day out

Handsome and I spent a lot of time during the week in the house.  I work from home at the moment, so I am home all day, and when he comes home at the end of the day we usually stay in.  If we leave, it’s to work out.

We cook a lot.  You don’t see the evidence of that because the best photos are taken in daylight, which is hard to come by late in the evening.  Tonight, for example, Handsome made dinner. He sauteed some asparagus that was about to die, fried some bacon, and tossed it all together with spaghetti, canned artichokes, the “spice,” and some parmesan cheese, and it was delicious.

So we don’t usually go out during the week.  It’s a money-saving thing partly, but I think honestly we would rather relax on the sofa together in our pajamas than do the work to go to a restaurant.  I have friends who go out to eat almost constantly, and it just sounds stressful to me (though, as far as I know, they love it that way).  To each her own.

When we do head out for dinner, it’s usually on the weekend, and it’s usually not very expensive.  Even if we go someplace nice, we tend to share an entree.  We’re not large people, and we don’t have insatiable appetites, so it works better this way.

One of our favorite places to drop in for a good burger is Phil’s Ice House in Austin.

It’s a cute little burger bar next door to an Amy’s Ice Cream, which makes it nearly impossible to resist.  But my favorite thing to order from Phil’s is the sampler basket of mini burgers. Three tiny burgers come topped in different ways (I always get one with just cheese, pickles, and mustard) and are served with a mix of regular and sweet potato fries.

With three burgers for two people, Handsome and I get a nice, filling snack… and he always lets me have the sweet potato fries.  I love this man.


playing hooky with homemade pizza

Handsome just finished a grueling week at work, so we played hooky at the end of the week.  I’m a graduate student by trade, and since I had no classes, playing hooky was easy for me.  Whatever will I do when I have a real job?

Anyway, I knew exactly what I wanted to make for our day off: homemade pizza.  I jumped on the homemade pizza bandwagon when I was a kid, starting with the Chef Boyardee Pizza Kits.  I remember being so mad when they changed their sauce recipe; I liked it much better before.  “More kid-friendly,” my butt.  But this, for a long time, was my favorite thing to do on Friday night: get one of these kits, a bag of shredded pizza cheese, and some Hormel pepperonis, and go to town.  The sauce, the original sauce, was to die for.

I’ve had a favorite pizza crust for a while now; it’s this one, by Giada de Laurentis.  It makes a yeasty, sweet pizza crust.  Due to my small budget, however, I make it in a 13 x 9 cookie sheet, which has meant pre-baking the pizza crust so it gets done, and sometimes I’m just not as pleased with the results as I would like to be.

See, lately I’ve been on a pizza kick for crusts that are thinner, but still chewy, but with some crispiness.  Apparently, the key to this is a pizza stone.  I don’t have one, and I don’t have the nine dollars (well, I do, but there are other things I’ve wanted to spend nine dollars on… like mozzarella) to buy a crappy one.

Then the heavens heard me, and I came across an article on a DIY pizza stone at the Slice blog.  I have a local hardware store!  I can do this!  My local store did not have the smaller tiles they recommend, so I got 4 12″ tiles (a mistake, ultimately, as I can only fit one in my oven, so Handsome cut one for me so I have a 17 x 12″ pizza stone, in two pieces, plus one more tile.  Alas, one tile did not make it through the cutting process and is no longer with us).

So then it was off in search of a recipe for a thinner, crispier, but still chewy pizza crust.  Like the kind they serve at my new favorite local pizza place.  I found a recipe on Epicurious (how I love you, Epicurious) for Margherita Pizza that seemed like it would work (one of my requirements was a recipe that did not require me to spend money on the fabled but elusive 00 flour).

Results of this experiment:  The pizza stone did a great job cooking the pizza.  I got impatient and did not roll the dough out large enough, so the crust was a little chewier than I wanted.  It also could have used another minute or two in the oven but again, I got impatient.  I was also concerned that the cheese was browning too much (but whoever heard of over-browned cheese on a pizza? Not me.), so that contributed to my taking it out a little early.

You will also notice on some of the Epicurious reviews that some people were upset that the parchment paper browned and burned.  That is true; it did.  I didn’t care, and it didn’t affect the flavor of the pizza at all.  The parchment paper underneath the pizza did not burn at all.

Pizza Margherita
from Epicurious

You will need:

2 1/4 tsp. or 1 package active dry yeast
1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, divided (I used bleached because it’s what I had, and it seemed fine)
3/4 c. warm water, divided
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1 14-15 oz. can whole tomatoes in juice (I used crushed tomatoes that were crushed very well, and thus did not have to blend them)
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 large basil leaves, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp. sugar
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced

From Epicurious:  “Make dough:

Stir together yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl and let stand until surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t appear creamy, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Add 1 1/4 cups flour, remaining 1/2 cup water, salt, and oil and stir until smooth. Stir in enough flour (1/4 to 1/3 cup) for dough to begin to pull away from side of bowl. (Dough will be slightly wet.)

Knead on a floured surface, lightly reflouring when dough becomes too sticky, until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form into a ball, put in a bowl, and dust with flour. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

Make tomato sauce while dough rises:
Pulse tomatoes with juice in a blender briefly to make a chunky purée.  (I skipped this, as I used crushed tomatoes.)

Cook garlic in oil in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant and pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add tomato purée, basil (I added the basil whole), sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 40 minutes. Season with salt and cool.

Heat pizza stone while dough rises:
At least 45 minutes before baking pizza, put stone on oven rack in lower third of electric oven (or on floor of gas oven) and preheat oven to 500°F.

Shape dough:
Do not punch down. Dust dough with flour, then transfer to a parchment-lined pizza peel or large baking sheet. Pat out dough evenly with your fingers and stretch into a 14-inch round, reflouring fingers if necessary.

Assemble pizza:
Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1-inch border (there may be some sauce left over). Arrange cheese on top, leaving a 2- to 3-inch border.

Slide pizza on parchment onto pizza stone. Bake until dough is crisp and browned and cheese is golden and bubbling in spots, 13 to 16 minutes. Using peel or baking sheet, transfer pizza to a cutting board. Cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle with some basil leaves before slicing.”

brownies cockaigne by joy

I have a confession to make.

I stole my mother’s old copy of The Joy of Cooking.

That’s a lie.  She gave it to me.  In any case, I have it now.

I wanted brownies the other night, and I happened to have a leftover bar of chocolate from making the ganache for my mom and sister’s chocolate cupcakes with ganache, so I started going through my cookbooks and stumbled upon the recipe for Brownies Cockaigne.

I will tell you up front that these are not the most chocolatey brownies you will ever eat.  They are not the most fudgy, and probably not even the best.  I’ve made them twice and for whatever reason, they turn out lighter in color than I expect.  That’s a bit of a brownie turn-off for me, but I went with it.  They got the job done, and that’s maybe the best thing about them.  But they satisfied my craving for chocolate, Handsome ate them all, and they made me happy, so here you go.  Brownies Cockaigne.

You will need:
1/2 cup butter
4 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans (I omitted this)

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, then remove from heat and cool.

Beat the eggs with the salt until they are “light and foamy in texture.”

This is what we decided was "light and foamy"

Add the sugar gradually and beat until well creamed, then add vanilla.

In a “few swift strokes,” fold in the cooled chocolate by hand (Joy says so).

Fold in the flour by hand.  Stir pecans in gently, if using.

Ready to go into the oven

Bake in a 9×13 pan at 350 for about 25 minutes.

There’s a recipe for fudgey, chewy brownies in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated, and I can’t wait to try it.  I’ll let you know how it compares!

my first try at ganache

I recently went back home (you know, that place where you grew up and where they have to take you in and give you a bed) to celebrate the birthdays of my mom and sister.  Their birthdays are about two weeks apart, so it made sense to go home for one weekend and celebrate with both of them.

While we were organizing my trip by phone, my mom said to me, “And one more thing: Your sister and I want you to make us some cupcakes.”

Uhh, what?

I love to bake, and I post photos of my efforts on my Facebook page.  My family knows that I am trying my hand at new recipes, and they continually both razz me for and stand in awe of my desire to bake from scratch.  But this was the first time I’d been asked to perform, asked to bake something specifically for a special occasion.

Still, it’s their birthdays!  Of course I am up to the challenge.

Picking out the perfect recipe was hard work.  I combed the internet for ideas, rejecting many recipes as too pretentious, too difficult, too time-consuming, requiring too many specialty ingredients, too adventurous in ingredients for such a small gathering.  Finally I wised up and searched the archives of my old stand-by, The Pioneer Woman.

PW recently posted a delightful-looking recipe f or chocolate cupcakes coated in chocolate ganache, using her chocolate sheet cake recipe as a base.  My major adaptation was in halving the recipe, which still yielded me twelve cupcakes (and a whole lot of leftover ganache.  Not good for the waistline).

You will need:
1 cups Sugar
1 cups All-purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoons Salt
1/4 cups Buttermilk
1 whole Egg
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
1 stick Butter
2 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup Water, Boiling
12 whole Hershey’s Kisses, Unwrapped
Canned Pitted Cherries (optional)

4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
3 Tablespoons Corn Syrup
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 12 muffin cups with baking spray.

To make the batter for the cupcakes, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, and vanilla.

In a saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter.  When the butter is all melty, add the cocoa powder and stir.  Add the boiling water, stir, allow to bubble for a few seconds, and remove from heat.

Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the flour mixture and stir a few times.  Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir.

Fill muffin cups a little more than half full.  Place one Hershey’s kiss in the center of each muffin cup and allow it to sink down.  Or, place three cherries in the bottom of the muffin cup and cover with cake batter.

This would be where I read the recipe incorrectly.  I made some cupcakes with cherry bottoms and Hershey’s kiss centers.  This was by no means a misstep– it was a beautiful mistake.  It did mean, however, that I had enough batter for 12 cupcakes and that some of my cupcakes were a little overfilled.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cool on a baking rack.

For the ganache, chop the chocolate and set aside. Heat the cream and corn syrup on medium heat in a saucepan.  Once hot, stir in the vanilla.  Pour the cream mixture over the chopped chocolate and stir together until the ganache is nice and glossy.  Once the cupcakes are cool, dunk the tops in the ganache and set on a plate to allow the ganache to set.

Verdict: “Uuhhhmmmmmmm.” -Mom. “Oh my god.” -Sister.

Thank you once again, Pioneer Woman.

sunday mornings: french toast

Handsome and I are fans of lazy weekend mornings.  Frequently Saturday mornings aren’t as lazy as we want them to be.; we have errands to run, martial arts classes to attend, other details of our lives that need attention.  Sundays, though, are for laziness.

The particular Sunday on which this breakfast was made was particular lazy.  We slept until eleven, starting talking about breakfast at noon, and eventually ate breakfast close to three.  (Part of this delay was due to the huge line at the grocery store when Handsome ran out for milk on Super Bowl Sunday.)  We discussed the usual bacon, eggs, and toast breakfast, when suddenly I had a craving for French toast.

French toast is one of the first “from scratch” meals I learned to make myself.  My stepdad used to make French toast with regular Wonderbread and he taught me how to beat the eggs, mix in the milk, dunk the bread long enough so that it soaks up the egg mixture, prep the skillet with butter, not get the heat too high, and the proper way of cutting it into triangles.  Some of my best grade-school memories are helping my stepdad in the kitchen when he made French toast.  I felt capable, helpful, and close to him.

Breakfast was always my stepdad’s meal.  I was an impossibly picky eater, but he could fry eggs, whip up pancakes, or enlist my help in making French toast and I was happy to eat whatever he put in front of me.  Part of the reason for that may have been that I got to help; thinking back over my experiences with food in my childhood, the meals I liked best were the ones I got the help make.  I always got to help make French toast.  I think that breakfast was the most successful meal for my sister, too.

When I got older and had a job that required me to be at work early on Saturday mornings, French toast with my stepdad stopped being our tradition.  I am sure he still made it, and I’m not sure he ever thought of it as a tradition he had with me, but there weren’t very many opportunities once I was a teenager for us to make breakfast together.  But I still think of him every time I get the urge to make French toast.

This is essential his French toast recipe, and probably resembles a host of other recipes available.  I’ve never looked one up, and I don’t know the exact measurements of any of the ingredients.  This recipe is about procedure and trusting the procedure to yield the desired result.

You will need:
Several pieces of soft bread (I used a grainy variety, which yielded a nice nutty undertone)
1-2 tbsp butter
2 eggs (one egg per person)
Several splashes of milk
About a quarter cup of granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
A couple shakes of cinnamon

Heat a skillet over medium/ medium-high heat.

Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Dunk pieces of bread into the mixture, and turn the bread until completely coated in the egg mixture.  Leave the bread a few seconds so the  egg mixture really gets into the bread.

Melt the butter in the skillet.  When the butter is melted and the skillet is hot, place the egg-soaked bread into the skillet.  Repeat for other pieces of bread until the pan is full.

Cook several minutes on each side.  I tend to err on the side of a cooler skillet, closer to medium, so it takes about five minutes per side.  When the bottom side is spotty brown, flip the bread.  When all pieces are done, cut them into triangles using the sharp edge of the spatula.

Serve with powdered sugar or maple syrup, or…

Adapt this recipe from 17 and Baking for a berry syrup!

For the berry syrup, my way, you will need:
About 1 cup frozen raspberries or other frozen berries
1/4 to 1/2 cup maple syrup

Rinse the frozen bits off the berries.  Warm the berries over medium heat in a saucepan or skillet.  Use a spatula or spoon to smush (yes, that is the technical term) the berries as they warm and the heat breaks them down.

When the berries are hot, and just before your French toast is finished, pour the maple syrup into the berry mixture and mix well.

Top French toast with berry syrup and enjoy!

(I found that the berries I used overwhelmed the maple flavor, so I think it might be interesting to either use equal parts syrup and cooked berries, or to warm some maple syrup and stir in a few tablespoons of your favorite jam.  Something to experiment with.)