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Not As Good As Pork Cracklins

misadventures in cooking

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Meze Party

Meze (meh -zay) are Greek small plates, similar to Spanish tapas. Jess and I made the entire menu recently featured in Fine Cooking #93, as well as Baklava from #92 for dessert. The baklava was labor intensive, but not difficult at all, and amazingly good.

Other favorites were the lamb meatballs with tzatziki and the dolmades.

We also discovered that homemade pita bread is ridiculously easy to make and extremely satisfying to watch poof.

Spanakopita (top photo) - spinach & feta cheese wrapped in phyllo
Lamb Meatballs -surprise hit of the party
Tzatziki - cucumber yogurt sauce
Hummus (above with olive and pita chips) - chickpea and tahini spread
Fresh Pita
Toasted Pita Chips
Rustic Eggplant Dip my personal favorite
Dolmades - rice, currants, pine nuts and other deliciousness wrapped up and steamed in grape leaves
Zucchini Fritters - like potato pancakes, but zucchini
Baklava (2nd photo from the top) - pistachios and cardamom, layered in phyllo and drenched in orange blossom syrup

Add wine & friends and you get a great party.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lemon Bars

Individual squares of sunshine and happiness. It doesn't get any better.

Lemon Bars from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Triple-Lemon Layer Cake

Happy Mother's Day. I wish we were spending it together.

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Four layers of white cake with a hint of lemon zest, filled with tangy lemon curd, and frosted with a lemony butter frosting.

Triple-Lemon Layer Cake, Fine Cooking #63

Monday, May 05, 2008

Orange Cake with Caramel-Butterscotch Buttercream

Ok, not the greatest photo. But that's all that's left, because it is one of the greatest cakes. Unfortunately, it didn't get off to a great start. My first attempt ended up in the compost pile and I cried in my bedroom. A week later, I decided to lick my wounds and try again.

I can't stress this enough: if you think you don't like frosting, try a real buttercream. It isn't the sickly sweet, powdered sugar, fake shortening stuff you get at most bakeries. It's silky. It's ethereal. It's addictive.

This particular buttercream is from a book called Sticky Chewy Messy Gooey. I don't have the book; someone from the CooksTalk message board referred me to an online version. You'll notice that the icing on the top is nearly as thick as the cake itself? That's because I didn't do a good job. I was going to call it "good enough", but I couldn't leave well enough alone, so added more to smooth it out. The finished cake did have a beautiful surface that I was very happy with. Some candied orange peel would make a pretty garnish, but I was whooped by that point.

For the cake, I used a orange butter cake, a basic layer cake. The cake itself is dense and moist. Between the layers is orange marmalade loosened with a couple spoonfuls of orange liqueur. Here are the recipes:

Orange Butter Cake
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 3-4 oranges)
3 tablespoons orange zest (about 3-4 oranges)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange extract

2/3 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons Cointreau

Butter and flour (or butter and line with parchment paper) two 8-inch cake pans. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 F (325 F for dark pans).

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. With electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Alternately add dry ingredients and juice, beating after each addition, beginning and ending with flour. Scrape down sides of bowl and beater. Stir in grated orange zest and extracts.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth the tops. Bake until top is golden brown and cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 25 minutes.

Cool in pans on wire rack about 10 minutes. Run knife blade around edge of cake. Top with plate or cardboard disk, invert and lift off pans. Cool cakes completely.

Filling: In a small bowl, blend orange marmalade with liqueur. To fill layers, set one layer on cardboard cake dish or flat plate. Spread evenly with marmalade-liqueur, top with second layer.

Caramel-Butterscotch Buttercream

for the caramel:
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream

for the butterscotch buttercream:
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon

Make the caramel sauce
1. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook, gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and starts to change color. Increase the heat to high and boil until the syrup turns a deep amber color, 4 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully, as it can burn quickly.

2. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to the stove, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring constantly, until the caramel thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and let cool completely.

Make the buttercream frosting
1. While the caramel is cooling, prepare the buttercream. Combine the eggs and brown sugar in the metal bowl of a standing mixer.

2. Fill a large sauté pan or frying pan with water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

3. Place the mixing bowl in the simmering water and whisk the eggs and sugar constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is thick and fluffy and very hot, 3 to 4 minutes. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature; it should be anywhere between 120°F and 140°F (49°C to 60°C).

4. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium-high speed until they are tripled in volume and form soft peaks and the bottom of the bowl is completely cool to the touch, about 10 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and salt.

5. While the eggs are mixing, unwrap the individual sticks of butter and rewrap them loosely in plastic wrap. Pound the butter 5 or 6 times with a rolling pin, or until the butter is soft and malleable but still cool.

6. With the mixer speed still on medium-high, add the butter, approximately 2 tablespoons at a time, to the egg mixture, beating in each addition until it is incorporated. When all the butter has been incorporated, slowly dribble in the bourbon. Don't start to panic if the buttercream seems too liquid or looks curdled as you beat in the butter. It will magically emulsify into a smooth, creamy frosting by the time the last little bit of butter is mixed in. Have faith; it's worth it.

7. When the buttercream is smooth and glossy, turn off the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, fold in 1/2 cup of the cool caramel sauce. For a stronger flavor, fold in up to 1/2 cup more caramel sauce. [edit: I used approx 3/4 cup of caramel. I also beat it, as folding seemed to cause separation]