Friday, October 28, 2011

Lemon Cutout Cookies


My adorable nephew recently celebrated his 3rd birthday! In honor of the occasion (and every future birthday), I vowed to make cookies in the shape of his age. This tradition will God-willing continue in the years to come, with different flavors at each celebration. Earlier this year we made cookies together for the first time, and this was partly the inspiration for the annual birthday cookies. These lemon cookies have a faint citrus burst without being overwhelmingly lemony.

I omitted the icing because quite frankly, I just didn't have time to decorate the cookies and allow the icing to set before the party. I had made the dough the weekend before when I was in RI and froze it, then had my mom thaw it out the night before the party and I drove from NYC to RI (left by 6:30 am on a SATURDAY thank you very much) so I could roll out, cut and bake them in time for the party (among a million other things I had to do, which apparently included a nap, sorry these things happen). For the record, I was barely conscious when I cut and baked the cookies, so even zombies and sleep-bakers can make them!

Anyway, I can't comment on the icing portion of the recipe, although I can assure you that it will add a more citrus element to the cookies. These babies were super popular at the party. People took them in threes (pun intended) instead of singles. They had a nice crunch and a fresh flavor. My brother-in-law said they reminded him of the cookies his grandmother would make... quite an emotional statement since she passed away recently :( Make these cookies. They are good. And easy. Easy is good.

Lemon Cutout Cookies
Makes 4 to 5 dozen
(Adapted from New Treasury of Christmas Recipes)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Lemon icing, optional

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. Gradually add the dry mixture, alternating with lemon juice, until combined (dough will be soft). Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten the dough into a disc about 1/2-inch to 1-inch in thickness (this will make it easier to roll out later). Wrap the dough well with the plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1/3 of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with floured cookie cutters. Place 1-inch apart on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn golden. Cool thoroughly on wire racks. Ice and decorate as desired.

Lemon Icing:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 T. fresh lemon juice
Yellow food coloring, optional

Mix together the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, and food coloring (if desired) until smooth.

Makes about 1/2 cup

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ritz Paris: Haute Cuisine


The Ritz. Two words. So much history. When I discovered that the Ritz Paris cookbook would be released this fall (next week to be exact), I knew I wanted to check it out. The book is being published by Flammarion and distributed by Rizzoli New York here in the states. The wonderful folks at Rizzoli offered to send me a copy to review (thanks as always!). My first impression was that the book itself was really beautiful. The food inside is quite elegant as expected, and the photos are a definite highlight of the book. "To Whet Your Appetite," the book starts with a lovely introduction to both Cesar Ritz and Auguste Escoffier, the two men responsible for starting this timeless example of high class luxury. It then proceeds to highlight the Ritz's current leader, it's Executive Chef (and winner of SOOOOOO many prestigious cooking awards including the Bocuse d'Or) Michel Roth. The introduction captures the prestige and culinary history of this highly regarded institution. For example, there isn't a single culinary school that does not praise the influence of Escoffier. These are pretty much the duel Godfathers of modern day fine dining. So yeah, let's give them props.

These babies of course started to sink as I was taking pictures... just know they were a bit more souffled than this when they came out of the oven :) The End.

I would consider this book to be more of a "coffee table" type of book. The recipes are definitely intended for advanced cooks. I'm not gonna sugar-coat it. Many recipes call for exotic ingredients, meanwhile, the method of prep for each recipe is pretty bare bones. On the one hand, I like the no-muss-no-fuss style of writing, very much like bullet points of what to do, but a lot of potentially helpful information is lacking. If you're not an accomplished chef, you may find some of it challenging (for the record, I'm formally trained and a culinary school graduate, and I still thought that the recipes could use a bit more information in many cases).

I elected to try the Vendrome Chocolate Souffle, mainly because it seemed to be one of the easiest in the book :-D and also it's CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE. It was actually very easy to put together! I was unable to find the Valrhona chocolate that the recipe called for so I simply substituted other chocolates of the same cocoa contents. I also replaced potato starch with cornstarch, which worked just fine and I believe is more readily used in the US than in Europe (maybe?) with similar results. The souffles were delicious. Absolutely delicious! I would totally make them again. Word. I do have a few little issues to point out (I hate to be that girl, but I'm going there...). The recipe says it yields 4. Fair enough. It does not, however, specify a ramekin size. I figure a 1 cup capacity ramekin is pretty average. I got 6 souffles in my 1 cup ramekins. So there's that. I also baked at the exact temperature it specified, and for the correct period of time. I needed to add more time to get them to bake through a bit more. I know they should be gooey in the center, but they were still very undercooked for me after the 9 minutes it called for, meanwhile the edges of the tops were slightly starting to burn. I think the oven temperature is just a bit too high. In the future, I will lower it a tad and add more time and see if that adjustment makes a difference. Otherwise I do think the flavor is exceptional and totally worth a try. I made several adjustments and additions to the method of prep in the recipe below, fyi.

Overall, I think this is a great book for lovers of the Ritz Paris (and for those infatuated with the history of French cooking and fine dining), but I don't believe it is meant to be a standby cookbook for average folks. This is special occasion cooking for sure, and with that said, I hope you have the skills to back up the recipes because they are not for beginners.

Vendrome Chocolate Souffle
Serves 6
(Adapted from Ritz Paris: Haute Cuisine)

5 1/4 oz Valrhona Manjari chocolate (or other 64% cocoa chocolate)
5 1/4 oz Valrhona Guanaja chocolate (or other 70% cocoa chocolate)
8 large egg whites
Scant 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar, plus more for dusting ramekins
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 T (1/2 oz) potato starch or cornstarch
3 large egg yolks
Unsalted butter, as needed
Confectioners' sugar, if desired

Roughly chop both types of chocolate and melt them, stirring occasionally, over a double boiler (or a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water).

Meanwhile, whip the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until you achieve stiff peaks.

Bring the milk and potato starch (or cornstarch) to a boil, whisking continuously, until thickened. Carefully strain the mixture (there may be burned, curdled bits... you don't want those) and whisk into the egg yolks.

Incorporate a dollop of the whipped egg whites into the milk, starch, and yolk mixture. Fold a dollop of whipped whites into the melted chocolate. Combine the 2 mixtures, and then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. Use a flexible rubber spatula to do so, as this will help you reach the bottom of the bowl and combine everything well.

Butter the bottom and sides of 6 (1-cup) ramekins and dust the insides with sugar, knocking out any excess. Fill them to the top with the souffle mixture, and bake for 9 minutes (or longer as needed) at 465 degrees F, until puffed up about 1-to-1 1/2 inches from the top of the ramekins. Do NOT open the oven door until the souffles are done. Dust with confectioners' sugar if desired and serve immediately.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Peanut Butter Banana Bread (and An Apology)


I have been a very bad blogger as of late. While I prided myself in the past on sharing several posts a week, lately my blogging has been more sporadic, and I sincerely apologize to my fabulous readers. I have had a new job for the past month and a half and it has kept me on my toes. I'm working on another TV show (back to my old ways) and it takes up a lot of time. Until recently, I didn't have internet in my new apartment, so that has also added to the challenge of keeping up with my posts as well as reading all of your wonderful blogs. I am doing my best to keep up, and I hope you will all be patient as I work out the kinks in my suddenly very busy life :)

As a little gift and means to an apology, I'm sharing this super easy peanut butter banana bread recipe. Not only is it adapted from Cooking Light (which means you can make it with less guilt), but I assure you it is one of the moistest quick breads I have made! The peanut butter flavor isn't as strong as I would like, but overall it's definitely a winner and so easy to whip up. Please enjoy! I hope to have more recipes to share with you all soon! Much love, today and always...

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
Makes 1 loaf
(Adapted from Cooking Light)

Cooking spray or butter for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (3 bananas)
1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt (I used full-fat, don't shoot me)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
3 T. butter, melted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or butter until well coated.

Combine first mashed bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, melted butter, and eggs in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars and beat until blended, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.

Combine flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in a bowl. Add flour mixture to banana mixture and beat just until blended. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 65 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven the oven and cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan and cool completely.


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