Friday, April 29, 2011

Chicken Pot Pies Primavera


A pot pie is a glorious invention. A thick stew topped or enveloped with flaky pastry crust. It truly defines comfort, as far as I'm concerned! There are different schools of thought when pot pies are concerned. First of all, you can make one giant pot pie in a standard-sized pie dish to slice and serve. Or you can make smaller, individual-sized ones. Much like everything else in the world, I prefer the latter. Individual pot pies. Making one giant one is just fine, but I find that slicing it up can create a very messy result in serving. It's so saucy within. I have thus only made a giant pot pie once in my life, and since then have retired to making individual pies. I've never had any complaints. I usually use oven-proof soup bowls, but this time made even smaller servings using 1-cup ramekins. These were served on Easter along with a selection of other dishes, so I found the smaller portion to be just perfect for supplementing with other foods as well, such as side dishes.

As far as the filling goes, the sky is the limit. I love a nice and chunky chicken filling, but in this case up-ed the ante and added tons of vegetables, more than usual. Generally a chicken pot pie is chicken-centric and just studded with some veggies, but in this one the vegetables shine. You not only get tons of chicken bits but a mosaic of colorful vegetables to balance it out and make you feel a tad less guilty. Carrots and celery are pretty standard, and peas are not uncommon either, but I also added frozen corn and some pearl onions. If I had mushrooms on hand, I would have added those too, definitely plan to next time. Green beans? Sure, why not! Go to town.

If you want to make this vegetarian, use veggie stock instead of chicken, and replace the shredded chicken with more veggies. Sweet potatoes or winter squash would be good, hearty options too, or even regular cubed potatoes (unpeeled red bliss!) to bulk up the filling a bit. I've made pot pies with or without potato and both ways are fantastic. Really just depends on your mood. We already had potatoes as a side dish so I definitely was not going to add them to the pot pie filling. Would have been potato overkill!

Onto the crust. Really, there are few simplicities in life more outstanding than a really good pastry crust. I thoroughly prefer pastry crust on my pot pie as opposed to puff pastry. I find that puff pastry gets mushy pretty fast, and the pastry crust is denser and holds up much better. I love this go-to recipe from Tartine. It is completely neutral, containing no sugar, and one I've used in both sweet and savory applications with excellent results. It is crazy flaky! I mean, CRAZY flaky. Don't overwork the dough, that's always the key, and keep the butter and water as cold as possible when forming the dough. This will yield more dough than needed to cover 8 ramekins, which were each about 4 inches wide, (and likely more than required for 4 oven-proof bowls, depending on the diameter of the bowls), so if you find yourself left with tons of scraps after cutting out your pot pie tops, gather 'em up, re-roll them and make a crostata for dessert! It's so easy, and a perfect post-pot pie dessert ;-)

Chicken Pot Pies Primavera
Serves 4 to 8

Pâte Brisée:
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup very cold water
1 1/2 cups + 1 T. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup + 2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 stalks celery, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and chopped (1 cup)
2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and sliced (1 cup)
1 T. minced garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 1/4 cups chicken broth or stock, heated to a simmer (3-14.5-oz cans broth)
3 1/2 cups shredded chicken (bite-size pieces)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup fresh or frozen pearl onions (peeled if fresh)
1 tsp. dried thyme or 1 T. chopped fresh thyme
2 T. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 T. heavy cream (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg yolk
1 T. heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the pâte brisée (flaky pastry): In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a large pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the olive oil and add the celery, carrots, and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until somewhat softened. Add the flour and stir for another minute or 2. A little at a time, whisk in the hot broth until smooth. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes until thickened, stirring regularly. Add the shredded chicken, peas, corn, and pearl onions. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the thyme, parsley, and heavy cream, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside or chill until ready to assemble pot pies (the filling can be transferred to an air-tight container and refrigerated overnight until ready to use). You will have 6 1/2 cups filling.

To make pot pies in 8 (1-cup) ramekins: Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out 1/8-inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed. Cut out rounds of dough slightly larger than ramekins. Either flip ramekins over onto dough and use a knife to cut slightly larger than the diameter, or use a round cookie cutter slightly larger than the diameter of the ramekins. Gather scraps, and reserve any excess dough for another use (such as a small crostata*). Divide filling between ramekins, lightly brush water around ramekin edges, and gently place dough rounds over the tops, pressing around the edges with your hands to seal.

To make pot pies in 4 oven-proof bowls (2 to 3 cup capacity): Divide the chilled dough into 4 and roll out each piece to 1/8-inch thick. Divide filling between bowls, lightly brush water around bowl edges, and gently place dough rounds over the tops. Use a knife to trim excess dough, leaving a small border of dough. Press the dough around the edges with your hands to seal. Gather scraps, and reserve any excess dough for another use (such as a small crostata*).

Use a paring knife to cut a small X into the center of each dough, wiggling the knife a bit to ensure the X is big enough to vent steam, and won't close up when you apply eggwash. Place pot pies on a foil-lined half sheet pan (for easy cleanup) and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven. This will result in a flakier crust.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Beat the egg yolk with the heavy cream for the eggwash. Lightly brush the tops and edges of the pastry crust, being careful to only use as much eggwash as necessary (excess will drip down the ramekins and make a mess). Sprinkle tops with a bit of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Bake the pot pies for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crusts are golden brown and the filling is hot and bubbly, rotating the pan from front to back halfway though for even browning.

Let the pot pies cool slightly before serving. They will be incredibly hot.

*With my leftover dough, I decided to make a small-ish apple crostata. I simply gathered the dough scraps after cutting out the circles, rerolled the dough to 1/8-inch thick, and allowed it to chill briefly in the refrigerator to firm back up a bit. Meanwhile, I peeled, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced a couple apples (1 granny smith and 1 royal gala, just to keep things interesting), and squeezed lemon juice over them. I fanned out the apple slices over the chilled dough, leaving a dough border (I only used about 1 1/2 of the apples). I then sprinkled sugar over the apples, along with some ground cardamom and cinnamon, Folded over the edges, topped with leftover crumble topping, dotted the filling with unsalted butter, and brushed a bit of heavy cream on the crust. Baked it at 375 degrees F for about 45 to 50 minutes or so until the crust was golden. What a delicious way to end the meal, and it was completely unplanned and "thrown together" last minute.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Baingan Bharta (Eggplant Curry)


To accompany my curried shrimp, I decided to make one of my favorite Indian vegetable dishes, Baingan Bharta, or Eggplant Curry. It's super easy to make, and definitely packs a punch. It's a bit heavy on the ginger... but in a good way. You can easily roast or grill your eggplants ahead of time and throw this dish together last minute (the eggplant will reheat in the pan with the other ingredients). It's hearty enough to be a main course for a vegetarian (or vegan), yet it can easily be enjoyed as a side dish to a protein-based curry. One thing I suggest is to make sure you chop up the cooked eggplant pretty well before you mash it or add it to the pan. I very roughly chopped mine and then after mashing it up it was slightly stringy from the natural texture of the outer layer of the cooked eggplant. This would have been avoided if I had chopped it more. It was fine for us, but next time I would go chop-happy. Just sayin'.

Baingan Bharta (Eggplant Curry)
Serves 6 to 8

2 large eggplants
2 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 T. minced garlic
2 T. finely chopped fresh ginger
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. red chili powder
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Pierce the eggplant with a fork several times and place on a baking sheet. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender (alternatively grill the eggplants whole). Remove from the heat, cool, peel, and chop/mash well. Set aside.

In a sauté or saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and slightly golden. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for a minute longer. Add the tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin, garam masala, and chili powder. Stir and cook for a few minutes to soften the tomatoes a bit, and then add the eggplant. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes to heat up the eggplant and infuse all the flavors. Mix in the chopped cilantro right before serving.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Indian Curried Shrimp


A lot of curries utilize coconut milk as part of the sauce, but I haven't seen a whole lot that use shredded coconut instead. This recipe is based on one I made in culinary school (for a practical exam, *cough* for which I received an A). The shrimp shells are used to make a very simple shrimp stock to add some more shrimp flavor to the sauce. Ground turmeric tints the curry a golden hue, while the maybe less traditional addition of heavy cream balances out the spices. The shredded coconut adds a textural complexity that would be missing if one opted simply to use coconut milk. On a whole, this curry was so popular that my coconut-hating brother-in-law ate it... and helped himself to seconds. Victoria for the win.

Indian Curried Shrimp with Coconut
Serves 6 to 8

2 lbs large shrimp (31 to 40 count), peeled and deveined, shells reserved
1 lemon, juiced
3 cups water
2 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
2 T. minced garlic
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. red chili powder, depending on taste
3/4 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt, to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Place the peeled shrimp in a medium bowl and pour lemon juice over top. Set aside.

Heat a saucepan over high heat and add the shrimp shells. Mix the shrimp shells around until they turn pink and become very fragrant. Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. Strain the shrimp stock, squeezing on the shells to get all the juices. Discard the shells and set the shrimp stock aside.

In a large, wide sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot add the mustard seeds and cook briefly until the mustard seeds start popping. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly golden. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Mix in the turmeric, coriander, garam masala, chili powder, coconut, and yogurt. Measure out 2 cups of the shrimp stock and add to the onion mixture in the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken a bit and develop the flavors. Add the heavy cream and then the shrimp and cook until the shrimp is pink on both sides, opaque, and cooked through, about 5 minutes or so. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pear, Fig, and Walnut Pie


Dear Pear, Fig, and Walnut Pie,

You are truly a wondrous thing. Encased in your flaky and delicious golden crust I have found true nirvana. Dried Black Mission figs steeped in sweet wine and spices offer a truly unique flavor profile to what could otherwise be a Plain Jane pie. The texture of the toasted walnuts adds a lovely crunch, while the fresh Anjou pears bring this perfectly balanced pie filling together. As spring and summer take over, abound in fresh pie-friendly produce, I will sadly miss you. You will temporarily be replaced with others like you, filled with things like peaches and berries, but I will think of you fondly and look forward to the day when we shall meet again...

All my love,

Pear, Fig, and Walnut Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
(Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts)

Pâte Brisée:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

3/4 cup Marsala or Madeira wine
5 oz. soft, dried Black Mission figs (scant 2/3 cup), stemmed and quartered
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
All-purpose flour, for dusting
3 lbs. ripe, firm Anjou pears
3/4 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces, toasted and cooled
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 T. cornstarch
2 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T. heavy cream
Fine sanding sugar (or granulated sugar), for sprinkling

Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle 1/4 cup water over mixture. Pulse until mixture just begins to hold together. If dough is too dry, add water 1 T. at a time and pulse, until desired texture is reached.

Pat dough onto a lightly floured board and cut it in half, forming 2 equal-sized balls. Flatten each into a disc and wrap individually with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 1 hour or up to 1 day (dough can be frozen up to 3 months, then thawed in refrigerator before using).

Bring wine, figs, cinnamon, and cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer until figs are softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer figs to a large bowl (be careful to avoid small whole cloves). Cook reserved liquid over medium-high heat until reduced to a syrup, about 3 minutes. Discard cinnamon and cloves. Pour syrup over figs.

Meanwhile, on a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disc of dough to a 13-inch round. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Roll out second disc to a 13-inch round. Cut out a steam vent in center with a small cookie cutter. Lay dough round on a sheet pan and refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Peel and core pears, slice into 1/4-inch thick wedges. Add pears, walnuts, lemon juice, granulated sugar, salt, and cornstarch to figs and syrup and stir until combined. Spoon into dough-lined pie plate, piling high in center. Dot with butter, and lightly brush the edge of the dough with water. Drape second disc of dough over rolling pin, center over the filling, and gently press the dough around the filling to fit. Trim the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top crust under the bottom one, and crimp to seal. Brush the heavy cream all over the dough, and sprinkle the pie generously with sanding sugar. Freeze the pie until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, with rack on lower third.

Transfer pie plate to a parchment or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, and bake until just golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Bake until juices are bubbling and crust is deep golden brown, about 1 hour (if edges brown too quickly, cover with a foil ring*). Let pie cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving (otherwise the juices will not set up enough and ooze everywhere when the pie is sliced).

*To make a foil ring: Cut out a square piece of foil, at least 2-inches wider than the diameter of the pie plate. Fold it in half, then in half again, making note of which corner is the center of the foil. Fold again once more into a wedge shape, then hold the folded up foil over the pie (remove it from the oven first), with the center point at the center of the pie. Use scissors to cut the foil at a radius of 1-inch greater than the pie's (cut it slightly curved so it's round with unfolded), and then cut again about 2-inches closer to the center of the pie (so you have about a 2-inch hollow ring when you unfold the foil. Gently press the foil ring over the pie crust edge. This is a similar technique to making a cartouche or parchment lid, but this one is with foil, and hollow in the middle.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook Revisited


A couple months ago, I reviewed the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook and shared some recipes. I not only mentioned my desire to attempt several other recipes from the book in the near future, but also some concerns about the reliability and accuracy of some of the recipes. The yields for several recipes are questionable, as are some techniques. I recently made 3 more recipes from the book, and wanted to share some more of my thoughts (and another recipe).

First off, I made the peanut butter cookies. A classic. Many recipes for these cookies are very similar, but I decided to try the Clinton St. Baking Company's recipe and share the outcome. The technique in their recipe says to roll the dough into a cylinder and then cut it with a knife, yielding 12 cookies. Usually when recipes ask you to "slice and bake" cookies, they suggest rolling the dough in parchment, freezing it, and then slicing. The Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook left out all those vital details. The dough was very soft and sticky, and could never be rolled and sliced just as is. Impossible. I opted for an easier technique of using a small ice cream scoop to portion out the cookies, then gently flattening them with my hand and using a fork dipped in flour to make the crosshatch design on top. This worked great, all the cookies were the same size and shape, and the recipe yielded 22, not 12 cookies as stated in the book. If you make these cookies and plan to "slice and bake" them, by all means, use the freezing method. I'm shocked the recipe was published as written. It's definitely missing critical information. With that said, the cookies tasted great. But the recipe has some holes.

I also made the long-awaited po' boys. I used the recipe more as a guide, and less as a strict recipe. If you know how to follow the standard breading procedure (seasoned flour, seasoned egg, seasoned "crust"--be it bread crumbs, cornmeal, crushed cornflakes, etc), then you really don't need the recipe for the fish portion. I seasoned the flour with salt, pepper, and cayenne and added salt, water, and Tabasco sauce to the eggs. The final mixture contained equal parts panko and cornmeal. I split, buttered and toasted the soft sub rolls I used for the bread, and filled the sandwich with romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes in addition to the fish. Finally, and most importantly, I included some homemade tartar sauce, following the exact recipe in the book. The tartar sauce was a home run, as were the po' boys as a whole. The tartar sauce is perfect for any fried, broiled, or seared fish or seafood. It has a great kick from the Tabasco and a lot of flavor that is lacking from store-bought varieties.

Finally, I made the banana chocolate chunk muffins, which were very successful. I love that they contain chunks of banana, as opposed to mashed banana. This results in a really delicious and strong banana flavor with every bite. The recipe says to cut the bananas into 1-inch chunks, but I think those are way too big for a standard size muffin. Cutting them a touch smaller helps incorporate them better into the batter. Also, the recipe originally uses more of the crumb mix to top, but there really is very little room to add more crumb mix without making a huge mess all over your pan (as it is, I use an ice cream scoop to neatly and evenly portion out the batter). A little goes a long way. These muffins were fantastic, and I would highly recommend making them. Not only easy to make, but incredibly moist and delicious. My sister said they were her favorite muffins ever! I really loved them too, and used plain yogurt instead of the sour cream suggested in the recipe, and bittersweet chocolate in place of semisweet. My adapted recipe is below...

Banana Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Makes 10 muffins
(Adapted from The Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook)

Crumb Mix:
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 T. unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 stick (4 T.) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
3/4 cup 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate chunks (from about 3.5 oz chocolate), chips can be substituted, as can semisweet chocolate (52-62% cacao)
2 perfectly ripe or overripe medium-sized bananas, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

For the crumb mix: Combine the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter with your hands until you have pea-sized crumbs. Store crumb mix in the refrigerator until needed. It can be stored there for a couple weeks, if needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 10 cups in a standard-size muffin pan, or line with paper muffin cups. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the egg and mix until smooth. Add 1/2 the yogurt, mix well, then add 1/2 of the dry ingredients, mix, add the remaining yogurt, combine and then finish off with the rest off the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks and bananas until evenly mixed.

Use a leveled off standard-size ice cream scoop (with a release trigger) to portion out batter into each of the 10 cups. Top each muffin with some of the crumb mix, distributing evenly. Bake for 28 to 33 minutes, until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean (beware that melted chocolate and hot banana chunks can easily make the toothpick not look clean. Just try again with a new toothpick until you pierce the actual unobstructed dough).

Cool for about 10 minutes or longer before releasing muffins from the pans. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chorek (Armenian Sweet Bread)


Lately I've been sharing more recipes from my Armenian heritage, and I've been getting a great response. It's really fun for me to make these nostalgic dishes and to share them with all of you. Today's recipe is for chorek, a very traditional Armenian sweet bread that is typically made around Easter. Similar to brioche, chorek contains eggs, butter, and sugar, making it lightly sweet, rich, tender-crumbed, and super fluffy.

One of the secret ingredients in chorek that makes it different from other sweet breads is the addition of a Middle Eastern spice called mahlab, which derives from the stones of St. Lucy's cherries. Mahlab's aroma is reminiscent of cherry, almond, flowers, and rose water, and it imparts a sweet/sour and nutty flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It's a common addition to breads, pastries, and other sweet confections of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. It is more readily available around Easter time and can be purchased at Middle Eastern or Greek markets, or even online. Once ground, it looses it's flavor and aroma rapidly, so store in an air-tight container and refrigerate or freeze for longevity, or purchase the spice whole and grind it yourself before each use. If mahlab is unavailable, it can be omitted from the recipe, but the traditional sweet aroma that makes chorek what it is will be missing.

Ground Mahlab

Chorek is generally prepared into smaller shapes as opposed to large loaves, and is sprinkled with sesame seeds and baked until a dark golden brown. Most commonly, it is braided much like challah, but with 3 strands as opposed to the traditional 6 strand challah braid. It can also be shaped into snails, twists, or my personal favorite... chorek people! I believe chorek people are an invention completely unique to my grandmother. Ever since I was little, I remember her making people shapes out of chorek for all of her grandchildren (I'm so lucky to have such a creative grandma!). Chorek people look a lot like gingerbread men, but they are made of yeasted dough and therefore require a bit more effort to shape than using a cookie cutter. It's pretty easy though, and especially fun for children (or me) to eat these adorable people-shaped sweet breads. Just remember to remove the clove eyes before eating :)

The parents spent a little too long in the "tanning bed," oops!

Someday, I would love to make a full batch of chorek people, create a whole community and call it Chorek Land. Kinda like Candy Land but exponentially more awesome. The only problem with chorek people is that they can be a bit more dry than the other shapes because their "parts" (legs, arms, etc) are slightly thinner than the other shapes and can dry out more easily when baking. They still taste delicious, but flavor and texture-wise my favorite shape is the traditional braid. Make smaller braids for individual portions or slightly larger ones to slice up and share. I guarantee, regardless of what shapes you make you will love this delicious Armenian sweet bread. While we usually only make it around Easter, I don't see why it can't be enjoyed any other time of year! Welcome to my chorek world...

Chorek (Armenian Sweet Bread)
Makes about 18, depending on size and shape

2 (1/4 oz) envelopes dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup plus 1 tsp. sugar
2 1/4 sticks (9 oz) unsalted butter
1 cup milk
5 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. whiskey or brandy
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 lbs (40 oz) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. ground mahlab
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt

Decorations and Eggwash:
Whole cloves, as needed (optional)
Red M&Ms, as needed (optional)
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. sugar
Sesame seeds, as needed

Mix together yeast, warm water, and 1 tsp. sugar and set aside to rise, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and warm up the milk to a simmer in separate saucepans.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 1 cup sugar, whiskey and vanilla extract. Then slowly add the hot milk, beating constantly (to gently warm the eggs), followed by the melted butter until well combined. Then beat in the yeast mixture. The liquid mixture should be fairly warm.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, mahlab, baking powder, and salt. Create a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the liquid mixture. Use a large spoon to gently mix the dry mixture into the liquid, starting from the center and moving outward until all the dry mixture is moistened. Start using your hands to finish mixing and knead the dough. If it is too wet and loose, add more flour and continue kneading until you have a soft, pliant, and slightly sticky but not-too-wet dough.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl (make sure that the bowl is considerably larger than the dough, as it will rise), and loosely cover dough with a piece of greased aluminum foil.

Briefly heat the oven and then turn it off. Place the dough in the warmed oven and allow it to double in size, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Check on the dough occasionally to see its progress.

On a floured surface, shape the dough into desired shapes**. Place onto greased baking sheets (leaving adequate space between the choreks as they will rise and expand further during baking). You will need about 3 half sheet pans for this amount of dough.

Place baking sheets back into a warmed oven (make sure the oven is turned off) to allow the choreks to proof, approximately 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg, egg yolk and sugar together and brush all the choreks (including the sides) with the egg wash mixture. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (but omit sesame seeds for chorek people shapes).

Bake choreks for 22 to 28 minutes until dark golden brown (baking time may be dependent on the size of your choreks), rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through to ensure even baking.

Allow choreks to cool completely before serving. Choreks should be stored at room temperature, but can be warmed up before eating, if desired. They can also be frozen, thawed, and enjoyed at a later date.

**Note**This recipe can easily be doubled (we usually do to make enough to share with relatives). Simply use a whole 5-lb bag of all-purpose flour (no need to weigh it!) and double all the other ingredients as well.

**To make the braid shape: Lightly flour your work surface and hands, and roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 1/2-to-3/4-inch thick rope. Cut off 1/3 of the length of the dough and attach it to the center of the longer piece but pressing the pieces together. Very loosely braid the ropes together (the braid will proof and get bigger later, so don't braid tightly). Press the ends together to "seal" the braid.

**To make the snail shape: Lightly flour your work surface and hands, and roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 1/2-to- 3/4-inch thick rope. Gently and loosely wrap the dough around itself starting from the center and moving outward. Tuck the end under the dough and gently press to seal it closed.

**To make a chorek person: Lightly flour your work surface and hands, and roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface to create an even cylinder. Pat the dough out into a rectangle with the long sides on either side. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut a slit at the bottom (for the legs), 2 slits on either side (for the arms) and another 2 slits slightly above the arms (for the head). Tuck under the pointy ends of the arms. Adjust the dough around the head to either make it look like hair (for a girl), or tuck the points under the head to make it round (for a boy). Use whole cloves for the eyes, and red M&Ms for the mouth. Very carefully use a large floured spatula to transfer chorek people from the work surface to the greased baking sheet. They are more fragile than the other shapes. Remove the clove eyes before eating.

Chorek Baby :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Union Square Cafe's Spaghetti with Flaked Cod, Rapini, and Garlic


Last week, I discussed my love for a timeless New York City restaurant called the Union Square Cafe. Through bouts of culinary lust, I discussed the incredible first course I dined upon during my most recent visit, the Spaghettini with Flaked Cod. Apparently, it's a fan favorite. I'm a fan. It's my favorite. Luckily, the fabulous folks over at USC did not require my soul in exchange for the recipe (as I had offered). They happily emailed it to me, an early birthday present indeed!! I have made some slight changes to the original recipe, such as reducing the amount of bread (I found the original 8 slices in the recipe made way more bread crumbs than I needed) and also rubbing said bread with fresh garlic, to amplify the garlic flavor even further. LOVE GARLIC. After a few slight tweaks, I'm happy to share this incredible recipe with all of you. Thanks again to the Union Square Cafe for not only rocking and turning me onto this incredible dish, but for sharing the recipe.

Much love and many thanks,

Spaghetti with Flaked Cod, Rapini, and Garlic
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Chef Carmen Quagliata of the Union Square Cafe)

4 (1/2-inch thick) slices leftover rustic bread (such as Pugliese)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole, plus 3 T. chopped garlic
1 bunch spring rapini (broccoli rabe), rinsed under cold water
1 T. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz cod or halibut, skin and bones removed, uniformly cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp. dried chili flakes
1 cup dry white wine
1 lb artisanal spaghetti, spaghettini, or capellini (such as Rustichella d'Abruzzo, Latini, or Pasitificio di Setaro)
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Prepare the breadcrumbs: Place the bread slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 T. of the olive oil and place the sheet in the oven. Toast the bread until golden brown and dry, rotating the tray so the bread toasts evenly, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately rub the toasts with the whole clove of garlic. Allow to cool. Process the bread in a food processor until the crumbs are broken down to the size of grains of rice. Set aside.

Slice rapini cross-wise about 1/2-inch wide beginning at the top of the bunch, and then thinner as you near the middle where there are more stems. Discard the thick stems at the bottom, or save them to cook in soup. Set the cut rapini aside.

Bring 1 gallon water to a boil and season with 1 T. kosher salt.

Season the fish pieces with the remaining salt and set aside.

In a very large sauté pan, combine 2 T. olive oil with the chopped garlic. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the garlic is light golden brown. Add the seasoned fish and chili flakes, and continue to stir for about 20 seconds. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Turn the fish pieces and lower the flame, bringing the ingredients to an easy simmer. Cook for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to a plate. They will be just cooked through and still quite moist.

Continue to gently simmer the wine broth for another 3 minutes, or until reduced by one-third. Turn off the heat.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente. Just before draining the pasta, add 1/4 cup pasta cooking water to the wine broth. Drain the pasta well and immediately add to the wine broth.

Place the pan back on medium-high heat. When the broth comes to a boil, add the sliced rapini, cooked fish, and parsley. Lower the heat and toss everything together gently, letting the rapini wilt and the fish flake apart on its own. Taste a strand of pasta to check the seasoning for salt.

Add the lemon juice and remaining olive oil and toss. The pasta should be very moist, but not too brothy. Immediately transfer the pasta to a large platter or bowl and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Birthday Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese


Today is my birthday. What better way to celebrate than by sharing a fabulous recipe combining some of my favorite things. There are a lot of foods I love, crave, desire. Although I don't generally consume crazy spicy foods (medium-spicy suits me better), I do have a special place in my heart for buffalo chicken, and have shared recipes for Buffalo Chicken Pizza and Buffalo Chicken Nachos on Mission: Food in the past. I also have a lot of affection for macaroni and cheese (I own this shirt, for example), regardless of the variety, and have shared about half a dozen recipes on the blog to date. Here's another.

I've seen Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese done a couple different ways elsewhere, but I like this version best. I think breading and frying the chicken is a wasted step because the crust will get soft and soggy once it is mixed into the macaroni and cheese (defeats the purpose and wastes time). I've also seen recipes that include a layer of sautéed shredded buffalo chicken meat in between layers of macaroni. This really isn't a cohesive dish to me. It's layered like lasagna, not mac and cheese. I want my Buffalo chicken all mixed up in the cheesy goodness, no separation of chicken and macaroni and cheese. What can I say? I want it my way. And it's my birthday so I can do whatever I want :-P That includes topping this baby with not one, but TWO kinds of bread crumb topping! The first is panko combined with garlic, blue cheese, and buffalo sauce, and then finally a layer of straight-up panko tossed simply in olive oil. Crunch and flavor all around.

I broke in my new Le Creuset baking dish I reviewed for CSN Stores! It was the perfect vessel for this creation :)

As written, this mac and cheese is moderately spicy, but pouring even more hot sauce on top or using extra spicy hot sauce will definitely kick it up a few more notches (if you want to go up in flames). I wanted a balance of macaroni and cheesiness and buffalo chicken, not making it just about one or the other. I think this is a nice middle ground. All parties were pleased by this creation, even my dad who freaked out when he saw the amount of cheese I had grated. Yup, it's over a pound of cheese including the blue cheese in the topping (keep in mind, this serves a LOT of people)... more cheese than pasta. And totally worth it!! Happy birthday to meeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 8 to 10

3/4 lb elbow macaroni
3/4 cup Frank's red hot sauce
6 T. unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (from 2 chicken breasts)
1/4 cup flour
4 cups low-fat milk, heated to a simmer
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz white cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, grated
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add salt and the pasta, and cook until just shy of al dente, about half as long as the box suggests (it will continue cooking in the oven). Drain and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the hot sauce and 2 T. butter, and swirl together to incorporate. Reserve 1/4 cup of the buffalo sauce and set aside. Add the remaining sauce to the shredded chicken and mix well. Set aside until needed.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the remaining 4 T. butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour to make a roux and whisk until it is nice and smooth. Cook for a couple minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor, but do not allow the roux to brown. Add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between each addition, until all of it has been added. Cook, constantly whisking, about 5 to 8 more minutes on medium heat until thickened, allowing it to bubble and simmer, but not come up to a full boil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and whisk in the shredded cheeses, a little at a time until completely combined.

Once the cheeses are all combined and melted, add the pasta and stir to coat. It will be very saucy. Fold in the celery and shredded buffalo chicken. Pour the pasta mixture into a greased 3-quart shallow baking dish. Drizzle 1/2 of the reserved buffalo sauce over the top.

Add 1/2 cup of the panko to a small mixing bowl and add the garlic and blue cheese. Use your fingers to cut the blue cheese chunks into the panko as if you're making biscuits, yielding a mixture of pea-sized blue cheese/panko chunks. Add the remaining buffalo sauce and combine. Crumble the mixture over the top of the casserole.

In the same small mixing bowl, add the remaining panko and olive oil and mix to combine. Distribute the panko mixture over the pasta. You now have a double crust of blue cheese-buffalo-panko crumbs, and regular panko crumbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until nice and bubbly, and golden brown. Allow the pasta to cool for a minute before serving, as it will be extremely hot.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nutella Bread Pudding


It's that time again. Time for some bread pudding LOVE!! Slowly but surely more and more people seem to be opening their hearts and their blogs to fabulous bread pudding recipes. I would be thrilled this month to have even more participants (*hint hint*). Although last month's bread pudding came completely from left field (a delicious place where beets and horseradish can come together to make a wonderful sweet bread pudding), this month's is a bit less odd. Actually it's not odd at all. This simple Nutella Bread Pudding combines everyone's favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread with bread cubes and custard to create a well-balanced, sweet-but-not-too-sweet dessert, that my sister claims is her favorite bread pudding thus far!

I am officially presenting this Nutella Bread Pudding as the Bread Pudding of the Month for April. I invite you all to link up your bread pudding recipes from throughout the month, savory or sweet, there are no restrictions on originality! Please make your submissions before April 30th. I will post a round-up in early May of all the bread puddings from this month.

In order to participate, you must do the following...
  1. Use the linky form below the recipe to link up to the URL of your post, not the URL of your main blog. When it asks for "Name," type in the name of your recipe, not your name.
  2. Either in your post or in the sidebar of your blog, link back to the Bread Pudding of the Month page or share my badge using the HTML below. If you plan on regularly participating, it might be easier to just post it in your sidebar :)
If you do not link back to Mission: Food OR share my badge in your post / sidebar, I will not include you in the round-up so please make sure you not only link up below, but link back here from your blog. Simply copy and paste the HTML in the text box below, it's that simple.

I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Nutella Bread Pudding
Serves 6

Unsalted butter, for baking dish
6 cups stale* 1/2-inch bread cubes (such as Italian, challah, or brioche)
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Nutella
2 cups milk

Place the oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch (2 quart) baking dish and arrange the stale bread cubes in the dish.

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl with a whisk. Whisk in the sugar and Nutella until smooth. Then whisk in the milk. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes in the baking dish, pressing down with the back of a spoon or your hands and making sure that all the bread gets submerged and starts soaking in the custard.

Soak for 15 minutes and then put the baking dish in the oven. Bake until the filling is set and the top is crusted, about 50 to 55 minutes. Serve hot, warm, room temperature, or cold.

*If your bread isn't very stale, cut it into cubes and allow the bread cubes to dry out at room temperature all day or overnight. Alternatively, lightly toast them on a sheet pan in a 350 degree F oven until dry, about 10 to 15 minutes.


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