Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mmmmm.. Ribs

I made ribs again yesterday in the slow cooker. They were "Saint Louis Style." Next time, I'll definitely spring for the babyback ones, as the "Saint Louis Style" were very fatty. When I made the baby back ribs, most of the fat had melted into the sauce and the ribs were relatively lean.

The sauce was simple to make, a couple cans of plain tomato sauce, brown sugar, garlic, chili powder, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper. Dump over ribs, turn on slow cooker in the morning and you'll have dinner in the evening. I served it with buttered rice and broccoli.

I made another cake today. (Somebody stop me, please?). This one was a chocolate sponge. My sister has a little ceremony for her masters program today and I felt it was an occasion that required cake. It looks beautiful and tall, so we'll see how it tastes later. It has no butter, just 1/3 cup of Canola oil, so it's relatively light and low in fat.

I'll let you know how it goes later...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Scratch Baking

I have been obsessed with cake baking lately. I long ago mastered the chocolate cake. The batter, is simple and the texture is usually soft and moist regardless of whether I followed the exact directions to the letter.

This is not the case with yellow cakes.

Last March, for my mother's birthday I tried to make a simple yellow 1 2 3 4 cake from the Joy of Cooking. It looked beautiful, but the texture was all wrong. It was dry and had the texture of cornbread. I used regular flour instead of cake flour and did not reduce it accordingly. I'm sure I did other stuff wrong, but that was the main offense.

Then I got some cake flour and made it again for my sister's birthday and was much more particular about the instructions. It was better, it rose, but ultimately it was dryer than I'd like.

I had no idea how difficult it was to make a scratch cake correctly. I've been doing it all my life, but only recently I decided I needed to do it right.

My fourth foray into the 1 2 3 4 cake was almost perfect. I used castor sugar, AKA super fine sugar and it improved the texture immensely. The cake was soft and moist. I think I should have cooked it an extra couple minutes. The cake doubled in volume in the oven, but shrank down about 25% while cooling. It was almost too moist, but I think an extra minute or 2 in the oven would have fixed that.

But. It. Was. Delicious.

Over the weekend I made a couple of recipes from "Great Cakes" by Carole Matthews. I think I've got this thing down, at least with the simpler butter cake recipes.

Basically what I've learned is this: "room temperature" butter is much colder than I previously thought. It should only sit out for a half hour before you start creaming. When the recipe says "gradually add the sugar" they MEAN it. It takes a good 8 minutes of sprinkling it in 1 TBSP at a time to properly aerate the butter.

Also, when adding the flour and the liquid alternately, do it really fast. Shut off the mixer between additions if you can't get it in fast enough. Once it's mostly blended shut off the mixer completely and fold it together. Even on low 'fold' speed, it will bring up the gluten in the flour and make the cake dry if you mix it too much.

I love baking cakes. If we could eat cake every day, I would make one every day.

I'm totally serious. I love to make cake.

And I love to eat it.

Very hungry at the moment... Didn't cook tonight. Waiting for take out.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Crock Pot Style

A few thing converged within the last few weeks and I decided I needed a crock pot. Or "slow cooker" as they're called these days. My friend L, who also has two small children and not a lot of time to prep her meals, likes hers. My babysitter, LB who is also really into cooking swears by hers and I was randomly watching the Food Network on a rainy day and I happened to discover Robin Miller.

For those of you who have not heard of her, she has a show on the Food Network called "Quick Fix Meals." Unlike her absurdly famous counterpart, Rachel Ray, Robin Miller does 15 minute meals. But she does a lot of prep ahead of time. So, she throws a few things in the crock pot in the morning and throws together a simple salad in the evening and voila! Dinner. She is self consciously skinny like so many 'celebrity chefs', this woman does not look like she has eaten a gram of fat since the Reagan Administration... But I digress. I like her cooking style because it fits my lifestyle. I have a bit of "free" (ie, non kid time) in the mornings when K takes her nap, and then I usually don't get a break until Rich gets home. I am fond of Rachel Ray, but most of the time her meals do not work for me. This is due to:

  • her penchant for cooking with things that my husband would not touch with a ten foot pole (mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers... the list goes ON and ON.)
  • the ungodly mess that must be created to actually cook one of those dinners in 30 minutes. I try to clean while I cook. And if I start after he gets home, I'm too hungry and tired.
  • the diverse and fresh ingredients she uses are seldom things I have on hand.
But Robin Miller makes sauces out of stuff that are generally in my pantry. So, I thought I'd give the whole slow cooker thing a try. I bought this one from Amazon for $30 and so far, it has been a great investment. The first night, I made ribs, and They. Were. Fabulous. The fell off the bone and had a lovely flavor. They were a success. A rib dinner like that a restaurant would have cost us $30 per person, and the baby back ribs I got at McKinnons only cost about $10, and the ingredients for the bar-b-que sauce were stuff I had around, brown sugar, tomato sauce, chili powder, etc.

I made pork roast in the slow cooker last Friday. I invented a sauce with orange juice, maple syrup and rosemary. I had to use the high setting because I didn't start the meal until after two, and I think it made the meat a little tougher. The sauce was a little on the sweet side, but over all it was pretty good.

For tonight, I made a variation of something I saw Robin Miller do. She made a slow cooker chicken with orange marmalade that she thinned with chicken broth, orange juice and added a dollop of hoisen sauce, and maple syrup. I substituted apricot preserves and orange zest, because that's what I had handy. We'll see how it comes out. I put a bunch of rainbow chard on top, which I'm regretting at the moment, because it smells a little skunky. She made another chicken dish with chard in the crock pot and it looked really fine.

So, we'll see what comes out of the pot. Perhaps we'll dump it in the garbage and eat a lovely bowl of cereal, or perhaps we'll pick out the chard and snarf it up.