Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Benne-Buttermilk Rolls

“I believe that both professional chefs and home cooks can move their cuisine forward by understanding the past and knowing where their food comes from. I hope that my experiences will move more people to research their heritage and find inspiration from the food and traditions they grew up with.” In a nutshell, that’s what Sean Brock’s new book Heritage is about, and I received a review copy. He finds inspiration in the foods from southwest Virginia where he was born as well as those from the South Carolina Lowcountry where he has lived and worked more recently. He writes: “Cook as if every day you were cooking for your grandmother. If your grandmother is still alive, cook with her as much as possible, and write everything down.” The book includes dishes from his restaurants, Husk and McCrady’s, as well as family favorites like some of his grandmother’s recipes. It offers an interesting spectrum from simple, comforting options like Chicken Simply Roasted in a Skillet to Grouper with Pan-Roasted and Pickled Butternut Squash, Nasturtium Jus, and Hazelnuts. But, regardless of the level of difficulty, each dish is part of a story about a local producer or a discovery in the garden or a traditional technique. I want to try the Grilled Chicken Wings with Burnt-Scallion Barbeque Sauce and the Husk BBQ Sauce that’s used to make it and the Cornmeal-Dusted Snapper with Bread-and-Butter Courgettes and Red Pepper Butter Sauce. There are also great-looking vegetable dishes like the Beet and Strawberry Salad with Sorrel and Rhubarb Vinaigrette as well as recipes for pickles, jams, and sauces. In the desserts chapter, the Buttermilk Pie with Cornmeal Crust keeps catching my eye. But, I couldn’t get through the chapter about grains without trying the Benne-Buttermilk Rolls. 

After reading Dan Barber’s The Third Plate, I was informed about what Glenn Roberts and his company Anson Mills are doing to preserve or rediscover heirloom grains. In Heritage, he’s mentioned regarding his work with the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and his preservation of other antebellum crops. I previously knew that benne is another name for sesame seeds. What I didn’t know was that older varieties of West African benne have a slightly different flavor than our contemporary sesame seeds. I ordered some of these traditional benne seeds and two varieties of bread flour from Anson Mills for these rolls. The rolls are made with bread flour and all-purpose flour, and the Ble Marquis flour from Anson Mills is suggested for the all-purpose. That one is currently only available for wholesale purchases, so I ordered two different varieties of bread flour instead. I used a little of the red fife whole wheat bread flour in addition to white bread flour which is an “organic new crop 18th-century style heirloom wheat French Mediterranean, hand bolted” flour. To start, a paste was made with sugar, local honey, and salt. The bread flour and some all-purpose flour were added to the paste. Fresh yeast was called for in the recipe, but it isn’t easy to find here so I used active dried yeast instead. Two teaspoons of dried yeast was substituted for the quarter cup of fresh yeast. The yeast was mixed with buttermilk and added to the flour mixture. The dough was stirred together and then kneaded before being left to rise for an hour. It was punched down and folded and left to rise for an additional 45 minutes. Then, the rolls were formed and placed in a cast-iron skillet. I used a larger skillet than the nine-inch size suggest, so mine fit more than half the rolls. I baked the remaining rolls in a smaller baking dish. The rolls were left to rise for a couple of hours, and then were brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with fleur de sel and benne seeds before baking. 

These little rolls were tender and nutty tasting, and they’re fun to pull apart from the skillet. The benne seeds taste like amped up sesame seeds. The flavor is more pronounced with a little bitterness that makes them get noticed. The flours added more subtle flavor of toasty wheat, and I look forward to baking more things with them. This book has been an inspiration to preserve, to keep traditions alive, and to maybe make a few jars of pickles before the fall vegetables disappear for the winter.

Benne-Buttermilk Rolls 
Excerpted with publisher's permission from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. 
Makes 44 rolls 

I could eat my weight in these tasty little rolls. We serve them every day at Husk. They are the first things that hit the table when guests arrive, so they have to be special. Bread should make everyone feel comfortable before a meal starts, whether it’s in a restaurant or at home. I like the food at Husk to tell a story, so we make these using BlĂ© Marquis flour, which is a specialty wheat flour from Anson Mills. I want our guests to taste how older varieties of wheat pack so much more flavor. You can substitute all-purpose flour, if you must. A sprinkling of crunchy salt and benne seeds at the end makes the rolls irresistible. 

1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup local honey 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
3 cups all-purpose bread flour 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Ble Marquis flour 
1/4 cup crumbled fresh yeast 
2 cups whole-milk buttermilk 
1 large egg 
1 tablespoon water 
2 tablespoons Anson Mills Antebellum Benne Seeds 
Fleur de sel 

1. Make a paste with the sugar, honey, and salt in a large bowl. Add both the flours and stir them in with a wooden spoon. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the buttermilk, then add this to the flour mixture all at once and stir in. 

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until smooth, 5 to 6 minutes. 

3. Lightly spray a large bowl with a nonstick spray and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and put it in a warm place. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. 

4. Remove the towel and gently punch the dough down. Cover the bowl again with the kitchen towel and let the dough rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. 

5. Spray two round 9-inch cast-iron skillets with nonstick spray. Portion the dough into 1-ounce rolls: divide the dough in half and then in half again, and divide each portion into 11 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and carefully place 22 rolls in each pan; they should fit snugly. Cover the pans lightly with kitchen towels, put them in a warm place, and let the rolls rise until they have doubled in size, about 2 hours. 

6. About 20 minutes before the rolls have finished rising, preheat the oven to 400°F. 

7. Whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the wash. Sprinkle the rolls with the benne seeds and lightly with fleur de sel. Bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through. Test the rolls using a thermometer: the internal temperature should read 195°F. Cool the rolls in the pans on a rack. 

8. The rolls are best served as soon as they have cooled, but they can be kept covered in the pans for up to 1 day and reheated in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. 

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sour Cream Corn Bread

There are times when you need to know a dish is going to be terrific. When friends or family are visiting and I really want to put a delicious meal on the table with no uncertainty, I head for the Barefoot Contessa books. I’ve lost count of Ina’s recipes that have become my go-to’s because everyone always loves them. And, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made each of them. The Turkey Lasagna from Barefoot Contessa Family Style, the Cranberry Orange Scones from Barefoot Contessa at Home, the Crispy Mustard-Roasted Chicken from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, and Roasted Tomato Basil Soup from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook never fail to please. Needless to say, I’m a fan. I couldn’t wait for the latest book in the series, Make it Ahead, and I received a review copy. In this book, the recipes are true to Ina’s style as always, but for each, there are instructions for how to make and store things in advance. In some cases, part of a recipe can be started in advance, and in others the entire dish can be made ahead. I’ll be making the Make-Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving, and I really want to try the Tomato Mozzarella Pan Bagnat that can be assembled in advance and grilled when ready to serve. The Wild Mushroom and Farro Soup would be great to have in the refrigerator during a chilly week, and I don’t think I can wait one more day before trying the Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting. Last weekend, I made ahead our entire Sunday brunch. It was a delight to have everything ready and to serve the meal so easily. I made the Mini Italian Frittatas which are rich with Fontina, half-and-half, and parmesan. They were baked in a muffin tin to create individual servings, and they reheated perfectly. I served the little frittatas with toasted Sour Cream Corn Bread which has become my new favorite thing to pop out of the toaster. 

I don’t think I’d ever made corn bread in a loaf pan, and I don’t recall ever toasting it. The loaves can be baked, cooled, and stored wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to four days. Or, they can be frozen for three months. When ready to serve, just cut thick slices and toast them. The recipe makes two loaves, so I have one stashed in the freezer for a later date. To start, the dry ingredients were whisked together including flour, cornmeal, sugar, and I used half the sugar to make it less sweet, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, eggs, milk, and sour cream were whisked and melted butter was slowly added last. The wet ingredients were folded into the dry ingredients, and that was it. The loaves baked for about 40 minutes while puffing up and turning a pale golden color. I let the loaves cool, stored them away, and sliced pieces to toast just before brunch. 

The edges get toasty and crispy while the center of each thick piece remains tender. Salted, Irish butter was exactly right to spread on top. It’s nice to know I have another loaf ready and waiting whenever I need it. And, I like knowing I have this book for reliable, crowd-pleasing dishes that are perfect for entertaining. 

Sour Cream Corn Bread 
Reprinted from Make it Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Copyright © 2014 by Ina Garten. Photographs © 2014 by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House LLC. 

Makes 2 loaves 

This all-American quick bread is usually served with dinner. To make it ahead, I bake it in loaves, and then slice, toast, and slather it with butter and jam for breakfast. Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal is widely available and essential for this recipe. 

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pans 
3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill medium-grind yellow cornmeal 
1/2 cup sugar 
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt 
1 1/4 cups whole milk 
3/4 cup sour cream 
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature 
Salted butter and strawberry jam, for serving 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line the bottom of two 8½ × 4½ × 2-inch loaf pans with parchment paper. 

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, sour cream, and eggs and then slowly whisk in the melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix them together with a rubber spatula, until combined. Don’t overmix! Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Place the pans on a rack and cool completely. 

When ready to serve, slice the corn bread, toast it, and serve with salted butter and strawberry jam.  

Make It Ahead: Bake the corn breads, cool completely, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost, if necessary, slice 1/2 inch thick, and toast. 

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Polonaise

It’s actually feeling like fall here this week. Cooler weather, drizzly rain, and earlier sunsets are making it clear that summer is gone. Just in time to help warm up the house with the oven, Ruhlman's How to Roast has appeared, and I received a review copy. This new book covers the basics of oven roasting everything from the Thanksgiving turkey to roasted fruit for dessert. He starts by explaining what roasting has come to mean. Originally, roasting involved a spit and fire, but these days, the process of roasting is really the same as that of baking. The different names are used depending on what is being cooked. With either name, it’s a “dry-heat cooking method.” And, it’s a pretty easy way to make things delicious when they take on a golden crispness in the oven. Starting with a classic roasted chicken, Ruhlman walks you through the simple steps of seasoning, bringing up to temperature, prepping, roasting, and carving. Beef, pork, lamb, fish, and shellfish are all covered including an actual spit-roasted leg of lamb, and then there are lovely, golden, roasted vegetables. I’ve roasted all sorts of vegetables over the years. Usually, I just toss the vegetables with some olive oil, maybe add some sliced garlic or smashed whole cloves of garlic, and pop them in the hot oven on a sheet pan. But, now that I’ve tasted the wonder of roasting cauliflower in a cast iron skillet with butter, I may never go back. The Roasted Cauliflower Polonaise recipe caught my eye because it was completely unfamiliar to me. I learned that Polonaise refers to any dish topped with buttered breadcrumbs and hard cooked eggs. Here, there’s also a splash of lemon and chopped fresh parsley. It’s one of two recipes that uses Basic Roasted Cauliflower in the book, and I highly recommend it. 

Now, I have to explain that I took option B in making this dish. Option A would have been to roast the whole head of cauliflower intact. Then, it would have been served in the cast iron skillet and portions would have been cut as wedges. It’s a lovely, old-school kind of preparation and presentation, but since I was just cooking for two, I went the simpler route. I cut the head of cauliflower into florets, and roasted them in the skillet with butter. Every ten minutes or so, I turned the cauliflower pieces and spooned melted, browned butter over the tops. The cauliflower pieces roasted for about 40 minutes total, and came out of the oven nicely golden. Meanwhile, I hard-cooked two eggs, chopped parsley, and toasted breadcrumbs in melted butter on top of the stove. To serve, I transferred cauliflower pieces to a platter, squeezed lemon juice over the top, added the toasted buttery breadcrumbs and chopped eggs, and garnished with parsley. 

For me, this was a vegetarian main course. The buttery goodness was undeniable, but the crispy breadcrumbs, bright lemon, and rich chopped egg combined delightfully. My next stop in the book will either be the Duck Fat-Roasted Potatoes or the Roasted Pineapple with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce. The oven is going to get plenty of use this fall. 

Roasted Cauliflower Polonaise 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from Ruhlman's How to Roast. Copyright ©2014 by Ruhlman Enterprises, Inc. Courtesy Little, Brown and Company. The book is available at Barnes and Noble and IndieBound.

Boiled cauliflower with hard-cooked eggs, bread crumbs, and parsley? When I first learned this old preparation, in a culinary basics class at the CIA, I thought it was too goofy for words. But when I asked my cooking partner, Adam Shepard, what he thought of it, he said, “I’d serve it at my restaurant. Though I’d figure out a way to make the egg and bread crumbs stick to the cauliflower.” That he took it seriously made me take it seriously. As my appreciation of classic dishes grew, so too did my affection for this dish. Prepare it with roasted cauliflower rather than boiled, and it becomes a great dish for any occasion. 

1 head cauliflower (whole or cut into florets), roasted 
1/4 cup/20 grams panko bread crumbs 
1 or 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped 
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 

• PLACE the hot roasted cauliflower on a serving platter. If there is no remaining butter in the skillet, add another tablespoon. Add the bread crumbs to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat till they’re toasted. 

• SQUEEZE the lemon over the cauliflower and then spoon the toasted bread crumbs over the cauliflower. Spoon the chopped egg over the cauliflower (don’t worry if it doesn’t stick). Sprinkle it with parsley and serve in wedges or slices, scooping up extra garnish as you do so. 

• If you’re using roasted florets, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a separate small skillet over medium-high heat and toast the bread crumbs. To serve, simply sprinkle the lemon juice, toasted bread crumbs, chopped egg, and parsley uniformly over the top of the florets and serve right from the skillet. 

Basic Roasted Cauliflower 
6 tablespoons/90 grams butter, at room temperature 
1 head cauliflower 
Kosher salt 

• PREHEAT the oven to 425˚F/220˚C (use convection if you have it). 

• Cut the stem and leaves off the cauliflower so that it will sit flat in a skillet; the more of the cauliflower that’s in contact with the skillet the better, as it gets very brown and tasty. 

• Set the cauliflower in an ovenproof skillet and smear the butter all over the surface. Give it a liberal sprinkling of salt. 

• Roast till tender (a long knife should slide easily down into the cauliflower all the way through to its stem), 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Several times while it’s roasting, baste it with the butter, which will have melted and started to brown. (If you’re roasting a cut-up cauliflower, simply put the florets and butter in the skillet and put it in the oven. After 5 or 10 minutes, stir and toss the cauliflower to coat the florets with the melted butter, and then continue roasting and basting till tender, 30 to 40 

• Serve immediately, in wedges or slices, or keep warm and reheat for a few minutes in a hot oven before serving. 

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies

With the Baked books, it’s always so exciting to see what new things have been collected for the pages. There are always fun treats, classics with a new spin, and flavors that are sure to please. The latest is their fourth book, Baked Occasions, and I received a review copy. This one is all about celebrating holidays, both major and practically unknown, throughout the year. It gives you reasons to bake something delicious several times a month. For instance, I had no idea that National Pistachio Day is February 26th, but the Pistachio White Chocolate Cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crust looks like a great way to celebrate. Or, that might become my birthday cake in March next year. The Ultralemony Lemon Bundt Cake with Almond Glaze is another birthday cake contender. The Caramel Candy Popcorn Balls studded with chocolate candies were mentioned for Secretary’s Day, but I’d love to make them for Halloween. There are also Chocolate Cinnamon Chipotle Sugar Cookies decorated beautifully for the Day of the Dead. I could never match the colorful details as shown in the book, but the cookies sound fantastic. And, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, the Sweet Potato Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Heavenly Meringue looks perfect. Just like the other books in the series, it’s going to be fun to bake from this one. While deciding among the October holiday recipes, I realized that a.) pumpkin cheesecake is one of my favorite things, b.) I always enjoy a cheesecake swirl brownie, and c.) I’d never thought to swirl pumpkin cheesecake into a brownie. I had to try this combination. The recipe for Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies is offered in celebration of Columbus Day, but the reason is simply that Columbus Day falls in October and pumpkins have everything to do with October. That’s a good enough reason for me to bake them. 

I had some pumpkin puree in the freezer after roasting a little, pie pumpkin a few weeks ago. I set the puree in a strainer over a bowl and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. Some liquid drained from the puree to make it denser. To start the brownies, softened cream cheese was mixed with sugar, and I used coconut palm sugar. The pumpkin puree, an egg yolk, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger were added and mixed into the cream cheese. This was left in the refrigerator while the chocolate part was made. Flour, cocoa, and salt were whisked together and set aside. Dark chocolate and butter were melted together in a double-boiler, and then coconut palm sugar and brown sugar were added and the mixture was taken off the heat. Once it had cooled to room temperature, eggs were added followed by vanilla. The flour mixture was gently folded into the chocolate. A nine-by-thirteen baking pan was used, and two-thirds of the chocolate batter went into the pan first. Next, the pumpkin cheesecake mixture was smoothed over the top. The remaining chocolate batter was spooned over the cheesecake. A table knife was used to swirl through the layers, and the brownies baked for about 35 minutes. 

These bake into nice, not-too-thick brownies which means you should cut nice, big squares from the pan. And, they were so easy to cut, it was amazing. The cheesecake with pumpkin and spices meandering through the chocolaty brownie was lovely. After Halloween, I need to decide what to bake for Election Day. 

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Baked Occasions

There are not , to the best of our knowledge, strictly regimented and traditional menus for Columbus Day. It is not Thanksgiving. Though one could skew toward Italian delicacies in a nod to Christopher’s heritage, one could also skew iconic American (hamburgers, fried chicken, apple pie) in homage to Columbus arriving in the Americas. We chose an entirely different route. We went with pumpkin cheesecake brownies, because Christopher Columbus Day is in October (to celebrate the anniversary of his arrival in America in 1492), and as bakery owners, the only thing we associate with October is pumpkin. Here is the thing about these brownies: We like them too much. We don’t mention this to be glib; we say this because they are a problem. It is the rare dessert that disrupts and overturns our years of honed self-control. Give us one bite of pumpkin cheesecake chocolate brownie, and we will eat the whole tray. At first glance, that shouldn’t happen: We like pumpkin, and we like chocolate (that is obvious), but not always together. However, the tang of the cream cheese brings everything into alignment. The brownies are super moist, the kind of moist that will leave your fingers tacky with chocolate. They are pumpkiny and fudgy in all the right ways. It’s a great dessert to welcome fall and celebrate Christopher. 

Baked note: Be sure to make the recipe in the order specified. The pumpkin cheesecake swirl should be made first, as the brownie batter will stiffen if it sits too long, and it will be difficult to pull a swirl through. It is not the easiest batter to swirl, but a few hefty repetitions of pulling the knife through the batter will do it. Also, try these cold: This is the rare brownie that we like directly from the refrigerator.

For the Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl 
1 (8-ounce/226-g) package cream cheese, softened 
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar 
3/4 cup (170 g) solid pack pumpkin or pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) 
1 large egg yolk 
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 

For the Brownie Layer 
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (105 g) all-purpose flour 
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
8 ounces (225 g) dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped 
6 ounces (1. sticks/170 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes, plus more for the pan 
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar 
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (85 g) firmly packed light brown sugar 
3 large eggs, at room temperature 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

Yield: 24 brownies 

Make the Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl 
In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and creamy (it should almost look like frosting). Add the pumpkin, egg yolk, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger and whisk again until well blended. Cover and refrigerate while you make the brownie layer. 

Make the Brownie Layer 
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and position a rack in the center. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) pan. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper with a 1-inch (2.5-cm) overhang on the long sides of the pan, and butter the parchment. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and salt. 

Place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water (double-boiler method, see page 19), stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted, smooth, and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature. Add 2 eggs to the chocolate mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Add the remaining egg and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and whisk until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey. 

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula, fold them gently together until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. 

Pour two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Pour the pumpkin cheesecake mixture over the brownies and smooth into an even layer with the back of an offset spatula. 

Drop the remaining one-third of the brownie batter by heaping tablespoons here and there over the pumpkin layer. Use a knife to gently pull through the batters to create a swirl. (The brownie batter is thick, so you might need to pull several times before you start to create the swirl.) 

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it, 30 to 40 minutes. Let the brownies cool almost completely. 

You can eat the brownies slightly warm or at room temperature, when they have a more pumpkin-y flavor. Or cover and refrigerate them for about 3 hours and enjoy them slightly chilled (this is our favorite). Either way, when you’re ready, release the brownies from the side of the pan with a small paring knife. Pull straight up on the parchment to remove them from the pan, place them on a cutting board, cut, and serve. The brownies will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Spinach and Chard Empanadas

I always think of Nick Malgieri as a great baking teacher. Back when the Food Network aired only shows about how to cook, rather than so many cooking competitions, I used to love seeing Nick Malgieri appear on shows like Cooking Live with Sara Moulton. I always learned new things. Years ago, I also attended a fantastic class he taught here in Austin at Central Market Cooking School. His latest book, Nick Malgieri's Pastry, is an excellent guide for all sorts of pastries, and I received a review copy. There are clear instructions and photos for each step of the way, and he writes: “if you follow the simple instructions here, you’ll be able to tackle any pastry project you like.” I believe it. He guides the reader through several versions of dough and how to work with each, and then there are the recipes for using them. As I read through the chapters with tarts and pies, I made mental notes for upcoming holidays. The orange and almond tart is a beauty for New Year’s when citrus season is in full swing, the Sour Cherry Tart with Almond Meringue would be festive for Christmas with jarred sour cherries, and for Thanksgiving I can’t decide between the Cranberry Pecan Pie and the Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie. I’m also fixated on the “French” Apple Pie which is a double-crust pie baked in an eight-inch round pan with straight sides, filled with cooked chopped apples and raisins, and it’s topped with a confectioners’ sugar glaze. I’ve never seen a pie like this, and I have to try it. Beyond the tarts and pies, there are strudels both sweet and savory, baklava and yufka recipes, puff pastries, yeasted doughs, and pate a choux. The Pear and Almond Dumplings made with puff pastry are on my to-try list, and so are the Coffee-Filled Cream Puffs. Before I dive into the gorgeous dessert options, I wanted to try the savory empanadas. In the book, they’re called Argentine Christmas Eve Empanadas because their spinach and anchovy filling make them appropriate for the day before Christmas. They’re made with Sour Cream Dough which was a delight to work with. 

As promised, following the simple instructions produced a perfect dough for the empanadas. Flour and salt were combined in a food processor, and pieces of butter were added and pulsed. Sour cream was spread around on the surface of the flour-butter mixture so it would mix in more easily. A few pulses later, the dough was ready. It was shaped into a disk and chilled for a few hours. Meanwhile, I started on the filling. I used a mix of fresh spinach and Swiss chard. Lots of scallions were chopped, garlic was minced, and anchovies were finely chopped. Oil was heated in a large saute pan, and the scallions were added followed by the garlic and anchovies. I added the spinach and chard directly to the scallion mixture without pre-cooking. It was seasoned with salt and pepper and smoked paprika. Parsley was added last. I tipped the pan to the side and let the moisture run away from the spinach and chard before removing it to a bowl to cool. After the dough had chilled, I divided it into eight pieces and rolled each into a round. The sour cream made it especially tender and easy to roll. I stacked the rounds between pieces of parchment, covered the stack with plastic wrap, and chilled them overnight. The next day, I filled each dough round with some of the spinach and chard mixture and shaped the empanadas. They were brushed with an egg wash and baked for about 25 minutes. 

The dough was incredibly easy to roll and resulted in that perfectly fragile, shatteringly crisp texture just like it should. The filling was savory and flavorful with the scallions and anchovies. I was thrilled with the result and can’t wait to try more things from the book. And, I’m already ready to start baking for Thanksgiving. I predict several dessert options on the table this year. 

Argentine Christmas Eve Empanadas (Empanadas de Vigilia) 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Nick Malgieri's Pastry.

These spinach empanadas make a delicious alternative to the typical meat-laden ones and are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, a day of abstinence from meat in Catholic countries. These are usually deep-fried, but I decided to bake them—it’s easier, and they turn out much less rich. 

Makes eight 7-inch empanadas 

1 batch Sour Cream Dough, chilled 
2 pounds baby spinach, rinsed and drained, or 2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry, and chopped 
3 tablespoons olive oil 
1 cup finely sliced scallions (the white part and half the green) 
2 cloves garlic, grated 
1 ounce anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, finely chopped 
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
1 1/2 teaspoons hot Spanish paprika (pimenton) 
Egg wash: 1 egg well whisked with a pinch of salt 

1. Put the fresh spinach with the rinse water still clinging to it in a large Dutch oven with a lid. Place over medium heat, cover, and steam for a few minutes until it reduces in volume. Uncover and, stirring occasionally, cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Drain, cool, and chop the spinach. 
2. Put the oil and scallions into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the scallions start to sizzle, lower the heat and cook slowly, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a few seconds. Stir in the chopped spinach and anchovies; cook for a minute or two. If using frozen spinach, cook a couple of minutes longer at this point. 
3. Taste the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and paprika. Cool the filling. 
4. While the filling is cooling, divide the dough into 80-gram pieces and shape each into a flat disk. Roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch disk and chill if you’re not going to assemble the empanadas immediately. 
5. Arrange the disks of dough on the work surface and brush the edges with water. Divide the filling equally among the dough rounds, mounding it in the center of each one. Fold the dough over to make a fat half-moon-shaped pastry. 
6. Press the edges of the pastry together with a fingertip, then fold and overlap the edge of the dough to seal the empanadas. 
7. Chill the empanadas, loosely covered with plastic wrap, until you’re ready to bake them, up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to bake, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400°F. 
8. Arrange the empanadas on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and brush them with the egg wash, making sure not to let puddles accumulate on or under the empanadas. Place the pan in the oven, lower the temperature to 375°F, and bake until deep golden, 20 to 25 minutes. 
9. Cool the empanadas briefly on the pan on a rack and serve warm. 

Sour Cream Dough 
My dear late friend Sheri Portwood ran a Dallas catering business for years and was constantly trying to perfect her recipe for rugelach, which uses this dough. I’ve included recipes for rugelach in several other books, but I love this dough as the top of a deep-dish savory pie, a cobbler (especially when it’s cut into separate overlapping disks for the top crust), or for any top-crust-only pie. It’s flaky, extremely tender, and delicate, almost like puff pastry. A food processor does the best job of mixing this. 

2 cups/270 grams unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon into dry-measure cup and level) 
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 
8 ounces/2 sticks/225 grams unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 20 pieces 
2/3 cup/150 grams sour cream 

1. Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times at 1-second intervals to mix. 
2. Add the butter and pulse until it's finely mixed into the flour and no visible pieces remain. 
3. Spread the sour cream all over on the top of the flour and butter mixture (rather than adding it all in one spot). Pulse 3 or 4 times; if the dough is already starting to form a ball, stop pulsing; if not, pulse a few more times but don’t overmix or the flaky quality of the dough will be lost. 
4. Invert the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic. 
5. Chill the dough for 2 to 3 hours or overnight before using. Makes enough for the top crust of a large savory pie or sweet cobbler or 8 empanadas. 

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

We’re all moved into our temporary home, and I’m slowly but surely getting acquainted with the kitchen. I’m not at all happy about the small, shallow sink that makes it difficult to wash large pots and pans. And, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use the limited amount of countertop space. Despite these little inconveniences and my ongoing complaints, I have managed to do some cooking since we’ve been here. I’ve just been tentative about taking on baking projects that require space for working with dough. But, now I realize I was being ridiculous. I just read a review copy that I received of The Bread Exchange by Malin Elmlid who has baked all sorts of sourdough breads in different situations all over the world. She travels with her sourdough starter or creates a new one when she arrives at her destination. She asks to borrow ovens and seeks out the best flour she can find wherever she happens to be and makes it all work. And, beyond making bread in all the places she’s traveled, she’s also brought about a fascinating project involving trades of bread for gifts from other people. The trades aren’t about any kind of monetary exchange. Rather, her handmade bread that she’s watched over for hours and baked to perfection is traded for new experiences to learn from or things handmade by other people. The book is about bread and how she makes her sourdough loaves, but it’s also about her travels and experiences all over the world. Beyond the initial instructions for creating a sourdough starter and a handful of bread recipes, you’ll find stories and recipes from different occasions and locations. I do want to try the Rosemary Bread with Goji Berries. Elmlid received a goji berry tree as a trade in Germany. I didn’t know goji berries grow well in Germany, and now I wonder if I could grow a tree here. The stories meander from Egypt to Sweden to Bavaria, Poland, the US, and Afghanistan among other locales. The recipes include things like Fig Confit from an event in Berlin, Blood Orange Curd with Rosemary from a stay at a farmhouse in Bavaria, a Midsommar Cake with a Rhubarb Compote inspired by the Midsummer celebration in Sweden, Afghan Leek Dumplings, and Belgian Waffles. Since I still wasn’t ready to bake while I was reading this, I opted to start by trying the recipe for Maple-Roasted Squash Salad which was part of a menu from a roof-top party in Brooklyn. 

In the book, the recipe is made with pumpkin. I knew I’d never be able to peel a pumpkin easily, so I opted to use a butternut squash instead. The squash was peeled and diced, tossed with maple syrup and sprinkled with ground coriander, and then baked until tender. The next element of the salad was the yogurt sauce. Plain yogurt was mixed with minced garlic, and some red wine vinegar was to be added. I had just received some beautiful bottles of oils and vinegars from O Olive Oil and couldn’t wait to try the fig balsamic. I used that in the yogurt sauce instead of red wine vinegar. The salad was built by layering the roasted squash pieces with some yogurt sauce and topping it with sprouts. I garnished with chopped walnuts for some crunch. 

This salad was a light and lovely intro to fall. The roasted squash was completely of the season, but the yogurt and sprouts brightened and freshened it up a bit. The fig balsamic could quickly become my new best friend in the kitchen. It would be a perfect condiment drizzled over any roasted squash all by itself. And, now I think I’m ready to put my sourdough starter back to work. I know I can find the space to knead and shape some loaves no matter how cramped this temporary kitchen seems. 

Maple-Roasted Pumpkin Salad 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Bread Exchange
Contributed by Renee Baumann, SERVES 6 

I traded a loaf of sourdough bread, baked in the NoMad kitchen, for this recipe. I asked Renee to help me create a vegetable dish to pair with a burger but that would steer clear of the more typical burger accompaniments. I wanted a veggie dish that would stand on its own, complement the flavor of the burger, and showcase the agricultural bounty of New York. Browsing through the seasonal produce at the Union Square Market, the idea came to her: kadu bouranee, an Afghan dish that she had recently fallen in love with. Traditionally, the sweet roasted pumpkin is served with hot lamb or beef and a cold garlicky yogurt sauce. She borrowed the flavor combination and then took some liberties, choosing simple culinary treatments, with just enough seasoning to highlight the ingredients. 

1 1/4 lb/570 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes 
1/4 cup/60 ml maple syrup 
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

2 medium garlic cloves 
2 cups/480 ml tangy plain sheep- or goat-milk yogurt 
Sea salt 
1 tbsp red wine vinegar, plus more as needed (optional) 
Sunflower shoots for garnishing 
Toasted hazelnut or walnut oil for tossing 
Purple carrots, thinly sliced, for garnishing 

To make the pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the pumpkin cubes in a baking pan, drizzle with the maple syrup, and sprinkle with the coriander. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 12 to 17 minutes, or until al dente. 

To make the sauce: Cut the garlic cloves in half lengthwise. Remove any green shoots in the center. Finely mince the garlic. Stir the garlic into the yogurt in a medium bowl and let the flavors meld for 10 minutes. Season with salt and the vinegar, taste, and add more as desired. If you are using a tangy yogurt, you may not need any vinegar. 

Toss the sunflower shoots with a little nut oil just before serving. Arrange a pile of shoots on top of the pumpkin and top with the yogurt sauce. Garnish with carrot slices. Serve as a warm or cold salad, depending on your mood, season, or schedule.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Sour-and-Hot Mushroom Soup

Hot-and-sour soup is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find versions of it with no pork when ordering at restaurants. There are plenty of recipes for vegetarian versions of the soup to make at home, but I was particularly drawn to this mushroom-forward take. This is from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, and since I usually mention when I’ve received copies of books I want to point out that this is one I purchased. I was browsing the cookbook section at the bookstore which I can spend hours doing, and when I started looking through this one I lost count of how many dishes I wanted to run home and try. There’s a rainbow of sticky note flags marking pages in this book. The dishes are true to authentic Chinese cooking, but they’ve been made very accessible to home cooks in the West. Not too many ingredients are hard to find, and often those are optional. I’ve made the Tiger Salad which is a mix of cucumber, cilantro, green chiles, Chinkiang vinegar, and sesame oil. I made the Salt-and-Pepper Squid and added Shrimp lightly dusted in potato starch, fried, and topped with stir-fried garlic, green onion, and red chile. I tried the Sweet and Spicy Cold Noodles with sesame paste, sesame seeds, chile oil, and topped with shredded chicken. Everything has been outstanding. I can’t wait to take a stab at Dumplings in Chile Oil Sauce, the Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms with Chicken, and the wonderfully simple Silken Tofu with Avocado. This book hasn’t spent much time on the shelf and probably won’t. Now, back to this soup I started talking about. It’s described as subtler than the hot and sour soups from Chinese restaurants in the West. The sour comes from Chinkiang vinegar, and the hot was to be delivered by white pepper. I have a preference for black pepper and crushed red pepper, so I made a very unauthentic change to the dish by using those instead. However, I did seek out dried day lily flowers which were an optional item in the ingredient list. 

The recipe includes both fresh and dried mushrooms. We usually have a pretty good selection of types of fresh mushrooms at our local grocery stores, but on the day I was shopping for this dish shitakes were available but no oyster or enoki. I bought dried oyster mushrooms instead. The dried mushrooms and the dried day lily flowers were to soak in hot water for an hour before using. Meanwhile, I started cutting the ginger into tiny slivers. The fresh mushroom caps were also cut thinly, and the tofu was cut into thin shapes similar in size to the mushroom pieces. To start the cooking, oil was heated in a wok and ginger was sizzled until fragrant. The dried mushrooms which had been sliced thinly as well along with the fresh mushrooms and lily flowers were added next. The mixture was allowed to cook until the mushrooms were almost cooked through, and then, warm chicken stock was added and brought to a boil. The tofu was added and carefully stirred to prevent breaking it too much. Light and dark soy sauce were added, and after a short simmer, the vinegar and pepper were added. Off the heat, sesame oil was stirred into the soup, and it was topped with green onions. 

This was a fantastic hot-and-sour soup or sour-and-hot soup. The fresh and dried mushrooms gave it great flavor, and there was a nice mix of textures with the lily flowers and tofu. It lacked the shreds of cooked egg that often appear in a hot-and-sour soup, but there was enough going on here that I didn’t miss them. I’d like to just keep cooking page after page of this book, so a feast of a dinner party might be in order. 

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