Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rosemary Cheese Crackers


I've often wondered why anyone would bother making crackers at home. I figured the homemade taste must be superior, but it didn't seem worth the fuss. I have happily discovered there is no fuss, and the crackers truly are superior. If you can make chocolate chip cookies, you can make these crackers. You don't even need a rolling pin!

Bowl of Crackers

These don't have the snap of Cheez-Its or Ritz -- rather, think savory shortbread. Softened butter and shredded cheese are beaten together with flour and a few other ingredients. You roughly roll the dough into a log and chill it until firm, then slice and bake. That's it! The crackers are flavored with rosemary, cheddar, cayenne, and red pepper flakes. They're not too hot, but I reduced the pepper and pepper flakes on my second try because I didn't want that much heat and mouth-tingle.

Cracker Collage
The chilled log of dough is sliced into crackers; for a fancier touch, use a fluted cutter;
use a fork to poke holes in the crackers before baking.
The crackers also remind me of some blue cheese crackers I had during afternoon tea at Upstairs on the Square.  And that makes me think of ways to play around with this recipe, including substituting blue cheese for the cheddar.  Swap in a different herb, or sesame or poppy seeds.  How will you play with it?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Giant Red Velvet Cupcake

Giant Red Velvet Cupcake

My sister commissioned me with making the cake for my niece, Audrey, when she was about to turn 2 this month.  I had toyed with the idea of making a giant cupcake using this Wilton pan.  What more could delight a toddler for a birthday cake?  The cake pan comes with a recipe for a chocolate pound cake, but some comments online confirmed my suspicions that it was dense and not tasty.  So I found a red velvet recipe another blogger had made using the pan.

Would I recommend the pan?  Nope.  Cute as it is, there are a few issues.  You can't use just any cake recipe because the batter might not be enough to fill the pan with.  The top portion of the cake bakes faster than the bottom.  The outside of the cake could be done before the inside finishes baking because it's tall.  You should really frost or fill the bottom of the cake also, unless your cake is ultra-moist.  And since it's so tall, it won't fit in most cake domes or containers.  But if the sight of a cute giant cupcake seizes you with impulse to go buy the pan, you've got company.

Cupcake collage
Audrey with her mom, my twin sis

Decorating was also more difficult than I'd anticipated.  And I had little time to devote to it, since a certain little person thought I was her personal toy.  She would command me, too: "Come on!  Lai!"  Bossy, but it was too funny.  Here I went with a chocolate frosting on bottom adorned with candy sprinkles, and piped regular cream cheese frosting on top.  It looked like a mess, unfortunately.  And there wasn't enough frosting.  So on my second try, which you can see in the photo at the top of this post, I adapted a different decorating technique: Keep it simple, stupid.

Luckily for me, 2-year-olds are not as discerning when it comes to design, and Audrey loved this cake.  She ate bite after bite, and ran over to Grandpa so he could sneak her some extra cake.  The second time I made enough frosting, and filled the bottom for a better frosting-to-cake ratio.  I like the larger-than-normal portion of cocoa, and I used Guittard for an intense cocoa flavor.  It ends up tasting a little more chocolaty than red velvet usually does.

If anybody has used this particular pan (and not the silicone ones), I would be grateful for any other recommended recipes or tips.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Celebrating Pride & Prejudice's 200th with Tea

Upstairs on the Square

My Jane Austen book club toasted the 200th anniversary of Pride & Prejudice with afternoon tea at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge.  This restaurant in Harvard Square serves afternoon tea on the weekends that's a bit modern and whimsical.  More photos and comments follow the jump.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Boston Globe Review: Turner's Yard

No comments:
Turner's Yard Collage
Photos by Shirley Goh/Globe Staff
I think this is a fun photo -- doesn't Chef de Cuisine Brendan McCarthy (right) look like a badass?  He's posing with Executive Chef Eric Bogardus in front of the pizza oven at Turner's Yard in Pembroke.  They serve up pub grub with upscale twists, including mixed grill pizza and doughnut bites.

The restaurant is a collaboration of some local celebrities: Tim Wakefield, formerly of the Red Sox; Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins; Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey; and HGTV host Taniya Nayak.

Read on to find out what I thought:
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Lemon Ginger Scones

Lemon Ginger Scones

I'm shivering at the thought of tonight's low, forecast at 22 degrees.  This time of year I'm drinking two or three cups of tea a day, and it's nice when I have a treat to nibble with it.  These scones are studded with pieces of candied ginger, and drizzled with a lemon glaze.  The scones are soft, and the flavors very bright.  They're also super easy to make -- no food processor or pastry blender required here.  That's because these are cream scones, made with cream instead of butter.  Just stir it all together, forget the rolling pin, and pat it into a round.  The dough is very sticky, so flour your hands a lot.  Cut into wedges, and in 20 minutes they're ready.

So I know what I'll be doing tonight: coming in from the cold, putting on the kettle, and brewing a cup.  Fall into a chair with a scone, a magazine, and maybe a cat.  Stay warm!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cranberry Maple Pecan Cake

Cranberry Maple Pecan Breakfast Cake

As the holidays approached, the list of things I wanted to bake was building. I wanted to try all kinds of cookies, make another kugelhopf, and this cranberry cake. Then December was insanely busy and I kept to my tried and true recipes for parties and potlucks. But I was going to have my cranberry cake, holidays or not!  Who says cranberries are relegated to November and December only?  This cake has whole cranberries, pecans, and maple syrup, and Joanne Chang writes in Flour that it tastes like pancakes. I don't agree, but it's still a really good cake.

I like the use of whole, juicy cranberries instead of the dried cranberries you often see in recipes, and that they're not too tart here. The loaf is moist, and the maple pecans give a nice sweet crunch. The maple glaze is good. I did run into two problems:

  • Most of the berries and nuts sink to the bottom.  On my second try I tossed them with flour, usually a sure remedy, but a lot still sank to the bottom as the cake baked.  This affects only the aesthetics, not the taste.
  • I checked on the cake early and found it slightly overdone.  I think it's because my bread pan is made of a dark metal. The second time I took the cake out of the oven a few minutes early and it was perfect, and I'll note that in the recipe after the jump.

Even with these minor issues, though, I really enjoyed having a slice of this at breakfast or teatime.  You don't need to wait for the holidays to roll around again to make this.