Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fine Cooking: Leek Tart with Bacon & Gruyére

If your Christmas morning breakfast is anything like my family's, everyone is messing with their new toys and no one wants to have to set everything down and go in the kitchen and cook.  I mean, who in their right mind would choose labor over fun??  My mother and me, apparently.

My mom wanted to try something different this year for Christmas breakfast (what was wrong with the breakfast casserole of my youth??), so I helped her make this Leek Tart with Bacon and Gruyére. Only it took so long to make, that it was more like a late afternoon snack than a breakfast. Poor planning on our part.  And all that time wasted that I could have been playing!

Once we managed to get the thing cooked, it was actually pretty darn good. I especially loved the thyme in the crust. Nice touch.  I'm always a fool for anything quiche-like. Oh, and bacon really does makes everything better.

Leek Tart with Bacon and Gruyére
From Fine Cooking magazine, December 2007

For the tart shell:
9 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5½ ounces (11 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
5 to 6 tablespoons ice-cold water

For the filling:
3 thick slices bacon, cut into small dice
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 large leeks (white and light green parts only), cleaned and sliced crosswise ¼-inch thick to yield about 4 cups
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
⅓ cup heavy cream
⅓ cup whole milk
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup grated Gruyère (or Emmentaler)

Make the tart shell:

In a food processor, pulse the flour, thyme, salt, and pepper to blend thoroughly. Add the butter and pulse until the butter pieces are about the size of rice grains (about eight 1-second pulses). Add the ice water 1 Tbs. at a time through the feed tube while pulsing in short bursts until the dough starts coming together. It may still look crumbly, but if you press it with your fingers, it should become compact. (Don’t add more water than absolutely necessary to get the dough to cling together.) Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and, using your hands, gather and press the dough into a rough ball, blotting up the stray crumbs.

Transfer the dough to a piece of waxed paper, shape it gently into a disk, and wrap it tightly to keep it from drying out. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. (The dough can be made up to 2 days ahead.) Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F. Unwrap the dough, set it on a lightly floured surface, and if necessary, let sit until pliable. Roll the dough out to a 14-inch circle about ⅛-inch thick.

Transfer the dough to an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and press it carefully into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Let the edges of the dough hang over the rim of the pan and then roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to cut away the excess dough. Prick the surface of the dough all over with a fork, line it with parchment, and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the edges of the tart shell are dry and flaky (but not browned), about 10 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment; the center should still be moist and raw. Prick the bottom again and return the shell to the oven. Bake until the bottom surface is completely dry, 5 to 7 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Lower the oven temperature to 375°F.

Make the filling:

In a 12-inch skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a dish and set aside. Discard all but about 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat. Set the skillet over medium-low heat, add the butter, let it melt, and then add the leeks. Stir to coat them with the fat, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir the flour into the leeks and cook uncovered, stirring, for about 2 minutes to cook off the raw-flour flavor. Set aside and let cool slightly. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the cream, milk, salt, nutmeg, and several grinds of pepper and whisk until blended. Add the bacon and leeks to the mixture and stir to combine.

To assemble the tart, scatter ⅓ cup cheese over the cooled tart shell and pour in the egg mixture. Spread the leeks evenly. Scatter the remaining ⅓ cup cheese evenly over the top. Bake until the custard is set and the top is light golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

CDkitchen: Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms and Giada de Laurentiis: Cheese and Spinach Puff Pastry Pockets

Tonight we went to my sister's house for a little pre-Christmas party and gift-opening session for those in the family who would not be making the journey to the back woods for Christmas day. Of course we each had to bring an item or two, so I did my two standby favorites that always seem to go over well. The first was Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms. I also made some Cheese and Spinach Puff Pastry Pockets, adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. The only major change is that I use smoked gouda instead of the Fontina cheese. I just love the deep flavor it gives the pastries.

Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

40 large mushrooms
½ cup grated Romano cheese
¾ cup dry bread crumbs
½ cup grated onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¾ cup olive oil

Wash the mushrooms. Remove stems and chop. Mix all ingredients except mushroom caps and oil. Stuff caps. Pour a bit of oil into baking pan; arrange mushrooms in pan. Pour remaining oil over each mushroom cap. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes to brown the tops.

Cheese and Spinach Puff Pastry Pockets
From Giada de Laurentiis

12 frozen puff pastry shells, unthawed
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (16-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1¼ cup grated smoked Gouda cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 to 5 green onions, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Arrange the frozen pastry shells on the baking sheet and bake until they puff and become golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Using a small knife, cut out the center of the pastry shells.

Meanwhile, stir the cream, milk, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.  Stir in the spinach, Gouda cheese, Parmesan cheese, and green onions.  Spoon the spinach mixture into the baked pastry shells.  Bake until the pastries are golden brown and the filling is hot, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer the pastries to a platter and serve.

Makes 12 servings

Monday, December 22, 2008

Betty Crocker: Crisp Chocolate-Espresso Ribbon Cookies and Martha Stewart's Cookies: Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

It is nearly Christmas, therefore I must bake cookies. It's like a law of the universe. It cannot be violated. And no, the linzer sables and the sugar cookies I made recently do NOT fulfill the quota. One of my favorite childhood memories was flipping through a cookie cookbook my mom had, and I would spend hours staring at all the amazing little things that fell under the heading "cookie". It was better than any Nancy Drew novel. Yes, I was that child. Anyway, the gingerbread cookies are amazingly spicy and delicious, while the ribbon cookies made my whole kitchen smell like a Starbucks. Bonus.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
From Martha Stewart's Cookies

7 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup granulated sugar

Line two baking sheets with parchment. Chop chocolate into ¼-inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger,cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1½ teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.

Heat oven to 325°F. Roll dough into 1½-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crisp Chocolate-Espresso Ribbon Cookies

1 pouch sugar cookie mix
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg, slightly beaten
⅓ cup bittersweet chocolate chips, melted
½ cup coarsely to finely crushed chocolate-covered espresso coffee beans
⅓ cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds

Line bottom and sides of 9x5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, flour, butter, almond extract and egg until soft dough forms. Divide dough in half; place half of dough in another bowl. Stir melted chocolate into half of dough. To remaining half of dough, mix in espresso beans and almonds.
Firmly press half of chocolate dough evenly in bottom of loaf pan. Evenly press half of espresso dough over chocolate dough in pan. Repeat with remaining chocolate dough and espresso dough. Fold plastic wrap over dough to cover. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until firm.
Heat oven to 350°F. Remove dough from pan; unwrap. Place dough on cutting board. Cut dough crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Cut each piece crosswise into ¼-inch slices. On ungreased cookie sheets, place slices 2 inches apart.

Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Corn Bread

I'm a big fan of cornbread. Mainly it's because I'm lazy, and I like a bread that can be made in one bowl without any associated wrestling or beatings. Corn bread is just so simple. It's so pioneer-days. It's so earthy. And I thought my sour cream cornbread was awesome, but now I have been shamed.

Peter Reinhart claimed that this particular cornbread recipe was the best he had ever had. That's saying a lot coming from a man that eats, sleeps, and dreams bread. Well, he actually already won me over when I saw that bacon fat was involved, but still.  Did I mention the bacon fat? Yes, the entire pan is coated in bacon fat, and then the batter gets poured on top. And then crumbled bacon is poured on top of that.  You may proceed with drooling.

Corn Bread
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

1 cup coarse cornmeal or polenta
2 cups buttermilk
8 ounces bacon (approximately 10 thin slices)
1¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour or a combination)
1½ tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2½ cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (cut from approximately 3 fresh ears of corn)
2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat

The night before baking the corn bread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight.

The next day, to prepare the bacon, preheat the oven to 375°F. Lay out the bacon on 2 sheet pans. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp. Using tongs or a fork, remove the pieces to a pan lined with paper towels to cool. Drain off the fat into a can or stainless steel bowl and save for greasing the corn bread pan. When the bacon has cooled, crumble it into coarse pieces.

Lower the oven setting to 350°F. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir in the granulated sugar and brown sugar. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Dissolve the honey in the melted butter and then stir the warm honey-butter mixture into the eggs. Add this to the soaked cornmeal mixture. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon or whisk until all the ingredients are evenly distributed and the batter is blended and smooth. It should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Stir in the corn kernels until they are evenly distributed.

Place 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat into a 10-inch round cake pan. Place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until the fat gets very hot. With good pot holders or oven mitts, remove the pan, tilt it to grease all the corners and sides, and pour in the batter, spreading it from the center of the pan to the edges. Sprinkle the crumbled bacon pieces evenly over the top, gently pressing them into the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the corn bread is firm and springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top will be a medium golden brown. The internal temperature at the center of the corn bread should register at least 185°F.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing it into squares or wedges. Serve warm.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Baking: From My Home to Yours: Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

Okay, I'm going to admit something here that will probably scandalize my mother. I HATE sugar cookies. No, not the big soft cookies with the fancy large-grain sugar sprinkled on top. I'm talking about the thin, tasteless cookies of Christmases past, that I gleefully gooked up with canned frosting when I was a kid. Now that I'm past the sugar-rush age, they just don't do it for me. But I'm a sport, so I figured I'd try Dorie's. But I'm also lazy, so no cute cut-outs of Rudolph frolicking with Santa's sleigh.

I decided to make these roll cookies, but since it IS the holidays, I broke down and bought some green and red sugar for the edges. I also tested my brand new silicon mats for the cookie sheets, and damn, why didn't I find those before?? I don't even need a spatula anymore.  And......the cookies themselves turned out exactly as I expected: tasteless and hard. My dad loved them, though. Go figure. But as soon as I find a good soft doughy sugar cookie recipe, you can bet it's getting posted.

Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (optional)

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably one fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated - because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy, and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap it in plastic.  If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you - I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you’re going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of ¼-inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly.  Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies - I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for re-rolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving 1½ inches between the cookies.  After you've rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll, cut and bake.

If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife to slice the dough into ¼-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1½ inches of space between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust the cookies with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you’d like. Let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

(Voodoo)Lily: Ham and Cheese Orzo Casserole

As a white Anglo-Saxon protestant in the US, I grew up on casseroles. Tuna noodle, hamburger pie, scalloped potatoes, anything you can imagine. It's a part of WASP life. So when I saw this oh-my-gosh-amazing cheesy, hammy, oniony dish of goodness, I knew I had to make it. I bided my time, and luckily Heather from Gild the (Voodoo)Lily eventually posted her recipe (after just about everyone on the internet begged for it). I paid attention when I was cooking so I could clarify it a little more, and it appears below. Oh, and I changed the name.

The Best Damn Casserole....EVER
From (Voodoo)Lily blog

½ pound orzo
1 (32-ounce) box chicken stock
3 tbsp butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups whole milk
6 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese, divided use
2 ounces shredded Gruyére cheese
Salt and pepper
8 ounces ham, cubed
1 bag broccoli flowerets OR 1 pound fresh broccoli, stems removed OR 1 box frozen broccoli, defrosted
3 ounces french fried onions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add orzo and cook until liquid is absorbed and orzo is al dente, about 9 minutes. The orzo should absorb all of the liquid, and some hot water may need to be added until cooking is complete.

In large saucepan, melt butter. Sprinkle flour over top, mix in with butter, and cook until nutty and slightly browned. Remove from flame and whisk in milk. Return to heat and cook until mixture thickens and bubbles. Add 4 ounces of Cheddar cheese and all of Gruyére cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper.

Add ham, broccoli, and hot orzo to the cheese sauce, and mix to combine. Pour mixture into a casserole dish, and top with remaining 2 ounces of Cheddar cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove casserole from oven, sprinkle with french fried onion, and bake an additional five minutes until onions are warm and crispy.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Shrimp in Brandy Cream Sauce Over Orange-Scented Rice

This month's Paper Chef challenge was to use rice, brandy, blood orange, and crustaceans in a dish. I scoured several grocery stores in my area, but I guess blood oranges haven't made their way to New Jersey yet. I settled for a Satsuma orange. For the crustacean requirement, I decided to pick shrimp since I haven't had them for a while. What came together was a shrimp in brandy cream sauce over orange-scented rice. And let me tell you, it was fantastic.

Shrimp in Brandy Cream Sauce Over Orange-Scented Rice

1 pound extra large shrimp, uncooked, shells reserved
6 cups water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
2 large shallots, finely chopped
3 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ cup brandy
⅓ cup heavy cream
1½ cup medium grain rice, washed
1 satsuma orange
Salt and pepper

Pull shells off of shrimp and put in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Boil shells for at least half an hour to form a shrimp stock. Strain stock of shells and set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet. Add chopped shallots, and sauté for approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle shallots with flour and Old Bay seasoning, and mix in with wooden spoon. Add two cups of reserved shrimp stock; stir to combine. Heat mixture over medium heat until it begins to simmer. Simmer mixture until it is reduced by half. Add brandy. Brandy may be flamed off or simmered off. Add cream, and simmer gently until sauce is thickened.

In a separate pot, add washed rice, remaining 2 cups of water, and the peel of the satsuma orange. Reserve the pulp and juice. Bring rice to a boil, and cook according to package instructions until done. Remove peel. Crush orange pulp and pour the juice into the cooked rice. Fluff with a fork to distribute the juice.

Once sauce has thickened, add shrimp and remaining 1 tablespoon butter to saucepan. Simmer for five more minutes, or until shrimp are pink. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the shrimp over the orange rice.

Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Betty Crocker: Almond, Apricot, and White Chocolate Decadence Bars

I love the taste of almond, especially almond extract added into baked goods, but it seems to be a flavor that isn't often used anymore. And as for almond paste, I can honestly say I've never used it. So when I saw the recipe for Almond, Apricot, and White Chocolate Decadence Bars, I knew I had to try them. And they turned out much more flavorful and rich than I would have expected for a Betty Crocker recipe. Some issues I had: don't cook the sugar cookie base too long, or it gets really dark by the end; the almond paste is pretty dry, so a regular electric mixer doesn't really cut it, but if you have a KitchenAid with paddle attachment, it might work better; all of the white chocolate chips don't necessarily melt with just the heat of the hot cream, I had to heat the whole thing a little longer.

Almond, Apricot, and White Chocolate Decadence Bars
From Betty Crocker

Cookie Base:
1 pouch sugar cookie mix
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 (8-ounce) can almond paste
½ cup granulated sugar
1 (6-ounce) package dried apricots, finely chopped
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 (11-ounce) bag Ghirardelli white baking chips
⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, stir cookie base ingredients until soft dough forms. Spread the dough in the bottom of an ungreased 9x13-inch pan. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until set. Cool 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the almond paste and sugar with an electric mixer on low speed until crumbly but blended. Add the apricots; beat on low speed just until combined. Add the cream cheese, eggs, and lemon juice; beat on medium speed until well blended. Pour over the warm cookie base. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until set. Cool 30 minutes.

Place baking chips in a small bowl. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat the whipping cream just to boiling over low heat, stirring occasionally; pour over baking chips. Let stand 1 minute. Stir until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour and spread over the filling. Sprinkle with almonds. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until set.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Baking: From My Home to Yours: Linzer Sables

I'm in love with the linzer cookies at la Madeleine. They're so delicate and beautiful, and they have such a cute little peep hole in the middle. Perfectly frilly and fancy for the holidays. I didn't realize that they had ground almonds in them, but that just endeared them to me even more. What's better than almonds in baked goods? Almost nothing. Except butter. And maybe vanilla bean. But still, almonds rock.

For my linzer sables, I decided that I would forego the traditional strawberry or raspberry jam filling and go whole hog with...NUTELLA. Yes, that wonder of the spread world. That deliciousness in a jar. And it turned out just as wonderfully as I thought it would.

Linzer Sables
From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1½ cups finely ground almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup raspberry jam or strained apricot jam plus 1 teaspoon water

Whisk together the ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, salt, and cloves. Using a fork, stir the egg and water together in a small bowl.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the dough. Don’t work the dough too much once the flour is incorporated. If the dough comes together but some dry crumbs remain in the bottom of the bowl, stop the mixer and finish blending the ingredients with a rubber spatula or your hands.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, put the dough between two large sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Using your hands, flatten the dough into a disk, then grab a rolling pin and roll out the dough, turning it over frequently so that the paper doesn't cut into it, until it is about ¼-inch thick. Leave the dough in the paper and repeat with the second piece of dough. Transfer the wrapped dough to a baking sheet or cutting board (to keep it flat) and refrigerate or freeze it until it is very firm, about 2 hours in the refrigerator or 45 minutes in the freezer. The rolled-out dough can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or the freezer for up to 2 months. Just thaw the dough enough to cut and go from there.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper from one piece of dough and, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter - a scalloped cutter is nice for these - cut out as many cookies as you can. If you want to have a peekaboo cutout, use the end of a piping tip to cut out a very small circle from the centers of half the cookies. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheets, leaving a little space between the cookies. Set the scraps aside - you can combine them with the scraps of the second disk and roll out and cut more cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden, dry, and just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the second disk of dough, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches. Gather the scraps of dough together, press them into a disk, roll them between sheets of waxed paper and refrigerate until firm, then cut and bake.

Place the jam in a small saucepan or in a microwaveable bowl and stir in the 1 teaspoon water. Bring to a boil over low heat or in the microwave. Let the jam cool slightly, then turn half of the cookies flat side up and place about ½ teaspoon jam in the center of each cookie; sandwich with the remaining cookies.

Just before serving, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Makes about 25 sandwich cookies.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bay Area Bites: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

I think making homemade caramel syrup may be one of the most dangerous things you can do in your home kitchen.  Even I approach the boiling syrup with oven mitts on both hands, an apron, and my head turned away from the splash zone.  It's that scary to get burned by the molten sugar lava.  But the result is so deliciously seductive, you want to do it again.  Risk anything for the thrill!

The caramel syrup turned out amazingly, and now I'm wishing I had some other things to drizzle it on. French toast? Ice cream? Apple tart?  I included some salt in my icing, and I think it really changed the flavor profile from something overly sweet and kind-of meh, to something exciting and interesting. It definitely perked up the cake. And since there wasn't enough syrup in the cake and icing, I drizzled more on the top.  I'm all about gilding the lily.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
Adapted from Bay Area Bites blog

½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅓ cup Caramel Syrup
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Splash of vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
Caramelized Butter Frosting

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter one tall 9-inch round cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth.  Add sugar and salt and cream until light and fluffy.  Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl.  Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs and vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Turn the mixer to the lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time.  Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the remaining dry ingredients. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds. making sure batter is uniform.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or ½ sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15 to 20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days unrefrigerated.

Caramel Syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
1½ cup water

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix 1/2 cup water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand.  Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush.  Turn on heat to highest flame.  Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.  When color is achieved, very carefully pour in remaining water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and prepared to step back.  Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers.

For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized Butter Frosting
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 (1-pound) box confectioner's sugar (about 3½ cups), sifted
4 to 6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons Caramel Syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown.  Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.  Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.  In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.  Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.  To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PET Milk: Pecan Glazed Pumpkin Pie

What's better than pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving?  Pumpkin pie topped with pecan streusel!  It was a happy day when my mom snipped this recipe from the newspaper.  I don't think I've eaten a regular pumpkin pie since.  And why should I?  This is pumpkin pie, perfected.

Pecan Glazed Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from PET Milk and Libby's Pumpkin

2 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 (9-inch) deep dish pie crust, frozen
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven and baking sheet to 375°F.

In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, and spices. Place frozen pie crust on preheated baking sheet.  Pour filling into crust.  Bake for 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter.  Crumble over top of partially baked pie.  Bake an additional 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Makes 8 servings

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Food 2.0: Spinach Latkes

Every year around this time I start hearing buzz in the food world about potato pancakes. Potato pancakes in every incarnation, with sweet potatoes, rutabagas, and every other starchy thing under the sun. This year I decided to participate, but took a different route with spinach. The recipe for the latkes comes from the book Food 2.0, written by the former chef at Google. The pancakes were scrumptious, and defying tradition, I decided to skip the applesauce and indulge in a beautiful fried egg as an accompaniment. All is right with the world.

Spinach Latkes

3 potatoes (preferably russet), about 1 pound in total, peeled
1 cup chopped fresh wilted spinach (or thawed frozen spinach)
1 small onion, grated
3 tbsp matzo meal or unbleached all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil or grapeseed oil

Grate the potatoes into a bowl.  Squeeze the potatoes to drain off excess moisture.  Squeeze out the moisture from the spinach.  Drain the onion.  Mix all the vegetables together and stir in the matzo meal or flour, some seasoning, and the eggs.

Pour enough oil into a skillet to coat the bottom and heat over medium heat.  Put three spoonfuls of the mixture in the pan, spaced well apart, and press out to make cakes about 4-in diameter.  Cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes on each side.  Keep the latkes warm in a low oven while cooking the remainder.

Serve with a fresh herb salad dressed with vinaigrette.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown: Butternut Squash Soup

Two years ago I made an amazing butternut squash soup for Thanksgiving. I never got a picture since my family slurped it all down as soon as it hit the bowls. Well, I just happened to have some leftover butternut squash recently, so the soup made another appearance. And this time I got the shot I wanted.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from recipes by Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown

1 butternut squash, about 2½ to 3 pounds
Salt and ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup carrot, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place the squash halves on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and white pepper.  Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the flesh is tender.  Scoop the flesh from the squash and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the carrot and cook for 1 minute.  Add the squash flesh and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Remove from the heat and puree the soup using an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.  Return to the heat and add the honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, white pepper, and cream.  Adjust seasonings as necessary.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook: Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

My mother was really instrumental in giving me a love of food.  And she really tried to make things interesting when I was a kid.  I remember one time she pulled a recipe for eggplant parmigiana from a magazine and made it for dinner.  Now, with common child skepticism, I eyeballed that weird purple thing and decided it probably was not edible.  When it came to the table, it was soggy and bland.  Lesson: don't pull Italian recipes from US women's family magazines.

I honestly did not try eggplant again until I had dinner at Carmine's in New York City one night.  It was a work event, so the entire menu was pre-planned.  Which of course means that parades of food started making their way from the kitchen to our table.  And of course that means the eggplant gets put right in front of me.

With everyone staring at you, and knowing this is a work event, you eat the darn eggplant, even if it means you visit the restroom not long after.  Imagine my surprise when I actually liked it.  The eggplant was cut very thinly, baked in infinite layers, and topped with more sauce and melty mozzarella cheese.  Now THIS is Italian food.  THIS is eggplant.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)
From Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook by Michael Ronis and Mary Goodbody

1 to 2 eggplants (about 1½ pounds total)
2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 to 3 cups vegetable oil
6 large eggs
1¾ cups grated Romano cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups Carmine's Marinara Sauce
2½ cups grated mozzarella cheese

Cut the ends off the eggplant and discard them.  Cut each eggplant into ¼-inch round slices.

Spread the flour out on a large plate.  Coat each slice of eggplant with flour and shake off any excess.  Stack the eggplant slices on top of each other.

Meanwhile, in a deep heavy saucepan or high-sided skillet, heat about 2 cups of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a deep-frying thermometer registers 350°F.

In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs together with ½ cup of the grated Romano cheese, the parsley, and the salt.  Dip the eggplant, a slice at a time, in the egg mixture and let any excess drip off.  Deep fry the eggplant slices, 2 to 4 at a time, for about 3 minutes or until they are golden brown and tender.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to drain and cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom of an 8x4-inch nonstick loaf pan.  Arrange a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce.  They can slightly overlap each other, if necessary.  Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of marinara sauce over the eggplant.  Sprinkle ½ cup of the mozzarella and 1 tablespoon of the Romano cheese over the sauce.  Repeat layering the eggplant, marinara sauce, mozzarella, and Romano cheese to the top of the pan or ½ inch below the rim.  End with a layer of eggplant and about ¼ cup of marinara sauce spread over the top of it.  Sprinkle 1 heaping tablespoon of the Romano cheese on top of the sauce.  Cover the top tightly with aluminum foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Bake the eggplant for about 1 hour or until it is hot and the sauce is bubbling.  Let the pan sit at room temperature for about 1 hour or until the eggplant is cool enough to serve.

Put a platter on top of the loaf pan and, holding the platter and pan securely, invert the pan to release the eggplant.  Cut it into slices and serve it with warm marinara sauce and grated Romano cheese on the side.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

Carmine's Marinara Sauce
3 (26- to 28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup coarsely chopped garlic (about 12 cloves)
12 fresh basil leaves, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Drain the tomatoes in a colander set in a large bowl for 5 minutes.  Reserve the tomato liquid.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook it, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until it is golden brown.  If the garlic starts to cook too quickly, reduce the heat.

Add the basil, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.  Cook the mixture for 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, increase the heat to high, and cook them for about 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon or long-handled fork to break them up, or until the tomatoes boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes break down.

Add the reserved tomato liquid.  Increase the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil.  Boil it for about 12 minutes or until it starts to thicken.  Stir it occasionally and scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent the sauce from burning.

Transfer the sauce to a bowl and set it aside for about 1 hour or until it cools to room temperature.  Transfer it to a tightly covered storage container and refrigerate it for up to 1 week or freeze it for up to 1 month.

Makes about 5 cups

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gourmet: Rice Pudding

I love rice pudding. Which is strange, because I don't really remember having it when I was a child. In fact, I think I remember my mom making it one time, and I didn't want to try it. What a waste.  This rice pudding was so incredibly easy, it's almost shocking. No standing at the stove for an hour. Just mix, bake, and eat. The vanilla flavor in particular is subtle and seductive, just how I like it.

Rice Pudding
From Gourmet magazine, December 2007

2 cups whole milk
8 teaspoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅓ cup Arborio rice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons heavy cream
Ground cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a small bowl, combine milk, sugar, and nutmeg. Pour into a casserole dish. Sprinkle rice even over the milk. Carefully slide casserole dish into the oven. Bake for approximately an hour, or until very little liquid is left in the dish, and the skin that has formed over the top is golden brown. Cool casserole dish on a rack.

When cooled, peel the skin off the top of the pudding. Add vanilla and cream, and stir in. Spoon into individual dishes, and serve cool or chilled, sprinkled with cinnamon. Makes 4 small servings or 2 large ones.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Breakfast Tacos

I've really been hurting lately for some Tex-Mex goodness. My last trip home was this summer, so it's been a months-long dry spell. I decided the easiest and most delicious option was to make some tasty breakfast tacos with guacamole on the side.

I wish I could say I used some chorizo or Jimmy Dean, but I didn't. Here in New Italy, your sausage comes three ways: hot, sweet, or luganiga. I picked sweet since I have to use the rest of the sausage in something else, but yes, it was weird. Luckily the onions, tomatoes, and jalapeño I added to the mix were just perfect. The eggs cooked up fluffy and bright, probably due to the fact that I splurged on some cage-free super eggs. The tacos were perfect with a topping of Cheddar cheese and the salsa I dragged all the way from Texas when I moved (all hail Joe T. Garcia's!).

Breakfast Tacos

 chub Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage
½ medium tomato, diced
½ small onion, diced
½ jalapeño, diced
3 eggs
1 tbsp heavy cream
½ tsp ground cumin
Cheddar cheese
Tortillas, warmed (corn tastes better, but flour holds up better)

Cook sausage in large skillet, breaking up into small pieces as it cooks. When it is no longer pink, add tomato, onion, and jalapeño. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until onion softens slightly.

Beat eggs, cream, and cumin in a small bowl. Pour egg mixture over sausage and vegetables, and stir occasionally until eggs are scrambled and cooked. There should be enough grease left from cooking the sausage to keep the eggs from sticking to the pan. Stuff tortillas with egg mixture, and top with cheese, salsa, and any other topping you love. Suggestions include sour cream, guacamole, jalapeño slices, and cilantro. You can also add cubed cooked potatoes to the mix, but add some ground red pepper and salt to season the potatoes.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

True Thai: Kaeng Phet Gai (Thai Red Curry Chicken)

What is more warming on a dark, cold night than a bowl of Thai curry?  Nothing, that's what.  This is like the perfect winter dish when you're living at the North Pole.  I'm not sure how a country with such a lovely climate managed to come up with something so satisfying when you're freezing, but God bless them for doing it.

I wanted to make a traditional curry, which of course meant scouring Asian grocery stores for ingredients.  I must admit I've cheated a bit since I have my own beautiful potted Kaffir lime tree, but the pert little limes aren't ready yet.  So I just scavenged the leaves off the poor thing.  Hey, its purpose in life is to give me materials for yummy little Thai goodies.

Kaeng Phet Gai (Thai Red Curry Chicken)
Adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook

For the curry paste:
6 dried Thai long red chilis or japones chilis
1 tablespoon whole coriander seed
½ tablespoon whole cumin seed
1½ tablespoons shrimp paste, wrapped neatly in a layer of thick aluminum foil
¾ cup shallots, roughly chopped
½ cup peeled whole garlic cloves
½ tablespoon grated Kaffir or Persian lime peel
2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalks trimmed, and finely sliced
⅓ cup finely chopped peeled fresh galangal
½ teaspoon ground white pepper

For the finished dish:
1 (19-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices
10 Kaffir lime leaves
1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 (8-ounce) can sliced bamboo shoots
3 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 cup loosely packed Thai basil

To make the red curry paste, first use kitchen shears or a knife to remove the seeds and the tough, dry ribs of the chilis.  Put all the chilis in a bowl and soak in lukewarm water for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, dry roast the coriander and cumin seed in a small skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until toasty and aromatic, shaking the pan often to prevent burning.  Set aside the toasted seeds.

Set the skillet back over medium heat.  Place the foil-wrapped shrimp paste in the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, until aromatic, turning the packet once or twice.  Remove the packet from the skillet and set aside to cool.  Combine the shallots and garlic in the skillet and dry roast over medium heat until tender and slightly browned, about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.

Put the coriander seed in a large, heavy mortar and smash to a coarse powder.  Transfer the ground seeds to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Combine the grated lime peel, lemongrass, and galangal in the mortar and pound for a minute or so to break down the fibers.  Transfer the crushed mixture to the food processor.  Transfer the shallots and garlic to the food processor.  Unwrap the shrimp paste and add it to the food processor.  Add the ground white pepper.  Drain the chilis, reserving about ½ cup of the soaking liquid.  Add the chilis to the food processor.  Process the ingredients until a rich, moist paste forms.  Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl.  Add a few tablespoons of the chili soaking liquid now and then, if needed, to ease the grinding.

Skim the thick cream from the top of the canned coconut milk into a soup pot, reserving the thin milk.  Set the pot over medium heat.  Stir in the red curry paste until blended with the coconut cream, and bring to a low boil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

Add the reserved coconut milk and cook for 1 minute, stirring often.  Tear each Kaffir lime leaf in half and add to the pot.  Lower the heat to medium.  Add the red bell pepper and the sliced bamboo shoots and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Add the palm sugar and fish sauce, stirring until dissolved and blended.  Simmer, covered, for 3 minutes.  Turn the heat off and stir in the Thai basil and cook for a few seconds.  Serve hot with rice.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Southern Living: Cream Cheese-Banana-Nut Bread

There's a special banana bread recipe that I absolutely love, and when it starts getting cold outside, I start wanting to make it. Unfortunately, I found a small, but crucial, mistake in the recipe.  It states that you should use two 8x4-inch loaf pans, but if you do that, your bread tries to overflow the edges.  I love finding that messy surprise in the bottom of my oven.  In addition, by the time the center is cooked, the outside is practically burnt. Not exactly appetizing. So of course you have to use THREE 8x4-inch loaf pans, and then it turns out perfectly. I also added a half of a cup of sour cream to ensure the bread is nice and moist.

Cream Cheese-Banana-Nut Bread

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups mashed bananas (1¼ pounds unpeeled bananas, about 4 medium)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add sour cream and mix in.

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanilla. Spoon batter into 3 greased and floured 8x4-inch loafpans.

Bake at 350°F for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil last 15 minutes to prevent browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool 30 minutes on wire racks before slicing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Pizza Dough

I'm not a big pizza person, but I'll eat just about anything that's homemade. Even pizza.  And I am not a pizza person.  I don't actually mind making the pizza, it's just the dough that gets me.  So I decided to try this recipe and see what I got.

The recipe itself takes two days to make, so you can't be in a hurry. I topped my pizza with sauce, baby bella mushrooms, luganiga sausage, and a mixture of Italian cheeses, including mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano. Then into the oven it went.  I kept waiting for it to start puffing up, but it never did. It remained stubbornly flat. It didn't even brown around the edges. I had followed the instructions to a T, and made sure that the yeast was fresh, but it just didn't activate I guess. It's too bad, because otherwise the pizza was delicious, especially when topped with a little chopped fresh basil.

Pizza Dough
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

4½ cups unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
1¾ cups water, ice cold (40° F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).  Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50° to 55° F.

Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.  With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.  Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about ½-inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow it to rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500°F).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.

During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.  In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully, then try again.  You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

When the dough has the shape you want (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter - for a 6 ounce piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.  Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For even baking, rotate 180 degrees.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly pan.  Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

White Chicken Chili

Today was the first time I heard the word "snow" as part of the sentence "Tonight it might..." October seems awfully early to me to be talking about flurries, but then again I'm still in the Texas mindset. So it seemed the only thing to do was to bring some Texas sensibility to the ridiculously cold weather. I needed some warm, spicy chili. My mother makes a traditional red chili that's a little on the mild side and includes some of those big red kidney beans. I'm not a personal fan of big beans, so I instead chose to make a white chicken chili with little white beans. I didn't really have a recipe; I mostly winged it. Luckily for me it was absolutely delicious. I used a whole jalapeño pepper for mine, and it turned out about medium Texas spicy. The amount of jalapeño can definitely be reduced or it can be left out all together. I served mine with avocado, sour cream, and cilantro. And of course I also topped it with cheese. You can use Monterey Jack, Cheddar, queso blanco, or anything else that catches your fancy. I personally used smoked Gouda because...well...I really like it. And I forgot to buy Monterey Jack.

White Chicken Chili

1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (15½-ounce) cans Goya small white beans or cannellini beans
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles (use Hatch chiles if you can find them)
1½ cups pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup milk or cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine onion, garlic, jalapeño, and butter in a large pot. Sauté for several minutes until the onion starts to soften. Sprinkle cumin on top to release the flavor. Add beans, green chiles, chopped chicken, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Once chili is heated through, add milk and stir in. Put cornstarch into a small bowl. Carefully ladle some liquid from the chili onto the cornstarch, and mix to form a thin paste. Pour the paste into the chili and allow several minutes to thicken slightly.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Recipe Girl: Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Spice Bars

I'm a big fan of everything chocolate. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate. Chocolate and peanut butter. Chocolate and orange. Chocolate and chili pepper. But I hadn't seen any chocolate with pumpkin, at least not until recently. Then a delicious pumpkin cake with mini chocolate chips caught my eye. I knew in that moment that I just had to have it. And none of this whole wheat flour silliness. I wanted the full naughty experience, fluffy white all-purpose flour and all. Absolutely delicious. The rest is going to work with me tomorrow, as there is no way I could finish an entire cake. Although I might be inclined to try...

Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Spice Bars
From The Recipe Girl blog

1¾ cups unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1½ cups granulated white sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ cup mini chocolate chips

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups confectioner's sugar, measured then sifted
½ cup mini chocolate chips (for topping)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 10x15-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs and sugars until combined.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves. Toss in mini chocolate chips and stir to combine. Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir until moistened.  Pour batter into prepared pan coated with nonstick spray. Bake until the center springs back when lightly pressed in the center, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and place on wire rack to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla. Slowly add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix until smooth. Frost bars and sprinkle with additional mini chocolate chips.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet: Pumpkin Muffins

Well, it's fall. And fall means cold nights, frost on my car in the morning, bags of apples at the grocery store, and pumpkin everywhere. It means cinnamon brooms by the door of the grocery store that make the whole place smell like spices. Getting into the spirit of the season means making at least a couple things out of pumpkin, and I am more than pleased to oblige, since I love pumpkin.

Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet magazine, November 2006, as adapted from The American Club in Kohler, WI

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin puree (unflavored canned pumpkin is fine)
⅓ cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice OR ½ teaspoon cinnamon plus ¼ teaspoon ground ginger plus ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon plus 1 tablespoon sugar for topping OR unsalted sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put liners in cups of a muffin pan. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, spice, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. If desired, stir together cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl. Divide batter among muffin cups, then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture or sunflower seeds. Bake until slightly browned and wooden pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack to cool.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: Applesauce

When I saw the fifty bags of Macintosh apples on display at the grocery store, it finally hit me. It's apple season. And I'm sitting in the middle of Appletopia. My apples come from right down the road. It would be sacrilege to not buy some and do something with them. So I folded under the pressure of the fantastic shiny orbs and bought a bag.

Then I had to figure out what to do with them. Apple pie? Hard to eat the whole thing if you're single. Apple crisp? Delicious, but only really at its peak the first night you cook it. Applesauce? Sure, I've never made it, but why let that stand in my way? After coring and peeling an infinite number of apples, I was actually able to make it through the rest of the recipe.  And this recipe makes a very delicious applesauce.  Lots of flavor and spice and a beautiful hint of vanilla.

From Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics

18 McIntosh apples (about 6 pounds), peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup apple cider
1 large cinnamon stick
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ cup sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed wide saucepan.  Place the saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching, until the apples are broken down and saucy, 50 to 60 minutes.  Mash any large pieces of apple with a large wooden spoon to help them break down.  Season with more sugar and spices.  Remove the apple mixture from the heat, and let stand to cool completely before serving, discarding the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod.  The applesauce can also be stored in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 7 cups

Monday, October 06, 2008

Food 2.0: Smoked Salmon Tartlets

Okay, who do I need to talk to?  Seriously.  If this is the way Googlers are eating on a regular basis, I need to get in line with my job application.  And here I thought snacks came out of the vending machine (or from the closest Starbucks).  A bit salty, but gosh, this is such a wonderful splurge.

Smoked Salmon Tartlets
From Food 2.0 by Charlie Ayers

6 large, rectangular sheets of phyllo pastry
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 ounces smoked wild salmon trimmings or slices, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces salmon caviar

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Brush a sheet of phyllo pastry with a little butter. Lay another sheet of phyllo on top and brush with butter again. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo. Cut the phyllo into 12 squares.  Press the squares into the cavities of a muffin pan. Bake until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes.  Let cool.

Beat the cheese with the milk, chives, and lemon juice. Separate the pieces of salmon and mix in. Season the mixture to taste.

When ready to serve, spoon the salmon mixture into the phyllo cases and garnish each with a small spoonful of salmon caviar.

Makes 12 tartlets

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Food 2.0: Mint-Chocolate Brownies

Mint brownie.  What an excellent idea.  It's like a York peppermint patty, except a brownie.  And all hot and fudgy and gooey and melty.  And it goes perfectly with ice cream.  Unless it's cold.  Then it's just perfect in all its warm yumminess.

Mint-Chocolate Brownies
From Food 2.0 by Charlie Ayers

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler or in a bowl set over, but not touching, simmering water in a pan. Stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl.  Beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer until very thick and pale, and the beaters leave a trail when lifted out of the mixture. Mix in the melted chocolate and the peppermint and vanilla extracts at lowest speed. Fold in the flour mixture and the chocolate chips, mixing just until the batter is no longer streaky.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted about 1 inch from the edge comes out clean, about 35 minutes. The top should feel set, but the center should still be quite soft. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool and cut into squares when cold. Store the brownies in an airtight container.

Makes 16 servings

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Egyptianfood: Mujaddara with Egyptian Tomato Sauce

I decided that since it was Ramadan, that I would make something fitting to break my fast with as a kind of acknowledgement. No, I didn't wait until the sun set, but it was still a delicious way to do it. The dish I chose is called mujaddara, and it's a combination of lentils and rice, served with carmelized onions. After looking around on the internet, it's apparently popular to serve an Egyptian-style tomato sauce with it, so I cooked that up to. I've got to say, for something so simple, it was delicious. Arabic home cooking maybe?

Adapted from

7 to 8 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced into rings
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup dried green lentils
4 cups water
1 cup Basmati rice
3 teaspoons salt (to taste)
Egyptian Tomato Sauce

In a 12-inch frying pan, sauté onion rings in olive oil until they are soft and caramelized. Set aside.

In medium Dutch oven, fry chopped onion over medium heat in olive oil until soft and brown. Add cinnamon and allspice and let warm for one minute. Add lentils and water and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add rice and salt. Bring back to a boil and reduce heat to lowest simmer. Simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure to check rice towards the end of the cooking time to ensure it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pot.

Serve rice and lentils with sauce on top. Garnish with caramelized onions.

Egyptian Tomato Sauce
From Chef Zermane Dit Zermaki on

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 to 7 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 cups tomato juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon vinegar
Salt and pepper

To make the sauce, sauté the onion over medium heat until quite brown. Add the garlic and cook shortly, about a minute. Add tomato juice and sugar. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the vinegar and seasonings, and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

There's a little meme that's been circulating the net, that I thought I would participate in. Basically it's a list of different foods, some strange, some not, that everyone should really try in their lifetime. Here's my list:

The Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB and J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake