30 March 2008

Perfect Party Cake

Nemmie's Tip #148: if you make a cake with berries on it, just for sous chef Mahni's delight, be sure that it is set faaaar away from her on the dinner table.

I thought Easter would be the perfect time to serve this DB challenge, since I'd be able to push the leftovers on family. Mahni would be there, and Hubs and I bought her a rockin' little apron to help her Aunt Nemmie in the kitchen. So I also thought I'd make our baking time that much sweeter by using Mahni's favorite: fresh berries.

I made the cakes the night before heading to my parents' house, and then Sunday afternoon Mahni and I got to work with frosting-making and assembling. That would be better defined as: Nemmie made frosting, cut the cakes, sliced strawberries, and assembled. Mahni helped throw a few strawberry slices between layers, whenever she wasn't busy sneaking berries into her mouth while serenading me with her version of Low (what was that you say? Oh!, no. Nemmie would never teach her darling niece such a song. Let along a special dance to go along with it, no sir. Well, okay yeah maybe it was me. But such catchy lyrics, I couldn't help myself).

Anyhoo. Cake assembly was finished. Easter baskets were found, candy was scarfed down, a few glasses of wine were had by us adult-type people while we chatted. Later we all tucked into a traditional Easter meal of ham et al., and finally (finally!) it was time for that cake. Out it came, a white fluffy dream of a cake with luscious fresh berries on top, sitting pretty on Muzzy's delicate little cake stand. I took the honor of cutting and serving the cake, Mahni was served first and gobbled up anything resembling a berry. Crazy kid. Everyone else was served, and we all lifted our forks to blissfully cut into our slices of cake.

And I see this flash in my field of vision, from where Mahni was sitting. "STAAAHHWW BEEEESSS!" was her battle cry, as she lunged across the dining room table headed right for that cake.

Before we could react, that cake was tipped on the cake stand and it started spinning, and then somehow our beloved cake and berries are flying (flying!) all over the table. Mahni, meanwhile, cowered into her chair while the cake stand wreaked havoc. Now, it really wasn't much of a mess, we plopped that cake right back on the cake stand (no worse for the wear) and picked up the strewn about berries. Maybe a minute had passed in reality, and all was well again.
But poor dear Mahni, let's just say she was a bit horrifed at her own behavior, and might not look at berries quite the same way again. It took her several minutes just to make eye-contact with me, let alone accept my offering of more berries (generally Mahni takes .05 seconds to grab a berry out of your hand).

Although for some reason I still have hope for her and berries - especially after her mother told me Mahni demolished all the berries in the leftover cake they took home, generously leaving the cake and frosting for the rest of her family.

While I could talk about my sous chef's adventures all day, I should probably say a few words about the actual cake and challenge: I traded out the lemon flavoring for almond extract (and switched out some flour for ground almonds). I also decided to go with fresh berries, obviously, instead of preserves. And it was so very good! The cake was velvety soft, the frosting so light it almost seemed like a whipped cream, and a perfect compliment (if you ask me) to the fresh berries. All in all a great cake for any special day, and one I'll make a few more times in my lifetime, I'd imagine. :)

Many thanks to Morven for hosting this wonderful challenge! And don't forget: you can check out my fellow Daring Bakers' cakes by heading to the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake
(from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours, 2006)

For the Cake
2 1/4 c. cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ c. whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ c. sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp. pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 c. sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (24 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ c. fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 c. seedless raspberry preserves warmed or stirred so a thinner consistency
About 1 ½ c. sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.

Remove the bowl from the heat.Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.

Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.

Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

25 March 2008

Onion Pudding

Onion pudding. The English should be applauded for coming up with this concept. Essentially a savory bread-like dish, it's warm and cheesy and filling with huge chunks of roasted onions inside. Fabulous. And just perfect with a nice roast, I think.

While my puddings came out rather glossy-looking in the photos, this pudding is surprisingly light and non-greasy. I wish I could have taken photos more quickly! Just like a souffle, these beauties are golden and puff up in the oven, but fell before they hit the dinner table. No matter, though: still tasted wonderful. If you love onions as much as us (we've been known to just roast them whole with a pat of butter and salt, mmmm), you'll adore this little side dish!

Onion Pudding
(from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, December 2007)

2 medium onions, cut into 8 wedges each, root end attached
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
4 oz. white cheddar cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh sage

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large skillet cook onions in hot oil 5 minutes over low heat; season with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and garlic; cook 8 minutes more or until onions are tender. Remove from heat; set aside.

Grease 10 to 12 (5- to 7-ounce) baking dishes with the remaining butter. In bowl, combine eggs and milk; whisk in flour. Add cheese and the snipped sage; combine. Spoon onion in dishes; pour egg mixture over. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and golden. Remove; let stand 10 minutes. Serve warm with fresh sage leaves. Serves 10 to 12.

23 March 2008

Carrot Cake

Happy Easter Wishes to everyone! Thought perhaps this cake would be an appropriate post today, given bunnies and carrots and all that :)

I made this cake for a coworker's birthday. Never attempted carrot cake before, and now I'm wondering why not! I've always loved the frosting (cream cheese, mmmm). The cake, though? I haven't eaten a ton of carrot cake in my lifetime, but when I have it is either (1) basically a plain old spice cake, or (2) has such huge chunks of shredded carrot that it's somewhat crunchy and very off-putting. I wanted to try my hand at this sort of thing, though, so I decided on this for a birthday cake. It's a 30+ year-old recipe, so it's gotta be good, right? I adapted it a bit to make a 9X13 sheet-like cake, and I had *just* enough batter left to fill a few ramekins, for making a "model cake" for the blog. Yes, I know. I'm so clever. Hubs is a lucky man to be married to me, I always find a way to make him a little extra ;)

This cake was very good. The shredded carrot was soft and only detectable in that it gave the cake a sweet, mellow "carrot" flavor (sorry, how else does one describe that? Carrot-y?). This cake is also chock-full of goodies, coconut as well as dried cranberries and pecans, which was soooo nice and kept it from tasting like any old spicy cake. The crumb was very different - almost sticky, but verrry soft which was a nice contrast to the textures of the cranberries and pecans. A good light cake with chunky goodies tucked inside.
The frosting, I will admit, was not as "cream-cheesy" as I would have liked, but that very much could have been user error. However, I loved how she added coconut (something I hadn't seen in other frostings for carrot cakes). All in all a keeper! In fact, I'm dying to make this again right now. Maybe fuss with it a little bit, add some pineapple or different nuts or maybe even cocoa...

Carrot Cake
(from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours)


2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. freshly grated cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt
9 grated carrots (you want 3 c. of grated carrot)
1 c. coarsely chopped pecans
1 c. shredded coconut
1/2 c. dried cranberries
2 c. sugar1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
8 oz.cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 c. confectioners sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1.5 c. shredded coconut
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter three 9 x 2 inch round cake pans, or one 9X13 pan (which is what I used). Flour the insides and tap our the excess. If using 3 pans, make sure you have 3 racks in the oven that are evenly spaced apart.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl stir together the carrots, pecans, coconut, and cranberries. Set both aside.

Using a stand mixer, mix together the oil and sugar together, until they are smooth. Add the eggs one by one, and beat until the batter is smooth. Reduce the speed and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.

Gently mix in the carrot mixture by hand. Divide the batter evenly among the pans (or add all to a 9X13). Bake for 40-50 min, or until a small knife comes out clean, and the cake has just started to move away from the sides of the pans. Allow to cool for 5 min on a cooling rack, and then unmold the cakes.

When cakes are cooled: Combine the cream cheese and butter in the stand mixer bowl, and using a paddle attachment mix until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the lemon juice and mix until combined.

To assemble: Put aside half of the frosting. To the other half, add more shredded coconut (about 1/2 c.). Use this frosting between the three layers of cake. If desired, then frost the outside of the cake with the regular (non-coconut) frosting. I skipped this though, because I loved the look without. Smooth with a butter knife if desired. Sprinkle on the toasted coconut on the top, and using the palm of your hand lightly press the coconut into the sides of the cake.

Sprinkle the top of the cake with the pecan pieces. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes so that the icing can set; after that point, you can leave it at room temperature and covered. Cake will keep at room temperature for 3 days.

21 March 2008

Balsamic Chicken Pizza

Yay, I'm back! I'm tired. I need a nap and to unpack and get some errands done. And yet, I'm blogging. Because I looooove you guys :) Hope everyone had a lovely St. Patty's Day! And, onward to Easter...

I love pizza. I love balsamic chicken. I found myself with some thawed pizza dough and leftover chicken pieces one afternoon, thought I'd just make a chicken/onion/pepper type of pizza dealie. Sadly though, I had a deep craving for my balsamic chicken recipe. And then, inspiration hit. Why not have both?

I kinda made this up as I went along, but it was pretty darn fantastic, so I jotted down my ingredients to make this again. And again, I recommend you give Susan's pizza dough a try for this. I loved the sharp yet sweet caramelized onions with the roasted garlic and Parmesan. The parsley added a bit of freshness to lighten it up just a touch (as well as some much-needed color).

Balsamic Chicken Pizza

1 Tbsp. butter
1 red onion, cut in half and then into thin slices
Balsamic vinegar sauce (click here!)
1 lb. pizza dough
Olive oil, for brushing dough and drizzling
1 c. cooked, sliced chicken pieces (I think I had closer to 2 c., hence all the chicken in my pics)
3-4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped into large-ish pieces
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

To make the balsamic-glazed onions:
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add butter, and allow to heat until butter is completely melted. Add onions and cook about 3-4 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the balsamic glaze (marinade from recipe linked above). Stir onions occasionally until soft and caramelized and the balsamic glaze has reduced and thickened. Take off of heat, and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile: Place chopped garlic in a piece of aluminum foil (make a small pouch). Preheat oven to 400 F. While that oven is preheating, toss in the foil packet of garlic pieces. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool. Now you have super-yummy roasted garlic chunks, mmmmm.

To assemble pizza:
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until about 10-12 inches in diameter. Lightly brush pizza dough with olive oil, and then cover with balsamic onions and glaze. Layer with chicken slices, and then sprinkle with roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese. If you want some lovely soft Parmesan cheese to eat instead of having it all melt in, just add half at this stage and sprinkle the rest on top when you pull it out of the oven (like I did).

Brush crust area with olive oil. Pop pizza into the oven and bake for 10-14 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before slicing and digging in.

17 March 2008

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm off to enjoy some crab cakes, won't be back until late in the week. I wanted to get this post up first, though. I've been eye-balling many recipes for sweet potato biscuits, not sure why. Maybe that pretty bright-orange color, or the fact thatI had some sweet potatoes that weren't getting any younger...

At any rate, I'm glad I gave these suckers a shot. They were soft and buttery, with a faint hint of heat from the cayenne. I was dying to make little biscuit and ham sandwiches with them the next day (with a nice spicy tangy mustard as Orangette suggests? Mmmmm) but alas, that didn't ever happen as I forgot to buy ham. Oopie. Ah well, that's a good excuse to make them again ;) They were quite good as a side to a regular weekday meal that's for sure!

Sweet Potato Biscuits
(from Food & Wine magazine, Nov. 2005)

1 lb. sweet potatoes, scrubbed
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
3 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
1/3 c. whole milk
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon heavy cream
30 small sturdy herb sprigs, such as sage, thyme and rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400°. Pierce the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Set the potatoes on a cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until tender. Let cool slightly. Using a spoon, scoop the potato flesh from the skins into a bowl and mash with a fork; you should have 1 1/2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes. Refrigerate until chilled.

In a large bowl, mix the 2 1/2 cups of flour with the brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender. In a small bowl, mix the sweet potatoes with the milk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until all of the flour is incorporated; the dough will be quite sticky. Refrigerate the dough for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. On a well-floured work surface, pat out the dough until it is 1/2-inch thick. Using a floured 2-inch round or fluted cutter, stamp out as many biscuits as you can and transfer them to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Re-roll the scraps and stamp out more biscuits. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the egg wash and press a small herb sprig into each one. Bake the biscuits for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

15 March 2008

Nutella Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

My older sister Aimbot has taught me many things in life. Almost 6 years older than me, Ms. Aimbot always seemed so impossibly sophisticated (still does, in fact, to this day). Her clothes are perfect, her hair smooth and makeup fresh and lovely. She's traveled all over the country and Europe, and she always knew about the hot new boutiques and brands. She listened to Trent Reznor waaaay before his famous days ;) She also introduced me to many foodie things: good coffee (don't underestimate the coffee in Minneapolis, folks), Hit Cookies, sushi, Leinies, the best fish and chips on the continent... the list goes on and on.

And as sleek and gorgeous as Aimbot is, she is also one of the most charming, goofy people on this planet. She's down-to-earth and engaging, and I've always idolized her (to this day, people know we're sisters not because we look alike, which we don't - it's because we have the same mannerisms and posture and oddly enough, the same 'walk'. I love that when I hear it from people).

Anyhoo, one thing Aimbot introduced me to was Nutella. It was way before it was popular here in the States, you couldn't get it at your average supermarket. Creamy and nutty and chocolatey, no wonder it's such a hit across the pond! From that point on, I could not get enough. Always there was a jar of the stuff in my cabinets, and it always reminds me of my big sister.

Aimbot and her husband just had their first children, sweet little twins. Even though the last thing they can eat is Aunt Nemmie's baked goods, I wanted to make something for them. And considering their mom's tastes, these Nutella sandwich cookies seemed like a no-brainer. They are so good, too - the shortbread is crumbly and buttery and wonderfully nutty, with a nice (thick) glob of Nutella in the middle. Mmmm. Heaven.

So, here's my gift (for now anyway, more on the way via UPS!). Congratulations to my dear sweet Aimbot, and a big welcome to little George and Elise! Please enjoy the cookies teeny babies, they are your mother's favorite flavor, you know.

Nutella Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
(from Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook, 2005)

1/2 c. hazelnuts
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt
1/2 jar Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two sheet pans or line with parchment (or Silpat).

Toast and skin the hazelnuts. In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts with the sugar until they are finely ground. Add the flour and pulse again. Add the butter pieces, and process it until the mixture comes together. Turn out onto a work surface.

Roll out dough to approximately 1/8-in. thickness. With any shape cookie cutter (you might want something symmetrical, so they are alike when sandwiching together), cut out cookies and transfer the cookies to the prepared sheet pans.

Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, depending on their size and thickness. They are ready when they begin to look golden at the edges (I overbaked mine, like an amateur). Cool the cookies on the sheet pans.
Once cooled: spread the Nutella on one cookie and make a sandwich by topping the Nutella with another cookie.

13 March 2008

Dorie's Cocoa-Nana Bread

I am not a fan of bananas in stuff.

Yeah, yeah. I didn't like the cinnamon, and still made those bars. And wasn't terribly fond of them (although that didn't stop me from scarfing down two of them before giving them away). Brilliant, huh? And I like bananas, I really do. Just by themselves is all. I don't like them in smoothies, or in cakes. Breads. Desserts. I don't like them in anything, really. I like the fake banana flavoring in stuff, like Circus Peanuts (because I eat revolting stuff like that), but not real banana.

So imagine my shock, surprise, utter joy, when I loved loved loved this bread. Of course: that might have a little something to do with the copious amounts of chocolate. It's not just the chocolate, though: this bread is very nice, a soft moist bread but not heavy as banana bread can sometimes be. And it makes for a happy morning when you have a nice thick slice for breakfast :)

A word of warning for you banana lovers: it is very, very chocolatey, especially the first day. The banana doesn't hit you for a bit after eating it. However it does, in fact, mellow out by Day Two - then the chocolate and banana are living in perfect harmony. This is a fantastic recipe, and I can't wait to make it again, except maybe with a few changes (perhaps peanut-butter banana bread?).

Dorie's Cocoa-Nana Bread
(From Baking: From My Home To Yours)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. semisweet cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c. buttermilk (plain yogurt also does well)
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan and place it on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked on top of the other. (This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from over baking.)

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about a minute, until softened. Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. At this point, the batter may look a little curdled - it's okay.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the mashed bananas. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Still on low speed, add the buttermilk, mixing until it is incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a foil tent to keep the top from getting too dark, and continue to bake for another 40 to 45 minutes (total baking time is between 70 to 75 minutes) or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temp right side up.

11 March 2008

Pork and Tomatillo Stew

It’s been a long winter here, as I’m sure it’s been in a lot of places this year. Snow, and ice, then more snow, and lots of wind. Cold cold temps. And oh! I had 3 colds and the stomach flu, all within 5 weeks’ time. Usually our winters are rather mild in this part of the country, so to say I’m sick of winter at this point is an understatement.

I decided to battle the icky winter weather in my cooking. Done with soups and stews and roasted root veggies, instead I’ve been making seafood and tacos and delicate meat dishes and big crunchy salads... I needed more inspiration, though, so found myself cruising my clipped collection of recipes again this past week.

And then I came across this fab recipe, cut out and tucked away months ago. Just reading it, and I was absolutely salivating at the sound of it. A thick pork stew, lots of veggies and tomatoes and tomatillos, mmm. I was definitely in the mood for a nice, spicy, comfy stew. So back I came to the winter weather cuisine.

If you haven’t cooked with tomatillos, this is a nice way to start. Tomatillos are the green tomato-looking things in the papery husks, and can be found in several Latin American dishes. They taste similar to tomatoes, but much more tart and more firm than a ripe tomato. They hold up well in this stew, and give it a nice balance in taste.

One thing I will say: I was expecting a very spicy stew, and I was surprised at how mild it ended up. If you like spicy, be liberal with the hot sauce at the end. I skipped the potatoes/tortilla chips to be a bit healthier; I think the veggies in this recipe can be played with quite a bit so feel free to add/delete as you see fit (well, except for the tomatillos, those are kinda important here). Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention: Hubs prepped the stew for me, and cut the pork chunks much too small. So I didn’t shred the pork. Sigh. He tries to be helpful bless his little heart.

Pork and Tomatillo Stew
(From Food & Wine, October 2007)

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 lb. boneless pork loin, cut into 3-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
2 large celery ribs, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 Anaheim chile, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. mild chile powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
Pinch of dried oregano
2 c. chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 c. of carrot pieces (dice)
2 (6-oz.) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-in. chunks
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 lb. tomatillos; husked, rinsed, and cut into 1-in. chunks
Hot sauce
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Corn tortilla chips, for serving

In a medium casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until browned on 2 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add the celery and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes.

Add the diced chile, garlic, chile powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and tomatillos, cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a plate and shred with two forks. Meanwhile, simmer the stew over moderate heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir the shredded pork into the stew and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Ladle the stew into bowls, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with a few tortilla chips.

09 March 2008

Roasted Tomato Tart

I had a bunch of tomatoes to use up that were leftover from other recipes, a nice mix of plum and cherry tomatoes. I also had this recipe cut out from a magazine that was sitting in my "must make" folder for way, way too long. Hurray! I love it when my leftovers and recipes can make a happy union. I made this for a great dinner one evening (with a salad and the Stilton cheesecakes). Just perfect.

This was easy-peasy to make, thanks to the frozen puff pastry dough (for the adventurous types, feel free to make your own). And so so good, I could not get enough of this tart. I think mainly because I had forgotten just how delicious freshly roasted tomatoes can be. Buttery, flaky crust with juicy sweet roasted tomatoes and salty nutty Parmesan, mmmm.

If you make this, make sure you can finish it off in one sitting - I'd imagine the pastry would get rather soggy if you tried to keep it for long. And I think it's a great one if you have company and want to make a little appetizer that you can prep ahead.

Roasted Tomato Tart
(from Gourmet magazine, July 2006)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17 1/4-oz. package), thawed
2 lb. plum tomatoes (8 large), halved lengthwise
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. olive oil
3 1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings (plus additional for garnish)

Put oven racks in middle and lower third of oven and preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large shallow baking pan with foil.

Roll out pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-in. square (1/8-in. thick). Using a plate or pot lid as a guide, cut out a 10-inch round.

Carefully transfer round to an ungreased baking sheet by rolling pastry around rolling pin and then unrolling onto baking sheet. Chill round on baking sheet until ready to use.

Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. thyme, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a bowl until well coated. Roast tomatoes, cut sides up and in 1 layer, in foil-lined baking pan in middle of oven, 1 hour.

Brush pastry round with 2 tsp. oil, then sprinkle with 1 tsp. thyme. After roasting tomatoes 1 hour, move tomatoes in pan to lower third of oven and put pastry on baking sheet on middle rack. Bake pastry and tomatoes until pastry is golden brown and edges of tomatoes are slightly browned but still appear juicy, about 15 minutes.

While pastry is still warm, scatter 1/2 c. cheese shavings evenly over it. Top shavings with warm tomatoes, cut sides down and in 1 layer, then sprinkle evenly with remaining thyme and about 1/4 tsp. salt + pepper to taste. Sprinkle with additional cheese shavings if desired.

08 March 2008

Dorie's Peanut-buttery Blondies

I'll tell you what did me in with this recipe, it was the cinnamon.

I like cinnamon, I really do. But I think it has its place when it comes to my tastes, and that's in those warm, spicy baked goods. Cinnamon raisin bread? Fabulous. Cinnamon rolls? Sublime. Molasses cookies and gingerbread and pfeffernusse? Perfect. But in something I'm not expecting it? Not so much.

And so it goes with this recipe: I love blondies, and I love peanut butter. I love Dorie for bringing them together, and adding chocolate chunks to boot. But I saw the cinnamon, and should have known better from past experience. Still, I added it. Because it's Dorie! And every recipe of hers that I've tried has been amazing! So this was a little bit of a letdown, when I bit into the blondie and this weird cinnamon-y taste hit the palate. Curses. Foiled again.

It's just that I taste that cinnamon and get a twinge, but I'm sure it'll work for other people. The texture of these bars is amazing - just what you want, chewy and soft with a flaky/crunchy exterior. The bittersweet chocolate does well to offset the sweet, and the peanut butter flavor is just enough to show itself without overpowering the rest of the flavors in the bar. So: if you're one of those people that likes cinnamon (and really, it's just a whisper of cinnamon that hits you after the peanut butter), then you'll love these bars. Really. Truly.

I still love you, Dorie, promise. We'll try something non-cinnamony next time, to make up for this non-drooly-Dorie-love post.

Dorie's Peanut-buttery Blondies
(from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours)

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. coarsely chopped salted peanuts
6 oz. good-quality chocolate (I used a bittersweet dark chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and line a 9-in. baking pan with aluminum foil. Butter the foil and set the pan aside. Chop the peanuts and chocolate, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add the sugar and brown sugar and continue beating about 2 minutes, until very smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the 2 eggs (one at a time), beating for about 1 minute each. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and turn the mixer back on low speed. Gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated. Dump the chopped peanuts and chocolate into the bowl, and mix on low speed just a few turns, until they’re distributed through the dough.
Scrape the dough into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for about 40-50 minutes (mine went 60 minutes, but my oven temp. is off so I had it down to 300 F). Bake until the top is golden brown, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a rack until it comes to room temperature.

To cut, lift the foil out of the pan peel it away from the blondies. Cut into squares.

05 March 2008

Garlic Knots

Ah, garlic knots. A pizzeria classic. What's not to like? Piping hot knots of pizza dough, shiny with oil and unbelievingly addictive thanks to the garlic, cheese, and fresh herbs. These suckers barely make it out of the oven before they are devoured.

I am going to pimp out Susan's pizza dough recipe here, because man-oh-man is it a good one. This dough is easy to make and it freezes well. This is going to be a staple around our house I think, and I really do recommend you give her recipe a whirl. If you're tired and busy and just don't have time to make your own (and hey, I know how that goes) then just get some from your favorite pizza joint (if they'll sell it), or even buy the frozen stuff from the grocery store.

Garlic Knots
(my own little adaption from several versions online)

1 lb pizza dough
2 garlic cloves, minced (we love garlic around here)
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or oregano
About 1/ 4 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease or oil (olive oil works best for flavor) one large baking sheet.

Using a lightly floured rolling pin and a floured countertop, roll out the dough into a large (roughly 9-in) square. If you can't quite get there by rolling, go ahead and gently pull on the dough as you would for rolling out a pizza crust.

Cut the square in half with a pizza wheel, then cut each half crosswise into strips (try to keep them to around an inch wide, or less). Cover strips with a clean kitchen towel.

Keeping remaining strips covered, pull out a strip of dough to work with one at a time. Gently tie each strip into a knot, pulling ends slightly to secure, and place knots about an inch apart on the baking sheet. You'll end up with about 20 knots. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.

While knots bake, mash together the minced garlic, salt, and olive oil using a mortar and pestle (if no mortar and pestle: mash together the salt and garlic using your knife, then mix in a bowl with oil). I leave my garlic a little chunky, because we love it that way. Transfer garlic oil to a large bowl. Immediately after baking, toss knots in garlic oil, then sprinkle on the parsley and cheese. Toss to coat. Voila, you're done! Be sure to serve them while still warm, maybe with some marinara for dipping if you're so inclined.

03 March 2008

Caramel Hazelnut Tartlets

I am a bit finicky when it comes to desserts, it's true. I love breads, I devour pastas. I have main dishes I love so much I pretty much make them weekly. But desserts? Desserts are lovely and I sure do crave the sweet stuff occasionally, but I'm always looking for something different or new. It is rare for me to say there's a dessert out there that I couldn't get enough of.

And then I made these tartlets. And I'm afraid I'm going to be in big, big trouble.

The recipe is very easy. And yet, so so good: The crust turned out perfectly, like probably the best tart crust I've ever made. It was sturdy and came out of the pan easily, and yet when you bit into the tartlet it was a soft, crumbly, just-sweet-enough confection. The caramel was dark but very good as well - then again, I've never met a caramel I didn't enjoy. But then the hazelnuts give it a great crunch and in these tartlets, give an almost toffee-like flavor. And a drizzle of chocolate on top, ahh. Perfection. I halved the recipe below when I made them, and still usually Hubs and I eat a small bit and give the rest away. This time? We scarfed down all 15 tartlets by the end of the day, it was absolutely tragic. Lots of time doing crunches/cardio after that, but oh so well worth it.

Caramel Hazelnut Tartlets
(from Bon App├ętit, October 2007)

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 Tbsp. (or more) chilled whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. hazelnuts, toasted, husked (or use chopped, like I did)
1 1/3 c. (packed) golden brown sugar
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. whipping cream
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Butter 30 metal or silicone mini muffin cups. Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 5 Tbsp. cream and vanilla and blend, using on/off turns, just until mixture begins to clump together, adding more cream by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Press 2 teaspoonfuls dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of each prepared mini muffin cup. Pierce tartlet crusts all over with fork. Freeze crusts 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake frozen crusts until golden and baked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool crusts in muffin cups 10 minutes. Carefully loosen crusts from muffin cups. Transfer crusts to rimmed baking sheet and cool completely. Place 2 to 3 hazelnuts (or equivalent of chopped hazelnuts) in each crust.

For caramel filling: Combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, 2 Tbsp. water, and salt in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to boil, then boil 2 minutes without stirring (mixture will bubble up and thicken slightly). Remove pan from heat. Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously); stir until smooth.

Pour caramel into 2-cup measuring cup; cool 10 minutes. Spoon caramel over hazelnuts in crusts, filling crusts almost to top. Refrigerate until caramel begins to firm up slightly, about 1 hour.

Stir chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Drizzle melted chocolate over top of tartlets. Chill until chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.