29 September 2008

Better late...

Yes, I am a few days late with this month's Daring Bakers challenge but I am so glad I did it. This was the first savory challenge I've done and also the first that didn't require me to buy any special ingredients, or take half a day. Not that I'm complaining- I like to spend time in the kitchen, but with the way this month has been going I had given up hope of completing the challenge until I actually took the time to read the recipe.

This month we made lavosh crackers. As the challenge was hosted by two of our alternative bakers, Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbowl the idea was for all of us to try our hand at gluten-free baking and a vegan dip but our hosts kindly gave us instructions for wheat based crackers as well. I chose to do the wheat option since I had everything for it already in the house and I didn't get around to the dip quite yet...

I was shocked at how quickly and easily the crackers came together. Basically mix, stir, knead. Then let it rise for an hour and a half and roll out as thinly as you possibly can top and bake. That's it. I decided to top my crackers with sesame seeds (on one half) and molasses sugar (on the other) to have both savory and sweet crackers. The sesame seeds didn't adhere to the crackers as nicely as I would have liked them too but that was my only and admittedly very minor issue with the whole recipe.

The crackers are crisp, delicious and totally satisfying, not to mention way cheaper than store-bought. I'm going to try to make a batch every week for Zach and I to take with our lunches so I'll keep you posted if I come up with any really good flavors.

One note: I did use a mix of white and whole wheat flour instead of the straight white called for in the recipe. I thought it came the crackers extra flavor, and fiber, yet didn't overpower the delicate nature of the crisps. Feel free to use all white flour if you want

Lavosh Crackers
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread
Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1 C. (4 oz.) white flour
1/2 C. (2.75 oz.) whole wheat flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. yeast
1 T. sugar
1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 C. warm water
1 T. sesame seeds for topping
2 T. dark brown sugar for topping

- Stir the first 5 ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add the oil and about half of the water. Stir together. Keep stirring and adding water until the dough forms a ball.

- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10-15 minutes. Add more flour if the dough starts sticking to your hands. The dough should be shiny and sort of springy when you're done kneading. To test if it's ready you can pinch off a piece, flatten it into a disk and gently pull on the edges. It should stretch into a very thin membrane. If it rips immediately, keep kneading.

- Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 90 minutes or until doubled in bulk. (About 30 minutes before your dough is ready heat your oven to 350F)

- Divide dough in half (with a sharp knife). Lightly grease your work surface and set the dough down. Pat in to a rough square shape and lightly flour the top. Roll out as thinly as you possible can (we're talking paper-thin). You might need to give the dough a few breaks while rolling to allow the gluten to relax. Transfer to a cookie sheet. Repeat with the other dough.

- Brush the top of the dough with a little bit of water and sprinkle on your topping.

- Bake for 15-25 minutes or until golden brown. Baking time really depends on how thick your dough is. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan then break apart and serve or store in an airtight container.

23 September 2008

Couscous, Shopska Style

I know my posts have been few and far between in the past few weeks. I wish I could tell you that I have been cooking up a storm and have a backlog of recipes to post but that's sadly not the case. Between the start of the semester and everything else that has been going on I haven't been in the kitchen that much. Last night was an exception, more because I needed to clean out the fridge than any noble nourishment purpose. Read More!

I had some peppers, half a cucumber, small tomato and feta cheese- all the fixing for a Shopska salad (a kind of Balkan vegetable salad). Since this would be our dinner I decided to make turn the Shopska into a pasta salad by mixing it with the Israeli couscous I picked up on the weekend. The whole dinner took about 20 minutes to put together. While the water boils and the couscous cooks you can chop the veggies, then everything gets tossed together with olive oil, red wine vinegar and feta cheese. That's it. Despite the simplicity the salad is light, fresh and delicious. We had it for dinner, but it would be a great side dish to grilled chicken or fish.

I'm entering this recipe in the Monthly Mingle, which this month is Sensational Sides, hosted by Ruth at Kitchen Experiments in place of Meeta, who usually hosts.

Couscous, Shopka Style
Serves 2 for dinner, for as a side dish

1 C. Israeli style couscous
1 1/3 C. water, or a mix of water and broth (I did 1 C. water, 1/2 C. chicken broth)
1/3 white onion, chopped
1 C. cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 small tomato, diced
1 bell pepper, or two small peppers, diced (any color you like, though orange would be prettiest)
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. olive oil
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

- Set the onion in a bowl full of cold water and swish around then leave till you are ready to assemble the salad. This will help make it a bit less pungent.

- Bring the water (and broth) to a boil in a medium saucepan, stir in couscous and reduce to a simmer, cook for 8-10 minutes or until couscous is tender.* If you notice that you pot has run dry and a few more tablespoons of water.

- While the water boils, chop up the veggies. When the couscous is cooked, stir in the vegetables, oil and vinegar and a few grates of pepper and then the feta cheese. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately.

The salad keeps well in the fridge for a day or two, just fluff with a fork before eating.

*If you use straight water to cook the couscous, add a good pinch of salt to it with the pasta.

20 September 2008

A Peachtree in the City

A few weeks ago I was headed downtown to meet some friends when I came across the most amazing thing. At first I thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me, that I didn't actually see the bright orbs hiding among the leaves on the tree. I approached the fence and flat out stared. Outside the Colombian Embassy, in the middle of Washington, D.C. stood a peach tree. Not some spindly, sick looking tree but a full, green tree, seemingly unaware of its urban surroundings. As I stood at the fence gazing at the tree I noticed all the fruits within arms reach had been picked and only those further in remained. This made me really happy- to see the tree there next to the busy street in it's own world just a few feet from the busy street.

19 September 2008

Borscht is Beautiful

Borscht always seemed like one of those things that my grandparents ate but was so hopelessly out of date that it would never pass my lips. This summer, I began to develop a mini fascination with it, especially after seeing beets crop up all over the food blogs that I read. When Zach and I went to our CSA pickup and red beets were labeled as 'acye' (as much as you can eat) I took three but as we were biking away I suddenly stopped (not the world's best idea on a busy bike trail) and told Zach we had to go back and get more beets as I was going to make borscht.

After loading up our canvas tote with beets we headed home. There was no time to make a soup that evening but I started to look up recipes the next day. Even though I had never had borscht before, I knew I was looking for a smooth soup that would be a violent maroon color which meant any recipe that didn't involve pureeing or enough beets was out. I also found a few recipes that called for mixing sour cream directly into the soup, resulting in a very strange Play-doh purple color, but that really did not seem appetizing. Finally, I came across a recipe by Tyler Florence that looked reasonable yet interesting. He roasted the beets before pureeing them in a soup and made a grated dill and apple topping for it.

I did make a few little changes to his recipe though. I added about 50% more beets than it called for, as I really wanted a rich beet flavor. I decreased the amount of oil called for from 6T to 3T and added a lot more dill. Fresh dill is really essential for finishing off the soup, but I used dried herbs where the original called for fresh in other places.

The borscht came out just as I hoped, a shocking purple-pink color. The taste was phenomenal too, with just the right balance of sweet balanced by the tart apple and sour cream and everything was perfumed by the fresh dill. I served the borscht at a warm room temperature but Zach decided he prefers his piping hot but I like it chilled too. For us it was dinner, with a loaf of fresh bread and a glass of wine, but it also made a great lunch the next day and would be a rather pretty first course for a fancy dinner-- in fact, I'm thinking about serving it at Thanksgiving.

Roasted Beet Borscht
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Yields 8-10 bowls

Note: The beets need to be roasted for 1 hour before you can make the soup. I did this the night before.

For the Roasted Beets
1.5 lb (700g) fresh red beets, cleaned with greens removed
1 t. dried thyme
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper

- Preheat oven to 400F. Set the beets on a baking sheet (you might want to cover it with foil for an easy cleanup) and pour on the olive oil then sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper. Use your hands to rub the oil and seasonings all over the beets.

- Roast for about one hour, or until beets are fork tender. Allow to cool for a bit then carefully peel of the skins (they should slide right off) and cut into chunks. Reserve beets until you want to make the soup.

For the Soup
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/4 t. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 C. chicken (or veggie) stock
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T honey
1 green sour apple
1 t. lemon juice
4 T fresh dill, roughly chopped
Sour cream, for garnish

- Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onions, carrot and dried thyme and allow to soften for 8 minutes. Add in the chopped garlic, give a stir, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add in the stock and the roasted beets, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.

- While the soup is simmering, shred the apple and toss with the lemon juice. Chop the dill and mix with the apple. Set aside until ready to serve.

- After the soup has cooked, carefully transfer it to a blender and puree in batches (SEE NOTE) or use a stick blender if you have one. Return soup to pot over a low flame and stir in vinegar and honey then taste and check for seasonings. Serve immediately with the dilled apple and a dollop of sour cream or chill and save for later.

NOTE: Always be careful blending hot liquids. Don't fill the blender more than 1/3-1/2 was full. Remove the center plug in the blender lid and place a folded up kitchen towel on it. Use one hand to hold the kitchen towel wad on top while you hit the 'pulse' button with the other. This will allow some steam to escape while you are blending. If you leave the plug in the steam will build up in the blender and literally blow the top off like Old Faithful and you will be wearing borscht in your hair like I was.

10 September 2008

Beetroot and Goat Cheese Souffle

I have been thinking about souffle a lot lately. I couldn't really tell you why, as I have only had it once or twice in my life, but the idea got stuck in my head. The lack of a souffle dish held me back for a few weeks, as I though, and I'm sure some purist out there would agree, that a souffle can only be made in a special vessel of an exact height and circumference and with a very small lip on the top to help the souffle rise. For weeks I dispared of buying a yet another piece of kitchen equipment and one that had such a specific purpose that I probably couldn't use it for anything else. Then I finally said 'to heck with it' and decided that I would make mini souffles in my ramekins instead.

At first I thought I might be dooming myself to failure because of all those old kitchen myths I had heard about souffles (like the kind that say you can't even walk through the kitchen while its baking or it will fall) but I had become so fixated on the idea I will willing to risk utter defeat. When I started looking up recipes, I was shocked to come across some that were specifically for individual size souffles baked in 6oz ramekins- just what I have.

I selected two recipes that seemed the most promising, one from Alton Brown because I trust his proportions and directions and another from the food network website that was specifically for mini souffles, and decided to combine the two. I must have been feeling more than usually adventurous that night because in addition to combining two recipes, I decided that instead of making a plain cheese souffle, I would make a roasted beet and goat cheese souffle.

After getting out all the ingredients I got to work. First I peeled and chopped three little beets and roasted them for a few minutes. Then I separated the eggs, added the whites to the bowl of my mixer and putting the yellows into a medium bowl. Next I set out to making the flavor base of the souffle by making a roux, then adding hot milk (that had a bay leaf steeping with it), garlic powder and the goat cheese. I wisked this mixture into the egg yolks and then added the beets, which promptly turned the whole thing a lovely shade of pink. After the eggs whites were beaten to a stiff peak, I carefully folded them into the beet cheese mixture and then realized I hadn't prepped the ramekins. As I folded, I shouted for Zach and then barked a set of instructions something like 'butter' 'grate cheese' 'like you would flour' that made no sense at all. I calmed down enough coherently as him to butter the ramekins and then sprinkle Parmesan cheese around the sides.

I poured the souffle mix into the 4 ramekins but still had about half the mixture left over. At this point I was frantic, afraid that all the souffles would fall since I couldn't seem to get my act together on anything. I put the ramekins in the oven and searched for another pan. I didn't have anything else remotely resembling a souffle dish, so I used a loaf pan. After everything was in the oven, I could finally calm down.

Half and hour later, the souffles were so puffy and golden. The picture you see really doesn't do them justice as the rose to about 3 inches about the edge of the ramekin but began falling as soon as I took them out of the oven. I hurriedly snapped a few pictures and we sat down to eat. I had never had a savory souffle before and I was not disappointed with my first attempt. It had both a rich and airy taste, a bit like a mousse and the beets had turned the bottom a vibrant maroon color. My only complaint was that I couldn't really taste the goat cheese- the Parmesan crust, while deliciously crispy, really overpowered the goat cheese. The beets did stand up well and added a hint of sweetness but I also would have made the pieces a little bit bigger.

I'll give you the recipe here as I made it, but I hope you will figure out a way to either up the goat cheese flavor, or take out the Parmesan. If you do know how-- please let me know. Now that I know souffles aren't impossible and really hard to make, I'm definitely going to try again.

Beetroot and Goat Cheese Souffle
Makes 8, 4oz. ramekins

2-3 small beets (about 3oz or 100g)
1.5 C milk (I used 1%)
1 bay leaf
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. garlic powder
4 oz. (120g) soft goat cheese
2 egg yolks, room temperature
4 egg whites, room temperature
butter for greasing the ramekins
a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese for the ramekins

- Preheat oven to 375F.

- Butter the ramekins and sprinkle the insides with Parmesan cheese, just enough to coat. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet.

- Peel the beats and chop them into small cubes (about 1/4 in. [.5cm] cubes) and set aside.

- Add the bay leaf to the milk. Heat the milk (I did it in the measuring cup to save a dish) in the microwave or on the stove until hot but not boiling.

- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and allow the water to cook out. The butter is ready when it stops making a sputtering noise.

- In a small bowl, stir together flour, salt and garlic powder. In a larger bowl, beat the two yolks for a minute or so (by hand). Add the flour mixture to the butter and stir constantly for 2 minutes to cook the flour. You have now made a roux. Fish the bay leaf out of the milk and add the milk to the roux, stirring constantly. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a full boil. Once it boils, remove it from the heat and stir in the goat cheese until melted. Then, slowly add the cheese base to the eggs yolks, wisking constantly so you don't scramble the eggs. This is not as scary as it sounds-- just go slowly. One trick is to have someone else do the pouring so you can concentrate on the wisking. Once all the milk mix in incorporated, stir in the beets.

- Put the eggs whites in the bowl of your stand mixer (if you are lucky enough to have one) or a metal or glass bowl if you don't. Beat on high until the reach stiff peaks. Mix in 1/4 of the mixture to the cheese base to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. Some streakiness in the batter is ok- you don't want to overmix and take all the air out.

- Spoon the souffle mixture into the ramekins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until puffy and golden. Serve immediately.*

Since the recipe made much more that I though it would we had a few portions of leftover souffle. It did deflate, but was still really tasty for lunch the next day with a salad.

06 September 2008

The Cupcake Chronicles Continue

Cupcakes are the new black in the DC area. It seems that every few months another cupcake shop opens to great hype and enormously long lines. Last week it was Hello Cupcake's turn. I had seen the storefront before it opened- just off DuPont Circle, an trendy area known for restaurants but also for being an independent place not littered with chains, though this has been changing in the last few years. The Hello Cupcake shop had huge plate glass windows, bright pink chandeliers and a few tables and a compressed bamboo bar for those (like me) we can't wait to get a cupcake home before eating it. In short- it looked very DuPont and I was very interested.

Some friends and I arranged a study date at a coffee shop across the street (confession- it is a chain; justification- we needed free internet) and cupcakes were going to be our reward for our first afternoon studying of the semester (am I the only one that gives myself rewards for things like that?). We read and read some more and then it was finally time for cupcakes. We rushed across the street, skirting the cars stuck in traffic and joined the line outside the cupcake shop. Looking through the windows, we could see that the days selection of a promised 10+ flavors had dwindled to two or three and by the time we got to the counter we found out that all of the gluten-free cupcakes had been sold so my friend A- had to go without. The rest of us had a choice between peanut butter blossom, triple coconut and de coconut and de lime. I chose peanut butter blossom, which the man behind the counter insisted tasted just like a peanut butter cup and K* got the triple coconut and we planned to go halves.

We paid for our goodies ($3 even) and it was all I could do to take a few photos before digging into the cupcakes, especially as I could hear the other girls exclaiming about how delicious they were. I carefully peeled back the paper on my cupcake, trying not to take too much cake off with it, and took a bite. It was a peanut butter explosion. I have never in my life had a frosting like that. It was as peanutbuttery as eating a spoonful straight from the Skippy jar, but not heavy or sticky. It was like eating a peanut butter cloud. It was so good in fact, that I would have been happy eating a little cup of frosting (with chocolate kiss on top) and skipping the cake entirely. In this instance, the cake seemed like an afterthought to the frosting and I had trouble getting more than the merest hint of chocolate out of it. Even when I broke off a piece to eat without the frosting, it didn't taste like much but it may have been because my taste buds were going crazy with a peanut butter overload.

K* and I did switch cakes but just for a bite. I always forget that I think that coconut baked goods smell too much like sunblock for me to actually enjoy them, so after a taste, we switched back.

The overall verdict on Hello Cupcake- very promising. I'll have to go back when there is a larger selection of flavors available.

Hello Cupcake

1351 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Just south of Dupont Circle, across from the Metro

05 September 2008

My First Awards

I am so excited to tell you that I've gotten my first blogging awards; Arte y Pico and Yummy Blog. If that wasn't exciting enough, the awards came from Kat and Matt of A Good Appetite, a blog that has given me tons of culinary inspiration- so thank you, Kat and Matt. I would like to pass these awards on to:

Kittie at Kittens in the Kitchen for creativity in the kitchen Sue at Food Network Musings for nearly always making me laugh with her writing and Glamah at Coco Cooks for showing me things I would have never thought of making.

Rules of the awards after the jump.

Here are the rules for the Arte y Pico Award:
1) Award five blogs that contribute to the blogging community through creativity, design, and interesting material, regardless of language.
2) Name each of the five blog authors and provide a link to his or her blog.
3) Award recipients must show the Arte y Pico Award image and the name of the award-giving blog author, as well as the award-giving blog author’s blog link.
4) Award recipients must provide a link to the Arte y Pico blog.
5) Award recipients must show these rules.

03 September 2008

Chimichurri Wins the Day

For the past few weeks we've been getting a few ears of sweet corn in every CSA delivery. Though I normally love corn on the cob, lately I've wanted to try using sweet corn in things, instead of on its own. Remembering back to a phenomenal corn fritter I had while in San Fransico I decided to try to make my own. I knew I didn't want to deep fry (or for that matter even shallow fry) anything so I though about trying to make a sort of hybrid corn pancake fritter. I looked up several recipes online and decided to make an arepa style dough, but add in fresh sweet corn kernels.

I got a few recipes from the Food Network website and stopped off at the Latino market on the way home to buy some masa harina, a precooked corn meal flour. I made the arepa dough according to the directions, which involved mixing the masa harina with boiling water, salt and a bit of sugar and then stirring in the corn kernels. The dough needed to rest for 30 minutes, so while it did I made a chimichurri based on the recipe included with the arepas.* My only prior experience of chimichurri was when Zach and I were in Argentina and a little bowl of it came with, well, nearly every meal. It's a condiment not dissimilar to pesto in form, but much thinner and generally based on parsley and cilantro instead of basil. I blended the juice of 1 lemon with big handfulls of cilantro and parsley, along with garlic, salt and a tiny hot pepper.

Then I pan fried the arepas with just a brush of oil in the pan and topped them with some soft cheese (also from the Latin Market), chimichurri and a piece of tomato. The arepas were all right- good flavor in general but just too dense for what I was looking for. The chimichurri, on the other hand, was amazing. The flavors were so refreshing- the tang of the lemon, the cilantro and parsley and just a hint of bite from the chiles, it gave the arepas a great flavor. Since the recipe made about 2/3C, we've had it on baked potatoes, veggie burgers and a few other random things- it is a great all purpose condiment and the flavor is different enough from typical things we eat to hit my tastebuds every time.

* I cannot for the life of me find the webpage with the arepa recipe I used so I apologize for not providing the link.

Yield, approx. 2/3 C.
Adapted from the same phantom webpage mentioned above

Juice of 1 lemon
2 big handfulls parsley (about 1/2 C. firmly packed)
2 big handfulls cilantro (about 1/2 C. firmly packed)
1 fat clove of garlic
3 T. oil oil
1 chili pepper
3 sprigs fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste

- Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor. You are looking for a smooth sauce that still maintains small pieces of the herbs. The chimichurri should easily pour off a spoon. If it's too thick, add a bit more lemon juice and oil (or you can just add water if you don't want to add more fat).

- Serve immediately or keep for up to a week, tightly covered in the fridge.

02 September 2008

Something DC

Last weekend Zach and I went to the National Building Museum to see an exhibit on Eero Saarinen, the Finnish born American architect. The building museum has one of the most beautiful interior spaces I have ever seen and I wanted to share this picture with you.

01 September 2008

Sauteed Zucchini with Sweet Onions

I had half a zucchini sitting in the fridge, leftover from the last summer gratin that I had made that I needed to use before the next round of veggies came in. I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and thumbed through Marcella Hazan's zucchini recipes before settling on on for sauteed zucchini. The recipe, like so many from Essentials, had only 3 ingredients- zucchini, onions and butter (and salt and pepper, but I don't really count them as ingredients) all of which I had on hand so I set to work.

First, I sliced the onions and started them cooking in butter (about half the amount called for in the recipe). While the onions were cooking, I sliced the zucchini as thinly and uniformly as I could (which wasn't all the think or uniform but I did try) and when the onions had turned a golden brown, I added the zucchini, along with a good pinch of salt, and cooked it until the zucchini as cooked down but still retained its shape and color. We ate the zucchini for lunch and it was delicious and rather decadent in it's buttery goodness. I don't usually (make that ever) cook vegetables in butter, so this dish was a real treat. It also made me realize that a bit of butter, judiciously used, can take a vegetable from just ok to something really good that you actually want to eat.

Sauteed Zucchini with Sweet Onions
Adapted from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a side dish

1 lb. zucchini
1 small onion, sliced sliced into half moons
2 T. butter
salt and pepper to taste

- In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium then add the onions and cook till just golden brown.

- While the onions are cooking, slice the zucchini into the thinnest rounds you can. If your zucchini is monster sized, slice it lengthwise first, then into slices. When the onions have browned, add the zucchini to the pan and stir to coat with the butter. Increase heat to medium high and continue to cook until the zucchini has reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 in volume and tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediatley.