Friday, May 31, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: How to Get the Most Out of Your Market!

Well friends, I'm off on another trip again-- Chicago this time (meaning my hometown) for work-- yay! T-minus a few hours till I'm on a plane...

However, I way overshopped at the farmer's market last week. I hate letting food go to waste, and over the past few years here in Minnesota, I've learned quickly that the cost of fresh produce skyrockets as soon as snow hits the ground, so when I have leftover produce in the summer, I like to preserve it. My favorite way (and preference for this week, since it's quick and easy) is to blanch and freeze the veggies. I've been reading up on some other awesome ways to save spring/summer foods... here's a link roundup to help you out if you have leftover random dirt candy:

8 Ways to Love (and Keep On Loving) Your CSA: Great tips and links for preserving your farmer's market goodies if you're like me and always overshop.

Easy Fridge-Cleaning Recipes: Recipe ideas to use up stray veggies and foods in your fridge-- a lifesaver!

Freeze and Preserve Fresh Herbs in Olive Oil: Believe it or not, I haven't killed any of my herb and pepper plants yet... In fact, they're going bonkers! Going to plan on doing this to preserve some of the goodness.

Spring Roll Ideas: One of my favorite quick, easy dinners that really lets you use every last vegetable!

Happy Friday, all!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

There have been some great food debates in our time. Chocolate chip cookies: chewy or crispy? Matzo balls: floaters or sinkers? Peanut butter: smooth or chunky? Brownies: Cakey or fudgey?

Wait. There's no debate on that last one. Fudgey. Definitely.

My friend Shannin loves a good carrot cake, so it seemed only natural to make carrot cake cupcakes for her birthday last week. So I grabbed my grater, a pound of carrots and got baking.

Every carrot cake I've ever had has had raisins in it, which I find really add something to the carrot cake. This recipe would still be great without raisins, but I thought I was being clever when I added golden raisins to give a slightly different twist to the recipe. Little did I know it would incite another debate...

Carrot cake: raisins or no raisins?

Several people I asked around here said no raisins, which I think is preposterous. So, friends, I turn to you: raisins or no raisins?

Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Adapted from Flour

For the cake:
2 eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup nonfat greek yogurt
3 tbsp lowfat buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting:
4 wedges plain Laughing Cow cheese
8 oz nonfat cream cheese
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Place cupcake liners in muffin tin; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and brown sugar for 3-4 minutes on medium speed, until light in color and thick. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, yogurt, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add to the egg mixture slowly.

In a separate bowl, sift together all other dry ingredients. With a spatula, fold the dry mixture into the wet. Fold in carrots, raisins, and walnuts. Pour batter into muffin tin cups (I usually use a cookie scoop to do this to make it easier and make sure everything is the same size).

Bake the cupcakes for 50 minutes, until golden brown and the cake springs back when touched. Remove from oven, transfer cupcakes to cooling rack, and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting, whip the Laughing Cow cheese, cream cheese, and softened butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Slowly add the powdered sugar on low speed, until frosting reaches desired consistency. Chill frosting for an hour to firm up enough to spread. Frost cooled cupcakes, and chill until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 18 cupcakes.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: Three-potato Vindaloo

At the checkout line at the grocery store, I impulse bought a magazine. This is not uncommon for me-- magazines are one of my easy escapes, a great way to take 10-15 minutes to myself before I get back to work (on the weekend, mind you). I never take anything in fitness and fashion magazines to heart, really, though, since I usually "read" the articles, say "duh" (not always in my head), and move on.

HOWEVER, I read this article this week about "taking the crazy out of busy." Something about it must have stuck with me, because this week was really pretty slow at work, and it drove me nuts. I was searching for things to find to fill my time (there's always something to work on, if you look hard enough), and realized that, as the article suggested, I really do find part of my identity in being crazy busy.

Given that summer is just around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to step back, slow down, and focus on one thing at a time. Chill out on the multitasking, and bring intention to each action.

So when I was making this vindaloo, I took my time. I focused on each spice as I added it, and, as it simmered for a while on the stove, I rethought my to-do lists. I asked myself what had to happen today and what could happen later, and tried to modify my day so I only focus on one thing at a time. I went deep. And it felt good.

But old habits die hard... so excuse me while I eat this salad, check my email, listen to a podcast, and double-book myself for meetings next Tuesday.

Three-potato Vindaloo

Adapted from Plenty

2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground tumeric
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp olive oil
3 shallots, minced
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 tbsp yellow curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp sriracha
3 ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 3/4 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 cups sweet potatoes, diced
1 cup red-skin potatoes, diced
2 cups white sweet potatoes, diced

Heat oil in a large, deep saucepan. Add in shallots, spices, and sriracha and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar water, sugar, and salt. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer; cook for 20 minutes.

Add potatoes and bell peppers; cook another 20 minutes. Finally, add the orange and white sweet potatoes, and cook for 40 minutes, covered, until tender. Serve as either a side dish (serves 8) or as an entree (serves 3-4).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Irish Coffee Ice Cream Cake

There are certain things that are fundamental food-related things to learn about a person when you've been dating for a while. There's the basics: food allergies, likes, dislikes. Then there's favorite type of cuisine: Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Indian.

Then, of course, there's favorite type of dessert: cake, pie, ice cream...

The fun in getting to know someone really comes from knowing the stories behind those preferences, along with other random factoids about them.

Last weekend, we were celebrating, and, knowing my boyfriend's love for anything ice cream, I made an Irish coffee ice cream cake.

When I went to serve it, I pulled out the bottle of Magic Shell that I had used to drizzle and decorate the top of the cake. You know, because when you have something with Magic Shell, you always want to add more of it.

That's when I learned something that rocked me to my very core... he had never heard of, seen, or tasted Magic Shell.

Magic Shell was an integral part of my childhood. Any birthday party involved cake, ice cream, and a bottle of this liquid gold out on the table. There would be arguments if someone used too much, and left none for the rest (guilty). Watching the sweet syrup turn solid was sheer magic.

And though I now understand the science behind it (don't worry, I'm not going to ruin that mystery here and now), I still reach for a bottle along with my ice cream when I'm stressed. To think of a childhood without Magic Shell... Well, that explains a lot.

Just kidding.

The point of this cake, however, is not Magic Shell. It's about celebrating a wonderful milestone with someone, since this cake  is a labor of love. You have to make the ice cream (without drinking too much Bailey's while doing it), mix up a cake, freeze the components, and assemble them (again, without eating too much of the ice cream in the process).

You then have to decide how you want to decorate this delicious gift. I suggest wrapping it in ribbons of Magic Shell. You may learn something new about someone... and be able to rock their world with Magic (shell).

Irish Coffee Ice Cream

Adapted from Nigella Lawson

20 oz almond milk, unsweetened
16 oz heavy cream
4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
2 tbsp instant espresso
1 vanilla bean
3 large egg yolks
4 large eggs
8 oz sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract 

Whisk together the sugar and eggs, and egg yolks until light in color. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat milk, cream, scrapings from vanilla bean, and empty vanilla bean pod until just at boiling point. Slowly pour half of the milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Again whisking constantly, pour egg mixture back into saucepan.  Remove vanilla bean pod and add espresso. Cook mixture until it holds a line across the back of a wooden spoon (~8-10 minutes).

Pour custard into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of  any eggy bits. Stir in Bailey's and vanilla extract. Chill mixture for 2-12 hours.

Prepare ice cream in your ice cream maker per the manufacturer's instructions. Add in marshmallow fluff towards the end. Transfer to a storage container, and place in the freezer to firm up.

Chocolate Midnight Mocha Cake

Adapted slightly from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark dutch-processed cocoa
1 tsp instant espresso
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 8" baking pans with baking spray (note that you'll only need one for this ice cream cake-- freeze the other in saran wrap after baking for later use, since this cake freezes beautifully). Set aside

In a mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Slowly whisk in boiling water 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well between additions. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then the oil. Note that the batter will be very thin.

Pour batter into cake pans and bake until cake springs back when touched, around 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven, invert onto wire cooling racks, and allow to cool 10 minutes. While still warm, wrap in saran wrap and freeze (this helps keep the cakes moist-- I learned this trick from my Wilton cake class).

Assembling the cake

Line an 8" cake pan with parchment paper, and place one of the baked cake layers on top. Soften the ice cream for a few minutes, then use a spatula to add ice cream on top. Cover and freeze overnight.
The next day, remove the cake from the pan and place on a plate. Cover the top of the cake with parchment paper and run a warm, dry icing spatula over the parchment on the cake to smooth it. I like to warm the spatula by running it under hot water and drying with a towel. Repeat with sides of cake to smooth them. Place back in the freezer for an hour.

When ready to decorate, remove cake from freezer, add toppings (I used chopped chocolate-covered dried cherries), and drizzle with magic shell. Place back in freezer until ready to serve.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eating Minneapolis: Mill City Museum

My brother came to visit last weekend-- which meant I got to be a tourist in my own backyard. Score!

He's a huge history buff, so when he suggested that we check out the Mill City Museum, I was a little skeptical. The history of a flour mill? I mean I bake, but I wasn't sure...

Turned out to be one of the coolest. museums. ever.

The museum covered not only the history of the mill (including an awesome multimedia elevator ride-- trust me, worth it!), but also of the home baking industry.

There was a baking lab, complete with a bread-making demonstration and samples!

I didn't realize Pillsbury was a Midwest brand. I also didn't realize that the doughboy has a name: Poppin' Fresh. Who knew?

Another tidbit: Betty Crocker wasn't real. I was so hoping...

The abandoned mill caught on fire in the early 1990s. You can still walk through all the ruins, which is kind of beautiful...

Since flour milling required water power, the mills were all on the Mississippi river and used its water power.

I definitely just stopped and went "M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I" just now to make sure I spelled it right.

Across the river, the old Pillsbury mill still stands.

The Mill City Museum is housed in the old Gold Medal Flour building.

Walking through the old mill, it's just incredible to imagine all the manpower it took to make a bag of flour.

A wonderful museum, and great for foodies and history fans. Highly recommended!

(And I'm not just saying that because I got a free snack, too, when I parked myself by the bread samples in the Baking Lab).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: Radish Pickles and a Window Garden

When it comes to plants, I have a black thumb. Everything green I touch dies. 

When I was in college, I was a plant biology TA. Whenever I went to help a student with their experiment, it would fail because the plants would pretty much look at me and die. It got so bad that one of the professors I worked with asked me to just point at students' experiments and tell them what to do instead of jumping in and giving hands-on help so that they could actually finish their assignments. True story.

This year, I'm trying my hand (again) at an herb garden on my windowsill. I picked up some bedding plants at the Farmer's Market last weekend, so they've had some love and a head start already. It's been a week. So far, so good... Stay tuned on that front.

This is why we (I) need farmers. What farmers do for us is absolutely incredible. So much respect.

This week, I picked up some gorgeous radishes. The farmer I spoke with from Whitewater Gardens Farms told me that they're pretty easy to grow. 

(I don't believe him.)

Last year was not only the first year I attempted to grow anything on my own, but it was also my first summer of pickling and jamming. I scoffed at first, but it's really a lot of fun, super-easy, and then you get to eat delicious farmer's market treats all Minnesota winter long.

 So I pickled some radishes. I found this recipe in Canning for a New Generation, and thought it sounded intriguing.

Of course, these are still pickling, and I probably won't crack them open until winter... But they look so pretty!

Radish Pickles

Adapted slightly from Canning for a New Generation

2 pounds radished, cleaned and tops removed
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds

Cut the radishes into 1/4 to 1/8 inch coins. In a medium glass bowl, combine the salt with 3 cups water and stir to dissolve the salt. Plop the radishes in, cover with saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, drain radishes in colander and rinse. In a separate pot, combine the vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer; add radishes and return to a boil. Remove from heat. Can immediately using a water bath method (great tutorial here),

Makes 1 quart jar or two pint jars.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lemon Bundt Cake

I impulse-bought a bundt pan. It's been a rough couple of weeks at work/school, and it was on sale. My guy saw this and said "Some girls get stressed and buy clothes and purses. You buy kitchen gear." 

We all have our kryptonite.

I contend that the fact that I didn't have a bundt pan, being a baker, was a glaring problem that needed to be fixed (as did the whole doughnut pan situation). And now that I've baked my first (!) bundt cake, I'm glad that I did.

This lemon bundt cake is a simple update on a classic pound cake. Dense, sweet, perfect when topped with some of the season's gorgeous strawberries and paired with a glass of moscato.

But of course I can't leave well enough alone. In a fit of late-night craziness after having a few slices (with the boyfriend-- funny how he benefits from this!), I decided to glaze this situation.

Messy, imperfect... but necessary.

Lemon Bundt Cake

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups sugar
Grated zest of 6 lemons
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 cup almond milk plus 3 tbsp almond milk
1/2 lb confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F; spray a bundt pan with nonstick baking spray and set aside.

In a bowl, combine lemon zest and sugar; mash together until fragrant. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer with the butter and cream until light and fluffy. Add in eggs and mix well after each one, scraping sides of bowl as necessary; add 1 tbsp lemon juice in the same manner.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In alternate additions, add the dry flour mixture and 1 cup almond milk (3 and 2 additions, respectively), beating well between additions.

Pour batter into bundt pan; bake for 60-70 minutes, until golden brown and sides of cake pull away from pan. Remove and cool for 15 minutes; invert onto cooling rack, shake cake out, and allow to finish cooling.

In another bowl, combine confectioners' sugar, 3 tbsp almond milk, and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Glaze the top of the cake, allow to dry, and continue to add glaze on top until cake is glazed to desired level. Serve with a scoop of frozen yogurt and berries.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

As a scientist-in-training, I am taught to always look at the evidence before I believe in something. To replicate my results before reporting something to be true. To question everything, and to make sure all the proper controls are done.

I can assure you, with 100% confidence, that I believe in these cookies. That they have been made repeatedly, replicated, and tweaked to perfection.

I can also assure you that the proper controls have been done. I have quality tested these gems at every step of the process-- including three times during the dough-making process... and many more than three times after baking.

Believe it or not, there is some science to a great cookie. Letting the dough sit for a few hours or overnight is key to getting that fabulous taste we seek from bakery-made cookies, since it lets the sugars start to process and meld with the other ingredients.

Don't believe me? Here's proof.

So put your faith in these cookies. They've been scientifically tested... and approved.

Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

Adapted from Flour

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 oz good semi-sweet chocolate chips, like Ghiradelli
3/4 cup dried tart cherries

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together butter and sugars. Add in eggs one at a time, mixing well in between. Add in vanilla extract and beat well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly mix in to the butter mixture; add in chocolate chips and dried cherries. Remove bowl from mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and set in fridge for three to four hours (this makes the cookies better, trust me).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F. Scoop cookies by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden. Remove, allow to cool one minute on cookie sheet, then transfer to wire cooling rack to finish cooling.

Makes around 24 cookies... depending on how much dough you eat.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Farmer's Market Fridays: Kale Salad with Cherries, Gorgonzola, and Pecans

So one of my favorite parts of spring/summer has begun-- outdoor farmer's market season!

Last Saturday morning was the opening market for our area... Note that there is still snow on the ground from our freak blizzard. Darn you, Minnesota!

I was amazed that there were already some gorgeous veggies out, though! I picked up some kale and gorgeous beets, and made a huge kale salad that I lived on this week while the city thawed out.

I know I'm the last to this party, but I finally bought the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook  after my half marathon two weeks ago. I was eyeing the whole lemon bars (those will get made this summer, for sure!), but went for an adaptation of Deb's gorgeous salad.

I thinly sliced raw beets into the salad to add a bit more color, and threw in some persian cucumber, since I had it in my fridge. Epic lunchtimes all week!

Question for you readers: Are any of you members of a CSA (community-supported agriculture)? I'm debating signing up for one, and, having never done it before, am debating whether it would be a good idea for me, or whether I'd be better off just going to the market every week... Would love your thoughts! Let me know in the comments section!

Kale Salad with Cherries, Gorgonzola, and Pecans

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook 

For the salad:

1/4 cup raw pecan pieces
4 cups dinosaur kale, roughly chopped
1 raw, fresh beet, chopped
1/4 cup dried tart cherries
1/4 cup gorgonzola crumbles

For the dressing:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons whole-grain dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

In a small jar, place all dressing ingredients; shake the heck out of it. Set aside.

Place kale and beets in a large salad bowl. Toss with dressing; allow to sit for 20 minutes (for kale and beets to tenderize). Add in the pecans, cherries, and cheese; toss to combine. Allow to sit for a few more minutes so the flavors can combine.

Serves 2 lunch-size portions.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Strawberry Sorbet

It's about time.

It's about time that the snow melted. It's about time that green grass peaked through and the sun started shining. It's about time that the temperature rose above freezing.

It's about time for frozen desserts.

I know that hasn't stopped me from sharing ice cream with you (here, and here, and here). But now that strawberries are coming out to play, I can share this gem with you.

This may be one of the simplest frozen treats you will ever make. Loads of fresh strawberries get whirled together with sugar and lemon juice, chilled, and churned.

You can strain the seeds out-- I think that leaving them in screams summer. And it's about time.

Strawberry Sorbet

Adapted from Serious Eats 

3 pounds fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

In a blender, combine all ingredients. Puree until smooth. Chill for an hour, pour into ice cream maker, and churn according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a container and freeze until hardened (approx 2 hours).