Thursday, April 18, 2013

Whiskey Cake

My boss is a big lover of Jack Daniel's, so for his birthday this year, I decided that aside from just getting him a bottle of Gentleman Jack, what could be better than an cake made with Jack Daniel's?! I wasn't sure if I would really like it since I am not really a fan; however, this is quite delicious! The alcohol itself cooks out of the cake, but you are left with the whiskey's burn amid the chocolatey espresso goodness. Another benefit? This is one of the moistest cakes I've had the pleasure of bitting into.

Whiskey Cake
adapted from Field's of Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup Jack Daniel's Whiskey
2 eggs

In a large electric mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk and beat until dry ingredients become moist. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add remaining wet ingredients. Mix until batter is smooth.

Pour into two 8" square baking tins lined with parchment paper.

Bake 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cool before frosting with Chocolate Espresso Buttercream.

Decorate as desired.

Eat up!

Chocolate Espresso Buttercream

Chocolate Espresso Buttercream
adapted from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen

3 ounces egg yolks [4-5 large egg yolks]
8 ounces water
2 ounces sugar
10 ounces unsalted butter
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3-4 tablespoons brewed strong coffee/espresso
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place egg yolks in mixing bowl and beat on high until the yolks are light yellow in color and thick. This will take a good long while to happen - like 10 minutes. When I say thick, I mean thick! The number one way that I've screwed this up this recipe in the past is by not getting this step right.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine the sugar and the water. Bring to to a boil, constantly whisking so that sugar does not burn. It is best to bring the mixture to a boil slowly so that all of the sugar crystals melt, otherwise you risk having gritty buttercream. Have a candy thermometer close at hand to measure temperature. Once the temperature reaches 240ยบ remove from the heat and pour into a glass Pyrex measuring cup. Very slowly pour the syrup into the egg yolks (I generally have a stream going down the side of the bowl to avoid hitting the whisk attachment). Continue to whisk on high until all the syrup is added and the mixture is completely cool. Again, getting this to cool takes a good bit of time. Go check your email or call your grandma and come back in 10 minutes.

A little at a time, beat in the butter. Be careful not to add the butter to quickly, otherwise the mixture won't absorb it.

Finally, melt the chocolate in a medium bowl and let cool slightly before adding the vanilla extract and the coffee. Let cool completely before mixing in one cup of the prepared buttercream. Thoroughly blend. Add remaining buttercream.

Eat up!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pulled Pork Barbecue

I just love pulled pork, particularly when it's soaked in vinegar-based sauce and then doused in a bit more Texas Pete. Pair that with tangy buttermilk coleslaw and some fresh-outta-the-fryer cornmeal hushpuppies and I am pretty much in hog heaven!

Unfortunately, until I happened upon this recipe for pulled pork, I'd never made it myself since most recipes require a smoker - an expense that I haven't yet found a good reason to incur. Instead, I mostly had to let my craving come and go unfulfilled. Happily, this recipe perfects pulled pork by first brining the meat and then slow-cooking it in the oven. Jason was a bit apprehensive (read: doubtful) when I told him I was going to make it, but he was pleasantly surprised when he finally sunk his teeth into the finished product.

I've made it twice now and both times it has turned out wonderfully.

Pulled Pork Barbecue
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Serves 10-12 people

1 boneless pork butt (~5 pounds)

2 cups warm water
1 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons liquid smoke
12-14 cups cold water

Using a sharp knife, trim away excess fat from pork butt. Don't even try to cut away all of'll want it for flavor and lots of it will cook out anyway. Cut pork in half horizontally. Doing so permits the pork to cook faster and for there to be more surface area for your rub, greatly enhancing the flavor.

Combine salt, sugar, liquid smoke and warm water in a large container (I used a giant pot). Use wooden spoon to vigorously stir together so that the salt and sugar completely dissolve. Once they've done so, place the pork in the pot and cover completely with cold water. Set aside for 2 hours.

While the pork is brining, get everything else set up.

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

1/4 cub yellow mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons liquid smoke

Combine mustard and liquid smoke in a small bowl. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet (one with a lip to catch and hold the liquid that will cook off the pork) with aluminum foil. Place a wire rack on top of the baking sheet. Tear off piece of parchment paper large enough to completely cover the pork when it's set on the wire rack. Tear off two or three large pieces of aluminum foil.

Once the pork is done brining, use paper towels to pat off excess liquid. Place pork on wire racks and use a basting brush to completely coat pork with the mustard mixture. With a heavy hand, sprinkle rub all over the pork.

Cover the pork with the parchment paper and then use aluminum foil sheets to cover the parchment paper. Tuck foil to create a seal, which will prevent moisture from escaping. Don't skip out on the parchment paper; the mustard is so acidic that it will eat through the aluminum foil is there is nothing serving as a barrier.

Place in middle rack of oven for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven and discard the parchment and aluminum foil. Transfer liquid that has accumulated on the bottom of the pan into a medium bowl and place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Skim off the fat that has come to the top of the liquid. Pour remaining liquid over the pulled pork.

Place the pork back into the oven and let cook an additional 1 1/2 hours. After removing pork from the oven, let it rest for 20-30 minutes before transferring to a large casserole dish. Use two forks to pull apart the meat.

I split the pulled pork into two smaller glass dishes and added the Sweet + Tangy Barbecue Sauce to one and the Lexington Barbecue Dip to the other.

I served the barbecues with this homemade coleslaw (I altered the recipe just a bit by doing the following: 1) I made only half the recipe; 2) I placed the carrots and coleslaw into the food processor and minced them; and 3) I substituted greek yogurt for the mayo to cut down on calories.)

Eat up!

Left: Sweet + Tangy Barbecue Sauce                                                                                                                              Right: Lexington Barbecue Dip

Sweet + Tangy Barbecue Sauce

Left: Sweet + Tangy Barbecue Sauce                                                                                                                              Right: Lexington Barbecue Dip

Sweet + Tangy Barbecue Sauce

Enough for ~2.5 pounds pulled pork.

3/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Texas Pete
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over pulled pork.

Eat up!

Lexington Barbecue Dip

Left: Sweet + Tangy Barbecue Sauce                                                                                                                              Right: Lexington Barbecue Dip

Lexington Barbecue Dip

Enough for ~2.5 pounds pulled pork

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Texas Pete
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
heavy pinch of red pepper flakes

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over pulled pork.

Eat up!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lemon Curd Tarts with Fresh Blueberries

These tart, delicious treats flew off the plate! I had to hide one away inside so that I wouldn't miss out on dessert when I was putting Audrey down for the evening.

Lemon Curd Tarts
Kelley Gondring

Makes 36 tarts

Lemon Curd
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup strained lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt

Place egg yolks in a small bowl. Gently whisk to break up the yolks. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch and salt. Bring to a simmer. Whisk constantly for a minute or two so that all of the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat to medium low. Remove 1/2 cup of the lemon mixture and whisk into the bowl of egg yolks. Once combined, pour the egg yolks into the saucepan and whisk constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, about two minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, placing plastic directly on the surface of the lemon curd (this prevents a rind from forming). Let cool completely before piping into tart shells.

While lemon curd is cooling, prepare tart shells.

Tart Shells
6 ounces cream cheese, chilled
16 tablespoons unsalted butter butter, chilled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream [only if necessary]

Place cream cheese, butter, flour and salt into food processor. Pulse together until a coarse meal forms. If dough is too dry (will look like sand and not hold together when pinched between two fingers), drizzle one tablespoon of the heavy cream over the dough. Pulse 5-10 times. If dough is still too dry, use remaining tablespoon of cream. Remove the pastry dough and form a large ball. Place in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven 400 degrees.

Form 36 individual balls. Press into greased mini-muffin pans. Because we are going to bake these tarts before filling them, you'll need to weigh them down with aluminum foil and beans. It is kind of a pain in the butt, but it will be well worth your efforts.

Bake 15 minutes.

Let cool before removing foil and piping in lemon curd.

Garnish with blueberries.

Eat up!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Eighty-Four Days

Dear Audrey:

Tomorrow I will return to work after twelve weeks of maternity leave, and I cannot emphasize enough how fast these last eighty-four days have passed. Few other times in my life have I lived each day with such purpose and fulfillment, existing in each moment instead of looking towards the future and wishing it would come a little more quickly. I don't mean that in some romantic, lights-all-aglow way; there have certainly been times when I've been a bit bored and starved for adult interaction. But I am sincere nonetheless. I love my job, but on Monday morning I always look forward to Friday afternoon. And when I was in school, I always looked forward to the next semester, the next vacation, or the next phase of the life that I wasn't fully living because I was convinced that the next thing had to better than the current thing. Now, while I am certain that what's to come will be amazing, I am equally certain that these last twelve weeks together cannot be overvalued.

Since the last time I wrote, you have absolutely blossomed. In addition to figuring out how to control your fingers and hands, you are now aware of your feet and legs. You will stare at them in baby awe and cautiously feel on them with your hands. You are also incredibly intrigued by faces, most notably your dad's. He will put his face down close to yours and you'll run your hands through his hair, stroke his five o'clock stubble, and put your fingers into his mouth and pull on his lips. Getting you to release whatever you've gotten your hands on, be it my hair or your Sophie giraffe, is more work than you'd think. You also practice standing up all the time and I must say that your legs are surprisingly strong. Most of the time, you stand flat on one foot and on the outside of the other, perfectly bowlegged. What's really cute is when your legs get tired. Instead of just plopping down, your torso begins to come forward, your knees bend, and gravity slowly starts to win the tug-of-war, pulling your cute diapered bottom to the ground.

For the last couple of weeks, you've gotten to where you will only nap on my chest when you are can't-keep-my-eyes-open pooped. Otherwise, you find your surroundings so fascinating that a nap on Mom's chest is dull by comparison. Nursing doesn't always keep your attention, either, as you will jerk around trying to find the source of every noise or light. It can get somewhat frustrating because you need to eat, but then you look me square in the eye and flash that grin, which renders me incapable of doing anything but mirroring your glee. In the last two weeks, you've also begun sleeping through the night, making both Dad and me immensely happy. When I was reading in bed one night after it became apparent that your new habit would be at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, I told your Dad that I was finally beginning to feel like my old self! I must tell you, however, that the first night it happened our excitement was tempered by fear, demonstrated by the fact that your Dad jumped up, quickly walked into your nursery, and made sure you were, in fact, still breathing!

You are such a happy baby, Audrey! Most mornings you greet us with wiggles and a smile; throughout the day you woo us with your bright-eyed, gummy grins; and at night our lively "conversations" delay putting you down for bedtime. When you are really excited, you'll kick out your legs, lift up your arms, open your eyes wide, stick your tongue between your lips and make all sorts of noises. Kiddo, I could probably go on and on for miles, telling you about how much the photographer loved you at the first wedding you attended, describing your face when you figured out how to roll over, or explaining how much joy you bring my grandparents when we visit. But they wouldn't do justice to the eighty-four days of experiences we've shared.

I never anticipated enjoying mothering a newborn so much! I know that the time will come when it will no longer phase me to leave you at daycare, but I also know that tomorrow I am going to miss you every minute.


Eleven Weeks

Eleven Weeks

Nine Weeks

Easter 2013