Sunday, February 28, 2010

well, i've joined the daring bakers: tiramisu from scratch.

because it pushes me to try stuff i'd never consider in different circumstances. i tend to stay in my comfort zone, make a little cake, maybe a tart sometime, but nothing very elaborate and the daring bakers' challenges are nothing but. this is the first challenge, and it was done for the same party as the dobos torte and a bunch of other dishes. i have one pic of the finished dessert and it's post-party slop, but seeing as you get removed if you don't post the challenges... better a sloppy one than none at all.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

now this is supposed to be a classic tiramisu, with all the components done from scratch. you see what i mean - when would i ever make mascarpone at home?! i wouldn't, i would just sit here and complain it's gotten pricey, and it's so easy to make! and i've always purchased ladyfingers, but i don't think i will again... the homemade, which haven't been sitting on some shelf for decades, are much superior. nothing out of the ordinary with pastry cream and chantilly. this recipe also calls for a marsala zabaglione. now zabaglione - or sabayon - of any kind is simply not one of my faves, but mixed in with the rest i have to say you couldn't really identify it. i didn't want to change anything, i've followed the recipe to the letter, and while it was fine and all my guests seemed to enjoy it, i felt it was a bit lackluster. maybe my espresso wasn't strong enough. it didn't boost me. i would have liked a stronger flavor. i also thought the proportions a little odd, there's very little mascarpone in there... anyhoo, here are the some pictures. i forget: if you want to check out the recipe, please go here, it's really a lot of talk and it feels silly to transcribe it.

perhaps it's all just a matter of personal taste... i just don't like tiramisu especially, i would never order it in a restaurant and for that reason i doubt i'll make it again. but this challenge was great. i loved making the savoiardi. a lot of desserts i truly love have ladyfingers as components and i'm sure now i'll be able to improve them. the cheese making was not without its troubles, as the first time i bought cream i neglected to check it wasn't ultra-pasteurized... but very rewarding when i got it right. all in all, a good experience for me. can't wait to see what's next.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

orange vanilla mini brioches

to say i'm not a morning person: the understatement of the week. even after a good night's sleep, first thing in the morning i look like i'm suffering from a collossal hangover, and i feel like a bear too soon awakened from its hibernation. each morning i do a very realistic zombie impersonation nearly crawling from bed to the coffeepot. takes two cups for me to become human. moreover: nothing good ever happened to me on a morning. seriously, ever. all my jump-for-joy stuff occured mid-afternoon, or in the evening. that said, the early morning coffee cup has a completely different allure when paired with these brioches. a robust orange flavored dough, filled with lemon curd or nutella. or homemade strawberry jam. so long, briocheless mornings. i'll remember you all in therapy.

i saw these on fimere's blog, and i had to make them right away. hers turned out much prettier, but with two toddlers undefoot i'd say mine aren't all that bad either. zhara's best friend, genevieve was over here on a playdate and i only had so much time before sesame street was not the greatest thing ever. 
fimere made this orange curd that sounded lovely to me. what's more: you make it in the microwave, in 3 minutes. but my microwave decided to act up, and i got very unappetizing orange omelet, which joined raw eggs and beer from milwaukee on the list of foods not to be consumed. (just kidding: got nothin' against raw eggs.) this was happening late last night, and after that episode i called it in. put the dough in the fridge and went to bed.

which made things great in the morning when all i had to do was fill and bake.
for the dough:
3 3/4 cups/500 gr all purpose flour
1 1/2 ts salt
2 ts dry active yeast
3 tb sugar + 1 ts for the yeast/ 50 gr
zest of one orange, finely grated
1 egg
1/2 cup/120 ml orange juice
7/8 cup/ 1 cup minus 2 tb/ 200 ml heavy cream
vanilla bean, optional

first bring everything to room temp. if you forget to take it out in advance, put the egg in some warm water and leave it a few minutes. the juice you can warm a few seconds in the microwave. steep the cream and infuse with the split, scraped bean. let cool to 115F and dissolve the yeast and 1 ts sugar in it. place flour, salt, sugar and zest in the food processor and pulse once or twice to combine. add the juice and the beaten egg and pulse a few more times. with the processor running slowly stream in the cream. add a tb or two of milk if it's stiff. run it 15 seconds more to knead, then turn it into an oiled bowl, oil the top, cover and set in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. (or you can put it in the fridge overnight.)

 preheat oven to 390F. split the dough in half. roll a rectangular 1/4 inch thick sheet. then cut inch wide strips lenghtwise. crosswise cut 2 inch pieces to form rectangles. spread nutella, jam or lemon curd on them and stack three or four on top of each other. fold each stack in half and place in buttered muffin tin. let rise another half hour. brush with egg wash if desired. bake for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned on top.
they taste wonderful, i suspect even plain they would be a great treat, though i'd probably use an extra tb of sugar, and more orange zest. i loved the ones filled with nutella, there's just something about orange and chocolate - and so did zhara. the ones with the lemon curd could have used a bit more of it... i was afraid they'd be too sweet so i smeared it sparingly. the strawberry jam was great cause it had a lot of almost-whole fruit, it went great with the orange flavor. definetely a treat that makes the shortlist. merci fimere!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

monkey bread

i saw this over at smitten kitchen. i have instantly fallen somersaulted in love with it. i had never heard of monkey bread before. i looked at the pictures and i felt like a kid who found proof santa is real after all. i simply can't understand how this is not something everybody knows about. [insert choice profanity here.] i think we shouldn't be allowed to graduate from childhood without having had a taste of this.

it's the perfect lazy sunday project. the dough needs to rise twice. we had a grand production tea during the first, me drinking my ubiquitous coffee, zhara her juice, and all her dolls were treated to crakers and dried apricots. when it was time to roll the monkey bread, i set up a playdough station for her so she could work, too. she loved that i kept saying monkey bread and demonstrated very noisily what it'd be like if we had an actual monkey in the kitchen.
as it always seems to happen with me, i started gathering my stuff and realized i didn't have enough all-purpose flour. i also didn't have any desire to change my fluffy fleece for freezing sleet, so i replaced half with whole wheat pastry flour. i only had dark brown sugar, and altough the original recipe advised against it, i decided to take my chances. finally, deb did a cream cheese glaze, but we ate the last of our cheese for breakfast, so i had to improvise and did a simple melted chocolate glaze instead. the rest of the recipe is unchanged.

4 tb/56 gr unsalted butter, 2 tb softened, 2 tb melted
1 cup/250 ml milk, warm
1/3 cup/90 ml water, warm
1/4 cup/55 gr granulated sugar
1 pk/ 2 1/4 ts dry yeast
3 1/4 cups/435 gr all-purpose flour,
2 ts/10 gr salt

for the brown sugar:
1 cup light brown sugar, or dark, it will be equally good
2 ts cinnamon
8 tb unsalted butter, melted

heat oven to 200F/100C. when it's warmed turn it off.
mix flour with salt in the food processor. in a separate bowl, mix milk, water, 2 tb melted butter, sugar and yeast. with the motor running slowly stream in over the flour. if it's too wet sprinkle some 2 tb additional flour, until the dough comes together into a ball, cleaning the sides of the robot. knead 15 seconds then turn into oiled bowl, cover with an oiled wrap and place in the warm oven to rise, about one hour, until doubled in size.
coat a bundt pan with the 2 tb softened butter. set aside. mix brown sugar with cinnamon. melt 8 tb of butter. now flip the dough onto a lightly floured counter and pat into 8 inch square. cut in 64 equal pieces, separating them as soon as they're cut. they'll morph back into a square if you don't. roll each piece to make it round. put each ball through melted butter, then sugar, then place it in the buttered pan. be sure to stagger the balls at the seams where they meet. cover tightly with wrap and put it back in the oven for another 50 to 70 minutes until puffy.

take the pan out and preheat the oven to 350F/177C. bake until the top is deep brown, 30 to 35 minutes. cool in the pan for a couple minutes and invert to a plate - any more and you'll have trouble getting it out. allow to cool for another 10 minutes, then glaze with whatever strikes your fancy. cream cheese is probably a good pairing and i might've tried it had i any cheese... even my chocolate supply was kinda low, so i combined 3 parts butterscotch chips + 1 part white chocolate chips + 1 part bittersweet 70% chocolate. melted those with a glug of milk and poured it all over. i should've probably thought ahead and put it on a rack, but i was already late and it didn't seem like such a big deal that some of it pooled in the inner circle. i ended up piling all of that on the last few pieces. i liked it very much, and i thought the whole wheat imparted a wonderfully subtle nutty background to it. the caramelized exterior would've been enough to convince me, glazed or not. to say it was good would be to trivialize things. so i'm not going to.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

smoked white bean soup

lately i've come to rely more and more on the food blogs i read for new ideas and recipes. it used to be my cookbooks reigned supreme. and the occasional cooking shows. but now i have a whole list of favourites and i really trust them to feature tested, tasty recipes. what sends my bloodpressure skyrocketing like nothing else is bloggers who have categories titled 'easy' or 'quick' or both and then include recipes with ingredients that require six hours prep time. even if the final assembly is quick, if it takes you a day to get there, it shouldn't get billed as easy. and dear god, people: nothing with 'confit' in the title is ever going to be quick. [feels good to have gotten that off my chest. pffffuh.]

this soup is easy. like most soups are. in the interest of full disclosure, it may take up to three hours, depending on the beans you use. there. easy. not quick. mighty tasty. so tasty in fact, that the resident princess ate that entire bowl in 5 minutes flat. sans the meat, of course. don't push it, now.

get two smoked pork hocks. wash them in cold water and set them to boil with a bayleaf, a whole peeled onion, a few peppercorns, the stringy part of the celery stalks you'll use in the finished soup, and a parsley root. simmer until the meat is tender and easy to pull apart. strain the broth and discard everything but the hocks. while the stock is simmering boil the beans in a separate pot, or use canned beans and eliminate this step. i've used both and i wish i could stand here and say that the ones you boil are infinitely superior, but they're not. the only difference is, the canned ones have a lot of sodium, so adjust seasoning accordingly. (be sure to give them a rinse before using, you don't want the can juices in the soup.)
in the meantime, chop 3-4 stalks celery, 2-3 carrots, and 1 green bell pepper. when the hocks are cool enough to handle pull the meat from the bone and cube it. add meat and veggies to the strained broth, with the beans and a handful of pasta. pick something small shaped. when they're almost cooked add 6 to 8 oz tomato sauce or juice. sprinkle in some chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice (or a bit of vinegar). correct seasoning and you're done. serve it with sour cream. we like to have onion on the side with this, julienned and then 'kneaded' with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

citrus savarins

i always imagined making savarins required twirling magic wands and whispering incantations. as it turns out, you only need a few very ordinary ingredients and lots of syrup. both my husband and i haven't eaten one since we were kids. i have vivid memories of my nose pressed against the showcase at pastry shops, trying to decide, or rather how to convince my mom to get them and the amandines. this was well before the i-hate-whipping-cream-phase. yes, i had one of those. no, i'm not wondering where my daughter gets it. fortunately i'm back to wholeheartedly loving whipped cream, plus the way my husband perked up at the mere mention of this dessert plus the fact you just can't find them anymore, equals this.

i did some research for the recipe. gale gand's results in a dough solid enough to turn on the counter, and i specifically remembered it thin enough to pour. in the end i combined three to get precisely what i wanted. gale gand's, this one and this one.

1 3/4 cups bread flour
1 tb dry yeast
1 cup milk, warm
1 egg, room temp
2 tb butter, softened
1 heaping tb sugar

sift the flour with a pinch of salt. dissolve the yeast and a ts of sugar in the milk. add the beaten egg, butter, remaining sugar to the flour and mix. stream in the milk, mixing all the while. pour immediately into brioche or muffin tins. fill them half way and place in a warm spot to rise for 45 minutes. do not let rise a minute more or they will be though and crumbly and no amount of syrup will make up for the damage. 30 minutes in set your oven to 400F. bake 15-18 minutes, until nicely browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

while they bake prepare the syrup:
2/3 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 lemon rind strips
1 tb grand marnier
boil water, sugar and lemon until sugar is dissolved and the syrup is golden. take it off the heat and add the grand marnier, or cointreau or limoncello, whatever you have. let cool.
for the whipped cream, beat 1 cup heavy cream until stiff. mix in 2 heaping tb lemon curd. which you can make yourself or you can shell 3 bucks for trader joe's, which is quite decent and keeps in the fridge longer than i've ever needed it to.

when everything is cool, get a large shallow dish. cut the third top off the savarins. put each bottom through the syrup and lay it in the dish. if they absorb it right away, spoon a bit more syrup before topping with whipped cream. do the same for the tops. use all the syrup. if you have even a bit left pour it the dish. go all the way or go home. they will suck it up, don't worry. gale says to let it sit overnight but i don't find that necessary. a good couple hours is enough, just to get them cold all the way through.
traditionally they're topped with a dab of red fruit jelly. or maraschino cherries. i was planning on a bit of mint jelly, but of course when i opened the jar i discovered it had gone bad, so my only alternative was strawberry jam. oh well.
they're very good, although not precisely the same as those devoured when we were kids, a thousand years ago. those had plain whipped cream and rum extract instead of grand marnier, but i was in a lemon mood and these really hit home. i firmly believe: when something tastes this light and airy and citrusy the calories simply don't count. (and if you wolf one down in the middle of the night with your head in the fridge that definetely doesn't count.)

lemon garlic chicken

on this chicken i used my favourite flavours. i use them whenever i crave comfort food. lemon, garlic, bacon. i often have urges to eat them raw, but fortunately these urges never coincide with me being drunk enough to act on them. i imagine it'd be a terrible combination, in the raw version, no? but how wonderful it turns when baked, especially when you add a good glug of white wine.

preheat oven to 375F. wash the chicken and pat it dry. in a shallow baking dish combine two tb olive oil with the juice of half lemon. toss the chicken so it's coated on all sides. season with salt, pepper, paprika and herbs de provence, laying it presentation side down. scatter a few garlic cloves between the chicken pieces. chop some bacon and throw that in, too. cut the lemon you juiced in half and fit it in between. gently pour dry white wine against the side of the dish so you won't wash away the seasoning. bake until it's nicely browned, then turn it so the other side can get its turn. all in all, about 35-40 minutes, less if boneless. the juices will reduce in the most wonderful sauce.

typically i'd make mashed potatoes to fully showcase it. i'd make some ridges on top so the sauce can puddle on top and you can have some with each bite. sometimes i simply spoon it over, but on occasion i'll strain it, add some chicken stock and thicken it with some cornstarch. but that is moot cause the boss doesn't do potatoes, hence the mac and cheese. i had to mop the sauce with the homemade roasted garlic bread. poor me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

garlicky, lemony zucchini white pizza

i know, enough with the zucchini already, right? the thing is, i cook to order. the order of my bratty princess, who's realized all she has to do is ask, and food will just materialize on her plate. last night i had planned to feed her some leftover asparagus risotto. she loves it, except last night she just wouldn't take even a bite of it. so i started to name alternatives, which she shot down one by one. exasperated, i asked, what will you eat?!!! and she told me: pizza.
luckily i had picked up some dough at trader joe's. i was out of canned tomatoes so a red  sauce was out of the equation, but i had some leftover garlic alfredo, just enough to schmear it all over. i grated the zucchini, seasoned it and tossed it with the juice of half a lemon and some olive oil. then i put one gigantic garlic clove through the press and mixed that in. let it sit while i chopped some bacon and crumbled some feta. slapped everything on and baked it 20 minutes at 400F.

zhara ate three bites. i had plumes of smoke coming out of my ears by this point. she had a banana and went to bed. i had a slice. and my husband had the rest of it. in his defense, it was a skinny crust. why, it was almost flatbread.

apple puff roses

i spotted this idea on miha's wonderful blog with beautiful desserts.

fans of the quick and easy, rejoice. this recipe was created just for us! i love a dessert that's easy and fast to prepare but allows a beautiful presentation. your child will look at you and in her eyes you'll see you're all wrapped up in a golden glow and really you're some kind of super mom, because this is a perfect dessert to make with a child, even an antsy two year old. once you slice the apples there's no more knifes involved. no mixers, no double boilers. zhara had so much fun sprinkling sugar and pressing it in the dough! i brought a chair to the counter for her, gave her plastic cutlery and her own apple, and while i sliced she did too. tzopp! tzopp! (or however i should transliterate the sound she makes when she says chop.) the sugar was the best part. me the control freak found it very difficult to just let her have fun but me the glowy supermom couldn't care less about the sugar contaminating every square inch of my kitchen. we really did make a mess, but we had a significant bonding moment and i wouldn't trade for anything. she is now very interested in cooking and her play kitchen and plastic veggies have been showered with renewed attention ever since.
so all you need is a sheet of puff pastry, two apples, some sugar and a bit of cinnamon. now i made this both with peeled and unpeeled apples. i found that if you leave the peel on it just creates a weird texture, because the peel is tougher and it was pretty much like having a piece of string in your puff. so i'll take the time to peel them. core and thinly slice them. blanch the slices in boiling water in which you've dissolved a bit of sugar and lemon juice, just to soften them and remove to a paper towel to dry.
preheat oven to 400F. add 1 tb cinnamon to 3 to 5 tb sugar and mix well. sprinkle this mixture all over the puff pastry. i like to sugar both sides. press gently to make it adhere. take a pastry cutter or a pizza wheel and cut inch wide strips. place apple slices slightly overlapping them all long the strip then roll it up and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. reach under and gently push up while holding the base in place to create some height. secure with a toothpick if you think they might unfold.

bake for about 15 minutes until they're nicely puffed and golden brown. allow to cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.
i like using granny smith for this. a tart apple works best because then you have a bit of contrast with the sweet pastry. also, next time i'll use blond caster sugar. granulated sugar did not caramelize completely, there were still half-melted granules here and there, which is not a bad thing, but it makes me wonder if it can be improved. i find they are perfect on their own. the fist time i made them i did the powdered sugar on top and served them with warm caramel sauce but it was all so unnecessary.
when we had to go to the pediatrician's on a sunday i took some of these along. the nurse, who is very competent and generally nice -except for her tendency to ma'am people without cause- gave me the warmest smile ever. and she called me by name the next time we were in.

ps: you can't tell, but they have a wonderful color. that second picture has a greyish tinge because it gets dark at five. because it's still winter. because spring is nowhere to be seen in the near future. what's cabin fever?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

roasted garlic bread

there's this bakery i stop by every now and then. it's nothing special, but they have a good cherry turnover and an amazing roasted garlic bread. i love this bread, it has a good crust and the inside is nice and chewy and dotted with whole, sweet roasted garlic cloves. only trouble is they make those loaves so damn small, i always feel like such a pig. and i can't buy more than one cause then it's like admitting up-front that one loaf is not enough bread for me. so yesterday, as i was pondering all this waiting for the cashier (though of a certain age, seemed to care very little about the little time she has left: took her foooorever to ring up my two items) and as the price came up on the screen, i felt the weightlessness of it. it, the paper my first crush stuck to my back in 5th grade, that said 'stoopid'. seriously, his name is romeo, and we did that whole thing where i shared my lunch and he pulled my pig tails but then he stuck this paper on my back and i was over him like that. [snaps fingers loudly] only this time, perhaps it was plastered to my forehead. that tiny loaf, have i mentioned the ridiculous price?! geez, i have all the ingredients in my cupboard. i really don't know what i was waiting for.

high on a chery turnover sugar rush i come home to research recipes. all the results were for garlic bread, meaning slices smeared with various garlicky spreads and baked. garlic sticks. i had no time to riffle through cook books. so i threw caution to the wind and tinkered with an existing cheese bread recipe i have. there's a certain texture i was looking for, this bread  is not spongy at all. i don't even like those breads you could compact into a tennis ball if you squeezed a little. i like hearty, crusty, consistent and this is all those things.

you can proceed with or without the cheese, but if you want it in be sure to get extra sharp aged cheddar. this time i used a mix of parmesan and this australian cheese i found at whole foods called fleur du nord which to me tastes a great deal like gruyere. does not work as good as sharp cheddar. and, for the love of good bread everywhere: if you don't have fresh rosemary just leave it out. i figured, eh, so what, i'll just use dry -despite my very bad track record of 'figuring' things on an empty stomach. i'll also try it with some whole wheat next time if i'm feeling extra adventurous.

so, preheat the oven to 400F. cut the tops of two whole heads of garlic, douse it with olive oil, wrap it in foil and roast for about 25 minutes. you want it good and tender, but still firm enough to gently squeeze out the entire clove. let cool.

for the dough:
4 1/3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 ts sea salt
1/2 cup warm water
1 ts caster sugar
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups warm milk (fat free works)
1/2 pack fresh yeast or 1 pack dry
4 oz extra sharp cheddar, about 1 cup, lightly packed
3 tb unsalted butter
1 tb chopped rosemary, optional

in a 2 cup liquid measure dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. let it sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
shred the cheese in your processor. attach dough blade, add flour, salt and the butter cut in small pieces and pulse to combine. pour 1 cup milk over the yeast. with the thing running slowly stream in the yeast mixture as the flour absorbs it. use the additional quantity as needed, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. process another 45 seconds to knead. you'll have a smooth, firm dough that doesn't stick. put it in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour, 1 1/2, until double in size. (it may be triple. it's all good.)

when it's ready flaten it with your hands into a rectangle. take the first garlic head and squeeze violently. seriously. you want a paste to spread evenly all over the dough. if you manage to get intact cloves out, smush them. yeah, that's a culinary term. be very gentle with the second. these you want whole. dot the surface with cloves and then sprinkle rosemary. fresh rosemary. fresh. roll up the dough like a jelly roll and pinch the ends and the seam to seal. place in greased loaf pan, cover with oiled wrap and let rise another 45 minutes.
preheat oven to 375F at least 15 minutes prior. bake about 35 to 40 minutes, until loaf sonds hollow when tapped. cool on wire rack.

i made two smaller loaves. because i love bread fresh from the oven. i intended to freeze one, already baked and then you warm it up, from frozen. not a bad deal at all. but the first one was devoured so quickly, there was no point to it anymore. zhara loved it. mostly because she kept poking the garlic pocket in her slice and squealing, squishy! squishy! which is a favourite texture and word these days.
it's great for sandwiches and goes really well with soup. i'll be making this again and again. the curse of the stoopid has lifted. i think.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

lemon pistachio sugar cookies

i'm not much for this valentine's day thing. perhaps it's because i did not grow up with it. even more likely, it's because i'm just not the kind of girl who cares about hearts and candles and whatever. i don't have a romantic bone in my body and i don't feel fundamentally impaired because of it. i don't even remember when i started dating my husband. (how could i know he was my husband?!) we just know it was the beginning of the year; he has some recollection of a super bowl at a friend's house - which of course is just a big blank for me, and frankly we only remember the day we got married because it's also his birthday. i'm terrible with dates and keeping track of time in general. my husband doesn't mind. and he knows he'll stir up a lot more excitement with a book than a bunch of roses. recently he gave me a kindle: now that was a blue-ribbon day! valentine's day is so low on the list of exciting things it barely generates a 'huh? what's that?'. however: i'm not about to pass a legitimate occasion of baking various cookies, especially now that we have so much fun decorating them. zhara insisted on the blue icing, which is incidentally kinda appropiate, since my hubby is away and so even if i wanted i couldn't celebrate zip. these are humble sugar cookies, perked up with some pistachio paste and lemon zest. low-key or not, they still deserve a decent pic, and i tried, but this kept happening so i gave up:

here's what:
1 cup/110 gr all purpose flour
1 cup/110 gr whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 ts salt
1/2 cup pistachio paste
6 oz/170gr butter, softened
1/3 cup/75 gr sugar
zest of one lemon, about 1 tb
1/2 ts vanilla extract
1 egg

mix flours with salt and set aside. cream the butter with the pistachio paste and sugar until fluffy, then add the egg, vanilla and zest. stir in the flour, mixing until just incorporated. form into a disk, wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
preheat the oven to 400F/220C. lightly sprinkle the work surface with powdered sugar. roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick and cut out your shapes. alternately drop by tablespoons. bake for about 12 minutes. the dough will be set and kinda golden, but not browned. remove immediately to wire rack to cool. i left them on it overnight as it was late, and in the morning they were crispy on the outside, and chewy inside, just the way we like them. keep airtight for a week.
p.s. i expect next time i'll use a bit of lemon extract, too and possibly more zest. the flavour was quite subtle and we like the lemon punch.

another potato soup

i think it's fair to say about 80% of my daughter's veggie intake comes about by way of soup. if she won't eat anything, she'll still go for soup 9 times out of 10. worst case scenario, i'll strain the broth into a sippy cup, she'll drink it and it's still something. i did that routinely when she was teething and flat-out refused to eat anything.
this soup is a compromise between stuff she likes and stuff i want. i don't want to cook separate dishes for us. in the other hand, she only likes pasta, rice and a couple of veggies. i love potatoes, while she starts wailing if i even offer them. but: she doesn't mind the taste of potato. weird, right? it suits me though, cause i can make a soup that'll make both of us happy.

this is more about the method than it is about a list of ingredients. i always use whatever i have on hand. brown your protein -smoked butt/bacon/kabanos/kielbasa - then add chopped onion. when it's glossy add chopped carrots and bell peppers. add your potatoes and let them boil gently for 15 minutes. add a handful of pasta. when both the pasta and the potatoes are almost ready, add chopped zucchini. mix 1/2 cup of sour cream with 1 egg yolk and temper it by slowly streaming in a couple ladles of hot soup - while whisking continuously. put in all back in the soup, stirring, and give it another gentle boil. add some dry oregano, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
you should see us eating. zhara picks out what she likes, the pasta, carrots and zucchini, and like a good sport i pick up the slack: the potatoes and the sausage. well, it works for us.

quick scallop zucchini saute

this is one of my favourite dishes. sometimes i serve it over wild rice but mostly i wolf it down as is, after long days when i can't be bothered with cooking. in all seriousness: 5 minutes of holding a pan over fire does not come close of encompassing the definition. this is literally easier then ordering take out. serves two or just me with a big fork.

1/2 lb/225gr bay scallops
1 zucchini, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tb lemon juice
1 tb parsley, minced
toasted almonds

pour a bit of olive oil in a pan and get it smoldering hot. dry the scallops on paper towels and put them in the pan. sear undisturbed for two minutes then flip them. add the miced garlic and cook a minute more. toss in the zucchini and lemon juice and cook until the scallops are opaque and the zucchini is softened, 3-4 minutes. the point is more to warm it through. season with salt and a generous pinch of pepper. add the parsley, stir and kill the heat. top with the almonds. that's it. eat it while watching some scandalous drama to compensate for the lack of dirty pots and pans.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

apple pistachio cupcakes

before i had a child i had all sort of ideas about what kind of mother i'd be one day. once i learned the day has come, i'd daydream about blissful days spent playing quietly on immaculate floors, cheerful meals and long naps. i would teach my child about my various rules and vetos and enforce them gently, but firmly.
boy, was i deluded or what! my floors are never immaculate. there is no quiet, there are almost no naps and sometimes there are no meals, cheerful or otherwise. these are especially hard. the days she won't eat are about as fun as gum surgery. the days when you just beg your lucky stars for a bite of anything. and that's how the cupcakes fit into the picture.

i needed something to fall back on when all else failed, that wouldn't make me feel like the worst mother to ever walk this earth. i turned to ellie krieger's apple muffins, i've made them before and i knew zhara liked them. only this was a day hell bent on getting worse. half way through the prep i realize i had no buttermilk. relax, i thought, just use sour cream. but there wasn't enough of that either. so i used a mix of sour cream and mascarpone in the end, and it did the trick, but it wasn't any great improvement so i'd suggest sticking to the original. i skipped the topping as zhara doesn't go for it but did not adjust the sugar quantity in the batter. it's exactly as sweet as i like it. it's really a great recipe, between the whole wheat flour and applesauce and diced apple, all stuff that's good for you.

for dinner we went through our whole routine, me offering, her refusing until i fold and break these out. she took a bite, then a second... then she clamped her mouth shut. to my great dismay, the muffins didn't fly. hence the cupcakes. the cupcakes made it! and today the leftovers were eaten after dinner.
pistachio frosting:
1 cup mascarpone
3 tb pistachio paste
1 tb confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
cream the mascarpone with the sugar. mix the pistachio paste well to blend in separated oils. mix into the mascarpone. add heavy cream and whip gradually increasing speed until you have a fluffy mixture. pipe onto cupcakes. decorate with candied orange zest and/or violet petals. (i'm not a complete filistine: candied violets are a great addition, they've a subtle but complex aroma.)

ellie's muffin recipe says it yields 12, but it has to be a typo. i got a clean 24, i made 12 regular ones and 24 mini, because zhara loves the small ones. do not substitute the whole wheat pastry flour - it provides a wonderful nutty background; any neutral oil will work if you don't buy canola; keep them in the fridge but remove half hour before eating so the frosting can come to room temp. they really are excellent, a very delicate flavor combo, moist with apple and a bit chewy from the whole wheat. i loved the frosting, it was silkier than i'd expected and went just great with the apple. plus, it beats hot dogs by a long shot. it's not like i'm bitter or anything. sigh.

roasted onion bacon dip

when i was a kid my mom got me a puppy after weeks of begging, promises i'd look after it, and threats to run away if she wouldn't. yes, i was quite stubborn and generally awful like that (in fact i often wonder how my mother survived my teenage years) but to get to the point: it was the cutest little black-and-white puppy, with a wet pink nose and a little tail that went crazy when i paid him attention. my first pet, how i loved him! i wanted to include him in all my activities, i spoiled him with treats and felt like he was part of the family. one day he was gone. we were playing in the yard, i went in for a minute and when i got back he'd dissapeared. i cried for days and never wanted another dog.
i then discovered bacon and i've been ok ever since. bacon and i go way back. i love it and i will eat anything that is wrapped in, stuffed with or balanced on bacon. it's really too bad i'm married... bacon is happy though with being just friends. onion is another one of my sympathies, especially when caramelized or roasted. this, for me, is the uber-dip, bar none.

preheat oven to 375F. cut 3 yellow onions in half, crosswise, and put them on a baking sheet lined with foil. cut an inch-deep slit in their tops. roast about half hour, until the juices are brown and bubbling underneath and they're soft all the way through.

use a spatula to loosen them and when they're cool enough peel them. in the meantime fry 4 or more strips of bacon until crisp and crumble them in a food processor. add the onion and pulse until you have a smooth paste. by all means chop them for a rustic feel. transfer to a bowl and stir in 1/3 cup mayo, 2/3 cup sour cream, 1 tb dijon mustard, 2 ts lemon juice and a handful chopped chives. season with salt and pepper to taste. you can serve it immediately if you must but it's best after a few hours in the fridge. in fact, it's best the next day. and look at my child, who did not eat a single bite all day. even though she was offered about a dozen different foods.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

dobos torte

this cake graced all the special occasions in my childhood. i don't think my mother ever made it herself. it was always ordered from various bakeries. some were great, and some not so much, but at that age, everything swaddled in chocolate is awesome. even stale, overly sweet cake. awesome, the whole lot.
after seeing it last august on the daring bakers it became an insidious bit of obssesion. this is not a dessert you just slap together, so i patiently waited for the magical intersection of a day i'd have people over for dinner and my husband would be home to mind the child while i baked it. he's away for days or weeks at a time, and pouring caramel with a toddler running around the kitchen is not exactly the pinnacle of safety-conscious cookery.

so i baked six thin layers. i made chocolate buttercream, despite the fact i've a deeply rooted aversion to buttercream and i never use it, not to save my life. i made the lemon caramel glaze and poured it on the top layer. then i assembled the thing and clothed it in pecan praline for a bit of extra oomph.
like proust with his madeleines, my tastebuds trembled with anticipation. i rushed everybody through their chips and dips, the goat cheese and asparagus tartelettes, the tuna empanaditas, and to hell with the chicken wings: who cares about that stuff?! let's cut the cake, right. now.
in the heat of things i never got to take a pic of a slice. it looked neat, equal thin layers of spongecake doused with coffee and deep chocolate buttercream. i only put praline on top so my husband could remove them. he's a nut hater. a hater of all nuts. (all but me.)
there's no easy way to say this: as i was eating, i felt cheated. robbed of one of the fondest culinary memories i had. this cake was nothing like the one i had growing up. it was good, fine, but just a bit too sweet. much sweeter than i like my desserts to be. i really resent a recipe when sheer sweetness masks all the other flavors. i used some great dark chocolate for the buttercream - i think it would have been the same made with wretched chips. you couldn't taste the coffee i brushed on the layers. it was too sweet.
so this cake gets a resounding, definite 'eh'. eh, i've had better. eh, next time i'll follow a romanian recipe and not use one just because it's already translated from the metric system.
luckily it wasn't the only dessert i had. i also made the parisians, only smaller so i'd get more mileage out of them, and another thing i can't say anything about yet because it's the current daring bakers' challenge. look how cute the miniature parisians are, and by miniature i mean about 5 or 6 inches long. these are always great, and even more so this time as i used king arthur flour.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

sole fillet stuffed with a mushroom duxelle; a sauce and parmesan polenta

because murphy's laws run rampant in my life, i haven't had a chance to post lately. we did eat in the meantime. the child was fed. for the most part. (do hot-dogs count?)
anyhoo, my meat-and-potatoes husband raved about this dish. we really loved it, and we're not that big on fish. we like shrimp and scallops, but fish, eh. this i'll make again and again.

i don't know how to accurately describe the cooking method - it's not a roast/bake/broil, though it's in the oven. oven-poach. i think that's a reasonable description. it's poached/steamed in dry wine, and the flavour is unbelievable.
this is what you need:
6 to 8 sole fillets
8 oz/225 gr wild mushrooms, i used a blend of shiitake, oyster and crimini
1 onion
1 tb chopped parsley
1 tb butter
1 tb flour
1 cup/250 ml milk
1/2 cup/125 ml dry white wine (or apple cider)
2 ts lemon juice
zest of half lemon
pinch nutmeg
1/2 ts garlic powder
for the creamy polenta:
2 cups/500 ml chicken broth
6 tb instant polenta
1/3 cup grated parmesan
salt, pepper

chop the onion and sweat it in a bit of olive oil over medium heat while you finely chop the mushrooms. add  them to the pan and cook until all the juices are evaporated, about 15 minutes. (you can do this in advance.) mix in the parsley and take it off the heat.
preheat the oven to 350F or 180C. meanwhile, wash and dry the fish. salt and pepper the fillets. these you want about 1 1/2 inch wide, so split in half lenghtwise if needed. reserve 2-3 tb of the mushrooms and equally divide the rest between the fish. spread all over the fillets, pressing gently to make it adhere, on the skin side if skin was not removed. roll up the fish, tail to head end, and put it in a baking dish as closely together as possible. pour the wine over it. cut a piece of parchment to fit the dish and cover all the fish. butter it and place it directly on the fish, so the butter sticks to the fillets. bake for about 20 minutes. depending on your oven, check after 15.
to make the polenta, bring the stock to boil. decrease to a gentle simmer and slowly stream in the polenta. slowly. slowly. or you'll have lumps. stir for 5 minutes. add the parmesan. kill the heat. stir and taste for salt and pepper. keep warm.
when the fish is nearly ready, heat the remaining mushrooms in 1 tb butter. when it's melted add the flour and stir to blend. cook for a couple of minutes then stream in the milk, whisking continuously. add garlic powder and nutmeg. cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. now take the fish from the oven and strain 4 tb of the cooking juices in the mushroom sauce. add the lemon juice and zest, taste for salt. let it sit on very low heat while you plate the polenta and the fish. spoon sauce on top. take a bite and be surprised.

recipe adapted from here.