Daring Bakers: Orange Tian

This orange tian was not one of the prettiest desserts to ever come out of my kitchen, but it was one of the most refreshing and tastiest.

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I had not heard of an orange tian before.  I hadn’t heard of any kind of tian before, actually.  My lack of knowledge demanded a Google search.  A search of “tian” will give you some interesting results.  According to wiki, tian (Chinese: 天; literally “Sky or heaven, heavens; god, gods”) is one of the oldest Chinese terms for the cosmos and a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophy, and religion.

In the culinary world, however, tian is a French term “describing a type of cooking vessel used in the Alpes-Maritimes area of France. It is traditionally made from red clay and can be either glazed or unglazed. A modern tian can come lidded or not and sometimes has a looped handle on one side.

The vessel is used to cook a traditional braised vegetable stew also called tian. The unglazed vessels, filled with root and winter vegetables along with wine or rinds of cheese, were placed in the hot ashes of a fire and left to stew all day in gentle heat, somewhat like a Dutch oven.”  You can read more here on wiki.

In this case, a tian is a dish composed of layers of ingredients.  Many that I have found in my searches are vegetable tians and can be either hot or cold.

No vegetables or rinds of cheese are found this in this dish.  This tian is a layer of orange segments, whipped cream, and orange maramlade with a base of rich pate sablee.  The layers create not only a lovely presentation, but a great combination of flavors and textures.  It tasted incredible.

This challenge, not unlike other challenges, was not without its share of hiccups.

  1. I over baked the pate sablee resulting in a large cookie that cracked upon removal from the baking sheet.
  2. I am no pro when it comes to segmenting oranges, so there were a few stray pieces of membrane in there.  Check out this video on you tube for some tips.
  3. The whipped cream with the gelatin was super confusing, and I’m not sure if I did it right.  I think it should have set up more?  I just had to kind of go with it.  It turned out OK…I think.
  4. I used a sheet pan to form the tian that I was sure would fit in the freezer.  I was wrong.  So, I had to transfer the dessert to another pan by sliding the silpat from the big pan to a smaller one.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, both pans had lips and so in this moving process some of the juices escaped and my cookie got a few more cracks.  At least the cookie would end up at the bottom.

After that, I let the tian set for about an hour.  When I flipped it out onto a platter it was beautiful!  Not perfect, but not falling apart either.  So, while this orange tian was not a complete success, it was not a failure.


Twisted Root Burger Co.

OMG.  I never say that phrase (or type that phrase for that matter)…well, not until now anyway.  But the lunch I had at Twisted Root deserves it.  This place is incredible.

I visited my sister Sarah in Dallas last week since it was my spring break and her “weekend” is Thursday and Friday.  I had a great time.  Going to work on Monday was pretty much horrendous.  What happened to sleeping in?  Getting coffee and surfing the web at a coffee shop down the street?  Spending the morning shopping and then going to lunch and getting more than 25 minutes to enjoy it?  After lunch, why wasn’t I perusing design stores where everything was out of my price range?  Why am I not spending my evenings going to watch live music at a tiny bar in Greenville?  Alas, I must work to afford to do the fun things.  Such is life.

Twisted Root is in Deep Ellum and is probably a place you could pass up if you drove by.  At least at the time we were there.  It was 2pm on Friday afternoon and the street the restaurant is on was not exactly hoppin’.   Deep Ellum is an area near downtown in east Dallas.  Across the street from the restaurant was a tatoo place, a bar and a few other random shops.  Sarah had been there before and told me about how great it was, so we went there after a tiring morning of shopping.  Our original plan was to head to a vegan restaurant, but our hungry stomaches demanded MEAT!  So, we ate a big juicy buffalo burger complete with cheese and bacon.  There is nothing vegan about that!

It took us almost an hour to travel the 6 miles to the restaurant.  I hate traffic.  Amarillo has spoiled me.  15 minutes tops to anywhere.  The time we sat in stopped traffic on I-30 was totally worth the wait.  We were both famished so the food tasted especially delicious.  The house made pickles, juicy burger, curly fries and root beer float with house made root beer would have been good even on a full stomach though.

Here is the before and after of our meal.  We split the burger, an oder of fries and the float.  The perfect sized meal.  Full and happy…not full and uncomfortable.

We had one of the special burgers for the day: Applewood bacon with a spicy ranch mayo.  Sarah ordered the buffalo and added cheddar cheese.  It was crazy good.  The fries were my favorite kind…spiced curly fries.  I got some of their pickles to nibble on, and they were incredible.  The bread and butter ones were to die for.  I would special order them and eat only them for dinner if they would send them to me here in Amarillo.  Yum.

The root beer float was also incredible.  The Twsited Root root beer is available in their fountain drink machine, so you can just help yourself to as much of its goodness as you desire!  If you ever find yourself in Dallas, you should make the effort to go here.  You will not be sorry.  Here is Sarah, finishing off the last little bits of root beer float.  I’m fantasizing about it right now.  So.  Very.  Good.

Cherry, Almond and Coconut Bread

A fellow 6th grade math teacher gave me a bag of Amish friendship bread starter about a 6 weeks ago and I have been going strong giving away starter and baking bread every ten days since then.  The problem now is that I’m running out of friends to give it to!  Nothing like realizing you only have 12 friends to really boost the self esteem.  Sad day.  Anyone in Amarillo need some starter?  Let me know.  I will even drive it to your house.  There is one caveat, you have to then become my friend…

I’ve tried a few variations on the basic cinnamon bread.

  1. butterscotch pudding with toffee bits
  2. butterscotch pudding with toffee bits and vanilla chips
  3. vanilla pudding with pecans
  4. chocolate pudding with white chocolate chips

These cookies I made last week inspired my latest bread experiment.  Seeing as how I had dried cherries, almonds and coconut on hand it only seemed natural to give these ingredients a chance in the bread.  I made one loaf plain with vanilla pudding and cinnamon, and to the remaining batter I added the cherries, almonds and coconut; about a handful of each.  What am I doing?  No measuring?  I think I’m turning in to Rachel Ray!  Before you know it I am going to be writing EVOO in my posts and giving all my posts super cutesy names!  OK, OK.  I will not turn in to Rachel Ray.  I will tell you that the amounts were about 3/4 cup each.  Give or take…

If you have friendship bread starter, then just add 3/4 cup each cherries, sliced almonds and sweetened shredded coconut.  If you do NOT have starter, then you can try to make your own using the following recipe from allrecipes.com.  After you make the starter you can make the bread!  The recipe I have been using is at the bottom of this post.  One of the best parts about this bread is the cinnamon sugar coated pans.  It gives such a wonderful, crunchy exterior.  I used some Sugar in the Raw on top of my loaves and it was incredibly good.  Perfect crunchy sweetness.


Croque Monsieur Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese has become one of my favorite things to cook and something that I can count on Ben being happy about having for dinner almost 100% of the time.  I love that there are endless options when it comes to this dish.  You can go plain and simple with traditional elbow macaroni and cheddar cheese.  You can mix things up and add chicken or ham for a meaty version.  This one with chicken was great.  Vegetables are another great addition.  This green chile mac and cheese was incredible.  I would like to try a mac and cheese with cauliflower or broccoli sometime.

This recipe pays tribute to the amazing French ham and cheese sandwich of the same name.  I’ve made croque monsieurs and madames and they are both delicious sandwiches, so there was no possible way that this could be anything less than incredible!  It was more than incredible.  It was life altering and something I will definitely make again, but not regularly since gruyere cheese is not exactly cheap.  I think it was something like $13.99 per pound at my grocery store, but can apparently set you back even more if you order it from this artisanal cheese site.  Yikes.  You could use Swiss cheese and it would be just as good.


Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake

This recipe came to me through my magical Google reader.  I love this thing.  I don’t have to go from blog to blog looking for new posts.  The new posts come to me!  That is how life should be, right?  You want it…it arrives.  If only everything in life was like this…or would that be too boring?  Always getting what you wanted when you wanted it?  Another topic for another time…

Almost all of the posts I read are foodie blogs.  I have a few news feeds from Amarillo and Austin as well as a few design blogs including my sister-in-law’s blog Grey is Pink which has some design, some fashion and some life stories.  I have to sift through lots of recipes every day as many bloggers post at least once a day.  I must admit this, the pictures are what hook me.  If there is a tasty looking photo to accompany a tasty sounding recipe, I am in.  This is how I happened upon this recipe for carrot cake.

King Arthur Flour has a ton of yummy sounding recipes.  Their blog, Baker’s Banter, tests some of those recipes and gives an honest opinion of their success and also includes step-by-step photos to accompany the recipe.  So, I won’t make you look at my step-by-step photos since the one’s on Baker’s Banter are pretty thorough.  I will just show you this one photo of my completed cake since many of the ones I took did not turn out that great.  This cake is full of so many yummy ingredients that I could barely control my pure and utter happiness!  Carrots, pecans, coconut and pineapple.  Yum.  The cream cheese icing isn’t too sweet, but sweet enough to pair perfectly with the mild sweetness of the cake.  You will not be disappointed if you enjoy a carrot cake like this…packed with all kinds of goodness and topped with creamy frosting.

Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake

Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Cake Ingredients
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 3 ½  cups finely grated carrots
  • 1 cup diced pecans or walnuts, toasted if desired
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (preferred) or sweetened coconut
  • 1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained and squeezed dry
Frosting Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons milk, or enough to make frosting spreadable
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan.
  2. Beat the eggs, sugars, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl till smooth, about 2 minutes at medium-high speed.
  3. Mix the melted butter with the oil. With the beater running, add the oil mixture in a stream, beating till smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, leaveners, salt, and spices. Add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring to make a smooth batter.
  5. Stir in the carrots, nuts, coconut, and pineapple.
  6. Spoon the batter into the pan, spreading it to the edges.
  7. Bake the cake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven, and cool right in the pan.
  9. When it’s completely cool, make the frosting.
  10. Combine the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt in a medium-sized bowl, and beat together until light and fluffy.
  11. Add the sugar gradually, beating well.
  12. Add the milk a little at a time, until the frosting is a spreadable consistency.
  13. Spread frosting over the cake. Garnish with minced crystallized ginger, if desired.

Yield: 9″ x 13″ sheet cake, about 24 servings.

Cherry, Almond & Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

When Ben ate one of these he practically fell over, overtaken by deliciousness.  The tart cherries, sweet coconut, crunchy almonds and oats make this an incredible cookie.  I have nothing else to say.  Enjoy.

Cherry, Almond & Coconut Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup blanched, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, shortening, brown sugar, and white sugar until fluffy.
  3. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.
  4. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon; stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in oats, almonds, coconut and cherries until just blended.
  5. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets, about 6 to a sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes rotating half-way through. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Pistachio and Almond Baklava

Happy National Pistachio Day!  Ok, so I missed it by about 11 days but better late than never.  In belated honor of this wonderful holiday I made this baklava Sunday night to accompany a Greek meal I made with my mother and sister-in-law who came to visit along with Ben’s Grandma Betty.  Having company is wonderful, and having lovely company is even better.

Baklava is an impressive looking dessert.  It’s crisp sweet layers of dough encasing crunchy, salty nuts all enrobed in a honey syrup is simply irresistible.  The best part is that baklava is not as hard as it seems.  The phyllo dough isn’t hard to work with as long as you keep it covered with a moist towel in between removing sheets for layering.

You can use any combination of nuts in the baklava.  Pistachios seem to be traditional, but I have seen recipes that use all kinds of nuts.  I like the combination of pistachios and almonds here.  The amount of butter you use may seem like a lot, but you need it to get all the layers to stick together properly.  Give in.  Use the butter, and love the butter.  You know you want to.

Pistachio and Almond Baklava

Adapted from allrecipes.com

  • 1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
  • 8 ounces chopped roasted almonds
  • 6 ounces chopped roasted pistachios
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon and cardamom. Set aside.
  3. Unroll phyllo dough.  Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work.
  4. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of nut mixture on top.
  5. Top with two sheets of dough, brush with butter, then layer with nuts after you have 6 layers of phyllo. The top layer should be about 6 – 8 sheets deep.
  6. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
  8. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  9. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool.

Cheryl’s Chicken Fried Steak

This was not restaurant style chicken fried steak with the thick, crunchy exterior and white cream gravy.  This chicken fried steak had a thinner crust and the gravy was not the thick white kind with specks of peppercorns that I am used to.  The gravy I made has a thinner consistency and a darker caramel color with specks of thyme.  So, this is not exactly what you get when you order chicken fried steak at Lone Star Cafe like I remember getting as a kid.  I remember it looking something like this.I always ordered the kids meal version, or a half order, but it always came out looking huge and daunting.  Somehow I managed to scarf down every bit along with the buttery Texas toast which I used to sop up the extra gravy.  Oh man.  Those were good times.

This chicken fried steak is a bit different.  It is homemade.  It is comforting.  And it is delicious. I got the recipe from a woman I met here in Amarillo.  She grew up here and remembers having this at least once a week if not more often when she was a kid.

This is beef country, people.  A great deal of the economy depends on it.  I wake up on many mornings and can smell the feed lots when I let the dog out.  My grandpa Marvin appropriately calls it the “money smell”.  Texans love their beef, but Amarillo-ans LOVE their beef.  This may be a stereotype, but it’s a stereotype that is true and in no way negative.  Beef is good, and so is chicken fried steak.

The gravy recipe is not all hers, she admits.  She once watched an Alton Brown show where he added fresh thyme to the gravy.  Intrigued, she used it the next time she made her gravy and hasn’t gone back since.  You can’t help but love Alton Brown.  He stays true to what a dish originally was and only adds to it if it really and truly makes it better.  You wouldn’t catch him adding something weird like lavender to a chicken fried steak gravy, but I am sure some ridiculous chef out there has.

Cheryl wasn’t very specific in her measurements, but I think it all turned out OK.  I am a big fan of recipe following, so the term “some flour” kinda freaks me out.  But really when you think about it, the ingredients in chicken fried steak are simple and do not require a lot of measuring.  If it sticks to the steak, then that’s how much you need.  If there are naked spots, then you need more.  Pretty easy.

I served this with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans.  A few slices of buttered Texas toast would have been a good idea, but I was not quite on top of things enough to get Texas toast when I was at the grocery store.

Here is Cheryl’s recipe for the steaks and Alton Brown’s Gravy.

Cheryl’s Chicken Fried Steak
  • 4 pieces of tenderized round steak, pounded thin
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2-3 eggs, beaten
  • vegetable oil
  1. Whisk the flour, salt and pepper in a large, wide dish.
  2. Whisk the eggs in a seperate large wide dish.
  3. Dredge steaks in flour, then eggs, then flour once more.
  4. Let the steaks sit for a few minutes while you heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet over medium high heat.
  5. Cook steaks in oil for about 5 minutes, flip and cook for about 3 minutes more.  Transfer to a plate and keep warm in a 200° oven while you cook the remaining steaks.
Alton’s Creamy Gravy
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. After cooking the steaks, heat the remaining cooking oil and tasty bits left over medium heat.
  2. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the flour left over from the dredging.
  3. Add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan.
  4. Whisk until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken.
  5. Add the milk and thyme and whisk until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. S
  6. eason to taste, with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve the gravy over the steaks.

Chocoflan Cake

My mom sent this recipe to me.  I discovered in talking with her today that the reason she sent it to me is because she was too scared to try it out herself.  I have become the recipe guinea pig, and I am totally OK with that.

There’s always a little bit of uncertainty when trying a new recipe and it helps to know that someone else has tried it with good results.  It really helps to know that someone you know and trust has tried it.  I am often skeptical of some online reviews because I don’t know if the people writing the reviews are clueless in the kitchen and totally botched a perfectly good recipe, OR if the person likes anything they eat because they lack good taste and taste buds.  So, send me your iffy recipes and I will try them and give you my honest opinion…if that means anything.

This cake is half chocolate cake and half flan.  Well, more like 60% chocolate cake and 40% flan.  Regardless, chocolate cake + flan = crazy delicious.  A bundt pan is filled with a thin layer of cajeta, topped with a chocolate cake batter and finished off with a flan type mixture that makes it way down to the bottom of the pan during the baking process.  This creates the layer of creamy flan on top of the cake which when inverted is topped with the sweet and decadent cajeta.

I topped the finished cake with toasted pecans.  It could be served with some sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  This cake was a hit at the small group we had at our house last night.  It was such a hit that we had a mere slice left over. (more…)