07 October 2011

Fast Food: Apple Cheddar Quesadillas

It was my day to co-op at my sons' school, and I had a client meeting 25 minutes away in the afternoon. School ends at 11:30 and the meeting was at 1:00. Normally that would have been plenty of time to get the kids home, fed and safely deposited in the loving embrace of the playroom where they could occupy themselves and enjoy the benevolent neglect of their father who was working from home in the next room.

But of course nothing is ever simple and I was the only co-oping parent instead of being one of two, and my older son's class let out a bit late due to some flower planting and a trapped possum. I got home much later than I had expected. I did at least have a plan. We had good cheddar and tortillas in the refrigerator, and in the fruit drawer of the pantry there were a couple of good baking apples.

My goal was to make these as quickly as possible. I used an apple corer-slicer, but a knife would do just as well, grated my own cheese and had both boys eating less than 10 minutes after I got in the door. I even had time to eat my own food in a moderately civilized fashion before I had to leave. (I didn't get the boys settled in the playroom. Their father had to do that.)

Apple cheddar

Any good crisp apple will do here. A pie apple will hold up better than an eating apple. Use really flavorful cheddar both to contrast with the sweetness of the apple and so you can use less. If you're not a fan of cheddar, other cheeses would work well. Brie would be brilliant, but you might never want to eat anything else again, so be careful. I heat the tortilla on one side, and then flip and add the apple slices then the cheddar, and then fold the empty half of the tortilla over the top. Once the cheddar starts to melt down between the apples slices flip the quesadilla over and cook until the cheese is fully melted. The apples will just barely soften and sweeten. You will wonder why people eat ordinary grilled cheese.

05 October 2011

Lunch Habits

My mother packed my father's lunch every day. He had a domed, construction worker style lunch box which always had a thermos full of coffee or soup, a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a cold pack, maybe a cookie if we had some.  Minus the cold pack, it was probably much the same as the lunches he took to school as a boy.

I don't make fancy bentos. I learned long ago, and re-learn continously, that fancy and I are not friends. I'm okay with that.  Not making the fanciest lunches doesn't stop me from making lunches that nourish my family. My bentos won't become internet sensations, and possibly don't even really qualify as bentos, what with all the boring, but if 30 years from now my boys think a packed lunch includes a serving or two of vegetables (and maybe a cookie if they have one) then I'll be pleased.

What's for lunch
slightly more colorful than last week

Bento Lunch
Check out the other lunches this week.

01 October 2011

Two Birthday Cakes

I made birthday cake for two little boys who insist on growing up and turning 5. One little boy loves all things chocolate, and one little boy will have no cake at all if chocolate is the only choice. Given the opposing preferences and the size of the joint party I made two cakes.

Chocolate boy got the same chocolate cake I made for him two years ago. It was a hit then and it was just as popular this time around. I won't reproduce the recipe because I baked without adaptation from the Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting on Epicurious. People rave about it and ask me how I got the frosting so creamy. The answer is butter, silly, lots and lots of butter. (And then a bit more butter.)

Yes, it is off kilter.  You know who cares?  Nobody cares.

Not-chocolate boy requested a strawberry cake. I don't know why strawberry occurred to him, since normally he asks for vanilla cake. I found a promising recipe for strawberry cupcakes at Annie's Eats. Of course there are no good strawberries in the stores here at this time of year, so I had to use frozen, and boy wanted layer cake, not cupcake because, he told me, a layer cake means more cake for everybody. I don't claim to understand the logic, but I couldn't argue with it, either.

So I made the cupcakes into layer cake by baking them in two 9”X2” round cake pans at 350 Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. The layers collapsed after they came out of the oven, and then a certain Beagle I know managed to knock one of the layers to the floor. We'll not discuss what words I might have uttered when I heard the crash.

Left with one deflated (though tasty) layer I used a recipe for buttermilk cake in The Cake Bible which produces a single layer. This baked up beautifully and kept its height.

The buttermilk cake wasn't really meant to be part of a layer cake, and I think it would have done better as the base for some fresh, sliced berries, but it held its own, and helped compensate for the flat strawberry layer.

In addition to being a bit flat, the strawberry layer didn't retain the flavor of the strawberries. If I were to make another strawberry cake I would probably use a basic yellow cake (like this one but without the lemon and maybe a just enough strawberry puree to tint the batter.) and then frost it with the strawberry frosting because that was really good, creamy and full of strawberry flavor.

I used the strawberry frosting recipe as written except that I was using frozen strawberries where Annie's Eats used fresh, and I don't have a stand mixer. This was my first attempt at a Swiss Meringue Buttercream,and I was slightly concerned that using a hand-held mixer would doom me to failure. But no, the frosting beat together beautifully the night before, and then beat back to fluffy yumminess after a night in the fridge.

There are some tricks to using a hand-held mixer in these long-slog recipes. Put a slightly damp folded kitchen towel between your mixing bowl and the counter to keep your bowl from spinning away from you. That effectively gives you another hand. During the long beating sessions try tilting the bowl just enough that you can rest the base of the hand-mixer on the counter and tilt the beaters into the mix. And don't limit your self to holding the mixer by the handle. I find it much easier to slide my whole hand under the handle and hold the body of the mixer.

None of these recipes were particularly tricky, and if the Beagle hadn't knocked the cake to the floor I would have said it was a fairly simple evening of baking. I'm not an expert baker. I grew up using cake mixes. I promise you, making a great cake isn't a matter of culinary genius. It's simply a matter of finding a good recipe, following the instructions, and learning to say “Thank you. I'll send you the recipe.” when people start hunting you down at parties to tell you how good the cake is.


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