Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Graham Cracker Buttermilk Bundt

You never know when baking inspiration will strike.  Studying has recently stymied my usual obsessive recipe reading, and I thought my baking dry spell would continue through finals, but lo and behold, this recipe snuck through my distraction radar!

In a moment of weird and impromptu food creativity, I had decided to try graham crackers with brie and jam instead of regular crackers (very good - you should try it).  As I inspected my age-old graham cracker box for an expiration date (three weeks ago, but I figured they were fine since they were still sealed...), I noticed the box featured a recipe for something other than graham cracker crust. Interesting!  Apparently you can make bundt cake from graham cracker crumbs!  I had to try it.

I'm normally skeptical of bundt cakes because they tend to turn out dry, but I noted that this recipe called for drenching the entire warm, spice-laden, walnut-studded cake with a hot sauce composed of butter and sugary buttermilk.  Can't go wrong there!  Solution to dry cake? Poke it full of holes and pour in tasty liquid.  Worked like a charm!  Hello warm, moist dessert.  I recommend reserving some of the hot sauce to pour over individual slices.  Whipped cream wouldn't hurt either.

Graham Cracker Buttermilk Bundt Cake

Cake Ingredients:

1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 stick butter, melted (1/2 c.)
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. (14 squares) graham cracker crumbs
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking porwder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. allspice
1 t. nutmeg
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. chopped walnuts

Buttery Buttermilk Sauce ingredients:
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 300.  In a large bowl, blend the melted butter, oil, and sugar thoroughly, and add the eggs and vanilla.  Mix well.  In a separate bowl (or in your Cuisinart if you're going to pulverize the crumbs in there anyways), stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices.  Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk (start and end with the flour mixture - i.e. flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour).  Stir in the chopped walnuts.  Pour the batter into a well-greased (grease that sucker REALLY well - my cake got stuck to the pan and I had to repatch it after inverting) bundt pan.  Bake 1hr., or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes (make the sauce while the cake cools), then invert onto a plate.

To make the sauce, combine sauce ingredients in a saucepan and boil for one minute.  Reserve about 1/3 c. of the glaze for spooning over individual slices. Use a skewer to poke holes all over the cake (Everywhere! Really go crazy.  More holes = more sauce-cake contact = more moistness!), and then spoon the hot sauce over the warm cake.  Spoon the "run-off" back onto the cake to ensure thorough moistening.  Do not let one drop escape!

Serve the cake with the extra sauce, and freshly whipped, sweetened whipping cream.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Art of Sharing Food

Any foodie worth their salt knows that when you go out to eat, you should order family style.  Sharing maximizes tasting potential, and avoids the inevitable quandary of whether to order that delicious pork-belly with butter-sauced morels, or the potentially equally delicious gorgonzola gnocchi with toasted walnuts. Mmmmmmmm.  Order/eat both!

There is nothing worse than the awkward experience of dining with a "non-sharer" - someone who looks askance at the suggestion of sharing and proceeds to order, all for themselves, a huge entree that couldn't possibly be consumed by a single person anyways!  While the rest of the table exchanges plates and comments on the flavors with gusto, the lone-orderer huddles in the corner and suspiciously hoards his or her precious meal.

Worse is the scenario in which you go to dine with one other person who insists on order the SAME meal that you have just ordered!!! This is completely unacceptable foodie behavior unless one of you has a grave communicable disease, or the rest of the menu is disgusting (in which case, why are you eating there to begin with??).

Of course, there are certainly scenarios in which food-sharing is neither desirable, nor acceptable.  For instance, I object to requests for bites of my sandwich, licks of my ice-cream, or tastes of my teeny-tiny truffle that barely serves one person (unless we have previously agreed to share this particular morsel).   Sandwiches are absorbent, carefully balanced affairs.  Unless I'm already swapping saliva with the "sharee" on a regular basis, I don't want the edges of my sandwich bread moistened by someone else's saliva, nor do I want them spilling all of my avocado and tomato out before I've finished enjoying my meal.  The saliva argument also holds for the ice cream cone.  After someone else's warm tongue has melted the side of your ice-cream so that the drips dribbling down the side of the cone are mixed with stranger-saliva, the whole treat just loses its appeal.  Asking for a lick of ice cream is like asking to borrow my toothbrush!  Gross!  And one should never take the last bite or sip of another's delicious meal or beverage (nor should one take a GIANT bite of someone else's minuscule treat).  Just the other day I purchased an adorable, mini peanut butter cupcake to savor during the long hours of professional responsibility, and as I walked to class, I was overcome with anxiety that some uncouth person would ask for a bite!  I even contemplated scarfing down the little morsel before heading to my seat to prevent such a tragedy.  There are subtle ways, however, to deter efforts at misguided sharing.  So, while I encourage you to order family style when dining out, you can follow these tactics when you want to preserve the integrity of your sandwich, or when your truffle is just too good to share:

When eating something delicious:
1. Do NOT comment on its deliciousness!  This will encourage responses of, "oooh, can I have a bite?"
2. Do not try to feign disgust.  This might seem like a good course of action, but believe it or not, it might encourage your fellow diners to ask for a bite just to see how gross your food tastes.  This sounds counter intuitive, but think about it, how often do you take a big whiff of the air after someone says, "Ew, what's that smell?" Same concept.
3. Do claim that you have a cold, or even better, claim that you have a festering cold sore in your mouth.  No one will want to share with you.  Downside - people will think you have herpes.
4. Preemptively provide a crumb to deter requests for larger portions.
5. Eat your food in a really gross manner, e.g. slobbering all over your sandwich, or smearing it around on your plate.  If someone still wants a bite, give them the cold, wet corner of the bread (that might be too gross to actually go through with...).
6. Tell the requester you are diabetic, and that you must eat the entire portion to prevent a hypoglycemic coma.
7. Be a true evil biatch and just say NO.

Recipes to follow shortly... a.k.a after finals!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Panna Cotta "Eggs"

These looked almost TOO much like wiggly soft-boiled eggs to enjoy as a dessert, but they were fun to make!  The shell is constructed by spreading melted, cooled white chocolate (about 3/4 of a bag) over partially inflated balloons.  The white chocolate was pretty hard to work with - it refused to melt into a smooth, glossy liquid like normal chocolate - so my "egg shells" ended up a little, um, rustic looking... If you like regular chocolate better than white chocolate, and you don't care about creating an authentic looking egg, go with regular chocolate for ease of construction (you could pretend it was a really really dark brown egg!).  If I made these again I'd stick with white chocolate despite its relative fussiness because I personally think lemon tastes gross with regular chocolate (as does any fruit. That includes raspberry!). 

The hardest part of this whole process is inflating the balloons.  I think I must be a sissy or something because I could not inflate a single balloon to save my life!  I finally gave up and had to enlist my younger brother (whom, I might add, has chronic lung problems, yet had no trouble blowing up those suckers). 

Two balloon tips: 1) don't over inflate them... you're going for chicken eggs, not ostrich eggs; and 2) do NOT spread the chocolate on the balloons until it has cooled or you will create a chocolate hand grenade instead of a chocolate egg-shell. 

As the chocolate hardens, the balloons will begin to deflate.  Snip a tiny hold in the deflated portion of the balloon and SLOWLY let the air escape.  Peel the balloon off the chocolate to reveal a cute little eggshell cup!

Panna cotta with a dollop of lemon curd mimics the eggy innards to complete the look.  For some reason, my panna cotta started to weep, which normally irritates me, but in this case it worked with my theme because it looked like wet egg-white (slightly unappetizing, but oh well).

Panna Cotta
3 c. heavy cream, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. gelatin
1/4 c. water

Lemon Curd
1/2 c. sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 stick softened butter
2 tsp. grated lemon rind 

To make the panna cotta, combine the sugar and half the cream in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, and bring to a simmer.  Turn off the heat.  Pour 1/4 c. water in small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top.  Let sit for a few minutes so the gelatin can soften.  Add the gelatin mixture to the cream and sugar and stir well to combine.  Add the remaining cream and the vanilla, stir.  Put the liquid panna cotta mixture in the fridge until you have completed the lemon curd (but don't take forever or you'll end up with a big pitcher of firm panna cotta!)

Make the lemon curd: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, egg yolks, and lemon juice over low heat.  Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter and the grated lemon rind.  Set the lemon curd in the fridge to cool.

Remove the panna cotta from the fridge and carefully fill each egg-cup.

Place filled egg cups in the fridge until the panna cotta has hardened completely.  When firm, add a spoonful of lemon curd yolk.

I think I might try adding the lemon curd to the center of the panna cotta before it hardens next time to see if it solves the gross wet weeping problem.  It really did look like an egg...