Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy Sticky Buns (and how to clean up a crime scene)

1:19 PM Text to Roommate: "When you return to the apartment, it may appear as if someone has been murdered. Don't be alarmed. The only thing that has died is the bottle of red wine perched suicidally on the top of the fridge."


12:50 PM Walk into the kitchen to get a glass of water. 
12:51 PM See bag of pretzel rods and immediately want one. Take one out and hold the end in my mouth to close the bag and put it away. Get glass from cabinet while still holding pretzel rod in mouth.
12:52 PM Open freezer to get some ice. Hear rumbling sound. Sense something coming toward my face. Realize it is a bottle of wine on top of the fridge. Attempt to catch said bottle. Fail. Watch helplessly as it falls to the floor. Pray it remains intact.
12:53 PM Bottle of RED wine shatters all over the wood floor, which has not been finished in decades, leaving it a veritable sponge. Stand in the middle of the carnage, pretzel still in mouth. Also, BAREFOOT. (Now may be a good time to mention that one of my biggest fears is getting glass stuck in my foot ever since my mother had a particularly unpleasant experience involving multiple exploratory needle sticks to retrieve a rogue shard of glass implanted in her foot.)
12:54 PM Slowly put pretzel down. Feel small chunks of glass directly under three of my toes. Gingerly pick foot up and escape to a tiny dry piece of floor. Determine there are no pieces of glass actually in my foot. Assess the damage. Watch as red wine spreads out menacingly across the floor. Wish Roommate's friend had brought us white wine instead of red.
12:55 PM Begin to spread paper towels out in an attempt to thwart the wine's slow creep toward the new couch. Once situation is mildly under control, step around disaster area, sit on edge of couch to minimize foot-floor contact. Propel self over coffee table matrix-style and retrieve flip flops from room. 
12:56 PM Return to kitchen and attempt to do damage control. Waste the equivalent of 5 trees via paper towels. Begin to pick up huge chunks of glass. Envision slicing finger open. Put on rubber dishwashing gloves. Continue to pick up large pieces of glass. 
12:58 PM Find piece of glass approximately 7 feet away. Not good. Find a few more.
1:00 PM Hear Gilmore Girls starting in the other room. Wish I were watching it instead of cleaning up the murder scene. 
1:01-1:08 PM Pick up largest pieces of glass I can find. Soak up as much blood wine as possible with paper towels. See tiny shards of glass. Panic. 
1:09-1:16 PM Vacuum entire apartment. Think our downstairs neighbors must hate us. Swiffer. Vacuum again. Imagine angry letter our downstairs neighbors are writing to our landlord.
1:17 PM Finish cleaning. Finally get glass of water. Pick pretzel back up. Decide I deserve a reward for all my hard work. Retreat to my room with entire bag of pretzel rods and jar of peanut butter.
1:18 PM Turn on Gilmore Girls. 

4:30 PM Update- The floor is, in fact, not stained red. I'm not exactly sure what happened to all that wine (because I can assure you I did not use nearly enough paper towels to absorb an entire bottle), but I'm guessing that when our downstairs neighbor discovers red liquid dripping from his ceiling he'll most likely call the police, and when they show up at our door to arrest us for murder, please direct them to this blog post.

So since I clearly can't be trusted with anything sharp, made of glass, breakable, or would otherwise be used by an adult, here's another Ina recipe since they're generally fool-proof. Seriously, the word "Easy" is in the title.

Plus, after the brownies, I was sort of on a Barefoot Contessa sugar high.

I had one sheet of leftover puff pastry still in the freezer after making the Old-Fashioned Eccles Cakes so I looked through my cookbooks for something I could do with it. These looked fast, simple, delicious and were a breakfast food; my FAV!

These little beauties certainly lived up to their name: they were easy and sticky (but in the best possible way). And no doubt went straight to my buns. The outer layer of dough had a delicious crunch from baking in the butter and sugar but the inner dough was perfectly sweet and tender. The raisins added yet another layer of sweetness, but I'm really dying to know what these would be like with chocolate chips inside! 

Sinful. That's what they'd be. 

These are perfect to make on a lazy Sunday morning when you're too hungover impatient to wait in a long line at your favorite brunch spot, when you have overnight guests you really want to impress, or when your kids have a slumber party and you want to get their friends all sugared up before releasing them back to their parents. 

Easy Sticky Buns

Yield: 6 sticky buns (or double it to make a dozen)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted

For the filling-
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-cup standard muffin tin (or 6-cup if you have it) on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
2. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the 6 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture in 6 of the muffin cups.

3. Lightly flour a wooden board or stone surface. Unfold the sheet of puff pastry with the folds going left to right. Brush the whole sheet with the melted butter. 
4. Leaving a one-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle the sheet with the 1/3 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. 

5. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly like a jelly roll around the filling, finishing the roll with the seam side down.

6. Trim the edges of the roll about 1/2 inch and discard. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place each piece, spiral side up, in the 6 buttered muffin cups. 

7. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sticky buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert the buns onto the parchment paper (ease the filling out onto the buns with a spoon), and let cool for about 20 minutes.

From Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Free-Form Italian Plum Tart

When you're a poor student faced with loans that reach high into the six figures, you start to get creative about making and saving money. Although I only have class from 8:30-2:30 during the week, that still makes finding a part-time job kind of a challenge. Plus, the thought of working retail (unless that retail store is Tiffany & Co.) or waiting tables is just way too nauseating (although given how incredibly bad the wait staff is in this city, I probably wouldn't have a problem finding a job or making decent money at it, but it would mean selling my soul and I'm saving that for when I really need it, like when I want to intern at Jean Georges). 

Since I can't exactly make a steady paycheck, I'm focusing on saving money. Or at least I'm trying. For example, out of all the numerous menus for Chinese food we have, my roommate Shaun and I chose the cheapest option possible for dinner Friday night. We ordered enough food to feed a small village, and it was only $20. We still have enough left over for probably 2 more dinners. I may have to call the CDC, but what's a little Salmonella in exchange for pinching pennies?

And here's another money-saving tip: grow your own food. Dan planted a garden this summer and we've been eating peppers, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers for just the cost of the seeds. Not only does this save money and give him a hobby, but you don't get more local than your own backyard. Given all of these interests, imagine our delight when we discovered the plum tree growing on Dan's street. 

Local, fresh produce that is also FREE? JACKPOT.

They are much smaller than the plums you find in the grocery store, but they taste exactly the same, with sweet, flavorful fruit and tart skins. After harvesting a big bag of plums, conversing with the tenants whose house the tree is in front of, being offered a cocktail and a ladder (great combo), and almost being eaten alive by mosquitoes, we had more than enough plums for this free-form tart.

I really liked the tart dough and the plums were nice and flavorful, but it seemed a little one note. I did really like the addition of the lemon zest in the dough, which is not something I've ever done before; I think it may have been my favorite part, and is a technique I could apply to lots of different pies.

One of the only problems we encountered was when we checked on the tart after about 20 minutes, things didn't look promising. The plum juice had formed a pool around the tart and the uncooked dough almost looked as if it was going to dissolve. But we pressed on. After the full cooking time, the tart looked much better.

While Dan loved this, I thought it was just good. It wasn't too tart and it wasn't too sugary, but there was just something about it that I didn't absolutely love.

Of course, that didn't stop me from eating two pieces and, between the two of us, finishing off more than half of it the night we made it. What? It was small! 

Free-Form Italian Plum Tart 

For the Pastry
1 cup All-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Grated zest of a small lemon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
8 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1-2 Tablespoons cold water

For the Fruit
20 or so Italian plums
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

1. Make the pastry. Combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the cubed butter until it is the size of peas. 

Hydrate the dough with the cold water and mix, just until the dough holds together. Wrap well and chill for at least 30 minutes.

2. Next, prepare the fruit. Wash the plums, cut them then half and remove the pits. Set aside.

3.Roll out the dough into a circle about 10'' in diameter and 1/8'' thick.

Leaving a 2 inch border, cover the middle of the dough with plums, cut side down. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit (Note: We found we had way too much sugar and were almost burying the fruit. Use your judgment and add according to your taste. If the plums are particularly sweet, less sugar will be needed). Top the fruit with the cubed butter. 

4. Fold the excess dough up and over the fruit. 

 Remember, this tart is free-form, so you can leave the edges rough, or crimp them decoratively. I was feeling particularly lazy free when I made this. 

Place the tart back in the fridge and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5. Bake the tart at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the crust is browned and the juices of the fruit are bubbling. 

Allow to cool slightly before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Or both.

Adapted from Tasty by Roy Finamore

Nom, nom, nom

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ina's Outrageous Brownies

You know what I love about brownies? They're always in season! I know there are all kinds of delicious, ripe summer fruits out there right now (and I have a really great plum recipe coming soon), but sometimes you just need some chocolate, ya know?

These brownies are even better than the Chocolate Fudge Brownies I made a few months ago. They're thinner than traditional brownies due to the pan they're baked in, which is why they are typically cut extra large, but the texture warrants this alteration. They are thick, chocolatey, and chewy so baking them in a traditional brownie pan I think would make them too dense and overwhelming. But trust me, these are fudgey enough to satisfy any boxed brownie lovers, but not soft enough to warrant the need for something crunchy to offset the texture. Although, if you HAVE to, I guess you COULD add some walnuts to the batter. We just can't be friends anymore. Sorry Mom. Sniff.

I think the two key secret ingredients are the coffee and salt. If you know the coffee is there, you get just a whiff of it, but if not, you just know there's something in them that makes them taste better. Dan thought it was peanut butter until I clued him in. And each bite has just the smallest hint of salt, which I love.

There is one teeny tiny itty bitty downfall to these, but it's actually considered a perk for some. My favorite brownie is the corner because I love those chewy edges, and while you may think because of the large shallow pan these would have a great chewy edge, even THAT is super soft and tender. But these brownies are so good I don't even really mind; I'll take just about any piece, corner or center.

These I wrapped in wax paper and brought to Dan's parents' house 

I suggest eating these within the first 24 hours, and giving some away so that your waistline doesn't expand exponentially, but they will keep in an airtight container for about 3 days before getting too dry.

Ina's Outrageous Brownies
Yield: 20 large brownies

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz unsweetened chocolate
6 extra large eggs
2 Tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a half sheet pan (12 x 18 x 1 inch).

2. Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

4. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. 

Toss the 12 ounces of chocolate chips (and walnuts, if using) in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough (Don't skip this step!). Bake for another 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares. 

From The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

Sunday, August 1, 2010

New York-Style Coffee Cake

The last sweet treat I brought in to work was this cake. My supervisor had requested a coffee cake, and given my new destination, I couldn't think of a better recipe to use than this New York-Style cake. 

Since it was my last hurrah of sorts, I wanted to bring something in that would be really delicious, and I had made this cake a few weeks earlier, while Dan was studying for his Boards (which he OWNED). We polished it off within two days. Keep in mind, this does not have any chocolate in it. It was just THAT GOOD.  So I knew it would be a crowd pleaser at work.

The cake itself was incredibly flavorful and light, but buttery at the same time. It was so delicious and tender, I could actually picture using the recipe to make the base for any yellow cake. Although, I think a problem would arise when trying to frost it since it's lightness means it's also a bit crumby. Of course, I won't know until I try :)

The topping was dense and sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. I loved the cake so much, I actually thought the topping was a little overpowering, but overall I think the proportion was almost perfect.

This ranks right up there with the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Baked Chocolate Mousse as one of the best things I've made in the past few months. What a great way to bid farewell to the South and hello New York!

New York-Style Crumb Cake


For the Topping-
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted but still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour (Note: Please don't substitute All-Purpose flour for cake flour. The difference in the amount of protein will lead to a less than tender cake. Trust me, it's worth a trip to the store to pick some up.)

For the cake-
1 1/4 cups cake flour (See Note above about cake flour)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter that has been sitting at room temperature for 1 hour
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

1. First, make the topping. Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a medium bowl to combine. Add the flour and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough. Set aside while you make the cake batter.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and grease with butter or cooking spray.

3. In the bowl of a standing mixture fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and salt just to combine. With the mixer on low, add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1-2 minutes.

4. Combine the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk in a medium-sized measuring cup (or something else that is easy to pour with). 

5. Turn the mixer to a medium-high speed and add a little of the egg mixture at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the bowl as necessary. Continue to mix until the batter is light and fluffy.

6. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, using a rubber or offset spatula to spread it into an even layer. 

7. Using your fingers, pinch off large pea-sized pieces of the crumb topping and spread in a layer over the batter. Begin with the edges and work toward the center. You will have plenty of topping, so it's fine if the pieces overlap or you don't have a perfectly even layer. Fill in any holes. You want the batter to be completely covered.

8. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May 2007
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