Recession Chic

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Desserts from the heart, not a box May 3, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 11:22 AM
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My love for baking as a kid is really what got me interested in cooking as an adult. The satisfaction of creating a meal is only topped by smiles from friends and family after their first bite of your dessert. After a long, yet fruitful (and fruit-filled to fight sweets cravings) Lent, I was ready for some non-stop dessert making. I tried four new recipes in the span of 10 days and learned a good bit about what makes a dessert really good and a baker really crazy. I forgot to take a photo of my fourth dessert, brownies, but I promise they looked as good as they tasted.

Dessert 1: Lemon Angel Pie (for Passover/Seder) – Vanilla meringue crust, lemon curd filling, whipped cream top

Lessons learned:

  • There are a lot of good ideas for dessert that can easily accommodate diet restrictions without tasting like a dessert of affliction.
  • Fresh, homemade whipped cream always tastes better and is worth the effort.
  • People forget how much they love lemon.
  • It never hurts to try to make a boring-looking dessert more attractive

Dessert 2: Flourless Chocolate Torte (Passover/Seder and Chocolate Lovers) – dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, magic

Lessons Learned:

  • Always buy the best ingredients (read chocolate) you can find. Just do it. It’s worth the money.
  • Know your audience. Not everyone appreciates dark chocolate, so be sure to add some sweet whipped cream on the side.
  • I wish I had two ovens.
  • If you have to transport it, keep it in the spring-form pan.

Dessert 3: Blueberry Pie (My Jeffrey’s Birthday) – fresh blueberries, old-fashioned crust, more corn starch than you think

Lessons Learned:

  • Pay attention to the rack position in the oven, even if the recipe doesn’t make a suggestion.
  • Try the fruit first before deciding how much sugar to use. That way the filling isn’t too sweet.
  • Don’t multi-task when rolling out your dough for the crust. You will just create more work.
  • Let go of perfectionist tendencies and realize that a crisper crust authenticates a homemade pie.

Dessert 4: Fudge Brownies – unsweetened chocolate, coffee, chocolate chips

Lessons Learned:

  • Everybody likes brownies, so go ahead and bake them.
  • Use big chocolate chips or chocolate chunks in the brownie batter. A crunch of chocolate in a fudgey brownie is sublime.
  • Don’t have coffee ice cream? Shame on you.
  • No need to feel like you must eat all the brownies at once, stick them in the freezer and pull one out as you need them.

Chocolate Souffle, because it’s time February 23, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 9:44 AM
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In all of my years of baking, I’ve never made a soufflé. Why? I have no idea. I guess no one ever requested one, and I only think about it when I see it on a dessert menu after a fancy meal. As I planned my Valentine’s Day menu (so much better than dealing with the crowds, prix-fixe menus and cheesy decor), I thought it would be a perfect time to try to make some soufflé.

I’ve read a lot about baking soufflé over the years, so I knew this would be a delicate process. The good news? I found a recipe that sounded delicious (thanks Giada) and discovered that I could do all the prep work the day before and just refrigerate the mixture. I made a few mistakes, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.

Towards the end of the VDay meal, I placed the soufflé (with their ‘warm water bath’) into the oven and tried my best to not watch it too much. Not gonna lie, after 20 minutes of baking and minimal rising, I started to freak out. However, just like clockwork, after 40 minutes they looked perfect — except for the messiness.

Since I swapped dark chocolate for the milk chocolate suggested in the recipe, they were über rich. And, after a meal that consisted of brie and apple salad, grilled fish with brown butter, asparagus and three cheese risotto — neither one of us could finish the dessert. But, I think that was for the best. Oh, and here are photos of the rest of the meal for all who are interested.


Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes January 17, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 9:49 AM
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After an extended business trip to NYC (thanks, snow), I was super excited to have a relaxed weekend at home and get back in my kitchen. Sunday afternoon I decided it was time to get moving on the perfect chocolate cupcake.

From one of my new cookbooks, The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2011, I was immediately drawn to their ultimate chocolate cupcakes. Bittersweet chocolate, fresh coffee, ganache and vegetable oil caught my eye as key ingredients for a flavorful, moist cupcake. And, wow, I was right. I was stunned at how great they turned out.

However, I didn’t stop there. I used the ‘cupcake plunger’ my mother gave me for Christmas to remove a part of the center of the cake and fill it with ganache. Also, there was a recipe for vanilla Swiss buttercream that I couldn’t pass up. Unlike traditional buttercream, you warm the egg whites and sugar while whipping them to prevent a grainy texture and create a lighter icing. Oh, and a little natural vanilla bean gave it an additional punch oh flavor and authentic vanilla look.

Now I just need to find some folks to share them with before I eat them all!


Dough Diaries: A Tale of Two Brioches August 27, 2010

Filed under: Dough Diaries — karakrautter @ 6:36 AM
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The Upper Crust Bakery in Austin, TX holds many childhood memories and baking inspiration for me: lunches of cheese soup and avocado sandwiches with my mom and coffee and cinnamon rolls on a Saturday morning.  Before I left Austin, I needed to get one last fix of fresh pastries from my favorite bakery. In addition to the usual cinnamon roll, I was struck by a beautiful, round loaf of bread topped with cheese. Brioche. Filled with cheese. Yum. The bread was so rich and filling, my breakfast partner and I decided to save the cinnamon roll for later and sliced the brioche loaf in half and dug in.

Now that I’ve been in Houston for almost two months, it was time to relive a little Austin and try my hand at baking brioche. I made the dough ahead of time since I’ve learned that letting it sit in the fridge for 24 hours after the initial rise seems to make for better flavor. I made enough dough for two different loaves and decided that one savory and one sweet brioche would be fun.

My first loaf was a classic brioche topped with a little Parmesan cheese. It was delicious and paired perfectly with a chilled cucumber soup. Once the bread started to get a little stale, I crushed up the leftover slices to create breadcrumbs for crab cakes.

I froze the other half of the dough and pulled it out a week or so later to make some chocolate-filled brioche. I just finished baking the second loaf for a weekend breakfast treat. Can’t wait to sample it!


Dough Diaries: Basic Breakfast Bread January 29, 2010

Filed under: Dough Diaries — karakrautter @ 11:13 AM
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After the pasta challenge, I was really looking forward to a different dough adventure — freshly baked bread. I started with the basic dough recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and added some dried cranberries and dark chocolate chips to make a tasty breakfast treat.

The bread pilot went a lot better than the pasta, but I did learn a few things that will make next month’s artisan loaf better:

  1. When adding things to bread (like chocolate, olives, etc.), don’t go overboard in the quantity. A little can go a long way.
  2. Place dough in a MUCH larger bowl than you initially think it needs when waiting for the dough to rise. Yeast is a crazy thing 😉
  3. Make smaller loaves. They will bake better and be easier to share with others.


Dining In: Stuffed Tomatoes January 13, 2009

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 9:38 PM
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Week two of actually cooking something other than rice, beans and cheese for dinner every night is in full motion. Again this week, I was inspired by some scrumptious photos on OpenSourceFood. However, this week I didn’t really follow the recipe and instead did what my mother taught me, improvising in the kitchen.

Dinner began as roasted stuffed peppers. But, my dear friends Kristy and Lauren were joining in the dining adventure, and neither of them are big fans of peppers, so I swapped tomatoes for peppers.

And, well, the substitutions continued. I wasn’t feeling mushrooms and had some leftover ricotta cheese. So I combined the tuna, ricotta, onion with some fresh basil and Italian herbs. The roasted tomatoes were drizzled with olive oil and topped with Parmesan.

Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes

Since we were eating light for dinner, dessert was needed. Kristy found this triple chocolate mocha cupcake recipe from Design*Sponge, which I could not refuse baking. The yummy treat was the perfect end to a wonderful Monday night meal!

Yummy Chocolate Cupcakes