Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Twist on Apple Pie

I was going through photos from last year's Photo-A-Day project I participated in, and I found one from Thanksgiving where I tried a new recipe I found on Testado, Provado, & Aprovado's site dubbed "APPLE PIE (in the apple)". It first caught my eye because of how pretty the presentation looked and how eater friendly it was. I know from previous experience, when it comes to big holiday gatherings with my family, nobody wants to wait while the drawers are scavenged for more serving spoons and knives. What's easier than having single-serving apple pie?
Testado, Provado, & Aprovado's Apple Pie in the Apple
I had originally intended on writing up a post for this little creation, imagining the cutest little pies ever conceived, but I immediately stopped snapping pictures and fell into dismay when I opened the oven minutes before the dinner bell sounded at my mom's Thanksgiving celebration and saw my creations had...exploded. I'm not sure what other word would better encapsulate the casualties lying helpless on the baking pan, but in a panic I tossed the camera aside and went into overtime scooping my mini-pies as best as I could into a container and went on to dinner, discouraged and disappointed.
Apple Pies Pre-Destruction
They actually tasted really good, and the one surviving apple that only suffered minimal cracks in its skin was saved for me to taste. The crust was pretty exceptional and the apple was soft and seasoned well. Looking back on it now--I have finally processed the pain I felt that afternoon--I have a couple of guesses as to why my go at this recipe ended in catastrophe.

First, I didn't have a straw to poke the holes in the top of the crust with as the recipe called for. Instead, I used a chopstick, and admittedly while I was performing the task I realized they were a bit small and predicted they would probably close up. I never factored the problem of pressure build-up in the apples being a factor though, for some reason. Also, I should have simply baked them for a smaller amount of time. I have no clue why I never checked them in the process; I think I was working on whipping up something else for the dinner, but if I had, I probably would have seen the first signs of cracks and been able to save them.

Regardless, I've learned some lessons, and seeing the pictures of the apples still cute and free of explosive havoc, I've got a hankering to try the recipe out again. Hopefully the troubleshooting is a success and my minis will remain intact and be the cutest little desserts I've ever seen.

If not, well then I promise, if they explode again, I'll wipe the tears away and take some pictures.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

So between the time of my last post and now, I have:
·      graduated college
·      moved cities
·      started a job
·      started a second job
·      quit a second job
·      and settled on a different second job,

which hasn’t left too much time for me to blog about what I’m eating. Especially considering what’s been going in my mouth these days has been quick and easy (and take-out). But now that I’ve settled in a bit, I’m looking at new recipes and getting my mind working on some new ones of my own.
Before my life went in the blender, I did manage to bake these pretty amazing muffins. I found the recipe here, and the taste combo piqued my interest. And, since it was still holiday season, appropriate. It also didn’t hurt that they were a cinch to whip up. 
I did tweak the recipe a bit—the sugar content seemed kind of extreme for breakfast—and tried to make it overall healthier. I am aware, though, that I tend to de-sugar (and salt) things too much sometimes. According to Kelly, anyway. Let me know if you try the original recipe and find it better the way it was!
Without further ado, the muffins.
  • 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/8 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
  • 1/4 unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup coarse sugar (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 24 muffin cups.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients.
  3. Beat the eggs and sugar in a separate mixing bowl; add the pumpkin, applesauce, and oil and mix well.
  4. Stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in the cranberries.
  5. Fill foil-or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Sprinkle coarse sugar lightly on muffin tops (hehe). 
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Whole Wheat Biscuits

There are few things in life that are as satisfying as warm breakfast biscuits. Well, for me, anyway. There’s something about that buttery goodness in the morning, especially on a fall or winter day. A small problem arises though, and it’s a little thing called the health factor. Now that humanity is no longer in the mode of fat build-up and hibernation when the weather turns cold, we don’t really need all that extra fat and calories. Or the butter.

I still can’t seem to give up biscuits though, and I refuse to use any butter substitutes. So I thought How can I make some biscuits that are a least a bit healthier? The answer: whole wheat. Even though the calorie content is about the same—eating these won’t keep off those pounds—at least they use whole wheat for half of the flour content. Right? I feel like that has to count for something.

And let’s be honest, nobody can pass up a delightfully buttery biscuit.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup milk

In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Mix well.

Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in milk just until moistened.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently 8 to 10 times. Roll to 3/4-in. thickness and cut with a 2-1/2-in. biscuit cutter. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 450° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm.

Note: If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, no worries. I just use the rim of a floured glass.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Simple Potato Soup

As most nights go, I couldn’t quite think of what to make for dinner; standing in the middle of the grocery store while carts rolled passed somehow didn’t help either. I was drawing a blank in the midst of the produce section, and while others stockpiled their baskets with last-minute Halloween candy, I was looking for a healthier alternative. The usual pasta and salad floated around my periphery, but I was bored with the idea and pushed it to the back. I had made chili a week or so prior and still hadn’t finished the leftovers—there’s only so many nights in a row I can eat chili. And the standard meat-and-potatoes hasn’t been an option for about three years now. Well, at least the meat part anyway.

There’s a soup my mom has made since I was a kid. Strangely enough, it only ever seemed to appear when either me or my brother, Dane, were sick. I’m not sure how this tradition started—maybe it was the mildly bland yet filling comfort of this soup combined with the fact that it’s a cinch to make after taking care of a sick child all day—but the tradition was pretty set in stone. I can’t really recall a time it was ever made when we were all healthy and hungry.

So maybe I’d give just the potatoes a try. I asked Kelly to grab some russets only to watch as he hauled a ten pound bag my way, mentally refiguring the batch size. They were cheaper apparently, and I couldn’t help but cater to his frugality. And I’m still a college student, after all; it wouldn’t hurt to have some leftovers to alternate with the chili.

I kept the ingredients list pretty simple: potato, carrot, and celery, with salt and pepper to taste. I honestly wasn’t in the mood to develop some sort of high-brow version of this homey dish, and I’ve never been very good with spices. I peeled most of the potatoes, left the skin on some due to personal preference, and set them to boiling. The rest of the process went fairly quickly and easily, and I even had time while the soup was finishing up simmering to make a batch of my famous pumpkin spice cupcakes.

The cupcakes failed miserably when I accidentally added one too many eggs, but the soup turned out just as I remembered. Although it was probably blander than what most would prefer, the simplicity of the tastes hit my taste buds just right. Sure enough, this soup for the sick was just as good when healthy, and it warmed me up as the night cooled down.

Surprisingly, only enough for a measly second helping was left over, and I snagged it for my lunch the next day before my roommates could get to it. Although my plan for chili alternations was squashed, the ten pound bag was still almost completely full, leaving me with a craving for a couple more batches. And who knows? Maybe this dish is destined for a winter night go-to, instead of just for when I'm feeling a bit under the weather.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Search for the Perfect Bread Pudding: Four Puddings in One Day

Today was kind of a whirlwind. I cranked out four separate bread pudding dishes as the weekend wound down and my time ran out. I had given myself specific restrictions to not let this endeavor last longer than the four days I had off from school, and then proceeded to wait until the last day to finish the task of making the four remaining recipes out of the five I had previously chosen.

I lost count of how many cups of raisins I poured, how many pieces of bread chunks scattered in various casserole dishes and loaf pans. I became a baking acrobat in the kitchen, stirring butter into scalding milk with one hand while opening up the oven and pulling a bubbling bread pudding dish out with the other. Let’s just say that if anyone were there to witness, they would have been duly impressed.

Because of skill or simply luck (it was definitely luck), all four came out around the same time, so I fixed myself a plate with samples and let the judging commence. I had a feeling that there had to be one among the batch that took me back to seventeen-year-old me, inhaling bread pudding like an addict, but only because this was my last day. In honesty, looking at the soggy spoonfuls, I was pretty nervous.
I started off with the Old Fashioned Bread Pudding recipe from the Betty Crocker website. I figured with decades under her belt, the gal would know a thing or two about a classic, delicious dish. The name also piqued my interest, and I had a sudden conversion to all things old and fashioned. Maybe I’d been doing it all wrong with the new, modern recipes, and needed to get back to some roots. The belief strengthened when I pierced the crust with my spoon and felt some resistance and a smile broke across my face when I heard that muted pop of years gone by. This one is it, I thought.

The outer crust didn’t disappoint—the bread browned well and had a nice crunch to it to counteract the custard consistency of the pudding nether regions. The nether regions, on the other hand, were a pretty big letdown.
The measly teaspoon of cinnamon got drowned out by the dish and swam limply somewhere in the pool of milk/egg combo at the bottom of the pan, this wet excess only explained because the bread had met its peak saturation. The overwhelming moistness of the bread was only trumped by the overwhelming amount of raisins that persisted even in my best efforts to pick them out of the sample and push them aside on the plate.

I ended up picking off the crunchy crust goodness and pairing it with one or two raisins that made it into the previous pile, and was satisfied with the consistency of this combo. I almost felt the nostalgia creeping in until I realized the shifting and picking of this bread pudding was too much work and snapped out of it. I was judging them on the overall quality, right? So as a whole, this one didn’t do it for me.
The second sample was of the Traditional British Bread and Butter Pudding, only because I was still on the classic kick. Maybe the quintessential Southern cook didn’t have it in her, but the British definitely did.

This recipe was different from the others in that it quartered sandwich bread instead of cutting cubes or using a crustier, denser French bread. The butter was just slathered on the bread itself instead of being incorporated into the milk mixture, and as my last version to make, I was happy to not be directed to melt butter in scalding milk. I wasn’t sure on how this would change the taste or consistency of the pudding though, but depended on the country’s insight to lead me to a tasty experience.
It was a flop. After over-baking the dish past its suggested time, the dessert never quite developed a crust, remaining as wet and soggy as ever. The raisins were once again, too present in this recipe, and the ¾ teaspoon of cinnamon was forgotten, so much so that I went back and looked at the ingredients to see if any spices had even been included. The consistency was uniform throughout the layers, with the only exception being the chewy raisins that presided at the top.

In their defense, the recipe did call for sultanas, a type of white seedless grape that originates in Turkey, Greece, and Iran, and are known to be sweeter than the American counterparts. Perhaps some of the blandness is accounted for in the lack of the recommended ingredient, but this excuse still doesn’t explain why the woody sweetness of cinnamon was lacking.

I hated to play into it, but the stereotype of bad British food came to mind when I scooted the rest of the sample over to the edge of the plate. Maybe I’ll give other recipes a try down the line, but for now, the motherland is on my shit list when it comes to bread pudding.
Weary and with my heart slowly breaking, I chose Gramma’s Apple Bread Pudding as my next taste. This was the only recipe of the five that included a fruit other than raisins in the original ingredients list, and because that fruit was apple—the best fruit ever—I knew it had to be good. This one was also baked in a pretty shallow pan per directions, which I thought would fix the mush problem. I had to reinstate my hope quickly, and I figured this pudding would be the one to do it.

I almost cried when I finished with the first bite. Although the consistency wasn’t milk-logged like the others, the taste didn’t resemble bread pudding at all. There wasn’t enough fluid to bind the dessert together, and the egg batter that I was instructed to pour over the top ended up puddling and creating pools of omelet on top. The bread part was bland and the apples dry; it basically tasted like a poor rendition of apple pie.

What was going on? I had placed faith in these recipes and the reviewer’s comments that reveled in the deliciousness of these dishes. It seemed that with each successive sample, I was being led away from the idealization of bread pudding. Maybe my memory was skewed, and these were in fact accurate representations, but I had romanticized the experience and created an unattainable taste. It seemed that my hopes were being sunk and I was going to walk away from this experience with the possibility of the less desirable outcome. I was going to effectively destroy the memory of bread pudding.
The last one left on the plate was a MomsWhoThink recipe titled simply, “Bread Pudding.” You’re like all the rest, I scoffed, already declaring this one a disaster. Jabbing at the sample with my spoon, I heard a muted pop, but overlooked it with pessimism. Suspended in front of me, I blew on the still steaming spoonful and rolled my eyes as I took a bite.

Holy crap. This one was yummy. The crust hit my teeth first and provided the right amount of crunch to the custard-like pudding that followed. The silkiness filled my mouth, accentuated by the sparse introduction of plump, juicy raisins. The bread bonded perfectly with the egg and milk, so the inside felt seamless while the crust remained separately intact with all its chewy, spongy goodness.

It was a delectable combination of texture, and the richness and depth of the taste didn’t hurt either. The spices really shined in this one, with the culmination of cinnamon and nutmeg creating a smoky, earthy flavor that lingered at the back of the throat while the raisins produced a burst of brightness that was pleasant but not overwhelming like the others.
I ate the whole sample without realizing it. Trekking back to the kitchen with plate in hand, I pushed aside the other casserole pots and baking pans and scooped out a more generous serving. Plopping down on the couch, I felt something welling up inside me, and as I ate the pudding with an ever increasing speed, that feeling began to come in focus. I was feeling seventeen again, with that simple joy of finding food to love.

My taste buds rejoiced and I settled into the delight that the search was over. I had found my pinnacle dessert once more, and although the taste and texture probably wasn’t the exact reproduction of the initial one, the reincarnation was pretty damn close. And who cares, at least this one was achievable.

The Search for the Perfect Bread Pudding: Bread Pudding III

I kicked off the taste testing with a recipe titled, “Bread Pudding III,” from I figured third times a charm, and I didn’t have the time or patience to experience the first two lackluster recipes that preceded this one.

I tried to stick to the recipes as much as I could, but there were some modifications that I made to this one because I just couldn’t help myself. Although the recipe calls for ten slices of white bread, I recalled previous experiences where sandwich bread becomes a bit vulnerable to sogginess, so I opted for Italian bread instead. I also cut down the egg amount from six to four to (hopefully) create a thicker, less egg-y consistency that I’m all too familiar with. Because I have a soft spot for dried cranberries, I substituted those for the raisins. And finally, per suggestion from a reviewer and the coincidence that Kelly brought home a plastic bag full of them, locally picked from the Ozarks, I garnished the top of the dessert with slices of pears in a wheel-spoke fashion.

Okay, so maybe I made more than a few modifications. Like I said, I just couldn’t help myself.

The recipe called for a bake time of twenty-five minutes, but one hour later and I was still punching the timer for an extra five. I’m not sure if this is because I reduced the egg amount or what, but after about an hour and fifteen (let’s be honest, I lost count how many times I upped the time), a knife inserted in the center came out clean and the top was nice and browned.

The smell and consistency of this opening recipe got me a little excited, and I found myself scooping out a serving before the oven was even turned off. I settled in on the couch and waited giddily for the dish to cool down so I could have the first bite.

Although the pudding was lacking that pop that I was looking for—it was more of a rubbery jab—the filling was smooth and custardy and the pockets of dried cranberries complimented the mildly sweet, cinnamon body. The pears on the other hand, had to be tossed to the side. They developed a strange gritty, sandy consistency while baking that assaulted the teeth when bitten down on. The texture seemed right on, with an almost perfect ratio of eggs to bread. The egg still seemed a hint dominant, so I can’t imagine what six eggs would have tasted like.

Overall, this recipe was a good start to my experience, leaving me hopeful that with some additional tweaking and newfound recipes, I’ll find my perfect bread pudding yet.

Original recipe here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Search for the Perfect Bread Pudding: The Beginning

It was a rare thing, and its sporadic inclusion in my life over the course of six weeks was something to be celebrated and cherished. When it would make its unexpected appearance, all other food groups were dismissed and there it sat, in single scoop dessert bowls surrounding me as my friends conceded to my demands and offered their sweets rations for the meal.

I held my spoon in tense euphoria, listening for the muted pop of the outer crust and then in the utensil would dive, cutting through the soft spongy middle until hitting bottom. Each serving would be devoured in as little as four bites, the bowls stacking haphazardly to the side of my tray.

There were murmurings within our small group of friends that I was addicted, and my reaction that can only be described as pure elation was the cornerstone of many impersonations, but I didn’t care. I had found the Mecca of desserts, lamenting the tragedy of being previously unaware of its existence but now firmly and ecstatically devoted.

It’s hard to take someone seriously when she says the best bread pudding she’s ever had came from the Hendrix cafeteria during Arkansas Governor’s School, but that’s the sobering reality. It flitted into my life momentarily and I was devastated to see it go at the end of that summer, but I now had this innocent and unfounded purpose to delight in the world of all things bread pudding. I began hoarding recipes for the dessert during my senior year of high school, timid of imitation and overly reminiscent. I had just begun regularly baking and was afraid of tainting my nostalgia.

It was approximately four failed recipes in when I turned my back on the thing and gave up. Every attempt ended in a mushy mess that then ended in a mournful trashcan burial. I tried two five-star recipes after searching through endless sites, sticking to the original versions first and then reading the eighty comments attached to each and making modifications for the second batches when the originals came out as big puddles of soggy bread.

When one resembled an over-cinnamoned omelet and the other something akin to grits, I summoned whatever vague taste memory I had of the perfect voluptuously custardy beginning and decided to forego tainting it further. I had done enough damage in the bread pudding world, and I had to accept that I would never taste the delectable smooth fullness again. I’ll always have the memories, I thought, and let it be that.

It’s been three years, and I don’t know whether it’s a reinstatement of ignorance or my washing away of past grievances, but I’m willing to try again. In the time since I last had a go at the dessert, I’ve fine-tuned my baking skills and feel a bit more comfortable while wielding a whisk. I’ve also maintained that nostalgic craving for bread pudding, and have since added a stubbornness that refuses to let this one seemingly simple dish defeat me. It’s basically three uncomplicated, staple ingredients; what am I terrified of?

So I’m testing my skills and perseverance, and beginning a crazed, short-lived journey of five bread pudding recipes in two days. I’m honoring the memory of that first experience and foregoing any recipe that requires sauces or whipped topping; I’d like to stick to the source of my nostalgic taste buds. Hopefully this will end in a final reunion of my long-awaited pinnacle dessert and me. If not, well then, maybe I destroyed all memory of the thing along the way, and will forget why I was so obsessed in the first place.