Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Tips

When you spend a lot of time baking and cooking, you pick up some tricks of the trade. Some of them seem pretty obvious once you hear them, while others aren't nearly as intuitive. I've learned a lot of things just from experience, but I also have some really great personal resources. My grandma is the source for the really basic things you have to learn. My mom, the more updated versions of recipes and where things live in the grocery store, and my Uncle Frank is the guru of everything else. I stumbled on a graphic the other day that dealt with the good and bad of cooking and it made me think about the things that I've learned. Here it goes:

1. When separating eggs, there are two things to remember. The first is that a cold egg will separate easier. The yolk is less likely to break when it's cold. The second is that you should always crack your egg, regardless of if you're separating it or not, into a separate cup or bowl. If your recipe calls for more than one egg, do this for each individual egg. Not only can you easily pick out bits of shell if they get in there, but you can also tell if some yolk is in there when separating. In meringues, the tiniest speck of yolk will not let your meringue get fluffy and beautiful. This message comes from my grandma.

2. Dry herbs should be rubbed awake. Put them into your hand and then rub them with the other palm or with your fingers. This will break them up and release the flavors. It also helps to tell them to wake up. "Wake up herbs! It's time to flavor my food!" is one of my favorites. Learned from Uncle Frank.

3. Speaking of flavors, adding cinnamon to your banana bread will help wake up the other flavors. Ask my grandpa about this. He says it with a little grin and then looks at my grandma because he's antagonizing her. 

4. If a recipe calls for room temperature butter and you have forgotten to take it out of the fridge, you can save that recipe! You're going to need a microwave. Unwrap your butter and put it in your bowl. Nuke it for 10 seconds. Now rotate your stick of butter. Nuke for 10 more seconds. Rotate butter. 10 seconds. Do this until your butter is the correct softness. Be careful though, if your butter is too soft, it won't cream correctly with the sugar and your cookies will get flatten out and won't get all soft and lovely. 

5. Keep the brown sugar in the freezer. Brown sugar is brown because it contains molasses. If you don't keep it in an airtight container, it will get hard and dry. That's not something you want to bake with. I use brown sugar every day in my oatmeal so the light brown sugar stays in a sealed container on the counter. The dark brown sugar lives in the freezer because I don't use it nearly as much. Just pull it out maybe half an hour before you need it to let it thaw and you'll have your sugar all set.

6. Read the ENTIRE recipe, twice, from beginning to end. Read it all. Read the ingredients. Read the directions. Read the directions again. You might miss something. I did that today. I was all ready to make orange sesame chicken today, until I realized that I needed a deep fryer. I'm already leery about frying things because I've been burned with oil and seen some bad oil burns. I had to scrap the recipe. :( Now I have an orange to find something to do with.

That's it for this week. Time to figure out what's for dinner this week. I'm staying away from baking for a little while I think. I'm still recovering from the Valentine's Day sugar rush two weeks ago. Though chocolate is always awesome.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Week 8: Crockpot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (for Christopher)

Look at that bowl of soup. That is a nice bowl of soup you might say. Round!

Look at the pretty colors. It has carrots and celery, two things I don't like in anything except soup. They get all squashy and I can't tell that I'm eating vegetables. I'm like a 5 year old in that sense. I need to be tricked into eating my veggies. 

When I moved back to Ann Arbor, my brother was quite excited that he would be able to come visit me. He has a car on campus now and I am not going crazy in grad school. We finally got our schedules to mesh up and he came over for some food. I gave him options. Do you want pizza rolls with salad, orange sesame chicken, or chicken and wild rice soup? It was a pretty quick response to the soup. So soup it was, and even though I'm under the weather, I made a big pot of soup. I cheated...I used the crock pot. I walked in the door after work today and could smell it cooking. It smelled great. I even modified the recipe a bit based on the comments that other people were leaving and my experiences with this type of soup. So proud to be getting to this point in my cooking. I chose to add the rice later so it wouldn't make the soup pasty or gross. I also cut back on the original amount of roux because a full stick of butter seemed like an awful lot.

Brother seemed pretty excited to get his soup today. I also sent him home with the rest of the red velvet cupcakes from last week. They were a little stale, but I'm sure his roommates aren't going to mind. 

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup 

4 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 package of Rice-a-Roni long grain and wild rice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 tbsp all purpose flour 
4 tbsp butter
2 cups half and half
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery


Combine broth, water, carrots, celery, chicken and rice seasoning packet in a large slow cooker. 

Cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 4 hours. About 1 hour before serving, add rice to slow cooker.

Take out chicken and shred with two forks and then add back into slow cooker.

In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, and flour. In medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in flour mixture by tablespoon to form a roux. Whisk in cream, a little at a time, until fully incorporated and smooth. Stir cream mixture into slow cooker and then let cook on low for 15 more minutes.  

 Brother and I just about to enjoy our soup, bread and tea with honey.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Week 7: Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (for AEC)

I'm just going to apologize for the picture right now. It's not very good. I had to get some pictures before things started to go stale or anything. 

Beyond the picture though...these cupcakes are good. They were described as the best red velvet cupcakes one of my coworkers had ever had. I'll let you in on a secret...I've never had a red velvet cupcake. I made them because I have an obsession with red right now and it was Valentine's Day. Who knew that these things were time consuming. You mix and mix and mix and mix and mix. When you're done mixing, you mix some more. Ugh. My arm was so sore. I need a stand mixer. These cupcakes get their bright red color from a ton of red food coloring. I think the original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of it. I think you'd be safe with 4. Even that might be excessive. I found the pretty cupcake liners at Kroger. They were originally black with white curly-cues, but with the red cake, they became red and black, very festive for the occasion.

In the end, I'm not really sure that this is the most amazing cupcake I've ever had. Most of the flavoring came from the cream cheese frosting. The best part of it was the silky texture, or you could say, velvety...I'm not a huge fan, but it seemed to be pretty popular. After Valentine's Day at work, I was pretty sugared out. It'll be savory food recipes for a little while now. 

One other thing to note is that this recipe is based off of the Magnolia Bakery recipe, apparently a famous bakery that specializes in red velvet cupcakes. I got the recipe from a blog called Apron of Grace that I found on Foodgawker.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

1-1/2 cups unsalted Butter, room tempature
2-1/4 cups Sugar
3 Eggs, at room tempature
3 tablespoons Cocoa
4 tablespoons Red Food Coloring
1-1/2 teaspoons Vanilla
3 cups Cake Flour, measure after flour has been sifted
1-1/2 cups Buttermilk
1-1/2 teaspoon Salt
1-1/2 teaspoon Cider Vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter on high for 3 minutes.  Slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time.  Once all sugar is added, beat for 3 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time and beat for 3 more minutes.

Mix cocoa, food coloring and vanilla in a small bowl till smooth.  Add to butter mixture and mix well.

Mix salt with buttermilk, and alternately add buttermilk and sifted flour to butter mix until combined.  Do Not Over Mix!

Mix vinegar and soda in a small bowl and add to batter.  Stir very quickly and promptly.

Dollop into cupcake wrappers and bake for approximately 10-20 minutes.

Cool before frosting.

Yields approximately 36 cupcakes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Week 6: 7-Up Biscuits

Ann Arbor got a CVS last summer. I haven't been in it yet. I prefer to shop at the local market nearby if I need to pick something up last minute. 

I found these biscuits on Pinterest and they intrigued me. Four ingredients and one of them was pop, so it sounded interesting. One of those ingredients was butter and lord knows I have enough butter in the house. The second ingredient was Bisquick and I have a large box that sitting in the cupboard. However, after I went grocery shopping, I completely forgot the other two ingredients. What is a girl to do? Go to the market. White Market actually. It's a little hole-in-the-wall kind of market that few students really know about. They had a small container of sour cream and a little Sprite. Perfect! I had them with some tomato soup. Yum. Unfortunately, my biscuits did not look like the picture from Pinterest. They were much prettier online. Still delicious though!

7-Up Biscuits

2 c Bisquick mix
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c 7up
1/4 c melted butter
Preheat oven to 450º. Cut sour cream into your Bisquick mix, then add 7up. The dough will be really sticky.

Sprinkle your counter with a little Bisquick mix then add dough and pat it out.

Melt butter and pour it into a 9" square baking pan. Cut your biscuits up and arrange them in pan on top of melted butter.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Week 5: Andes Mint Chip Cookies (for Roommates)

Mmmm cookies. There is nothing better then a simple cookie and this is one. Basically, a chocolate chip cookie with Andes Mint Chips in it instead of chocolate chips. They're quite good. Unfortunately, I'm getting used to a new oven and the bottoms got pretty burned. Also, forgive me of the crappy picture, it was done quickly and with poor light.

My new roommate (hi!) and I (along with her boyfriend) had dinner my first week here. She made a chicken pot pie in the crock pot and I contributed these cookies. The chicken pot pie was delicious. I tried mushrooms to see if I liked them yet (I don't) and we drank wine (yum). 

Ready for a recipe?

Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies

1/2 cup salted butter - softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package (10 oz.) Andes® Crème de Menthe Baking Chips
2-2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Blend butter, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla and eggs until mixed.

Stir in Andes Baking Chips and then flour. Chill approximately one hour in the refrigerator.

Measure out approximately 1 oz. of dough. Form a ball and slightly flatten.

Raise oven rack one level above the middle and bake on non-stick baking pans.

Bake at 350° F for approximately 8 - 10 minutes.

Cool on pans for two minutes before removing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What I Have Learned...

Since moving back to Ann Arbor a few weeks ago, I have done countless new things. I will count them anyways and distract you from the lack of food posts lately. They are photographed....but I haven't written about them. Call me lazy, call me sick (that's the truth) and then skip to the new things I've done.

1. I ate at Taco Bell. It was against my will and my better judgement, but I tried two bites of something called a chalupa. Google says that it means "boat." Regardless, I ate it and was then chauffeured to my house. Spend 10 minutes walking in the cold or take an adventure to Taco Bell with friends in a warm car...warm car and Taco Bell it is.

2. I put honey in tea. Woah. I didn't like honey a few days ago, but now I'm halfway through my honeybear that I've had for over a year. I even ordered hot tea with honey at a bar. The waiter gave me a pretty perplexed look on that one. I swear it's because I have a terrible sore throat/cough combination going on right now. I'm pretty miserable, but the doctor says that I've already hit the worst part and I'm getting better now. Except for my weight, which she doesn't like.

3. I used a lighter for the first time. New roommate only had a lighter in which to light a candle and not the long, clicky thing you use to light a grill. I'm good with those, but I never got the whole flick thing down with a regular lighter. My first tries were done with two hands. I've practiced and now I can do it with one hand...and my room doesn't smell musty anymore...it smells like Ikea vanilla candle.

4. I made a hard boiled egg. I'd never made one before. I love them and their eggy goodness, but I tend to eat them in a salad at my parents house where my Mom makes them for me. :) On Saturday, I wanted a hard boiled egg in the worst way. It was the sickness, I swear. It was paired with a grilled cheese sandwich which (heehee) doesn't match AT ALL. The HORROR! I am a child of matching foods that don't touch. Anyways, back to the egg. My friend Whitnie was visiting from Minnesooota and advised me in the making of the egg. However, since she is unable to consume egg because of her allergies, we had a little egg mishap. Two minutes in boiling water does not make a hard boiled egg. It makes a very slightly hard boiled egg that requires you to sneak into the fridge and steal one of your roommates eggs (I bought more today to make up for it, I swear (and tea)) and try again...with the help of Google. That was a darn good hard boiled egg.

5. I'm going to own a wedding dress soon, but let's not talk about that. Know anyone getting married that needs a dress? I have one that wants to be sold! :) Seriously though. Serious face time. 

6. Popsicles are a valid breakfast when you're sick. I didn't learn that. It's just a fact.

I promise to post recipes and pictures soon. Little Brother is coming over this week for dinner (D'awww, cute) and I'm trying out a new chicken and wild rice soup in the crockpot. Nom nom nom.