Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Velvet, If You Please

When I was pregnant with my son, I experienced a fierce form of what the obstetrical community calls Irritable Uterus. Yes, I'm serious. From 26 weeks on I had violent bouts of time-able Braxton-Hicks contractions for hours at a time that had me grabbing the nearest wall or furniture and breathing deeply to get through them. The difference between IU and pre-term labor: while there is potential for it to trigger PTL, IU does not cause a change in the cervix that productive contractions do. After two weeks (and a trip to the ER meeting my midwife there thinking he was coming fast at 27 weeks) of fighting through, my midwife took me off work. I was raised on a dairy farm and in all of my years of life(that I could remember, anyway) I had never not had a job, yet here I was with nothing to do but relax, put my feet up, drink plenty of water, and play with my then-1.5-year-old. So what did I do? I baked. A lot. That may explain how I gained 30 pounds that trimester when I hadn't gained ANY weight in the previous 30 weeks, but I digress...
One day my husband asked why I never made red velvet cake. Why? Because I'd never had it before so it wasn't even on my radar. I did a lot of research, read through various recipes and reviews, and finally decided on a basic one, with butter cream frosting(we'll discuss the frosting later). It was DELICIOUS. How had I gone 24.5 years without it?
Since then I've done plenty of tweaking and have decided on MY official red velvet cake recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbs DARK cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbs red food coloring
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp REAL vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbs distilled white vinegar
Directions:
   Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
   Cream butter and sugar VERY well, until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well until fluffy once more. 
   Make a paste of cocoa and red coloring. Add to creamed mixture. Mix salt, vanilla, and buttermilk together in a small bowl on the side. Add alternately the flour and the milk mixture to the creamed mixture Once they are all completely combined, mix the baking soda and vinegar together, then immediately fold into the batter VERY gently. 
   Pour delicately into the cake pans without any extra stirring, and bake for 27 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! If your temperature is spot-on, then just trust your oven. Resist the urge to do the toothpick test! They will be just a touch underdone in the center. Remove the cakes and allow them to cool in the pans for five minutes, then move them onto cake cooling racks. 

Butter cream frosting
It is hotly debated whether cream cheese frosting or butter cream belongs on the red velvet cake. My stance: HANDS OFF THE CREAM CHEESE! I have heard SO many times red velvet cake is bland, dry, etc, and NEEDS the cream cheese frosting to carry it. NOT SO! If this is the case with your cake then you're doing it wrong. I realize I probably just insulted A LOT of grandma's and bakers out there. I'm okay with it.
The thing is, when it's cooked properly and is nice and moist red velvet is a rich, delicate chocolate flavor with melt-in-your-mouth moistness. Even a minute too long, though, and it crumbles and all its flavor is lost in a mouthful of bland red crumbs. When you add cream cheese frosting to a nice moist red velvet cake you drown-out the beautiful flavor because of the intensity of the cream cheese flavor. A fluffy, delicate butter cream is JUST what a properly done red velvet cake needs to compliment the richness without over-powering the chocolate flavor. 

Ingredients:
  • 5 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 tsp REAL vanilla extract
Directions:
   Mix flour and milk in a saucepan and heat over low heat until it thickens to the consistency of a heavy gravy, stirring frequently to avoid flour lumps. Once thickened, pour into a heat-safe bowl and place it in the freezer until cooled completely(30-40 minutes). While flour mixture is cooling, cream sugar, butter, and vanilla on high until fluffy and whipped. Add the flour mixture and whip again until uniformly fluffy. DO NOT FROST THE CAKE UNTIL IT IS COMPLETELY COOL!

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Heart Coffee

I like coffee. I mean I reeeeeeeeally like coffee. Good coffee. Without it, I could not function daily. My absolute favorite coffee roasters are in my place of birth, Ithaca, New York, but since that is a fair hike from our current location I don't often get my hands on those delicious beans. Truly tragic.
My deprivation, however, led me on a journey to find goods beans here, farrrrrrrrrrrrrr north. It seems, though, that coffee beaneries are seriously lacking up here so that left me with three options: Crappy chain coffee(namely Dunkin or Starbucks), grocery store beans(Wegmans ONLY! There's a difference!), or mass-produced pre-ground coffees. The later appalled me, the first I was against for taste reasons(Starbucks can be hit or miss, but Dunkin leaves a rancid taste in the back of my mouth regardless of the roast), so Wegmans beans it was! Their City Roast was available in whole beans, shiny and black in all their glory, with an excellent bold flavor.
What was once do-able, though, at $9.99/lb suddenly became cringe-worthy when the price of coffee beans drastically jumped $1.00/lb in a mere week. We cut back to two cups a day each instead of three or four and kept drinking. Six months later it was up another full dollar. $11.99/lb I could not swallow, especially knowing my tiny hometown roasters were still at $10.35/lb for their fair-trade beans of goodness. So delicious, so seemingly affordable at this point, yet still out of reach, so I swallowed my coffee bean snobbery and began pulling from the shelves the coffees getting good reviews. We would try a bag and rate it. Most were fails. The only two we considered winners were New England Coffee whole beans, and Newman's Own Organics. Decent. Not too bad, if it was freshly ground and brewed right.
Then one day my husband came home from a toilet paper run to WalMart with a bright yellow bag. Something new called Gevalia Kaffe in an espresso roast. From Sweden. And only $9.98/lb. Hmmmmm. So we tried it. Oh. My. Goodness. Yum. Rich, dark, flavorful, no sour after taste, so smooth across the tongue. Good coffee, right off the shelf at WalMart.
I still pine for a bag of black glistening beans from Gimme! or Cayuga Coffee Roaster and we always snag a couple pounds when we visit the area, but we can totally make-do with Gevalia in the mean time. Since then we've tried all of the medium to dark roasts and all have been decent to good with one exception: The Columbian. Eew. Don't touch the Columbian beans. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crock Pot Yogurt

Upon its creation, this blog was meant to be for my crafting, cooking, and pure novice photo-fun. Because  my knitting and sewing are my business, it didn't take long for this to turn into a business blog. As a business blog it became sparsely updated because I'm busy DOING not WRITING about what I was doing. Lately, however, I've been asked a lot about my cooking and baking, how I do what I do, penny-pinching while eating naturally and healthily, and more. What better way to share it with those asking than to get back to the roots of this blog so I can share links in the future for when the questions are asked again(as they always are)?
Today I jump back in with my crock pot yogurt. With three small kids we go through a lot of those quick-fix snacks and meals, and I think most parents can attest to the fact that those can be hard to come by when you're looking for healthy, preservative-free, and on a budget. Yogurt is one in our house that is a great source of protein that many things(fruits, nuts, cereal grains, a side of peanut butter toast) can be added to and turn it into a meal. This means we go through A LOT of yogurt. We buy everything as economically as possible, but even those big tubs of plain and vanilla yogurt can add up in a hurry. One day I was breezing through cooking blogs and saw the concept of yogurt made in the crock pot. 'Hey,' I thought, 'I have TWO crock pots. I need to try this!' I did some research, studied and compared multiple recipes, and asked around in my circle of healthy-eating, crunchified mamas for opinions. Most reviews were dubious, but I knew I just HAD to try this. Not only would it save us money, it would be so much healthier than even the most natural yogurts- No sugars, no flavorings, no preserved fruits or pre-made granolas on top. I put my type-a mind to work with researching recipes, the science behind how yogurt is made, reviewed the conversations I'd had on blogs and Facebooks, and chose my course. I would make yogurt in my crock pot, and darnit- I'd be successful!

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon organic milk
  • 1 container(1 cup +) plain organic yogurt(with all five live active cultures- This is essential!)
Equipment: 
  • 6-quart (or larger) crock pot
  • Good quality digital food thermometer
  • Sterilized ladle or measuring cup
  • Two thick bath towels
Put the cold milk in a crock pot and turn the crock pot on High. Cook for 3-4 hours(it will vary by crock pot), checking the temperature every hour by stirring with the thermometer until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This kills the bacteria in the milk itself.
Turn off the crock pot and allow it to cool to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Dip out 2 cups of the warm milk and add it to the organic yogurt. Stir gently until smooth, then pour it into the crock pot full of milk, stirring gently again until smooth. 
Cover and turn the crock pot back on for ten minutes, or as long as it takes for the mixture to come up to 109 degrees(No higher than 110 or you will kill the GOOD bacteria).
Unplug the crock pot and wrap in two heavy towels. Let sit at room temperature overnight (8-12 hours). 
The next morning, remove the now-cool pot from the heating implement and dip out 1 cup of the yogurt and put it in an air-tight sterilized container to use for your starter in the next batch of yogurt, because there WILL be another. Place the crock pot(minus heating implement) in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours, then tip the pot slowly over the sink just enough to pour out any standing liquid that forms on the sides and top of the chilled yogurt. This allows things to cool and firm-up. If you want a tighter yogurt, you can strain in a cheesecloth-lined colander for a thick Greek style texture. 

The scoop of next batch's starter
Before the chilling and excess liquid removal
Now it's ready to eat! Many reviews were iffy about texture, but ours turns out fine every time. Sure, it's missing the pudding-like, gelatinous texture of many store-bought yogurts because there are no preservatives added to achieve said texture, but even my sensory kid who struggles heavily with textures never skips a beat on this, and when a food is G-approved, you know it is a-okay!