Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Restaurant review: Eleven

Are you sitting down for this?  You should be.  And I certainly need to be, reliving my out-of-this-world experience at Eleven so I can rehash all of the details accordingly.  Whew, here goes.

Since I love to cook at home so much, whenever I head out to a restaurant I like to do some thorough research to make sure I'm in for a fantastic culinary experience.  After numerous recommendations from friends and positive interwebs reviews, we headed to Eleven on Saturday night.  Eleven is located in the Strip District, just where it meets the downtown area of Pittsburgh.  Parking is valet ($5) or street, of which there is a ton, so worry not.  I really loved the layout of the interior -- big area and can obviously accommodate many, but each booth or table is sectioned off intimately, making you feel like the restaurant is all yours.

Service was friendly and timely without being too chatty.  (The guys discussed March madness briefly ,and I barely noticed.  Well done, waiter sir!)  The bread, brought around throughout the meal in large baskets by a waiter (or what I deemed the village baker) rather than being sat on your table, was not only a pleasant surprise but absolutely delicious -- I tried the Tuscan Parmesan and the foccacia.  Mmm.  We skipped the appetizers, even though that sounded so interesting, because we'd been warned to save ourselves for dessert.  (Thank you, wise friends.)

For my entree, I ordered the wild Alaskan halibut with shrimp risotto, leeks, mushrooms in a lobster reduction.  The fish was cooked perfectly and just flaked off onto my fork.  I'm totally a sucker for risotto in its simplest form, so adding the shrimp, mushrooms and leeks firmly placed me on Cloud 9.  Portion size was perfect -- not too tiny and dainty, but too much that I couldn't finish my food.  My better half ordered the pork, which he claims was so tender and juicy that it tasted like a good steak.  The apples, cabbage and potatoes were great matched with the pork.  I'm not a big pork fan, but even I have to admit that was some delicious "other white meat."

And, for the grand finale, dessert.  Of course I had eyed up the choices days before we headed to Eleven.  What can I say?  I'm a planner by nature.  I try to order things that I wouldn't normally make myself, and pretty much every choice fit that requirement.  The banana cream pie jumped out at me, and I couldn't say no.  I wish I had brought my camera for just one picture of this after dinner beauty.  I'm talking the prettiest and most delicious-looking dessert I've ever seen.  I'd say it as more of a deconstructed banana cream pie: layers of caramelized sliced bananas, dulche de leche mousse, and housemade graham crackers.  Oh my goodness.  There aren't enough words in the English language to describe this tower of a dessert, nor do it justice.  Just trust me.

I have to say that Eleven exceeded every expectation I had, and I had rather high ones going into this experience.  It's tied for my favorite restaurant ever.  I'd have to go back again to see if the second trip is as good as the first, but hey, I'm willing to put in that kind of work :)

Have you been to Eleven?  If so, what did you think? 

Eleven on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quick pizza dough doughnuts

Oh, Tuesday.  You will never be the same to me after this month of delectable doughnut recipes.  If you've been keeping track or you're new (welcome!), here is a review of what doughy delights have been made: There have been traditional yeast doughnutsChocolate cake and apple cider doughnuts have brought a level of flavor to homemade doughnuts that I never thought possible.  And for the "healthier" (relatively speaking) doughnut fan who loves a surprise, a Nutella-filled muffin that tastes so much like a doughnut you'll swear that hole in the middle isn't necessary at all.

This doughnut is the quickest of quick when it comes to preparation.  The frying method is the same, but no long rising times for the yeast and so few ingredients that I'd bet even my most kitchen-phobic of friends have everything in their cabinets to make this right now.  And, in keeping with this week's theme of making the most of an almost bare kitchen stock, this required a measly four ingredients.  Okay, okay.  If you are going to be a stickler and count water as an ingredient, that's five total ingredients.  Shhh.  Please don't rain on my doughnut parade.

These doughnuts are much smaller than the other varieties since I was planning to take them to work the next day.  I figured I should try a different size just for experiment's sake, too.  The pizza dough mix gave these tiny doughnuts a nice crisp exterior and a really airy (I mean, pockets of air amidst the fluffy dough) interior.  I used cinnamon sugar as a classic coating only after I realized I had used up my stash of powdered sugar to ice a birthday cake I made the previous weekend.  But hey, don't let my kitchen misfortunes limit your creativity with doughnut toppings!  Try powdered sugar, melted chocolate (milk or even white) with some rainbow sprinkles, or a simple glaze immediately rolled in toasted coconut.  The sky is the limit!  (Beware of falling doughnuts...)

Quickest Doughnuts
-makes 15 two-inch doughnuts

1 package just-add-water pizza dough
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Prepare the dough as instructed on the package -- mine said to add 1/2 cup of warm water, stir until just moistened and cover for 5 minutes.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a floured 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out doughnut rounds. Using a floured 1-inch cookie cutter (or a trusty water bottle cap), cut out a hole in the center of each doughnut. Gather the dough scraps and reroll. Cut out more doughnuts until all of the dough has been used.

Whisk the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl to blend; set aside.  Pour enough vegetable oil in a small saucepan to reach a depth of two inches.  Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350F.  Working in small batches (2 per for me), fry the doughnuts until they puff but are still pale, about 45 seconds per side.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to a cooling rack over (or paper towels lining) a cookie sheet. Cool slightly. While the doughnuts are still warm, generously coat each with the cinnamon sugar.  Serve warm with a glass of milk and a good book (not for eating).  These can be stored in a sealed container at room temperature for up to a day.

And that's it for doughnut month!  (Thanks to BH for the idea!)  Did you try any of the recipes?  What did you think?  What was your favorite?  I've gotta say that while I enjoyed them all, my favorite was certainly the traditional yeast doughnut, but a close second was the not-at-all traditional "doughmuffin."  I will definitely be making these in the future and each recipe is perfect for a different occasion.  Happy eating!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shortcut vegetable pot pie

Welcome to I'm-going-to-live-on-whatever-I-have-left-in-my-kitchen week!  Knowing that I'll be heading home to my parents' house mid-Friday for the Easter holiday this weekend, I just can't justify going on a huge grocery trip for 5 days worth of meals.  Sure, I have milk and a few eggs left, but it's slim pickins in the pantry and refrigerator.  And I really mean slim... except in the cheese category.  I always have at least three varieties of cheese.  Obsessed much?  No comment.  But what else can I make?

Every now and then I like to starve challenge myself to see what I can do with ingredients that tend to be neglected -- in this case, the bag of mixed vegetables and almost empty package of phyllo dough in the freezer, and a can of cream of chicken soup in the pantry.  You should know that this isn't a traditional pot pie, but, surprisingly (hey, this was an experiment, after all!) equally as delicious and satisfying.  Not enough flour and butter for traditional pie crusts and no chicken.  And it's actually a little healthier without the oodles of butter in the crusts.  By brushing the phyllo dough with oil, the sheets take on a nice golden color and add a light crunch to the creamy vegetable filling.  The condensed soup is a much easier version of the flour-milk-and-butter roux and more flavorful, in my opinion.

And hey, the result was a success -- a creamy, oozing cheater's vegetable pot pie that warmed every bone in my body on a cold and rainy Sunday.  A filling and satisfying lunch to give me the energy I needed to scream my face off at an evening Penguins hockey game.  Yessssssssss :)

Note: If your food stock isn't quite as pathetic as mine and you have some chicken lying around, feel free to bake two chicken breasts, let them cool, and shred them to add chicken to the pot pie when you add the vegetables to the soup.

Tip: If you have leftover onion and don't plan to use it anytime soon, dice it up and put in a freezer bag for later.  Then, whenever you need a little onion for a recipe, just measure out what you need from the freezer bag.  Because the pieces of onion are small, they'll thaw in no time and save you tons of prep time.

Super Shortcut Vegetable Pot Pie
-makes 6 servings

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion (I had a bag of diced onion in the freezer)
1 (16 ounce) bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed (let sit at room temperature, sealed in plastic for 30 minutes)
Olive oil, for brushing

Preheat oven to 400F.  Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, vegetables, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Cook until vegetables have thawed (don't worry, they'll soften further in the oven) about 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, add condensed soup and lemon juice.  Stir in vegetables until thoroughly mixed.  Pour mixture into 9-inch glass pie plate.  Place two layers of phyllo dough over dish and mixture.  Brush lightly with oil.  Repeat two more times.  Sprinkle top layer of dough that has been brushed with oil with a little salt and pepper.  Using a knife or kitchen scissors, trim dough so it fits over dish.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until mixture is bubbling.  Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes.  Serve with buttered biscuits or alone, both will warm your tummy just as well.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Doughnut" muffins filled with Nutella

Happy Tuesday!  Get ready for the fourth installment in the March doughnut series.  Yes yes, some of you may question the doughnut name if it's not ring-shaped or even fried.  Well, I'll give you that.  But these taste like doughnuts, and isn't that what matters most?  Plus, they are by far the easiest of the five doughnut recipes.  And, probably, the healthiest (relatively speaking).

This is such a quick recipe to throw together, and very versatile.  I'm not a fan of jelly-filled doughnuts, hence the Nutella substitution.  And, by adding the filling before baking, you avoid having to fill baked muffins with a pastry bag and the mess that would probably ensue.  Too much fuss, really.  The wonderful thing about these "dough-muffins" is that they are great make-ahead treats (since they aren't fried) if you have guests coming for breakfast or a dessert date. 

A few notes: Make sure you grease the muffin pan well if you choose to do without paper liners.  Trust me, it'll make removing and handling the hot muffins easier later.  As for assembly, fill the cups first, then add filling, and finally cover the filling.  If you let the filling sit too long, it will slowly start to sink down into the muffin batter and you'll end up with Nutella sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Nutella-filled "Doughnut" Muffins
(adapted from here)
-makes 10

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
Nutella (or filling of your choice -- jam, jelly, preserves)

For topping:
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon cinnamon, whisked together in small bowl

Preheat oven to 350F.  Fill a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners OR coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.  In another bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, egg, and milk.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Fill each muffin cup just under half full.  Add a teaspoon of Nutella (or your chosen filling) in the center on top of the batter of each cup.  Add just enough batter to cover filling, but not exceeding 3/4 of the cup's volume.  Bake at 350F degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

With melted butter in one small bowl and cinnamon sugar in another, immediately remove each muffin from pan (be careful as these will be hot!), brush top of each muffin with butter and dip in cinnamon sugar.

Serve immediately or store in a sealed container for up to 2 days.  If you like your "dough-muffins" warm and the Nutella center slightly oozing, microwave for 20-30 seconds.  Simply delicious!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maple-marinated salmon

Oh Monday, here you are to greet us with rain and cooler air.  Hey, it's not that bad.  Personally, I'd rather be at work on a dreary day like today rather than any one of the warm, bright days we've had in the past week.  Rain always puts me in a productive mood.  Clean, cook, read, run errands and then, having earned it in my mind, collapse onto my couch and zone out with some mindless TV and eat something sweet.  Or, you know, work a standard day and then zone out.

But goodness, what a weekend it was!  I was outside every chance I got, even trying to eat outside when possible.  Strolled around Shadyside and Squirrel Hill to catch up on my vitamin D.  Had me some strawberry cheesecake gelato (yum!) at Mercurio's.  Got my tart pan from Williams & Sonoma.  Had a nice book club meeting outside.  The only change of plans was regarding Sunnyledge Inn.  According to the receptionist, they are still "on winter hours" and "don't do dinner" and "weren't sure when that'll change"... whatever that means?

So, we met up with some friends at Double Wide Grill for a late (and delicious) dinner.  I'm such a sucker for outdoor dining, so this place was right up my alley.  I got the Barbeque Pulled Porky.  Aside from making a fool of myself and asking the waiter for the other slice of bread, only to have him tell me that it's an open-faced sandwich, I was totally in love with my meal.  Crispy shoestring fries, and a flavorful meaty pulled pork.  Some pulled pork tends to be heavy on the sauce, to slimy, and light on the meat.  Not this baby.  Tons and tons of meat.  Loved it.  In fact, out of 8 people, 7 completely cleaned their plates (like, not a crumb left clean).  The only one that didn't had a salad, so we shouldn't even count him :)  Have any of you been here?  What did you think?

Yesterday I did some cooking for the week ahead and was playing around with marinades for chicken and salmon.  This was one such experiment that went very well.  The great thing about marinating anything is convenience.  Most you can make ahead, and along with the meat, put in a sealed container in a refrigerator for up to a day and cook immediately.  I only let this marinade for about an hour while I was doing other things around the apartment.  Easy.  The maple gives the salmon a nice caramelized thin crust while the "wooster" (how I said it when I was younger and how I choose to say it now) sauce and ground ginger give the fish a nice warmth and depth of flavor.

Maple Marinated Salmon
-enough for four 4-ounce pieces (I halved since I only had two)

1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire (or soy) sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

In whatever container you plan on using, whisk together all ingredients.  Using tongs, place fish in marinade, and flip to coat other side.  Seal container.  Store in refrigerator for up to two hours.  Preheat oven to 400F degrees.  Remove fish from marinade with tongs and place on a foiled baking sheet.  Cook 15 minutes.  Enjoy with a green vegetable of sorts -- I chose steamed edamame.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Working for the weekend

It's amazing, for how much I love love love making and following lists, that I haven't posted more on here. Well, let's open that can of worms today, shall we?  Things I'm looking forward to this weekend, particularly:

1. First and foremost, the weather. Oh my gosh, the weather. Can you believe it's still technically winter (okay, for one more day) and it's been in the mid 60s most days this week? Unreal.

2. Warm weather naturally means ice cream season. Yes, in March.  Ice cream season for me starts on the first 60+ degree day and goes until well... there is snow on the ground or I can't feel my fingers when I'm holding the ice cream. I've already been to Dave & Andy's twice in a week. I think it's time for some gelato on Walnut Street.  If you have never been there, I highly recommend it.  They charge by weight, not size (genius!) and have a minimum of 20 flavors every day.

3. Finally snatching up a rectangular tart pan that I've been courting for months.  And it seems that every time I get close to buying one, I think, "Nah, you won't use this that often, and you make quiches in pie plates anyway."  Well, pan, get ready to come home with me!  With asparagus season just around the corner and many recipes waiting in the wings, I can't get my hands on that pan soon enough.  Plus, I just love the fluted edges of the pan that make a pie crust even prettier and more irresistible.

4.  Some browsing the shops on Walnut is obviously mandatory since I'll already be there.  And J. Crew, you should know I'll be watching you carefully.  After offering an item like this for sale, I'm starting to question the very reason I sing your praises.  I mean, honestly, what on earth is that thing?  And in what obviously confused yet preppy-by-nature corner of your mind did you think making such a garment was a good idea?  Tsk tsk.

5. Book club meeting on Sunday to discuss A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood.  Check it out!  And I've been told that Colin Firth's performance in the movie adaptation is fabulous.

6. And, last but certainly not least, a nice little dinner date at Sunnyledge Inn.  I'll be sure to report on this little gem next week.

7. Really last, this time.  Have a great weekend and happy (early) spring!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish soda bread

Ah, it's March 17th.  A day when it's more than acceptable expected for a person to scramble to find any possible connection with Ireland.  Half Irish?  Even a quarter?  Maybe no family history but a friend of your old neighbor vacationed there a few years ago?  Close enough!  Being in Pittsburgh, a city that certainly revels in its Saint Patrick's Day (or the weekend before) celebrations, one might just think it's an excuse to consume an excess of alcoholic beverages.  Well, yes, but it's so much more.

Actually, this day that honors one of the patron saints of Ireland was formerly a Christian holiday that eventually became an official feast day in the early 1600s.  In the year 432, Patrick, now a bishop, claims that he was called back to his homeland of Ireland to convert both the rich and poor -- his mission was successful.

A few other random facts:
--That little green symbol we all associate with March 17th?  Irish folklore tells that one of Patrick's teaching methods included his use of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people.
--Blue was the first color associated with Saint Patrick.  However, with the increase in popularity of the shamrock as an image of the holiday, the color green was adopted as early as the 17th century.
--Pittsburgh hosted its first Saint Patrick's Day parade in 1869.  The first recorded parade, at least in the States, was held in Boston in the year 1737.  No surprises there.

Okay, okay, on with the food!  [triumphant march]  First and foremost, this bread shouldn't be hidden away 364 days a year, only to be unveiled on March 17th and never to be seen again until the next year.  It's a fantastic breakfast bread.  Or, as my friends from Friday night Hillel dinners would say, a perfect "pick apart and hollow out with your fingers" bread.  You can take the more mature route of cutting clean pieces, but something about diving into a loaf of rustic, warm bread with friends around a table just sets a perfect scene of comfort and good cheer.  The Irish wouldn't have it any other way, would they?

Don't hesitate to microwave a piece of bread for a few seconds to warm and slather with butter or your favorite preserves... or, heck, Nutella.  Mm, that reminds me.  I need to pick up some Nutella from the store this weekend.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, one and all!  A wonderful coworker brought in Eat 'n Park shamrock smiley cookies.  Helloooooo, morning snack:

How are you going to celebrate today?

Irish Soda Bread
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
-makes one 8-inch loaf

Notes: The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds.  The first time I made this I followed every last detail, but I've made very detailed notes to cut back on the caraway seeds -- they have a very strong flavor.  But if you're a fan of anise flavor (think the predominant taste in rye bread), by all means, use the full amount.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
2 cups raisins (I used regular, but any kind will do)
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
scant (just less than) 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, caraway seeds, baking powder and salt.  Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few scattered large clumps remaining.  Stir in raisins.

In a medium bowl, whisk together whole egg, buttermilk, and baking soda until combined.  Pour egg mixture into the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold in, working in all directions until all crumbs at the bottom of the bowl are moist and dough comes together.  Dump dough onto center of lined baking sheet and, with lightly floured hands, form dough into a round domed loaf, about 8 inches in diameter.

In a small bowl, lightly beat together the egg yolk and milk, and brush over the entire loaf.  With a sharp knife, cut a cross, about 3/4 inch deep, in the center of the top of the loaf.  Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until deep golden brown and a cake tested inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool completely.  (Optional: For some extra indulgence, I brushed melted butter over the top of the bread when it first came out of the oven.  Not necessary, but when did butter ever ruin anything?)

This bread, like all breads in my opinion, is best eaten warm the day it was baked.  However, it will keep at room temperature, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 5 days. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apple cider doughnuts

We're halfway through it -- doughnut month March!  I've done traditional yeast doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts and now for something a little more grown-up and subtle: apple cider doughnuts.  "But, Katy," you say.  "Apple cider is for the fall."  Oh, is it, friend?  I beg to differ.  Apple cider is available all year in most grocery stores and probably gets lonely around February, when people are longing for warmer weather, time in their gardens, and outdoor barbeques and fresh produce.  Well, apple cider, you can just call me your hero, for I shall sing your praises any ol' time of the year!

These doughnuts are of the cake variety, like their chocolate cousins of last week's feature.  The apple cider reduction gives a very subtle flavor.  I personally didn't get much of the apple flavor with the plain cinnamon sugar topping, so I opted for the apple cider and powdered sugar glaze to amp up the apple factor.  Also good -- applesauce for dipping the plain doughnuts.  And, as always, these ringed delights are best served warm or within a few hours of being made.  Though one or two may have disappeared around breakfast time the next day.  There must be a doughnut gnome somewhere in my apartment.  Sheesh.

Doughnut month observation: It seems like people really want to visit me on doughnut-making nights, so if you're looking to play hostess, this is a good trick :)

Apple Cider Doughnuts
(seen here, apparently adapted from Lauren Dawson at Hearth Restaurant)
-makes 22 doughnuts + 22 doughnut holes, using a 3-inch biscuit cutter and rolling/reusing scraps

Notes: I halved the recipe since there are still two more weeks of doughnuts left... and it's officially ice cream season in Pittsburgh.  Also, since buttermilk isn't a refrigerator staple of mine and I'd imagine the same goes for most people, here is a way to make it at home (adjust amounts based on how much you need but the ratio should be kept constant): 1 cup of milk + 1 Tablespoon lemon juice = 1 cup buttermilk
1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil, for frying

Optional toppings:
--Glaze (1 cup confectioners’ sugar + 2 tablespoons apple cider)
--Cinnamon sugar (1 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon)
--Light dusting of powdered sugar

In a small saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Set aside.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined.  Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour.  Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour.  Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet.  Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch round cutter for the outer shape and a 1-inch round cutter for the hole (a water bottle cap is my trusty center), and cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan.  Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. (You may re-roll the scraps of dough, refrigerate them briefly and cut additional doughnuts from the dough.)

Add enough oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 2 inches.  Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F.  Have ready a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels and a cooling rack over a cookie sheet.

Make your toppings if you are using any.  While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the glaze by whisking together the confectioners’ sugar and the cider until the mixture is smooth; make the cinnamon sugar by mixing the two together. Set aside.

Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil (I did one at a time in a small saucepan), being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds.  **Watch carefully, as your doughnuts' cooking time may differ.** Drain on paper towels for a minute after the doughnuts are fried.  Transfer to cooling rack for a few minutes.  Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the glaze or cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and enjoy immediately.

Monday, March 15, 2010

One bowl chocolate cupcakes

Starting out the week the right way -- with chocolate.  Because losing an hour of sleep may or may not have thrown you for a slight loop this weekend.  And because these amazing chocolate cookies didn't quite satisfy your craving for chocolate.  I present to you the quintessential chocolate cupcake (or cake, for that matter).  You probably saw these cupcakes in the Oscars party post, and they are certainly worthy of multiple awards.  They are flavorful and chocolatey to the core without being too sweet.  Moist and fluffy rather than dry and dense like many chocolate cakes tend to be.  Oh, and they truly require one bowl.  Talk about a winner of a recipe.

Note: I've used this recipe for mini cupcakes, round layer cakes, large rectangular cakes, you name it.  For mini cupcakes, I'd cut the baking time down to about 15 minutes per cupcake and start checking the center with a toothpick from there.  For cakes, a full recipe makes two 9-inch round cakes, and make sure to adjust cooking time to 30-35 minutes and check with cake tester until done.

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
(from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
-makes 30 standard size cupcakes (I halved this for the party and got 15)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large whole eggs + 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water
Icing of your choice, perhaps this recipe for buttercream

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two standard 12-cup muffins pans with paper liners (see pretty gold ones for the Oscars, of course).  Into the large bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Attach bowl to the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or regular beaters on your hand mixer) and add eggs and yolk, milk, oil, vanilla, and warm water.  Beat on low speed until smooth and combined, roughly 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Fill each paper liner roughly 2/3 full of batter.  Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool pans on rack for roughly ten minutes.  Remove cupcakes in liners from pan carefully and place onto rack to cool completely, top sides up.

Frost cupcakes to your fancy.  I'll admit I cheated and bought coconut-pecan frosting from the store, to make these more German.  I used my trusty ice cream scooper to portion out icing with the intention of spreading it over the whole top of the cupcake, but it looked so artsy that I left it that way.  Cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days (but good luck getting them to last that long).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Baked zucchini chips

As much as I love to cook, there are times when I don't really want a full sit down meal.  I want to make something little, nibble at it, and maybe have another little snick-snack later if the mood strikes me.  Last night was one of those nights.  I went on a delightful and rather impromptu date with two friends to ride the Duquesne incline and appreciate the warm weather before the onslaught of rain headed for Pittsburgh this weekend.  Seriously, the way the local news programs are talking about this and potential snow thaw runoff, you'd be tempted to construct an ark.  No?  Just me?  Shhh.

Since my get-home-from-work-and-immediately-run-out-the-door snack was a few Girl Scout cookies, I figured I should sneak a vegetable of sorts into my evening somehow.  I had a lone zucchini sitting in my fridge and hey, that's good for many things!  I didn't have the patience (hey, the puck was dropping in 15 minutes for the Pens game) or supplies to whip up a summery squash pizza.  A quick look through my cabinets and refrigerator had me grabbing two important kitchen staples: Parmesan cheese and seasoned bread crumbs.  Never underestimate what you can do with what you already have.

Baked Zucchini Chips

1 zucchini, rinsed
1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
(if you have unseasoned bread crumbs, try adding garlic and onion powders, dried parsley, black pepper and/or paprika... but the Italian mixture is so readily available and versatile, go for it)
1 egg white
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 F.  Slice zucchini as thinly as possible (the thinner the slices, the crispier the chips).  Place slices on a dish or paper towel for at least 10 minutes to let moisture drain out of the slices.  If using plain bread crumbs, mix those with other dry ingredients in a small bowl.  In another bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy.  Set aside.

Dip each slice of zucchini into the egg white mixture, let excess drip and coat in the bread crumb mixture.  Place on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 7 minutes, remove baking sheet and flip zucchini chips to other side.  Bake for another 7 minutes.  Check crispness of chips.  Return to oven for another 5 minutes or as long as desired.  Remove baking sheet to cooling rack and grate Parmesan cheese over chips for a little gourmet touch.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The best macaroni and cheese in the world

Can you believe this weather?  I'm finding that this working a full-time job is really hindering the time I can be outside walking, jogging, and drawn to sweet shops of all sorts.  When I walk to work it's around 35 degrees and, by lunchtime, it's up to the mid 60s.  Unreal!  Did we just go from winter to spring literally overnight?  If so, Mother Nature, you should know that it's fine by me.

Yes yes, I know I am probably snow's #1 fan, but this week's abundance of sunshine has put me in warm weather mode.  Naturally, because I said that, it's going to snow next week.  Go ahead, blame me.

Alright, enough small talk.  Down to business with this macaroni and cheese recipe.  If you read the Oscars party post, you caught a glimpse of the best homemade macaroni and cheese ever.  Seriously, I'm talking in the history of mac and cheese... since the beginning of time, way before that blue box cop-out that a certain friend can't live without (you know who you are, and yes I just judged you accordingly).  Thousands of cooks across the interwebs have said this is the best of the best.  This is another recipe I've had saved for, oh, at least six months.  After making this, I deserve some kind of slap to the face for not making it sooner.

I'll admit that I don't have much experience with Gruyere cheese, so when I saw it listed in the ingredients, I was a little nervous.  The same goes for white cheddar.  But wow, the two cheeses and the bechamel sauce made the creamiest and most flavorful mac and cheese I've ever had.  The homemade bread crumbs on top added a surprising crunch to the gooey cheese and noodle mixture under them.

Not enough cheese for you?  Add a sprinkling of cheese on top of the sauce and noodle mixture before you add the bread crumbs.  Oh my gosh.  Do yourself a favor and make this immediately.  Seriously, people!  What are you waiting for?  Go!  Mush!  Now!

Oh, and I have a confession.  I never took a final picture of the dish in my apartment.  I made it, and then J came over to bake the kugel and I wrapped it up to go to the party.  Forgive me, please.  (I am certain you will upon tasting this deliciousness.)

Martha Stewart's Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
-serves 12 (or 6-ish if halved)

Note: I halved this recipe and used a 2-quart 8-inch x 11 1/2-inch rectangular glass dish.  Per the recipe, it should've made 6 servings.  Uhhh, I don't know about you, but this lasted through the Oscars party (granted, smaller servings were taken) and three one person dinners.  Anything green side dish will complement this nicely: steamed broccoli, a crunchy spinach and romaine salad, fresh green beans, you name it.  Oh, and if you go to the grocery store and see much bigger quantities of the cheese than you need, don't be afraid to ask them to cut you a smaller piece.  I've found the cheese counter experts at Market District to be extremely helpful.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn or cut into 1/4" to 1/2" cubes (I used honey wheat bread)
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper [optional - I left this out and no one seemed to care]
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère
1 pound elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.  In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add bread crumbs and toss to evenly coat.  Set aside.

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet or large pot over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour.  Cook, stirring, 1 minute.  (Don't worry if small clumps appear, they will go away when the milk is added.)  While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth.  Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.  (Really, no stepping away to check your email here.  Constant attention.)

Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere; set the cheese sauce aside.

Fill a large pot with water, salt, and cover and bring to a boil.  Add the macaroni and cook for 2-3 minutes, no more.  (The macaroni will continue to cook and soften in the oven.)  Drain the macaroni in a colander and rinse under cold water.  Again, drain well and stir macaroni into the cheese sauce you previously set aside. 

Pour the mixture into the buttered dish.  Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyere, and the breadcrumbs over the top.  Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, but start checking around 25. Transfer the dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes.  Serve and, remember, sharing is caring.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chocolate cake doughnuts

Charlie Brown: Let's go to the doughnut shop.
Snoopy: What a coincidence! I knew I heard a doughnut calling me.
Charlie Brown: I hope the shop isn't closed.
Snoopy: Doughnuts never call from behind locked doors.

And so reads a Peanuts comic that I have had in a frame on my desk for three years.  (Told you I loved doughnuts.)  Welcome to chapter two of the doughnut saga!  Last week I started this adventure with a traditional glazed yeast doughnut, and boy was I happy with the results.  The doughnuts were light and airy, so flavorful, and practically melted in my mouth when they were fresh.  They were still good the next day, but a little drier -- fortunately that was fixed with a trip to the microwave for ten seconds.  If I had my way and had not made a promise on the interwebs to deliver five different doughnut recipes, I would've made a second batch of the yeast doughnuts rather than a new kind.  Luckily, I like you.  I think you deserve a variety of doughnut recipes and almost-witty commentary on them.  So, keep reading.

This week's feature is the chocolate cake doughnut.  I'll be the first to say that I personally prefer yeast doughnuts to cake doughnuts, but I wanted to try the latter out for myself.  The only difference in the recipe or cooking process is that cake doughnuts use baking powder as the leavening agent, while the yeast doughnuts use [ahem] yeast.  The chocolate cake doughnuts do puff up once in the hot frying oil, but keep in mind that they are a denser breed of doughnut.  That being said, the density definitely makes these a much better day-after doughnut than their yeast counterparts.  I still prefer the yeast doughnuts to cake doughnuts after this run, but for those of you out there that like cake doughnuts, these are good cake doughnuts!

A few other notes before you start.  There were many versions of chocolate cake doughnuts so this was a bit of a compilation effort on my part, trying to take the best of each and omit the worst.  More than a few recipes called for some sort of a chocolate glaze or icing to finish off the doughnuts.  I tested out a glaze on one doughnut, but I'll be honest -- it wasn't spectacular, and I really believe it detracted from the taste of the actual doughnut.  I settled on dusting the doughnuts with basic granulated sugar.  Finally, I halved this recipe since the gym is closed this week due to spring break, my OnDemand isn't working (so no exercise videos), and my testers for this one were me, myself and I.

Chocolate Cake Doughnuts
-makes 18

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for frying
Granulated sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, buttermilk, and melted butter.  Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients and stir until none of the cocoa/flour mixture is visible.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Scrape dough onto a floured (this isn't the time to skimp or "dust lightly") surface. With floured hands, pat dough out to about 1/2 inch thick. With a 3-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnuts and center hole (I couldn't find my tiny cutter so I used a water bottle cap).  Pat together scraps of dough and cut again.  Place doughnuts on a well-floured baking sheet.

Fill a high-sided pot with about two inches of vegetable oil.  Use a smaller pot to use less oil, but know that you'll be cooking smaller batches of doughnuts.  Heat the oil to 375F, as indicated by a candy thermometer.  Place one doughnut at a time onto a wide spatula and gently slide into the oil.  Be careful not to overcrowd the oil.  Cook, flipping once, about 1 and a half minutes on each side or until puffy.  With spatula, transfer doughnut to a paper towel-lined plate or a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Repeat to cook the rest of the doughnuts.

When cool enough to handle (about 15 minutes), dip both sides of the doughnut in granulated sugar and set aside.  Can be stored in a sealed container for up to two days.  These are perfect with a glass of milk.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Traditional yeast doughnuts

Welcome to the first installment of the March doughnut project!  The traditional yeast doughnut -- think basic glazed doughnut.  The kind that made Krispy Kreme famous -- you know, the free sample you get in the store, hot and just-ridden-through-the-sugary-glazing-waterfall conveyor belt.  (Yeah, you're not the only one drooling.)

This first doughnut recipe was the most daunting of all, largely due to its simplicity.  No fancy ingredients like blueberries or chocolate chips, no vanilla or jelly filling... nothing to mask the flavor of the basic doughnut if it turned out to taste like cardboard.  What if it didn't rise enough?  What if the oil wasn't hot enough?  What if this was just a bad idea in the first place?  After all, I've only made doughnuts twice before, once using a quick "cheating" method.  In other words, I'm pretty new at this.

Of the many bakery items that consumers buy, I'd venture to say that doughnuts are at the top of the list of "foods we buy out because we could never make them at home."  And trust me, I know; I love walking into a shop and buying a freshly made doughnut.  When a Dunkin' Donuts opened up in Squirrel Hill, I was so happy that I could schedule doughnut walks to count for exercising time.  Two and a half miles each way, and a doughnut in between.  That cancels out, right?  My grandma thinks my walks are hilarious -- "My, that's  a long way to walk for a doughnut.  It must be good!"  Pfffff, of course it is, Grandma.  Anyway, I digress.

This first doughnut adventure could've gone a number of ways, but luckily for me and my tasters (and you!), I'd say it was a fantastic success.  I love Alton Brown for his scientifically sound recipes, but I had two small bones to pick with the guy: 1. Too much nutmeg.  It's very strong, and I know many people have issues with the taste, so I cut the amount in half.  2. In no universe, this one or a parallel one, did this make 20-25 doughnuts like the recipe said.  I used a bigger doughnut cutter than A.B. and got twice as many doughnuts.  Other than that, this certainly counts as good eats.  If you'd like smaller doughnuts, use a smaller biscuit cutter.  And fry up the doughnut holes if you're a fan of those, too.  Bottom line -- these are much easier than you'd think.  Mix, first rise, roll and cut, second rise, fry, cool, glaze.  Easy!

Yeast Doughnuts
(adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)

-makes about 40-45 three-inch doughnuts

1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
2 packages of quick-rise yeast
1/3 cup warm water (95-105 degrees F)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Vegetable oil (enough to have about an inch in whatever vessel you're using for frying)

Walk milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from heat and add shortening, stirring constantly until shortening has melted.  If a little more heat is needed, return to burner on low heat as needed.  Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a small bowl, sprinkle both packets of the yeast over the warm water, and let dissolve for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of an electric mixer, and add the milk and shortening mixture, the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour.  With the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until the flour is incorporated and then turn the speed to medium and beat well.

Add the remaining flour and combine on low speed at first, then increase the speed to medium and beat well.  Switch that attachment to the dough hook and beat on medium speed until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl and becomes smooth, roughly 3 to 4 minutes.  (Note: The dough will still be sticky at this point -- don't worry!  Resist the urge to add extra flour since you will add later when rolling out the dough.)  Transfer the dough to a well-oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface (told you so!), roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick.  Cut out dough using a 3-inch biscuit cutter (the rim of a drinking glass works just fine) and a 1-inch ring for the center hole.  Set cut out doughnuts on the floured surface you used for rolling, and cover lightly with tea towels, allowing the doughnuts to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat one to two inches of oil in a heavy bottomed pot to 365 degrees F.  Gently place the doughnuts in the oil, 3 to 4 at a time.  Cook for roughly 50 seconds to a minute on each side (checking for desired color).  Transfer doughnuts to a cooling rack placed over a baking sheet.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes before glazing.

For glaze, whisk together 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons of milk until a thin, runny glaze.  I wanted a thinner, run-down-the-sides glaze, so I added a bit more milk.  If you want a thicker topping, use less milk or more sugar.  I actually tried both, just adjusting the thickness as a I went along.  No rocket science here.  Dip one side of the doughnut in the glaze and set on cooling rack, glaze side up.  (Yes, your counter will be covered with sugar if, in your early morning stupor, you forgot to put wax paper under the rack.  Oh well.  It was a small price to pay for an apartment that smelled like a doughnut shop.)  Enjoy with a tall glass of milk or warm cup of coffee.  Go back for seconds, even thirds... since you're at home, no one is watching or judging :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

I say doughnut, you say donut

Happy March!  Wow, I can't believe it's March already.  The Olympics are over (and what a two weeks!), college basketball is in full swing, and people are going to start getting ready for swimsuit season.  Fans of that last one aren't going to like what I have to announce, but well, if you didn't like food or fun, you most likely wouldn't be reading this!

In response to a comment a few weeks ago, and although National Doughnut Day is a few months away, I've decided to declare March as doughnut/donut month!  [fanfare]

Five weeks, five different doughnut recipes, one to be published each Tuesday.  I considered a doughnut week but decided that I should give myself and my doughnut testers some recovery time between each batch of fried deliciousness.  The doughnut recipes will range from the traditional to the shortcut and even include a new shape.  (If, for some unfortunate reason, you are not a fan of doughnuts, don't worry -- the rest of the week will be business as usual here.)  I'm almost ashamed to say how much time I've spent researching and testing recipes, but then I remember how they taste and forget everything else.  There is NOTHING in the world like a fresh, warm doughnut.  Get excited! :)

In a completely unrelated note, attention all yoga fanatics in the Pittsburgh area!  A friend told me about a new yoga studio called Yoga Flow that has just opened in Shadyside and is offering 30 days of free yoga!  I love free.  I'd suggest you check out the schedule and call ahead to make sure the class is open, but sounds like a good deal to me.  I'm going to try to get there sometime this week or weekend.  If any of you go, let me know how it is!

Whew, doughnuts and yoga.  What could be better?  Have a great Monday!

Oh, and question: how do you spell the delight known as the fried ring of dough?  I'm curious!