Friday, December 21, 2012

Made With Love Virtual Dinner Party: Mrs. Kostyra's Potato Pierogi


When I hear the words "Meals on Wheels," I immediately think of Twin Peaks, one of my favorite television shows of all time. It may be a really strange association, but I can't help but picture the scenes where Donna (played by a young Lara Flynn Boyle) takes over Laura Palmer's Meals on Wheels route to help uncover the mystery behind her death. Donna befriends a shut-in named Harold who is the keeper of Laura's secret diary... Okay, I'll stop now. I just can't help myself. I have a serious love for David Lynch and this awesomely twisted 90's television show!

Anyway, when the folks at BenBella Books contacted me and asked me to participate in another virtual dinner party (I've taken part in others in the past), I couldn't turn them down. Even with plans to go out of town shortly before the deadline, I couldn't resist helping to spread the word on this lovely cookbook. Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook is a "celebrity cookbook" in that it's contents come from a variety of famous folks, whether they are chefs, actors, or even politicians. What makes this book stand out from others in the same camp is that each sale helps the fight to end senior hunger in America.

That's an excellent cause, and I must say the book doesn't disappoint. It's filled with beautiful photographs of every single dish. Each recipe contains a footnote from the contributors, sharing fun little personal stories to accompany their dishes. I'm honestly quite impressed with many of the recipes found in the book and look forward to trying others.

Some standouts include Susan Orlean's Sugar and Spice Baked Shrimp, Marshall Chapman's West African Peanut Soup with Chicken, Kalle Bergman's Ultimate Swedish Meatballs, Helen Mirren's Mironoff Piroshki, Mario Batali's Spinach and Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pine Nuts and Lemon, Derek Lee's Fried Rice with Egg and more.

For this virtual dinner party, I decided to create the recipe that Martha Stewart contributed: her mother's potato pierogi recipe. I had actually been craving pierogi for a while now, and especially with the winter cold setting in and the holidays just around the corner, comfort food was definitely fitting. Although the recipe was supposed to make about 5 dozen, I comfortably got 4 dozen, but no more, out of my dough. I also had a few cups of leftover filling, but it was so delicious it can easily stand in as a side dish for another meal, so no worries there.

Martha suggests making a brown butter sauce and just spooning over the boiled pierogi, but I'm obsessed with the marriage of chewy and crispy for the pierogi skin, and thus the only way to go (in my humble opinion) is to boil and then pan-fry in butter. I also suggest serving the finished product with additional sour cream and/or caramelized onions. In this case I didn't include the onions because I was running out of time, but next time I'd definitely make that accompaniment as well.

The dough was super easy to work with and easily stretched to accommodate a generous amount of filling. I love that these little packages were full and plump with creamy potato inside. The fluffy filling was a great contrast to the chewy, crispy, and buttery wrappers. Next time I may add a bit of minced chives to the filling for color and a mild onion flavor. Overall, we definitely fell in love with Mrs. Kostyra's Potato Pierogi. They are a perfect vegetarian entree for this virtual dinner party.

Please check out the other participants as well! You can also tweet @MadeWithLoveMOW with #MWLDinnerParty.

Mrs. Kostyra's Potato Pierogi (Contributed by Martha Stewart)
Makes about 5 dozen
(Adapted from Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook)

1 large egg, lightly whisked
2 T. sour cream, plus more for serving, if desired
1 cup whole milk
1 cup water
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and dusting
4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature (I used Neufchatel cheese)
3 T. melted unsalted butter, plus more butter as needed for frying
Caramelized onions, for serving, if desired

In a large bowl, whisk together egg and sour cream. Add in milk and water, whisking to combine. Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time.

Knead the dough until elastic and no longer sticky, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will come together as you knead it. Add a bit of flour as needed, but be careful not to add too much since it will toughen the dough. Cover the dough and let it rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, 8 to 9 minutes. Drain potatoes and then pass through a ricer or food mill. Stir in cream cheese and melted butter, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Generously dust a couple half sheet pans with flour (the pierogi will stick if you skimp too much). Roll out 1 piece of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 1/8-inch-thick round. Keep other portions of dough covered to prevent drying out.

Cut circles very close together using a 3-inch cutter or glass. Repeat with the remaining dough, rolling out the scraps again to create as many circles as possible.

Form filling into 1 1/2-inch ovals (about 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons each). Place filling in the center of each dough circle and fold the dough over the filling, pinching the edges together to create a well-sealed crescent. Repeat with the remaining circles. You may have leftover filling (I did).

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, transfer pierogi to boiling water and give them a good stir so they don't stick. They will sink to the bottom and then rise. Once they have risen, cook through, about 2 minutes more. Remove from water and reserve (spreading them out on lightly greased half sheet pans is a good method). Repeat with remaining batches.

When all the pierogi have been boiled, it's time to fry them up. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the pierogi in batches to the hot butter and fry for a few minutes on each side until golden brown, adding additional butter as needed. Repeat with the remaining pierogi and serve with sour cream and/or caramelized onions, if desired.

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chocolate Chubbies


These Chocolate Chubbies from Sarabeth's Bakery fall somewhere between a brownie and a cookie (and is that really a bad thing?). They are definitely soft on the inside, fudgey and full of rich chocolate flavor. Unlike other brownie-cookies (brookies) I've seen, these don't spread out thin as they bake, but rather retain their "chubby" mounded shapes. A shiny and dry exterior is reminiscent of the top crust of a pan of brownies, forming cracks like fault lines that give way to the delicious and intense chocolate flavor within. Are they brownies or are they cookies? In the end, does it matter if they are amazing?

Filled with nutty chunks, the original recipe calls for both pecans and walnuts. While this would yield a great balance of flavor, I had lots of walnuts but no pecans on hand, and so I just replaced the pecans with extra walnuts. It actually reminded me even more of brownies in this case because I expect walnuts in my nut-filled brownies, but pecans are more rare. You can make yours either way, of course :)

The recipe also calls for lots of chocolate chips mixed in at the end! This creates a delicious gooey texture when you bite into these chubbies when they are still fresh. Instead of actual chocolate chips, I chopped up a chocolate bar to create small chocolate chunks yielding about 1 cup. To replace the other cup, I used peanut butter chips which gave the chubbies a little extra layer of flavor. The peanut butter flavor was subtle, but still pronounced enough to elevate these chocolate discs to something so much more exciting than a simple cookie. Once again, feel free to follow the original recipe for an equally amazing outcome. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

I am so in love with these chocolate chubbies. Whether they are called "chubbies" because of their chubby vs. flat baking style, or because they will go straight to your thighs after one-too-many, I think these are simply fantastic. They are super chunky and deeply chocolatey. The use of real chocolate instead of cocoa powder is a definite plus. Please use good quality chocolate. It will make all the difference! I used chocolate couverture wafers for mine, which save me the trouble of chopping lots of chocolate and are made to melt easily.

Chocolate Chubbies
Makes about 2 dozen
(From Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (no more than 62 percent cacao), finely chopped (I actually used 72% cacao and loved it)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I used 1 cup chocolate chunks and 1 cup peanut butter chips)
1 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans (I replaced the pecans with more walnuts)
1 1/4 cups (4 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts

Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put the butter in a wide, heatproof bowl, and melt the butter over the hot water in the saucepan. Add the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate, stirring often, until melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled slightly but still warm, about 5 minutes.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Whip the eggs in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until the eggs are foamy and lightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar, then the vanilla. Whip until the eggs are very thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the tepid chocolate, making sure it is completely incorporated. Change to the paddle attachment and reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, pecans, and walnuts, making sure the chunky ingredients are evenly distributed at the bottom of the bowl. The dough will be somewhat soft.

Using a 2-inch ice-cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans, placing the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies immediately—if you wait, they won’t be shiny after baking. Bake, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are set around the edges (if you lift a cookie from the pan, the edges should release easily, even if the center of the cookie seems underdone), 17 to 20 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool completely on the baking pans.

Note: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, with the layers separated by parchment paper, for up to 3 days.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Enchiladas


When I was in high school, I wrote a love poem about French onion soup. Yup, I really did. I wouldn't lie about something so serious. At this moment in my life, if I were to pour my heart and soul into a poem about food, it would be about Buffalo chicken. Hands down. In fact, maybe I should considering all the Buffalo chicken love my blog has seen over the years. Here goes... it doesn't rhyme, but whatever.

Buffalo chicken,
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love your spicy,
Buttery sauce.
I love the way you
Burn my tongue sometimes.
I love you over nachos,
In macaroni and cheese,
On pizza and in sandwiches.
But perhaps most of all,
I love your simplicity
In the form of wings.
You are beautiful in every outfit,
But I love you most
Dressed in blue cheese.
Ranch will not do.
You are perfect in every way.
My heart burns for you,
But it's all worth it.
This is love,
And sometimes LOVE HURTS.

I never claimed to be a good poet, or even entirely original. But you can sense the adoration I have for Buffalo chicken in that poem, right?? Did it make you crave Buffalo chicken yourself?? I'd certainly love some right now!

These enchiladas are a fun vehicle for Buffalo chicken love. This is a great weeknight meal that is easy to make and great for feeding a small crowd. The recipe can easily be doubled for a party. I could see being very popular on any football Sunday menu. Until next time, Buffalo chicken. Until next time...

Buffalo Chicken Enchiladas
Makes 12 to 14
(Inspired by How Sweet It Is)

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded into bite-size pieces (3 1/2 cups)
4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
3 oz blue cheese, crumbled
1 to 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups red enchilada sauce (homemade or store-bought)
1/4 cup hot sauce or wing sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot), or more as desired
12 to 14 corn tortillas
1 scallion, sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

To a mixing bowl add the shredded chicken, 2 ounces of the Monterey Jack cheese, 2 ounces of the blue cheese, and the sliced celery.

Stir together the enchilada sauce and hot sauce or wing sauce. Adjust the spiciness to your liking to adding more sauce if you'd like. Add 3/4 cup of the sauce to the chicken/cheese filling and stir until combined. Spread 1/4 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Gently warm the tortillas either in a microwave covered by a damp paper towel or individually in a dry skillet over medium-heat to make them soft and pliable (otherwise they will crack and break as you roll them). While each tortilla is still warm, fill it with several tablespoons of filling and roll it tightly closed. Place seam-side down in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling.

Spread the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and top with the reserved Monterey Jack cheese. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and hot and the cheese has melted. During the last couple minutes of baking, add the remaining ounce of blue cheese to the top of the enchiladas and return them to the oven until just melted. Top with the sliced scallions and serve immediately.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Purple Cauliflower Gratin


They say the more colorful your food is, the better it is for you. I truly love just about anything made with cauliflower (especially fried... not pretending that preparation is good for you by any means). As part of my winter CSA I have been really enjoying checking out some delicious local, seasonal produce.

Recently we were graced with a gorgeous purple cauliflower. Although I've seen these and their many counterparts (such as yellow and Romanesco) in the past, this was my first time playing with colorful cauliflower in my own kitchen.

I love cauliflower puree and think it's a nice alternative to mashed potatoes. Definitely healthier and less starchy. I liked the idea of creating a puree with the purple cauliflower, and then taking it a step further by topping it with a delicious crust and baking it in the oven. Adding some nice Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese added a decadent note to the final product. It was slightly cheesy, super creamy, with a nice crunch to finish it off.

It's a great way to sneak colorful veggies into your family's diet. Purple is an uncommon color to see on one's plate, which is why this is particularly fun to try out. The same recipe can be made using a traditional cauliflower, but it will lack some of the fun in eating it!

Purple Cauliflower Gratin
Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish

1 medium purple cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed and cut into florets
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, bring a few inches of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the cauliflower and garlic cloves. When the water comes back up to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender (a fork should pierce the thickest stems very easily). Alternatively, steam the cauliflower and garlic in a steamer basket until very tender.

Strain the cauliflower and garlic and add to the bowl of a food processor. Add the milk, cheese, and butter and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as desired and mix again until combined.

Transfer the mixture to a small baking dish (about 2 to 2 1/2 cup capacity). Stir together the panko and the olive oil and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the cauliflower puree.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. If desired, finish browning the top under the broiler for an additional minute or two after it bakes to give it extra color.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bouchon Bakery: Gingerbread (Pain d'Epices)


About 2 1/2 years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting, in my personal opinion, the greatest American born chef ever: Thomas Keller. He was incredibly genuine, down to Earth, friendly, and humble. I have met hundreds of celebrities in my life (I used to work in television), but can honestly say that meeting Keller was one of the absolute highlights in my life. Dining at his 3 Michelin starred restaurants (The French Laundry and Per Se) has been on my bucket list for sometime. As soon as I can afford to, I'm there. That's a promise.


I have been a fan of Bouchon Bakery for some time, though. I have frequented the Time Warner Center location in New York City on countless occasions. Whether it was for an iced latte pick me up, a more substantial sandwich, or a sweet treat, Bouchon Bakery has been my #1 choice when I was in the area, and sometimes as far as 30 blocks away. I've walked that far for a TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo), and it was worth it.

Pumpkin Muffins

When I discovered that Bouchon Bakery would be releasing a cookbook, I was truly ecstatic. As a fan of Keller's and Bouchon Bakery, as well as an avid baker, I knew I had to check out this book when it was released. It was as beautiful and thoughtful as Keller's other books.


This one was co-written with Sebastien Rouxel, Keller's executive pastry chef. Rouxel has spent years tweaking and perfecting techniques to create uniform, professional results in any kitchen. He shares his secrets in this wonderful book.

Gingerbread (Pain d'Epices)

First of all, the book starts out by telling readers to throw out their measuring cups. Baking is a precise process which yields far better results when ingredients are weighed instead of measured in volume. Volume measurements are offered, but I haven't used them.


I weighed every ingredient on my kitchen scale for each of the recipes I tested from the book. I think that's the way to go, and I suggest you do the same. A good kitchen scale doesn't have to be expensive. Great ones are available for under $30.

The book features a mix of less complicated, straight-forward recipes that, for the most part, utilize ingredients and equipment that are common in many kitchens, as well as technically more advanced recipes that sometimes call for harder to find, professional grade ingredients that may require mail ordering.

Shaping croissants

I am not really flustered at all by the more advanced recipes. Even for these there is plenty of guidance if you choose to make them in your kitchen. If you are willing to make the investment, there will be a payoff. Either way, the majority of recipes don't require you to break the bank to equip your kitchen to Bouchon Bakery's standards.

Recipes don't generally offer substitutions for ingredients or tools, but if you're a learned baker, you can pretty much decide when and where you are willing to make changes or cut corners. The world will not end if you don't follow every word to a T. For example, in the bread chapter, Rouxel suggests creating a set up for your oven to maximize the amount of steam you generate in the first minutes of baking your bread. The tools required: a hotel pan, chains, rocks, and a super soaker water gun. Seriously.

Butter: chilled, room temperature, pommade, and melted

I love this concept, and perhaps someday I will actually invest in these products, but for now, I may just resort to the water pan method that other bread books suggest (even if it's inferior). I don't have the money or kitchen space to invest in these extra gadgets (nor do I bake bread often enough to make it worthwhile), but someday I might.

I tried several recipes from the book before drafting this review. First, I elected to make the bane of my existence, eclairs. I have notoriously had issues with pâte à choux. I finally managed a successful batch with the help of a friend. I have not since attempted it on my own. Until this book. The cream puff recipe apparently yields a slightly looser dough which is piped into silicone molds and then frozen to create perfect orbs for baking later. The eclair recipe makes a slightly stiffer dough perfect for piping. That's the one I wanted to try (I don't have a silicone mold, nor did I feel like investing in one for this one purpose).

I followed the recipe explicitly. My dough was slightly softer than its counterpart pictured in the book. Theirs was stiffer and held up better than mine when piped. Also, my piping tip was smaller than what they required (I didn't have the right size) and so mine turned out thinner, yielded more eclairs, and thus baked for less time. The result, however, was as close to perfect as I could imagine after my many many failures with this tricky dough. Although I held my breath, certain this would be another strike against my pâte à choux skills, it wasn't.

Their eclairs are stiffer than mine

For the filling I opted to make the standard pastry cream instead of the chocolate custard filling. It was heavy on the egg yolks and rich in the dairy department, but it turned out to be one of the best pastry creams I've had. I guess fat really does equal flavor :) The technique was different from any other pastry cream I've previously made, but it worked perfectly and taught me something new. For the chocolate glaze, I went with a simple ganache instead of using the recipe in the book which required "neutral glaze," an ingredient I didn't have time or motivation to special order for my spontaneous eclair-making whim.

My ganache was a perfect glaze for these eclairs. Freshly filled, the eclairs still had a nice texture and crisp bite to them (after a while the filling softens the dough). They tasted even better than what I've gotten at bakeries. I was really pleased with the results. I have since gotten the correct piping tip for piping my future eclairs and look forward to perfecting them in my own kitchen until they equal those at Bouchon Bakery.

Next I made the pumpkin muffins. Something interesting to note about the muffin recipes in this book is that they all require you to make the batter in advance and let it sit overnight in the fridge. This helps thoroughly hydrate the flour and yields ridiculously moist muffins. The muffins in the book are also made in jumbo muffin pans as opposed to standard ones. I didn't have one before, but I purchased one for the sake of this book, and I'm happy I did.

My muffins looked and tasted like they came from a bakery. They had an almost sugary crust on top, a vibrant orange hue, studded with golden raisins, sweet and lightly spiced. They were the most perfect pumpkin muffins you could imagine. In the book, they are filled with cream cheese frosting, but in my humble opinion once frosting is introduced to a muffin it becomes a cupcake. I skipped the frosting step.

The third recipe I made was the French-style gingerbread, or pain d'epices. It seemed like the perfect wintry treat with minimal effort (considering the caliber of this book). Not only was it, once again, very easy to make, but the results were fantastic. A dark chocolate brown (more like black), this gingerbread is different from its American cousin. Super moist with delicate sweetness, I thought it was a perfect pairing to a cup of hot chai. 'Tis the season for gingerbread (whether it's French or American), I couldn't resist sharing this amazing recipe with you all (at the end of this post). The flavor actually gets more intense after a day or two. I will definitely be making this again.

The last recipe I made (so far) was for demi-baguettes. These are half the size of traditional baguettes, and therefore a lot more manageable for a home kitchen (and truly perfect for sandwiches). As I stated earlier, I did not use the rocks and chains technique for creating steam. I used a hot enameled cast iron pan filled with boiling water at the last minute. This worked just fine for me.

My scoring can use a bit of practice (longer and better overlapping lines), but at least using a razor blade I got very clean cuts!

I also sprayed my loaves with water before and at one point during the baking, mainly because the exterior of my dough had seemed to dry out and form a skin as it proofed, more so than I thought typical. I'm pretty sure these actions resulted in the slightly ashy look on the exterior of my bread.

With that one exception in appearance, this bread was a winner. The texture of the crust was crackly and crunchy (especially when fresh out of the oven or refreshed in the oven for hot sandwiches later) and the interior was nice and chewy. The dough required minimal hands-on effort, and even when I was working with it, it was really easy to manipulate and shape. These demi-baguettes are pretty small, so in the future I may opt for a larger bread shape or multiply the recipe to make more loaves. For the amount of time that went into making them, there was not a lot of bread to enjoy.

Various breads: Baguette Dough Batard, Walnut Batard, Multigrain Demi-Baguette, Sourdough Boule, Rye Batard, and Cranberry-Currant Batard

I used dry active yeast which I softened in a bit of warm water instead of the instant yeast called for in the recipe (I have a huge jar of it; seemed pointless to go out and buy different yeast when I already have plenty of excellent yeast in my fridge). I also didn't use linen to proof my dough, as the book stipulates. I allowed them to proof on strips of parchment paper which I later used to transfer to my baking stone. I left the loaves on the parchment while they baked and then quickly removed the parchment partway through baking once the loaves had released.

Normally I would use plastic wrap to cover the proofing dough (the book suggests covering with a large box or plastic bin), but in this case I used a tea towel (not entirely sure why; it was handy) which probably allowed the loaves to "breathe" too much and dry out a bit (it's also the dry climate of winter, and not the more humid summer conditions in the house). My minor failure did nothing to destroy the character or flavor of the bread, however. I am very pleased with the finished result. These smallish loaves were halved and then split open and turned into delicious Croque Monsieur-like sandwiches with Dijon mustard, Black Forest ham, and Gruyere cheese.

My "to do" list from Bouchon Bakery is extensive. Some of the highlights include TKOs (Thomas Keller Oreos), Florentines, Macarons (the other bane of my existence), Cinnamon Honey Scones, Oh Ohs (their version of Ho Hos), Rhubarb Tart, Sticky Buns, Hot Cross Buns, Croissants (and their variations), and nearly all of the breads. That's just to start. My final thoughts are that Bouchon Bakery is a tremendous book for any ardent baker. It is not for a novice by any stretch of the imagination.

Rhubarb Tart

It will require a time commitment for many of the recipes, as well as specialty equipment or ingredients on many occasions. If you are a confident baker, there are definite shortcuts or adaptations you can make, but this book gives you all the tools and guidelines you need in order to be an extraordinary baker in your home kitchen. I think anyone who is serious about baking should purchase this book. It's way more than just a pretty face.

Gingerbread (Pain d'Epices)
Makes two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaves
(From Bouchon Bakery)

French gingerbread, known as pain d’épices, or spice bread, was a favorite afternoon snack of Sebastien Rouxel when he was a schoolboy in France. It has more molasses and is moister, darker and denser than the American gingerbread most of us know, which is lighter and more airy.

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tsp. (340 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. (8 grams) baking soda
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. (7 grams) ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. (4 grams) cinnamon
3/8 tsp. (1 gram) ground cloves
1/2 plus 1/8 tsp. (2 grams) kosher salt
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tsp. (220 grams) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup plus 2 1/4 tsp. (340 grams) unsulfured blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup plus 3 1/2 Tbsp. (214 grams) canola oil
1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 Tbsp. (100 grams) eggs
1 1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 Tbsp. (336 grams) boiling water
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. (8 grams) grated lemon peel

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans with nonstick spray. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper, then spray the parchment.

Place the flour in a medium bowl. Sift in the baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Add the salt and whisk together. Place the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed to break up any lumps. Add the molasses and mix for about 1 minute or until smooth. With the mixer running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream and continue to mix for about 1 1/2 minutes, until completely combined.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs and mix for 1 minute or until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the dry mixture in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds after each. With the mixer running, add the water 60 grams (1/4 cup) at a time, incorporating each addition before adding the next. Scrape down the bowl again. Fold in the lemon zest.

Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the pans and cool completely upside down.

The cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. Defrost in the refrigerator and rewarm if desired. This gingerbread is best made a day ahead to allow the flavors to develop and deepen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas in Tinseltown: Natalie Wood's Beef Stroganoff


Last spring I reviewed Frank DeCaro's first cookbook, The Dead Celebrity Cookbook. I thought it was fun, playful, kinda campy, but a nice addition to any movie buff's cookbook/book collection. His followup cookbook was recently released, this one an ode to Christmas movies and their stars. The title: The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents: Christmas in Tinseltown. All of the celebrities featured in this book are deceased, just like in the last book, so don't expect to see any of your modern Christmas favorites featured in the book, but a lot of classics are included such as Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas, and even our favorite animated Christmas features like a Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

With Christmas around the corner, and my eternal love of Christmas movies, exploring this book was fun and definitely got me in the mood. I'm not familiar with all of the celebrities in the book, but it was still fun flipping through the book, reading the biographies and seeing what recipes were included this time around. The recipes are totally different from the previous book, which had a more appealing spread, in my opinion. There were still several options that I thought would be fun to try. As a skilled cook, I found many of the recipes to be less than a challenge for myself, but that is expected of celebrity recipes in general. They are not chefs, and no one expects them to be. I was impressed that Fred Astaire made his own noodles from scratch for his Chicken Noodle Soup :)

I had been craving Beef Stroganoff since my visit to the Russian Tea Room in NYC last spring. That was a very upscale version, featuring truffles, but regardless of the comparison I wanted to replicate some of those comforting flavors. Natalie Wood's Beef Stroganoff (from the Miracle Whip on 34th Street chapter) was a tad different from the typical recipes I've seen, which feature beef broth or stock to make the backbone of the sauce. In her case, she uses tomato juice. I was unsure, but decided to go through with it anyway. You could use beef broth instead if you really wanted. I also added a bit of Dijon mustard, which I find rather traditional and a great flavor in the dish.

Honestly, I really liked this Stroganoff! The tomato aspect to the sauce was unique, but reminded me of some of my favorite meaty tomato-based pasta sauces, especially since I served the dish over broad egg noodles. With that one exceptional difference, many of the other components were in line with what one would find in an old-school recipe of the sort. One other major change I made was cooking the dish for less time. She suggested stewing it for about 1 1/2 hours, but for sirloin that would simply be destructive. About 10 minutes was more like it! The meat stayed nice and moist. I have already had requests to make this dish again :)

Natalie Wood's Beef Stroganoff
Serves 6
(Adapted from Christmas in Tinseltown)

2 pounds sirloin
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup white wine or sherry
1 cup sour cream

Slice the beef into thin strips and dredge them with flour, shaking off excess. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the meat quickly in batches using half the butter and olive oil. Remove the meat and set it aside. Add the remaining butter and olive oil to the skillet and saute the onions and mushrooms for about 5 minutes or until they begin to soften.

Return the meat to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add the mustard, tomato juice, water, and wine and slowly bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 to 15 minutes until the flavors are developed and the meat is still tender. Just before serving, stir in the sour cream and heat through. Serve the stroganoff over egg noodles.

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


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