Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Don Gondola Grilled Cheese with Celery Puree Soup

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This meal came together through necessity. I had tomatoes that were starting to over-ripen, and celery beginning to age in the refrigerator. The result was a delicious grilled cheese and soup pairing.


Although one doesn't really NEED a recipe for grilled cheese, I absolutely love the Grilled Cheese Kitchen cookbook, and have used it frequently since I got it. Even though I've shared a few recipes, I highly encourage any grilled cheese lovers to purchase the book, as it contains many fantastic grilled cheese recipes, along with soups, and macaroni and cheeses.


This particular grilled cheese has a bit of Italian flair between the pesto, provolone cheese, and salami. Add some thinly sliced tomatoes, slather garlic-infused butter over slices of Italian bread, and it's the perfect grilled cheese when you want some added protein. I personally love salami, and used a traditional Genoa salami in my sandwich, but you could use another variety. I also made a basic and more traditional pesto than the basil-lavender pesto mentioned in the recipe.


I halved the soup recipe, but included the original quantities below. I had a box of beef broth open in the fridge, so I used that and topped off with a bit of water to make up the difference. I omitted the cream for a slightly lighter result. The soup reminded me a bit of vichyssoise or French potato-leek soup, but without celery instead of leeks. The onion and garlic made up for the lack of leeks. I recommend using a vegetable peeler to peel the celery prior to chopping. It will remove the fibers and yield a smoother soup.


Although tomato soup is a more common pairing for grilled cheese, I thought this soup was delicious and worked well with the sandwich. It definitely has a nice potato base, and since celery has a pretty neutral flavor, it doesn't really punch you in the face. You can definitely include the cream for added richness, but I left it out, and still enjoyed the soup very much.


Don Gondola Grilled Cheese
Serves 1
(From Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 slices Italian loaf
1 teaspoon Basil-Lavender Pesto (regular pesto is fine too)
2 slices provolone cheese (young, plain provolone, not aged or smoked)
2 ounces [55 g] thinly sliced salami (we like salume finocchiona, a Tuscan salami made with fennel)
2 or 3 slices small ripe plum tomato (about 1/4 in [6 mm] thick)

Heat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the butter and garlic powder until well blended. Spread the garlic butter on one side of each bread slice, dividing it evenly. Place one slice, buttered-side down, on a clean cutting board. Spread with the pesto. Layer one slice of the provolone, the salami, tomato slices, and then the second slice of provolone on top. Finish with the second slice of bread, buttered-side up.

Using a wide spatula, place the sandwich in the pan, cover, and cook until the bottom is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the second side is browned and the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes longer. Cut the sandwich in half, if desired, and serve immediately.

Celery Puree Soup
Serves 6 as a side dish
(From Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium head celery, leafy tops and tough base removed, stalks coarsely chopped (I recommend using a vegetable peeler to remove the celery fibers prior to chopping--it will yield a smoother soup with less effort than straining)
1/2 pound [230 g] Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup [120 ml] dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups [960 ml] chicken stock (I used beef broth and a bit of water)
1/3 cup [80 ml] heavy cream (I omitted this)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small soup pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the celery, potatoes, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened and are translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and thyme to the vegetables, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often, until the wine is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, cover, and bring to a low boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup into a smooth purée in the pot. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, purée the soup in a blender, working in batches on low speed. Remove the plug from the lid, cover the lid with a clean towel, and hold down the lid while blending, or the hot soup will blow the lid off and make a mess in the kitchen.) Season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Manti Dumplings

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It's no question that my favorite food in the entire world is my beloved grandmother's manti. They are truly a labor of love to make, and the whole family usually gets involved assembly line style to make for efficient work. Our family recipe for manti is perhaps my favorite recipe on the blog, not only because it's my favorite dish, but because it's the recipe that has garnered the most positive feedback from fellow Armenians, both through blog comments and emails, letting me know how this recipe has connected readers back with their own memories of making and eating manti, and yet others who have tried the recipe and found it tasted exactly of their own youthful memories. I have also brought our manti into the kitchen at Union Square Cafe in New York City, which was my privilege.


But like I said, it's very time consuming to make. I started brainstorming ideas of ways to bring the flavors of manti onto my plate with a bit less of the effort (and no, I'm not going to use wonton skins like some Armenians do instead of rolling out their own dough). I came up with a couple of ideas, one of which I will share today, and another I still plan on testing out in the near future.


Enter my new and original Manti Dumplings, a redundant title as manti in their original form are decidedly dumplings. Yet I'm taking the flavor profile and meshing it with a traditional Asian-style dumpling as its doughy vehicle for consumption.


The filling is identical to that of my grandmother's manti, but with the addition of chicken broth to loosen up the ground beef and make for a juicier result. Chicken broth plays an important role in our manti. Typically, manti is baked in the oven and then drowned in chicken broth before it finishes baking. It then absorbs some of the broth, yielding a crunchy/chewy/soft texture, while also yielding a bit of a brothy base for serving. This is also why I elected to pan-fry these dumplings with chicken broth instead of the water that is normally used when cooking Asian dumplings with this method.


The dipping sauce is obviously the same sauce we use to top our manti, a mixture of yogurt and garlic. A final sprinkling of sumac atop the dipping sauce, and we have a true flavor replica of our original recipe. The only difference is the dumplings are larger, and the texture is a bit different, more chewy than our muse.


If you love manti, if you love dumplings, or if you simply love delicious food, please try this recipe! I'm so excited to share it with all of you, as it's one of my favorite inventions, a real twist on the original while still capturing everything I have always loved about this family favorite. Even though it's still time consuming to roll out your own dumpling wrappers, it really makes all the difference, and it's still faster than making traditional manti by hand. Trust me.


Manti Dumplings
Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
(Dough and assembly from Asian Dumplings)

Filling:
8 ounces ground beef
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 1/2 tablespoons minced onion or shallot
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Dough:
10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water (boil water, then let it sit for a minute off the heat before measuring)

Yogurt-Garlic Dipping Sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water (or as needed for proper consistency)
Big pinch kosher salt
Ground sumac

Canola or peanut oil, if pan-frying
About 1 cup chicken broth

To make the filling, mix the beef, chicken broth, onion, parsley, and seasonings in a medium bowl until well-combined. The filling can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated.

To make the dough, place a large mixing bowl over a damp paper towel on your work surface, to keep in place while mixing. Add the flour and make a well. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Mix together until you have a lot of lumpy bits, then knead the hot dough in the bowl until the dough comes together. Add water by the teaspoon if the dough does not come together.

Continue kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface (only flour if necessary, and do so sparingly) for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (my mixing bowl was very large so I finished kneading directly in the bowl and it was just fine). The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger, but leave a light impression of your finger. Place dough in a zip-top bag, seal tightly, pressing out excess air, and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the bag and soften. After resting, the dough can be used right away, or refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before using.

To make the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients except for the sumac in a small mixing bowl. Adjust the amount of water as needed to achieve desired texture (some yogurts are thicker or thinner than others). The sauce can be prepared several hours in advance and refrigerated.

To assemble the dumplings, remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in quarters. Put three-quarters back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log and cut into 8 pieces (cut in half, then cut each half in half, and so on to create pieces that are even in size. The tapered end pieces should be cut slightly larger). If your pieces are oval, stand them on one of the cut ends and gently squeeze with your fingers to make them round, like a scallop. Take each piece of dough and press each cut end in flour, lightly pressing the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.

Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press (lined with plastic wrap), or with a heavy flat-bottomed object like a frying pan (also lined with plastic). Alternatively, use a dowel (which is a good lightweight rolling pin alternative for fast and flexible dumpling making) to lightly roll out each disc into an 1/8 inch thick circle.

To finish the wrappers, place wrappers one at a time on your work surface, and flour only if sticky. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center of the dough. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size, but still retaining a thick "belly" in the center. This ensures an even distribution of dough when the dumpling is sealed. Use the rolling pin to apply pressure to the outer 1/2-to-3/4-inch border of the wrapper. Roll the rolling pin in short downward strokes with one hand while the other hand turns the wrapper in the opposite direction. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portions of dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if planning to refrigerate dumplings for several hours, also dust with flour to prevent sticking).  Hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping a 1/2-to-3/4-inch border on all sides.

To make "pea pod" shapes, fold the edge of the wrapper closest to you to meet the top edge and pinch together to seal well. Place on your work surface and press gently to steady the dumpling and make it sit flat. Fold the sealed edges of the dumpling to make a series of pleats from one end to the other.

Place finished dumplings on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and dough, spacing out dumplings about 1/2 inch apart. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel.

When all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours and can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and frozen for up to 1 month. To cook after freezing, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before cooking.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. The dumplings can touch. Medium skillets will generally fit 12 to 14 dumplings, large skillets will fit 16 to 18 dumplings. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add chicken broth to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (this will vary depending on the size of the pan, but I used about 1/2 cup water to cook half the dumplings in a large skillet). The broth will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let it bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the broth is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Display them with their bottoms facing up so they remain crisp.

Serve dumplings with the yogurt-garlic dipping sauce in individual dipping sauce dishes, and sprinkle the top of each serving of sauce with sumac before dipping.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cherry Bakewell Birthday Cake for Harry Potter

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In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia put Dudley on a strict diet. Harry informs his friends of the severe diet imposed on the whole family, and his friends in turn send him a variety of birthday cakes.


There are quite a few cakes featured in the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, which showcases cakes that Harry may have received from his comrades. The one that my friend Camille decided to make to celebrate Harry Potter's birthday last week was the Cherry Bakewell Cake from Hermione.


This Cherry Bakewell Cake imitates the flavors of the famous Bakewell Tart. It's an almond cake with cherry preserves filling, and a decadent butter frosting on top. This is definitely more of a European style cake, less fluffy than an American counterpart. The cake layers are relatively dense with a firm crumb, offset by the sweet and tart filling and rich frosting.


Almond is the most prevalent flavor here, both through the ground almonds and almond extract in the cake batter. Camille suggests cutting the frosting recipe in half, as it was much more than what was needed to frost just the top of the cake, even with some generous piping detail along the edges. The frosting is quite rich, so a nice thin layer on top is more than enough.

Cherry Bakewell Cake (from Hermione)
Serves 8
(From the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

Almond Cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature

Butter Frosting: (Camille suggests halving the frosting recipe below, as it makes much more than you'll need)
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk

To Finish the Cake:
1/2 cup cherry preserves (Camille suggests an extra tablespoon or two)
Maraschino cherries, for decorating
Toasted sliced almonds, for decorated (Camille omitted this)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each until incorporated, and scraping down the sides as needed. Add the almond extract and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour, and mixing on the lowest speed to combine. Finish by scraping down and folding the batter with a rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans (it will be thick) and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cake feels soft but firm when touched lightly in the center or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.

For the frosting, beat all the frosting ingredients together until smooth, creamy, and fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed, about 7 minutes.

To assemble the cake, place 1 cake top-side down on a cardboard round. Spread the cherry preserves on top of the cake all the way to the edges. Top with the second cake top-side up. Spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the cake. Place the remaining frosting in a pastry bag fitting with a star tip, and pipe a border around the edges of the cake. Line the inside of the border with maraschino cherries placed about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the middle space with toasted sliced almonds.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Chicken and Mushroom Pies for Harry Potter

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This past Tuesday was Harry Potter's birthday, so of course this Ravenclaw and her Hufflepuff friend, Camille, had to celebrate! Last year we made bangers and mash and rock cakes from the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. This year we tried a couple different recipes from the same book.


Just a quick note, although I think this is a really cool cookbook with recipes of dishes mentioned throughout all the Harry Potter books, Camille and I both agree that some of the recipes aren't well-tested, and we have come up with some tweaks to improve them. For example, these beef and mushroom pies were adapted so significantly from the book, they are basically an entirely different recipe. The quantities in the filling (more than doubled), the sizes of the dough circles, and cooking times have all changed from the original.


For Tuesday's festivities I contributed the entree, while Camille made dessert. I'll be sharing the dessert in a future post. For the entree I decided to make individual pies again, but this time made one of the other variations in the book, featuring a chicken and mushroom filling. What's odd is that both this recipe and the beef and mushroom one both needed to have the filling quantities essentially doubled, but this recipe was closer to having the right size dough circles, while the beef one was way off. I preferred the baking technique for the beef pies over the one for the chicken pies, and have noted the difference in the recipe below. Next time I would bake these using the instructions for the beef pies, as I found those had a firmer and more golden crust, which was easier to remove from the pans.


Why is this so important, you ask? Well, this is what happens when your crust is a bit too tender, even though you baked the pie at least 10 minutes longer than the recipe says. It breaks when you try to remove it from the pan. Oops!


Fortunately after having a couple incidents of leaking pies, I quickly came up with a plan B, and grabbed some ramekins to house these pies, since I had baked these a day ahead and planned to transport them to Camille's for Harry Potter's birthday the following day. The ramekins really saved the day, and make these delicate pies easier to reheat without making a mess. I never had a similar issue with the beef pies, so I think the baking technique really makes the difference here.

The ones on the right were the biggest victims, but I felt safer putting all the pies into ramekins for transportation

So what makes these chicken and mushroom pies so special? Well, they are not unlike American chicken pot pies, but without the carrots, celery, peas, and optional potatoes. It's really a much simpler filling that focuses solely on the chicken and mushroom. The filling is not boring by any means, and was perfectly seasoned and super comforting. When I cooked the filling ahead of time, it didn't seem to thicken enough to my liking, so I added more flour (in a slurry using the broth that was already bubbling away) to get it closer to where it should be. Since this is a double crust pie, I wanted to make sure the filling wouldn't make the bottom crust soggy. I've noted the recipe below with the added flour, but next time would also reduce a bit of the broth, as I didn't think it was necessary and I ended up with a bit of leftover filling that wouldn't fit in the crusts.


These little pies are SO GOOD, and a great way to celebrate Harry Potter's birthday in the future, or simply the next time you are looking for comfort on your plate. I definitely plan on making these again with the noted adjustments below.

Stay tuned next week for Harry's birthday cake recipe!


Chicken and Mushroom Pies
Makes 6 pies
(Adapted from the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

Pie Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into pieces (I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated shortening)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup cold water

Filling:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (next time I would reduce the broth to 2 cups and the flour to 5 tablespoons)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth (next time I would reduce the broth to 2 cups and the flour to 5 tablespoons)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and shortening pieces and toss to coat with the flour, then flatten the butter and shortening pieces between your fingers until there are pea-sized pieces of butter and shortening throughout the flour. Sprinkled 1/2 cup of cold water over the mixture, and gently use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to hydrate the flour until the mixture sticks together. Add more water by the tablespoonful as needed until the dough holds together. Divide the dough in half, form into two disks, and wrap each disk with plastic wrap. Chill at least two hours or preferably overnight.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until softened. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme, then sprinkle the flour over and mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Slowly pour in the chicken broth while stirring. Cook until the mixture thickens (it will continue to thicken as it bakes). Add the chopped chicken breast, stir, and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes until chicken is cooked through and broth is thick. Adjust seasoning as needed. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl or container and cool completely. You can do this step a day ahead of time, and refrigerate the filling until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. On a generously floured surface roll out each of the discs to about 1/8-inch thickness. You will need to cut out 6 larger circles measuring about 6 1/2-inches in diameter, and 6 smaller circles at 3 3/4-inch in diameter. For the larger circles you can trace a knife around a plate or saucer. For the smaller circles, use a circular dough cutter or trace the top of the glass. You will likely need to re-roll the scraps from both disks of dough once in order to cut out enough circles.

Fit the large circles into the cups of a jumbo sized muffin pan. To make life a little easier, you can use your knife to cut a small wedge from one side of the circle before pressing the dough into the cups. This will keep you from having a rumpled piece of dough inside the cup. Just press the cut edges together to seal once the dough is fitted into the cup. You can also patch up with scraps of dough as needed if you accidentally cut the wedge too deep.

Fill each of the dough-lined muffin cups generously will the filling, about 1/2 cup into each. Take the smaller dough circles and brush the edges with a little water, then lay the smaller circles over the filling, and use your fingers to press and seal the dough. Crimp the edges if you'd like. Brush the tops of the pies with the egg wash, and use a sharp knife to cut a few slits to form vents. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly, rotating the pan halfway through baking. (NOTE: Next time I would prefer to use the baking technique for these Beef and Mushroom Pies, preheating the oven to 425 degrees F, baking for 15 minutes, then reducing the heat to 350 degrees F for another 30 minutes. The beef pies had a more golden and firm crust and were easier to remove from the muffin pan without incident).

Remove from the oven and use a thin knife to gently pop each of the pies out of the muffin cups. You could also flip over the pan, but this could be dangerous if any of the pie tops are a little loose. These pies can be individually frozen and reheated at a later time.

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