11 December 2009

Spinach Parmesan Polenta with Mushroom Ragu

Hearty but not heavy, a breeze to make, especially if you have a slow cooker. Recipe up tomorrow.

10 December 2009

It's Complicated

Just got back from a screening of It's Complicated, the new Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin movie. I am dead tired and starving (why oh why did I think and English muffin with cream cheese and a banana was a sufficient dinner?). Before I miss today's posting deadline foraging around my kitchen trying to scrounge up something edible and slightly less weird than what I had for dinner, I thought I'd put up a quick post about the movie.

I was worried that this post wouldn't be food related, but it is, as Jane, Meryl Streep's character in the movie, owns a bakery. It's one of those gorgeous only in the movies kind of bakeries where everything is just so and all the customers look like movie stars. Jane cooks throughout the movie and it one great scene shows her making chocolate croissants with the help of a nifty machine to roll out the dough. Anyway- the movie was absolutely hilarious, the kind of entire theater laughing out loud and can't stop hilarious that too few movies I've seen recently are. I completely recommend it and now I'm going to eat. Be back with a recipe tomorrow.

09 December 2009

On Recipes

I was listening to The Splendid Table, Lynn Rosetto Casper's NPR radio show on food this weekend, when one of her guests started talking about the unreliability of recipes on the internet- specifically in the blogosphere. My ears perked up immediately, as the internet is my main cookbook and I write a food blog with recipes. Her guest made some valid points but his main bone of contention against blogs is that the recipes are not tested multiple times, as would a recipe from the late and great Gourment magazine. I will be the first to agree that having an army of professional cooks test a recipe again and again times to tweak it and make it perfect is a great way to make sure the recipe will work every time; however, I have made recipes from such august publications that have been bland or even downright unpalatable. Even though an army of chefs and cooks labored over it for weeks it just wasn't any good. I have also made many recipes that I have found on blogs by home cooks writing about what they made for dinner that have been fantastic. That's not to say there aren't a lot of bad recipes floating around the internet, but to dismiss food blogs out of hand, as the guest (if only I could remember his name) seemed to do, is too harsh for my taste. So much of a recipe is about trust- you are trusting that the author of the recipes has given you a set of instructions to allow you to recreate his or her dish. You invest your time and money into this and you want it to pay off with a delicious tasty product.

It's been a few days since The Splendid Table broadcast and I've continued to think about the idea of recipes. There are certain cookbook authors/chefs that I trust implicitly. Take Marcella Hazan, author of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Her recipes are detailed and precise without becoming burdensome. Her tips enlighten and, most importantly, I have never made anything from The Essentials, that wasn't absolutely delicious. I've expanded my palate to new things, because I knew I could trust her recipes. She is the kind of cookbook author you want on your shelf.

While I don't think many food writers in the world could compare to Marcella, there are a few blogs that I cook from with the same confidence. Chocolate and Zucchini, the very first blog I ever read, is one. Clotilde explains things so clearly I never fear that I've gone astray and she cooks the kind of food I want to eat. Another blog I know I could make anything from is Tartellete. Granted, Helene is a professional pastry chef, which helps, but I know every recipe on her blog would work.

All this brings my back to my blog. I have made every recipe I post her at least once, sometimes twice, and in a fewspecial cases, six or seven times. I endeavor to make sure that my recipes are clear, concise and functional but I don't really know if they are. I like to hope so, and there have been many times when I have turned to the archives to make a recipe again and they seem to work.

This week Kat at A Good Appetiteposted about her intention to make my
Chicken Saagwala and I got nervous, really nervous. Had I written the recipe correctly? Did I forget a key ingredient? Did I defrost the spinach before adding it or not? I'm not sure about the answers to any of these questions but I do hope I got things right and that Kat and Matt enjoy the dish as much as I did.

I'll end this post with a request and a question. If you have to make one of my recipes, or your own version perhaps inspired by what I have done here, please let me know how it's turned out. It if works great- if it's a failure even better. Let me know where I could have been more clear and what went wrong and I will try to fix it. I'm not sure I can offer realtime assistance, but if you're cooking and things aren't looking so great, send me and email and I'll try to help. Thank you in advance.

I've told you a bit about what I think about recipes-- any thoughts you'd like to share? Are the any cooks/books that you trust implicitly? any that you think are terrible?

08 December 2009

Sushi Kaiten

Check out this kaiten sushi restaurant in the middle of a shopping mall- neat, huh? I first had the pleasure of eating at a sushi kaiten restaurant when I was visiting a friend in Japan a few years ago and seeing the parade of perfectly placed nigri and rolls, along with other treats, just doesn't get old. I could, and usually do, spend an inordinate amount of time watching the dishes wiz by before I choose anything. It's easy to divide up the tab with sushi kaiten too- just count your colored plates and figure out how much you ate and owe.

This restaurant is a branch
Wasabi, which I have been to before. If you get a chance to stop by, I recommend the fusion dishes on the menu- a bit passe I know, but the chef if Peruvian Japanese and the chicken anticucho, tender bites of fiery chicken perched on a tower of steaming rice and lashed with bright orange sauce, is delicious.

07 December 2009

Moo Shu

Moo Shu is one of my favorite take-out Chinese dishes. The crunchy cabbage, hoisin sauce and rice wrapper always seem to hit the spot. This is an easy homemade version, one where you can easily control the salt and fat and leave out the MSG altogether. Don't worry about getting the ingredient amounts exactly right- a bit more or less or any of the veggies won't hurt. This recipes cooks in about 10 minutes so it's very helpful to have all your ingredients lined up and ready to go, mise en place style- this way you won't be frantically searching for the ginger root while attempting to stir a skillet full of shredded cabbage. This recipe includes chicken but it would be just as tasty if you left it out.

I served the Moo Shu with store-bought hoisin sauce (is it even possible to make hoisin sauce at home?) and corn tortillas, since I couldn't find rice pancakes. It satisfied my Chinese craving and was cheaper and healthier than ordering in. Recipe after the jump.

Moo Shu with Chicken
Adapted from the Weight Watchers Cookbook
Serves 6

4 T low-sodium soy sauce (2T for vegetarian)
4 cloves garlic, minced (2 cloves for vegetarian)
1 T minced ginger root
1/2 lb (250g) chicken breast or tenders, cut into bite sized pieces (optional)
1 small head of green cabbage
1 T neutral flavored oil such as canola
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 C straw mushrooms
1/2 C bamboo shoots, drained and chopped
chili paste to taste
hoisin sauce and tortillas to serve

- If you are using chicken. Make a quick marinade for the chicken: combine 2T soy sauce, half of the minced garlic and the chicken in a dish or resealable plastic bag. If you have the time, let it marinate in the fridge for an hour, if you don't, let it sit on the counter while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Combine the remaining 2 T soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.

- Remove the out leaves of the cabbage and wash. Carefully cut the cabbage in half then remove the stem by making two cuts at a 45 degree angle on either side of it, aiming and inch or two into the cabbage, depending on how big the stem looks. Cut each cabbage half in half again, then slice lengthwise, creating long, thin cabbage strips. Set aside.

- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a very large skillet (I used a 12in). Drain the marinade from the chicken. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken and stir-fry until chicken is cooked, 2-3 minutes. Remove chicken.

- Add all the vegetables to the skillet and stir to coat with oil. Cook, stirring often, until cabbage just starts to wilt, about 4-5 minutes, then add the chicken, the soy sauce mix and the chili oil. Stir to combine .

- Serve the Moo Shu with hot tortillas or pancakes. Let your guests make their own wrapper by spreading on a bit of hoisin sauce and more chili paste if they dare, then topping it with the Moo Shu mix.

06 December 2009

Wedding Cake Continued

Heading back to the subject of wedding cakes, I thought I would tell you a bit about my experience baking one. J- asked me a few months ago if I would be able to make the cake for her wedding. Of course I agreed, I mean, if she was willing to trust me to bake for her wedding, who was I to say no. I promptly put the subject out of my head for a few weeks only to begin researching- the more I learned, the more a feeling of dread started to creep into my stomach.

I quickly realized, after spending some quality time on the
Wilton website, that there was no way I could bake a single cake that would serve 160 people, the anticipated number of guests. I put the idea to J- of a smaller two tier cake (her original request) along with a sheet cake or two. She agreed and I got to work. We talked flavors and she and P-, her then fiance now husband, decided on two- a lemon raspberry I based on Dorie's Perfect Party Cake and I carrot cake using Ina Garten's recipe.

I used the Wilton
charts to figure out how much batter I needed for each cake pan and made Excel charts with formulas to determine how much I needed of each ingredient. I shopped, and then I began baking and kept baking and baking for two days. One of those days I ate nothing but frosting. For some reason I thought it was a good idea, and cream cheese frosting has some calcium in it, right? I also called Zach in a panic about 5 times when I though that the carrot cake had failed. His co-workers probably thought I was nuts, although I had buttered them up with many samples of the prototypes.

In the end, the cake and I both survived. J- had little photos made of her and P- and we used them to decorate the cake, I thought the black and white looked great against the cream cheese frosting. Now that's it's a few weeks after the wedding and I can actually think of frosting again without my stomach turning over, I'm looking forward to my next baking challenge.

05 December 2009

Spinach Pie with Yeast Crust

One of my first uses of the yeasted pastry crust was this spinach pie. I like to think of it as a cross between a spinach pie, where the majority ingredient is spinach and is only bound together with a bit of egg, and a quiche, that deliciously silky dish of eggs and cream, sometimes flavored with a bit of spinach. This pie is light, almost fluffy, green with spinach and kept from boring with a bit of herbs de provence, nutmeg and cheddar cheese. If you have a crust ready to defrost from the freezer it comes together in just a few minutes. I've served it with salad, although that is a bit unnecessary with all the spinach. A light soup might be nice or, you could do what I did, and wrap up a leftover slice and take it to the airport with you- the crust will hold it together - then, when everyone else is buying $9 sandwiches that taste like cardboard, you can unwrap it and enjoy. Recipe after the jump.

Spinach Pie
Serves 6, 8 as an appetizer
Adapted from the Weight Watchers Cookbook

1/2 recipe
yeasted pastry crust OR 1 recipe better for you pie crust OR a 9-10 in pie crust of your choice
16 oz (450g) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1/3 C low-fat cottage cheese
2 eggs
3 egg whites
1, 12oz (300ml) can fat-free evaporated milk
1/2 t salt
a few grinds fresh pepper
a grate or two of fresh nutmeg
1 t herbs de provance
2 oz. (56g) cheddar cheese, shredded

- Preheat oven to 375. Grease a pie plate or ovenproof skillet. Roll out the dough and inch or two bigger than the baking vessel (just pop the pan on top of your rolled out dough to see if you need to roll it bigger). Gently roll the dough about half with up the rolling pin, starting at the far end and picking up the dough with your finger and letting it roll under the pin as you roll it back. Lift the pin with the dough straight up, drape the loose bit over one end of the pan and roll it across. Press the crust down into the pan and trim the edges so they don't hang overboard. Use the trimmings to patch up any holes that may have occurred.

- Sprinkle the spinach evenly over the crust.

- Place remaining ingredients through the herbs in a blender or blending beaker and wizz the heck out of them, until the mixture is perfectly smooth. [if you don't have a blender just wisk it well by hand, the cottage cheese will remain a bit lumpy but it'll taste fine]. Pour the egg mixture over the spinach in the crust and then sprinkle the cheese on top.

- Carefully place the pie in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and very nearly set in the center (test by jiggling the pan slightly- be sure to use and oven mitt). Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

04 December 2009

Wedding Cake

Jeez- it's only the fourth day of NaBloPoMo and already I'm writing this up after 11pm... so much for avoiding the procrastination bit. A few weeks ago I made a wedding cake (well several wedding cakes) for a friend. The experience was both useful and utterly exhausting, which is why I haven't posted about it before now.

Lesson 1: It is entirely possible to make cake for 160 in a home kitchen.

Lesson 2: Eating nothing but frosting all day inadvisable.

More, and more useful, lessons from my wedding cake experience to come. And here is the rest of it.

03 December 2009

Yeasted Pastry Crust

The friend who introduced me to Dessert Grec also introduced me to the New York Times Health Section recipes. Like so many in the DC area, I get the Washington Post, and don't read the Times. Even if I did, I wouldn't look to the Health Section for something to eat, but that is where Martha Rose Schulman posts a new recipe every week, one purporting to have certain healthful components. I found the setup a bit cumbersome, a recipe index would be handier than an un-alphabetized list of themes/ingredients, but C- likes it and while I was visiting last month, we made a few of the recipes. Some were better than others (cauliflower topped with nearly straight up tahini was a miss) but I was intrigued by a whole pastry dough made with yeast and resolved to give it another go when I got home.

When I got home a few weeks ago, I made a batch of the dough in about 5 minutes, using my KitchenAid. So far so good. The dough rose exactly as expected and I rolled a little less than half of it out to use as a crust for a spinach pie. As Schulman notes, it is easier to work with than a traditional pie crust- the gluten you develop with a light kneading makes the dough stronger and less prone to holes and breaking. Another plus- it's made with half whole wheat flour and perhaps the biggest plus of all, just a quarter of a cup of olive oil, making it much lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories than a traditional crust. It does have a pronounced whole wheat flavor, which I liked in the spinach pie, but which has the potential to overpower more delicate ingredients. I found it a tad salty as well; next time I'll reduce the salt a bit and see if that helps.

Even with the slight problems, this is my new go-to crust for savory applications, especially in pie form. For sweet things and if when I want a flakier crust, say for free form apple pie, I'll still use my
Better for You Pie Crust . One last note- with the dough scraps from tonight's dinner, I made simple plain and cinnamon sugar crackers, the best homemade crackers I've ever made. It's worth making a batch or half batch of the dough, rolling it thin, and then baking it up for a crispy snack.

For Martha Rose Schulman's Whole Wheat Yeasted Olive Oil Pastry click

02 December 2009

Dessert Grec

This recipe came to me by way of an American friend living in France who found it in a French cookbook so I'm not sure if it's really Greek, but I do know that it's really tasty. From what I understand, many French people end a meal with a cheese course or yogurt. While the idea of eating cheese after dinner is a bit strange to me, having a cup of yogurt seems like a natural way to end a meal on a light note. You aren't tempted to have seconds of the main course, as you know something else is coming, but the yogurt provides a sweet finish without adding too many calories. Plus, it aids digestion and is a good source of calcium.

This Greek yogurt dessert includes dried peaches or apricots and a bit of honey to sweeten it up though you can play around with your favorite flavorings
to customize it. Zach likes his yogurt with sweetened dried coconut mixed in, though that's not the healthiest option.

Dessert Grec
Serves 2

1 C low-fat yogurt, Greek style is most delicious but regular works too
2 dried peaches or 4 dried apricots
2 t. honey

- Roughly chop the dried fruit and divide between two pretty dessert bowls. Top each with half the yogurt and half the honey. Pop in the fridge while you prepare dinner and enjoy for dessert.

01 December 2009

Chicken Saagwala and a Challenge

Was it really a month ago that I was promising new posts and recipes with regular frequency? Alas, my innate laziness has manifested itself in the blogosphere was a severe lack of postings. As I need a swift kick to get the posting started again, I have joined the NaBloPoMo- the National Blog Posting Month Challenge. The official big month of daily blog posting was in November, but NaBloMaPo goes on every month and I'm looking forward to the challenge so check back every day (gasp) for a new food related posting.

And now, for my first November posting, what could be better than this Chicken Saagwala? After all the Thanksgiving turkey and cranberrry sauce, and with all the holiday parties with cookies, hams and the rest of it, this light chicken and spinach dish is full of flavor but easy on the waistline. Did I mention you can make it in about 30 minutes?

This recipe is based off one I found in the Weight Watcher Cookbook. Before you write it off as 'diet' food and therefore tasteless and me as having abandoned good food altogether, hear me out. We all, from time to time, need to focus more on healthy eating. For me, that time is now, and I have to think that some of you out there would like some lighter options to make at home during a month when there are tempting holiday treats at seemingly every turn. I'll never post anything on the blog just because it's healthy- it also has to be delicious and something that I would be happy to serve to guests in my home.

I made this recipe last night fully expecting it to be a mediocre homemade Indian dish but Zach and I were blown away wth how tasty it was. The spices really pop thanks to a quick toasting in oil and since it cooks quickly, the spinach and tomatoes retain their color and the chicken breast doesn't dry out. I added some yogurt at the end to round out the flavors and add a hint of creaminess dish and served it with some (leftover) white rice. This really is one of the tastiest dishes I've made in a long time and I'm excited to have another winning Indian dish in my repertoire. Also a plus- it's gluten-free and could easily be made vegetarian with the substitution of tofu instead of the chicken. Don't have yogurt on hand? Stir in a little cream for a richer flavor or leave it out all together if you're lactose intolerant.

Note: this flavor of this dish depends on the quality of your spices. If you curry powder has been hanging out in the spice rack since the last administration it's probably time to get a new one. I used McCormick brand curry powder (the one in the glass jar with the green lid) and would recommend it.

Chicken Saagwala
Adapted from the Weight Watchers Cookbook
Serves 4

1 T plus 2t vegetable oil
2 T minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T + 1 t curry powder
1 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
12oz/350g chicken breast or tenders or tofu, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
12 oz/300g frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/3C/75g low-fat plain yogurt
hot white or brown rice, naan, or pita bread (optional to complete your meal)

- Put the oil, ginger, garlic and spices in a non-stick skillet (that has a lid) and turn the heat to medium. Once the mix starts sizzling and bubbling, stir and toast for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant.

- Add the chicken and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Add the tomatoes, mix again and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, still on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

- Add the spinach, stir, re-cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

- Add the yogurt, stir and and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with your accompaniments.

22 November 2009

Now Watching

The French Chef with Julia Child. I searched for it on a whim at the library and was pleasantly surprised that it was available as Mastering the Art of French Cooking has a huge waiting list. I guess all those fans of Julie and Julia have the DVD set on their Netflix queues. So far I've seen Julia prepare potatoes 4 ways (dauphinoise, shredded potato pancakes, casserole with sausage and mashed potato pancakes) and I would make any one. Judging from the way Zach cheered every time Julia said "I'll just put a touch of cream in" I don't think he would mind if we had potatoes for dinner every night this week. Julia does use a ridiculous amount of butter and cream in all of the recipes, but I bet the potatoes are amazing. I would like to try the potatoes dauphinoise and the potato sausage casserole, but knowing myself, will probably be cutting down on the fat a bit (Julia did say that you could use milk instead of cream for the potatoes dauphinoise).

Image is the cover art from the DVD set.

29 October 2009

Fall Apple Cake

Two boxes of apples from my dad's yard in New Jersey + friends coming over for dessert = fall apple cake. It's suddenly turned into fall in DC, so a warm apple cake seemed like the perfect weeknight treat. I based this off an old recipe that I love, but couldn't find, in the 30 minutes I had to get a cake in the oven before M&S arrived. It makes a buttery cake base that holds lots of tart apples and has a caramel topping that takes it a step beyond your typical apple cake. All it takes is about 30 minutes of prep work (even less if you have an apple peeler/corer, which I don't).

The first thing to do is find a cast iron skillet (or other stove to oven pan) and then estimate how many apples you would need to fill up the skillet with apple quarters. This depends completely on the size of your apples- with the little ones from my dad's yard, I probably used 10. If you have monster grocery store apples, you will probably need less, though you could cut them into eights and probably should, as you don't want the apple pieces to stick out above the edge of your pan.

Once you've figured out the apple situation, it's time to peel and core. I don't take the whole peel off the apple because 1) I'm lazy and 2) might as well keep some of the vitamins in. I peel in a spiral pattern, leaving a few stripes on. I wouldn't recommend skipping the peeling step completely, as the apple skins don't soften like the rest of the fruit during baking and fighting to cut an apple peel with a fork does not make for an enjoyable dining experience.

When you've finished the apples, pop the sugar and butter in the skillet over medium low heat and let melt. Don't stir but pick up the pan (oven mitt, please) and tilt it around to combine the ingredients. Let cook to a medium amber color and remove from the heat. It can be a little hard on your first few attempts to discern the color of the caramel from black skillet, but watch for the color on the foamy parts. Arrange the apples in rings around the pan, then make your cake batter and pour over the top. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350F, turn the cake over onto a plate and serve warm.

Fall Apple Cake
Serves 8-10

Apple topping:
1/2C (100g) sugar
2 T. (30g) butter
apples (read above to figure out how many you need)
lemon juice

1 recipe, yellow or white cake (coming soon)

(If you are really pressed for time you could use a box mix although it only take a few minutes to put together this recipe)

- Preheat oven to 350F/180C

- Peel, core and cut apples in fourths or eights depending on the size. Toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning.

- Heat the butter and sugar in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Don't stir but pick up the pan (oven mitt, please) and tilt it around to combine the ingredients. Let cook to a medium amber color and remove from the heat.

- Arrange the apple pieces in rings in the skillet. Pour the cake batter evenly over the top of the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden and a tester inserted in the cake come out clean.

28 October 2009

Tossed Salad with Indian Spiced Chicken

I remember reading an article a few years ago stating that the average American family has about a dozen core recipes in its meal lineup, and repeats them, with a few variations, most of the time. At the time, I thought that would be awfully boring, but I've given more thought to it lately, as I haven't been making things I thought were interesting enough to post on the blog. Part of why I started writing this blog was to encourage myself to try new foods and techniques in the kitchen and it's worked, but lately I found myself in a culinary rut. Granted, this was after a summer of heavy travel when I had simply gotten out of the habit of meal planning and into the habit of pasta and veggie burgers. Now that some big life things have happened- Zach and I got married, I'm leaving my job to take some time off before the new job starts (a luxury I really do appreciate), I am ready to get the blog fired up again.

I thought I would start with a 'make the old new again' kind of recipe, turning
Indian Spiced Chicken Bites into a meal but putting them on top of a tossed salad with an Indian spice dressing and serving it with warm pita. Is it the most magnificent thing I've ever made in the kitchen? Certainly not; but it was a quick, balanced meal that combines everyday ingredients with a few new tastes to add some excitement to a weeknight dinner.

Tossed Salad with Indian Spiced Chicken
Serves 2, easily doubled
Dressing based on this

1/2 recipe
Indian Spiced Chicken Bites
1/2 head romaine (or your preferred) lettuce, torn into pieces
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 C. raisins or chopped dried apricots
salad dressing (below)

- Toss all the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl. Top with dressing and toss again. Serve.

Salad dressing (you'll probably have leftovers)

a bit of lemon zest
2T lemon juice
1/2t turmeric
1/2t cumin
1/2t coriander
1 small glove garlic, mashed into a paste
1/2t sugar
2t grated fresh ginger
chili paste to taste
salt to taste
1/4-1/2C light flavored oil

- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a wisk.

27 October 2009

Pumpkin Spice Macarons

This month was supposed to be my triumphant return to the Daring Bakers but it began with a baking disaster and is ending with me typing up this post at 10pm on posting day. I have seen macarons online for a while now and have always been more intrigued by their looks than what I thought they would taste like. While the sandwich cookies look so cute, meringue has never been my thing, so I'd never gotten around to trying them, until this month that is.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

For my first attempt, I carefully separated the eggs and let the whites come to room temperature. Then I proceeded to overbeat them. I knew it but decided to continue on with the cookies anyway, thinking that everything would be all right. Oh no, it was not. The cookies ended up flattened sticky messes and even though I'm usually a one picture per post type of person, I'm sticking in an extra picture of my overbeated egg whites- just in case you aren't sure what they look like (I wasn't). So here they are= if your egg whites look like this, toss them out and start again.

For my next attempt, I whipped the white much more carefully and things turned out pretty well. I couldn't find my piping tips when it came time to pipe out the cookies though, so I ended up make them much thinner than I should have. They turned out a little flat, but still have a hint of the 'foot' they are famous for.

For flavoring I decided to go fall, and mixed nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice into the macaron batter and made an unsweetened pumpkin cream cheese frosting. I find pumpkin quite bitter on its own, but it worked out really well against the incredibly sweet macarons.

One last confession before I end my post. Since my first macaron attempt failed, I switched recipes for the second. The DB challenge recipe is below, but for my successful attempt, I used
Helene's recipe. I'm sure both will work, as long as you're careful with the egg whites.


Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) Confectioners’ sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) Almond flour
2T (25g, 88 oz.)Granulated sugar
5 Egg whites (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 10 dozen. Ami's note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.

31 August 2009

Garlic Scape and White Bean Dip

My summer travels have come to an end and I'm back in DC (for the next week at least). While my summer photos are loading I thought I'd post this dip that I made earlier in the summer. It's healthy, delicious and easy- for a while I was making a batch a week to have as a snack. Yes, garlic scape season has passed us by but it's just as good made with fresh rosemary and a small piece of garlic. I used this recipe from Zested, a blog worth visiting just for the photos alone and made even better by the great recipes. I'll be back soon with more recipes and travel food posts.

27 July 2009


Milano cookies are one of my favorite commercial (as opposed to homemade) cookies so I was pretty stoked to see that one of the two recipes for this month's Daring Bakers Challenge was for a homemade Milano style cookie by Gail Gand. I knew I would be traveling so resolved to make these cookies early in the month and give them to a professor of mine as a thank you gift.

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

I set to making the cookies, making a few modifications (bad Daring Baker, I know, but I couldn't help myself). Not everyone loves citrus with chocolate and as as the cookies were a gift, I decided to leave out the lemon extract. Without the lemon to balance out the 2T of vanilla extract, I thought 1T would be more than enough to flavor the cookies. The batter came together quickly but looked much to thin to make cookies and then I (figuratively) smacked myself on the head as I realized I forgot to add the flour. Disaster averted, at least for the time being.

Pastry bag improvised, cookies piped and in the oven. 7 minutes later, one gigantic burnt cookie mess comes out of the oven. The cookies had completely run together and burnt. Crud. Scrape trays and start over. Next go, about half of the cookies came out useable. Third go and a few lessons learned. Pipe very small dots, not lines of batter, and leave 3 inches between the dots. Watch them carefully and pull out as soon as the edges get golden. Use parchment or tin foil and pull off the hot sheets immediately, then remove while still a little warm. Ok- method down, several rounds later I have dozens of wafer thin cookies in varying shapes and sizes.

Ganache made without problems and then the fun begins. I spread out a layer of cookies and played a matching game, trying to put them in relatively equally spaced pairs, held together with the ganache.

Finally, I finished making all the cookie sandwiches and rewarding myself by eating the remaining ganache with a spoon. The finished cookies looked pretty, if a bit rustic in their uneveness. The vanilla taste was a bit too strong for me, even though I had halved it, but overall they were good but perhaps not quite worth the trouble when it's so easy to buy a bag...

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

23 July 2009

Smoky Grilled Chicken

Back in D.C. from a lovely long vacation and thought I would post on this smoky grilled chicken I made a few weeks ago. It's from a recipe my co-worker S- and I saw on the Food Network (don't worry, it was after hours) and we both thought it looked amazing. First, a spice rub and then a long, slow cook on a grill with wood chips to give the chicken great flavor and color. It was fantastic, easily the best grilled chicken I have ever made, and quite simple too. The only problem was that the chicken took about 2 hours to cook so we had dinner at around 10pm... which meant there was a little too much time for mojitos beforehand.

I followed the Neely's recipe closely, so I will leave you with the link and few notes:

1) We used a 'sweet' smoking mix S- picked up from World Market that included applewood but had other things too
2) We have a kettle style charcoal grill so followed Alton Brown's suggestion of making a foil pouch for the (pre-soaked) wood chips and snipping little holes it and it worked well
3) The chicken might take a long time to cook through- have some tasty drinks on hand and friends to keep you company while you wait

02 July 2009

Rhubarb Citrus Tart

I made this tart while visiting my family in New Jersey a few weeks ago. Only after I got back from the store did I remember that my dad has some semi-wild rhubarb growing in the back yard. The tart recipe is from Gourmet magazine. This is one of those desserts that prettier to look at than it is to eat. The recipe called for frozen puff pastry and the only thing available was the national brand- I'm sure it would be better if you could find an all butter pastry. The citrus glaze for the tart seemed like a good idea, except after boiling it for 20 minutes and still having much more than the recipe said I should I turned the heat up to full blast, hoping to reduce it quickly. I should have known, especially after this many daring bakers challenges, how quickly sugar can caramelize over high heat. Luckily must have developed my sense of smell a bit because as soon as I got a whiff of caramel I was able to pull the pan off the stove before the whole thing burnt into a solidified citrusy mass.

I salvaged what glaze I could and attempted to spread it over the warm tart but as it was the consistency of molasses, it didn't go very well. Still, I thought it was pretty enough to warrant a post and thought that it might serve as inspiration for some other, better, rhubarb dessert.

01 July 2009

Garlic Scape Pesto

This recipe seems to be all the rage this year as more and more people discover garlic scapes. My first experience with garlic scapes (which are the green tops farmers cut off the top of the growing garlic early in the season) came last year courtesy of our CSA. I didn't really know what to do with them so used them mostly in stir fries. This year though, I've come across recipes highlighting the fresh flavor of the scapes, like this pesto I adapted from Dorie Greenspan. I think that my scapes were a bit bigger than Dorie's as you can see that my pesto came out rather thick, even though I kept adding tablespoons of water to thin it out. It has a coarser texture than basil pesto but the garlic flavor and surprising burst of spice made it a great cracker topping. Next I'm going to whir it up in the mini-prep again with some basil leaves to make a scape and basil pesto.

23 June 2009

The Darings Do Dumplings

Late yes, but so good they deserved the post anyway. A few years ago I decided to have a dumpling making party- I invited a few friends over, we made a few fillings and spent a happy hour sealing wrappers. Then, when it came time to cook the dumplings, we ended up with a mushy on the outside/raw on the inside mess. My friend M- disputes this, and says that only the pork ones came out raw and the rest were fine, but pork crudo dumplings sort of ruined it for me and I decided to leave dumpling making to the pros, until this month's Daring Cooks Challenge at least.

Jen, from Use Real Butter, chose dumplings as last month's challenge and the real challenge was to make the wrappers from scratch. I was nervous at first but her directions were great and the dough came together in no time at all. While the dough was having a rest, I made a pork filling, following Jen's recipe exactly. Make that almost exactly. I thought I had a huge knob of ginger at home but it turned out I had about 2T worth, half what the recipe called for. I hoped that would be all right and pressed on.

I started to roll out the little rounds and realized that it would take me the entire afternoon to roll, stuff and seal all of the dumplings so I called for backup. Zach and I set up an assembly line. He would roll out the little dough knobs and I would stuff and seal. Pretty soon we had about 40 dumplings lined up and ready to go. I put half in the freezer and pan fried the rest for lunch.

While they may not have been quite as pretty as the dumplings you get from restaurants, they were just as, if not more delicious. The filling had the perfect blend of ginger and soy, even though I used less ginger than called for. The crunch of the golden brown crust played perfectly off the soft top of the wrapper and (cooked!) pork filling. This recipe is definitley a keeper.

Chinese Dumplings/Potstickers
Recipe from Jen at Use Real Butter
Makes about 40 dumplings

pork filling: (this makes a bit more than you will need- use the rest as filling for stuffed cabbage or make a dumpling burger or meatloaf out of it)
1 lb (450g) ground pork
4 large napa cabbage leaves, minced
3 stalks green onions, minced
7 shitake mushrooms, minced (if dried - rehydrated and rinsed carefully)
1/2 cup (75g) bamboo shoots, minced
2 T (25g) ginger root, minced
3 tbsp (40g) soy sauce
2 tbsp (28g) sesame oil
2 tbsp (16g) corn starch

2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (113g) warm water
flour for worksurface

dipping sauce:
2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili garlic paste (optional)
minced ginger (optional)
minced garlic (optional)
minced green onion (optional)
sugar (optional)

Make the filling:
Combine all filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to a day, but preferably within an hour or two).

Make the dough, Method 1: Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky.[Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).

Make the dough, Method 2 (my mom’s instructions): In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch.

Both dough methods: Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side (see images in post for how to fold pleats). Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.

To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.

To steam: Place dumplings on a single layer of napa cabbage leaves or on a well-greased surface in a steamer basket with lid. Steam covered for about 6 minutes.

To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.

To freeze: Assemble dumplings on a baking sheet so they are not touching. It helps to rub the base of the dumpling in a little flour before setting on the baking sheet for ease of release. Freeze for 20-30 minutes until dumplings are no longer soft. Place in ziploc bag and freeze for up to a couple of months. Prepare per the above instructions, but allow extra time to ensure the filling is thoroughly cooked.

To serve: Serve dumplings or potstickers hot with your choice of dipping sauce combinations.

22 June 2009

A Surprise from the Garden

I am not good with plants. I never have been. In college, I killed a cactus. When we bought out house last fall, I saw the rosebush outside and wondered how long it would last. I decided on the less is more approach to rose care, meaning I ignored it and hoped it would ignore me and not immediately keel over. For the past few weeks, roses all around DC have been in bloom and our little rose plant (I'm not sure I would call its two spindly stalks a bush) yellowed and looked sickly in general. Then this morning, as I was wheeling my bike out on the way to work I saw this gorgeous pink and peach rose. I was so shocked I immediately pulled out the camera thought I should post the picture, even if it's not food related. Have a good Monday-

21 June 2009

Just What the Doctor Ordered

It's been a rough couple of months for me, as my lack of posting may have tipped you off too. I was having a particularly tough week when I logged on to my email and saw that Goldie from Confessions of a Serial Baker sent me a Sweet Lemonade Award. The award is for having a great attitude and while I know my attitude hasn't been the best lately (and I thank all of my friends for putting up with me) this award really means a lot to me and came at a time when I really needed it so- thank you Goldie.

And now, my nominees for the Sweet Lemonade Awards are:

Vera of Baking Obsession. Vera's can-do attitude and beautiful photography make me feel like I could make any of her recipes (and the ones that I have have been fantastic)

Hannah over at Bittersweet wows me with her pictures and cheers me up whatever my mood with her delicious vegan treats.

19 June 2009

Chocolate Chip Cake

This is a little cake I made with as I was testing out cupcakes a few weeks ago. I only have two cupcake pans, so when I filled the pans before I finished the batter, I whipped out a ramekin and decided that a cakelette was in the works. I baked it for a bit longer than the cupcakes and took it out when it had risen over the edge of the ramekin and was a delicious looking buttery golden color. Unfortunately, the center of the cake fell as it was cooling but that just meant I had to cover it up with whipped cream and strawberries. Zach and I shared it out in the garden, as this was before the killer mosquitos took over the yard. Just looking at it again now makes me want another one.

01 June 2009

Turkish Style Baked Eggs

I was reading Chocolate and Zucchini the other week and saw Clotilde's link to The New Vegetarian Column in the UK's Guardian newspaper. I was intrigued as I had read about the column's author, Yotam Ottolenghi, on other blog posts as he is the owner of a delicatessen, in the true meaning of the word, in London. I'm always on the lookout for meals that don't involve meat, and Zach and I love getting Turkish food out, so I eagerly read through Ottolenghi's recent columns looking for things to make.

When I had found this
recipe and announced to the office that I was going to make baked eggs with yogurt and spinach for dinner, my co-worker S- actually started laughing. I will admit that it might sound a bit strange, but if you think about it like a variation on eggs florentine, with the spinach, yogurt instead of hollandaise and a bit of chili oil on top, it starts to sound a lot more normal.

It only took about 10 minutes to put everything together and it should have only taken another 10-15 to bake but I can never tell when baked eggs are done and cooked them for way too long. The finished dish was still really good though, topped with garlicy homemade yogurt, even if the eggs were overcooked. The chili sauce was a revelation though-- as its very similar to an amazing sauce that
Zaytinya, one of our favorite DC restaurants, puts on its manti.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, as I couldn't find arugula and reduced the fat content a bit (per usual) so my version of the recipe is below.

Turkish Style Baked Eggs
Adapted from The New Vegetarian
Serves 2-3 for dinner

1 bunch (300g) fresh spinach
2 t. olive oil
4 eggs
3/4 C (150g) Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2 T (20)g unsalted butter
1/2 t. sweet paprika
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
6 sage leaves, shredded
salt for topping

- Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Wash the spinach, remove the stems. Head a big frying pan over medium high heat with the oil. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt. Cook until the spinach is wilted and all of the water has evaporated. If you can, use a spatula to squeeze more water out of the spinach.

- Put the spinach in a small, ovenproof dish and make four wells that go almost to the bottom of the spinach. Break and egg into a custard cup (try to keep the yolk whole) and then pour into a well; repeat with remaining eggs. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the egg whites set. (you might want to give it a stab with a fork to check doneness as it's very hard to do by sight)

- While the eggs are cooking, mix the yogurt, the crushed garlic and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Leave on the counter till ready to serve.

- Wipe out the pan you used for the spinach. Add the butter and turn on the heat. Cook until the butter stops foaming then add the paprika and red pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Add the sage leaves, cook for another minute and turn off the heat.

- Remove the eggs from the oven when they're done. Fish the garlic out of the yogurt mix, then pour the yogurt on the center of the egg dish. Pour the butter mix over the top and serve immediately.

31 May 2009

Spring Pea Pasta

I went home from work on Wednesday planning to make some pasta with olive oil and garlic for dinner, as I hadn't really been shopping since we'd come back from New York. Usually, the first thing I do when I get home is read the Style section of the The Washington Post. Even though I could read the whole thing online during the day, I really am a bit of luddite and really like to sit on the couch and go through the paper, turning my fingers gray with newsprint. Reading the paper online just isn't the same for me.

On Wednesdays, the Post puts out its Food section so I start there before moving to style. The section, like most in the paper, has clearly lost some staff over the last few months and introduced a new format. Perhaps because of this, not many recipes have made the leap from the page to my kitchen. Last Wednesday though, the butterfly pasta with baby peas immediately caught my attention.

Farfalle is actually one of my least favorite pasta shapes, but the delicate sauce of peas and snap peas sounded really good. The fussy recipe, involving ice water baths, cooling, reheating and a blender, just seemed like too much for a Wednesday night and I thought that I could streamline the recipe and get a similar taste. I put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta and got started by chopping an onion and sweating it in a bit of butter. Then I poured in some vegetable broth and brought it to a boil. When the onion was soft, I poured in all but a handful of a bag of frozen petit peas and cooked them just for a minute or two. Out came the immersion blender and I whirred the sauce together with a few sage leaves, then drained the pasta and tossed it all together. Much easier than the original recipe. Granted, I didn't have the snap peas or shallot but I don't think the recipe was really harmed for the lack of them.

The bright green sauce livened up the mix of pastas (a result of the bare pantry) and a perfect, slightly sweet dinner for a spring night. Since the whole meal came together in the time it takes to boil and cook a pot of pasta, I'm sure this one will be on the menu again.

P.S. I had some extra sauce leftover, which I ate as a cold pea soup for lunch the next day. The original recipe suggests mixing leftovers with some greek yogurt for a dip...

Spring Pea Pasta
Adapted from The Washington Post
Serves 4 for dinner

10 oz. (280g) your favorite short pasta
2 T. (20g) butter
1 medium to large onion
2 C (480ml) vegetable broth (can sub. chicken broth)
1 lb (450g) fresh or frozen baby peas
3-5 fresh sage leaves (or your favorite fresh herb)

- Put a large pot of water on to boil. Chop the onion and add to a smallish saucepan with the butter. Sweat the onion over medium/medium low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil and cook for another 5 minutes.

- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. When the pasta has about 5 minutes left, add all but a large handful of the peas to the veggie broth mix. Boil for 2-3 minutes, until the peas are just tender. Take off the heat, add the fresh herbs and puree very carefully using an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and whir it away.

- Drain the pasta, return to the pot and add sauce to taste. Toss well and serve right away.

27 May 2009

Apple Strudel

This was a last minute challenge if I've ever done one. Zach and I got back from a weekend in New York on Monday night and when I logged in to the Daring Kitchen yesterday, just to check on the ingredients needed for this months challenge, I was startled to see that I had just one night for the challenge. Luckily, this month's apple strudel seemed manageable so I made a grocery list and got to work.

The strudel dough came together so quickly I almost wanted to laugh- really, this easy? I prepped the apples while the dough rested and then met a friend at the gym. When we got back, I spread an old sheet over half of the dining room table and while K* and Zach looked on, proceeded to roll and stretch out the dough. Once I floured both side of the dough, it rolled out easily. I tried to be as delicate as possible when picking it up to stretch out, but I still got a few holes, which I patched up with a little water. The dough didn't quite make it to 2'x3' but it was tissue thin in most parts so I cut off the edges, put in the filling and rolled the whole thing up, using the sheet as a sling.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the strudel came out golden brown and with a buttery, tangy apple smell filling the house. I attempted to wait patiently for the required 30 minutes, then K* and I tried a piece. I was shocked at how well the dough came out- crisp, lightly buttery in contrast to the soft apples and raisins. This one is a definite keeper.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Apple Strudel

(Tips and notes from our hosts at the bottom)

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.
Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

- Ingredients are cheap so we would recommend making a double batch of the dough, that way you can practice the pulling and stretching of the dough with the first batch and if it doesn't come out like it should you can use the second batch to give it another try;
- The tablecloth can be cotton or polyster;
- Before pulling and stretching the dough, remove your jewelry from hands and wrists, and wear short-sleeves;
- To make it easier to pull the dough, you can use your hip to secure the dough against the edge of the table;
- Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.

18 May 2009

Tomato Mozzarella and Spinach Pasta Salad

I ordered a tomato and mozzarella salad to have at a work lunch last week and, as I hate to see food go to waste, brought the leftovers home. With recent family visits and graduation to go to I haven't been cooking very often at all lately. I knew there wasn't much in the fridge but two bunches of baby spinach leaves. Once I got home, I found a box of penne in the back of the cupboard and decided everything could go together to make a warm pasta salad. As I heated the water for the pasta, I washed and spun the spinach, then put it in my big salad bowl along with the tomato mozzarella salad. I cooked the penne then drained it and tossed it together with the veggies and cheese. The pasta salad was summery and delicious. It was good warm and as cold leftovers and would make a great picnic or pot luck addition.

Tomato, Mozzarella and Spinach Pasta Salad
Serves 4-6 as a main course

2 cups tomato mozzarella salad OR 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes plus 1 cup tiny fresh mozzarella balls and 1/2 C. of your favorite red wine vinagrette
2 small bunches baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
10 oz. whole wheat penne

- Set a pot of water on to boil. Clean and dry the spinach and put in in your serving bowl. Add the tomato mozzarella salad and toss to combine.

- When the water comes to the boil, add the pasta and cook until all dente. Reserve 1/2 C. pasta cooking water then drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta tot the serving bowl and toss to combine. The spinach should wilt slightly. If it looks too dry add some pasta cooking water. Serve immediately or save for later.

14 May 2009

Daring Cooks: Ricotta Gnocchi

For the launching of Daring Cooks, Lis and Ivonne chose a ricotta gnocchi recipe from the Zuni Cafe. The recipe looked easy enough, especially after watching this helpful demo from the cooks at the Zuni Cafe, so I planned on making the gnocchi as a light Sunday night dinner. Since ricotta is the star ingredient of these gnocchi, I made a special trip to Whole Foods to get an artisanal one, instead of the usually grocery store variety. Both the recipe and the video advised straining the ricotta overnight to ensure that the gnocchi wouldn't be too liquidy so I did. When it was finally time to make the gnocchi, my ricotta has firmed up a bit but it didn't look like the video as it was still very soft. What is a daring cook to do but press on with the recipe in the face of possible failure?

I followed the rest of the recipe exactly yet the gnocchi mixture looked more like soup than anything that could be scooped into quenelles. I poured a bit of the soup onto a plate of flour and attempted to jiggle it into some sort of shape and when that didn't work, I used a spoon to scoop it up and into a waiting pot. My test gnocchi promptly disintigrated and I didn't think that one egg white would do much to help it. I poured it back into the strainer and decided to try to drain some additional water out of it. One visit from my aunt and uncle and two days later, I remebered the gnocchi at approximately 10am.

I ran down to the kitchen, certain that the batter would be a solid mass, to find a that it really hadn't firmed up much at all. I prepared a test gnocchi though, determined to salvage something from it, and it held together all right so I had the batch and put them straight into the freezer.

A few days later I made the gnocchi for lunch. The gnocchi held together when cooking but didn't fare so well coming out of the pan. The ones that survived were light and fluffy, if a bit salty, probably from concentrating everything by extracting the water. I served them with a brown butter sage sauce, which was mild enough not to overwhelm the ricotta but still added a bit of flavor.

Even though my my gnocchi fell apart the recipe was easy to make, so I'd like to try them again with a different ricotta in the future.

Note: These gnocchi are gluten free except for a dusting of flour as a very last step. I think that you could easily use an alternative flour and keep them totally gluten free.

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels or coffee filters
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1
(the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2
(the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.
Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.
Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.
Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.
In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.
With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.
Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.
Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4:
Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously (mine ended up too salty, so you might want to go light on the salt.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).
When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.