Superspark

a year in food and life

Cranberry oatmeal scones January 18, 2010

Filed under: baked goods,breakfast,food — superspark @ 12:53 pm

We’re something of a TV watching household.  Yes, we like movies (though I still haven’t been out to one since Maddie was born oh, 18 months ago), but we are nearly always too tired to sit through an entire movie in an evening.  By the time Maddie goes to bed, we have maybe an hour or so of attention left in us before it’s time for us to go to bed in anticipation of our 4 am wakeup.  (Yes, you read that correctly, more on that in a minute…)

So when TV goes on hiatus, say, over the winter holidays because we’re all supposed to be busy with festive parties and family togetherness, we find ourselves revisiting old TV shows that we neglected to watch the first time around.   Most recently, it’s been Gray’s Anatomy, Season 5.  We had watched the previous seasons only slightly behind schedule, but as Season 5 approached, we had just had enough of the groan-inducing, eye-rolling melodrama of the show.  Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s just too much to stomach.

Now that Dylan is a full-fledged surgical resident (an intern, just as the Gray’s Anatomy crew were in their first season), we have a decidedly different perspective on the show and its, uh, creative take on the medical profession.  I won’t even get into the OR issues (loose hair, lack of face masks, etc…) or the fact that all of the doctors are sleeping with one another.  No, what really gets us is the schedule our beloved TV doctors enjoy.

Meredith, Izzy, and the others routinely lounge around in their sun-filled house drinking coffee and relaxing before work in the morning.  Even in the height of summer, the sun isn’t up when Dylan and his fellow interns head to work.  When you have to be at work by 5, there’s just no room for morning chatting.  He’s lucky to find a moment to grab a portable breakfast before rolling out the door.  This one really irks him, needless to say.

What irks me the most? That he has virtually no control over his schedule at this point.  His three vacation weeks were chosen for him in advance with no input from him.  And he gets to request 5 days off (weekend included, mind you, as surgeons typically work 6 days a week) at either Thanksgiving or Christmas.  We requested Christmas off.  We got Thanksgiving.  Surprise!

All of which goes to say that for the first year ever, I was unable to spend Christmas with my parents and extended family.   Instead, Dylan, Maddie, and I spent the day on our own- after he got home from work at noon, that is.  In fact, we were lucky that he was able to trade or he would have been on call at work ALL DAY on Christmas.  Yeah, that’s what it’s like being a surgical intern.  All glamour and glory.

One of my family’s few Christmas traditions is making scones on Christmas morning and then eating them while we open our stockings.  In an effort to try to keep this year’s unusual Christmas at least a little festive, I whipped up a batch of these cranberry oatmeal scones from Joy of Baking on Christmas eve, popped them in the freezer unbaked, and then stuck them in the oven the moment Dylan walked in the door on Christmas day.  May I mention what a genius idea freezing unbaked scones is? Thank you, Smitten Kitchen! You can do all of the prep ahead of time and just whip them straight from freezer to oven at your convenience. Voila!

All in all, Christmas wasn’t quite the same as in previous years, but the scones were our best ever- moist, rich, and delicious, especially laden with jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream.  (It was Christmas people, time to live a little!) Yum.   If all goes well we’ll be bringing these delicious scones with us when we go visit my parents for Christmas next year.

Cranberry oatmeal scones (makes 8 medium scones)

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (113 grams) (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup (60 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup (40 grams) dried cranberries or cherries (raisins or currants)
Zest of one lemon or orange (we skipped this)
2/3 cup (160 ml) buttermilk

Egg Wash: (not sure this added anything- I’d skip it next time)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk or cream

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use Silpat) and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and whisk to combine. Add the butter and using two knives or a pastry cutter cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the rolled oats, dried cranberries and zest. Mix until combined. Stir in the buttermilk (adding more buttermilk if necessary) and mix just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly dry.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough four or five times and then pat, or roll, the dough into a circle that is 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 11/2 inches (3.75 cm) thick. Cut this circle into 8 triangular sections. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Make an egg wash of one beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk or cream and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.

4. Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. (Add just 3-5 extra minutes if baking frozen scones.) Remove from oven and then turn your broiler on high. If you like, sift confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar heavily over the tops of the scones and place them under the broiler. Broil for just a few seconds, turning the pan as necessary, until the sugar has melted and turns golden brown. Make sure to watch the scones carefully as the sugar will burn very quickly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 

Pumpkin cupcakes September 30, 2009

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,food — superspark @ 1:30 pm

birthday bib and cupcake

Admittedly, I’ve been a very bad blogger these days, but when you are faced with diversions like spending time with a one year old as she ponders her first cupcake, sitting in front of a computer seems decidedly less appealing.  How can I justify writing about last night’s dinner when my little munchkin wants to read “Baby Faces” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” yet another time? Luckily there’s work and when I have a rare moment of down time I can try to catch up on all things Superspark.

So it’s taken me two months to write this post on pumpkin cupcakes.  Let’s put a positive spin on it and say that there’s no better time to make something pumpkin-tastic than October.  Had I posted it back in August, you might have thought it utterly untimely.  But August was Maddie’s first birthday and given that her nickname around the house is Pumpkin, there seemed no other choice but a pumpkin cupcake when it came time to introduce her to her first sweets.

So how were the cupcakes, which came from this recipe on the beloved blog, Smitten Kitchen? For firsthand evidence, I’ll refer the baby-lovers our there to this video of Maddie’s reaction. For the baby-haters who can’t stomach sitting through two minutes of utter cuteness, let’s just say, she hasn’t developed her Mama’s sweet tooth…yet. As for the rest of us, we thought the cupcakes were quite lovely and we were more than happy to eat Maddie’s share.

We particularly recommend the cream cheese frosting, which was super easy, super tasty (we omitted the maple because I’m kind of a maple hater) and definitely one to keep for future baking. The pumpkin cupcakes themselves were good, if not the most exciting cupcake I’d ever had. But as a whole- lovely in August, even better now that autumn is here.

Pumpkin Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from David Leite

Makes 17 to 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

Frosting
Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (optional)

Make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.

3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners — you’re looking to get them 3/4 full. Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Make the frosting:
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. To assemble the cake, frost the top of one cake, place the other cake on top. Frost the sides and top, swirling decoratively. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to set up frosting.

 

Banana pecan muffins February 23, 2009

Filed under: baked goods,breakfast,food — superspark @ 10:13 pm

banana-pecan-muffins

Pasadena hosted its first ever marathon in November.  Well, almost.  After years of planning, not to mention hours and hours of training by the athletes, the marathon was cancelled just hours before the start due to poor air quality.  Here in Southern California we can rarely complain about the weather, but an unfortunate coincidence of events had sparked a rash of wildfires, leaving the air thick with ash and smoke. The runners were annoyed and disappointed, to say the least.

Before I say another word, I should dispel any notions that I was among those hopeful runners.  Although I am a recreational runner, Dylan is the marathoner in the family- I have no such aspirations and feel quite strongly that my body just was not made to endure that sort of challenge.  But I am a valiant supporter and when Dylan’s running group spread the word that the marathon had been cancelled that morning, deciding instead to hold an impromptu potluck brunch, I figured that warm, homemade muffins could go a long way towards remedying their disappointment.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one with muffins in mind- there were at least two other varieties, but I happen to think this recipe, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, is a particularly nice one.  Unlike a lot of muffins, this one is only mildly sweet, not so saccharine as to be mistaken for dessert.  In fact, the brunch’s host, Marie-Helene, usually forswears dessert, declaring herself more of a savory person, but she asked me to leave a few of the muffins for her to snack on later in the day.  With everything ready to go from the pantry aside from a frozen banana, these muffins were quick, simple, and perfect for the occasion.

Banana pecan muffins (makes 8 large or 12 medium muffins)

Ingredients:

3 tbsp melted butter or canola or other neutral oil, plus some for greasing muffin tin
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 sugar, or to taste (or replace with honey or maple syrup)
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup very ripe mashed banana
1/4 cup milk, plus more if needed
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans (or other nuts)

1. Preheat the oven to 400.  Grease a standard 12-compartment muffin tin.

2. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl (including the nuts).  Beat together the egg, milk, banana, and butter or oil.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ones into it.  Combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating, and stopping as soon as the dry ingredients are moistened.  The batter should be lumpy and thick, but quite moist. Add more milk if necessary.

3. Spoon the batter into muffin tins, filling them about 2/3 full and handling the batter as little as possible.  Bake 20-30 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.  Remove from over and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm.

 

Pear cardamom upside down cake February 1, 2009

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,food — superspark @ 9:30 am

pear-cardamon-upside-down-cake

We’ve had something of a revelation chez Superspark.  Turns out that at nearly six months old, Maddie is perfectly content to sit on the kitchen counter in her Bumbo chair and watch while we cook or clean or wash dishes.   Before this realization, cooking had to be strategically planned to coincide with naptimes or else required a little tag team action, one of us babysitting while the other let off some steam in the kitchen.  No more! This morning Dylan worked on pizza dough and homemade ricotta by the stove, I washed dishes from last night’s dinner, and Maddie sat in her chair trying with all her might to reach the  goodies scattered about her- a box of Life cereal, a tube of Airborne, and a post-it note.  Beyond making our lives so much easier, we’re hoping that this might mean that she grows up with a love of good food, cooking, and spending time with us in the kitchen.

This particular cake comes from the pre-revelation days, when cooking was more of a stealth activity, done quickly and silently lest Maddie wake up and the cooking necessarily come to an end.   I had never made an upside down cake before and with an overabundance of pears, I set out to make this cake in anticipation of a holiday party in December.  Luckily, turns out making an upside down cake is a breeze and was easily done during a single nap.  The distinctive scent of cardamom and caramelized sugar made these pears among the tastiness I’d ever eaten and the cake itself had me licking the bowl of batter and scrounging for crumbs once baked.  I was happy, no, delighted, when at the end of the party a single, perfect slice remained to eat for dessert the next day.

Although I was first inspired to make a pear cardamom cake by this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Baking and Books, ultimately I used the variation found here on Epicurious, originally from the December 2000 issue of Gourmet.

Pear cardamom upside down cake (serves 8-12)

For caramelized pears:
4 firm-ripe Forelle or small Bosc pears (I used the latter)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

For cake batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
3/4 cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel pears, then halve lengthwise and core. Spread sugar on a plate, then press cut sides of pear halves into sugar to coat, reserving remaining sugar.

2. Melt butter in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low and arrange pears, cut sides down, decoratively in skillet. Sprinkle reserved sugar all around pears. Cook pears over moderately low heat until sugar begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes, and remove skillet from heat.

3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat well. Add flour mixture and milk alternately in 3 batches, mixing at low speed after each addition until just combined.

4. Spoon batter over pears in skillet, gently spreading evenly and being careful not to disturb pears (batter will not cover tops of all pears). Bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Cool cake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge and invert a plate over skillet. Invert cake onto plate (wearing oven mitts), keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together. Replace any fruit stuck to bottom of skillet if necessary.
Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

 

Speedy no-knead bread January 8, 2009

Filed under: baked goods,food — superspark @ 3:21 am

speedy-no-knead-bread

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: start baking your own bread. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, that you already spend some time in the kitchen. Even those of us who dabble in cooking, however, often find ourselves downright intimidated by bread-making. There’s something about working with yeast that seems foreign. Perhaps it’s because it has a language of it’s own- instant-rise, proofing, and so forth. Or perhaps it’s just the worry that things can go so terribly wrong so easily. When I first started baking bread several years ago, the loaves often and unpredictably came out incredibly dense or not entirely cooked through. It would be enough to defeat a perfectionist, however I was so undeniably impressed with myself (“I baked bread?! So what if it’s a little doughy and moist in the middle- all the better for toasting!“) that I kept plugging away at it.

Not until Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe was published in the New York Times in late 2006, however, did I start to enjoy the process and make consistently terrific loaves each time. The super-simple “mix and let it sit” recipe seemed tailor-made to my somewhat lazy approach to cooking and the end product, a warm, crusty rustic loaf never failed to satisfy the carbohydrate-lover in me and impress less culinarily-inclined friends. Could it get any better?

Believe it or not, perfection can be improved upon, as evidenced by the advent of speedy no-knead bread, from the recipe found here on the New York Times website. The process is essentially the same, but by adding more yeast, the rise is accelerated, meaning that those who don’t like to plan their bread-making a day in advance can now complete the whole process in a long afternoon (nearly all of which is hands off time). I’ll admit I haven’t done a side-by-side taste test to see just how close the speedy version is to the original, but honestly, I can’t tell the difference from memory and that’s good enough for me.

No, it’s not as quick as running out to your favorite bakery and just buying a loaf, but this is infinitely more satisfying. For pennies a loaf, you can have warm, fresh bread with only a minimum of work. So have a little faith in your baking ability (it’s nearly impossible to screw this one up!) and give this recipe a try this weekend- can you imagine anything more delightful in the winter than the smell of baking bread coming from a warm oven?

Speedy no-knead bread (makes one large loaf)

Ingredients:
3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose)
1/4 oz instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
oil as needed

1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.

3. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-to-8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

4. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
.

 

Berry oatmeal crumble bars June 16, 2008

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,food — superspark @ 6:24 am

Aside from our day jobs (as if they weren’t enough!), Dylan and I oversee an off-campus apartment building of about fifty undergraduates, making sure that the students are generally healthy and well, that they maintain a respectable level of hygiene and cleanliness, and that their needs are appropriately met. For many of you, no doubt, the thought of attending to the needs to dozens of college students might just have made your top five list of worst nightmares, but in reality, this is a pretty low-key bunch. In most cases, they’ve chosen to live off campus because they’re pretty self-sufficient and want to escape the noise, filth, and rowdiness of on-campus dorm life. And with such independent-minded charges, our job is easy, usually entailing little more than throwing a dessert or movie night every so often to make sure they’re alive and well.

Late this spring, feeling generally overfed, but missing baking, it dawned on me that I had found a perfect baking outlet. Not only were there fifty hungry mouths just waiting for a late-night snack on any given evening, but the university fund would my baking endeavors when they fell under the guise of student life. A perfect relationship, no? So every couple of weeks, I would pick something to make and then Dylan and I would walk around the apartment complex knocking on doors, checking in on the students, and bringing a dessert surprise. One such evening, I made these berry oatmeal crumble bars found here on Baking Bites. A oaty-crust (not unlike graham cracker crumbles), a layer of sweet jammy berries (in this case a mix of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries), and more crumbles on top, these were a good way to satisfy my sweet tooth when I wasn’t in the mood for something chocolatey. Don’t be fooled into thinking these are healthy by the berries and the oats in the name- there’s plenty of sugar and butter to combat that notion- but they were tasty and as hoped, quickly disappeared thanks to our hungry charges.

Berry oatmeal crumble bars (makes 20)

Filling
3 cups fresh or frozen berries (I used Trader Joe’s frozen mix of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

Crumble and Crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (quick-cooking or regular)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into 7-9 large chunks
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. To make the filling: In a medium saucepan, stir together berries and lemon juice and cook medium heat until fruit is tender, about 8-15 minutes, depending on type of berries being used (strawberries take longer than other berries, usually).

2. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch, then stir into fruit mixture. Continue cooking until mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes, until thick. Scrape berry filling into a medium bowl and set aside.

3. To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a 9×13″ baking pan. In a food processor (or large mixing bowl), combine flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, baking soda , salt and vanilla extract. Pulse until mixture is thoroughly blended and resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of this mixture in a medium bowl. Pour remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish, spread evenly and pat down. Place filling in dollops over crust and carefully spread to cover entire surface (this will be difficult to do, so take it slow). Squeeze reserved crumb mixture into large clumps with your fingers and sprinkle evenly over the top of the fruit filling.

4. Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Cut into 20 bars to serve.

 

Cranberry lemon squares May 27, 2008

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,Uncategorized — superspark @ 6:12 am

I know Martha Stewart can be divisive. There are those who aspire to be the new Martha of say, healthy eating or hip interior decorating. And then there are those who loathe her and can see only a demon behind the outwardly placid and angelic face. Among food bloggers, as far as I can tell, the real divide is based not on her personality so much as on how her recipes turn out. On several of the blogs I read regularly, I have seen multiple posts lamenting that yet another Martha Stewart recipe has turned out just plain bad, that the proportions of ingredients are off or the finished product tasted terrible. I can’t claim to care enough to weigh in on Martha’s moral virtue, but I can speak in defense of her baked goods, at least those that I’ve found in The Best of Martha Stewart Living: Desserts (which can apparently be currently procured for as little as $0.24 on Amazon!).

Should you be willing to dole out $0.24, you will find yourself smitten by pictures of glorious cakes, like this one and this one, both of which I made in quick succession and with great success last spring.  More recently, I tore myself away from the cake section to try the recipe for cranberry lemon squares and met with similarly good results.  Whatever problems others have had with Martha’s recipes, I’ve got no beef with her.  This variation on the classic lemon square was sweet and puckery, mixing the tangy tastes of lemon and cranberry.  Although there are three separate components to prepare (crust, cranberry layer, and lemon layer), they came together simply and without much ado.  I was a little skeptical about their appearance when I pulled them out of the oven and the deep red of the cranberry peeked through the lemon layer in parts, but a quick sprinkling of powdered sugar and the problem was solved.  So forget your feelings about Martha; if you love a lemon bar and are looking for a new variation,  this one is worth a try.

Cranberry lemon squares (makes 16)

Ingredients:

6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces plus more for pan
1 1/ cups dried cranberries (about 7 oz)
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)

1. Heat oven to 325. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until water has been absorbed, about 25 minutes.

3. Transfer cranberry mixture to bowl of a food processor; chop coarsely. Set aside.

4. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine confectioners’ sugar and 3/4 cup flour. Add the butter, beating on low speed until mixture forms pea-sized pieces. Press batter into baking pan.

5. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

6. Beat eggs and granulated sugar until smooth. Add lemon juice; beat to combine. Add remaining 1/4 cup flour and beat to combine. Set lemon mixture aside.

7. Reduce oven temperature to 300. Spread cranberry mixture over cooked crust. Pour lemon mixture over the cranberry mixture. Bake until set, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, 40 minutes. Chill 4 hours. To serve, cut into squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar.