Baking Blunder: Tiramisu

To be honest, I rarely completely fail when baking. Sure a bread might be a little dry or cookies a little overdone. But I can’t remember the last time I threw away a baked good, much less before it was finished.

That changed when I attempted to make tiramisu for the pièce de résistance of our Valentine’s Day dinner.

This recipe from the Flour cookbook calls for homemade ‘ladyfingers’ or essentially a sponge cake. After nearly 15 minutes of handheld mixing (a nudge for J to purchase me a KitchenAid), I spread the batter out on a pan and popped it into the oven. About five out of 15 minutes into the baking time, I glanced at the cookbook again. Despite the name of the book, I had forgotten to include an essential ingredient: Flour.

Apprehensive but undeterred, I proceeded to whip more eggs. But as I removed the ladyfingers from the oven, I knew it just wasn’t going to work. One large, rectangular crepe stared at me from the baking sheet. Normally I would have started over or tried to create another dish but it was already 10:15 pm on a work night, better known as  bedtime. I just didn’t think I’d have the energy to turn out a tiramisu worthy of Valentine’s Day. I resorted to buying an Italian dessert at a nearby bakery, and promised J I’d make it for him soon.

Flour in the bowl

Which led me to a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, checking and double-checking that each ingredient made it into the dish. In the end, it was a delicious tiramisu and well worth the time! Especially because I was reminded of the importance of mise en place.

I’m going to be really lame and not post the recipe for several reasons.

1) It’s not online, and I’m too lazy to type it up.
2) The book is incredible and I recommend purchasing it.
3) As delicious as it was, I would like to make a couple of changes to the recipe to make it even better. I’ll write a new post with the adapted recipe sometime soon.

So stay tuned for what will hopefully not be another edition of ‘Baking Blunder.’


Homemade Indian

Heads Up: These recipes call for considerable marination time. If you’re looking for a quick recipe, you may want to check elsewhere.

J &  I love Indian food. Seriously, we love it.

The ingredients, the intense flavors and spices, the way the main dishes, sauces and side dishes sometimes taste even better when mixed together than when eaten separately. We’d probably cook Indian a couple of times a week if the recipes didn’t require as much time and effort as they usually do.

So moist and delicious.

So moist and delicious.

One Saturday night last month we tried out a couple of new recipes. I had my former roommate and her husband over for dinner and they love Indian almost as much as we do. We selected chicken makhani (butter chicken) and curry leaf potatoes, both from the amazing Washington Post food section. For our side, I also made our homemade naan.

You can find the recipe for the chicken makhani here and the curry leaf potatoes here.

These recipes proved to be less prep work than some of the previous Indian recipes we’ve tried. You can also marinade the chicken the day before, which breaks up the workload and would really intensify the flavor. We only marinated our chicken for maybe 45 minutes, and it was still delicious.

A few recommendations: Add more more chili powder if you like spice. The chicken baked to perfection at about 25 minutes, rather than the 40 the recipe said. We marinated more chicken to go with the leftover rice the next night, and without the sauce it was perfectly delicious, if you want to cut time and calories.

The potatoes were a hit as well, although we did have to compromise on some of the more obscure ingredients we couldn’t find at Whole Foods or Safeway, including the curry leaves.

I’ve used the same or similar naan recipe a few times now, and I won’t be using it again. The dough has never sufficiently risen and the consistency of the bread is too tough. It’s decent enough, but I’ll be looking around for a better option for the next time we’re craving Indian. If you’re interested in at least viewing the recipe, it can be found here.

Caramelized Onion & Prosciutto Pizza

It looked so promising yet it was such a disappointment. You see, recently C’s roommate cooked up a delicious-looking and smelling pizza  she had found on the Pioneer Woman’s blog.  We decided to give it a shot due to its relative simplicity and appearance.

The recipe was very easy when we made a single alteration. Instead of making our own pizza dough, we followed C’s roommate’s lead and used Indian naan bread. Naan is available in many grocery stores. It’s soft and tasty, and was ideal for a “flash pizza” like this one. You see, we only needed to warm the pizza enough to melt and meld the toppings together since nothing needed to be cooked. So it actually saved a great deal of time and effort.

With the pizza dough handled, the only other challenge was cutting the red onion. The recipe calls for very thin slices that are long. Taking a knife, I cut the top and bottom parts off a red onion and then cut it into rings as thinly as possible. Once done, I ran the knife down the center of all the rings, splitting them into noodle-like strands. This took five minutes.

By using naan bread and this cutting technique, this meal was one of the fastest but fancier dinners we’ve ever made. The onions were caramelized within minutes while we sliced chunks of mozzarella and scattered them on the naan. And when the pizza was assembled and put into the oven, we set a timer for 8 minutes rather than 15.

The final product.

The results were gorgeous to look at. The cheese was perfectly mixed with the richly colored ingredients. It cooled enough to be eaten within a minute. I was really looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, the taste was a letdown. It’s strange and sad, but the two things that made this pizza so unique were, in fact, the two major downfalls.

The caramelized onions were simply too powerful and too sweet. They were all we could taste when we bit into it. And the prosciutto was weak. I thought for a while it was simply the brown sugar of the onions coating the prosciutto, but when I picked up an individual piece and bit down, I discovered it had lost a lot of flavor.

C and I spent some time analyzing what went wrong and figured that the writer must enjoy an incredible amount of sweetness. In the future, we will reduce the amount of brown sugar. And second, either I will find some substitute for the prosciutto or find a better brand. The prosciutto would have benefited from some added time in the oven to allow the slight crispiness Ree describes on her blog, but the naan would have burned if we added too much time.

Despite these setbacks, what emerged from the recipe was a good idea. While the prosciutto and caramelized onions were not to my liking, the use of the naan bread crust and torn mozzarella cheese are both a fantastic building block for a better pizza: Faster and better quality.

C and I will be talking about what kinds of toppings we could use in the future.  Arugula was suggested in the blog comments as a means to counteract the sweetness of the onions with bitterness. I made a mental note to add garlic to the pizza. For whatever reason, if you go to a Neapolitan pizza place, they charge an exorbitant amount of money just to add garlic to a pizza, when you add minced garlic at home for perhaps $.15.

Another joy of this pizza is that it would be an extremely ideal appetizer choice. It’s easy to make, reasonably priced and quick. To such an end, I will have to invest in a pizza cutter.

Shrimp & Grits

Shrimp & GritsShrimp and grits. A lot of people aren’t familiar with grits, and those that are may think of them only as a breakfast item to be eaten alongside their eggs. But grits have a savory aspect to them that works well when mixed with, rather than served beside, certain ingredients and flavors.

My first taste of shrimp and grits occurred at Againn, but being from the South, it was not Cass’ first sampling. However, Againn set an unfairly high standard for the dish. The dish was terrific and they were surely versed in how to prepare grits perfectly. Still, we decided to try our hand at preparing this dish as an entree after finding a recipe in Southern Living from Bill Smith, executive chef at Crook’s Corner, a Southern food restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC,  which was honored this year with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award.

One of the joys of this recipe was very little prep time. There are only green onions to chop, which aren’t as tear-inducing as their larger cousins. For the shrimp however, we chose to peel and de-vein fresh shrimp ourselves instead of going for the pricier pre-peeled shrimp.  You can learn how to do this by checking out this how-to video. While this process takes a little practice, it’s relatively easy. Although I do recommend care with a knife when cutting down the backside of the shrimp.

The final product was not entirely as we had hoped. Cass was a little off on the measurements for the grits since we were unexpectedly in a rush. I also wondered if the chicken broth really imparted a full flavor. Part of me daydreamed of experimenting with  gravy on the dish instead of the broth. Don’t discount the bacon bits sprinkled atop the grits. The bacon added a nice crunch to each bite. Cass pointed out that the dish may have been richer if we had used full fat milk and cheese. The other problem was my fault as I had overcooked the shrimp slightly, making it tough. But all in all, it was a fairly quick dish to prepare and surely one that could be perfected over time.