Saturday, January 24, 2009

Adventures with Cows' Milk: Fresh-Made Panir

Danger kitten has other kitchen adventures besides those involved with an oven...

Homemade Panir: No Oven Required!

My culinary project this year (my "year" beginning sometime in August), as some of you may know, has been cheese making. So far, I have made ricotta, mozzarella, and now panir. A relatively easy process, simple cheese making of the sort I've done requires little else than milk, a coagulating agent (such as vinegar or rennet) and salt. It has been immensely satisfying for me to watch the curds separate from the whey (before I made ricotta, I really didn't know the difference between curds and whey; now I've learned that the curds are the solids that separate from the rest of the milk, or the whey, when cooked with a coagulating agent). This panir is probably one of the easiest cheeses to make, and you can make it with ingredients that don't have to be purchased from a cheese making supply. It is delicious in the potato balls I made, but I enjoyed it the most simply fried and sprinkled with salt.

After the cheese has drained for 2 1/2 hours in the butter muslin, I put it in a glass square dish. This made it easy to cut into cubes later on for frying. Some of the pictures below are sideways, but you get the idea.

5. The curds are in the butter muslin (a fine cheesecloth) draining, where they will stay for about 2 1/2 hours.

4. Curds in colander draining from the whey.

3. A spoonful of curds that are ready to be put in the colander to drain.

2. Milk is heating and curds are beginning to form.

1. Equipment is ready to be used.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Partners in Crime: These Little Treats Share Complementary Ingredients

In order to savor my last weekend before school really starts (I only had 2 out of 4 classes last week and thus very little homework), I decided to have a cooking day on Friday. One of my school meetings was cancelled, and I had already done most of my reading for next week; thus, I was left wondering what to do with myself. I had been planning to make cheese on Sunday but found myself with a serendipitously free day, something unheard of in my past life as a teacher. After waking up late (9:30 anyone?) and feeling a little bit guilty, I set out making cheese and then baking cookies, which lasted pretty much all day until I went to see Benjamin Button. If my posts were about movies, I would write about that, but since they are instead about delectable treats that delight the taste buds, I will tell you about my cookies.

Steve and I planned to make a trip to Grand Rapids tonight (Saturday) to have dinner with a childhood friend of his who is home from England, and we had agreed to take a dessert. Because we were going to be busy looking at houses most of the day on Saturday, I needed to make a dessert on Friday. However, I had several challenges to take into consideration. First, I needed something that would hold up well, as we would not be consuming this baked good for a full 24 hours. Second, I had leftover cream cheese from the carrot cupcake frosting that I wanted to use up. Third, it started snowing on Friday morning around 11 a.m. and I was not going to get in the car and go anywhere to get ingredients. These challenges were somewhat fun to work with in the beginning, but you know how the story goes. If you give a mouse a cookie...

The recipe I found in my Martha Stewart cookbook for Cheesecake Thumbprints would leave me with two stray egg whites, and so I was obliged to find yet another recipe that would utilize those orphan whites: macaroons filled the demand. I used Carol Walters' recipe for "Black Bottom Coconut Macaroons," a recipe my mom had made once (much better than the ones I turned out, I have to admit); however, if you do not have almond paste or chocolate on hand, I have also included below another, more basic, recipe for coconut macaroons. As it turned out, our trip to Grand Rapids was snowed out and postponed until next weekend. Nevertheless, the unexpected time has allowed me to write this and to dream about the pink house we looked at today (yes, there are apparently real live pink houses in Ann Arbor--just what I've always dreamed about). To pink houses, macaroons, and cream cheese--happy baking.

Cheesecake Thumbprints:

4 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp sour cream (I used milk and a drop of white vinegar because I didn't have sour cream and it was snowing heavily)
1/8 tsp vanilla
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temp
2 cup flour

Mix cream cheese with 1/4 cup of sugar and salt. Add 1 egg yolk, "sour cream" and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Refrigerate 3o min.

Preheat oven to 350. Beat butter and remaining 1/4 c sugar. Add 1/4 tsp salt and egg yolk; beat to combine. Add flour and mix until just combined. Shape dough into balls and place on greased baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Use a lightly floured wooden spoon to make an indent in the cookies.

Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and make indentations again. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack. Fill each indentation with about 1 tsp of cream cheese filling. Return to oven; bake until firm, 7 to 8 minutes. Cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours; the cookies can be refrigerated overnight.

The cookies before they are baked.

Black Bottom Coconut Macaroons

1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
8 oz almond paste
1/4 c plus 2 T sugar
1/4 c plus 2 T powdered sugar
1/8 c sifted cake flour
2 egg whites, at room temp
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coconut extract (I didn't use this)

Dipping: 2 oz semisweet chocolate and 1 1/2 tsp vegetable (I used about 4 oz chocolate)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees; grease 2 baking sheets. Process coconut in the bowl of a food processor until finely chopped (or chop by hand). Beat almond paste in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add sugars and mix together. Then mix in flour. In a separate bowl, whisk the whites and pour into the almond mixture until just blended. Fold in the coconut extract. Let batter stand 10 minutes. Use a star tip to pipe 1 1/2 -inch stars about 1 1/2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake about 15 to 20 minutes until just golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Add the vegetable oiler. While cookies are warm, dip bottom into chocolate. Place on cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. Let rest 2-3 hours. Remove and place in airtight containers.

Simple Macaroons, Courtesy of Martha Stewart

1/4 c sugar
2 1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
2 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine sugar, coconut, egg whites, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. For 1 1/2 T of mixture into a loose haystack shape and place on greased cookie sheet. Repeat, spacing cooking 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool. Store up to 3 days.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm a happy cupcake, I'm a happy cupcake, I'm a happy cupcake

Cup-a-cake, cup-a-cake

Put me in my happy cupcake home!

Mmmm Mmmm...

I made these carrot cupcakes this evening after being inspired by the new cupcake retailer in Ann Arbor, The Cupcake Station.  Of course, these little cakes are tastier if I do say so myself, and fresher.  They are definitely happier.  The following recipe is based off of a Martha Stewart recipe (my hero) but I have changed a few things to make the cupcakes more delicious.  

For the little cakes:

(makes about one dozen; when I made them the recipe made 14)

3/4 c walnuts, finely chopped 
1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and shredded
2 eggs
3 T buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
3/4 c canola oil
1 T ginger, peeled and minced

Reserve 1/4 cup of the chopped walnuts in a separate bowl.  Mix the rest of the dry ingredients together in a bowl (walnuts through cinnamon).  In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (begin with the egg, then add everything else; add the carrots and ginger last).  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners.  Pour some batter into each muffin cup and bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  Cool.  Pipe with frosting (I used Wilton tip 32).  Sprinkle sparingly with the 1/4 cup of reserved walnuts.  Serve.  May be kept in the refrigerator for several days.

For the frosting:

6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 packages (12 oz total) cream cheese, room temperature
1 c powdered sugar, sifted

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy.  Repeat procedure with cream cheese.  Add the sifted sugar and mix until incorporated.  

One of the lucky cupcakes in its happy cupcake home.  (The home is courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.)

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