Thursday, July 15, 2010

so square

It's so easy to find gifts for friends — the people with whom I have so much in common. It's a pretty safe bet that they'll like the same stuff I like. It's almost a good thing I'm not more well-to-do. If I were, my splurges likely would just junk up my friends' houses with pretty Anthropologie miscellany that nobody really needs but I feel for that moment in the store that they shouldn't live without.

And Dana would own every cute oven mitt that crossed my path. Because remembering that time she had no oven mitt and no choice but to wad up her T-shirt to take cookies out of the oven in our dorm kitchen never stops being funny.

Not to sound like a terrible person, but in a certain selfish way, this gift-picking ease is also kind of a bummer. I had one lovely evening of melting chocolate and cooking caramel with the
Baked cookbook before it was wrapped up as a birthday gift and made its exit from my kitchen. Melissa, I will have to come to your house to visit it and gaze at its pictures. Expect for me to do this often. But you'll be there, and you do have a kitchen. So really, maybe it's not such a bummer! I've read that the Sweet & Salty Cake and all its elements are an all-day affair. Get ready.

Getting there. The sugar boils furiously but likes to stay right at about 200 degrees for a long time.

Finally, the soft ball stage!

After my first-ever caipirinha pre-birthday, I came home and made the book's Peanut Butter Crispy Bars to bring to the next night's birthday dinner. I chose it because it wouldn't require a late night of baking (so maybe not the best representation of a book called Baked's contents?), and the bars turned out deliciously. I have to say, I'm most proud of the precise, Deb-worthy corners on these little squares.

Hey, look — turns out she's made them, too!

My only reservation about this recipe is that the bars were unmitigatedly sweet without enough of that contrast you usually get with peanut butter and chocolate. But this could be because I was accidentally heavy-handed with the chocolate that goes in the PB layer. Still, it could benefit from some salt. Maybe flakes sprinkled on top? Or what if you added salted peanuts to the crisp bottom layer? Yum. Melissa, don't be surprised when I come over with candy thermometer in hand.

Peanut Butter Crispy Bars

From Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

For the crispy crust

1 3/4 cups crisped rice cereal

1/4 cup sugar

3 Tbsp. light corn syrup

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the milk chocolate peanut butter layer

5 ounces milk chocolate

1 cup creamy peanut butter

For the chocolate icing

3 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72 percent cocoa)

1/2 tsp. light corn syrup

1/2 stick unsalted butter

Make the crispy crust: Lightly spray a paper towel with nonstick cooking spray and use it to rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan.

Put the cereal in a large bowl and set aside.

Pour 1/4 cup water into a small saucepan. Gently add the sugar and corn syrup (do not let any sugar or syrup get on the sides of the pan) and use a small wooden spoon to stir the mixture until just combined. Put a candy thermometer in the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, 235 degrees F.

Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and pour the mixture over the cereal. Working quickly, stir until the cereal is thoroughly coated, then pour it into the prepared pan. Using your hands, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan (do not press up the sides). Let the crust cool to room temperature while you make the next layer.

Make the milk chocolate peanut butter layer: In a large nonreactive metal bowl, stir together the chocolate and the peanut butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for about 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust. Put the pan in the refrigerator for one hour, or until the top layer hardens.

Make the chocolate icing: In a large nonreactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup and butter.

Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the chilled milk chocolate peanut butter layer and spread into an even layer. Put the pan into the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the topping hardens.

Cut into squares and serve. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, covered tightly, for up to 4 days.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

a gigantic pile of corn husks is just out of view

That and this scene are sure signs it's SUMMER!

Though, arguably, these images are also pretty convincing:

Miguel cooling off in the mist outside the LBJ Library

The world's cutest baby — to whom I'm a pseudo-aunt — after her first swim

I stuffed myself with cherries, and now it's time to do the same with peaches, corn and tomatoes. I made this protractedly named Shell Pasta With Corn, Tomato, Caramelized Onion and Basil for the first time three summers ago after finding it at Not Eating Out in New York, and since then it's been the first corn-and-tomatoes recipe I cook to ring in the season.

I have the recipe saved in my e-mail and found in the thread this excited note to my brother, written after I'd first had it for dinner. I hope you won't think less of me.
"this was so delicious when i made it the other day, i was actually shocked. the trick is getting a fresh ear of corn (which is like 30 cents!) and shaving off the kernels with a knife. the day i made this, i had been to h-e-b three times for separate things, so when i got home with my ear of corn and unhusked it to find a dead worm (!!!) burrowed into the top of it, you know what i did? you betcha. i whacked that end off and used the rest. i was tired of waiting in line at h-e-b, and i sure wasn't going to go back for trip #4. he probably died a nice death though. the corn was really sweet."
I'd also included this equation made up of Cathy Erway's photos to prove how easily he too could enjoy such a meal.

This recipe is seriously magic, and it must be in the caramelized onions. There's no garlic! There's no cheese! (OK, I added cheese. Parmesan never hurt anything.) It also has the fabulous step of stirring in a blob of butter at the end. I felt pretty smart when i remembered to scrape the back of my knife down the stripped corn cob, a trick for getting the last bit of that sweet, milky corn goodness into your meal. But I was getting ahead of myself because a moment later I dumped out all the pasta water, forgetting the step to save a cup or so.

Still, it turned out well. And it felt like a bit of a rescue recipe — I haven't been in the mood to cook for a few weeks now. In fact, I'd had the ingredients for this pasta sitting around since the beginning of this week but hadn't felt up to slicing and chopping. Even as I've been reading My Life in France and longing to taste buttered-up fish in a tucked-away spot in Paris, I hadn't ventured into the kitchen. This summer humdinger brought me back. More to come!