curdish muffins and other culinary day trips

You might think this is another post about Exil based on the title. Not so!

We had a fantastic dinner of tapas at pals An & Alex’s house last night along with pal Matt (who lent us Casino Royale in preparation for tomorrow’s Quantum of Solace viewing) and we brought one of our favorite desserts along to share: Cinnamon Fluff Cake with Lemon Sauce.

But we had two lemons and a cup of buttermilk left over after that. Hmm, what can I do with that? And on a Sunday, without leaving the house?

I recalled a discussion about lemon curd on my favorite old-school bulletin board, found a recipe online that looked doable, and flipped open the old standby for some muffin or biscuit recipes involving buttermilk. I found exactly what I needed pretty quickly and thought I could do a nice wake-up surprise for the better half quickly and easily.

Yeah, in theory.

In reality, I measured out the buttermilk to find I had exactly the amount necessary for the recipe. I thought something must be off while mixing the wet and dry ingredients together, because there was just not enough moisture in there to pour batter into muffin cups. Odd. I thought it must be a typo in the recipe or something, so I just compensated by adding regular milk until I thought it looked OK. Then I was about to get started on the Lemon Curd when I realized the buttermilk had never made it into the mixing bowl at all, and instead regular milk was in there. I really didn’t want to waste the buttermilk, so I dumped it in and added more flour until I thought the texture of the batter was right. And I added another teaspoon of baking powder to make sure I didn’t end up with small-gauge cannon balls. I put it into the oven and crossed my fingers that they would be edible.

I was a little distraught at this point because I thought I could hear Sarah moving around upstairs, and I this to be a breakfast surprise. In my haste to get moving with the curd while the muffins were baking, I neglected to zest one of my two remaining lemons before squishing the juice out of it and discarding the rest into the trash. So I guess the curd is only half as zesty as intended (though I got the juice it called for) — which seems to be zesty enough. Next time we’ll see what it’s supposed to taste like.

The muffins turned out OK, by the way — even in our crappy oven. Because I upped the flour and liquid content without including more salt and sugar, they don’t taste like much, but I’m just glad they baked up nicely despite my mad scientist chemistry meddling. And once you spread the lemon curd on them, you don’t miss any muffin flavor at all.

Later today: continued sausage exploits after last week’s great success.

Lemon Curd

Totally got this wholesale from the wikibooks cookbook, but I managed to deviate accidentally from the recipe and am still quite pleased with the results.

1/2 cup (120ml) lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/3 cup (80g) sugar
3 eggs
3/4 stick of unsalted butter (90g)
Pinch of salt (optional, to bring out sweetness and flavor of finished product)

I goofed in that I only used 1 tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest. It still turned out great — doubling the lemon zest would make it quite intense, I’m sure.

Grate the lemon rinds to produce two tablespoons of zest. Grate only the yellow zest, avoid the inner white pith which is bitter. Extract the juice from the lemons to produce 1/2 cup (120ml) of juice. Cut the butter into small chunks.

Put eggs, zest, sugar, and salt into cooled sauce pan. Whisk ingredients in pan till frothy and light in color (a minute or two). Add lemon juice and whisk 30 seconds. Add butter chunks. Set pan on stove burner, turn on heat to medium-to-low, and start whisking contents so they don’t coagulate or stick to bottom of pan. Whisk constantly till butter melts and mixture thickens, then whisk another two minutes, but do not let mixture boil – it should be quite steamy (185°F, 85°C).

There’s a spot in the original recipe about here concerning the option to strain the lemon zest out of the gloop before jarring it up and letting it chill in the fridge, but I don’t believe in that. Pour mixture from bowl into jar to within 1/4 inch (0.75cm) from top, taking care not to get mixture on rim, then seal jar with lid. Refrigerate to thicken the product further.


Welcome to November!

I’ve been working a lot — seems like my department has become Fire-Fighting Central. I like being the guy who can put out the fires (it’s nice to be needed), but even that gets old fast when everything is on fire. That’s bad for my goal of getting and keeping my accumulated comp-time hours under control, but good for future long-weekend trips, which are bad for getting and keeping my accumulated comp-time hours under control…

As a distraction, we’ve been experimenting a little in the kitchen:

new suitcase…and outside of the kitchen with our vacation photos. While making new friends at the WEBMU in Bremen in September, one of them handed us a neat little card with his contact info. It was about half the size of normal business card (by American dimensions — standard business cards here are a little different, just like Letter vs. A4) and had a photo on the front and his contact details on the back. I thought that was so slick. I visited and got a set of our own printed minicards for 13,79 € and a nifty little holder for another few Euros. The best part: you don’t have to re-upload those photos if they’re already hosted on flickr. Ordering those, and a set of postcards also based on our flickr photostream was a snap, and they turned out great. So I’m vouching for I like that the Europe-based orders get shipped from the U.K.

Using QOOP was just about as easy — they offer the same kind of behind-the-scenes link to Their focus seems to be not just printing your stuff, but also allowing others to print your stuff (if you like) for fun and profit. I went to them because they offered custom luggage tags, and having recently bought a new suitcase without an integrated luggage tag, I wanted something eye-catching and MINE. Paid too much for it, if you ask me ($9.95 + $6 shipping!). But it looks pretty cool and seems durable. Oh yeah, and if you’re a cutting-edge surfer and using the Google Chrome browser, designing your photo products won’t work…stick with Firefox or MSIE (boo!) I guess.

Glühweinapfeltorte (Spiced red wine apple cake)

Welcome to the lab! We reverse-engineered this cake from one that we bought in a bakery when a couple of friends were coming over for dinner. Any leftover syrup would probably be wonderful on vanilla or dark chocolate ice cream. It’s pretty simple, but labor and time intensive – don’t make it the same day you want to serve it. It gets better as it chills.

Red wine stewed apples
6 large tart apples, peeled and cored
3 c dry red wine (Burgundy is recommended)
2 c water
1/2 c sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 t ground ginger
1 t lemon zest

Shortbread crust
1 c butter, room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 c flour
1/4 tsp baking powder

Cinnamon whipped cream
1 c whipping cream
2 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t vanilla

First, the apples:

Bring wine, water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest to a boil in a stockpot or large Dutch oven. Add apples to wine and lower to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until apples are tender. Remove apples with slotted spoon to cool in a bowl and set aside. Keep wine at a low boil and cook down to a syrup (45-50 minutes), stirring constantly. When the apples have cooled (1.5 to 2 hours), slice them into bite-sized pieces.

Then, the crust:

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). In a large bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder and blend into butter mixture until crumbly dough forms. In a greased 9- or 10-inch springform pan, pat dough on to bottom and sides to 1/4 inch thickness. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden. Set aside to cool.

Whipped cream time:

Pour cream into chilled bowl and beat on high speed. Slowly add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

Assemble the cake:
Pour sliced apples into cooled shell and drizzle with wine syrup (don’t feel you have to use it all – you don’t want it to soak through the crust and get soggy). Spread whipped cream on top of the apples and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Homemade Sausage Patties

I had a hankering for some breakfast sausage patties recently. Checked with Mom via Skype and she said it would be easy to make ourselves. She was right. I cobbled the below recipe from stuff I found by googling and trial-and-error.

Here’s what you need:

1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/3 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch ground cloves
1 lb. ground pork — finely ground, if you can get it.

This is not an exact science, so mess with the proportions according to your taste. I like it sagey and peppery (both red and black) and this recipe reflects that. Actually, I forgot the cloves in this trial run of the recipe, and they were great without it, but I’m putting them in next time for sure. And we didn’t have dried sage, but oddly enough, we did have ground sage, which worked fine.

Mix all that stuff up together in a bowl. Some advice I read said to mix the stuff together by hand; some said that the body heat from your hands will negatively impact the texture of the meat. I opted to distribute the herbs and spices throughout the meat by using a thin wooden spatula with sort of a chopping motion. Seems to have worked. I got 4 hamburger-sized patties out of that recipe.