Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chocolate Cupcakes with Red Wine Buttercream

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Although cupcakes have been big for years now, I don't imagine their popularity is dwindling. I mean, who doesn't like little individually sized cakes? And better yet, who doesn't like two or three little individually sized cakes? This girl loves them! Although baking and decorating full-size cakes is just about as fun as can be, cupcakes bake and cool faster and allow for even more decorating possibilities, from the selection of your paper liners to your choice of spreading versus piping frosting.


From that point the piping tips give you even more fun alternatives to be adventurous. Are you in the mood for a sleek round tip decoration? A classic open star tip with big ridges? The French star tip, easily resembling a seashell swirl? How about the ribbony, ethereal effect of a closed star tip? And in that case, do you prefer a traditional swirl from the outside in, or instead piping from the inside out to resemble a perfectly delicate rose?


Limitless possibilities surely make cupcakes a great choice for bakers. The classics are lovely, as are newer and more creative flavor profiles. I absolutely love these tender-crumbed chocolate cupcakes with vibrant red wine buttercream. The type of red wine you select will not only tweak the flavor of the frosting, but will also alter the color, since reds can range from red to purple in hue. The frosting itself has a slightly tart wine flavor without being overwhelmingly strong or sweet. These cupcakes are surprisingly light from top to bottom, making them great crowd-pleasers for cupcake lovers and critics alike.


Chocolate Cupcakes with Red Wine Buttercream
Makes 24 cupcakes
(Buttercream adapted from Eats Well With Others)

Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk

Buttercream:
1 cup plus 2 T. red wine
1/4 cup granulated sugar
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 24 standard muffin cups with paper liners and set aside.

To make the cupcakes: Sift together the cake flour, cocoa powder,baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl in between each addition.

Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, the add the milk. Finally stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.

Fill each liner about 1/2 to 2/3 full with cake batter, filling muffin cups evenly. Be careful not to overfill or the batter will overflow a bit when baking. Bake the cupcakes for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely.

To make the buttercream: place 1 cup of the wine and the granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer until the mixture has reduced to a scant 1/3 cup, about 25 minutes or so. It should be syrupy. Allow the red wine reduction to cool completely in the refrigerator.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until nice and fluffy. Pause the mixer occasionally to add the confectioners' sugar a 1/2 cup at a time and beat until combined (this will prevent the sugar from making too much of a mess when mixing). Beat until fluffy. Carefully add the cooled red wine reduction and salt and continue to beat the frosting until smooth. With the mixer running add the last 2 tablespoons of red wine one at a time and beat until smooth.

If the frosting seems too soft to pipe onto the cupcakes (it may or may not depending on what room temperature is on that given day), place it in the refrigerator briefly for about 10 or 15 minutes (stirring it occasionally) until it gets just firm enough to pipe comfortably (you can also add more confectioners' sugar, but that will make the frosting a touch sweeter). Fill a pastry bag fitted with whatever large piping tip you prefer with the frosting and frost cupcakes (your method of frosting will determine how much frosting you use, if you prefer frosting-heavy cupcakes, you may want to multiply the amount of frosting you make by 1 1/2).

Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 2 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.





Monday, May 28, 2012

5 Star Makeover "Restaurant Wars": Goat Cheese and Leek Tartlets with Rhubarb Gastrique

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Happy Memorial Day, everyone! I'm beyond thrilled to announce that I'm officially a member of the 5 Star Makeover Cooking Group, hosted by Natasha of 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks. Every month, these wonderful hosts come up with exciting challenges for the group members to explore. For the months of April and May, they extended the biggest challenge of all. Working with a group! Members were split into groups to come up with a Restaurant Wars-style menu, all focusing on the same ingredient(s) or theme, and creating dishes for consecutive courses (appetizer, entree, dessert, etc). Some groups had trouble working together and needed to be redistributed among other groups. See how it can be a challenge sometimes?


Fortunately, my group didn't have any issues working together. I was very excited to work on this group effort with our lovely host Natasha, Angela at Spinach Tiger, and Bren at Flanboyant Eats. We started out by coming up with our theme ingredient, or in our case ingredients plural. Rhubarb was on the table immediately, and a couple of us had thoughts to include goat cheese in our dishes as well. It seemed natural to make both of those ingredients our theme ingredients, showcasing the versatility of this magical pair. Just for fun, we decided to also name our "restaurant." I immediately threw out The Pink Goat, and the name stuck :)


I volunteered to make the first course, an appetizer featuring goat cheese and leek tartlets served with a velvety rhubarb gastrique. A gastrique is simply a sweet/sour sauce featuring vinegar and sugar. It can be made in many ways, utilizing a variety of components to heighten the flavor. Fruits are a typical addition to the basic gastrique, and in this case I used our key ingredient rhubarb, not exactly a fruit, but often paired with fruits and cooked with sugar to result in something tart and sweet... perfect for a gastrique! A pinch of ground allspice added a mild layer of spice, as well as flecks of black in the sauce that almost resembled those of a vanilla bean.

Looks like a shooting star!!

The tartlets themselves feature a flaky and buttery crust, tender, mildly oniony leeks, and a tangy goat cheese filling. They are best served warm along with some of the beautifully pink sauce. Although both the tartlets and sauce are delectable on their own, they are even better when paired together. Truly a match made in Heaven! Although the dish does require several steps in order to finish its composition, it's absolutely worth it, in my opinion, and results in a truly mouthwatering start to our meal at The Pink Goat.


Goat Cheese and Leek Tartlets with Rhubarb Gastrique
Makes 6 (4-inch) tartlets and 1 scant cup gastrique

Crust:
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/2 T. very cold water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 T. all-purpose flour
9 T. (1 stick plus 1 T.) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

Gastrique:
1 (1/2 lb) stalk rhubarb, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 T. unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch ground allspice

Filling:
1/2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 a leek, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
5 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
2 T. sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

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

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

Next, place all of the gastrique ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb softens and breaks down and the mixture is thick. Pour into a food processor and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust flavor as needed. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the leeks to cool.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and cut into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then roll out to 1/8 inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed. Gently line each of 6 (4-inch) tarlet pans with the small dough circles, pressing gently into the pans. Trim off excess dough and chill the dough-lined pans in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To a food processor add the goat cheese, egg, heavy cream, and sour cream and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and puree once again.

Remove the chilled dough-lined tartlet pans from the refrigerator and place them on a baking sheet (to make transportation to and from the oven easier). Evenly distribute the leeks into the 6 tartlet pans and top with the pureed goat cheese mixture, spreading it out evenly into each tarlet pan. Bake the tartlets for 25 to 30 minutes or until the filling is set and slightly puffed, and the tops and edges are golden brown.

Allow the tartlets to cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing them from the pans (hold each pan with a towel and gently flip it over into your hand and then back right-side-up onto a flat surface). Serve each tartlet warm with some of the rhubarb gastrique. Any extra gastrique would be lovely served with nearly any meat or fish.





Friday, May 25, 2012

Turkey Meatball Spring Minestrone

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Cheesy little meatballs stud this fresh and light spring soup, bright with green and orange vegetables. You eat with your eyes first, you know :) With the exception of the cheese component, this soup is pretty healthy. Feel free to add other vegetables that you'd like. It occurred to me later that a handful of peas would have only improved this soup. I think green beans could be a nice addition too. Egg noodles would also be a nice touch instead of the smaller pasta shape. Overall this soup was a hit, even on a warmer spring day. I will definitely keep it in the wings for soup cravings in the future!


Turkey Meatball Spring Minestrone
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

8 oz ground turkey or chicken
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
4 garlic cloves, 2 minced and 2 thinly sliced
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced on the bias
2 quarts chicken broth or stock (8 cups)
2 cups water
1 cup ditalini, or other small pasta
1 1/2 cups (packed) baby spinach

To make the meatballs, mix the turkey, bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of the cheese, minced garlic, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Form into 1/2-inch diameter meatballs.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the meatballs until golden all over, about 3 minutes. They will finish cooking in the soup. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the leek, carrots, and celery to the pot and cook, stirring often until the vegetables begin to soften, a few minutes. Add the sliced garlic and cook another minute. Add the broth and water, season with some salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and simmer until the pasta is a few minutes shy of al dente, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the meatballs and continue to simmer until they are cooked through and the pasta is al dente, another few minutes. Add the spinach and the remaining Parmesan cheese and stir until the spinach is wilted. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Weber Grill Giveaway!

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Hello my little darlings! I hope you're hungry for some grillin' because I have exciting news for you! Between June 1st and June 3rd, the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut will be hosting its first annual Sun BBQ Fest! In addition to some delicious BBQ tastings, there will be a rib eating contest featuring Joey Chestnut, cooking demonstrations, live music, and (my personal favorite thing ever) FIREWORKS. If you live in the Northeastern United States, I highly suggest you head on over to the website and look into getting yourself some tickets so you won't miss out on the delicious fun! They are only $30 per day, which is a great deal, in my opinion. I've been invited to attend and will be discussing the event afterwards, so please keep your eyes peeled for that post if you're unable to make it.

In the meantime, the generous folks at Mohegan Sun have offered me three Weber Smokey Joe portable grills to give away in honor of the event (and of course the start of summer!). The giveaway is only open to US residents and will conclude in one week (May 30th at 11:59pm) when I will randomly pick the winners. In order to participate in the giveaway you may do any of the following, and each is considered a separate entry, so leave a comment for each one you do.

1) Leave a comment telling me your favorite food to grill.
2) Like Mission: Food on Facebook, and then leave a comment here.
3) Like Mohegan Sun on Facebook, and then leave a comment here.
4) Follow @missionfood and @MoheganSun on Twitter, tweet about the giveaway mentioning both (@missionfood and @MoheganSun) and including a link to this post, and then leave a comment here.

That's 4 chances to win!! Just be sure to leave separate comments for each entry. Good luck everyone, and happy grilling :-D

Monday, May 21, 2012

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

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The Colonel's got nothing on this fried chicken. Seriously. This is the best fried chicken I've ever had. When it comes to making fried chicken, many recipes are alike. It really comes down to the mixture of spices used to season the chicken, the type of brine or marinade used (sometimes none at all), and the breading procedure. Some people double coat, while some single coat; some dip in egg, and some don't; some fry in oil, and some in lard.


It's really a personal preference, and I can't speak for your fried chicken preference, but I can definitely speak for your taste buds (believe it or not) and tell you that this fried chicken not only boasts an intensely crispy crust, but moist and juicy chicken beyond belief that is so flavorful you'll think you've died and gone to fried chicken heaven (aka the South).


To compliment this good-as-can-be fried chicken, I made mashed potatoes, my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe (so flaky and buttery), and a simple sauce made with honey and hot sauce that I drizzled over the fried chicken and the biscuits. Simply mix together honey and some hot sauce of your choice (Frank's Red Hot, Tabasco, and Sriracha are good choices), adjusting the spice level to your liking. It's a fun alternative to gravy!


If you are troubled by butchering your own chicken, you can ask your butcher to do it for you, or purchase a mixture of chicken pieces (on the bone) equal to the amount of chicken called for in the recipe. I do recommend breaking down your own chicken because it's all kinds of fun! At least to me. There are tutorials all over the internet and in many cookbooks on various methods to break down chickens. It's a lot easier than you would think, and becomes second nature after practicing on a few birds.


Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Makes 10 pieces (4 to 5 servings)

1 (3 to 4 lb) fryer/broiler chicken cut into 10 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings with wing tips intact, 4 breast halves--reserve backbone for making stock or discard it)
Canola or peanut oil, for frying

Buttermilk Marinade:
2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano

Coating:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T. kosher salt
2 T. ground black pepper

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and pour into an airtight container. Add the chicken pieces and submerge them in the marinade. Refrigerate in the airtight container for at least 3 or 4 hours, but up to 8 hours is preferable for absorbing even more flavor.

Fill a large pot with high sides (such as a Dutch oven) about 2-inches high with oil and heat the oil to 350 degrees F (a deep fry thermometer is helpful with accuracy). Meanwhile, whisk together the coating ingredients. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade (do not drain the marinade off the pieces) and dredge them in the flour mixture until well-coated. Set the pieces aside until ready to fry. If the chicken pieces start to absorb too much of the flour and are wet before they are ready to fry, toss them back into the flour mixture to give them a thorough coating before putting them in the oil (I like to bread only as many pieces as I plan to fry in each batch to avoid this problem).

When the oil is up to the proper temperature, gently place half the chicken pieces skin-side down in the oil and fry for about 7 to 8 minutes per side (the wings will likely cook faster), or until dark golden brown and crispy on both sides. Do not overcrowd the pan. Only cook as many pieces as will comfortably fit in the pan. Adding too much chicken at once will drastically lower the temperature of the oil. Remove the cooked chicken using tongs and drain on a paper towel-lined sheet pan. After the first batch is done, return the oil to 350 degrees F before adding the next round of chicken pieces. Fry the remaining chicken the same way.

Rest the chicken for a few minutes before enjoying.




Friday, May 18, 2012

Alewife Queens: The Home of BBQ Pulled Pork Croutons

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After my good friend Nick attended an all pork extravaganza in NYC aptly called Aporkalypse, he told me about the incredible Smoked Almond Macarons with Chocolate Bacon Ganache that simply won him over. He wanted to try Alewife Queens in Long Island City, the restaurant/bar responsible for this creation to see what other exciting menu options we could experience together. Food adventures are our specialty, and this one was sure to be a delicious one. The bar is large with an open layout and long wooden tables large enough for sharing. Beer is a must (they have a solid selection).

Jalapeno Mac and Cheese - Smoked Cheddar, Jalapeno, BBQ Pulled Pork Croutons $13

My favorite dish we tried was the jalapeno mac and cheese with BBQ pulled pork croutons. Let me say it again... BBQ PULLED PORK CROUTONS. It featured radiatori pasta (a rare shape for mac and cheese, but a really great choice), smoked cheddar and finely chopped jalapeno. The jalapeno gave it a really nice heat element without being incredibly overpowering, and the cheese sauce was super creamy and cloaked the pasta well. The pulled pork croutons were essentially cubes of pulled pork that were breaded and fried. Absolutely brilliant! I am officially on board and would like all future croutons that enter my mouth to be made of pulled pork. Thank you.

Soft Pretzel Bites - Horseradish and Caraway Mustard $8

We also tried the soft pretzel bites, which were served with an adorable sealed tube of homemade horseradish and caraway mustard. It was such a fun presentation and the pretzels and mustard were, as always, a perfect pair. Definitely a nice bar food option done well.

Ramps - Crispy Hen Egg, Brown Butter, Yuzu $10

We loved the ramps served with a crispy hen egg, brown butter, and yuzu. The hot runny yolk with the crisp crust of the fried hen egg was the ultimate "sauce" for the ramps. A really lovely presentation, far exceeding what most would expect at a bar.

Shishito Peppers - Lemon Oil, Wasabi Greens $7

Shishito peppers are a pretty regular choice whenever we go out. We love the exterior char on the softened pepper. Eating these is quite similar to an edible Russian roulette. You never quite know which will be the super spicy ones and which will be more mild. Either way, the beer is nice for pacifying the burn from the really hot ones.

Roast Beef Sliders - House Baked Rye, Emmentaler Swiss Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Horseradish Cream $12

Finally, we also tried the roast beef sliders, which were served on toasted rounds of rye bread with Emmentaler cheese, caramelized onions, and served with horseradish cream. Unfortunately, we thought these sliders were way too dry to properly enjoy. The toasted bread had a great texture and chewiness, but along with the too dry roast beef, it was almost unpalatable. I needed quite a bit of the sauce to add enough moisture to be able to eat it. This was a forgettable option in my opinion. Definitely go for the first four instead! Overall, this is an excellent find in the neighborhood of Long Island City and absolutely worth a ride on the 7 train to get there! Just skip the roast beef sliders and you won't be sorry.

Alewife Queens
5-14 51st Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101
(718) 937-7494
http://alewifequeens.com/

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Olive Oil Citrus Bundt Cake

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Although I enjoy truly decadent desserts from time to time, on a more regular basis I find that I prefer lighter sweets that I can enjoy any time of day, such as scones, muffins, or coffee cakes. They are often prepared for daytime enjoyment, but can easily fill the void when dessert time rolls around. In particular, I love a baked good that can stand on its own, but is also the perfect compliment to a cup of tea (because is there anything better in life than a cup of tea and a baked good?).


This Bundt cake recipe is slightly adapted from Baked Explorations, the second cookbook from the owners of Baked in Brooklyn, New York. It's a simple olive oil cake (already lightened up by its lack of butter) spruced up with a touch of citrus zest (originally called for orange, but I used lemon and thought it was fantastic), and made further ethereal by folding in whipped egg whites as the final step (much like a classic chiffon cake).


I can honestly say that this olive oil Bundt is now officially on my radar as one of my favorite "coffee/tea cake" recipes. I could easily put away a slice or two every morning or afternoon without much of a challenge. This is probably a good reason why I SHOULDN'T make it regularly, even if it's made with olive oil and not butter. The aroma alone while baking this cake is worth the effort! I also think swapping out the citrus zest for some finely chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme would take this cake into another totally delicious direction. I will definitely experiment more with those flavors next time!


I used my lovely violet Bundt pan and think it's just one of the prettiest pans I've ever seen (the pan isn't violet in color, but rather depicts violets growing out of the ground). It can be a pain in the butt though, with bits of cake getting stuck in the ornate details of the pan when I invert the cake, but I've found that melting a little butter and brushing it all over the interior of the pan (into all the nooks and crannies), and then dusting with flour has yielded the best results for an easy cake release. I definitely recommend that to using a pan spray for a more detailed Bundt pan such as mine.


Olive Oil Citrus Bundt Cake
Makes 1 (10-inch) Bundt
(Adapted from Baked Explorations)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated zest of 2 oranges or lemons
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick spray; alternatively, butter it well, dust it with flour, and knock out the excess flour (I recommend the latter for more intricate Bundt pan designs).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the citrus zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Then gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and invert onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Just before serving, dust the cake with the confectioners' sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly, for up to 3 days.

*Note* Try replacing the citrus zest with some finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme for a different twist on this light and refreshing olive oil cake.




Monday, May 14, 2012

Mortadella Tortelli with Pistachio Pesto

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When Mario Batali writes a foreword for a cookbook, you know it means serious Italian food (the man is part-owner of Eataly, for crying out loud). In his opening words to Marc Vetri's cookbook Rustic Italian Food, Batali not only points out the authenticity of Vetri's cooking, but also refers to this book as more of a reference book than a simple cookbook. I wholeheartedly agree. The title may be misleading, as I noticed many folks on Amazon.com complaining about how time consuming the recipes in the book are. Since when does rustic mean 30-minutes-or-less (this isn't a Rachael Ray cookbook... thank GOD)? The word rustic in the title refers to more of an old-school approach to cooking, to the concept of making everything from scratch, like they did back in the day.


Vetri's book deeply explores the in-house production of bread and pizza, pastas (which include extruded pasta, rolled pasta, baked pasta, and hand-rolled pasta), salumi (which include terrines, cooked sausage, dry-cured salami, and whole-muscle salumi), pickles and preserves, meats and fish, simple vegetables and sides, rustic desserts, and sauces and other basics. Each of these chapters is also introduced with a very elaborate and detailed guide that discusses every component involved. It's almost like an encyclopedia article pertaining to the chapter, and in some cases can be lengthy, and rightfully so. For the more complex bread and salumi chapters, for example, the intros are 9 and 16 pages respectively.

Mortadella Tortelli

When delving into these more time consuming processes, I appreciate the consideration given to each detail up front, describing why ingredients ferment, why particular types of salt are used as opposed to others in curing meats, which equipment is most useful for a home kitchen for getting the best results (he often recommends Kitchenaid mixer attachments such as the pasta roller, pasta extruder, and grinder attachments, which I fully support as I'm in love with whichever ones I own), and so much more. You get a much better understanding of WHY things are done, and not just how they are done. All the plans are laid out before a single recipe is introduced, much like a reference book. This is an excellent approach to a cookbook that tackles scarier subjects that many home cooks often steer clear from. I don't know many people who make their own salumi, but I'm not afraid to try after Vetri's tutorial.

Mortadella Pizza

I must also point out, that the man knows his stuff. He didn't just hit up Wikipedia before publishing his book. Here's an example. A very simple word choice points out how Vetri is not dumbing down his book for the Food Network crowd (no offense). Most people throw a slab of meat on a skillet and start talking about how the exterior of the meat caramelizes and gives it texture and color. EHHHHHHHH. Wrong. The word caramelize refers to a process in cooking vegetables and allowing them to release their sugars and brown (think caramelized onions). The proper terminology in getting this texture and color on the exterior of meat when cooking at high heat (searing or getting grill marks) is actually "Maillard" browning. Every legitimate culinary professional should know this. It may seem silly to point this out, but considering that every Food Network chef calls it caramelization, and thus most Americans probably think this is correct, I have to give Marc Vetri a million culinary points. I also love his discussion of white chocolate. It really gets down to the common hatred for white chocolate by many chefs. Here's a quote from the book: "White chocolate isn't really chocolate. You would be better off eating a stick of butter with some sugar on it." 100% love. Need I say more?

Goat Cheese and Beet Plin with Tarragon

To alleviate some concerns, I must point out that there are a couple reviews on Amazon.com that pointed out some errors in a couple of the bread recipes in the book. I contacted Marc Vetri to confirm. He stated that there had been a couple errors that were corrected in the third printing of the book. The errors were in conversions from grams, but these conversions have been fixed. The gram measurements in the bread recipes have always been 100% correct, so even in the first two printings of the book, they are accurate. I would say, just to be on the safe side if you have the book, use the gram measurements. To be honest, when baking you should use weight measurements instead of volume measurements 10 times out of 10 if given the option. It's far more accurate.

Fennel Gratin

Selecting my first recipe to try from a new cookbook is always a challenge. Unless the cookbook is super lame, there's usually too many appetizing choices to pick from, and Rustic Italian Food is no exception. The salumi recipes were pretty much out of the question considering how timely they would be. I didn't want to wait weeks or months to have a result to share on here, but I do hope to try my hand at some of them in the near future. The breads sound divine, of course, especially the Fig and Chestnut Bread, and pretty much every single pasta option is clever and mouthwatering. A few on my list include Mortadella Tortelli with Pistachio Pesto, Goat Cheese and Beet Plin with Tarragon, Escarole Ravioli with Pine Nuts and Honey, Rigatoni with Swordfish, Tomato, and Eggplant Fries, Spaghetti in Parchment with Clams and Scallions, Candele with Duck Bolognese, Veal Cannelloni with Porcini Bechamel, Fazzoletti with Swiss Chard and Sheep's Milk Ricotta, Lasagna with Zucchini and Stracciatella, Orecchiette with Veal Ragu and Bitter Greens, Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi, and Garganelli with Gorgonzola, Radicchio, and Walnuts. Even some of the simple vegetable side dishes, such as the Corn Crema with Corn Saute and Scallions and the Fennel Gratin are must-try recipes. Don't even get me started on desserts, which include things like Baked Peaches with Almond Frangipane and Waffles with Nutella and Semifreddo.


I started out by trying the Mortadella Tortelli with Pistachio Pesto. I didn't make my own mortadella (it's forgivable), but found the filling and sauce to be tremendously easy to put together (thank you, food processor!). I used my own recipe for the dough, and found that I needed a lot more of it than he originally specified to use up all the filling I had made (I increased the amount of ricotta cheese in my filling). I suggest starting out with a whole pound of dough, rolling out one-quarter of it at a time as you assemble (so it doesn't dry out), and then if you have leftover dough at the end, just cut it into spaghetti (or any other shape you want) and save it for another time in your fridge or freezer. I also thought the sauce recipe made a lot of sauce for the amount of pasta so it's definitely better to make more tortelli rather than less. I don't usually mind an extra-saucy pasta, but I'd just like to point it out for anyone who wants to give this a try :) We loved the flavors of the pasta complimented with the sauce. Pistachios are a fabulous match for mortadella!

Pesto and Filling

Mortadella Tortelli with Pistachio Pesto
Makes about 6 servings
(Adapted from Rustic Italian Food)

Filling:
6 oz. mortadella, finely chopped
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:
2 cups shelled pistachio nuts
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. aged sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pasta:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs

To Finish:
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

To make the filling, put the mortadella, ricotta, and egg in a food processor and puree until smooth and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the pesto, put the nuts in a food processor and chop until fine. Add the oil and vinegar and process to a coarse puree. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the pesto in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze it for up to 2 months.

To make the dough, put the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the eggs and turn the machine on to low to allow the flour to slowly absorb the eggs. Scrape down the sides if needed. When the dough begins to come together in a ball, turn the speed up another notch and allow the dough hook to knead the dough for a few minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead by hand for a few more minutes until it is nice and smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to rest.

To assemble, roll out the pasta dough in four batches using a pasta roller (I prefer the Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment). Roll the pasta as thin as possible without tearing it (#5 on the Kitchenaid attachment is good), and then lay one sheet at a time on a lightly floured surface with one long side parallel to the edge of the counter. Trim the sides and ends so they are straight, then cut the pasta into 3-inch squares. If necessary, spritz lightly with water to keep it from drying out.

Put teaspoon-size spoonfuls of filling on each square, then bring the opposite corners together over the filling to make a triangle. Press gently on the edges to seal. Trim the edges, if desired, to make for a more aesthetic presentation. Makes about 45.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the tortelli, quickly return to a boil, and cook until tender yet firm, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the pasta reserving the pasta water.

Just before the pasta is done, ladle 3 cups of the pasta water (I suggest going a little shy on the pasta water here) into a large saute pan. Add the pesto and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the sauce is creamy, about 2 minutes.

Slide the drained tortelli into the warm sauce. Toss gently until the sauce is creamy, adding more pasta water as needed (although I doubt you will).

Divide among warm pasta bowls and garnish with the Parmesan.

Prep Ahead: The tortelli can be assembled, tossed with flour, and frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 days before cooking. Take the tortelli right from the freezer to the pasta water.




Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Russian Tea Room

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The Russian Tea Room has been the New York City Theater District spot for elegant Russian fare since 1927. In addition to its elaborate and classic tea service, the Russian Tea Room features lunch and dinner, including a Business Express Lunch prix fixe option as well as Pre-and-Post-Theater Dinner prix fixe options. At pricier dining destinations, I often like to take advantage of these special multi-course menus since you experience several different options at a generally more reasonable price. The Russian Tea Room is no exception.


From its gilded (and quite dated) decor of gold and red embellishments to its samovars and Faberge eggs, the atmosphere screams classic Russia and definitely sets the mood in that direction. The restaurant was nearly empty during the New York City lunch rush, which simply suggests that the restaurant has seen better business in years past. It has a prime location for the pre-and-post theater crowd and probably sees more traffic during those hours, I would expect.

Traditional Tea Room Red Borscht

Regardless of the quiet atmosphere, I can honestly say that my meal here was pretty fantastic. With the exception of the overpriced $8 iced tea (I realize it's the Russian TEA Room, but come on, I can get a beer for less than that almost anywhere else. They also charge the same for each additional iced tea--no free refills), I was pleased with the value of my meal. I dined with visiting relatives who also enjoyed our experience here (they ordered off a slightly different menu they had prepaid for when they booked their Broadway tickets). One of the first course options was the traditional Russian borscht. It was served with a small beef pirozchok and was very tasty from what I tried.

Goat Cheese and Mushroom Blinchik

For my selection, I had the goat cheese and mushroom blinchik. It was fairly small, but definitely satisfying with a sweet and tart lingonberry sauce that offered a nice contrast to the flavors in the blinchik. The cherry tomatoes were tossed in an aromatic Dijon sauce that also punctuated the blinchik very nicely. I thought this starter was a home run.

Beef Stroganoff with House-Made Noodles and a Creamy Mushroom and Black Truffle Sauce

My entree was my absolute favorite part of the meal. I selected the beef stroganoff, which featured a meltingly tender piece of red wine-braised short rib atop house-made noodles in a creamy mushroom and black truffle sauce. The flavors were fantastic, luscious and rich yet not overly heavy. It made me want to add beef stroganoff to my dinner rotation almost immediately.

Chicken Kiev

Another entree that we tried was the chicken kiev, yet another Russian classic. It had a very nice crust and was cooked well. Not too dry, which can be a curse with chicken breast.

Beef Filet

My aunt had the beef filet, which was tender and delicious, served with potatoes and spinach. We thought the side dishes were as much of a highlight to the dish as the main component was. A very nice beef option.

Kulebiaka - Pastry-Wrapped Salmon

The kulebiaka was a pastry-encrusted salmon filet served with a variety of vegetables and a yogurt dill sauce. I'm not a fan of dill, so aside from the sauce, I thought the salmon was done very nicely.

Chocolate Pyramid

For dessert I tried the chocolate pyramid, a dense mousse filled with raspberry and served with berries. It was dark and rich, a nice finish to the meal for any chocolate-lover.

Tiramisu

The tiramisu was fairly disappointing. Instead of lady fingers they had used thin sponge cake layers which did not have enough substance to really soak and showcase the coffee flavor. You're better off saving your tiramisu craving for another restaurant.

Overall, I had a lovely meal at the Russian Tea Room. While its clientele has seemed to diminish (at least in my eyes), I think the food is still on par with its reputation. The prices on the regular menu are fairly steep (my beef stroganoff is priced at $39 for both lunch and dinner) compared to the prix fixe options ($40 for 3 courses at lunch, with a $10 additional supplement for the beef stroganoff option), I think it's definitely worth a visit if you want a delicious experience in time travel. I would be curious to try their afternoon tea! Perhaps in the future.

The Russian Tea Room
150 W 57th St (between Avenue of the Americas & 7th Ave)
 New York, NY 10019
(212) 581-7100
http://www.russiantearoomnyc.com

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