Thursday, January 24, 2013

Honey Ricotta Stuffed Figs (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

Inspiration can strike at any moment.

And when it does you have to be ready to just take it - and run.  


Because if you don't, you can miss out on baking things like Honey Ricotta Stuffed Figs.  

Actually, let me raise the stakes a little bit...

If you don't, you can miss out on creating things like Nat's Adventures In Baking.  

I don't really remember what inspired me to finally sit down and open a blogger account.

I've always loved to bake.  
Instead of waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons, I'd be making muffins and bothering my poor mother while she tried to get her well-deserved eight hours of sleep.

They weren't always good...or ever...for that matter, but I still loved it.  And to this day, I blame the recipe, not my ten-year-old lack of skills.

Flash forward to 2010.
I'm pretty sure it was Bestie who finally convinced me to do it. 

Chronicle my baking escapades?  Alright.  Why not?

What I wanted was "Adventures In Baking."  
But some over-excited blogger had already scooped up that name.
I say over-excited, because now their site is about...not baking...and goes by a different title.  Way to hog the goods there guys, thanks.

But that's besides the point, what's actually important is the fact that I ended up adding my nickname "Nat."

I had never once...until that moment...referred to myself as anything other than my legal name, Natalie.

Not Natty.
Or Noodles.
Or Nanny.

Or, the one that seems to follow me wherever I go...Nat. 

But for some reason, at that moment, when blogger asked me a most poignant question: 
"what. is. your. blog. name?" 
I added "Nat."

At first, it was just my way of saying "nah, nah. nah, nah, nah!" I still get my title!  But eventually, I realized that Nat's Adventures In Baking is a whole heck of a lot better than plain ol' boring Adventures In Baking

There is a real person behind this blog.  She likes to get flour and egg caked on her clothes, (Man, I should really wear an apron more often), complain about "other people's" mess ups, and spend hours adjusting the white balance and such in her photos.   

What better way to convey that, than to announce it from the rooftops?
Inspiration is a funny fellow.

If it wasn't, then I wouldn't have ended up at an organic creamery, in downtown Santa Cruz, downing a cone full of Fig and Ricotta ice cream, in the pouring rain.

Rain + Ice Cream.
Who does that?!  
It was the figs and ricotta.  They made me do it.  Beckoning me.  Luring me in with their siren song.

Although it was not there to cause me harm.

It was good.
Too good.
So good, that it led to this.

Dried figs, stuffed with honey-sweetened ricotta cheese, wrapped in honey-drizzled phyllo dough.

These are good too, but not as good as that ice cream.
So, like, when's summer?  Cause I have a two ingredient ice cream to make.  a.s.a.p. 
Honey Ricotta Stuffed Figs
  • 16 Dried Whole Figs
  • 1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
  • 2 Tbsp Honey (more or less to taste)
  • 1 Package Phyllo Dough (found in the freezer section)
  • 1/2 Stick of Butter, Melted

Makes 16 Servings (can easily be adjusted to fit your needs)
Preheat Oven to 325F
1) Unfortunately figs are out of season in January, or I might have tried fresh ones (yum!!) or at least
    have been able to pick up a better batch of dried ones.  I found these at a local produce store,
    although I have also seen some at Costco and Trader Joe's (packaged in a bag, rather than a disk).
    The whole point, though, is to have something big enough to cut open and stuff with cheese.
2) Phyllo dough is slightly temperamental, although not as difficult to work with as you may have read. 
    I came into this post knowing absolutely nothing about this stuff and I survived, so you can do it.  I'm 
    going to create a post just on this sometime in the future.  The basics of what you need to know are:  
    a) It's frozen, so it will need to be thawed overnight in the fridge,
    b) It dries out fast, so you need to have everything else ready to go before you start working with it, 
    c) You need to moisten the layers with butter so they don't crack and fall apart, 
    d) You can refreeze anything you don't use. 
3) Cheese stuffing. To be honest, I didn't really measure this out.  It was about 1 Cup of ricotta cheese 
    to 2 Tbsp of honey.  But you may need more or less depending on your taste preferences.  If you 
    start small, you can't mess up.  Just add more as needed.  Stir to combine and set aside.  
4) Fig Time! Arrange each fig so it is full size (in my package they were flattened to save space). 
5) You'll notice there are two ends: a "flat" and a "pointy." Take some kitchen scissors (normal,
    thoroughly washed, scissors work fine) and snip off just the tip of the pointy end. 
6) Now cut the fig down the center leaving the flat end intact.  In other words, don't cut all the way 
    through.  We want the fig to remain in one piece.
7) Adjust the fig so you can cut across the opposite center to create a sort of "X" shape (pictured bottom 
    right corner).  Repeat till all figs are prepared.
8) In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter.  The next step is the dough, so everything needs to be set 
    and ready.
9) Unwrap thawed out phyllo dough.  (FYI, it still needs to be chilled thaw and store in the fridge).  
    Grab 4 layers and wrap the rest back in the package.  You may need more, but since it dries out you
    can only work with one set at a time.  Depending on how large your sheets are, you'll want to cut
    them into approximately 4"x4" squares.  Size doesn't have to be precise, just a reference.  Once you
    do it a few times you'll see if they need to be bigger or smaller.  *Note: You will be working with the
    4 layers together on top of each other, so even though there are "layers" you'll technically only be
    cutting one piece/sheet.
10) Lift the top two layers off the square piece, and with a pastry/basting brush cover the remaining 
      layers in butter.  Place the top layers diagonally over the bottom half and brush these with butter as 
      well.  (The more butter, the more delicious.  I didn't use too much here though.  I kept it light).
11) With a teaspoon, spoon as much of the ricotta mixture into a fig as will fit.
12) Place fig on the prepared phyllo dough square.  
13) Pinch and lift edges of dough around the fig and apply pressure to the top to close. 
14) In a well greased mini-muffin pan (or a flat baking sheet) place figs one by one and the brush tops 
      with butter.  
15) After all of the figs have been stuffed and wrapped, drizzle tops with honey.  Again, here it's to 
      taste.  The more you use, the more sweet and moist (less crispy) the dough will be. 
16) Optional - dust the tops with a sprinkling of salt to help bring out the flavors.
17) If using a mini muffin tin, fill any empty slots with a small amount of water.  This helps the pan to 
      heat evenly.
18) Cover lightly with foil.  I did this so the tops wouldn't brown too quickly or burn in certain areas. 
19) Cook at 325F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  
20) Serve warm.  Leftovers can be stored in the fridge. 
What will inspiration think of next?


Well, how about a Facebook page?
Never miss a post again!  Plus, get extra "baking tidbits."
Like? Uh, yes please!!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Baking Basics: Measuring Liquids Vs. Solids

So today is the beginning of a new segment for me.

Let's see...

We've had:

Fails - Infamous mishaps.

Food Reviews - Witty wisdom (criticism?).

Face Offs - Overzealous endeavors.

Your standard post with (★ ★ ★ ★ ☆) - The goods.

And now, drum roll please......dddddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...

Baking Basics!!  - The brains.

Kind of spoiled the surprise with the title there, though, huh?
That's okay, because I'm pretty excited.

Now, this, in no way, means that I think I know everything there is to know about baking and therefore am the single-most-credible source for all of your baking needs. In fact, if you want pure credibility for "measuring liquids and solids" here you go: Food Service Warehouse.

But there are no pictures.

Sometimes I have to see something in order to do it.  To have something broken down step-by-by. At the very helps.

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am starting this segment.

For you.

Because you can bake too.

Maybe you already know how to properly measure flour, but you've never been able to successfully caramelize sugar (trust me, it took me FOR-E-VER.  Tons of sugars and two torches later, I think I'm getting the hang of it).

All of this stuff and more is going to get covered right here.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, we are both going to get a break from the overabundance of language normally present in my posts.

I have already compiled a lineup of things I would like to cover, but if you have any suggestions or questions feel free to send them my way via the comment section at the bottom of each post.

And so commences another N.A.I.B. Chapter.


How to Properly Measure Liquids and Solids

What you'll need:
  • Set of "dry" measuring cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/4 cup)
  • Set of "wet/dry" measure spoons (1 tbsp, 1/2 tbsp, 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp)
  • A "liquid" measuring cup (standard size measures up to 2 cups)
Tip: Because measuring often results in spills and messes, it is always prudent to measure over the sink,
       counter, etc.  Somewhere besides over the bowl you are using to mix ingredients.  Can't ever take
       back that Tbsp of Vanilla, that was supposed to be a tsp.

The Spoon and Level Method - Dry Ingredients (Large Amounts)

1) When measuring dry ingredients, especially "airy" ones, like flour and powdered sugar you want to 
     make sure not to pack them down.  This removes the air and disturbs the texture.  So you do not 
     want to just dig the cup into a bag and scoop up the amount you need. 

2) To properly measure, you want to scoop the ingredient spoonful, by spoonful, into the measuring

3) Keep piling the spoonfuls in, until a small mound begins to form over the top.  

4) With the flat edge of a knife, cut through the mound a few times to make sure that the entire cup is 
     full and there are no missing gaps. 

5) Then, with the same flat side of the knife, slide it across the mouth of the measuring cup.

6) Presto, chango you have properly measured your first dry ingredient.  Not too little, not too much, 
     just the perfect amount.  

The Spoon and Level Method - Dry Ingredients (Small Amounts)
1) The same concept applies here.  Albeit on a smaller scale.  We don't want to shove as much as we possibly can into the spoon.  We want to keep the texture of the ingredient.  If the ingredient is packed, i.e. baking soda/powder, scrape around to get enough loosened up before measuring. 

2)  Here because we can't "spoon" something into a spoon, we are just going to scoop up a heaping 

3) Tap the top of the spoon with the flat side of a knife.  Then slide across to create a level amount. 

4) Dry ingredient measuring? Done!  

Oh wait, there is one exception.  Brown Sugar.

The Brown Sugar Exception - Packing

1) Brown sugar is basically sugar with molasses, so I guess it's not really a 100% dry ingredient.  Hence 
    the measuring exception.  

2) Here you want to pack it all in.  Pat it down.  Stand on it.  Whatever you need to do.  Go ahead        
    and cram as much sugar as you can into that measuring cup or spoon.  

3) Stop adding when the sugar is level with the top. 

4) When you dump the sugar out, it should slide out in one firm clump.  The molasses makes it slightly 
     sticky, thus, it adheres to itself.  *Now there is even exceptions to exceptions.  This is the "general" 
     rule for brown sugar, however, there are recipes that specifically call for "unpacked" brown sugar.  
     In this case, you would measure the sugar the way you would any other dry ingredient, by spooning 
     and leveling. 

The Eye Level Method - Wet Ingredients (Large Amounts)

1) To measure liquids, you need a measuring cup specifically for liquids (pictured above).  Using the
    cups for dry ingredients will not produce the correct results.  This is for larger quantities.  Small
    quantities (i.e. tsp) can be measured in standard measuring spoons.

2) Basically, the correct measurement is the one you see at eye level.  Place the cup on a flat surface,
    bend down, and take the reading.  Add or subtract as needed.  (Picture above: At eye level, amount
    reads 1 Cup - correct)

3) Taking the reading from above or below eye level will give you an incorrect reading and you may be 
     adding too much or too little to your recipe.  (Picture above: Above eye level, that same amount is 
     reading as slightly more than 1 Cup - incorrect)

4) (Picture above - Below eye level, 1 Cup of water reads as slightly less - incorrect).

The Bulbous Method - Wet Ingredients (Small Amounts)

1) Unlike for larger measurements, measuring spoons can be used interchangeably between liquids and 

2) For small amounts, you want to measure until just before the "spilling point."  For fattier liquids there 
    might be a dome or "bulb" that remains intact just above the top of the spoon. 

3) For other liquids, trying keep this "bulb" of liquid will just result in spilling.  In either case, measure until at least level and add to the rest of your ingredients.  

And now you are an accomplished measurer!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chocolate Covered Bacon (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

Today's post is brought to you by some men.

Well it was inspired by some men's still brought to you by me.  

But you'll like it because it involves chocolate.

Oh, and bacon.

Yes, BACON!!
This Sunday, my house was graced with some carnivorous fellows.  

Not only did they hand-make the largest beef patties I have ever seen, but one ambitious male...*cough*, er, my Brother...decided that his should be composed of, what looked to me, to be a quarter pound of bacon.  

Now that's some raw, pure bacon love. 

I didn't want to bake this week.  Since Thanksgiving, I've been hard pressed to find an ounce on my body that actually craves sugar anymore.   It's the holidays, am I supposed to crave something before I shove my face full?  Oh, ya.  That's right.  Whooops.  

I thought these burgers were impressive enough to merit a post, so I just paparazzi'd these poor guys to my hearts content.  

...But that was before the smell of sizzling bacon began to waft through the house.

...and that still, small, ever present voice whispered to me - "chooocoolaaattteee." 

And it was cinched. 

Various stages of joy.  Devouring at it's finest.

Ladies and Gentlemen - The Half Pounder.  My Muse.  

I don't know what it is about bacon.

But it's amazing, isn't it?

What other breakfast food is worth mutilating your foot on a George Foreman grill for?

What other crispy delight can merit an entire comedy segment that rings so true it brings tears to your eyes?

And what other meat could possibly be smothered in chocolate?

Nary a one, I tell you!
Chocolate Covered Bacon

  • 1 Package (16 oz.) of Bacon
  • 1 - 2 Cups of Chocolate Chips
  • 1 - 2 Tbsp of Vegetable Oil
  • Optional Decorations (Sprinkles, White Chocolate, Sea Salt, Slivered Almonds)

Makes Approx. 15 pieces
Needed: A tall, microwave-proof cup
Needed: Parchment or Wax Paper
How to cook delicious bacon:
1) Preheat oven to 400F Degrees
2) Lay bacon side by side in roasting pan (or pan with edges).  The less they touch the better (they start
    to meld to one another), but just try your best.  As you can see, I started lining the sides.  The bacon
    will shrivel as it cooks so I moved them around when more space developed.
3) After 12 minutes, flip the pieces over with a fork or some tongs.  Continue baking in 3-5 minute
    increments until pieces are crisp and beginning to brown.  You may need to remove some sooner and
    cook others longer.
4) Place pieces on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.
How to dip bacon in chocolate:
1) Start with throughly cooled bacon.  In the tallest, skinniest, microwave-safe cup you can muster up, 
    microwave 1 - 2 cups of chocolate chips.  Start with 1 minute and increase in 30 second increments.  
    Stirring well between each heating.  
2) Add 1 Tbsp of Veggie Oil to melted chocolate chips.  This will help thin out the mixture.  If it is still  
     too thick you can add another Tbsp.  
3) Tilt the cup sideways and dip in bacon.  Flip over to cover both sides.  With your finger scrape off 
    the excess chocolate back into the cup and help fill in any spots that didn't get covered.
4) Place bacon strips on parchment paper to harden.  Sprinkle with decorations as desired, before 
    chocolate is fully set.  You can refrigerate to speed up the process.


I thought these were pretty good. The mixture of salty and sweet with an added crunch is actually not bad. And definitely worth trying especially since they are so easy to make and will cost you $3 a slice at any candy store.
It's for men, women, and children.  
The uniter of us all.