Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Help! Lookin for a fluffy yellow (cup)cake recipe!

A very close friend, E., is getting married in 10 days. I'm in charge of cooking most of the food and baking the wedding cupcakes. *gulp* Luckily for me, someone with no catering experience whatsoever, the wedding is small so I won’t be cooking for tons of people for the first time, when the most I’ve cooked for is a grand total of five. And don’t worry, she knows this. I would be a craptastic friend if I volunteered for this job and said “by the way...” a few days before the wedding.

I'm trying to keep my cool for as long as possible and not flip out-verrryyyy important at this point. I finished testing all of the food last weekend (thank goodness for the 3 day weekend) and finished the yellow cake last night (there will be both chocolate and yellow cake). At least I thought I finished it. First attempt went in the compost bin because I did my math wrong, sad realization that mental math is not like riding a bike. Major fail. With the second attempt, the flavor is good, but the texture didn't meet my standards. Finals are T minus 5 days and as much as I love experimenting with recipes, I’m obviously running out of time! So dear readers, I’m going to do some thinking out loud, or rather, on this blog and please let me know what you think!

Here’s the recipe I used last night, which I adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated yellow cupcake recipe. I really respect Cook’s Illustrated, they usually never fail me so their recipe could be solid and the texture could have been compromised by the changes I made. I hate to be that person that rags on a perfectly good recipe even though I made x, y, and z changes.

(Almond) Yellow Cupcake
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp amaretto

My Adaptations:
- Original recipe called for 8 Tbsp butter, but I switched 2 Tbsp of that with 2 Tbsp of oil because I read somewhere that oil will make cakes taste moister at slightly chilled or room temp? Not sure how true this is.
- Decreased the sugar from 1 C (way too sweet) to 1/2 C
- Subbed 1/2 C sour cream for 1/2 C buttermilk
- Added almond extract and amaretto and took out vanilla extract

General idea: cream butter and sugar, add an egg at a time, beat throrougly, add oil and buttermilk. Sift in dry ingredients, and fold gently. Bake at 350F for 20 – 24 minutes.
The problem is the cake I made with all purpose flour turned out like a pound cake, which is good for breakfast, bad for wedding cake, or wedding cupcake in this case. I hate to say this, but boxed cake mix had a better, cakey texture. *hangs head in shame*

One thing I tried to avoid from the beginning is cake flour. Don’t get me wrong, I heart cake flour, it certainly makes cakes magical (called cake flour for a reason!) but it’s also more expensive compared to all-purpose flour. E. and I are trying to keep costs as low as possible.

Right now I have a few options:
- Mix of all purpose flour + cornstarch: I found a recipe in my Martha Stewart book that calls for 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of cornstarch (6 eggs beaten to ribbon stage, yadda yadda...).
- Another option is to mix parts all purpose flour and cake flour (again saw a few recipes in Martha Stewart’s book that did that).
- And the third option, one I have been trying to avoid, is to just use all cake flour.

Comments?

Also:
- Should I be using milk instead of buttermilk? I always thought buttermilk was superior and we rarely have milk in the house because neither Steven nor I drink it, but I'm having a hard time finding a reliable fluffy, buttermilk, yellow cake recipe. Dorie's party cake calls for buttermilk, but that's a white cake with cake flour (see cake flour above).
- Is it redundant to use both almond extract and amaretto? I had both so I just used both but I wasn’t sure if there was a taste difference or if it’s better to use one or the other.
- If I do a Genoise style cake, then I'll have to use oil, or melted butter, or a combo of both. I usually learn towards a combo of both for flavor and moistness.

What do you think? Any suggestions?


Sunday, May 24, 2009

LA Trip and Bibimbap

Korean BBQ in Korea Town LA
Steven and I went on a short, laid back trip down to LA two weekends ago where we didn't do much but eat, our kind of vacation. It's ridiculous how much good food there is down in SoCal.

First stop: xiao long bao. I’d been dying for a fix since my last Vancouver, BC trip. Steven and I were debating if we should visit Din Tai Fung since they’re world renowned and we’d be within 10 minutes of the only North American branch. After asking both Steven’s sister who’s eaten there and Wandering Chopsticks, we heard that the wait is too long, the dumplings are tiny and overpriced so we decided it wasn’t worth it. We love our soup dumplings but we’re also poor students.

Instead, we visited both Mei Long Village and JJ's based on Wandering Chopsticks’ recommendations. The two restaurants are in the same complex, literally 30 feet away. Maybe we went at an off time, but the pork xiao long bao at Mei Longs barely had any soup. I was pretty bummed. The meat and the soup, albeit very little, was flavorful. The crab dumplings were, however, very mediocre just like WC said. We paid our bill and went to JJ’s, 2 shops away. Their pork dumplings had sooo much more soup. In the end it was a tossup for the pork soup dumplings, Steven preferred the flavor of Mei Long's, I preferred JJ. The crab dumplings at JJ were hands down much better, way more crab flavor and soup. Again just echoing what WC wrote in her original posts about the two dumping houses. The crab dumplings are definitely worthwhile but don’t bother with the sheng jian bao. They’re way too bready and have no soup. For sheng jian bao, WC recommended Kang Kang food court, which we went to later that night for shaved ice but didn’t have enough stomach room left for sheng jian bao.

Later that night, we visited SoCal’s famous Pinkberry. The original flavor is definitely the best. The original with raspberries, almonds, and chocolate made our night. Pass on the green tea froyo, it had barely any matcha flavor and it just didn't taste right. We recently tried some froyo at a place near UW campus and it didn’t come anywhere close to the wonders of Pinkberry. I have a feeling I’m gonna need a fix in the near future.

At around 10pm we met up with WC, who took us to her favorite Hong Kong café, Baccali. Milk tea plus condensed milk with endless refills, Malaysian style roast chicken with curried rice, salted fish and chicken fried rice, deep fried chicken wings, and beef chow fun. It was a diverse array of food but the concept works and tastes even better late at night. Steven and I ate so much, we were in pain for a bit. I think it was the free tea refills that did us in.

We started Day 2 off with lunch at In-n-Out. Animal style cheeseburgers and well done fries. The burgers were delicious and ridiculously cheap! I was expecting the “well-done” fries to be extra crispy but still fluffy on the inside, but these were fried all the way through so they just tasted dry and stale. I’ll skip these next time and just get the regular fries.

For dinner, we drove to Koreatown for Korean BBQ at Chung Kiwa. The seafood pancake was chock-full of delicious seafood but way too pricey at $18. The black angus kalbi and spicy pork (daeji bulgogi) were both very tasty. I liked the rice noodle sheets for wrapping the beef but Steven and I were more used to lettuce leaves. The waitstaff are very attentive and continually checked on us and cooked our food, even though we didn’t understand a word of Korean.

It was a delicious, calorie-filled trip but after 2 days of LA smog, it was good to be back home in Seattle. Thank you to Wandering Chopsticks for being our fearless leader at Baccali and Jen of Use Real Butter for your great restaurant list, I wish we had more time to check out all the fantastic places you recommended.

Now for a short recipe.
Bulgogi Bibimbap

I think the most appropriate recipe to follow this trip report would be the bulgogi bibimbap photos I took over a month ago. My favorite is the dolsot bibimbap, bibimbap served in a big hot stone bowl. The crispy rice crust that forms along the side of the bowl is the best part. I have no idea where to buy those cool bowls and it’s probably too much trouble to mess with at home so I’ll leave that to the pros. Bibimbap literally means mixed rice and stirring it up is definitely the best part and looks even more delicious.

Salmon Bibimbap

I normally throw bibimbap together and have no coherent recipe. I made it again yesterday and I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably won’t ever write down an exact recipe because it’s more work to get the exact measurements than to just wing it and throw stuff together. Cooked zucchini, grated carrot, leftover meat or tofu, steamed rice, fried egg, and bibimbap sauce are the bare minimal. It only takes me 15 minutes to make a bare bones version because I usually don’t go all out and make fresh bulgogi or marinated bean sprouts. Yesterday I covered a small 8 oz. salmon fillet with some the same marinade I use for kalbi, and roasted it in the toaster oven. Prepare as many of the sides as you like, it would take way too much time to make them all.

Bibimbap – Korean Mixed Rice
Steamed rice
Browned ground beef or tofu with a little soy sauce, sugar, and garlic, leftover bulgogi, spicy pork bulgogi, or kalbi
Kimchi
Grated carrot
Grated daikon
Zucchini, julienned and sautéed with salt in a little vegetable oil
Button mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms, sliced and sautéed with salt in vegetable oil, finish with sesame oil drizzle
Seasoned beans sprouts
Spinach
Seasame seeds for garnish
Fried egg for each serving
Bibimbap sauce

Bibimbap Sauce
Gochujang (or substitute Szechuan hot bean sauce – dou ban jiang)
Mix in sesame oil and thin with a little water
Optional: honey + rice vinegar to taste

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Red Wine Braised Beef and Sunchoke Creamed Spinach

new member of the kitchen why, helloooo sexy

When Steven and I went to the local outlet mall, I never expected to come home with a 13 pound addition to the kitchen. I didn’t even want to go inside the Le Creuset store because it’s just filled with gorgeous things I can't afford. *siiigh* Why bother? But Steven convinced me to take a peek and I’m sure glad he did because there happened to be a sale, a damn good one! The 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven was on sale for $150! Holy crap, what a freakin' steal! You bet I'm gonna get one. There was some inner turmoil about whether to get the original Flame or the sexy Cherry Red. It couldn't have been more perfect timing because the enamel on my Chefmate Dutch oven started chipping off. $40 for a pot that only lasted me 2 years or $150 for a lifetime warranty?

Red Wine Braised Beef & Sunchoke Creamed Spinach

The original plan was to get some lamb shanks or beef short ribs (inspired by Jen’s beautiful recipe) to christen the shiny new pot but neither of them were on sale. Instead, I got a chuck 7 bone roast, which is still pretty tasty. Our last CSA box had a bunch of good stuff, asparagus, sunchokes, and spinach. I roasted the asparagus in the toaster oven and made sunchoke creamed spinach after being inspired by Harold Dieterele’s recipe on Top Chef.

I'll have to try this recipe again with the lamb shanks like I originally planned.

Red Wine Braised Beef

1 oz. dried porcinis
4 large sprigs of parsley including stems
2 - 3 large thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 pounds chuck roast or short ribs
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 C dry red wine
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Water as needed

Pour a cup of hot water over the dried porcinis to rehydrate them. When they are soft, use a fork to fish them out of the liquid, saving the liquid, wash them to get rid of excess dirt and grit, and mince. Wet a coffee filter or paper towel and line a fine mesh sieve. Strain the porcini water to get rid of excess dirt. The wet filter will prevent it from absorbing the flavorful porcini liquid.

Tie the herbs in a bundle with some twine so they’re easy to pick out later.

Season the beef with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the chuck roast (or short ribs, or shanks) until it is browned on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the vegetables, some salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until the vegetables are softened and translucent and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the porcinis, garlic, and tomato paste and cook until the tomato paste has started to caramelize slightly. Add the porcini water, red wine, and return the beef and any accumulated juices back into the pot. Lower the heat to a bare simmer, cover and let it braise for 2 – 3 hours or until the meat is fall off the bone tender. Add some water if there's not enough liquid in the pot.

When the beef is done braising, remove from the pan and turn the heat up to medium and reduce the sauce by half.

Sunchoke Creamed Spinach
8 oz. sunchokes, washed and peeled, and cut into ½ inch chunks
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 C heavy cream + 1/2 C water
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice
2 large bunches of spinach, rinsed of all grit and dirt
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute the sunchokes until they are light brown on the edges. Add half cup of heavy cream and half cup of water and simmer on very low heat until the sunchokes are tender, about 15 – 20 minutes. Puree the sunchokes in a blender or food processor, add some of the cream they were cooked in to thin the mixture.

In skillet heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the spinach until it is wilted. Pour out until accumulated juices in the pan and use a spatula and press out as much liquid from the spinach as you can. Fold in the sunchoke puree, lemon zest, juice and season with salt and pepper.



Monday, May 4, 2009

Roasted Tomato and Quinoa Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Tomato and Quinoa Soup with Grilled Cheese Sammich(updated from recipe archives)

My vegetarian friend complained that my blog has been leaning too far into carnivorism lately. I guess I have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone likes bacon food porn staring them in the face. To switch things up, I'm updating an oldie but a goodie.

Last time I made this soup, I spent a good half day slow roasting tomatoes but because tomatoes aren't in season yet, a good substitute is Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes. I finally got around to using the quinoa that's been sitting in my pantry since who knows when. Now I can cross off cooking quinoa for the first time off my list. I loved the texture and extra nutrition it added to the soup so I tried to convince Steven to let me add this superfood to our regular steamed rice. I can get away with sneaking whole wheat flour into baked goods and whole wheat pasta into spaghetti but messing with steamed rice? That was a no go.

Whenever I make tomato soup I have to make the obligatory grilled cheese sandwich. I debated if I should even bother posting a grilled cheese recipe. Short version: good bread + good cheese (my fav is Beecher's flagship, loooove it) + heat.

Long version (nothing groundbreaking)
- Use shredded cheese because it melts faster and evenly
- After I butter the bread, I pile on the shredded cheese and toast it slowly in a covered cast iron skillet over low or medium low heat. This way, the cheese has a chance to melt and the bread and butter won’t scorch.
- Sometimes if I'm feeling particularly unhealthy, I butter and toast one side, then flip over and butter and toast the second side and pile the cheese onto the first toasted side. Double butter, double delicious.
- If I feel fancy, I smear a little Dijon before adding the cheese, because I love Dijon.

Anyone have any other good sandwich making tips? (Don't say panini press because I don't have one and that makes me sad)

Roasted Tomato Soup with Quinoa
2 C roasted tomatoes (from 2 pounds tomatoes) or 2 cans of14.5 oz Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion or half a large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 - 3 C chicken stock or water, to taste
1/4 C quinoa, rinsed
1/4 C chiffonade* basil (optional)

*chiffonade right before using to prevent the basil from turning black

For Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup
- Add half a cup of heavy cream right after cooking

In a Dutch oven or large nonreactive saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the diced onions. Saute the onions until they are translucent and have softened. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Scrape the onion and garlic mixture into a blender and add the roasted tomatoes or cans of fire roasted tomatoes. Blend until completely smooth, add a little of the chicken stock or water if the mixture is too thick.

Return the puree into the saucepan, add the dried oregano, and the chicken stock or water. Simmer on low to medium low heat for 10 minutes, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, add more stock or water if it’s too tomatoey, and add the quinoa. Continue to simmer until the quinoa are cooked through and opened, about 10 – 15 minutes.

Off heat, stir in the chiffonade basil. For creamy soup, stir in the cream after simmering the soup. Add basil at this time too.

Roasted Tomatoes
3 lbs tomatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Slow Roasted (adapted from Alanna and Kalyn)
Cut the tomatoes in half and get rid of as many seeds as possible. In a bowl, toss the tomato halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Arrange the tomatoes on a parchment paper lined metal sheet pan or skip the parchment and use a pyrex glass dish.

Roast in the oven at 300 degrees for 6 or more hours, depending on how dry you want them. I only roasted them for about 6 hours because I wanted to keep them juicy since they were going into soup.

Fast Roasted Tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Cut the tomatoes in half and get rid of as many seeds as possible. In a bowl, toss the tomato halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Arrange the tomatoes on a parchment paper lined metal sheet pan (do not use a pyrex in such high temps). Roast until the tomatoes start to color, about 30 minutes.

After roasting the tomatoes are easily peeled off. I forgot to peel them but the skins pureed in the blender and were not an issue.

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