Posts tagged ‘Breakfast’

Summer Updates and a Few Recipes

Champagne ToastI feel like it has been a very long while since I last posted here, and although only a little over a week has passed I feel I owe an apology!  Not that anyone hangs on my words here or anything, but I aim to keep up at least a two-posts-per-week rhythm.  As you know, I’ve been moving into temporary housing (cough)myparentshouse(cough) and am bracing for a second move, into our new apartment, in three weeks.  The stress of moving and of living out of cardboard boxes has been great – far greater than I imagined – but that did not prevent me from spending a wonderful time with my family over Memorial Day weekend (note the champagne!) or from getting in some bite-sized cooking for a baby shower this past Sunday.

Baby Onesies

Below I share some photos from these various events and the occasional short-hand recipe, for the summer is too wonderful and too fleeting to waste with your eyes glued to a cookbook.  Summertime is the perfect season for impromptu cookouts and improvised menus, spontaneous salads and kitchen-sink side dishes.  I cannot wait for the first call alerting us to fresh tuna on the dock, or the first bite of sweet August corn.  In the meantime, enjoy the below and share your summer creations in the comments.

Scallops Grillin'

First up was our Memorial Day weekend cookout at my father-in-law’s house.  He wrapped scallops in raw bacon and secured them with toothpicks (don’t forget to soak the toothpicks in water for a couple hours before so they don’t burn), then cooked them in a small disposable aluminum tray on the grill, just to render the fat, followed by a few minutes directly on the grill to get the charred marks and flavor.  These were followed by kebabs of swordfish and beef tips with mixed vegetables.

For the baby shower I attended I brought three dishes: an appetizer of caramelized fennel and onion goat cheese tarts, an artichoke-spinach-leek quiche, and mini cheesecake bites.

Fennel and Goat Cheese Tarts

For the appetizer I sliced a large fennel bulb and a large red onion very thinly.  In a pan I melted 3/4 stick of butter over med-low heat and then added the fennel and onion as well as about a tsp. of kosher salt (or more to taste).  Stirring occasionally, I let the vegetables soften then start to caramelize.  When they reached the color brown I was looking for (about 45 minutes later), I stirred in a tsp. of herbes de provence and let that cook for a minute or two before taking the pan off of the heat.  I did this part well ahead of time so that all I had to do on the day of the party was warm up the caramelized vegetables and assemble the tarts.  To assemble, I placed two packages of Athens mini “fillo” shells on a baking sheet and put a teaspoon or so of goat cheese in each shell (supermarket brand Chevron, shaped like a pyramid, worked great since it is so soft).  Then I topped each tartlette with the caramelized fennel/onion mixture and a couple of fresh thyme leaves and put them in the oven for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit.  They came out perfectly and were a huge hit.

Cheesecake bites

Those phyllo shells are also great for desserts.  With an electric mixer, I blended one package of room-temperature cream cheese (I used low-fat but you don’t have to) with 1/4 cup sugar and a 1/4 tsp. of vanilla.  Then I mixed in one egg.  Fill the phyllo shells with the cheesecake batter then cook at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes or just until the filling sets.  After they cool to room temperature, I top the mini cheesecakes with fresh berries, chocolate sauce, or individual cherries from a can of cherry pie filling (gimme a break, okay?).  One warning – if these go into a refrigerator for any length of time the shells lose their crunchiness.

Artichoke filling

Finally the quiche.  Again I used this recipe for both the pie crust and the leeks – it’s a winner.  Then I mixed into the hot leeks about a 1/2 lb. of shredded baby spinach and a drained can of quartered artichoke hearts, stirring gently until the spinach had fully wilted.  I let the vegetable mixture cool while I mixed 5 eggs and 1 cup of half and half in a big bowl, then added about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, some salt and some pepper.  I dumped the veggies into the egg mixture, making sure they were well blended, then poured it all into my prepared pie crust.  I baked the quiche at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, slightly overcooking the quiche.  To avoid this, I would recommend doing what I did with the remainder of the quiche batter that didn’t make it into the crust — cook your quiche (crust or no) for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees or until the quiche is only slightly jiggly in the middle.

Crustless Quiche

June 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm 6 comments

Ways to Use Up Buttermilk

panna cotta final

This week is, by necessity, leftovers week.  RJ and I are moving (!) and are packing up house, home, and pantry.  Even if you aren’t moving, it isn’t a bad idea to do a similar fridge-clearing exercise every once and a while.  The first step in the process is to take stock (as in inventory, not soup base) of what you need to use up.  Our list contained a random assortment of freezer-bound meats (2 sausages, 5 skinless chicken breast halves, a balsamic-marinated flank steak, 1 duck breast, etc. etc.), the standard hodgepodge of hopeful fruits and vegetables (some fennel, a bunch of rhubarb, a pint of strawberries, half a red onion, a cut-into lime, 1 head of romaine, a bag of green beans), various condiments, and buttermilk.  I groaned at that one.

Leftover from my Tiramisu Cake, the buttermilk sat untouched with the little toddler mascot staring at me everytime I opened the refrigerator door.  I never know what to do with buttermilk, and every recipe I’ve made thus far that has required me to purchase it uses a 1/2 cup or so, leaving the better part of a quart behind to waste away (and rancid buttermilk is not a pleasant smell, trust me).

That leads me to my second step in the cleaning-out process — evaluate the inventory’s perishability and strategize approach accordingly.  Obviously the two frozen sausages and the variable shapes of dried pasta you have on hand can wait a bit, whereas the strawberries, romaine, and buttermilk will need to be used immediately.  If you can think of recipes that use more than one of your on-hand ingredients at the same time, all the better!  I grabbed the rhubarb, the strawberries, and the buttermilk and set to work.

To really make a dent in the buttermilk container, I had to truly feature it in whatever I made.  So I chose Buttermilk Panna Cotta.  A quintessential summer dessert, panna cotta is cool and creamy with a consistency that falls somewhere between custard and jello.  You can top it with fresh berries, mango puree, wine syrup, chocolate, or even bacon!  Though out of season, pomegranate seeds might be nice too… kind of like my cheesecake topping from this past winter.  Endlessly modifiable, panna cotta is a delicious and versatile way of using up buttermilk!

buttermilkButtermilk Panna Cotta, adapted slightly from MarthaStewart.com
(Serves 6)
2 cups nonfat buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar

3 stalks rhubarb
1/4 cup sugar
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 Tbs. lemon juice

In the top of a double boiler (not over heat), sprinkle gelatin over 1 cup buttermilk; let stand to soften, about 5 minutes.

panna cotta in ramekinMeanwhile, bring cream and scant 1/2 cup sugar to a boil. Add to gelatin mixture. Place over simmering water; whisk until gelatin dissolves, 5 minutes. Stir in remaining cup buttermilk. Pass mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Divide among 6 four-ounce ramekins or small bowls on a baking sheet. Cover; refrigerate until set, 4 hours.

Meanwhile, place rhubarb in a small to medium sized saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Stir to combine and place over medium heat.  When the mixture begins to boil, cover the pot and cook over low heat until the rhubarb is soft and begins to dissolve slightly, approximately 15 minutes.  Stir in strawberries and lemon juice, then taste to see if you need more sugar.

panna-cottaUnmold by dipping ramekins briefly into hot water and running tip of a knife around edges; invert onto plates, and serve with strawberries and their juice.

That definitely used up a bunch, but I still had over a cup of buttermilk sitting in the fridge.  I decided, then, on Sunday morning to finish up the strawberry-rhubarb topping and the buttermilk in one fell swoop.  I made waffles!  Good belgian waffles are such a treat on a lazy morning – especially with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

Buttermilk Waffles, from Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe

(Makes 3-4 waffles, depending on size of waffle maker)

1 cup (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. cornmeal (optional – lends a nice crunch to the waffles)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg, separated
7/8 c. buttermilk
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Heat a waffle iron. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg yolk with the buttermilk and melted butter.

Beat the egg white until it just holds a 2-inch peak.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients in a thin, steady stream while mixing gently with a rubber spatula. (Do not add liquid faster than you can incorporate it into the batter). Toward the end of mixing, use a folding motion to incorporate the ingredients. Gently fold the egg white into the batter.

Spread an appropriate amount of batter onto the waffle iron. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, cook the waffle until golden brown, 2 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately. (In a pinch, you can keep waffles warm on a wire rack in a 200-degree oven for up to 5 minutes).

Make toaster waffles out of leftover batter – undercook the waffles a bit, cool them on a wire rack, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze.

Buttermilk Waffle
Here are some other recipes using buttermilk – I wish you the best of luck getting rid of it in the most delicious of ways!

May 27, 2009 at 6:59 am 8 comments

Happy Mother’s Day

brunch-buffetIn my experience, Mother’s Day has always included some sort of breakfast celebration – a fancy brunch in the city, a decadent spread at home, and usually a mimosa or two.  I don’t know why we associate Mother’s Day with breakfasts — perhaps because it falls always on a Sunday, or because we want to celebrate our mother first thing in the morning.  Maybe it is because on regular mornings she is usually the first one awake, making everyone’s coffee and eggs, and on this special day we want to beat her to the punch and treat her for a change.

Whatever the reason, we continued the tradition this past Mother’s Day with a multi-course buffet of savory and sweet breakfast treats.  My brother Alex, his girlfriend Claire, and I went all out, riffing on some recipes and meticulously following some others.  The menu, which was fabulous from start to finish, included: 

Strawberry and blackberry salad which I coated with a minted simple syrup (mix 1 part water to 1 part sugar in a small saucepan.  Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add mint leaves to taste and puree in a blender until smooth) and garnished with a mint chiffonade;

minted berry salad

These savory scones, which I split and filled with chive creme fraiche and smoked salmon;

salmon

These sweet scones, made with orange zest and dried cranberries;

scone-basketProsciutto-wrapped and parmesan-coated roasted asparagus spears;

prosciutto

and Mini Leek, Mushroom and Bacon Quiches, a slight variation on this Smitten Kitchen recipe, made in muffin tins.  I would recommend any and all of the above dishes — they were all fabulous!

I thought the spread looked excessive for only 5 people, but all we had left were 2 asparagus spears, 3 mini quiches and a couple of cranberry scones.  I think I left my mom sated until next year…

May 12, 2009 at 7:20 am 2 comments

I Cannot Believe I Did That… Vols. 2&3

Croissants from Scratch
Now, that’s more like it!  Beautiful, flaky croissants – some filled with chocolate or ham and cheese, and others simply plain – all smelling exactly like a French patisserie.  I am immensely proud of the three day creation that is pictured above.  Apparently, when chocolate and pastry are involved, my wariness over cholesterol and saturated fat completely dissipates.  Perhaps I should give up my prejudice towards the bacon explosion and those who love it, and admit that everyone has the right to choose his or her own vices.

While – as you can see – the results above look quite scrumptious, I still question whether they worth the three days of dough making, dough-rolling, and dough manipulating.  The fact that I had the time and the patience to wait for these treats is “I Cannot Believe I Did That, Volume 2″.  We’ll get to Volume 3 after I detail for you the laborious weekend process:

Step 1 — Make the dough by mixing yeast, flour, water, milk, sugar and a bit of butter with your electric mixer dough hook so that it goes from this:

pastry-yeastto this:

pastry doughThe dough was extraordinarily stiff at this point, which worried me, but I haven’t yet gotten to the adding tons and tons of butter stage, so stiffness is to be expected.  The dough rested like this for 8 hours until I took up the butter.  As it turns out, I did not do all of my homework ahead of time, and found out I was a half-stick short of the needed unsalted butter, so I substituted some salted butter (the yellower, softer stuff on the bottom).  I also was out of parchment paper, so used two of my non-stick plastic cutting board mats to pound the sliced butter into a proper butter square:

butter mat

And then placed it in the middle of my rolled-out square dough, and folded up the dough around the butter, like an envelope:

Croissant dough butter block

Then there was a LOT of rolling and folding, rolling and folding, with the purpose of incorporating many thin layers of butter into the dough to create the pockets of air and the chewy texture of the pastry, upon baking.  Fast forward to day 3:

pastry-workoutThe above is a picture of me “waking up the dough”, whereby I tried desperately to roll the dough out as long as possible, without widening it too much.  The only counter in my kitchen long enough to accommodate this ‘wakened’ dough was the bar-height counter that passes over from the kitchen to the dining room.  So I was standing on tip-toes and twisting my upper body in strange directions to complete this step!  Finally, however, I was able to reach the required length, and then I cut notches to divide the dough for the croissants (please ignore the messy dining room table!!):

Croissant pastryI rolled up the croissants as directed, and set them on baking sheets lined (again) with my non-stick plastic cutting board mats, since I still had not had a chance to get to the store for parchment paper.  No matter, these babies needed to proof for 2 hours:

pastry-proofingOnce the croissants had expanded and seemed ready to go, I baked them for the required time, switching the trays from top rack to bottom rack and vice versa, once in the middle of the cooking time.  I made chocolate ones:

Pain au Chocolatand some ham and cheddar ones, just to see what they’d be like:

Ham and CheeseThe results were quite impressive!  Flaky with butter, and a browned exterior that rivaled the products of the finest French pastry chefs!  So, I cannot believe I did it – three days, and a couple of strained biceps, later, I had a slew of fresh croissants that I made all by myself.

Now, for “I Cannot Believe I Did That, Volume 3″ — my shame, and my sorrow, and the reason that I truly resent all of the incredible time and effort that went into making these croissants.  The lesson we should learn from ‘Volume 3′ is a simple one: don’t forget to purchase all required ingredients and supplies before starting a recipe.  As a corollary to that rule, do NOT attempt to substitute plastic sheets for parchment paper in all applications:

pastry-carnageI CANNOT BELIEVE I DID THAT!!!

Ruined!Yes – I put the plastic sheets in the oven, completely forgetting that I had used them to proof the croissants, and that I had not replaced them with parchment paper.  Needless to say, we didn’t actually get to enjoy these bad boys.  I sampled a bite or two of pastry off the top, but ended up so afraid that I would kill myself and my husband if we ate the melted plastic that I eventually threw them all out.  Sad…  But don’t let this stop you from giving this recipe a go!  For some great tips, check out Fine Cooking’s website.

Classic Croissants, by Jeffrey Hamelman in Fine Cooking Issue #97

(Yields 15)
For the dough:
1 lb. 2 oz. (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling
5 oz. (1/2cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold water
5 oz. (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold whole milk
2 oz. (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs.) granulated sugar
1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) soft unsalted butter
1 Tbs. plus scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
2-1/4 tsp. table salt
For the butter layer
10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) cold unsalted butter
For the egg wash
1 large egg

Make the dough
Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl once if necessary. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured 10-inch pie pan or a dinner plate. Lightly flour the top of the dough and wrap well with plastic so it doesn’t dry out. Refrigerate overnight.

Make the butter layer
The next day, cut the cold butter lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slabs. Arrange the pieces on a piece of parchment or waxed paper to form a 5- to 6-inch square, cutting the butter crosswise as necessary to fit. Top with another piece of parchment or waxed paper. With a rolling pin, pound the butter with light, even strokes. As the pieces begin to adhere, use more force. Pound the butter until it’s about 7-1/2 inches square and then trim the edges of the butter. Put the trimmings on top of the square and pound them in lightly with the rolling pin. Refrigerate while you roll out the dough.

Laminate the dough
Unwrap and lay the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a 10-1/2-inch square. Brush excess flour off the dough. Remove the butter from the refrigerator—it should be pliable but cold. If not, refrigerate a bit longer. Unwrap and place the butter on the dough so that the points of the butter square are centered along the sides of the dough. Fold one flap of dough over the butter toward you, stretching it slightly so that the point just reaches the center of the butter. Repeat with the other flaps . Then press the edges together to completely seal the butter inside the dough. (A complete seal ensures butter won’t escape.)

Lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough. With the rolling pin, firmly press the dough to elongate it slightly and then begin rolling instead of pressing, focusing on lengthening rather than widening the dough and keeping the edges straight.

Roll the dough until it’s 8 by 24 inches. If the ends lose their square shape, gently reshape the corners with your hands. Brush any flour off the dough. Pick up one short end of the dough and fold it back over the dough, leaving one-third of the other end of dough exposed. Brush the flour off and then fold the exposed dough over the folded side. Put the dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes to relax and chill the dough.

Repeat the rolling and folding, this time rolling in the direction of the two open ends until the dough is about 8 by 24 inches. Fold the dough in thirds again, as shown in the photo above, brushing off excess flour and turning under any rounded edges or short ends with exposed or smeared layers. Cover and freeze for another 20 minutes.

Give the dough a third rolling and folding. Put the dough on the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic under all four sides. Refrigerate overnight.

Divide the dough
The next day, unwrap and lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough. With the rolling pin, “wake the dough up” by pressing firmly along its length—you don’t want to widen the dough but simply begin to lengthen it with these first strokes. Roll the dough into a long and narrow strip, 8 inches by about 44 inches. If the dough sticks as you roll, sprinkle with flour. Once the dough is about half to two-thirds of its final length, it may start to resist rolling and even shrink back. If this happens, fold the dough in thirds, cover, and refrigerate for about 10 minutes; then unfold the dough and finish rolling. Lift the dough an inch or so off the table at its midpoint and allow it to shrink from both sides—this helps prevent the dough from shrinking when it’s cut. Check that there’s enough excess dough on either end to allow you to trim the ends so they’re straight and the strip of dough is 40 inches long. Trim the dough.

Lay a yardstick or tape measure lengthwise along the top of the dough. With a knife, mark the top of the dough at 5-inch intervals along the length (there will be 7 marks in all). Position the yardstick along the bottom of the dough. Make a mark 2-1/2 inches in from the end of the dough. Make marks at 5-inch intervals from this point all along the bottom of the dough. You’ll have 8 marks that fall halfway between the marks at the top.

Make diagonal cuts by positioning the yardstick at the top corner and the first bottom mark. With a knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough along this line. Move the yardstick to the next set of marks and cut. Repeat until you have cut the dough diagonally at the same angle along its entire length—you’ll have made 8 cuts. Now change the angle of the yardstick to connect the other top corner and bottom mark and cut the dough along this line to make triangles. Repeat along the entire length of dough. You’ll end up with 15 triangles and a small scrap of dough at each end.

Shape the croissants
Using a paring knife or a bench knife, make a 1/2- to 3/4-inch-long notch in the center of the short side of each triangle. The notch helps the rolled croissant curl into a crescent. Hold a dough triangle so that the short notched side is on top and gently elongate to about 10 inches without squeezing or compressing the dough—this step results in more layers and loft.

Lay the croissant on the work surface with the notched side closest to you. With one hand on each side of the notch, begin to roll the dough away from you, towards the pointed end.

Flare your hands outward as you roll so that the “legs” become longer. Press down on the dough with enough force to make the layers stick together, but avoid excess compression, which could smear the layers. Roll the dough all the way down its length until the pointed end of the triangle is directly underneath the croissant. Now bend the two legs towards you to form a tight crescent shape and gently press the tips of the legs together (they’ll come apart while proofing but keep their crescent shape).

Shape the remaining croissants in the same manner, arranging them on two large parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets (8 on one pan and 7 on the other). Keep as much space as possible between them, as they will rise during the final proofing and again when baked.

Proof the croissants
Make the egg wash by whisking the egg with 1 tsp. water in a small bowl until very smooth. Lightly brush it on each croissant.

Refrigerate the remaining egg wash (you’ll need it again). Put the croissants in a draft-free spot at 75° to 80°F. Wherever you proof them, be sure the temperature is not so warm that the butter melts out of the dough. They will take 1-1/2 to 2 hours to fully proof. You’ll know they’re ready if you can see the layers of dough when the croissants are viewed from the side, and if you shake the sheets, the croissants will wiggle. Finally, the croissants will be distinctly larger (though not doubled) than they were when first shaped.

Bake the croissants
Shortly before the croissants are fully proofed, position racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven and heat it to 400°F convection, or 425°F conventional. Brush the croissants with egg wash a second time. Put the sheets in the oven. After 10 minutes, rotate the sheets and swap their positions. Continue baking until the bottoms are an even brown, the tops richly browned, and the edges show signs of coloring, another 8 to 10 minutes. If they appear to be darkening too quickly during baking, lower the oven temperature by 10°F. Let cool on baking sheets on racks.

Make ahead tips
The croissants are best served barely warm. However, they reheat very well, so any that are not eaten right away can be reheated within a day or two in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes. They can also be wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil and frozen for a month or more. Frozen croissants can be thawed overnight prior to reheating or taken from the freezer directly to the oven, in which case they will need a few minutes more to reheat.
variations

Chocolate Croissants: Chop some good-quality bittersweet chocolate and distribute it along the length of the notched end of the dough triangle after you’ve stretched it—use about 1/2 oz. or 1-1/2 Tbs. for each one. Roll it up just like a plain croissant but without stretching out or bending the legs. Proof and bake the same.

Ham and Cheese Croissants: After stretching but before rolling up each croissant, put a thin layer of sliced ham on the dough at the notched end. Tuck it in if it lies more than a little outside the surface of the dough. Put a layer of thinly sliced or grated cheese—good Cheddar or Gruyère is best—on top of the ham. Without stretching or bending the legs, roll the dough tightly. Proof and bake the same.

February 9, 2009 at 9:00 am 4 comments

Lemon-Ginger Marmalade – I made it myself!

Lemon Ginger Marmalade

 Clearly I like to cook.  Spending time in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do, and also serves as a distraction from my other source of constant pleasure – eating!  When I’m cooking, I’m being industrious and I’m concentrating on technique rather than my usual pasttime of contemplating the food that I want to eat but probably shouldn’t.  I’m not as disfunctional as I sound.  I don’t think….

Despite my love for food preparation, and its end result, there are some types of cooking that don’t really occur to me.  I don’t ever have the urge to bake bread, or to make homemade candy.  I don’t love making fancy, complicated composed salads, and I have only once made my own pie dough.  I guess that there are some things that I feel more than okay about purchasing.  Jam has always been in that category. 

I should tell you that I really, truly adore jam.  It started when I moved to France in the fall of 2000.  I hated the milk (which was ultrapasteurized unrefrigerated Parmalat — nasty!) and did not discover “Lait Frais” until years later.  As you can imagine, however, the bread was out of this world.  I quickly adopted the French version of the “petit dejeuner” and ate a bit of bread with jam for breakfast each morning, occasionally treating myself to a croissant with the same fruit topping.  Though the bread choices were myriad, the “confiture” selection was even more impressive.  Stores like La Grande Epicerie and Fauchon offered hundreds of different brands and flavors – from the standards of American breakfast tables to the preserves of non-translatable fruits like arbusses.  All of these were topped, however, when I went to the 2004 Salon d’Agriculture, a French phenomenon I will not soon forget.  In 144,000 square meters of exhibition space, over seven gigantic warehouses, exhibitors from all over France and the world gather to demonstrate and sell their agricultural products – everything from wine to cheese to sausage to rice to tractors to livestock to prize dog breeds.  I could have spent weeks wandering through all the stalls, and still not have seen the whole thing.  I sampled apples from Limousin, cheeses from Haute Savoie, ham from Bayonne, and even saw a fountain of Confiture du Lait from Normandy (basically the most awesome caramel you can imagine).  I was in heaven!  The jams at this expo were extraordinary – lush and vibrant, bursting with flavor, and not overly sweetened or hardened by preservatives and pectin.  These were freshly-picked berries and fruits, conserved at their peak ripeness for year-round enjoyment.  I was sold!

You can probably guess where this post is headed.  Though there are certain food products that I leave to the experts, having this blog has definitely encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.  In the coming year, I intend to challenge myself and bake a loaf of bread, experiment with salads, and maybe even try my hand at candy-making!  To kick it all off, this past weekend I made my first marmalade. 

What makes a truly delicious jam or preserve is the fruit itself – it must be in season, ripe, and full of natural sweetness.  It being winter right now, choices are limited!  However, citrus is at its peak right now, and a recipe in Fine Cooking magazine looked more than enticing. 

Though the preparation involved about an hour of devoted time for a half recipe, it was cathartic kitchen time, and as soon as the ginger and lemon started cooking, the house smelled wonderful!  If you have the time, let me tell you that this is not a difficult recipe to follow, and the results are unquestionably worth the effort.  I cannot wait to attempt some new combinations – grapefruit and orange, perhaps, or lime and cilantro.  Happy canning!

 Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, from Fine Cooking Issue 97 
This golden-hued marmalade is right at home on toast, but it’s also divine stirred into plain yogurt or dolloped on coconut ice cream. Find pectin where canning supplies are sold—try supermarkets or hardware stores.

Makes 6-8 cups

lemons-carnage1-1/2 to 2 lb. lemons (6 to 8 medium)
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh ginger
One 1-3/4 -oz. package powdered pectin
6-1/2 c. granulated sugar

Peel the zest from the lemons with a vegetable peeler, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Slice the zest strips crosswise very thinly at an angle to make strips about 1/16 inch wide by 1 inch long—you’ll need 1 cup of zest strips. Put the zest in a 4-quart (or larger) saucepan.

Trim the ends from the zested lemons to expose the flesh. With one cut side down on the cutting board, trim the pith off the lemon all the way around and discard the pith. Quarter the lemons lengthwise and remove any visible membranes and seeds. Slice the wedges crosswise 1/4 inch thick—you’ll need about 1-1/2 cups.

Add the sliced lemons, ginger, and 2 cups water to the lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the zest is soft and the membranes start to break down, 6 to 8 minutes.

lemons and pectinWhisk the pectin into the mixture. Increase  the heat to high, add the sugar, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly to smooth lumps. Boil vigorously for 1 minute, whisking constantly (move the pan off the burner momentarily if it threatens to boil over). Remove the pan from the heat and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Skim any foam and seeds off the surface of the marmalade. Stir gently to redistribute the solids. Transfer the marmalade to heatproof storage containers, let cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for up to 1 month. For longer storage at room temperature, can the marmalade. See the canning directions below.
 
lemons cannedTo can the marmalade:
Transfer the hot marmalade to clean, hot canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in each jar, and wipe the edges clean with a paper towel. Screw the lids on tightly.

Put the jars in a large pot of water fitted with a rack insert. The water should completely cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Return the jars to the pot of water and make sure the water covers them by at least 2 inches. Boil, covered, for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jars; let them cool undisturbed on the counter. You should hear a popping sound as the jars cool, indicating that the vacuum seals have worked.

lemon ginger marmalade on muffin

January 27, 2009 at 11:29 am 10 comments

Easy Sticky Buns

Easy Sticky Buns

I am a bad Barefoot Blogger – bad!  I neglected my duties for the past two installments, partly because it was the holidays and partly because the selected recipes didn’t totally appeal to me.  However, when Melissa chose these “Easy Sticky Buns”, I was motivated and reenergized!  For one thing, my mom recently purchased the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook and I have been itching to steal it for a week now.  The recipes are very straightforward and simple, but with Ina’s classic flavor profiles and subtle elegance.  Second, I am always looking for new, fun additions to my Sunday Breakfast repertoire.  

These came out wonderfully – gooey and rich in the center, and crunchy and caramelized on the outside.  I left out the raisins, because RJ doesn’t like them, but I think you could really mix and match with the filling – some dried currants, chopped walnuts, or maple sugar could all add to this recipe.  I wonder, too, if a (somewhat) savory version might be possible – with cooked bacon and sage in the center, and some maple sugar and mustard on the top…

Easy Sticky Buns, from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
(Makes 12)

Creamed butter and sugar12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed [I used dark brown sugar, hence the almost black syrup on the top of my buns!]
1/2 c. pecans, chopped in very large pieces (optional)
1 package (17.3 ounces/2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. raisins (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-cup standard muffin tin on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Butter and Pecans

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the 12 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture in each of the 12 muffin cups. Distribute the pecans evenly among the 12 muffin cups on top of the butter and sugar mixture.

Lightly flour a wooden board or stone surface. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry with the folds going left to right. Brush the whole sheet with half of the melted butter. Leaving a 1-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle each sheet with 1/3 cup of the brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of the raisins. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly like a jelly roll around the filling, finishing the roll with the seam side down.

Cut bunsTrim the ends of the roll about 1/2 inch and discard. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place each piece, spiral side up, in 6 of the muffin cups. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry to make 12 sticky buns.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the sticky buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert the buns onto the parchment paper (ease the filling and pecans out onto the buns with a spoon), and cool completely.

Easy Sticky Buns

January 22, 2009 at 10:18 am 6 comments

Easy Cheese Danish – Ina said so.

I have recently joined the online community of “Barefoot Bloggers.” No, this is not a group of people who spend all day web-surfing without shoes on, nor is it a bunch of crazies who type all their blog posts with their bare feet.  It refers to Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and a group of people who like to blog their ways through her delicious cookbooks.  The rules are simple – the first and fifteenth of every month, a new challenge is posted – a recipe selected from one of Ina’s books or her website.  The whole group then works on that same recipe, either making it “as is” or playing with it a bit to their own taste.  Every second and fourth Thursday of the month, participants post their creations on their respective blogs.  It’s a very fun way to work with a recipe, since you can see how your result compares with your peers’.

Today is the first of the month, so I’m going to participate for the first time on November 13th with Kelly’s pick: herb roasted onions.  If you clicked that link, you probably noticed that her site and mine look embarrassingly similar.  When I saw that, I decided to accelerate my project to learn HTML code so I can alter my own design.  I started by taking a schoolchildren’s DVD on HTML out of the library – I’m going slow and steady here!

So, just to get into the mood of Barefoot Blogging, and warm up before the big game, I decided to catch up with the group and post about the Easy Cheese Danish that Val had selected for a bonus recipe in October.  They looked delicious and, well, easy.  I wanted to stick close to Ina’s directions this time around (like I said, slow and steady!) so I made only a couple of small substitutions.

Easy Cheese Danish
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar {this is the only place I really deviated from the recipe – I used 1/4 c. packed brown sugar instead of 1/3 c. white – let’s see what happens!}
2 extra large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 Tbs. ricotta cheese
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 – 1 Tbs. grated lemon zest (2 lemons) {I got this much lemon zest from 1 lemon, and I found it to be almost too lemony for my taste}
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and cream together on low speed until smooth.  With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined.  Don’t whip!

Unfold one sheet of pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10×10 inch square.  Cut the sheet into quarters.  Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares.  Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold two opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together.  Bursh the top of the pastries with egg wash.  Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan.  Repeat with the second sheet of pastry, then refrigerate danishes for 15 minutes.

Bake the puff pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown.  Serve warm.  Makes 8 danish.

Results:  These came out looking amazing (RJ took one right off the baking sheet and popped it in his mouth without asking what was in it – that’s a first!).  I thought they were a wee bit too lemony, and that I should have spread the cheese filling from stem to stern rather than dropping a rounded tablespoon of filling in the center of the pastry square.  All in all, though, very delicious.  And I think that Tara’s pumpkin variation sounds incredible – check it out!  Yes, it is going to be another lovely Sunday morning…

November 1, 2008 at 11:09 am 2 comments

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