Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Almond Rochers

 Greetings and good morning!  I hope you enjoyed the season premiere of The Bachelorette as much as I did, and that you treated yourself to a tasty Monday night dinner.

Today I want to talk about meringues.  Or rather, I want to talk about these meringues, which I have lovingly named "Dr. Seuss cookies".  They come from the lovely Tartine cookbook, which I have on loan from the local library.  That's a great tip that I got from BFF Jill!  Test drive a cookbook before you buy it, it'll save bookshelf space and money if you don't like the book, or don't find yourself cooking from it in the four weeks that you have it.  Yesterday I catered a meeting for John's research group, and I couldn't help but feel a bit listless at the thought of baking another chocolate cake, oatmeal cookie, or heaven forbid, a cupcake.  Don't worry, we're not abandoning the baking staples here at B+C, but I think that with baking, as in most things, you have to shake it up every once in a while to keep yourself interested.

Enter these morsels.  With a beautifully short ingredient list and an appearance that look straight out of Whoville, these cookies charmed me into making them.  The technique is surprisingly simple, and the result is a cookie that's lighter than air, melts in your mouth, and is packed with flavor reminiscent of a toasted marshmallow.  Are you convinced yet?  Wait until you see how easy it is...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Butter + Cream Cupcake Bash!

Happy Friday! Last Friday, I skipped out of the office at 2:30, and picked Allison up from the airport!We went to Cafe Surfas and got iced tea and croissants. We bought chocolate. Allison wished she could take all of Surfas back home with her. And then we went home and baked cupcakes. A LOT of cupcakes.
We used every available space we could find while baking, including the laundry room:
It may be a bit of an oxymoron, but the dryer actually made a very good cooling area. And after hours of baking, we ordered Thai food. And may or may not have watched eleventy five episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress". Don't judge please. Baking cupcakes for 5 hours fries your brain.
The next morning, we frosted!
And topped! These are coconut cupcakes with an almond cream cheese frosting. They're probably the best coconut cupcakes you'll ever have. Yeah, that's right, I said that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lemon Meringue Cake

A few weekends ago we celebrated my Mom's Birthday with a surprise party. I'm not going to tell you which birthday we were celebrating, because I know better than that, but I will let you know that it was a big one, one that required some fanfare and attention. My Mom however, is the kind of person who hates attention. She loathes the idea of all eyes being on her, and she would rather someone else be in the center of it all. These were all things that she told me explicitly about a month before her birthday, when she expressly said that we were not allowed to have a surprise birthday party for her. She swore to me that she would never forgive us if we threw her one. I tried to reason with her, but she would not budge in her thinking.

So when my father approached me asking me to help him plan a surprise party for her, I very adamantly told him everything that my mother had said. I explained that she would be mortified if we had one, and that she would be very upset with us. To which he quickly replied, "I don't care." Apparently my Dad can be just as stubborn as my Mom.And wouldn't you know, but my Dad was right to not care? The party was a huge success, and my Mom had the time of her life. It truly was one of those magical evenings where everyone seemed to have a great experience. I'm just happy that the guest of honor didn't pass out or start swearing at us, because either reaction might have put a damper on the whole event.

We held the party at my place, and it was the perfect day for it.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous, sunny and clear, with just enough warmth for dining outside on the deck.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Buttermilk Spice Cake

This is a story about a proposal.  No, not that proposal.  Last week, my fiance submitted his dissertation proposal.  What does that mean?  It means that he got to spend many loooong days writing a paper, which, if successful, will enable him to write a much longer paper of the same topic.  Oh and then he gets a PhD.  My point with all of this is that sometimes, a boy just needs some cake.

I've been known to unintentionally stockpile ingredients, and this cake came about because I had a whole lotta buttermilk that needed to get used.  I saw this recipe in the March Bon Appetit, and I was intrigued by the combo of spices, which included none other than black pepper.  My man loves black pepper on nearly everything, so I figured putting it in a cake wasn't too far off.  Frankly, I was surprised by how much I liked it.  While it may look like just another white cake, this bad boy packs some flavor.  The spices, citrus zest, and vanilla bean all meld together into a harmonious combo, and the buttermilk yields a fluffy moist texture.  Serve it warm with some jam and whipped cream, and you're in business.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Vegetable Gardens

Hi there! It may have been absent last week, but “Stuff We Love” is back with a vengeance. This week were talking about vegetable gardens. Just take a look at all this green. This is good good stuff. The site of all of this green makes me feel happy and healthy and alive. Because there’s nothing better for you then vegetables grown out of the ground, especially when they’re in your own backyard.
When I moved into my place last December, the one thing I was most excited about was having enough space for a garden. I was giddy with anticipation over all of the things I could grow. And so over the past couple of months I have been slowly planting my garden with vegetables that I can't wait to eat.
I don't have children, and I don't have pets, so my garden has become my baby. I feel like a proud parent, watching over their kids while they sleep. Every morning without fail, I hurry outside to survey my plants for any signs of growth, excitedly hoping that something has magically grown by leaps and bounds overnight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies

One of my favorite reasons to bake is when I’m baking something for someone else. There’s nothing like the feeling of sharing with others a delicious treat that you’ve made with your own two hands. I like to think about the person who will be receiving it, and how it will hopefully bring them joy. Which is what I was hoping these cookies would bring when I made them for my friend Caitlin. She had mentioned to me that she was a white chocolate nut, and so I hemmed and hawed over various white chocolate recipes, finally deciding on these cookies. I was hoping that there would be enough white chocolate flavor in them, because I did not want to disappoint.

Let me tell you a little bit about Caitlin real quick, because she was my very first best friend. We were neighbors growing up, which was a pretty big deal because our houses were out in the country with no one else nearby. Caitlin and I were born two months apart, and I like to think about how we became best friends from the time we were infants. I guess we didn't have much choice in the matter considering our location.
Caitlin and I
Considering our outfits, I'm assuming sometime during the late 80's or early 90's

But I was so lucky to have someone to share such an amazing childhood with. Whether it was exploring in the creek together, creating our own special languages, playing hide-and-go seek in the tall grass of the field next to our house, or goofing around at a slumber party, Caitlin and I were always having a good time. It may sound silly, but I look back on those years as being a truly magical time; and I feel blessed that I got to spend it with a really good buddy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Hello!  Mary here...  It's been a while!  I missed you all, and I want to say muchas gracias to Allison, who kept the ship running last week when I was MIA.  Her Cinco de Mayo posts were awesome, and I will be ordering one of those tres leches cakes when she comes to visit next weekend.  I have a lot of things to tell you, so I'm going to enumerate in the interest of not blathering on too long.

1.  I got engaged!  John popped the question on a drive to Big Sur.  We're getting married next summer, and I'm trying to hatch a plan to bake my own wedding cake.  Here's a picture of a very euphoric us:
2.  This week, in an attempt to recreate the Tartine morning bun that I ate on the morning that John proposed, I set my oven on fire.  Like with flames and everything.  Hey home bakers:  buy a fire extinguisher!  I have never been so grateful for one in my life.
3.  I'm in love.  With the flash that John's dad is letting me use until I buy my own.  Here in Casa Butter we have a serious natural light issue, which leads to frantic weekends in which I try to get home in time to snap photos in the tiny window in which the light is decent.  I've decided to stop fighting with the elements and just roll with what I have.  All of the photos in the post below were taken in my kitchen after dark with my new favorite camera accessory.

Ok enough about me.  It's Mother's Day.  I want to talk about my mom.
My mom loves baking.  When I was in elementary school, she would get up at the crack of dawn to bake cupcakes for my class on my birthday.  Other moms called her "the cupcake machine".  Is it surprising that I turned out the way I did?

Along with baking, mom loves John Mayer, Starbucks double-shots, velour sweatsuits, labradors, cleaning, and a good slow wake-up.  In my 26 years, my mom has taught me what it means to give.  She's the first one to offer a home-cooked meal, a ride to the airport, or solid advice when you need it.   When she came down to help with my neighbors' wedding cakes, she brought along her favorite pineapple upside down cake.  In honor of my mama, I suggest you make this cake and then give it to someone who's not expecting it.  Make their day.  It's what Mama Butter would do.

Chicken Divan

 Chicken Divan is hands-down one of my all-time favorite foods from my childhood.  I can remember how excited I was whenever I learned that we were having the Chicken Divan for dinner that night (apparently I was just as food obsessed back then as I am now). It was one of the most requested meal for special occasions, and I can remember begging my Mom to make it for every other day of the week as well.  
It's a simple casserole - a layer of broccoli, a layer of chicken, covered in a cream of chicken soup mixture and topped with cheese and bread crumbs. Yet there's something very special about Chicken Divan.  The way those ingredients all meld together while being baked in the oven creates a combination that tastes amazing. The best part is the golden brown crust on top, which to this day I still can not get right so that it tastes as good as my Mom's does. I'm telling ya, there's something magical in the Chicken Divan that my Mom makes.
As most casseroles usually go, this is not the healthiest of dinners, which is why it was relegated to being served only once in a while.  My Mom has always been very conscious of health and nutrition, and as we were growing up she would cook well-balanced, nutritious meals for our family. Meals involving lots of vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins - all of the foods that my brother and I were vehemently opposed to, and made very clear that we did not want to eat. I'm afraid that we may have scarred her from wanting to cook for a very long time because of how much of a fuss we put up.  

We would whine and complain so much that sometimes she just had to cave and make us the stuff we really liked, the kind of stuff that probably wasn't too healthy for us but that tasted sinfully delicious, like Chicken Divan. It wasn't until years later that she revealed she had been doubling the amount of broccoli in the dish without us knowing, trying to get a little extra veggies in us when she could. That's just one of the ways that I know she is a great mother.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pastel de Tres Leches

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! Hopefully your day today is filled with margaritas, chips and salsa, and possibly a slice of muy delicioso tres leches cake. The tres leches cake has become one of my all-time favorite cakes over the past few years. The first time I tried one was also the first time I made one, and I stared in disbelief as the recipe called for me to pour what seemed like an endless amount of a milk mixture over the top of the cake. So much that I thought “There’s no way this cake is going to be anything other than a big pile of mush.” But I took that first bite, and I was hooked. This was no mush; this was a big ol’ bite of heaven.
Moister than any cake you could ever imagine, cool and creamy with delicious hints of cinnamon; a tres leches is no ordinary cake. The name comes from the fact that the cake uses three different milks, usually condensed, evaporated, and good old fashioned whole milk. The cake itself is traditionally a sponge cake, which gets holes poked all along the top of it, and a milk mixture is poured over the top, saturating every crumb. It’s usually topped with some sort of whipped cream frosting. There's a whole lot of dairy going on in this cake, and it's all a good thing.
When I’ve made tres leches cake in the past I've always used the same recipe, which follows the more traditional version of a tres leches. There’s one twist in that the three milks that get poured over the top of the cake get heated up so that they become rich and intense, with flavors similar to that of dulce de leche. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that recipe, but when I decided to bake a cake for Cinco de Mayo this year, I wanted to try something a little different.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Roasted Salsa

If it were up to me, every restaurant would serve complimentary chips and salsa. That’s right, from Asian to Italian to French cuisine, I would be thrilled to sit down at a table and find a bowl of chips and some type of freshly made salsa. It’s my favorite part of going out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and usually the reason why I’m already stuffed by the time my meal arrives. And ok maybe it wouldn't be the perfect compliment to a plate of sushi, and maybe I would get sick of salsa if I ate it at every meal, but only just maybe, because I really do love the stuff.
Back in January I gave you my favorite salsa to enjoy during the winter months when tomatoes are really at their most lackluster. And even though the peak of tomato season is still a few months away, I just had to share with you my favorite type of tomato salsa when using fresh tomatoes. It would be the perfect addition to any Cinco de Mayo bash, as you don’t want to disappoint those who love salsa as much as I do. We’re a hungry bunch.

My cousin-in-law John makes a killer salsa that is the basis for this recipe that I’m sharing with you. He’s a lot more attentive than I am when it comes to salsa making though, and you can tell in the final result. I have a tendency to just sort of throw in everything I’ve got and hope it comes out good. I envy the care that he takes with his salsa, when I think about the haphazard approach that I use.
This is really less of a recipe than a basic idea behind a roasted salsa. As in any salsa, the amounts can be tweaked until it fits your liking. For example, it’s fun to experiment with roasting all or only some of the ingredients. Sometimes I like to roast the onions alongside the rest of the veggies, which makes them soft and sweet, adding a hint of sugar to the salsa. Sometimes I want a little more punch to the garlic flavor, rather than the mellowness that comes from roasting them, so I leave them raw. The important thing to remember with salsa, is that there's no absolutely right way to do it. So go ahead and experiment to your heart's content.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Corn Tortillas

Photo courtesy James Lopez

Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip to Mexico with my friend Lori and her family. We visited her Dad's side of the family who live in Hidalgo, a state in southeastern Mexico. The town in which we stayed was about a 6 hour car ride from the airport, on single lane dirt roads, through winding mountainsides. The small rural town was miles and miles away from any other cities, perched way up in the hills.
Photo courtesy James Lopez

The landscape was much more lush and green than I had imagined it would be in the middle of summer, creating spectacular views. We stayed there for several days, and slept in the family's house. The occasion for our visit was the birthday of my friend's Grandmother and her entire family and practically the whole town, was there for the celebration.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

The birthday party was a blast and included two different mariachi bands, that had everyone dancing well into the late hours of the night.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

The food was a specialty, made especially for the party. They prepared a kind of goat stew, and the goat was cooked underground, wrapped in large leaves. The meat went underground the night before the party and cooked there, until the middle of the next day.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

Flour Tortillas

Today at Butter + Cream it’s going to be all about tortillas, and frankly I couldn’t be any happier, because they just happen to be one of my favorite foods. Whether used as a vehicle for meats and veggies, filled with cheese for a quesadilla, or simply eaten on their own, tortilla's are something that I will never say no to. I have had a long-time love affair with their round, chewy goodness.

Tacos are eaten on the regular at my house, usually at least once a week. From chipotle steak, mushroom and chorizo, to jalapeno shrimp, no taco is safe. Given our love of tacos, it was not a surprise that at some point I'd have to try my hand at making my own tortillas. And ever since that first fateful attempt, and exclaiming to myself "where have you been all my life?" I've been making them from scratch ever since.

Tortillas are one of those foods that just taste so much better when fresh. There’s nothing like a still warm, freshly made tortilla to elevate any Mexican meal. Flour tortillas are traditionally found in the northwestern Mexican states, such as Sonora where they are well known for their enormous, membrane-thin, flour tortillas. They are sometimes vulgarly called tortillas de sobaco, which means armpit in Spanish, since they are flung with amazing dexterity from one arm to the other, reaching the armpits.

This version is a little different than the armpit tortillas. These are thicker and fluffier, which makes them perfect for eating plain, straight from the griddle. And that just happens to be my favorite way to enjoy them. What can I say, I'm a simple person. A simple person who loves tortillas.
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