Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thyme Popovers


Popovers are pretty cool. Four simple ingredients, flour, butter, eggs, and milk, are transformed into magically airy treats that melt in your mouth like few bread products known to man. Add a bit of salt and minced herbs, and you have an irresistible snack. Even though it was 10:30 p.m. when these came out of the oven, The Gastronomer and I couldn't help eating three each.

Getting them to turn out right is a little tricky--it took me three tries to get satisfactory results, but even the "failures" tasted good. It's important to have the eggs and milk at room temperature before mixing in the flour, and the muffin tins must be coated with cooking spray and then dusted with flour or Parmesan cheese. The popovers' buoyant spirit is such that they try to climb right out of the pan as they cook, and if only cooking spray is used, they can slip and flip over on their sides, ultimately rising crooked. This happened to my first two batches; a dusting of flour on the third try seemed to anchor them enough that they could rise straight. Opening the oven door too early can also cause them to cave in. If you're hard core, there is such thing as a "popover pan", which really maximizes the rising effect.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, December 2008.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • Cooking spray
Preheat oven to 375°. Combine milk and eggs in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended; let stand 30 minutes. Combine flour, thyme, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add flour mixture to milk mixture, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in melted butter.

3. Coat 8 popover cups or muffin tins with cooking spray, then dust them with flour. Divide batter evenly among the prepared tins. Bake at 375° for 30-35 minutes (40 minutes for popover cups) or until golden. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 popovers
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Substitutions: The original recipe called for dusting the popover cups with grated parmesan cheese, and then preheating the cups in the oven for 5 minutes before filling them with batter. I originally guessed that the preheating was just intended to melt the cheese, but I've seen the technique described elsewhere, so there must be more to it than that. In any case, I didn't bother with preheating my muffin tin and my popovers turned out fine, but perhaps they could have been even fluffier. Dusting with flour instead was an idea that came from the popover recipe in my mom's classic Joy of Cooking.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Applesauce Spice Cake


Growing up I didn't like icing, but that didn't stop me from loving cakes. When my birthday rolled around, I would always ask my mom to make one of my three favorites: cinnamon coffee cake, chocolate pound cake, or this applesauce spice cake. In recent years I have made it myself several times and gotten rave reviews from The Gastronomer. Thus it seemed like the perfect treat to bake for this past weekend's Eat My Blog charity bake sale. I have to admit that it didn't sell terribly well in the early stages of the bake sale, while competing with such visually arresting treats as Sleeping Baby Cupcakes and Peach Pie Lollipops, but I'd like to think that those who gave my cake a chance were pleased with their purchase. In any case, the bake sale was a tremendous success, raising over $5,400 for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and The Gastronomer and I brought home a dazzling selection of treats baked by LA food bloggers and local restaurants.

The original recipe was called "Grandma Bess's Applesauce Cake", I believe. My mom found it in Joy of Cooking, or a similar classic cookbook.
  • 3 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups applesauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a tube or bundt pan. Sift together twice flour, soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, cream butter. Add sugar gradually and cream well. Add beaten eggs; mix well. Add flour mixture alternately with applesauce. Pour into pan and bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, on until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool a little before removing from pan.

Yield: ~16 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 2 hours

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Seared Scallops with Bacon and Spinach


When it's not a special occasion, I typically shy away from buying scallops because they're so darn expensive. However, I recently decided to give Trader Joe's frozen New England wild jumbo scallops a try. They're relatively reasonably priced, and my understanding is that most "fresh" seafood sold in grocery stores has in fact already been frozen and defrosted, so I figured they might be just as good. I wasn't disappointed--these were comparable in flavor and tenderness to scallops I've had in restaurants, if not quite as enormous (one pound was about 18 scallops). I wasn't really able to achieve the intended crispy sear because the skillet filled up with liquid once I put the scallops in---it was like sauteing tofu. I should have pressed the scallops dry more aggressively before cooking, but I suspect that my real problem was not quite giving them enough time to fully defrost in the fridge before cooking. However, I avoided overcooking them (priority #1 when working with scallops or shrimp), and they were still a pleasure to eat atop the delicious bed of bacon-infused spinach.

Recipe by Cooking Light, May 2010
  • 3 center-cut bacon slices
  • 1 1/2 pounds jumbo sea scallops
  • 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 12 ounces fresh baby spinach
  • 4 lemon wedges (optional)

Cook bacon in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan; coarsely chop and set bacon aside. Increase heat to high.

Pat scallops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle scallops evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add scallops to drippings in pan; cook 2 1/2 minutes on each side or until done. Transfer to a plate; keep warm. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add half of spinach; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add remaining half of spinach; cook 2 minutes or just until wilted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Divide spinach mixture among 4 plates; top each serving evenly with crumbled bacon and 3 scallops. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and a toasted baguette.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Substitutions: I went ahead and left all of the bacon fat in the skillet while cooking the other ingredients. In keeping with their mission, Cooking Light tends to avoid using any fats, salts, etc. that aren't absolutely necessary, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have everything taste extra bacon-y.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Strawberry Napoleons


After the spaghetti and meatballs were gone, the engagement ring was still burning a hole in my pocket, but having missed my opportunity to carry out my planned proposal at the beginning of the meal, I had no choice but to carry on with dessert. These Napoleons were delicious but messy--the pudding and cream mixture wasn't thick enough to stay inside the "sandwiches", as can be seen in the photo.

Homemade vanilla pudding is a real treat--I never considered myself to be a pudding man, but this recipe is amazing. The Gastronomer enjoyed it as well, and she still didn't suspect a thing...

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Vanilla Pudding
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in the half-and-half and then the yolks. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the pudding is thick and coats the back of a spoon, 1 to 2 minutes.

Strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Stir the butter and vanilla into the pudding until the butter is melted. Press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Strawberry Napoleons
  • 1 (9 by 9 1/2 inch) sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 1 1 /2 cups vanilla pudding
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • confectioners' sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the puff pastry into 6 rectangles, transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Brush the rectangles with the beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with the granulated sugar. Bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Let the pastry rectangles cool for 15 minutes, then split them in half lengthwise using a serrated knife.

Whip the cream with an electric mixer set on low until frothy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and continue to whip until smooth, thick, and doubled in volume, 1 to 3 minutes. Add the pudding and vanilla to the whipped cream and whip until stiff, about 1 minute. Spread 1/4 cup of the pudding mixture over the bottom of each pastry square, then top with 1/2 cup berries. Spoon another 1/4 cup of the pudding mixture over the berries.

Gently press the pastry tops onto the pudding mixture, then dust lightly with powdered sugar. Dollop the remaining pudding mixture attractively on top of each pastry before serving.

Yield: 6 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (not counting pudding chilling time)
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 2 hours
Related Posts with Thumbnails