Friday, August 31, 2012

Mango Tarte Tatin


This is a tropical twist on a classic French tarte tatin. Instead of apples, mangoes form the caramelized layer in this sweet and flaky dessert that is a lot easier to make than it looks. A few ripe mangos, some butter, sugar, and puff pastry are all you will need to a) impress guests when you're short on time and/or b) take a mental and gastronomical vacation to your favorite Caribbean island.

This is seriously a great go-to recipe to keep in mind when mangoes are fresh and you're in the mood for some easy decadence. Using store-bought puff pastry is a very convenient short cut which yields extraordinary results.

Mango Tarte Tatin
Serves 6
(Adapted from Eat Caribbean)

2 to 3 ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced
2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
5 oz (about 2/3 cup) granulated sugar
8 oz (1 sheet) puff pastry, defrosted
Flour for rolling out

If the mango is extra juicy, place the slices in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.

Adjust the oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter in an 8-inch oven-safe frying pan (with a steel handle). Add the sugar and allow it to melt slowly, without stirring, over medium heat. Tip the pan frequently to help the sugar to melt.

When the sugar is golden, add the mango slices and turn up the heat. The mangoes will release their liquid. Cook the mixture for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently (but gently to avoid breaking up the mangoes, but making sure they are evenly glazed), until the liquid has thickened to a caramel consistency. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, roll out the puff pastry large enough to more than cover the mango (a standard store-bought sheet of puff pastry should be large enough as is, and can simply be trimmed at the corners to make it round). Pack down the mango and then cover with the pastry, pushing down the sides. Cut a small hole in the center of the pastry.

Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the puff pastry is puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven (caution: the handle will be extremely hot; this is easy to forget once it's out of the oven... leave a kitchen towel over the handle to remind yourself until it cools), rest for a couple minutes, and then invert onto a plate and serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Louisiana Red Beans with Smoked Sausage


Once upon a time (last February), I was wandering around Manhattan with a belly full of meatballs. Heading into one of my favorite New York City haunts, Chelsea Market, I discovered that the folks at the History Channel had transformed one of the internal spaces (often used for sample sales) into the Louisiana bayou in honor of the premiere of Swamp People that evening. I had never seen the show, but was intrigued by the live baby and full grown alligators they had on display! Also, some of the stars of the show were there to meet fans, take pictures, and sign autographs. I had never seen the show, but I hopped in line anyway :) For the record, I have checked out the show since and thought it was a lot of fun.

The point of the story... they had free samples of several classic Creole/Cajun dishes along with recipe cards to make them at home. I loved all of the foods that I sampled (even though I was stuffed from my trip to the Meatball Shop), and took one of each of the recipe cards with plans to try them in the future. FINALLY, the day came and I decided to my hand at making Louisiana Red Beans with Smoked Sausage. I wanted to use Andouille sausage, which is most typical for smoked sausage from this region, but I was unable to obtain it and so I settled on some very delicious garlicky Linguica instead. It was a pretty solid substitution, trust me.

I was worried as I started to make it and realized how much food it was. The recipe said it would serve 6 but I knew this recipe would serve a lot more than 6 normal people, especially if it is served with rice. It was really easy to make, however, and the flavors were outstanding. Cooking the sausage with the beans really helped to impart a lot of flavor into the sauce. A good overnight soaking of the beans helped them cook a lot faster as well. Mashing some of the beans and mixing them back in helped to thicken what is essentially a bean and sausage stew. We absolutely loved this dish, and I look forward to making it again preferably for a crowd, or even scaling down and making half for a smaller audience.

Louisiana Red Beans with Smoked Sausage
Serves about 8
(Adapted from After the Hunt: Louisiana's Authoritative Collection of Wild Game and Game Fish Cookery)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups sliced scallions, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
1/4 cup diced garlic
1 lb dried kidney beans, soaked overnight in cold water
2 lbs smoked sausage, sliced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of the scallions, onions, celery, bell peppers, and garlic and saute for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the beans and sausage, blend well with the vegetables and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Add enough cold water to cover the beans by approximately 2 inches (I used 2 quarts, but may use less next time). Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat to medium-low (it should still be bubbling, but more gently) and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 1 hour or until the beans are tender.

Spoon about one-third of the beans (do the best you can) into a bowl and mash them. This is easier than trying to mash them in the pot with all the sausage slices getting in the way. Return the mashed beans to the pot. This should help thicken the mixture and make it creamier. If it's still too liquidy, raise the heat and continue to cook until the liquid reduces and thickens to your liking.

Add the remaining scallions along with the parsley. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. In order for the maximum flavor to develop, this dish should be cooked one day prior to serving and then reheated, but it's very delicious the day it is made, as well. Serve over steamed white rice.

Monday, August 27, 2012

5 Star Makeover: Mini Victoria Sponges


Shoes. Earrings. Designer apparel. Parisian artifacts. Minnie Mouse dolls. Cookbooks. Teas and tea wares. These are a few of my addictions. Things I collect. Things that can make me smile on my darkest days. I currently have 35 different loose teas in my home. Everything from a smooth and herbaceous Long Jing (Dragonwell) to a refreshing white tea with gogi berries and even one of my most prized teas, the Marco Polo tea from Mariage Freres (that my sister gifted to me when I graduated culinary school). I love them. They warm me up. They brighten my soul. They are happiness on a rainy day.

For years I have shared my love of tea on this blog. I have a page devoted to tea sharing highlights of my favorite tea experiences, both in my kitchen and in tea houses and restaurants. As you can imagine, I was incredibly thrilled when Natasha of 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks announced that the August theme for the 5 Star Makeover would be Tea Party! Hells yeah! This theme was made for me! I've shared several reviews of afternoon tea previously, as well as sharing my own recipes, menu ideas, and tips on brewing the perfect pot of tea.

This time, I decided to own up to my name. Literally. I'm not British but my name sure is. In fact, a British man once told me that I have a "proper British name." That made my tea-loving-self very happy. I can fit in with the best of them (queens, that is).

So how does "Victoria" come into play for a tea party makeover? How about the very traditional cake that has graced many many tea tables? The Victoria Sponge, or Victoria Sandwich, consists of layers of sponge cake filled with jam and whipped cream. A Victoria Sponge is what this Victoria would be making for the party.

"But this is a makeover," you say. Well, duh, I know that. Which is why I decided to make mini versions of the classic! They are adorable and delicious at the same time. And they are perfect for tea. The sponge cake itself is quite simple, a fluffy, buttery base for your tea time needs. In my research, most recipes that I found used an equal weights ratio for making the cake, and so I decided to stick with the tried and true and base my recipe on one with weight measurements as opposed to volume (but I've included volume too, just in case).

Jam-wise you could do raspberry or strawberry just fine. I went with strawberry, as that's what I had in my fridge, but I think raspberry is more typical. The cream component is usually a basic sometimes-unsweetened whipped cream. I've also seen buttercream used as an alternative. I decided to keep it real with a lightly (and I mean lightly) sweetened whipped cream. There's enough sweetness in the jam and in the cake to offset the mild creaminess of the whipped cream. Oh, and don't forget the final sugar rush from the dusting of confectioners' sugar on top. What's not to love?

PS I'm absolutely OBSESSED with these tea cups. They are replicas of the Chelsea Bird pattern found on antique English Staffordshire china from the late 19th century at Kingscote, one of the famous Newport Mansions. Although the design is a replica (and these aren't actual antiques), I assure you, they are real china and they are delicate and beautiful and somehow tea tastes even better when you drink it out of these cups :) I almost feel like a millionaire with a summer home in Newport, RI. LOVE!!!!

Mini Victoria Sponges
Makes 1 dozen

4 oz (3/4 cup plus 2 1/2 T.) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 T. milk
1/4 cup plus 2 T. raspberry or strawberry jam, stirred to soften and make spreadable
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard muffin pan and set aside.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat.

Add the dry mixture and beat until just combined. Add the milk and stir once last time. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely and them gently remove them from the pan.

Carefully slice each cake in half into two layers using a serrated knife. On the bottom half of each cake, gently spread about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the jam.

Beat the heavy cream to medium-stiff peaks (with a whisk or an electric mixer). Add the confectioners' sugar and finish whisking. Dollop a spoonful of whipped cream on top of the jam-covered cake halves. Top with the other cake halves, forming a little sandwich (hence the alternative name Victoria Sandwich). Dust the tops of the cakes with confectioners' sugar.

Serve the cakes immediately. If not serving right away, store the cakes in the refrigerator (the whipped cream filling requires this). Allow the cakes to come to room temperature before serving (so the cakes themselves can soften back up). These cakes are best the day they are made, but can be eaten the next day with a bit of deflation from the whipped cream.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Meatball Shop's Gobble Gobble Balls


My love and obsession over The Meatball Shop in New York City (currently three different locations) has been well advertised on Mission: Food. I have swooned over selections I've tried at the restaurant as well as swooning over recipes in their cookbook. It's a pretty solid choice for good food at a really good price if you hit up one of the restaurants as well as a great option for a weeknight meal, or even for entertaining guests, if you score a copy of the cookbook. I recommend doing both if you can :)

I don't generally let the seasons dictate what I eat. I will definitely focus my diet on what is in season at a particular time, but if it's August and I'm craving Thanksgiving dinner, I will find a way to make it happen. That's where these meatballs come into play. I had eyed them heavily when I first got the cookbook, but come August I simply couldn't wait any longer until an "acceptable time of year" for Thanksgiving. I'm thankful all the time, and so I'd like my turkey now, please.

I actually used some of my delicious homemade thyme bread with olive oil to make the garlic croutons for these balls. Yet another example of the versatility of this yummy bread :) Just like all the other recipes I've tried from the book (this is the 4th meatball recipe I've tried in addition to several sauces and sides), it was very easy to make (fool proof, in fact), and yielded awesome results!

It really and truly tasted like Thanksgiving. From the actual turkey to the sweet and tart dried cranberries, the hint of cinnamon, and the chewy garlicky bites of the croutons that were very reminiscent of stuffing, these were the perfect way to get over the hump until Thanksgiving actually rolls around. Along with some creamy mashed potatoes and garlicky sauteed haricots verts, it was a full meal that satisfied all of us. And it took far less time than making an actual turkey! Gobble gobble!

Gobble Gobble Balls
Makes 2 dozen
(Adapted from The Meatball Shop Cookbook)

Garlic Croutons:
2 cups bite-sized pieces of stale country bread (I used homemade thyme bread with olive oil)
1 garlic clove, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds ground turkey
2 cups garlic croutons or stuffing cubes
1 cup dried cranberries
2 large eggs
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (I used fresh thyme instead)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon

For the garlic croutons: Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, add the bread pieces and garlic and drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat the bread (about a couple tablespoons or so). Toss gently to combine and season with salt.

Place the croutons on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Stir and continue to bake until the croutons are golden brown and crunchy, checking and stirring every 5 minutes.

For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Drizzle the olive oil into an aluminum foil-lined 9×13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.

Combine the ground turkey, croutons, cranberries, eggs, bread crumbs, sage, salt, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.

Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches), making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, being careful to line them up snugly and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.

Roast for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. A meat thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball should read 165°F.

Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sarabeth's Strawberry-Peach Preserves


While living in New York City and interning at the Food Network, I had the luxury of stopping by the Chelsea Market location of Sarabeth's Bakery many mornings. I looked forward to the delicious baked goods and preserves on each occasion. When Sarabeth's cookbook was being released, I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy. I waxed poetic about my love for the book and the bakery in my review of the cookbook. I even got to meet Sarabeth and tell her in person how much I enjoyed exploring her lovely book. And then I recently realized that I hadn't shared another recipe from her book since that post almost two years ago! Shame on me.

Lucky for me (and you) I elected to make some of her famous fruit preserves with the surplus of fresh fruit this summer. First on my list was the strawberry-peach preserves, a beautiful and vibrant creation that is heavy on strawberry flavor with a nice balance of peaches as well. The color is lovely, more blush than traditional strawberry preserves, and requires a bit more effort due to the peeling and chopping of peaches, but I assure you, it was pretty easy.

I am not a master of canning whatsoever, and found her directions to be very straight-forward (as are all the instructions in her book). I slightly under-cooked my preserves, so the surrounding syrup was a bit less gelled than it could have been, but quite honestly we still thought the result was fantastic! I will definitely make this recipe again! I'm also looking forward to trying some of the other preserve recipes in her book. I think next on my list is her blueberry jam.

For the occasion, I purchased a Ball Utensil Set for Preserving very cheaply (less than $7) from Walmart. It was quite possibly the best $7 I've spent (this month, at least). It alleviated some of the stress I had about hot-packing the jars (something totally new to me). The set included a sturdy set of canning tongs (way more reliable than attempting to do the same with regular tongs), a wide funnel that made for a less messy experience, a bubble remover/headspace tool (use the same tool for measuring headspace on the jars and then removing bubbles from the jar instead of using a dinner knife), and a magnetic lid lifter (perfect for removing the hot metal lids from the pan of hot water). I thought it was a great deal and I know I will use this again and again whenever I make preserves (and now that I have this kit and the jars, I know I'll be making a lot more).

Strawberry-Peach Preserves
Makes 10 half-pints
(From Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours)

4 lbs ripe peaches
7 cups granulated sugar, divided
8 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and quartered lengthwise
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. In batches, add the peaches to the water and boil until the skins loosen, 30 to 60 seconds. Using a large skimmer or a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to a large bowl filled with an ice bath. Peel and pit the peaches, and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Mix the peaches with 3 1/2 cups of the sugar in a nonreactive large saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the peaches soften and release their juices, and the sugar dissolves, 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the strawberries, the remaining 3 1/2 cups sugar, and the lemon juice. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer. Cooking, skimming and stirring often, until the liquid is thick and syrupy and the peaches are soft and chunky, about 40 minutes.

While the fruit is cooking, sterilize the jars. Fill a canning pot (or other large deep pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat (allow about 30 minutes or more for this procedure, as you are using a large quantity of water). Bring a kettle of water to a boil just in case you need to add more water to the canning pot. Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot soapy water, and rinse well. Dry the bands. If you wish, use a dishwasher. Jars that are piping hot and fresh out of the dishwasher don't need sterilizing in a hot-water bath. Do not put the lids in the dishwasher.

Use canning tongs to immerse the jars in the boiling water. Add boiling water if needed to cover the jars by 1 inch. Place the lids in a saucepan and cover with hot tap water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let sit in the hot water until ready to use. The hot water softens the seal on the lip of the lid, creating a tighter seal.

Using the canning tongs, carefully remove the jars from the water. Invert the jars to remove any water and place right side up on a clean kitchen towel to drain. Spoon the hot fruit into the jars, leaving a 1/4-inch gap from the top (a canning funnel is very useful). Wipe any spills from the edge of the jar with a hot, wet towel. Using a dinner knife, adjust the fruit in the jar to allow any air pockets to escape. Attach the hot, wet lids and bands, but do not screw on tightly--just twist the bands until you feel resistance.

Place the jars in a canning rack and lower into the water in the pot (if you don't have a canning rack, place a kitchen towel in the bottom of the pot of boiling water and use the canning tongs to lower each jar into the water--the towel will prevent the jars from knocking around on the bottom of the pot while the water is boiling). If necessary, add enough boiling water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Return to a boil and process for 10 minutes at a slow boil.

Place a clean, thick kitchen towel on the work surface. Remove the rack with the jars from the pot (or use the tongs to remove each jar individually), and transfer the jars to the towel and let cool completely, undisturbed, for at least 12 hours. You will know when the jars are properly sealed if the lids are slightly concave in the centers, and when the lids are pressed in the centers they should not make a clicking sound. In necessary, re-process or refrigerate them and serve within four weeks. Before storing, give the rings another turn to be sure they are tight. Hot-packed jars can be stored at room temperature for about one year. Once they are open, be sure to refrigerate them. When serving, never place unclean spoons or butter knives back into the jar. This will create bacteria and your preserves will spoil.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fresh Thyme Bread with Olive Oil


There's nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread baking in your oven. There really isn't. When it comes to baking bread, there are two major schools of thought. There is bread that can be made rather quickly and efficiently. It doesn't require a starter. It's usually uncomplicated, but can come in many shapes and flavors. It probably features a fairly firm and easy-to-handle bread dough and rises only once before shaping, proofing and baking. It's reliable, and it's a good starter bread for lovers of yeast.

Then there's artisan bread. Artisan bread, by nature, is a wetter dough (the extra water in the dough allows for better texture and more open holes). This can be more of a struggle to work with, knead, and shape. It often (but not always) requires a starter, which thus requires more time to plan your bread making (but improves the flavor tenfold, and is hella easy to make!). In the case of Amy's Bread recipes, it also usually has multiple/slower rise times compared to other bread recipes. None of these obstacles, however, prevent me from wanting to make their bread. Why? Because their bread is the best.

This doesn't mean that I don't/won't make other breads that are easier/faster/less complicated. But it means that I'm happy to spend two days baking bread if it tastes as good as their bread does. This particular recipe suggests refrigerating the dough after the first rise, which extends the total time even longer than some of the other bread recipes in the book. The flavor is supposed to be better if you do, and so I did. I have no complaints.

I made my starter first thing in the morning, then later in the afternoon I prepared my bread dough, let it rise, folded it over, and then refrigerated it until the next morning when I continued to let it rise at room temperature, shaped the loaves, proofed and baked them. It was time consuming, but it wasn't that hard to do. Really.

The bread was fantastic. It had a great herbaceous flavor from the thyme (the recipe originally calls for rosemary, but the thyme in my garden was just aching for some love) and a wonderful aromatic quality from the olive oil, both in the dough and brushed on top. The bread itself had a nice chewy crumb that holds up to many uses.

I actually topped a couple slices of the bread with a quick cherry tomato bruschetta topping I whipped up with cherry tomatoes from the garden. The recipe is simply 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, mixed together with 1/2 a teaspoon each of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, and seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. You could throw some chopped herbs in there, but I wanted to showcase the flavor of the bread (already infused with herbs).

PS I make my bread using the weight measurements instead of the volume measurements (whenever possible), but both are included in the book and so I am sharing them both here. For the best accuracy, use the weight measurements if you have a kitchen scale available.

Fresh Thyme Bread with Olive Oil
Makes 2 large (20-ounce) rounds
(Adapted from Amy's Bread: Revised and Updated)

1/4 cup (2 oz) very warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 cups (14 oz) poolish starter (recipe follows)
1 cup (8 oz) cool water (75 to 78 degrees F)
3 tablespoons  (1.5 oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1/4 cup (0.55 oz) fresh thyme leaves, chopped (alternatively use rosemary leaves, as original recipe does)
3 cups (15.3 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2.8 oz) whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (0.56 oz) kosher salt
Cornmeal, for sprinkling

Combine very warm water and yeast in a large bowl. Stir with a fork until yeast dissolves. Let stand 3 minutes, then add the poolish, cool water, olive oil, and thyme. Combine with your fingers for about 2 minutes, breaking up sponge until yeast mixture looks milky and slightly foamy.

Add flours and salt. Mix with your fingers to incorporate, scraping the bowl's sides and folding dough over itself until it gathers into a mass. When sticky strands of dough cling to your fingers, gather it into a ball and move it to a lightly floured surface. If dough is very firm, add 1 tablespoon water.

Knead dough for about 5 minutes, until it becomes smoother and supple. Put the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover it with oiled plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes to smooth out and develop elasticity.

Return the dough to the lightly floured survace and knead for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth and stretchy. Do not knead extra flour into the dough. It should be soft and loose.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise at room temperature (75 to 78 degrees F) for 1 hour. After one hour, turn the dough while it is still in teh mixing bowl. Gently deflate the dough in the middle fo the bowl with your fingertips, then fold the left side over the middle, and the right side over the middle. Fold the dough in half, gently pat it down, and then turn it over so the seam is underneath. Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap or a large plastic bag, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from refrigerator and let warm until it begins to rise again, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Cover a peel or the back of a sheet pan with parchment paper, then sprinkle with cornmeal. Place dough, which may be quite sticky, on a well-floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Shape each into a boule, or round loaf. Flour the seam of each and place loaves, seam side down, on peel or pan, leaving 3 to 4 inches between them for rising and spreading. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours, or until loaves have doubled in bulk.

Thirty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Fill a plastic spray bottle with water and place a small pan (such as a mini loaf pan) on the lowest possible rack of the electric oven. Also place a cast-iron pan (that you are willing to get rusty) next to the small pan (I just used another small pan), fill a teakettle with water to be boiled later, and have a metal 1-cup measure with a straight handle available near the kettle.

5 to 10 minutes before the loaves are ready to bake, carefully place 2 or 3 ice cubes in the small pan in the bottom of the oven. This helps to create moisture in the oven prior to baking. If using a water pan, also turn the water on to boil.

Mist the tops of the loaves with water, then using a razor blade, cut a shallow tick-tack-toe pattern on top of each loaf, being careful not to tear dough. Gently slide loaves from the parchment onto the baking stone (if you're baking with a stone simply slide the sheet pan onto the empty oven rack). Pour 1 cup of boiling water into the cast-iron pan and immediately shut oven door. After about 1 minute, quickly mist loaves with water 6 to 8 times, then shut the oven door.

Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees F and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer, until loaves are light golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Brush loaves with olive oil using a pastry brush. Cool on a rack.

Poolish Starter
Makes 2 1/4 cups (16 oz)
(From Amy's Bread: Revised and Updated)

1/4 cup (2 oz) very warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup (6 oz) cool water (75 to 78 degrees F)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

In a 2-quart container with high sides, combine the very warm water and yeast and whisk together until the yeast is dissolved. Allow the mixture to stand for 3 minutes. Add the cool water and flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or your hand for 1 minute, until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. The starter will soften and become more elastic as it sits.

Scrape down the starter from the sides of the container and cover with plastic film. Mark the time and dough's height on the side of the container using a piece of tape so you can see how much it rises. Make sure it has room to triple in volume.

Let the starter rise at room temperature (75 to 78 degrees F) for 6 to 8 hours. Or let it rise 1 hour at room temperature, then chill it in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours to warm up and become active before use. When it is ready, it will have tripled in volume, and lots of bubbles and small folds will appear on the surface. The starter should be used in the next 2 to 4 hours, before it begins to deflate.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fresh Corn Risotto


The end of summer marks corn season at its pinnacle. I'm lucky enough to have access to local farms that produce fresh corn I can purchase quite cheaply. I particularly enjoy visiting Confreda Farms in Cranston, RI to make my corn purchases. I recently hit them up for some of their sugar butter corn, which I used to make this risotto. Even though I made my own corn stock from the cobs (instead of using store-bought stock), it was considerably easy to make.

I think risotto can be scary because it requires a lot of your attention, but it's honestly one of the easiest things you can make. In my opinion, it's pretty fool-proof if you follow the directions properly. In this case, a purely vegetarian creation boasts crunchy and sweet corn with just a bit of cheese to finish it off. The corn is definitely the highlight here. You can throw in some fresh herbs if you'd like, of course. You can also increase the amount of cheese if you want something more decadent, but the sweetness of the corn will fall into the background.

Fresh Corn Risotto
Serves 4 to 6

Corn Stock:
4 corn cobs (previously shucked, kernels saved for risotto--see below)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
3 quarts (12 cups) cold water

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
6 to 7 cups hot corn stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups fresh corn kernels (from the 4 corn cobs used in corn stock)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Place the shucked corn cobs, onion, carrot, and celery in a stock pot and cover with the cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about an hour. Remove the corn cobs with tongs and then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl or another pot. If the stock is made in advance, reheat it before making the risotto. This should make about 8 to 9 cups stock.

To make the risotto, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir until all of the grains of rice are well-coated with the oil and until the rice begins to look translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes more.

Stir in the white wine and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Begin adding the corn stock a ladle or two at a time, stirring until most of the stock is absorbed, and then adding more stock. This is a slow process, but necessary. Continue to add the stock a little at a time, stirring in between additions to absorb the stock, until you have used about half the stock.

At this point, stir in the corn (it's raw and needs to cook a bit) and season the mixture with salt and pepper (you do NOT want to wait until the end to season your risotto or else the salt will not absorb into the rice). Continue adding the remaining stock one or two ladles at a time, adjusting the seasoning as necessary, until the rice is al dente (mostly cooked through but has a bit of a chewy bite to it) and creamy. This entire process should take about 25 to 30 minutes.

At this point, stir in the grated cheese and do a final taste for seasoning. If your risotto is a little stiff, add another ladle of stock. It should be free-flowing, like lava. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cooking Disney: Pollo a las Rajas (Epcot)


I'm obsessed with Disney. No really, I am. My nails are currently painted with colors from the line of Minnie Mouse nail polishes by OPI. There's also 13 Minnie Mouse dolls staring me down as I type this post. I'm hard core. I also love cooking Disney food when I get the chance. I've shared a couple Disney recipes previously (Honey Sesame Chicken and Grapefruit Cake), and today I'm sharing another! This one comes from the Mexico pavilion in Epcot, specifically from the San Angel Inn, which is located inside the Epcot Mexico pyramid. I've never eaten there, but I've been on the Gran Fiesta Tour river ride that goes through there.

The dish I made is called Pollo a las Rajas. Las Rajas means "cracks" or "splits" in Spanish, and refers to the skin of the roasted poblano chile. This is a recipe that sounds a lot less exciting on paper than it actually is. Sauteed vegetables in a sour cream sauce topped with chicken sounds so yesterday. But I swear it's not! It's really really good! It's not the typical Mexican food you'd imagine, either. It's just a really great combination of flavors, what can I say?

Thin strips of poblano chile, red bell pepper, and onions melt together with chunks of chorizo and a slightly tangy sour cream sauce that isn't nearly as rich as it looks or sounds. Garlic-kissed chicken breasts top the vegetables, finishing off this rustic dish with a sophisticated edge. Originally, the recipe suggests baking the chicken breasts, but on the menu the chicken is actually grilled, so I simply marked my chicken breasts on my grill pan (to give it grill marks) and then finished it off in the oven to cook through. Easy peasy.

Also, the original recipe wants you to essentially fry the poblano chile in some oil to char the skin so you can peel it, but I think you can save the fat (and effort) by simply grilling or broiling the pepper, or in my case holding it with tongs over a gas flame until all the skins chars and starts to peel. The final change I made was in regard to the cheese. The recipe said to top with Monterey Jack cheese and broil it, but again, the restaurant does not do that. The photographs I've seen show either a naked chicken breast on top, or one topped with uncooked crumbled queso fresca. So that's what I'm including in this version. I can't wait to make it again! It was not only super easy to make (weeknight meal, anyone?) but it was a huge hit! Yummy!! Two thumbs up for Disney :-D

Pollo a las Rajas
Serves 4
(Adapted from Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 T. vegetable oil
1 large poblano chile
1 large Spanish onion, halved and sliced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 cup peeled and diced chorizo (preferably Mexican)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup half-and-half
Queso fresca, optional

Season the chicken breasts with 2 of the garlic cloves, salt, and pepper, and drizzle with about 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Grill the chicken breasts or bake them in a roasting pan, uncovered at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until cooked. Alternatively, mark the chicken breasts on a grill or grill pan (to get grill marks) and then finish them in the oven until they are cooked through.

Meanwhile, take the poblano chile and either grill it, broil it, or hold it with tongs over a gas flame to char the skin. When the skin has charred, remove it from the heat source and place it in a plastic bag for a few minutes to steam (this will make it easier to peel). Peel the poblano, remove the seeds, and slice into thin strips.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppers, onion, chorizo, and the remaining minced garlic clove. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions and peppers are soft. Add the sour cream, half-and-half, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 3 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken.

Spoon the vegetable mixture evenly onto four serving dishes and top each with a chicken breast. Sprinkle crumbled queso fresca over the top, if desired.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thyme-Peach Cobblers (in Jars!)


I have to be honest. I'm new to the whole baking in jars trend. When I received my review copy of Desserts in Jars by Shaina Olmanson, I had to go out to buy jars. Don't get me wrong, I have mismatched jars around the house, but in order to follow the recipes I wanted to have a set of matching jars that were actually the correct size for the recipe I planned to make :) Jars in tow, I was prepared for an adventure with my new cookbook.

Although the book itself is hardcover, it features a spiral-binding hidden inside the cover. This makes it very easy to keep the book open to whatever page you'd like. It can cause slight irritation when turning pages when the pages get stuck, but overall I enjoyed the appearance and manufacturing of the book. The photos are delightful as well, and the book is well-organized, well-written and a great look at this booming trend. Shaina does a great job discussing everything from jar selection to adornments and gift tags for gift giving.

Chapters include Cakes and Cupcakes, Pies and Pastries, Custards and Puddings, Fruit Desserts, Frozen Desserts, and Mixes for Giving. I thought the variety of recipes was great and actually had a tough time deciding what to make. Some recipes that peaked my interest include Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes, Flourless Chocolate Cakes, Pull-Apart Cinnamon Breads, Rosemary-Peach Cobblers, Frozen Mudslide Pies, Ice Cream Cakes in a Jar, and pretty much all of the mixes for giving.

This paragraph (and the next two) is where I'm going to say things that I don't like about the book (don't hate me). First of all (and I noticed the same comment in an review of the book), I really wish that the number of jars required (and their size) was mentioned somewhere other than within the recipe instructions. I'd love it if it were mentioned separately, along with the ingredients as "special equipment" or something. It's just difficult when you are looking at recipes and planning what to make when you don't even know if you have the right size jar or even enough jars to make something unless you skim every recipe to see what jars you need. At the very least perhaps that number could have been in bold within the instructions. See how easy that was?

Also, although I think so many of the recipes included in the book are pretty genius (Pains au Chocolat in jars!), I think a few are really reaching. I can't really see why after going to the trouble to make macarons from scratch, serving them in a jar would suddenly make them more special. They are just cookies in jars. Sure they are pretty for gift giving, but there isn't much about the jar that makes those macarons more special than they already are (they're pretty damn special already, I know how hard they are to perfect). I also can't really understand baking cupcakes and then placing them inside a jar to serve them. It actually seems to defeat the purpose of a hand-held cake. I guess I'm just late to the desserts-in-jars-train where anything goes, but I just don't get it. The other creations are fantastic and I can't wait to try several of them. But a few of them just miss the mark for me.

Final criticism (I promise), just a small misprint that I want to point out in case anyone (like me) is interested in making the Spiced Hot Chocolate Mix with Cinnamon Marshmallows for gift-giving. I have confirmed with the publisher that the jars for that recipe should be 1 pint jars as opposed to 8-ounce jars. There. Don't hate me. This is the end of my rant.

Now onto yummy things! I selected the Rosemary-Peach Cobblers to make from the book, but replaced the rosemary with fresh thyme because that's what I had in my garden. I also used lime zest instead of lemon and reduced the amount of butter in the jars. I thought this was a great recipe to try since it's summer and peaches are definitely in season! It was really easy to make and the thyme infused a lovely aroma and flavor into the peaches.

I'm used to more fruit-heavy cobbler recipes, where they are mostly fruit with a little bit of crust, but this recipe was more equal parts of the two components. I didn't really mind it at all, as the dough was nice and sweet (and slightly citrusy) and almost reminded me of shortbread in flavor, actually. Along with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was really the perfect summer treat!

Overall, I would recommend this book. It contains adorable and clever ideas for serving desserts in a playful way that is easily transportable and perfect for gift-giving. I can't, in good conscience, write a cookbook review without pointing out errors I've found, or things that could have been improved (no one is perfect, right?), but that doesn't mean that I don't think this is a cookbook worth purchasing. I think Shaina has done a beautiful job showcasing many many desserts in jars, more than I could have imagined myself. She obviously knows her stuff and loves what she does. I'm really excited to try others, and also utilize the book to give sweet treats to my loved ones in fun and exciting ways.

Thyme-Peach Cobblers
Makes 8
(Adapted from Desserts in Jars)

Peach Filling:
4 cups peeled and sliced peaches (about 4 peaches)
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. water
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 sprigs fresh thyme, bruised (original recipe calls for rosemary)

2 T. unsalted butter, melted

Crust Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. grated lemon or lime zest
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 T. (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup milk

Make the filling: In a large saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, water, lemon juice, and thyme over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until a sauce starts to thicken around the peaches. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Evenly distribute the melted butter among eight 8-ounce jars (I used a pastry brush).

Make the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the cold butter and quickly work them into the flour mixture with your fingers until you achieve coarse crumbs (alternatively you can pulse the mixture in a food processor and then transfer to a mixing bowl). Add the milk into the crumb mixture and stir until just combined. Distribute the dough mixture evenly to the buttered jars (using a measuring cup with a spout makes it easier)

Remove the thyme sprigs from the peaches and spoon approximately 2/3 cup peaches and sauce into each jar on top of the dough. Place the jars 2 inches apart on a large baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust starts to brown.

Remove from the oven and allow the jars to rest on the baking sheet for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream, 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.


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