Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Citrus Bars



I've been using tasty treats as a way to leave an impression on people for 6 or so years now. In high school, I baked when I was stressed or bored or just wanted something productive to do, which lead to my fellow yearbook staff members remembering for my cookies. My freshman year of college, I was known as the floor baker, and even made a Facebook group to notify the people on my floor whenever I made something new that I wanted to share. However, moving off campus and having my own kitchen (well, an apartment three of us shared with a kitchen) somehow meant the end of baking for me, and the oven saw more casseroles and frozen fries than scratch made treats. During my senior toast, I ran into someone I hadn't spoken to since that first year in the dorms, and he asked me if I was still baking delicious treats. I was ashamed to say it'd been a while.

However, recently, that's changed. In the past two weeks, I've baked more than I had in the previous year. Finding inspiration from Keri, I made a chocolate cake for my aunt's birthday, followed by a rosewater cheesecake while visiting my grandparents.

But then, my aunt and I came back after our visit up north and the reality of kind-of-sort-of moving to Tehran began to set in. I can count the number of people close to my age that I know without raising a single finger. Sure, I've met people the numerous times I've visited, but most of the time I'm terrible with names and only okay with faces. Plus, even if I did remember anyone, it's been seven years since I'd spent any significant amount of time in this city. Of course, the only reasonable solution to this "finding friends" thing was for my aunt to throw me a party, a small get together of sorts. With 20 people. So, while my aunt planned the menu, I asked how I could help, and then realized the only reasonable thing to do would be to make some sort of tasty treats. So I did - citrus bars and rosewater cupcakes. And then I washed up nicely, did my make-up ("You should put some blush on." "I am wearing blush."), pulled on a dress, slipped on some heels, and then did my best to not seem too awkward or shy.

Which, when bombarded with 15 new names and faces, can be a bit difficult. And, of course, everyone knows my name. And that I'm the American niece. And, by the end of it, that I'm quiet and shy. At least, I hope that's what they thought and not that I was rude and stuck up. But from their comments, what I am sure of is that they think I make awesome citrus bars. So, I'd say I'm back on track for winning people over with sweets.

Not that I can even take credit for the deliciousness, really, since the recipe for Grape Fruit Bars was delivered to my e-mail from the ever-wonderful Keri with the note "I'm giving you this because the citrus fruit can easily be switched out... my lab says this is their favourite and I got so many e-mails asking for the recipe." So, without further ado (though I suppose that's what scrolling is for), here they are.

Citrus Bars
Recipe from Keri
Makes 36 triangles

For crust:
2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
250 g butter, room temperature

Filling:
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh citrus fruit of choice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup flour  

Preheat oven to 350F/175C/Gas 4 and line a 9x13 pan with baking paper.

Combine flour,  icing sugar, and butter and mix with a fork or hands until it becomes a thick, crumbly dough. Press dough into the prepared pan so it's even across the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just golden around the edges. (If pan is dark, check sooner or bake at lower temperature.)

While the base cooks, whisk together eggs, sugar, and juice until smooth.  Then whisk in baking powder, making sure no lumps remain. Finally, whisk in flour.

Pour the egg mixture onto the base. Return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or the filling no longer jiggles and is dry to the touch. 

Once cooled, remove from pan, use a sharp knife and cut into pieces of desired size. 

If you're planning on serving them the next day, the paranoid food safety person in me suggests keeping them in the fridge and letting them return to room temperature before eating.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Floral Cheesecake


My friend Keri has been chronicling her adventures in baking over at  http://bakewithkeri.tumblr.com/. Like most websites, I don't have ready access to it, and after hearing about her rose and coconut cheesecake from her flatmate, and my grandfather teasing me to make something else after making a coconut and chocolate cake for my aunt's birthday (recipe also courtesy of Keri), I figured I'd asked her for the recipe and give it a try. 

And then couldn't find half the things necessary. However, I didn't actually look very hard for them. But I made some substitutions (visible below) and ended up with a tasty cheesecake. It definitely didn't turn out as pretty as Keri's, and may or may not have been as heavenly, but it's definitely simple enough and tasty enough to garner making again. 

I also used just a bowl, wooden spoon, and whisk to make this and found that to be fine, but I left Keri's directions for beating the cheese in place. 



Rose and Coconut Cheese Cake

Base Ingredients 
- 220 g biscuits (I used coconut ones)
- 50 g shredded coconut
- 100 g butter, melted

Directions
1) Break up biscuits somehow. Either use the double baggied and rolling pin method, or, my preferred method: a deep bowl and a meat mallet.
2) Mix  coconut and melted butter into biscuit crumbs. 
3) Press into bottom and 3 cm up sides of a greased 23 cm spring pan. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes
to set.

Filling Ingredients 
- 500 g cream cheese
- 200 ml coconut milk (from a can)
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 Tablespoons rosewater (adjust to taste)

Directions 
1) Preheat the oven to 170 C (325 F). 
2) Beat the cream cheese with an electric
beater. Add the coconut milk in two lots of 100 ml and beat
well to get rid of any lumps. Best in the sugar, followed by the eggs one at a time. 
Stir in the rosewater. 
3) Pour filling mixture into prepared base. Bake for 45 minutes at 325F, or until it isn't jiggly. After which, turn off the oven and leave cake in for an additional hour.
4) Let cheesecake cool on the counter for 30
minutes or until it's cool enough to place in fridge. Chill 4 hour or overnight.
5) Run knife around edge before releasing from pan. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

One Week

Three Piece Dinner

I have one week left before embarking on the next phase of my life, whatever that may be. For the first time in my life, I won't be an official student, and that kind of terrifies me.


However, one of the things I've discovered is that I sometimes super simple meals are also super delicious. And perhaps this meal wasn't super simple, considering my dad cooked the eggplant for me, froze them, and kindly sent them with me to St. Louis after one of my visits home. But thawed eggplant, some sauteed onions, garlic curry sauce, and rice make for a tasty dinner. And a really easy one, too.


Also, as embarrassing as this is to admit, especially considering my ethnic background, I've only successfully cooked rice by myself on a handful of occasions. Usually I find myself consulting someone as I put the rice on, or not managing a nice tadig. When I made rice for this meal, not only was it actually cooked, there was a nice crunchy tadig as well!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reflection

I'm one month away from being a college graduate. One month. The prospect of being a college graduate is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. At the moment though, it's mostly just terrifying.

I've been receiving a formal education for as long as I can remember, unless you discount daycare and preschool. Starting in a month when someone asks me what I do, the answer will no longer have the simple answer I've been providing since I was old enough to garner the question: I'm a student.

AS long as I'm alive, that should be an acceptable response, but that's not how people usually look at it. For the past four years, it's been the expected answer. I've been the simplest, easiest to understand dictionary definition of it. Proof? The second entry in the Oxford English Dictionary applied perfectly to me:

Student: A person who is undergoing a course of study and instruction at a university or other place of higher education or technical training.
While it's true I'll no longer be undergoing a formal course of education, I don't think I'll ever stop being a student. Because the first entry in the O.E.D. seems to describe what I aspire to be, well, forever.
Student: A person who is engaged in or addicted to study.
Study: To apply the mind to the acquisition of learning, whether by means of books, observation, or experiment

I never want to stop learning. Ever. If I'm out there existing and I'm not applying myself to learning new things on a daily basis, then I'm failing myself.

When it comes to formal education, on paper, I've been incredibly fortunate. Though I don't think college rankings tell you all that much about the quality of education an individual person receives -- you can go to a "great" school and get a terrible education if you try hard enough, or, more accurately, don't try -- my degree is from a top tier university. If I pick up my diploma, head back to Chicago, and stop learning I'm not going to get anything out of my life. I'm smart enough to know that I'll spend the rest of my life learning new things. And I look forward to that.

Now that I've said that, I present to you a list of things I've learned about the kitchen while in school. Many of these things aren't transferable to other people.
  • I was spoiled with nice, heavy knives as a child. I can't function without a chef's knife that is too light or too dull.
  • All I need to be satisfied is a skillet, a spatula, oil, and (fresh-ish) eggs. Salt and pepper are nice. Vegetables are even nicer. Salsa is easier.
  • Drying racks are incredibly useful, as are dishgloves.
  • Canned (packeted?) tuna is a wonderful thing.
  • It's really easy to lose things in a fridge shared with someone who doesn't regularly clean their stuff out.
  • Buying groceries for one can be difficult. The deli counter is a valuable resource.
  • Condiments do in fact go bad.
I feel like most of that is actually pretty obvious, except for maybe the first two, which are really just things I learned about myself. (I don't do conclusions well.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It Feels Like a Perfect Night for Breakfast at Midnight

I'm a pretty big Taylor Swift fan. I remember being fascinated by the adorable girl with the curls singing "Our Song" when my friend showed me the video and then hearing off key versions of "Love Story" far too frequently coming from the boy who sat next to me in Number Theory. Then, the first friend I made in college had a penchant for randomly bursting into "You Belong With Me," regardless of if it was a socially acceptable time.

So when Taylor Swift released Red last October, it was pretty much perfect timing. About twenty minutes into the record is the wonderfully ridiculous ode to being a "happy, free, confused, and lonely" pop star and, well, being 22.



And, well, most of my friends are slowly turning 22. And I now have an excuse to play Taylor Swift songs under the pretense than it's appropriate for the occasion.

And, while this wasn't the inspiration for at all, and definitely not my first time eating breakfast at midnight, when I realized that we were celebrating my friend's birthday with a midnight breakfast, I couldn't help but think of the song.

Bourbon Pecan Sauce
similar to version I made before adapted from Dec. 2006 Cooking Light, pg 174
makes 1 - 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon bourbon
Combine sugars and water in a small saucepan over medium high-heat, stirring constantly until sugars dissolve and it no longer looks grainy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Lower heat to a medium-low and cook until mixture is bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.

It's really tasty with fluffy dollar sized pancakes, freshly whipped cream, and bananas.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Travel Thoughts

Spices at Borough Market


I've been incredibly quiet lately. 2012 marked my worst year ever (with this blog at least, it definitely was not my worst year of life.) And I know I cooked. And I know I ate food. And I know I did little in the way of creative cooking this past fall, eating a few simple staples, and the occasional "let's see what's in the kitchen that isn't my roommates that I can turn into an edible meal." And by occasional, I mean that's really all I did when it came to making food. For example, dinner tonight was eggs and salsa with toast. And then a few hours later I finally tried that microwaved brownie in a cup I've been seeing all over for years - my sweet tooth needed satisfied, and a clementine just wasn't doing it for me.

Veggie Burger at Borough Market


But that's not what I wanted to talk about. Travel. Travel is glorious, and a perfect time for trying new foods. Like unassuming Burmese food in Burlingame, California or a delicious quinoa-based veggie burger in London, England.

Meals can be memorable. Or forgettable. And, to be honest, most of them are probably more on the forgettable side. I think I remember the oysters I ate in San Francisco more because it was just a lot of fun to spend the day with my dad than because of the fact I actually ate oysters and they weren't entirely unpleasant.

Clams and Sausage


But, I think what I'm trying to say is that I like food. I like cooking. I like eating. I like trying new things. I hope I continue to have opportunities to do these things.

And I really want to find a Burmese restaurant in this part of the country. And return to London so I can try the Veggie Table's Heavenly Halloumi burger with their onion jam.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Curried Eggs

Curry Spiced Eggs

I'm not entirely sure when my weird obsession with turmeric started. And I'm not even sure it's a weird obsession. I just think potatoes and onions look funny unless they're stained with its yellow hue.

But anyway, it's a Friday and lunchtime and I'm standing in the kitchen with eggs and curry powder and turmeric and nutmeg and a quarter of an old onion and half a package of goat cheese sitting on the counter in front of me while I wait for the oil in my tiny little skillet to heat up. I like my skillet. It's cute and adorable and the perfect size for making eggs just for me, and I smile, and thinly slice the onion and listen to the sizzle as the onion hits the now-hot oil. Turning up the dulcet tones of the Taylor Swift song filling my ear, I sprinkle a bit of salt and turmeric powder over the onions, and they turn a beautiful golden shade as I stir them...

I also, clearly, have been craving narratives. Terrible narratives that we both know I can't write, and that definitely have no place here. But regardless, it's Friday (does that mean it's the freakin' weekend yet and I can have me some fun? Nope. Not this weekend) and I made myself some delicious eggs and gluten-free toast for lunch. (As to why the toast was gluten-free, that's a different story, and it'll come later.) And despite the funny looks I get from my roommates for putting curry powder in my eggs, I like to think of it as sophisticated, though surely that isn't actually true. And I'm far from the definition of "sophisticated" with my bright pink melamine plates and heart-covered tumblers. But hey, it works for me. As does listening to this song on repeat. Yep, that definitely puts a smile on my face.

Spices in my eggs!


As for this recipe, it's not really that specific. There are no proportions here for the spices, because I pretty much just decide by thinking, "Hm, that smells like a good amount." I like spices. I could've been happy dumping even more spices in here. But eggs, onion, and curry powder go together wonderfully. And goat cheese just mellows it out and makes it even creamier.

Curry Spiced Eggs
Curried Scrambled Eggs
this feeds 1 person, maybe
2 teaspoons oil
1/4 small onion, thinly sliced
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
curry powder - or - nutmeg and turmeric (or both)
salt
pepper
goat cheese

In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. You can add some salt to taste, and turmeric if desired.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and curry powder. I use a around 1/4 teaspoon of a sweeter curry powder. Sometimes I just use turmeric and nutmeg instead of a curry powder. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Pour eggs over onions, and reduce heat to low. Stir constantly until no longer runny but not completely dry, about 3 minutes. Add goat cheese, stir once more, and then remove from the pan and enjoy!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Oops... I Did It Again

Stereotypical St. Louis

I'm back in St. Louis again. St. Louis. I don't know what else to say about it. Other than since moving here for school I've been neglecting this thing terribly. And I guess it took my friend mentioning a strategy I taught her to make me realize just how much I miss this. And that maybe I do actually cook more than I think I do, though considering dinner last night was four ingredients - dried pasta, frozen broccoli, mushroom alfredo sauce, crushed red pepper - and definitely not something to write home about, I'm not sure I have much to share. I don't even like alfredo sauce, so why I bought a jar of it is somewhat of a mystery.

Broccoli and Mushroom Alfredo Pasta"

This nonsense needs to stop. I'm not even sure when the last time I baked something was. Though, if I count that disastrous casserole I made myself for dinner following a trip to the second-run cinema in nearby Illinois for a showing of Men In Black 3 a couple of weeks ago, it's only been a few weeks.

College Dinner

But I digress. Or not. I'm not sure what all constitutes a digression anymore. I mean, what is the point of this if not to go out on somewhat related tangents and vent about all the food-related things in my life. Which, in all honesty, at this point might be more beverage-related. I may be going a little overboard with the whole being-21 thing. Beer is tasty. Cocktails are magical. Wine is... well, it's just not as new and exciting to me as the previous two. And the fact that Cicero's Beer School exists just makes it all even better. That, and well, ice cream martinis are a thing, so don't even try to tell me I shouldn't be enamored.

Pasta Salad

So, in reality, life just involves a lot of pasta. And pasta salad. And beer. And maybe one of these days I'll figure out exactly what I'm doing and share it with you. Actually, I sort of know what I'm doing with the pasta salad - it's wonderful, and an idea I stole from something I used to get from dining services all the time my sophomore year. But I never keep track of what I'm doing, so I'm not quite sure how to articulate the making of it.

And that failure of a casserole... well, I'm determined to make it work. And when I do, you'll probably hear more about it. But, in the mean time, just know I'm probably eating embarrassing food. Or drinking out of a metal lens mug.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Limes are the Key

Key Lime Curd 
Despite my lack of posts this semester, I've been writing about food more than ever. Why, you may ask? That has an easy answer - I'm taking a course on the wonderful world of food writing. But it wasn't until this week that the topic approached something I could use not only as an assignment for class, but an excuse to update this blog as well.

Sitting in class last Thursday, I was handed two limes of differing sizes. The typical Persian lime and a small, surprisingly green Key lime. And with that, I knew I had to take an approach to the assignment of writing about limes and including a recipe to use the key limes. I sent my boyfriend to the grocery store with the request to pick up a bag of key limes if they were available, and he returned with a bag, but not before calling me to ask how to tell if limes are any good. (In case you're wondering, scald - those tiny brown patches - is okay, but if they're dried up, mushy, or wrinkly, that's bad.)

It took me three days to finally decide, but when I did, I decided on something that is more of an ingredient than a final product: Key Lime Curd. And since I made that, I needed to make some scones to eat with them. And then, as a wonderfully simple and delicious dessert last night, Key Lime "Mousse," which was nothing more than a half cup of heavy cream whipped to nice soft peaks, 1/4 cup of the lime curd, and then some vigorous whisking until it was an even consistency. Now that's simple and elegant.

Key Lime Curd
Key Lime Curd
Yield: ½ cup
If key limes are not available, substitute Persian limes in this recipe.

2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice, from about 9 small limes
1 tablespoon grated key lime zest

1. Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Be sure that the mixing bowl you choose to make the curd in fits in the pan without touching the bottom.

2.With a hand mixer on medium or wire whisk, whip the eggs and sugar together into pale yellow and fluffy, about 1 minute with a mixer. Whisk in lime juice and zest.
           
3. Rest the bowl over the pot of simmering water. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is thick and custard-like, about 10 to 15 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 160ºF.

4. Fill a large bowl about halfway with ice and a cup of water to make an ice bath. Once the curd is thick, remove it from the stove and rest the bowl in ice bath, stirring occasionally, until cool.

5. Use immediately, or transfer to a container to store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The 21st Birthday Cake

Guinness and Bailey's Chocolate Layer Cake

In the United States there's this mystique surrounding the 21st birthday. And by "mystique" I mean the ability to legally purchase your own alcohol and to legally imbibe in alcoholic beverages (responsibly, of course.)

With one of my friends slyly mentioned that her 21st birthday fell on a Friday, and that she would be having a party that night, I jumped at the opportunity. "May I make your cake as a present?" I asked her enthusiastically. She looked at me like I was crazy for even thinking the response might be a no. "Of course." Then a few weeks ago I sent her a text asking for some flavor suggestions. Her response? "Chocolate, raspberry, coffee, Bailey's, something with some of those?"

Beer and Bailey's


So with it being her 21st birthday and with that list of suggestions, what's more fitting for such an occasion than yet another cake with alcohol in it, not that this cake needs to be reserved for such an event. This one combines the Guinness ChocolateCake I made last year for my St. Patrick's Day-born aunt's birthday with a take on the awesome stabilized whipped cream from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book that I previously used in abourbon chocolate cake with a rich whipped chocolate ganache filling. So maybe she didn't mention beer, but swapping raspberry for beer sounded like a good idea, and decorating the cake with some dark-chocolate covered espresso beans threw in the coffee for good measure. And then there was the Bailey's making it's appearance in both the filling and the frosting.

I'd like to think the fact that people ate so little of the cake doesn't mean that it was a failure. From all the compliments, especially from the birthday girl, I'd say it was a success. But after tacos and numerous beers, a cake this rich was just the icing on the cake - a very thin, delicious layer of icing.


Guinness and Bailey's Chocolate Layer Cake
Guinness and Bailey's Chocolate Layer Cake
Makes a 6" round cake
Serves 10-20

For the Guinness chocolate cake layers:
adapted from Vegetarian Times, March 2006
2/3 cup stout, room temperature (I don't know how to measure beer. It was too frothy at the top, so I ended up using 2/3 cup+ with the froth since I did a bad job pouring)
10 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup strained yogurt or sour cream
powdered sugar, for dusting

For the whipped chocolate ganache filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons Bailey’s Irish cream

For the whipped cream frosting:
1/4 cup (28 g) confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 Tablespoons Bailey's Irish cream

Chocolate covered espresso beans (optional, for decoration)
Chocolate shavings (optional, for decoration)

To make the cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a deep 6" round pan and line with buttered parchment and dust with cocoa powder.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring stout and butter to a simmer. Whisk in cocoa until smooth. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Beat egg, egg yolk, and yogurt with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth and blended. Add beer-chocolate mixture and beat to combine.

Beat in flour mixture for 15-30 seconds on lowest speed. Fold batter using rubber spatula until completely combined. Don't fold too much. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake about 50-60 minutes, or until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool about 10 minutes on rack. If cake needs loosening from sides of pan, run a small knife around edges. Turn out cake onto rack (if using parchment, peel off) and let cool completely.

To make the chocolate ganache filling:
Place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a gentle boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute. With a whisk, whisk the cream and chocolate until smooth, followed by the Bailey's. Let cool about 20 minutes or until cool, stirring occasionally. You can cool it off in an ice bath or the refrigerator to speed up the process. Once cooled, beat with a mixer for 30 seconds or until fluffy.

To make the whipped cream frosting:
In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 cup of the cream until smooth. Place pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Allow to boil for about 15 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely.

Once it cools, using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups of heavy cream with the vanilla extract and bourbon at medium-high speed until the cream begins to thicken and the whisk leaves a train in the cream. Add the cooled cream and cornstarch mixture and beat until stiff peaks.

To assemble:
Slice cake into three even layers.

Place the bottom layer on a cake round or a cake plate and affix with a bit of chocolate ganache. Spread the top with half of the chocolate ganache and spread a thin layer on the side to seal in crumbs. Place second layer on top and use remaining chocolate ganache and place final cake layer on top. If needed, refrigerate cake for a while before proceeding to next step if the cake seems like the layers will slide off.

Spread 2/3 of the icing on the top and sides of the cake. If using chocolate shavings, pat them on the sides of the cake now.

Place remaining icing in a pastry bag with tip or a baggie with a corner snipped off to decorate the cake.