Not A Compulsive Blogger

So I started out so enthusiastic about having a blog, for all of what? Three posts? I even have pictures all ready to go of a meal I made way back then that I just never got around to writing about for a post. I will try to finally put up that post sometime soon. For now I will share a little bit about some happenings that are leading me to a new appreciation and concern for food issues. First some background…

I always remember having issues with painful tummy aches since I was little. In high school I even went and got an Upper GI exam to check for a possible ulcer, which didn’t find anything. But the upset tummy issues continued every now and then. Then around the time I started up this blog in the spring, I started thinking about these pains that I would experience, along with my almost constant feeling of fatigue, and the petechiae (little red dots) that I continuously have experienced on my ankles for as long as I could remember. I began to think that maybe these were all connected, and one of the things that I thought of that would cause all three of these was celiacs disease (autoimmune disorder that is treated by a gluten-free diet).

To once again try to find out what was going on, and to see if it may have been celiacs disease, I went to see a gastroenterologist and had a EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy- try saying that one time fast!), to put simply, I went to the doctor and they put a scope down my throat to take pictures and a biopsy. The results revealed some slight irritation at a few spots, but nothing serious, and ruled out celiacs disease.

Around this time, after a few unpleasant results from eating significant amounts of dairy on an empty stomach,  it  became evident that I was lactose intolerant. This, I realized, was likely the reason behind most of my tummy issues. Over the course of my life I had been loosing my ability to digest lactose, but it had only recently become so bad that it was obvious.

At first I had thought that lactose intolerance wouldn’t be something that could develop or progress, but after researching online about it, I realized that is actually the way that it works. As people age they lose the ability to digest lactose of their own accord. This just doesn’t happen fast enough for some people to experience problems from it within their lifetime. Others, like me, are not so lucky.

This whole process led me to looking more closely at food related issues, and stumbling across some very unexpected things. Starting with milk and gluten and taking off from there. I will Share some of the things that I have been exploring and discovering in posts to come.

Jars, Bottles, and Tins, Oh My!

Lately I have been getting more into finding ways to be a better steward of the earth, as well as more thrifty in household and décor items. One of the things that this has included has been saving and repurposing jars that held pasta sauce, jam, and such, as well as tins that tea came in, and cool looking bottles, etc. for new uses.

A recent trip to Costco led me to finding and purchasing a large bag of nice, long, thin spears of asparagus.  Asparagus can be pretty expensive at the grocery store, and often is on the short, fat, and tough side, so I was excited to find such a large amount of nice looking spears for a good price.  But when you get a large quantity of fresh produce, you either need to use that large amount very quickly, or find a way to keep it fresh for longer.  Luckily I figured out a trick a while back, when I had a fairly sad looking head of broccoli that I wanted to salvage.  If you cut off the end of the stem, exposing a fresh portion of it, and set it upright in a little cold water in the fridge, it helps revive it, and your previously sad produce is looking good and appetizing again!

So, I put a few of my empty jars to use for keeping my bulk amount of asparagus nice and fresh until I can use it all up. I filled the bottom  of the jars with a little bit of water and placed the freshly trimmed asparagus spears upright in them! Yay for jars getting reused for helpful purposes!

I also found a great way to reuse both a small jar, and an empty TAZO Zen Green Tea tin a while ago to use for a flower arrangement.  I filled the jar with water and placed it inside the tea tin, and then arranged the flowers with their stems going down into the water jar, hiding it from view, creating a very cute little coffee table arrangement.

Another reused item along the lines of home decorating is my Patrón Tequila bottle vase.  Thats right. I’m using a Tequila bottle as a vase.  I’m not ashamed to say it.  It is a cool shaped bottle, made of blown glass, it’s lovely, and it was free (courtesy of my Landlords’ bbq/party).  Their friends/family polished off a bottle with a few rounds of shots, and I found the empty bottle in the bushes (how did it end up there?) a day or two after when I was helping clean up the yard.  I thought, “This is a pretty cool bottle, I should reuse it for something.”  And then it became my vase.

Penne Pasta with Butternut Ricotta Cream Sauce

Last night I was feeling like trying something new out that would use ingredients that I already had, and I also felt like inventing it myself.  No Recipe! I love doing this every once in a while, I think that making something tasty that you came up with on your own gives a greater sense of achievement. I hope that as I get more experienced in cooking and baking that I will be able to do this more and more. (Also I think experimenting helps me to get better at cooking, so I guess it goes both ways.)

I was thinking about making some sort of Ricotta Cream sauce to go on Pasta, since I had a good amount of Ricotta Cheese left over from the frosting I made a few days ago, and I also had heavy cream on hand.  Then I remembered that I had some leftover Herbed Whipped Butternut Squash from a previous dinner too.  Then I got really excited. This was gonna be good!

I started boiling water and looked at the different pastas that I had in the pantry and thought the Penne would be the best partner to my Butternut Ricotta Cream Sauce.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Cup herbed whipped butternut squash [butternut squash that has been cooked and then whipped with a stand or handheld mixer with some butter, salt, pepper, and herbs of choice (I used herbs de provence)]
  • 1 Cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 Cup parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoon herbs de provence
  • 1/3-1/2 Cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

NOTE: these are approximations, I didn’t actually measure the ingredients when I made this.  Make adjustments to quantity where desired to achieve flavor and consistency that you are happy with.

Instructions:

In a small heavy sauce pot heat olive oil over medium flame and add minced garlic. Cook for a few minutes stirring occasionally and then add the butternut squash, ricotta, parmesan, and herbs de provence. Stir well to incorporate, and continue to heat over medium stirring occasionally until heated through.  Add cream a little at a time, incorporating between additions, until sauce has reached your desired consistency. (I left mine a little bit on the thick  side so that it stuck to the pasta well.) Add to about 14 ounces cooked pasta and stir to coat. Serve immediately. Makes about 3 servings if it’s the only course.  Probably about 5 servings if you are having salad and bread with it.

I was quite happy with the results.  This was fast, easy, and delicious! I will definitely have to do some more original, no recipe, creations in the near future. Enjoy!

Cupcake Negotiations

On Friday while shopping at Costco with my husband, a glorious three tiered stackable cupcake carrier caught my attention.  My eyes lit up, and I gasped in delight! Following my gaze, Tyler caught sight of the object of my desire. I oohed and awed over it for for a bit and then we continued on towards check-out, but I kept talking about how cool it was. Tyler then threw out an offer of letting me get it, if I baked him enough cupcakes to fill it (36) the next day. I was tempted but voiced my concerns over not getting my homework done if I spent a bunch of time baking.  He responded, “Alright… Guess you’ll have to hope they still have it next month when we come back…” This caused concern because Costco is often swapping out the items that they have available, so you can never be sure if something will still be there the next time you go (especially when you only go once a month like we do). So I agreed to the offered negotiation from my husband and hurried to go retrieve the carrier and add it to our cart.

The next day I decided to make Piña Colada Cupcakes, consisting of a Coconut Brown Sugar Cake, Pineapple Rum Filling, and Coconut Frosting with just a pinch of lime zest and a small lime wedge on top. I have made the brown sugar cupcakes a few times before, and they have always turned out great, so I just adapted it slightly by replacing the milk the recipe called for with coconut milk.  I will give the recipe for a dozen cupcakes, since not all of you will be needing to meet the requirement of 36 cupcakes like I had to.

Coconut Brown Sugar Cake

(adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 Cups + 2 Tablespoons (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 Cup (6 1/4 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used golden brown because thats what I had on hand)
  • 1/4 Cup + 1 Tablespoon (2 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 (3 ounces by weight) large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 Cup whole milk (I substituted coconut milk)

Instructions:

Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a 12-cup standard nonstick muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add the salt and set aside.  In a large bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and brown and granulated sugars on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated.  Beat in the vanilla.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions and the milk (or coconut milk) in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating after each addition for about 15 seconds, or until combined. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin-pan cups. (I used a pastry bag to fill them, it gives me greater control over how much I fill each cup and seems to cut down on drips that end up all over when I try to spoon the batter into them.)

Bake the cupcakes, rotating the pan after about 10 minutes, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, gently loosen the cupcakes from the pan, and then let them cool completely in the pan before removing them.

Pineapple Rum Filling-FAIL

I didn’t refer to anything for creating this, I just decided to be inventive.  I heated Rum, Pineapple juice, and sugar in a sauce pot and added corn starch mixed with a little cold water and let it thicken up.  It wasn’t terrible but it also wasn’t amazing, so I didn’t end up using it.  Suddenly my Piña Colada Cupcakes were missing a crucial element to receiving that name, and therefore were re-titled: Coconut Cupcakes. Not as fancy, but it would do. Since I didn’t end up filling these cupcakes, I will leave the instructions on how to fill a cupcake for another day… so stay tuned!

Coconut Frosting

(adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts)

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 3 ounces (about 1/3 Cup) cream cheese, softened but still cool (I used ricotta cheese as an experiment, and it turned out very yummy but not as smooth as it would be with cream cheese)
  • 3 Cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces by weight) coconut milk
  • coconut shavings ( You can either incorporate them into frosting or just garnish cupcakes with them at the end.  I incorporated mine into the frosting)

Instructions:

In a bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.  Sift 1 1/2 Cups (6 ounces) of the powdered sugar into the bowl and stir until smooth.  Pour in 2 Tablespoons of the coconut milk and again stir until smooth.  Repeat with the remaining powdered sugar, followed by the remaining coconut milk. Add and incorporate coconut shavings if desired. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days and let come to room temperature before using. You should have about 2 Cups.

Once I finished all the cupcakes, I got to use my wonderful new cupcake carrier to deliver cupcakes to a bunch of my friends. (I convinced Tyler that there was no way we were going to eat 36 cupcakes, and that we needed to share them.) I think food is best when shared with lots of people that you love!

And here is my prize! Hooray! Now I can bring the joy of baked goods to the masses with ease. It can transport 36 cupcakes with the stackable cupcake inserts, or you can place the included little plastic sheets onto the stackable layers and be able to store cookie, brownies, etc. on the flat surface, or you can leave out the inserts all together, and transport a large layered cake.

A weekend in France

This weekend I was feeling inspired to try my hand at some French cuisine.  On the menu was cheese soufflé and chocolate éclairs.  I found recipes for the soufflé, éclairs, and chocolate glaze online, and referred to the back pages of a wedding cake cookbook I own for the éclair filling. I was a little apprehensive of the complexity that I perceived such fine French food would entail.  But I determined to dive in and to do the same thing I always do when attempting something new and unfamiliar in the kitchen, that is, follow the directions.  I found a recipe for cheese soufflé at http://www.epicurious.com, but made a few adjustments to it. Here is my adaptation of it.

Cheese Soufflé

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 5 large egg whites + 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup (packed) grated Cheddar/Jack cheese blend (about 4 ounces)

Instructions:

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 400F.Butter 6-cup (1 1/2-quart) soufflé dish. Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 5 minutes. Warm milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming. (I cheated and just microwaved the milk).

Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and loses raw taste, about 3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 1 minute. Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in paprika, salt, mustard powder, and garlic powder. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Scrape soufflé base into large bowl. Cool to lukewarm. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar  in another large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm or room temperature soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions while gradually sprinkling in the cheese. Transfer batter to prepared dish.

Place dish in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375F. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 30-35 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately. Makes 4 main course servings.

Oh boy was this good! My husband and I finished off the whole thing ourselves, even with the two side dishes I made to accompany it.  The top was golden brown and nicely puffed, there were no deflation issues like you see in the movies.  (Is that caused when the soufflé is undercooked?) The interior was fluffy and the exterior a little crisp, and the flavor was wonderful!  I bet some fresh Rosemary would be really good in this too, I will have to add that next time I make it.

For the éclair filling I used a vanilla pastry cream custard recipe that  tastes just like créme brulée, it’s incredibly good.

Custard Filling

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 7 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch, sifted

Instructions:

Place the milk and the vanilla beans in a medium, nonreactive saucepan and heat to a scald. Reduce the heat to low.

Meanwhile, in a nonreactive bowl combine the yolks and sugar.  Add the salt and sifted cornstarch and whisk until smooth.

Remove the vanilla bean from the milk and with a spoon tip scrape the seeds into the milk. Whisk to break up the sticky clumps of vanilla beans.  Pour about 1/4 of the warm liquid over the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.  This will temper the eggs.  Then, add the remaining liquid and stir to combine.  Immediately pour mixture back into the pot and cook over a low-medium heat.  Whisk continuously, continuing to cook, but do not let it boil.

Pour the pastry cream, including the vanilla seeds, through a strainer into a clean, nonreative bowl to remove and uncooked egg.  If seeds don’t go through, simply stir them in.

Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin rom forming.  Refrigerate at least 3 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use a pastry bag to pipe the custard into the éclairs once chilled. (I would love to get these pastry tips-they would work perfectly for this!)

Stainless Steel Pastry Filling Tubes- Set of 3 by Matfer Bourgeat

 

The recipe I followed for the éclairs and chocolate glaze was from http://www.allrecipes.com, the main thing I changed from their’s was that I turned my snobbish, gourmet-weekend nose up at their instant vanilla pudding filling and went with a more sophisticated custard filling.

Eclairs

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring until butter melts completely. Reduce heat to low, and add flour and salt. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and begins to form a stiff ball. Remove from heat. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate completely after each addition. With a spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a No. 10, or larger, tip (I used a No. 10, but it wasn’t big enough and was difficult to get them the size I wanted, next time I will use the pastry bag without a tip on it- the opening of the pastry bag coupler would have probably been perfect.  I wanted to kick myself for not thinking of it at the time.  Oh well, it was a learning experience.), spoon or pipe dough onto cookie sheet in 1 1/2 x 4 inch strips.

Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake 20 minutes more, until hollow sounding when lightly tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack. Makes about 10.

I found it strange piping the dough while it was still so warm, but that’s what you are supposed to do.  Also, I was a little afraid of crowding them all onto one cookie sheet because I wasn’t sure how much they were going to expand, so I did them in two batches.  I think that was a mistake though, the second batch got a little bit funny, and it turned out that they would have fit fine on the same sheet.  Also I think that it might be better to start out with the oven at 425 degrees F (210 degrees C), bake them for 20 minutes, and then reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and bake for 10 more minutes, and then turn off the oven and leave it ajar for 10 minutes before removing them to cool completely.  Starting out at 450 degrees F made the bottoms brown a little more than I liked, and then reducing it all the way down to 325 degrees F seemed to keep the insides from cooking all the way, but I feared they would burn on the bottom if left in much longer to finish cooking the inside.  I will try these adjustments next time I make them and post how they turn out.  I also might add about a teaspoon of sugar to give it a little sweetness, not that they were bad without it though.

Chocolate Glaze

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (or squares)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons hot water or hot milk

Instructions:

Melt the chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter in a heatproof bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water over low heat (don’t let bowl touch the water). Stir in 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in hot water (or milk), one tablespoon at a time, until icing is smooth and has reached desired consistency. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and drizzle over filled éclairs (I dipped the tops of mine). Refrigerate until serving.

These éclairs were soooo yummy! Especially for my first try at them. I look forward to making them again now that I know what to expect and have a few adjustments to try.  Happy cooking and Bon Appétit!

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