corn tortillas

The more I think about it, the more I feel that Leap Day should be an observed holiday. It only happens once every four years anyway. It’s a bonus day. People should barbeque. Retailers should have sales. (Pardon me if I’m sounding a little cray-cray, I’m nursing a cold and have had a bit of brain fog the past few days.) How about some tortillas? I’ve always wanted to make tortillas. But it’s one of those ideas that got put on the back burner, overshadowed by some cake or cookie or pie.

I can’t actually remember what it was that provoked such an urgency to make tortillas, but a few weeks ago I was on a mission. So I picked up some masa harina. Then I got home and realized that I didn’t really want to roll out the dough by hand and decided that I absolutely had to have a tortilla press. Because one can never have too many gadgets in one’s kitchen.

But then I got distracted by polenta and wild mushrooms and cupcakes and estate sales. And a few weeks passed. And then finally last weekend I made sure to get that tortilla press. And then I busted out a batch of tortillas. In less than thirty minutes.

Once you make your own tortillas, you almost can’t go back to the ones you buy at the grocery store. And really, there isn’t much of a reason to. They’re super easy to make. And they have so much more flavor than store bought version. They’re good on their own, and fantastic with a little avocado, a squirt of lime, and a sprig of cilantro. But I think they’ll be exceptional in a tray of  enchiladas. Or chilaquiles. Oooooh…

corn tortillas

from D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington

makes 10-12 tortillas

1-1/2 cups masa harina

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 – 1-1/2 cups warm water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the masa harina and salt. Add 1 cup of warm water and mix with your hands. The dough should be moist and smooth and should stick together easily when pressed, but not be too wet. Add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Form the dough into 12 equal balls, about 1 ounce each. Lay them on a plate and cover with a damp towel.

Get your tortilla press ready by laying a sheet of plastic on the base (use a produce bag or resealable bag cut into one large sheet). Your plastic should be wide enough so that it can be folded over to cover the top of your tortilla.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pick up one ball of dough and press it between your palms to flatten it slightly. Place it in the tortilla press between the plastic. Press the tortilla firmly, but not as far as the press will go (you will need to experiment with the press for the proper thickness. The tortilla should be about 6 inches in diameter.

Gently peel the tortilla off the plastic and lay in carefully in the hot pan. Cook it for 45 second to 1 minute, then flip it over with a spatula. It should have small brown spots  and look dry, but not cracked. Cook the second side for 30-45 seconds. Flip again and lightly tap the surface of the tortilla 4 or 5 times with your fingertips. Cook for 15 seconds more. Turn again and tap the other side, cooking for another 15 seconds. The tortilla should smell like toasty corn and have a dull surface.

Nestle each tortilla in a clean towel lined basket to keep warm. Use immediately or let them cool, wrap well, and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for 2 months.

roasted wild mushrooms with creamy polenta

Something is happening over here. I’m not sure what it means, but lately I’ve been really into simple meals. Meals you can throw together in less than an hour. Meals you can enjoy after a long day at work. Meals that don’t require a stand mixer or food processor or immersion blender. People ask me all the time if I have any easier recipes. I think I’m finally catching on.

This dish was inspired by a meal I had with Lee a few weeks ago. It involved a mushroom ragout and polenta, kale and a poached egg. I enjoyed it so much that I cleaned my plate and haven’t stopped thinking about it.

I tried one other recipe before finding this one for oven-roasted mushrooms. The mushrooms cook quickly at a high temperature and only need one or two stirs while they roast away. They are totally delicious and perfect on their own but this ultra creamy polenta really is an ideal accompaniment. You could stop there, but if you want something a little more substantial, a poached egg and a little bit of sauteed kale will definitely round things out for you. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

roasted wild mushrooms with creamy polenta

adapted from nordstrom.com and food&wine

serves 4-6

for the mushrooms:

kosher salt

fresh cracked black pepper

1 pound wild mushrooms, stems trimmed (I used a combination of oyster, sliced shiitake, yellow foot, and hedgehog mushrooms)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large roasting pan, combine all of the mushrooms. Add the garlic, shallots, and thyme. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Spread the mushrooms in a single layer as evenly as possible to promote even cooking.

Roast, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the mushrooms are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl.

Taste the mushrooms and season as needed with salt and pepper. the mushrooms with the remaining salt and pepper mixture, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the parsley.

for the polenta:

2 cups whole milk

2 cups water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup instant polenta (about 7 ounces)

1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream**

1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Salt and freshly ground pepper

**for a lighter, slightly less creamy polenta, add only 1/4 cup heavy cream

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, water/stock, salt, and butter and bring to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thick, about 8 minutes. If your polenta seems too thick, add 1/4 cup water and continue to stir until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream, mascarpone, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

to serve:

Spoon the polenta onto plates, top with roasted mushrooms and sprinkle with additional Parmesan and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

rosewater and raspberry macarons

rose and raspberry macarons

Homegirl is ready for a vacation. For real. Nothing sounds better right now than a cocktail at sunset on the beach overlooking the ocean. Memorial Day weekend cannot come soon enough.

pink meringue

It’s been a bit of a madhouse over here. Actually, it’s been more like a real live test kitchen. I spent last weekend trying out a few new cupcake recipes and new frostings. It was fun, but if I look at another cupcake, I think I might stomp a foot or throw myself on the kitchen floor. I need a break from the sweets.

macarons

But not until we discuss Swiss buttercream and macarons. There is something very rewarding about making a great batch of Swiss buttercream, which I think has to do with that moment of uncertainty in the process – why does this look curdled? how long do I need to beat this before it comes together? I’ve tried a couple of recipes over the years and have had success with all of them. So I thought I’d try something new, just for fun.

raspberry buttercream

There’s a reason why people say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The new recipe didn’t have the silkiness that you expect from a Swiss buttercream, it was more of a meringue. So I started adding butter. And adding butter. I added almost 5 additional sticks of butter to make it right. Which left me with a whole lot of buttercream since I was only frosting one 9-inch cake that day (which, too, was a disaster).

macaron

What do you do when you accidentally make enough Swiss buttercream to cover a wedding cake? It turns out that you can freeze it. You can also use it to fill macarons. And I love any excuse to make macarons.

A surplus of buttercream is also a good excuse to play with different flavors. On that particular day, I had raspberries on the brain and a little bit of extra raspberry jam on hand. I also had my eye on a bottle of rosewater that was kind of begging to go into the macaron batter. Roses and raspberries, kind of perfect together if you ask me.

rose and raspberry macarons

rosewater and raspberry macarons

from i ♥ macarons by Hisako Ogita

makes about 2 dozen macarons

for the macarons:

2/3 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) almond meal

1-1/2 cups (5.25 ounces/150 grams) powdered sugar (use powdered sugar that doesn’t contain cornstarch)

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

5 tablespoons (65 grams) granulated sugar

1/2  teaspoon rose water

pink food coloring (optional)

Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit your baking sheet. Trace 1-inch circles on the paper, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart. This will be your guide for piping your macarons. Place parchment on baking sheet (pencil/ink side face down). Set aside.

In a food processor, grind the almond meal and powdered sugar together to a fine powder. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve. Repeat. Set aside. Place the mixture in the refrigerator if it is warm in your work area.

In a stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until they are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg whites and continue to beat on high speed until they reach stiff, glossy peaks. Add the rosewater and food coloring and mix lightly.

Add half of the sifted flour mixture to the meringue. Stir with a large spatula,  scooping up from the bottom of the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and mix lightly in a circular motion.

When the flour is incorporated into the meringue, press and spread the batter against the sides of the bowl. Scoop the batter from the bottom and turn it upside down. Repeat this process about 15 times, but no more than 20 strokes. When the batter becomes nicely firm and drips slowly as you scoop it with a spatula, the mixture is ready.

Attach a 1 centimeter round pastry tip to a pastry bag and pour the batter into the bag. Squeeze the batter onto the center of the circles traced on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Make small circles as the batter tends to spread. Rap the baking sheet firmly against a table or counter top. This helps the macarons hold their rounded shape and helps the pied (little foot) to form.

Dry the batter at room temperature, uncovered, until a slight crust forms on the surface, about 30 minutes to one hour. When the batter no longer sticks to your finger when touched, the drying process is complete.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Position the rack  in the center of the oven. Stack the baking sheet with the batter onto an empty baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking time. If the insides of the macarons are still soft after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 300°F, cover the tray with aluminum foil, and bake for another 2 to 3 minutes. When the macarons are done, remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool on a wire rack. When the macarons are completely cooled, remove them from the baking sheet. Macarons can be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container for about one week.

for the raspberry Swiss buttercream filling:

adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

5 large egg whites

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, cool but not cold

1/4 teaspoon salt

2-4 tablespoons raspberry jam

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites and sugar together. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water but do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and the color is a milky white, about 2 to 3 minutes.

With the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on low then increase to  medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with the paddle attachment. Add the cubed butter and beat on medium-high  speed until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If the butter looks like it’s breaking, keep beating until it comes together.

Add the salt and 2 tablespoons of raspberry jam and beat until completely incorporated. Taste buttercream and add more jam for a stronger raspberry flavor.

to assemble your macarons:

Pour the buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe the filling on the flat side of the macaron puff. Cover the bottom puff with another puff, flat side facing in. Gently press the top puff into place.


lemon frozen yogurt with blueberry swirls

Can we talk about frozen yogurt for a minute? I consider myself a frozen yogurt fan, and I definitely appreciate all of the shops that have popped up in recent years where you can try seven different flavors in one cup and choose from dozens of toppings (who would’ve ever guessed that Fruity Pebbles are actually super delish mixed into froyo?). But if I’m being totally honest, I will take a scoop of ice cream over frozen yogurt any day.

Unless it’s Jeni’s lemon frozen yogurt.

Because I do so much baking for the holidays and because it’s usually too cold to think about frozen treats, my ice cream maker gets stashed away during the winter months. But after picking up a copy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which I happened to find on sale(!) while I was shopping for Christmas gifts back in December, I threw my ice cream machine canister back in the freezer. The book delves into the science of ice cream making and talks a lot about chemistry and ingredients and technique; it will totally change the way you approach making ice cream at home. I couldn’t wait to get started. There were so many flavors I wanted to try, but lemon frozen yogurt was the first to catch my eye.

Oh. my. lord. I think this is probably the best thing that I have ever made in my ice cream machine. This is nothing like the stuff that comes out of a dispenser all soft and swirly. This is good, old fashioned frozen yogurt, similar to ice cream in texture, but with that tang that can only be achieved by using real yogurt. I’m partial to anything lemon, and this lemon froyo definitely delivers – bright and lemony and fragrant. It somehow manages to be ultra creamy and light without being fluffy or airy. And the swirls of sweet, fresh blueberry sauce are gorgeous and perfectly compliment the tart lemon yogurt. I feel like I’ve been missing out.

lemon frozen yogurt with blueberry swirls

from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

makes 1 generous quart

for the frozen yogurt base:

1 quart plain low-fat yogurt, drained  

1-1/2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons tapioca starch (or cornstarch if you can’t find tapioca starch)

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

zest from 1 lemon (reserved from lemon syrup)

for the lemon syrup:

2 to 3 lemons (use Meyer lemons if you can find them)

3 tablespoons sugar

for the blueberry sauce (optional):

1-1/2 cups blueberries

3/4 cup sugar

To drain the yogurt:  Fit a sieve over a bowl and line with two layers of cheesecloth. Pour the yogurt into the sieve, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6-8 hours to drain. Discard the liquid, and measure out 1-1/4 cups drained yogurt. Set aside.

for the blueberry sauce: Mix the blueberries and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries are tender and the sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool, then refrigerate until cold before using.

For the lemon syrup: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest in large strips from 1 lemon and reserve for the frozen yogurt (large strips are easier to remove from the yogurt base later). Juice lemons until you have 1/2 cup.

Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool.

for the frozen yogurt base: Mix 2 tablespoons of milk with the tapioca starch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth. Set aside.

Create an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon zest in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the tapioca starch slurry.

Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the reserved 1-1/4 cups yogurt and the lemon syrup and whisk until smooth.

Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Remove the zest from the chilled frozen yogurt base. Pour into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy and starts to pull away from the canister, about 25 minutes.

Pack the frozen yogurt into a storage container, starting with a little blueberry sauce on the bottom of the container. Alternate yogurt with layers of blueberry sauce. End with a spoonful of sauce; do not mix. Press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.