Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Carrot Cake

 It's my claim to fame, my piece de la resistance, and the reason I'm married. It's carrot cake. My mom made this cake before me and her mother before that, and I have largely kept it the same. If I could get away with it (and not get really fat) would make one every week. I (and Em) love it that much. The raisins add texture and sweetness, the nuts a bit of crunch, and the carrots stay intact to give you bright flavor.  But somewhere along the line of all of this writing this, testing that, I discovered a few things about my carrot cake that I added to the recipe to make it more....great? Consistent? Something like that. Anyways, onward.
Being an extremely moist cake (thanks to the 3 cups of carrots), baking time can SERIOUSLY vary. So be warned, and I recommend doing two things to ensure it comes out properly. 1) Rotate half way through. Be gentle, but the cake can take the rotation, it will not fall if you don't throw it against the wall. And don't go by time, go by look. Use a toothpick to check for doneness. 2) Buy a new oven. Ok, so maybe that's not really an option. But most of us are graced with ovens that just refuse to heat evenly. My solution? Baking stone. I picked one up from my local kitchen supply store and have kept it on the bottom rack of my oven at all times. It greatly evens out the heat in my oven, not to mention it's great for baking pies, pizza, and bread on to get a nice browned bottom crust.
My other change calls for a bit of change in the cake recipe. I have found an extra teaspoon of cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg can boost the overall flavor of the cake while still leaving it sweet and not overbearing. I also changed the way I add the nuts and order, which seems to help my cake come out a little more even. One last note, do not eat this cake unfrosted.

Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup oil
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups flour
1 cup walnuts, chopped fine (use your food processor)
1 cup raisins
3 cups shredded carrots (use that nifty little grater attachment on your food processor or a box grater)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl (stand mixer), beat sugar and eggs together until fluffy. Add oil and beat well. Add baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, mixing to combine. Slowly add the flour until incorporated, then beat well to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl at this point to ensure even mixing. Add the nuts and raisins followed by the carrots last. Be careful not to over mix with the carrots (I even finish the last few stirs with a spatula so I don’t turn them to mush). Transfer to a 12 cup bundt pan that has been greased well (I like Baker's Joy). Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cake is done when a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before inverting on to a cooling
rack. Let cool 2-3 hours before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I prefer the Neufchatel or 33% lighter for its creaminess)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened
16 ounces powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
Milk, as needed (will most likely need at least 2 tablespoons)

In a stand mixer beat the butter and cream cheese for about 30 seconds. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Slowly add the powdered sugar (in about 2 ounce amounts), beating well in between.Add milk to thin out slightly, then incorporate the rest of the powdered sugar until a thick consistency has been achieved (you don’t want it dripping off the beater). Frost cake evenly and serve.

Ideas for the leftover frosting? Goes well with fruit

Vote for Project Food Blog #2

Thanks to everyone for voting me into the second round of Project Food Blog!

The second challenge is underway, where I tackle Indian food to cook outside my comfort zone.  

Voting is still open, so go vote for me!  Many thanks

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Indian Reservations: PFB #2

Thanks to all who voted for my first entry to Project Food Blog!! This post is my submission for Challenge 2: The Classics. We were tasked with selecting an ethnic classic that is outside our comfort zone, research, and make the recipe as authentically as possible. Voting for this challenge takes place from 9AM Eastern September 27th through 9PM Eastern September 30th. I hope you enjoy it and vote for me by clicking here to vote (click on the heart at the top of the page!).

Chicken tikka masala is by far my favorite Indian dish , and I always make it a point to get a big helping whenever I go out for Indian food buffet. Although I know the dish is not traditionally “Indian” and actually has origins in England, I crave the spice and rich garam masala flavors. Translating these flavors to my home kitchen has been difficult because I’m not familiar with the style cooking and flavoring. Indian food is way outside my comfort zone but I wanted more than anything to finally perfect this dish So that I can enjoy chicken tikka masala whenever I want to. This is a journal of my adventures dating back to my first attempts in 2008.

Attempt #1, September 2008: Saw a jar of tikka masala sauce at Trader Joe’s. Thought about the way chicken tikka masala warms me from the inside out. Bought the jar, brought it home, heated it up, simmered chicken breasts, served over rice. It was extremely bland and watered down. Texture was unappealing Attempt #1 failed.

Attempt #2, March 2009: Used a recipe printed from a website claiming authentic Indian food. Sauteed onions in oil, added spices, including curry powder, and garlic to cook. Added spice mixture, mostly curry powder again, to cook in oil. Added tomatoes and plain yogurt, sauce tasted bland. Simmered chicken, tasted, sauce had not developed additional flavor. Wife would not eat so we had peanut butter and jelly. Attempt #2 failed.
Attempt #3, July 2010: Went to Indian market, bought garam masala spice blend. Told to cook onions in oil until brown followed by addition of spice mixture. Added tomatoes, and yogurt. Tasted, sauce tasted like chalk. Added more cumin, yogurt, and salt. Sauce still tasted like the backside of a station wagon. Chicken remained in refrigerator, pizza ordered. Attempt #3 failed.

Attempt #4, September 2010: Fed up with failed attempts and inspired by Food Buzz Challenge, started completely from scratch. Sat with wife and three cookbooks, pulling best ingredients and techniques from each. Oil vs. butter, amount of masala spice, and yogurt amount all debated. Wrote original recipe from this research. Made Alton Brown’s masala mixture, toasting whole spices and adding to a grinder. Slightly adjusted for more cumin (which we like) and less cardamom (which we are still in the “getting to know you” stage). Spice mixture smelled distinctly nice and warm.

Added combination of oil and butter to Dutch oven, cooked onions until well browned. Added two teaspoons of masala mixture along with garlic. Had plethora of fresh tomatoes from garden, so roasted, then pressed through food mill instead of using canned tomatoes. Wife pointed out to season with salt as sauce cooks, adjusted seasonings. Pot smelled like Indian food. Could this work? Added chicken breasts, poached until just cooked (160oF). Removed chicken and shredded. Added yogurt, coconut milk and cilantro to sauce, thickened with cornstarch. Served over rice and tasted. Spicy, warm flavors combined with tender chicken. Attempt #4 SUCCESS!
Chicken Tikka Masala

1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 Serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons AB's garam masala (or you can use a blend such as McCormick)
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 cup frozen peas

In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine oil and butter until hot.  Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt, sauté for 10 minutes or until browned.  Add chile, ginger, and garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes until garlic is extremely fragrant.  Add sugar, garam masala, a bit of salt and pepper, and cook for another 2 minutes or until spices are extremely fragrant.  Stir often to prevent burning.  Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, bring mixture to a simmer.  Add chicken breasts to poach, flipping halfway through, cooking until 160°F on meat thermometer, about 20 minutes.  Remove chicken and let rest briefly, then shred.

Meanwhile, add yogurt and coconut milk to sauce along with cilantro and peas.  Combine corn starch with 2 tablespoons water, add to sauce to thicken.  Season with cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Add chicken back to sauce, heat through, and serve over rice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pasta Ala Easy

It's summer, and my garden has exploded.  It's what makes this part of the year so wonderful, the fresh produce and simplicity of the food I can make with it.  This previous weekend I did not plan for dinner.  It's these times that I enjoy much more than my wife.  While I think "oh man, I can make something really unique and fresh" and Emily thinks "what kind of Chinese should we get?"

Well, thankfully it's the summer, and my garden has been producing well.  Rather than opt for something complicated, I chose to create a fresh tomato and basil pasta, something the Italians call "pasta cruda".  Tomatoes, garlic, and basil tossed with a few other ingredients make a delicious and simple sauce.  You should easily be able to make everything you need for the sauce in the time it takes the pasta to cook.  And my wife never once mentioned anything about Chinese.

Easy Tomato Pasta

1 pound penne, rigatoni, or other tube pasta
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese

Salt a large pot of water and bring to a boil.  Boil pasta as directed, reserving 1 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes until soft.  Add garlic and oil to a large bowl with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Add red pepper flake, salt, pepper, basil, cheese, and tomatoes to bowl.  Drain pasta, add to bowl, and toss to combine.  Add a little bit of water as needed to loosen sauce.  Serve warm.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Food Buzz "Next Food Blog Star" Entry #1

As a publisher at Food Buzz, I have decided to enter their competition for “The Next Food Blog Star”, not only in hopes to expand my blogging opportunities, but also to give me a chance to glance inward at my motivations and grow as a writer and cook over these last years. I’m really honored to be a part of this, and a little giddy considering that Dana Cowin is going to read my blog. The first entry is “What defines you as a food blogger and why should you be the next food blog star?”

My love of food began as a child, with my dad being an executive hotel chef and me spending Saturday mornings going to work with him and watching him make huge amounts of beef consommé or roasted meats. My mom usually cooked at home and was also a great cook (and baker). My journey started when I was about 8, hungry, and not willing to do any work for it. I wanted brownies. My mom, busy at the time, told me to make them myself. From the back of the house she walked me through it, making me assemble all the ingredients and mixing them in order until finally I was rewarded with gooey, hot brownies. Success! And I never looked back.
S'mores Cupcakes
Flash forward to my college years, and my cooking really took off when I met my wife, Emily, and we moved in together. I feel this is directly related to her being what I call a “taste test subject”, a job she still does not object to. We both love food, and she loves that I cook for her. So I began trying out new cuisines, stocking ingredients I was gaining familiarity with, and cooking dishes both of us could enjoy on a college budget. Now I’m out of school and a chemist, and I always say I love my job, but food is my passion.
Avocado and Pineapple Salsa
For me starting a food blog was about sharing recipes and experiences as I cooked. I wanted to write down my thoughts, my successes/failures, and my experiences as I grew as a home cook. This serves as both a tale of my cooking life as well as a reflection for me to look back and see what I have learned. I also want to share my recipes with friends and family as well as compile a collection of knowledge and experiences for future generations of my family. What defines me is a pure, whole hearted love for all things food. I love to eat, to cook, and the joy both of these bring to me and friends or family (and even my Sheepdog).
Braised Artichokes
I cook the same way I approach chemistry, trying to make every dish (or reaction) the absolute best it can be. My first blog, Boilermaker Kitchen, was a journal of my experiences, recipes, and places I dined. It served me extremely well, and over this time I formulated a point of view, something I feel I can be used to teach and share with home cooks around the country. I try to make meals a bit on the cheap, using what’s on sale and what’s in season to maximize the taste and minimize the cost. So that’s where Cooking With Wolfes came from, an idea I’m extremely proud of, food without the fuss.

Molly Dog!
I believe I have a lot to share in my writing, both recipes and experience. My science, my Southwestern upbringing, even my Midwestern stint where I really learned to experiment and hone my craft. It’s something I put my heart into, and I think people enjoy my cooking and the experiences I have to share.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tomato Sauce

It's nearing the end of summer and my tomatoes are overwhelming me in every way possible.  The squirrels are getting their fill as well, as on some days I just cannot pick them fast enough.  It's ok, I would rather them enjoy a small tomato than my beans and herbs.  

Right now we all enjoy tomatoes to the fullest, but in 3 or 4 months it's back to the bland, pithy varieties gassed to oblivion in the food market.  My tomato consumption dips quite a lot in the winter months.  To counterbalance this, I'm trying to preserve what I can this summer so I may enjoy it throughout the year (jam too, but that's another post).  Not to mention it saves me a fortune by using seasonal ingredients now.  So what's fresh this week?  TOMATOES!

A good tomato sauce can make dinner a pinch by topping a pizza, tossed with pasta and meat, or combined with numerous other ingredients to make my life a little bit easier.  So I season and prepare this sauce like I want to eat it straight up.  It makes preparation in the future much easier.  I also use a food mill to remove skins and seeds

Roasted Tomato Sauce

1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
3-4 pounds tomatoes
3 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ c red wine
Salt (at least 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Preheat oven to 400°C.  Arrange tomatoes in a large baking dish and drizzle with 2 tablespoon olive oil.  Roast for 30 minutes.  If you do not have a food mill, remove the skins before roasting!  Do this by cutting a small "x" in the bottom of each tomato (skin deep) and blanching in hot water for 30 seconds.  The skin should peel off.

 In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and some salt, sauté until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the bay leaf, red pepper flake, and wine, allowing the wine to mostly bubble off. 

Remove tomatoes from oven and run through a food mill (if you do not have one, you can use a potato masher in the pot). Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Once it reaches this, simmer for 30 minutes or until starting to slightly thicken, stirring occasionally. Add the basil, parsley, and tomato paste. Cook for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to your liking, blend to a coarse sauce if desired (with an immersion blender or in your food processor), cool, and use. Can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for future use.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Salsa and Guacamole Show

With my cooking quite often, a lot of people have started assuming I cook only fancy food. Look folks, I'm a recent college graduate working hard to pay off my student debt. The only time I have truffle oil is when I'm in a restaurant. Plain and simple. My cooking has always been about ease and taste. Sure, I occasionally like to break outside the mold and make something that takes me way too long (looking at you, smoked ribs), but my schedule usually consists of my coming home, running, playing with the dog, doing any other chores around the house, and then cooking dinner in the space of about an hour. In fact, I imagine that's most people's schedule. It's all about time. One reason I write this blog is to inspire people to cook, to not buy prepackaged food and spend the little bit of time in your kitchen making something you and your family will enjoy.

That's my inspirational statement of the month. But continuing with that theme, here are two recipes I have posted a long time ago, but easily made together in the space of about 15 minutes. Salsa and guacamole. They can be made side by side, and I keep most of the ingredients on hand at all times. Hope you enjoy.

Salsa (Easy Variety)
1 15-ounce can diced (or petite diced) tomatoes
1 4 ounce can diced green chiles
3 green onions
¼ cup cilantro leaves

Salsa (Fresh Variety)
3 tomatoes, diced
2 green chiles, roasted, peeled, and diced
3 green onions
¼ cup cilantro leaves

For the chunky- chop green onions and cilantro fine. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, season with salt, pepper, a little garlic powder, and cayenne if you want more spice. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

For the not-so-chunky- Cut green onions into quarters. Add all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times to a desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper, a little garlic powder, and cayenne if you want more spice. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

2 avocados
2 green onions, chopped fine
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ cup salsa (the stuff you just made)
Salt, pepper, garlic powder

Mash avocados in a bowl. Add the lime juice and stir well. Mix in the green onions and salsa, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (don’t leave that out). Serve immediately, or if keeping until
later, cover with plastic wrap pressed tightly against the surface.