Monday, June 30, 2008

Recipes to Rival's Debut Challenge: Ratatouille

Lori of Lipsmacking Goodness and Temperance of High on the Hog created a splinter group of the Daring Bakers to feature savory dishes once a month called Recipes to Rival (heretofore to be referred to as R2R.) I jumped at the chance to join this group because I want a chance to improve my cooking skills.  I'm the baker in the house, and P does the heavy duty cooking.  

The inaugural challenge for this group was picked to be Ratatouille.  And not just any version of the summer-y provencale dish, but the Ratatouille developed by Thomas Keller for the movie of the same name.  Awesome!

I had to get out our mandoline (which I have had for years but have never used before myself) for this recipe with it really looks beautiful with all the uniformity. The steps aren't difficult, but are more labor intensive then your standard chop-and-stew version.

I'll admit one cheat: I didn't peel the tomatoes as instructed for the piperade.  it didn't suffer any because of it!  Another tip, slice half of the veggies, lay them out, and then slice more if you need.  We had a lot leftover.  I made a full recipe of the piperade though, and used it all. I also didn't bother with the vinagrette and ate it straight from the oven. 

P and I wolfed down the whole pan for dinner last week with some couscous.  Yum!

Ratatouille or Confit Biyadi


1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion

3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig flat-leaf parsley

1/2 a bay leaf

Kosher salt

1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 
2 teaspoons olive oil 
1/8teaspoon thyme leaves 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch skillet.

3. For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees. Down center of pan, arrange a strip of 8 alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.)

5. For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

6. To serve, heat broiler and place ratatouille underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings 

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Danish Braid

This is my first Daring Bakers event and man, am I excited to join this group of bakers!  When the challenge was revealed to be the Danish Braid, I was thrilled, as I've been eyeing one danish recipe in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for months now, but was too intimidated by how labor intensive it was.  Now, an excuse to buckle down and try it!

Danish dough, like many pastry doughs, requires you to use a beurrage, or butter block, which you wrap in dough, rollout, fold, chill, and repeat for several "turns" of the dough.  This leaves you with dough that is flaky and light.   (the recipe is full of fun french terms like beurrage and detrempe, which makes it shmancy and cool)

This month's hosts, Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What's Cookin'?  left us to be as creative as we please with the filling.  I chose a filling of raspberry jam and almond filling, which made it kind of like a linzer-torte, kinda like a fancy pb&j. 

A few weeks later, pulled the rest of the dough out of the freezer and made a danish extravaganza for the people at work.  this time: cheese and fresh raspberry filling, the tops glazed with a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze.  This time the dough proofed better and rose much more.  


Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes enough for two braids

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Almond Filling 
courtesy LOR in the Kitchen
1 1/2 cups blanched slivered almonds (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Blend ingredients in processor until nuts are finely chopped. Transfer to small bowl. Cover; chill at least 2 hours.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Trail Mix Cupcakes

This month's Cupcake Hero theme is Melon.  I was all set to make a cupcake inspired by my favorite melon treat: Yogurt and Cantaloupe Gelato.  I had the yogurt cupcakes made and was attempting the yogurt-cantaloupe frosting.  First attempt, horrible failure.  I go to puree more cantaloupe and now the blender is broken.  No more cantaloupe in these cupcakes, no cupcake hero entry this month.  I make a straight up yogurt frosting, swearing under my breath,  and a spark of pure genius hits- i have nuts, raisins and seeds sitting around for muesli- and the trail mix cupcake is born.  The saltyness of the seeds and nuts beautifully complements the sweetness of the frosting.  Only downside: you think they are healthy and not actually cupcakes.  You could fool yourself into eating one of these puppies for breakfast.  (I'm not saying I did that.  I'm just saying you might do that.)

For the cupcake part, I used the yogurt cake recipe from Joy of Cooking and made cupcakes with it.  My recipe for yogurt frosting follows:

Yogurt Frosting
1 stick of butter
1/2 lb powdered sugar
1/2 c greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla.  
whip together.  frosting will be runny- keep in the fridge.

sprinkle with sunflowser seeds, raisins, sliced almonds, whatever floats your boat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taste&Create: Bircher Meusli

Taste & Create is a blog event that pairs food bloggers together to make a dish from each other's blog.  This is a great excuse to get out there and try some of the delicious stuff we look at every day, and a way to push yourself and try something different.  My partner this month is Mable aka Monkee from Twentysomething and Cooking.  She contacted me about one of my dishes that reminded her of a trip she had taken to Cambodia.  When I looked at her blog, one of the first things I saw was this breakfast dish that reminded me of a fantastic cruise I took with my mother a few years ago. We were on a small luxury cruise ship run by the norwegians. I first tasted muesli on that boat and had it every day for breakfast while we traveled the south of France and Spain. I had been looking online for a recipe that would help me re-create it.  I was stunned and suprised to find it here on Mable's blog, and knew I would have to give it a try.  

I tweaked it a bit for convenience.  Check out Mable's version here

Bircher Meusli

2 containers vanilla yogurt
1 cup 5 grain hot cereal  ( a mix of rolled oats, wheat, triticale, rye and barley)
1 grated gala apples
2 tbs agave nectar
1/4 c sultanas
1/4 c slivered almonds
2 tbs sunflower seeds
1 tbs flax seed

combine, sit in fridge overnight, eat.  simple as that!

Foodie Blogroll!

I've joined the foodie blogroll!  It's  great way to get to know other food bloggers out there in your neighborhood and around the world.  Check it out in my sidebar and read some new blogs!  You might find a great idea for dinner tonight!

Impress your friends and family . . .

with these bagels!   I had never before contemplated making my own bagels.  I assumed they were a long, painstaking process to make and one of those things you just need to buy from a professional.  A while back I was reading, and came across their bagel project.  I read the comments where everyone positively raved about the bagels.  I reviewed the recipe and discovered the bagels dough needs 30 minutes resting time, total, and that I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry.  easy peasy! The result was incredible.  P came home, saw the finished bagels cooling, and was so impressed he had to take more photos of them.  He actually said that they were probably the most professional thing I have ever made- which is a big complement.  


I take no credit except being able to follow an excellent recipe, which can be found here.  Take note to read the comments regarding salt and adjust accordingly.

TWD: Mixed Berry Cobbler

I've never made a cobbler.  I don't think I really even knew what cobbler really was. (I had a ballpark idea, since I don't live under a rock, but I never spent a lot of energy contemplating it.) This week, our host from Our Sweet Life picked Dorie's Mixed Berry Cobbler.  I had it in my mind to make it just blueberries with lemon zest, but at the last minute I added some beautiful peaches I had in the fruit bowl.  Dorie sings the praises of frozen berries, but with all the good fresh fruit right now, I figured I'd use it while I can.  

I brought it to our ex-neighbor, K's BBQ and birthday party (happy birthday, K!). It's poor form to bring a  cobbler with a piece taken out of it to a party, so I didn't get to try it before hand.  When we cut into it, we found that all that fruit (I swear I used a lot) had melted down to almost nothing -delicious, but almost nothing- in comparison to the biscuity top that had really puffed up while baking.  I also wish the cobbler top was a little sweeter- it tasted too much like a biscuit you would have with a savory meal rather then a dessert topping. I think I'll stick to crisps and crumbles, but I m glad to have tried it.

On a side note, I feel like I am always complaining in these posts.  Maybe I am just trying to be objective about my baking.  I don't know.  So sorry if the tone of these posts is critical (as long as it is not hatey and judgey)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

PSA: Zingermans food catalog/

Just a PSA for all you foodies out there. 

I recently purchased the "power of pork" gift for my husband from Zingerman's.  It features 4 types of bacon, a Voges bacon chocolate bar, a sheet of recipes and a canvas tote for $90. (I know, expensive, and you have to pay pricey overnight shipping,  but anyhow, the point is not that I paid this much in the first place, the point is what happened today.)  I received the Zingerman's catalog in the mail today and was dismayed to find that each of the products sold separately by them are MUCH cheaper then purchasing them in your gift set.

 Help me with the math- $9 chocolate bar, applewood bacon $17, long peppered bacon $19, Kentucky bacon $ 11, and Virginia bacon $11 = $67. I'm just wondering where the extra money is going. I had thought perhaps the packages of bacon in the set would be larger then the standard, but after examining them they the same weight as offered separately. Is the tote and the sheet of paper that they provide as a "bonus" $23 dollars??  (the chocolate bar is also described as a "bonus," but I calculated it in with the price anyhow.)

I'm not unwilling to spend money on quality products, but I am not willing to spend more for products I can purchase at a cheaper price, from the same retailer.

I have emailed Zingerman's customer service and will update if I hear a response. 

UPDATE: Zingerman's has refunded the price of the package.  Their customer service is excellent and is clearly very dedicated to customer satisfaction.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Oatmeal Cookies!

One of my co-workers was recently accepted into graduate school. Since I use any excuse possible to bake, I insist that all important events be accompanied by a baked treat.  Ms. B, the soon to be master's student, requested oatmeal raisin cookies, her favorite.  I turned to Martha Stewart's trusty Cookies cookbook, and found this recipe for delightful hearty cookies that incorportates toasted wheat germ.  I had never actually made oatmeal raisin cookies, and these turned out beautifully- crunchy and chewy with an aroma of cinnamon and vanilla.  I made half the batter with raisins and half with chocolate chips, but the raisin ones were the hands down winner.  Which just goes to show, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
from Martha Stewart's Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups raisins 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together oats, flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture; mix until just combined. Mix in raisins.
Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly.
Bake until golden and just set, about 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks using a spatula; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vietnamese Chicken Salad: three birds with one stone.

This month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge theme is salad.  Perfectly appropriate, as we have been blessed with napa cabbage from our CSA this week.  I looked around in my different asian cookery books and found a recipe for this salad in Hot Sour Salty Sweet, a gorgeous cookbook meets storybook by Alford and DuGuid.  I get to enter a blogging event, use up the napa cabbage, and finally use this cookbook I've been drooling over- excellent!   This recipe has the salty pungence of fish sauce, which P loves but I found a tad bit overpowering on the salad alone.  The authors recommend serving with rice, which I did, and it tempered the flavor nicely.  

Head over to Mel's Diner to see all the salad creations this month!

Vietnamese Chicken Salad 
adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Alford and DuGuid

1-2 chicken breasts, 
3 tbs fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tbs rice or cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2-3 bird or serrano chiles, minces
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. bean sprouts
2 c shredded napa or savoy cabbage
1 red pepper, diced
2/3 c vietnamese coriander, thai basil or sweet basil, torn
ground white or black pepper

stir together lime juice, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, chiles, and garlic.  add shallots. let sit up to 30 minutes to meld flavors.  Mix cabbage, bean sprouts, peppers, chicken and basil together.  dress salad.  add whole basil leaves for garnish.  serve with rice or noodles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Plump Pea Dumplings

When I first saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks, I knew I wanted to try it.  I love dumplings in all forms: ravioli, perogies, dim sum.  When my CSA delivered with peas and ricotta this week, I knew it was the time to pounce!  The filling is great and is really made by  the brightness of the lemon zest.  Next time I might add a bit of truffle oil or truffle salt to make them super extravagant.  Like Heidi, we pan fried and steamed them.  All I can say is that P and I are failures at steaming.  FAILURES. The pan fried ones came out better in appearance and flavor (since they were not gummy and stuck together).  They would make a great appetizer or hors d'oeuvre, especially if you can make them as pretty as Heidi did.

TWD: Peppermint Cream Puff Ring Re-Worked

This week for Tuesdays With Dorie, Caroline of A Consuming Passion picked the Peppermint Cream Puff Ring.  Now, I'm all for a challenge, and I have never made pate-a-choux, although I have wanted to, so I wasn't going to turn up my nose at the chance.  However, H & J's housewarming party was coming up, and required mini-desserts, so I decided to adapt this recipe and just make cream puffs.  And since everyone likes chocolate, and Dorie suggests it herself, I skipped the Paris-Brest mint cream and used her chocolate pastry cream recipe instead. 

The pate-a-choux was far easier then I imagined it to be- a note to all you would be pastry chefs!  Try it, it's not as hard as it seems, and once you master the basics you can do a LOT.  the puffs behaved nicely in the oven.  The pastry cream came together easily, and let me tell you, there are few things better in this world then chocolate pastry cream.  The only thing that didn't exactly behave was my oven, which gave me a battle-scar of a burn when I took the puffs out.  (bad oven!  bad!).  

my little puffs coming out of the oven

The ganache for the topping was easy to make, but made the whole thing a little too chocolatey.  I felt I was covering up the silkyness of the cream and the lightness of the puff with it- I'll skip it for sure next time. 

Sunday, June 15, 2008


After my adventure with choux dough for TWD, I was hooked.  I remembered seeing one tv chef or another making gougeres, adorable little puffs made by mixing cheese and herbs into choux dough and baking.  I turned to dear old Martha Stewart, who recommended adding some spices to the dough also.  I tweaked the recipe by using half milk half water for the liquid, having really liked the puffs that resulted from that ratio from Dorie's recipe.  The addition of nutmeg and paprika brought a smoky depth of flavor to the puffs that made them mysteriously addictive.  I added fresh chives and rosemary from our garden. They don't puff up as much as cream puffs because of the herbs and cheese, but that makes them more managable if you were to use them as a passed hors d'oeuvre (which I would if I ever had cocktail parties!) 

I'm submitting this to Weekend Herb Blogging this week, hosted by Joanna's Food
adapted from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook

1 1/4 c flour
1/2 c water
1/2 c milk
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 c grated cheese- gruyere is the classic, I used  blend of swiss, cheddar and mozzerella because I had it around
1/4 c grated Parmesan (1 oz.) plus more for sprinkling
1/4 c chopped fresh chives
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
4 large whole eggs plus 1 large egg white

 Preheat oven to 425. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

 In a saucepan, combine  water and  milk with butter, salt, sugar, paprika, and pepper over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and then immediately remove it from the heat. Using a wooden spoon, add flour and stir vigorously until the flour is not longer visible. Return pan to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a film on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Stir in cheeses and the herbs, and mix until cheese is just melted.

 Transfer to bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, 1 minute. Add 3 eggs one at a time on medium speed. Lightly beat the last egg and add a little at a time until the batter is smooth and shiny. It should form a soft peak when you touch it. If needed, add the egg white a little at a time.

 Transfer the dough to  pastry bag fitted with a 5/8 inch tip and pipe 1 1/2 inch circles on parchment lined cookie sheets, 1 inch apart.. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake 20 minutes until golden. If you lined the sheets with tin foil, try to get them off pretty soon so they don't stick.

A Trio of Mini-Desserts!

H & J had a housewarming party yesterday, and H turned to me to help with dessert.  She made a mess of savory hors d'oeuvres (including these bacon wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese- I could eat a zillion of them).  We decided that the desserts should be appropriately mini as well. the result was, as P would say, bangin'

First up: mini almond cakes with vanilla whipped cream and strawberries.  I adapted a recipe I found from Gourmet, omitting the kirsch creme and switching out the fruit to accommodate our CSA share this week.  The recipe calls for you to make a big cake and cut circles out.  I thought that was wasteful, but the batter is so light and spongey it doesn't do well in mini-muffin tins.  They collapsed a bit and were somewhat misshapen, but all that can be covered by some whipped cream and berries.  I'm submitting this adaptation to Cooking In Cleveland's Strawberry Moon Festival event.

At the last minute I added a lemon curd tart I found on recipe-zaar. These came out wonderfully, although make sure you use a non-stick pan and oil it well. I'll admit to cheating a buying pre-made lemon curd (since the day's baking schedule included pie crust, puff pastry, cream puffs, pasty cream and these two desserts.) I garnished with micro mint from our garden which I think worked out beautifully.

Stay tuned for the final part of this triumvirate of desserts on Tuesday, when I review the cream puff recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie.

Almond Cake with Whipped Cream and Strawberries
adapted from Gourmet

4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped with 1 oz gelatin and 1/4 c powdered sugar to stabilize


Make cake:Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan and line bottom with parchment or wax paper. Butter paper and dust pan with flour, knocking out excess.
Whisk together yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, milk, and extract in a large bowl until combined well, then whisk in flour and salt.

Beat whites with an electric mixer at high speed until they just hold soft peaks. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, mixing at low speed until whites just hold stiff peaks. Stir about one third of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Pour batter into cake pan, spreading evenly, and bake in middle of oven until pale golden and a tester comes out clean, 14 to 16 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on a rack.

top with whipped cream and strawberries

Miniature Lemon Tarts
adapted from recipe-zaar

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup lemon curd (lemon pie filling, mousse or any kind of pie filling)

In food processor pulse sugar, powdered sugar and butter till creamy. Can be done with electric beaters as well. Mix rest of ingredients except lemon curd and sweetened condensed milk, mix until a smooth dough is formed. Chill 15 minutes wrapped in plastic wrap. Spray mini muffin tins with pam. Measure 1 Tbsp of dough. Roll into ball place one in each hole of mini tart pan. Using your thumb make a centre with the dough making sure that the dough in uniform size all around and not to thin on the top. Bake at 350° for 9 minutes or until dough is slightly firm but not set. They may close up during cooking. Remove tart shells from oven working quickly and using the back of a rounded 1/2 tsp measuring spoon gently press a shallow indentation in each shell. (Dont let them cool or it will be harder to get them to form a shell). Bake 2-3 minutes longer or until edges of shells are firm and golden. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Carefully remove from pan and transfer to cooling rack, if they need more shaping you can do that now. Cool completely before filling. Can be made to this point and frozen (but thaw to room temp before filling).

Fill with lemon curd or other filling.  Garnish with leon zest, mint, powdered sugar, or a blueberry.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: La Palette's Strawberry Tart

The tastyness coming out of the kitchens of the Tuesdays with Dorie bloggers has been looking so irresistible, I had to join up.  This week's rustic tart, made with a cookie-like sweet crust, spread when served with jam and topped with fresh fruit, seemed simple enough, but proves a challenge. (thank you Marie of A Year From Oak Cottage, who chose the recipe) I could not get the crust to behave and spread evenly.  Then baking requires covering it with tinfoil, so you can't watch the progress without disturbing it a bunch.  Mine got a tad overdone.  It's rustic, so having it not cut nicely isn't the end of the world, but truth be told, out of the half-recipe I made, I got only one nice piece.  

Toppings!  The recipe calls for strawberry jam and strawberries. We got beautiful berries from our CSA, so I used those unadulterated, but I put a wee twist on it by using balsamic strawberry jam.  I love the way balsamic brings the sweetness out of strawberries, and I'm Italian, so I just love balsamic in general.   

Taste test: pretty good, but suffered due to its overdone crust. It's a quick and easy dessert you could make for a weeknight supper or a light, sweet ending to a brunch or lunch party.  Plus it's so adaptable; the variations really are endless.  Can't wait to see what next week's pick is!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tagliatelle with Peas, Pancetta, and Parmesean

When I was growing up, our dinners usually had one of three frozen side dishes: corn, mixed veg, or peas.  I was never happy when the choice was peas, not because I had a childish aversion to green vegetables like many do, but just because out of the bag they are so uninspiring, bland, and boring.  
Today at the Headhouse square market we got some fresh peas, which were being shelled practically a la minute by a cute Amish girl.  Instead of boring blahness, P and I were both inspired by the chance to work with these little green pearls.  This dinner idea sprung right into my mind, and with P's help, we developed it into something scrumptious.  I'm submitting it to this week's Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Kevin at Closet Cooking

I made fresh tagliatelle using a recipe from the Silver Spoon.  It's your basic flour plus eggs and salt, make a well, knead, rest, roll, cut.  The noodles turned out delicate and light, although after eating them in this dish I am inspired to add black pepper, lemon zest, and parsley to the dough for an extra boost of flavor.  

P took charge of the sauce (really he just didn't want me to help- I offered).  
Tagliatelle with Peas, Pancetta, and Parmesan 
(we used bacon, but pancetta had better alliteration potential)

3-4 strips of bacon, diced
1/2 pint of fresh peas, blached
3 spring onions, sliced
zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbs parsely, finely chopped
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
fresh tagliatelle

boil water for pasta.  brown the bacon in a skillet, allowing the fat to render out. cook pasta, it should only take a minute if it's fresh. add peas and onions, allow to warm through.  add cooked tagliatelle.  add lemon and parsley.  remove from heat. add parmesean, season to taste.


CSA Week 3!

Back to Greensgrow this week to pick up our share.  This week: asparagus, spring onions, parsley, strawberries, tomatoes, sharp cheddar, milk, and ground bison.  We also stopped by the farmer's market in Headhouse square and picked up lettuce, peas, bread, and granola.

We already used some tomatoes to make a tomato and cheese toast for lunch.  The tomatoes are perfect and flavorful even this early.  There are bison burgers in our future soon, someday when it's not 6 million degrees outside.   Strawberries will be put to use in a tart- stay tuned for that later in the week!  Any inspired ideas for the asparagus?  

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Khmer Royal Catfish

P and I honeymooned in Thailand and Cambodia last July.  We ate amazing food the whole trip- alien-like rambutans, steaming bowls of noodles, and perhaps most bafflingly, a banana wrapped in a waffle on a stick.  We expected good food in Thailand, but were blown away by what we ate in Cambodia. The word Khmer refers to the culture and the language, while Cambodia refers to geo-political boundaries.  If you haven't tried Khmer food (we hadn't) the best way I can describe it is less sweet then Thai food, but with similar flavor profiles and very little chili.   Staple ingredients include freshwater fish in every form, (including fish sauce and fish paste) fresh fruit and vegetables, coconut, cane and palm sugar, lemongrass and kaffir lime. 

rambutans in a thai market

When I travel, I love to bring home a cookbook of the local cuisine to remind me of what I've enjoyed and so I can recreate it at home.  I scoured the bookstore in the Siem Riep airport for a one, but had no luck.  When I came home, I googled and found that there is only ONE KHMER COOKBOOK in circulation in America (at least only one that is soley dedicated to Cambodian cooking).  Moreover, it was OUT OF PRINT.  A copy could be had, but for exorbitant prices.  I resigned myself to never having my very own book of Khmer cookery.  
our Khmer "snack cake"- rice and coconut stuffed in bamboo and grilled.

Enter, P, husband extraordinare, who contacted the Elephant Walk, the Boston restaurant who published the cookbook.  He speedily secured me one of the first copies, which I now have in my hot little hands.  Tonight for dinner, we return to Cambodia by feasting on Royal Catfish Enrobed with Coconut Milk and Lemongrass. 

This dish is full of fragrant aromatics: lemongrass, shallots, galangal (I used ginger).  The coconut milk makes the sauce silky and luxurious.  It was simple to make the paste in the food processor and the rest of the dish came together in a snap- I think the rice took the longest.  This dish is my submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Manias: Food Matters.  I've included substitutions for some of the harder to find ingredients. 

Royal Catfish Enrobed with Coconut Milk and Lemongrass
from The Elephant Walk Cookbook

serves 4
6 tbs vegetable oil
4 catfish fillets (about 2 lbs)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 tbs fish sauce
3 tsp sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves, de-veined and julienned

for the paste:
3 dried New Mexico chilies, soaked, seeded and deveined                                (or 3 tbs paprika)
1 tbs sliced lemongrass
3 garlic cloves 
        2 medium shallots
               5 kaffir lime leave, deviened (can use lime zest)
          2 tsp peeled galangal (can use ginger and a bit of lemon juice
                1/4 tsp turmeric
          1 1/2 tsp shrimp paste
        1/2 cup water

Put all the paste ingredients in a blender or food processor, combine till smooth, apx 2-3 minutes.  set aside.

Heat 1/4 c oil in a large skillet over med-high heat.  Fry the fish until golden brown, turning once,about 6 minutes per side.  Set aside, covered, to keep warm.

In a second large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbs oil with 1/2 c. coconut milk and cook over med-high heat until the oil separates from the coconut milk.  Add the paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until aroma is released.  Add the remaining 1 c. coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar.  Cook 5 minutes more, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat and add fish, spooning the sauce over the fillets to cover fully.  Let sit for 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer fish and sauce to a platter, garnish with julienned lime leaves.  Serve with rice. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Black and White Cookies or, Sublimation: your psyche's healthiest defense mechanism

Today was a crap day.  Kids at work running all over the place, generally being bad (wait- there are no bad kids, only bad choices, right?).  Our room has no AC, and today was a hot one.  On my way home I spent an era in the asian grocery store looking for galangal (no luck) and coconut milk (of course!  you have a whole separate section for coconut milk.  how silly of me.). Then a biker cuts me off and I nearly hit her, and she has the nerve to tell me to "pay attention".  
P and I arrive home and I promptly serve myself a bowl of cocoa krispies for dinner.  Shame spiral ensues for eating sugary cereal instead of a balanced meal.  

Time to turn destruction into production. There is a bowl of leftover ganache in my fridge- what to do (besides eat with a spoon?) A glance to my bookshelf provides instant inspiration: black and white cookies! These have become a recent favorite- really cake disguised as a cookie.  You B&W cookie conniseurs out there know that some are fantabulous, while others can be horrid.  

Martha' new cookie book says that you should be able to roll this dough.  In what universe?  This dough was incredibly sticky - i needed a mini scoop but i used my fingers instead.  messy.  Also it is supposed to make about 4 dozen.  Not even 2 dozen.  No matter, I was just looking to fill some time, but I suppose I should report on the accuracy of the recipe.  

End result- soft, cakeyness in the cookie, just like I like 'em, with tasty frosting on both sides.  I'll make them again, but use a scoop so they look pretty and my hands stay clean.
(sorry no picture, they all came out too fuzzy for human consumption)

Monday, June 2, 2008

More leftover magic: Arugula, Lemon and Walnut Pesto

P had made some arugula pesto last week to put on pizza. To be honest, I wasn't such a fan.  The pepperyness of the arugula really came through, but it tasted a little bitter.  I wanted to make a pasta dish for dinner, and I realized that I could temper the arugula with the brightness of lemon, and add nutty creaminess with walnuts.  I love walnut pesto, but all those nuts and cream aren't exactly the epitome of health, and fits better into a fall or winter menu.  This pesto is bright and sunny, just like summer, but gets added depth of flavor from the nuts.  This would also work well with leftover basil or parsely pesto I imagine.  We ate this with just a crumbling of fresh ricotta, which made it even extra delicious.  Leftovers in my lunchbox tomorrow!

I'm quite pleased with how this turned out, so I'm submitting it to Presto Pasta Nights.  

Arugula, Lemon and Walnut Pesto

1 cup arugula pesto (made from arugula, pine nuts, olive oil and lemon juice.)
1 c walnuts, toasted
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 c fresh ricotta
salt and pepper to taste

put pesto, lemon juice and zest, ricotta in to a food processor.  blitz. add walnuts, blitz till they are incorporated, but still slightly chunky.  season to taste.

serve over pasta, spread on bread, on pizza, etc.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Macarons: un biscuit très chic et un peu difficile

Pour célébrer le mois du mai, Couture Cupcakes a proposé un defi de macarons. For us English speakers, Couture Cupcakes set a macaron challenge for the month of May (see, 15 years of french is useful in everyday life). I have been to France several times over the years, and to be honest, I regrettably never tried a macaron. After tasting the only semi-successful results of this recipe, I have vowed to remedy by french-macaron-free life this christmas, when P and I plan to travel to Paris.
I was inspired by the article in Desserts Magazine by Helen of Tartelette, and decided to try my hand at it using her recipe. I hadn't planned ahead for these, so I used what was on hand and made simple almond macarons with a chocolate ganache filling.

The batter is easy to throw together, although the final folding step is nerve-wracking. I used a mechanical pastry bag to pipe them onto the parchment. this worked wonderfully for the first go-round, but I think the second loading of the bag got a bit overworked and deflated. I let the batter sit out for an hour on the cookie sheets, and could surmise that the first sheet would be more successful. the second looked thinner and as if they had spread.

I couldn't help but continuously peek through the oven window to see if they had risen and formed "feet." The first sheet did, the second didn't, but even the nice ones had some cracks. The photo captures the best of the batch (please bear with me, I am still learning the art of food photography)

The Trouble with Brunch- by P.

P and I went out to brunch this morning at North 3rd.  P is very exacting in his standards and at times, likes to hate and judge things. (he is on the phone now, hating and judging our meal to his family at this very moment) His rantings on the topic of brunch are pretty funny, so I thought I'd ask him to give a go at this review. 

The trouble with brunch- by P.

My wife has called upon me to temper the generally upbeat tenor of this blog with some of my patented blend of negativity, judgment and vitriol. In that spirit, let's talk about brunch.

There is nothing wrong with brunch as a concept. Getting up late on the weekend is our God-given right as Americans, and wanting to eat something more substantial than a bowl of Raisin Bran when we do wake up is completely understandable. Nor do I take issue with the dishes that usually are served at brunch - eggs Benedict, traitorous though their namesake may be, is a wonderful egg-on-egg composition that only misguided vegans and Pritikin acolytes could take issue with. Omelettes are great. Waffles, pancakes and the like are something I enjoy only occasionally, but again they have my full blessing.

The problem is with "brunch spots". Through a phenomenon I can only describe as some sort of yuppie mass hysteria, there seem to be a lot of people in this town who enjoy waiting for a table for 45 minutes so they can sit down and enjoy overpriced, overwrought versions of the aforementioned classics, when a far more honest and affordable version of the same thing is probably available at their (sometimes-)friendly neighborhood diner. Maybe these people's judgment is clouded from the after effects of too many PBR pounders the night before.

Morning Glory: "a finer diner". Don't think so. Long wait. Totally unremarkable food. Completely pointless and tasteless "homemade ketchup". Those abominations they call "biscuits" that taste like a Drake's coffee cake mated with a dumbbell.

Sabrina's (the one on Callowhill at least) was no better. My eggs Benedict was assembled completely incorrectly, making it impossible to cut. The "toast" we ordered appeared to be toasted with a hair dryer. Making breakfast is not that hard! And for God's sake, it's the most important meal of the day - don't screw it up!

Anyway, I thought it only fair to reveal my brunch prejudices before going on with talking about where we went this morning. So when I thought it would be nice to go out for breakfast, I was thinking of something like Little Pete's in the Philadelphian, where I had been once before. I found it solid. Lauren didn't want "diner food", though, so after I nixed the idea of going to Honey's (where I anticipated a similar scene of mass hysteria), we headed over to North 3rd.

Now, we had been there once before for brunch, and despite the fact that they screwed up my order and gave me the wrong omelette, I thought everything was decent. This time, though, the roasted tomato and mozzarella omelette arrived in a puddle of tomato liquid. There were exactly two pieces of tomato in the whole thing, and the mozzarella was distributed unevenly throughout. The potatoes on the side were a bit soggy. A side of bacon was delicious, and the bagel platter with cream cheese and smoked salmon was good, but how hard is it to toast something (well, if you're not at Sabrina's) and put it on a plate?

It was still nice to go out and everything, but deep down, all I want for breakfast or brunch is the same thing I want any time of day: honest, unpretentious food prepared correctly, and not to be caught up in some sort of BS herd mentality that thinks that if it's popular and expensive, it must be good. Do what you aspire to do, and if your aspirations exceed your abilities, get better, lower your aspirations, or go do something else. We now resume our sunshine and lollipops.

North 3rd
801 N. 3d St, Philadelphia PA 19123