Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pear Pie

My parents brought me a bunch of pears last weekend. I ate one and realized that it was kicking up my allergies and OAS. Fortunately I didn't break out in hives or anything this time, just a bit of unpleasantness for a bit.

So I had 5 pears left and I can't eat them raw. I looked at them for a while unsure what to do about it. I really haven't cooked with pears before. I didn't have any inspiration or anything. I looked up pear recipes and about all I could find was ice cream and pies. I meant to top the pie with almonds, I just remembered now. Damn.

Anyway, I decided to make a pie. A very simple pie. The term pie is being used pretty loosely, they are really just baked pears in a pie shell. That's OK. I had a pie crust in the freezer, making things even simpler. I put a bit of strawberry jam on top to give it a bit of a glaze.

The filling was rather runny... probably should have tossed the pear slices in cornstarch before putting them in but too late now. But it was very pear-y and sweet and it didn't make my allergies go nuts.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Honey Ricotta Ice Cream and Blondies

It's been a long week. By week I mean the last 5 days or so.

First, spring kicked into full gear about Tuesday. It didn't help that Tuesday also happened to be the day I forgot to take my drugs in the morning. I wasn't too bad most of the day. Then I was in my boss' office for a few minutes and he had his window open. That was the end of me. First the throat started itching, the eyes watering, the congestion started and then the sneezing started. They pretty much didn't stop until today. I kept waking up in the middle of the night because I couldn't breathe and I was doubling up on my drugs (ssshhhh don't tell the doc, they yelled at me the last time I did that but I needed something!) Did I mention I hate spring, trees, the outdoors, the sun, flowers....? We got a nice heavy rain last night that helped. Hopefully the rain will keep up.

They announced on Thursday that they are going to do lay offs... everywhere company wide.... and everyone would be informed within the next week.... needless to say Thursday and Friday were not exactly productive days... Well I'm still employed, at least for now.... But this is gonna mean some pretty major changes in how things will work, I am not entirely clear on the new reporting structure (by that I mean I have no idea how it's gonna work) Well we'll see what happens....

To make things better I made Honey Ricotta Ice Cream and Blondies. The ice cream was good when I first made it, though it got kinda hard and doesn't seem as creamy after a few hours in the freezer. I am thinking I should have strained the ricotta or something and maybe gotten out more water that way. The blondies are good. I cut into then maybe a little too early... I took them out of the oven and stood over them until I thought they were cool enough to cut... maybe a couple minutes. But they are nice and chewy, just like I remember them. Though I don't remember the last time I had blondies.

Honey Ricotta Ice Cream
adapted from this recipe from Traveler's Lunchbox, who adapted it from Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons

A little over 1 lb ricotta you

2 cup Half and half
zest of 1 lemon
pinch salt
1/3 cup honey
3 tbsp powdered sugar

Beat the ricotta, honey, salt and lemon zest together until smooth.
Beat the half and half with powdered sugar in a chilled bowl until it starts holding air bubbles.
Mix in about a cup of the half and half into the ricotta mixture to lighten.
Fold in the rest of the half and half into the ricotta mixture.
Taste for sweetness: keeping in mind that when frozen the sweetness will be a little muted. Stir in either more honey (if you want that flavor more pronounced), or more powdered sugar. Churn it immediately in your ice cream maker. I tried to do it pretty quickly after everything was combined so that you could keep your air bubbles.
Freeze for at least 4 hours to allow it to firm up.

based on this recipe from Simply Recipes

1/2 cup of butter, melted
1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup of all-purpose flour
chocolate chunks (I used Gertrude Hawk Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Teeny Poppers I had them, but you may want to use a dark chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8X8 pan with foil.

Whisk together the melted butter and sugar in a bowl.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and whisk.

Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, mix it all together. Add the nuts and chocolate.

Pour into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Monday, April 21, 2008

All sorts of goodness

I picked up my car new car on Saturday. It's pretty. They had everything ready... lots of forms, the car was cleaned, had all my stuff put in and looked good and they had it right out front. They had a sign on the car with my name on it and everything.

Sunday was Debbie's birthday. We decided on friday that she was going to have a party at her house.... she laughed at that. So Sunday comes around and we decide we'll show up around 4. At 3:15 I call her house, just to make sure she is home. No answer. Crap. Call again a couple minutes later. Still no answer. More crap. So I called Cheryl and got her to call Debbie to inconspicuously find out where she was and when she would be home. She went to see a movie and it was about to start. So I looked up the movie listing and found out it would run until 6:30. I figured 15-20 mins to get home. So we decided to go to her house before she got home. When she got home my new shiny car was in her driveway and we were sitting on her porch with a box and bags of food and beverages.

I had been wanting to try this recipe from Tartelette, or at least some sort of spin on it. What I had in the fridge was resulted in my blackberry lemon mousse cake. But Debbie has a thing for brownies, so I had to make brownies too. I couldn't not make brownies; it would be like not celebrating her birthday. Then I figured we should probably have some real food first so I made garlic bread. There was this pasta thing too but I was ready to move on to dessert so we never actually ate any of it.

Anyway, so Debbie gets home and wonders why there is a random car in her driveway. She is still on the phone with Cheryl. Then she pulls in her driveway and notices us on her porch. I decided we should bring everything up to the porch and wait there because it was pouring when we left my apt and we should take advantage of the dry moment to get everything up to her house relatively dry. So she looks over and thinks oh god. She opens her garage door and drives in. Now, I'm not stupid so we figure we better get in there before she closes the door and leaves us sitting on her porch. That would be sad. So we race up to her car before she can get the garage door shut. We managed to convince her to let us in (the mention of bringing food and drinks helped, I think) So we walk into her house and I immediately walk straight into her kitchen and turn on the oven. Then I get out cups and start making drinks. Drinks make everything better. Well we hung around in the kitchen while stuff cooked up and then moved to the living room and watched TV. Eventually I went home. It was good.

Here are the recipes:

Garlic bread

Split a baguette in half and cut into decent size eating pieces. I suppose you could cut off rounds too but eh. 'Pan roast' most of a head of garlic. I don't know if pan roasting is really the best term for it but I don't know what else to call it. Cook the cloves in a pan with a bunch of olive oil until they are brown and soft and mushy. Mush up the garlic cloves and mix with about a stick of softened butter and some olive oil. I used the garlicy oil to cook up the veggies in my pasta mess but it could be used for the spread too. Get the butter, garlic and oil nicely mixed. Spread on the bread. Sprinkle with Parmesan. I actually meant to sprinkle with mozzerella too but I forgot to get any so that didn't work out. Bake in the oven at 350 until GBD (golden brown and delicious) Eat. Eat more. Eat even more. Then stop so you have room for dessert.

Pasta Mess

Take a pan, heat it up on high with some oil and brown up a whole bunch of veggies, in batches so they form a single layer in the pan. Season everything with salt and pepper as you go. As everything cooks throw it in a big bowl so you can toss it all together. I used asparagus, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower. I added a few cloves of the garlic cooked up for the garlic bread. Brown up some ground turkey, I had a little over a pound. Toss in the bowl with the veggies. Boil up about a half a pound of pasta, I used elbows but any little pasta will do. Add to veggies. Pour some EVOO and balsamic vinegar over everything and toss. Eat. Or don't eat because you want dessert instead.

Brownies - I just used a box of double chocolate Ghirardheli brownies. I mixed everything up and poured it into the pan beforehand and baked it off at her house so they were fresh and warm. We had it with vanilla bean ice cream.

Blackberry Lemon Mousse Cake
Based on this recipe from Tartelette

1 half size angel food cake
Lemon Mousse
1 quart fresh blackberries
Strawberry sauce

Angel Food Cake:
based on Alton Brown's Angel Food Cake

5 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup AP flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar and vanilla in a stand mixer until medium peaks. Standard meringue technique so keep everything clean.
Sift flour and salt into the egg white foam and fold in until incorporated.
Pour into a tube pan, you know the one, everyone has one for angel food cake
Bake for 20 mins or until the top is golden brown.
Remove from oven and immediately invert on a cooling rack.
Let it sit there until it is completely cooled. You can make everything else while this is going on. I put the rack on the window ledge to speed up the process.
Invert and remove from pan. I used a switchit to loosen it from the sides and popped it out and off of the pan
Slice in half, horizontally, like you would for a layer cake.

Take the bottom layer of cake and center it on your serving platter (aka plate)
Cut strips of parchement paper about 2 inches taller than the cake and wrap around the outside and inside of the cake. I probably should have done this step. I didn't. I was going for the rustic look.
Lay out a single layer of blackberries over the cake.

Lemon Mousse

1 egg, separated
2 TB sugar
2 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. powdered gelatin (1/2 sheet) + 1 Tb water
zest and juice of one lemon

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water, stir and let sit to bloom. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cream cheese with the sugar, add 1 egg yolk and whisk until well incorporated. I did this in my stand mixer though it's probably easier to do it in a bowl with a whisk because it is such a small amount, the whisk in my mixer had some trouble reaching the stuff.
Heat the gelatin for about 10 seconds in the microwave and quickly whisk it in the mascarpone batter. I didn't do this step so well, I ended up with some lumps of gelatin. Oh well.
Add the lemon juice and zest.
Whip the egg white until stiff, fold into the mascarpone mixture. I did that with my hot chocolate mixer thing I got from Pampered Chef. Woohoo, I used it! See, not a random impulse buy I am never gonna use!
Whip the heavy cream to medium stiff peaks, and fold into the mixture.

Pour over the blackberries.
Put the top layer of cake on.
Let sit in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.
Carefully remove the parchment.
Pour some strawberry sauce over the top and let it run down the sides.

Strawberry Sauce

Slice up strawberries in a pan.
Add just enough water to have a thin layer over the bottom of the pan and start breaking down the strawberries.
Add sugar to taste. Don't burn your mouth when tasting.
Cook until everything softens up. You can mush the strawberries with a spatula to break things up.
Pour the strawberries into a blender and puree.
Pour through a strainer to get rid of the chunkies and any seeds that didn't get pulverized and some of the pulp.
Add a bit of red food coloring if you want to brighten up the color. I added a few drops. The wooden spoon I used is now pink.
Let the sauce cool before topping the cake.

.... Sorry, no pics of anything. But trust me, they would be hot pics if I had any. Use your imagination.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My new car... I almost have it

The dealership is getting it tomorrow. They will hopefully have it ready on Saturday. My parents are coming out this weekend to take back their car so nothing better go wrong. If the dealership isn't ready Saturday I can get rides from other people for a day or 2 but that'll get old quickly. It's almost here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chocolate Surprise cake

One of my coworkers birthday's is tomorrow. So I decided to make a cake. I was inspired by a bunch of blog posts that I have seen in the last month or two. I just used a box mix for the cake. I know, I know... but I didn't get home until almost 8!. I didn't have any frosting and it's getting late so I didn't feel like making a frosting from scratch so I chopped up some chocolate and put it on top of the cake while it was still hot. It melted a bit and formed a coating. Hopefully the temper didn't break and make the cake look all gross.

I am wondering if my coworkers are going to figure out what the surprise is. Perhaps you can guess what it is? I won't tell them. I am debating whether or not to tell you. What if one of them has found my blog and is unsuspectingly reading it?

.... and the surprise is.... I can't say yet. Maybe tomorrow I'll post what it is. Here's a few hints....
Definitely not usually in chocolate cake or any sweet dessert
Very popular in the US at least, though different versions of it are very popular all around the world
Recently it has grown in popularity for unusual applications, especially sweets and chocolate
It's often served as a part of breakfast

So what do you think it is?

Monday, April 14, 2008

My new car!

It's been a few months since I've mentioned anything about my car. I have been diligently researching, checking things out and test driving cars. I suppose the day I finally decided what I wanted and mentally committed to it was a couple weeks ago.

It started out that I thought I wanted the CR-V but I wasn't sure. I was concerned that my decision against the RAV4 was a bit rash and based on a bad sales experience rather than the car. I liked my Subaru sales lady too but I just didn't feel so great about the Forester. The interior was a bit dated and I guess I couldn't get over the lack of mp3 capability on the CD player.

Then I considered the Nissan Rogue. I didn't know much about the Rogue, but K-Ram kept carrying on about them so I figured I'd take a look. We were looking online and we watched some guy talking about it. He said it was an excellent first shot at this class of car and a good alternative to the everyone's got in RAV4 and the nerdy perfection of the CR-V.

That may have been what sold me. Not on the Rogue, but on the CR-V. It's nerdy perfection! I won't go into the details of all the little things I like about it.

One thing I learned from this is that I simply get annoyed with pushy sales guys. Why does it seem that they are always guys? Anyway, so I had gone to Piazza Honda in Reading the first time. I made it clear to the guy when I walked in I was not going to buy that day so back off. We took it for a short test drive and came back to the office. The price he gave me at this point was the MSRP but he said they'd work out what they would actually sell it at when I was ready to buy.

The next one was down in Arlington. The sales guy was this Mongolian I think guy whose english wasn't so great and he had just started but he seemed like a nice guy. Not pushy. I actually kind of liked him though he didn't know his stuff the way some of the other sales guys do.

Then I decided to do some looking online. I figured out exactly what accessories I wanted and all. The Honda website won't just give you MSRP, you have to choose a dealership and get an actual quote. So I chose a dealership besides Piazza to get someone near here. I chose Ebersole Honda. So they started off with a pretty decent quote, 22,245 for the car plus all my accessories.

So I decide to contact Piazza Honda. Since they were my first dealership I figure I should give them a fair shot at quoting it. So first they were just giving me the MSRP and asked if I had a price in mind. When I told them what Ebersole was offering and said I was looking for 21,700 they started carrying on about how rediculous my price was blah blah blah. So I said OK I'll go to Ebersole then. Then they said they would match their price.

At this point I sent an email back to my Ebersole guy and was like give me your best price now, I have another dealership fighting for it. So they came back with 21,975 and 4.79. Piazza came back with 22,000 and 4.89 so I told them tough luck. This was after going back and forth with them numerous times, taking up a big chunk of my Friday night and Saturday. So I told them I was done and hung up. About 10 minutes later they call up saying they would do 4.39 so I said OK.

I told them I'd be down but then I thought about it some more. I liked my Ebersole guy so much better. He didn't do all the crying about how they aren't making any money and so on. At 5 years, that would make a difference of about 200$. I kinda thought I'd go with them even if it cost me more because it was that much less painful.

I dropped them an email saying match this or beat it and I'm yours. Well they said they'd match it. If I made a decent down payment (which is 10%) then they would drop it even more. I finally called the guy (this was the first time I actually spoke to him) and confirmed everything and said I'd be down.

Well I ended up with 21,975 and 4.14% with 10%+tax and tags down. I'm pretty happy with this.

So I am driving down to the dealership when I start having second thoughts. What if this isn't the right car. What if I don't like the color. What if I don't find somewhere good to put CDs. What if I realize the easily accessible storage space isn't laid out right to work for me. What if the trunk with the pull forward seats just doesn't work that well and you can't load big things in so well. Bah.

So I decide I need to look at the car again when I get to the dealership. They seemed OK with this. Even my online guy said they would have an LX and an EX in Glacier blue, which was what I thought I wanted, so I could look everything over before I commit. Well I get in the car, this one happens to be some sort of green, and I am like oh yeah, I remember this. It looks remarkably like the last 3 times I looked at it. So I looked around, couldn't really find anything I still wanted to look at and decided I was OK with it.

So I tell the guy I am ready and we go in to fill out the paperwork. He said we could look more or take it for a test drive if I wanted but I was ready. I thought I wanted the Glacier blue but at the last second I changed my mind. I do mean literally the last second. The guy had taken my credit card info to take my deposit when I went over again and decided I wanted the silver. He kind of chuckled when he got back and changed it on the sheet. I told him that I knew I was a little nuts and he said normal people suck. Something like that anyway, at least that's how I remember it. This was a different guy, not my online guy. Apparently my online guy has very limited hours in the store. He does his online thing and passes the info on to others so people like me can come in at their convenience to handle everything.

Overall, I am pretty happy with my experience with this dealership. I am a little afraid I am saying this too early because I haven't gotten the car yet, let along driven it. But they have been pretty straight forward. The finance guy told me about the extended warranty stuff but didn't push it really.

I am a little undecided on the warranty. It's 880$ and/or 450 or so for that teflon coating stuff to prevent stains and all. Maybe I should do that stain stuff? I dunno. I am a bit undecided on that. 450 seems kinda pricey for that.

I left work early to go to the car dealership. I got home a little after 7 so it was even still light out. Today worked out pretty well. Pics will come when I get the car.

Spring time

Springtime is in the air. It was about 75 degrees today and sunny. The kids are out running around all over the place and people are all out enjoying the weather. Flowers are blooming. Birds are chirping, and so on and so forth. I'm sure there are happy couples frolicking or whatever it is they do in movies and such when it's nice out.

You know what that means right?!!?!?!?!?!?!

My allergies are kicking up, it's unbearably hot in my office (it cools down to a chilly 78 degrees overnight) and, most importantly, I have taken out my ice cream maker!

First up, Chai Tea Ice Cream. My recipe is an adaptation of this recipe from Simply Recipes.

10 cloves
10 black peppercorns
2 1.5" cinnamon sticks
all spice (maybe 1/2 a tsp of some old allspice, so it'd be about 1/4 tsp? of fresh stuff)
12 cardomom seeds
12 cloves
1/4 cup black tea, I used Assam
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla paste

Coarsely grind the cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Add these, the all spice and tea to a pan with the milk, 1 cup cream and sugar. Slowly heat to a simmer, then turn off and let it steep for about 30 minutes, stir once or twice to make sure everything is wet and infusing.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly strain the milk mixture into the egg yolks, straining out the tea and spices. Stir the egg yolks while streaming in the milk to temper them.

Pour this mixture back in the pan and cook slowly until it coats the back of a spoon.

Put the cup of cream remaining in a bowl and pour the tempered mixture in and stir. Chill the bowl for a few hours or overnight. Stir in the vanille paste. I suppose you could use extract or steep a vanilla bean in the base.

Now Elise at Simply Recipes didn't grind the spices. I left out the stare anise since I don't have any. I also used a gunpowder tea, whereas I assume her recipe uses a loose leaf tea so I probably ended up with more tea-ness than hers did. The base, before you pour it into the other cup of cold cream, was incredibly dark and I was a bit concerned that I may have had too much spice and/or tea. Her recipe called for 3/4 cup sugar but I used 1 because my standard is 1 for my basic ice cream base, that doesn't have any sweet add-ins, like fruit. Of course my base also uses 4 cups of milk/cream but I didn't look at her recipe until after I had added the sugar and of course it was too late then. I also added the vanilla paste because I add it to pretty much everything sugary that I make. Mine has a very strong chai flavor. Very strong. Next time I'll probably cut back the tea a bit. Also, I maybe didn't wait long enough for the bowl of my ice cream maker to freeze. It was solid, but just barely when I started the churn, making for a very dense ice cream.

My next ice cream was Nutella Ice Cream from Chocolate and Zucchini

1.5 cups Nutella
1 can evaporated milk

Heat the Nutella and evaporated milk for a minute or so in the microwave. Stir until fully integrated, heat more if needed to get it uniform.

Churn in your ice cream maker.

Can this recipe get any simpler? I don't think the churning process did anything. I didn't gain any significant volume. There were some air pockets in it, I would say those came from the churning process. Next time I'd just melt everything together, let it come to room temp and freeze. All the fat and whatnot in the Nutella must keep it soft. I actually used the rest of my jar of Nutella and then some Whole Foods brand version of the stuff. I can't say I can tell the difference between the brands. I'd read on some blogs about some with 40% or something hazelnut and much less sweet and stuff but the Whole Foods one is just as sweet as the Nutella one.

On the plus side, the temps dropped to about 55 from the time I started this post (Saturday) and finished (Sunday) making the ice cream. And it's been rainy most of the day.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Daring Bakers

I have signed up for Daring Bakers! It looks like they do one recipe a month though I am not really sure yet. I'm excited! I thought about signing up for Tuesdays with Dorie but I realized a few issues. First, I'd have so much trouble keeping up. Second, they just say page whatever and make that and as seeing as how I don't have the book.....