Make Something New Every Day


This blog is inspired by all those who love to cook, whether experienced or not, and who continue to experiment with new ideas & ingredients, and best of all, share their passion with others.

The first entries are recipes prepared by the students of Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Fifteen students with varying cooking experience participated in my weekly workshop (via Tutorpedia), and successfully prepared various meals, snacks, and baked goods as part of an after-school program.

Along with the recipes from that class, I will continue to add new seasonal items, spanning every genre of the culinary world, as well as a helpful list of links to recipes, instructional videos, and places to shop and volunteer in your area.

Feel free to ask me questions and share your recipes and ideas as well. I look forward to cooking with you.


November 19, 2011

Gorgeous Gruyere Gougeres

What appetizers should I serve at Thanksgiving? This is a tricky subject, as you want items that are not terribly filling, but are jaw-droppingly drool-inducing. The answer? Cheese puffs. I make these bad boys twice a year (for the holidays and Easter). The dough is simple to prepare, but the piping takes a while since the recipe yields about 150 puffs. This is a good thing because you can freeze half of them and reheat them for holiday parties in December. Make them ahead of time and save your oven, and your energy, for other dishes on Thanksgiving Day. 
 
MISE EN PLACE
8 eggs at room temperature (+ 1 extra for an egg wash)

2/3 cup whole milk (+ 2 tablespoons for later...)
1 1/3 cup water
1 cup (1/2 #) unsalted butter
Salt (about 2-3 teaspoons, depending on how salty your cheese is)
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups flour

2 cups finely grated Gruyere cheese (about 1/2#) (the one from Trader Joe's is good & cheap)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped green onion

THE PATE CHOIX
In a 4 Qt. heavy pot (Le Creuset) heat the milk, water, and butter until boiling, and the butter is melted. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat, and stir in the flour. The dough will form into a nice, clean ball. Move back onto medium heat and stir for about a minute to cook out the raw flour taste.
Dump the ball of dough into a mixing bowl. Beat in the 8 eggs, one at a time, waiting for each one to be incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the 2T cold milk, the grated cheese, and the fresh herbs.
Fit a pastry bag (or gallon size ziploc bag) with a coupler. Fill the bag about halfway with some dough, and pipe even balls onto a parchment lined baking sheet (about the size of a quarter, 1" apart from each other). The trick to piping is to stop squeezing the bag as you twist the tip away from the ball of dough.

Brush the tops of the balls with an egg wash, and bake at 400' for about 15-20 minutes. The puffs should be nice & brown on top. Serve immediately, or store cooled puffs in freezer bags for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 350' oven for about 5 minutes.
IMPORTANT
To make sure your cheese puffs are delicious, sample at least 3 from each batch. This could go on & on, but I have faith in your dedication.

MORE ABOUT PATE CHOIX
This versatile dough is the foundation for many baked goods. A sweet version is used for eclairs, profiteroles, and can also be fried to produce a varied result. The process is simple, but its success can be easily altered by glossing over tried & true techniques. If you have any questions about this, or any other recipe, please drop me a line, and I'll do my best to help you out.

November 10, 2011

Warm Clouds of Heavenly Chocolate: Gluten Free!

Even after baking for over 30 years (yes, I count my childhood cookie baking as experience), I never fail to be amazed by what eggs+chocolate+sugar can produce. These cookies have no flour, and the only fat is from the chocolate (bittersweet has less than 12%), but they are surprisingly rich and cakelike.
This recipe is very basic, and success is imminent if you follow my tips. As usual, my instructions are detailed, and for beginner/ intermediate cooks. More experienced bakers can skim over the details if they wish.

MISE EN PLACE
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. You can make your own double boiler by fitting a bowl over a pot of about the same width. Fill the pot with about 2" of water. Place the bowl of chocolate over the pot. The bowl should sit inside the pot, with plenty of room between the bottom of the bowl and the water. DO NOT GET ANY WATER IN THE CHOCOLATE. It will make the chocolate seize up and harden, rather than melt smoothly.

Once the water in your double boiler comes to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. There will be enough heat from the steam under the bowl to melt the chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat, and stir the chocolate to melt any lumps.
When dividing your eggs, make sure not to break the yolks. If yolks or any fat gets into the whites, they will not beat into stiff peaks, which you need for a successful cookie.
Beat the whites in a clean, dry bowl until foamy. Add a pinch of cream of tartar to help stabilize the whites. Continue beating until soft peaks form when you lift the beater out of the whites. Sprinkle the sugar over the whites, and continue beating until the whites look glossy and the beater forms stiff peaks when lifted out of the whites. (Slowly lift the beater straight up out of the whites. The whites should make a point that doesn't droop over - see photo.) Overbeating the whites will dry them out, giving you a drier, airier cookie. Beating the whites to just the right point will result in a soft, cake-like center. This is a technique you will learn over time.

TIPS FOR "PEAK" EGG WHITE SUCCESS
  • Keep your eggs at room temperature (at least 1 hour before baking).
  • Be careful when separating the yolks from the whites. Don't break the yolks!
  • Add a pinch of Cream of Tartar to help stabilize whites.
  • Use a medium-high setting on your mixer, and be patient. Before you know it, you'll have stiff peaks!
Stir in the vanilla extract. Use a folding motion to combine the chocolate with the whites, and always move the spatula in the same direction (down through the whites, and around the bowl). Fold the ingredients until just combined (when you don't see any more white streaks).
For best results, line baking sheets with parchment. Do not grease the baking sheets. Use a small ice cream scoop (a little smaller than a golf ball) with quick-release handles for ease, and evenly sized cookies. If you don't have a scoop, use 2 spoons - 1 to scoop the batter, and the other to scrape the batter onto the sheet.
Bake at 350' for about 12-15 minutes. All ovens seem to bake differently, so check after 12 minutes. Gently touch the top of a cookie. If it feels set & has a crust, it should be done. Taking the cookies out too early might make them collapse (they're like meringues in that way).

If all goes well, your cookies should have a light, cakey texture inside. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container for up to one week. They are delicate, so transport them in a structured container rather than a bag.

For a variation, replace the vanilla extract with peppermint, orange, or almond extract. These tend to have a much stronger flavor, so use 1/4 teaspoon or less.

You can double the recipe, but may loose some volume in the process. I get better results by making the recipe twice. One recipe makes about 24 cookies.

October 24, 2011

Yellow + Blue = Grins

Yellow? That's the color of this super simple, uber delicious soup (Vitamin A!). Blue? That's me. Grins? One taste & that's all you'll see.

This sweet potato & split yellow pea pureed soup recipe is adapted from one Whole Foods posted about a week ago. I'm sure their vegan version would be just fine, but a few basic alterations make the flavor soar.


My Way is the High Way
8 cups+ low-sodium chicken broth (Trader Joe's brand or Swanson Natural Goodness are best, short of homemade)
1 tablespoon each, olive oil and butter
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon ginger, grated or chopped fine
2 cups dry yellow split peas
2 medium sweet potatoes (Hannah variety), diced 1/2" thick (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sriracha or Cholula hot sauce
salt & pepper
toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) for garnish
(Hannah Sweet Potatoes)
Heat the oil & butter in a large soup pot. Saute the onion until translucent. Stir in the ginger & heat through. Add the sweet potato, peas, and 8 cups of broth. Season with about 2 teaspoons kosher salt (sea salt is saltier, so better to add a little now & more later if needed) and about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 1 hour, or until peas are soft. Puree with an immersion blender, or carefully transfer to a blender in batches, and puree until smooth. BE CAREFUL - it's very hot. Add more broth or water to thin out the soup. Adjust the seasoning with nutmeg and hot sauce. Serve with toasted pepitas for added flavor and texture. Goes great with my jalapeno corn bread!

Soup will continue to thicken as it cools. Cool before storing in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to 6 months. Boil to reheat, and thin with more broth or water as needed.

Enjoy!

(photo from Whole Foods)

October 6, 2011

Gnoc-Gnoc-Gnocchi at Heaven's Door

Part Deux of my Rainy Day Woman Homage to Deliciousness is homemade gnocchi with pesto. This is my 3rd attempt at gnocchi, and I nailed it. The recipe I used has very good instructions, but since I don't have a Nona to show me the light (and perhaps you don't either), I wanted to add some helpful photos & a few extra tips that made a big difference in my results.

Here Are My Top 5 Tips for Good Gnocchi

  1. Work with confidence. Reading through the recipe and staying organized will keep you ahead of the game. If you execute each simple step, you will get a great final product.
  2. Set out all of your ingredients ahead of time. Once the potatoes are cooked, you'll want to work quickly to combine the dough and shape the gnocchi.
  3. Steam adds unwanted moisture. Let the riced potatoes cool a bit before mixing in the other ingredients. You can use less flour this way, resulting in light, tender dumplings.
  4. When shaping the gnocchi, keep your hands, work surface, and tray floured to prevent sticking.
  5. Freezing the gnocchi before cooking helps. Make sure you have a large roomy pot of salted boiling water, and let them cook for a full 2 minutes once they rise to the surface. Keep the tray in the freezer and cook the gnocchi in batches.
Cooling the riced potatoes on the counter.
A well in the potatoes, filled with yolks, cheese, and seasonings.
Using a bench scraper to quickly & cleanly combine the ingredients.
Once the flour is added, test the dough for firmness. It should give slightly & hold its shape. Only use enough flour to get to this point. 
Separating the dough into 1/4s, rolling it out, and cutting even pieces.
Roll each piece on a gnocchi board, or use the back of a fork using a "somersault" motion. Dust with flour to prevent sticking.
The crevice in the gnocchi helps it cook quickly & remain tender. Freeze on a floured tray. Don't crowd them. 

Here is the recipe I used. It has terrific instructions. I hope my tips & photos help you achieve the same success I did. Good luck! (Makes 3-4 servings)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/potato-gnocchi-recipe/index.html

Pesto
1 cup of washed & dried basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
salt & pepper

Using a mini-prep or blender, pulse the basil leaves & garlic until finely minced.
Add the pine nuts and cheese, and drizzle liberally with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons to start)
Blend, and check the consistency. Add more oil until you get a pesto.
Season with salt & pepper.
Either refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week, or freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer to a freezer bag. Defrost cubes of pesto as desired.

Makes about 3/4 cup

Pitter-Pat Rice Patties (Glorious Leftovers for a Rainy Day)

It is a universal (to me) truth that the more I have to do, the more I will take on. Somehow in the ADD din, this comforts & makes sense to me. Today I am committed to many projects, including making gnocchi, & finishing a costume for SFBP tomorrow night.

So what do I do? Make a delicious brunch, of course! Since it's raining, I wanted something hot, & luckily this meal was simple to prepare. The hardest part was stopping to take photos before I ate.
I've seen several variations on how to turn leftover rice into a tasty hot patty, but I think the one I made up worked very well. I used just enough egg to bind the rice together, and a little cheese to add creaminess and character. Depending on what kind of rice you have, add complimentary ingredients & moisture as needed. Goat cheese would make an amazing binder for these cakes. Instead of mixing it into the batter, I would hide a dollop of it inside each patty, or let it melt on top of the fried patties.

I started with leftover yellow curry rice. I make this rice often & eat it with diced tomato, avocado, salt & pepper. See recipe for rice below. Since this blog is about the leftovers, I will start with the patty recipe.


To Make the Rice Cakes
2 cups leftover curried rice
2 large eggs
1/2 an onion, diced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (or goat cheese if you have it)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
Sriracha or other hot sauce
salt
pepper
butter
olive oil

Saute the diced onion in some butter & oil until brown & caramelized. Take about 1/2 cup of the rice along with the cooked onions, and blend them in a mini prep or blender until somewhat emulsified. This step is not necessary, but will add a creamier texture to your patties.

Combine the rice, eggs, rice/onion mixture, parmesan cheese, most of the parsley (leave some for garnish), in a bowl. Season as desired with hot sauce, salt & pepper. Since the eggs are raw here and I can't taste, I go easy on the salt & sprinkle a bit more on before frying.

Form into patties and refrigerate for about 20 minutes (also can be left overnight, but who can wait that long?) Chilling will help set the patties and ensure they stay together when flipped.
Heat the pan from your onions, and add more butter. Once it starts to sizzle, add the patties and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side. You want a nice crispy crust on these, so be patient and only flip once.
I served these with a fried egg on top, extra hot sauce & parsley. Aside from adding color, the parsley kicked the flavor into high gear.
A hot cup of cardamom coffee is a delicious accompaniment to this dish. Simply add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom to 2 packed tablespoons of grounds. Makes 3-4 cups, depending on how strong you brew it.


To Make Yellow Curry Rice
Boil 1.5 cups of water and set aside.
Measure 1 cup dry white rice (I find that jasmine, or any regular medium-grain rice works well)
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a quart-sized saucepan (one that has a lid)
Stir in the rice, & add 1 tablespoon yellow curry (I like the Sun Brand Madras Curry), 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon salt.
Pour the 1.5 cups of boiling water over the rice. It will come to a rapid boil. Stir, cover with the lid, & turn the heat all the way down. A gas burner should be barely going. On an electric burner, use the lowest setting.
Set your timer for 15 minutes. Do not take the lid off the rice during this cooking time.
Once the timer goes off, turn off the burner but LEAVE THE LID ON THE RICE FOR ANOTHER 5 MINUTES.
After the full 20 minutes, remove the lid, and fluff the rice with a fork.
If you prefer, omit or change the seasoning as desired. Just remember that salt it key. You can also use veggie or chicken broth for more flavor. Add onion, herbs, & almonds or pine nuts for a pilaf.
Store leftover rice in a container in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

June 10, 2011

I Cannot Tell a Lie...Cherry-Apricot Cobbler is the Bomb!

At 18 I landed my first job as a pastry chef at Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, CA. I wasn't old enough to drink with the staff (well, legally anyway), so I pretty much kept to myself and kept my nose & my hands clean. Everything I made was from scratch, and it being summer, I had oodles of fresh ingredients to work with every day. One dessert in particular, the cherry-apricot cobbler, kept my hands quite messy. I might sound like an old man complaining about walking uphill both ways to school, but try pitting a 10 gallon bucket of cherries without a pitter, and see how grumpy you get.
Don't fret. For this cobbler you only need about 2 pounds of cherries (along with 2 pounds of apricots), and whoa, Nelly, are they good this year! Now, Now, Now is the time to make this insanely delicious cobbler, so go to the market, get your fruit, and get down.

GET IT TOGETHER
2 pounds of cherries (Bings, baby)
2 pounds of apricots (they should be ripe, but firm)
3 tablespoons corn starch or tapioca flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup apricot jam (homemade, or Cascadian Farms)

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk 
2-3 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling over the dough
PREPARE THE FRUIT
Wash the fruit. Using a paring knife, slice the cherries in half lengthwise, and tear out the pits. Trust me, unless you have some amazing pitter, this is the fastest way to do this. Then cut the apricots into chunks about the same size as half a cherry. Preheat the oven to 400'. Stir in the corn starch, sugar, and jam, and pour the mixture into a 13x9x2 glass baking dish. As you can see, I made two smaller cobblers (one to keep, & one to share). So long as the volume is about the same, do what works for you.

Bake the fruit at 400' until it's bubbling (about 35 minutes). While the fruit is cooking, make the biscuit dough.

MAKE THE DOUGH
Mix the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, baking powder, salt, & baking soda together in a medium bowl. Stir to combine.
Add the cold butter pieces, and "cut" into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers. The goal is to get the butter bits coated in flour & small enough to resemble rolled oats. It's best to leave a few bigger lumps than to get it all too fine. What you're doing is creating layers of cold butter wrapped in flour. When this dough bakes, you'll get golden, flaky layers of goodness. The more you work the dough, the tougher & heavier it will bake up. That's bad. With biscuits, less is more. Add the cold buttermilk, and using a spatula, fold together to create a uniform dough. DO NOT OVERMIX.
Carefully remove the pans and set them on a cooling rack. Reduce the oven to 375'. Use a teaspoon to drop small balls of dough over the hot fruit. Be careful not to touch the fruit or the glass dish - they will be extremely hot. The dough will expand as it bakes, so leave a little room between the dough balls for steam to come through, and for the dough to rise. Sprinkle the dough with a little sugar, and use oven mits to place the dishes back in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the dough is golden, and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into a dough ball.
 Glass holds heat like crazy, so let the cobbler cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. If you'd like, pour a little heavy cream over each serving, or top with vanilla ice cream. Totally gonzo.


June 9, 2011

Preserved Meyer Lemons a la 667

You've heard me gushing about them. You've had them forcibly added to your salads, stir-fries, even cobblers. "The flavor is so complex!" you cried. "They must be really hard to make. But I must know...I must have them for myself!" Now the wait is over. Join the millions who have changed their lives for the better with preserved Meyer lemons in their lives.
Preparation is so easy, a child who you don't fear using a knife could do it. Any variety of lemon will work, but I prefer Meyers because of their thin skin, juiciness, and how their distinct flavor is complimented by the coriander, bay leaf, and cinnamon. Nothing beats getting the lemons off your own (or a friend's) tree, and making them fresh. These were graciously donated by my good friends at the NOB.

MISE EN PLACE (that's French for "put in place", meaning get organized before you start)
Meyer lemons
kosher salt
cinnamon sticks
coriander seeds
bay leaves
glass jars with lids

PREPARATION
Wash the lemons, and trim off the ends. Cut a deep X into each lemon, keeping the bottom 1/4" or so connected.
Fresh bay leaves aren't as strongly flavored as dried ones. This is a general rule for most herbs.
Stuff each lemon with about a teaspoon of kosher salt. 
Shove the lemons into a jar. Don't worry about squishing them. In a minute you'll do it intentionally. You want the juice to come out. Add 1-2 fresh bay leaves (or one dry), a cinnamon stick, and about a teaspoon of coriander seeds. Using a stopper from a juicer (or something like it), press down on the lemons, releasing the juice. Note that in the very top photo (after the 1st squish), the juice is about halfway up the jar.

Cover the jar and leave it at room temperature for three days, giving the lemons a good squish once a day. On the 4th day put the jar in the fridge for one month. The lemons should be covered in their own juice. If not, add some additional lemon juice to top them off. Check on them every once in a while, and if needed, squish them down or add a little juice. If you see some white film form around the lemons, don't worry. It's just the salt reacting with the acid.

Once your 30 days is up, feel free to use the lemons in anything that sounds good: cous cous, salads, desserts - the sky's the limit! To use a preserved lemon, rinse it under cold water to clean off any extra salt. By now they'll split into halves or quarters pretty easily. Run your knife along the inside to remove the remnants of the pulp, and discard it. Slice or dice the skin according to your preference.

Preserves of any variety make a thoughtful gift, so make a few jars while you're at it, and share them!

June 1, 2011

¡Cracksadillas!


KICKIN' VEGGIE QUESADILLAS with CHIPOTLE SAUCE

By no means do I condone the use of crack, but if "crack/drug user" makes it onto Family Feud's top survey answers, I feel pretty good about calling my chipotle sauce crack-like.

Make this once, and eat it for 2-3 days, or serve it at a dinner party. All of these veggies are coming into season now, so you can enjoy this meal for months to come.

Makes 5 10" Quesadillas

THE VEGGIE MIX
corn cut from 2 ears
1 large zucchini, diced to about the size of a kernel of corn
1 large red or orange bell pepper, diced as above
1 medium white onion, diced as above
1 jalapeno, seeded & finely diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh pepper

THE EXTRAS
1 pound pepper jack cheese, grated
10 burrito-sized thick flour tortillas (but hey, use what you like!)

Over a medium-high flame, heat a large skillet, then add a few tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the diced onion, and saute until clear. Add the corn, and turn the heat up a bit. You want to brown the corn, but not overcook it, so it stays crunchy. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, & keep stirring. Once the corn starts to caramelize a bit, transfer the corn & onion to a bowl, and lower the heat on the pan to medium. Add another tablespoon of oil if needed, and add the bell pepper and zucchini. If they're not sizzling, turn up the heat a little. You want them to just cook until tender, but not burn or steam. Keep stirring for a couple minutes, then add the corn & onion back into the pan. Add the jalapeno, cumin, the rest of the salt, and pepper to taste. Stir & heat through. Transfer the mixture to a bowl & wipe out the pan.

THE CRACK SAUCE
2/3 cup sour cream (lo siento, MGM)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
lime juice (start with 1/2 a lime, add more if needed)
canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Stir together the sour cream & mayo. Start adding teaspoons of the adobo sauce from the chipotles until you get the heat you want. Add some lime juice to balance the flavor, and wella! Crack sauce.

LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED
To assemble the quesadillas, heat the skillet to medium/medium-low, and warm the tortillas. If you brown them a little at first, you'll get rid of that flour taste, and have a crispier quesadilla.

Place a tortilla on the skillet & sprinkle it with some of the grated cheese. Spread on 1/5th of the veggie mixture, add more cheese, & top with another tortilla. Using a spatula, lift the quesadilla to see if it's nice & browned on the bottom, then flip it over & brown the other side. Slice into 1/4s & serve with the crack sauce.
Store leftovers separately in the fridge, & assemble more quesadillas as desired for 2-3 days (if they last that long).

This Little Piggie GOT IN MY BELLY!

PIGS IN HERBED BISCUIT SNUGGIES

Who can resist a freshly baked buttery biscuit? You know what would go great with that? Hot, juicy sausage. And a kicky sauce.

What we really have here is a truly wonderful, fairly versatile, nom nommily irresistible biscuit recipe that you'll see in various incarnations throughout this blog. In this case, it's seasoned with dried thyme, rolled thin, & cut into strips before shrouding its piggie victims & being baked to perfection.

THE PIGGIES
I suppose any precooked cocktail weenie will do for this recipe, but I just tried the nitrite-free ones from Trader Joe's, and they were great. They come about 36 to a pack, and one pack should be plenty for this biscuit dough recipe. I doubled it for a party last week, and they sold like hot cakes.

HERBED BISCUIT DOUGH
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk
1 tablespoon milk or cream for brushing biscuits (optional, but nice)

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, & baking soda together in a medium bowl. Rub the thyme between your fingers & into the bowl to release its aroma. Stir to combine.

Add the cold butter pieces, and "cut" into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers. The goal is to get the butter bits coated in flour & small enough to resemble rolled oats. It's best to leave a few bigger lumps than to get it all too fine. What you're doing is creating layers of cold butter wrapped in flour. When this dough bakes, you'll get golden, flaky layers of goodness. The more you work the dough, the tougher & heavier it will bake up. That's bad. With biscuits, less is more.

Add the cold buttermilk, and using a spatula, fold together to create a uniform dough. DO NOT OVERMIX. It's ok if you have some patches of flour, and some wet spots. Just get it into a lump, and turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. If the dough is wet, dust it with more flour. Gather the sides into its center, like you're folding a packing box. Flip the ball over, make sure you have enough flour to keep it from sticking, and start to press it into a flat disc. Using a rolling pin, flatten out the dough to about 1/4" thick. Keep the dough moving & dusted with flour to prevent sticking.
Once you have a nice flat sheet of dough, use a pizza cutter or knife to cut strips about 1 1/2" wide x 2 1/2" long (or something just narrower than the cocktail weenies you're using, and just long enough to wrap around one once). Test one out before cutting the rest of the sheet. Then go for it. Wrap up as many weenies as you can get out of one sheet of dough, and place them about 1" apart on a baking sheet. At this point, if you'd like, you can brush the piggies with a little milk or cream before baking. This will give them a glossier crust, but is not necessary. Save the trimmed scraps to reroll for a 2nd batch.
Bake at 425' for about 10 minutes, or until the biscuit dough is deeply golden. Serve immediately with your preferred sauce. I just tried the following, and it was a big hit.
HOT PIGGIE SAUCE
1/4 cup sweet & hot mustard (a smooth variety like Russian or Chinese is best)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup hot sauce (like Tapatillo)
chipotle hot sauce to taste

Shake the mustard & buttermilk in a jar, or whisk to combine. Stir in the Tapatillo. Adjust the seasoning with the chipotle hot sauce. The piggies are on the sweet side, so a sauce with a kick is preferable. The sauce should be runny enough to coat the piggies, but not run all the way home.

Enjoy!

May 31, 2011

Blackberry Jewels in a Delicate Tart Crown

In 1994 I went to work in a French pastry shop and met my mentor & friend, Jule Vranian, who left me with a wealth of fool-proof recipes that I will continue to make until my wheels come off.

Although she & her husband Steve (then executive chef at Stars, now at Gianni's) moved back to Minnesota years ago, I think of them often. Jule's charismatic personality & positive attitude have left an even greater impression on me than her remarkable desserts. At a time when I was new to so many things, she taught me to be strong, decisive, relentless in my pursuits, and most of all, to laugh - at everything.

This tart embodies Jule's style to a T. You won't believe that something so easy to make could yield such an elegant result. I suspect that Jule's Midwestern roots have something to do with it.

Brown Butter Blackberry Tart
(serves 8-10)
Nutty brown butter, fresh vanilla bean, and lemon zest elevate blackberries to next level status. This time of year, pick your own berries, pluck a lemon off your tree (or a friend's), and serve your tart al fresco to complement a spring or summer meal. At first glance this may look like a complicated recipe, but though the descriptions are long, they are meant to help build & guide your technique. The recipe itself is quite basic, so more experienced cooks can gloss over the prose & just go for the gold.

Short Dough For the Shell (11" Tart Pan)
6 oz softened, unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks or 12T)
3 oz sugar (a scant 1/2C)
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
9 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (1C, spoon sifted)
3/4t baking powder
1/2t vanilla extract

Combine the salt, flour, & baking powder & set aside. Using an electric or stand mixer, beat the butter & sugar until light & fluffy (about 3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl to homogenize the batter, & beat in the egg yolk & vanilla (about 1 minute). Scrape the bowl again & stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball & turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Press it into a disc about 1/2" thick, wrap it tightly, & refrigerate for about an hour.
The Press Method
Alternately, you can take the soft dough (do not chill it) & immediately press it into the pan by dropping small balls of dough around the pan & flattening & pressing them together to form a flat unified base.
The Roll Method
Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator, & on a lightly floured surface, roll out to about 1/8" thick. Keep the dough moving & dust with extra flour to prevent sticking. Lift up one side of your rolled out disc, & flip it over your rolling pin. Slide the tart pan under the disc, & lower the dough over the pan. Don't worry if it cracks or breaks, just press it back together. Gently press the dough into the pan, using your fingers to ensure a smooth edge along the pan walls. Patch any holes with extra dough. Rolling your pin over the pan walls to cut off extra dough & create flush sides.

Place the tart shell on a sheet pan & freeze while making the filling. Preheat the oven to 350'.                    

The Filling
3 extra large eggs
1 1/4C sugar
1T lemon zest
1/2C unbleached all-purpose flour
6 oz unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean

6-8 oz fresh or frozen blackberries

In a heavy saucepan or skillet on medium-low heat, melt the butter with the vanilla bean, swirling the pan to avoiding burning the butter, while slowly browning it (about 8-10 minutes). The butter should have a nutty aroma & a deep golden color, but not burn, or it will taste bitter.

Let the butter cool a bit while you prebake the tart shell. Remove your tart shell from the freezer & bake for about 12-15 minutes until lightly golden. Because the filling is very moist, prebaking the shell will ensure you get a nice golden crust, and not a soggy mess.
Now, back to the batter...Whisk together the eggs, sugar, & lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, then strain the butter through a fine sieve, & stir to combine. The mixture will be glue-like, & thicken slightly as the flour absorbs the liquid.
Once your tart shell has cooled a bit, scatter in the blackberries, and pour on the nutty, vanilla batter. When it bakes it will puff up a bit, but it won't rise over the pan, so use all the batter, filling your tart shell nearly to the top (but not higher than the sides of your tart shell). Bake at 350' on a sheet pan for about 40 minutes (or until the batter has puffed up & is uniformly golden). Cool the tart in the pan for at least 20 minutes before removing the outer ring of the tart pan. Dust with sifted powdered sugar right before serving (if you do it ahead of time the sugar will melt.) If by some bizarre stroke of luck you should have leftovers, keep them in the fridge, but the tart shell will suffer from the moisture & cold. So just eat it all at once!
A NOTE ABOUT THE DOUGH: If you're short on time or completely intimidated by making your own tart shell, you can buy a prepared, uncooked pie shell, then prebake it, fill it, and bake it following the directions above.

A NOTE ABOUT VANILLA BEANS: Because vanilla beans are expensive, you can use a dry pod saved from another recipe. For example, to get the most from one vanilla bean, split a fresh bean & scrape out the seeds. The seeds can be added to a pastry cream, whipped cream, ice cream base, pudding, or many other recipes. The scraped bean still holds a lot of fragrant vanilla oil & extra seeds stuck to its walls, so when you soak it, the flavor is transferred into the surrounding liquid. Use beans to flavor cream or milk for a recipe, soak in vodka to create your own extract, or dry and store them in sugar to add a special touch to your baking. In this case, a hollowed bean has plenty of juice left to flavor your butter. If all of this is too much for your brain, but you still want to stretch out each bean, just use half of one in the recipe.

May 10, 2011

Yo! This Is My Jam!

Tis the season for berries, & stone fruits, & fresh herbs - oh my!

This is the start of my favorite time of year for fruit, and I'm chomping at the bit to make all sorts of fresh & easy desserts with them. My hands-down winner for best fruit is the apricot, but they're not quite ready yet, so today we talk strawberries. (The photos are from a later batch made with apricots. The process is the same with most fruits.)

For Easter my Mom went a little nuts and bought enough strawberries to fill a field. They were ripe & beautiful, and two days later they were on life support. Knowing that freezing them was just a cryogenic delay from composting, I suggested we make jam.

This pectin-free recipe works with just about any fruit, and can be elevated with complimentary herbs such as basil, lemon verbena, and mint. The process allows the fruit to set naturally, and best of all, you can skip the tedious "canning" process, and just keep the finished product in the refrigerator.

Equal weights of (cleaned - no pits, etc.) fruit & sugar results in a very thick, sweet jam. If you prefer, you can use any ratio between that and 65% fruit to 35% sugar, yielding a much more fluid jam. So far I've only made this with refined sugar, but will be trying a more natural option next, and will report back.

Slightly underripe fruit has more natural pectin, and ripe, or overripe fruit has more sugar, so choose your sugar percentage accordingly.

To make things a little easier for you, here's a recipe including ratios of fruit to sugar (45% being ideal).

2 1/4C sugar (50% ratio); 2C sugar (45% ratio); 1 3/4C sugar (40% ratio); 1 1/2C sugar (35% ratio)
1 pound of cleaned fruit

To this you can add 1T of lemon juice, and 1-2t chopped fresh herbs. I happen to think that basil works well with strawberries, and lays a foundation of complexity for other recipes such as my Strawberry Jam Buttermilk Ice Cream. You can also double this recipe if you wish. 1 pound of fruit should yield about 1 1/2 pints of jam.

Directions:
In a large, heavy-bottom pot, stir together your fruit & sugar until combined. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is fluid. Bring to a boil, stirring to avoid sticky spots. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and set aside for at least 8 hours to macerate. If you need to, after 8 hours you can refrigerate it before the next step.

After the 8-hour resting period, it's time to cook down small amounts of the jam. This will further thicken the sugar & pectin, creating the jam-like consistency you want.

In an ~8" nonstick skillet, add 2C of the fruit & liquid, & cook on medium-high heat until it thickens slightly & slides off the spoon/spatula in sheets (about 5 minutes). Ladle the jam into containers, & refrigerate once cool.

Even if I'm not sealing the jars, I like to use glass jars, as they protect the flavor better than plastic, and look nice when given as gifts. Just store the jam in the fridge and eat it within a few months. If you prefer, you can jar the jam according to manufacturer instructions & store at room temperature.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line, and I'll do my best to help you out.

Adapted from recipes by Sylvia Thompson.

May 4, 2011

I Now Pronounce You Strawberries & Buttermilk

Imagine freshly-made strawberry jam. Now imagine it whipped into a ridiculously easy, yet scrumptious strawberry buttermilk ice cream. The resulting flavor is ridiculous. Luscious strawberry & tart buttermilk combine in such a wonderful way that I've had to bolt the freezer shut to avoid eating the entire batch in one sitting.

This is how I did it. It was so easy to make, even if you don't have an ice cream maker you can fudge this & get decent results. Here are directions for both:

2C strawberry (or other) jam
2C buttermilk
1C cream or milk*

Stir the jam into about a cup of the buttermilk to dissolve the sugars & blend out the color. Stir in the rest of the buttermilk & cream.

*Note: Using cream will make your end result creamier. If you like, use milk, or all buttermilk for more tartness, so long as your "milk" adds up to 3C.

In a Machine:
Pour into your ice cream maker & freeze until nearly set. It should look very thick. Remove the paddle & quickly stir in any clumps of fruit to distribute them evenly into the ice cream. Immediately transfer to a quart-sized container & freeze to set.
I've used the carton from a quart of buttermilk, and it works great!

If you don't have an ice cream maker, try this method:
Combine the jam & milk(s) as above.
Pour into a shallow container & freeze until firm. (This could take a couple hours depending on your freezer.)
Working Quickly: Scrape into a bowl, & beat with a hand mixer (or a wooden spoon) until fluffy.
Spread back into the shallow container & refreeze until firm.



Add Basil for a Fresh, Unexpected Twist

I've also made this ice cream with basil to cut the sweetness & compliment the strawberries & buttermilk. I really liked this version. Two hours ahead, roughly tear up about 12 basil leaves & soak them in the cream. After steeping the cream for 2 hours in the fridge, strain out the leaves, squeezing them well. Combine the flavored cream with the buttermilk & jam, & prepare the ice cream by either method above.


Keep trying new things, and as always, feel free to drop me a line with questions or comments.