Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fresh Take Meatballs

I'm not just a baker. I'm a full service at-home cook. I even made sourdough pancakes last week (I didn't blog about it as pancakes are somewhat involved, especially when your spatula breaks in the middle of it). And even though I have a divine hatred of ground beef, I do enjoy making meatballs.

It's not something I do often, but I was in no mood for regular spaghetti and meat sauce last night. On top of the fact I don't care for ground beef, spaghetti is not a pasta that goes well with meat sauce. You want a light sauce with spaghetti, whereas meat sauce is better with shells that will catch the meat. So I convinced my mother to have a clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry day by offering to make said meatballs.

We've done the Fresh Take stuff with chicken before. It's a nice alternative to my mother's favorite baked chicken topped with onion fries (I don't particularly care for onions either, although onion did make its way into last night's dinner as well). But there's other cool recipes if you open the package (we did the Rosemary & Roasted Garlic), and (yes I am fully capable of following the recipe) I made something different for dinner last night.

Serve 'em up, add some pasta with cream of onion soup, and some assorted veggies and it was a meal.

I'm not going to rate this one myself. As I said, I hate ground beef. So I didn't care for them much. On the other hand, they worked, and the guinea pigs liked them.

I'm just not going to partake in the leftovers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Microwave Mayonnaise Mini Cake: Revisited

There's so many things that made me come to this idea that it's not funny. For one, my microwave cakes have successful enough that I want to do more with them. How nice would it be if you could quickly whip up a little bitty cake, actually decorate it and bring it to a friend to celebrate something unexpected? Plus, there's actually regular mayonnaise around the house right now – a rarity.

To top it off, I had an Oreo doughnut last week from Dunkin' Donuts. I loved it – in fact, it's become a close second behind my favorite doughnut of all time, Tim Horton's S'more donut. It's a chocolate frosted doughnut with mini marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs on top.

S'mores are by far my favorite summer food – namely because I like marshmallows and chocolate. And, because inspiration comes to me like this, it got me thinking about making a s'more microwave cake.

So I whipped up the original recipe with regular mayo, saving the flour for last instead. I dumped it over 3/4 cup of mini mint chocolate marshmallows in the bottom of my new 2-cup ramekin (gotta love the excuse to use new toys!). I also cut the microwave time – it took about 2 minutes to be reasonably done. I had graham cracker crumbs at the ready as I dumped it over onto a plate:

As you can see, the results were not quite what I anticipated. So I just cut it into fourths and forgot about the graham crackers. Not to mention, the melty marshmallows made for an almost pudding like texture on top of the cake.

Still, I have to say I have discovered that, yes, regular mayonnaise makes all the difference (although you don't get the diet benefits, but because it rises more, you can decrease the serving size). Plus, ugly as it was, it still tasted good.

Plus, I also learned that marshmallows will melt completely after 2 minutes in the microwave. As the Mythbusters (my favorite TV show!) say, “Failure is always an option.”

And it's been said many times that you learn more from your failures than your successes. Now, if only Dunkin' would come out with their own s'mores doughnut...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jello Seashell Cookies

As I was browsing Amazon, trying to use a bunch of gift cards that I've earned and replace my long-missing bundt pan, I came across this pan. I tried to convince myself I didn't need it, but the ocean lover in me thought it was too cute, and besides, those gift cards are getting easier and easier to earn. Kind of ironic that, of the 5 new cooking utensils I bought, the one I didn't think I wanted was the first one I ended up using.

I'm going scuba diving on Sunday off of the beach. We're aiming to go in around high tide, but it isn't until late morning. So we're getting there early and having a beach party. Of course, I have to bake something for it. It's what I do.

My mother suggested pressing sugar cookie dough into the pan, and I liked that suggestion. Then I remembered a favorite cookie recipe that came from a Girl Scout cookbook from 30 some odd years ago: Jello Cookies.

I've made these cookies time and time again. The last time was for a potluck Christmas party at work, and I remember one person walking by me (not realizing that I was the one who made them) with a whole plate full of them, saying “I don't know what the heck is in these, but they are good.” With an extra box of Jello in the pantry (and I'm trying to clear it out!), I knew this was the answer.

I stuck to the official recipe with this one. It's tried and true, either pressed as the recipe calls for or rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. So the only difference was using the pan.

Here is the recipe (as it was written)
Jello Cookies

3/4 Cup shortning
1/2 Cup sugar
1-3oz package Jello (any flavor)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Mix first 5 ingredients. Blend in dry ingredients. Roll dough into 3/4” balls. Place 3” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with small glass dipped in sugar.

Bake at 400 for 6-8 minutes

It actually took slightly larger balls of dough to fill the molds, and without pressing them, they ended up taking 12 minutes to bake. It made 64 cookies – enough for everybody at the beach as well as a few for home. And while I was first a little 
disappointed that they were slightly more browned than they usually turn out, my mother pointed out, “It makes them look like they have sand on them.”

So they were a hit at home. I can't wait for my dive buddies to try these. And hopefully I still have one or two leftover...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sourdough Pizzelles

When I was younger (I think I was maybe 3 or 4), my grandfather bought me a visor cap. It said across the front, “If Mom Says No, Ask Grandpa”. Of course, grandparents spoil their grandkids, and my mother is no exception with my niece and nephew. I always accepted that pizzelles, a type of Italian waffle cookie, were a special treat from relatives up north. When my niece fell in love with them, my mother went out and bought a pizzelle iron.

I draw my inspiration from many sources, and this one was no exception. One thing I hadn't figured out how to make sourdough were cookies (although I have since found a few recipes to try). I make sourdough pancakes with regularity. Could I make sourdough pizzelles?

Originally, I was going to use my pancake recipe, but as I continued to do research, I learned that waffle batter would work better. So once again, I turned to one of my new favorite sources for a waffle recipe, quartered it and doubled the sugar (and this time, it was easy to split up the recipe).

Pizzelles, in general, are tremendously time consuming. My great aunt only makes them around holidays for that reason. Starting this recipe the night before only added to the time put into it. Plus, not ever having used the pizzelle iron myself, it took me a few tries to get the right amount of batter and the right setting.

Here is the recipe:
Sourdough Pizzelles
Recipe adapted from Sourdough Recipes
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1/4 cup fresh sourdough starter
2 tblsp powdered milk
1/8 tsp salt
1 tblsp sugar
2 tblsp melted butter
1/4 cup + 1 tblsp flour
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 egg (seperated)

  1. The night before baking, mix all ingredients except for egg white in a mixing bowl. Cover and let sit overnight
  2. Beat egg white until almost stiff and fold in gently
  3. Oil pizzelle iron and set to moderate to high setting. Scoop into iron by rounded teaspoonfuls.
  4. Remove from press and cool on a wire rack. Pizzelles can be rolled into cones or molded around a juice glass immediately after removing from iron, if desired.
  5. When cool, enjoy!

These were definitely sourdough. Even doubling the sugar didn't cut that tang much. Perhaps it wasn't wise to use fresh starter – it sits overnight with plenty of flour anyway. Still, the recipe is definitely valid. One thumb up as a cookie, two thumbs up as a recipe. And I'm definitely not done with this one. I think I'm on to something here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pistachio Mini Pies with Sourdough Shells

Sourdough Biscuits have already proven to be not so great at becoming biscuit cups. So I got to thinking about other ways I could make them, as I'm pretty fed up with the mess egg scrambles leave behind. Then I came across a new sourdough recipe site, and I came up with the idea of mini pie shells. And while I've got a whole host of new toys coming in from Amazon this week, including this Microwave Egg Poacher, I had to give it a try.

Normally, I don't like experimenting too much with a recipe right off the bat. But there were a lot of things I couldn't test out for my intended use without changing. For one thing, I figured a double crust would be too much, so I opted to halve the recipe...sort of. Once again, I ran into the problem of halving an odd number of thirds. So I made the decision to start with 3/4 cup and add more if necessary. The other major change was to use oil instead of shortening. This wasn't so much of a health swap (although that is a plus) as much as I didn't want this to be a flaky pie crust. I needed it to hold together well.

When I first made the dough, the consistency looked right with only the 3/4 cup of flour. So I kept it that way, let it rest for the prescribed half an hour while I scrubbed the counter and began the process.

Two things became apparent right away: It wasn't holding together well enough when rolled out as thin as pie crust should, and as such, there was no way that (when baked in a muffin tin, at least) it would hold even one egg scramble, let alone with cheese.

Disappointing, yes, but I did what any good chef would do. I dug up some pistachio pudding mix from the pantry and made mini pies!

Here is the recipe, as I made it:
Sourdough Pastry Crust
adapted from Sourdough Recipes
Makes 6-8 tart shells
3/4 cup Flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup cooking oil
1/4 cup fresh sourdough starter

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Add oil and mix until the dry ingredients are incorperated.
  2. Mix in sourdough starter. Add additional flour or a small amount of water, if necessary to achieve proper consistency.
  3. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Roll dough out to desired thickness and press into muffin tin, trimming around the edges.
  5. Prick with a fork all over and weigh down with dried beans or marbles. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Fill with desired filling and enjoy!

I do have to say the last shell, which I made more like a pinch pot, worked out much better than the other ones. So maybe that's the key. I do have a mini loaf pan, which would make them big enough to at least hold an egg. They tasted good enough to say I can't give this recipe two thumbs down. One up, one down. I will concede, though, that my way isn't always better. While my egg poacher (along with several other toys which will be making their appearance on this blog in the coming weeks and months) is on the truck for delivery as I type, I might have to do this again.

This time, though, I think I'll stick to the recipe.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Microwave Sourdough Chocolate Cake

Oh, the microwave cake. This week has been a taste of normality – I've been working with a kid's scuba camp. And one of the great things about the microwave cake is that they are the weeknight baker's best friend – quick and easy.

So, with my lack of time this week, I decided to try and combine my last two microwave cakes. A Chocolate Sourdough Applesauce cake?

I took some risks here – I modified both so much I almost don't want to put my beloved “semi-original recipe” label here. For one thing, I reduced the sourdough starter slightly – I'm all about simplifying, especially for a quick recipe. 6 tablespoons of sourdough starter (twice what was in the not red velvet cake) works out to 1.125 thirds of a cup. Measuring sourdough starter by the tablespoon is possible, but being such a viscous liquid that isn't typically stored in a container where it can be easily poured into a measuring spoon, I'd rather just say 1/3 cup. I also increased the cocoa powder to match that of the regular microwave chocolate cake. Finally, I pulled out a toy that's been sitting in the back of the cupboard – a 4-cup bundt pan specifically for microwave cakes.

So, without further ado, here's the recipe:

Microwave Sourdough Chocolate Cake
Serves from 2 to 8
1/3 Cup Ripe Sourdough Starter
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup + 1 tblspn Sugar
1/4 Cup Cocoa powder
1/2 Cup Applesauce
2 eggs
1/4 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn vanilla extract

  1. Mix sourdough starter, eggs, applesauce and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Add baking powder and vanilla.
  2. Add cocoa powder and flour, mixing until just combined.
  3. Spray microwave safe baking dish (I use Baker's Joy). Microwave on High for 2 minutes. Check for doneness, adding time in 30 second intervals
  4. Tip onto serving plate and allow to cool. Slice and enjoy!

I was also trying to avoid the problems I've had with my first few microwave cakes. As I understand, the two major reasons a cake turns out tough is that the flour gets overworked and that it gets overbaked. I added the flour last to avoid the first problem, but ended up with a few lumps in the flour (I used the little mixing bowl, making it tough to mix properly). The latter...it finished on one side quickly, but the other side didn't turn out so well. So I put it in for two more 30 second stints after the initial two minutes. I nervously waited for my usual guinea pigs to have a taste.

The consensus? “A little chewy, but good.” So I'm going to give it one thumb up. I'm hoping a different baking dish might yield some better results.

The problem? I just ordered a whole host of new baking toys from Amazon (more on those when they come in). So looks like I'm going to be waiting for my next free gift card...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sourdough Coffee Cake

I keep saying I'm going to get to those sourdough egg cups, but that's been pushed back again (in this case, locating some little-used equipment and making sure it's washed well enough). Still, for whatever reason, I don't want to keep going to the old sourdough standbys – the Amish Friendship Bread and a mocha cake I've adapted from an old recipe.

So what possessed me to go searching for this Sourdough Coffee Cake recipe? Not too sure. At any rate, I found it, like the sound of it, and decided to try it.

The only modification to this recipe was the addition of a half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, because it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Yes, I'm capable of following a recipe to a tee. Many recipes I have no need to adapt. This change being so subtle, though, I'm not sure it really mattered.

I have to say I don't particularly like how many bowls got dirtied in the process (I suppose you could mix the dry ingredients in individually, but I believe that this method is probably better in making sure the flour doesn't get too overworked). But the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house as I began cleaning up was worth it.

If there's one thing I would change about this recipe, it's the streusel topping. I should have melted the butter – instead, there were a few large chunks of brown sugar.

Still, it was full of sourdough and cinnamon goodness, and other than that (more of a mistake on my end), it was two thumbs up worthy. Or as my mother put it, “This recipe's a keeper.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sourdough Microwave Mini-Cake

Being that I just started this blog, I pay attention to how people are finding my site. Someone recently came across my Microwave Mayonnaise Mini-Cake by using the search term “Microwave Cake Sourdough Starter.”

Generally, I like microwave cakes for two reasons. One, they're simple and quick (a memorized recipe and less than ten minutes suits me when I'm being lazy). The other is that they don't leave a lot of leftovers. I can have a couple bite's worth of brownie, share it with my family, and not have the rest of the pan staring me in the face.

Not so much with my sourdough baking. I like to plan those things out and I expect them to be a long, drawn-out process. Plus, the denser cakes make for a decent (if indulgent and not exactly healthy) breakfast – meaning it's easier to resist chowing down on half a cake.

But this whole idea of a sourdough microwave cake intrigued me. And it got me thinking: Is there a way I could make a mini sourdough microwave cake?

Some time ago, when I first learned of different mug cakes, I came across Kirbie's Cravings. She makes lots of mug cakes, including a red velvet mug cake.

Now, my original sourdough red velvet cake was good, but didn't have that red velvet texture – but I doubt the microwave version would whether it was made with sourdough starter or buttermilk. No harm in trying, right?

The main modification was the use of sourdough starter instead of buttermilk and the addition of more liquid, although I didn't make it a “red” velvet cake (I had no red food coloring and this is a spur-of-the-moment kind of recipe) and subbed water. Nor did I frost it – although that being my favorite part of red velvet cake, I probably should have.

So without further ado, here's my sourdough version of Kirbie's Red Velvet Mug Cake:

[Not]Red Velvet Microwave Cake
Adapted from Kirbie's Cravings
Serves up to 4, if you feel like sharing

4 tbsp flour
4 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp ripe sourdough starter
1 egg
1/2 tbsp water (use food coloring to make it a true red velvet cake)

  1. Mix ingredients, starting with the wet ingredients and ending with the flour, in a large microwave safe mug or bowl.
  2. Microwave on HIGH for 90 seconds. Check for doneness – if the top looks like its overly moist and feels sticky, it could use another 30 seconds. (Mine did in a 1000w microwave).
  3. Tip onto a plate, if desired, and enjoy!

No, it wasn't red velvet cake (or velvet chocolate cake, as the case may be). But it was lightly sweet, done perfectly...and I have to say a two thumbs way up success! I can also see this being a useful recipe for those who prefer to use up all of their starter if they aren't going to use it for a while, or even just an excuse to use it.

Props to Kirbie for an awesome recipe, and to whomever typed those words into Google...I hope you keep searching. I think I nailed it for you.