Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nectarine, Apricot and Hazelnut Praline Cheesecake Bars

Phew, what a long title! I wish I could give stuff smaller titles sometimes! After the daring bakers extravaganza, and a party, I had cream cheese, egg yolks, hazelnuts and praline to use up.

This is my first time making cheesecake bars, I learned a lot. I overbaked them as I was worried that they were too jiggly. They were still pretty delicious. I know if I were to do it again I would add a little lcitrus to brighten the flavor.

I took the recipe from Joe at Culinary in the country/desert and proceeded to mess with it a lot!

Nectarine, Apricot and Hazelnut Praline Cheesecake Bars inspired by Culinary in the Desert.
For the crust

4 tablespoons salted butter
4 tablespoons water
9 graham crackers
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar

For the topping

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup hazelnut praline paste
3 apricots
2 nectarines

To prepare the crust

Preheat oven to 350

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until the color darkens slightly and begins to smell very nutty. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers in a food processor with the hazelnuts until fine. Add flour and sugar, pulse, then pour in butter and water. Scoop the mixture into the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking pan lined with foil. Press the mixture down to form an even layer. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.

To prepare the filling

Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth and well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until combined. Mix in praline and vanilla. Arrange the nectarines and peach slices over the crust then pour cheesecake mixture over hot crust.

Bake until the center is just set, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 2 to 4 hours before cutting into bars.

Daring Baking! Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

What an exiting challenge with so many components! I really enjoyed this one. Some of the Daring Bakers were a bit disappointed with another cake, but I was very happy to have a big showy dessert to take to a party to celebrate the end of my bike season. We had good reason to celebrate, after attempting the Death Ride two weeks ago!

The cake was absolutely delicious, the birthday boy cut the cake, we all took a slice and everyone was silent. Next thing I knew the cake had disappeared! I followed the recipe exactly, I'm really glad I went out and got Grand Marnier, it didn't taste totally alcoholic, just a nice background. My least favorite part of the challenge was skinning the hazelnuts. That totally sucked! I say either don't bother or buy them skinned.

I made 3 separate cakes, as I don't have a tool to make the layers, and I didn't really trust my abilities or the integrity of the cake. I'm glad I did that, it worked out great. When making the cake, its easier to whip up the egg whites first with a clean bowl and then whip up the yolks afterwards.

I then set to making the praline paste. It was a little nerve wracking watching the sugar just sitting there in the pan, but eventually it started to melt. I ignored the many warnings not to stir, I took a wooden spoon to it and made sure it all melted without burning and it worked fine, the hazelnuts were quickly added and then poured onto a silpat. These make excellent decorations and this is a technique I'll definitely be repeating.

The buttercream was next. This all came together very well, I also whipped the cream and set aside. It was easy enough pouring on the simple syrup to moisten the cake, then adding buttercream and whipped cream.

I was left with a three layer cake, which was all moist and lovely. This was starting to look a little on the unstable side once I'd brushed with the apricot glaze. Oh dear.

It had a bit of extra time to stand as the ganache seemed quite runny, so I chilled it for 30 minutes before pouring.

As I poured the ganache over the cake, I realized the sides looked very lumpy, which was a little disappointing! I don't think it would be possible to get any other result if you were following the recipe exactly. Solutions would be to maybe apply a crumb coating of buttercream to create a smooth edge for the ganache to cover. Oh well, maybe next time!

I then tried a new piping technique to decorate, I was very happy with the effect. The bumpy sides didnt seem quite so pronounced with the decorations.

As I always say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I was very happy with the final result. It was definitely getting lots of 'oohs and ahhs' from people, which continued as they ate!

I'm afraid I didnt get a chance to get a picture of the slices, it was gone too quickly!

Please see the lovely Mele Cotte for the recipe and her take on it, thankfully she was very gracious about all the whining bakers who were complaining about this wonderful recipe. Good on her!

PS please see the daring baker blogroll for other people's interpretation of this recipe.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

For Sher-Mushroom Balls

When I saw everyone was going to make one of Sher's recipes and post it in memory of her, I knew I wanted to partake, unfortunately I'm a little late.

These mushroom balls were totally delicious, and I'm really glad I tried them. We chowed down on them and in unison said 'these are really-mushroomy'!!!

I made some changes, I couldn't be bothered to fry them, so I baked them, hence the flat shape!
I made quite a few changes to the recipe! I didnt want to lose any of the mushroomy goodness, so I didnt strain them, I just added lots of breadcrumbs. I had goat cheese instead of feta and I fried the onion with a little garlic. They were still a bit sloppy, but I dumped spoonfuls into flour and then popped them on the sheet and baked them.

These were served with roasted courgettes and peppers and delicious low fat marinara sauce from trader joes. I love it so much I never even try to make my own.

Mushroom Balls from What did you eat?
1 lb Crimini Mushrooms
4 slices wholemeal bread, toasted
1 egg
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 onion chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 oz goat cheese
Salt and pepper
olive oil
flour for dredging

Preheat oven to 375f

Fry the onions and garlic in a little olive oil until translucent. Put the bread in a food processor and blend until it forms breadcrumbs. Add the mushrooms and process until chopped finely. Add all the other stuff and pulse. Dump tablespoons of the mix into the flour, then form balls and put on a oiled baking sheet.

Cook for 20 mins, turning once.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fleur de Sel Caramels

I make these delicious candies every time I want to treat someone with a little gift, I love the watching the evolution from sugar into dark caramel, and I guess I get a kick off it being a bit dangerous!

I'll just link to the original recipe from, I followed it exactly, although I think you need a bit of a higher temperature if you dont want them to be too gooey. I also used a lot more salt than they used, I sometimes use salted butter plus 1/2 tsp fleur de sel

I made a wonderful discovery this time, I tried putting toasted sesame seeds on some of the caramels along with a scattering of Fleur De Sel. It was a totally winning combination, I'll do much more of them next time, although I'll have to make sure to get them out of the house pretty quickly as they became even more addictive!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend Cat Blogging-Helping us pick a new lawn

We're incredibly sad to hear that our blogger hero, Sher from 'What did you Eat' has passed away suddenly. I got great pleasure from reading her stories about cats and about the squirrels. I particularly adored Upsie, who just had so much character. I hope her friends and family will take some comfort in how many lives she's touched, but it must be incredibly hard to lose such a wonderful woman.

Tina has been hard at work helping us to choose some artificial grass. Having a lawn and living in San Diego are not compatable, our gophers really love to tear it up and its actually dangerous now, so we're going for an alternative that isnt going to look awful after 6 months. It took her a few days, but she's decided on the more lush version so we'll tell the rep today!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Muhuruuuu er Walnut and Roasted Pepper Dip

Well, this was a real success! I was browsing the lovely Tigers and Strawberries and found a really delicious looking dip called Muhammara. I then saw the gigantic ingredients list and decided it would be more of an inspiration than an actual recipe. I threw a bunch of stuff in the food processor and in less than 5 minutes I had this delicious but healthy dip. Andy actually started eating it with a spoon and asked if I'd mind if he finished it! This is very uncommon with healthy stuff like this so I was happy! I think I'll go back and try the proper recipe as it was so wonderful its worth a try.

I took some of these and processed with garbanzo beans, breadcrumbs, eggs and leftover goat cheese to make delicious veggie burgers.

Walnut and Pepper Dip inspired by Tigers and Strawberries
1 jar roasted red and yellow peppers (or three freshly roasted peppers)
1 tomato
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup fat free yoghurt
3 tbsp harissa
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper to taste

Throw everything in the food processor and process until you have the desired consistency (some like more lumps than others!)

A sad week for bloggers cats and squirrels

I was really shocked on Monday to hear that the wonderful Sher, of 'What did you Eat' had died suddenly of a heart attack. She had a wonderful sense of humour and was a pleasure to read, and I loved hearing her stories about her cats and squirrels, especially the wonderful Upsie, who passed away earlier this year. I got the courage to start a blog and join the daring bakers after reading about her hilarious adventures. Glenna did a wonderful tribute on her blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lucha Libre

I just got back from a very nice lunch at lucha libre, just off the I5 at Washington.
I'd been wanting to try it for a while, and picking up my husbands car from the garage seemed like the perfect opportunity. He had the Tijuana hot dog and I had the veggie quesadilla. The hot dog was pretty good and gave him his usual rush that bacon gives him so goodness knows what he's like now, I'm sure he's giving everyone at work hell!
The quesadilla was delicious, at only $4 it was a bargain. It had delicious grilled veggies, peppers zucchini and onion, black beans and cheese and was served with a dollop of quesadilla. I started to chow down on it and realised that I had twice as much as I thought and it was enough for lunch and dinner, even for a hungry person like me! Bargain!
I cant wait to go back and try more!
I guess those folks at chow were right this time. The parking seems a bit tricky but other than that I'd be happy to go back anytime!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fourth of July, time for snacks!

My perfect Fourth of July, a morning spent baking new treats, an afternoon sharing them with friends on the beach!

I was going to attempt some previous Daring Bakers challenges. Croissants seemed like a fun idea, then I realised how involved and daunting they were and decided on something a bit more fun.

Pretzels for my lovely husband, who doesnt have a sweet tooth but loves a nice bit of savory, I knew he'd love these. It was really fun to read the first challenges of the daring bakers on Ivonne and Lisa's blogs and then to give it a try myself! I was really glad I got these out of the house quicksharp as they were absolutely delicious, and I think we'd have eaten the entire batch on our own!

This is the kind of recipe I love, just a bit of flour, sugar, water yeast and salt, a quick rise, then shape, dip in water, proof and bake. Of course they are complete with a little brush of butter and a sprinkling of kosher salt, but really, how simple is that!!

This will definitely be on my rotation of baked snacks from now on!

I then set about with my first attempt at macarons. It didnt seem too bad, as they didn't require a huge number of eggs, that I'd regret wasting or expensive ingredients. I'd come across a delicious looking recipe on tartelette and decided to try it. The batter came together very well, I had my first try at making praline, and I happened to have some dulce de leche knocking around for a filling.

My first time wasn't perfect, the macarons stuck to the silpat, so only about half came out ok. I also don't think I baked them for quite long enough, they were very fragile. They were also insanely sweet. I think a more creamy/tart filling might be nice against the intense sweetness of the meringue.

The recipe was used exactly as written, so I wont repeat it here, I found other sources that were a lot more detailed, and I might try that route, apparently putting some water under the silpat after baking really helps to release the macarons.

As far as dulce de leche goes, there are 3 ways to do it:
1. Put a sealed can of condensed milk into slightly simmering water for 3 hours
2. Pour a can of condensed milk in a small, thick bottomed pan and heat on a low/medium heat, stirring almost continuously with a wooden spoon until it is thick and caramel colored.
3. The david lebovitz method, heating in the oven.

Mothers Kitchen

Now that I'm finished with my extreme bike training, I know that one of the things I'm going to miss is Mothers Kitchen, situated at the top of Mount Palomar, its a lovely place to stop and have lunch, particularly in the Summer, when its so hot in the rest of San Diego, its just lovely and breezy and the air is clean and fresh.

The cafe is really friendly, with a lovely shady garden outside. The food is rustic and veggie. The last few times I've been, I've become addicted to their grilled cheese sandwiches, but they also do a wonderful lasagne, great mac and cheese and lots lots more.

Its a great excuse for a daytrip up to the Palomar Observatory for a hike and to learn about the stars. Or if you're nuts like me, consider a gentle 45 mile bike ride from Lake Wolford, with around 5000 ft of climbing and a personal photographer too!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Del Mar Fair! My first bake-off!

I decided to enter the Eagle Brand bakeoff, seemed like a good plan, especially since you get free entry to the fair.

I baked a shortbread cookie with some zest in, gently boiled down condensed milk to a dulce de leche, made a sandwich, which I dipped in chocolate and pecans. I thought they were delicious, but I didnt win. Oh well!

Most of the winners were creamy pies, mine was quite involved, and maybe they wanted a really quick and easy recipe.

Anyway, the fair was a lot of fun, I had a look around all the scary fried foods stands and the zucchini fries looked very nice so I tucked into them. This was all I could take, so no funnel cake or fried ice creams for me! I love the emphasis on 'Totally Fried'!!

We then made our way over to the turkey stampede, which was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. The turkeys are too stupid to actually race, so they drive a very cool remote control truck for them to follow. It was quite interesting, despite being rather intellectually challenged, the heirloom breeds of turkey were pretty nimble. It was heartbreaking when they brought out the butterball turkey, it could hardly walk. I've read about this in 'Animal Vegetable Miracle' by Barbara Kingsolver so it was interesting to see this first hand.

The last surprise of the fair was the 'free bible stories. I like the way the jester was laughing in a way which kind of meant 'If you fall for this then I'm a monkeys uncle'. Oh dear.

Nothing against religion but this is a bit over the top!!