in the Quickfire challenge featured chutney. And, Jill.....um......Jill who? Radhika serves a jerk rubbed halibut with some kind of a rice cake underneath, while Jill comes up with jerk seasoned scallops with plantain fritters. Jill wins.

Team Little Italy is Leah (from New York) and Melissa. Obviously, they are dishing up some Italian food. Luckily, Leah works in an Italian restaurant already, so we know she's in. Melissa not only doesn't work in an Italian restaurant, but she says she is unfamiliar with Italian food altogether. Huh? Oh boy! Quick! Somebody call Pizza Hut! Leah serves farro risotto with red snapper, topped with mushrooms and Melissa serves a ribeye steak with tomato sauce, arugula salad and fried mushrooms. Leah wins.

Team Ozone Park had "Pretty Boy" Jeff from Miami and Firenze-born Fabio bringing some Latin food. Jeff is pretty confident about Latin cuisine seeing that he is from Miami and all. He frolics around the Top Chef kitchen at a leisurely pace until he realizes that that he has about 30 seconds to plate all twenty elements of his dish. Then, he turns into Speedy Gonzalez, but still doesn't get half of his components on the plate. Fabio's English iza notta so gooda, so he reads the description of his dish from a cheat sheet. Jeff serves Cuban coffee seared tenderloin and smoked plantain with black beans and rice. Fabio serves pork with a mango jalapeno demi glace, roasted mushrooms and avocado salad. Jeff wins.

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Team Long Island City churns out some Middle Eastern grub by Stefan from Finland, who seems just a teensie bit full of himself, and Ariane from Montclair, New Jersey, who isn't. I was actually kind of hoping that a smidge of Stephan's excess of confidence would rub off on Ariane, goddess of low self-esteem, but it didn't. Stephan prepares a lamb chop with tabouli and beef skewer with onions over hummus. Ariane prepares a crusted rack of lamb and an undercooked farro risotto with dates and chick peas. Stephan wins.

Alex and Eugene end up in Little India gathering goodies for - you guessed it - Indian food. Alex is another one I barely remember. Thank goodness Bravo has all of the cheftestants' pictures up on their site! Eugene is from Hawaii, (How cool is that!), and has never been to culinary school. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up. Eugene kind of scares me at first. But, I think he's growing on me. Alex serves a lamb chop with curry stew topped with basmati rice. Eugene intends to serve a masala-rubbed lamb and basmati rice with a tandoori glaze and tzatziki. He missed the mark on the tzatziki, but inadvertently made a popular Indian dish, curds and rice. Padma is way impressed. Eugene wins.

Gene

Last, but not least, we have Team Chinatown. Well, actually.....um.....it was least. Patrick and Daniel, with the wonders of Chinatown at their feet ended up with baked salmon and chicken salad. Don't get me started! Daniel wins.

At the Judges' Table, we find that the guest judge this week is ├╝ber great Jean-George Vongerichten. The judges pick Stefan, Eugene and Leah as the top three, and give Stefan the win.

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Patrick and Ariane find themselves on the chopping block. The judges debate over which is worse - lack of imagination or lack of technique. Fortunately for Ariane, they think lack of imagination is the bigger sin and Patrick is sent to pack his knives and go.

So, what did you think about last night's episode? How do you feel about the new crop of cheftestants? Who did you love? Who did you hate? Who did you love to hate? Here is the place to let it all hang out! Be as snarky as you want. I swear, I won't tell a soul.

Let's dish!!!

I have to tell you, I was really torn about doing these recaps again. That's why this one is so late. They really take a lot of time to write and my blogging time is limited! I'm going to try to keep up with them as best I can. I will have to miss a few during the Holidays because I'll be out of town. I'm also hoping to do some giveaways this go-round as well.

I would really appreciate your feedback on this. Do you want the recaps? Or, would you rather stick to the regular format of food, recipes and my crazy stories about what a klutz I am? You readers are the best ever, and I want you all to enjoy visiting SGCC. So, please take a few seconds and let me know what you think. I'd rather not spend hours and hours to post something that only a few care about.

Thanks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TWD: Kugelhopf

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I had mixed emotions when I learned that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Kugelhopf. One one hand, it is one of my favorite recipes in Baking: From My Home to Yours. I've already made it a few times and absolutely love it. As a matter of fact, Dorie's Kugelhopf recipe was one of the main reasons that I bought the book in the first place. On the other hand, making this Kugelhopf is a very long, drawn out process, taking a good two days from start to finish. For me, it is an undertaking reserved for special occasions. I toyed with the thought of skipping this week, but my love of this tender, sweet, raisin-studded bread with its golden, buttery crust got the better of me. That, and the fact that I will already have to miss the next one or two weeks because I'll be traveling, spurred me on and I decided to go for it. I'm so glad I did!

For those unfamiliar with it, Kugelhopf is a high, fluted, circular yeast-based sweet bread, similar to brioche. It is widely recognized as an Alsatian specialty, however, some believe that it originated in Vienna. Wherever it came from, it is wildly popular the world over. How could it not be?

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Kugelhopf is traditionally baked in a special circular pan, originally made of enameled pottery, similar to a bundt pan. I actually have one of those and I wish I'd used it when making my recipe this time. Instead, I used a nonstick metal Kugelhopf pan that I picked up recently. I didn't like it nearly as much.

I spent most of my weekend working on this recipe. There is a hell of a lot of waiting involved! Ordinarily, this would have driven me nuts, but since I was housebound because of my injured foot, I really didn't mind it all that much. Having the heady aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through the house helped take my mind off the fact that my foot looked like a big football and felt like a bus ran over it!

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My thanks go out to Yolanda of The All Purpose Girl for choosing one of my favorite Dorie recipes. If you'd like to try this one for yourself, you can find the recipe on her site. Also, check out the TWD blogroll to see lots more Kugelhopfs.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go look for that last piece of Kugelhopf that I hid under the Brussels sprouts and have it with a nice hot cup of coffee!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Accident Prawn Strikes Again!

accidentprawn2

Several months ago, I shared with you about a little rough patch I was having where every time I turned around, I seemed to fall down, bang into large pieces of furniture, burn myself or trip over something. One day, I even managed to get my hand slammed in my car door at the supermarket. It was after that last one, that my clever, sweet and funny friend, Manggy from No Special Effects, bestowed upon me the nickname "Accident Prawn".

Accident Prawn? Bwahahahahahahahaha!!!

Mr. SGCC and I laughed our heads off over that one. But, the funniest part was that the name stuck! Ever since, whenever I've dropped, spilled, tripped or slipped, I've been pelted with the taunting strains of "Watch out! There goes Accident Prawn!" or "Uh oh! Accident Prawn strikes again!" Even Mini SGCC has gotten into the act!

Well folks, though it pains me to say it, (and I mean really pains me), Accident Prawn has indeed struck again.

It all started on Friday morning when I was getting dressed to go out. I wanted to wear a pair of new jeans that I had recently gotten. A pair of new jeans in a size smaller than all my other ones. The jeans were a little long, but I didn't want to waste time hemming them. Instead, I decided to just wear higher heels. (Vanity is the quicksand of reason.) I dug out my favorite pair of Michael Kors sandals and slipped them on. With a four-inch heel, they kept the hem of my jeans off of the floor. My "skinny" jeans and I were good to go.

kors shoes

My jeans and I teetered all around town. We went to my office for a while to catch up on some work. We went to the post office, the dry cleaners, the supermarket and Mini SGCC's school. We had a perfectly enjoyable and uneventful day. Then, we went home.

We were carrying a bag of groceries in through the garage. That's when the inevitable happened. There was a small puddle of condensation from the air conditioner on the garage floor. I didn't see it until it was too late.

CRASH, BAM, BOOM!!!

The next thing I knew, my jeans and I were airborne! When we landed, milk, flour, broken eggs and the contents of my beloved Marc Jacobs bag were strewn everywhere. As I lay on that gross and grimy concrete floor, (Oh, shut up! It was the garage, people! Who washes their garage floor, for chrissakes?), I became acutely aware of throbbing pain in an elbow, a wrist, a knee, my head and especially a foot. My driving foot, to be exact. Oh yeah, there was blood too. This was not good news!

When my eyes were able to focus again, I realized that I was wedged between the bike rack and some huge sheets of plywood that we keep around in the event of a hurricane. I tried to get some leverage so that I could hoist myself up, but I couldn't. My injured foot wouldn't support me. No one else was home, so I was pretty much stuck there until someone came to rescue me.

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After about ten or fifteen minutes, (which seemed like hours), Mr. SGCC came tooling up the street and into the driveway. He was my knight in shining armor, except his armor was a gray business suit and his horse was a red Prius! After he helped me up and dusted me off, he guided me inside and over to the couch, where I spent the rest of the evening and most of yesterday with a bag of frozen peas resting on my foot.

Needless to say, for physical and emotional reasons, cooking a complicated meal for dinner was out of the question. However, there was no way I was able to hobble my sorry butt out to a restaurant either. We actually ended up thawing out some of that wonderful Beef Barley Soup that I made last week and had it with some leftover roasted chicken. But, if I had been able to cook, this awesome and very simple chicken dish that I made a few weeks ago would have been a perfect choice. It practically cooks itself!

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It is called Chicken Orzo, and I found the recipe in a cookbook called Cooking Greek Style, put out by the St. Barbara Philoptochos Society of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church here in Sarasota.

The original recipe calls for the dish to be cooked on the stove. I think it turns out better when baked in the oven. Either way, it makes for a delicious, hearty and satisfying meal, especially on a nippy Fall day.

Coincidentally, I found the Accident Prawn illustration on a web site called Uneetee. They sponsor a T-shirt design contest each year and it was this year's winner. The artwork is by an artist named Loy. Check out the site if you're interested. I just might have to get one for myself!

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Chicken Orzo

(Printable Recipe)

Ingredients:

4 pounds chicken pieces (I used thighs this time)

1 stick of butter

1 large sweet onion, chopped

1 pint mushrooms, sliced (You can use any kind you like. I used Baby Bellas.)

3 cups chicken broth mixed with 2 cups water

2 cups orzo

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt half of the butter in a large Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Brown chicken pieces in batches on both sides. Add more butter, a little at a time, if needed. Remove and set aside.

Saute onions and mushrooms in remaining butter until onions are soft and translucent. Add chicken back to the pot and stir.

Mix in broth/water mixture, cover and bake in the oven until chicken is just about cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Add the orzo, salt and pepper and mix well. Add a little more water if needed. The orzo should be kind of soupy, but not drowning in liquid. Continue to bake until liquid is absorbed and orzo is tender. This should take about 20-30 minutes.

Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. You could also serve this with some Greek yogurt on the side.

Enjoy!

Here are some other chicken recipes you might enjoy from the SGCC archives:

Oven Baked Corn Flake Crumb Chicken

Apricot Glazed Chicken with Dried Plums and Sage

Kickin' Chicken

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

TWD: Rugelach

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Today is Election Day in the United States. As it happens, it is the day when the citizens of this great country will elect a new president to lead them forward into a somewhat scary and uncertain future. It is definitely the most exciting presidential election of my lifetime! By this time tomorrow, history will be made. For the first time in over 225 years, we will either have the first African-American president or the first woman vice-president. I honestly have no idea how it will turn out. I only hope and pray that whoever does win is truly up to the challenge of guiding us along this precarious road we're on to the light at the end of this dark and winding tunnel.

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Today would have also been my father's 76th birthday. Most of my regular readers know that he passed away almost two years ago. He was also a naturalized citizen of the United States and one of the most patriotic men I ever knew. It has been my experience that naturalized citizens tend to be that way. I think it's at least partly because they've chosen to adopt this country as their own, as opposed to being born into it. They had to work harder to get here!

Immigrants of my father's era usually had to wait for years before being allowed permanent access to the U.S., and then had to have a sponsor here who would vouch for them. Even after they were given green cards, they had to wait several years and pass various tests before being granted United States citizenship. My father never took his citizenship for granted. He loved this country and the opportunities that it afforded him. He viewed voting as both a privilege and a responsibility, and taught me to look at it the same way.

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By now, (if you're still here), you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with cookies! Nothing, actually, except that when I left the house at 7:00 this morning to vote, I took a cup of coffee to go and grabbed a few of my delicious rugelach to help make the waiting easier.

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was for a tasty little gem of a cookie called rugelach. Rugelach are rolled cookies made with a cream cheese based dough that is filled with sweet fillings such as chocolate, raisins and nuts, or preserves . Rugelach, which literally means "little twists" in Yiddish, has Jewish Ashkenazic (Eastern European) origins. Originally, rugelach were made with yeast, but American Jews later introduced the cream cheese variety. They are wonderfully tender and flaky morsels that marry well with coffee, sweet wine or anything else you'd like.

I had never made rugelach before, although I have certainly eaten my share of them, and I was excited to attempt my own. The dough was a snap to put together and I must say that it was a beautiful dough to work with.

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I decided to make two different batches of the cookies. Being somewhat of a rugelach purist, I decided to stick with the more traditional fillings of sugar, cinnamon, preserves, fruits and nuts. The first batch was filled with cinnamon sugar, peach-apricot preserves, golden raisins and chopped, toasted pecans. My second batch was filled with sugar, black cherry preserves, chopped almonds and some little micro-mini chocolate bits that I had that were about to expire. Both versions were exceptionally good, but I have to say that the apricot-filled ones were my favorites.

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Many thanks to Piggy from Piggy's Cooking Journal for choosing this week's recipe. If you've never made rugelach before, I urge you to give them a try. If I had realized how easy they were to prepare, I'd have done it long ago! You can find the recipe on Piggy's site, as well as here. Of course, it can also be found in Dorie's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

If you'd like to see what my TWD comrades have done with rugelach, check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll.

Now, what are you waiting for. Grab a few rugelach and go vote!

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Soup is Good Food

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Remember the old Campbell's Soup advertising slogan, "Soup is Good Food"? It was a brilliant stroke of marketing genius. Unfortunately, the company was forced to pull that ad campaign in the late Eighties as a result of a legal issue, partially due to the products' high sodium content. Since then, Campbell's has launched a whole line of healthier, lower sodium soups. Good for them! Sadly, some of their soups, as well as several other brands, still contain some ingredient "no nos" such as MSG and high fructose corn syrup. But, that doesn't mean that soup can't still be good food. It can be, and is, very good food, especially when it's homemade from your very own kitchen.

Last week, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our temperatures were expected to dip into a decidedly "Fall-like" range. In fact, we actually had a few days where it never broke 70 degrees F. That's a big deal around here! I decided to take advantage of the situation and make some good, old-fashioned, simmer on the stove all day, beef barley soup.

Most "made from scratch" soups are really not that difficult to accomplish. The key to a great soup is to start with a rich, flavorful stock. Once you have that, you can play around with different ingredients until you have the perfect soup for you.

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I start my beef stock with a variety of different kinds of beef and beef bones, depending on what I can find at the market. My ideal combination is a mixture of beef marrow bones, oxtail and short ribs. To make a big pot of stock that will feed my family for a couple of nights, I use about 2-3 pounds of each. After I rinse and dry them, I lay them out on a baking sheet and toss them with salt, pepper and a little olive oil. Then, I roast them for about 60-90 minutes, until they are nice and browned.

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After that, I dump them into a large stock pot along with all of the pan drippings and add carrots, celery and onions. I fill the pot with a mixture of beef broth and water until the beef is totally submerged and bring it all to a boil. When boiling, I reduce the heat and let the contents of the pot simmer for a good three or four hours. Then, I remove the meat and bones back to the baking sheet to cool. While the meat cools, I add the barley and whatever vegetables I plan to use and continue to simmer the soup for another hour. For convenience, I usually take a few packages of frozen mixed vegetables and toss them in as well. When cooled, I take the meat off of the bones and reserve. About ten minutes before I'm ready to serve the soup, I add the meat back in and heat it through.

I have to say, there is nothing that hits the spot better on a chilly evening quite like a nice, steaming hot bowl of hearty and delicious beef barley soup.

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Beef Barley Soup (Printable Recipe)

Ingredients:

2-3 pounds short ribs

2-3 pounds beef marrow bones

2-3 pounds oxtail or beef shank for soup

3 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 carrots, scrubbed and cut into 3 inch chunks

4 ribs celery, scrubbed and cut into 3 inch chunks

2 large onions, quartered

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

3 bay leaves

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

1-2 quarts canned beef broth (You can omit this and use all water, but I always like to give my stock a little boost.)

5-6 quarts water

2-3 cups quick cooking barley, depending on how much you like in your soup

1 large package frozen mixed vegetables (or any vegetables you like to use in soup)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Rinse ribs, oxtails and bones and pat dry. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 1 hour or until nice and browned.

Pour off as much of the fat as you can and discard. Put the ribs, bones and pan drippings into a large stock pot. Add carrots, celery, onions, peppercorns, bay leaves and thyme to the pot. Pour in beef broth and add water until liquid covers the contents of the pot by one inch.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for approximately 3 hours. Periodically, skim off any scum or icky stuff that forms on the top.

Remove short ribs, oxtails and bones. Set aside to cool. Strain stock into another pot and discard the vegetables and herbs. Bring to a simmer.

Add vegetables and barley to the stock and continue to simmer uncovered until barley is tender.

Remove the meat from the bones, add to the soup and heat through.

Enjoy!

Here are some other great cold weather soup recipes from the SGCC archives:

"Quick, But it Tastes Like it Took All Day" Chicken Soup

Soupe au Pistou

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

Quick Caldo Verde